The City of San Francisco recently announced that it would ban the sale of bottled water in containers less than 21 oz on city property. San Francisco will be the first major city in the US to enact such a ban, though Concord, Massachusetts and Grand Canyon National Park have already replaced bottled water with water bottle filling stations. With a unanimous vote from the SF board of supervisors, elected officials expressed their support for the bill because of the benefits to the environment.
Critics of the new bill claim that water bottles cause a negligible environmental impact because they are made of recyclable plastic. However, even the International Bottled Water Association, a group that represents the bottled water industry, acknowledges that only 38% of water bottles are recycled. The environmental advocacy group Ban the Bottle purports that in fact, a mere 23% are recycled, which reflects the total percentage of plastic recycling nationwide. However, focusing on the landfill versus recycling equation distracts from another environmental cost of bottled water – the production and transport of the bottles. San Francisco Board of Supervisors President, David Chiu, illustrated this point with a water bottle one-quarter full of oil – the amount of fuel it takes to produce and transport one 1.5-pound bottle.
Each year, 9.82 billion plastic water bottles are purchased and 17,677 tons of discarded bottles end up in the waste stream in New York City alone, according to the Department of Sanitation. Since NYC started paying $91 per ton to ship waste out-of-state in 2009, and those costs are expected to rise, that amounts to at least $1.6 million a year spent on the disposal of plastic water bottles. While there are certainly more pressing waste issues in NYC at the moment, such as composting organic waste, San Francisco provides a precedent for waste reduction and environmental sustainability.
The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized its cleanup plan for Gowanus Canal. The Brooklyn Canal, bound by Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Red Hook, was declared a Superfund site in 2010 and communities have long been pushing for its cleanup.
Judith A. Enck, the EPA Regional Administrator, said:
“The cleanup plan announced today by the EPA will reverse the legacy of water pollution in the Gowanus. The plan is a comprehensive, scientifically-sound roadmap to turn this urban waterway into a community asset once more.”
One-hundred and fifty years of industrial activity has left the waterway filled with PCBs, PAHs, coal tar waste, heavy metals and volatile organics, and poisoned both the water and fish. The cleanup will take 8 to 10 years and, even then, swimming and fishing would be ill-advised. However, the effort initiates a process of ecological revitalization and sets a precedent that holds companies accountable for their actions.
If this federal decision pulls through, its long term benefits, in terms of residential health and re-investment in the NY Harbor area, are immense.
Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium in Times Square is hosting a contest titled “Materials Matter Amazing Art Challenge” for New York City art students. The submissions for the contest are due in April and selected students will have their work exhibited at Ripley’s. A recent New York Times article highlighted one teacher’s creative interpretation of the prompt to develop works of art from unconventional materials. Jennifer Merdjan, an art teacher at Bard High School Early College in Queens, is having her students make their submissions with recyclable materials.
By using this uniquely environmental spin, Ms. Merdjan’s students are presented with the opportunity to rethink waste products and develop novel approaches to reuse. Some of her students’ projects include a chandelier made from hamster tubes, a handbag sewn together with bicycle tire tubes, and even a dress made with 1,134 plastic straws!
Freshkills Park, built on the former Fresh Kills Landfill, can be thought of in the same vein. As a repurposed landscape and a work of art, Freshkills Park is a prime example of what can come from creative planning and restoration.
If you’ve been to Sneak Peak, perhaps you’ve noticed your own reflection in the side of a Department of Sanitation garbage truck.
This 20 cubic-yard garbage truck faced with hand-tempered mirror is The Social Mirror by artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles. The Social Mirror debuted in the grand finale of the first NYC Art Parade in 1983 and was most recently exhibited at the 2007 Armory Show. According to Ukeles, “This project allowed citizens to see themselves linked with the handlers of their waste.”
Since publishing Manifesto for Maintenance Art, 1969!, Ukeles’s work has revolved around the role of the artist and our relationship to maintenance and service work, and most importantly the workers who perform these essential, everyday tasks for the rest of society. She has worked as the first and only official artist-in-residence for the New York City Department of Sanitation since 1977, where her projects have included Touch Sanitation (1978-1984) and Flow City (1983-1996) .
Not surprisingly, Ukeles has also played an important role in the Freshkills Park project, advocating for a public park on the site since 1989. She has produced several gallery installations on Freshkills and was a contributor to the Draft Master Plan for the park. Ukeles is currently designing a permanent nature viewing platform and two related earth works in South Park as part of the City’s Percent for Art program.
Find out more about maintenance art and Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s work in this video from the 2011 Creative Time Summit.
A new study released this week by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that 40 percent of food produced in the United States ends up in the trash, making food waste the single largest portion of trash in our landfills. While the amount of food thrown away has increased by 50 percent since the 1970s, one in six Americans struggles to pay for food today.
