Green Jobs

By John Clarkeson, Hobart ’75 and Director of Contracts and Procurement for the Department of Conservation and Recreation for Massachusetts (DCR)

John Clarkeson

John Clarkeson

For over 7 years I coordinated the intern program at the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA).  EEA is the cabinet secretariat in Massachusetts. The Secretary oversees the activities of six agencies. The agencies and offices of EEA preserve open space and working landscapes, enforce pollution laws, review the environmental impact of major real estate and infrastructure developments, enhance the state’s role in energy conservation and production, and provide opportunities for outdoor recreation and access at the parks, beaches, and farms that make Massachusetts a wonderful place to live, work, and play.

As part of the summer intern experience, students would frequently meet with professionals with careers in the energy and environmental sectors.  What were their “green jobs”?  Anything and everything!

While the green focus, I and these other professionals share a similarity. Our backgrounds are as varied as any liberal arts college curriculum. Each work from their own unique perspective. Examples include private consultants, legislators, agency managers, architects, electricians, government regulators, fundraisers for non-profit organizations, lobbyists, corporate entrepreneurs. These all could be considered a “green job” based on our preference to work on issues related to the natural world around us.  The green industry needs scientists, financial managers, public relations professionals, lawyers, economics and political science specialists. Some studied international relations and even philosophy during their undergraduate years – something I noticed as I began as a Philosophy major myself while at Hobart.

What makes a job green is not the skill set or the background, but the anticipated goals one hopes to achieve. No matter your background or major, there is a green job for you!

Pursuing a career in the environmental realm holds the same challenges as any other area.  Eventually, graduate school will be an important part of your preparation for the job market. There are very few entry level positions and most jobs carry a preference to candidates with a Master’s Degree. But do not wait until you’ve completed a graduate degree program before getting serious about your career path. Internships, paid and unpaid, are a great way to learn about the different organizations and job types you might place on your long term plan.  Internships also help build your networking contacts as you begin your job search in earnest – not all jobs are found through public postings or message boards. Network contacts expand your eyes and ears in finding opportunities in your desired career choice.

I began working on environmental issues over 20 years ago, focusing primarily on water.  Then water quality was an important issue – pollutants in the water column and their sources.  Over time, water quantity took on increased importance. While clean water goals remain elusive in many areas around the world, including the Unites States, concerns over the ongoing availability of a sufficient water supply to ensure not only public health and safety but a continued growing economy have taken on increased importance. And while human demand increases, the state regulatory frameworks over water allocation have included increased recognition of the need for ecological factors to be considered. One example of this is the new water management act regulations recently adopted in Massachusetts, based in part on the studies regarding the impact of hydrologic alterations on the ecology completed by the United States Geological Survey, with Hobart graduate David Armstrong a key research lead and author[1].

Where are the green jobs likely to be found in the years to come? While climate change is a major focus for this generation, it was not a major focus of environmental professionals 15 years ago. Efforts to halt those factors contributing to climate change are important, but even if all state, federal and international goals were met tomorrow our earth will experience changes we may not be fully prepared to predict today but need to prepare for.  Any sector with that many unknowns commensurate needs for response, while certainly a cause for concern, provide tremendous opportunity for those entering the workplace.  Research, planning, design, raising public awareness – these are just some of the tasks that addressing climate change will require. And as these issues become increasingly important the economy worldwide will respond by creating jobs for those with the passion as well as the skills to work on them.

So how would someone prepare for the green jobs as tomorrow?  In today’s market, comfort with basic computer software is needed, and familiarity with data management programs and GIS a definite plus. But while the focus of one’s career may change over time, many of the key skills needed to succeed remain the same today as generations past.  A proficiency in math, strong research skills, the ability to articulate technical concepts to a general audience in both the written and spoken word, the tenacity to see something through to the end, and the discipline necessary to keep a commitment to yourself and others – these will lead to success.

Author’s Note:
John Clarkeson ’75 is Director of Contracts and Procurement for the Department of Conservation and Recreation for Massachusetts (DCR). Mr. Clarkeson is responsible for the overall management of contract administration and procurement functions within DCR through the approval and oversight of over $320 million in design, engineering, and construction services as well as the procurement of supplies, goods, and professional services related to fire services, water supply protection, parks, pools, beaches, bridges, parkways, roadways, forestry, land acquisition, dams, flood control, pier, buildings, and skating rinks.  Prior to joining DCR, he served as Assistant Director of Water Policy for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, serving as a policy advisor on water as well as climate change issues as well as administrator of the $38 million Dam and Seawall Repair and Removal program.

[1] https://www.conservationgateway.org/ConservationPractices/Freshwater/EnvironmentalFlows/MethodsandTools/ELOHA/Pages/ecological-limits-hydrolo.aspx

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Research: Benefits Outweigh Costs Of Mercury Emissions Reductions

By Roxanne Razavi Ph.D., Postdoctoral Researcher at the Finger Lakes Institute

Roxanne Razavi, Ph.D.

Roxanne Razavi, Ph.D.

Dr. Charlie Driscoll, Professor in Syracuse University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science, recently weighed in on the question facing the Supreme Court that will affect how much mercury is emitted into U.S. atmosphere. Dr. Driscoll and colleagues weighed in with a perspective piece in a high profile journal, Environmental Science & Technology. They find that emissions reductions from the Mercury Air Toxics Standards (MATS) would far outweigh the costs to industry.

See their findings summarized below in a recent Phys.Org article.

The coal-fired power plant on Cayuga Lake is a source of mercury to the Finger Lakes. Photo credit: stateofthereunion.com.

The coal-fired power plant on Cayuga Lake is a source of mercury to the Finger Lakes. Photo credit: stateofthereunion.com.

