BioCycle World

BioCycle August 2012, Vol. 53, No. 8, p. 6

Cornell Launches Sustainability Major

Beginning fall semester 2013, Cornell will offer an environmental science and sustainability (ESS) major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). The curriculum will integrate physical, chemical, biological and social sciences with humanities, offering concentration areas that include environmental biology and applied ecology, environmental policy and governance, biochemical sciences, and environmental economics. “The curriculum will seek to advance students’ ability to solve real-world environmental problems, manage social-ecological systems in a sustainable manner and affect decisions involving environmental policy, resource management and biodiversity conservation,” says Max Pfeffer, senior associate dean of CALS and professor of environmental sociology.

Architects of the new ESS major said it has the potential to significantly raise Cornell’s stature as a “green campus” and help CALS reach its benchmark goal of including “sustainability” as a formal learning outcome. The program is designed with the flexibility to incorporate new concentrations as environmental problems, faculty interest and students’ needs evolve.

Vermont Food BankVermont Food Bank Recycles Sustenance

With central offices near the state capital of Montpelier, the Vermont Food Bank partners with 280 organizations distributing food to those in need across the state, including food pantries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, afterschool programs and senior centers. “Our Community Kitchen Program diverts a tremendous amount of food that would otherwise go to the landfill,” says Vermont Food Bank CEO John Sayles. “We call it ‘rescue food,’ not just food that we collect from grocery stores, which we do as well, but we also work with restaurants and catering services.” Food that does not get repurposed right away into soups, stews and the like gets processed, bagged and flash frozen for later use. Any residual recovered food that does not make it to someone’s plate goes first to a rotating list of pig farmers or else to a commercial organics recycling facility such as Vermont Compost Company.

About 70 percent of what the Vermont Food Bank collects via its gleaning programs — about a half-million pounds of produce annually — is harvested and donated directly by local farmers; the remaining 30 percent is field gleaned by a cadre of food bank volunteers who visit the farms and deliver the harvest to the partnering organizations. What doesn’t ultimately get served to man or beast gets composted. “In fiscal year 2011, we diverted [a total of] 1,000 tons of perishable foods that would otherwise go into the waste stream,” says Sayles.

Sustainable Materials And Infrastructure

A recently published report entitled “Sustainable Materials Management: A New Materials Heirarchy, Solutions to Barriers, and Recommendations for a Path Forward,” suggests creating a new priority scale for materials management, prescribes ways to do so sustainably and establishes life-cycle based performance metrics. The report culminates a year-long collaboration between stakeholders that included the business, industry, academic, environmental and civic communities, as well as state and local governments.

“I believe that this report and its recommendations will result in a greater focus and higher priority being given to sustainable materials management in the United States,” said Timothy Fields, chair of the coalition and a former EPA Assistant Administrator. “A diverse group of stakeholders are in agreement that sustainable materials management is the future for current waste management programs. Developing performance factors for evaluating or comparing the environmental and public health performance of individual processes is particularly important for the future.” View the full report: www.michaeldbaker.com/news_sustainable.html.

Also with the goal of developing sustainability performance metrics, The Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) is recruiting verifiers for Envision, a new, independent, third-party project evaluating system. The program is designed to rate all manner and scale of sustainable infrastructure projects. Verifiers will provide rigorous, transparent validations and will be completely independent of the projects they verify. Qualified verifiers will receive training and then be contracted by ISI through their employers. Find out more at www.sustainableinfrastructure.org.

Simple Invention Prevents Food Waste

Kavita Shukla, a Harvard alumna and social entrepreneur, has invented a simple and natural way to keep food fresher longer based on a discovery she made while visiting her grandmother’s village in India when she was in middle school. Shukla was brushing her teeth when she accidentally swallowed tap water, an inadvisable move for a visitor whose stomach was unaccustomed to the many water-borne bacteria commonly found in the land of her ancestors. Her grandmother made her a special tea of fenugreek and other herbs and spices, and she avoided getting sick. The memory stuck with her, and a few years later the young inventor decided to test the recipe on strawberries that were going bad. The outcome of that experience led to a patent at age 17 and, 10 years later, the launch of a product called Fenugreen FreshPaper, a 5-inch square piece of infused paper that costs 50 cents, can be used repeatedly and greatly increases the shelf life of produce, inside or outside of the refrigerator.

