Marc Lefkowitz | 01/06/14 @ 2:00pm
Thinking about where your Christmas tree goes? How about your old TV? Post-holiday thoughts and news items below.
You survived another Christmas, but by now your tree is probably sitting by the curb. Where do all of the Christmas trees go, and is the practice of growing and chopping down trees overall positive or negative for the environment? Researchers at Washington State University claim that the 35 million trees grown for Christmas are not bad for the environment, despite using 1 million acres of land. They equate it to growing corn. Christmas trees and corn are “mono-crops” so location matters if, for example, they are on land that could be used for growing healthier food. Trees do soak up or ‘sequester’ carbon. So while they’re growing, trees provide some positive benefit for the environment. Where the benefit starts wearing off is when fossil fuels are used to chainsaw and truck the trees from farm to store (and from store to home), according to the environmental site, World Issues 360. Also, there’s the disposal issue. Many cities offer a pick up service as part of their regular trash pick up these days. Many Christmas trees are shred by giant trucks requiring even more fossil fuel. Best case, the mulch gets piled at a community center and offered as a free product. But the act of growing, watering, fertilizing, chopping, transporting then mulching the millions of Christmas trees in America is energy intensive. It might provide a little environmental boost if they were live trees planted after the season.
I got an email from my brother-in-law that Best Buy is recycling old television sets. When we bought into the Black Friday hype with a purchase of a new, LED TV our old, beastly heavy TV was banished to the basement. We’re concerned about reports that American TVs were being shipped overseas to Africa where children are paid pennies to burn the housing on copper wires and extract other metals. We’ve come to associate all TV recycling programs with African children doing great bodily harm. A report from PBS’ Frontline confirms that Ghana’s children are still handling boatloads of our 300 million annual pounds of ‘e-waste’. So, our hunt to responsibly recycle our old TV will continue until we find a third-party certified ‘green‘ recycler of TVs in the Cleveland area. One possible solution for Ohio is operating in California and Maine which have established “e-Stewards” programs which certify businesses for best-practice behavior in recycling electronics.
In 2011 Cleveland updated its zoning code in ways that would help make urban farming more of a profession—one that can be conveniently located in a residential area or on vacant property. The U.S. Department of Agriculture took note of the urban farming phenomenon. In 2012, it offered Cleveland a $1 million grant to help those interested in selling crops at farmer’s markets work with OSU Extension and set up 1/4-acre market gardens in the Kinsman area. Now comes round two of the High Hoop House grant program. USDA will again offer produce growers in the Greater Cleveland area financial and technical assistance for seasonal high tunnels, aka “hoop houses.” Applications end January 17, 2014. Call Urban Conservationist Al Norwood at 216-524-6580.
Ohio’s Department of Transportation often falls in for criticism as an agency of road expansion fueling urban sprawl. Sustainability advocates would like ODOT to exercise fiscal restraint and focus on fixing our current infrastructure and expanding greener forms of transportation particularly in urban areas where growth is expected. ODOT is seeking public input on its long-range plans. If you would like to see ODOT focus more than 1% of its budget on public transit, biking and helping to build walkable communities, you can submit a comment to its Access Ohio 2040 web site by January 15.
The Sustainable Cleveland 2019 initiative launched a Neighborhood Climate Action Toolkit. Cleveland’s Office of Sustainability provided the toolkit for residents to take up the cause in their block clubs, church or coffee klatch, and start organizing locally. The toolkit includes a presentation on the city’s sustainability efforts to date, and ideas to get the ball rolling on something suited to hyper-local conditions. Future plans include help writing proposals for projects that would presumably get funding from city hall, local foundations and giving circles.
The Generation Foundation reports on a new effort that could transform how cities pay for “green” upgrades to pricey items like boilers. The program uses lease revenue bonds to provide 100% of the financing. Seven Hills is using them to update ancient heating systems in city buildings and replace lighting at their rec center with LEDs. They’re working with Emerald Cities Cleveland who helps broker the deal and provides vendor assistance. The city doesn’t assume the risk of owning the expensive new equipment but sees significant savings on a budget item that, for Seven Hills, eats up 10% of its revenue. In addition to financing, the RENEW program also provides energy audits. Emerald Cities Cleveland Director Shanelle Smith estimates that Cuyahoga County could reduce its carbon footprint by 15,648 tons by participating.
Forth-year students in Kent State’s College of Architecture & Environmental Design got noticed for adopting principles of the Living Building Challenge—which seeks to produce net positive energy buildings—in their design for a green community in Oberlin. They worked with the Oberlin Project, which is developing plans for a self-sustaining community, to concept single-family homes in a struggling neighborhood. Joe Ferut, a local architect who produced “Trail Magic,” a solar-powered home built with many of the same technological advances featured in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s PNC SmartHome, was involved in the student competition.