Earth Matters Columns are written by John Frederick and featured in the Altoona Mirror.

Recycling 50%

Written by I.R.C.. Posted in Earth Matters Columns

If you recycle and try to make less waste, you can now easily end up with more in the recycling bin and yard waste bags than what finds its way into your trash can.

Considering that curbside recycling didn’t even exist in most communities a quarter century ago, this is an amazing development. With the inclusion of corrugated cardboard and paperboard in our curbside collections, we can now recycle all our paper-based packaging, every scrap of printed paper and all our bottles and cans. Since it is illegal to burn recyclables in mandated recycling communities (and sort of silly to do so anywhere), it also means that there’s not much left in the trash to legally set ablaze.

Like recycling of all kinds, it’s important to do it properly. Flatten your boxes, stuff them in a larger box and place them next to your other recyclable paper. Save a large cereal box, stick it under your sink and place your flattened paperboard in the box. Set the “box of boxes” out for collection with your paper.
The greasy bottom to your pizza box still goes in the trash. But just about every other piece of cardboard, both at home and work, now gets recycled. In fact, for the first time, what you recycle at home is identical to what you recycle at work.

It’s easy, too. In fact, in many ways some recycling is easier than putting it in the trash bag. Simply replace some of your trash cans with recycling containers. Many folks keep a small paper recycling receptacle near the computer or the place where homework or bill paying is done.

Place a recycling container for your bottles and cans in or near the kitchen. Remember that none of your bottles and cans need to be separated from each other either. Just rinse them out and toss them into the bin together.

Despite the apparent convenience and ease of recycling, we are still struggling to get everyone on board. This is true at both in the home and in the workplace. Sometimes we complain about our trash and recycling haulers. While there have been some problems on that front in the past, our hauler compliance is now much higher than our residential and business recycling compliance.

Though it’s true that those recycle do it enthusiastically, less than half our households recycle in many neighborhoods. On any given week it seems likely that more than one in ten don’t even have waste and recycling service. While many businesses are recycling cardboard, the majority are not recycling anything else at all.

At least 85% of the waste and recycling haulers are recycling, yet only about 50% of the residential dwellings are recycling. Probably less than a third of businesses and institutions are recycling everything they should.

Yet there are many success stories in places where they don’t even have to recycle. The Martinsburg Area Recycling Center has already sold 250 memberships, even though they have to pay a small fee to help pay for collection costs. Likewise, many businesses are going above and beyond the call of duty.
Now if we could just find a way to make that enthusiasm contagious…

Besides the addition of cardboard, more information on the May 4 special recycling event at PNG Field at the Blair County Ballpark is available at www.ircenvironment.org

Buy Here, Live Here

Written by I.R.C.. Posted in Earth Matters Columns

Buy here. Live here. That is the simple four word message that is the centerpiece of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce’s recently introduced campaign to get folks to buy more locally.

What does it really mean? Is it just a business campaign? Or are there environmental benefits, too?  What it means may not be the same thing to everyone. To some, it’s just about buying things close to home. To others it might mean supporting local artisans, manufacturers and builders, instead of purchasing things made in Asia or South America.

It might be buying Benzels’ Pretzels, made right here in Altoona. You might choose McIntyre’s, Dutch Hill, Boyers or Gardner’s candy, all made in Blair County. You like Ritchey’s milk. You enjoy the baked goods from The Dream in Hollidaysburg or the bread from Pacifico’s Bakery. Your pizza choice might be one of the local shops instead of one of the national chains.

Many enjoy the local cuisine and recipes from one of our incredible family-owned restaurants in the community. Though it’s hard to find locally manufactured laundry detergent or cars made in Blair County, buying locally manufactured goods can still go beyond your food choices. One of our greatest regional manufacturing success stories is also one of our greenest. The American Eagle recycled paper mill in Tyrone now markets its paper right here in Blair County.
Buying local can also include local services. While some feel compelled to look for their health care elsewhere, our local hospitals frequently offer service and skills equal or superior to larger urban hospitals.

Custom woodworkers and local furniture finishers offer exceptional quality and beautiful workmanship. They often used locally harvested wood. Local nurseries grow a wide variety of trees and landscape plants in and near Blair County.

Though their products may be manufactured outside the region, locally owned stores are still common in some business sectors. Not surprisingly, McCartney’s Office Supplies’ Randy Greene, chair of the Buy Here, Live Here Committee, is a great example. Besides office supplies, locally owned furniture and hardware stores have continued to do business and even thrive here in Central Pennsylvania.