And then there’s the energy used in the production, transport, processing, and disposal of the food, only for it to be thrown away. According to a study commissioned by the Environmental Working Group, nearly 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from producing and processing food. At Freshkills Park, buried food waste is part of the decomposing organic material that produces Landfill Gas (LFG), a byproduct of anaerobic decomposition which is collected and processed to extract methane. The methane produced at Freshkills Park is then sold for use in providing energy to local homes on Staten Island. However, across much of the U.S., LFG- a mix of methane, carbon dioxide, and other contaminants- ends up in the atmosphere and is an important contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
What can be done? There are many ways to prevent food from ending up in the garbage. According to NPR, new innovations in how food waste is dealt with are being developed to facilitate collaboration and changes in habits at many different scales, from food consumers to food retailers and food producers. The Environmental Protection Agency also provides a useful webpage with resources on donating food to food banks and food rescue programs.
If food must be thrown out, one alternative to the landfill is the compost bin. The New York City Compost Project provides low cost compost bins, education, and information on community-based composting projects and will be doing composting demonstrations at the Sneak Peak event at Freshkills Park on Sunday, September 23rd. In New York City, a growing number of local Greenmarkets are now also collecting food scraps for compost to use in local gardening projects and urban farms.
(via Good and NPR)
A San Francisco company is spurring local urban agriculture by turning organic waste into mulch, and giving it away for free. Bayview Greenwaste collects plant waste for a fee, grinds it into mulch, then gives it away to any organization that wants it, including nonprofits, municipalities, private citizens, schools, and power plants.
The high-quality mulch allows grassroots organizations to move community garden projects forward. Hayes Valley Farm is an urban agriculture site that has benefited from Bayview Greenwaste. Built on the site of a former freeway ramp that was torn down, Hayes Valley Farm utilized mulch from Bayview Greenwaste at no cost and used a process called ‘sheet-mulching‘ on the soil, which was “polluted, choked with weeds, and lacking in nutrients.” Hayes Valley Farm is just one of many public, private and community-based entities that has benefitted from this model.
West Coast cities such as San Francisco, Portland and Seattle have recently become leaders in the effort to reduce the size of landfills by enacting a myriad of cutting-edge recycling programs. The New York Times reports that in Portland, a new biweekly garbage pickup schedule will cut back on the waste sent to landfills by 44 percent. In San Francisco composting has become part of the daily routine for many single-family homes and has contributed to the 78 percent of waste that is recycled and reused by local residents (while the national average stands at a measly 34 percent). The city is also exploring innovative ways of recycling notoriously difficult materials, such as foam and complex plastics. While in Seattle, the bright colors and intelligent new design of the South Waste Transfer Station will give this kind of building a more positive reputation within the community and serve as a more efficient interior workspace. Although the small population size of these cities makes these kinds of recycling programs relatively easier to enact, they serve as important and inspiring examples of what cities across America can do to cut back and reuse waste rather than increasing the mass of landfills.
Methane gas produced from decomposing waste at Fresh Kills landfill is generating revenue for the City of New York of up to $12 million each year as the site is developed into a 2,200-acre park.
With the help of advanced landfill gas collection infrastructure throughout the landfill, the New York City Department of Sanitation is actively harvesting methane, through rigorous state and federal public health and safety guidelines, from the decomposing waste buried at Fresh Kills landfill. This methane, enough to heat approximately 22,000 homes, is sold to National Grid and the city generates approximately $12 million in annual revenue from the sale of that gas. Gas recovery and sale will continue until the amount of gas produced by the landfill is minimal enough as to no longer be economically viable, at which point it will be burned off at flare stations onsite.
With the objective of minimizing energy consumption within new buildings and infrastructure systems at Freshkills Park, the Department of Parks & Recreation is also exploring the use of emerging energy technologies to supply as much of the park’s energy as possible.
The recent closure of a town landfill in Tennessee has spurred an innovation in the afterlife of one common discard: beer bottles. Faced with the prospect of high tipping fees associated with hauling its waste elsewhere, the Cumberland County Recycling Center purchased a glass grinder which pulverizes heavy bottles and jars – a heavy component of the town’s waste – into fine gravel, dust, and mulch-like products. Smooth enough to handle safely, these products can be used as landscaping material and can even be mixed with road salt to treat icy roads.
Recycling glass into mulch has economic benefits, too. The town sells its pulverized glass product back to its residents, who benefit from a mulch that doesn’t break down. The town has almost doubled its annual revenue from recycling efforts since the purchase of the pulverizing machine.
(via Atlantic Cities)
Continuing with the increasingly popular efforts to become a more sustainable metropolis, Mexico City has initiated a new barter-style market in which residents can trade recyclable materials for locally grown foodstuffs.
The opening of the new government sponsored (website in Spanish) market follows similar events lauded by environmentalists such as the closure of the Bordo Peniente Landfill, and green vertical gardens which we’ve previously blogged about.
Residents may bring materials such as aluminum cans, cardboard and paper, glass, and PET plastic bottles to the market in return for “green points.” These points can be redeemed for agricultural products grown in and around Mexico City such as lettuce, spinach, prickly pears, tomatoes, plants, and flowers.
“The intention is to encourage and support the producers of soil conservation in order to raise public awareness of the local supply,” writes the Ministry. “It’s important to consume local products to avoid large shipments of goods, reduce the carbon footprint, generate fair trade and maintain agricultural lands south of the city.”
Different materials are worth different amounts of “green points.” The market operates once a month and nearly sold out at its grand opening.