July 31, 2011

Recycling on the grand scale

With Super Phil, Goodwill, and the landfill!

Helping my 93-year-old mother move into assisted living this summer and finding new homes for her 50 years worth of "stuff" before putting her home on the market was the ultimate recycling experience for my husband and me. She does not qualify for the TV show, Hoarders, but she was a pack rat and stockpiler. Just how many bottles of skin moisturizer or cinnamon can one woman need? And what about household cleansers, furniture polish, and pantyhose?

When you are in this situation (and all of you will) you too will need a Super Phil, Goodwill and the landfill—plus a lot of cousins.

Our Super Phil is Mom’s neighbor’s father, recently retired and now very much into flea markets. As quickly as we filled the tables along both sides of the garage, he hauled the goodies away, paying us a very fair amount for each van-load. Seven trips for Super Phil and we could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Otherwise, Goodwill and a local homeless shelter were the lucky recipients of lots of cans of soup, gently-used clothing, and furniture. Numerous cousins were helpful too, getting lots of "Aunt Mary keepsakes."

If you have heard comedian George Carlin’s routine on “stuff,” you’ll appreciate my dilemma. He made us laugh at ourselves when he said that a house is “just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.” Mom had a PhD in stuffology!

Do you frequently ask yourself  “Why was I saving this?” Then you might need to hire a “clutter consultant” to help you organize your belongings or motivate you to purge your home. You know you need to make some tough decisions if you’ve moved boxes to three different homes and never unpacked them. It’s then time for http://www.freecycle.org/ , a dandy recycling resource. There are all sorts of helpful folks out there in your community who will respond to your "OFFER" postings.

Many things that end up on the curb each week are not thrown out because they're broken or even obsolete. They are simply just not useful to their owner anymore and take up too much space. Freecycle.org, a network of community message boards, became my best friend last week when I finally concluded that I was NOT going to tutor any more elementary school kids. So why was I saving a 4-drawer file cabinet full of language arts and math workbooks?

To join the more than 940 Freecycle members in the Williamsburg, VA area, visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/WilliamsburgRecyclist  It’s very easy for members to post “Offer” or “Wanted” to give away (not sell) items or request almost anything.

If you want to reclaim your garage or basement, you might also check out FreeSharing.org’s Pack Rats Anonymous at http://freesharing.org/pra.php .

The cable show, American Pickers, follows two guys as they treasure hunt around America, frequently sleuthing through abandoned barns. Look in your attic or garage, and it’s likely you’ll see the kinds of items and memorabilia that interest them. These self-described "modern archaeologists" are a far cry from dumpster divers. Much of this stuff would have been destined for landfills without these ultimate recyclers. But one person’s trash may be another’s treasure.

Honeybee population still declining?

There is more "buzz" coming from beekeepers in Virginia than from their bees. The decline of the honeybee population has been in nationwide news for many years. Virginia had about 100,000 honeybee hives in the 1970s, and we are now down to about 35,000.

'Colony collapse disorder' is the name for the decline. Mites infiltrate hives and wipe out 30 percent of Virginia's honeybees every winter. Other suspects are pesticides, transporting bees from one area to a different environment, and even electromagnetic waves from cellphones.

The bright side to this is that a renewed interest in beekeeping has resulted in more than 40 beekeeper groups in Virginia today--up from 12 in 2000.

This downward trend does not bode well for many crops and fruit trees. The USDA estimates that "bee pollination contributes $15 billion annually to the nation's crop value." (Daily Press)

July 28, 2011

Biomass, the basic facts

Biomass may indeed be the wave of our power future. But what exactly is biomass or biofuel?

It is organic which means that is was a living plant or animal--wood, crops of all kinds, manure, and even metahne from garbage in landfills. Ethanol from corn is only one type. Switchgrass from the plains is a renewable source that is preferred because it doesn't compete for food.

The great thing about biomass is that it contains stored energy from the sun and it's a renewable energy source because we can grow more of it--unlike coal, oil, or gas. Biomass can be converted to other useable forms of energy too, such as methane gas or transportation fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel. Corn and sugar cane can be fermented to produce ethanol. Biodiesel, another transportation fuel, can be produced from left-over food products like vegetable oils and animal fats.

So why is Dominion Virginia Power jumping on the biomass bandwagon? The company recently announced they'd soon be converting three of their smaller coal-fired plants into biomass-burning facilities, to try to attain the voluntary goal (yes, voluntary in Virginia) of providing more of our power from renewable sources by 2013. They will most likely be using the waste from Virginia pulp factories.

How Much Biomass Is Already Used for Fuel? Only about 4 percent of the energy used in the United States in 2010. Of this, about 46 pecent was from wood and wood-derived biomass, 43 percent from biofuels (mainly ethanol), and about 11 percent from municipal solid waste.

The Union of Concerned Scientists' website reports: " When done well, biomass energy brings numerous environmental benefits—particularly reducing many kinds of air pollution and net carbon emissions. Biomass can be grown and harvested in ways that protect soil quality, avoid erosion, and maintain wildlife habitat. However, the environmental benefits of biomass depend on developing beneficial biomass resources and avoiding harmful resources, which having policies that can distinguish between them."

Click here to read what Cory Nealon wrote about biomass in a recent Daily Press article. Or here for a great website that explains it in easy-to-understand terms.

SUPER trees in Singapore

Just as you think you've seen everything . . .

Along Singapore's waterfront, these "Supertrees" have sprouted. They are vertical gardens, embedded with environmentally sustainable functions and range from 25-50 meters in height [that's 9-16 stories tall[, with emphasis placed on the vertical display of tropical flowering climbers, ferns and epiphytes from around the globe. The "Supertrees" are part of the government's efforts to bring their national gardens into the city center. (Jakarta Post)

They are quite dramatic, but I wonder what Dr. Seuss' Lorax would think. I also wonder if they'll rust!

July 2, 2011

Chesapeake Bay waters not so beach-worthy?

Just in time for the 4th of July, the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) published its annual report this week and the results are not pretty if you are planning on being on Virginia’s 48 coastal beaches any time soon. Looking at the number of beach closures due to yucky water in 2010, Virginia ranked 12th nationally. We exceeded the EPA’s water contamination standard 5 percent of the time. That’s an increase from 3 percent in 2009. So we are not trending in the right direction. Maryland ranked 16, violating recommended bacteria standards 7 percent of the time, also up from 3 percent in 2009. Can you say Chesapeake Bay?????

The beaches with the highest percent violation rates of bacteria standards in 2010 were Festival Beach in Mathews County (38%), Hilton Beach (32%) and King/Lincoln Park (28%) in Newport News, Fairview Beach in King George County (25%), Chick’s Beach (13%) and Lesner Bridge East (13%) in Virginia Beach, and Anderson’s Beach in Newport News (13%).

According to the report, Mathews County had the highest bacteria exceedance rate (38%) in 2010, followed by King George County (25%), Newport News (22%), Virginia Beach (3%), Hampton (2%), and Norfolk (1%). And I’m in a sailboat off a Mathews County beach as I write this. Yuck!

And yet, many of our legislators (both in DC and Richmond) are clamoring for the EPA to be neutered? How many of them get political contributions from the National Home Builders Association? I’ve always looked at farmers—at least the small independent farmer—as being patriots and a part of the American backbone. But the agri-business folks at the American Farm Bureau Federation are anything but patriotic as they fight pollution limits in the Bay.

OOPS, we forgot to display the stars and stripes on the stern as we rushed out on the Bay this morning. Excuse me as I go below and get our flag.