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Turning trash in to treasure… one step at a time

  
  
  

By Melissa Iozzo, Technical Specialist

During these hazy summer days who can think of a better way to spend the afternoon than perusing along a beach shore? It’s long been the eco friendly environmentalist’s standpoint to “take only pictures, leave only footprints”; but here’s a way to help cleanup the beaches, by taking something beautiful for yourself!!

For as long as man’s been around we’ve consumed product, and from that product consumption we’ve produced garbage. Long ago it was quite common practice, and only made sense to throw our garbage in the ocean. The world seemed a much bigger place then – and not too many people were concerned with the future of our beach shores! Today you can find remnants of days long ago on just about any beach you may wander upon - in the trash!! You just have to look hard enough.

Ew you say? No way – I’m talking about sea glass! Years ago (and still today, unfortunately) tons of glass was disposed of in the ocean. Remember there wasn’t plastic back then – so everything from soda and beer, to fancy perfumes, to medicines and Clorox bleach was sold in glass containers. For years these bottles get tumbled in the ocean, smoothed and rounded over sands and rocks, traveling for miles. The salty sea water leaches out lime and soda from the glass, leaving it with a salty, or “frosted” smooth surface.

If you go for a walk – check the sands for these treasures! Common colors to find are the browns, greens, and clears. That’s because these were the colors of soda and beer bottles, which there were many of. Less common colors such as cobalts, whites, purples, and yellows most likely came from expensive lamps, perfumes, and medicines – these are a rare find! Rarest of all are the reds, or “rubies” of the oceans – which are believe to come from only the most expensive of perfumes, reserved for the elite upper class.

So next time you are on the beach – stop and look down. Not only will you be helping “clean” the beaches, but you may be able to take home a little piece of history – beautiful in it’s self!

Got a huge collection at home? Learn more at http://www.seaglassassociation.org/

Cut costs – save money – conserve for the future!

  
  
  

By Melissa Iozzo Technical Specialist

While visiting my parent’s house this weekend I spent a decent amount of time in the backyard enjoying the scenery, and at the same time, taking in the sights and sounds of all of the wonderful things they have done to attract local wildlife, save water, and beautify their gardens.

It got me thinking; there are so many simple teeny tiny little steps that we can all do to save some water here and there, or reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills, or even save some cash.

“Saving the planet” isn’t first on either one of my folks lists, but it occurred to me that many of the things happening right in their back yard were really helping out the environment – even if in just small doses. If everyone on their street did just one of these things it would add up; and if everyone in the town did just one of these things, not only would their little community be flourishing with beautiful gardens, but folks would definitely see a break in their bills, as well as a reduction in their wastes!

Here are some of the “projects” that I witnessed my folks taking on almost effortlessly throughout their day. Certainly there’s much more that can be done… but my theory is start small, and see what grows!

 -Collect rain water around the house to water outdoor plants with! My dad has a collection barrel at the end of his gutters for this – after a heavy rain this fills very fast, saving up to 55 gallons of water that would have otherwise been washed down the road! To reduce the breeding of mosquitoes, whom are typically attracted to standing water, add gold fish to the barrel! Not only are they fun to look at, but they are low maintenance, and can live off the mosquitoes larva. If you want to get really high tech consider building a small back yard pond out of collected rainwater (this involves some more intensive engineering and back ground knowledge, or course).

-Collect water used to wash fruits and veggies to water your plants with. Even the dog’s old water can be added to your houseplants rather than going down the drain! Better even yet, my mom waters her plants with her old fish water – its nutrient rich and the plants love it!

-Instead of planting grass, plant native plants! A green lawn is nice, but not only does grass not hold water well (and drinks a lot!), it also doesn’t attract much wildlife - like pretty butterflies, dragonflies, and moths. A lawn of mixed mulch (a great tool for holding water around your thirsty plants), native plants, and stones can be much more efficient, attract welcome non nuisance insects, and looks great too! Just think, when your neighbors have burt brown spots you’ll have flourishing native species in full bloom!!

-Think outside the box. My mom has a “broken glass garden” as well as a “rusty things garden”. Basically within a couple of the gardens are décor of whatever the recyclers won’t take ; i.e. old broken china, pieces of pottery, old bottles, rusty odds and ends – basically non recyclable materials that would have otherwise ended up ion a landfill, and are now great conversation starters!

There’s a lot more that you can do around your home – the key is just to keep thinking about ways to save – you may end up being surprised at what you come up with, as well as the beauty that comes with these ideas!

There is an entire science devoted to the production of ice cream?

