Recycling is in trouble — and it might be your fault

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ELKRIDGE, Md. — If you are recycling at home, you are probably doing it wrong.

That is why a worker lunged to grab a garden hose off the conveyor belt at a Waste Management recycling facility here Wednesday before it got caught in a giant sorting machine. Such tangles frequently require the plant to stop the waste processing line and clean out the jaws by hand.

"Our contamination changes by the season," said Mike Taylor, the company's director of recycling operations here. Since it's spring, the facility is getting a lot of garden hoses. Around the holidays, they get broken strands of Christmas lights, another choking hazard for the sorting line. And all day every day there are plastic shopping bags (recyclable at a grocery store but not from a household), chunks of styrofoam, diapers, syringes, food-contaminated containers ... a nearly endless litany of things that residents throw into their curbside recycling carts figuring they are or ought to be recyclable. One worker grabs the remnants of a screen door off the sorting line while another snags a wire rack from a DIY shelving unit.

Many cities around the country will celebrate the 47th Earth Day on Saturday by highlighting their recycling programs, but the industry is grappling with a dual threat: The value of recovered waste products has plummeted over the past five years, and the amount of effort required to extract them has risen.

A study by Rob Taylor with the State Recycling Program in the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality estimated that the average market value of a ton of mixed recyclable material arriving at a recovery facility in the state dropped from just over $180 in early 2011 to less than $80 at the end of 2015. That value has since rebounded a bit, Taylor found, to a little over $100, but it still leaves the industry struggling to extract profit from the millions of tons of recyclable material Americans throw away every year.

Read more here.

The Train Now Standing at Platform 3 is a Co-op?

Rob Hopkins spoke with Alex Lawrie about Go-op, a highly ambitious attempt to create the first co-operatively owned train operating company in the U.K.:

I come to this really as a frustrated rail traveller. As someone who is a regular user of the railways, but who always seems to end up in places that the rail network, radiating as it does out from London, fails to serve. I found myself in Somerset and I was just endlessly frustrated that I could see that train lines went from A to B, but no trains appeared to operate on them, unless, as I say, I wanted to go to London. Which sometimes I do, but often I do not.

I thought, "What is needed is for a train operating company that is a co-operative to start bringing ideas forward that meet the needs of people at the grassroots, and meet the needs of communities that have been isolated and forgotten about." We were able to get a little team together and we got a small grant from the Co-operative Group, bless them, and we started doing some early feasibility studies.

I suppose the first conclusions that we came to were that although there were some very romantic ideas out there about re-opening branch lines and laying new track and building new stations, the blunt honest truth was that that was going to be borderline impossible for us as a small group starting from scratch to pull off. That was too advanced. That we had to find some more manageable goal to work toward in the first instance.

To cut a long story short, we find ourselves in the present with a good credible route, from Taunton to Nuneaton, so that’s using that linking track through Melksham, it's using the little cord that links Swindon and Oxford. There is absolutely no convenient way at present to go from Taunton to Frome on a regular basis, from Frome to Swindon, no really easy way to go from Swindon to Oxford, or from Swindon to Coventry, and no very convenient way to go from Oxford to Nuneaton, or Oxford to Coventry. Bear in mind, Coventry is going to be one of the closest points to the high speed rail terminal for the north of England. And Nuneaton is on the west coast mainline. So these are really important places to be able to get to for all sorts of longer journeys.

It's quite a clever route. Really achieves a lot of things, and the plan is to operate it with one train every two hours, which is a modest starting point, and we've proved that 30 percent of the revenue that we generate on that route will be new travellers on the rail network. People who would otherwise be driving cars. The rest admittedly will be shifting from other less convenient trains to our train.

Read more here.

While a great idea, co-operative train company, personally I would rather see British Rail back as a national company, and why could it not be a co-op?

Affordable solar power is coming to low-income minority neighborhoods

Lower electric bills are the big attraction for financially stressed families

In the predominantly African-American neighborhood of Broadway Heights in San Diego, nearly half of the 192 homes have rooftop solar panels. Neighbor after neighbor talks about what they could now afford. They were paying $200 and $300 a month in electric bills. Now they’re paying zero to $50.

“Now I can get my air conditioner!” said Thresia Route, 62, an information technology administrator.

In Southern Homes and Gardens, an affordable townhouse cooperative in predominantly African-American Southeast Washington, 55 of 90 residences have rooftop solar panels. On-site manager Telana Felder calls solar “my best friend” to escape her former monthly bills of $150 to $200.

“Last month the bill was $4, then this month it was $14,” Felder said. “It was so low I said something was wrong, so I called. They said it was because I had credits from the solar.”

These are among the thousands of moderate- to low-income families and fixed-income retired seniors who are the vanguard in communities of color that are now enjoying solar power. Under a wide variety of state and federal policies and funding mechanisms, and under both nonprofit and for-profit business models, such families are changing the face of renewable energy, broadening the diversity of solar customers with respect to race and income.

