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Posts Tagged ‘landfill’

When I was in Sweden in 2017, I noticed that waste-conscious Starbucks customers could leave their cups in the shop for the next time. A Massachusetts startup carries the concept a step farther.

The party guest told Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate that “there’s a great future in plastics,” but today there’s a better future in non-plastic packaging.

At Debra’s Natural Gourmet, there’s demand for shampoo and conditioner in cardboard, skin cream in tins, water bottles in glass. I have also seen lip balm in cardboard at Earthling, here, and at Booda Butter, here. Imagine! Thoughtful people out there are noticing how often we throw plastic ChapSticks into landfills!

Joanna Detz writes at ecoRI News about a company called Usefull that is tackling our wastefulness with takeout coffee cups.

“What if your coffee shop had reusable mugs on demand that you could carry out with you and return to any other participating coffee shop when you were done? Alison Rogers Cove, founder and CEO of Cambridge, Mass.-based Usefull, envisions just such a circular foodware solution that would spell the end of disposable takeout products, most of which are not recyclable and wind up in a landfill or as litter.

“Usefull, an app-based foodware service that provides silicone-lidded stainless-steel containers for customers to check out and return (like a library book), recently wrapped up a pilot program on Block Island.

“The pilot, run in partnership with the Block Island Conservancy, was supported by a Small Business Innovation Research grant funded through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A handful of cafes, a food truck, and a farmers market participated.

“ ‘The pilot was very successful in testing out a lot,’ Rogers Cove said. However, she admitted there were challenges in running the program in a largely transient community of day-trippers, where not all food-service providers opted into the system, and where single-use takeout containers were still an option. …

“Her data show a closed-loop returnable program such as Usefull’s has a better success rate in places where there is an outright ban on single-use takeout containers.

“ ‘From a business perspective, we can’t take the risk of going into a community without a ban. That’s part of our lesson learned,’ she said.

“Marin County in California is one of the few municipalities that has passed such a ban, which will take effect Nov. 10, 2023.

“As a result, Usefull has decided to focus its business efforts on serving colleges and universities invested in eliminating single-use takeout products on campus. … ‘College campuses are able to fully commit to their zero-waste goals and eliminate the option of single-use packaging.’

“On participating campuses, students download the Usefull app, place their takeout order, and scan a tracking code on their takeout container. After they are used, the containers — bowls and cups — can be dropped off at any of Usefull’s return locations on campus, regardless of where the container was checked out. Once the containers are returned, they are run through commercial-grade dishwashers and put back in circulation.

“Users are only charged if they return the container late — schedules vary by location — or if they lose the container.

“The idea for Usefull was born in 2013, when Rogers Cove was working in management consulting. … But it wasn’t until 2018 that she shared her idea outside her social circle, when she presented at a Boston Globe pitch event with angel investors. …

” ‘[The pandemic] was when we pivoted to colleges,’ Rogers Cove said, because it wasn’t clear when downtown Boston was going to reopen. She and her team figured college revenue was tied to having bodies on campus and bet that colleges would be first to reopen.

“The first college to partner with Usefull was Mount Holyoke, followed by other Bay State colleges and universities.”

More at EcoRI, here.

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Photo: Pacific Beach Coalition.
Scientists investigate whether a “superworm” can help solve our styrofoam problem.

It’s no secret that plastic has become a huge challenge for our poor old planet. Concerned people are finding solutions where they can. Ploggers of India (and other countries) pick plastic off the ground when they go jogging. Plastic Free Hackney is a UK town that aims to do without. Artists turn plastic waste into sculptures.

In today’s story, we learn about scientists testing a “superworm” that might be able to break down a particular kind of plastic, styrofoam.

Pranshu Verma reports at the Washington Post, “A plump larva the length of a paper clip can survive on the material that makes Styrofoam. The organism, commonly called a ‘superworm,’ could transform the way waste managers dispose of one of the most common components in landfills, researchers said, potentially slowing a mounting garbage crisis that is exacerbating climate change.

