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Monday, November 30, 2015

Alternative Energy: creating solutions or potential disasters?

National Geographic Channel invited the Zero Waste in ACTION Blog to join a virtual discussion on the exciting progress in the field of alternative energy. The conversation ties into the upcoming new episode, "Breakthrough: Energy on the Edge" premiering Sunday, December 6, at 9 pm ET on the National Geographic Channel.

The discussion is centered on the following question:
Do you think that by tapping into the new alternative energy sources we can reverse most of the damage we have done to our environment?
As The IMPACT Blog was also invited to join the discussion, Elemental Impact used a point-counterpoint approach to answering the question on alternative energy.

After watching the excellent documentary on alternative energy or "new ways to spin the wheel", Ei was most impressed with the tremendous strides in energy technology along with the significant investments in pilot programs.

From a zero waste perspective, Ei has strong concerns on the life cycle of these new technologies, especially with disposal of by-products and worn out equipment.


photo credit: solarreserve.com
At the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project (CDSEP), a 110 megawatt net solar thermal power project located about 190 miles northwest of Las Vegas,17,500 heliostat mirrors collect and focus the sun's thermal energy to heat molten salt flowing through an approximately 540-foot (160 m) tall solar power tower. According to their website, the solar plant has a 30+ year operating life. 

The plant produces roughly 20% of the electricity generated by a typical coal plant. How many of the solar plants are required to play a significant role in replacing current power plants? At a cost of approximately $1 billion, are the plants cost-effective?

What will happen to 17,500 heliostat mirrors at the end of their 30+ year life, a minuscule moment in the Earth's life? Do the mirrors contain hazardous materials? What type of labor would be required to dismantle the mirrors for reuse | recycle options? 

In August, the CDSEP applied for a five-year permit to discharge up to 0.5 million gallons per day of industrial process wastewater to three double-lined evaporation ponds. Where does the CDSEP pull the water from in the middle of the dessert? Is it depleting vital aquifers in an area nearing (or in) a water crisis?

... and then there are the migratory birds combusted in-flight. On-line videos show the birds turning bright white in the plant's solar flux before literally disintegrating in mid-air. There are concerns the evaporation ponds will attract water and other fowl who may experience similar spontaneous deaths.

With many of the new alternative energy technologies it appears the companies work within an "energy tunnel," without concern for their broader and long-term environmental impact.

photo credit: thinkgeoenergy.com
Of particular concern is the Iceland Deep Drilling Project (IDDP), a geothermal project established in the year 2000 by a consortium of the National Energy Authority of Iceland (Orkustofnun)(OS) and four of Iceland's leading energy companies, with the aim to improve the economics of geothermal energy production. The IDDP inserts cold water into a deep well near molten rock, which produces hot steam over 800 degrees Fahrenheit.

In 2009 the IDDP unintentionally drilled into the magna reserve causing a thermal explosion. Is there reason for concern the IDDP drilling and thermal wells could instigate earthquakes, thermal explosions and | or other geologic phenomena?

At the National Ignition Facility, a large laser-based inertial confinement fusion (ICF) research device, scientists are working to create a mini-Sun that will provide a continuous, self-perpetuating energy source. What are the dangers associated with a mini-Sun made using fusion technology? As stated in the documentary: 
Matter is being heated past the point physics knows how it will behave.
It is imperative alternative energy scientists | companies break out of the "energy tunnel" and focus on the broader humanitarian, environmental and economic impact of their emerging technologies. There is no one answer to the pending energy crisis. Lifestyle choices and human population play a vital role in crafting a solution mosaic.

Thank you National Geographic Channel for producing Breakthrough: Energy on the Edge documentary and opening the virtual discussion. 

... and the IMPACT Blog article, Alternative Energy: embracing the creative spirit, gives the counterpoint. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Simple, easy, proven steps culminate in zero food waste success

‪On October 11 the Ray C. Anderson Foundation (RCAF) hosted the third annual RayDay in a lovely Serenbe country meadow. Over 1400 guests celebrated Ray's legacy, learned at the plethora of educational booths and enjoyed excellent cuisine served by The Food Movement (TFM) food trucks.

TFM trucks at RayDay
photo courtesy of TFM
Thanks to Event Producer Sue Anne Morgan of ideaLand's sustainability commitment, RayDay was a zero food waste event! 