“In 2010 we founded Fenugreen, which started out as a simple project to learn more about our food system and to find out how FreshPaper might be able to help,” Shukla told an assembled TED Talk Manhattan audience in January 2012. Handmade batches of FreshPaper were handed out at the farmer’s markets and street fairs, and a local co-op began carrying the product. Then the testimonials started rolling in. “We started to hear things like ‘FreshPaper makes it possible for me to eat local, to eat organic — to eat my entire CSA share’,” Shukla said. “Best of all, we started to hear ‘Fresh paper makes it possible for me to eat fresh fruits and vegetables on a regular basis.’” Her hope is for Fenugreen to help make the entire food system not only more sustainable, but more accessible. “Our mission is ‘fresh for all.’”

Military Announces Advanced Biofuels Funding

In late June, the United States Air Force released a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) for an initial $30 million for commercial-scale manufacturing of drop-in replacement transportation biofuels for aviation and marine diesel use. The funding falls under the authority of the Defense Production Act. Because the desired fuels will be for military operations, they would be required to be approved and certified MILSPEC JP-5, JP-8, and/or F-76 equivalents by the time the production facility is operational. The Defense Department has committed a total of $210 million over two phases, with successful Phase 1 applicants competing for Phase 2 funding. Phase 1 constitutes planning and preliminary design for a domestic Integrated Biofuels Production Enterprise (IBPE) that meets a target of at least 10 million gallons/year production capacity. Phase 2 involves construction, commissioning and performance testing of such a facility.

The first phase is expected to include five awards of up to $6 million each ($30 million total). Up to three Phase 2 awards are expected at approximately $60 million each. For Fiscal Year 2012, $100 million is allocated so total Phase 2 funding depends on future appropriations. Awardees will be required to share at least 50 percent of the cost. Responses were due by August 13, 2012. The Air Force expects to announce awards by March 1, 2013.

Sierra Club Calls Florida’s Recycling Rubrics Mickey Mouse

The Sierra Club in Florida is taking the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to task for counting burning trash in waste-to-energy plants as “recycling” as a part of the state’s legislatively mandated goal to reach 75 percent diversion. It’s not that the Sierra Club doesn’t support more recycling — it does. But the national environmental organization’s state chapter doesn’t like how the Florida Legislature is crunching the numbers.

In 2008, three years before California adopted its 75 percent by 2020 recycling goal with the passage of AB 341, the Florida Legislature established the same goal for the Sunshine State, without spelling out how the goal should be achieved. In 2010, the Legislature adopted HB 7243, which allowed counties with waste-to-energy plants to count each megawatt-hour produced as two tons of recycled material. By contrast, California recycling legislation has spelled out since 1989 that waste-to-energy through incineration does not count as diversion. The Florida bill had unintended consequences. The waste-to-energy loophole would allow the statewide recycling rate to jump instantly from 28 to 52 percent. Six counties could even lay claim to recycling in excess of 100 percent. “You get some absolutely crazy numbers,” one Florida DEP official said at the time. Some industry groups agreed the legislature should revisit the issue. This year, HB 503 reduced the waste-to-energy credit from two tons to 1.25 tons/MW. The DEP is now moving forward with rulemaking.

EPR Legislation’s Long Road In Vermont

While Vermont’s landmark recycling legislation (H485) — including eventual mandatory organics recycling — was recently signed into law, a casualty of the bill that finally made it to the governor’s desk was the state’s extended producer responsibility (EPR) legislation for product packaging, which has suffered a tortured past. That history dates back to initial attempts a few years ago to get EPR legislation (H218) passed in the state, explains Jennifer Holliday, Compliance Program and Product Stewardship Manager for the Chittenden Solid Waste District. A provision in the initial legislation called for an eventual rescinding of a bottle bill (deposit law) under the logic that the new and more comprehensive EPR legislation would spread the onus of end-of-life responsibility more equitably across the entire packaged products industry.

Language left in the preamble alluding to the bottle bill was enough to sabotage a second attempt to get EPR on the books (H696), even though there was no intention of calling for the deposit law to be rescinded. “It went down in flames — everybody still thought it was an attempt to repeal the bottle bill,” explains Holliday. When H485 came around including initial language about EPR, now indelibly linked in the minds of some to rescinding of the bottle bill, it met a similar backlash. “Every time EPR is whispered in hallways of the state house, it attracts everybody from out of state speaking against it,” she says, adding that the bill’s sponsor decided to remove the language, which basically directed communities to consider EPR in their updated solid waste management plans. “The Districts are going to do that anyway,” she adds, noting “it was very strange to be in a world of not being aligned with the environmental community.”

Holliday, who has worked successfully on other EPR legislation in the state including mercury thermostats, other mercury waste and e-waste, is not giving up. Next time, she says, the EPR language will have to spell out front and center that it has nothing to do with rescinding Vermont’s bottle bill. “It’s good to have those experiences to understand where you’re going to go from here and define your next strategy,” she says.

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