Read more here.

Antifa, Black-bloc and other so-called Anarchists

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Antifa-BlackBlocAll around the “Western” world, at almost any kind of demonstration, we will see them, those black clad figures who go by whatever name they may chose, who do not just dress alike but act all alike as if they have been trained at the same “academy”, hellbent on causing mayhem and turning even the most peaceful demonstration into a riot.

They claim to be anarchists, anti-fascists, left-wing radicals, and more but are they? They would not recognize anarchism means if it would bite them in the proverbial and they are neither left, as in socialist or communist. They are the stormtroopers of the neo-liberal elite and they are funded and trained by various neo-liberal foundations, and one in particular.

Those so-called Antifa, Anarchists, or by whatever other name they may go, are not the friends of the people and neither of democracy, liberty and socialism. They are the complete antithesis of this. They are wearing a mask, and that not only literally, behind which they hide their true intentions and their true masters we do not know but masters they certainly do have, masters with lots of money, which they hand out freely to those doing their bidding, namely those black clad and masked agent provocateurs.

Those that believe that those Antifa, etc., are left and anti-fascists better wake up and that fast. They are not even left Fascists; they are Fascists, namely neoliberal ones and neoliberalism, together with neo-conservatism, form one side of the same coin, the other side of which is fascism.

© 2017

Glass jar reuse

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

OK, I know, I keep repeating myself harping on about the reuse, repurposing and upcycling of glass jars (packaging waste) but it would appear that there are many who still have not gotten the message and toss most of those jars into the recycling bin (if they can even be bothered to do that).

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From left to right: Back row: storage jar,water bottle, beer glass. Front row: wine/drinking glass, whisky glass

The reuse potential, as well as that for repurposing and upcycling, of glass jars is, to some extent, only limited by your imagination. They are far too valuable a resource, for the individual, to waste, even if it is to put them into the recycling bin. Especially so as they are, more often than not, not recycled into new glass jars and and/or other glass products but are downcycled into the likes of a kind of sand for road building. On top of that you and I have paid for the jars in the purchase price of whatever the product was that was packaged in those glass jars. That is the way our grandparents and their parents saw this for sure and that is why they reused every one of them that they possibly could reuse.

I must admit that I hardly ever throw out a glass jar unless, that is, I really cannot reuse it in any way, shape or form. Some do only serve one other purpose and that is as containers for waste cooking fat which, when the jar is full, goes with the jar into the waste stream. Not the best way but still a great deal better than having such waste fats go down the drain – they never should – and block the sewage pipes, which the stuff will and does.

What makes me laugh, but sometimes I don't know whether I and we all should actually cry about this, is that so many will throw good reusable glass jars into the recycling bin and then go and buy themselves recycled glass storage jars for the kitchen and pantry. They do no seem to even realize, not even when it is being pointed out to them, that that is rather silly and that they could and should rather use clean jars that they toss for that purpose instead.

I tend to find it rather funny, though in a peculiar rather than a humorous way, that the comments one encounters when one suggests reuse of produce jars for storage rather than buying storage jars such as: “But they then don't all match” or even “they may not match the decor”.

Or, when suggesting reusing jars as drinking vessels: “But what about the thread?” Yes, so, what about the thread? Hipsters use Mason jars. Oh, well, but they are “Mason” jars. It's hip to use them.

Aside from reusing glass jars for the obvious, namely for storage of all manner of things, from dry produce, over buttons, nails and screws, to whatever, there are many other reuse uses that they can be put to. A word of warning though to those that have not notices it as yet, I am weird when it comes to reusing, repurposing and upcycling.

In the time before the First World War, and even after that, the poorer classes in society rarely had the money to buy expensive – for they were – drinking glasses for daily use and many, if not indeed all, household would use certain kinds of glass jars from produce as drinking vessels. From this, more than likely, is derived the English colloquialism of “having a jar” when talking about “having a drink”. As I said, I am weird, for I do exactly the same. I repurpose glass jars for drinking water, beer, spirits; all different sizes. So, if you come to my house don't expect the Scotch to be served in a cut glass tumbler or such – no, a small glass jar it will be and the same goes for wine, though the jar will be larger.

Glass jars were, in those days of our grandparents and their parents, but even in the time of our parents, also employed as vases for cut flowers. Why worry about an expensive cut glass vase to display flowers when it is the flowers that are to be the center of attention and not the crystal vase. A nice decent clean jar will equally suffice and for (almost) nothing. Also, if it falls and breaks, oh well, no real loss, use another one. And, as you may have guessed, I do the same. Not that I do much in the way of cut flowers. I rather leave the flowers in the garden.

