Drops in the Bucket

By Carsyn Randolph, Zero Waste Team

Giving people hope ables them to work towards the future. As a staff member at the Environmental Center on the Fort Lewis College campus, I am driven by hope. Hope allows me to be optimistic about the future of the environment, while also igniting a fire within students to practice more sustainable actions. I was reminded that having hope is essential to make positive change from Nicholas Kristof, who spoke at Fort Lewis College in October.

I attended Nicholas Kristof’s speech with the intention to learn something new. Kristof is an accomplished journalist, an Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times, and a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. His columns are centered on global health, poverty, and gender issues within developing countries.

After his speech I felt pleasantly overwhelmed with new information and astounding facts, but most importantly I learned to take chances. Kristof shared stories from his life and experiences of traveling in over 140 countries which all have a common key characteristic: taking chances. He said that we must take risks on people and take a chance. By taking chances we are putting drops into a bucket, and drops in a bucket are how we change the world, he said.

Each time an individual walks into the Environmental Center, the EC is putting a drop in the bucket. We share our passion to create a more sustainable world with individuals and hope the ripple effect will occur. Each inspired individual will contribute a drop of water to the bucket and once the bucket if full the over goal is accomplished.

I am hopeful that every time I take a chance and share my passions and aspirations about creating a sustainable planet, I will have inspired just one more individual. If people in the world work together and inspire others, there is no doubt a positive change will be created.

Welcome to Fort Lewis: One Student’s Testimonial

By Mahdi Adittya, Zero Waste Team

My freshman year at Fort Lewis was incredibly unnerving, but the Environmental Center helped me get used to campus life right away. Going to a Local Garden workshop hosted by the EC the first week of school was one of the best decisions I ever made. Working with the campus garden project gave me a sense of belonging. I enjoyed being outdoors, and getting to work with my hands felt amazing. This experience solidified FLC’s uniqueness in my mind.

I immediately jumped at the chance to work with the EC as soon as possible, and I got the awesome opportunity to work with the Zero Waste Team. I’ve gained a lot of knowledge at the EC that will help me in all aspects of life. From office work to getting your hands dirty with ink or compost, you will learn to do everything here. In my opinion, there is a great balance between doing office work and working in the field. Each team contributes to the greater picture of environmental justice, and we all work well together.

I’ve improved on an immensely personal level while working here, and I’ve learned to confidently express my ideas more than ever before. I feel comfortable bringing up my ideas for new initiatives, and I believe I can help improve the campus as a whole with the help of my teammates. That’s one of the best things about the EC. Anyone can present a great idea, and the EC will try to make it happen.

From the start it’s been a very welcoming and fun place to work! Everyone involved is extremely friendly, and we are a very close knit community. I love spending my time at the EC, and it almost feels like a second home. Anyone can feel welcome here and make positive changes around campus. I hope to continue contributing to the EC in the upcoming years, and I want to continue making an impact for my school and my community.

The Unsung Heroes of Campus Sustainability

By Jake Hutcherson, Zero Waste Team

There is little doubt that the Fort Lewis College community appreciates and supports the efforts being made to increase sustainability on campus, but have you ever considered the behind the scenes efforts making this possible? What may sound like a fairly straightforward system is quickly complicated by logistics, manpower, funding, and resources. It takes a unique type of person to tackle these problems and keep a smile on their face while doing it.

Take the recycling system for example. FLC has a robust collection system allowing students and staff to access recycling wherever they are on campus. Most people simply don’t think twice after throwing that piece of recycling into the bin, but for that piece of recycling to make it from the bin to the Durango transfer station relies solely on a man named Damian.

Damian single-handedly collects all of the recycling throughout campus, sorts out any contaminated recyclables, transfers it all to the final staging bins, and makes sure there are no issues with the system. While this workload could easily overwhelm anyone, Damian is continually trying to improve the system and encourage more people to recycle. He doesn’t do any of it for the praise, but because he wants to make a difference.

