Greening the World Begins at Home
In 2004 I was an idealistic young college graduate who hoped to change the world. I was convinced that the prospect of declining worldwide oil production loomed, and that people must heed my calls for energy conservation and radically-relocalized living.
To tell the world, I joined forces after graduation with a tiny non-profit in Yellow Springs and set my sights on tackling the coming global energy crisis through PowerPoint presentations, websites, filmmaking and conferences. The world didn’t seem to change, but to my surprise, something else did—my hometown.
Today, Yellow Springs is well on its way to becoming one of the most energy-conscious small towns in the country, and I’m now content to help it become such a model low-energy village, and to document its transition for the larger world. I also learned a lesson along the way—that to change the world we have to first change our communities.
Yellow Springs’ greening was partly intentional and partly a matter of circumstance. The southwestern Ohio town of 3,400 eschewed the path of continued fossil fuel burning in 2007 when it considered, concurrently, an offer to build a coal plant and a recommendation to upgrade its electric infrastructure to handle an electricity consumption increase.
The village first decided to commit to energy conservation and efficiency gains rather than invest in a $2- to $3-million upgrade because of residents’ concern over climate change and the high future cost of energy. The village council then voted 3–2 to reject an offer from American Municipal Power, a wholesale power supplier for municipal electric systems, to buy into a 960-megawatt, conventional coal-fired power plant to be built in Southeast Ohio. Yellow Springs was the first town, followed by Oberlin and Westerville, to say no to the plant, which was cancelled in 2009. The environmental organization Ohio Citizen Action now credits Yellow Springs with beginning a successful statewide movement among communities to stop the proposed plant from being built.
In the meantime, the environmentally- and socially-conscious population began making personal commitments to energy reduction by buying hybrid cars, building green homes and retrofitting buildings. An energy reduction support group, called the 10 Percent Club, meets monthly to help residents curtail their personal energy use by 10 percent per year.
Yellow Springs now has one of the highest rates of hybrid vehicle-ownership in the country, at more than two percent. There are six passive houses and passive retrofits—which don’t require furnaces—complete or under construction, perhaps the highest per capita in the country. And soon the village will have seven straw bale buildings.
At the village level, council has committed to green energy. At least two-thirds of Yellow Springs’ electricity consumption will come from renewable energy sources—mostly hydroelectric, landfill gas and solar— by 2015. A new village commission, the Energy Board, invests $50,000 per year in municipal energy efficiency and advises on household conservation measures, last year promoting clotheslines and compact fluorescents. This year the group is offering $60 energy audits to all residents with hopes of reducing the town’s electricity consumption by three percent per year over five years.
And villagers are becoming localvores. This season yet another community-supported agriculture farm has sprung up just outside of town to feed the community with weekly shares of vegetables—the third subscription farm in five years. These farms find fertility in the waste scraps of Yellow Springs’ local restaurants and coffee shops, which, in turn, source their produce from the local farms.
A new proposal to build a 2-megawatt solar farm in Yellow Springs would add more than just another source of clean electricity to the village’s already-green portfolio. Filling a 12-acre field in, or just outside, the village with 30,000 solar panels would be a shining reminder to the world of the community’s sustainable aspirations.
Communities in Ohio and elsewhere will face the same challenges arising from global fossil fuel depletion. In being more prepared to take them on, Yellow Springs may lead the way among municipalities to a lower-energy future.
It seems I may help to change the world after all.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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