By Miranda Fox
The impacts of the government shutdown on the nation's national parks have been widely reported: overflowing bathrooms, decimated habitat and widespread litter resulted in parks that remained open without staff oversight and management. In response, individuals, organizations and corporations have volunteered to help out with the clean-up. One of these is Nestlé Waters North America, which released this statement last week:
"At Nestlé Waters North America, we believe that even one bottle or can that is not recycled properly is one too many. When we heard about the need in our national parks, we wanted to help."
What Nestlé's press statement doesn't address is that this company's commitment to creating single-use products like bottled water makes it one of the largest contributors to the problem. In fact, clean-up audits organized by #breakfreefromplastic found that Nestlé's packaging was among the most frequently littered brands in nearly 200,000 pieces of plastic gathered around the world last year.
Parks report that plastic bottles make up to a fifth of their entire waste stream. The bottled water industry has been trying to stop national parks from going bottled-water-free for nearly a decade. In fact, a Nestlé-backed lobby group, the International Bottled Water Association, spent years lobbying Congress and the Department of Interior to rescind the National Park Service's bottled-water-free policy. And, in 2017, the Trump administration finally did—just weeks after Trump's Deputy Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt, who has ties to Nestlé, was confirmed.
To make matters worse, Nestlé has single-handedly depleted water supplies around the country to profit from selling bottled water, causing damage to environmental ecosystems—including national forest land in Southern California. We've been working to stop Nestlé's dewatering of the San Bernardino National Forest for four years, where it bottles water that it pays nothing for from public land. Last year, we forced Nestlé to renew its 30-year expired permit to operate legally within the forest, but we continue to fight for greater environmental protections and to end this egregious use of public water.
Nestlé's marketing scheme is clever but transparent. It continues to obstruct policies and laws that would eliminate plastic waste and protect public, natural spaces. Nestlé is trying to present itself as the solution to the very problem that it profits from. Herein lies the danger of corporate-driven solutions: they never address the broken systems that they claim to fix because corporations are invested in safeguarding what benefits their own economic interests—the broken systems themselves.
Charles Edward Miller / CC BY-SA 2.0
The feud between President Trump and Congress created a 35-day government shutdown—the longest in U.S. history—and reports continue to surface detailing the wide-reaching effects of a government in crisis. Most disturbingly, around 800,000 federal employees missed a second paycheck and turned to food banks, despite expectations that they continued to work. Small businesses couldn't get loans, private companies didn't go public, federal courts were running out of money, and economic losses reached at least 6 billion dollars. Needless to say, these are just a few reasons why a functional government matters.
AFGE / CC BY 2.0
Functional government also matters because, in its absence, already minimal checks on corporate power become nonexistent. Moreover, broken and dysfunctional government systems open the door to corporations like Nestlé whose interests inherently intertwine with an ulterior motive: increasing their own profits. They offer false solutions to profit from problems much larger than overflowing trash bins in national parks, like taking over crumbling water infrastructure systems in major cities like Pittsburgh.
Corporations leap at the opportunity to perform services for positive PR, inspiring positive brand affiliation, or to participate in a public-private partnership. These allow corporations to build relationships with public institutions that pay them for contractual work or eventually sell their public services to the most well-connected private entity, or highest bidder, when debts become too high to reconcile. When the government shuts down, it creates opportunities for corporations to step in. And once they're in, good luck getting them back out.
However, ordinary folks have also been stepping up to volunteer their time to keep things running. These selfless acts should be celebrated and demonstrate what's great in America: people coming together for the common good, working to help others and build community. When services are performed for the public good and not for profit, whether by volunteers during emergencies, or (ideally) by functional, democratic governments, real solutions that tackle some of our greatest problems truly begin to take root. Watch our animation The Story of Solutions to learn more about real solutions and how to change systems so that they work better for us, and not corporations like Nestlé.
Nestlé's Plastic Initiative Called 'Greenwashing' by Greenpeace https://t.co/iARQUzXHQv @Greenpeace… https://t.co/9bk6jNNeNO— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1523457310.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Story of Stuff.
