Sierra Club Annual Report

Explore. Enjoy. Protect.

How bad has this year been for our environment?    Here are 60 things in the last 12 months:

29 rules overturned 24 rollbacks in progress 7 rollbacks in limbo

Michael Brune
Executive Director
Sierra Club

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Butterfly Solar

As scientists seek ways to improve the efficiency of solar , some have increasingly turned to thin film solar cells. Such cells are lighter and more manageable than traditional crystal-based cells and are expected to be more efficient if engineers can find a way to get them to work for longer periods of time.  One of the roadblocks to improving the efficiency of is the high expense of motion hardware that tracks the sun.  In this new effort, the researchers took inspiration from the rose butterfly, found commonly in India.  It has soft black wings that warm the cold-blooded insect during cool periods.

To learn more about the , a team of researchers from California Institute of Technology and the Karlsruh Institute of Technology collected some samples and looked at them under an electron microscope.  They found that the wings were covered with scales pockmarked with holes.  In addition to making the wings lighter, the holes scattered the light striking them, which allowed the butterfly to absorb more of the sun’s heat.

In their paper, published in the journal Science Advances, the group explains their inspiration for studying the butterfly wings and the details of their improved solar cells.
Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-10-black-butterfly-wings-solar-cells.html#jCp

The researchers created similar structures in their lab using sheets of hydrogenated amorphous silicon sheets.  A top layer with extremely tiny holes of various sizes caused light to scatter and strike the silicon base below.   The design allowed for picking up roughly twice as much light as previous designs. The process took just five to 10 minutes.

Get off the fossil fuel grid!  Go butterfly solar.

Until next time,

Garbage Girl

Extra Plastic Bags?

This Coop next to a highly littered bus stop in our neighborhood let me attach my really cool Bag Bottle to their fence in hopes of creating waste awareness while people wait for the bus.

The Bag Bottle is made of plastic soda bottles and stuffed with plastic bags. Dog owners, litter haters, or people who may just need a plastic bag are welcome to give a tug!

I easily collect a bag full of plastic litter everyday on my way to work.  I will be bringing my own so there will be plenty to inspire others.  Our Waste Matters will be starting a block sponsorship for those of us who want to keep plastic out of our environment.

In NYC, we failed to pass Ban the Bag legislation because people with less means would be disproportionately affected.  If their neighbors provided extra bags for them to use at anytime, maybe we could be Bag Free?!

How is your state doing?   http://www.bagtheban.com/in-your-state

Until next time,

Garbage Girl

The Best Wash Without Waste

I have been using Soap Nuts for my laundry for almost a year now.  They come in a recyclable cardboard box and other than that they produce no waste.

Put five of them in an organza bag and throw them in the washing machine with your dirty clothes.

The challenge is to keep them out of the dryer when you transfer your clean clothes.  It won’t hurt them but it does make them last a little less long.

What are they? They are a deseeded, dried nut from a Soapnut Tree that contains a surfactant called saponin.

Surfactants reduce the surface tension of the water, essentially making it wetter and easier to penetrate into soiled fabrics. This combined with the agitation of your machine or handwashing removes the dirt or particles, then keeps them away from your clothing until rinsing occurs.

  • Sustainable: It’s a renewable resource, easily grown organically.
  • All Natural: No funky or harmful ingredients.
  • Eco-Friendly: Less processing, less energy and less packaging.
  • Affordable: They can replace multiple cleaners, and last longer.
  • Reusable: Each berry can be used up to 6 times before it’s spent.
  • Hypoallergenic: No skin or respiratory irritation and non-toxic.
  • Not Actually Nuts: They’re totally safe for those with nut allergies.
  • Simple: Throw them in your wash or make a simple liquid detergent.
  • Odorless: But you can always add your own essential oils.
  • Gentle: Their mild nature won’t damage delicate clothing or surfaces.
  • No Fabric Softener: They naturally soften your fabrics!
  • Save Water: They rinse easier so require less water.
  • Save Energy: You can use a shorter rinse cycle in your laundry, too.
  • Front-loading Friendly: No suds are perfect for HE machines.
  • Works in Any Temperature: Use them in cold, warm or hot water.
  • Non-polluting: 100% biodegradable and safe for graywater systems.
  • Compostable: Used shells can be thrown in your compost.
  • Self-sufficient: You can even grow a soap nut tree yourself!

To see if your soap nuts are still releasing saponin, get them wet and see if the suds are still present.  http://www.sustainablebabysteps.com/

If you prefer a liquid detergent, whip up a batch of homemade.

