BioCycle April 2011, Vol. 52, No. 4, p. 6
SPC Critical Of Landfilling Biodegradables
The Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) released a report at its spring meeting highlighting the greenhouse gas (GHG) impacts of placing biodegradable products in landfills. This has become a key issue, SPC reports, in light of increased marketing claims that biodegradation in landfills is beneficial due to landfill gas recovery for energy. The report, Assessing the Greenhouse Gas Impacts of Biodegradation in Landfills, explores the generation of GHG in landfills and the natural and engineered strategies used to mitigate their effects – including soil oxidation, flaring and landfill gas recovery for energy.
The report is intended to present the most recent understanding of how materials behave in landfill environments and the mechanisms associated with biodegradation, and to provide an objective assessment of the benefits of landfill gas recovery relative to the harm caused by unavoidable landfill emissions. The report concludes that biodegradation in landfills should not be encouraged because the harmful GHG emissions outweigh the benefits of recovery efforts. “We are seeing more companies position biodegradation as a benefit, even for materials likely to end up in landfills where biodegradability is not a desirable trait,” stated GreenBlue Project Associate Adam Gendell, who led the SPC research project and authored the report. “The growing use of landfill methane as an energy source is a commendable mitigation strategy, but it has created a false sense of optimism. Energy recovery only puts a dent in the GHG profiles of landfills; overall, they are still a tremendous contributor of GHG emissions.”
Town Passes Local Food Ordinance
Residents of Sedgwick, a small coastal town in Maine, recently voted unanimously to adopt a Local Food and Self-Governance Ordinance, setting a precedent for other towns looking to preserve small-scale farming and food processing. Located on the Blue Hill Peninsula in Western Hancock County, Sedgwick has become the first town in Maine, and perhaps the nation, to exempt direct farm sales from state and federal licensing and inspection. The ordinance also exempts foods made in the home kitchen, similar to the Michigan Cottage Food Law passed last year, but without caps on gross sales or restrictions on types of exempt foods.
Local farmer Bob St. Peter, who serves on the board of the National Family Farm Coalition based in Washington, D.C., said he sees the ordinance as a model for economic development in rural areas. “It’s tough making a go of it in rural America,” explained St.Peter. “Rural working people have always had to do a little of this and a little of that to make ends meet. But up until the last couple generations, we didn’t need a special license or new facility each time we wanted to sell something to our neighbors. Small farmers and producers have been getting squeezed out in the name of food safety, yet it’s the industrial food that is causing food-borne illness, not us. And every food dollar that leaves our community is one more dollar we don’t have [available] to pay for our rural schools or to provide decent care for our elders. We need the money more than corporate agribusiness.”
Three other towns in the same county were scheduled to vote on the same ordinance in the coming weeks. To view a template of the ordinance, go to http://savingseeds.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/localfoodlocalrules-ordinance-template.pdf.
Wendell Berry Receives Humanities Award
Kentucky author, conservationist, teacher and farmer Wendell Berry – considered by many the father of the sustainable agriculture movement – accepted the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama at a March 2 White House ceremony. Berry is author of more than 40 works of fiction, nonfiction and poetry. The 76-year-old activist and member of the group “Kentucky Rising” was recently part of a sit-in at the Kentucky State Capitol to protest unsafe mining practices.
President Obama lauded Berry and fellow honorees for his work “exploring our relationship with the land and community” and offered: “In a nation as big as ours, as diverse as ours, what the people we honor here today remind us of is that kernel of ourselves that connects to everyone else and allows us to get out of ourselves, to see through somebody else’s eyes, to step into their shoes.” Other award recipients included authors Harper Lee and Joyce Carol Oates, singer James Taylor and actress Meryl Streep.
Offshore Wind Strategy
Unveiling a plan to accelerate development of offshore wind energy, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced in early February major steps forward in support of offshore wind energy in the United States. This includes new funding opportunities of up to $50.5 million for projects that support offshore wind energy deployment and several high priority wind energy areas in the mid-Atlantic that will spur rapid and responsible development. According to a Department of Energy (DOE) news release, deployment of clean, renewable offshore wind energy will help meet President Barack Obama’s goal of generating 80 percent of the nation’s electricity from clean energy sources by 2035. “The mid-Atlantic wind energy areas are a key part of our ‘Smart from the Start’ program for expediting appropriate commercial-scale wind energy development in America’s waters,” Secretary Salazar said. Added Secretary Chu: “Offshore wind energy can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, diversify our energy supply and stimulate economic revitalization. The Department of Energy is committed to working with our federal partners to provide national leadership in accelerating offshore wind energy deployment.”
