Eco-heroes, Bargain Hunters Need Apply

4-yard-dumpsterTechnophiles, fashionistas and Earth Citizens take note: Volunteers at the University YMCA’s 2015 Dump & Run get exclusive, first dibs on the quality clothing, electronics and other cool stuff that students tend to chuck, not carry, at year’s end.

 

At the spring Dump & Run the YMCA accepts good stuff that they don’t want in dumpsters and sells them cheap to returning students in August.

 

The YMCA needs volunteers to collect and sort contributions May 11-16 and May 18-22 and May 25-29. Volunteer six hours or more and you get your pick of the mechandise in the fall.

PCBs are “Permabanned” from Clinton Landfill

Caution sign: PCBs - a toxic environmental contaminant requireing special handeling and disposal in accordance with the USEPA In the gaming world, a player caught cheating, using derogatory language, or other equally bad behavior will be “permabanned” or permanently banned from using the site where the bad behavior occurred. Well, that is exactly what the DeWitt count board did with PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and MGP (manufactured-gas-plant) wastes. On April 23, 2015, the DeWitt county board voted to approve a settlement agreement with the owners of Clinton Landfill (near Clinton, IL) that keeps PCBs and MGP wastes out of the landfill. This ends a 7-year dispute between the landfill owners and groups opposed to PCB disposal there. Two articles from The News-Gazette sum up the happenings before and after the board vote.

 

Before the ban on PCBs and MGP wastes in the landfill, the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) hosted a one day workshop on “PCBs and their Impact in Illinois” to assess PCB disposal problems and solutions. Find out more about PCBs and watch the videos from the workshop.

 

In addition to the workshop, the Prairie Research Institute recently produced a document on PCBs titled, “An Updated Look at PCBs,” which contains a summary and recommendations about PCB disposal, a review of how PCBs are a persistent pollutant, and a literature review of remediation technologies for PCBs and manufactured-gas-plant wastes.

ISTC for the Gold!

Certified Green Office Program logoBobby Knight – 1984 U.S.A. men’s Olympic basketball coach – said,

“The key is not the will to win. Everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important.”

This statement is very true for the staff at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center.  They not only want the world to be sustainable, they are willing to prepare for a sustainable future and create new ways to be more sustainable.  Some examples include their efforts on Zero Waste Illinois and their research on innovative ways to mitigate emerging contaminants. Continue reading

ISTC Electronics Management Earns Gold Recognition

The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center earned “gold” recognition from the State Electronics Challenge (SEC) for its environmentally-responsible electronics purchasing, use, and recycling decisions in 2014.

 

Responsible electronics management comes naturally to the ISTC, with its Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) and a “green” team which is making progress on implementing various sustainability activities at the Center. SEI efforts are concerned with promoting increased sustainable design, use, and end-of-life management of electronic devices, noting that electronics manufacturing and waste have social impacts as well as environmental ones.

 

The SEC challenges local, state, regional, and tribal entities across the country to commit to greener electronics management, helping participants develop action plans, providing resources, and delivering end-of-year sustainability reports and awards. In 2013, SEC participants collectively prevented over 2 tons of toxic materials, 860 tons of solid waste, and 134 tons of hazardous waste from entering landfills. Further, participants saved a substantial amount of electricity and prevented the escape and accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

 

Of SEC’s 150 participants, only nine are from Illinois, and, of those, just two earned recognition at any level in 2014. SEC’s annual awards recognize participants achieving their goals in the following areas: purchasing, use, and recycling. ISTC’s gold award recognizes reductions in all three areas, with 98 percent of the Center’s computers using power management and 100 percent of “retired” electronics being reused.

Three Tips on the Road to a Great Governor’s Award Application

TrophyPath2If your organization has done a lot in the name of sustainability – from projects that save money and resources to initiatives that strengthen the people and communities you work for – what are you waiting for? The Governor’s Sustainability Award provides a great opportunity for you to pull all of your sustainability work together into a single document: Your award application!

