Big Money Saves National Parks

Conni and Craig French own C Lazy J Ranch in northeastern Montana. Conni is concerned about the American Prairie Reserve buying up ranchland to turn it into a wildlife sanctuary.

Claire Harbage/NPR

This story was supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

A privately funded, nonprofit organization is creating a 3.2 million-acre wildlife sanctuary — American Prairie Reserve — in northeastern Montana, an area long known as cattle country.

But the reserve is facing fierce opposition from many locals because to build it, the organization is slowly purchasing ranches from willing sellers, phasing out the cows and replacing them with wild bison. Those private properties are then stitched together with vast tracts of neighboring public lands to create one giant, rewilded prairie. The organization has purchased close to 30 properties so far, but it needs at least 50 more.

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“I see them coming in with big money, buying up ranches and walking over the top of the people who are already here,” says ranch owner Conni French. “For them to be successful in their goals, we can’t be here, and that’s not OK with us.”

She isn’t alone. Driving around, you see signs everywhere that say, “Save The Cowboy, Stop The American Prairie Reserve.”

Conni is surrounded by horses as she goes about her daily chores on the cattle ranch. “I see them coming in with big money, buying up ranches and walking over the top of the people who are already here,” she says.

Claire Harbage/NPR

But the project’s efforts have garnered a lot of positive attention from those living outside northeastern Montana because, once it’s complete, it will be the largest wildlife sanctuary in the Lower 48 states — about 5,000 square miles, nearly the size of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.

A new kind of national park

Enlarge this image

Sean Gerrity founded the American Prairie Reserve more than 18 years ago after he moved back home to Montana from Silicon Valley, where he ran a firm that consulted for companies such as AT&T and Apple.

Claire Harbage/NPR

Sean Gerrity, founder of American Prairie Reserve, is standing on one of the vast ranching properties his organization recently purchased. It looks like a miniature Grand Canyon — a panorama of deep, white canyons cut through by a wide, muddy river.

“What you’re seeing here is the incredible beauty of the Missouri River out in front of us,” he says. “Those beautiful cliffs and the raking light coming across in the afternoon.”

The project’s goal is to rewild this swath of the Great Plains and return all the animals that lived on this landscape more than a century ago, before white settlers arrived. Wolves, grizzly bears, thousands of genetically pure, wild bison.

Gerrity points down to the valley below. “Over here would be some elk,” he says. “Over here would be bison. On the riverbanks would be a mama grizzly bear with two or three little cubs walking along the mud there.”

These are animals one would see at Yellowstone National Park, but without so many tourists. The reserve is a new kind of national park, one that’s free to the public and privately funded through both small donors and some of the wealthiest people in the world.

American Prairie was founded more than 18 years ago after Gerrity moved back home to Montana from Silicon Valley, where he ran a firm that consulted for companies such as AT&T and Apple. For him, the project promised a different kind of long-term investment.

Bison walk on American Prairie Reserve land. The organization is slowly purchasing ranches from willing sellers, phasing out the cows and replacing them with wild bison.

Claire Harbage/NPR

“To work on something — pour your heart into it — and arrange it like a giant work of art and the public would by and large appreciate and realize it would last far, far beyond my lifetime? That just seemed like a dream come true,” Gerrity says.

The reserve has since garnered multimillion-dollar donations from a German billionaire, heirs to the Mars Candy Co., and a handful of top executives in the finance industry, at least two of whom helped steer big investments in oil, gas and coal. Those industries have exacerbated climate change, leading to increased wildfires, floods and drought in the northern Great Plains.

A “Save the Cowboy” sign is posted along a fence. The “Little Rockies” on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation are seen in the distance.

Claire Harbage/NPR

Some see hypocrisy in this kind of money, including Rob Reich, director of the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at Stanford University.

“The structure of global capitalism, which they had a role upholding, is partly responsible for the degradation of the environment,” Reich says.

But Gerrity says the reserve can’t afford to be that picky because almost all of his donors, big and small, are driving the climate crisis.

“The person who puts the gas in their car, or uses the coal in their house to heat, or the person who gets on a nonessential jet trip to take a vacation or go to a wedding or something like that, is the person actually creating the business and encouraging the oil companies to keep on doing what they’re doing,” Gerrity says.

Cattle and birds near the Frenches’ land.

Claire Harbage/NPR

Besides, he argues, this is one of only a few intact grassland ecosystems in the world and he wants to fully restore it before it disappears.

“This wildlife habitat is going away and there is almost none left,” he says. “This is the last bit in the Great Plains, for the most part, where we can do a project of this size.”

“The best option for conservation”

Questions about American Prairie’s financial support aren’t the only issue facing the organization. For the ranching families who have lived and worked in this pocket of northeastern Montana for more than a century, the reserve is an affront.

Craig French rides a horse on his ranchland. While some ranchers in this pocket of the Great Plains overgrazed their spreads and plowed up native grasses, most did a good job taking care of it.

Claire Harbage/NPR

They make a lot of different arguments against it. Some border on crazy, such as the conspiracy theory that the reserve is part of a cunning plot by the United Nations to clear everyone from the Great Plains. But the most common argument boils down to this: God gave people this land so it can be worked, so we can produce food or fuel from it.

