Monthly Archives: December 2013

Groundbreaking Legislation Passed in NYC

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On Thursday, December 19th New York City passed important legislation requiring large food waste generators to separate food waste ensuring waste does not go to landfill, effective July 2015.

Proposed Int. No. 1162-A would require restaurants, grocery stores, caterers and other food service establishments of a certain size or number within the City that generate significant food waste to source-separate organic waste beginning July 1, 2015 for composting, aerobic or anaerobic digestion or any other method approved by the DSNY commissioner.

“This legislation is a giant step forward in the city’s efforts to recycle organic waste,” says Mayor Bloomberg.  Bloomberg called the vote “a significant step towards our PlaNYC goal of diverting more waste from landfills.”

The city is looking to double its recycling rate to 30 percent by 2017. Two organics-related trade groups endorsed New York City’s move.

“With the passage of this initiative, (New York City) is taking a bold and decisive step toward establishing a sustainable environment for its citizens. This move will benefit generations to come,” said Lori Scozzafava, executive director of the Bethesda, Md.-based U.S. Composting Council.

An approved method for disposal includes use of the Eco-Safe Digester, an on-site aerobic digestion solution.  For the 20 or more NYC businesses already using the digester, they are clearly voluntarily ahead of the ban but for those that are thinking about their best course of action, the Eco-Safe Digester waits for your call.

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NYC Food Waste Challenge Sort

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Back in November, Action Environmental hosted an event at their recycling facility in the Bronx in conjunction with NYC’s Food Waste Challenge to help the city quantify their diversion potential.

The NYC Food Waste Challenge is a pilot program that solicits voluntary participation from restaurants willing to commit at least 50% of its food waste to a composting facility instead of the landfill. Over 100 restaurants have committed, each agreeing to meet the 50% targets, recording waste data and communicating obstacles and successes. The city hopes this will serve as a feedback loop that will set the groundwork toward sustainable waste management.

Organized by the NYC Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability and Global Green smelly trash bags were collected from a cross-section of restaurants across Manhattan and volunteers were tasked with opening, separating, categorizing, weighing and recording what was found.

The first few bags, filled with mixtures of food (cooked and expiring) and recyclables and trash, were an assault on the volunteer’s senses and after 4 grueling hours, over 50 bags of restaurant garbage were separated into diversion potential categories.  The Mayor’s Office is still crunching the numbers, but the mini mountains of non-landfill categories made NYC’s diversion potential evident to the naked eye. With some organization and education, NYC could achieve the City’s Landfill Waste Diversion goal of 75%.

A 75% diversion goal may seem high, especially since NYC’s diversion levels have actually fallen over the last decade. According to the Mayor’s Management Reports, NYC’s curb-side recycling has dropped 50%, from 35.1% in 2002 to 16.6% at the end of 2012. New York City has some unique challenges that other cities don’t face but the possibility for improvement is there.

Recently the Department of Sanitation piloted a compost collection program in public schools and several residential neighborhoods throughout the city. The results are promising. However, the city believes that without getting restaurants on board the city won’t reach its goal. According to the Mayor’s Office, the majority of restaurants do not compost because the services and infrastructure aren’t in place. Additionally, if a restaurant wanted to compost it would have to pay additional hauler costs, further cutting into their small margins. The Sustainable Restaurant Corps is working with restaurants to find a viable solution to this problem.

If the goal is to divert food waste from landfill, the Eco-Safe Digester is one solution.  It makes economic sense, meets health department requirements and is better for the environment.

After a long day at the transfer station it is evident that the city’s services and infrastructure need to improve, more efficient technology needs to be put in place, and restaurants need to redefine their processes and create better recycling habits.

Methane Leakage

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When first introduced as an alternative fuel, natural gas seemed to be the perfect solution.  Unfortunately, new reports show that the natural gas, often described as the cleanest fossil fuel producing less carbon dioxide than oil and coal plants, is now leaking methane into the atmosphere.

Natural gas production releases methane gas, which is 25 times more powerful in warming the climate than CO2. Over the long-term, natural gas is a cleaner-burning fuel more than coal is because it emits far less CO2, however, if we’re leaking a lot of methane we’re counteracting any sort of beneficial impact in the near-term.

Scientists have estimated that across all the various stages of natural gas production, such as drilling, extraction, processing, storage, transporting, and distributing the fuel, anywhere from 0.71 to 7.9 percent of the methane produced ends up escaping into the atmosphere, a phenomenon known as “methane leakage.” A study in 2011 demonstrated that the leak rate of methane was high enough to jeopardize its global warming advantage over coal. The problem is no one knows exactly how much methane is leaking into the air from natural gas production in the U.S.

Although there are no issues with the actual use of natural gas, obtaining this resource, through a process known as fracking, is what poses a problem. Initially, complaints about fracking were in reference to its contamination of local groundwater but the new research now indicates that groundwater isn’t the only victim.

This poses a major problem for our environment, due to methane’s efficacy at trapping heat.  Natural gas was chosen to replace coal because we wished to reduce carbon emissions but due to the “methane leakage,” what we lose in carbon dioxide will be replaced by methane.

Fracking is not the only one responsible for the release of this harmful greenhouse gas. It turns out that many natural gas locations are purposely allowing the natural gas to escape known as flaring.  The release of methane occurs because of the lack of pipeline networks to and from remote locations. This process not only unnecessarily adds to the increasing amounts of methane in our atmosphere, but also represents a waste of money and resources.

With the U.S. increasingly relying on natural gas to generate electricity displacing dirtier coal has laredy helped the U.S. dramatically lower their carbon emissions.  And yes, although it is abundant and clean there are some concerns with the process that need to be overcome.  The bottom line is that natural gas, abundant and clean should have less an effect on the climate compared to coal-fired power plants.

Microsoft, Becoming Carbon Neutral

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For a long time, the marketplace has associated technology giant Microsoft with innovation and efficiency. Now the company is vying for accolades in a third area: sustainability.

In an ambitious move to catapult the company’s carbon emissions reduction strategy, Microsoft issued a corporate policy in July 2012 across 14 business divisions in more than 100 countries: Every division would be accountable for its carbon emissions.

Microsoft has put a price on carbon and is including that cost in their profit-and-loss statement across business divisions.  By integrating carbon reduction policies with business priorities engages the executives and employees in their commitment to mitigating climate change by investing funds appropriately.

Under the Carbon Neutral and Carbon Free Policies, the company put an internal price on carbon, where each divisions pays an incremental price linked with the carbon emissions associated with energy consumption and business air travel. The funds are then used to invest internally in energy efficiency, renewable energy and carbon offset projects.

These policies help Microsoft employees band together more than usual. Microsoft is working with Wildlife Works, which runs the Kasigau project in Kenya and emphasizes carbon sequestration, social enterprise and wildlife preservation.

Microsoft believes that climate change is a serious challenge, and supporting carbon sequestration through carbon finance supports local jobs and provides new educational opportunities for the youth — making a huge difference in improving lives.

One of the benefits of setting a carbon neutral policy is to set an example for how a business can run more efficiently, reduce waste and carbon, and address its environmental footprint.