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Reduce, Reuse and Recycle Homes in Detroit

4 Jan 2017

table1“Would you cut down an old growth forest just to put the lumber in a landfill? That’s what typical demolition of a neighborhood does.” This was our introduction from Kevin at Workshop  – a Detroit-based furniture manufacturer that uses lumber reclaimed from Detroit’s vacant and abandoned building stock.  Detroit has been trying to save homes that can be saved but is moving quickly to demolish homes which are beyond repair to stabilize the remaining neighborhoods as the City continues to reinvent itself.

Detroit has reportedly demolished 10,700 homes since 2014 and has another 2,436 in the pipeline.  The bulk of these homes are demolished the way you’d expect – wrecking ball, dumpster, landfill.  However, some houses are being “deconstructed” rather than demolished. Reclaim Detroit is working to fight blight, create jobs for Detroiters, and prevent resources from being landfilled by using deconstruction and reuse techniques.  Their crews dismantle parts of buildings that would otherwise be destroyed, saving antique doors to old growth lumber, while training workers in the green construction and demolition industry. I’ve been told that the average Detroit house has some 10,000 board feet of reusable lumber which would normally go to waste.  Some sources I’ve read indicate that would equal some 20 tons, or roughly  1-3 acres, of trees.

My family and I have been trying to live our espoused values and, while separating our recyclables, trying to be more energy efficient and composting is a start, when we decided to get a new kitchen table (don’t worry, the old one has a new home), we explored options and found Workshop.  The table is old made new again and even is stamped with the address that was the source of the wood.   We’re looking forward to using it for many years to come.

Trade in Honolulu Blue for Green?

5 Aug 2014

largeAs a life-long Detroiter, I know that the Detroit Lions’ colors are Honolulu Blue and Silver, so imagine my surprise when I saw a photo of a green Lions jersey.  Years ago, the Tigers used to wear green uniforms if a spring training game fell on St Patricks Day but this is a bit more than that.

The Lions announced yesterday that they are the first NFL team to join with REPREVE which makes a fabric from recycled plastic bottles.  Repreve and the Lions are launching a consumer education campaign to “Make the Smart Throw,” encouraging fans to toss their bottles into recycling bins instead of trash cans. The Lions are aiming for 100% recycling (at least of plastics). (more…)

Toilet to Tap? I don’t see overcoming the “ick” factor any time soon

2 Jun 2014

drinking_waterAs drought conditions settle in across much of the United States, some communities are beginning to look at the concept of “water reuse,” which sounds very conservationist.  Generally it means so-called “grey water” reuse where water that’s been used once (such as for laundry or car washes) is reused for other non-potable purposes. It also means the capture of rainwater for irrigation (think the barrels that some people have at the end of their downspouts). (more…)

Winter slows composting

26 Apr 2014

10173295_10202676647935551_213056712_nDuring the recent warm-up, I checked on my backyard composters.   I have to admit  that, during the polar vortex of the last few months, I didn’t do much composter turning and, when I tried, I found that the contents were frozen solid!

Basically, the compost is in the same condition it was last fall – which is to say partially composted but nowhere near “garden ready.”  So, my Spring resolution is to get back to composting, to turn the composters daily (so far 5 days in a row) and to have a couple of good batches of compost to report on before mid-summer.

Earth Day at 44…. still crying?

22 Apr 2014

Earth Day brings me right back here

Earth Day brings me right back here

Happy Earth Day 44.  We have come a long way from the challenges and problems that led to the first Earth Day –  a 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California; the dead zone in Lake Eriesmog in Los Angeles and burning rivers in the Midwest.

The first Earth Day led to the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of environmental laws like the Clean AirClean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.  As the EPA and its state counterparts have continued to regulate, there has been a backlash of business and media outcry which certainly impacts the public’s views.