“In a paper released [in June] in the journal of Microbial Genomics, scientists from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, showed that the larvae of a darkling beetle, called zophobas morio, can survive solely on polystyrene, commonly called Styrofoam.

“The findings come amid a flurry of research on ways bacteria and other organisms can consume plastic materials, like Styrofoam and drinking bottles.

“Now, the researchers will study the enzymes that allow the superworm to digest Styrofoam, as they look to find a way to transform the finding into a commercial product. Industrial adoption offers a tantalizing scenario for waste managers: A natural way to dispose and recycle the Styrofoam trash that accounts for as much as 30 percent of landfill space worldwide. …

“The material is dense and takes up a lot of space, making it expensive to store at waste management facilities, industry experts said. The cups, plates and other materials made from it are also often contaminated with food and drink, making it hard to recycle. Polystyrene fills landfills, where it can often take 500 years to break down and decompose, researchers have found. …

“In 2015, researchers from Stanford University revealed that mealworms could also survive on Styrofoam. The next year, Japanese scientists found bacteria that could eat plastic bottles. In April, researchers from the University of Texas found an enzyme which could digest polyethylene terephthalate, a plastic resin found in clothes, liquid and food containers. …

“[The Microbial Genomics study’s coauthor Christian Rinke] said he was excited by his research results but noted it will take time to develop into an industrial solution, estimating somewhere between five to 10 years.

“To conduct the study, his research team in Australia fed the superworms three separate diets. One group was given a ‘healthy’ solution of bran. The second was given polystyrene. The third was put on a starvation diet.

“Ninety percent of the larvae that ate bran became beetles, compared with roughly 66 percent from the group given polystyrene and 10 percent from those forced to starve. This indicated to researchers that superworms have enzymes in their gut that can effectively digest Styrofoam.

“Next, the scientists will study those enzymes to see how well they can digest polystyrene on a large scale — modifying them if necessary to become more effective. ‘We want to not have gigantic superworm farms,’ he said. ‘Rather, we want to focus on the enzyme.’

“If the research proves successful, Rinke said waste managers could collect and grind Styrofoam materials and put them into a liquid solution made with the superworm enzyme. The solution would ideally dispose of the Styrofoam or digest it in a way that allows new plastic products to be created, thereby reducing the need for new plastic materials, Rinke said.

“ ‘If you can go all the way to the end,’ he said, ‘the idea is to use the system and come up with a biological solution to recycle plastic.’

“Despite the findings from Rinke and others, there are reasons that none have successfully translated into industry applications over the past decade, researchers said. Andrew Ellington, a professor of molecular biosciences at the University of Texas at Austin, said it has been difficult to find a plastic-digesting organism or enzyme that can operate in industrial conditions, which often process trash in very hot environments or through the use of organic solvents. … He suggested an alternative solution.

“ ‘I believe that we will be able to offer up, in the not-so-distant future, worm-based composting kits so that individuals can do this themselves,’ he said.

“Jeremy O’Brien, the director of applied research at the Solid Waste Association of North America, said there are other business challenges in putting this type of solution into use. As envisioned, the solution would require waste managers to collect Styrofoam separately from other trash, he said, which makes it cost-prohibitive.

“O’Brien also said it remains unclear what kind of organic waste the enzyme process would generate, and he worries it could harm the microorganisms landfills already use to process trash and reduce odors. He added that a more desirable and cost-effective solution would be to take Styrofoam in landfills and condense them enough so that they can be turned into new plastics.”

More at the Post, here. What do you think of this? Is breaking plastic down to enzymes enough to keep us safe?

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Photo: City of San Antonio.

There are so many beautiful pieces of buildings that end up in the dump when individuals or municipalities choose demolition: “wavy” glass from old homes, priceless woods, marble, stained glass, historical artifacts, and more. Fortunately, in the spirit of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, a different approach is being tested around the country.

Aarian Marshall writes at Wired, “Emily Christensen knows this sounds a little West Coast, but when she enters the old houses her company has been hired to take apart, she senses an energy. ‘It’s intense,’ she says. ‘These houses have seen decades of human drama.’

