Category Archives: Air Quality

Upcoming Urban Forestry Renewal Interview

My first interview will be with Michael Dugan, the Forestry Coordinator of Openlands. The organization is a Chicago based non-profit working to renew urban ecology through the simple act of planting trees, an act which also not only builds greener communities, but also unites communities.

I would like to explore the social justice implications of urban forestry initiatives and connect this to the notion of a larger, nation-wide reforestation initiative and how this could resonate within the American consciousness.

Is planting a tree a revolutionary act? I think so, but I’d like to hear what a person who does it for a living thinks.

 

How San Francisco Does Zero Waste

From the San Francisco Environmental Department:

What is Zero Waste?

Zero waste means products are designed and used according to the waste reduction hierarchy (prevent waste, reduce and reuse first, then recycle and compost) and the principle of highest and best use, so no material goes to landfill or high-temperature destruction.
Is zero waste possible?

We believe achieving zero waste is possible. In San Francisco, over half of what still goes in the landfill bins can be recycled in the blue bin or composted in the green bin. When all material is sent to the correct bins, San Francisco’s diversion rate can increase from 80 percent to 90 percent.

To achieve 100 percent zero waste, the San Francisco Department of the Environment will need to continue to advocate for state legislation and partner with producers to develop an extended producer responsibility system, where producers design better products and take responsibility for the entire life-cycle of a product, including take-back and recycling.

In addition, the San Francisco Department of the Environment encourages consumer responsibility, where residents reuse items and purchase materials with recycled content and that can be recycled or composted. The Department of the Environment continues conducting outreach and education to increase awareness about reducing, reusing, and recycling and composting.

What are some of the top items residents often put in the wrong bin?

1. Soiled paper (used paper napkins or used tissue paper). Soiled paper is often thrown in the blue recycling bin because residents think all paper is recyclable. Soiled paper should go in the green compost bin.
2. Plastic bags. Some people collect their recyclables or compostables in plastic bags and toss the whole bag in the green or blue bin. Plastic bags are not compostable or recyclable in San Francisco’s three bin system. Compostable containers for collecting food scraps include paper bags, empty wax milk cartons, or readily available compostable plastic bags.
3. To-go containers. Residents may leave large amounts of food in to-go/delivery containers (plastic clamshell containers or aluminum foil) and place these containers in the blue recycling bin or the green compost bin. The correct way is to remove and compost any leftover food and then recycle or compost the container.
4. To-go coffee cups. Paper coffee cups are often found in the recycling bin. The correct way is to put the coffee lid and sleeve into the blue recycling bin and the cup itself in the green compost bin.

For the most part, residents in San Francisco know the basics of sorting their trash and the Department of the Environment continues outreach efforts to spread awareness about which items go in each bin.

What are the biggest barriers the City faces with regards to zero waste?

Trash chutes: Because more than half of the city lives in apartments, those with trash chutes pose a big challenge. Apartment dwellers must walk recyclables and compostables down to the basement or garage. However, City policy now requires new apartments to provide 3 separate chutes or a 3-way chute diverter to accommodate recycling, composting, and landfill material. The Department encourages property managers to close chutes, but they are often reluctant to do so for fear of “decreasing services.”

Fear of smells or insects: Another challenge is encouraging residents and businesses to overcome fear that composting food scraps will attract insects or smell bad. People can use compostable bags (certified compostable plastics, or paper) or another compostable container such as a milk carton to keep bins clean. That “smelly” food is the same refuse as before, just grouped in its own bin.

What prompted San Francisco to push for zero waste?

After San Francisco successfully achieved the state-mandated 50% landfill diversion by 2000, San Francisco wanted to extend its commitment to landfill diversion and set a goal of 75% diversion by 2010 and zero waste by 2020. Increasing diversion and pursuing zero waste achieves three key sustainability goals:

1) Conserves valuable resources
2) Reduces environmental impacts, such as climate change and pollution
3) Creates green jobs

When materials are not reused or recycled and sent to the landfill, valuable resources are wasted and greenhouse gasses are emitted into the atmosphere. Compostable materials, like food scraps and yard trimmings that are sent to landfills produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas which is up to 72 times more potent than carbon dioxide. San Francisco’s Zero Waste program significantly reduces these emissions, making it an essential component in achieving the City’s ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals.