At a community hall that serves as a makeshift church for a small group of ranchers every Sunday, traveling pastor Hal DeBoer says this is a biblical idea.

God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden, “and the very first words that he said to the man was, ‘I want you to work this and take care of it.’ So to me, that is what the ranchers and farmers are doing. They’re working the land, but they’re taking care of it.”

Ranchers gather with traveling pastor Hal DeBoer for a religious service at First Creek Community Hall.

Claire Harbage/NPR

French, who owns C Lazy J Ranch, is rooted in the Christian notion of stewarding the land and says she will never sell her spread to the reserve.

“We are the best hope to keep this land here,” French says. “I really feel like ranchers — these land stewards — are the best option for conservation.”

While some ranchers in this pocket of the Great Plains overgrazed their spreads and plowed up native grasses, most did a good job taking care of it. That’s a big reason this area is still considered one of the few intact grassland ecosystems in the world. Ranchers here are pretty good stewards.

Conni checks on a bull on her ranch. She says she will never sell her spread to the reserve. “I really feel like ranchers — these land stewards — are the best option for conservation.”

Claire Harbage/NPR

Powerful conservation groups have taken notice. They are working with some ranchers here to help them save what’s left of the prairie while at the same time sustainably raising cattle. But as land prices become more expensive and ranchers struggle to find family members to take over their spreads when they die, their control over northeastern Montana is weakening.

That’s a big reason American Prairie is here. There’s a lot of land for sale. And as the nation shifts away from its ranching and farming roots, wild places like northeastern Montana are becoming destination spots for hunters, hikers and campers. But French says there’s a big difference.

“So then you’re a tourist,” she says. “You’re a visitor. You’re an observer. So you’re there for a short time and then you go home. When you actually live there, you’re a participant. You are involved in the day-to-day life of not just your animals but the land around you.”

Justin Schaaf, a hunter and conservationist, scouts for elk in the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.

Claire Harbage/NPR

Still, some locals support American Prairie’s plans to build a 3.2 million-acre wildlife reserve here, including hunter Justin Schaaf. He foresees the reserve becoming a sportsman’s paradise because, unlike a traditional national park, you can hunt there. He says northeastern Montana’s population has been in decline for decades and ranching hasn’t stymied the flow. So maybe it’s time to try something different.

“Is a little shot of tourism, capitalizing on hunter dollars, bringing more hunters into this area, will that make the difference?” he asks.

Schaaf foresees the reserve becoming a sportsman’s paradise. He says northeastern Montana’s population has been in decline for decades so maybe it’s time to try something different.

Claire Harbage/NPR

Rural recreation counties are growing faster than counties that don’t have a lot of hiking, hunting and fishing opportunities, according to the nonprofit Headwaters Economics. Schaaf himself stayed in northeastern Montana because of amenities American Prairie Reserve and other wild places offer.

“I can make more money in other places but it’s the outdoors, being able to pull my pickup up here and not talk to anyone and go for a hike all day long, that keeps me here,” he says. “Opportunity to just roam, I think, is enticing to young people.”

Schaaf starts his boat to head home after scouting for elk.

Claire Harbage/NPR

“A symbol of God”

The project has also garnered support from two local tribal councils, including at the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, home of the Nakoda and Aaniiih.

At a powwow there, Kenneth Tuffy Helgeson, a member of the Nakoda Tribe, says the reserve’s goal of bringing back thousands of wild bison to the plains will help restore a crucial part of his tribe’s culture. The animals were nearly eradicated from the prairies by white settlers and the U.S. government more than a century ago. Helgeson recalls his grandfather telling him why the bison were so important to his people.

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George Horse Capture Jr. is a member of the Aaniiih Tribe. “To me [buffalo] are a symbol of strength, endurance and the failure — the absolute failure — to go the way of the dodo bird,” he says. “They were teetering, but now they’re back.”

Claire Harbage/NPR

“The buffalo to the Indian is a symbol of God,” he says. “They knew if they took away our main food source — our main symbol of God — that we would be rendered to literally nothing.”

But now that symbol of God is coming back to the plains in a big way. American Prairie’s wild herd of bison will be the largest in North America. There are already more than 800 on the land.

“It’s a reminder of days past,” says George Horse Capture Jr., a member of the Aaniiih Tribe. “It’s hard to put into words. To me they are a symbol of strength, endurance and the failure — the absolute failure — to go the way of the dodo bird. They were teetering, but now they’re back.”

Tribes and others are given regulated opportunities to hunt American Prairie’s bison. But the land itself will still be owned by white people. Helgeson says that doesn’t bother him because land is never really owned.

“In our old songs, our old teachings, there’s one song that our people sing. And it says, ‘My friend, don’t be foolish. The only thing that lives forever is the earth.’ ”

“We can fight over land, we can fight over dirt, we can fight over all these things,” Helgeson continues. “But really all you ever have is what’s on your shoes. That’s the only dirt that you’ll ever own. The only ground that you’ll ever own is on your shoes. And that will fall off, too.”

