Welcome to RGC Conservation. We hope to keep you updated on conservation issues both national and local, and to provide you with information that we find of interest in our effort to understand and improve our fabulous planet.
There is a recycling Crisis!
If you are curious as to what happens to our recycling, please read this article on The recycling crisis. (March 30, 2019)
Much of the stuff Americans think they are ‘recycling’ now ends up in landfills and incinerators. Why? Here’s everything you need to know:
Where do recyclables go?
Until recently, the U.S. and other developed countries sold much of their recyclables to China, which accepted more than 40 percent of American wastepaper, plastic, glass, metal, and other reusable materials. Several other Asian countries and some U.S. processing companies bought most of the rest. China began importing trash in the late 1980s to feed its growing manufacturing sector. Taking advantage of the country’s abundant supply of cheap labor, Chinese companies employed legions of people to sort through the junk; it was then converted into cheap exports such as shoes, bottles, hoses, and phones. Shipping containers filled with Chinese goods would drop off their cargo in the U.S. and return filled with recyclable trash to be turned into more stuff. That all changed in January 2018. That’s when China banned most imports of “loathsome foreign garbage,” including post-consumer plastic and mixed paper. The recycling industry — which handles about 25 percent of America’s total waste — now has nowhere to send what it collects. “I’ve been in garbage all my life,” says Kevin Barnes, the solid-waste director for the city of Bakersfield, California. “This is unprecedented.”
What’s happening instead?
More trash is being buried or burned. Many communities used to make money selling trash to private recycling companies that would process the materials and then sell them to China or to manufacturers. Now they’re having to pay those companies to take their recycling away. Philadelphia went from making $67 a ton selling trash in 2012 to having to pay $40 a ton in mid-2018 to get rid of its recycling. The city now burns about half of the city’s recycling, converting the waste to energy. Other cities have responded by cutting back the kinds of recycling they accept, while many small communities have been forced to suspend or cancel recycling programs altogether and send everything to landfills.
Aren’t there other buyers?
Many waste management companies don’t want America’s recycling because it’s too dirty. It’s estimated that about 25 percent of American recyclables are contaminated with food waste and nonrecyclable materials, according to the National Waste & Recycling Association trade group. The spread of “single stream” recycling programs, where consumers dump all of their recycled items into one bin, is part of the problem. Many Americans are what waste management experts call “aspirational recyclers.” Wanting to do their part for the environment, they put anything and everything into recycling bins — bowling balls, used syringes, even used diapers. This stuff wreaks havoc on the equipment recycling companies use to automatically sort incoming trash. Other stuff that is theoretically recyclable is too dirty to be useful. Pizza boxes, for example, can’t be recycled because the grease can’t be separated from the cardboard fibers. If recyclers don’t wash the food and residue out of their used cans and plastic bottles, they’re also useless. The expense of recycling this tainted garbage makes it cheaper for many companies to simply buy new materials, especially virgin plastic. “We have not been successful at recycling,” Ellen MacArthur, an environmentalist who founded a group devoted to reducing plastic waste, told the Financial Times. “After 40 years of trying, we have not been able to make it work.”
Can it work?
In theory, yes — if people were meticulous about cleaning and sorting their recyclables. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that recycling and composting prevented approximately 186 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere in 2013, the equivalent of taking 39 million cars off the road. But recycling is not an environmental panacea. For example, you would have to personally recycle 40,000 plastic bottles to offset your carbon footprint from taking one round-trip flight between New York City and London. During the current crisis, policymakers are hesitant to ask consumers to make big changes for fear they’ll stop recycling altogether. In a recent Harris Poll, 66 percent of people surveyed said that they wouldn’t recycle at all if it wasn’t easy to do. Some cities are still asking people to keep putting out their recycling while they look for alternative markets, even though in the meantime it’s just as likely to go to a landfill. It’s “difficult with the public to turn the spigot on and off,” says Brian Fuller, a waste manager with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
What are the solutions?
The best solution, experts agree, is to create less waste in the first place. Only 9 percent of all the plastic produced in the past 68 years has been recycled. To encourage less consumption, some experts suggest a tax on garbage. About 350 communities throughout the U.S. have already implemented policies for reducing waste, like charging extra for plastic bags. In the long run, environmentalists say, the recycling crisis might force a necessary reckoning with how much the U.S. consumes and throws away. “Our plastic chickens are coming home to roost,” says George Leonard, chief scientist at the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy. “We are going to have to deal with this problem.”
One man’s trash …
Entrepreneurs spy opportunity in America’s growing mounds of trash. Waste Management, the nation’s largest trash hauler, is partnering with a startup called Compology to make smart dumpsters that can alert the owner when tainted recycling has contaminated the load. In Wisconsin, the used-cardboard glut created by China’s decision to stop buying most used cardboard is helping to revive the state’s old paper industry, which is recycling the millions of boxes used by online shipping giants like Amazon and Walmart. It now costs 70 percent less for paper mills in the state to buy used cardboard, which can be crushed and converted into the “brown paper” that is used to make new cardboard for shipping boxes. Rick Strick was one of 600 people who lost their jobs in 2017 when the paper mill in Combined Locks, Wisconsin, shut down, and he was recently rehired when the same mill abruptly reopened to start recycling cardboard. “Brown,” Strick told The New York Times, “is the future.”
