Tag Archives: sustainability

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

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:

ec0b41dfd926f147b77238fec5d9411c

Source

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.

63fbe79e51050651b86cda12443f8b2d

Source

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.

ea604417e7b21a249a72003e1db6e079

Source

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!

recycled-glass-tile-materials

Source

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.

handmadeboxpaper

Source

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.  

master-PW003

Source 

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.

 

Image

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

The Entries are In: PARE’s 3rd Annual Earth Day Photo Contest

We are excited to present the entries for PARE’s 3rd annual Earth Day Photo Contest! This year, the Sustainable Design Committee was seeking photographs that celebrate the environment and a sustainable lifestyle, in the spirit of Earth Day.

Take a moment to enjoy this year’s 13 entries.

Image

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

On my way back from a day of inspecting dams on Block Island last summer, the state helicopter flew over the figuratively and literally “green” East Matunuck State Beach Pavilion.

 

 

Image

Photo 2: “Walking on Water!”

Glaciers worldwide are receding due to a changing environment and extent of human impact on the planet with a global trend of warmer air temperatures.This spectacular site and experience will be forever etched in my memory. Every American should see Alaska once in their lifetime – it is breathtaking!

Mendenhall Glacier Juneau, AK (Blue Ice is from the ice which has compressed all the gas inside so much that the apparent color is blue from light scattering, much like a blue sky.)

 

 

Image

Photo 3: “Beauty of the World”

It’s good to celebrate the beauty of the world when you are on top of it.

 

 

Image

Photo 4: “Fuel Production Plant”

Fuel Production Plant hard at work in the beautiful Italian countryside. The seeds from these Sunflowers are used to produce bio-diesel. Carbon neutral fuel and beautiful at the same time.

 

 

Image

Photo 5: A Foraging Egret

A Great Egret foraging in a tidal pond is a beautiful sight, and serves as a reminder of how important it is to protect what remains of our coastal ecosystems.

 

 

Image

Photo 6: Jellyfish Awareness

I picked this photo to bring awareness to the increasing decline of our world’s oceans this Earth Day. You may ask, why jellyfish? Well jellyfish are what they call an indicator species. Jellyfish populations have been increasing dramatically around the world and represents a decline to our ocean ecosystem.

The population upward trend has been linked to many factors such as; increasing ocean temperatures and acidity, abundant plankton growth from agricultural fertilizers runoff, the overfishing of jellyfish predators such as Bluefin tuna, and a declining populations of sea turtles. All these issues are human impacts that we can effectively change with awareness and action.

The ocean here in New England is a part of our heritage, history, and way of life. One way to celebrate Earth Day and ocean sustainability is by thinking of sustainable seafood options. So this Earth Day, check out the New England Aquarium’s “ Blue Plate Special” program with local Boston restaurants, at http://www.neaq.org, and also sustainable seafood buying options and fishery information at http://blueocean.org/ and http://www.fishchoice.com/.

 

 

Image

Photo 7: Roman Aqueduct

When this Roman aqueduct was completed in the 1st Century, it took advantage of gravity to move water from source to destination in a truly sustainable manner. At the time, it was an ingenious solution to a complex problem – how to reliably distribute one of life’s essential natural resources – when few options were available. Not only does it still stand, rumor has it that it can still carry a steady stream of water.

Centuries of innovation have made engineering marvels like this aqueduct obsolete. But as engineers, we are at the forefront of a renewed interest in progress that protects our planet for future generations to thrive.

 

 

Image

Photo 8: Maintaining Our Environment

With proper stewardship we can maintain our natural environment for our children.

 

 

Image

Photo 9: Great Egret

Once hunted extensively for its plumage, which was used to adorn trendy and extravagant hats popular in the late 1800’s, the Great Egret has rebounded tremendously as a result of conservation measures enacted for its protection. It is now common throughout its range, which includes brackish and freshwater habitats in southern New England, and remains protected. The Great Egret is the symbol of the National Audubon Society, and an excellent example of conservation at work.

 

 

Image

Photo 10: The “Plight” of the Bumblebee 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” 

 

Image

Photo 11: San Sebastian Spain

This small, picturesque city on the northern coast of Spain protects the environment while thriving off the sustainability that the ocean and local farms provide.

 

 

Image

Photo 12: Lake Winnipesaukee Sunset

This view is from my favorite place in the world, an island in the middle of Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. Lake Winnipesaukee is the third largest lake in New England and has seen a boom in tourism and shoreline development in the last half century. Boat traffic, septic systems, and other pollution associated with increased tourism and development threaten the health of the lake and its diverse wildlife. People have responded to this threat and now several organizations are hard at work to protect this natural treasure, including the Lake Winnipesaukee Watershed Association, the Lakes Region Planning Commission, and the Lakes Region Conservation Trust. Current efforts include reducing phosphorous levels in the lake, reducing sediment transport into the threatened bays of the lake, and developing a watershed management plan to protect this beautiful lake so people like myself can continue to enjoy Lake Winnipesaukee and its wildlife for generations to come.

 

 

13

Photo 13: Mono Lake

Mono Lake, California. July 2012.
Where’s the water? The City of Los Angeles, 330 miles to the south, started drawing water in 1941 from the streams that fed Mono Lake near Yosemite National Park. By 1982, lake level had fallen more than 45 feet, severely impacting this prime breeding site for many of the birds of the west coast. The “Tufa towers” dominating this photo are formed by underwater springs rich in ionized calcium. Since the Tufa formation only occurs underwater, the 25’+ towers testify to our voracious appetite for fresh water, and the disastrous consequences of an unmanaged approach to water usage.

 

 

All PARE staff are invited to vote for their favorite. Please email Deb with your choice by Friday, April 19. The winning photo will be announced on Earth Day, Monday, April 22. Thank you to all who entered!

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.

ImageImage

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.

Image

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!

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

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

ImageImage

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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!

Image

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.