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Filtering by Tag: Climate Change

Tumbling Grapes and Composting on America's Favorite Food Holiday

The frozen grapes toppled out of my bag one by one as I hustled through the metro station to catch my train out of the city. Bursting from my backpack were two large ziplop bags full of frozen vegetable scraps which I was choosing to lug from my apartment in downtown DC to the office freezer in the suburbs of the city. My boss had a garden where she composted, and had graciously agreed to make use of my household scraps to boost the soil.

It was a free option for disposal that was not the landfill.  It was an attempt to recycle food and help it become soil, instead of decomposing and releasing methane into the atmosphere. This was certainly not the most simple, convenient, or efficient system for disposal. But I was going to the office anyway, and you could say it spiced up my morning commute.

The Urban Tumbler (Goes Suburban)

Sticking excess veggie scraps in the freezer instead of the trash wasn’t too big of an ask of my roommates, and they kindly signed on, if for no other reason than to appease my environmental compulsions.

I backtracked through the metro station, picked up fallen frozen fruit and made it to the commercial office freezer to do the final handoff.

Suffice it to say, composting is not mainstream. It’s uncommon and can be a grape spilling hassle. It’s not the norm on the east coast, and not even in all places on the west coast. Lugging compost has become a trademark of the urban millennial, and most environmentalists  take pride in their farmers market drop-offs or home gardens.

Either way though, it's a choice and work,  and no one is incentivizing doing the right thing. 

I did enjoy my composting routine. It helped me be cognizant of what I was buying, using and throwing away, and I challenged myself to use more of the whole vegetable when I cooked.

Since moving back home from DC to the surburbs of NYC, I have not yet figured out how to effectively integrate composting into my day to day routine. In light of Thanksgiving, this beautiful festival of food, I thought I’d reflect on a couple anecdotes and resources to bring our my inner compost-er again, and hopefully yours too.

Food Waste Facts

1. 63 million tons, or 40 % percent of the food grown in the United States, is effectively going from farm to landfill (farm to fill, if you will).

“Every year, American consumers, businesses, and farms spends $218 billion a year, or 1.3% of GDP, growing, processing, transporting, and disposing food that is never eaten.”

2. Consumers make the largest contribution in the chain to food waste.

Household food waste in the United States totals 27 million tons each year or 43% percent of annual food waste.

3. More food than any other item goes to landfill and incinerators.

In the United States, food makes up 22% of the waste stream.

4. Methane from landfills is the third largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States, and accounted for 15 % of emissions in 2015.

Still.. More Gas than Poop

As I casually toss food from this Sunday's holiday prep into the garbage, I thought back to a landfill and waste processing facility I visited in Florida earlier this year.

The Palm Beach County Solid Waste Authority (SWA) utility park houses the newest incinerator in the country, a landfill, recycling center and waste processing digester. It is one of the most closed-loop systems I have seen. 

As food and matter decomposes in the landfill, methane is released.  Methane is a greenhouse gas over 25x more potent than carbon. Methane can be captured and used to produce electricity or heat.  But even well managed landfills produce too much methane to use, or haven’t been incentivized or regulated to use all of it. 

 At the SWA, they capture the methane, and use it to run heaters that dry poop.  However, there is still extra methane. In fact, 40% of the landfill gas is not used. It is simply burned into the air, or flared off. If you were to get into the facility at night you'd see an stream of gas on fire.  Gas flaring is a common at oil wells where excess gas that comes up with the oil is burned because it is not seen as important or valuable enough to capture. 

Keep it from the Fill

All this talk of eating, landfill and gas got you revved up? Me too. I’m challenging myself, and anyone reading this, to find a way to reduce food waste in landfills (via composting, less cluttered fridge or any other food waste solution) Maybe we can’t get the infrastructure in place to capture all of our Thanksgiving scraps this year, but we can certainly strive to get it ready for next year, and in the new year. I still have yet to find my composting beat, but I will work on it and keep you posted on progress. 

There are many solutions for food waste, including prevention. ReFED lays out solutions to food waste and characterizes them by impacts: waste diversion, financial benefit, jobs created, ghg emissions, water use, and meals recovered.

