Snippets – Waste Not Want Not

Today, I want to share a few not-quite-so-recent stories related to waste that have been on my mind lately.
Via the New York Times, a food industry alliance is planning a three-year initiative to reduce the tremendous amount of food that Americans still throw in the garbage even as they grow somewhat more conscientious about recycling paper and yard trimmings. … A substantial portion of food is thrown away while still fully edible because of cosmetic blemishes or overstocking. … According to the most recent available statistics, more than 30 million tons of food was dumped in landfills in 2009, making food by far the most abundant material there by weight, the federal Environmental Protection Agency says.
From NPR comes a story about how all that wasted food contributes to climate change. A company called CleanMetrics gathered USDA’s estimates of food loss from retail and consumers for 2009. And when the company’s founder, Kumar Venkat, fed the data into his software he found that food waste is responsible for 135 million tons of greenhouse gases every year, or about 1.5 percent of all emissions ,,,  “If you compare beef to tomatoes, beef has a much higher footprint,” says Venkat. “So if you’re going to reduce waste, you need to prioritize.”
Via Bloomberg, a story about Bank of America selecting some its most decrepit, derelict homes in Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago and paying up to $7,500 to local agencies toward demolition costs. “There is way too much supply,” said Gus Frangos, president of the Cleveland-based Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corp., which works with lenders, government officials and homeowners to salvage vacant homes. “The best thing we can do to stabilize the market is to get the garbage off.”
From the New York Times –  Across western North Dakota, hundreds of fires burn as companies rushing to extract oil from the Bakken shale field treat the gas as waste and simply burn it. … Every day, more than 100 million cubic feet of natural gas is flared this way — enough energy to heat half a million homes for a day. The flared gas also spews at least two million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, as much as 384,000 cars or a medium-size coal-fired power plant would emit.
And again from NPR, some insight into why cleaned wastewater stays dirty in our minds. … “It’s a very broad feature of human thinking,” Nemeroff explains. “Everywhere we look, you can see contagion thinking.” … The conclusion? “It is quite difficult to get the cognitive sewage out of the water, even after the real sewage is gone,” Nemeroff says.

Philadelphia’s Green Stormwater Infrastructure


Many older cities face increasing stormwater management issues. Today’s video was put together by the Philadephia Water Department’s Office of Watersheds and gives a pretty good overview of an integrated approach.

The city is trying to address combined sewer overflows through a combination of traditional infrastructure and “green” infrastructure as the city is continuously rebuilt and repaired over time. The main goal is to prevent so much water from running off all of the impervious surfaces in the first place. More information on the approach is here.

Bay Watch

photo credit: Wing

The following are a few stories of interest tracking the latest developments in water quality for the San Francisco Bay region.

The S.F. Chronicle reports that a loophole in the laws protecting California’s coastal waters is finally being closed: sewage discharge from ships is now prohibited less than 3 miles from shore. The Chron reports that while many sea-going vessels have been voluntarily following this protocol for years, some even waiting until further off-shore, the new legislation will formalize the practice and help to address water quality issues along state beaches. Read the full story here.

Oakland’s splendid Lake Merritt is in for an overhaul. The 140 acre “lake” is actually a brackish tidal slough that is connected to the San Francisco Bay via a narrow channel. However for many years its waters have stagnated with inadequate connectivity to the Bay due to the deterioration of the channel. All that is about to change as the $115 million that was allocated to improve Lake Merritt  in 2002 as part of  Bond Measure DD to improve the lake finally hits the ground. The improvements to the lake will be chiefly through improving the connections between the bay and the lake, and the removal of a portion of 12th Street at the southern end of the lake. Read a thorough account of the project at Quest, here.

BCDC (the Bay Conservation and Development Commission) released it’s draft Subtidal Habitat Goals Project report this summer. The project represents a ” comprehensive and long-term management vision for research, restoration and management of the subtidal habitats of the San Francisco Bay”. Read the draft report here.