With that, Helgeson shakes my hand and walks back to the powwow.

American Prairie’s mission to save some of the last grasslands in the world comes with casualties. Whether that’s good or bad depends on your story and your relationship with this land.

The American Prairie Reserve project has also garnered support from two local tribal councils, including at the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, home of the Nakoda and Aaniiih. Bison were nearly eradicated from the prairies by white settlers and the U.S. government more than a century ago.

Claire Harbage/NPR


This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration among KUER in Salt Lake City, Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Nestle Steals More water from FLorida natural spring

Nestlé Plans to Plunder 1.1M Gallons a Day from Florida Natural Springs

BUSINESS

Crystal water of Ginnie Springs in Florida.

Colors and shapes of underwater world / Moment Open / Getty Images

Nestlé Waters’ proposal to take 1.1 million gallons per day from Ginnie Springs has drawn a backlash from conservationists who say the food giant wants to take publicly owned water and sell it back to the public, as the Guardian reported.

Conservationists fear that if Nestlé’s plans go through, there will be considerably less water in Ginnie Springs, which sits in the Santa Fe River and serves as a home for several species of turtles that nest on the river’s banks. Environmental groups say the river is too fragile to serve Nestlé’s interests since it is already labeled as “in recovery” by the Suwannee River water management district after years of over pumping, as the Guardian reported.

Residents have also criticized the business practice that allows for taxpayer money to restore the spring, while allowing Nestlé to take water out. The Florida Water Resources Act declared that all the water in springs, rivers and lakes is the property of the state, not the landowners, but it never set a price on water. That means, Nestlé will be able to take the state’s water, but not pay the state for it, according to the Gainesville Sun.

“[W]e have an ethical issue with our state putting large sums of money into conservation practices and recharge projects on the Santa Fe River and then, at the same time, counteracting this action by fomenting the free extraction of a publicly owned natural resource by a for-profit company,” wrote Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson and Jim Tatum, from the conservation group Our Santa Fe River, in a column for the Gainesville Sun. “Essentially, taxpayers are funding replenishment of the aquifer and then allowing Nestlé to take it out and sell it back to us.”

That bizarre marketplace has residents teaming up with conservationists to ask the Suwannee River Water Management District to deny renewing Nestlé’s permit.

“Ginnie Springs is one of Florida’s treasures. It’s loved by locals and travelers alike,” Julienne Wallace wrote in creating a change.org petition, as the Gainesville Sun reported. “Nestlé is known for destroying places like Ginnie Springs and its breaking our hearts! PLEASE DON’T GIVE NESTLÉ THE PERMIT TO TAKE WATER FROM GINNIE SPRINGS!!!”

The current permit holder, Seven Springs, has never drawn more than 260,000 gallons per day, but Nestlé has invested heavily in a new bottling plant so it can draw as much water as possible. Nestlé insists that that drawing 1.1 million gallons of water per day is only .05% of the total daily volume there, according to WTSP News in Tampa.

“Springwater is a rapidly renewable resource when managed correctly. Nestlé Waters North America is committed to the highest level of sustainable spring water management at all of the springs we manage,” Nestlé Waters North America said in a written statement posted on its website. “We have worked to be a good neighbor in Florida for decades. Our commitment goes beyond just caring about the water. We value our relationships with Florida residents and community leaders, and always strive to create shared value within the communities where we operate.”

That argument did not hold much water with Malwitz-Jipson who said to the Guardian, “The Santa Fe River is already in decline [and] there’s not enough water coming out of the aquifer itself to recharge these lovely, amazing springs that are iconic and culturally valued and important for natural systems and habitats.

“It’s impossible to withdraw millions of gallons of water and not have an impact. If you take any amount of water out of a glass you will always have less.”

She also pointed to the threat the permit will pose to wildlife. “Few places on Earth have as many turtle species living together and about a quarter of all North American freshwater turtle species inhabit this small river system. A big threat to this diversity is habitat degradation, which will happen with reduced flows,” she said to the Guardian.

Plastic Bags Kill Livestock cows and horses in Texas

https://www.texastribune.org/2019/08/14/texas-wont-approve-bans-plastic-bags-which-can-be-fatal-livestock/

Plastic bags are killing horses and cows across the state. What’s Texas to do?

A year after the Texas Supreme Court dealt a death blow to municipal bans on plastic bags, legislative efforts to revive them have fallen flat, and ranchers, city leaders and environmental groups say plastic bag litter is as big a problem as ever.

Kristie West, who owns a ranch and bed and breakfast in Pleasanton, has worked to raise awareness about the fatal impact plastic bags have on livestock.  Callie Richmond for The Texas Tribune

Kristie West was driving down the highway in rural South Texas when she saw it.

The drive from her ranch to the nearby town of Poth was usually uneventful. But on that day in 2017, West saw something that made her slam on the brakes of her pickup.

A white plastic bag had flitted into a horse pen behind a house where a young palomino was grazing. Someone who doesn’t work with livestock probably wouldn’t have thought twice about it. But West trained horses, and she knew the colt would treat the bag like a toy.

