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Who ever thought rubble could be a silver lining?

Haitians who survived their country’s devastating earthquake have a tremendous burden to bear when it comes to getting back to normalcy.  How can all that rubble be removed and how can Haitians rebuild?  This is not really a time one would think about recycling, but if they don’t recycle, exactly where will all that rubble go?

Haiti Earthquake 2010
Photo by Talia Frenkel/American Red Cross via Flickr. Days after the earthquake, Haitians continued to search through the rubble. Petionville, Port-au-Prince.
January 16, 2010.

Could you really dig holes wide enough and deep enough for all of the poor-quality concrete/cement/brick buildings that collapsed? Perhaps.  But instead, Independence Recycling of Florida is working on plans to transport two mobile crushing and screening plants that will recycle construction debris for reuse when Haiti starts rebuilding.  Or, should we say when foreign investors start rebuilding Haiti?

According to an article in American Recycler, the recycling company may be participating in a 10-year recovery program being planned for Haiti. The first phase is demolition, then rebuilding. That means jobs for Haitians, I hope.

Independence Recycling says the jobs for locals will be manual, at first, but they plan to also train some to handle the equipment. I truly hope this is the case not only for this recycling company, but all foreign companies that stand to gain financially from this tragedy.


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Landfill capacity: An “unnatural” resource

Landfill photo by D'Arcy Norman via Flickr

What happens when our local landfills run out of capacity?  Where will our trash go then?

Understandably, this is a worry not only for trash companies that profit from hauling our garbage to landfills, but it is also a concern for sanitation officials.

In Ventura County, our sanitation officials are considering a trash-to-energy plant, according to an article in the Ventura County Star.  The trash is superheated, not burned, and the county could keep current landfills open much longer, because the remains of the trash are reduced to 10 percent of its previous bulk.

But, finding a solution to one problem leads to several others.

  1. The ever-present “NIMBY” syndrome (which I absolutely understand).
  2. The cost to build each plant is $25 million.
  3. The additional  air pollution.

I know many people in Ventura county are participating in trash reduction and recycling, but as I understand, our landfills are also taking trash from outside the county.  Why not try other approaches before committing to the trash-to-energy plant:

  1. Step up awareness and incentivize or recognize efforts for further trash reduction and recycling.
  2. Expand recycling to all businesses and multi-family homes.
  3. All trash haulers in Ventura County should provide single-stream trash service, so less recyclables make it to landfills.
  4. Stop allowing others to use a limited, “unnatural” resource — in this case landfill capacity.

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Going green is a process

Photo by Denise Vastola

Let’s face it, many of us just can’t take the extra time to shop at farmers markets on a regular basis, but most of us understand that buying local is the right thing to do.  It’s right not only because it supports our local economy, but also because buying locally grown produce is better for the environment. It’s better for the environment because less energy is used to transport the produce to market, thereby saving natural resources AND it leaves a smaller carbon footprint.

I recently came across an article about a project called “Locavore Lite 2010.” Started by Kris and Jo Young of Ventura County, the project encourages people to purchase and eat food that is grown within a radius of 100 miles of their residence.

Condensed ground rules from the Web site are below:

  1. Think about where your non-local food comes from
  2. At least 12 times this year, shop at a farmers market, or buy something from Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farmer, or go pick your own fruit or veggies either from a local farm or your own garden, or someone else’s (of course, with permission)
  3. Eat at least three all-local-food meals this year

I’ve signed up and pledged to participate.  So far, my dad has provided me with homegrown tomatoes — he has a 6-foot-tall tomato plant that remains prolific — even in January.  Additionally, I’ve harvested and shared lemons and oranges from the trees in my backyard.

The greatest challenge I have this year is to REMEMBER to shop locally.  To combat my forgetfulness, I’ve written a monthly reminder on my 2010 calendar.

Even if you don’t join, consider shopping and eating locally.  There’s many Web sites, like, that can help you find environmentally conscious merchants in your area.

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Baby, you’re bugging me

Photo by ohadweb via flickr

Coccinella septempunctata sounds more like a bad case of food poisoning than an insect.  More commonly known a ladybug, this insect has long been the home gardener’s friend because it dines on insects that dine on plants in our gardens.

