The Green Report

'We are all crew members'

I got my title from a quote in an Omnimax film called “A Beautiful Planet” that was playing at the Great Lakes Science Center this summer. The film is about how the astronauts living at the International Space Station see Earth, and it’s absolutely amazing. During the film, climate change is addressed, and how the space station crew can see the direct effects of climate change on the Earth.

This past July was the hottest month recorded on Earth since record keeping began in 1880. In fact, each month since October 2015 has set a new high for heat for that respective month. For example, August 2016 was the hottest August ever recorded. NASA has warned that warming of recent decades is out of step with any period over the past millennium. There is a 99% chance that 2016 will be the warmest year on record; 2015 beat 2014 for the warmest year and 2016 is on pace to beat 2015.

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Volume 8, Issue 18, Posted 9:52 AM, 09.20.2016

County toolkit helps cities achieve sustainability goals

In February 2015, Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish launched a new department: the Cuyahoga County Department of Sustainability. Michael Foley is the director and Shanelle Smith is the deputy director. The purpose of the department is to promote environmentally responsible practices to businesses, the public, and the 59 communities within Cuyahoga County.

In March 2016, Cuyahoga County’s Department of Sustainability released "Sustainable Cuyahoga: A toolkit of recommended best practices for communities in Cuyahoga County." The toolkit was developed in partnership with the GreenCityBlueLake Institute of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. It outlines best practices from around Northeast Ohio regarding actions communities can take to become more sustainable. The toolkit was developed for public officials to use as a resource to learn about sustainability issues and help local communities take action. The toolkit was also designed with the public in mind; for citizens who would like to help their local governments become more sustainable.

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Volume 8, Issue 16, Posted 9:47 AM, 08.16.2016

Idle time is the devil's play

The headline above is a quote referring to unproductive time; today I’m going to be using it to refer to time in which you are idling your car. Every minute your car is idling, it is detrimental to the engine, it’s detrimental to the earth, and it wastes gasoline (and money). It is estimated that in the United States, approximately 3.8 million gallons of gasoline are wasted daily by Americans voluntarily idling their car. Voluntary idling is when your car is on while not being driven. For example, leaving your car on in the driveway is voluntary idling; waiting for a light to turn green is not.

Voluntarily idling your car greatly increases the amount of exhaust in our air. Exhaust contains many harmful pollutants linked to asthma, lung diseases, heart disease, cancer, and other health problems. Think about one place that lots of people voluntarily idle their cars: schools! While parents and caregivers pick up/drop off their children at school, they usually leave their car running. With so many idling cars around, the air quality around the school is low, and children are breathing that in.

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Volume 8, Issue 15, Posted 9:09 AM, 08.02.2016

Bay Village has highest recycling rate in the county

Every year, the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District publishes a report to show how recycling efforts by community are adding up. In the just-released report for 2015, Bay Village was at the top of the list for the first time, with a 73.57 percent total recycling rate. This was up from 68.2 percent in 2014. 

The Solid Waste District compiles its figures every year using data reported from each city on the tonnage collected through the community's waste collection, curbside recycling, and yard waste collection programs. The recycling rate signifies the percentage of waste that a city diverts from the landfill by recycling and composting.

This is great news, and shows that Bay Village is doing a fantastic job keeping waste out of the landfill! Westlake readers, please take note: Westlake’s total recycling rate was 35.81 percent in 2015, down slightly from the previous year's 36.27 percent. I challenge you to improve your number! I would love for Westlake to beat Bay Village someday. Bay Villagers, keep up the great work!

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Volume 8, Issue 14, Posted 9:51 AM, 07.19.2016

What is your ecological footprint?

The definition of “ecological footprint” is the impact of a person or community on the environment, expressed as the amount of land required to sustain their use of natural resources. Resources are consumed and waste is created during all of the activities in which humans engage.

It is important to measure our impact on the natural environment in order to calculate how long the earth can meet these demands. The ecological footprint is a measure of the supply and demand humans put on nature; how fast resources are consumed and how quickly waste is generated.

