Planning For National Green Ribbon Schools Program In Final Stages

Similar to the Blue Ribbon award that distinguishes academic excellence, the U.S. Government will soon be launching a national program that will recognize schools that demonstrate high levels of involvement and concern with the environment. The U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) program was first proposed by the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality on April 26, 2011 and its anticipated release is expected later this month, after final details of the program are worked out.

The program will award a Green Ribbon to schools based on the following criteria:

  • the energy efficiency and environmental impact of the school and its teachers, students, and staff.
  • how going green has improved the school’s teachers, students, and staff, such as health and social improvements.
  • the level of environmental literacy and knowledge the students acquire in school.

Until September 14, the Department of Education is requesting and asking the public for comments and suggestions regarding the program.

Applauding the efforts and achievements of eco-friendly schools is not the only purpose of the program. The government also hopes that other schools will be encouraged to go green because not only is it good for the environment, but it offers a number of other benefits.

What are some of the benefits of going green any school can enjoy? First, any school would like to save money. Schools that strive for energy efficiency usually enjoy some money savings. Energy efficient appliances, lighting, and electronics use less energy and lowers electric bills.

Another way some schools go green, although somewhat extreme, is by eliminating paper at school. However, there is no clear advantage paperless schools have over schools that use paper because there are numerous trade offs. Paperless schools help saves trees but rely heavily on computers and electronics. Using computers drains electricity and manufacturing them often involves toxins and environmentally damaging processes. Also, the heavy reliance on computers and electronics introduces another problem: a rise in electronic waste, which is much more of a hassle to recycle or dispose of than paper.

Of course, some of the environmental harm computers can do can be minimized. Many computer and computer parts manufacturers are increasingly striving to develop products that have minimal impact on the environment. Antec has developed their Earthwatts line of power supplies which uses a third less energy than comparable power supplies without compromising performance. Also, electricity can be provided by renewable sources, such as solar panels or biofuels.

Another benefit of going green is the positive effects it has on teachers, students, and staff. For example, a school that serves local food and avoids processed or pre-packaged food can certainly improve the physical health of its occupants and lessen its impact on the environment. Locally grown foods lack additives, preservatives, and chemicals and decrease fuel costs.  Local foods are usually more nutritious than processed or packaged food. Foods that are shipped from afar, processed, or pre-packaged all required additional resources and energy before being served. Additionally, packaging can be a source of litter.

Schools can also go green by utilizing cleaner modes of transportation. Using fuel efficient or electric buses or shuttles or promoting walking or bicycling to school reduces pollution and can be a form of healthy, physical exercise.

Lastly, going green and increasing knowledge among the youth would be a benefit, not only to schools, but to society as a whole. Promoting environmental literacy in schools increases awareness and can even dispel common myths and misconceptions about going green. Some people may be discouraged from becoming more environmentally friendly because, to them, “going green” may mean flashy solar panels, acres of forest, a radical change in your diet or lifestyle, or an empty wallet.

However, teaching people that going green can be easy and accessible to anyone would encourage them to adopt environmentally conscious practices. Kids can learn about solar panels and renewable energy and why they are advantageous but children can also learn that turning off lights and televisions when not in use saves energy, too. Going green is also about being creative and imaginative; there are no set rules and the opportunities are endless.

As the government has initiated numerous environmental programs and initiatives, the Green Ribbon Schools program hopes to furthermore encourage schools and communities to go green. The program looks to be more promising because it actively involves children and students, a group of people that  sometimes is overlooked.

Photo credit: ed.gov/blog/2011/05/green-ribbon-school-resources

Myanmar To Complete Construction Of Controversial Dam

Facing heavy opposition from local groups and environmentalists, Myanmar’s government has approved the construction of dam that would flood and destroy a large area of land. The dam, currently under construction, is being built to supplement the country’s electricity needs.

Electric Power Minister Zaw Min states the dam “will finish this project within eight years, and I will answer ‘No’ to the question of the environmental groups who asked, ‘Will the project be stopped?'” He says the dam is being built for the interest of the country and its people.

