Science & Sustainability


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

Advertisements

by Susanna Parker

President Obama Nominates EPA AdministratorBGnews_logo

President Barack Obama has officially nominated Gina McCarthy to serve as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. McCarthy, former assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, would replace current head Lisa Jackson, who announced her resignation in December. Despite a strong record and endorsements from a variety of environmental organizations, McCarthy is likely to face opposition from congressional Republicans, who have opposed EPA regulations in recent years. However, among the industries regulated by the EPA, the Washington Post reported that coal was the only likely dissident to McCarthy’s nomination.

If McCarthy is confirmed, she will face a variety of pressing issues, including regulating America’s natural gas industry, hydraulic fracking, and the upcoming decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. Environmental organizations are hopeful of McCarthy’s positions on these matters. Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, said that McCarthy’s appointment would be a “slam dunk for public health and the environment.”

For more information, check out the full article on The Huffington Post.

District Gas Leaks the Answer to Key Policy Question?

As natural gas production expands in the United States, the question most asked is whether the benefits outweigh the dangers. According to a recent Washington Post article, scientists involved with the Environmental Defense Fund are embarking upon a two-year, $10 million effort to measure methane emissions along the nation’s supply chain. This includes measuring methane leaks from city pipelines, beginning with Boston and the District of Columbia. Methane is the main component of natural gas and is 25 times more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Unlike carbon dioxide, methane dissipates from the atmosphere within a few decades; however, it continues to drive global warming. The amount of methane that leaks along the nation’s natural gas supply chain could offset the advantages that natural gas has over coal.

Representatives of the Environmental Defense Fund stress the importance of obtaining accurate data before policy is set. The EDF has recruited industry experts and academics to track the stages of natural gas production, from extraction to transmission, and plan to release an initial report this May. Possibly more important than the stages of production is the data on leakage in city pipelines. According to recent studies, the District has over 3,000 leaks throughout its infrastructure. Boston University professor Nathan Phillips, head of the pipeline leak study in DC, said that the leaks represent a waste of resources, and argued that gas exploration would not have to expand so rapidly if we could conserve our current supply. For more information on the studies, please read the full Washington Post article here.

Upcoming Green Events

  • The Sky is the Limit, First Thursday Happy Hour, Thursday, March 7, 5 – 8 pm, BlackFinn American Saloon, 4901 Fairmont Ave., Bethesda

Join us on the second floor of BlackFinn to celebrate our 5th anniversary! Bethesda Green Executive Director Dave Feldman will speak and provide an opportunity for you to share your thoughts on our next five years. In addition, there will be casual conversation, networking, complimentary appetizers, Happy Hour drink prices, and a raffle to win a $50 BlackFinn gift card. $5 at the door, to RSVP please visit the Bethesda Green Meetup.

  • Fracking Moratorium Rally in Annapolis, Wednesday, March 13, 10 am – noon, Lawyer’s Mall, 100 State Circle, Annapolis

Join Chesapeake Climate Action Network and involved Maryland citizens in the biggest fracking rally Annapolis has ever seen! Critical deadlines for passing the moratorium on fracking are fast approaching, but the chair of the Senate committee said that the moratorium bill will not get a vote this year. Major fracking bills were buried by this same committee over the past two years, but we’ve learned that grassroots pressure can alter the course of bills in Annapolis. Stand together, and show the State House that just as we deserve protection from the risks of fracking, we deserve a vote on it as well. For more information, and to RSVP, please visit the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

  • Annapolis Green Business Night, Wednesday, March 13, 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm, Lowe House Office Building Rooms 170/180, 6 Bladen Street, Annapolis

Join Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Delegate Tom Hucker, Annapolis Green, and Bethesda Green for our Annual Green Business Night in Annapolis! Meet legislators, representatives from state agencies, environmental allies, and green business representatives. Network with green allies, learn about business opportunities, and hear updates on bills to advance geothermal and solar energies. The event is free, but please RSVP to secure your name tag, parking information, directions, and the event program.

  • H2O Summit: Keeping Clean Water, Saturday, March 16, 10 am – 4 pm, Activity Center of Bohrer Park, Gaithersburg

The Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission present the “H2O Summit” — an educational festival about clean water in Montgomery County. The morning session will feature panels and discussions on important watershed topics such as stormwater education, water quality improvement, and stream health, while the afternoon festival will be full of exhibitors, children’s activities, and hands-on family friendly activities. The event is free, but space is limited, so be sure to RSVP today!

  • The Anacostia River, Sunday, March 17, 1:45 pm, National Museum of American History

Part of the DC Environmental Film Festival, this series of short films is presented in conjunction with the Anacostia Community Museum and their exhibition, “Reclaiming the Edge: Urban Waterways and Civic Engagement.” The films include stories of urban wildlife found along the Anacostia River, the importance of changing the way we view the restoration of the river, and a variety of shorts from the Riverstories Series. The event is free; no registration is required. For more information, please visit the event page here.

