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

Special Recyclables

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

Most of our loyal readers recycle bottles, cans, paper and cardboard at home and work every day. Since we began the local recycling efforts in 1991, we have been able to add new materials because markets for those commodities have grown stronger.

Though curbside and business recycling still costs money, the strong markets for these materials make recycling much less expensive than waste disposal. Real “Green” jobs have grown from the industry and a very large portion of them have been American and Canadian jobs.

But it just hasn’t been the traditional curbside materials and products that have been doing well. Many of our special wastes, those that we make less frequently, have also found a home in the recycling industry. It does not make sense to include these in our weekly or biweekly collections since they are generated less often. But it does make sense to periodically offer collection events for these things.

Such an event is being held at the PNG Field (formerly known as the Blair County Ballpark) next Saturday, June 30th from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. It will be the most extensive special material collection we have ever had and will include used tires, electronics of all kinds, a variety of boxes, hardback books and a host of hard-to-recycle plastics.

With the exception of the tires, all other materials will be accepted at no cost. Standard car tires removed from their rims will be $2.00, tires over fourteen inches start at $12 and large tractor tires (which must be removed from the rims) will be $20.

Thanks to a new state law requiring manufacturers to help support recycling of electronics, those products can now be recycled at no cost to residential and small business generators. This collection will accept just about any product with an electrical cord. The only things that cannot be accepted are those products that contain refrigerant fluids like freezers, refrigerators, air conditioners and dehumidifiers.

When the law goes into full affect throughout Pennsylvania, it will be illegal for anyone to dispose of televisions, computers or their peripherals in the regular trash. So this is a great opportunity to get rid of those old electronics that have been setting around gathering dust. Several paper and cardboard items will also be accepted. All kinds of boxes, both corrugated and paperboard boxes (like cereal, pasta or cracker boxes) as well as all types of books (including hardbacks) will be accepted for free.

Perhaps the biggest news is the opportunity to recycle a large number of difficult-to-recycle plastics. In addition to plastic bags and film, the collection will include foam packaging (often referred to as Styrofoam®) and non-food rigid plastic products. These rigid plastics will include rinsed plastic buckets, drums and trash cans, lawn furniture, toys and playhouse sets, crates, plastic baskets and flower pots, plastic shelving, large plastic water jugs and campaign signs and buttons.

Staff and volunteers from the Intermunicipal Relations Committee, the Blair County Department of Solid Waste and Recycling, PA CleanWays of Blair County and the Blair County Conservation District have organized and will staff the collection next Saturday.

For more, visit one of the hosting organizations’ websites.
John Frederick writes on environmental issues every other Saturday. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . More can be found at www.ircenevironment.org or www.blaircounty.org.

 

Sidewalks

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

Sidewalks have begun popping up in the most unusual places. And sometimes they seem to be sidewalks to nowhere. Yet there is a method to this madness. Though many municipal leaders sensed it already, a pedestrian study along Pleasant Valley Boulevard and Plank Road confirmed that better and safer pedestrian access was worthwhile.

Recognizing the importance of sidewalks along the corridor, the Blair Chamber of Commerce’s Transportation Committee recommended the study and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) subsequently commissioned the analysis. The planning commissions and elected officials in both the City of Altoona and Logan Township have been especially supportive of the findings of the study and officials now routinely work with developers to build sidewalks along the corridor whenever possible.

For now, it seems as if some of the sidewalks end abruptly and leave pedestrians stranded without a walkway. But Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will a pedestrian friendly corridor like this. The director of Planning and Community Development for the City of Altoona, Lee Slusser, admits that it could take decades to connect the entire network. But he notes that the State College area set such a goal on North Atherton Street thirty years ago and just recently completed one of the last links on the corridor.

Like State College, the City of Altoona and Logan Township have been trying to work with developers to build sidewalks through their land development regulations, one piece at a time. “In a perfect world, we would just build all the sidewalks at once.” But the cost of such an endeavor would be prohibitive.
Along this corridor, sidewalks are now required in areas identified in the recently completed study. It’s not practical or necessary for some stretches to have walkways on both sides of the highway, so they are not required in all cases.

“We usually include an estimate of how much the sidewalk will cost in our plan reviews,” Slusser continued. His hope is that the builder understands the scope and worth of the investment, while the planning commission is mindful of the commitment that is being requested. Both local municipalities try to work with builders and allow flexibility, avoiding problem areas and looking for alternatives to reduce costs.