For another example, look at our dining hall composting program. On many campuses, food waste produced in a dining hall ends up in a landfill, but thanks to our dedicated, hard-working staff, a majority of FLC’s food waste is composted and used in our campus garden. This process doesn’t happen on it’s own. It takes the effort of many people behind the scenes. Our wonderful Sodexo dining staff makes sure that the leftover food waste on your plate ends up being macerated and available to be fed into the composter. The collected food waste is fed into our composter several times a day, and once it makes it through the machine, the finished product is then hauled to the garden and sifted to be usable. Again, none of these staff members do it for the praise, but without them the system would fall apart overnight.

These are just two of the countless examples of hard working, dedicated people striving for a more sustainable campus without any recognition. So next time you see Damian collecting the recycling, or the compost crew moving bags of compost, or the Sodexo staff cleaning food waste off dishes, be sure to go thank them for all they do. FLC wouldn’t be the amazing place it is if it weren’t for them!

Love the Earth, Take Care of the Earth: A Message from the Zero Waste Team

By Jeanett Jansen, Zero Waste Team 

The Environmental Center is constantly challenging students to make the earth a better place one task at a time. That is why we have several different teams focusing on separate missions. The Zero Waste Team – the team I am on – focuses on the idea of reducing first, then reusing, and then recycling. Sometimes there can be a pretty gray area between what can and can’t be recycled and what recycling category it falls under. Even I have trouble with recycling, and its literally my job.

Our Zero Waste Team is working on a campus wide waste assessment to get to the root of our campuses waste problem. The goal is to measure how much recycling is dumped into the trash so we can come up with an achievable solution to reducing waste. I believe the key components to effective environmentalism are:

• Education
• Mindfulness
• Involvement

I try my best to walk the walk, but it is not easy in the world we live in today. Effective environmentalism starts with education. We need the proper knowledge of “how to” in order to make a difference. Guessing which basket to dump your pizza box or coffee cup in will most likely end in contamination (because pizza boxes and coffee cups cannot be recycled). Learn the proper ways to be an environmentalist! Which leads to the next component: mindfulness.

Be aware of what you are buying, consuming and throwing away. Education makes you notice waste and gives you the proper tools to take action, and mindfulness keeps you alert. Now all you need to do is get involved! Come to the EC to get properly educated on environmentalism, and learn how you can get involved! We have several opportunities here to get you connected.

My main job for the Zero Waste Team is managing the Free Store on Thursday’s from 12 – 2 p.m. Participating in this is a great way to reduce waste by keeping the cycle going. It functions on input from donations and output from you all getting FREE STUFF. Last year alone we saved FLC students $3,800 worth of merchandise value and over 600,000 gallons of virtual water from not buying new goods!

Being a good environmentalist doesn’t mean you have to be involved in an extravagant way, but it’s important to realize that small actions can lead to great changes!

Love the earth – take care of the earth.

Zero Waste, Here We Come!

ecsperience_4AmayaBloglarge

Have you ever thrown away a perfectly good t-shirt, pair of jeans, old electronic, CD, or book?  Chances are you aren’t the only one, most of us have.  In the Story of Stuff (a wonderful short documentary I encourage everyone to watch), the cycle of the American consumerist lifestyle is examined and discussed.  The end solution they realize is, “what we really need to chuck is this old-school throw-away mindset. There’s a new school of thinking on this stuff and it’s based on sustainability and equity: Green Chemistry and Zero Waste.”  Here at the Environmental Center, we are working towards a zero waste mindset; by means of both a more sustainable campus, and an environmentally-conscious student body.

the free store logo

The purpose of the Zero Waste team is to work towards a zero waste campus by reducing consumption through education and by turning waste products into resources.  The Environmental Center at Fort Lewis College is working on some ambitious projects this year; one of which is the campus Free Store through the Zero Waste Team.  To help contribute to a zero waste lifestyle, the Free Store has been a critical project for our team for the last few years.  The Free Store is a place to find great recycled items, drop off things no longer needed/wanted, and learn about the environmental impact of many products.  As the “manager” of the Free Store this year, I have been amazed at how many products have been given a second life and at the support and excitement of the entire student body.  Many changes have been implemented at the Free Store this year to focus on education of “virtual water and energy” waste.  We are also keeping an inventory to see how many items have been through our store throughout the year.

Working at the Environmental Center has been very exciting so far and has taught me a lot about individual leadership, responsibility, and teamwork.  I know there are many more great projects coming your way from the Environmental Center, so stay tuned!