How should cost factor into the protection of human health and the environment? That was the central question in a Supreme Court case last summer that pitted the coal industry and 20 U.S. states against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The court ruled that the EPA did not properly take into account what it would cost power plants to comply with new regulations to reduce the emission of mercury, a powerful neurotoxin. Now the EPA has until the self-imposed deadline of April 16 to come up with a cost consideration plan.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-02-benefits-reduction-mercury-emissions-outweigh.html#jCp

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Exploration and Education: Making A Difference

By Bruce Gilman, Professor and Director of Muller Field Station, Finger Lakes Community College, Department of Environmental Conservation and Horticulture

Bruce Gilman

Bruce Gilman

Every spring, with the first warm evening rains, spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) begin a synchronous migration from hillside forests to the southern Honeoye Valley floor.  They are seeking breeding pools, ponds, and shallow depressions in the extensive silver maple-ash swamp forest that occupies nearly 900 acres of the valley floor. Perhaps it is this abundance of potential breeding sites that contributes to the large migrating population observed every spring. As adults during the summer, spotted salamanders are seldom encountered, spending much of their time burrowing underground in the upland forests.

Photo credit: Bruce Gilman.

Photo credit: Bruce Gilman.

Spotted salamanders belong to a group known as the mole salamanders characterized by their plump, robust body and short, blunt head. Their stout body most often has a black dorsal surface with two irregular rows of yellow to orange spots. The ventral surface is slate gray. There are usually twelve costal grooves between the legs along each side. They can grow to ten inches and live for twenty years. No way are they a large charismatic wildlife species, but they are still attractive in their own way to me and my college students.

Photo credit: Bruce Gilman.

Photo credit: Bruce Gilman.

My college’s Muller Field Station is ideally located in the center of this migratory pathway but, unfortunately, so is County Road 36. To decrease the accidental road kills of spotted salamanders, we annually organize a campaign to physically move salamanders across the highway. This year, over the course of two nights, we moved an estimated 1100 spotted salamanders to safety on the opposite side of the road. We also moved just over 100 Jefferson’s salamanders (Ambystoma jeffersonianum), one red eft (Notophthalmus viridescens) and a few spring peepers (Hyla crucifer).

In addition to making a difference for the salamanders, this activity profoundly affects my students. Going beyond wildlife observation to actual wildlife conservation put into action, saving salamanders is an instantaneous reward and a memory that will continue to inspire and transform one’s conservation ethic in the future.

Photo credit: Bruce Gilman.

Photo credit: Bruce Gilman.

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FL-PRISM Update: Using iMapInvasives As A Tool For Mapping Invasive Species Across The Landscape

By Jennifer Dean, Program Manager for the New York Natural Heritage Program

Jennifer Dean

Jennifer Dean

Invasive species have become a familiar, albeit complicated, challenge to managing our natural resources. We need to be strategic when deciding where to focus our efforts, whether for control projects or for finding new infestations early. These types of decisions necessitate good data and a way to quickly share new information. The New York Natural Heritage Program manages the state invasive species database, iMapInvasives, and provides a way for agencies, organizations, and concerned citizens to view known distributions of species and report new locations.

NYiMapInvasives_logo_color (2)iMapInvasives is an online mapping system for recording observations, survey efforts, and control projects. All interested groups are encouraged, from natural resource professionals to citizen scientists, to help keep the map current and accurate by reporting invasive species locations and control efforts. This collective of information has become a valuable resource for conservation professionals who need a big picture view of invasive species.

Anyone can request an account to iMapInvasives at www.nyimapinvasives.org/request-login. In order to enter data, you need to take some type of training, whether through the website videos or at one of the free iMapInvasives workshops being offered across the state this May and June. Check out the training calendar at www.nyimapinvasives.org/Training/nyimapschedule/2016-spring-training-blitz to find a session near you. Two sessions will be offered in the Finger Lakes region: May 12 in Ithaca, NY, and June 16 in Letchworth State Park.

iMapMobile screenshot (2)Once you have an account, please download the iMapInvasives Mobile app for your smartphone or tablet. With this app, you can report new locations using the camera and GPS in your device while out in the field, and then upload the reports directly to your iMapInvasives account online once back in connectivity.

There are many ways to get valuable information from iMapInvasives. With your account you can search the map and generate species reports for selected geographic areas, like your county, lake, or nearby park. You can also create email alerts to stay informed of new reports in your area. Another useful feature is the “Approaching Region” report which lists species found in neighboring regions, but not found in your region, letting you know which species could be “knocking at the door”. If you need to conduct custom data analyses outside of iMapInvasives online, you can make a data request for certain species and locations at imapinvasives@dec.ny.gov.

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Food and Field Notes: Why Does Meat Have To Be Manly?

By Mekala Bertocci, William Smith College ’14

Mekala Bertocci

Mekala Bertocci

These days, we’re asked to take a stand on a good many issues – be it politics, pop culture, relevant social issues, career path, sports allegiances, apple or android, the list goes on. But when it comes to food, we like to think of it as just one of those things. If it tastes good, we generally want it.  Thinking beyond the intuitions of our taste buds can be challenging and uncomfortable. It’s easy to delegate our food choices to that one inconsequential area of our lives that doesn’t require some defensible position. But food is not just a means to bodily nourishment – indeed, our daily food choices are a reflection of who we are and how we view the world. When you look closely, our system of food production, distribution, consumption, and disposal is actually closely connected to almost every other issue we do tend to take a stance on – issues around the environment, race, class, international politics, social justice, gender, economics, etc. Today I want to talk about one food choice—eating meat (or abstaining from it), and how it links particularly to masculinity and gender identities in Western society. In particular, why does eating meat have such a masculine bias, and why is it that meat-and-potatoes men are considered stereotypically strong, hardy, and able males?  How does this play out for women and men, both meat-eaters and vegetarians?

