On March 28, the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable, the Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Center, and the Kentucky Pollution Prevention Center co-hosted a spray paint efficiency webinar. The webinar was funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Attendees learned about EPA’s 6H surface coating regulation and the spray efficiency techniques required. They also learned how simpler refinements in techniques can improve paint quality and maximize transfer efficiency.
The event benefits painters, supervisors, trainers, and technical assistance providers and offers the opportunity to receive a certificate of course completion for painters valid for five years from the date of issue.
Those of us in the Great Lakes region (and the rest of the US and Canada) live in a so-called “throw-away society” in which consumerism is rampant, and goods are not often designed or produced with durability in mind. In fact, in recent years, more and more goods are designed to be explicitly or implicitly disposable. Even complex products, such as consumer electronics, are treated as if they are meant to be ephemeral. The classic example is the smartphone. These devices are astounding feats of scientific innovation and engineering. For perspective, consider ZME Science’s article from September 2017: Your smartphone is millions of times more powerful than all of NASA’s combined computing in 1969. Despite their complexity, and the fact that you, and probably everyone you know, barely scratch the surface in terms of using these devices to their full potential, we are constantly bombarded with cues to upgrade to the latest model. And new models seem to be released ever more frequently, always being touted as somehow greatly more advanced than their predecessors. A simpler example is clothing–when was the last time you sewed up or patched a hole in a shirt or pair of pants? Something that once would have been done by most people as a matter of course might now be deemed peculiar. A modern member of our culture might wonder why one would bother to patch a pair of pants when a new pair could be obtained so cheaply.
Our “take-make-dispose” model can also be called a linear economy, and the message you receive in such a system is clear: if you have something that becomes damaged or has minor performance issues, you should just replace it. In fact, even if what you have is working well, the time will quickly come when you should just replace the old with the new. Replace, rinse, and repeat. A linear economy is one in which natural resources are extracted and used to create goods which will entirely, or partially, inevitably end up in landfills or incinerators. Some materials may be recovered and recycled, but over time these materials degrade in quality and are used for increasingly lower grade purposes, so that ultimately they will become waste, of little or no further use.
Of course, in order to replace whatever is being disposed of, new goods are required. And those new goods require as much or more resources as the ones that went before them–new minerals and other raw materials must be extracted. Extraction processes can have negative environmental and social impacts (e.g. pollution, habitat destruction, human rights issues related to labor practices, health issues related to exposure to chemicals or physical risks, etc.). Materials are transported to factories (requiring the use of energy in the form of fuel) where they are transformed into new products, again potentially with new human exposures to toxins or other adverse conditions, and potential new emissions of toxins or other substances of concern. In the case of products such as electronics, sometimes components are manufactured in places distant from each other and must be further transported to be brought together in yet another factory to create a complete device. And the finished product is in turn transported across the globe to reach consumers, resulting in more expenditure of energy, more emissions. By the time most products reach the consumer, a great deal of natural and human resources have been invested in them, and however positively the product itself may impact a human life or the broader ecosystem, the number of potential negative impacts all along the supply chain have stacked up. Clearly, any tendency to treat products as disposable, purposefully or incidentally, exacerbates those negative impacts by requiring the manufacture of more products, more quickly than might otherwise have been the case, as long as the demand for product does not diminish.
The tragedy of this linear cycle of use and disposal has lead to the advocacy for a circular economy–one in which extraction of resources is minimized and products and services are designed in such a way as to maximize the flow of materials through resource loops as close to perpetually as physically possible. In such a system, what might have once been considered “waste” continues to be valued in some form or another. A circular economy is built upon design for durability, reuse, and the ability to keep products in service for as long as possible, followed by the ability to effectively reclaim, reuse and recycle materials.
There are many barriers to repair, including costs (real or perceived), knowledge, confidence in those performing the repair (one’s self or someone else), and access to tools, instruction manuals and repair code meanings which tell technicians exactly what the problem is so they can address it. Manufacturers of a variety of products, particular those with electronic components (everything from automobiles to cell phones to tractors) have come under pressure in recent years over the attempt to monopolize access to parts, tools, and necessary information for performing repairs, leading to what is called the Right to Repair movement. Currently, 18 US states, including Illinois, Minnesota, and New York in the Great Lakes region, have introduced “fair repair” bills which would require manufacturers of various products to make those tools, parts, and pieces of information accessible to consumer and third-party repair shops. You can read more about the history of the right to repair movement and right to repair legislation on the Repair Association web site.