Other projects the Zero Waste Team is working on include recycling, composting, and recycling audits.  Our recycling coordinator, Josey, has been busy working on recycling education and on ways to make it easier to recycle on campus.  We are planning to hold a recycling audit and campus-wide survey in November to see what we need to do to increase recycling efforts and success for students living on campus.  Another important aspect of our team is maintaining and improving the composting of the food waste coming out of the San Juan Dining hall.  Evan and Zac have been working with Sodexo and the Student Union to run the composter, which produces a rich soil amendment that is used to help grow food in the Environmental Center’s campus garden.

 

Amaya McKenna

EC Volunteer, Free Store Coordinator – Zero Waste Team

More food than we can eat? America’s food waste problem

By Russell Penasa; Zero Waste Team member

In January I had the opportunity to help out with the Food waste audit. After a few hours of watching plates of half eaten cheese burgers and weird combinations of mushed french fries, ketchup, salads and mystery sauces, we ended up collecting 391.5 pounds of food waste from the San Juan Dining Hall. These numbers made me wonder if there was a similar trend throughout the U.S. I found that there is a larger trend that poses a few interesting issues.

In the United States there is an expanding gap between the food we produce and hungry mouths across the country. According to nokidhungry.org, “today in the United States, 25 percent of households with children living in large cities are food-insecure, and 48.8 million Americans live in households that lack the means to get enough nutritious food on a regular basis.” Our neighboring state New Mexico, has the largest percentage of child food insecurity in the country, where 30.6 percent of children are food insecure. Is there a lack of food in the U.S.? There is certainly a vast amount of industrial agriculture across the nation accounting for 51 percent of the U.S. land base.

According to one ecologist, most of the feed produced for the meat industry of the U.S., “could feed 800 million people with grain that livestock eat.”

Although industrial agriculture systems deserve a lot of criticism, which includes many other ecological issues, the real question is: where is this void between food and the people that need it? In a report done by the USDA, 31 percent of the 430 billion pounds of the avail­able food supply at the retail and consumer levels in 2010 went uneaten. This represents 133 billion pounds of food that went straight into landfills, estimated to be worth $161.6 billion dollars using retail prices. This represents 1,249 calories per capita, per day, for the entire population of the United States.

So do we have more food than we can eat? Based on the information above, it would prove so. It seems the dis-connection between food and the hungry comes from a lack of infrastructure, a gap between businesses and the community, and some type of pattern of wastefulness that is very unique to our nation. Maybe we take availability of food for granted? Either way, there is something we can do.

On our campus only about 20-21 percent of the food waste that is generated in the dining halls gets composted. Certain infrastructure limitations are inevitable; however, groups like The Durango Food Bank work with 30 local agencies to meet the food needs of our community and play an important role in closing this looming gap. On campus, the Grub Hub also provides free food to students, and is an active group in creating a more socially just community. Keep those plates clean!

 

References:

Disturbing reality of our food waste.

Disturbing reality of our food waste.

http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/1997/08/us-could-feed-800-million-people-grain-livestock-eat

https://www.nokidhungry.org/problem/hunger-facts

http://endhunger.org/PDFs/2014/USDA-FoodLoss-2014-Summary.pdf

http://endhunger.org/food_waste.htm

http://rt.com/usa/us-food-waste-usda-618/

 

The Durango Food Bank/Grub Hub links:

https://www.facebook.com/DurangoFoodBank/info

http://www.fortlewis.edu/news/StudentCalendar/ModuleID/15695/ItemID/13028/mctl/EventDetails.aspx

This I Believe: Meaningful, green decisions

 

Purchasing with the environment in mind.

Purchasing with the environment in mind.

By Leah Payne; Zero Waste Team member

I believe in the power of the consumer. I am a sophomore in college, living in my first apartment and I believe I can make meaningful decisions about what I buy. I think it is important to make thoughtful decisions around consumption during this critical habit-forming stage of my life. If I develop green habits now, chances are I will continue them into adulthood. I believe in being a smart consumer, where careful consideration goes into purchases, especially when the intent is to be mindful of the environment. I believe in practicing the first three ideas in Juliet Schor’s Politics of consumption from her essay The New Politics of Consumption: Why American’s Want So Much More Than They Need.