In addition, recycling and composting greatly increase the amount of recyclable materials available to make new products, reducing the need to extract more virgin materials. Food scraps create nutrient-rich compost – a natural fertilizer – to help grow fruits and vegetables in local farms. Compost also helps farms retain water, a precious resource.

San Francisco’s zero waste program benefits the economy, as composting and recycling save residents and businesses money and create green jobs (PDF).

What is the role of San Francisco City Departments in achieving zero waste?

The San Francisco Department of the Environment and the San Francisco Department of Public Works partner with Recology, the city’s refuse hauler, to move towards the City’s zero waste goal.

The Department of the Environment creates zero waste policies and works with Recology to develop programs and technologies that reduce the amount of material sent to landfill. The Department of the Environment is responsible for program outreach, education, and policy compliance. Residents and businesses participate in the City’s programs with tools like an online recycling database, and color-coded signage. In addition, on-site multi-lingual training is available for businesses and apartment buildings.

The Department of Public Works oversees the refuse rate setting process and helps set residential and commercial rates. The Department of Public Works, along with the Department of Public Health, are also responsible for enforcing adequate refuse service laws.

How does the City encourage recycling, composting and other waste reduction strategies to accomplish zero waste?

The City of San Francisco has adopted a variety of policies which have helped the city move toward accomplishing the goal of zero waste. Most important to the City’s success is the Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance, which went into effect on October 21, 2009. It requires San Francisco residents and businesses to properly sort recyclables from compostables and keep them out of the trash to landfill and place them in the proper collection containers. The Department of the Environment’s Environment Now team conducts extensive, multilingual and door-to-door outreach to residents and businesses and also checks residential curbside bins throughout the city. If materials are found in the incorrect bin, a tag is posted on the resident’s bin that indicates the correct bin. The team returns the following week to ensure that the error was corrected. The team also visits residents to answer questions about recycling and composting.

The Department of the Environment staff work with Recology, the city’s hauler, to ensure that businesses have composting and recycling bins. If they do not, the Department sends them a letter advising them to order composting and recycling service. The Department of the Environment then follows up in person to ensure compliance.

In addition, the Department of the Environment launched RecycleWhere, a recycling database for residents and businesses to find information on how to recycle almost anything in San Francisco. The Signmaker tool is another resource for residents and businesses to make their own recycle, compost, and landfill signs.

The Department of the Environment prioritizes education and outreach to encourage compliance, rather than impose fines. Face-to-face outreach has proven effective in helping residents and businesses become compliant with laws. However, the City can impose fines to repeat offenders.

The Department of the Environment, which works with businesses and residents all over San Francisco, has found that the community continues to be very positive and supportive of the City’s zero waste goals. San Francisco residents take great pride in their city and are passionate about taking care of it. This attitude has helped integrate sustainability into San Francisco’s culture.

What is the “Fantastic Three” program?

The Fantastic Three program is a term sometimes used to refer to San Francisco’s easy-to-use three bin system. Each resident and business has three bins:

Blue bin for recyclables
Green bin for compostables
Black bin for landfill-bound material

How much do San Francisco residents pay for refuse collection?

Under the City Rate Order, the charge for residential customers subscribing to weekly collection of 32-gallon black, blue and green bins totals $35.18 per month. That rate has four components: a $5.16 base charge per dwelling unit, $25.90 for a 32-gallon trash bin, $2.06 for a 32-gallon recycling bin, and $2.06 for a 32-gallon composting bin.

On the other hand, if a household switches from a 32-gallon to a smaller 20-gallon black trash bin, their monthly rate will decrease as an incentive for residents to recycle and compost more to support the City’s goal of achieving zero waste by 2020.
What are the costs associated with the city’s Zero Waste program?

San Francisco’s zero waste program is funded solely from revenue generated through refuse rates charged to customers. This revenue sustains material collection, processing, disposal, hazardous waste collections, all outreach and marketing materials, as well as some programs within the Department of the Environment and the Department of Public Works.