Although I’ve abstained from meat about 360 days out of each year since I started college in 2010, I can count on my hands the number of times I’ve had to vehemently defend my own eating habits. And most of the time, these discussions are productive ones rooted in philosophical differences and questions of advocacy. In my experiences, rarely do these debates center on concern for my health, and this may be because vegetarianism on the whole is becoming a more popular and accepted diet. But I think it also has something to do with the fact that I am a woman. Because of my gender, sticking to veggies isn’t considered an extraordinary or alarming diet. Why is this? And why is it likely the case that, if I were a man, choosing to abstain from meat distinctly breaks with a certain hegemonic identity of masculinity that is culturally tougher to swallow?

I’ll provide a personal example that I think demonstrates this cultural link between masculinity and meat-eating. Recently my partner and I decided we would become grown-ups and moved into an apartment together. We have a kitchen, refrigerator/freezer, stove, and oven that we use regularly to feed ourselves. We keep our pantry well stocked. There’s garlic hibernating in our garden plot out back and we are beginning to start seedlings in preparation for our spring garden. We eat a lot of rice and vegetables and pasta. We aren’t starving, but we are on a budget so meat is hardly a staple for us. Now, since we moved into our own place, both of our families have separately expressed concern for my partner’s diet since he has begun eating less meat. The fact that I’ve been eating little meat, too, is less alarming for them, yet my partner might very well wither away on a steady diet of fruit, vegetables, fish, eggs, cheese, grains and legumes. To be fair to my family, that men need meat is a pretty standard assumption in line with today’s societal norms in mainstream American culture.

While it’s true that the conflation of masculinity and meat is heavily entrenched in today’s gender politics landscape, one might argue that the patriarchal prerogative for meat is in fact an ancient one, as Carol J. Adams argues in her book, The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. She traces the link all the way back to the Bible, in which the Book of Leviticus chronicled how sacrificial meat was reserved only for the palates of priests and sons of Aaron. For most cultures throughout history, obtaining meat was performed by men. Meat, being a valuable commodity, put men in positions of power. Adams goes on to point out how throughout history, those in power have always eaten meat, while the laborer was restricted to consuming carbohydrates (48). So the diet of men, who historically have held the positions of power, is intricately tied to meat; whereas women, as historically second class citizens, have stuck to what have been considered second-class foods in a patriarchal culture (vegetables, fruits, and grains) as opposed to meat. During World War II, the American population rationed its consumption of meat in order to supply soldiers (often considered the epitome of a masculine man) (Baker 1973). The same global phenomenon was heavily documented in the 1960s and 1970s. In their work, Who Really Starves: Women and World Hunger, Lisa Leghorn and Mary Roodkowsky argue that in famine situations today, meat remains a constant for men and intermittent for women, who are starving at a rate disproportionate to men. They cite Ethiopia, where women prepared two meals: One with meat for men, and one without for women (48). In Asia and equatorial Africa, some cultures forbid women from consuming fish, seafood, duck, chicken, and eggs (Leghorn 52).

Much of the gendering of meat is certainly indoctrinated by unapologietically sexist advertising. Businesses selling the consumption of animals have endlessly employed tropes about masculinity to sell their products. Remember the awful Hillshire Farm (“Go meat!”) commercial? (If you must, watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCFjV-WJDHQ). In this commercial and according to contemporary American social norms, grilling and barbecue are distinctly men’s hobbies, and associated industries exploit this connotation.

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The result is a ubiquitous message that meat = manly. Tofu = wimpy. Real men eat meat. In the wake of recent social changes that have men questioning their manliness, advertisers have pounced at the opportunity to target a soft spot by offering products that supposedly reaffirm masculinity – namely meat-based products.

The advertising industry is not solely to blame in reinforcing the hegemonic masculine identity. We are bombarded on social media, movies, and TV with affirmations of the manliness associated with meat. The connection between meat-eating and manliness shows up in almost every edition of Men’s Health magazine Stibbe (2004). And then there’s Parks and Recreation’s Ron Swanson, that paragon of mustachioed masculinity, downing endless amounts of ribs, steak, bacon, and something called a meat tornado.

And it’s not just that vegetarian or vegan men get their man cards revoked at every turn, it’s that the more he consumes meat and identifies with that behavior, the more manly he becomes. When we value meat eating as an exclusively masculine activity, we devalue not only those men who choose vegetarianism or veganism, but also women, for whom the manliness of meat has a converse effect on what it means to ‘eat like a woman.’ Women are fed, so to speak, by advertising and mainstream media outlets a diet of salads and yogurt; of small portions, staying thin and taking to their social media to express their enthusiasm over these choices. For women, displaying any sort of appetite can feel deeply unattractive, reinforcing restraint-based dietary habits that inhibit and often exclude meat-eating altogether.

Unfortunately, these messages work.  A 2012 study by researchers at Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY found that both men and women associate meat—particularly “muscle” meats, steak, etc.—with masculinity. In addition, the study analyzed 23 languages and found a preponderance of masculine words used to describe meat. Another study at the University of British Columbia found that vegetarian men were seen as less macho (and “wimps”) compared to those men who eat meat – even by non meat-eaters and women.

Health-wise, however, the level at which Americans consume meat is actually making us sicker. High meat consumption has been linked to a long list of health problems, from cancer to weight gain to kidney problems and cardiovascular disease. But most men eat twice the amount of the protein they need. In 2011-2012, for example, American men between the ages of 30 and 39 ate an average of 110 grams of protein, according to US government data. That’s roughly double the 56 grams the government currently recommends for men.