Approximately 1200 pounds of food waste was source-separated for on-site composting at Serenbe. The first-time success was flawless due to collaboration by the necessary parties: RCAF, ideaLand, Serenbe, TFM and non-profit Elemental Impact (Ei).

As the founder of the Zero Waste Zones launched in 2009, Ei is a seasoned zero waste veteran and orchestrated the seamless plan. The first step was to secure the RCAF buy-in, which was an immediate YES!  Serenbe was another easy YES; zero food waste means lower landfill tipping fees, provides compost for farm operations, and aligns with the Serenbe community lifestyle. ideaLand selected TFM to cater RayDay based on their sustainability standards; again, another YES almost before the question was asked!

Ei Founder Holly Elmore
@ food truck sign
photo courtesy Scott Seydel
With the complete food waste chain on-board for zero food waste, Ei went into action mode to set the stage for success. First on the agenda was to ensure only reusable or BPI Certified Compostable food & beverage packaging was used at the event. 

Ei Partner Eco-Products stepped to the plate as an event sponsor providing the food plates and flatware. In addition, Natur-Tec® Sustainable Biobased Materials provided compostable bin liners to ensure no waste was generated while achieving zero food waste. RayDay gifts attendees with a reuseable beverage container as an event take-away. 

To permit on-site food waste composting at Serenbe, Ei secured a Letter of Interpretation from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Environmental Protection Division stating the farm operations were classified as Category One within the state composting regulations. Thus, a state permit was not required as long as the compost remains on the farm.

Although they had piles for farm waste, eggs shells and other vegetation, Serenbe was new to proteins, fats and compostable packaging mixing into their compost pile. Ei Supporter Let Us Compost (LUC) took the helm for creating a master plan to compost food waste on-site for the many catered events at the lovely Inn at Serenbe. The compost recipe is modified based upon the amount of compostable products versus wet food waste generated at an event.

TFM prep food waste - not much
for a 1400- person event!
TFM brought their prep food waste to RayDay to ensure the event was zero food waste from start to finish. Any remaining food meeting the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act was donated to Second Helpings.

Prior to the event start, Ken Fraser with Eco-Products visited the TFM trucks to educate on the compostable packaging. Ken printed signage for each truck to educate the guests on compostable packaging.

Key to RayDay zero food waste success were the Waste Ambassadors. Contracted by ideaLand, the Waste Ambassadors monitored each tri-bin waste station to assist guests with separating items for disposal. ... and the plan worked! There was minimal contamination in the food waste | compostable packaging brought to the compost area. Per LUC Owner Kristen Baskin the only contamination was two latex gloves worn by the Waste Ambassadors.

In addition, the Waste Ambassadors assisted with separating the compostable packaging for grinding prior to its compost pile destination. LUC brought a truckload of wood chips to use as a carbon source in the compost recipe. Hindsight proved Serenbe has ample woody debris from their everyday operations.

Subsequent to RayDay, the Ei Team will visit Serenbe to turn the pile to incorporate air into the decomposition process and confirm proper temperatures. LUC will educate the Serenbe staff on how to properly monitor the food waste compost pile. Best practices ensure pathogens are killed and excellent food for the soil microbial community is the end product.

Ei Chair Scott Seydel enjoyed RayDay with family and friends. While at the event, Scott visited the compost operations and was thrilled with Kristen's education on zero food waste- in-action.

The Ei Team at the food waste
compost area
As documentation is essential to creating a replicable template, the Ei FB album 2015 RayDay is a pictorial recount of the zero food waste journey.

Lessons learned from RayDay's success are the foundation for Les Dames d’Escoffier International, Atlanta Chapter (LEDI ATL) 15th Annual Afternoon in the Country's (AITC) zero food waste journey. Hosted at Serenbe on Sunday, November 8, AITC is a more complicated event with 90 chefs serving food versus one caterer at RayDay. 

The ZWA Blog article, Afternoon in the Country embarks on zero food waste journey, announces Ei | LEDI ATL partnership along with the AITC zero food waste commitment. For details on the action plan, visit the ZWA Blog article, Atlanta Food Waste Heroes: the journey continues.

RayDay validates simple, easy, proven steps culminate in zero food waste success.