All posts by SustainableRossmoor

A Call for Climate Activism

By Brad Waite

This is a call for climate activism! We owe it to our grandchildren and greatgrandchildren to take very serious action to combat the climate crisis. And to do it now! Why?

The climate crisis is causing a rapid increase in the number of kids suffering from what therapists call “eco-anxiety.” They share a growing sense of fear over climate change and impending environmental disasters.

The Power of One

climate activism
Our youth are at risk, get involved!

This anxiety became so severe for one 15-year-old Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, that she became depressed. Fortunately, she decided to take action to help deal with it.

With the blessing of her parents, in August of 2018 she started skipping school every Friday to sit on the steps of the Swedish parliament to lobby for action on the climate crisis. Soon other kids joined her for the same reason. She quickly became the leader of world-wide student-led climate strikes.

In March of this year, the strike she led drew over a million kids to 2,200 actions in over 120 countries. The strike she led on Sept. 20 of this year drew over 5 million people over even more countries. Two members of the Norwegian parliament nominated her for the Noble Prize this year.  Learn more about Greta.

She has awakened the world to the need to take massive action now, while there is at least a fighting chance of saving our planet from becoming uninhabitable. If you don’t believe the risk is real, you may be drinking the  disinformation kool-aid campaign of the fossil fuel industry to deny, delay and obfuscate on this issue, a playbook they took from Big Tobacco. Exxon scientists informed senior management in the 1970s that extracting and burning fossil fuels would create a climate crisis. Yet they have never admitted it while continuing to reap huge profits.

Join the Movement

climate activism
Join the movement, get involved!

I’ll bet you’re asking how you can answer the call for climate activism. What you can do to help? Start by learning enough about the topic to be able to speak with others about it. Then continue to talk with anyone and everyone, starting with your grandkids. Ask them what they think you can do to help. Ask them and their parents what they are doing to help themselves and future generations.

How can you start learning about this crisis? There are plenty of really great books, starting with Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, edited by Paul Hawken. One of the best things about the book is it lists 80 solutions and ranks them by effectiveness. Read Drawdown and pick a solution that works for you. Find an organization that is active and effective in that area and join them, be involved and contribute. They will help to educate you while providing support and camaraderie while you help them move forward.

For example, there are several very effective groups that were started and run by youth, such as Earth Guardians, Sunrise Movement and Youth vs Apocalypse. These three groups all have Bay Area chapters and they all could use mentorship and money. They will supply the energy, passion and courage. I’ve engaged with some of these youth climate activists and can tell you that they are fearless and totally committed to this fight.

Don’t Forget You Have A Personal Part to Play

climate activism
Find an issue you support and get involved!

On a more personal level, you can work to reduce your own household’s carbon footprint. One of the best ways to do that is to use a good online carbon footprint calculator. Contra Costa County has launched its own, which you can access at They call it the Cleaner Contra Costa Challenge and it allows groups or friends/neighbors to form a team to compete for honors by having the largest reduction in carbon footprint. On this website, once you have completed your profile, you will be shown several actions you can take and how much each is expected to cost, if anything, and the expected reduction in carbon.

One very fast and easy step is to opt up to MCE’s Deep Green program from our local community choice energy provider. Their plan delivers electricity from 100% renewable sources. The cost is minimal, with the average MCE customer paying only about five dollars more per month for pollution-free power. Get your account number from your PG& E bill and go to to sign up. For extra credit, use that clean electricity to charge an electric vehicle.

These are just some of the ways you can get motivated and involved. The most important thing is to do something that makes a difference. Respond to the call for climate activism. And remember: keep talking about this issue with others and talk about ways to solve it.

Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, Oct. 30, 2019. Email Brad Waite at

Recycling, Composting, Trash Disposal and Much More

By Dale J. Harrington

The ubiquitous dilemma of “how to and what to” place in recycling, composting and trash disposal containers continues to baffle most of us. I’ve been methodically researching such matters in hopes of finding “the correct” answers to this decision-making process. I hope you will benefit from my research as I share some of my findings.