She quickly pulled into the yard and raced to the front door. A man answered.

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“I said, ‘Do you care if I run out to check on your horse?'” West recalled. He said it was fine. “That’s all I said. I ran behind his house just as the horse took off running.”

When West got to the pen, the colt had already swallowed the bag, and she could see that he was suffocating. He then bolted, jumping a barbed wire fence. West ran after him. But she was too late.

“He was dead,” she recalled.

The prevalence of such incidents has prompted states and cities across the country to enact regulations to curtail the use of plastic bags, which can suffocate and cause fatal digestion blockages in livestock and wild animals. But in Texas, the regulation of plastic bags — grocery or otherwise — is all but nonexistent, and recent developments indicate it will remain that way.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Eva Guzman agreed with her colleagues but said the state Legislature should clarify whether plastic bags can actually be banned and described the pollution as “an ongoing assault on our delicate ecosystem.” Earlier this year, Democratic state lawmakers attempted to do that, but the legislation they filed never even received public hearings.

Meanwhile, the absence of municipal regulations means many Texans have reverted to using plastic bags once again. And some say the litter is getting worse.

Although retailers like H-E-B still encourage customers to bring reusable bags to the store — the grocery chain also did away with the thin, single-use bags altogether in Austin — the wispy receptacles quickly reappeared at stores that had briefly switched to paper sacks before the court ruling, and the sight of plastic bags wafting down the highway remains a common one.

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With little state regulation and a full stop from the state’s highest civil court, what’s a rancher to do?

“I don’t know what they could do,” West said. “The biggest thing is the people — that they just need to quit littering.”

Rancher Kristie West.  Callie Richmond for The Texas Tribune

Since the incident with the Palomino colt, West has been doing her part to raise awareness of how lethal plastic bag litter can be. For two years, she’s worked with the Independent Cattlemen’s Association of Texas to distribute bumper stickers that warn people in bold red letters that “plastic bags KILL animals.” For its part, the state’s environmental regulatory agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, has its own anti-litter awareness campaign, called “Take Care of Texas.” (The well-known “Don’t Mess With Texas” campaign was developed in 1985 by an Austin ad agency for the Texas Department of Transportation).

The TCEQ, which is also responsible for enforcing the state’s litter and dumping laws, does a number of things to combat littering, such as sending $5.49 million every year to councils of government across the state to fund public awareness campaigns, community trash pickups and litter surveillance. Between 2016 and 2017, that funding bankrolled more than 230 such projects across the state.

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But environmental groups say it’s not enough.

Andrew Dobbs, legislative director at Texas Campaign for the Environment, said the state needs to ban single-use plastic bags or the problem will continue.

“Picking everything up is not really a solution at all, right?” he said. “You’re much better off unloading the gun than you are trying to wear a bullet-proof vest.”

Texans and environmental groups from across the state filed amicus briefs in support of the Laredo bag ban. One of them was Billy Easter, a rancher who lives near Wichita Falls.

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Easter runs 200 head of cattle on 1,400 acres. He owns 2 miles of land along U.S. Highway 281, where he said he is constantly pulling plastic bags off barbed-wire fences. He said he’s lost cattle to plastic bags and that oftentimes ranchers don’t notice their livestock has swallowed one until it’s too late.

“These cows in the pastures, you don’t see them every day,” Easter said.

Although Easter and others urged the court to allow cities to make the bag ban choice for themselves, the state supreme court sided with the merchants. In its ruling, the court said that single-use bags are considered garbage and fall under the state’s solid waste disposal law, which preempts municipal ordinances.

But in her concurring opinion, Guzman urged the Legislature to take “direct ameliorative action” and change the laws to better address environmental concerns.

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“Standing idle in the face of an ongoing assault on our delicate ecosystem will not forestall a day of environmental reckoning — it will invite one,” she said.

Two Democratic lawmakers attempted to heed that call earlier this year.

Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, filed legislationduring this year’s legislative session that would have exempted single-use plastic bags from the Solid Waste Disposal Act, specifying that they do not quality as a “container or package.” That would have freed up municipalities to regulate them again.

Hinojosa argued that the law needed to be clarified because the original intention of the act was to regulate styrofoam and other manufacturing waste that went into landfills, not plastic bags.

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My bill sought to make absolutely clear that the statute is not meant to include single-use plastic bags in order to ensure local plastic bag ordinances are not preempted,” she said in an email.

Last year’s court ruling was the latest in a string of mostly legislative moves that have eaten away at local control. For cities like Brownsville, one of the municipalities that had to stop enforcing its ban on single-use bags after the court ruling, it’s frustrating that the state has not allowed communities to have control over their own environments.

Lawmakers “don’t want the federal government to tell them what to do, but they turn around and want the state to have control over the communities,” said Arturo Rodriguez, Brownsville’s public health and wellness director. “It’s a bit ironic because municipalities need to be able to exercise their due diligence within their domains.”

So why won’t the Texas Legislature take up the single-use plastic issue?

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Jose Aliseda, a former Republican state representative, is the district attorney for Bee, Live Oak and McMullen counties, where he also runs cattle. Aliseda said he believes the plastics industry is too large and powerful to be swayed by the concerns of the agricultural community.

