Electronic Recycling Prevents Waste in Landfills

So, what to do with that old computer or phone?   Electronics comprise a significant and growing number of houseold items.   Yet many of them contain toxic materials that can contaminate air and water when dumped in landfills.   This includes lead, cadmium, and mercury.   Cadmium is generally used to prevent corrosion and poisoning occurs from inhalation.   The dangers of lead and mecury are well documented.   Both can accumulate over time and lead can cause cognitive deficiency in children.  Recycling prevents the release of these chemicals into the enviroment as well as the recovery of valuable metals, such as gold and silver. 

    In addition to computers and phones, electronic waste also includes houseold appliances, lighting, electric tools, toys, medical devices, and monitoring equipment.   All of these contain chemicals that can be detrimental to air and water.   Recycling involves two different groups.  First there are collectors which sort items and ship them out  Second are the actual recyclers which dismantle the items to recover the parts and metals which can be reused.    

Charlotte Low, the Operations Manager for Central Vermot Solid Waste, said that one third of all Central Vermont recyclables are electronics. She said the most common toxic materials are freon from refrigerators, which depletes the ozone and lead and cadmium fom televisions, which pollute air and water.

Robin Ingenthron, the CEO of Good Point Recycling in Middlebury, VT and founder of fairtraderecycling.org, said they dismantle the items they receive and the sell the parts. He gave the example of TV repair shops which may need a part for merchandise under warranty but are uable to get it from the manufacturer. Ingenthron said the largest release of toxic material is through mining and he saw the mission of recycling of keeping material in the economy rather than mining new ore. There have been concerns about the overseas trade. Ingenthron responded to these concerns by saying that the international trade helps to encourage investment. He said cell towers would not be built if reusables were not being shipped. The Basel Action Network (BAN) is a watchdog group that tracks electronic devices, and according to their website, a February 2019 study found 6% of computer and computer equipment shipments “very likely” illegal. However, as of this publication, they have not responded to an interview request.

Most of us keep our food in refrigerators, use computers at work, and listen to the radio. However, all of these items contain chemicals that can be detrimental to the enviroment if dumped in landfills. Thus, finding responsible recyclers keeps these chemicals out of the enviroment, can provide parts for other equipment, and reduces mining.


Viral Hemmorhagic Septisemia May Be Preventable

Something strange was happening.  Dead fish were washing up on the shores of the Great Lakes.  The cause was determined to be viral hemmorhagic septisemia (VHS), a virus that infects approximately 38 species of both marine and freshwater fish.  As stated above, it was introduced into the Great Lakes in the early 2000s and there are concerns about it spreading eastward.  The symptoms include hyperactivity, twisting of the body, and erratic swimming.  In its most severe form, fish become lethargic with bulging eyes, liver and kidey abnormalities, and bleeding in the eyes, skin, gills, fin bases, skeletal muscles, and interal organs.  It is unknown how it was introduced into the Great Lakes, but according to http://www.seagrant.umn.edu, genetic evidence suggests it may have been transported in water from ships or migration from infected fish.  Aquaculture and bait transportation have also been liked to the virus’ spead. Shawn Good, a Fisheries Biologist with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife, also said it was likely introduced through bait transportation.  He said bait fish were caught, sold to shops, and subsequently sold to anglers.   It is found in all the Great Lakes as was as lakes in Ohio, New York, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

It is native to eastern and western Europe, Japan, the Pacific coast (California to Alaska), and the North Atlantic coast.   Good said that fish which are found where the disease is native do seem to be more resistant as a result of having evolved with it. The disease fares best in cold water and is unable to survive in warm blooded animals.  Thus, it is not one that humans can catch.   While it is not unsafe for people to eat fish with VHS, Good said it is not something he would recommmend.

Good said no threatened or endangered species are at risk.  However, he also said it can affect different species in different ways.  Some appear to be just carriers.   Some are not affected at all, while others seem to be prone to it.  The reasons for this are unknown.   Good also said the virus can exist outside of a host for a couple of weeks, thus giving it time to spread.   However,  he also said survivors can pass the resistance traits to their offspring thus potentially creating a population which may be more resistant in the long run.   He also said its effect on overall populations can vary.   Muskellunges (esox masquinongy) or “muskies” are large predatory fish which can grow up to up to five feet and weigh up to 60 pounds.  They are considered rare even in a healthy population and Good said they were seriously impacted by the disease in the St. Lawrence River and it would likely take 20 years for the population to recover.   However, other species which are faster growing, such as sunfish and bass recover much more quickly.

