Category Archives: Green Products

How Much Does Your Caffeine Routine Contribute to the Waste Footprint?

By Victoria Howland, Civil Engineer and member of Pare’s Sustainable Design Committee

Each morning you wake up, get ready for the work day, and reach for that delicious, aromatic and caffeinated beverage…which is filling our country’s landfills. Yes, I’m talking about coffee. An estimated 83% of adults in the United States drink 587 million cups of coffee a year. Coffee provides us with caffeine to keep us alert through the day and antioxidants to keep us healthy. This miracle beverage has even been linked to reducing our risk of getting (liver) cancer. So if you drink coffee, there’s no way you could be doing any harm, right? Wrong.

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Coffee has become a large contributor of waste. Every time you go to a coffee shop and grab a cup to go, your cup contributes to the waste footprint. Some companies use paper cups, which is an easy material to recycle. But do you recycle it? Other companies use Styrofoam for its insulating properties. It’s understandably difficult to turn down a cup option which keeps both your hand and the precious liquid a desirable temperature. And these environmentally unfriendly options are of low cost to the coffee shop and consequently to you.

Professor David Tyler, a chemist at the University of Oregon, addressed Styrofoam’s “worst material” stereotype by conducting a life-cycle assessment. The results of his study demonstrated that Styrofoam cups are no worse than paper cups for the environment. The carbon footprint of a Styrofoam cup (i.e., its contribution to greenhouse gases) is less than a paper cup. However, it does take Styrofoam longer to degrade. The choice is up to you; do you care more about carbon footprint or garbage reduction?index

Before we’re able to take a sip, we need to address another important coffee waste concern which is infamous in the New England region: the double cup. Found in both icy and sweltering temperatures, Dunkin Donuts and other coffee shops allow you to request your iced coffee in a cup within a cup. In the colder weather, your plastic drink cup is slid into a Styrofoam cup to keep the iced coffee from chilling your already chilled hands. In the warm weather, the Styrofoam second cup catches the condensation from your refreshingly cold drink. In both cases, the Styrofoam cup is being added as an insulator. And in both cases, you are contributing twice the amount of waste to the garbage.IMG_0829

And it’s not just cups that are filling our landfills.

In recent years, the single-serve coffee brewer has been at the forefront of home brewing. Keurig (now owned by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters) developed the K-Cup brewing system in the mid-1990s. As most of you know, it consists of a brewer and a K-Cup – a plastic container with a filter and 11 grams of ground coffee beans, vacuum sealed to prevent oxidation. The plastic container is made from a special plastic mix designed to withstand the heated brewing process. The brewer punctures a hole in the top and bottom of the K-Cup and passes hot water through the cup and into a mug. Once the K-Cup is brewed, it is disposed of, and it becomes a component of our waste footprint. While coffee grounds are compostable, K-Cup plastic containers are not. That isn’t to say they aren’t reusable though! Click the image below for ways to reuse your office’s K-Cups.

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John Sylvan was the brains behind Keurig and what he calls the “single-serve delivery mechanism for an addictive substance.” He created Keurig in 1992 and sold off his share of the company in 1997 for a mere $50,000. Keurig is now generating $4.7 billion in revenue. Now that the K-Cup has received backlash from consumers, environmentalists, and more, John Sylvan states, “I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it.”

Coffee grounds are compostable, however the K-Cup plastic container is only recyclable in a few Canadian cities. The good news: Keurig Green Mountain has taken a pledge to create a fully recyclable K-Cup. The bad news: It won’t make its debut until 2020. Until then, we’ll have to be conscious about how we make our coffee!

Now that we’re finally ready to take a sip, cherish that taste of sweet…guilt! But perhaps there are ways we can lessen the guilt and lessen the environmental impact of drinking coffee. Coffee has always served as a treat, an energizer, and it is known for bringing people together. Consider bringing people together for an even greater benefit by encouraging environmentally responsible caffeinated practices in your office, whether it is supplying company-wide reusable coffee cups that all coffee shops are eager to fill, or by using a coffee-koozy to substitute the Styrofoam cup. Hey, there are some great opportunities for company branding here!

Use these links to read the details of Professor Taylor’s research, and the fascinating story of John Sylvan’s remarkable invention:
http://cascade.uoregon.edu/fall2012/expert/expert-article/

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/03/the-abominable-k-cup-coffee-pod-environment-problem/386501/

Could Fungi Save Our Planet?

By Victoria Howland, Civil Engineer at Pare

“Imagine what our planet might look like in a thousand years.”