“The honest truth is there’s not enough of us,” he says of ranchers. “Yes, we’re a big part of the economy, but as far as the number of people, there’s not that many ranchers and farmers in the whole country.”

Chemical companies spent between $840,000 and $1.4 million on lobbyists during the 2019 legislative session, according to filings from the Texas Ethics Commission. The Texas Chemical Council, which represents the industry, declined to comment.

The Dow Chemical Co., one of the world’s foremost producers of plastic, didn’t respond to requests for comment about its Texas lobbying goals, but public records show the company spent the highest amount of any chemical company — between $275,000 and $459,000.

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When asked about plastic lobbying efforts, a Dow spokesperson said the company participates in the political process in compliance with state and federal laws. Dow has several initiatives to end plastic waste, said spokesperson Ashley Mendozaand promotes “post-use solutions” of plastics.

Some chemical groups take issue with the term “single-use” plastic bags and say they have many secondary uses, such as small trash can liners. Mendoza pointed to a 2019 study from the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management that found carryout bag bans in California resulted in greater numbers of heavy plastic garbage bags.

Some bag ban opponents say it’s up to retailers to prevent litter or that it’s the responsibility of each individual Texan. But the way Aliseda sees it, as governments across the country face mounting pressure to take action on environmental issues, Texas will eventually have to face the problem plastic inflicts on Texas agriculture and make a choice on how to deal with it.

“The state has to decide what’s more costly of the two options,” he said, “forcing the people that use the plastic bags or make plastic bags to change, or continue to basically be a nuisance on agriculture.”

Save on Back-to-School shopping for environment

https://www.dailyfreeman.com/lifestyle/stocking-up-for-school-can-be-eco-friendly-and-economical/article_0b82eed6-7f5b-51c8-98cc-812d3275d913.html

Stocking up for school can be eco-friendly AND economical

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Earth-friendly school supplies might sound expensive, but you can be gentle with the planet and respectful of your wallet. Start by widening your idea of what’s “green.”

LOOK FOR FREEBIES FIRST

Using what you already have is the ultimate environmentally friendly move and fits with a frugal lifestyle . Look for pens, pencils, unused journals picked up at a convention, binders no longer in use, and unused or lightly used supplies from last year.

You may not have to buy at all. Chelsea Brennan, who blogs at Smart Money Mamas, says she sees posts on her hyperlocal Buy NothingFacebook group every fall requesting notebooks and other school supplies. “And then someone may comment, ‘We have those, plus three composition books that have never been written in. Do you need those?'” Brennan says she borrows, donates and receives items through the group.

SAVE ON BACKPACKS AND OFFICE SUPPLIES

For backpacks, Mary Hunt, founder of the website Cheapskate Monthly, recommends JanSport or Eastpak for durability. If you are shopping resale, those are labels to look for because they’ll last longer. And JanSport backpacks have a lifetime warranty.

Or choose a backpack made from recycled materials. Whether you choose new, used or recycled, look for sturdy zippers, pockets and supportive, padded straps. You don’t want this year’s backpack to be in a landfill next year.

Many stores now carry office-supply lines that are earth-friendly. Several companies offer pens made from recycled plastic. Pencils can be made from recycled newspaper, but they’re more expensive than pedestrian wooden pencils. A mechanical, refillable pencil might be the more economical green choice.

Notebooks and loose-leaf paper made from recycled paper can be fairly pricey. For example, a set of four college-ruled “decomposition books” at Target costs more than $25. If recycled paper products don’t fit your budget, you can still be green by making sure your student recycles used paper instead of throwing it in the trash.

Derek B. Davis, a spokesman for Earth.com, noted that many schools now bundle required items and offer them to parents. You may not save money but you’ll save gas and time.

CUT COSTS ON FOOD AND DRINK CONTAINERS

Davis thinks the item likely to have the biggest impact on the planet is your student’s reusable water bottle — hardly a budget breaker. Reusable packaging for lunches and snacks also saves you money and lets you contribute less to the enormous problem of plastic in oceans and landfills.

To estimate the impact of a water bottle, know this: Americans use an average of 13 single-use plastic bottles per month, according to the nonprofit Earth Day Network. One reusable bottle, over a nine-month school year, could keep 117 single-use bottles out of circulation. Tap water is vastly cheaper than bottled, and eliminates plastic waste and the carbon emissions needed to distribute bottled water for sale.

There are also reusable — and dishwasher-safe — containers or bags for sandwiches and snacks. You can put those reusable bags inside a reusable lunch container. Bento boxes, which have compartments for various types of food, are another alternative. Reusable lunch bags and boxes can be purchased fairly inexpensively new — or keep an eye out for used ones.

Davis, the father of a rising second-grader, notes that kids lose things, and suggests buying backups of water bottles or lunch containers if you see an especially good price.

SHOP SECONDHAND FOR CLOTHES

For back-to-school clothes, consider resale stores. You may find clothes that are practically new for pennies on the dollar. You save money and extend the life of the clothes, keeping them out of landfills. You can shop online with ThredUP and similar sites.