In an increasing number of communities around the world, citizens are coming together to share their knowledge, tools, and problem-solving skills to help each other repair every day items for free. I’m writing this on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and here are some examples of local projects that can help you repair the items you own:
Illini Gadget Garage. This one’s my favorite, but I’m admittedly biased, since I helped launch this project and coordinated it for the past few years. The IGG is a collaborative repair center for personally-owned electronic devices and small appliances. “Collaborative repair” means that project staff and volunteers don’t repair your device for you; rather they work with you to troubleshoot and repair your device. Assistance is free; consumers are responsible for purchasing their own parts if needed, though staff can help determine what parts might be necessary. In addition to working with consumers by appointment at their campus workshop, the IGG crew conduct “pop-up” repair clinics in various public spaces around the Champaign-Urbana community and across campus. Consumers not only benefit from the “do-it-together” approach, they also get access to specialized tools (e.g. soldering irons, pentalobe screwdrivers, heat guns, etc.) that enable device repair, which many folks wouldn’t have in their tool box at home. Though successful repair obviously can’t be guaranteed, project staff say that if it has a plug or electrical component, and you can carry into the shop (or pop-up), they’ll help you try to figure out and fix the problem.
The Bike Project of Urbana-Champaign. Including both a downtown Urbana shop and a Campus Bike Center, this project provides tools and space for bicyclists to share knowledge and repair bicycles. This project sells refurbished bikes, and individuals who are willing to work on fixing up a donated bike (with assistance) can eventually purchase a bike at a discount. See https://thebikeproject.org/get-involved/join-the-bike-project/ for membership fees; an equity membership based on volunteer hours is available.
CU Community Fab Lab. Though technically a makerspace, this project provides access to a variety of tools that individuals may not own themselves, as well as a community of tinkerers and creative minds to foster sharing of knowledge. See http://cucfablab.org/inside-the-lab/tools/ for available tools. Note that some fees may apply for consumable materials. Workshops are also offered to help you learn various skills. The Fab Lab is free to anyone in the community during open hours.
Restart Project. Focused on electronics, this is a UK project, but you can host a “restart party” anywhere, and some K-12 schools, including some in the US are integrating restart centers to help teach repair skills and instill ideas of sustainability among students.
During the summer. GLRPPR communications intern Trent Esker wrote a series of blog posts that looked at various sustainability topics from the perspective of someone who is completely new to the sustainability field. Check them out over on the GLRPPR blog.
Today is an important “holiday” of sorts for those of us who are sustainability professionals. On this day in 1972, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm Sweden, began (June 5-16, 1972). The purpose of that conference was to discuss human interactions with the environment, as well as encouraging governments and international organizations to take action related to environmental issues and providing guidelines for such action. This was the UN’s first major conference on international environmental issues, and it culminated in what’s commonly called the “Stockholm Declaration”—the first document in international environmental law to recognize the right to a healthy environment. Two years later, in 1974, the first World Environment Day was held on June 5 with the theme of “Only One Earth.” Since then, World Environment Day has been celebrated annually on June 5th. Each year has a theme around which activities center, and beginning in the late 1980s, the main celebrations began to rotate to different cities around the globe. Learn more about the UN Conference on the Human Environment at https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/milestones/humanenvironment and the history of World Environment Day at http://worldenvironmentday.global/en/about/world-environment-day-driving-five-decades-environmental-action.
This year’s World Environment Day theme, chosen by the host nation, India, (New Delhi is the host city) is “beating plastic pollution,” with the tagline “If you can’t reuse it, refuse it.” According to the World Environment Day web site: “While plastic has many valuable uses, we have become over reliant on single-use or disposable plastic – with severe environmental consequences. Around the world, 1 million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute. Every year we use up to 5 trillion disposable plastic bags. In total, 50 per cent of the plastic we use is single use. Nearly one third of the plastic packaging we use escapes collection systems, which means that it ends up clogging our city streets and polluting our natural environment. Every year, up to 13 million tons of plastic leak into our oceans, where it smothers coral reefs and threatens vulnerable marine wildlife. The plastic that ends up in the oceans can circle the Earth four times in a single year, and it can persist for up to 1,000 years before it fully disintegrates. Plastic also makes its way into our water supply – and thus into our bodies. What harm does that cause? Scientists still aren’t sure, but plastics contain a number of chemicals, many of which are toxic or disrupt hormones. Plastics can also serve as a magnet for other pollutants, including dioxins, metals and pesticides.”