Use cloth bags or netting bags, instead of plastic, when grocery shopping. This reduces the amount of waste you bring into your house. You can wash the bags and use them over and over.

recycling, composting, trash disposal
Avoid pre-packaged fruits, vegetables , etc. and take your own reuseable bags to market

Buy food that has less packaging. Purchase bulk instead of pre-packaged items. Many pre-packaged vegetables are available in vegetable bins. Selecting items from the bins, allows you to control the quantity and thereby reduce waste. Most plastic wrapping on the pre-packaged items ends up in landfills.  Even if the tray  the vegetables are in is recyclable, by using your cloth or netting bags, you reduce recycling.

Don’t use bottled drinks unless you have to. Mix your drinks into your juice container to save on recycling plastic or glass.

Buy milk in plastic containers since they can be recycled. Milk in cardboard containers cannot be recycled because they have a film on them (prevents leaking), which means they are not recyclable.

My wife was excited when I shared the following sustainable practices for everyday use.

All-Purpose Cleaning Solution:

Consider making your own household cleaners and detergents (as provided on the Family Trip blog): All-Purpose Cleaning Solution

1/2 cup distilled white vinegar 1/2 cup distilled water drops preferred essential oil ** Toilet Cleaning Solution

• Sprinkle baking soda in toilet

– Spray distilled white vinegar on top

• Allow to sit for a few minutes before scrubbing. With your toilets, prevention is key. Once you get nasty mildew build up, it gets a lot tougher to clean. So clean quickly, yet often.

Homemade Dryer Sheets

Fabric scraps – cut into approximately 4-by-4 squares 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar 10 drops preferred essential oil ** 2 tbsp water (tap is fine) Place everything in a resealable container, allow fabric to soak through, add 2 scraps to wet clothes in the dryer before starting the cycle.

You will have to add more liquid to the scraps after some time – the length of which depends on how often you do laundry. Just feel free to add the same ratios of liquid to the jar and fabric scraps.

Hardwood Floor Cleaning Solution

1 gallon of water (can use distilled, tap is fine) 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar 3 drops pH neutral dish detergent (recommended: Dawn Pure Essentials) 1/2 cup rubbing alcohol 2-3 drops preferred essential oil ** ** Essential oil: Concentrated Hydrophobic Liquid: An essential is a natural oil typically obtained by distillation and having the characteristic fragrance of the plant or other source from which it is extracted.

recycling, compost and trash disposal
Reduce single use plastics and other single use containers

Here are a few other tips:

• Take anything that can be reused, such as clothing, to a secondhand store. There are numerous secondhand stores in Walnut Creek.

• Put recyclable items into recycling bins. Do not contaminate them by putting landfill or compost items there.

– Place compostable items into compost bins.

• Dispose used batteries into battery container up at MOD.

– Take fluorescent light tubes to Ace Hardware.

• Do not buy products in aerosol cans. The aerosol contaminates the environment.

As much as anything, stay tuned, share with others what’s working for you. Know we are doing the best we can to inform you about recycling, composting and trash disposal.

See Rossmoor’s recycling page.  Check out Sustainable Rossmoor’s Trash Talking page.

We depend on Republic Services, Recycle Smart, and other services to take care of what we don’t want/need. They depend on their buyers, who often face new challenges for this task. Bottom line: be flexible and know our purchasing decisions truly make a difference.

Courtesy of Rossmoor News, Oct. 16, 2019.  Email Dale J. Harrington at

OVERLOAD: America’s Toxic Love Story

January SR Movie:  OVERLOAD: America’s Toxic Love Story

When: Wednesday, January 8, 7 pm,  Where: Peacock Hall

Toxics in Personal Products

OVERLOAD aims to both illuminate the real dangers of toxic chemicals found in everything from food to furniture to face cream. We learn hundreds are now found in every baby born in America. This film offers us as consumers the tools we need to make better choices that will ultimately improve our own health and public health.

Filmmaker Soozie Eastman, daughter of an industrial chemical distributor, consults world-renowned physicians and environmental leaders such as  Center for Environmental Health  founder Michael Green and the  Environmental Working Group’s  Nneka Leiba, and sits down for interviews with scientists and politicians including  NRDC  senior scientist Jennifer Sass and biologist Tyrone Hayes.
She embarks on a journey to find out the levels of toxins in her own body and explores if there is anything she can do to change them. Just as she feared, her blood tests reveal alarming levels of chemicals such as organophosphates and PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), so she undertakes a rigorous detox regimen of dietary changes, exercise and informed product choices designed to manage and minimize her toxic body burden.
She’s determined to find out: Can we hit the reset button, or is it too late?

