Eco Blog: dedication to Green Hauling

The Low-Down on Lowes: Lowe’s ordered to pay $18.1 Million Settlement for Environmental Violations

May 18th, 2014

lowes-charleston-sc1-480x30236 years ago, the Love Canal neighborhood of Niagara Falls, New York, began coming under serious scrutiny as disproportionate rates of reproductive disorders (miscarriages and birth defects) among its residents sparked an investigation which disclosed that the community had been built on a former chemical waste ground used to dump over 20,000 tons of toxic waste – and the city knew it. Two years later, and multiple civic actions to pressure government to relocate residents, culminated in a declaration that the city was a “national emergency” by President Jimmy Carter, who then sanctioned government-funded relocation of the residents (Source: http://unioncity.patch.com/groups/police-and-fire/p/alameda-county-judge-orders-lowes-to-pay-181-million-settlement-for-environmental-violations#).

The phrase history repeats itself comes to mind after the latest revelation that four Lowe’s stores in Alameda County, CA were just found guilty of illegal dumping of hazardous wastes. California law specifically states that merchants must keep hazardous waste in separate and labeled containers to minimize the chance of exposure to humans, and further, to avert dangerous chemical reactions among incompatible chemicals. However, a two-year investigation (from 2011 to 2013) of Lowe’s stores by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office Environmental Protection Division and investigators from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (and other state environmental regulators), unearthed a consistent practice of sending hazardous wastes to local landfills not permitted to receive those wastes (despite the fact that dumping hazardous wastes at landfills has been prohibited on the residential level for decades). Moreover, the investigation also revealed that instead of recycling compact fluorescent light bulbs and batteries solicited at store kiosks for this express purpose, the stores were illegally dumping them in their trash.  Compact fluorescent light bulbs are known to contain mercury, which is linked to cancer and other serious health hazards.

The Final Straw

California, and the Bay Area (which includes Alameda County) in particular, is especially concerned about preventing environmental damage and health hazards associated with toxic wastes – as evidenced by its local ordinances which prohibit or inhibit the generation, or diversion to landfill, of household and industrial hazardous wastes. Consequently, the civil enforcement action filed this month in Alameda County (spearheaded by the District Attorneys of Alameda, San Joaquin and Solano counties) alleges that more than 118 California Lowe’s stores have unlawfully handled and disposed of hazardous wastes ranging from pesticides, to solvents, to aerosols, to paint and colorants, in addition to electronic waste (e-waste) and other toxic, combustible and corrosive materials.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge George C. Hernandez, Jr. ordered Lowe’s Home Centers, LLC, to pay $18.1 million (part of a civil environmental prosecution settlement) of which nearly $6 million will be allocated for hazardous waste minimization projects and consumer protection environmental projects.

By: Ethan Malone

Upcycle It! Turning Trash into Treasure

May 1st, 2014

Making stuff out of junk lying around goes back to our earliest memories of making pies out of mud.  It’s instinctive…and it’s as much a part of being a kid, as getting ice cream all over your face.  For the past two years, kids have been getting to be kids – and – do something great for the planet at the Richmond Art Center’s second-annual maker festival: Upcycle.  The family-centric event invites kids of all ages to make art and essentials out of, well, junk.  While families create art from the stuff of landfills, they also are treated to some timely lessons about how they can continue to be creative about waste, rather than just kicking old stuff to the curb – another popular habit with kids (Source: http://www.sfgate.com/science/article/Upcycle-Kids-learn-how-to-turn-trash-into-art-in-5390176.php).

Building on the runaway popularity of the Bay Area’s Maker Faire, kids learn to turn water into wine, so to speak, fashioning bags from old clothing scraps, rugs from T-shirts, and a timeless favorite – making mosaics out of old plates and tile pieces. The old inner tube conundrum gets worked out, as old bicycle inner tubes are transformed into – you guessed it! – jewelry. The Crucible, a bastion of upcycle creativity, would be proud to see the kids, parents and friends getting a taste of soldering 3-D stuff that may or may not be sculptural. Rounding out the experience, artists will be on hand to help connect participants with their inner artist, musicians who make music out of recycled/upcycled materials. A d as an extra bonus, all materials are free – of course.