So what’s the way forward? It doesn’t seem fair to start shaming all male meat-eaters in the interest of toppling the meat=manly stereotype. It’s not the action of eating meat that is harmful, it’s the meaning we attach as a society to that action – namely, that meat-eaters are macho men. By that same token, I don’t think the answer is to assert the manliness of vegetarian men, either, since this seems to merely reinforce the same problematic gender norms that have come to associate masculinity with meat in the first place. The issue isn’t that meat-eating men chose the wrong food to assign as manly. We need to challenge instead the very pursuit of masculinity. More than ever before, our society is becoming aware of the complexities and degrees of sexuality, gender, and identity. We need to combat the long-standing binary that men ought to act a certain way that is considered masculine and women must act another in order to be considered feminine. Vegetarianism is one a way for men to do that. Fortunately, some of the most visible faces of the plant-based diet movement are now men. Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of vegan mayo startup Hampton Creek, and Beyond Meat founder and CEO Ethan Brown are two highly visible entrepreneurs of plant-based startups. Vegan politicians, including New Jersey senator Cory Booker and former president Bill Clinton, are also helping to destigmatize plant-based diets for men. And male doctors, athletes, and firemen dominate the pro-vegan documentary Forks Over Knives, all of them lauding the benefits of foregoing meat. As a feminist, I’m tempted to defend what’s typically a woman-dominated domain from male encroachment. But as an advocate for health, animal welfare, and the environment, and gender equality, I say: Welcome. Have some hummus.

Adams, Carol J. The sexual politics of meat: A feminist-vegetarian critical theory (10th anniversary ed.). New York: Continuum. 2003. Print.

Baker, Russell. So This is Depravity. New York: A Division of Divershion Publishing, 1980. Print.

Leghorn, Lisa, and Mary Roodkowsky. Who Really Starves?: Women and World Hunger. New York: Friendship in Cooperation with Church World Service, 1977. Print.

Rogers, R. (2008). Beasts, burgers, and hummers: Meat and the crisis of masculinity in contemporary television advertisements. Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture, 2, 281–301.

Stibbe, A. (2004). Health and the social construction of masculinity in men’s health magazine. Men and Masculinities, 7, 31–51. doi:10.1177/ .

Author’s Note:
Mekala graduated from William Smith Colleges in May 2014 with a BA in Philosophy and Environmental Studies. After spending the summer of her junior year interning with a small USDA Organic family farm in Sheffield, MA, she was hooked on growing food. Soon she became engulfed in the deep and complicated world that is our food system. She’s now the ‘permanent intern’ at the same farm she started out at in Sheffield, and is working with Berkshire Grown, an organization that links farmers in the Berkshires with the surrounding community 
through events, workshops, promotions, advocacy and education highlighting locally-grown and produced food. She plans to attend graduate school in the near future, and in the more distant future — to ease into the life of a second generation farmer in the Berkshires of MA. Contact Mekala at mekala.bertocci@gmail.com.

Posted in April 2016: Green Jobs | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Materials Mismanagement And Mega-Landfills In The Finger Lakes

By Glen Silver, President of Concerned Citizens of Seneca County, Inc. (CCSC)

Glen Silver

Glen Silver

The Problem
9,000 tons of trash—greater than 90% of it from downstate counties and other states, including asbestos, incinerator ash, contaminated soil, sewage treatment plant sludge, industrial waste, and construction and demolition debris—are trucked here every day by over 400 18-wheelers for burial in some of the world’s most productive farmland, courtesy of the Seneca Meadows and Ontario County mega-landfills.

As two of the largest structures ever created by mankind, the Ontario County and Seneca Meadows landfills now rank at about four and eight times the volume of the Great Pyramid of Giza, respectively, while the EPA says that upwards of 85% of what goes into them could be recycled or composted.

A major byproduct of these mega-landfills is landfill leachate, which is the contaminant-laden liquid that results from rain and snowmelt percolating through the waste mass. Tens of millions of gallons of leachate have been “disposed of” yearly by being trucked to waste-water treatment plants that discharge their treated effluent into the Finger Lakes watershed.

Leachate contains thousands of chemical contaminants, only some of which are removed in the treatment process. So if you’re one of more than 100,000 people who get their drinking water from Seneca Lake, you’ve undoubtedly ingested trace amounts of them.

Another major byproduct of these mega-landfills is air pollution. According to EPA statistics, the Ontario County and Seneca Meadows landfills are the most significant point sources of greenhouse gas emissions in their respective counties (alongside Seneca Energy II, LLC, the company which burns their landfill gas, which is its own major stationary source of air pollutants).

Much of the tens of thousands of metric tons of greenhouse gas emitted by these mega-landfills each year is in the form of methane, which is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide in promoting global warming over a 20-year timeframe (IPCC, 2014). According to researchers, about one ton of methane is generated for every 10 tons of waste buried in the ground.

In addition to methane, which is odorless, mega-landfills generate other noxious compounds, as people who live in the immediate vicinity downwind of them can attest, including nearly 30 hazardous air pollutants, including but not limited to benzene and vinyl chloride, known to cause cancer.

Seneca Meadows landfill is on record for emitting over 84 tons of a separate class of contaminants known as VOCs[1] into the surrounding air/community in 2010 alone.

Moreover, there appears to be no end in sight to all of this, as some of our local government officials have taken it upon themselves (some even without benefit of public hearings) to commit to long-term agreements with the corporations that profit from this arrangement.

Procession of tractor trailers carrying trash up Seneca Meadows Landfill - 2010 - assumed load of 20 tons of garbage each. Photo credit: Katherine Bourbeau.

Procession of tractor trailers carrying trash up Seneca Meadows Landfill – 2010 – assumed load of 20 tons of garbage each. Photo credit: Katherine Bourbeau.

Materials Mismanagement
From a materials management point of view, no greater environmental and existential threat faces the Finger Lakes then the one just described.

Waste (specifically, municipal solid waste (MSW)) should be viewed as a materials management issue because this type of waste is predominantly composed of materials that can provide resources, revenue and jobs required to support this (and every) region’s sustainability which, if acted upon in this way, would also remove the toxic threat that land-filling currently creates.

In fact, scores of other communities across the U.S. are no longer permitting these materials to be disposed of in a landfill but are, instead, separating them for processing and returning them to the economic mainstream for industrial and agricultural uses, thus contributing to local revenue, business expansion, and their economic base—i.e., acknowledging that recycling a ton of waste has twice the economic impact of burying it in the ground.