“Christensen and her partner, David Greenhill, started their firm, Good Wood, in 2016. Portland, Oregon, where they live, had just become the nation’s first city to require houses of a certain age to be deconstructed rather than demolished. That means that, instead of using an excavator and backhoe to crush an old building, anyone scrapping an older structure in the city must hire a deconstruction crew, which takes it apart delicately — almost surgically — by hand. Rather than a jumble of smashed wood, plaster, fixtures, insulation, concrete, and dust, deconstruction firms can extract cabinetry, masonry, windows, marble, brick, and beautiful old-growth lumber. The idea is that these materials can be sold and eventually reused locally. …

“Using old materials to make new things feels meaningful. It helps, too, that reclaimed wood tends to be very pretty. But a growing number of US cities think the idea makes good policy too. In the past five years, cities as disparate as Baltimore, Cleveland, Boise, and San Jose and Palo Alto in California have adopted their own deconstruction policies; San Antonio has been working on one for four years.

“Deconstruction, city officials say, is a green alternative to demolition, sending up to 85 percent less material to landfills. Building materials and construction account for just under 10 percent of the world’s energy-related global carbon emissions, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Using salvaged materials eliminates emissions associated with making and transporting new building materials. Plus, it’s not as noisy as knocking down a house, and doesn’t spew dust or toxic materials, such as asbestos, into the air.

“Backers say it creates jobs even for those without high-tech skills, while highlighting the importance of sustainability. As the climate warms, ‘the circular economy is one promising alternative,’ says Felix Heisel, an architect, assistant professor, and director of the Circular Construction Lab at Cornell University.

“Good Wood illustrates Portland’s success. Over the past four years, the city has deconstructed more than 420 single-family and duplex homes that were registered as historic places or built before 1940. Good Wood has taken apart 160 of them. Today, 19 contractors are licensed to deconstruct in the city, thanks in part to a city-sponsored training. …

“But all that manual labor comes at a cost. Deconstructing a building can be more than 80 percent more expensive than demolishing it, according to a report from Portland State University, though selling some of the recovered material can offset part of the cost.

“And sometimes the labor isn’t available. In 2018, Milwaukee required many of the city’s older structures to be deconstructed instead of demolished. But the rule is still on ice, through at least 2023, as officials still struggle to find local contractors who can take apart homes by hand.

“The delay ‘is in hopes of building a bigger pool of potential contractors,’ says Chris Kraco, supervisor of the condemnation section at the city’s Department of Neighborhood Services. Kraco and his colleagues continue to hold training sessions. … Many places also need to update their local building codes to allow contractors to build with salvaged materials.

“The complexity has prompted some cities to tackle deconstruction slowly. Pittsburgh just launched a year-long pilot project, in partnership with a local nonprofit construction materials and appliances business, to see whether taking apart old, condemned structures on city land makes financial sense there. …

“San Antonio’s Office of Historic Preservation, which has spearheaded the city’s deconstruction efforts, plans to propose an ordinance to city council later this year. In the meantime, it’s helping with demonstration projects, including one on a 1930s homestead that uncovered a basement full of moonshine bottles — something that might have otherwise been crushed in a demolition. …

“Most cities, Portland included, have targeted old buildings for deconstruction. It’s partly because limiting the pool of homes required to use the technique gives local deconstruction economies time to develop. But also, starting in the 1970s, builders tended to use materials that haven’t held their value, like second- or third-growth lumber, or particle board. Construction also used more glue, spray foam sealant, and other adhesives, which make it harder to take apart new buildings by hand.” More at Wired, here.

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Photo: Daniil Shvedov.
An eco-playground in the Gorkinsko-Ometyevsky Forest near Kazan.

The problem with headlines is that they tend to focus on bad stuff — a bad leader, say, planning bad moves in a country we know about only from headlines. But a leader can’t be everywhere all the time, and no country is a monolith. Especially not one as big and diverse as Russia.

Alex Ulam has a Bloomberg City Lab story about something going on way out in the semi-autonomous Russian republic of Tatarstan.