  
  
  

By Kate Heller, QA/QC Chemist, Triumvirate Environmental New York

There are approximately 100 scientists world-wide who claim ice-cream to be their medium of choice. These chemists pursue not only new flavors, but also new textures. The number one goal is to eliminate the presence of freezer-burn and create a product that is revolutionary in a world where chains dominate and thirty-one flavors is the norm. While it may initially seem questionable to label this field as a science, especially a chemistry based science, it is surprising to discover just how scientifically precise your single scoop of vanilla (or double fudge sundae) can be.

Ice-cream chemists are constantly creating new and exciting ways to transform their dessert of choice from the cold concoction we all know to something currently unheard of. There have been numerous recent developments such as no-melt ice cream (presently found at ColdStone Creamery) and Hot ice cream (no not simply microwaved). The hot ice cream includes such ingredients as cream cheese, yogurt, vanilla bean, and methocel food gum SGA150 which helps the dessert keeps its gelatinous texture in increased temperatures. Methocel, short for Methylcellulose, is actually quite common in the culinary world, primarily because it does not dissolve when combined with hot water. CarboxyMethylCellulose (CMC), synthesized by the alkali-catalyzed reaction of cellulose with Chloroacetic acid, is employed in the food industry as a thickening agent whose primary function is to stabilize emulsions. This is of critical importance to ice-cream chemists because when a high concentration of CMC is present, the gel becomes thermoreversible thereby inducing a decrease in viscosity which would aid in baking by increasing gas bubble formation.

At first glance it may seem as if the familiar frozen dessert you’re ingesting is a simple treat, but the many scientists of the ice-cream niche of the food science industry are striving to eliminate the ubiquity of the flavor choices and cup vs. cone presentation. Ice cream is evolving, with the help of creative chemists and an alkali based cellulose agent. Perhaps soon the question will no longer be “one scoop or two” but “Hot or Cold.”

Proper Management of Universal Waste: A Universal Problem

  
  
  

By Greg Brady, Chemist III, Triumvirate Environmental Somerville

People become discouraged by the thought of having to keep track of all of the Universal Waste that is generated however, if you follow a few simple steps it will ensure that your facility maintains compliance and it will save you time and money as well.

1.  Designate a central location that is intended for storage. By doing this you ensure that everyone brings their Universal Waste to one location instead of having it spread out in several locations where you cannot manage the material.

2.  Label each container as Universal Waste and package the material in a manner that prevents accidental release. A cardboard box that prevents breakage for fluorescent lamps or a plastic pail with a lid for batteries is great.

3.  Ensure that your universal waste storage area is cleaned out every calendar year to maintain compliance. By dating each container you can easily keep track of when you have reached your universal waste on-site storage limits.

Following these steps alleviates potential compliance fines, reduces shipment preparation and on-site time for vendors, and allows your facility to reach the credit they deserve for recycling these materials.

Universal Waste includes used batteries, fluorescent lamps, pesticides and mercury containing devices. Proper management of Universal Waste is essential to maintaining a safe and compliant workplace while minimizing costs.

Contemporary environmentalism

  
  
  
By Sam Hyde, Chemist II

The American environmental movement can be broadly divided into two schools of thought.  These schools, while striving for the same goals of sustainability and care for the environment, differ greatly in their approaches.  Some romanticize and idolize the natural world and advocate a return to a simpler life. This life is more in tune with the environment and the living things within it.  They reject all of what they consider the wasteful and polluting trappings of modern life in favor of traditional, often small-scale communities.  While this approach is indeed environmentally friendly, it in many cases is predicated on a deeper moral belief about the corrupting influence of the modern world.  Individuals are free to choose this lifestyle. However, it is implausible to expect an entire society to protect the environment by living this way.

In contrast to this view is a more sensible approach based on a scientific understanding of the natural world.  This view advocates a technologically advanced and organized approach to caring for the environment rather than a regression to traditional life.  This view, while not as appealing to some, is the only viable approach to environmental policy for several reasons.

-The sheer number of people on this planet makes it impossible for the population to support itself by small-scale farming or hunting.  There is not enough arable land for such inefficient food production.  Additionally, a changing climate will result in the destruction or shift of arable land, resulting in famine or massive migrations (think the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s).  A scientific approach would place emphasis on more efficient (and more environmentally friendly) farming practices to ensure a long-term food supply.

-Life in large communities is inherently more efficient, and could be made even more so by improvements in architecture, urban planning, and public transportation. There are economies of scale that make living in a city more environmentally friendly than living in a suburban or rural setting.  An apartment building is far cheaper to heat than a group of single-family homes.  A modern public transportation system uses far less energy than a fleet of cars.  Likewise, food takes less energy to distribute because there are fewer, larger, population centers to reach.

-A return to traditional life would come at the cost of so many technological innovations that have proved invaluable in the effort to live a better and more environmentally friendly life.  Scientific progress is the result of investment and organization on a scale that would be hard to achieve in a traditional society.  The creation of the Internet and the moon landing are two good examples of feats that would be impossible to accomplish without massive, concerted effort.  These efforts were not explicitly meant to benefit the environment, but the scientific discoveries made in their pursuit have had broad and lasting applications.

