Tag Archives: environment

E-Waste: Mounting Concern & What You Can Do

Did You Know???

  • “E-waste” (as electronic waste—anything with a battery or a cord—is frequently called) is the fastest growing waste stream in the world.  It is quickly filling our landfills and it has the potential to do significantly more harm than household trash.
  • The average lifespan of computers dropped from six years in 1997 to just two years by 2005, and cell phones have a life cycle of less than two years in developed countries.
  • The United States discarded more than 11 million tons of e-waste in 2014 (the data for 2015 and 2016 hasn’t been released yet) but only approximately 20-25% of that waste is recycled each year.
  • For every million cell phones we recycle, 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered.
  • Recycling one million laptops saves as much energy as the electricity used by more than 3,500 US homes in a year.

Electronics Recycling Drive

By:  Cari Orsi, P.E., LEED AP on behalf of Pare’s Sustainability Committee

The Pare Sustainability Committee is sensitive to the environment and understands the need for reduction in landfill waste, so in March we organized an Electronics Recycling Drive for Pare employees. Through partnership with Northeast Computer Recycling (NECR, http://www.northeastcomputerrecycling.com/), we were able to recycle broken and obsolete electronics rather than putting them in mainstream waste channels.  This year over 40 electronic items were collected including computer towers, monitors, printers, cell phones and various chargers.   Thanks to everyone at Pare who supported this green initiative!

Ryan Lagace, owner and operator of NECR, explained that he was motivated to open NECR after witnessing companies throwing away a lot of old equipment when he worked in the IT industry.  He had a vision to dismantle and recycle these items.  Ryan explained, “100% of the material we take in is recycled, including plastics and metals.  Everything is sorted out.  I even found a local company to recycle polystyrene, and I get a lot of that from packaging.” NECR is staying busy with multiple pickups daily from businesses in MA and RI.  Ryan’s advice about electronics recycling when asked was, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle still rings true, but we don’t just recycle here.  I try to re-sell equipment when I can so items have a second life instead of getting dismantled.”

In addition to diverting waste from landfills, there are two important reasons for recycling electronics. First, materials that make up electronics are valuable resources (metals, plastics and glass), all of which require energy to obtain and produce for electronics. Second, electronics contain many different toxic materials including lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic.  These items cause more potential harm to the environment than your typical household trash.   Left sitting in landfills, these materials may leach into the soils and potentially into groundwater.

Everyone can help to reduce electronic waste; here are a few things to consider before making a purchase:

  • Do you really need that new electronic device?
  • Can you repair or upgrade components on the one you have?
  • If your old electronic items are still working, consider re-selling them or donating them instead of throwing them out or recycling them.

Here are a few additional things you can do to reduce waste:

To learn more about electronics recycling visit the US Environmental Protection Agency’s website at www.epa.gov/recycle/electronics-donation-and-recycling.

EPA electronics recycling

The Removal of the Old Mill Dam along the Charles River in Bellingham, MA

By Allen R. Orsi, P.E. Managing Engineer at Pare Corporation and a member of the Association of State Dam Safety Officials

It is a wonderful feeling when a vision comes to fruition, especially when it has taken years for the project to be completed.  The removal of the Old Mill Dam in Bellingham, Massachusetts is a good example of what can be accomplished through strong project partnerships.   Pare Corporation and the Town of Bellingham began conversations in 2008 about the future of the Old Mill Dam, which was found to be in poor structural condition.  At the time, the dam was classified as a ‘significant hazard potential dam’ by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (MADCR) Office of Dam Safety.

Upon completion of several studies and evaluation of the benefits of dam removal versus rehabilitation, it was decided that removing the obsolete dam would increase public safety, save taxpayer dollars, and improve the ecosystem along the river.

Pare worked very closely with the Town to prepare a grant application for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) Dam and Seawall Repair or Removal Program to secure funding for the majority of the design and permitting of the project, as well as a no-interest loan to offset the cost of construction.

Pare also worked with the Town to apply for and receive priority project status through the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration (DER).  Once funding was secured, Pare coordinated with DER to obtain environmental permits and draft dam removal plans that would minimize the impact of deconstruction on the environment.

For the project to be completed, Old Mill Pond was incrementally drained through partial demolition of the concrete spillway to allow for dam removal activity to be completed in a dewatered area.  Roughly 2,300 cubic yards of mercury-impacted sediment were removed from the pond and permanently disposed of onsite within a special containment berm constructed beyond the level of the post-dam removal 100-yr floodplain.  This approach saved significant costs to the Town associated with offsite disposal of the impacted sediment.  It also effectively removed 15 pounds of mercury from the riverine habitat.