*Centralized composting ranks first in impact for waste diversion, ghg emission AND job creation.  It can save  18million tons of ghg emissions each year.

When centralized composting seems out of your control, you CAN add your stack to community compost and show that there is a need for centralized composting. 

Here are some composting resources for residential food composting in your area:

1. NYC

Free Drop Off: 


2. DC

Free drop off:


Compost pick up services:


3. Baltimore

Composting Information:



3. Philadelphia

Compost pick up services:



4. Boston

Free drop off: 

https://www.boston.gov/environment-and-energy/project-oscar .

Compost pickup services:


5. Raleigh/The Triangle, NC

Compost pick up services:


So tomorrow your trash bin may be full of food. And so will your stomach. But maybe next year someone else's stomach, garden, or compost bin will be full too. And you can thank yourself and your inner compost-er. 

Enjoy your food coma, and enjoy the company with whom you're breaking bread.



A Little Bit of Optimism- 5 Pieces of Climate Hope in the US Today

This week world leaders met in Bonn, Germany to discuss the international climate accords that came out of the 2015 conference in Paris. Recent reports that world C02 emissions have not yet peaked, and that the world is far off from the stabilizing the its temperature leave things looking a little bit bleak. Add to that the withdrawal of the United States from the agreement, now the only country in the world  not committed, it’s easy to feel pure despair. When non-sensical non-science  climate policies have arisen at the federal level and American  institutions and values  are under threat, here are a couple rays of hope.

1.     Data: Steady Access to News & Current Information  

In a time when it is increasingly difficult to find non-partisan, fact-based information there is still a steady stream of critical data coming out of key government institutions, and news organizations.

Most notably, the Energy Information Agency (EIA) reports monthly on a breadth of subjects related to the power sector and its intersection with the economy (industry, transportation etc). The EIA reports are accompanied by backup data to support the results and analysis, and they provide the contact information for the data analysts. The analysts take responsibility for the data ad I have personally contacted them. This promotes accountability and reminds me that people in some areas of the government are doing their job well. What’s best is that the site lists when the next report will be released, again promoting transparency and accountability.

The EIA in conjunction with organizations such as Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Greentech Media, and academic institutions provide quantitative data that propel the energy industry forward, and enable climate action.

2.     Academic Institutions Are Sending Green Signals to the Next Generation

Across the United States higher education institutions are creating environmental, climate, and sustainability focused programs and degrees that train in both the social and  hard sciences. They are training the next generation of professionals and leaders in all fields, and integrating stewardship and environmental management into those discussions.  

What’s more, this commitment goes beyond the classroom. Universities are practicing what they preach by “greening” their energy portfolios. One of the most impactful trends is the procurement of renewable energy. Harvard, The George Washington University,  and American University (just to name a few) have invested in solar and wind farms to power their institutions for the long term. Universities are many times bureaucratic risk adverse institutions, but as large and long-standing energy consumers they have harnessed the economic benefit of renewables and chosen to advance the clean energy industry.

3.      Cities & States Are Flexing Their Muscles

Since the United States pulled out of the Paris climate accords, there have been a slew of leaders from states and cities that have reinforced their independent commitments to the accords and to facilitating a shift to a clean power grid. The Governor of Massachusetts, Republican Charlie Baker  quickly signed on after the United States withdrew. The C40- Mayors are dedicated to creating sustainable cities powered by renewable resources. There is a list of towns, counties, cities, and states committed to that goal. And it’s growing.

4.     Cross Sector Action- Private Sector & Non Profit Partnerships

Big tech companies have dedicated resources to understanding where their power comes from, and securing their power supply with reliable renewable resources. They do this for their own economic benefit and security, but most companies  also have created energy teams or subsidiaries that explore ways to diversify and strengthen their energy baskets. They communicate about their decisions, which advances the industry altogether. Nearly every Silicon Valley company- Amazon, Google, Apple has its hands in the energy game, and many are encouraging a conversation about supply, and the role of  electricity  in climate change.  Global Power Watch, an Electric America partner, is an initiative by the World Resources Institute to map and provide information on all of the power plants throughout world. That initiative is funded by Google.