“In 2015, Natalia Fishman-Bekmambetova arrived in [Kazan] to oversee a large public works program. Then only 24 years old, she found a city with a population of 1.7 million, a renowned university, grand boulevards and major historic sites, including a Unesco-listed walled Kremlin from which Mongols once ruled.

“But Kazan also was a typical post-Soviet city — surrounded by drab concrete tower complexes and parking lots. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, little attention had been devoted to revitalizing derelict public open spaces or to building new ones.

“Six years after Fishman-Bekmambetova’s arrival, a massive initiative often referred to as a ‘green revolution‘ has dramatically reshaped this city 450 miles east of Moscow. Tatarstan’s Public Space Development Program, launched by Fishman-Bekmambetova and Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov, has created or upgraded more than 420 projects throughout the republic, including parks, walkways, gardens and other kinds of landscaped areas.

“You don’t have to walk far in Kazan to see how the new public space program has changed the city. Near the center of the city is the Lake Kaban Embankments, designed by the Chinese-Russian consortium Turenscape +MAP and completed in 2017. The project transformed a formerly deserted postindustrial site around three lakes into a waterfront promenade with rows of trees, beds of wild grasses and wooden decks. At night, the area is illuminated by lights inside glowing red benches of diaphanous resin. Huge fountains rise on the lakes; restored wetlands help clean the once-heavily polluted water.

“Southeast of the city, Fishman-Bekmambetova’s team oversaw the rebirth of the 87-hectacre Gorkinsko-Ometevsky Forest, a new park that features a ski hill and an eco-playground along with preserved woodlands and performance spaces, located on a site where local activists successfully defeated the construction of medical centers and a planned road that would have bisected the park.

“The most ambitious project in the works for Fishman-Bekmambetova’s team is the Kazanska River Strategy, a plan for a 22-kilometer stretch of urban river and 68 kilometers of embankment running the entire length of Kazan; it’s one of the largest landscape projects in Russia. More at CityLab, here.

And while we’re feeling surprised about Russia, here’s a story by Fred Weir at the Christian Science Monitor about environmental action in the far north.

Arkhangelsk, a Russian region almost as big as France that borders the White Sea, is a land of permafrost and marshy tundra, with stunted Arctic forest, rolling hills, and labyrinthine lakes and rivers. It’s been inhabited by Russians for almost a thousand years; Indigenous peoples, some related to Finnish Laplanders, have been there much longer.

“People here are very conscious of history. Much of it revolves around their fragile Arctic habitat and the need to preserve it.

“About two years ago, mass popular protest forced Moscow authorities to abandon plans to build a giant waste dump near the village of Shiyes in this Arctic region that had been intended to receive 2 million tons annually of the garbage overflowing from heavy-consuming Moscow. The success of that ‘Stop Shiyes’ struggle launched a lasting ecological movement and ushered in the election of a more environment-friendly local leadership. It also planted surprisingly divergent ideas in some peoples’ minds about how to take that newfound consciousness and turn it toward a permanent transformation. ….

“For Oleg Mandrykin, a local real estate developer from the closed naval shipyard city of Severodvinsk, it served as inspiration to try and get into national politics in order to raise ecological awareness in Moscow. Anastasia Trofimova, an Arkhangelsk doctor, went a different direction, eschewing politics for [business]. And Alexandra Usacheva heads Clean North, a group that interfaces between the public and local authorities to promote ecological education.”

More at the Monitor, here.

Photo: Fred Weir.
Anastasia Trofimova, a doctor, in her shop in Arkhangelsk, Russia. She was inspired by protests against a proposed landfill to launch a business that sells around 700 products made from natural or recycled materials.

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Photo: Landfill Harmonic
Tania Vera Hertz showing off her recycled violin in a documentary about poor kids in Paraguay.

Today’s story is about people in Paraguay who built instruments out of recycled materials and taught the children of impoverished landfill scavengers to play. That is the nugget, and a lovely nugget it is. But as I learned at Wikipedia, fame brought conflict among the adults involved. You can read about both aspects of the story below and see what you think.