Last week, temporary construction facilities were removed, allowing for the unrestricted flow of the river through this location for the first time in more than 150 years. Fish and other aquatic life are now able to move freely along this section of the Charles River and its tributaries, which will help restore a more robust ecosystem.

As this is the first dam that has been removed along the main stem of the Charles River, the Charles River Watershed Association hopes that the project will encourage other communities to consider dam removal and environmental restoration projects along the river.

Upcycling Vs. Downcycling

Have you ever attended a swanky dinner party and wanted to impress other party-goers with your overall smartness?  Well, I can guarantee that you’ll be the life of the party after dropping these recycling-themed knowledge bombs.

A few terms that get thrown around when speaking about recycling are the processes of “upcycling” and “downcycling”.  Both have vastly different meanings – which I’ll try to explain below.

In general:

Upcycling refers to the reuse of used/old materials to fulfill other purposes.

Downcycling refers to the degradation of materials after recycling process takes place.

Upcycling

I liken upcycling to being crafty and resourceful with everyday trash.  While most people wouldn’t think twice about throwing these things away, some have made it a goal of theirs to be as thrifty as possible.  Upcycling doesn’t require much effort, and if you’re of the crafty persuasion, it might be right up your alley.  Here are a few examples to help get the point across:

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This outdoor stairway was built using tires found during the cleanup of the area.  Rather than bringing in new materials for building the stairs, or paying for the disposal of the tires, they were repurposed for this hiking path.

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This bicycle wheel was on its way to take up space in a landfill when someone decided that it would serve a better purpose holding pots and pans.  This one actually seems to be relatively simple to do, and yields some truly useful results.

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The truck that this tailgate belonged to was probably wrecked, and the tailgate was one of its last salvageable pieces.  It now helps people sit down and relax.  Though it looks more like a piece of artwork than anything, it still seems like a good way to show off the business’s dedication to being environmentally conscious.

Want more ideas?  How about a hundred?

Downcycling

Unlike upcycling, downcycling is actually a negative side effect of the recycling process.  It refers to the number of times a material can be recycled before there’s no life left to it and it MUST be landfilled.  Though it appears that recycling plastics, cardboard, and metals is equally as beneficial to the environment, not all recyclables are created equal.  As a matter of fact, certain materials that you throw into that recycle bin are actually not capable of being recycled the way you’d think.  Plastics, for example, cannot be melted down and reused for the same purposes as their original products, unlike glass or aluminum.  Therefore, these plastics must be ground up and used for fleece clothing or door mats (not for something that you’d eat out of).

The term downcycling refers to the degree of degradation that occurs to the material after being recycled.  Below, I’ve listed the materials that yield the best bang for your buck in terms of recycling (the lowest rate of downcycling is listed first, the highest rate listed last).

1. Aluminum, Steel, and Glass – All those wine bottles, soda cans and steel girders break down very slowly or not at all during the recycling process.  Take every step you can to recycle these materials, since they can be put back to use for the same purposes down the line!

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2. Paper and Cardboard – This material has around six to twelve downcycles before it must be landfilled.  Because the fibers shorten every time it’s put through the recycling process, the life span of paper degrades rather quickly.

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3. Plastics – The best products that plastics can be directly recycled into are fleece material, carpet, railroad ties, and new products cast specifically as recycled plastic (such as Adirondack chairs).  This means that at most, they have around one to two downcycles before needing to be landfilled.  

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Only a very small percentage of #1 plastic can be recycled and utilized as plastic for bottles and other food-grade plastics.  In addition, it takes significantly more resources to recycle plastic than glass or metals.  It appears that the higher the number on the inside of the recycling symbol (normally #1-7) the more difficult it is to recycle.  In light of this, Rhode Island currently accepts all plastics for recycling, regardless of their numerical designations.

For more information on recyclable materials and their downcycle rates, check out this chart.

And the Winner of PARE’s 3rd Annual Earth Day Photo Contest Is…

Happy Earth Day, everyone – and congratulations to Jay Bowen, the winner of PARE’s 3rd annual Earth Day Photo contest!

We received thirteen great entries this year, so it was a difficult choice! Jay’s “The Plight of the Bumblebee” swept the competition with nine votes.

 

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The “Plight” of the Bumblebee
“More than an annoying summertime buzz
More than a stinger on a tiny ball of fuzz
The Bee works all day to produce the perfect food
A sweet, delicate treat for when you’re in the mood
No need for tools, chemicals, or artificial power
To gently coast from flower to flower
A form of agriculture not to be surpassed
The Bee has perfected sustainability built to last
But the Bee’s population has started to decline
Pesticides and poor environment come to mind
So let’s stay green and give our BeeFF’s a hand
For as Einstein said “No bees, no man”

Jay will receive a gift card to Panera Bread, a company that encourages us to “Live Consciously, Eat Deliciously”. To learn about how Panera promotes sustainability and gives back to the community, click here.