The ongoing construction of the Myitsone Dam on the Irrawaddy River has raised concerns from environmental, social, and ethnic groups. Located in the Mizoram-Manipur-Kachin rain forest region, environmental groups argue that the dam will not only destroy the river, but also an area of great biodiversity. The dam is expected to submerge an area about the size of Singapore and nearly 800 square kilometers of rain forest. Additionally, social and ethnic groups say that historical Kachin churches, temples, and cultural sites will be flooded by water if the dam is completed.

Environmentalists also argue that the dam will also decrease the river’s ability to carry nutrients to the Irrawaddy Delta, where the country sources most of its rice. An estimated 60% of Myanmar’s rice is produced in the Irrawaddy Delta.

The dam, which will be the largest in Myanmar if completed, is capable of generating about 6,000 megawatts of electricity. Currently, the country uses 1,500 megawatts of electricity, and any excess electricity can be exported to other countries. So, in addition to this dam, the country may need to install power transmission lines to export the electricity generated from the dam. In an area considered to be a top eco-tourism destination, with its natural scenery and home to rare and exclusive wildlife, the addition of unsightly power lines could taint the conservational image of the county.

Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi called on Myanmar and China to reconsider the project. She says the Irrawaddy is the “the most significant geographical feature of our country”, and the dam has already forced 12,000 people from 63 villages to move out of the area. The government, however, has reported a much smaller number: only 2,146 people from five villages were displaced.

Officials believe the claims of these groups are exaggerated. Zaw Min argues that current dams and hydropower sites operating in the country are still healthy and flowing and, at the same time, generating electricity.

Zaw Min does acknowledge that the dam may have possible negative impacts but also believes it will yield a great benefit to the country. The few people that will be negatively impacted will do so for the good of the country. Says Zaw Min, “There are a few bad things, such as there will be no place for the biodiversity and the people will be displaced because of the reservoirs, etc. But we have to compare this with the national benefits which we will get from the project. After we reduce those bad things, the project will definitely affect positively the 50-60 million people of the country.”

Unfortunately for officials and supporters of the dam, the economic benefits of the dam does not justify the possible harm it could bring to the river and the people, as shown by the great number of those steadfastly opposing and campaigning against the completion of the dam. From organizations to scientists, the Irrawaddy River is much more beloved to the country than any economic benefits. For instance, a petition entitled “From Those who Wish the Irrawaddy to Flow Forever” and backed by thousands of politicians, journalists, writers, artists, and film directors was sent to President Thein Sein.

Many believe the government is ignoring the true concerns of the people. Says Myat Thu, who campaigns for the preservation the Irrawaddy River, “They [the government] said that they represent the people. That’s why they have to respect the voice of the people. If the voice of the people is different from theirs, they have to change.”

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/sarahdepper/3899578554/

Google Unveils Energy Consumption Figures For The First Time

As with many tech companies, Google really wants to be green. The tech giant has revealed statistics about its energy use and emissions, hoping to defend against critics that question Google’s claim that its operations are truly environmentally friendly.

Although the company has publicized its efforts to be environmentally conscious, Google released on Thursday detailed information about its power-hungry data centers for the first time. Google, who provides a search engine, Youtube, and Gmail, reported that the company as a whole released 1.46 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2010 and 1.2 million metric tons came from data centers and offices. Despite these figures, Google claims the company’s electricity consumption is less than 0.01% of the world’s total electricity use.

Google’s fleet vehicles contributed about 11 thousand tons of emissions. Emissions from traveling, construction, and commuting added another 207 thousand tons.

Though Google has publicized its green efforts for years, such as using renewable sources of energy, the company has steadfastly withheld information about their energy use. Experts believe that information was kept secret to prevent Google’s competitors from using it against them or to gain an understanding how its data centers operate.

Google’s efforts in making their data centers and offices greener are comprehensive. Some of the measures the company takes to make their data centers use “50% less energy” than other companies include using efficient servers, power supplies, voltage regulators, evaporative cooling systems, and recycling all electronics. As a result, Google claims the carbon footprint of 1000 searches on its search engine is the same as as the carbon footprint from a glass of orange juice.