  1. A right to a decent standard of living.

Schor wants the consumer to make a fundamental distinction between what they need and what they want. Although it might seem a bit cliché, the amount of unneeded items in your living space add up quickly. People are entitled to a decent standard of living, one that isn’t focused on the next new gadget.

  1. Quality of life rather than quantity of stuff.

Consumption is not the same as well-being. The more things you have doesn’t make you a happier person. If we focus on making money to obtain more things our family, leisure, and community time suffer. The capitalist focus could also have adverse impacts of growth on the natural environment and the potentially increase the gap between classes. We should focus on a better quality of life, rather than a quantity of stuff.

  1. Ecologically sustainable consumption.

Schor says consumers know far less about the environmental impacts of their daily consumption habits than they should. When I go to the store I like to ask myself a few simple questions before I decide what to buy.

Where does it come from?

What kind of process did it go through before it reached the shelves?

What is the packaging? Is there a choice between plastic or glass? Which product has the least amount of packing? Can the packing it’s contained in be recycled?

Can you repurpose something you already have or buy something secondhand?

Who am I supporting when I buy this product?

My experience with the Fort Lewis’s Environmental Center has allowed me to express my beliefs and values because it has brought me closer with people who are contentious about the environment and given me a safe space to understand and better articulate me ideas. I have become a part of the community of people who care and push each other to consider new ways of life around sustainability. I am a part of the Zero Waste team and we are trying to assess recycling in campus housing. This experience has shown me that sustainability is not a top priority to a majority of the campus and we are going to have utilize a bunch of different strategies to make sustainability a part of the normal way of life on campus. Through this work I express what I am passionate about and figure out how to educate others about why sustainability is important. I hope that eventually the EC’s community will spread campus wide.

A philosophical reflection of Joseph DesJardins’ “Environmental Ethics”

Many people are too consumed by artificial desires to realize the devastation our environment has come to know. Furthermore, we fail to acknowledge that this devastation is a result of our own ways of thinking and, in turn, our actions. By considering ourselves separate from our environment, we abolish the very real interconnectedness we share. However, after reading and analyzing Environmental Ethics by Joseph DesJardins, I have come to know that we can down play the destruction of our environment and ourselves. Re-evaluating our values will help us to better distinguish our needs, wants, and interests. We can create new communal models that allow for not only ourselves as humans here and now to prosper, but for future generations, not limited to humans nor biotic organisms, to grow and develop sustainably. All it takes for reducing our negative impact on the environment is acknowledging the fact that we have caused the destruction, understanding that our survival is dependent upon the continuation of a healthy natural world, analyzing our personal values, and promoting a lifestyle of respect for the environment that defines us. For many people, the necessary shift in consciousness that would allow the aforementioned steps to take place would disrupt their lifestyle dramatically. Yet, if an individual holds any concern at all, whether it be a selfish or selfless concern for the environment, it is easy to start climbing the ladder to what deep ecologists call their two ultimate norms: self-realization and biocentric equality.

Environmental Ethics By Joseph R. DesJardins

Environmental Ethics By Joseph R. DesJardins

I side with deep ecologists that “the cause of environmental and ecological destruction lies with cultural and social factors that are deeply entrenched in the contemporary world” (DesJardins, 206). Deep ecology recognizes the dominant worldviews that guide society’s decision-making, especially reductionism and individualism. I, however, will focus mostly on materialism and consumerism. On a most basic level, reconditioning our behaviors and habits is a strenuous process requiring us to weigh out rewards and punishments. It is difficult to reform habits; the best way to go about doing so is to start small and work up. In other words, begin to live a more environmentally friendly life with one-time tasks versus everyday ones: Buying energy efficient light bulbs versus starting a compost bin. Consider your options before making a purchase: think economically in the sense of “Will this benefit or harm the environment? How does the packaging of product A or B contribute to the amount of accumulated waste? Is this product beneficial for me in the long or short term?”