5.     The “Clean Energy Economy” is a powerful force.

Not only is the clean energy economy a thing, but it’s a documented and impactful phenomena. In 2016, the Department of Energy put out its first jobs report, the U.S. Energy and Employment Report (USEER)  characterizing jobs by industry. It noted whether jobs fell into the category of “Traditional Energy and Energy Efficiency," and which ones contributed to low carbon electricity production. The report ties together in one place the carbon and economic impact of the energy industry. The solar and wind energy trade organizations, SEIA and AWEA, are also reporting on jobs growth.  In January 2017 the second annual report was released. As of the 2017 report, 800,000 Americans contribute to low carbon electricity production, and about 32% of the U.S. construction industry work in energy building efficiency projects, totaling over 2 million Americans.

Do you have other optimistic tidbits? Comment below. 



Harvey Hits Home


Last week natural disaster swept the fourth largest metropolis in the country, and left upward of 44,000 people in the Houston area seeking shelter and thousands without food, cars, or other resources to go on living as they would have before the storm.

A Nytimes clip shows the devastation from hurricane Harvey, heartbreak and also the strength of the communities within Texas and from out of state.

Houston received 1/3 of its annual rainfall in 24 hours. 440,000 people have applied for federal aid for their homes and 60 people were killed.

Estimates of the damage have not yet been calculated, but are expected to be in the billions.

People have a tendency to talk about climate change, and most other scary things, as if it is in the future- a far off event or an apocalypse that will strike a distant town. Or if it strikes you, you’ll know that it’s “climate change,” and then you’ll change or address it.

But it does not come with a sign, stamp, or a solution packet. It’ll look like something you’ve experienced and survived before- lots of rain. I doubt that a survey of the population affected by Harvey would indicate increased concern for climate change and a call for action. I imagine it would, however, indicate increased respect for first responders or the Red Cross, and the need for increased FEMA and disaster preparedness funds.

When an event as devastating as Harvey hits, all we want to think about it how to get through it. And that’s 100% warranted, rational and necessary.  But at some point we have to address why it happened, and what we can do to prepare for a future event, or even prevent it.

Climate change is linked to an increase in frequency and intensity of storms.  Studies showed that the probably of a storm of Harvey’s scale occurring in Houston in any given was between .2 and .1%. But this is the third intense rain event with a probability of happening once every 500 years that has hit Houston in the last three years.

But no one believes they’ll be hit again.

It’s scientifically inaccurate to say the phenomenon caused Harvey; but it is accurate to say that climate change is linked to intensifying storms, and to a higher frequency of storm events, and probably contributed to its extreme impact.

When a city is tested, you see its true character. The people of Houston and Texas are resilient. Certainly first responders, FEMA, Red Cross, and the army of citizens that poured in from other states show that the city will survive. But a whole slew of issues have come to the forefront  which show where the system has gaps.

From a systemic, societal point of view, there are some serious flaws and weak points. Two explosions at an Archema chemical factory that was built along flood plains left black smoke pluming for days.  It was the result of a failure of electricity to the plant, and failure of backup generators, causing  volatile organic compounds to heat (without electric cooling) and explode.

The surrounding areas were evacuated prior to the explosions, but at that point there was nothing that could be done except wait for the explosions, and during the storm that was ultimately the plan of action chosen by the company.

While the human impact was minimized, certainly the area to which surrounding families would return will be different.   They might see affected air quality, employment, real estate value, just to name a few.

The fact that there are even chemical plants in flood prone areas is a questionable development decision. There has been a lot written about weak development regulations, and its role in exacerbating the tragedy. As difficult as it is to do, we need to keep reimagining worst case scenarios as worse and worse. That’s the only way that we can prepare, and come out in a better place each time as families, as governments, and as a civil society.

Houston will rebuild, but the real challenge is to build better and build different. Even though Houston wants a city that looks like Houston, it will not be the same  in any case, and rebuilding in the same way means it is just as vulnerable to the next storm.

We need to change our ways or preparing for and preventing these natural disasters, or they will change them for us.

Site by Molly A. Seltzer

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