The challenges we face today are more complex and likely more daunting than those of 44 years ago.  We still have oil spills, but they are from rail cars, pipelines, larger ships and deeper wells.  Lake Erie and many other bodies of water are still challenged by more diffuse and “below the radar” sources of contamination.  While reducing the impacts of asbestos, lead and NOx from our daily lives, and healing the ozone hole, we now face questions regarding greenhouse gasses, smog impacts from and in China unlike anything LA ever faced, and the challenges and benefits posed by fracking.

Once the “low hanging fruit” of easy cleanups were “picked,” what we were left with was less shocking or engaging than dead fish and burning rivers.  Consequently, there’s much more debate about the best way to address them or whether they need to be addressed at all.  The issues are just as important – maybe more so, but it’s unlikely that our polarized nation would agree on what changes would be best, if any.

Another attempt to expand Michigan’s bottle bill

23 Jul 2013

   I admit that I have always been proud of Michigan’s Beverage Container Deposit Law (the “bottle bill”).  When I lived in North Carolina, every time I saw a discarded soda or beer can on the side of the road I would cringe and think about how that wouldn’t happen in Michigan.  Over the years, however, it has been disappointing that the bottle bill hasn’t been expanded to include beverage containers that have become increasingly popular over the last 20 years (e.g., water, juice, sports drink and energy drink containers). 

Michigan’s bottle bill currently covers carbonated and alcoholic beverages that come in any airtight metal, glass, paper, or plastic container (or a combination) under 1 gallon.  In 1988, the law was amended to include wine coolers and canned cocktails, and in 2012, it was amended to specifically exempt frozen pouch drinks. 

The stated purpose of Michigan’s bottle bill is to reduce roadside litter, clean up the environment, and conserve energy and natural resources.    Given this purpose and the fact that beverage containers may negatively impact the Great Lakes, it is unfortunate that every effort to expand the bottle bill (such as this one) to include non-carbonated, non-alcoholic beverage containers has failed.  I was therefore happy to hear that, once again, legislation to expand the bottle bill had been introduced in the Michigan Senate.  The proposed amendment would expand the 10 cent deposit and return on bottles to include noncarbonated water and nonalcoholic carbonated or noncarbonated drinks (with a specific exception for unflavored rice milk, unflavored soymilk, milk and other dairy derived products).

For an interesting weighing of the pros and cons of bottle deposit programs see this extensive analysis conducted for Maryland by the University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center, in partnership with the Center for Integrative Environmental Research and ECONorthwest.  The report ultimately concludes that if Maryland chose to move in the direction of a deposit program, it should establish the most effective deposit rate (10 cents per container) and that it should cover as may different container types as possible.    

Invasive Species and Unintended Consequences

12 Jul 2013

One action begets a reaction and another and another

Before I took off for vacation, I decided to finish reading 1493 which may be the most thought provoking book on invasive species I’ve ever read.  Author Thomas Mann takes a look at the last 500+ years of world history, economics, anthropology and environment and explains using interesting vignettes how the world we live in is not anything like the world of 1491.

He discusses topics like:

  • malaria and its relationship to the US slave trade;
  • sugar, silver and trade with the far east;
  • how South American potatoes and fertilizer revolutionized Europe and;
  • once the “eggs were all in the basket,” how European farming practices made almost inevitable the potato blight that virtually depopulated Ireland in the mid 1800’s.

He raises many interesting questions, some of which are still being asked today, as in this article regarding the popularity of the “superfood” quinoa as “gentrifying” or changing the South American farmers who used to eat it as a subsistance food.

A fascinating book which raises almost as many questions as it answers and shows how human actions – sometimes on purpose and sometimes not, have resulted in ecosystems (as well as economic systems) which are entirely foreign to the lands they occupy today.  We’ve blogged about Asian Carp and many of us are aware of invasive species like kudzu and purple loosestrife. But I never thought of wheat, onions, earthworms, potatoes, sugar, bananas and horses as invasive species.  I highly recommend this book.