For those who weren’t able to make it to this year’s Upcycle, there are a bunch of cool things you can do all on your own to make magic outta messy stuff. In honor of Earth Day last year, junk hauler Fast Haul put together a nifty list for those who aren’t afraid to be creative and craft with junk (Source: http://www.fasthaul.com/ecoblog/2013/04/12/turning-trash-into-treasure-infographic/).

Disposable_Chopsticks_Making_Machine_1Number One: Chopstick

Ever notice how sturdy these are and feel a pang of guilt at just throwing them away?  Banish that remorse by turning them into an earth-friendly fruit bowl for yourself or as a gift.

 

 

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Number Two: Bottle Glasses

Lately, it seems that we have almost as many options for non-alcoholic specialty drinks in the refrigerated section of the grocery store as we do alcoholic beverages. And the bottles are increasingly highly stylistic and artsy.  While recycling these is acceptable in more and more communities, an even better solution is to re-use or upcycle them.

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Number Three: the Ugly Tie Solution

It’s inescapable that at some point, if you’re a guy, you’ll be given (with due affection) the ugliest tie you’ve ever seen.  Where do these things go?  Thrift shops, most likely.  Ties don’t have huge resell value, so they are – in terms of yardage – a real steal…and they make great source material for funky clutches, and the like.

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Number Four: the Accidental Tourist (Suitcase Pet Bed)

Thrift stores practically throw old suitcases with broken handles, missing hinges, etc. at you when you walk in the door.  For a fraction of the cost of a ready-made pooch bed, you can make your own out of one half of a suitcase.

 

 

 

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Number Five:  Coast-to-Coast Cardboard Coasters

Easy, fun, and oh-so-earth-day, these are a nice way to upcycle some of the packaging that comes from all our online shopping.

 

 

 

By: Ethan Malone

 

Garbage Collection Fees Going Up in Berkeley

April 21st, 2014

SideLoader-Truck-with-Extended-Arm-004The money is not there in waste collection. That’s what the city of Berkeley has come to realize, as it moves to offset its loss (or projected loss) of nearly $3 million in waste pickup services, by increasing garbage collection rates by 25% coming into effect July 2014. In addition to this, Berkeley residents will notice some new language on their bills; “Zero Waste Services” will replace “Refuse”. According to city officials, they simply weren’t charging enough to cover the associated recycling and compost pickup costs.

In a recent meeting of the City Council of Berkeley, members were given two choices: either increase fees by 24.7%, or, phase in a 35.5 percent increase over three years. City Council members voted to for the former approach. How will this breakdown? Those on the bottom of the food chain (residents using the smallest bins) will see a $3 increase, those with 20-gallon bins, $5, and those using 32-gallon bins will see a $7 increase service.

In addition to mitigating the deficit, funds raised by these increases will help rebuild and improve the transfer station, Materials Recovery Facility, and support recycling outreach and education campaigns.  Notices are scheduled to go out to residents on March 28 and a public hearing is scheduled on May 20.  City spokesman Matthai Chakko wanted to assure residents that Berkeley’s pickup fees are still in line with the average rates of nearby cities. To offset these kinds of cuts in the future, the city is considering cutting back some pickup services, a move that has worked for other cities.

Junk Hauler’s Rates Remain Competitive

While the City of Berkeley is planning to increase rates, companies like Fast Haul are making their business more competitive, to pick up the slack. Fast Haul’s truck are 15 to 30% larger than their large franchise competition – the old adage of being lean and mean, fits them well. This bodes well, as it lets them keep prices down while taking on more projects and servicing a wider area. This follows good business, as more and more cities in the Bay Area clamp down on the objects that can be collected, recycled, and/or diverted into landfill, in the surge to reach the Zero Waste frontier. See Fast Haul’s rates.

Source: http://blogs.kqed.org/newsfix/2014/02/28/berkeley-to-increase-garbage-collection-fees-by-25-february-27-2014-230-pm-by-emilie-raguso/

By: Ethan Malone

Is it Too Early to be Green in Space? The Trash Continues to Culminate

April 18th, 2014

ESA_spacedebrisHuman waste isn’t isolated to merely the surface of the planet Earth. Since the moment the people of this planet began an interest in space, the amount of trash left behind has expanded. Whether it is the remnants of a rocket booster or decommissioned orbiting satellites, there is a great deal of trash above the heads of everyone. In rare instances, some of this trash has made it back to Earth’s surface. Luckily, there has yet to be a fatality from this orbiting danger.