Conservation in the Garden
Now that fall is here, it is time to put away our gardens and get ready for the holidays. There are two schools of thought about what to do with the garden for the winter: My husband’s and mine. He likes everything raked up and all the plants trimmed back. I have learned that leaving the leaves down adds nutrients to the ground and that keeping the stalks on the native plants through the winter provides seed heads for the birds. Who will win this battle this year? I need to confess that I may leverage my husband’s love of birds to win the war. Stay tuned.
The Democrat and Chronicle recently featured an article about the Washed Ashore artwork that is currently on display at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans. Angela Haseltine Pozz, the artist behind this project, creates huge sculptures out of the plastic garbage in our oceans to educate the public about the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans. Her sculptures are awe-inspiring. And I mean “awe” in the “Oh, my God, what have we done?” sense. Please join me in reducing our use of plastics. You know the drill: cloth shopping bags, metal water bottles, metal or glass straws, reusable utensils, waxed cloth, etc.
Presents for the Environment
Think conservation when you are shopping for stocking stuffers or hostess presents. Shop locally or go on to Etsy is you want to personalize items or get them in assorted colors.
|Reusable Item||Replaced Item||Local Source||Internet Source|
|Metal straws||Plastic straws||Wegman’s||Etsy.com|
|Glass straws||Plastic straws||Just Juice, 710 University||Etsy.com|
|Metal thermoses||Plastic bottles||Parkleigh or Wegman’s||Amazon.com|
|Waxed cloth||Saran wrap||Farmers’ Markets||Amazon.com|
|Nano microfiber cloths||Paper towels||Not available locally||Amazon.com|
|Shopping bags||Plastic bags||Wegman’s or Trader Joe’s||Buy locally|
|Produce bags||Plastic bags||Target||Amazon.com|
If you have some girls or women on your list who you give bigger presents to, think of Rothy’s (www.rothys.com). I have two pairs that I wore all summer and have just ordered a third. Not only are Rothy’s fashionable and comfortable but you can throw them in the washing machine. But the best thing is that they are made out of recycled plastic bottles.
And when you think about end-of-the-year donations, consider Washed Ashore, The Nature Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy of Central and Western New York, The World Wildlife Fund, etc.
Natural Tick Repellents:
1. Plant your yard with plants that repel ticks include lavender, garlic, lemongrass, chrysanthemums (specifally the pyrethrum varieties), catnip, and beautyberry.
2. Mow the grass frequently and very short.
3. Use cedar chips.
4. Use food grade diatomaceous earth to poison ticks. Apply it to pets. Use it diluted as a spray on yard and patio.
5. Get chickens or guinea hens. They dine on ticks.
Environmentally Safe Weed Killer Recipe:
Mix in a sprayer:
1 gallon white vinegar
2 cups Epson salts
¼ cup blue Dawn detergent
Environmentally Safe Lawn Fertilizer:
Sprinkle granulated sugar on your lawn. It feeds the microbiomes in the soil so that grass thrives.
DEC Delivers – Information to keep you connected an informed from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation:
‘Monarch Butterfly Population Making A Comeback’
Dr. Oberhauser interviewed on KARE 11
Posted on Tuesday, March 1, 2016 at 11:14 am in Monarch Conservation
The phenomenal boost in overwintering monarch butterflies has everyone optimistic about the recover of this insect icon. KARE 11 reached out to Dr. Oberhauser for her reaction to the good news released by the World Wildlife Fund last Friday.
Dr. Oberhauser cited ideal conditions in the monarchs breeding range as a major factor in the observed increase. The multitude of monarch conservation efforts by individuals and communities is sure to have played a role in the population rebound. However, as Dr. Oberhauser is points out, “we still haven’t reached the point where most scientists agree the population has long-term viability.” Continuing to increase habitat restoration efforts, especially on private lands and in marginalized areas like roadsides, will be crucial to monarch conservation in the near future.
‘Oasis Floral Foam: The Dark Side’
It turns out that the very thing we rely on to arrange flowers has a dark side. While none of us could imagine how to arrange flowers without Oasis Floral Foam, perhaps it is time we figured that out.
Oasis is made of non-biodegradable plastic and toxic chemicals including formaldehyde, carbon black, and other proprietary chemicals. The first two are known carcinogens! In fact, many floral arranging schools recommend that users wear gloves and wash thoroughly after handling Oasis. Breathing the dust is particularly dangerous.
Fortunately there is an alternative. (Our Garden Club is not specifically endorsing this company, but we feel we should provide the company information and link in the interest of supporting conservation efforts, and letting everyone know alternatives exist.) Floral Soil™ is non-toxic and 100% plant based. It not only biodegrades, the components have been shown to improve soil. While I have not tried it, I do think we should look into it in an effort to save ourselves and our environment. For further information: www.floralsoilsolutions.com.
Floral Soil™ is a foam composite derived from renewable coconut husk waste. There are no added colorants, preservatives, or fossil fuel based on chemical additives.