The goal should therefore be to transform the existing philosophy of “managing solid waste” (i.e., land-filling) into a “resource management” or “materials management” paradigm.

The first place to start with managing these “materials” is to ban all organics going to landfills, as this material amounts to approximately one-third to one-half of most every county’s discarded resources that, when buried in a landfill, decomposes without oxygen and generates methane, whose threat has already been stated.

Already Germany, Denmark and other EU nations have partial bans on organic material processed in landfills. Scotland is trying to ban 60% of organics from their landfills by 2020. And now the states of Vermont and Massachusetts have banned pre-consumer food waste from landfills.

Organics, when diverted from the landfill and composted, mulched, and then directly land applied, can greatly improve soil for farming, facilitating the production of more locally grown food while mitigating erosion, conserving water, and minimizing the need to use petro-chemical agricultural fertilizers that contribute to runoff (i.e., phosphorous) pollution of Seneca and Cayuga Lakes.

What’s more, if we were to recycle all of what is currently landfilled back into nature or the marketplace, we would additionally protect human health and the environment from leachate, which will remain a potential threat to groundwater for thousands of years and add to the burden of having to maintain the landfill during this time, which could cost hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars—all to be paid for by taxpayers, as the original owner is only made responsible for the first 30 years post-closure.

Burying recyclables not only destroys the materials themselves, but the embodied energy in those materials, forcing us to pay all over again the upstream cost to re-manufacture them, which amounts to producing, on average, another 71 tons of waste during the drilling, logging, mining, transporting, and manufacturing needed to re-make 1 ton of these products.

In addition, a typical recycling-sorting facility in the U.S. has been proven to sustain approximately 10 times more jobs than it currently takes to bury the same material (composting jobs are 4:1). [Source: Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Washington, D.C., 1997, and Tellus Institute, “More Jobs, Less Pollution Report,” November 2011, page 34.]

But since corporations that own landfills make their money on a per pound basis from burying waste materials in the ground, and have paid lobbyists in Washington, DC, paid lobbyists in Albany, and paid townships such as Waterloo and Seneca Falls (through so-called host community fees), you are not likely to see any major changes in how waste is dealt with any time soon.

As a representative from the investment industry said: “recycling has long been the enemy of the solid waste industry, stealing volumes otherwise headed for landfills … their most promising assets.””

So, yes, Seneca Meadows may help fund local recycling efforts, but they have gotten elected officials in Seneca Falls and Waterloo to sign host agreements in exchange for $$ that help ensure and condone that much larger scale practices of non-recycling (regarding the upwards of 6,000 tons of trash they import daily to Seneca County) stay in place for decades to come.

Non-recycling of the majority of the MSW waste stream is in fact a key component of the business model of all international landfill companies, which explains why Seneca Meadows has built an industrial rail yard at the busiest intersection in Seneca County for the purpose of receiving and staging $3.3B worth of trash by rail from New York City (some of the nation’s worst recyclers) for the next 20 to 30 years.

Bringing waste from far away distances, whether by truck or rail, also increases emissions of CO2, sulfur dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other pollutants that contribute to public health problems, acid rain, smog and global warming, and encourages an “out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude” toward garbage.

As a result, people who live in NYC and other places East of us whose garbage we receive will likely find themselves recycling less, reusing less, and reducing less—precisely because we are relieving them of the burden of having to do so because we are burying it in our farmland.

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Landfill Gas-to-Energy plants (LFGTE) – More Materials Mismanagement
Besides the recently voted expansion of the Ontario county landfill and the imminent prospect of trash by rail in Seneca County, there is another landfill bugaboo that has mostly gone unmentioned in the local press—the so-called landfill gas to energy plants (LFGTE) that have been constructed at both landfills, which burn collected landfill gas and, in doing so, contribute their own extreme amounts of air toxics. For example, Seneca Energy II, LLC in Seneca County, in 2012, released 53,607 lbs of sulfur dioxide, 71,000 lbs of nitrogen oxide, and 885,000 lbs of carbon monoxide.

These and other LFGTE facilities of similar kind have been officially listed as a renewable power source in NYS, and therefore also now receive annual federal and state government subsidies that reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars (the feds now give landfill gas facilities a credit of 1.5 cents/kilowatt hour)—that is, in addition to tax subsidies already given to them from our county lDAs (Industrial development agencies), which of course are funded by our local tax dollars.

Giving renewable energy credits to companies that burn landfill gas allows them to undermine truly renewable, clean sources of energy like wind and solar; stalls any serious move towards reuse, recycling, and composting, and continues to create massive amounts of GHG emissions—some 3.8 -7.8 times more net GHG emissions than compared to flaring landfill gas—which contributes to catastrophic climate events.

Tax credits given to landfills for collecting and burning their gas emissions also encourages them to re-circulate the leachate that they create back into their landfills, since moisture from this leachate greatly increases methane emissions (2.3 time more according to the EPA), leading to more profitable “energy recovery.”

However, in doing so, they correspondingly increase threats to groundwater from leachate contamination and threats to air from increased fugitive emissions (the uncollected ones containing the toxins that you breathe) that will always escape from landfills no matter what gas collection equipment is installed. How much more? According to the EPA, up to 4.7 times as much!

What’s more, burning toxic landfill gas, which creates other toxic gases as by-products, does not a sustainable or renewable resource make. The operations at both landfill plants use IC (internal combustion) engines, which the EPA says are amongst the dirtiest methods for processing landfill gas in that they emit the most carbon monoxide, NOx and possibly dioxins (one of the most toxic chemicals known to science); and nothing that emits dioxins should be considered “green” or “renewable.” energy.

Summary
In closing, the proper amount of escaping methane and the toxins it contains that should be allowed for the Finger Lakes is zero, which can only be achieved through the banning of all organics from entering landfills in the first place. This is at least a starting point.