That is the first question Eben Bayer asked the audience in his 2010 TED talk, “Are mushrooms the new plastic?” My mind immediately jumped to the first scenes of the Disney Pixar movie, Wall-E. In the movie, the robot Wall-E has been placed on an abandoned Planet Earth with the futile task of cleaning-up an insurmountable mountain of trash and waste. While this concept is a bit extreme, the movie sends a clear message: We need to better manage our waste.

Eben Bayer also recognizes the need to find better solutions for our waste. While attending Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Eben and his classmate Gavin McIntyre invented an alternative use of fungi that produces rigid materials. This material is based on mycelium, which is defined as “the vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a mass of branching, threadlike hyphae.” It is a living, growing and self-assembling organism.

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Pictured: Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre

Eben and Gavin’s product, MycoBond, is a mycelium “glue” that converts agriwaste into a foam-like material. This material provides an alternative solution for waste by fitting into nature’s recycling system. With the encouragement of their professor, the two men realized they were on to something and founded their company, Ecovative.

Ecovative initially focused its research on rigid boards for building insulation, and has since expanded into packaging. The manufacturing process for this company lies in the organism. Waste products are molded into a form and injected with the mycelium. Over the next few days, the fungi digests and assembles the waste into biocomposites. The biocomposites can be molded into any form and given various properties, such as being mold resistant, insulating, vapor resistant, etc.

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Eben states that there are three key principles for the success of these new “Mushroom Materials.” The first principle is open feedstocks. This process does not depend on finite resources, such as petroleum, that we so heavily rely on to power our cars and heat our homes. This process relies on local agricultural byproduct, which is naturally occurring and treated as a waste product.

The second key principle of this material is the consumption of far less energy in creating the material. The beauty in the “manufacturing” of this material is that the fungi manufactures itself over time.

The third key principle is the ability to create materials that fit into nature’s recycling system. This product is made from a mixture of agricultural waste and fungi, two naturally occurring materials. At the end of the product use, it can be broken down and recycled into the next usable form without having to go to a recycling/processing facility.

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Ever since the company started, its Mushroom Materials products have been rapidly expanding. Ecovative began using MycoBond to create packaging products for Fortune 500 companies. They have received the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Quality Award, among others. The material is Cradle-to-Cradle Certified Gold, and MycoBond is being used for a wide variety of applications, from building insulation to surfboards. Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre have created an innovative material that transforms the life cycle of a product. If Ecovative is able to replace more plastic products with their biodegradable and environmentally friendly alternative, perhaps Wall-E will have a sequel set on a green and flourishing Planet Earth where his main mission is to harvest more mushrooms.

 

 

Fresh Produce From the Farm to Your Work Desk

By Brandon Blanchard, Senior Project Environmental Engineer at Pare

Recently, several Pare employees enrolled in the Veggie Box program offered by Farm Fresh Rhode Island. Every week, Farm Fresh delivers boxes of fresh, local produce to our Lincoln, RI office and several other locations across the State. Each box includes a variety of fruit, vegetables, and herbs harvested from farms throughout Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts.

The contents of the box change with the seasons to ensure that only the freshest produce is selected – you can taste the difference! A box earlier this summer included seasonal greens, such as Swiss chard and arugula, carrots, celery, several ears of corn, and large, juicy blueberries. A weekly newsletter identifies the farm from which each item was harvested and shares several recipe ideas to make using your produce easy.

Veggie Box(Only vegetables harvested at the peak of their freshness make it into the box)

Veggie Box is a great way to support area farms while ensuring that your family gets fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables. Buying from local farmers helps preserve open space and means your food doesn’t travel as far to get to you. Farm Fresh schedules their drop-offs as efficiently as possible to minimize delivery trips throughout the State.

veggie 5Visit the Farm Fresh website or their Veggie Box page to learn more, including ways that you can enroll in the program. There are public drop-off locations all over Rhode Island, including some in your hometown!

Want to be a LEED AP or GA. . . yes there is an app for that!

Do you want to become a LEED GA (Green Associate) or LEED AP (Accredited Professional) but just don’t know if you have the time?  Well no more excuses, you can study on the go with flashcards, a study guide and even study sessions right on your phone.  Isn’t technology great?

Here are just a few options to explore:

www.greenedu.com/leed-mobile-apps

http://www.housingzone.com/appcenter/leed-app-%E2%80%93-ga

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/leed-study-guide/id405852353

If you are interested in studying for the LEED GA test, please let one of your SDC representatives know and we can help you get started.