composting


As students go back to school to start their spring semester, finding a summer internship is definitely on their to-do list, and now is the time when employers are looking for talented students to fill their organizational needs. So each year Bethesda Green hosts Fields of Green Internship Fair to connect highly qualified students who are looking for opportunities in the environmental sector with DC metro area’s green employers. Getting ready for the event this year, we decided to share a series of profiles about some of the amazing interns who have worked with us recently.

Susanna Parker PhotoMeet Susanna Parker. She is the Social Media and Production Manager for Mark Leisher Productions, a visual communications company based in Bethesda. She earned her Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental Management at the University of Maryland.

How did you hear about Bethesda Green? I heard of Bethesda Green through a family friend, Cheryl Newman. Cheryl worked for Honest Tea and had been involved with Bethesda Green for several years. She introduced me to BG Program Manager Sharon D’Emidio and I joined Bethesda Green as an intern.

The best thing about interning at Bethesda Green was the experience and connections that I gained. I was never assigned menial tasks, but given important projects that were interesting to work on and were a great addition to my resume.

What have you been up to since your internship at Bethesda Green?  As an intern with BG, I regularly wrote for the Bethesda Green blog. I came to the attention of Mark Leisher, whose production company is in the BG Incubator. He and his partner asked me to come on part-time as a content writer. I gradually transitioned to full-time and just celebrated my one-year anniversary as an employee of Mark Leisher Productions.

I am most passionate about educating people on current issues. Whether that’s watershed protection, the Keystone XL pipeline, or colony collapse disorder, people need to know how humans impact the environment around them, and what they can do to help.

One thing you do to protect the environment? I compost with worms in our apartment. It took some experimentation, and I had to fight off fruit flies for a while, but my husband and I have drastically reduced our food waste. Plus, we have to take out the trash far less!

Future goals/plans? I’m looking forward to continuing in my role at Mark Leisher Productions and learning more about video production. My husband and I are about to start house-hunting and hope to purchase a home by mid-June. We’re also planning a few vacations, including to Florida, North Carolina, and (hopefully) Mexico.

fall-leaves-200Raking leaves into big piles along the street for the county to pick up is in high gear this time of year.  But an alternative to consider is mowing your leaves into a healthy mulch for your yard, and it’s a lot less work.

An excellent blog post on this topic was originally published by the Little Falls Watershed Alliance in 2011, which includes details about the benefits of mowing your leaves from Scotts Fertilizer company.  Here’s what they recommend on their website:

Take the grass catcher off your mower and mow over the leaves on your lawn. You want to reduce your leaf clutter to dime-size pieces. You’ll know you’re done when about half an inch of grass can be seen through the mulched leaf layer. Once the leaf bits settle in, microbes and worms get to work recycling them. Any kind of rotary-action mower will do the job, and any kind of leaves can be chopped up.

So while there’s a few weeks left for all the leaves to come off the trees, give the mow, don’t rake approach a try.  It’s an easy way to treat your lawn and reduce the runoff into the gutters.

cardboard_box_clip_art_22876by Richard M. Goodman

When purchasing necessities or special gifts, deciding what items to buy based on its sustainable packaging can have a significant impact.

According to the Sustainability Packaging Coalition, the two most relevant sustainable packaging principles to the average consumer include:

  • Sustainable packaging optimizes the use of renewable or recycled source materials.
  • Sustainable packaging is physically designed to optimize materials and energy.

Let’s look at how to implement these two principles.  The recycling industry incurs big expense in their sorting operations to remove undesirable or toxic materials from the recycle stream.  If the packaging industry can create packaging that is easily sorted and not likely to introduce potential contaminants, then it makes the recycling industry’s job easier and ultimately reduces their costs. Proper on-package messaging from the packaging industry can help consumers help recyclers, which in the end helps the packaging industry.  Consumers should insist on greened packaging.

Paper-based packaging such as boxes, containers, cartons, sacks and bags are part of our everyday lives. Unlike other packaging options, paper-based packaging is made from trees – a renewable source that is sustainably grown, managed and harvested specifically for the paper industry – or from recovered fiber, allowing reuse of its products. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, paper-based packaging is recovered more than any other packaging material. Paper and paperboard represent more than 70 percent of all packaging recovered for recycling in the U.S. and, in 2011, 91 percent of old corrugated containers were recovered for recycling.

