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Waste and recycling - June 21

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Recyclable picnic for 3,000 - leaves 1 bin of trash

Christine DiGangi, The Oregonian
It's a recyclable picnic for 3,000, as St. Vincent's throws barbecue -- and leaves 1 bin of trash
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How do you feed a full meal to more than 3,000 people from start to cleanup and have just one trash bin to take out? Ask the folks at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland.

This was no lean event. Hamburgers, meatless burgers, burger buns, hot dogs, pasta and potato salads, corn and fruit, all manner of condiments -- and nearly 2,000 12-ounce sodas. Yet one barrel of trash stood alone, almost all of it the more than 2,000 fudge bar wrappers.

Secret: From bulk containers of ketchup to corn-based cutlery, nearly everything used recently at St. Vincent's employee barbecue was recyclable, compostable or reusable. When people were done eating, they were assisted by members of the hospital's Green Team, who helped direct leftover food and used utensils into the proper bins.

It went pretty painlessly, too.
(18 June 2009)



Did Sewage Sludge Lace the White House Veggie Garden With Lead?

Josh Harkinson, Mother Jones
In March, Michelle Obama delighted locavores when she planted an "organic" vegetable garden on the White House's South Lawn. For years, Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, and other sustainable food activists had been pushing the idea as a way to reseed interest in do-it-yourself agriculture. Less than two months later, the National Park Service disclosed that the garden's soil was contaminated with toxic lead, and the plot's educational value took on a new flavor as the New York Times and other papers discussed how to make urban backyards that are laced with old lead-based paint safe for growing kale and cauliflower. But those stories might have fingered the wrong culprit.

Starting in the late 1980s and continuing for at least a decade, the South Lawn was fertilized by ComPRO, a compost made from a nearby wastewater plant's solid effluent, a.ka. sewage sludge. Sludge is controversial because it can contain traces of almost anything that gets poured down the drain, from Prozac flushed down toilets to lead hosed off factory floors. Spreading sludge at the White House was a way for the EPA to reassure the public that using it as a fertilizer for crops and yards (instead of dumping it in the ocean, as had been common practice) would be safe. "The Clintons are walking around on poo," the EPA's sludge chief quipped in 1998, "but it's very clean poo."

... Given that the White House vegetable garden isn't close to buildings that would shed lead-based paint, sludge is more likely to blame for its lead problem.
(17 June 2009)



'Humanure' Victory: Green Toilet Wins Austin City Approval
(text and video)
Asher Price, Austin American-Statesman (Texas
Composting commode is first to gain official stamp.
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It took more than four years of negotiations and construction, but this month an Austin Water Utility inspector gave final clearance to a glorified outhouse that is on the vanguard of down-and-dirty environmentalism.

Known as a composting toilet, the East Austin commode relies on the alchemy wrought by bacteria to transform human waste into a rich trove of soil. Specialists in so-called humanure have hailed the approval of the toilet as a watershed moment for common-sense environmentalism.

Users flush not with water but with a scoop of sawdust from a nearby bucket, saving the drinking-water-quality water used by conventional toilets, not to mention the energy and money required to pump and clean the wastewater.

"It's the ecologically sound thing to do," said David Bailey, 32, an itinerant carpenter and puppeteer who spearheaded the project. "Rather than using purified drinking water for a waste stream, we're using naturally occurring, ambient bacteria to create soil, one of Earth's least renewable resources. You have more water to drink and bathe in, and you end up with topsoil that's every gardener's dream."

... As part of the permit application, members of the Rhizome Collective included material from two of the seminal toilet-construction texts, "Lifting the Lid" and the "Humanure Handbook."

"I know of no other cities that officially recognize humanure toilets," said Joseph Jenkins, author of the "Humanure Handbook." "It is little understood by regulatory personnel, and it falls into a gray area - somewhere between what people typically consider 'sanitation' or 'waste treatment' and 'composting.' "

Benefits include the production of a valuable fertilizer, savings in water use, and the prevention of treated effluent, possibly laden with chemicals, from being discharged into waterways, said Lauren Ross, a civil engineer who worked on the project.

"In our current culture, it's not a technology for most people," she said. "But there is a significant part of Austin's community ready to take some radical steps for environmental protection. Composting toilets are no crazier than a lifestyle based on living somewhere in suburbia and commuting 15 miles for a downtown job. That's also not for everyone, but it gets planned for and is accepted as a normal, ordinary way of life."

Flush toilets also contribute to the enormous amounts of energy required to pull water out of the Colorado River, treat it to a drinkable standard, flush it through the sewage system, and treat it again before it can be discharged back into the river. Austin Water Utility uses as much electricity as all other city departments combined, not including Austin Energy, said David Greene, energy and resources engineer with the water utility.

"It's a major energy issue," Greene said.
(19 June 2009)

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