Another example of people manipulated by these dominant worldviews is collectors. A woman living modestly in her home is a collector of cats. Even if she is at peace with her cats, we find her idea of happiness a joke and something to criticize. What is more daunting is the part of our society that can only think about making money off collectors. We dedicate airtime to “Hoarders” who are so out of touch with real, intrinsic, value that they consume their lives with materialism and consumerism and eventually hurt those around them who are trying to help the situation. That hoarder was most likely on a constant cycle similar to the one mentioned in the mini-documentary “The Story of Stuff”(See video below.) I’m going to work now so I can buy this stuff so I can be happy and when happiness fades I will have more money to buy more stuff to be temporarily happy again. All this cycle does is bring you and the environment closer to death sooner. It calls for more resources to be depleted to produce more stuff to bring temporary happiness and long term waste accumulation. British writer Oscar Wilde portrayed the human condition of cynicism well with his words “a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

The Story of Stuff (2007 Official Version)

I especially liked the way that DesJardins compared the deep ecologists’ process of identifying the underlying causes of environmental destruction to a doctor’s medicinal practice of getting to the root cause of an illness. Just as a deep ecologist or a doctor, we as individuals should practice this psychological “step back” to come to a better relationship with our own personal philosophies.

My most vivid memory of this stepping back process occurred in 2010. I had been in the Sonoran desert of Arizona for two weeks backpacking with another thirty or so students and leaders. While there, I appreciated the natural beauty that surrounded me and felt a great bond formed between myself and the landscape. Upon returning to civilization, I was struck with a great deal of unsettling contemplation; I felt like Tarzan coming to the city and thought: “What is all this noise? Why is everyone on this paved road so persistent on getting to work so they can sit there and be unhappy? Everyone seems so snobby and ungrateful, so attached to their devices that tell them important things about what they value.” I did not want to go home, nor did I want to be anywhere near what I called home because it seemed despicable compared to the nature that had enveloped me for the past two weeks. The one amenity I did appreciate once I got home was hot running water. My trip to the desert influenced me to reconsider what I really needed in life. It is unfortunate that we cannot force someone out into the wild, away from the asphalt and concrete, just so they can take that psychological step back and reconsider why they do the things they do to get the things they think they need to be happy.

“Sonoran Desert Resembling A Deep Sea Floor” by Libby Gobble, 2010

“Sonoran Desert Resembling A Deep Sea Floor” by Libby Gobble, 2010

From my perspective, people in America are very out of touch with how to distinguish between needs, wants, and interests. I wonder if a change of scenery such as my desert trip could be the solution to reducing environmental destruction by encouraging more people to question their personal philosophies. Change allows critical thinking and evaluation to take place which brings an individual closer to understanding oneself and their relationship with the natural world. It would be my hope that it would not be just a romanticist dreamscape where once nature is out of sight, it is out of our minds.

I have found through reading DesJardins’ Environmental Ethics to call everything into question in order to better understand myself and my place in the world. Most of the questions I have asked in regards to ethics are those of metaphysics and ontology: What is success? Why do we value certain goods over others? Who are we to attempt to determine who and what else has “moral standing?” Deep ecology appeals to me because it strives to answer questions such as these. Also, the process of self-realization and recognition of biocentric equality inspire me to reconsider my personal values. More specifically, I have come to question what we value as human beings and why exactly we value certain things.

What we value depends on our own personal moral hierarchies. Two distinct “selves” govern the way we choose some interests over others, according to DesJardins, “One is the self constituted by the conscious beliefs, wants, and intentions of the ego. The other self is the true nature that underlies this person’s ego” (Desjardins, 217). Materialism and consumerism are the predominant ways in which we display if we value something instrumentally or intrinsically. This would conclude that our values are determined by our ego which is constructed by the advertising and competition put in place by dominant worldviews.

In the decision making process, we must consider who we will affect by choosing one thing to value over another. To do this with ethics in mind, we must consider future generations and recognize the differences, yet vast interconnectedness of both abiotic and biotic communities as well as poor nations and wealthy ones. When we consider these three groups, materialism and consumerism seem so unimportant. The way we choose our value receiving audience is dependent upon which version of your two selves you find more authentic, promising, worthwhile, and happy. Is it the self-governed-self or conditioned-by-society self? The surface self or the underlying self? If you are selfish in your actions you are a care taker, but selflessly you are a care giver. One would think that decisions would be made in a non-anthropocentric, holistic mindset. In doing so, we view nature more intrinsically which allows for an ethics of virtue to be fulfilled.