Electric Vehicles – What’s New?

Electric vehicles are seen as the sustainable future of transportation. There are, however, two issues that have slowed their adoption. Firstly, their range (how many miles they can go on a fully charged battery).  Secondly, the ease of charging the batteries.

Researchers and businesses around the world are working to address these concerns.

The Race for a Better Battery

The Swiss start-up company Innolith claims to have developed a high-density lithium-ion battery that will give electric cars a 600 mile range. Compare that with Tesla’s batteries, which are produced by Panasonic, and can support 330 miles of range in the most expensive models. Innolith’s battery uses an inorganic solvent that is more stable and less flammable than the organic compound used in lithium-ion batteries.

However, Innolilth’s battery has not been independently verified so major car makers haven’t lined up to buy it yet. The company is starting pilot production in Germany. It admits it may take up to three (3) years to commercially launch the product.

Battery Charging…today

electric vehicle
Battery charging time will decrease as Level 3 stations become more common.

On the charging issue, most EV owners prefer the convenience of charging their vehicles at home.  Eighty percent (80%) of current owners do just that. However, they use either with Level 1 (a standard 110 volt outlet) or Level 2 (an upgrade to a 240-volt outlet). Both of these levels use AC (alternating) current. Level 1 can replenish the battery of some limited-range electrics and the hybrids – like the Chevrolet Volt or Fiat 500e – overnight. Vehicle models with larger batteries providing a range of over 200 miles require Level 2 for overnight charging.

Level 3 fast charging is 480 volts and uses a DC (direct current) plug. It is available at some commercial locations, such as Whole Foods markets, parking garages and car dealerships.

Battery Charging…looking forward

What if Level 3 fast charging were to become available for individual homeowners at a reasonable cost? And better yet, what if the electricity could come directly from solar panels to a storage battery, to the car, and bypass the local utility company completely?

The online publication Off Grid Energy Independence reports TU DELFT, along with the companies Power Research Electronics and Last Mile Solutions, has developed a quick charger that can charge cars directly from solar panels using DC current. The product is still in development stage.

electric vehicle
Roof top solar panels would enable residents to more easily and cheaply charge electric vehicles

Such a technology would be a boon for places like Rossmoor. For example, many living units and carports at Rossmoor have limited electricity. Certainly not enough to support multiple EV charging outlets. If solar panels could be installed on carport or garage roofs to provide electricity for EVs without the need to connect to the utility grid, that problem would be solved.

Major car companies are investing heavily in electric vehicles. For example, Volkswagen is converting a gas engine car factory into an electric car factory. The factory will produce over 300,000 cars per year. Hopefully major technological advances in residential charging via solar energy won’t be far behind.

Courtesy of Rossmoor News, Sept. 18, 2019.  Email Anne Foreman at


December SR Movie:


When: Wednesday, December 11, 7 pm.  Where:  Peacock Hall

IDLE THREAT is a look at one man’s spirited struggle to improve public health by raising awareness about the impact of vehicle idling exhaust. His mission: draw attention to legislation making it illegal in New York City to idle a parked car or truck for more than 3 minutes — and put some teeth behind the enforcement of the law.

Idling engines consume more than 6 billion gallons of gasoline annually in the U.S., a significant but little-known contributor to local air pollution, respiratory and other diseases, and global climate change. The fumes contain several GHGs, including nitrous oxide which damages airways, blood vessels, and affects mental function. Other cities and some States have similar laws, but staff time for enforcement is lacking. Below are details about California and the Bay Area.

In a white shirt and tie, Wall Street banker George Pakenham has walked the streets of New York since 2003, courteously confronting over 3,000 drivers to explain idling’s impact and the 1971 NYC law prohibiting running a parked vehicle for more than 3 minutes. He has gained world-wide recognition for the anti-idling cause, with articles featured in the Wall Street Journal, New Yorker magazine, the Financial Times, and on TV. 

