October 25, 2013

Sustainable booze?

Just in case you ponder the effect of spirits on the environment, I have some interesting tidbits, thanks to Grist's Deena Shanker..

In their June 2012 Research on the Carbon Footprint of Spirits report, the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER), the average 750-milliliter bottle of liquor produces about 6.3 pounds of CO2.

Yikes. Is that a reason to quit drinking? According to the BIER report (I love that acronym), distillation is the number one contributor to a spirit’s carbon footprint--more than a third of its emissions--because distillation. creates a lot of waste in the form of spent mash, wastewater, and liquor "goop" such as tequila’s pulp and rum’s fibrous leftovers.

But a number of distilleries are now following the lead of the beer industry and converting spent grain into livestock feed. Do you conjure up visions of happy smiling swine and swooning cows?

Wastewater can be recycled as well and grey water can return to the soil. Bacardi has used an anaerobic digester system since 1992 to turn 1.2 million gallons of still bottoms, unfermented molasses, and water into 7 million cubic meters of biogas, which is then used to distill more rum. That almost excuses them facing a 2001 EPA lawsuit when it was accused of violating the Clean Water Act with a 3,000-gallon discharge of industrial waste near the San Juan Bay in Puerto Rico. They settled in 2008 with a $550,000 fine and a $1 million land preservation donation.

Whiskey producers also find it easy to source their grain locally. Maker’s Mark claims that all its grains come from within a 30-mile radius. Most American sugarcane is grown in Florida, Louisiana, Texas and Hawaii but growing sugarcane can be tough on the environment if soil erosion and water pollution are not mitigated.

On the other hand, tequila is never going to be locally sourced because international law requires that anything calling itself “tequila” be produced in certain areas of Mexico.

What about organic ingredients? Even if they can’t find certified organic ingredients, most small distillers prefer to steer clear of GMOs. So support your local small producer if possible.

Not surprisingly, 20 percent of a distillery’s carbon footprint comes from packaging. Everything from the bottles to the labels to the glue holding the two together and the boxes carrying them to the liquor store has an environmental impact. Some are turning to glass that is 25 percent lighter than average, 35 percent post-consumer waste cardboard, 100 percent post-consumer waste recycled paper labels, and even soy-based inks. Some are producing their own bottles instead of importing them. And SF Vodka goes the milkman route, trading empties for discounts on a bar or restaurant’s next round.

But buyer beware: If a company touts how “sustainable” or “green” its liquor is, look carefully. They may be green-washing their product.

October 23, 2013

Recycle your old sneakers

Want to recycle your old gardening sneakers? Or the ones that are way too weathered to donate to Goodwill, but you want to keep them out of the landfill? You can “upcycle” them by dropping them off at most Nike Outlets or stores.

Nike Reuse-a-Shoe takes worn out athletic shoes and grinds them down to create a new material, Nike Grind, used in high-quality sports surfaces including courts, turf fields and tracks. Since 1990, Nike has transformed 28 million pairs of shoes and 36,000 tons of scrap material into Nike Grind in more than 450,000 locations around the world—covering approximately 632,000,000 square feet.  That is nearly enough to cover the entire island of Manhattan (23 square miles).

When you look at the rest of our clothing, we’re shamelessly wasteful too. According to the Council for Textile Recycling, the average American tosses 70 pounds of clothing per year. Of that, only 15 percent finds new life as industrial rags, insulation, carpet padding, seat stuffing, and even paper. The other 85 percent? Landfilled.

October 22, 2013

Flood insurance problem

Rising sea levels are not yet at Biblical proportions, but those near Tidewater Virginia shores need to know the true costs and risks of where we live. Those with mortgages still need to have flood insurance, the cost of which is rising as well.

Why? The federal National Flood Insurance Program has been underwater (pun intended) since 2005 when Hurricane Katrina called for big bucks to rebuild in flood prone area. Then Superstorm Sandy one year ago brought about a huge rebuilding program in New Jersey and New York. The program is now $24 billion in debt to the U.S. Treasury. So Congress raised the flood insurance rates for about 280,000 policy holders last year--many of them in Virginia.

Noah did it, but it is a tough decision to retreat from rising waters, and not rebuild. But why should all of us foot the bill for those who were allowed to build a home in low lying areas? I live only 12 feet above normal high tide and 4 feet above the 100 year flood line, so I am not saying this lightly. But pumping sand onto shrinking shorelines is only a temporary fix. Mother Nature will realign our shorelines over the coming decades.

October 13, 2013

Blue crabs in trouble?

I am feeling crabby after reading the latest news from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation folks. It seems that the number of juvenile crabs is 80 percent less than in the prior survey. What happened to them? Especially since the watermen have been telling us that their catches were way down both in 2012 and this year.

Predators may be the likely culprit. Those large catfish love the little guys. But it may also be due to pollutants, especially fertilizer and farm runoff.

For more info, check out http://cbf.typepad.com/bay_daily/2013/10/trouble-brewing-for-blue-crabs.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+BayDaily+%28Bay+Daily%29

UPDATE (10-23-13): The Virginia Marine Resources Commission just voted 7-0 to NOT reopen winter dredging for crabs. Maryland has not allowed it for years. Let's give those pregnant females a fighting chance!

Sell by dates are hooey

How many of us have tossed out perfectly good food because it was past that SELL BY date or the USE BY date? You are not alone. But the folks at the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic now tell us that those labels might be very misleading.

Since the average household tosses about $300 to $400 worth of food each year, that is good news. But which labels might still be valid? Use your nose to determine if milk is sour. And those yucky molds are a definite clue. Cheese should not be green and fuzzy.