1/3 to 1/2 cup liquid lavender Castile soap
1/2  cup washing soda
1/2  cup borax

 Click product to  Amazon
Mix all ingredients in a 2-gallon bucket.  Add hot water to fill the bucket and stir well. This will be a thinner concoction than commercial laundry detergent.  Store your homemade detergent in a saved commercial bottle .  Shake before you use because it has a tendency to separate.  Use 1/4 cup for an average laundry load.

Until next time,

Garbage Girl

Nature Tackles Carbon

Over the past two years, the world experienced unprecedented global climate momentum.  In September 2015, international leaders adopted the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals to fight poverty, promote sustainability and address climate change.  Shortly after, nearly 200 countries came together in Paris to adopt the world’s largest ever international climate treaty.

At The Nature Conservancy, Bronson Griscom  radiates an optimism somewhat rare for seasoned environmentalists.  As an ecological accountant, he measures and analyzes the “carbon economy” of nature: the everyday role that trees, grasslands and coastal habitats play in the carbon cycle.  He can measure the carbon impact of logging in old growth forests, or how well different forest ecosystems work as sponges for absorbing and storing carbon from the atmosphere.  Griscom helps link our economy with the economy of the biosphere.

Encouraged by what he sees, the goals of carbon reduction the world wants to meet by 2030 are closer to possible, if we act now.  Current business-as-usual trajectories, increased emissions entering the atmosphere and continued environmental degradation will lessen the impact that nature can have.  If natural climate solutions are mobilized over the next 10 to 15 years, they could provide 37 percent of the needed mitigation for global climate targets.  But if action is delayed until after 2030, that number drops to 33 percent, and drops again to only 22 percent after 2050.

https://global.nature.org/initiatives/natural-climate-solutions/natures-make-or-break-potential-for-climate-change?src=a_f.social.facebook.site_globsol.cam_ncs.link_initative.d_oct2017.info_sci

Plant trees, create city forests, adopt a city street divider, help sponsor a GreenBelt, learn and understand how your local ecosystems contribute to carbon absorption.

Until next time,

Garbage Girl

Where Does a Used Plastic Cup Go?

A plastic cup that was used once for probably less than a minute?  About 450-1000 years will pass before it decomposes in the ground.  That’s if it made it to a landfill.

Plastic is made from petroleum or natural gas.  Plastic production is estimated to use 8 percent of yearly global oil production—both as the raw material and for energy in the manufacturing process.  Because plastics embody energy from fossil fuels (and actually have a higher energy value than coal), leaving so much of it in landfills is not only an environmental hazard, it’s an unconscionable waste of a valuable resource.

If it ends up in the water, it will keep breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces that our marine life will ingest.  And eventually end up back in you.  If the plankton are eating plastic then you are eating plastic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97XpXhCgtEQ

Start saying, “NO!” to that plastic cup.  You will feel tons better!

Until next time,

Garbage Girl

I Wish I Could Say It Felt Good

Honoring International Coastal Cleanup Day, Martin and I paddled our kayaks toward Jamaica Bay, an 18,000-acre wetland estuary surrounded by the Rockaway Peninsula to the South, Brooklyn to the West, and Queens to the East.  The 10,000 acres of parkland (almost equal to the size of Manhattan)is managed by the National Park Service.  It consists of numerous islands, a labyrinth of waterways, meadowlands, and two freshwater ponds, providing a unique environment for both wildlife preservation and urban recreation.  A favorite stop for migratory waterfowl, the area is an essential part of making the larger regional ecosystem complete.

http://www.nyharborparks.org/visit/jaba.html

Jamaica Bay was a prime fishing and oystering center but it became so polluted by 1916 that all of those businesses ended.  It took over 5 decades, but the Clean Water Act finally made dumping and polluting illegal by 1972 and the big bay has since made a comeback.  Mussels (still inedible) are now embedded in the reeds along the shores. 50,000 oysters were planted in beds composed of broken porcelain, harvested from recycled toilets as part of New York City’s Water Conservation Program.

The Bay is full of islands and channels whose names have been lost in the mists of time: Point Elders Marsh, Old Swale Marsh, Nestepol Marsh, Grass Hassock, Jo Co’s Marsh, and many more known only by local mariners.  Non are inhabited by humans.

We kayaked to Canarsie Pol with two extra large, clear garbage bags and the intention of making a dent in the amount of plastic washed up on the shore.  All of this plastic was ocean bound trash from storm runoff, boats, the mainland and careless recreational practices while people were out enjoying what nature brings to them but not caring about what they bring to nature.  A lot of this plastic becomes a structural part of the reeds and the beach.