He has found that over 70% of drivers will turn off their engines, no matter the weather, after discussion of a card he’s had printed that lists the public health impacts of idling on one side and quotes the law on the other. Those drivers that don’t comply can be subject to a fine that starts at $350 and goes up to $2,000. When documented with photos or videos, he and others are eligible to receive 20% of the fine. He personally has collected more than $10,000 this way and the NYC Department of Environmental Protection now receives over 1,000 documented complaints annually.

65 minutes with SDH captions.


Several US states have some sort of restrictions on both truck and car idling. 

In California, there is a 5 minute idling restriction for diesel trucks or if an idling vehicle is unattended, and a 30 second restriction on commercial vehicles (e.g. buses) parked near schools. Palo Alto passed the most restrictive US law this summer, with a “2 or 3 minute” idling limit on all stationary vehicles (e.g. not in traffic). The UK has the most restrictive idling laws.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has had a campaign for several years, organized by the Spare-the-Air team. They created a cute video and a “toolkit”.  Because the toxic fumes are heavier than air and children are low to the ground, they are more at risk. A few school systems and some merchants with drive-thru lanes have created “idle-free zones”. At Pittsburg and Martinez schools, children volunteer to stand at the curb and enforce posted signs where parents line up their cars. Most Walnut Creek and Lamorinda schools have yet to take action.

The fumes enter through the front of your car if your engine is running and the car in front if you is idling. The gaseous toxins are concentrated more than 10-fold inside your car. Your air filter only works on particulate matter, not these toxic gases. Idling engines burn gasoline much less efficiently than when in motion, upping the hazards. Hybrid vehicles and EVs produce no such pollution, but are vulnerable to cars with internal combustion engines in front.

Wild-Fire Smoke from Recent Forest Fires

By Wayne Lanier

Wildfires, as everyone knows, bring devastation.  The fires destroy homes and lay waste to forests.  Wildfire smoke exacerbates the damage.

Forests are a major natural environmental component that removes the “greenhouse gas,” carbon dioxide (CO2), from the atmosphere. Trees replenishes the oxygen we breathe as they sequester CO2.

Jim Ware highlighted the “Plant for the Planet” initiative on this blog Nov. 13th.  It was also published in the Rossmoor News on Aug. 21st.  The project’s goal is to “mass produce” more forests.”

The “Plant for the Planet” project is encouraging. It is the only way to increase the area and impact of our world’s natural CO2 absorbers.

Ocean and Pond Carbon Dioxide Absorbers

The number one (#1) major natural CO2 absorber is the microbe Prochlorococcus.  It is the single most abundant organism on earth.  Prochloroccus outweighs all other creatures combined. These microscopic photosynthetic bacteria occupy the top 100-meters of all the world’s oceans. When they die, they sink to the deep oceans and are normally converted to undersea oil and coal deposits.

The second largest CO2 absorbers are Cyanobacterial mats.  These mats live in the world’s shallow shoreline salt ponds, such as those in the Don Edwards National Wildlife refuge, and in peat bogs. When these organisms die, they sink to the pond bottom. The mats are successively converted to peat and then, under greater pressure, to coal and oil deposits.

With rational conservation, ocean pollution can be controlled and stopped. We can also preserve the shallow ponds and peat bogs. We can preserve the resulting carbon deposits by ending the burning of oil and coal and peat. It is very difficult, however, to significantly increase either of these carbon sinks.

Lingering Effects of Forest Fire Smoke

wildfire smoke
Black carbon smoke rises higher in the stratosphere, lingering there for months.

In the past decade, we have witnessed an increase in forest fires.  Fires in western Canada and western American states have grown size and intensity. Yet as impressive as the fires have been, the smoke produced is a greater problem.

In 2018, smoke from the Camp Fire blanketed wide areas of Northern California.  The smoke limited visibility throughout the East Bay.  Health officials advised people to wear masks and avoid strenuous outdoor exercise.

The smoke hung around for weeks, until the rains cleared the sky.  But even with the sky clear, the smoke lingers “up there,” in the atmosphere, for months.  To understand this, we need to briefly “talk smoke.”