Additionally, Google minimizes air conditioning use and cooling which decreases energy use. Offices and data centers have thermostats set at a higher temperature of around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Employees allegedly are allowed to wear shorts to work.  Also, Google implements “free cooling” which is the practice of cooling facilities without using chillers. Because they use a significant amount of energy, minimizing the use of chillers and finding alternative cooling methods would yield a decrease in energy consumption and expenses.

Compared with other tech giants, Google is among the greenest. Along with Yahoo and Facebook, Google is a leader in minimizing energy consumption and costs from cooling. Yahoo claims its energy used for cooling is only 1% of the company’s total energy use. Facebook uses evaporative cooling like Google but has also designed their servers and computers to run in warmer temperatures.

Apple is a little slow compared to these companies, though. A new facility in North Carolina will triple its electricity consumption and will be generated by mostly coal (62%) and nuclear (32%) energy.

Despite of all the efforts tech companies are now making to become greener, each individual person can do their part in doing good for the environment. Consider participating in Earth Hour every year. The event by WWF for 2012 will take place on Saturday, March 31 at 8:30pm. Earth Hour encourages everyone to turn off their lights and keep away from using electricity for an hour to promote cutting down on electricity use.

Even though the event was intended primarily to raise awareness, some areas reported actual energy savings during Earth Hour. Officials at Columbia, Missouri, claims the city saved 2.5 megawatts of electricity during Earth Hour 2011, which is enough energy to power 98 homes in Columbia on an average day. In previous years, the city saved 1.72 megawatts in 2008, 1.27 in 2009, and 1.58 in 2010. In addition to the energy savings, more people are participating in the yearly event, fulfilling the event’s primary purpose.  President of the Columbia Climate Change Coalition, Monta Welch reported that 47 businesses observed Earth Hour in 2011, compared to only 27 who turned their lights off in 2010.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/29456235@N04/2926163305

NY Fashion Week To Run On Cleaner Energy This Year

In a few days, the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week will not only be debuting the industry’s new fashions and styles, but also a cleaner energy source to power the semi-annual event. After complaints from local residents and businesses, Fashion Week organizers say they will reduce the use of old, diesel powered generators and lean towards cleaner sources of energy to provide electricity. The event will be held at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York.

Diesel generators used in previous Fashion Weeks were scattered around the vicinity of the event and caused many to fume over the noise and air pollution the event brought with it. A few of these generators were older and more pollutive, and many people complained about the worsened air quality and noise before, during, and after Fashion Week. Violetta Ungar, a local resident, told the NY Times, “The noise, the fumes – I smell it all day and all night.”

Another resident likened the generators to power the event to “several buses idling outside your window continuously, 24 hours a day, non-stop.”

Despite the complaints, IMG Fashion claims they try their best to make Fashion Week an eco-friendly event. Lighting and ventilation systems are energy-efficient and the tents are reused or recycled for future events. IMG spokesman Zach Eichman says, “We’re very proud of our team and vendors’ continued efforts to be green and are striving to grow those efforts each season.”

For September’s Fashion Week, IMG Fashion will address the complaints and make a few changes, for the better. Two of the older and noisier generators will not be used this September. The rest of the generators, which ran fully on diesel fuel in the past, have been converted to run on a blend of biodiesel fuel. Additionally, parts of the event will plug in and draw electricity from Fordham University’s Lincoln Center Campus and the David H. Koch Theater. IMG will pay for the electricity they use.

Locals have already noticed the changes made for September’s event. A resident said in an email that “the diesel smell that was wafting through the air last winter is gone. The conversion to electrical power at 62nd and Columbus has definitely made a difference in the air compared to last winter. It’s unknown what the air will be like when they turn on the big generators in a few days, but there is a clear difference so far.”

So how much power does Fashion Week need? IMG Fashion is unable to provide an exact number, but a spokeswoman estimates that 100,000 attendees and 3,000 media professionals attend. Also, various vehicles are used for warehouse and backstage-type operations. The spokeswoman believes Fashion Week is comparable to running  “three Broadway plays simultaneously for seven days.” Add to that the hours of blow dryers and hair irons running and the lights make up artists use.

Fashion Week’s changes for the better of the environment was possible in part of the activism of local residents. City Council member Gale Brewer represents the area Fashion Week is held and fought to defend her constituents and make known their concerns.