The cost of collecting compostables, recyclables, and landfill-bound materials is about the same. While maybe more expensive to process, recyclables are baled and sold to their respective markets and the compostables are processed and transformed into nutrient-rich compost, which is sold to local farms. Landfill-bound materials are processed less but are charged by weight and dumped in the landfill with no return on investment.

Has the program been successful?

San Francisco has a world-class zero waste program. The City’s 3 bin system, policies, financial incentives, and extensive outreach to residents and businesses, helped San Francisco achieve the highest diversion rate of any major city in North America. San Francisco diverts 80% (1,593,830 tons diverted in 2010) of its discards from the landfill.

Do zero waste policies create jobs?

• According to the Blue Green Alliance, 1.1 million new jobs would be created if the US diverted 75% from landfill (PDF).
• Recology has 1,050 employees in San Francisco alone (this doesn’t count San Francisco corporate or operations outside of San Francisco like the composting facilities).
• The Department of the Environment has a green jobs and environmental careers program that employs local residents from the city’s diverse communities, who educate and inform residents and businesses about zero waste and Department of the Environment programs.
Are there any best practices San Francisco uses for implementing its zero waste strategy?

• A convenient, easy-to-use three bin system
• Economic incentives for residents and businesses to recycle and compost
• Policies that promote zero waste goals
• Extensive outreach and education to residents and businesses about recycling and composting

How is the landfill diversion rate calculated?

The Department of Environment calculates the city’s diversion rate using a State of California methodology established for all cities and counties.

San Francisco’s methodology for calculating diversion rate is based on the state of California’s diversion calculator.

Why is there no competitive bidding for Recology’s contract with the City?

The Refuse Collection and Disposal Ordinance adopted in 1932 established a system operated by collection companies that hold exclusive permits to collect refuse in the streets of San Francisco. This ordinance created a City-regulated utility model and outlines a provision of service most recently ratified by San Francisco voters in June of 2012. At this time, Recology is the sole holder of all permits to collect refuse.
What is the compost process at Recology’s composting facilities?

After compostables are collected, they are sent to a nearby compost facility, they are:

1. Screened for plastics, glass, and other non-compostable items
2. Ground to facilitate the micro-organisms in breaking down the material
3. Processed into rows in a 2-stage system: first covered, then in open rows, and finally cured for the ideal final product.
4. The finished product is screened and marketed to local farmers.

Are any materials incinerated?

The City and County of San Francisco and the Department of the Environment do not support incineration of municipal solid waste or any form of high temperature materials destruction.
What is San Francisco’s remaining landfill capacity?

As of March 2013, San Francisco’s remaining landfill capacity at Altamont Landfill was about 1 million tons out of the original 15 million ton capacity. At current disposal rates, San Francisco’s available landfill space under the existing contract will run out in January 2016.

Could other cities emulate San Francisco? Have they?

Department of the Environment staff often consult with other cities to share best practices. San Francisco was the first city in the nation to establish a large scale food collection composting program starting in the 1990s and in 2009 implemented a policy of mandatory recycling and composting (including food) for both residents and businesses. Hundreds of cities around the US, including most of the San Francisco Bay Area, are establishing food composting programs and many are interested in San Francisco’s mandatory policy as well.
In addition, San Francisco was the first in the nation to ban single use plastic checkout bags in 2007. Already, over 75 California cities and counties have followed San Francisco’s lead.

Does San Francisco count any landfilled material as diversion?

State law allows materials used as Alternative Daily Cover (ADC) at landfills to count as diversion. ADC is used as a protective cover of daily landfilled material and can offset the use of valuable soil as cover. San Francisco only counts ADC as diversion if there is no higher or better use for that material. If San Francisco did not count ADC for any diversion credit then it would reduce the city’s diversion rate by 1.5%.

Material used as ADC that is counted as diversion for San Francisco includes leftover compostable material that is too contaminated with non-compostable material to be used as compost. Food scraps break down completely in the process and therefore no food scraps end up as ADC. If there were no contaminants (non-compostables) put in green bins then there would not be any ADC from processing the green bin. The only other materials used as ADC that get diversion credit are fine particles from processing mixed construction and demolition debris that have no other viable use.
How much ADC material over the past few years does San Francisco send to the landfill that is counted as diverted/recycled?