A Ghost Pier Abandoned Long Ago on Canarsie Pol

After 4 hours, along a mere 200 yard stretch of reeds just west of this old pier, we filled 3 large bags (we found another one on the island) with plastic single use items. Mind you, this was only what was accessible to us where the reeds met the beach.  The plastic we could see but could not reach went into the reeds for yards.  Its anyone’s guess how much plastic is buried under the sand.

I wish I could say it felt good to be out on a beautiful fall day picking up garbage.

Plastic bags were so enmeshed in the reeds and the sand dunes that they are now a permanent part of Canarsie Pol. Weathered plastic shattered in our hands as we tried to pull it out of the sand.  The amount of small pieces of styrofoam broken up over time was impossible to collect.  We didn’t even bother with glass or aluminum.

The black bag to the right is filled with plastic lids, shopping bags and single use items.                                                          A third clear bag was left on the island.

Thanks a lot Gatorade. You must feel proud to have your name on this waste.

The third bag had to be tied and securely left on shore for another concerned citizen to bring back to the mainland.  We couldn’t securely attach it to our kayaks and we dreaded the thought of us and the other bags spilling into the bay.

I thought I could at least get a good feeling by knowing that the person who picks up our redeemables each week could make some money.  He told me that all of these bottles are destined for the landfill because the barcodes which are printed on the plastic brand labels are gone.

The beverage companies must stop their practice of making the environment pay for their irresponsible profits.

We must stop giving these companies our hard earned money and our beautiful home.

NYC needs to lead the ban on single use plastic bags once and for all.

Until next time,

Garbage Girl

Drive Your Car Or Eat?

Global temperatures increasing steadily at their fastest rates in millions of years? Glaciers calving and collapsing into the sea?  The Atlantic Ocean lapping down the streets of Miami?  Extreme weather and massive flooding. Front page news everyday.

Declining soil health may be less dramatic, but it is equally impactful and even more far-reaching. Over time, erosion, pollution, losses in organic matter, and other climate change impacts on the soil will imperil a very basic human need.  Eating.

Founded and chaired by former US Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore, The Climate Reality Project is dedicated to catalyzing a global solution to the climate crisis by making urgent action a necessity across every level of society. https://www.climaterealityproject.org/sites/climaterealityproject.org/files/Soil%20Health%20and%20Climate%20Change.pdf?utm_source=advocacy&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=general&utm_content=soil_health_ebook

One of the project authors, Chris Clayton, is the agriculture policy director of DTN/The Progressive Farmer and the author of The Elephant in the Cornfield: The Politics of Agriculture and Climate Change.  He examines the conflict in rural American farming communities over climate change.  “The idea that you could have millions of migrants moving all over the world because they can’t eat, and the disruption and instability created by that doesn’t get enough appreciation around the world.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council has the following guidelines:

1. MESS WITH IT LESS   No-till is a method of farming or gardening successfully while minimizing any physical disturbance of the soil.   Overworked, compacted soil is a hostile environment for important soil microbes.  Chemical or biological additives can damage long-term soil health, disrupting the natural relationship between microorganisms and plant roots.

2. DIVERSITY, DIVERSITY, DIVERSITY   Diversity creates a better, more productive environment for everything.  Different plants release different carbohydrates through their roots, and various microbes feed on these sugars, returning all sorts of different nutrients back to the plant and the soil.  Planting the same plants in the same location can lead to a buildup of some nutrients and a lack of others. By rotating crops, and deploying cover crops strategically, farms and gardens can be more productive and produce more nutrient rich crops, while avoiding erosion, disease and pest problems.

3. LEARN TO LOVE THE RHIZOSPHERE    Every living plant has a rhizosphere; the area near the root where microbial activity in the soil is concentrated.  It’s the most active part of any soil ecosystem.  Providing plenty of easily accessible food to soil microbes helps them supply nutrients that plants need to grow.  Alternating long-season crops or a succession of short-season crops followed by a cover crop and a healthy dose of fresh compost will build out a healthy and diverse rhizosphere environment for your plants.

4. COVER IT UP   Bare soil is bad soil.  It’s important to both allow crop residues to decompose so their nutrients can be cycled back into the soil and to keep the soil protected with cover, because left exposed to the elements, soil will erode and the nutrients necessary for successful plant growth will either dry out or quite literally wash away.  Additionally, the rhizosphere discussed above will starve and diminish without plants to feed it.

According to a study published in the International Journal of Agricultural and Biological Engineering , “Society gains from no-tillage systems on both large and small farms by:

  • much-diminished erosion and runoff
  • less downstream sedimentation and flood-damage to infrastructure
  • better recharge of groundwater, more regular stream-flow throughout the year, and the drying of wells and boreholes less frequent
  • healthier ponds and lakes with reduced phosphorous nitrates leaching into the water from flooding over fertilized fields
  • cleaner civic water supplies with reduced costs of treatment for urban/domestic use
  • increased stability of food supplies due to greater resilience of crops in the face of climatic drought
  • better nutrition and health of rural populations, with less call on curative health services.