Finally, no matter where you’re shopping, bring a reusable bag, Davis says. Keep one handy in the car.

What will ultimately be most effective in cleaning up the Earth, he says, is kids seeing parents who weave green living into everyday life: For instance, making coffee at home, drinking from reusable cups and making their own seltzer.

How DC Banned Leaf Blowers

KATI LACKER

For a long time I thought the problem was all in my head. When I was growing up, I knew that a certain kind of noise was one I needed to avoid. Food blenders in the kitchen, hair dryers in the bathroom, a vacuum cleaner whooshing around—all produced an intense whining sound that, given the specific wiring connections between my ears and my brain, kept me from thinking about anything but the sound itself while it was going on. Over the years I lived by this code: I used high-performance earplugs if I needed to write or otherwise concentrate while sitting in some place that was unusually loud. I added noise-canceling headphones on top of the earplugs in really tough cases.

As time went on, the earplugs-plus-headphones protection rig became standard writing gear. That was because the use of gas-powered leaf blowers in my Washington, D.C., neighborhood evolved from a few hours a week during the leafiest stretch of autumn to most days of the week, most weeks of the year, thanks to the advent of the “groomed” look that modern lawn crews are expected to achieve. One of my longest-running themes as a journalist has been how changes in technology force people to adapt their habits and livelihoods. I thought I was doing my part, with gear that let me attend to my work while others attended to theirs. There even turned out to be a bonus: As other parts of my body went into a predictable age-related descent, my hearing remained sharp.

Then I learned several things that changed my thinking both about leaf blowers and, up to a point, about politics.

One thing I learned has to do with the technology of leaf blowers. Their high volume, which I had long considered their most salient feature, is only their second-most-unusual aspect. The real marvel is the living-fossil nature of their technology. And because the technology is so crude and old, the level of pollution is off the charts.

When people encounter engines these days, they’re generally seeing the outcome of decades of intense work toward higher efficiency. The latest models of jet-turbine engines are up to 80 percent more fuel-efficient than their 1950s counterparts. While power plants burning natural gas obviously emit more carbon than wind or solar facilities, they emit about half as much as coal-fired plants. Today, the average car on America’s streets is almost 200 percent more efficient than in 1950, and smog-causing emissions from cars are about 99 percent lower.

The great outlier here is a piece of obsolete machinery Americans encounter mainly in lawn-care equipment: the humble “two-stroke engine.” It’s simpler, cheaper, and lighter than the four-stroke engines of most modern cars, and has a better power-to-weight ratio. But it is vastly dirtier and less fuel-efficient, because by design it sloshes together a mixture of gasoline and oil in the combustion chamber and then spews out as much as one-third of that fuel as an unburned aerosol. If you’ve seen a tuk‑tuk, one of the noisy tricycle-style taxis in places such as Bangkok and Jakarta, with purple smoke wafting out of its tailpipe, you’ve seen a two-stroke engine in action.

But you won’t see as many of them in those cities anymore, because governments in Asia and elsewhere have been banning and phasing out two-stroke engines on antipollution grounds. In 2014 a study published in Nature Communications found that VOC emissions (a variety of carbon gases that can produce smog and harm human beings) were on average 124 times higher from an idling two-stroke scooter than from a truck or a car. With respect to benzene, a carcinogenic pollutant, the group found that each cubic meter of exhaust from an idling two-stroke scooter contained 60,000 times the safe level of exposure. Two-stroke engines have largely disappeared from the scooter, moped, and trail-bike markets in America. Regulators around the world are pushing older two-stroke engines toward extinction.

Yet they remain the propulsive force behind the 200-mph winds coming out of many backpack leaf blowers. As a product category, this is a narrow one. But the impact of these little machines is significant. In 2017, the California Air Resources Board issued a warning that may seem incredible but has not been seriously challenged: By 2020, gas-powered leaf blowers, lawn mowers, and similar equipment in the state could produce more ozone pollution than all the millions of cars in California combined. Two-stroke engines are that dirty. Cars have become that clean.

Video: The ‘Public Health Menace’ of Fall in America

So that’s one thing I learned about gas-powered blowers. A second thing I discovered is the damage leaf blowers do to people’s hearing. The biggest worry of today’s public-health community is not, of course, leaf blowers—it’s the opioid disaster, plus addictions of other forms. The next-biggest worry is obesity, plus diabetes and the other ills that flow from it. But coming up fast on the list is hearing loss. According to a 2017 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-quarter of Americans ages 20 to 69 who reported good to excellent hearing actually had diminished hearing. This is largely caused by rising levels of ambient urban noise—sirens, traffic, construction, leaf blowers—which can lead to a range of disorders, from high blood pressure to depression to heart disease. “When I started out, I’d see people in their 60s with hearing problems,” says Robert Meyers, an ENT specialist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Now I’m seeing them in their 40s.”

