BioCycle West Coast Conference 2015

October 20, 2014 | BioCycle World

BioCycle World

BioCycle October 2014

How Water Aware Are Americans?

In October, EnviroMedia, a sustainability communications and consulting service based in Austin, Texas, released findings from a new national survey on Americans’ awareness of their water supply and potential threats to that supply. According to the poll of more than 800 people, 44 percent of American homeowners state that they know the source of their drinking water, a 12 percent increase from 2007. “That increase is good news to us, because our research for 10 years has shown a strong connection between knowledge of water and energy sources and willingness to conserve them,” states Valerie Davis, CEO of EnviroMedia.
Additional findings from the research examined Americans awareness of water supply threats. Following recent headlines on the algae crisis in Toledo and the Mississippi River “dead zone,” the survey showed that 8 out of 10 Americans agree that runoff from agriculture and leaky sewage systems can cause poisonous algae blooms that can threaten the quality of their household drinking water. According to the Value of Water Coalition, the average age of U.S. water pipelines is 47 years, yet the survey found that 48 percent of Americans believe the average age to be less than 40 years. In addition, when asked how fair it is that by 2020 utility customers might have to pay close to $82 more per year for infrastructure upgrades, 46 percent of homeowners said that was unfair. “Water is America’s most essential but most taken-for-granted natural resource,” notes Davis. “… The visible reminders of power lines everywhere keep electricity top of mind while our water infrastructure lies aging underground. Out of sight, out of mind.”

Facilitating Growth Of Recycling Businesses

The New Mexico Recycling Coalition (NMRC) recently received $30,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development’s Rural Business Enterprise Grants (RBEG) program for the Coalition’s “Growing Recycling Businesses in New Mexico” project. Launched in September 2014, the project is designed to facilitate growth of recycling-related businesses that process locally generated recyclable materials. “As New Mexico’s recycling rate continues to grow, supporting more local, private businesses to manage and utilize these materials to create new products will enhance the local and state economy,” states English Bird, NMRC Executive Director. Adds Terry Brunner, New Mexico Rural Development Director: “The RBEG program is designed to support development of small and emerging business enterprises in rural communities and cities with up to 50,000 in population.”
The project is limited to target communities that were selected because of the maturity of the local recycling program, interest in launching business enterprises, and the potential for the area to grow and expand recycling businesses. During the initial phases of the project, small-scale recycling business model templates will be developed and support will be provided to business owners in the process of starting up enterprises. After NMRC has fully completed the model templates, it will host Recycled Material Business Trainings in the target communities in conjunction with local community and economic development partners.

Effectiveness Of Mulch In Managing Storm Water

David Mitchell, a graduate student at Virginia Tech, completed a research study under the supervision of Dr. Susan Day, Assistant Professor in the departments of Horticulture and Forest Services/Environmental Conservation, on how mulch application affects storm water runoff and sediment transport. According to a write-up on the Soil Science Society of America website (, Mitchell studied eight separate mulch types and their performance during storm events. Major findings include: Bare soil lost about five times as much sediment as soils with mulches [all types] covering them, thus controlling erosion; Geotextiles underneath mulches (installed to suppress weeds) seemed to accelerate water runoff production; Each mulch “wears” differently, and absorbs a significant amount of runoff on its own, independent of soil beneath it. “Mulch is an important cog in the machinery of the water cycle by keeping the soil surface receptive to water,” explains Day. “This improves water quality by allowing the water to get into the soil. Soil is an important part of the water cleansing cycle.”

Houston Rolls Out Single Stream Recycling Citywide

In September, the Houston, Texas City Council voted to expand curbside collection of single stream recycling to all of the city’s households. Although a majority of Houston residents currently have large single-stream wheeled carts for clean paper, plastic containers, glass, aluminum, steel cans and cardboard (glass is not accepted), at least a quarter of residents have either no recycling collection service or small, hand-carried bins. In neighborhoods with the large collection carts, recycling participation rates reach 60 percent, while in neighborhoods with the smaller bins, participation rates do not go above 20 percent. The City Council’s decision will expand single-stream collection to 90,000 additional households beginning in November. According to Harry Hayes, Houston’s Solid Waste Management Director, the expansion would increase the City’s overall diversion rate from 20 to 28 percent in 2015 — accounting for an additional 20,000 tons of material recycled. Additionally, the cost for the expansion will be offset by the decrease in landfill fees and increased revenue from recycling.
Meanwhile, Houston’s City Council has continued to debate the “One Bin for All” proposal — a program that would allow citizens to throw all municipal waste into one bin that would be taken to a waste incineration plant for processing. This plan is being highly contested by environmental and social activist groups that claim it has a disproportionate negative impact on minority communities in the region.

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