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Volume 8, Issue 13, Posted 9:24 AM, 07.06.2016

More plastic in the ocean than fish

Yes, you read that headline correctly. By the year 2050, it is estimated that there will be more waste plastic (by weight) in the ocean than fish. Worldwide, every minute of every day, one refuse truck’s worth of waste plastic is dumped into the sea. This is arguably the No. 1 environmental catastrophe facing our world today for many reasons.

The oceans are made up of five gyres. A gyre is network of currents that creates slow, rotating whirlpools. Plastics that end up in the ocean become caught in the gyres, creating what are known as “garbage patches.” You may have heard of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” which is estimated to be approximately twice the size of the continental U.S. However, not all garbage patches are visible to the eye. Water and sunlight break down plastic in the ocean into tiny particles. Make no mistake – the plastic never goes away, it just gets smaller and smaller.

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Volume 8, Issue 12, Posted 9:55 AM, 06.21.2016

The Dirty Dozen

The Dirty Dozen is a list compiled each year by the Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org) that ranks fruits and vegetables by USDA reports of pesticide findings. The USDA found 146 different pesticides on samples of fruits and vegetables, and found that even when the food was washed, many pesticides were still on them. 

Why should you worry about pesticides on your food? The sole purpose of pesticides is to kill living organisms. We are living organisms. Pesticides are linked to cancer, hormone disruption, developmental problems in children, and neurological problems. The Dirty Dozen list empowers consumers by informing us of which conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are likely to have the most pesticides. That way, consumers can decide which food they want to purchase organic, and which foods are not as important to buy organic.

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Volume 8, Issue 11, Posted 9:53 AM, 06.07.2016

Weed-free, green lawns cost more than you think

Weed-free, lush, green lawns. Many people strive for this. I tell my kids not to play on them. Why? I have many reasons for avoiding “perfect” lawns. Lawn perfection typically comes at a high cost. A cost to Lake Erie, a cost to wild animals and a cost to our health. It is estimated that more than one billion pounds of pesticides and herbicides are used by homeowners in the United States every year for their lawns.

When chemical fertilizer is applied to lawns, the excess nutrients are carried away by rain waters into Lake Erie. Chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides contain nitrogen, and when too much nitrogen (and phosphorus) get into the lake, it causes an imbalance, which in turn can trigger an algae bloom. This is the cause of the toxic algae blooms we see in Lake Erie in the summer time, especially in the western Lake Erie basin.

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Volume 8, Issue 9, Posted 9:49 AM, 05.03.2016

Waste-Free Lunches

In previous columns, I have written a lot about the unsustainability of our disposable culture. I’m writing today about a simple way you can reduce the amount of trash you and your family generate: waste-free lunches. I know you might be thinking “that will be so difficult, it’s so easy to throw a sandwich in a plastic bag, an individual pack of chips, a plastic water bottle or juice box, etc.” I’m hoping to persuade you that it’s not only easier to pack a trash-free lunch, it’s also less expensive!

First, let’s start with getting rid of those plastic baggies. There are so many reusable lunch containers to choose from these days. If you do a quick search on Amazon, you’ll see what I mean. I have my favorites that I use for my kids, but it’s certainly a personal preference. There are many with multiple compartments, as well as larger containers geared towards salads. You can also find reusable, thermal containers for hot foods, and the food does stay hot for a few hours!

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Volume 8, Issue 8, Posted 9:46 AM, 04.19.2016

Celebrate Earth Day on April 22

Friday, April 22, is Earth Day! The very first Earth Day was on April 22, 1970. This date was the beginning of the modern environmental movement, and was founded by a Wisconsin senator, Gaylord Nelson. He witnessed the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, and became inspired to find a way to get environmental protection into the national political agenda. The first Earth Day eventually led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts by the end of 1970.

What can you do this Earth Day? A simple thing would be to plant a tree! Trees do so many things for us. They help fight climate change, assist with keeping our air clean, can help you save energy, and they look beautiful. Trees help fight climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide from our air. Did you know that one large tree can absorb 48 pounds of carbon dioxide a year? Trees also absorb pollutants in the air and help filter particles out of the air by trapping them on leaves and bark.