Leaf blowers are especially insidious. Something about their sound had long attracted my attention. A study organized by Jamie Banks, a scientist and the founder of Quiet Communities, a Boston-area nonprofit, quantified what it was. Acoustic engineers from a firm called Arup compared gas- and battery-powered blowers with equal manufacturer-rated noise levels. Their analysis showed that gas-powered blowers produce far more “sound energy” in the low-frequency range. This may seem benign—who doesn’t like a nice basso profundo?—but it has a surprising consequence. High-frequency sound—a mosquito’s buzz, a dental drill—gets your attention, but it does not travel. It falls off rapidly with distance and struggles to penetrate barriers. If you’re in the next room, you may not hear it at all. By contrast, low-frequency noise has great penetrating power: It goes through walls, cement barriers, and many kinds of hearing-protection devices. The acoustic study found that in a densely settled neighborhood, a gas-powered blower rated at, say, 75 decibels of noisiness can affect up to 15 times as many households as a battery-powered blower with the same 75-decibel rating.

Hearing damage is cumulative. When the tiny, sound-sensing hairlike cells, called stereocilia, in the inner ear are damaged—usually by extended exposure to sounds of 85 decibels or above—they are generally gone for good. For the landscapers (and homeowners) who use gas-powered blowers—a foot away from their ears—the most powerful can produce sounds of 100 decibels or more. Meyers told me, “Each time I see these crews, I think to myself: 10 years from now, they’ll be on the path to premature deafness.

In the three decades since backpack blowers from Echo, Stihl, and other companies became popular, at least 100 U.S. cities have banned or restricted their use. Most of those cities are in California, because California is the only state whose jurisdictions have the authority to set their own air-pollution standards. With air-quality standards that were more aggressive than those in other states, California received special treatment under the Clean Air Act when it was passed in 1970. In the rest of the country, the law gives standard-setting authority to the federal government, which in practice means the Environmental Protection Agency.

Considering the current condition of the EPA, people wanting to regulate leaf blowers could be forgiven for throwing up their hands. But as it happens, there is another legally and scientifically legitimate line of attack: going after gas-powered blowers not because they pollute but because they make so much noise.

Starting in 2013, my wife, Deb, and I traveled around the country to report on local-improvement narratives, which always seemed to begin with “I wondered why my town didn’t do _______, so I decided to get involved.” We’d long been active at our kids’ schools and with their sports teams. But we wondered why our town—Washington, D.C.—wasn’t doing something about the leaf-blower menace, given that an obvious solution was at hand. We joined a small neighborhood group—barely 10 people at its peak—to try to get a regulatory or legislative change, using noise, not pollution, as the rationale.

In November 2015, we had our first success, when our Advisory Neighborhood Commission—the most local governmental unit in the District—voted 8–1 to support phasing out gas-powered leaf blowers. (The one no vote came from a libertarian who didn’t like regulation of anything.) In retrospect, the resulting request was amazingly timid. We simply asked that our city-council member, Mary Cheh, introduce legislation for a ban. She did so; the measure got nowhere by the end of the council’s term in 2016; she introduced a new measure in 2017. Over the next 18 months, we successfully encouraged more than a third of all ANCs in D.C., representing seven of the District’s eight wards, to endorse council action on the bill. Anyone aware of the racial, economic, and other dividing lines within Washington can imagine the level of organizing and explanation necessary to achieve such broad support.

In July 2018, the chair of the city council, Phil Mendelson, convened a hearing to consider the bill. Nearly 20 witnesses spoke in favor. They included members of our group as well as scientists, a former regulator, an acoustic engineer, representatives of the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society, ordinary citizens and residents, and landscapers who had switched to all-battery operation. On the other side were two industry lobbyists, who said that market innovation and “courteous” leaf-blower use were the answer. Council members listened to them with visible incredulity. In the fall, the full council approved the bill unanimously. In December, Washington’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, signed it into law. On January 1, 2022, the use of gas-powered leaf blowers will be illegal within city limits.

After spending decades writing about national politics, I’ve come away from this experience having learned some lessons about local politics—obvious lessons, maybe, but also vivid ones.

To begin with: Showing up matters. Our group met in person every two or three weeks over more than three and a half years. Perhaps our most indefatigable member, a lawyer, made presentations at dozens of ANC meetings. We got to know the legislative directors and schedulers for many of the District’s 13 council members.

Having facts also matters—yes, even in today’s America. At the beginning of the process, it felt as if 99 percent of the press coverage and online commentary was in the sneering “First World problem!” vein. That has changed. The Washington PostThe New York TimesThe Wall Street Journal, the Washington Monthly, and other publications have called attention to the leaf-blower problem, often arguing that gas-powered blowers should be banned. Reflexive sneering is down to about 5 percent among people who have made time to hear the facts. Noise, they have come to understand, is the secondhand smoke of this era.

Technological momentum and timing matter. We worried all along that the lawn-care industry would mount a major lobbying effort against the bill. It never did. Nearly everyone in the industry knows that 10 years from now, practically all leaf blowers will be battery-powered. One of our arguments was that we were simply accelerating the inevitable.

Having a champion matters. At a “meet the council member” session on a rainy Saturday morning in the fall of 2015, Mary Cheh said she’d stay with the bill—if she could rely on us to keep showing up. We did our part, and she did hers—she stayed with it to the end.