It is easy to understand the lure of a simple, wholesome, pastoral environmental philosophy.  However, it is ultimately untenable as a global strategy to protect the environment.  Environmentalism is merely a facet of a larger economic, social, political, and technological strategy to ensure a better future.  It may not be as glamorous, and it requires a lot of work that will not pay off immediately, but it is ultimately the best way to protect the environment while providing a better and brighter future for human society.

The Antibacterial Trend- Not Cleaner, just Convenient

  
  
  

By Melissa Iozzo, Technical Specialist

Every day, millions of Americans use antibacterial soaps, dish detergents, hand creams, you name it, in an effort to keep themselves and their families "germ free." But could repeated use of these products actually be bad for your health? I know my parents certainly didn't raise me on antibacterial evaporating spray foams... and I hardly ever get sick. So why are so many parents today sporting a sanitizing gel on their key rings? Is America onto something here - a way to prevent the spread of germs and diseases? Or are we just buying in to yet another bottled water trend?

Soon after the first company released their antibacterial foam in a trendy bottle, consumers bought right in, and sales shot up. This stuff wasn't your grandma's Lysol. You could get anything from top notch kickin' kiwi berry antibacterial body wash to celebrity endorsed fruity floral antibacterial body butter. This stuff soon became the norm everywhere - not just in hospitals and bathrooms where we were more used to seeing these items. The secret was out - germs were everywhere, and Americans should be very, very, afraid.

Not soon after the media bought in as well, and the new scare was that over use of antibacterial products in the home would lead to the creation of antibiotic drug resistant strains of bacteria, or "super germs". There were warnings that antibacterial products could actually make you sick, inhibit your body from making good bacterial, lower children's immune systems, and in one article I even read that excessive use on a baby made him drunk!

So what's the reality of the situation? I know that I find it extremely annoying when I see parents whipping out their evaporating antibacterial pumps to disinfect their children after playing at the public playground. But I was never subjected to this...was I missing something? Was my mother wrong about good old soap and water? Should I too, be afraid?

Turns out that none of us really need to worry as much as we do. Studies have since abolished the notion of a "super germ" being created from over use of these products. Studies have also almost unanimously concluded that antibacterial products are no more effective then soaps, but maybe just a little more convenient. As far as people being more health conscious these days by making the extra effort to "disinfect" themselves and their families before and after touching anything out in the world, I may not agree that it's best practice, but at least they are cleaning stuff off for me... You decide for your self, either way, it looks like we're all safe for now.

You Skipped the Meat, Now Skip the Milk

  
  
  

By Andrea Little, Marketing Intern

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the Meatless Monday campaign. This Monday, I'm challenging you to take Meatless Mondays once step further - skip the dairy, too.

As of 2000, there were 90,000 dairy farms in the US. The environmental impact of dairy farming is as real and considerable as other areas of agriculture:

  • Pollution and emissions from farm equipment, the energy consumed by machines used to pasteurize and milk cows, and the fuel consumed by vehicles used for transportation
      • 80% of agricultural greenhouse gasses comes from the processing and transportation of food
      • The Wall Street Journal found the carbon footprint of 1 gallon on milk to be between 6.19 and 7.59 pounds of CO2, depending on how it was transported
  • Antibiotics and hormones used on livestock
  • Soil and water contamination
      • Agriculture is the most common pollutant of rivers and streams, according to the EPA.
  • Production of ammonia, nitrous oxide, methane, pathogens, and fine particulates, all of which are harmful to humans and the environment
      • Methane comes from rumination by cows and the breakdown of manure, while nitrous oxide comes from manure and fertilizer
      • 21% of methane comes from ruminants. This is extremely significant, especially when you compare this to 24% from landfills, and 26% from gas and petroleum systems
      • Methane is 21 times more potent than C02 at trapping heat

There have been important advances in farming as organic and sustainable styles become more common (as opposed to intensive farming methods). Many farmers are making the transition to more environmentally friendly pieces of farming equipment. And many consumers, maybe yourself included, have hopped on the local foods movement, which cuts down food's carbon footprint by reducing how far it is has been transported from farm to store (check out www.sustainabledairyfarming.com for more information on these developments).

Although some farms are becoming greener and more humane, they still leave a considerable carbon footprint on our world. Today, consider eating a dairy alternative, like Tofutti cream cheese (made with tofu), soy milk, ice cream made from rice milk, or cheese made from soy and sesame. Visit Meatless Monday's dairy-free recipe section if you're looking for meal ideas!

Bags, Bags Everywhere!