Ken Jaworowski writes at the New York Times about the documentary Landfill Harmonic, which “starts in Cateura, Paraguay, an impoverished town outside Asunción, the country’s capital. There, at an enormous landfill, thousands of slum-dwellers support their families by sifting through trash to find things to sell.

“Favio Chávez, an environmental engineer, came to the area to help with a recycling program. That failed, but he stayed to teach music to children. Instruments were so scarce that Mr. Chávez, with help from a resident, Nicolás Gómez, created them from materials found in the garbage heaps. Those include violins made with metal cans, a cello built from an oil container and a drumhead fashioned from discarded X-ray film.

“Mr. Chávez and his students formed the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura and gained fame once video of their playing these scrappy instruments went online. Soon, children who’d never left their town were traveling the world to perform.

“It’s an inspiring tale — if it were fiction you’d dismiss it as unbelievable — and Brad Allgood and Graham Townsley, the directors (Juliana Penaranda-Loftus is listed as co-director), capture some endearing moments. …

“The children of Landfill Harmonic are wonderful to watch. A section in which David Ellefson, bassist for the metal band Megadeth, comes to visit them is downright adorable. (The orchestra later performs with the group at a concert, and it’s excellent.) Here and elsewhere we see barriers disappear — those between genres, cultures and languages become meaningless. For everyone involved, there’s nothing but joyous music.” More at at the Times, here.

Wikipedia adds history and describes an ongoing controversy about who started what when.

“The orchestra originated in the ‘Sonidos de la Tierra (Sounds of the Earth) program (created and directed since 2002 by Luis Szarán) and Procicla a recycling project of the Alter Vida NGO. Szarán founded the Sonidos de Cateura (Sounds of Cateura) music school on July 7, 2006, and its first workshop, sponsored by the geAm NGO to build recycled instruments, was held on May 24, 2007, luthier Carlos Uliambre. …

“The music school began with the recyclers’ children after Szarán donated ten guitars bought with proceeds from a tribute he received at Salemma Mall. A group of children between 8 and 12 years old from the Sounds of Cateura school was presented at the regional seminary of Youth Orchestras of Sounds of the Earth in Acahay [in 2006]. …

“The first group of Sounds of the Earth musicians with recycled instruments made their debut at the former Sheldonian Theater in Oxford, England as part of the Skoll Foundation’s World Forum of Social Entrepreneurs on March 26, 2008. …

“In October 2011, Sounds of the Earth announced on its Facebook page that Orchestra of Recycled Instruments coordinator Favio Chávez had left the program. Chávez announced the formation of the Recycled, with Sounds of the Earth musicians from Carapeguá and Cateura playing recycled instruments, two months later.” Lawsuits were in their future.

Wikipedia may have more information than you want about the ins and outs, but if you are interested. click here.

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bring-it-campaign-reusable-water-bottles

Photo: CBSLocal
New York City hopes that donating reusable water bottles to high school students will make some advocates for reducing waste. The campaign is part of the city’s ultimate goal of sending zero waste to landfills by the year 2030.

After reading an inspiring book called Climate Justice, I signed up at the website 1 Million Women to get ideas for reducing my carbon footprint. One thing the site suggests is to boycott fruits and vegetables that have unnecessary packaging. You know, like those Japanese pears in plastic foam holders. Such gestures are small, but they add up if a lot of people pursue them.

In New York, meanwhile, schools are trying to wean students from plastic water bottles by giving them nice reusable ones.

CBSLocal reports, “After a recent push to ban plastic bags, straws, and bottles in New York, some local leaders are working to get the city’s high school students involved. …

” ‘When you think about it, you’re not gonna be wasting all that plastic,’ [student] Daisy Palaguachi said.

“More than 320,000 bottles made by S’well were donated to all New York City high schools throughout all five boroughs [in September].

” ‘The goal is really to extend our mission to rid the world of plastic bottles and we couldn’t help but think the best way to do that is to tap into the city’s future leaders,’ S’well Vice President Kendra Peavy said.