 

Because sustainability encompasses the triple bottom line – People, Planet, Profit – it can be tough to wrap one’s brain around all that should be included in your application. Our How To Apply page and FAQ’s will help you in that process, but we know that’s a lot to read! Here are three tips to help you cut to the chase, and get started on your application (due May 22).

 

1. Start driving. Get key people on board.

Governor’s Award Applications are typically a team effort, but there is often a single person or small team that drives the process forward. The application drivers can be anyone – from top management to employees who volunteer time on a Green Team. If you’re reading this, you may be the driver!

 

Send a note out to co-workers letting them know you’re preparing a Gov.’s Award application. Here are some key people to get on board early (positions vary by organization):

  • Top Management
  • Facilities/Operations Manager
  • Plant Manager
  • Sustainability Officer/Green Team Lead
  • PR Officer

 

2. Read these two things. These are your “how to” guides to help you best relay your sustainability successes in your application. Remember, quantifying your actions are just as important as clearly describing them!

 

Narrative Guidelines – You have up to six single-spaced pages to describe your sustainability accomplishments. These guidelines tell you how.

 

Metrics Form InstructionsDownload the Metrics Form (Microsoft Excel format) and read the Instructions tab.

 

3. Check out the sample applications.

The sample applications, available HERE, display best practices from past winners’ applications. Note that a good application typically includes a variety of projects touching on multiple impacts or aspects of sustainability. The project descriptions will also include some detail on how they were conceived and who was involved. We want to hear how your organization went from idea to implementation.

 

 

BONUS TIP: Consider normalizing your data.

Normalized data is reported on a relevant per-unit basis. One of our 2013 award winners, Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District, tracked their water use in this way before and after implementing water conservation measures in their wash bay. Instead of simply reporting total gallons of water consumed, they reported gallons per vehicle-hour, providing us with a water-use measure that can be compared across years, regardless of how many trips the buses make.  This type of measurement, a normalized metric, is extremely helpful for evaluating your progress – the true impact of a sustainability project.

 

Check out the Illinois Manufacturer Inc. sample application for more normalization examples and talk to your team about what per-unit measures you might use in your application.

 

If you still have questions about the process, contact Cassie Carroll for more information via e-mail at ccarrol2@illinois.edu or call her at 630.891.3044.

Brother, Can You Spare Eleven Trillion Gallons?

11 Trillion Gallons is the estimated shortfall in California's water supply.

11 Trillion Gallons is the estimated shortfall in California’s water supply.

No.

 

Our Center’s One Billion Gallon Water Challenge has asked Illinoisans  to think about innovations and behavior changes to cut our use of water significantly. It is not an easy goal. Eleven trillion gallons boggles the mind.

 

California’s 25 percent mandatory cut in water use supplied by local water agencies is, sadly, not an overreaction to the historic drought plaguing western states.

 

People tend to innovate best when forced to.

 

We should see innovations in technology, governance, law enforcement, industry, and human nature that may benefit us all if we let it.

World Water Day – March 22

industrial pipe with potable water arrow signNow more than ever water is becoming a critical resource around the globe.  Increasing water shortages are predicted as more water is used by a growing world population and rainfall patterns are altered due to climate change.  A recent report by the UN predicts a 40% shortfall in water by 2030.

 

In order to bring awareness to the issues involving clean water, water use, and adequate water supplies, World Water Day was established by the UN in 1993 and is celebrated on March 22.  It is a great reminder that water touches all aspects of our lives. Did you know that the U.S. uses more water in a day than it uses oil in a year!!!

 

Learn more about how much water is used to make a T-shirt or how much evaporates each day and other amazing facts and do your part to conserve and use water wisely (ISTC’s Billion Gallon Water Challenge).

World Water Day (or rather Water Month!)

As population increases, the demand for clean, fresh water will also rise, making existing supplies a very precious resource in Illinois and other parts of the US. Groundwater supplies are being depleted and rivers and lakes cannot keep up with the demand for water.  Though 71% of the Earth is covered with water, only 2.5% of the world’s water is freshwater.  Of that, 70% is in ice and snow cover in mountainous regions, 30% is ground water, and only 0.3% is in rivers and lakes. ISTC is helping to mitigate water scarcity by researching water quality issues such as fate and transport pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) in the environment and encouraging businesses, organizations, and people of Illinois to save water though its Billion Gallon Water Challenge.