- 10 Worst Plastic Polluting Companies Found by Global Cleanups ... ›
- California Officials Move to Stop Nestlé From Taking Millions of Gallons of Water From Public Streams ›
By Miranda Fox
The Swiss multinational Nestlé has been facing increasing scrutiny in Michigan. Outside of the small town of Evart, a mere 128 miles from Flint, Nestlé is attempting to increase how much spring water it is taking for water bottling. Nestlé submitted an application with Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) late last year to increase pumping from 250 to 400 gallons per minute at its White Pine Springs well No. 101 in Osceola County. However, local residents and Michiganders across the state came together in droves at the last public meeting to speak out against Nestlé's proposal. More than 500 attended the meeting, and nearly everyone opposed the application.
I spoke with Jim Maturen, a local police force retiree and avid trout fisherman, who rejected Nestlé's presence in his county when it first appeared in Michigan nearly 20 years ago. Jim served on the Osceola County Board of Commissioners at that time and continues to oppose Nestlé's water grab today.
Jim told me that, originally, Nestlé wanted to establish two well sites in the neighboring state of Wisconsin but the people in New Haven and Newport saw that they were on the receiving end of a raw deal. Nestlé ultimately got the boot thanks to citizen action and a lawsuit. And that's about the time Nestlé successfully approached city and county officials in Osceola and Mecosta Counties, Michigan.
Jim recounted that the zoning laws weren't set up in a way that allowed his board to intervene, and they unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate with the company. The members tried to get water levels monitored by an independent group, a fund set aside to pay for any future damages, and a small percentage of the proceeds to support Evart. Nestlé refused.
Jim reminded me that Nestlé's mode of operation is the same no matter where it goes: the corporation targets small, rural communities, promises that no one will see the effects of its water take, and claims to bring jobs. In spite of Nestlé's promises, the community does see the effects of Nestlé's water grab, and they don't like what they are seeing.
Evart's zoning board recently denied Nestlé the approval it sought for a critical piece of water pipeline infrastructure. This pipeline upgrade would allow more water to move from Nestlé's wellhead (the source) into production for its local bottled water brand: Ice Mountain.
The company quickly appealed the zoning board's decision in court but then asked to put the case on hold pending the DEQ's decision regarding its application to increase pumping to 400 gallons/min. If the DEQ denies Nestlé's request to pump more water, the pipeline expansion would be unnecessary. This seems to indicate that Nestlé is no longer confident that its increased pumping permit is a sure thing.
In Evart, Jim and other members of the community have taken it upon themselves to monitor the conditions of the environment surrounding Nestlé's well sites at Twin and Chippewa Creeks. What he's found spells trouble for the trout and the future of the entire creeks' ecosystems. Trout require cold water temperatures, and with less spring water to cool the creek from the bottom up, Jim found that the water is nearing temperatures that will be too warm for trout if nothing changes soon. But Jim hasn't actually found any trout here this season anyway, probably because he could hardly find enough water to submerge his thermometer. Some areas of the creeks have less than four inches flowing.
Nestlé, as far as Jim's concerned, is killing the creek. And he's frustrated because the DEQ has been relying on computer modeling and Nestlé's internal reports of the creek's condition, when a site visit by any qualified biologist would reveal the lack of water, the warmth of water, and the near-total absence of fish. But, at the very least, public pressure is forcing the state of Michigan to take further action.
Twin Creek in June 2017 with low water levels, Evart, MI The Story of Stuff Project
Last week, the Michigan DEQ told Nestlé to reexamine how its proposal to take more water would impact the local wetlands, streams and natural springs. As a DEQ supervisor put it in his letter, the information provided by Nestlé is just plain insufficient.
While these victories may seem small, our collective citizen muscles are building a movement too powerful to ignore. People have come together, written letters, held town meetings, gone door-to-door, and are taking it upon themselves to protect their most important local resource: water.
This fall we will be releasing our next movie, all about the importance of clean, safe water. We're going to show the bigger story here: the struggle to protect and provide drinking water for all Michiganders, and really for all people. While Nestlé bottles spring water in Evart, thousands have lost access to tap water in nearby Flint and Detroit, ironically forced to rely on that very same bottled water from corporations like Nestlé, just to survive. It's time to speak out against the big-business politics that fuel water privatization, and make a bold claim for clean, safe public water for everyone, everywhere. Join us!
- Nestlé Wants to Suck Even More Water Out of Michigan ›
- California Officials Move to Stop Nestlé From Taking Millions of Gallons of Water From Public Streams ›
Embracing solar power means reducing both your reliance on traditional utility companies and your environmental footprint, but the high upfront cost of solar panels can be a big deterrent for some homeowners.