A Lot of Debris Up There – By 2010, approximately 3700 inactive satellites had been detected as well as more than 15,000 other objects the size of a fist or larger. This isn’t including more than 500,000 smaller pieces ranging from marble sized and up. Given the amount of area surrounding the Earth in terms of actual space, this may not sound like it poses a threat. Consider that a very large portion of these pieces are traveling at a high velocity, a great deal of area can be covered by just a handful of debris.

Phones, Internet and TV are Threatened – Currently, equipment and electronics that are used on a regular basis face the greater danger. A high-velocity aluminum object came within a mile of striking the International Space Station. The 10-centimeter object was traveling at such a rate that it would have been the equivalent of seven kilograms of TNT detonating should it have hit the space station. An impact of that magnitude would have decimated the ISS.

Speed Plus Frictionless Space Equals Disaster – What makes the debris so dangerous is the rate of speed these objects are traveling. Even something the size of a marble can leave a fairly large crater depending on how fast it’s traveling. The faster an object is moving, the greater the kinetic force is behind that object. Should a small piece of debris strike a GPS satellite or other communications device, it could destroy that object causing confusion on planet Earth.

Restricting Humanity’s Activity in Space – The more trash that humankind puts into orbit, the greater the risk is for future exploration. All of the communications that people take for granted on a daily basis could quickly become rendered useless. This isn’t including the dangers that larger objects pose to those people below. A thruster from a rocket could virtually reduce several city blocks to nothing more than dust should it fall with great enough velocity.

Getting Rid of the Trash – In 2013, many have become interested in the “Slig-Sat” project. Essentially, it is a satellite that grabs larger pieces of debris and hurls it into other areas of space that don’t pose a threat to Earth. However, some believe that this is essentially causing additional problems for the space travelers of tomorrow. It would be the equivalent of moving a landfill to another part of the landscape. Sooner or later, it’s still going to cause a problem. Others believe that sending the debris on a trajectory for the Sun would be a more viable option. This would make our star the largest trash incinerator in human history.

Although we produce technology to make as little of an impact as possible, humanity is still threatened by trash on the ground and in the skies. While some take the prospect of space debris seriously, there is less effort in the process than what many believe there should be. Will it take the annihilation of a small city by a rocket booster or satellite before humanity understands how dangerous space trash truly is?

Ken Myers is a father, husband, and entrepreneur. He has combined his passion for helping families find in-home care with his experience to build a business. Learn more about him by visiting @KenneyMyers on Twitter.

Bags Banned On Either Side of the Caldecott Tunnel

April 2nd, 2014

images (1)Single-use or plastic bags are up for a ban in Walnut Creek, due to take effect fall 2014.  The ban was reached in a 4-1 decision by the city’s council members recently bringing the city into the fold of over 100 other cities throughout the state of California who have enacted such a measure. Walnut Creek is the fifth city in the county to enact such a ban.  The ban will prohibit plastic single-use bags at all restaurants and retail stores, as well as supermarkets and pharmacies.

Assessments in Walnut Creek found that plastic bags litter waterways and cause environmental degradation. By eliminating them, the city will be better able to meet federal waste reduction requirements. The ordinance will require that a fee of from 10 to 25 cents for each bag be charged to customers by participating stores, with the exception of paper bags, as well as certain plastic bags (those without handles, typically used to protect meat, produce, and dairy from exposure to other objects).  Plastic bags used by launders for dry-cleaned clothes, food retailers for prepared foods, pharmacies for prescription medications are also exempt.

Stores must comply with the ban by September, but restaurants, which had previously been excluded from the ban, will have until December to do so. The additional time will be used to educate restaurants and smooth the transition away from the extremely popular take-out bags. State law mandates grocers recycle plastic bags, but this is costly and still doesn’t address the issue of their ultimate entry into the environment. According to a Walnut Creek city program manager, only 3 percent of plastic bags in California are recycled.

The city means to change that, with a fine scheme that charges $100 for first-time ban violators, $200 for second-timers in a 12-month period, and $500 for third-time violators and any subsequent violations.

Source: http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_25279482/walnut-creek-bans-plastic-bags

By: Ethan Malone

 
 
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