In so many ways, it isn’t a matter of choice; but is something we must do. The very soils beneath our feet that have given us the bounty of the Finger Lakes are what we should be striving to replenish and nurture in return for what these soils have given us.

Our local IDAs should therefore be offering financial incentives for solar, wind, and geothermal energy production, and to composting facilities that will build and restore our soil, not companies whose business model utilizes failed technology and requires destruction of our biosphere.

Written about 500 years ago during the time of the Roman Empire is something known as the Public Trust Doctrine, which says that you and I bear responsibility of stewardship of the earth’s resources for the public good (i.e., the greater good), but we have yet to take that responsibility seriously.

Bottom line as regards the material known as municipal solid waste here in the Finger Lakes: When you bury it, you lose jobs, waste natural resources, create unmanageable costs, and you trash the land, air, and climate for generations yet to be born.

[1] VOCs are volatile organic compounds, long-term exposure to which can cause damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. Short-term exposure to volatile organic compounds can cause eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, visual disorders, fatigue, loss of coordination, allergic skin reactions, nausea, and memory impairment.

Posted in March 2016: Materials Management | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Finger Lakes: Dumping Ground or an Environmental Awakening?

By Alex Vitulano ’15, William Smith College student

AlexVitulanoHeadshot

Alex Vitulano

Seneca County is home to the largest of the Finger Lakes, and also to many of the state’s 400 plus wineries. Aside from the wine industry, there is a significant history that Seneca Falls holds related to the Underground Railroad and women’s rights, as it is the location of the first women’s rights convention in the country. Thus, there is rich social justice history and culture all within a 15 or so minute drive from the Hobart and William Smith Colleges (HWS) campus. However, what do we see when we look across the pristine Seneca Lake to Seneca County? The state’s largest active landfill– Seneca Meadows, which takes in 6,000 tons of trash daily, and is calculated to reach capacity by 2023. Given that the average trash truck you see passing on the Thruway or Routes 5&20 holds 20 tons of trash, that means there are approximately 300 trash trucks coming into Seneca Meadows every day.

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Several local businesses protest the establishment of a trash train from NYC to Seneca Meadows. Photo credit: Finger Lakes Daily News.

The tonnage (amount of trash taken in daily) is strictly permitted to only allow up to 6,000 tons per day. However after Super Storm Sandy in the fall of 2012, the EPA temporarily allowed Seneca Meadows to take in excess waste, over the 6,000 daily tons, in order to accommodate the huge amount of debris caused by the hurricane, particularly from New Jersey. At that time, the idea to transport the debris via rail rather than trucks was introduced but shot down. However, once that period of time ended, the daily limits were lowered back to 6,000 tons and it was back to business as usual, except the idea of a ‘trash train’ still remained.

Finger Lakes Railway is one of the major supporters of a trash train to transport waste from NYC to a facility off Route 414 by Seneca Meadows. The main argument being used in support of rail transport is an environmentally based one. Supporters boast that a trash train would drastically cut the amount of trucks on our roads every day, improving environmental factors as well as safety for drivers and pedestrians alike.

Currently, we face serious, high impact deals related to the landfill. The first issue is that of expansion– will the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation approve permits in 2017 for the continued operation and expansion of Seneca Meadows for another 20 years with the option for two 5-year extensions? Furthermore, the second issue on the table is the trash train. If Seneca County allows Finger Lakes Railway to operate taking trash from NYC directly to Seneca Meadows by rail, what will that mean for the future of our unique and beautiful region? A trash train would make transport of waste easier, which could mean the increase of tonnage per day brought up to Seneca Meadows if permitting allows in the future.

Seneca Meadows stirs up mixed feelings from residents in surrounding towns, not just Waterloo and Seneca Falls. While the landfill contributes significantly to the local economy through host benefit fees, taxes, charitable contributions and jobs, there are significant unknowns surrounding Seneca Meadows including potential health effects associated with landfills and the aesthetics of the operations. Additionally, by how much does the landfill detract from local tourism as the landfill is located between the Thruway and the gateway to the Finger Lakes? Who wants to be on a wine tour and suddenly get a putrid stink of garbage blowing right at them?

This is not just an issue of trash and money though, this is a deeper-rooted problem of priorities. We need to wake up and realize that the best way to improve our region and stimulate the local economy is not by burying tons and tons of trash daily—it is through embracing the countless assets already bestowed upon our region—wineries, agriculture, gourmet restaurants and specialty shops, the Finger Lakes, and a vast historical significance. It is time to prioritize the quality of life for local residents and that means burying less waste and investing more effort into sustainable, long lasting initiatives for communities in the Finger Lakes and our environment.

Posted in March 2016: Materials Management | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Research: FLI Research Team Welcomes New Staff

By Roxanne Razavi Ph.D., Postdoctoral Researcher at the Finger Lakes Institute

Roxanne headshot

Roxanne Razavi, Ph.D.

This month the Finger Lakes Institute welcomes Trevor Massey (University of Cincinnati ’14) to the research team as a lab technician on the Finger Lakes Mercury Project. Learn a bit more about Trevor below!

 

 

 

Trevor Massey

Trevor Massey

 

What motivated you to work in the environmental field?

My motivation to work in the environmental field comes from a lifetime of enjoyment being outside fishing, hunting, hiking, and enjoying the natural world. I would love to contribute to preserving and improving the health of the environment for future generations. The opportunity to work toward bettering our understanding of the how we are influencing change in the environment is something that strongly appealed to me when deciding on a career path.

What were the main environmental issues facing the Five Rivers Metroparks (Germantown, Ohio) where you previously worked?

Five Rivers Metroparks mission is to preserve the area’s natural heritage while providing opportunities for outdoor experiences focusing on recreation, education, and conservation. Working in the conservation department the main issues that we faced were conserving and restoring natural habitats, monitoring and adapting management practices to reach outcomes, and increasing public knowledge and support for conservation while dealing with decreasing public funding.