In order to overcome these dominant worldviews, we must change radically as individuals and cultures rather than simply reform old ethics. With the knowledge I have acquired through reading Environmental Ethics, I am confident in stating that the people involved in making decisions for our country seem to be out of touch with their underlying self. Because of this, policies are being based off of false values by people who do not want to recognize the destruction of our environment, take responsibility, and acknowledge the “oneness.” In the seventies, people valued things differently than today. Consequently, we should not be living by policies from that time. Instead, our policies should evolve through time just as a species adapts alongside nature. Modern government and economics is dominated by utilitarianism. It is understandable that a Utilitarian would want to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number; however, this “good” is dominated by this out of touch way of thinking and therefore does not do the best thing every time. It is obvious that our consumerist demands affect the natural world negatively. Traditional ethics does not recognize this fact or the interconnectedness of themselves and the natural world. Thus, we need a radical shift, not an extension of tradition, to adapt our ethics to the ethical issues of today. This begins with a different view of ourselves as individuals to end the consumerist habits that tell us what we want and instead start determining who we are in character.

It depends on the eye of the beholder, but also the mental strength of the underlying self to feel motivated to re-examine personal and cultural values in order to create new worldviews. This not only includes a shift from acts of selfishness to acts of selflessness, but also recognition of the reality of environmental destruction. We need to break down this mime box that society built around our underlying self and look towards what is out of sight in order to get reality back in our mind. Therefore, in order to form a society that strives for goals with intrinsic, rather than inherent, value, we must begin showing people at young ages how to define their underlying self so that things like materialism and consumerism seem unappealing. Perhaps this includes more emphasis on outdoor recreation. Physical and mental prosperity can come with wealth, but wealth should not be the only road to success if you and Mother Earth are not happy on the journey. We created the cycle, we can re-create it, too.

By Libby Gobble, Zero Waste Team member

The consequences of commodity consumption

Many aspects of our daily lives include the use of a disposable material, whether it is made of plastic, paper or metals. All of these items come from a resource somewhere on earth, and while a zero waste standard is undoubtedly unachievable, reducing their use to attain a higher level of efficiency is crucial. In regards to paper coffee cups, it may be easy to imagine the consequences of using them, like millions of trees cut down and the emission of greenhouse gases. The word “paper” may make seem like less of an impact, but most coffee cups are coated with polyethylene, making composting very uncommon. In a report done by the Alliance for Environmental Innovation (April 2000), they stated, “…the majority of customers take their hot beverages in disposable paper cups lined with polyethylene and topped with a polystyrene lid. In the past, two paper cups were frequently nested together for better insulation”. The fundamental design of the paper coffee cup and Styrofoam cups is the main contributor to these negative impacts, as they’re one-time-use materials.

Single-use products waste the environment, symbolized by this coffee cup disposed of improperly and only after one use.
Photo by: Environmental Action Association

The number of coffee cups used by Americans on a daily basis is very staggering, and with the majority of Americans drinking coffee regularly, the waste adds up at a very tremendous rate. “Over 50 percent of Americans over 18 years of age drink coffee every day. This represents over 150 million daily drinkers. It means that Americans consume 400 million cups of coffee per day or equivalent to 146 billion cups of coffee per year, making the United States the leading consumer of coffee in the world” (Environmental Action Association). On top of using 400 million cups for coffee a day, the amount of waste this produces is remarkable, and disposable containers, like coffee cups, make up a significant segment of American trash output. “These disposable containers make up 18 percent of America’s garbage, and beverage cups made of virgin paper or Styrofoam make up a large chunk of that waste”  (Environmental Action Association). That is a very high rate of waste output for a one-time-use disposable commodity. Not only is it unnecessary, but in this country, it has become way too easy to be wasteful.  This rate of consumption is having serious effects on our environment: “Each paper cup manufactured is responsible for 0.24 lbs. of CO2 emissions” (Environmental Action Association). That means that if we throw away just half of the cups we currently consume, there is still going to be 48 million pounds of CO2 emissions delivered by Americans straight into the atmosphere every day. Paper cups also play a small part in deforestation: “…more than 6.5 million trees were cut down in 2006 to create the 16 billion paper cups thrown away” (Tabakin). With this in mind, the solution does not just call for more biodegradable and compost-able containers, but for an elimination of our overall output of waste itself.