The Nile Project: Woman dancing and list of events (see PDF flyer for events list)

 

ISTC participated in the  Community Water Day: Civic Engagement and Water Resources Management on Saturday, March 7 at the Champaign Public Library to spread the word about its research and water savings challenge. And will be participating in the Illinois Water Day 2015: Let’s Talk about Water on Friday, April 10, ISTC at NCSA. Both these events are free and open to the public and are part of a larger group of water issues events hosted by the University of Illinois and the Krannert Center (PDF flyer).

Carbon: Humanity’s Home Hides Hazards

VenusCH4bMethane (CH4) is 30 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2.

 

Today, The Washington Post’s story on mysterious craters forming in Siberia reports that the phenomenon might be evidence of methane escaping from melting permafrost.

 

Last year, the journal Nature reported on research that the amount of methane in the atmosphere from lakes and freshwater sediments worldwide increases several times for each degree that the Earth’s temperature rises.

 

Computer models show the sensitivity of methane hydrate deposits in the ocean to be released into the atmosphere as the ocean warms. There is no agreement how much methane is down there, but it is many gigatons.

 

Skeptics can deny that Earth, and even Venus, are vulnerable to runaway greenhouse effects. But the news from Siberia must have all climate scientists pausing.

New book cautions against the use of invasive biomass crops

Bioenergy and Biological Invasions CoverAcross the globe, efforts are being made to find sustainable, renewable, and economically-viable sources of energy. Here in the U.S., Congress passed a mandate in 2007 (the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS) that requires refiners to blend an increasing quantity of biomass-derived ethanol into gasoline. The RFS stipulated that corn-based ethanol would be capped at a certain level, while fuels from so-called “advanced” biomass feedstocks would take up the slack. These feedstocks are desirable because, unlike corn, they do not compete with our national food supply and can be grown with fewer agricultural inputs on degraded land.

 

A number of advanced feedstocks have been trialed in the U.S., and several have been shown to produce extremely large biomass yields. However, it has been pointed out that the traits of an idealized biomass feedstock (e.g., fast growth, large biomass, ability to grow on poor-quality land) are similar to traits of invasive plant species. A new book, co-edited and co-authored by ISTC Technical Editor Lauren Quinn, explores the issue of invasiveness in bioenergy feedstocks.

 

Bioenergy and Biological Invasions provides in-depth coverage of the biology, ecology, and risk assessment of invasive plants, focusing on those that have been identified as potential bioenergy sources: large perennial grasses, algae, short-rotation woody crops, and others. The book also examines federal and state policies pertaining to invasive plants and bioenergy crops, and considers methods to mitigate the risks of invasion by novel feedstocks.

 

One of the mitigation solutions proposed in the book is the sustainable harvest of existing invasive plant populations as a source of biochar or a source of biomass for combustion or conversion to fuel products. The ISTC is a leading force in research and development of biochar as a soil amendment and for carbon sequestration, and our researchers are currently investigating novel feedstocks as sources of biochar.

 

The idea of harvesting existing invasive plant populations for biomass is relevant to a current collaboration between ISTC and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) to test the energy applications of switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and other plants harvested from roadways. Although it is native to much of the U.S., the jury is still out on the invasion potential of switchgrass. However, ISTC researchers collaborating with IDOT have determined that switchgrass pelletized for combustion is an economical method of maximizing the energy present in this plant. In addition, alternative energy applications of switchgrass are being investigated through ISTC funding. Researchers from Eastern Illinois University, supported by an ISTC grant, performed an exploratory study on the potential for switchgrass pellets to produce syn-gas, reporting that switchgrass pellets were successfully co-gasified with wood chips in a 50/50 mix.

 

Biomass-based bioenergy offers one potentially sustainable way to move beyond fossil fuels, as discussed in the book and as illustrated by the innovative ISTC research highlighted here. However, as the biomass market scales up, it will be increasingly important to avoid introducing invasive species, to avoid replacing one problem with another.