  
  
  

By Amanda Mendonza, Technical Service Representative

The sea of environmental faux pas is bottomless, but how are we ever going to keep our head above water if people's common sense continues to falter? There is a superchain of grocery stores in this country that prides itself in its green initiatives. They've won awards for their canvas bag product, plastic bag recycling program and their tenacity in finding outlets for expired food product as opposed to throwing food away. Simply by perusing the isles one can see this conglomerate's support of the organic/free-range food movement as well. So how is it that their most important resource in sustainability, the human workforce, is not 100% compliant to their practices?

Here's my story: Saturday I went food shopping for a day at the beach. I planned to purchase a couple snacks, a pack of soda and a bag of ice. As usual, I forgot my canvas bag on the way into the store but, as should be expected from a "green grocer," the first rack of items for sale is the canvas bags. Thankful for the reminder, I walked back out to my car and grabbed my canvas bag. I continued on with my shopping and picked up a few more snacks and two plastic picnic cups for easy sipping on the beach. I brought my fair up to the register, handed the cashier my canvas bag and proceeded to not pay attention to the bagging lady at the end while I paid for my groceries.

To my horror, when I turned, I saw my limp canvas bag sitting patiently at the end surrounded by a sea of plastic-bagged items. She had placed half of the snacks in the canvas bag (maybe three items), the other half in a plastic bag, the already bagged ice in its own bag, the soda which had a handle in its own bag and the two plastic cups together in their own bag. She gave me very innocent grandmotherly smile of pride for a job well done and wished me a wonderful day out in the beautiful weather. To further add to it, the cashier handed me a receipt about 2 feet long of coupons that I will never use; also with a very gracious smile.

I grinned back through gritted teeth and took my cart to the exit where the bag recycle box was waiting for my deposit. I repacked my groceries fitting everything that needed bagging into the canvas bag, dropped the instantly wasted plastic bags into the box and quickly left the store. Baffled, I couldn't come to terms if this was a wavering common sense on the lady's part, a lack of training on the store's part, or my own ignorance about grocery packing strategy. Any way, we all three had a hand in a senseless waste that day.

The Dangers of Home Trash Burning

  
  
  

By Josh Estey, Chemist

As a kid there was nothing that you could say to me that would convince me that my grandparents weren't perfect people. My grandfather, a mechanic by week and trapshooter by weekend, could fix any car and always shoot perfect on the range. My grandmother, though strict, was fair and giving and could make the cheesiest macaroni and cheese and sweetest blackberry crisp. It was always assumed that they always did the right thing, even burning their trash seemed to be the right thing to do. They never had to put anything in the landfill!

It wasn't until recently that I discovered how terrible this simple act could be for the environment and just how much impact it could actually have. Sure if my grandparents were the only people in the world to burn their trash it wouldn't be a big deal, but the truth is that it is a very cheap and very convenient way to get rid of waste. Many lower income people in this country and in second and third world countries around the world use it as a way to avoid paying disposal costs so that they can still put food on the table.

Home trash burning used to be a much more common practice than it is today, though it is still a major dioxin source and significant carbon source. Dioxins are especially dangerous because they are known to cause mutations, birth defects and some cancers and are a bioaccumulant; that is they only accumulate, never dispersing, and can be passed from generation to generation.

What makes this problem so much harder to combat is the nature of the toxin production. This type of pollution is known as non-point, which is that it cannot be traced to a single point. So unless the person is caught in the act of burning their trash, there is no way to trace a source of dioxin back to a town or state, let alone a single person, leaving no accountability on anyone.

The Hybrid2 Bike System is Coming to Boston

  
  
  

By Josh Estey, Chemist

Chiyi Chen may just have something here. Chen is looking past the traditional green bike-sharing program, a popular venture in many European cities, and at what other services it could provide. Using human activity to harness energy is a novel, not yet perfected idea that has been addressed countless times with only mediocre results. For example, a number of years ago a group of MIT students developed a special flooring system that would harness that power generated by crowds walking around at a train station. The technology was so expensive, however, that the idea never got out of the trial phases.

Chen, unlike those MIT graduate students, has developed his system using technology that already exists. Ultracapacitors capable of storing massive amounts of energy would be affixed to the brakes of bikes that are either already part of a city's bike sharing program or part of a new program such as the one Boston will be unrolling in Spring 2010. The energy stored on the capacitors would then be fed back into the power grid of the city by way of special bike racks that have grounded docks, which can then be used to power a variety of things including, but not limited to, public transportation.

What makes this program so attractive to citizens, though, is the implementation of a RFID card, much like the Charlie Card for the T system in Boston or the Zip cards used for car rentals. These cards, carried by anyone involved in the program would not only be used to unlock the bikes but to carry credits that build up depending on how much power is generated. These credits can then be used for incentive programs such as free bus rides. Look for the Hybrid2 system to make a big splash in months and years to come.

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