About 30,000 tons per year is counted as diverted under California law.

Uncharted Territory: WHO Warns on Climate Change

The Guardian reported on the World Health Organization’s report recent assessment of record temperatures in 2016 and implications for the future. “Even without a strong El Niño in 2017, we are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system. We are now in truly uncharted territory,” said David Carlson, director of the WMO’s world climate research programme.

Here’s a clip:

2016 saw the hottest global average among thermometer measurements stretching back to 1880. But scientific research indicates the world was last this warm about 115,000 years ago and that the planet has not experienced such high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for 4m years.

2017 has seen temperature records continue to tumble, in the US where February was exceptionally warm, and in Australia, where prolonged and extreme heat struck many states. The consequences have been particularly stark at the poles.

“Arctic ice conditions have been tracking at record low conditions since October, persisting for six consecutive months, something not seen before in the [four-decade] satellite data record,” said Prof Julienne Stroeve, at University College London in the UK. “Over in the southern hemisphere, the sea ice also broke new record lows in the seasonal maximum and minimum extents, leading to the least amount of global sea ice ever recorded.”

American Forests: North American Forests in the Age of Man

American Forests is a non-profit working towards the reforestation of woodlands both nationally and globally. Though, their “Community Releaf” program is where they shine. With these green endeavors, the organization “aims to bring national attention to the value of our urban forests and reaches geographically distributed and culturally diverse communities across the United States.”

Their community inclined projects typically work to restore tree canopies in urban areas. With their project in Oakland, they intersect social justice with ecological justice.

Here’s an excerpt from a report on the matter:

“Several studies have found correlations between city trees and public health in neighborhoods with low tree canopy — increased respiratory illness, particularly among children and senior citizens, and more incidents of diabetes and heart disease. In terms of psychosocial benefits, a lack of access to green space can negatively impact mental well-being and stress levels, the latter a foreboding allusion to the potential climate change risks highlighted in the recent IPCC report.

Recognizing that tree canopy can be an important factor in understanding and addressing income disparity and supporting sustainable development — both environmentally and economically — a recent study by American Forests examined tree canopy by Oakland council district in correlation with several demographic and socioeconomic factors, including income, poverty rate, unemployment rate, population and age. The information that was derived can help identify the districts where additional trees can provide the greatest positive impacts for communities.”

They have also published a digestible history on the American forest since human civilization has taken root. Here’s a look:

“Human impacts, from colonial times to the present, have drastically changed not just the size, but the nature of American forests, whether you consider the baseline for what is natural to be 1492 CE or 15,000 BP.

The trees in mature forests are adapted to soil characteristics, light intensities and moisture levels created by the forest’s species themselves. Remove these species, and all those factors change. The resulting forest is now composed of pioneer species — those first to grow in a tree-less location, like aspen, birch and alder. The old-growth forest species must wait until the pioneer species recreate their required soil, light and moisture conditions to reemerge. Similar changes in forest composition are created by natural events such as fires and wind storms, and the mature forest regenerates naturally. The difference is that most managed forests today are harvested so frequently that they never reach the optimal conditions for the species that prefer mature conditions. Instead of a complex, old-growth structure of multi-layered canopies with a spectrum of young to ancient trees and tree fall gaps, decaying down wood, standing dead trees and high species diversity, forests today have relatively young, dense, even-aged and even-canopied stands of fewer species.

Simply replanting trees does not always mean the forest has returned. In places where timber companies have replanted with native trees — whether in rows on a plantation or less orderly in wilder areas — the new forest is a monoculture of commercial species that lacks most of the biodiversity associated with the original forest. Smaller patches of forest, or forest fragmentation, has also reduced forest biodiversity because the smaller fragments cannot support wide-ranging wildlife species. In addition, the small, isolated populations of other species, including some trees, are more susceptible to local extinction.”

Cities Move to Ban Cars from Center

Following up our workshop on walkability, check out these European cities that are moving toward banning cars in their city centers.

Here’s the plan for Madrid:

“Madrid plans to ban cars from 500 acres of its city center by 2020, with urban planners redesigning 24 of the city’s busiest streets for walking rather than driving.