The guiding joint document, National Offshore Wind Strategy: Creating an Offshore Wind Industry in the United States, is the first-ever interagency plan on offshore wind energy which the DOE said indicates a strong federal commitment to expeditiously develop a sustainable, world-class offshore wind industry in a way that reduces conflict with other ocean uses and protects resources. The plan focuses on overcoming three key challenges: the relatively high cost of offshore wind energy; technical challenges surrounding installation, operations and grid interconnection; and the lack of site data and experience with project permitting processes.
Landfill Yard Trimmings Bans In Jeopardy
The Georgia House of Representatives passed a bill in mid-March that would lift a ban on yard waste in landfills. According to the Atlanta Journal, the bill was written in partnership with waste companies claiming that landfilling yard trimmings is a green alternative because the produced methane can be captured through landfill-gas-to-energy technology.
At press time the state senate was in recess, as opponents of the measure worked to remove language that would lift the ban before the bill moved to the floor. Opposition includes the U.S. Composting Council (USCC), U.S. EPA and the city of Atlanta. They say lifting the ban would derail efforts to divert organic materials to higher and better uses and cripple the state’s composting industry.
A similar push to repeal a longstanding ban on yard trimmings in landfills is under way in Michigan. “Both states have seen similar efforts in the past few years turned back by recycling supporters with help from the Council and local composters,” stated a USCC press release. “Often done under the guise of ‘energy independence’ or even ‘fighting global warming,’ there is little secret what the real reason that large waste companies are pushing this repeal is: money. The combination of the economic downturn and increased environmental awareness has reduced the amount of material going into landfills, and the repeal of these bans would provide ready cash in the form of tip fees.”
Loss In The Ozone – Again
Exceptional weather patterns are being held partially to blame for unprecedented ozone depletion over the Arctic. Ground and satellite observations as well as computer modeling corroborated ozone loss at about 40 percent at the end of March.
Scientists say the condition was brought on by an uncharacteristically cold stratospheric winter that carried over into spring. The ozone layer functions as the earth’s shield of sorts, keeping potentially damaging ultraviolet solar radiation at bay. Since the signing of the 1987 Montreal Protocol, an international treaty regulating the production of halocarbons, ozone concentrations and total content have been monitored continually.
Chemical compounds that contain chlorine and bromide cause the destruction of ozone in the stratosphere, which takes place in the polar regions when temperatures drop below -80°C (-112°F). At such extremely low temperatures, clouds form in the lower stratosphere and chemical reactions inside them transform compounds derived from halocarbons – which are harmless to ozone – into active compounds, leading to the destruction of ozone when sunlight returns over the poles.
Worldwatch Discredits Nuclear Myth
Christopher Flavin, president of the Worldwatch Institute, previewed a report on the future of the nuclear power industry at a March 30 event cosponsored by the Heinrich Böll Foundation. Originally scheduled to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster April 26, the talk was moved up in light of the recent earthquake and tsunami that crippled Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
Flavin produced charts and graphs discounting what he called a popular myth that the world had been experiencing nuclear renaissance prior to the Japan disaster. Other than predominantly China, he said, “There has in fact been very little in terms of new reactor orders or startups in most other parts of the world.”
The plant shutdown in Japan, Flavin said, represented about 4,000 megawatts (MW) of lost energy. “That 4,000 MW contrasts with 36,000 MW of wind power that was added last year and about 16,000 MW of solar that was added. So you can see that’s in contrast to what is popularly argued in many quarters that we must have nuclear power because it’s the only option that can give us large-scale low- or zero-carbon energy in the near future.” Flavin said nukes currently provide around 13 percent of the world’s energy production, adding that, in light of Fukushima, even China was reevaluating its nuclear energy policy. “When we write the final history of ‘does Fukushima actually become the final chapter of the global nuclear industry,’ what happens in China will probably be the thing that determines how that story comes out.” Listen to Flavin’s full address, 25 Years After Chernobyl, at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLP_6D1BTJc.
April 21, 2011 | General
BioCycle April 2011, Vol. 52, No. 4, p. 6