Consider the study of 2017 western Canadian and the U.S. Pacific northwest wildfires.  It was published in Science, the journal of the American Society for the Advancement of Science, in August, 2019

Smoke from forest fires is composed of various compounds of carbon. Complete and exact identification of all of these compounds requires sophisticated instruments. A general analysis of the environmental impact of the smoke from these fires requires examining only two categories: simple “black” carbon smoke and complex organic “brown” carbon smoke.

Brown carbon in the smoke from forest fires has a short lifetime.  Its complex organic compounds break down in a matter of hours or days. However, the organic compounds in brown carbon are toxic to humans and wildlife. They are, therefore, both an environmental and a human health problem. However, the high molecular weight of this smoke limits the extent with which it reaches the upper atmosphere and so limits the area over which it spreads.

Black Carbon Compromises Photosynthesis

wildfire smoke
Forest fires reduce the ability of trees and plant to perform photosynthesis

Simpler black carbon, as either elemental carbon or as CO2. It is also far more persistent and its light absorption is also much greater. Black carbon rises into the upper atmosphere, persisting for months in the stratosphere. It also reduces overall sunlight reaching the earth during much of that time.

Oddly, this reduction of sunlight does not reduce the effects of solar climate warming. The data are complex, but the “bottom line” is black smoke actually increases climate warming. First, by reducing the uptake of atmospheric CO2 through destruction of the forest. Secondly, by shading the existing forests, ponds and oceans, it also reduces their uptake of CO2.

The Bottom Line

Business leaders often talk about the “bottom line,” but they only mean the line of their own “profit.” It would be great if their “profit” meant profit for the entire world economy from top to bottom. Invariably, it does not.

For example, landowners, particularly corporate landowners, in South America, Africa and some Asian countries have increasingly found it profitable to destroy forests by deliberately setting fires.  The practice clears the forest and creates more extensive farmland. They then “profit” by large-scale mechanized farming of the cleared land, but the ecology of the Earth suffers greatly in the process.

This deliberate, and thoughtless, forest burning continues to drive global warming because absolutely no farmland anywhere in the world achieves the per acre uptake of CO2 occurring in a natural forest, or in a proposed “Plant for the Planet” forest, or in the salt marsh or in the open ocean. The South American, African, and Asian countries in which this destruction takes place often lack the political structure necessary to restrict or control deliberate forest burning by powerful business interests. So, through another form of short-sighted business greed, we continue to drive global warming.

As I write this, I notice a news reporting South American forests continue to burn. Sadly, Brazil has rejected aid from France.

Courtesy of Rossmoor News, Sept. 4, 2019. Email Wayne Lanier, PhD, at

Something Old, Something New

There are only two ways to reduce the excessive levels of greenhouse gasses that are driving up the earth’s temperature. The first is to reduce the amount of carbon we are putting into the air.  Second, we need to capture and sequester carbon.  

Yes, we need to stop burning fossil fuels.  This gets most of our attention but is proceeding far too slowly.

Just as importantly, we can also work on removing the greenhouse gasses already in the atmosphere. No one is suggesting we should slack off on reducing emissions.  However, we must be much more aggressive about removing carbon dioxide.  Carbon dioxide makes the atmosphere retain the heat that is contributing to wildfires, hurricanes and other natural disasters.

Something Old…

Do you remember learning in grade school that trees absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen? Trees are among the oldest “technologies” in nature; they are an essential part of our living ecosystem. Indeed, scientists estimate there are currently about three trillion trees on the planet.  The scientists also estimate those trees are holding approximately 400 gigatons of carbon dioxide.

carbon capture and sequester
Trees are on the front line of carbon capture and sequester

That makes the continuing deforestation of the Amazon basin not only irresponsible but life-threatening. Now, however, we have a powerful rationale to demand stopping and reversing deforestation.

Ecologist Thomas Crowther and his colleagues at ETH Zurich, a Swiss university, presented a report at this year’s American Association for the Advancement of Science Conference in Washington, D.C., arguing that planting additional trees is one of the most effective ways to reduce greenhouse gases.

Crowther believes planting 1.2 trillion new trees around the planet would sequester about 160 billion tons of carbon dioxide. That is the equivalent of about a decade’s worth of global emissions.