If you're considering solar, you may have questions like: How much does it cost to install a solar energy system? What are some of the factors that can impact pricing? What else should home- and business owners know about going solar? In this article, we'll touch on each of these important topics, with the goal of helping you make a fully informed, financially responsible decision about solar energy.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
How Much Do Solar Panels Cost to Install?
To begin with, let's take a look at the basic price range for solar panel installation. According to the most recent U.S. Solar Market Insight report, in the first quarter of 2021, the national average price of a residential solar system was $2.94 per watt, which would mean a 5 kWh system would cost $14,700 and a 10 kWh system would cost $29,400.
The exact price you'll pay for solar panels will depend on a number of factors, including your geographic location, the size of your home and more.
Now, you might rightly wonder: What exactly are you paying for? The solar panels themselves usually make up just about a quarter of the total cost. Remaining expenses include labor, maintenance and additional parts and components (such as inverters).
What Factors Determine Solar Pricing?
As mentioned, there are a few key things that can lead to variation in solar system installation costs. Analyzing these can help you determine whether solar panels are worth it for your home. Let's take a look at them in greater detail.
Your Electrical Needs
The solar panels themselves will be rated for a particular wattage, which reflects the amount of energy they can absorb for storage and ultimately for power generation. You will actually pay according to wattage, which means that the greater your household energy needs, the more you'll have to spend to get the correct number of solar panels.
So, how do you determine how much energy you need for your home? The best way to figure this out is through a consultation with a solar installer. (We recommend shopping smart by requesting free consultations with two or three top solar companies in your area.)
Your installer will evaluate your home energy needs based on total square footage, the number of people who live in your home, the number of appliances and power-draining devices that you have connected and more. It can then recommend the ideal solar panel system size to accommodate your energy usage.
Type of Panels and Other Components
Variation in manufacturing can also affect the cost of solar panels. There are three basic types of solar panels, two of which are commonly used residentially: monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels. Of these two, monocrystalline options tend to be more energy-efficient and thus may provide you with greater savings in the long run. They are also a bit pricier on the front end. With that said, homeowners with a smaller roof surface area may benefit from getting the most efficient solar panels, even if the initial cost is a bit steeper.
Other components you'll need to purchase include inverters, wiring, charge controllers, mounts and more. The quality of these materials can affect your total solar system cost. For example, if you spring for the best solar batteries, they may add a few thousand dollars to your investment.
Another factor that can have a big impact on solar pricing? Your geographic area. Solar installation tends to be most cost-effective in parts of the country that get a lot of sun exposure, and thus a lot of photovoltaic light. This basically means that solar panels can operate more efficiently, and in many cases means that fewer total panels are needed. Those who live in states like California, Florida and Arizona — or really any areas of the Sun Belt or Southwest — will likely get the most out of their home solar power systems.
Both state and federal governments have established incentive programs to encourage homeowners to buy solar panels. There is currently a 26% federal solar tax credit, called an Investment Tax Credit (ITC), available for homeowners who install residential solar panels between 2020 and 2022. It is scheduled to reduce to 22% in 2023 and may not be extended thereafter.
Local incentives vary by state, but most of the best solar panel installers will help you identify and apply for these programs so you don't miss out on savings.
There are plenty of other factors that can impact solar panel installation costs. Different vendors are going to offer different levels of customization, expertise and consumer protections (including guarantees and warranties). The bottom line? It is wise to shop around a bit, determine the average cost of solar panels in your area and evaluate the value of services offered by a few solar installation companies.
Solar Panel Price Vs. Return on Investment
Clearly, your upfront solar panel installation cost may be a little steep. Now, let's look at the flipside: How much money will you actually save? And will your energy savings be enough to offset the initial cost of your solar energy system?
It is not unreasonable to think that you can cut your monthly utility bills by as much as 75% or more by switching to solar energy. Of course, the specific dollar amount will depend on where you live, the size of your home and the number of people in your household.
One way to look at it: The average household energy bill is somewhere between $100 and $200 monthly. It would probably take about 15 years for your energy savings to cancel out the cost of solar panel installation. In other words, within a decade and a half or so, your solar system might pay for itself. Factor in savings from tax rebates and other incentives, and most solar systems pay for themselves in closer to seven or eight years.
Note that most solar energy companies offer free solar calculators, which help you arrive at a ballpark for monthly energy savings. While these calculators are imprecise, they can certainly give you a general sense of the financial benefits you will experience when you convert to solar energy.