PennDOT has committed to providing the crosswalk infrastructure as the municipalities build the longitudinal links along the roadways. Their motivation is to provide safe passage for pedestrians while still accommodating the needs of the auto traffic. The study showed that many people cross the busy highway every day, whether it’s safe to do so or not.

Slusser has also been encouraged that developers and the business community have come to appreciate the need. Many have come to see aesthetic value as well, one new restaurant noting that it made their business seem more welcoming from the roadway. While several municipalities and many businesses have come to see the worth and importance of sidewalks in and around such developments (especially to help those with limited transportation options), some still ignore the need.  As shoppers and hotel guests play dodge-‘em with the traffic, let’s hope that those unconvinced businesses and municipalities realize sidewalks may not be such a bad idea.

Butt Litter

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

Whizzing down the highway at 55 or negotiating city traffic, it’s often only the beverage containers that we see littered along our roadways. But peering from the window while stopped at an intersection or walking down a sidewalk on a well-traveled street, it is the cigarette butts that can seem too numerous to count.

Though the bottles and cans may make up the greatest volume of litter, in sheer numbers it is the cigarette butts that take first place in this most dubious competition. At least a quarter (and perhaps as much as four out of ten pieces) of litter are tobacco products.
The explanation for this is more complicated than what it might seem, for many smokers don’t see the errors of their ways. The comparative small size of a butt and the fact that old filterless cigarettes truly were biodegradable may be the foundation of this misunderstanding.

The overwhelming majority of cigarettes now have filters, however, and they are made of the synthetic fiber, cellulose acetate. Though filters may look like cotton, the synthetic material is instead very durable and long-lasting. That might be better for the smoker but it’s not so good from a litter perspective. Once tossed, butts take a long time to go away.

Though small in size, butts also contain several hazardous chemicals. The tar that is filtered out of the cigarette smoke tops the list of nasty by-products left behind. But the remaining tobacco also leaves behind nicotine, a very toxic chemical that has been used as an insecticide. Studies done by Clean Virginia Waterways has determined that one butt in a gallon of water can kill small crustaceans that are important food for the bottom of aquatic food chains.
While it’s hard to determine the actual number, it seems certain that many wildfires and forest fires have also been started by careless flicking of still-burning cigarettes. Smokey the Bear has been making a living reminding people of that for half a century, yet many still have not gotten that message.

With all this in mind, the Intermunicipal Relations Committee (IRC) recycling office has embarked on a campaign to educate the public about proper disposal of butts, while also raising awareness about litter in general. With funding from Keep America Beautiful’s Cigarette Litter Prevention grant program, the IRC Council of Governments will purchase forty butt receptacles, distribute more than a thousand pocket ashtrays and automobile butt holders and raise awareness among smokers that butts are litter.

A newly formed Cigarette Litter Prevention Program (CLPP) Task Force recently met to discuss the goals of the local effort and identify the places that had the greatest problems with cigarette litter. New ash receptacles will be placed where the need seems greatest and signage will be posted near the most littered intersections and public spaces.

Just like recycling and disposal of other things in public areas, most people will do the right thing if the understand the importance of their actions and if there are clearly identified containers in convenient places. Let’s begin today raising that awareness.

Visit www.ircenvironment.org for more information. If you know of a public place that could use an ash receptacle or you host an event where we might distribute pocket ashtrays or auto butt holders, let us know by e-mailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Butts and Cleanups

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

Much like life, my experiences as an environmental professional can have many rewards amidst incredible frustration.

Two weekends ago, a group of government and non-profit organizations organized an ambitious litter and illegal dump cleanup in northern Logan Township and southern Antis Township between Altoona and Bellwood. The group included the Altoona Water Authority, the Intermunicipal Relations Committee Council of Governments, the Blair County Department of Recycling and Solid Waste, the Blair County Conservation District, PA CleanWays of Blair County, and the Antis Township Department of Public Works. Waste Management and Burgmeier’s both donated disposal services for the material that was collected.

While such cooperation among organizations speaks to the “get it done” attitude of the partnering groups, it was the volunteerism of the community that was the most rewarding part of the effort. More than sixty people, one from as far away as the Harrisburg area, came to help with the cleanup. Many worked into the afternoon.