But how could we ever plant a trillion trees in a decade? That’s 100 billion trees a year, a staggering number. But this is where “something new” comes in.

Something new…

A company called BioCarbon Engineering, based in Oxford, England, has developed a flying drone that can plant 100,000 tree seedlings a day.

The drones are can fly over a target area firing small “bullets” into the ground at precise predetermined locations. Each biodegradable bullet contains a seedling and appropriate nutrients.  The drones fire the bullets at exactly the velocity required to bury seedlings at the right depth in the ground.

The company, in conjunction with a nonprofit called the Trillion Tree Campaign ( envisions a flying army of 10,000 drones that would be able to plant a billion trees a day (do the math). With that capability, we could plant those trillion trees in less than four years.

Now that may seem like science fiction, but it is clear that the limiting factor in planting a trillion trees is not our ability to do it, but our will – our readiness to allocate the financial and human resources needed to make it happen.

Progress Is Underway

carbon capture and sequester
Youth around the globe are planting trees.

But the good news is that there are several organizations and global campaigns underway that have already planted billions of new trees. Plant for the Planet was founded in Germany in 2007 by Felix Finkbeiner, then 9-years-old. Four years later Plant for the Planet included young people in 93 countries around the world who had planted over one million trees.

By August 2018 that number had grown to over 15.2 billion trees planted in 193 countries.

In 2006, the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) launched the Billion Tree Campaign. It has since been renamed the Trillion Tree Campaign and folded into the youth-led nonprofit Plant for the Planet organization.

Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UNEP program, commented, “… what is most remarkable is not its scale, but its spread. People from all around the world have enthusiastically joined the campaign and planted trees in their own communities.”

I am excited about these tree-planting drones that blend new and old technologies. I am particularly impressed  these campaigns have largely been led by young people all over the world.

Of course, it is equally important we continue to reduce new greenhouse gas emissions. We also need to leave as much of the remaining carbon-intensive fossil fuel resources (coal, oil, natural gas) as possible in the ground. That too is a matter of political will.

What does all this mean for us in Rossmoor? We can individually donate to the Plant for the Planet campaign (visit the website for more information).  As a community we can also support the landscaping initiatives in our Mutuals and by GRF. When we remove older trees we can replace them with new plantings. That’s the least we can do.

Courtesy of Rossmoor News, August 21, 2019.  Email James Ware, PhD, at



Wednesday, November 13, 7 pm, in Peacock Hall

Native American Nations’ History

Natives of both North and South America know things about the earth that modern man has ignored. For centuries they have lived in ways that maintain the earth’s bounty and protect it. This connection to the earth affected the way their governments evolved. And it shapes their struggles today.

This 1-hour PBS film “Nature to Nations” explores the rise of great American nations, from dynastic monarchies to participatory democracies. Archaeologists who’ve studied ancient hieroglyphs in the Peruvian Andes and the stories told by totem poles in the Pacific Northwest, reveal the history of Native Americans’ science grown from their connection to the earth, its animals, and the sky.


Immediately following the film, Denise Varner, RN – a descendent of the Muscogee Creek tribe – will draw on her experience as a consultant to bridge Indian communities and surrounding local and state health boards and advisory committees. Now semi-retired, she served many years in Indian Healthcare Programs in CA, OK, MN and ND in primary care, urgent care, trauma and public health nursing roles. She currently facilitates wellness and prevention for Native American urban youth, particularly regarding preserving the identities of urban Indian young women as a means of preventing Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

America’s First Democracy

Centering on the democracy of New York’s Haudenosaunee Peoples — also known as the Iroquois Confederacy — “Nature to Nations” reveals how elements of the natural world drive


governance in Native America. The story of Hiawatha and the Peacemaker, as told by native elders, demonstrates how shell helped end war among five tribes and bring about America’s first democracy 500 years before the United States. Ben Franklin and the Founding Fathers would later integrate key ideas from their government into the United States Constitution.

Native American Governmental Systems

Building on these revelations, the episode traces evidence that nations across Native America use beliefs from the natural world to support governmental systems, from dynastic kingdoms to shamanistic rulers. Science and oral tradition reveal how corn, cedar, shell, and the jaguar each inspire new nations and plant the seeds of great empires. All are part of an incredible 3000-year narrative of nature, nations and cultural sophistication in Native America.