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Trevor’s first big catch, a 32 inch Walleye from Lake Erie in 1995. Photo credit: Trevor Massey.

What has surprised you most about mercury as a pollutant?

I have been the most surprised by how rapidly bioaccumulation of methylmercury can occur in aquatic food webs. There is definite need for better understanding of this process and how specific natural and anthropogenic events influence this accumulation in the environment.

What are you most interested in learning about the Finger Lakes?

I am excited to learn more about the differences between mercury levels present in specific aquatic species compared to one another and differences in these population’s mercury levels between specific lakes. This information could be used to help draw conclusions about how differing conditions among the lakes influences the accumulation of mercury within these species. Growing up in Ohio, I always adhered to the statewide fish consumption advisory that was implemented but often wondered how encompassing the advisory was across different regions. I think that more detailed information on these differences will be crucial in determining accurate safe consumption guidelines for specific lakes and watersheds within the region.

What are your career aspirations?

I would love to work as a wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I would like to contribute to increasing our knowledge and monitoring practices of wildlife species as we continue to alter natural lands through development and degradation. I believe that by better understanding how our actions influence the health of the environment that better strategies can be developed to reduce this often negative impact.

Posted in February 2015: Innovation | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Sustainable Communities: A Tipping Point For Landfills In The Finger Lakes?

By Lisa Cleckner Ph.D., Director of the Finger Lakes Institute

Cleckner landfill storyThe announcement of a 20-year, $3.3B deal to accept New York City’s trash at Seneca Meadows has galvanized community members across the Finger Lakes against the potential expansion and growth of the largest landfill in New York State. As documented elsewhere in FLI Happenings, Seneca Meadows is slated to be closed in 2023, which is the date the host agreement expires for the landfill.

The idea of bringing more trash and waste from other communities into the Finger Lakes runs counter to our regional economic drivers of agriculture and tourism, let alone the associated risk to the health and safety of our community members. From the NYS Thruway and the del Lago Resort and Casino, slated to open in Tyre in 2017, visitors that may be tempted to drive south on Route 414 to experience the beautiful scenery, waters, wineries, and restaurants of the Finger Lakes will drive right past the massive and ever growing Seneca Meadows enterprise.

It has been heartening to see citizens become involved in this issue and to take a stand on no more trash being brought into the Finger Lakes region. The FLI worked with community leaders in 2013 to begin conversations about the next steps beyond the landfills in both Ontario and Seneca Counties (http://www.hws.edu/fli/projects_landfill.aspx). In 2013, county leaders shared information about revenue that the landfill operators provide to the counties, and state officials provided information about how waste is managed in NY State. The second landfill summit held in 2014 sought to provide alternatives to standard landfill practices, and highlighted Tompkins County’s successful composting program. Supervisors from both Ontario and Seneca Counties also provided presentations and leadership by visioning what will happen when the landfill(s) close and imagining what less trash being brought into our region in the future means to Finger Lakes communities.

Local citizen groups including Finger Lakes Zero Waste and Concerned Citizens of Seneca County have been leading the charge on landfills and sustainable material issues in our region many years before the summits. Individuals such as Doug Knipple, Katie Bennett Roll, Glen Silver, Cynthia Hsu, Linda Ochs, and many others have worked tirelessly to check and monitor the landfill operations and elected officials, and help educate Finger Lakes citizens about health and economic issues associated with landfills. Current leaders organizing citizens to oppose the Seneca Meadows proposed project with New York City include Bill and Annette Lutz from Waterloo Container, which is located across Route 414 from the landfill.

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Packed Town of Seneca Fall Board Meeting where 21 citizens presented opposing the Seneca Meadows Landfill on March 1, 2016. Photo credit: Lisa Cleckner.

Public sentiment regarding any potential Seneca Meadows expansion and operations beyond 2023 has resulted in a large public outcry. Citizen participation at recent town board meetings and at other gatherings discussing the future of the landfill has been palpable. For instance, at the March 1, 2016 Town of Seneca Falls board meeting, 21 residents and concerned citizens spoke against the landfill continuing business “as usual,” and Town of Seneca Falls Supervisor Greg Lazzaro noted, “We have to listen to the people. No one came here to support plans of the landfill or the trash trains beyond 2023. We need to work toward that end.”[1] Several business owners, long-time residents, and some school children spoke at the meeting.

As a result of public sentiment and participation, the Lutz team, working with Attorney Doug Zamelis from Cooperstown, has been successful in asking the Town of Seneca Falls to review operating conditions of current permits issued to the company operating the Seneca Meadows Landfill, IESI NY. Subsequently, the Town of Seneca Falls voted to “serve a stop-work order on Seneca Meadows officials for work being done on a parcel of land in the landfill’s Resource Recovery Park[2],” which prompted two town board members to resign.

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Mega-Landfills and trash trains are a regional Finger Lakes issues and many supporters from across the region including Geneva attended the Trash Train protest. Photo credit: Lisa Cleckner.

On March 12, 2016, a very successful trash train protest was held in Seneca Falls with about 200 citizens marching through downtown and ending up at the People’s Park for a series of presentations. It was a beautiful March day, one that makes one appreciate how beautiful and unique our Finger Lakes region is. Let’s hope that citizens continue to play an active role in shaping the future of landfills, materials management, environmental health, and community development across the Finger Lakes. Let’s also hope that this truly is a tipping point in our region and that we all explore better ways to reduce our use of materials, promote composting, demand less packaging for products, and promote purchasing of recycled and upcycled materials.