Additionally, Brewer sees this as an opportunity to address other sources of noise and air pollution and help improve the city. She believes laws need to be in place to regulate other sources of noise and air pollution common in New York, such as food trucks and street fairs.

As residents of New York City did, people anywhere in the country can make a difference and stand up against unwanted noise and air pollution. A couple of related advocacy groups include Noise Free America and the American Lung Association (ALA). These two groups are both active in fighting for air quality and to minimize noise and operate both nationally and locally in regional chapters. Lastly, the EPA’s website contains information and links about noise and air pollution.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/artcomments/249762542/

Paper Mill Blamed For Fish Kill Approved To Reopen

Nearly a month after being shut down due to a massive fish kill, some workers at a paper mill in Louisiana are finally able to return to work today. State officials have approved the reopening of Temple-Inland Inc.’s paper mill in Bogalusa, LA after the company assured authorities that they will strive to prevent similar incidents in the future.

To continue operations, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) ordered the paper mill to regularly perform rigorous sampling of treated wastewater at various locations, including wastewater at the mill’s discharge point and at locations upstream and downstream on the Pearl River. Also, the mill is required to report the results of the monitoring to several different agencies and local officials. DEQ’s Rodney Mallet says, “As long as they follow the plan, everything’s fine. We have people out there monitoring.”

After tests were conducted on discharged treated wastewater last Friday, DEQ officials declared no significant threats to fish and other animals in the river.

The fish kill that occurred on the Pearl River was largely blamed on the improper discharge of the so called “black liquor” compound. On August 13, the mill was shut down after the river became visibly black and a multitude of dead fish, shellfish, and turtles turned up. Witnesses say the discharge of black liquor was seen as far as 50 miles from the paper mill.

However, as early as August 9, there were already warning signs. Computers at the mill reported an exceeding overflow of black liquor into the Pearl River. Despite this, the mill continued to operate and dump substantial amounts of the compound into the river. The mill was shut down only after the DEQ received information on August 13 about hundreds of thousands of fish found dead on the Pearl River and sent scientists to investigate.

Some of the species that were affected are found almost exclusively in the Pearl River, such as the gulf sturgeon (a fish classified as a near threatened species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) and the ringed sawback turtle. Bass, catfish, flounder, and mussels were also among the animals killed.

Black liquor is a compound used to provide about two thirds of a paper mill’s energy needs. It is composed of water, organic substances from wood, and some chemicals such as sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfide. The compound must be treated according to regulations before being discharged into a nearby waterway.

However, the DEQ stresses that the fish kill was not caused by toxic chemicals but by oxygen depletion. Despite its toxic content, the high concentration of untreated black liquor contained enough wood and organic content to deplete oxygen, which is what killed off fish, shellfish, and turtles in the river.

Despite this accident, Temple-Inland Inc. has been a leader in the industry for being environmentally responsible. Before becoming Temple-Inland Inc. in January 2008, Inland regularly complied with DEQ and EPA regulations and received awards, including numerous Sustainable Forestry Initiative certifications and the prestigious U.S. Department of Interior Conservation Service Award.

However, after January of 2008, management changed several things around the mill. For instance, the proper treatment of black liquor before it is safe to discharge into the Pearl River takes at least 21 days. Under the newer management, the treatment process was shortened to only one day.

Temple-Inland Inc. produces paper used for packaging and building materials and employs about 600 workers at the Bogalusa paper mill. Besides complying with environmental regulations, the company has received numerous awards for providing customers with quality services and products. Do it Best Corp. has named Temple-Inland Inc. “Vendor of the Year” several years in a row.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/macbeck/3982210565

California Wants Styrofoam Ban Due To Environmental Concerns

Following the lead of several cities in the state, California legislators are considering the ban of Styrofoam throughout the entire state. If the ban follows through, California would be the first state in the nation to ban the controversial plastic.

The bill, proposed by Democratic state Senator Alan Lowenthal, would make it illegal for restaurants, grocery stores, and food vendors in California to sell food contained in Styrofoam containers. By the year 2016, the ban would completely be in effect. Senator Lowenthal says at least 50 cities in the state have already banned Styrofoam and use greener alternatives to Styrofoam containers.