Segments from the film:

Lessons from farming (2-minute video):

The history of corn (3-minute video):

Look to Past for Today’s Recycling

By Kathy Epperson

We cannot continue recycling like we have since the 1990s. Our recycling habits have gotten sloppy. Smart recycling is easy, simple and straightforward.

Until recently, we stuffed vast piles of plastic and paper refuse onto giant container ships and sold them to China. Unfortunately, many of the bales of plastic sent to China were worthless. They also ended up polluting land and ocean. A 2015 study found 1.3 million to 3.5 million metric tons of plastic flowed into the ocean from Chinese coastal sources each year.

Fortunately, China decided to stop serving as the world’s trash compactor. This forces us to reckon with reality.  Much of what we blithely toss away is wet, dirty or worthless.

We need to recycle closer to what we did in the 1970s. The recycling operations that continue to thrive and remain profitable offer clean, high-quality plastics and paper to domestic markets. They focus on keeping material clean and separated, and they ask residents to do just a little bit more. This also saves a lot of money for everyone.

Be a Smart Recycler

Some of us are guilty of “wishful recycling.”

We have the vague hope anything we put in the blue containers will be repurposed. Recycling doesn’t work this way.

Mt. Diablo Resource Recovery Center separates and bales materials for sale to manufacturers. Our newsprint goes to paper mills; cardboard, to box makers; aluminum, to beverage-can makers; and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic, to makers of water and soda bottles. Anything our recycler can’t resell ends up in landfill.

Sadly, 50% of what we put into our recycle containers ends up in landfill. When in doubt, keep it out of recycle.

Putting trash in recycle containers is worse than not recycling. It increases our monthly coupon. It also undoes careful efforts by others to separate recyclables from landfill trash and compost.

Recycling is easy if you follow these four steps: Know what to recycle; make sure everything is empty, clean and dry; put everything loose in recycle containers (except bags of plastic bags or shredded paper); and make sure each item is larger than a credit card.

Know what to recycle:

Smart recycling is simple and straightforward. Only six categories belong in our recycle containers:

1) Hard plastic containers (if empty, rinsed and dry)

2) No plastic bags (unless in a bag of bags)

3) Metal (but no pull-tab lids)

4) Glass jars

5) Paper (but no napkins, paper towels, cash register receipts, plastic-coated paperboard like milk cartons or ice cream boxes)

6) Flattened cardboard (must fit in cart)

That’s it! Nothing else goes in recycle containers.

For more specific information:

Make sure everything is empty, clean and dry:

A Starbucks coffee cup with liquid at the bottom can contaminate a whole container, causing it to go to landfill.

Put everything loose in recycle containers: (except bags of plastic bags or shredded paper). Never bag or bundle your recyclables. Republic Services picks up recycle at no extra charge – if the container only contains recycling. But Republic charges Mutuals extra if recycling containers include trash, have bagged recyclables or are overflowing. These charges increase our coupon.

A bag of recyclables contaminates the recycle container – even if the bag only contains recyclables. If a driver sees more than 1% contamination, everything in the container is sent to landfill. If a bag of recyclables makes it to our recycling center, it is sent to landfill.

Make sure each item is larger than a credit card: Size matters. Loose plastic bags, straws and plastic wrap frequently clog the conveyor belts. Anything too small to go through sorting equipment can shut down operations.

Let’s do our part. Smart recycling is simple and straightforward if we follow the above steps. For more information, the Sierra Club’s July-August 2019 magazine has four interesting articles: 2019-4-july-august .

Courtesy of Rossmoor News, August 14, 2019. Email Kathy Epperson at

Are We in Wonderland?

Are rapidly changing climatic conditions is making our world unrecognizable? Have we slipped down a rabbit hole and come out to another world?

All this because of what has been “an inconvenient truth” that many have ignored far too long. If we hold a “looking-glass” up to our eyes, what will we see in this futuristic world?