[1] http://www.fltimes.com/news/speakers-to-sf-board-stop-the-trash-train/article_71a1ef08-e087-11e5-b82c-eb914e6e7244.html

[2] http://www.fltimes.com/news/seneca-fall-town-board-begins-triage-following-resignations/article_86b1f33c-e53e-11e5-bf47-8b8810eff9dc.html

Posted in March 2016: Materials Management | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Green Hand: Organics Recovery- Naturally It Should Be Separated And Composted

By Adam Maurer, Sustainability Manager at Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Maurer_headshot

Adam Maurer

In the first year collecting organic materials[1] on campus, Hobart and William Smith Colleges (HWS) diverted over 39 tons of organics, from vegetable trimmings to half eaten hotdogs. Diversion of organic materials at HWS has grown and evolved since first being separated from recycling and landfill refuse in 2008. This past fiscal year, HWS diverted over 93 tons of organic materials from several campus dining locations.

HWS partners with Cayuga Compost, an organic materials recovery contractor located about 35 miles from campus in Trumansburg, NY. Cayuga Compost provides 96-gallon toters, picks up the organic material, and  then composts it for a fee in lieu of landfill tipping fees. In October 2014, Cayuga Compost reported that they successfully diverted over 22,600 tons of organic material from the landfill since 2006. In weight, that’s over 112 Boeing 747’s!

Despite tremendous efforts and gains by HWS and Cayuga Compost, we have both faced several significant challenges. Like many others, HWS has battled contamination of our organic material stream. HWS collects both pre-consumer and post-consumer organic material. Pre-consumer organic material is simply the preparatory food refuse and diminished quality bulk, raw material food that is never seen by the consumer. Contamination of pre-consumer food refuse is not a major concern, because staff is trained how to properly divert this material. Additionally, at that stage in food production, organics are not mixed with other materials, making it fairly easy to keep organics separate from recycling and landfill refuse. Post-consumer organic material is simply the “table scrap” refuse. Collection and diversion of post-consumer food material is much more difficult than pre-consumer. First, consumers must be educated that HWS separates all post-consumer food refuse, despite what they do virtually everywhere else they eat- at home, restaurants, at friend’s houses, etc. Additionally, consumers must be educated that organic materials include things in addition to food. Organic materials that should be diverted from landfill and recycling at HWS also includes compostable to-go containers, paper towels, napkins, and food liners.

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HWS purchases special materials for use at our retail locations to maximize compostable materials and minimize landfill refuse. We teach incoming first years about HWS recycling and organic separation. We have hung signage at point of disposal in our retail dining locations that shows consumers what should be placed in the various material streams. At larger catered events with organic material containers, we now place organic material information on tables and next to the disposal stations to minimize contamination.

Do the signs help? We think so. Do they completely eliminate contamination of the different streams of materials? No, definitely not. To further mitigate contamination we have also committed to stationing EcoReps, student sustainability volunteers, at disposal stations for large catered events. They act as “Sustainable Materials Management Associates” (SMMAs) to help people at point of disposal to properly separate their various materials.

The interaction between EcoReps and diners at point of disposal is encouraging. There are several things we have learned serving as SMMAs.

  • Many people appreciate the efforts HWS is making to collect organic material that would otherwise go to our local landfill.
  • Some people know what composting is, but don’t know that it can include more than just food. This gives us an opportunity to explain that industrial composting facilities can accept and break down a wide array of organics, including paper napkins, paper dishware, etc.
  • Some people do not understand what organic means and why we separate our organic materials from landfill refuse, but are fully willing to listen to proper disposal instructions and the advantages of composting.

SMMAs are important in two ways; 1) pragmatically, they minimize contamination of the three material streams at catered events, landfill refuse, recycling, and organic materials, and 2) they help educate consumers about proper materials management through dialogue at point of disposal.

As was mentioned before, HWS makes dining product purchases in order to minimize landfill refuse and maximize economic, environmental, and social benefits. As a result, HWS switched many petroleum-based plastic products (recyclable here in Ontario County), to bioplastics. Bioplastics are “plastics” derived from renewable biomass sources, like corn. They are designed to function and look like plastic, but decompose in industrial compost facilities. Industrial compost facilities typically reach higher temperatures for longer periods of time than backyard compost piles and smaller compost systems. However, after years of use, industrial compost facilities are still finding “plastic” remnants in their finished compost from these certified compostable bioplastics[2]. The plastic that remains reduces the quality and health of the compost produced by these facilities.

In January 2016, HWS received new guidelines from our organic material contractor. Like many other industrial composting facilities throughout the nation, our compost facility was finding it very difficult to completely break down bioplastics. By summer 2016, all clients of our organic material recovery contractor must eliminate the use of bioplastics and certified compostable cups/containers that have a thin plastic or wax film (think about the waxy coating on the inside of some paper cups). Most notably, at HWS this includes bioplastic “compostable” cups, our paper cups, straws, and some to-go containers.

The Office of Sustainability and HWS Sodexo Dining Services team have partnered to create a material priority list for dining service products.

  1. compostable products (non-coated paper products)
  2. products made with recycled content (100% to 5%)
  3. products that are recyclable (plastics #1-3, #5, and #6. No #7)
  4. No styrofoam products

Sustainable materials management, including organic materials, continues to evolve with technology, markets, education, regulations, etc. HWS will continue to advance organic material recovery to reduce campus refuse sent to the local landfill.

For more information about organic materials recovery at HWS, check out this video produced by HWS EcoRep Katrina Núñez, featuring HWS Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Darrin Magee.

If you have any questions about ideas expressed in this article or other sustainability-related initiatives at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, please contact the Office of Sustainability, sustainability@hws.edu or 315.781.4380.

[1] Organic material throughout this article refers to food scraps and leftovers that are no longer of use to the institution. Rather than referring to this as waste, which would indicate that they it has no value or worth, these materials can be recycled through composting to create a rich and valuable soil amendment. Thus, it is not waste, but a material stream that can and should be diverted to maximize use.

[2] The Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) has become the most recognized compost certification organization. http://www.bpiworld.org/BPI-Public/About.html. The BPI logo is used to identify products that BPI has tested and approves is compostable in industrial composting facilities.

Posted in March 2016: Materials Management | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment