Tuesday, November 29, 2016

BuildingEnergy NYC 2016 conference

Sarah Bloomquist, Gregory Thomas, Ryan Hughes, Jennifer Urrutia (P.Berns)
I had the honor of attending the BuildingEnergy NYC 2016 Conference in early November as a scholarship recipient from GreenHomeNYC, along with fellow recipients Jennifer Urrutia, Gregory Thomas and Ryan Hughes. The conference deepened my understanding of the latest building energy issues especially as they pertain to how NYC will work to achieve its 80x50 goal set forth in Mayor De Blasio's OneNYC sustainability plan. Resiliency was a common theme throughout the sessions, highlighted by recent NYCHA addition, Joy Sinderbrand, and her discussion of how her agency is working towards preparing their inhabitants and the buildings they occupy so that they are better prepared for negative environmental impacts from global warming and storm surges. The conference is a great place to meet with leaders in the field from established environmental consultancy firms, to startup energy hardware firms, as well as companies experimenting with novels ways to use technology to alleviate the burden our buildings place on the world. I highly recommend attending the next conference in 2017!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Rubbish by William Rathje and Cullen Murphy (book) / What's Wrong with Our Trash?

I'm finally getting around to writing book reviews for three staple books on the topic of garbage that I read earlier this year. They're all must-reads for those interested in the wonderful and appalling world of waste. The first of the three books, Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage, was written over 15 years ago by William Rathje and Cullen Murphy. Rathje was an archaeologist at the University of Arizona and a forerunner on the science of waste. With his students, he started the Garbage Project in 1973 to see what information they could glean from analyzing trash based on different populations and demographics. My key takeaway is that most things we throw away end up in a landfill and do not decompose, or if they do it can take hundreds of years and leave behind a dangerous trail of toxin-laden leachate in the process. For the unitiated, here's a suitable explanation of leachate: "In the narrow environmental context leachate is [therefore] any liquid material that drains from land or stockpiled material and contains significantly elevated concentrations of undesirable material derived from the material that it has passed through." Yummy stuff, right? Modern sanitary landfills aim to keep leachate from reaching groundwater supplies by using expensive pipe systems and heavy plastic sheeting. For older landfills that are not lined and lack piping systems to collect the leachate, leakage into the groundwater is a serious risk. Even the best designed landfill using the latest and greatest technology will eventually experience a compromised boundary between the leachate and the surrounding soil.

Newspaper from 1960 at Pitsea landfill in England that was in a dry pocket in the landfill cell. (Photo by Dr. Jim Hanson)

Why doesn't trash break down and decompose? The lack of oxygen and exposure to the sun prevents the breakdown of the bulk of what's dumped in a landfill. This scenario is perfectly illustrated by the Garbage Project's excavation of decades-old newspapers that are still legible, and food scraps that are still identifiable and not far decomposed beyond their original state. We should all know and understand that when we throw things away they are basically being piled up like Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout's garbage in Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends, only in a landfill instead of in her house.

"We Are Not Trash!" from luc.edu

What needs to change? How we dispose of and process organic materials needs to change. It's a relatively easy win that many cities are ramping up or beginning to implement if they haven't already. (Check out these leading zero waste programs in the US: 0X20 in San Francisco and 0X30 in New York City.) Most estimates say that anywhere from 20-40% of our waste is organics. Keeping organic material out of landfills would decrease landfill disposal by roughly one third! That's a lot of vegetable peels and coffee grinds that we could save from senseless landfill disposal and instead process it through aerobic decomposition (composting) or anaerobic digestion. These two processes are generally considered to be more sustainable than landfill disposal and they allow the material to be processed into a useful resource: a soil additive or biogas, respectively. If your city doesn't currently offer organics processing, you could reach out to see if they're planning on it and in the meantime you can keep your scraps in your freezer and either compost them in your backyard, use a worm bin in your kitchen, or drop them off at a participating greenmarket (see map of GrowNYC's drop-off sites).

Cradle to Cradle cycle from EPEA. "The Cradle to Cradle® design concept distinguishes between the biological and the technological cycles for materials. The waste materials in an old product become the "food" for a new product."

Rethinking Product Lifecycle. There's a desperate need for a shift in production and consumption if we want to reclaim and preserve a natural, healthy and beautiful environment for ourselves and future generations to enjoy. Products need to be designed 'cradle to cradle' (C2C) rather than 'cradle to grave'. This means designing products with the end in mind and considering the full lifecyle of the product, including all phases from design, to production, distribution and eventually rebirth into a new product. C2C products are based on durability and recyclability and are comprised of benign materials. In an ideal world the materials would be better than benign, they'd be regenerative, bringing sustainability to a whole new level. I'll save the topic of regenerative healthy materials for another posting. In the meantime, check out the great work being done by the Seattle-based International Living Future Institute and their 2015 Living Product Challenge 1.0: A Visionary Path to a Regenerative Future among their other amazing forward-thinking programs.

The goal of C2C is to optimize the usefulness of materials and minimize the waste generated during the product lifecyle. The C2C model achieves this by keeping products and materials in a closed loop system that is based on regeneration where the outputs of one process become the inputs of another process, rather than a useless waste product. Architect and designer William McDonough is generally considered the father of the cradle to cradle concept, having co-authored Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, as well as co-founding the Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Product Standard. You can watch his 2005 Ted Talk on the topic here.

This, in a nutshell, is the problem and the solution. Consume less. Consume smarter. Waste less. It's a noble goal that can be achieved with tweaks in behaviors and choices. It's scalable too for those who aren't willing to commit to a complete lifestyle overhaul; something is better than nothing and overtime I believe more sustainable behaviors will be adapted as people see them demonstrated by their friends, their community and in media. These choices then send signals to the producers and eventually incentivize them to modify their products to be more sustainable. Thanks for listening and remember, #CompostIsTheNewBlack!


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

GreenHomeNYC Waste Management Forum - Wednesday, August 17th

Along with the rest of the GreenHomeNYC volunteer team, I'm coordinating the August forum on Waste Management in NYC at the Florim Showroom in Manhattan. We have three great speakers lined up for the night to discuss their projects and how they're working towards more sustainable materials management solutions. Register here soon before the event is sold out!

Date: Wednesday, August 17, 2016
Time: 6:30 – 8:00pm
Location: Florim Showroom, 152 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016


"One of the most challenging sustainability questions facing large urban centers such as New York City is how to handle all the waste that is produced here on a daily basis. New York City has struggled with this question long before the last landfill shut down on its soil in 2001. With no spare land to speak of and an ever-growing population of consumers, the city has had to step up to the challenge and propose novel solutions to handle the millions of tons of trash that are collected and processed annually. At our August forum, we will hear from specialists working in the field who will discuss their plans for decreasing the quantity and toxicity of materials sent to landfills, working towards Mayor De Blasio’s ambitious OneNYC goal of sending zero waste to landfills by 2030 (“0x30”)." 

Read speaker bios and register here.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Make Garbage Great by TerraCycle's Tom Szaky (book)

Sign for TerraCycle Collection
at the Park Slope Food Coop
Make Garbage Great was written by TerraCycle founder Tom Szaky in 2015. Szaky's book highlights how to reduce our contribution to landfill waste and work towards a more zero-waste lifestyle. Founded in 2001 and based in Trenton, New Jersey, TerraCycle is known primarily for their innovative upcycled products as well as programs for reclaiming materials that are not easily recycled. My local food coop has two drop-off days per month for items that are processed by TerraCycle, such as toothpaste tubes, energy bar wrappers and baby food pouches. These items are not accepted by the NYC recycling program and would otherwise end up in a landfill or waste to energy facility. TerraCycle keeps items out of landfills and repurposes them for a new life. Bags made from Capri Sun pouches, clocks from vinyl records, the list goes on. You can view their product line here. Check out Mr. Szaky's book for insights into production, manufacturing, reuse, recycling, creative upcycling and other ideas that strive for a more zero waste world!

Make Garbage Great on Amazon

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Concentrated Natural Shampoo with Zero Waste Packaging

If you don't have any hair to wash, that's probably about as zero waste as you can get for hair care. For those of us with tresses that need cleaning, I recommend this bar of all-natural shampoo from J.R. Liggett that I recently stumbled upon at my local coop. The Original Formula bar is made from all natural ingredients: olive oil, coconut oil, castor oil, sunflower oil, organic palm kernel oil and rose oil. They do not use GMOs or traditional palm oil which destroys ecosystems and negatively impacts producer communities. The 'palm kernel oil' ingredient they use is 'Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil' (RSPO) certified. Read more about RSPO here and here. This product scores high on sustainable zero waste packaging as well with a simple recyclable paper wrapping instead of a plastic bottle and cap that may or may not be recyclable in your area. Additionally, the concentrated formula -- no water! -- minimizes the product volume and weight as compared to traditional shampoos which saves on the resources required for storage and transportation of the product. Thanks J.R. Liggett for an uncomplicated product and effective design!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sustainable Food Storage: Plastic Cling Wrap Substitute!

Say goodbye to plastic cling wrap! This cling wrap (aka Saran Wrap) substitute is reusable, washable, compostable, zero waste (recyclable packaging), and made in the USA (Go Vermont!) from beeswax and cloth. I bought Bee's Wrap's 3-sheet pack (7x8", 10x11" & 13x14") for approximately $11 at my food coop ($19 on the vendor's site). For large scale food producers or caterers this probably isn't the best solution because of the price but for occasional home use this does the trick for me. It works like a gem and smells like honey comb heaven. The sheet molds to a surface from the warmth of your hand in a few seconds. It's not recommended for meats but for cheeses or anything else that needs to be stored it works great. Hopefully it is durable and lasts for many uses.

Monday, May 16, 2016

We Hate to Waste's Jacquie Ottman Presents at Materials for the Arts

As discussed in my previous post, Materials for the Arts, held their Third Thursday Earth Month celebration a few weeks ago at their sprawling non-profit art supply complex in Queens, New York. It was an exciting event for those who love to learn about waste and resource management issues. Nelson Molina, former DSNY worker, and NYU professor and author Robin Nagle held a Q&A after a screening of a short film on Mr. Molina's mongo museum in East Harlem, filled with 20 years worth of New Yorker's discards moonlighting as treasures.

Jacquie Ottman speaking at Materials for the Arts in Queens (4/21/16)

Jacquie Ottman, founder of WeHateToWaste.com, presented on the state of waste in New York City, with a focus on the 8 Zero Waste initiatives under Mayor Bill de Blasio's OneNYC sustainability plan. According to Ms. Ottman, 74% of NYC's waste can be recycled or composted but currently isn't. Hopefully the 8 initiatives, as outlined below, will help NYC reach our "0x30" ("zero by thirty") landfill diversion goal. The "zero" of zero waste is a bit of a misnomer. Most zero waste advocates measure zero waste as a 90% diversion from landfill. Will we get there by 2030, or optimistically, can we get there sooner?

 NYC's 8 Zero Waste Initiatives:
  1. Organics collection for all NYers by 2018
  2. Single stream recycling by 2020
  3. Reduce use of plastic bags (including polystyrene) and non-compostables
  4. Expand recycling to NYCHA
  5. Make all schools zero waste
  6. Expand reuse and recycle of textiles and electronics
  7. 'Save as you throw'
  8. Reduce commercial waste disposal 90% by 2050 (recycle at work what we recycle at home)