According to http://www.seagrant.umn.edu,  there are also concerns with the impacts to aquaculture.   When fish are confined and stessed, as they are in an aquaculture setting, the disease can be much  more serious.  Good also stated that fish in a weakened condition tend to be more vulnerable and said that approximately 20 years ago, hatcheries in Europe took a serious hit from the disease.   This was at least in part due to taking eggs from wild stock.   As a result, this practice was temporarily stopped, quarantine areas were created, and water sterilization was also added.  Good said that due to these preventative measures, that so far as he knew, no U. S. hatchery had an outbreak.

While it can be a serious disease, taking precautions such as the ones stated above can do much to limit the spread.   Good said that many of the Great Lakes states, including New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan had passed laws making it illegal to move fish from an infected area and he said there were similar laws in Vermont.   He said by following these laws it may be possible to prevent the further spread of the disease.

Butteflies, Bees, and Blooms: Gardens Transform Yards Into Habitat

Imagine watching a butterfly alight on the purple flowers of a New England aster.  Nearby,  a bee lands on the bright red flowers of a bee balm,  its wings making a gentle hum in the morning.  In the blueberry bush, a robin chirps filling the day with song.   This may sound like a scene in the woods, but it could be and frequently is, someone’s backyard.    As habitat continues to disappear, bees, butterflies, birds, and other wildlife face increasing challenges.   Planting food sources and providing habitat can go a long way to helping threatened and endangered wildlife.  This article will  feature several native plants and the animals that depend on them.

As was discussed in the previous article, bees are major pollinators for a number of agricultural crops and are in serious trouble due to phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder.  A number of butterflies, including the Karner Blue,  are also endangered or in decline  As monarchs migrate north from Mexico in the spring, they need both resting places as well as milkweed plants, which are the only ones where they lay their eggs.   Migratory birds need both stopover and nesting areas as they head back north.   Flowering plants provide nectar for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.   Shrubs and taller plants can provide berries, fruit, and nesting places for birds and mammals. Eliminating pesticides from gardens and lawns is also important.  While it may seem that a larger yard is required for this, even a community plot or small balcony can provide space for habitat.

According to Native Plants of the Northeast, Donald J. Leopold, Timber Press 2005, some of the best plants for attracting wildlife include:

Bee balm (monarda didyma)   Beebalm has beautiful red flowers and blooms through July and August.   Its leaves can also be used for tea which was a remedy for the Native Americans.

Swamp milkweed  (asclepias incarnata)  Swamp milkweed needs moist to wet soil, has pink flowers, and as was mentioned above, is in the milkweed family which are the only plants on which monarch butterflies lay their eggs.

Butterfly weed (asceplias tuberosa)  Butterfly weed is, as its name implies, popular with many butterfly species and has orange flowers.  It should not be confused with butterfly bush, which is invasive.

Purple coneflower (echinacea purpurea)   The coneflower also blooms through most of the summer and it is the plant from which echinacea tea is derived.

Asters ( aster divaricatus, ericoides, novae angliae, and novi -belgii) There are several species of asters which attract pollinators and bloom throughout the summer.

Blue lupine (lupinus perennis) Blue lupine has purple flowers and is the sole food source for the endangered Karner blue butterfly.

Strawberry (waldsteinia fragarioides)   Strawberries are a low growimg plant, but they spead and do require some space.

Blueberry (vaccinum angustifolium and corymbosum)  Both strawberries and blueberries attract  birds.  If gardeners would like some fruit for themselves, some plants can be netted and others left alone to provide a compromise.

This list focuses on plants native to the Northeast, due to this the being the region where the majority of my readership is based.   However, people can go to the National Wildlife Federation (www.wf.og) and look up Native Plant Finder to find the best plants for their region.

Bees, butterflies, and humming birds are important pollinators for many wild flowers and food crops.   Birds can fill gardens with song and are also important predators of many pests.    Nevertheless, many of these species are in trouble due to pesticides and habitat loss.  Providing the food and habitat they need can be an important step  to helping the environment as well as creating a place of color and life for all to see.   Happy spring!





Colony Collapse Disorder Threatens Bees


As the weather warms, buds burst, flowers bloom, and gardens are planted.  However, a large number of both wild and agricultural crops depend on bees for pollination and bees have been disappearing in alarming numbers.  The phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD, has killed a large number of bees since its discovery in 2006.   It causes bees to abandon hives and the cause or causes are still unknown.

It was first reported in 2006 by a Pennsylvania beekeeper who was overwintering  colonies in Florida.   By February of 2007, several beekeepers reported losses.   That same year,  Canada, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Greece, Germany, Poland, France, and Switzerland also reported losses.

