Eye on the Environment
Halloween-theme environmental scares dispelled
By David Goldstein 10/31/2013
Some Halloween decorations are made for only one season. Cheap plastic skeletons cracking in the sun will join yellowing card-stock mummies in curbside carts when the holiday is done. Other decorations may cost more, but will last for years.
Connie Russ’ decorations are excellent for avoiding waste because her giant flowers are long-lasting outdoor art works made from recycled palm. The samples she keeps in front of her house give her yard the image of an enchanted garden year-round. Her large art works made from discarded palm are the sole products of her one-person business, Artistik Transformations. She has displayed at shows, such as the one put on a couple of months ago by the San Buenaventura Art Association, and she sells these as a supplement to her regular job as book keeper for a landscaper.
Scary Halloween waste
Candy wrappers cannot be recycled, but pumpkins can become compost. Unlike other vegetables and food waste, pumpkins can go in curbside yard-waste carts, right along with yard clippings and lumber. Just remove candles, candle holders, and other decorations that no one wants in compost or mulch. It is OK to include the seeds; temperatures at commercial compost sites prevent seeds from sprouting. To get the most use from your pumpkin before discarding it, however, you can remove and roast the seeds for some low-cost, low-impact nutrition.
Compost at home
If you decide to compost your pumpkin in a home compost pile, will you be afraid of spontaneous combustion (a compost pile igniting without an external source of flame)? A major fire in the compost piles of a mushroom farm this month caused some people to worry about composting.
Spontaneous combustion in a home compost pile is extremely rare, and a few simple, common-sense measures can reduce the risk even more. Mix materials to ensure distribution of moisture and air. Use a compost bin designed to facilitate ventilation while retaining moisture, and do not locate your bin adjacent to your house. Your compost pile may need to be at least 3 feet high to generate enough heat for efficient composting, but do not stack compost too high for water to percolate to the bottom of the pile. In the unlikely event of a compost fire at your home, water the pile rather than spreading it.
Sometimes, people who think they are seeing a home compost fire on a cold morning are actually seeing water vapor rising from the pile, similar to the way you can see your breath in the cold air. The risk of combustion increases when heat is unable to escape and the resulting temperature rises above the ignition point of the materials used. Unlike most home compost piles, mushroom farms make compost from large piles of manure and straw. Manure can heat quickly and dry straw can easily catch fire.
Home composting is a great way to turn discards into valuable soil amendment without relying on the trucks and industrial processes of curbside collection and compost facilities. If you keep your “eye on the environment,” you can also avoid the rare threat of spontaneous combustion.
Russel Sydney, author of Energy and EV Secrets, coordinator of the Ventura County Sustainable Transport Club and one of the organizers of last month’s local event celebrating National Plug-In Day, has been busy dispelling a scary rumor about electric vehicles.
At Plug-In Day festivities, in comments at an Oxnard City Council hearing regarding the cost of publicly provided car chargers, and in on-line forums, people have repeatedly questioned whether electric cars are really burning clean fuel.
Instead of calling electric vehicles by the acronym “EV,” critics like to label them with the sobriquet “EEV,” an acronym for “emission elsewhere vehicles.” Critics are partially correct to point out that some of our electricity is generated by coal-fired power plants, but according to the California Energy Commission, coal is used to produce only approximately 7.5 percent of the electricity on the California grid.
California Energy Commission: www.energyalmanac.ca.gov
Even with that dirty element, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) says EVs reduce smog emissions by around 70 percent and greenhouse gas emissions by about 60 percent, compared to gasoline-burning vehicles. EV owners like Kent and Cathy Bullard save even more resources and money, too, in the long run, by installing solar panels. Kent explained, “We figured out that the fuel savings alone means that our solar system paid for itself in less than five years. That includes paying the out-of-pocket cost as well as paying back the environmental impact of producing the solar panels.”
California Air Resources Board: www.arb.ca.gov