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NERC Blog

Materials Management and Rural America, Part 1

Some rural areas are in decline; but some have economies in transition, and some rural areas are even prospering. The same can be said, in fact, of urban and metro areas of all sizes. Largely through funding by the US Department of Agriculture, Rural Utilities Service, NERC has conducted many projects working in rural and small towns throughout much of NERC’s 11-member state region. Some of NERC’s work takes place in communities that are thriving, and some of it is in communities that have definitely seen better days. The support for waste reduction, reuse, recycling, and food scrap/organics management varies widely from community to community. Some are resistant to new undertakings, while others embrace them. Convincing town leaders can often be difficult, but in communities with more active citizens, the success of project implementation happens more often than not. Whether urban, rural, or somewhere in between, all communities have a role in shaping America’s future. Accepting the worth and vitality of each community, and working to enhance and enrich all communities, can only benefit our entire nation.

Community Composting Keeps Growing!

Community composting offers a range of opportunities for organics management. It provides a valuable soil amendment for community gardens, teaches valuable job training skills, and helps train residents, schools, and businesses in the value of turning food scraps and other organics into compost. Examples of successful community compost operations abound, including: GrowNYC Food Scrap Collection, Roots Composting, ECO City Farms, and several community garden food scrap composting sites in Vermont.

New Study Quantifies Needlestick Injury Rates for Material Recovery Facility Workers

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) 2016 data, MRF injuries (including non-needlestick related) occur at a rate of 6 per 100 workers, suggesting 45 percent of MRF injuries could be attributed to needlesticks. Fifty-three percent of MRFs in the study noted having simply observed needles daily or a few times per week. Over half of the facilities observed them mixed with plastics.

Banning Straws and Bags Won’t Solve our Plastic Problem

More than 8 million tons of plastic waste wind up in the ocean every year. Many cities, states and businesses have banned or taxed single-use plastic bags. But is this a good thing? Not if that’s all we do. We need a wider array of smart public policies, a recycling infrastructure that’s right-sized for the problem, better recycling technology and new business models. Banning single-use plastic bags and straws without significant further action is putting a finger on a spigot at a time when we need to suppress the tidal wave.

Recycling’s True Worth

The real value of recycling will never be adequately measured until our economic metrics include the value of lost resources and the impacts of our waste and pollution on the planet. While the focus on markets and what we should do about them is certainly important, we all need to truly remember and embrace the true worth of recycling in reducing our ecological footprint. Our growing rates of consumerism, lack of recycling, the rising number of consumer goods that cannot be repaired or recycled, and built-in obsolescence must become focal points of our discussions as well.

A Solution To The Blue Wrap Waste Problem

• Once blue wrap has been used in hospitals for sterilization, it is usually landfilled despite being a clean and useful fabric • Blue wrap is a plastic fabric that is exactly the same as the material used for reusable shopping bags • Billions of reusable shopping bags made from extracted resources are shipped across the world and imported to the U.S. • We could be creating jobs, decreasing our waste, and fighting climate change by making bags domestically out of this blue wrap waste product instead of importing. • The Recycling industry is being strained by extraction of cheap natural gas in the U.S. and China no longer accepting recyclables, this is increasing the need for repurposing. In the United States we dispose of 200 million lbs of plastic #5 that is perfectly clean and reusable, while simultaneously importing around 100 million lbs of the same exact material, mostly from East Asia.

The Circle of Life: How the Carbon Cycle Powers our Ecosystem

Kids learn about natural circles in school like the water cycle. The big idea there is rain falls, then evaporates back into the air, before coming down again as rain somewhere else.Despite this simple training in circles, most of us think in lines. In a linear world, we fail to see the connection between precipitation and evaporation, or soil health and the quality of our food. In agriculture, line-based thinking has led to problems. For decades, farmers have believed using chemical fertilizers increases their output of plants. Like a line, they believe one always leads to the other, failing to consider impacts on the rest of the ecosystem. The eventual result is a breakdown of natural cycles on their farms. By understanding natural cycles, farmers can adapt and work with those cycles to see their land thrive for generations to come.

Keep Calm and Recycle On: The Sky Isn’t Falling

Recycling is a dynamic process forced to change as products evolve and markets fluctuate. Recycling is in the news and not in a good way. Newspapers and television news shows are full of stories about its apparent death. If they are right, then recycling is doomed in this country. The good news is they are wrong. Yes, municipal recycling programs are facing serious problems. Clearly this latest crisis will not be resolved overnight. Instead of panicking, however, we should take a deep breath and calm down. Recyclables are just another raw material whose prices fluctuate. The light is clearly shining at the end of this tunnel. It’s a long tunnel, and the train is moving slowly, but I see no reason to panic.

6 Feasible Ways to Reduce Food Waste

Every year, over $165 billion worth of food is thrown away in the United States, which represents approximately 40% of the entire annual production. With consumerism as the dominant ideology in our current society and the incredibly vast range of products we can choose from when shopping for groceries, it should not be surprising that such a staggering amount of food goes to waste periodically. While the issue of food waste is very complex and far-reaching, each of us can make a difference by becoming mindful of our consumption habits and by subsequently striving to reduce the amount of edibles we thoughtlessly throw away as much as is practicably possible.

Reboot through Reuse, part 2

Evaluating waste streams with reuse in mind is important for providing an analysis of what reusable items may be available for capture. Collaboration between reuse enterprises and solid waste and recycling facilities can provide reusable material streams to be harnessed by reuse enterprises. Establishing incentives such as pay-as-you-throw collection (in which residents are charged more for larger trash volumes) can spur reuse as well. Small-scale and community-based programs, including repair cafés and tool lending libraries, offer the most positive and sustainable models to move reuse forward. Public monitoring of reuse programs and businesses – and promoting those which provide the most benefits to communities, the economy and the environment – will help move reuse in the right direction.