Another consideration involves the use of compostable materials for packaging. This can best be satisfied if the earth’s biosphere effectively recovers the nutritive value of the basic biological materials and no toxic or dangerous substances are released through any stage of the package’s lifecycle. It should be noted that the conditions for effective biological degradation do not exist in landfills and the release of problematic substances is a further concern. Managed composting and anaerobic digestion with energy recovery are examples of sustainable systems.

In summary, we should observe the following considerations when looking into the packaging of consumer goods:

  • Avoid overly packaged goods.
  • Look for packaging materials that are fully recyclable, including plastics with the recycle labels, aluminum, cardboard and paper.
  • Look for compostable materials and either use them in your own or neighborhood composts or put them into the recycling system.
  • Read the labels to be sure you are removing any potentially toxic materials from the recycling streams.

If we as consumers follow these guidelines we can help promote the use of sustainable packaging and help create a positive reinforcement to manufacturers to increase the use of these materials

Richard M. Goodman, PhD, is a chemical scientist and consultant focusing on how surface science concepts can solve real world problems.  The periodic column considers aspects of sustainability from a scientific perspective. See Goodman’s profile with Association of Consulting Chemists and Chemical Engineers (ACC&CE) at www.chemconsult.org

by Lori Hill

Peter Grazzini, the owner of Perfect Settings, is just like any other corporate head:  he is constantly looking to save money for his $14 million dollar company based in Landover, MD.  But for the past four years, he has been constantly thinking of new and innovative ways to reduce his environmental impact while also saving his company many thousands of dollars each year.

Perfect Settings owner Peter Grazzini

Since 1998, Perfect Settings has been providing gorgeous linen and premium and contemporary flatware, china, glassware and other tabletop accessories to caterers, event planners, venues and private individuals in the Washington, DC metropolitan area and throughout the United States.

So what prompted Peter to go green?  While on a buying trip to China in October 2008, he experienced several things that disturbed him.  First of all, there was a large bird cage in the lobby bar of the hotel where he was staying.  The cage contained approximately 100 birds and of course the birds were really loud.  Peter asked his server to be moved further away from the cage so that he could carry on a conversation.  He then inquired why there were so many birds.  The server explained that there were no birds in the cities of China and that it was considered a luxury to hear them sing.  When Peter inquired why there were no birds in the cities, the server explained that the air pollution made it difficult for the birds to breathe and more importantly, insects, a major source for the birds, could not survive with the pollution.  This was the first time that Peter had ever considered the effect humans are having on the environment.  It was a shocking realization that opened Peter’s eyes and caused him to notice more things on his trip that year.  For example, he spent 8 days in China and never saw the sun, even though it never rained.  For 8 days, he looked for birds and insects and never saw one.  On his way home, he watched Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and that was the straw the broke the camel’s back.  Peter has been trying to lessen his company’s impact on the planet ever since.

As a former event producer who concentrated on sustainable special events, I know that the rental industry is somewhat green by design since items are used over and over again.  Nonetheless, there is still a lot of waste and Peter Grazzini is working to minimize that waste.

When someone rents linens from a party rental company, the linens are delivered on hangers and covered in plastic just like your dry cleaning.  Similarly, plates, silverware, glassware and just about every item a rental company delivers to you comes wrapped in shrink wrap to protect it when it is transported from the rental facility to the venue.  Peter had the enterprising idea to collect all the shrink wrap and plastic bags and then bale and recycle them. His company also collects wire hangers for reuse and recycles all cardboard boxes.  In addition, when you rent equipment from Perfect Settings, they make available recycle bins for collecting glass, plastic bottles and aluminum cans.  So even if your event venue does not recycle, you can still recycle thanks to Perfect Settings.