Special thanks to all who entered the contest this year! Check them out here.

Photo 1: ”Taking Advantage of a Windy and Sunny day at the Beach” by David Matheson

Photo 2: “Walking on Water!” by Melodie Hebert

Photo 3: “Beauty of the World” by Joe Malo

Photo 4: “Fuel Production Plant” by Simon McGrath

Photo 5: “A Foraging Egret” by Lauren Hastings

Photo 6: “Jellyfish Awareness” by Scott Lindgren

Photo 7: “Roman Aqueduct” by Brandon Blanchard

Photo 8: “Maintaining Our Environment” by Kevin Vivieros

Photo 9: “Great Egret” by Briscoe Lang

Photo 11: “San Sebastian Spain” by Brian Mahoney

Photo 12: “Lake Winnipesaukee Sunset” by Devon Ward

Photo 13: “Mono Lake” by David Easterbrooks

A Day At Wolf Hollow

This weekend, I had the unforgettable opportunity to meet a pack of endangered Gray Wolves.  I volunteered a morning of wetland consulting at Wolf Hollow in Ipswich, and in return I got to experience an informative and up-close encounter with their wolves.

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Prior to European settlement, the Gray Wolf was the top predator throughout most of the United States.  Their population was depleted through a combination of intentional killing and habitat loss, and a species once numbering in the millions in the U.S. was reduced to about 5,000. Wolf Hollow was established in 1990 with the mission of educating the public about the importance of protecting the Gray Wolf in the wild. The Sanctuary is now run by the founder’s son Zee Soffron who resides on the property, and a team of dedicated volunteers. Weekly presentations offer an informative look at the often misunderstood animal, and as well as an opportunity to view their ten resident wolves at close range.

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Zee Soffron, owner of Wolf Hollow, playing with the pack.

The licensed non-profit organization is supported solely through admission, gift shop sales, and donations. The visitor center, located on the first floor of the Soffron’s home, provides educational resources on the ecology of the Gray Wolf. Having outgrown the space, Wolf Hollow plans to construct a small standalone visitor center. I spent the morning walking the site and preparing a sketch of the general locations of wetlands on the property, and discussing what to expect in the permitting process once they are ready to move forward. Afterwards, I was given the rare opportunity to photograph wolves up close through openings in the fence!

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Meet Bear, a wolf-dog hybrid. I got to give this friendly fellow a scratch.

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I stuck around for the afternoon presentation – and I am so glad I did. The lecture was informative for small children and adults alike. Topics included how wolf lives in a family group, its role in nature, its surprisingly close ties to man, and the ongoing fight to preserve the species in the wild.

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The roles of the Gray Wolf in maintaining a sustainable landscape are more far-reaching than one might realize. For example, did you know that reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in 1995 has improved the quality of river habitat? Elk favor shady riverbanks, and when a herd lingers on one area the banks become overgrazed and erosive, damaging aquatic ecosystems. Predation from wolves has encouraged herd movement and dispersion, allowing riverbanks and other areas to recover naturally.

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Wolf on the Prowl at Yellowstone National Park

Sometimes it is easy to forget that all domestic dogs, from Husky to Pug, can be traced back to wolves, and many wolf-like behaviors are still apparent in domestic canines. Ever wonder why your dog rolls around on the ground when he discovers an intriguing scent? This behavior can be traced to a method of communication between members of a wolf pack. When a wolf picks up a new or unfamiliar scent, he will return it to his pack to relay a message: whether it be news of a potential rival, an unfamiliar animal, or a new source of food.

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My dog Cody often does this on hikes. Who knew he was picking up a scent to bring back to his “pack”?

Of particular interest were the discussions of the social dynamics within the pack. Wolf Hollow’s former Alpha Male Weeble recently passed away, and the pack is in a state of flux as males compete for dominance. Zee explained that the hierarchy is based more on confidence and behavior than size or strength. Case in point: Arrow, a smaller male, appears to be the top contender for Alpha. It will be interesting to see how these dynamics play out in the coming weeks!

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Arrow, a top contender for Alpha male. Photo by Michael Sterling from the Wolf Hollow Facebook Page.

I highly recommend a trip to Wolf Hollow, and I look forward to seeing how plans for a Visitor Center unfold. To learn more about Wolf Hollow, visit their website.

Also, be sure to “Like” their Facebook Page for updates on the wolves  and other goings-on.