“The company partnered with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Office of Sustainability for the new ‘Bring It’ campaign. They’re asking students to ditch the plastic and spread the word to their families and friends.

“ ‘To empower them with actual tools that they can bring and take to make better and more informed decisions,’ Mark Chambers, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, said.

“The city says its goal in doing this is to try and get rid of 54 million single-use plastic bottles.

“ ‘About 167 water bottles are used by the average American every year, and so it’s important to say by using a reusable water bottle we could displace that many from going into the waste stream every year,’ Chambers said. …

“ ‘Knowing that you’re making a small change can turn into something bigger in the future,’ student Alexandra Capistran said. ‘You don’t have to spend all your money buying water bottles every day.’

“Sunset Park High School now also has a newly installed water bottle filler for that very purpose. … The bottles donated [would have cost] $19 to $35, and the campaign is part of the city’s ultimate goal of sending zero waste to landfills by the year 2030.”

More at CBS, here.

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3024

Photo: The Guardian
North America’s first pay-what-you-can grocer is located in Toronto and aims to keep overstocked but perfectly good food from going to a landfill.

I love stories about efforts to get surplus fresh food into the hands of people who might be going hungry otherwise. And keeping food out of landfills at the same time means killing two birds with one stone. But true confession: I am wasteful. I use the yummy inner parts of celery and lettuce first, and when I get around to the outer parts, they don’t look worth saving. Do I put on my thinking cap and make these leftovers into soup or something? I do not. Sometimes I compost them. I’d be interested in your ideas.

In Canada, a grocery store may have the best solution yet for food that is still good to eat but overstocked.

As Ashifa Kassam writes at the Guardian, “In a bright, airy Toronto market, the shelves are laden with everything from organic produce to pre-made meals and pet food. What shoppers won’t find, however, is price tags. In what is believed to be a North American first, everything in this grocery store is pay-what-you-can.

“The new store aims to tackle food insecurity and wastage by pitting the two issues against each other, said Jagger Gordon, the Toronto chef who launched the venture earlier this month.

“Every provision is donated by a network of partners across the region, and many of them – from blemished or misshapen produce to staples that are nearing their expiry date – would have otherwise ended up in landfills. …

“The store, which also includes a pay-what-you-can bakery and cafe, is the latest initiative to emerge from his non-profit firm, Feed It Forward. The roots of the organisation trace back to 2014, borne out of Gordon’s frustration at the C$31bn (£17.6bn) worth of food that ends up in Canadian landfills and compost sites each year while one in eight Toronto households struggles to put food on the table. …

“Prices are entirely up to the customer. ‘If you can afford to pay more, go right ahead,’ said Gordon. ‘If you can’t pay for what you have, then don’t.

“ ‘What I have noticed is people look into the baskets, try to calculate what it is and then say, “is this acceptable?” And I just say, “are you kidding me? Whatever you can give is fine, but if you are unable to make a donation, we won’t let anyone go hungry.” ‘ …

“Any profits are poured back into the store, covering costs such as rent and the transport of provisions. More than 600 volunteers help to staff the store and Gordon supplements its income with fundraising events, donations and revenue from his catering business. …

“As the store nears its closing time, Gordon surveys its largely empty shelves. ‘I’m a little disappointed that I have food left. … We’re going to the streets and hand it all out. We won’t stop until our food is gone.’ …

“Many have welcomed the initiative, but others question the sustainability of its business model. Gordon is quick to brush aside such concerns, pointing to pay-what-you-can initiatives that have been successful in Europe and noting that his soup bar managed to pay for itself.”

More at the Guardian, here.

 

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Large quantities of clothes that are damaged in textile manufacturing end up in landfills. To organizations like Renewal Workshop, that seems like a waste. So they are stepping up to the plate, with real benefits to the planet.

“As discarded clothing piles up in landfills around the country,” writes the Huffington Post, “a handful of companies are trying to save some of those garments and give them new life.