David Tremblay,  the Vermont State Apiarist, referred to Colony Collapse Disorder as a “phenomenon” rather than a “scientific diagnosis.”   He also said that the definition may change.   He said there had been high loss this past winter and losses seemed to be earlier than in previous years.   He also said that causes were still unknown, but he cited more virulent viruses, habitat loss, and the pesticides known as neonicotinoids as possible causes.   He also stated that more than half of bees are shipped to pollinate almond trees, which exposes them to other bees which was not a very “hygienic practice.”  Tremblay also said that viruses could be shared through flowers between honey bees and bumble bees.  If a virus is the cause, CCD could affect both honey bees and bumble bees.  Honey bees are the genus apis and the European honey bee (apis mellifera)  was introduced from Europe in the seventeenth century.  Bumble bees are of the genus bombus and 50 species are native to North America.  Honey bees also have perennial colonies, while those of bumble bees only last one season, with only the queen overwintering.

Laura Tangley states in “Being There for Bees” published the National Wildlife Federation, March 2016 that bees are needed to pollinate one third of food and beverage crops.  She also said that scientists were worried about how climate change and pesticides affect bees.  There is evidence of neonicotinoids affecting foraging and reproduction.   According the same article, a federal biologist found 19 pesticides and breakdown products in 70% of bees.  The Honey Bee Health Coalition, (honeybeehealthcoalition.og) 2019,  cited varroa mites, the microsporidian parasite nosema, and viruses as possible causes.  They also said that lack of a varied diet, due to declining wild spaces, increased monoculture, pesticide exposure, and selective breeding which reduces genetic diversity, also pose threats to bees.

In 2007 the  Agricultural Research Service, the research agency of the USDA, formed a steering committee to research the possible causes of CCD and improve management practices.

While more research needs to be done, there are many steps that people can take.  Bees are active from early spring to late fall and  they need food and habitat throughout this time.  Tangley states that planting flowers which bloom at different times of the year and eliminating pesticides in gardens can go a long way to helping bees.

COMING IN TWO WEEKS:   So, what are good plants for bees, hummingbirds, and other wildlife?   Find out how to help wildlife and have a beautiful garden.  Don’t miss it!  



“Reinventing Power: America’s Renewable Energy Boom” Shows Potential

Reinventing Power: America’s Renewable Energy Boom is a documentary directed by Tony Valentino, recently shown as part of the Vermont Lieutenant Governor’s film series, about renewable energy.   It portrays people who have transitioned into working in renewable energy after starting out in other industries.  This includes a former coal miner who now works in solar energy and a former autoworker who now works in wind energy.   In addition, it also shows parts of the country where renewable energy has become an important part of transitioning away from fossil fuels.  This includes an offshore wind farm on Block Island, Rhode Island, other wind farms in Montana and North Carolina, and an electric bus factory in Lancaster, California.

The film is effective in showing the economic potential of renewable energy in terms of providing jobs and transitioning away from fossil fuels.   The film mentioned monitoring birds in the Block Island wind farm and briefly touched on noise concerns.  However, it by and large did not address siting issues or concerns with the negative impacts.   Fossil fuels are major contributors to air and water pollution as well as the main driver of climate change.    While it is important to show the benefits of renewable energy, it is equally necessary to include all aspects of the issue.

The Spotted Lanternfly Threatens Forests and Agriculture

The spotted lanternfly (lycorma delicatula)  is an invasive insect first discovered in Pennsylvania in 2014.   The adults are one and a half inches long.   The abdomen is yellow with black bars, the forewing is gray and speckled black, and the hind wing is bright red with a white stripe in the middle and the black tip.   The nymphs are black with white spots.  They are confirmed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, and Delaware.  They have been detected in Connecticut, Maryland, and New York, though an entire population has not been confirmed in these states   It is believed that egg masses arrived in the U.S. via a shipment and were not detected.

They are native to China, India, and southern Asia.   They feed on sap, which depletes the nutrients in trees, especially in high density.   They attack a large number of species,    which includes apples, plums, cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots, almonds, grapes, maples, oaks, pines, walnuts, poplars, willows, sycamores, and the tree of heaven.  According to Heather Leach, the Extension Associate for the Department of Entomology for Pennsylvania State University, few trees have died as a result of infestation, but some such as the black walnut, red maple, and silver maple have shown signs of stress.  Leach said it was too soon to tell what effect the stress was having on trees, but she “expected” they would have a harder time recovering, especially in unfavorable weather conditions.   She also said some trees were “oozing”  and researchers were “paying close attention to trees showing stress.”  As to whether certain species were more susceptible than others, Leach said not much is known about the lanternfly’s preferences and that they appear to be dependent on what is available.   She also said, however, that there was some evidence that they were attracted to black walnut, river birch, grapes, hops, silver maple, red maple, sycamore, and willow.