The proposed bill exempts schools, city, and counties if they can recycle at least 60 percent of their foam waste by instituting special recycling programs.

Senator Lowenthal and supporters of the bill believe Styrofoam causes numerous problems. Also known as polystyrene, the petroleum-based plastic is a major source of litter in California, commonly found scattered on beaches and in waterways. Environmentalists argue that trash Styrofoam now exceeds cigarette butts in the state. At trash pickup events, Styrofoam is increasingly becoming the most frequently collected item.

Trash Styrofoam can also be eaten by animals; it is rather common to see birds pecking away at leftover food in Styrofoam containers.

Styrofoam is not biodegradable and cannot be recycled or composted without great difficulty. Usually, recyclers do not bother with Styrofoam because the material has minimal scrap value. Why would recyclers spend time and money recycling Styrofoam if it offers no profit? In fact, Styrofoam’s strength, low cost, and durability that appeals to businesses is the same reason why many environmentalists detest it.

Additionally, in a 1986 report by the EPA, Styrofoam is considered the fifth largest source of hazardous waste. Not only is Styrofoam destructive to the environment after its life as a container, the process of manufacturing it is pollutive to the air and water. Also, Styrofoam’s large volume takes up valuable space in crowding landfills.

The EPA regards Styrofoam as a possible carcinogen. It contains numerous toxic chemicals that can be released and contaminate food and drinks if heated in a microwave. The health effects of exposure to polystyrene include skin and eye irritation, depression, headache, fatigue, and kidney problems.

Despite all the health and environmental benefits that can be reaped with abolition of Styrofoam, businesses and California’s economy may suffer from the ban. Gold Rush Grille owner Joe Thompson opposes the ban because most of his customers order carryout. He argues that containers that are environmentally friendlier are twice as expensive as Styrofoam containers. Says Thompson, “So what happens to me is I have to lay off a part-time employee or I have to take a full-time employee to part time.”

Gary Honeycutt, owner of BJ’s Kountry Kitchen, also opposes the ban. His restaurant uses about 26,000 Styrofoam clamshells per year because of the large volume of customers that order to-go. Honeycutt opposes switching to greener alternatives because they lack the strength and durability of Styrofoam. Says Honeycutt, “We put cheese on those omelets. And when we put the cheese on, it’s really hot and bubbly and it goes right through the biodegradable stuff.’’

In a time of economic woes, an outright ban on Styrofoam may benefit the environment but could also cause significant harm to businesses in the process. In fact, avoiding the Styrofoam ban may create jobs in the form of trash cleanup crews and provide incentive for recyclers to develop cost effective recycling or disposal methods of Styrofoam. Also, instead of completely banning Styrofoam, manufacturers should be pushed to clean up the process of producing Styrofoam or developing greener alternatives that have the qualities and properties of Styrofoam that make it desirable to businesses.

How about pushing scientists and researchers to develop a method to safely disintegrate Styrofoam already in landfills?

Lastly, a ban on Styrofoam would not allow people to be more environmentally conscious and learn to be more responsible. Simply taking away the source of the problem does not give people the chance to become responsible or proactive in taking care of the environment and keeping it clean. For instance, wouldn’t events such as the upcoming California Coastal Cleanup Day be less of a showcase of environmental responsibility if there was less trash to pick up?

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/fillmorephotography/525736705

Gibson’s Guitar Factory Raided Over Imported Wood

American guitar maker Gibson is once again facing some legal trouble with the federal government over the alleged illegal importation of protected wood. On Wednesday morning, federal agents stormed Gibson’s facility in Nashville, TN and forced workers to leave. In the raid, agents captured several wood pallets and guitars made of wood imported from India. Agents also seized electronic files from Gibson.

The government may bring charges against Gibson for breaking a law prohibiting the import of endangered plants and wood.

Gibson’s Chief Executive Officer Henry Juszkiewicz believes the guitar company did nothing illegal. Says Juszkiewicz, “Gibson has complied with foreign laws and believes it is innocent of any wrong doing. We will fight aggressively to prove our innocence.”