Another innovation of Peter’s involves the use of high cocktail tables.  You’ve seen these at events.  It’s a table you typically stand at during a cocktail reception.  Traditionally, these are covered with linen, an option that can involve extra costs.  For example, in addition to the cost to purchase the material – much of which is premium, high quality fabric – you have the labor cost to sew the linen in assorted sizes to pair with tables in assorted sizes.  After the linen is used, you have the cost to clean the linen which includes electricity, water, cleaning solution and of course more labor.  As an alternative, Peter offers metal tables which cost less for the renter since a table linen is not needed. By not requiring a full table linen, less water and electricity are used and as a result, Peter is able to pass on the cost savings to the renter.  While the metal tables are often wrapped with fabric, the amount is much less:  2 yards vs. 10 yards for a traditional table linen.  In addition, the tables are virtually indestructible and Peter uses eco-friendly materials whenever possible.

Another example of how Peter is always looking for the more sustainable option is the picnic tables he recently acquired through Forever Redwood in California.  The company reforests old growth redwood forests that were clear cut in the 1920s and 1930s and then makes picnic tables from fast-growing oak, birch and walnut trees that block the sun and prevent growth of baby redwoods.

Reinvention is also a part of Peter’s vocabulary.  Rental equipment is often delivered in milk crates lined with clear trash bags that are much larger than the actual crate.  Peter realized how wasteful this was since less than half the bag was actually being utilized.  As a result, he found a manufacturer to create him a bag that is 60% smaller than a regular trash bag and is also biodegradable.  As a result, he saves 6 cents per bag or $18,000 a year compared to when he was using the larger sized bags!

Peter has re-engineered how he washes all the dishes he rents for special events.  By washing the cleaner dishes first, with a LEED-approved dish wash, a load lasts longer.

Like most green companies, Peter is conscientious about his lighting costs.  His 165,000 square foot warehouse, which once belonged to Giant, is open nearly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Since some sections of the warehouse are used more frequently than others, Peter installed motion sensors to save on energy costs.  And like many green companies, Perfect Settings is 100% wind powered thanks to Clean Currents.

As you’d probably suspect, even the vehicle Peter drives is eco-friendly.  He now drives a Chevy Volt and proudly boasts that at the 10,000 mile mark, he had only used 7 gallons of gas.

For third year in a row, Perfect Settings is a top level sponsor for the Bethesda Green Gala.  Take notice of the gorgeous table linens, dishware, glassware and other equipment used to make the gala look beautiful.  And be sure to say hi to Peter.

Lori Hill inspires people to add green to their lives.  Visit her website for more information.

Farm to Freezer: Preserving fresh, local food to nourish the hungry

by Cheryl Kollin, Full Plate Ventures

Last Sunday 10 volunteers came together to beat the heat by washing, chopping, and blanching fresh vegetables at St. John’s Church in Bethesda. In just four hours volunteers with Farm to Freezer prepared 50 lbs. of tomato sauce, diced zucchini, and roasted eggplant for the freezer. This food will be incorporated into healthy meals throughout the year for Bethesda Cares’ meals program that feeds the hungry in our community.

“Hooray for us!  It was actually a lot of fun and nice people to chat with too,” exclaimed Susan Wexler who joined the prep crew on Sunday. “Someone asked me if I was a professional; I said, well, I have spent a lot of time in kitchens!”

You don’t have to be an experienced cook to join us. The program seems to resonate with people for many reasons. Some people volunteer because they like to work in the kitchen chopping vegetables while getting to meet others. Some parents like this project to work along with their teens, while they earn student service learning credits. We welcome teens ages 13-15 with an adult, older teens and adults.

Diced, blanched zucchini ready for vacuum sealing, then into the freezer

Others like the idea of supporting Bethesda Cares’ social mission. Founded in 1988, Bethesda Cares was originally established as a lunch program to combat hunger in Montgomery County, providing meals to those living on the streets. Homeless men, women and children suffer from hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity every day. To help ensure the homeless in Montgomery County receive a warm and nutritious meal, Bethesda Cares serves lunch six days a week and dinner on Sundays to between 40-75 people that adds up 20,000 meals each year. Today, Bethesda Cares operates as a day drop-in shelter, serving hot meals daily, offering clothing and toiletries, outreach worker case management, referrals for supportive permanent housing, psychiatric counseling, prescription assistance, and eviction and utility assistance to county residents.