Using reusable cups or mugs is the best way to make a difference, and while there still are environmental impacts in their production, over time it is much less wasteful, and can even be cost effective. “A study done by sustainability engineer Pablo Päster found that one stainless steel mug is equivalent to 24 paper cups in terms of material intensity” (Carry Your Cup). The long run is what counts when searching for more efficient material use, and reusing is the most maintainable way to reduce the negative characteristics of using paper cups. Choose to re-use!

Works Cited

“A Report of the Starbucks Coffee Company.” Alliance for Environmental Innovation Joint Task Force.  15 April. 2000. Web. 19 Feb. 2013

“Carry Your Cup.” Get the Facts. 2010. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.

“Save a Cup, Save the Earth.” Environmental Action Association. 2011. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.

Tabakin, Dudley. “Deforestation and Coffee Cups.” Blogspot.com. 1 Feb 2009. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.

Image from: http://www.environmentaa.org/images/image24.jpg

 

By Russell Penasa, Zero Waste Team member

Algae: Fuel of the Future?

algae blooms in Finland

Algae blooms along the coast. Photo used by Fair Use.

The global population of humans has seen alarming exponential growth in the past century, which can be largely attributed to the exploitation of our most prized resource: fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are utilized in most facets of human society including agriculture, transportation, clothing and technology. However, with our increasing reliance and use of these non-renewable resources, comes the concern of oil reserve depletion. Peak oil indicates the point in time in which maximum petroleum extraction is reached and, within our modern population, is a concern that this may also be the limiting resource for our species.  In other words, as peak oil is reached and our oil supplies decline, our population numbers will shortly follow. This highlights the importance of exploring alternative petroleum sources that are socially, ecologically and economically sound. In this article, I will address one of the possible alternatives and with that several issues concerning this potential global solution to peak oil.

There has been much research and many publications regarding algal fuels as a potential solution to peak oil concerns, due to their direct petroleum replacement capabilities. However, the economic efficiency and social feasibility continue to be a topic of chief concern. Currently, if produced on a large scale, algal fuels are estimated upwards of $10 per gallon, which, compared to fossil fuels, are not as economically feasible. However, continued research will only decrease these economic figures and with the potential positive ecological and social results, this may be an ideal future prospect.

With regards to the ecological benefits of algal fuels, several are most prominent.  Algal fuels are autotrophic microorganisms that provide a carbon neutral fuel source, which may address concerns of global warming. In a basic sense, algae utilizes CO2 as the carbon building block for hydrocarbon chains (fuel), which takes as much CO2 out of the atmosphere as is released by burning the refined fuels. In comparison to burning fossil fuels, this may result in a more stable atmosphere, which in turn will decrease the amount of abnormal temperature fluctuations globally. These current abnormal temperature fluctuations are a causative agent of global population crashes and more recently have been hypothesized to be a primary reason for the current global extinction epidemic.

It has been observed that, in some locations, oil-drilling sites cause significant negative effects on the surrounding environment. Chemicals released throughout the drilling process as well as anthropogenic fragmentation are concerns for many conservation biologists. Another ecological benefit of algal fuels involves the ability to use sewage water, which is high in nitrogen and phosphorus and used as “fertilizer” for the growing algae. This would decrease the issue of oceanic dead zones caused by sewage disposal along coastal regions and allow those habitats to begin the process of recovery.

Since humans first began to mass-extract fossil fuels, there has been much conflict throughout regions where large oil reserves are present. A shift to algal fuels may reduce social problems currently seen due to fossil fuel extraction. Since algae grow in nearly every region of the earth, in theory, algal fields could be placed in all regions and territories. Furthermore, the highest production would be in regions that have the largest amounts of solar radiation, such as arid desert regions. These arid climates commonly struggle with social conflicts and depressions due to low amounts of fertile land and limited access to clean water. While the amount of water sources for these regions is of concern for algal fields, further research may be able to utilize algal fields as purification ducts, providing economic stability from fuel production and increase water sanitation. After the fuels are extracted, the remaining algae may be used for agricultural purposes, providing a more stable food source.

So while there is much more research that must be completed in order to provide an economically, ecologically and socially sound alternative fuel source, algal fuels appear to be a promising option for the future.

By Drew Walters