Juszkiewicz further argues that for many years, Gibson has been working with numerous environmental organizations, including the Rainforest Alliance and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), to find wood from environmentally responsible sources. Gibson and other guitar makers, including Martin, Taylor, Fender, Yamaha, and Guild, have all promised to only use wood certified by the FSC to ensure the wood was harvested responsibly.

He feels the government is bossing the guitar maker around. Gibson’s facilities were raided because the federal government interpreted an Indian law their own way, without the knowledge or approval of the Indian government. When he asked which Indian law Gibson violated, the federal government refused to respond.

Gibson has been probed by the federal government several times in the past over wood with questionable origins. In 2009, federal agents raided the guitar maker’s factory on suspicion of illegally acquired rosewood and ebony from Madagascar. The country banned the harvest of these woods since 1996.

And in July of 2011, agents spotted a shipment of Indian ebony and rosewood being delivered to the Gibson factory which prompted the agents to confiscate computers from Gibson.

The increased government action against Gibson also has musicians, hobbyists, and collectors worried. Instruments made of materials that have been banned must have complete and extensive documentation, which is sometimes impossible to obtain. Supply chains can go through many different nations, including developing countries, and the exact origin of woods can easily be reported incorrectly.

For instance, Pascal Vieillard and his company A-440 Pianos in Atlanta, GA, imported a number of antique pianos. When he requested assistance from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to properly fill out paperwork on the pianos, the convention notified U.S. Customs. Agents soon arrested Vieillard for importing the pianos, whose keys were made of ivory. He later pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charges, paid $17,500 in fines, and was held for three years on probation.

So why would musicians and enthusiasts cling on to these instruments if it could bring major trouble to them? One reason is simply because the tone and sound older instruments make are sometimes more desirable than any guitar produced today. The type of wood used to make guitar bodies and parts impacts how the guitar will sound. Cheaper guitars made of plywood have a substantially less pleasing sound than, for instance, a more expensive guitar made of real wood such as mahogany.

Despite its intention to help the environment, is this a case where the federal government is going too far? Gibson’s CEO believes so. Says Juszkiewicz, “The federal bureaucracy is just out of hand and it seems to me there’s almost a class warfare of companies versus people, rich versus poor, Republicans versus Democrats and there’s just a lack of somebody that stands up and says, ‘I’m about everyone. I’m really about America and doing what’s good for the country and not fighting these little battles.’”

So while Gibson’s workers are sent home and guitar production paused, a number of eco-friendly guitars might be a possible alternative. Made of materials ranging from bamboo to recycled electronics, musicians afraid of getting caught up in legal troubles may appreciate these radically different musical instruments.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/joeflood/2853347520

Destructive Khapra Beetles in the U.S Once Again

The Khapra beetle, a difficult-to-exterminate insect, has once again made its way to the United States. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials at Chicago O’Hare International Airport have reported finding a Khapra beetle larva in one of two 10-pound sacks of rice originating from India. As the destructive beetle increasingly makes appearances on U.S. soil, perhaps it is time for consumers to quit buying rice and grain from overseas sources and buy domestically grown crops instead.

Officials detected a Khapra beetle larva in a bag of rice that was packaged with other household items that was shipped from India to the U.S.

In the past, a Khapra beetle infestation caused extensive damage in California worth millions of dollars. Starting in 1953, Khapra beetles were found in barley storage warehouses in Tulare county. In 1954, Khapra beetles were sighted in numerous counties throughout the state, including Los Angeles, Imperial, and Riverside counties, and also in Arizona and New Mexico.

The Khapra beetle is very difficult to eliminate because of its tenaciousness. Originating from India, the tiny pests are usually 2 to 3 mm long and can easily hide themselves in small cracks. They can survive in places without food or water for long periods of time. Khapra beetles have even been found in non-food products like burlap bags, art pieces, cardboard boxes, and packing materials.

Researchers say at 90 degrees Fahrenheit, eggs of the beetle can hatch in less than six days. Once they hatch, it takes the larva to reach maturity in about 20 days. As adults, they live up to four weeks and can breed and lay eggs during this time period.

Researchers also report that Khapra beetles are very resistant to insecticides. In lab tests, a 2 parts per million dosage of malathion took 40 days to kill 26% of a Khapra beetle population while the same dosage killed 100% of a weevil test population in only nine days.