Specialty stores are frequently local establishments, the environmentally-friendly Green Home Goods being an excellent example.
There are still many other local stores and establishments that employ or are owned by people from our own community. The Chamber of Commerce’s campaign includes those businesses, too.

What businesses you choose can depend on many factors but their local connections are as important as any other. Doing business locally or buying locally produced products is not just good for the local economy but is good for the environment as well.

When people or goods travel shorter distances, they inevitably use less energy. Locally made products tend to be manufactured in a more sustainable way, too. Environmentally damaging or unsafe manufacturing practices are easier to ignore if they happen in China or India, but they’re hard to ignore in your own backyard. So no matter which interpretation of the buy here, live here message you follow, buying locally is a good thing for business, workers, and the environment.

John Frederick writes on environmental issues every other Saturday. He apologizes to all the local-based businesses that he didn’t have room to mention. Contact him at jfrederick@ircenvironment,org.

Green Cities

Written by I.R.C.. Posted in Earth Matters Columns

I have been fortunate enough to see much of America and usually in untraditional ways. Whether by bicycle, train, bus or automobile, I have touched down in all but four of the contiguous 48 states.

I have always tried to enjoy the journey as much as the end destination and natural places. Beyond marveling at the natural wonders of these United States, I came to be an observer of America’s cities as well. Much like my untraditional travel across America, my observations of urban America have been similarly untraditional.
Over the last two decades, my work has taken me to meetings and conferences in big cities all across America. Cities that are chosen for such events are usually the kinds of places that people like to visit. They are generally clean, attractive and charming. Most have notable parks or green space and tend to be safe and pedestrian friendly. An increasing number of these “livable” cities have exceptional bikeway networks and parks.

Folks that visit such cities find them to be pleasant places but frequently don’t pay attention to exactly why they enjoy them. In the hopes of learning from their success, I find it interesting to see why such cities are the way they are.

San Antonio, Texas has its downtown Riverwalk and built a vibrant downtown with a blend of new businesses and historic buildings. Boulder, Colorado has preserved its wooded mountain sides above the pedestrian and bicycle friendly city.

Madison, Wisconsin has built a similarly extensive bikeway system and an incredible recycling program. San Jose, California has adopted "green building" policies and encouraged sustainable development projects that must consider transit and environmental issues while tackling safety and neighborhood improvement programs.
These cities have experienced tremendous growth because they are blessed with some natural or scenic assets. Each has preserved many of the historic treasurers and buildings that have made them important places in the distant past. They have also paid close attention to things (especially “Green” things) that enhance the quality of life. They have all capitalized on their economic assets, too.

Altoona shares, at least in part, some of the same assets that many of these cities have. It has natural beauty and a notable university campus. Though not the economic dynamo, we find ourselves in better shape economically than many do.
It could develop many of the things that have made these other cities standout. But to turn the corner environmentally and economically, we must make a commitment as a region. That means we must preserve the natural beauty with which we have been blessed and the history we still have. It means that we must make our community a nice place to walk, bike, play and relax.

To do these things we need a plan and we need to work together. Challenges on so many fronts make it difficult to tackle such ambitious efforts. Yet we must find a way to improve what we already have. As individual citizens, we should do what we can to contribute to this change and let our elected officials know that these things are important to all of us.

John Frederick writes on environmental issues every other week in the Mirror. Readers can contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Illegal Dumps

Written by I.R.C.. Posted in Earth Matters Columns

PA CleanWays, the state’s anti-dumping organization, released the results of their illegal dump survey in Blair County last week and it’s not a pretty picture. The organization found 116 illegal dumps and at least one was discovered in every township in the county.

Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg since the surveyors did not wander onto private property without permission of landowners. That means that these 116 dumps were primarily just the ones that could be seen from a public right-of-way.

How many more dumps are there in Blair County? It’s impossible to say for sure but it seems safe to say that it’s at least twice that amount.
How did we get to the point that we have more than 200 dumps, particularly in a place that is blessed by so much natural beauty?

Like so many environmental issues, the answer to that question is complicated. Research done by both CleanWays and the Professional Recyclers of Pennsylvania (PROP) has shown that dumping is more likely to occur when waste and recycling services are inconvenient or expensive. People will generally do the right thing when given the opportunity, but too many counties and municipalities in Pennsylvania don’t provide or facilitate those services.