Still other people like to support family farmers and our local food system. Every year about 40 percent of good but uneaten food goes into the landfill—wasted along every part of the supply chain from farm to table. The idea for Farm to Freezer was born last January during a conversation I had with Sue Kirk, the executive director of Bethesda Cares.

One day’s produce donation waiting to be prepped for the freezer

“We are the official gleening organization of the Saturday Bethesda Fresh Farm Market, but we get many more vegetables than we can use in our meals before it goes bad,” explained Sue. A weekly donation just from one farm—Spiral Path organic farm has averaged almost 400 lbs. every week this summer, and we are not even at peak season yet! The organic produce that Spiral Path produces is just beautiful and it is a real crime to let it go to waste. Farmers get a tax deduction for their donation.

The spark of a Farm to Freezer project was born and six months later we are up and running thanks to generous support from community foundations, donated kitchens from partner churches, and in-kind donations from businesses including Whole Foods Bethesda, Zipcar, and Honest Tea. Even Compost Crew helps by donating their services to compost our food scraps.

Volunteers are key to the success of this whole project—we seek 10 volunteers for our weekly prep days. People can sign up via Bethesda Cares’ Meet Up site individually or as a group activity with friends, family or colleagues. With continued community support this project has the potential to grow into a self-sustaining enterprise, earning operating funds by selling tomato sauce and other preserved food at local farmers markets and even teaching food preparation classes. Fresh local food comes full circle—from farm, to freezer, to market, back to compost—benefiting our whole community along the way.

To volunteer, sign up on: Bethesda Cares MEET UP

To read more about this program and who it benefits, visit: Farm to Freezer website

To see our events as they unfold: Follow us on Facebook

Expo Offers Visitors Latest Info on Solar and Green Home Services

Bethesda Green’s 3rd Annual Solar & Green Home Expo, Saturday, June 9, 10 am – 4 pm, offers visitors an information-packed showcase event featuring many green home expert services and solar providers. The spotlight on solar will include purchasing and investment opportunities, and incentives for home installation. Local area green home businesses will display their services while individual workshops related to greening your home will be conducted throughout the day.

The goal of this event at Bethesda Green —  4825 Cordell Avenue, second floor above the Capital One Bank — is to provide homeowners and other interested parties an opportunity to get the latest information about area services and incentives to green their homes.  This is a free event for the community.

Companies and organizations participating in the Solar & Green Home Expo include: Solar Energy World, Standard Solar, Solar City, ecobeco, Green Savings Coop, Amicus Green Building Center, Clean Currents, Karmalades, Live Green, The Compost Crew, Savenia Labs, Complete Home Solutions, A.I.R. Lawn Care, Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection, STIHL, Kenergy Solar, Astrum Solar, The Cleaning Corps, Bethesda Systems and Garden Gate Landscaping.

Check our website for more info.

Our newest non-profit partner at Bethesda Green, growingSOUL — Sustainable Opportunities for Universal Learning — is closing the gap in the loop between fresh food production, distribution and waste in the area.  Working with other non-profit organizations, local restaurants, small farmers in Montgomery County, and the community-at large, growingSOUL is raising awareness of the critical importance of creating a zero-waste sustainable food system.

It is all made possible by each citizen doing their part to rescue vital nutrients, diverting them out of our waste stream by sorting and recycling their food scraps (including meat, dairy and oil that others will tell you cannot be composted safely at home).  The scraps can be brought to the local farmers market or collected by calling on growingSOUL’s waste-vegetable oil fueled mobile compost station for business, home or community pick up.

The nutrient dense compost made from local community food scraps at the nearby growingSOUL farm is shared with farmers who grow fresh food for Manna, our local food bank, helping Montgomery County residents, 25% of which are at risk for hunger.  The compost is also used in the new Montgomery County Public Schools’ (MCPS) vegetable gardens, recognizing the need to provide more fresh produce in public school lunches, including  the 31.1% of MCPS children who qualify for free or reduced cost lunches.

To find out more about how YOU can contribute to creating the healthy soil in which good food and strong communities grow and thrive, contact Program Director Jessica Weiss at info@growingSOUL.org or 301-537-7422, or visit their website: www.growingSOUL.org.

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