What worries officials is the exploding number of Khapra beetles sighted in the U.S. In 2005 and 2006, the number of Khapra beetles found was 6 times per year, then increased to 15 times per year in 2007- 2009. However, in 2010 and up to July of 2011, the beetle has been found in shipments at least 100 times.

U.S. Customs spokesman Brian Bell says another infestation of Khapra beetles is “going to disrupt our economy.” Due to the amount of grain and wheat exported by U.S. farmers, an infestation of U.S. crops would ruin the country’s clean reputation. As Bell says, “Countries know they’re getting a clean product (from the U.S.).”

This is a good reason to reduce our dependence on foreign goods. Not only is the threat of introducing foreign, destructive pests to our country eliminated, buying locally grown goods is also good for the community and the environment in a number of ways. Buying food locally and keeping food sources local is sustainable, assuming pesticides and hormones were not used on the crops. Instead of food being shipped from hundreds of miles away by truck, train, or even airplane, locally grown food comes from farms only a short drive away. This reduces energy consumption and transportation costs since less distance is traveled when delivering the food.

Locally grown foods drastically reduces the need to package foods. Foods that need to be delivered to far destinations need proper packaging and storage to keep from spoiling. This packaging is difficult to recycle and is rarely reusable. Sometimes packaging can even contaminate food, as seen with the numerous cases with plastic packaging containing bisphenol A (BPA). Exposure to BPA has been linked to various health conditions such as heart disease, cancer, infertility, and diabetes.

Buying locally grown goods also promotes healthy relationships within the community and between local farmers and customers. A trip to the local farmer’s market allows customers to communicate with food producers directly. Customers can learn more about farming, food, and agriculture while farmers will feel supported by the community.

As farmers and officials worry about another possible invasion of these pests, this Khapra beetle scare can also be seen as an opportunity to make changes for the better. Buying locally grown foods keeps foreign pests away and actually has numerous benefits for the environment. Start by visiting and shopping at a farmer’s market near you, which can be located using websites such as localharvest.org.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/86112481@N00/3642072038

Target and EcoSet: TV Commercials Can Be Green Too

Many retailers these days have made significant progress in reducing their impacts on the environment. From implementing alternative energy to fuel their operations to carrying eco-friendly products, retailers are increasingly going green. However, Target and eco-consulting firm EcoSet, are taking it further by making television ads eco-friendly as well.

Target, which already carries a number of eco-friendly products, has teamed up with EcoSet to produce TV advertisements that are more environmentally responsible. The firm claims to have the ability to prevent 90% of waste produced on the set from ending up in landfills without interfering or costing production crews time or extra money. Also, since TV ad shoots last only a few days, crews usually do not take the time or put in the effort to clean up after the shoot. With tight schedules, why clean up if it takes up as much time as the shoot itself? This is where EcoSet comes in.

EcoSet is comprehensive in achieving its goals. On the set, there is not a single plastic water bottle; everyone is given a reusable, stainless steel water container. For Target shoots, everyone gets a red bottle labeled with a Target logo. Filtered water dispensers are provided for everyone to refill their water containers when necessary. How many times do people open a water bottle, take a sip, put the bottle down somewhere, leave, then come back and wonder which bottle was theirs? Then, just to be safe, they open up a new, sealed water bottle, and might repeat the whole process again. The use of reusable water containers and water dispensers would help eliminate this problem, which wastes water and plastic.

EcoSet also provides numerous recycling solutions. Waste from the set and office are recycled. Hazardous and electronic waste are also properly disposed of or recycled.

EcoSet also has composting bins to compost any food waste, which can be a big problem. In some cases, this problem has prompted groups to launch campaigns against production crews that waste food. For instance, Australian chef Matt Moran was angered when the prosciutto-wrapped chicken dish he prepared as a demonstration was tossed into the trash by a crew member.

Although the profanity-laced incident was admittedly staged, it emphasizes the problem with food waste. Chef Moran later explained, “I was more than happy to be involved in something so controversial if it meant that the message of food waste would be brought to the top of Australians’ minds.” Food waste can be used as compost; however, some chefs, especially those that spend much time and effort putting together dishes they are proud of, may be irked at the sight of their labors being composted and used to feed plants instead of being enjoyed by people.