Choose which type of single-use plastic you’re ready to give up.
Take a selfie (photo or video) showing yourself with the reusable alternative that you’re ready to embrace.
Share your selfie on social media and “tag” three friends, businesses or high-profile people to challenge them to do the same within 24 hours. Be sure to use the #BeatPlasticPollution hashtag and mention @UNEnvironment.
In the not-to-distant past, it was difficult to locate pollution prevention and sustainability information. Those days are gone. Now, we go to Google and we’re inundated. In this post, I’ll point you toward some resources that you may have forgotten about when you’re trying to locate information to solve a problem. Whether you’re an organization that wants to start a sustainability program or a seasoned pollution prevention technical assistance provider, there’s something on this list that will help you do your job better.
Topic Hubs and LibGuides
Topic hubs and LibGuides are similar. Both are curated collections of resources on specific topics that also include explanatory information. The only difference is the delivery platform. GLRPPR converted its Topic Hubs to LibGuides several years ago. Guides of particular interest to the P2 community include:
The Pollution Prevention 101 LibGuide is particularly useful to those new to the P2 field. It includes links to essential resources and training that will help get you up to speed quickly.
GLRPPR Sector Resources
GLRPPR’s sector resources are curated collections of documents organized by sector or topic. Each resource includes a link and a brief description. Sector resources includes links to fact sheets, manuals, videos, journal articles, case studies, and software tools. Browse by sector/topic or search by keyword using Google site search.
If you have a sustainability question or problem you’re trying to solve, the GLRPPR Help Desk is the place to visit. You get one free hour of literature/web searching and will receive a response within a week. Note that we won’t often give absolute answers. Instead, we’ll give you references and let your draw your own conclusions based on the available information. We also won’t answer homework questions.
E-Mail Discussion Lists and GLRPPR E-mail Newsletter
E-mail discussion lists are a great way to tap the hive mind of your pollution prevention colleagues. GLRPPR members are automatically subscribed to the Roundtable regional e-mail discussion list. P2Tech is an international discussion list for pollution prevention and sustainability professionals. To subscribe to either list, contact Laura Barnes.
GLRPPR’s e-mail newsletter keeps you up-to-date on sustainability news, resources, events, and funding opportunities. Subscribe here.
P2 Impact is a collaboration between GreenBiz and the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange. Each month, P2 practitioners write about topics related to pollution prevention and sustainability. The goal of the column is to tell the P2 story to GreenBiz’s business audience. The archives of the column are available here. If you would like to write a column, contact Laura Barnes.
P2 InfoHouse, maintained by the Pollution Prevention Information Center (P2RIC), is a searchable online collection of more than 50,000 pollution prevention (P2) related publications, fact sheets, case studies and technical reports. It includes a vast number of legacy pollution prevention documents that were originally released in hard copy. The collection is searchable by keyword.
Zero Waste Network Success Story Database
The Zero Waste Network’s Success Story Database contains case studies that are examples of how real facilities saved money, reduced waste, and/or lowered their regulatory burden through innovative P2 practices. The studies are often written in a companies own words, with minimal editing.
U.S. EPA Pollution Prevention Tools and Calculators
The US Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) employs over 35,000 military and civilian engineers which provide engineering solutions in 130 countries. Research to develop the latest and best engineering solutions in conducted in house at the ACE’s Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) which consists of 14 facilities across the nation including Alaska. Local to Champaign, IL, is the Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) which conducts research on military installations; contingency bases; sustainable ranges and lands; enhancing socio-cultural understanding in theater operations; and improving civil works facilities and infrastructure, to name a few. CERL also houses ERDC’s Center for the Advancement of Sustainability Innovations (CASI), which was started in 2006 to help ACE and the DoD (Department of Defense) become more sustainable.