After years of severe drought, the state of California, led by Governor Jerry Brown, has developed programs that place a financial incentive on the adoption of no-till techniques and healthy, soil practices.  Exposed, compacted, soil would have washed away during the intense rains California recently experienced.

Until next time,

Garbage Girl

Compostable Waste That Will Surprise You

Organic waste being converted into compost at McEnroe Farms in Millerton, NY about 100 miles from NYC. Photo credit: BioCycle

The New York Department of Sanitation has a goal of Zero Waste to landfills by 2030.  Part of this initiative is getting New Yorkers to compost all of the organic waste they generate.  It will apply to approximately 350 of the biggest food generators in the city, including hotels with 150 or more rooms, arenas and stadiums with at least 15,000 seats, as well as large-volume food manufacturers and food wholesalers.

Compo Keeper made a list of 25 items you use everyday that can go into the compost bin!  http://compokeeper.com/25-non-food-household-items-youll-be-surprised-are-compostable/

Be especially aware that plastic fibers, films, and microbeads  will break down, contaminate the compost and possibly enter the environment unchecked.  Plastic fibers from polyester and other synthetic fabrics in our laundry are the number one worst environmental contaminants followed by microbeads.

    • Bamboo Skewers
    • Toothpicks
    • Soiled Pizza Boxes (paper recycling has to reject these)
    • Paper soiled by food and oils
    • Q-tips (not the plastic kinds)
    • Matches
    • Burlap sacks (shredded)
    • Latex Balloons
    • Latex and Lambskin condoms (yes, even used)
    • Holiday wreaths (without any plastic shiny things)
    • Potpourri
    • Nail clippings
    • Natural fiber rope
    • Cellophane
    • Kleenex (yes, used ones!)
    • Loofas (the real ones)
    • Cotton balls (100% cotton)
    • Masking tape
    • White/plain glue
    • Hair from your hairbrush
    • Trimmings from an electric razor
    • 100% cotton tampons and sanitary pads (yes, even used)
    • Cardboard tampon applicators
    • Dryer lint (from 100% natural fabrics only!)
    • Old cotton clothing and jeans (ripped or cut into small pieces)
    • Cotton fabric scraps (shredded)
    • Wool clothing (ripped or cut into small pieces)
    • Cotton towels and sheets (shredded)
    • Pencil shavings
    • Sticky notes (shredded)
    • “Dust bunnies” from wood and tile floors
    • Contents of your dustpan (pick out any inorganic stuff, like pennies and Legos)
    • Burlap sacks (cut or torn into small pieces)
    • Old rope and twine (chopped, natural, unwaxed only)
    • Ashes from the fireplace, barbecue grill, or outdoor fire pits
    • Soiled Paper table cloths (shredded or torn into smaller pieces)
    • Crepe paper streamers (shredded)
    • Natural holiday wreaths
    • Fur from the dog or cat brush
    • Droppings and bedding from your rabbit, gerbil, hamster, etc.
    • Newspaper/droppings from the bottom of the bird or snake cage
    • Feathers
    • Alfalfa hay or pellets (usually fed to rabbits, gerbils, etc.)
    • Dry dog or cat food, fish pellets

Until next time, remember you can eat the entire apple!
Garbage Girl             

Ziplocks Go Zero Waste

One box of ziplocks will last you a lifetime, honestly!  They are made of plastic so they can be washed, dried and used again and again.  I even put them in the dishwasher.  Don’t be shy. Try!

The benefits of reusing baggies—savings on raw materials, emissions from shipping, and landfill space—make washing worthwhile, says Darby Hoover, a senior resource specialist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “When plastic bags are reused, fewer plastic bags need to be produced.  The production of plastic bags uses energy, water, and in most cases a non-renewable resource (fossil fuel-derived); reusing bags, even when you use water to wash them out, saves resources overall.”

I am not an advocate for anything plastic around my food.  There are concerns about chemicals leaching into food from plastic.  This is most true during microwaving and you should never microwave or boil food in a ziplock plastic bag.

Washing ziplocks with cold water and soap will get rid of the majority of food contamination in the bag.  But, “if they change color or opacity, I’d say that to be on the safe side, you should discontinue using them,” warns Hoover.   You can also disinfect with vinegar.

The best part about drying your ziplocks is the truly beautiful decorative hooks you can find in flea markets and second hand stores.  Mine holds 5 bags.

Until next time,

Garbage Girl