The same, as to the possibility of breakage, and the fact that they did not actually have the money to buy 'proper' glasses, was why the poorer classes used glass jars of all kinds as drinking glasses. If a kid dropped one and it broke; well, there was another one somewhere that he could use.

Today it has actually become hip – as in hipsters – to use Mason® jars for drinking vessels by the aforementioned hipsters. It is seen as cool and in. But why buy good and not directly cheap canning jars for this purpose and not use rather glass packaging jars? Oh , yes, sorry, forgot, because that is hip and also probably because of the pretty writing on the glasses.

Oh yes, and all the other pretty tricks that they show on the Internet as what to do with Mason® or Ball® canning jars – which now come from the same firm, by the way, namely Ball® – can all be done equally with empty glass produce jars.

So, once again think reuse, repurpose and upcycle before the trip to the recycling bin with your empty glass jar.

© 2017

Stroke and dementia risk linked to artificial sweeteners, study suggests

Drinking a can of diet soft drink a day associated with almost three times higher risk, say researchers – but critics warn against causal connection

Consuming a can a day of low- or no-sugar soft drink is associated with a much higher risk of having a stroke or developing dementia, researchers claim.

Their findings have prompted renewed questions about whether drinks flavoured with artificial sweeteners can increase the risk of serious illness, as heavily sugared drinks have already been shown to do.

“Drinking at least one artificially sweetened beverage daily was associated with almost three times the risk of developing stroke or dementia compared to those who drank artificially sweetened beverages less than once a week,” according to the American researchers who carried out a study published in Stroke, the journal of the American Heart Association.

“After adjustments for age, sex, education (for analysis of dementia), calorific intake, diet quality, physical activity and smoking, higher recent and higher cumulative intake of artificially sweetened soft drinks were associated with an increased risk of ischaemic stroke, all-cause dementia and Alzheimer’s disease dementia,” the co-authors write.

Those consuming at least a can of so-called diet drinks every day were 2.96 times more likely to suffer an ischaemic stroke and 2.89 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those who drank them less than once a week, they found.

Ischaemic strokes occur when blood cannot get to the brain because of a blockage, often one caused by a blood clot forming in either an artery leading to the brain or inside a vein in the brain itself. They comprise the large majority of the 152,0000 strokes a year which occur.

Surprisingly, though, the research also contradicted previous studies by finding that sugared drinks did not raise the risk of either serious outcome. It is based on data for more than 4,300 participants in the Framingham Heart Study, a long-term medical research project in the United States.

Read more here.

Green Investment Bank sold to fracking investor

  • Green Investment Bank sold to fracking investor – what could possibly go wrong?
  • Green Investment Bank – started with public money – being sold by the government to an Australian company.
  • The bank was set up in 2012 to fund renewable energy projects

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

gib_3The Green Investment Bank (GIB), set up by the UK government five years ago, has been sold to Macquarie Bank, with a value of £2.3bn.

The Treasury secures £1.7bn through the process, with a further £600m of liabilities taken on by the Australia-based business lender, which has holdings in fossil fuel and fracking projects.

The bank was set up to fund renewable and low-carbon projects and has invested about £800m per year so far. That includes total government funding of £1.5bn since 2012. The deal with Macquarie should see that rise to £3bn per year over three years. I am not holding my breath on that one though and the reader will see why not by reading further.

The deal does requires the new owner to retain its name and headquarters team in Edinburgh. But, as far as we can see, there seems to be no requirement to actually continue the business of supporting green energy and other ventures.

Macquarie Group, which bought the publicly owned body, claimed it wanted to use the purchase to develop a reputation as one of the “key green investment channels” in Europe. (Yeah, and pigs fly!)

Environmentalists, however, have expressed concerns about the future green credentials of the GIB given the Macquarie Group's other operations and investments.

The sale of the GIB is part of the UK Government's long-term strategy of selling-off state assets it calls “liabilities” and reducing the government's commitment to subsidizing green investment in any way. Campaigners have already criticized the UK Government for cutting subsidies to windfarms in 2015 and early 2016.

Those “liabilities”, as far as the British Tory government is concerned, also includes, no doubt the National Health Service and other still publicly owned assets. Everything that does not give them backhanders and makes money for their cronies is, obviously, a “liability”.

The green credentials of the supposed Green Investment Bank are now in tatters. Why would the new owners allow for genuine green investments to be made if they are going to impact on the profitability of the company's previous investments? That would go against all capitalist business sense. (The track record of the Macquarie Group speaks for itself, as we will see below).

Research by Market Forces has found Macquarie's fossil fuel exposure is at least £1.55bn since 2008, including £255m provided for the Maules Creek Mine in Australia, for which some of the vast Leard State Forest was destroyed.

Macquarie was also a key player in the purchase of opencast coal mine assets in Europe, and was fined millions by the US financial regulator for backing a shell Chinese coal mining company.