Free Quote: See How Much You Can Save on Solar Panels
Fill out this 30-second form to get a quote from one of the best solar energy companies in your area. You could save up to $2,500 each year on your electric bills and receive tax rebates.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Cost of Solar Panels
As you continue to weigh the pros and cons of solar energy, it's natural to have a few questions. The best way to resolve these is really to set up a solar consultation with a local expert, but in the meantime, here are a few general answers to some of the most common solar inquiries.
How much will it cost to maintain my solar energy system?
In general, solar systems are designed to run smoothly for decades without requiring any maintenance or upkeep. As such, you should not really need to factor maintenance into the equation for the first 20 years or so after you install your system. (And most solar companies will offer you warranties and guarantees to give peace of mind on this front.)
How will solar energy impact my property values?
Many homeowners want to know how going solar will impact the value of their homes. Going solar increases property values. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy has reported buyers are willing to pay an average premium of about $15,000 for a home with a solar panel system. With that said, you are only going to see your property values go up if you own your solar system outright, as opposed to leasing it.
How can I finance the cost of solar panels?
Different solar installers may offer different financing plans, allowing consumers some flexibility. With that said, there are three basic options for paying for your solar energy system:
- Purchase your solar energy system outright (that is, pay in cash).
- Take out a solar loan to purchase the system, then pay it back with interest.
- Lease your system; you will pay less month-to-month but won't actually own the system yourself.
Which is better, buying or leasing my solar system?
It all depends on your motivation for going solar. If you want to maximize long-term savings and increase the value of your home, then purchasing your solar system is usually best. However, if you just want a low-maintenance way to reduce monthly energy costs and practice environmental stewardship, then leasing might be a better option. Also note that leasing can be a good option for those who do not plan on being in their home for exceptionally long.
How can I be sure my roof will accommodate a solar system?
If your roof faces south, has ample space and has little to no shade cover, it should work just fine. Even roofs that are not optimal can still be utilized with a few tweaks and adjustments. Your solar energy consultant will advise you on whether your home is a good fit for solar energy.
How long will my solar energy system last?
Solar systems are designed to be exceptionally durable. With just the most basic upkeep, most solar energy systems should continue to work and produce power for anywhere from 25 to 35 years.
Make the Best Choice About Solar Energy
Solar energy is not right for every homeowner, nor for every home. With that said, many homeowners will find that the initial cost of solar panels is more than offset by the long-term, recurring energy savings. Make sure you factor in cost, energy needs, tax incentives, home value and more as you seek to make a fully informed decision about whether to embrace solar power.
A new movie is putting pressure on the clothing industry to address a major emerging threat to aquatic life. Grounded in mounting scientific evidence, the 2-minute animated movie from the Story of Stuff Project calls attention to the issue of microfiber pollution from synthetic clothing.
Along with the movie, a global petition has been launched aimed at major apparel brands, demanding these companies pledge resources to developing solutions and make those pledges public.
Microfibers are tiny plastic threads shed from synthetic fabrics like polyester, rayon and nylon. These fabrics currently make up 60 percent of all clothing worldwide and their use as the dominant textile materials are dramatically on the rise. When washed, plastic microfibers break off and a single jacket can produce up to 250,000 fibers in washing machine effluent. Less than 1 mm in size, they ultimately make their way through wastewater plants and into marine environments where they have been found to enter the food chain. Microfibers make up 85 percent of human made debris on shorelines around the world according to a 2011 study.
"We understand that despite clothing manufactures best intentions, our workout clothes, dress shirts, favorite fleeces and even our underwear are polluting our waterways and, potentially, our bodies," said Stiv Wilson, campaign director of the Story of Stuff Project. "This new movie is going to turn up the volume on this issue, expand public understanding and create a chorus of voices demanding accountability and transparency. Our goal is to unlock and encourage collaboration between the clothing industry, scientists, advocates and policymakers, so that we tackle this problem head on and out in the open."
While some companies have started to suggest interim solutions, such as washing synthetics less or capturing the fibers with filters, the Story of Stuff Project and other advocates believe a larger, systemic solution, such as new fabric formulations, is the only true answer.
"Our society has overcome tremendous challenges in the past," said Michael O'Heaney, executive director of Story of Stuff. "If we can put people on the moon, we can make fabrics and clothing that don't pollute the environment and threaten public health."