The symptoms of infestation include weeping wounds, grayish or black trails of sap, and egg masses that have a gray covering that can appear dry and cracked.  In the fall adults congregate on tree trunks and lay eggs in late September on trunks, branches, stones, and other smooth surfaces.  The egg masses generally contain 30-50 eggs that are an inch long.   They are gray and covered in a waxy material that dries and cracks.  The nymphs hatch in the spring and mature in the summer.

Management options include removing host trees, creating traps by spraying trees with insecticide, putting sticky bands on trees, and scraping off egg masses.  Leach said that insecticide has been the most effective management tool to date, though sticky bands and removing egg masses may help to reduce populations locally.  She also said that not much is known about what preys on the spotted lanternfly in its native range, but researchers have found several parasitic wasps  that were promising biological control and are currently in a quarantine facility for potential release in the U. S.  She stated that the best way to prevent the spread was to report it, so they could be killed when found in new areas.

With the almost constant movement of people and goods, it is nearly inevitable that there will be unwanted passengers and sometimes these passengers can do enormous harm.   The spotted lanternfly is no exception.  Nevertheless, reporting signs of infestation and following quarantines can go a long way to reducing the effects on farms, forests, and ecosystems.

California Tropical Forest Standard Looks For Comprehensive Solutions

Lush, green, and home to half the world’s species.  Preserving rainforests has long been considered an environmental priority.  But what if setting aside rainforest land could also be a solution for other environmental problems?   Through the process of photosynthesis, plants release oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide.  Deforestation both reduces habitat and also affects the planet’s ability to reduce carbon emissions.

The California Air Resources Board, which is a 16 member board that oversees air quality for the state of California, has set up regulatory guidelines for both state and international governments which will reduce deforestation and work with local communities.    These jurisdictions are referred to as sector programs.

Dave Clegern, the Public Information Officer For Climate Programs, said that the sector program could be a state, national organization, or national government.   Even though the California Air Resources Board is based in California, they do partner with other governments.   He said that the program was a set of guidelines which could be adopted by a number of jurisdictions.   He explained that the way the program worked was that a certain area of rainforest would be set aside for carbon sequestration and would involve the local population directly in the project.   Clegern said that many government projects in the past have not done involved local populations.

The Revised California Tropical Forest Standard Criteria For Assessing Jurisdiction Scale Programs That Reduce Emissions From Tropical Deforestation published in September 2018  is a report which outlines how sector plans would work.  The report states that one credit is equal to one metric ton of carbon dioxide.   Once emissions reductions are reached, credits would be issued by the implementing jurisdiction.   Reports would be filed that document that emissions reductions have been reached and these are done by each sector.  This report must be independently verified by experts in forestry, biometrics, cultural anthropology, human rights, or related field.  If credits are found to be in error, they would be invalidated and the holder would be responsible for the replacement of those credits.

Clegern said he believes the program will be effective, though it still needs to be adopted.   Our planet faces a number of environmental issues.  However, looking for solutions that are innovative, comprehensive, and involve local populations can go a long way to creating long-term solutions.





Wind Power or Fossil Fuels: Facing up to the Impacts of Our Energy Usage

The previous two articles have looked at different aspects of wind power.  The first one focused on the potential of wind power as an energy source and the second one looked at environmental impacts.  It cited examples of birds and bats being killed as a result of flying into turbines.  In the case of bats their lungs can collapse or explode when flying near turbines due to changes in barometric pressure.  Terrestrial species can also be impacted when turbines are placed near food sources or forests are fragmented during installation.  Nevertheless, if investments are not made in wind power and other renewable energy sources, the alternative is fossil fuels which also pose serious environmental hazards.

The two most common fossil fuel producers of electricity are natural gas and coal.  Coal, which is the second highest producer of electricity, emits mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, and methane.  According to a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists of December 2017, coal plants produce 42% of mercury emissions.  Mercury can damage the nervous, digestive, and immune systems, and also threaten child development.  Sulphur dioxide forms acidic particles which is linked to asthma,   bronchitis, and acid rain.  Nitrogen oxides irritate lung tissue, exacerbate asthma and make people more susceptible to respiratory illnesses.   Carbon dioxide is the main byproduct of coal and is the main driver of global warming.  Approximately 10% of U.S. methane emissions come from coal mining and it is 34 times stronger than carbon dioxide at trapping heat over a 100 year period.