As an early supporter of the global drive for shale gas, Macquarie is the largest shareholder of Hutton Energy, which holds fracking licenses in the UK.

Still questions?

© 2017

The Key to Feeding the World? It’s Healthy Soil

Conventional farming practices that degrade soil health undermine humanity’s ability to continue feeding everyone over the long run.

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One of the biggest modern myths about agriculture is that organic farming is inherently sustainable. It can be, but it isn’t necessarily. After all, soil erosion from chemical-free tilled fields undermined the Roman Empire and other ancient societies around the world. Other agricultural myths hinder recognizing the potential to restore degraded soils to feed the world using fewer agrochemicals.

When I embarked on a six-month trip to visit farms around the world to research my forthcoming book, “Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life,” the innovative farmers I met showed me that regenerative farming practices can restore the world’s agricultural soils. In both the developed and developing worlds, these farmers rapidly rebuilt the fertility of their degraded soil, which then allowed them to maintain high yields using far less fertilizer and fewer pesticides.

Their experiences, and the results that I saw on their farms in North and South Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Ghana and Costa Rica, offer compelling evidence that the key to sustaining highly productive agriculture lies in rebuilding healthy, fertile soil. This journey also led me to question three pillars of conventional wisdom about today’s industrialized agrochemical agriculture: that it feeds the world, is a more efficient way to produce food and will be necessary to feed the future.

Myth 1: Large-scale agriculture feeds the world today

According to a recent U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, family farms produce over three-quarters of the world’s food. The FAO also estimates that almost three-quarters of all farms worldwide are smaller than one hectare—about 2.5 acres, or the size of a typical city block.

Read more here.

Cycling to work ‘could halve risk of cancer and heart disease’

'There’s an urgent need to improve road conditions for cyclists,' says cycling charity

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Commuters who swap their car or bus pass for a bike could cut their risk of developing heart disease and cancer by almost half, new research suggests – but campaigners have warned there is still an “urgent need” to improve road conditions for cyclists.

Cycling to work is linked to a lower risk of developing cancer by 45 per cent and cardiovascular disease by 46 per cent, according to a study of a quarter of a million people.

Walking to work also brought health benefits, the University of Glasgow researchers found, but not to the same degree as cycling.

The 264,337 participants were asked how they travelled to work on a typical day. Their health was monitored for five years and the results adjusted for variables such as sex, age, existing illness, smoking and diet.

Overall, people who cycled to work were found to have a 41 per cent lower risk of premature death from any cause, compared to those who drove or took public transport.

The scientists said: “The findings, if causal, suggest population health may be improved by policies that increase active commuting, particularly cycling.”

These policies could include “the creation of cycle lanes, cycle hire or purchase schemes, and better provision for cycles on public transport,” they wrote in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

Read more here.

Reuse in the garden

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

I know, we have, basically, been here the other day but nevertheless there are other things aside from the gallon buckets and such that can find a reuse in the garden.

Fireworks_Store-Greenhouse1_webWorking as a groundsman in a municipal park we come across some flytipped things every now and then and I like to make sure that nothing has to go to the tip that does not need to and that includes shopping carts. While the latter do, in fact, belong to the stores whence they came before they were dumped as the stores, generally, refuse to come an collect them they end up as scrap. Well, they don't have to. They make great – mobile – planters when lines with builders' bags (tonne bags) or some other means. Great for growing carrots as they are just the right height to be well out of the vector of the carrot root fly.

Coke_Can_Pot_Stand1_webHowever, there are also a few other things that I have made use of, not counting aforementioned shopping carts, such as old bath tubs that have been dumped, as well as a polycarbonate display cabinet that once held fireworks (see photo above) and a stand for Coke cans (see photo below). The fireworks display cabinet is a kind of greenhouse now and the Coke can stand holds plant puts with seedlings and cuttings. It may not look like designed by the garden designers of the Chelsea or Hampton Court Flower Shows of the RHS but then again it came for free. And who, anyway, could ever afford those designer gardens?

The large plastic water bottles, the 5 liter variety, which are mostly square, and being left behind during picnics quite frequently, make very useful cloches for tender plants or to bring on plants even when there is no longer a real risk of cold and frost. Again they may not looks as fashionable as the manufactured cloches one can buy but, then again, they cost nothing and keep those plastic containers out of the waste stream; for a while at least as eventually they will get brittle and need to got the way all others go.

Many old folks used to create path edging and edging for beds using empty glass bottles and this is something that, actually, can look very pretty indeed. But as I rather use tubs and other containers for my gardening I don't actually do that. I have other uses for glass bottles before they end up in the recycling stream.

Those are just a few thoughts and ideas about reuse in the garden. I am sure many of us, at least those that do do gardening, could come up with a few more things.

© 2017