Communities with recycling programs and mandatory waste collection have far fewer dumps than their non-recycling, non-waste collecting neighbors. Local governments must mandate waste collection and recycling should be made available to everyone. Curbside recycling and programs for special wastes (like electronics, appliances, tires and furniture) are especially important. Public education and enforcement make a difference, too.

Keeping the dumps cleaned up and making it difficult to get to the dump (by blocking access to dump-prone areas) also discourages future dumping.
Spending money to discourage dumping is actually a good investment. In the long run, dumping is much more expensive than proper disposal. If you figure in volunteer time and equipment use, the cost per ton can to clean up a dump can easily rise to over $700 per ton. That’s about ten times what it costs to dump trash in a landfill and $700 per ton more than what it costs to recycle.

Beyond the expense of cleaning up these messes, dumps and litter make Blair County an ugly place, driving away businesses and many of our young people.
Yet even when affordable and convenient services are provided, some people still dump. Most amazingly, more than 75 per cent of dumps contained recyclable material that can be taken to local centers and drop-off sites for free.

So it is clear that we must also change attitudes. We must do everything we can to build pride in our communities. It cannot be done by local government, volunteer organizations or committed individuals alone.

If you know of an illegal dump or see someone dumping, call your municipal office. Let your elected officials know that trash collection is important, that recycling makes sense, that special wastes must be addressed and that they need to aggressively prosecute those that dump, litter or burn illegally. The time has come to work together and stop saying that someone else will take care of the problem.

John Frederick writes about environmental issues for the Mirror. He can be contacted by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . To read the entire illegal dump report for Blair County, visit www.pacleanways.org and click on Illegal Dump Surveys.

New Recyclables

Written by I.R.C.. Posted in Earth Matters Columns

Curbside recycling programs in Blair County are adding new materials for the first time in more than a decade.

All the plastic bottles and most printed paper generated in your home or workplace can now be recycled if you live in Altoona, Logan Township, or Tyrone and Hollidaysburg Boroughs, the county’s four mandated recycling municipalities.

Like many other communities in Pennsylvania, these municipalities realize that the recycling world has changed and more materials can be recovered and made into new products.

When recycling began in earnest in the early nineties, only two types of post-consumer paper were commonly recycled – newspaper and high grade white office paper. There has always been a great deal of industrial scrap recovered in the paper making process but recycling of paper used by consumers (hence the name post-consumer) was sporadic twenty years ago.

Non-profit groups would sponsor newspaper recycling programs, but the recovery rate was low, since only the most enthusiastic recyclers would bother to save it and drop it off. As curbside and workplace recycling expanded and world-wide demand for paper fiber grew, the kinds of paper that could find a recycling home grew as well. Magazines and catalogs were the first and other mixed grades of papers followed.

But just as all paper is not created equal, recycled paper products were a reflection of the paper they were made from. Lower grades of mixed paper can only be made into lower valued recycled paper. Marcal Paper, just over the New Jersey border, makes tissue and paper towels from such paper. Henry’s Molded Products in southeastern Pennsylvania makes molded packing material and biodegradable planting pots.

High quality paper can be made into fine printing paper, the American Eagle Paper Mill in Tyrone being an excellent local example of a company utilizing such fiber.
Meanwhile, recovery of other plastic bottles beyond the old recycling stalwarts , #1 PET and # 2 HDPE, has grown, allowing us to add all plastic bottles to our collection.
Yet we have another motivation for expanding to an “All-Bottle” educational message. The most common contaminants in our recycling stream are non-recyclable plastics. It turns out that plastic trays, cups and tubs all have a recycling arrow on the bottom but even those marked #1 and #2 cannot yet be cost effectively recycled. Though chemically similar to the bottles with the same number, they melt at a different temperature and cannot be recycled with them. The “All-Bottles” message eliminates this confusion. Now there’s no need to even look at the number; if it’s a bottle, stick it in your bin.

The vast majority of plastic bottles remain #1 and #2 and the markets for those plastics remain very strong. A large portion of the #1 (which is actually polyester) goes into carpet, much of it made by the famous carpet manufacturer, Mohawk. A great deal of our #2 high density polyethylene is used by a Pennsylvania company, Graham Recycling in York.

It turns out that many of our other recyclables are recycled or prepared for end market users right here in Pennsylvania. So beyond being good for the environment, our recycling efforts do good things for Pennsylvania businesses, too.

Visit the Intermunicipal Relations Committee recycling website (www.ircenvironment.org) for more on recycling in Altoona area communities.

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