Speaking of food, all dishware and utensils used on the set are either reusable or plant-based. Plant-based utensils are composed of renewable materials such as rice, corn, potatoes, and sugarcane. These utensils will biodegrade within 100 days, compared with traditional plastic utensils that take hundred or even thousands of years to decompose, taking up space in ever crowding landfills. These plant-based utensils usually conform to DIN CERTCO, ASTM, and ISO standards, assuring that they actually decompose in a timely manner as claimed.

Lastly, EcoSet has helped Target donate construction materials that are no longer needed on the set to various art and education organizations. Materials have been used for a variety of projects. Cindy Saucedo Smith, program coordinator for the organization ArtStart, has seen kids use materials such as silver cooling tubes as part of robot costumes. Says Smith, “The kids can go crazy when they see stuff like that, so we’ll hold on to it for the fall and see if there are suggestions for eco-costumes.”

As retailers may launch TV ads that claim how environmentally responsible they are, it is even better if producing these ads are green as well.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/jreed/379881530

Petrochemical Plant In China Shut Down Due To Protests

Government officials in northeastern China have ordered a petrochemical plant in northeastern China to be closed after 12,000 people protested on Sunday by “strolling” through the city.

Located in Dalian, a port city in northeastern China, the Fujia plant manufactures paraxylene (PX), a toxic chemical used to produce polyester. It received much attention after heavy storms pounded away at the plant and storm waters destroyed and passed through dikes designed to protect the plant. The plant is located about 150 feet away from the dikes. Dalian residents were ordered to evacuate because of the possibility that PX was released from the plant.

In the following days after the storm, residents returned home. Plant authorities have claimed that the dikes have been repaired and no chemical leaks have been detected. However, this did not reassure Dalian residents and the public who are convinced that some amount of PX has leaked from the plant due to the storms.

Compared to other locations in China, authorities in Dalian responded much more quickly to the protests. Usually, the government stays away from making decisions amid protests because of the fear that the public would get their way every time they protest. However, protests are becoming increasingly violent, as shown in a protest that happened in Qianxi County on Saturday where residents injured more than 10 police officers and security officials and destroyed 15 cars in a demonstration against inspectors. These inspectors were accused of being overly oppressive and abusive despite being under trained for their jobs.

The protest also shows the ever increasing use of social media and the Internet to spread news quickly. A poster was posted and shared on the Internet, telling people to take a “stroll” at 10am on Sunday at People’s Square, near the Dalian government building. The poster stated, “We know that the typhoon caused some leak of poisonous chemicals from the PX project and we are all worrying about it, because it is a threat to our life. We hope that such a ‘stroll’ may push the government to do something as soon as possible to dispel our worries.”

The microblogging site Weibo and the instant messenger service QQ were also used to convince thousands of people to demonstrate and join the protest. Users posted photos on Weibo as the protest occurred, including one photo of a person wearing a gas mask and a shirt saying “Brother wants to live a few more years.”

However, government officials were just as quick to censor anything that encouraged the protests in Dalian. Web searches for “PX” and “Dalian” were blocked and redirects to a page saying “according to relevant laws, regulations and policies, search results are not displayed.”

Officials not only shut down the Fujia plant but also promised to relocate the plant outside of the city. However, residents demand a definite timetable for the relocation of the plant.

In addition to the panic caused by the Fujia plant, other environmental problems have worried Dalian residents in the recent past. On July 16, a pipe connecting an oil tanker to a onshore storage facility at the PetroChina port exploded and caught on fire. Officials reported that 11,000 barrels of oil was released. However, with an investigation launched by Greenpeace, the actual amount of oil could be much greater. The tank, which was found empty, could have contained between 315,000 to 365,000 barrels of oil, including any oil that was burned off. Also, eyewitness accounts claim 11,000 barrels of oil is definitely downplaying the actual amount of oil spilled into the ocean. A business owner in Dalian said, “It couldn’t possibly have been 1,500 tons (11,000 barrels). The thick oil layer stretched as far as the eye could see. It was so thick that the most effective way of collecting it was to scoop it up in your bare arms and push it into the barrel.”

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/dyslexik/2414905307