While plant-eating insects are a minor annoyance to the average person, they are a significantly greater source of concern for the farmers who grow the crops that feed us.  These insects can literally eat up a grower’s chance for profits.

The ladybug is known as a beneficial insect, and it has friends — beneficial mites and beneficial snails.  Together, they work as a team and to borrow a term from the agricultural industry, they are part of an “integrated pest management program” that helps reduce the amount of pesticides used on crops.

Associates Insectary, a grower-owned cooperative in Ventura County, says reducing the amount of pesticide applied to crops also helps preserve the environment.

According to the Web site, the coop produces up to 10 million insects and mites every day.  The fabulous four — Cryptolaemus montrouzieri, Rumina decollata, Neoseiulus californicus, and Aphytis melinus — are released regularly on 10 million acres of orchards.

Before you squash another bug, you might take a moment to reconsider,  and then commute its death sentence.

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Taking time to give thanks

A volunteer helps fill bags with food at the Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project. After the meeting, more than 200 families who work on the farm fields in Ventura County will take home the donated food.

I’ve been doing research on farm workers and pesticides for an upcoming story and was recently introduced to a non-profit organization, Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project. The organization focuses on the needs of indigenous farm workers from Oaxaca, a southern Mexican state. Because they speak mainly their own Mixteco language, it’s easy to discriminate against them.

I recently spent a few hours at a meeting, where the founder, Sandra Young, oversaw not only an H1N1 vaccination clinic, but also food distribution. Hundreds of people — mainly women and their children — were lined up for hours prior to the meeting to be one of the lucky 200 or so families to receive a bag of food that held rice, beans, flour, oil and canned fruit juice. Another bag, filled with produce, had bananas, onions, cucumber, oranges and tomatoes.

A volunteer at the Mixteco/Indigena Community Project fills a bag of food for Oaxacan farm workers in Ventura County. Photos by Denise Vastola

It’s ironic that the same, small group of people who work in fields, harvesting crops capable of feeding so many, must get a portion of their own source of nourishment from a non-profit organization that distributes food only once a month.

On Thanksgiving, I am thankful that I not only have all the food I need, but I am most thankful for the chance I have to write about Sandra Young, Donna Foster, Arcenio Lopez and the volunteers who help the people who work so hard to harvest crops in Ventura County.

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Schwarzenegger’s $11 Billion Magic Bullet for Water

j0441753Several days ago, the Associated Press and other news outlets reported that Governor Schwarzenegger has an $11 billion plan to not only rebuild California’s deteriorating water infrastructure, but also build more dams to support a growing population’s increase in water use.  The article also points out that he’s signing this at a time when other states in the West are dismantling dams to save species of fish, including salmon, from dying off.

While the AP presents both point of view in the piece, what’s missing is the common sense aspect.  Yes, farmers have a right to water and to grow crops from which the rest of us benefit, but, does that have to come at the expense of the environment?  We need the land to grow crops.  What we don’t need is another dam and more land under water.

Yes, California’s population is going to continue growing, but that doesn’t mean water use has to grow at the same pace.  Unlimited water use is a luxury, not a right.  Much of California is a desert.  Why do people, including the Governor,  forget that?

How about tossing in a few water-conserving incentives, such as

  • When new housing goes in, why not include gray water reservoirs?  All the water used in showers and laundry could easily be used to water lawns and plants.
  • Why not incentivize contractors to use native, drought-resistant plants in new housing developments?
  • Why not incentivize our citizens to replace their water-guzzling lawns with water-friendly alternatives?

Lest we also forget, California hasn’t resolved its current budget crisis and here we go again, why not sink another $11 billion in debt?  Let’s get real.  We are each accountable for our actions.  Let’s all conserve water and keep a few more of our hard-earned dollars in our pockets.

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The garbage patch in the ocean

I haven’t purchased bottled water in several years — that’s when I heard about this massive island of floating trash in the ocean. What’s the big deal? Well, the island of trash is the size of Texas.

I am truly pleased that I can say with confidence I’m not contributing to this plastic soup in our Pacific Ocean.

I hope you find this enlightening.

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