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Volume 8, Issue 7, Posted 10:35 AM, 04.05.2016

One million per minute

One million per minute. That is how many plastic bags the world uses. It is estimated that worldwide use of plastic bags is between 500 billion and 1 trillion a year. Furthermore, it is estimated that Americans throw away 100 billion plastic bags a year. The average American family brings home 1,500 plastic bags a year.

Not only are plastic bags a nuisance for the environment because they either sit in a landfill for hundreds of years or worse are blown around in our environment, ending up in trees and contaminating our waterways, but at least 12 million barrels of oil are used each year to manufacture those bags. Twelve million barrels of oil. A year. For something that is pretty much unnecessary.

Plastic bags were introduced to our society in 1977. Since then, these bags have become a crutch in our use-and-toss culture. We expect them everywhere we make purchases. More than 98 percent of them are thrown away and end up in a landfill after being used for 20 minutes. 

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Volume 8, Issue 6, Posted 10:04 AM, 03.15.2016

Spring cleaning the green way

As spring approaches and the weather warms, many people decide it’s time to do a spring cleaning in their home. I have to tell you, my husband laughed when I told him I was going to write about this – he says I don’t know anything about it because I’m not very good at it! And, he’s right!

While I may not be good at getting things cleaned out during a certain season, I think I am good at slowly clearing things out of our home over the course of the year – and when we do this, I like to make sure we are disposing of everything in the most environmentally friendly way possible. I’m going to suggest ways for you to get rid of those things in your house you just don’t know what to do with!

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Volume 8, Issue 5, Posted 9:35 AM, 03.01.2016

Going green in February and March

I know this column will reach you all a little late, but I’d like to throw it out there anyhow. I’m sure plenty of you have figured out what, if anything, you are giving up for Lent. Today I’d like to ask you to add one more thing, and that’s disposable cups (i.e. coffee cups, etc.) and plastic water bottles. Make a commitment to yourself and the planet to refuse these items for the rest of Lent. It is my hope that by the end, you will develop new habits (like bringing your own travel coffee mug to the coffee shop to have it filled) and using a reusable water bottle.

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Volume 8, Issue 4, Posted 9:54 AM, 02.16.2016

A case for using real stuff

Our society has become a disposable one. People buy coffee and toss out the cup. People spill milk and use disposable paper towels to clean it up. People buy water bottles by the hundreds and recycle or throw away the bottle. Plastic bags are given away at stores, and thrown into the trash. Fast food purchases include disposable containers, napkins and utensils. It is estimated that the amount of Keurig cups used in 2011 would circle the world more than six times. Parties are thrown using only plastic cups, plates and flatware. The list goes on and on and on.

In a quest for convenience, we are destroying our planet. As you go about your day, take notice of disposable items you are using. A disposable society is not a sustainable one.

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Volume 8, Issue 2, Posted 9:59 AM, 01.19.2016

Congress bans microbeads

[The Observer is excited to kick off the new year with a new columnist. Jennifer Hartzell is a member of the Bay Village Green Team. Her column, "The Green Report," will highlight simple ways to help readers lead a more "green" lifestyle. Jennifer has a background in grant writing for local Cleveland non-profit organizations. She grew up in Evanston, Illinois, and met her husband at Miami University. They reside in Bay Village with their three children, two cats and a dog.]

The Great Lakes, as well as all other waterways, will soon have one less pollutant! On Dec. 28, President Barack Obama signed into law a bill sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman and co-sponsored by Sen. Sherrod Brown that will prohibit microbeads in personal care products. Microbeads are tiny plastic beads that are in hundreds of different personal products, from face scrubs and skin exfoliants to toothpaste. These beads are washed down the drain after they are used, and water treatment plants are unable to filter them out due to their tiny size. They then make it into the lake, or ocean, and fish mistake them for food. Microbeads are a huge polluter of water worldwide.

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Volume 8, Issue 1, Posted 10:11 AM, 01.05.2016