“The Renewal Workshop is one of these. It takes shirts, jackets and other items damaged during manufacturing, then repairs and resells them for 30 to 50 percent off the original price, co-founder Nicole Bassett told The Huffington Post. Its goal is to prevent imperfect items, which traditional retailers can’t sell in stores, from being tossed in the trash. …

“Companies fighting clothing waste have their work cut out for them. The average American throws out 70 pounds of clothing or household textiles a year. Only 15 percent of that is recycled, according to a report by the Environmental Protection Agency. The other 85 percent ― around 13 million tons of textiles in 2013 ― ends up in landfills, where it decomposes alongside other solid wastes, releases greenhouse gasses and contributes to global warming.

“The Renewal Workshop is attempting to combat waste in the textile industry by ‘closing the loop,’ or trying to ensure new clothes are made from recycled or used garments. … It creates every single one of its products out of existing garments.

“The company partners with apparel companies like prAna, Ibex and Toad & Co, which are all outdoor clothing brands selected specifically for their commitment to sustainability, Bassett told HuffPost.

“The Renewal Workshop takes those brands’ damaged or returned clothes ― items with broken zippers, seam tears or missing buttons ― and then repairs, cleans and resells them at a discount.

“Apparel partners provide damaged items at no cost to The Renewal Workshop, and pay a partnership fee. When a customer buys a repaired garment, the partner business that provided it gets a portion of the sales, and the customer receives an item with the original company’s brand label and a Renewal Workshop label on it.” Read more here.

And ordinary folks can always help by giving old clothes to organizations that distribute nice ones to new users.

Photo: GaijinPot

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Ingenuity can make a business out of almost anything. That’s what you may conclude after reading how a small Maine company is making something useful from lobster shells.

Tom Bell has the story at the Associated Press: “A startup company in Maine is developing a children’s bandage coated with a substance extracted from crushed lobster shells that would promote blood-clotting and is resistant to bacterial infection.

“The company, Lobster Tough LLC, shipped Maine lobster shells to a processor in Iceland for testing, and so far, the results are promising, said Thor Sigfusson, an Icelandic investor in the company. …

“ ‘My dream will be to use the massive amounts of lobster shells that are being thrown into dumpsters,’ he said. …

“The lobster shells must be dehydrated to remove weight and lower shipping costs. Lobster Tough this winter is shipping a portable dehydration machine from Iceland to Maine. The company eventually plans to build a $2 million dehydration plant somewhere on the Maine coast, said Patrick Arnold, an investor who lives in South Portland. …

“The bandages would be the first commercial product developed through the New England Ocean Cluster, a new business incubator in Portland.”

More here.

Photo: Tasty Island

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In her comment at my post about artists returning a discarded museum to life, KerryCan wondered if all the old, weird museum collections ended up at the dump. All is not lost if they did, as dumps seem to attract amateur archaeologists with a nose for uncovering treasures.

Eve Kahn wrote recently in the NY Times about collectors who look for terra cotta shards in the Staten Island landfill and poke around promising demolition sites.

“This summer, true shard collectors [led] me into the weedier parts of the Northeast, where slag heaps and demolition debris survive from the long vanished factories that once thrived.

“These particular experts are interested in manufacturers of windowpanes and architectural ornament. They write books and lead tours, but they also pack their homes and workplaces with excavated artifacts from what seems to be a limitless supply. Anyone can follow in their trail and gain an understanding of American ingenuity as well as accumulate booty for gardens and windowsills or even more ambitious art projects.

“You must stay off private property, of course, but I also recommend that you avoid the comical errors that I made on my early expeditions. … I was so bedazzled by glass that I was about to sit down with shards in my front pockets.”

More on Kahn’s scavenging adventures, here. You might also like the blog “Tiles in New York,” here.

Photo: Agaton Strom for The New York Times
Tina Kaasman-Dunn searching for terra cotta shards on Staten Island.

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At the radio show Living on Earth, Steve Curwood recently interviewed Gary Cook of Greenpeace about an effort to get tech companies to be greener.