Susanna Parker is a recent college graduate and volunteer with Bethesda Green. Her interest in sustainability leads her to look for green solutions in uncommon places.

by Susanna Parker

A Busy Week at Bethesda Green

This week is a busy one at Bethesda Green. Join us Wednesday evening for our Emergency Preparedness panel discussion, and be sure meet us Thursday at Parva Restaurant Bar and Lounge for our monthly networking happy hour. Hope to see you there!

Farm to Freezer a Finalist in the TEDxManhattan Challenge!BGnews_logo

Implemented in June 2012, Farm to Freezer works with Bethesda Cares and local farm markets to save leftover produce from being discarded. Farm to Freezer’s many volunteers have helped to turn 5,000 pounds of fresh gleaned produce into frozen vegetables and tomato sauce that will be used to provide Bethesda’s homeless population with nutritious meals year-round. After the resounding success of their first season, Farm to Freezer is ready to expand in a big way. One major step is their inclusion in the TEDxManhattan Challenge; if selected, Farm to Freezer founder Cheryl Kollin will speak at the 2013 New York TEDxManhattan event, and Cheryl’s presentation, “Changing the Way We Eat,” will be broadcast to viewers worldwide. But Farm to Freezer needs your votes! Voting is a simple click, with no personal information or registration required. The deadline is December 15, so please tell your friends and vote today!  To learn more about this challenge and their work, read Farm to Freezer’s full blog post here.

Savenia Labs Premiers Single Serve Coffeemaker Energy Ratings!

Savenia Labs is an independent testing laboratory that provides lab tested energy and environmental impact ratings on popular appliances. Their previous work includes toasters, microwaves, and dehumidifiers, among others, and they have just released their newest ratings: the world’s first ever energy ratings for single serve coffeemakers. The surge in popularity of Keurig brewers and Green Mountain coffee pods has turned these single serve makers into one of the hottest holiday gifts — but how efficient are they? Savenia Labs’ energy ratings allow consumers to make an informed decision, choose the most environmentally friendly makers, and the most efficient machines. Along with the newly released ratings, Savenia Labs’ blog features posts on all aspects of single serve makers, including waste generated, what is actually in those mysterious pods, and cost variations among brands. Be sure to check out their blog, read their press release, and be informed before you buy!

Upcoming Green Events

  •  Drilling Down: A Conference on Fracking Risks and Action in Maryland, Saturday, Dec. 8, 10 am – 4 pm, Langsdale Auditorium, University of Baltimore, West Oliver Street, Baltimore.

Hydrofracking is a hotly debated process that can lead to environmental problems like drinking water contamination and increased air pollution. The natural gas industry is applying for permits to begin the process of hydrofracking in Maryland, and we currently have no laws protecting our communities from the risks that come with it. The Drilling Down conference in Baltimore, presented by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, is a call to action for Marylanders to learn about this process and fight against its implementation in our state. The conference will include speakers such as Maryland State Delegate Heather Mizeur, State Senator Jamie Raskin, author and head of the Environmental Policy Institute Lester Brown, and many more.

Registration is $15 in advance or $20 at the door. Student tickets are available for $10. All tickets include lunch. For more information, and to register for this exciting event, please see Event Details.

Susanna Parker is a recent college graduate and volunteer with Bethesda Green. Her interest in sustainability leads her to look for green solutions in uncommon places.

Science & Sustainability

by Richard M. Goodman

How many times has someone said that substituting electronic communications for paper-based communications is good because you can “save a tree?”  At first this seems to be a no-brainer; how can distributing information electronically not be better than using a piece of paper?  That’s where the concept of sustainability comes in.  Sustainability preaches that we leave earth’s resources in better shape after we are done than before or at least at an even position.

It is true that paper companies plant more trees than they harvest.  (For the record, we are not talking about destruction of virgin forests but the more likely harvesting of young growth trees strictly for paper stock.)  It is also true that we can recycle a significant amount of the paper we use.  On the other side we discard electronics at an alarming rate; lifetimes of 2 years or less are common for many devices. The discarded electronics often contain toxic or limited resources.  Also, what about the source of power for the devices and the Internet?  It is almost always sourced from coal or other cheap but dirty fuels.

Now I don’t want to get into a detailed debate, however, it turns out that the comparison between printing information and transmitting by electronic media is not always in favor of electronics.  I belong to a working group that is part of the International Standards Organization (ISO), a global initiative to provide useful standards for virtually every industry.  One of the recent endeavors has been to exactly address the question of electronic vs. paper for all communications.  The conclusion from the initial study: “Users of this international standard should acknowledge that the CFPs (carbon footprints) developed according to requirements from different communication programs may not be comparable.”  In short, it’s not clear when comparing diverse technologies, which has the best carbon footprint or environmental friendliness – reinforcing the notion that green is the new gray.

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.