Luck matters as well. In its first journey through the council, starting in 2016, Cheh’s bill was assigned to a committee whose chair was a council member whose approach to many bills seemed to boil down to: What’s in it for me? To widespread surprise, apparently including his own, a long-shot challenger upset him in the primaries for the 2016 election.

The final lesson is: Don’t get hung up on the conventional wisdom—it’s only wise until it isn’t. Everyone says nothing gets done in Washington. This one time, everyone was wrong.


This article appears in the April 2019 print edition with the headline “Get Off My Lawn.”

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

JAMES FALLOWS is a staff writer for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter’s chief speechwriter. He and his wife, Deborah Fallows, are the authors of the new book Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of Americawhich has been a New York Times best seller and is the basis of a forthcoming HBO documentary.

Trashing Recyclables costs Stamford $700K

https://www.stamfordadvocate.com/local/article/Trashed-recycling-market-costs-Stamford-taxpayers-13075416.php

Trashed recycling market costs Stamford taxpayers $700K

Published 

STAMFORD — The city was paid $95,000 last year for the used bottles, cans, bags, boxes, wrappers and containers residents throw in their recycling bins each week.

This year, the city will have to pay a company $700,000 to take them.

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The market for recyclables has flipped on its ear, and Dan Colleluori, supervisor of solid waste and recycling, who had to go before the Board of Finance last week to ask that the money be drawn from the city’s contingency fund to meet the unexpected expense.

Blame it on China, which has been the biggest importer of recyclables on the planet since the 1990s. Last year the Chinese, citing a glut of material — increasingly contaminated with garbage — announced they would stop accepting an array of recyclables, according to industry reports Colleluori shared with the board.

Then, in April, “China closed its doors,” Colleluori said. “Unless the U.S. comes up with its own technology, there’s no market for this stuff. It’s a world problem.”

In May, Stamford’s recycling contractor, City Carting, called him with a warning, Colleluori said.

“They said, ‘You’re going to have to start paying for it,’” he said.

Not only was there no way to estimate the cost, but City Carting’s contract was to end June 30, Colleluori said. He’d put out a bid request, but only City Carting and one other company responded, he said.

“I expected they would come back with a charge of maybe $5 a ton, something like that,” he said. “I was flabbergasted when I saw the bids.”

City Carting’s price was $58 a ton to process the 12,000 tons of recyclables Stamford collects each year. The other company wanted $80, Colleluori said.

“For the nine years I’ve been here, recycling has been a revenue source. We earned as much as $250,000 a year,” he said. “Now we not only lose that revenue, we add a significant cost.”

The same is true for cities worldwide.

One reason the market has collapsed, industry reports say, is the glut of recyclables.

Another reason is single-stream recycling — collecting paper and cardboard together with plastic, glass and cans — a practice that began 20 years ago. Since then, recycled material has become increasingly contaminated. Recycled paper, for example, is less pure, making it harder to sell.

People have made things worse by throwing prohibited items into their recycling bins. In Connecticut, the prohibited materials include plastic bags, plastic wrap, shredded paper, Styrofoam, paper cups, take-out food containers, aerosol containers, ice cream containers, plastic plates, bowls and utensils, and anything with food in it.

According to industry reports, the situation has become so bad that one-fifth of the recycled material sent to China for processing was contaminated. In April, when China said it would stop accepting a slew of items, it also set a super-low contamination rate, .5 percent.

Now recycled material is stacking up in warehouses, and getting trucked to landfills or incinerators, in the United States and other countries around the globe.

“So all that work that I do to put the stuff in the green Toter (bin) and bring it out to the curb … are we actually going to be sending it to a landfill now?” finance board Chairman Richard Freedman asked during the meeting.

“No,” Colleluori said. “You’re just being charged for it.”

He said City Carting told him it will be able to sell some of the material.

“Mostly paper and cardboard,” Colleluori said. “The plastic and glass are the biggest problem.”

It doesn’t look like it will go away soon, he said.

“The U.S. has to sink some money into figuring out how to reuse these items,” Colleluori said. “If it happens, if the market turns around, the city can cancel the contract and rebid it to collect revenue again. It’s standard in these contracts.”

But recycling is still the law, and still cheaper than throwing the items in the trash, Colleluori said. Recyclables comprise 32 percent of the waste collected in Stamford, he said.

“It would cost the city $850,000 a year more if it went into the garbage stream,” Colleluori said.

The finance board voted to release the $700,000 from the contingency fund to cover the new City Carting contract. Much of the money in the $6.5 million fund is tentatively earmarked for labor negotiations expected to be settled, an anticipated number of storm cleanups, additional overtime expenses for police officers and firefighters, and other items likely to crop up in a fiscal year.

The fund contains about $1 million for unexpected expenses, such as the recycling contract, said Jay Fountain, director of the city’s Office of Policy and Management.

“So this will leave just about nothing left?” Freedman said.

“Yes,” Fountain confirmed.

Incinerators are neither clean nor renewable

https://www.wastedive.com/news/incineration-neither-clean-nor-renewable/544607/

Report: Incineration is ‘neither clean nor renewable’

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