One area of great change is agriculture, worldwide. Last April, Janessa Olsen spoke about environment and modern agriculture during Sustainable Rossmoor’s monthly meeting. Ms. Olsen represents the Ethical Choices Program, which presents outreach programs to area schools. Much of her presentation addressed the effects of factory farming (“industrial agriculture”) on the environment. She said genetically modified crops contain pesticides and herbicides.  She said they also have damaging effects on the soil.

Dangers Posed by Factory Farming

We learned industrial agriculture cultivates single species crops for efficiency.  But this practice is problematic, as it makes them more vulnerable to disease. Crops that feed us, and the animals we consume, also can contain pesticides within their DNA. The effects of these GMO’s on our own DNA, however, are often unknown. The foods derived from these crops can play havoc with our “microbiome” (gut) and can even cross the blood-brain barrier.

Olsen also described the abuse of animals in factory farming. Cattle, pigs and chickens often live in overcrowded holding pens. Agitated, the chickens peck at each other. Farmers crop the chicken’s beaks in an effort to prevent this.

Dairy cows are separated from their newborn calves after giving birth.  They are also milked by automatic-milking machines. Many of these are also on a revolving platforms, which cows resist and have to be prodded aggressively to enter.

Factory farming leads to other major environmental problems. Beef cattle farmers clear swaths of rain forest to provide grazing areas.  The practice significantly elevates greenhouse gases, notably methane and carbon dioxide. Uncontrolled waste runoff from pigs and cattle also into the ground water polluting ground water.  The pollution causes the current crisis involving Listeria and Salmonella in crops harvested for food.

Innovative Farming Practices

Rapidly changing climatic conditions demand new solutions.  Innovative responses to counter environmental toxins and such cruelty to animals have proliferated in recent years. First, indoor “vertical farming” is growing in large cities. Secondly, cultured, or cell-based, meat and fish produced in laboratories, can provide “meat” without killing or harming animals. Third, alternative “milks,” derived from plants such as soy, almond, cashew and oats are replacing dairy milk and milk products. Let’s take a closer look at those first two innovations.

Vertical Farming
Lettuce is grown hydroponically indoors without pesticides

First, “vertical farms” are springing up in urban areas throughout our country and the world. The farms eliminate the need to transport food long distances, thereby reducing the food’s carbon footprint.  Located in warehouses, shipping containers and converted factories, these “farms” are viable year-round.  They are also many times more productive than soil-based farms. By using LED lighting and hydroponics with nutrient-rich water, without the need for pesticides, they also save water and energy.

One such project is Square Roots in Brooklyn, New York.  Square Roots is a compound of 10 steel shipping containers.  The farm grows soil-free crops indoors under LED lights. Chef/restauranteur Kimbal Musk (brother of Elon Musk) and Tobias Peggs co-founded Square Roots. Its lights require less energy than conventional lighting, give off little heat and are focused to optimize plant growth year-round.

Some critics argue these urban farms don’t guarantee the ability to feed the world’s projected population explosion.  However, proponents believe they are key to our future survival. As early as 2016, Musk and Peggs realized people between ages 25 and 34, approximately 69% with college degrees, were increasingly becoming farmers concerned with environmental safety.

For more, see this USDA report

Meat Alternatives

Second, creating “meat” in laboratories eliminates the need to kill animals. The film The End of Meat illustrates world-wide efforts to accomplish this. The film addresses the impacts of meat consumption.  It also highlights the benefits of a vegan diet and the roles animals can have in society in the future. Sustainable Rossmoor and Plant-Based Rossmoor also featured the film in June. For more information, visit .

What local efforts have emerged to counter rapidly changing climatic conditions? One of a growing number of startups is Memphis Meats. Founded in 2015, it is based in Emeryville. The company believes traditional production damages the environment and unnecessarily harms animals.  Memphis Meats co-founder Uma Valeti, a former cardiologist, also believes his company will “continue the choice of eating meat for many generations … without putting undue stress on the planet.” The company was featured in an NBC Bay Area article this July. For more information, see .

Numerous research articles have probed the effects of this major change on greenhouse gases and their warming impacts on our Earth. Such research remains a future area to explore with our “looking-glass” in this “Wonderland” of our time.

Courtesy of Rossmoor News, August 7, 2019.  Email Joy Danzig at