CURWOOD: “Back in 2012, you criticized Apple for using carbon-intensive energy from coal plants to power its servers. …

COOK: “Just after we spoke, they made a commitment to be 100 percent renewably powered, and as the end of last year, they even made that goal. So, it’s been quite a big shift.

CURWOOD: “100 percent renewable energy. How’s that possible?

COOK: “It requires some effort. Apple has done a lot in North Carolina where they have their largest data center in terms of deploying two different solar farms and an onsite fuel cell that’s powered with biogas energy, so it’s all renewable. They have several other data centers. … In Oregon they’re using wind; in Nevada they’re using solar.

“So they’ve actually shown a commitment from the top, been very aggressive, probably the most aggressive of any of the brands to make sure as they grow, they’re using clean energy.

CURWOOD: “Biogas. Where are they getting that from?’

COOK:” Currently, they’re getting that from landfill and some other renewable sources. The landfill is methane capture in the southeast, and they’re having that piped to where their data center is in North Carolina.”

The radio interview covers several other efforts tech companies are making. It’s a good thing, too, when you consider, as Living on Earth points out, “If the Internet were a country, it would be the sixth largest consumer of electricity in the world.” More here.

Photo: George Nikitin, Greenpeace
The Greenpeace Airship A.E. Bates flies over Facebook headquarters with a banners reading “Building a Greener Internet” and “Who’s The Next To Go Green?” Apple, Facebook and Google have committed to powering their data centers with renewable energy.

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I just got a great lead from Erik. It seems that Sweden has run out of garbage for running its waste-to-energy program. Fortunately, Norway has garbage it can spare. (I wonder if Erik’s buddy Svein knows that.)

Check out Matt Hickman at Mother Nature Network:

“Sweden, birthplace of the Smörgåsbord, Eric Northman, and the world’s preferred solar-powered purveyor of flat-pack home furnishings, is in a bit of a pickle: the squeaky clean Scandinavian nation of more than 9.5 million has run out of garbage. The landfills have been tapped dry; the rubbish reserves depleted. And although this may seem like a positive — even enviable — predicament for a country to be facing, Sweden has been forced to import trash from neighboring countries, namely Norway. Yep, Sweden is so trash-strapped that officials are shipping it in — 80,000 tons of refuse annually, to be exact — from elsewhere.

“You see, Swedes are big on recycling. So big in fact that only 4 percent of all waste generated in the country is landfilled.

“Good for them! However, the population’s remarkably pertinacious recycling habits are also a bit of a problem given that the country relies on waste to heat and to provide electricity to hundreds of thousands of homes through a longstanding waste-to-energy incineration program. So with citizens simply not generating enough burnable waste to power the incinerators, the country has been forced to look elsewhere for fuel. Says Catarina Ostlund, a senior advisor for the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency: ‘We have more capacity than the production of waste in Sweden and that is usable for incineration.

“Public Radio International has the whole story (hat tip to Ariel Schwartz at Co.Exist), a story that may seem implausible in a country like garbage-bloated America where overflowing landfills are anything but scarce.” Read more.

Photograph: Smath/Flickr

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I got an intriguing tip from a WordPress blog, The Yoga Hub, about Yale students who found a microbe that eats plastic. The discovery spells hope for breaking down plastics in landfills.

Bruce Fellman writes in the Yale Alumni Magazine, “A group of student bioprospectors from Yale has struck environmental gold in the jungles of Ecuador. The students, through the annual Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory course taught by molecular biochemistry professor Scott Strobel, have discovered a fungus with a powerful appetite for polyurethane. That common plastic often winds up buried in landfills, where it can remain, largely unaltered, for generations.

“In the September issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology, Jonathan Russell ’11 and his colleagues describe how they isolated, from plants collected during the class’s two-week spring trips, a fungus they identified as Pestalotiopsis microspora—and then discovered its unique polyurethane-digesting talents.” More here.

Sounds promising, but I can’t help worrying about the possible unintended consequences of introducing a microbe to places where it is not native. Maybe cutting back on plastics is still the way to go.

Photograph: Yale University

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