Yet the story had an even more amazing twist, as many young people joined the effort as well. Students from the Grier School and Tyrone’s third grade class were among several dozen school-aged volunteers. All of them got dirty and many had to pick up disgusting things left behind by less considerate people. (I must admit that we called the dumpers much less complimentary things when we were cleaning up their mess.)

Amazing as the community spirit was in this incredibly unselfish group, one little girl inspired many of us even more. Miranda Raser, not quite three years old, came with her mother and two siblings to help with the cleanup. Much of the litter and trash that Miranda picked up was older than she was. All of it was dumped by people much older, but clearly much less enlightened, than this two and three-quarter year old child.

Strange as it seems, Miranda showed considerably more pride in her community than the several hundred adolescents and grown adults that contributed to the overwhelming litter and illegally dumped trash.

This should and could be a particularly beautiful piece of Blair County, an area of tree covered hills, quiet creeks and pleasant vistas. The upper portion is public watershed and the lower part a recharge area for private well water supplies. But a piggish minority see it instead as a dumping ground. Volunteers picked up an astounding 23 tons of trash, 2,500 pounds of recyclables, close to 200 pounds of hazardous waste and 200 tires.

Besides cleaning up the messes, two other strategies can help address these struggles. Local governments need to understand that better waste and recycling services mean that fewer of these things get dumped in places they should not be. It’s important, then, that municipalities work with the waste and recycling industry to help facilitate convenient and affordable services for those materials that are so often dumped illegally.

Raising awareness about these problems and taking enforcement action when it becomes necessary is equally important.
Next time, we’ll talk about the most overlooked, yet most prolific of all our litter problems – cigarette butts – and see if we can’t take a few steps to raise awareness of another source of roadside blight.

John Frederick ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) writes on environmental issues every other Saturday. For more on the cleanup or upcoming news on the cigarette butt program, be sure to visit www.ircenvironment.org.

Call me an Idealist

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

Call me an idealist, but I have a dream that our community will enthusiastically recognize and embrace the importance of building a truly beautiful place to live. We must all see the value of preserving our natural landscapes and do the work necessary to make our man-made environment attractive and well maintained.
While many share that dream, I’m not sure very many appreciate the commitment we need to make to turn that dream into reality. The commitment is one that needs to be made by individuals, businesses, organizations and local governments together.

The many cleanups and beautification efforts that take place around Earth Day show that a notable number of people agree that such efforts will make this a better place. It seems that more of these volunteer efforts have taken place this year more than any other I can remember. (As many of you read this on Saturday morning, one of the biggest cleanup efforts will be taking place between Altoona and Bellwood.)

Even of you couldn’t make one of the community clean-ups, there are still several things that you can do to contribute to our spring cleaning efforts.
Starting at home or your own workplace, take a few hours to spruce up something that will make your property look better. Clean up that pile of stuff beside the garage or weed that bed beside the house that you have been putting off.

Even if it is someone else’s mess, cleanup a public space near your home. Pickup litter, pull some weeds along the curb line or weed and mulch a street tree in your neighborhood. Do something that will encourage a neighbor to embark on his own cleanup. When you sweep up the sidewalk or street in front of your house, do a bit of the neighbor’s, passing on the subtle hint that he, too, should tidy up his streetscape.

Consider a bigger project that you have been putting off and recruit a neighbor or friend to help when appropriate. If you clean up and mulch around that street tree, ask the neighbors if they want to do the entire block at the same time. Get a small load of sand or stone dust and repair that old brick sidewalk. Brick walkways can be beautiful landscape features and refurbishing an old one is not so overwhelming if a few people work on it together.
Even if it’s just a small one, consider adding a flower or vegetable bed in a corner of your yard. A few vegetables, a couple raspberry plants or a bed of marigolds can add something special to your yard or table without making a bunch of extra work.

If you have the room, add a birdfeeder and a native plant or two that attract songbirds to your yard. Make the conversion to a chemical free lawn or garden. Cutting your grass a bit higher naturally discourages broadleaf weeds like dandelion and plantains. Hand weeding is often more effective than using herbicides and it doesn’t endanger children or pets. We should all encourage enforcement of property maintenance problems, but these examples make it clear that our first step to community beautification begins in our own front and backyards.

John Frederick writes on environmental issues every other Saturday. You can correspond with him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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