The initiative is part of the city’s “sustainable mobility plan,” which aims to reduce daily car usage from 29% to 23%. Drivers who ignore the new regulations will pay a fine of at least $100. And the most polluting cars will pay more to park.

“In neighborhoods, you can do a lot with small interventions,” Mateus Porto and Verónica Martínez, who are both architects and urban planners from the local pedestrian advocacy group A PIE, told Fast Company. “We believe that regardless of what the General Plan says about the future of the city, many things can be done today, if there is political will.”

Daily Iowan: “UI Ready to Shun Coal”

Earlier this week, the Daily Iowan published an article detailing University of Iowa’s President Bruce Herrald’s announcement that UI will be coal free by 2025.

Here’s a bit of the article:

“University of Iowa President, Bruce Harreld, announced on Feb. 20 the UI will be coal-free by 2025.

According to a press release, Harreld said, ‘It’s the right choice for our students and our campus, and it’s the surest path to an energy-secure future.

‘In 2025, we expect to have diminished our reliance on coal to the point it is no longer included in our fuel portfolio.’

The UI will continue its efforts to advance energy programs to ensure there is ‘an abundant supply’ of alternative-energy sources, he said.

The UI has taken steps to reduce its dependence on coal — in 2008, the university established seven ‘sustainability targets’ to be achieved by 2020, according to the press release.

Since the 2020 vision’s inception, the UI has managed to reduce its use of coal by 60 percent.

This correlates with one of the sustainability targets, which seeks to derive 40 percent of the UI’s energy from renewable resources — a far cry from a university once dependent on fossil fuels, according to the UI sustainability website.”

The coal industry’s destructive tendencies towards global climate is well known, and this plan to shift away from using the energy source as a means of powering our university remains to be small, but important step in combating climate change.

Ideally, given Iowa’s inclination towards wind energy, we’ll see more institutions making the shift away from dirty fossil fuel.

Should Cities Ban Internal Combustion Cars?

An interesting post at Green Tech Media looks at the role of cities and countries in transitioning away from internal combustion cars. Countries include Germany, Holland and Norway, as well as India.

Here’s a clip:

“The Netherlands, which has an electric vehicle penetration level of around 10 percent, voted to ban all new petrol and diesel car sales by 2025 in a motion passed in April. The move, approved by the lower house of parliament, was due to be debated by the senate last month.

Instead, the country announced plans to become “one huge Living Lab for Smart Charging of electric vehicles,” according to a press release.

The Living Lab program is light on targets and timeframes. But with a nationwide network of charging stations already in place, the Netherlands remains a major contender to become the first country banning fossil-fuel cars altogether.”

Copenhagen has more bikes than cars

As the Guardian reports, last year in Copenhagen, 265,700 bikes took to the road compared to 252,600 cars. This phenomenon is part of a long-time redesign and investment in bike infrastructure in the city.

Here’s a clip from the Guardian:

Copenhagen’s efforts to create a cycling city have paid off: bicycle traffic has risen by 68% in the last 20 years. “What really helped was a very strong political leadership; that was mainly Ritt Bjerregaard [the former lord mayor], who had a dedicated and authentic interest in cycling,” says Klaus Bondam, who was technical and environmental mayor from 2006 to 2009 and is now head of the Danish Cycling Federation. “Plus, a new focus on urbanism and the new sustainability agenda broke the glass roof when it came to cycling.”

And check out this video on the Copenhagen bike lanes:

Growth of city trees can cut air pollution, says report

The BBC had a nice report on a recent The Nature Conservancy study on the role of trees in reducing pollution in the cities.

Here’s a clip:

“Particulate matter (PM) is microscopic particles that become trapped in the lungs of people breathing polluted air.

PM pollution could claim an estimated 6.2 million lives each year by 2050, the study suggests.

Lead author Rob McDonald said that city trees were already providing a lot of benefits to people living in urban areas.

“The average reduction of particulate matter near a tree is between 7-24%, while the cooling effect is up to 2C (3.6F). There are already tens of millions of people getting those kinds of benefits,” he said.

Dr McDonald said the study of the use of trees in 245 cities around the world compared the cost-effectiveness of trees with other methods of cooling and cleaning air.”