According to data from the U. S. Energy Administration, natural gas produced 32% of U. S. electricity for 2017 and was the highest source.   Natural gas is frequently cited as cleaner than coal.    However, according to “No, Natural Gas Power Plants Are Not Clean” Mark Specht, Energy Analyst for Climate and Energy Programs at the  Union of Concerned Scientists, November 2018, natural gas also has a number of problems.  The article states that natural gas produces less global warming emissions than coal, but than coal is the dirtiest fuel and from that perspective, natural gas is better by comparison.  The main pollutant from natural gas is nitrogen oxide (NOx), which causes respiratory problems.   It also reacts with other substances to produce particulate matter and ozone, which cause shortness of breath, heart attacks, and premature death.

Regardless of what energy source is used,  there will always be environmental impacts and these concerns need to be taken seriously.  However, taking appropriate measures to avoid wildlife conflicts and reducing energy usage can go a long way to creating an energy source that has minimal impacts on the environment.  Both Margaret Fowle, a Conservation Biologist with VT Audobon, and Jeff Parsons a Conservation Biologist with Arrowwood Environmental,  stated that we should continue to invest in wind power.   Fowle said “proper siting, proper management and the ability to turn turbines off during migration times” were needed and it was an  “important part of mitigating climate change.”

Parsons said “We should continue to invest in wind power because seeing the negative impacts helps us to think twice about our own energy expenditure.  If we continually displace impact we will never face up to its impact on the Earth.”

Effects of Windpower on Wildlife

The last article focused on how wind power works and its potential as a clean energy source.   While it produces no emissions,  there is some environmental disturbance during installation of tubines.   In addition, they have also been known to kill birds and bats.   This article will address the environmental concerns of wind power.

While wind power is cleaner than fossil fuels,  it can still have negative effects on wildlife.   The American Wind Wildlife Institute (AWWI) compiles research on interactions betwen wind energy and wildlife.  In May 2018, they issued a report, Wind Turbine Interaction with Wildlife and Their Habitat:  A Summary of of Research and Priority Questions.   According to their report, adjusted fatality for birds ranges from 3-6 birds per MW per year for all species.  The report also said that bat fatalities may be higher than bird deaths in the upper Midwest and eastern forests.   Two facilities in the Appalachian Region reported fatalities greater than 30 bats per MW per year.  However, other reports had bat deaths as low as 1-2 per MW per year.  In addition, sometimes being near turbines can be an issue as well.   Jeff Parsons, a Conservation Biologist for Arrowwood Environmental, said that bat lungs can collapse or explode as a result of changes in air pressure when they are in close proximity to turbines.   Arrowwood Environmental does studies on the environmental impact of energy projects and is based in Huntington, VT.


While the study stated that there had been fatalities for all species, it also said that diurnal raptors were relatively frequent fatalities, particularly in the western U. S., where they were more common.  It also noted that the foraging behavior of some species, such as the redtailed hawk, may take them into close proximity of turbines.  Parsons  said that golden eagle deaths were particularly high in California, though he also said towers were put in without looking at the environmental impact.   Margaret Fowle, a Conservation Biologist for VT Audodon, said bird deaths seemed to be higher out West and mortality can be higher during migration times.  The AAI report also  said bat deaths tend to peak in late summer and early fall during migration times.

Generally, birds and bats are considered to be the species most affected by wind turbines.    However, other species can also impacted.   Parsons said that acorns and beech nuts were important food for black bears and turbines shouldn’t be put  near oak and beech trees.  He also said American martens don’t like forest  fragmented by roads and cited one project in Island Pond, VT that was dropped as a result.

Placement of turbines can have a lot to do with avoiding wildlife conflicts.  Parsons said impacts on species depended on where turbines were sited and they should not be put in endanged or threatened species habitat or along migration routes.  Fowle concurred, stating renewable energy should be “encouraged” if facilities were “properly sited, had proper management, and it was possible to turn them off during  migration periods.”

While concerns with wildlife need to be taken seriously,  fossil fuels also pose a serious environmental risk.   The third and final article is this series will look at how wind power compares to other energy sources.


Wind Power: The Potential

       With growing concerns over climate change, fossil fuel emissions, as well as international markets, recent years have seen an expanding market in renewable energy sources.   Wind power is one of these.  While it has many benefits, there are also concerns over aesthetics,  noise, and dangers to wildlife.   This is the first of three articles that will look at the various aspects of wind power.  This one will serve as a general introduction.   The second article will address environmental concerns.  No energy source is perfect and the third article will look at whether the benefits of wind power outweigh the costs.

         The turbines produce electricity by using a rotor to operate an electrical generator.  Behind the rotor is an enclosure called the nacelle.   Inside there is a drive train connected to a cable inside the tower, which then transmits electricity.    Wind power areas are classed between 1 and 7, with 3 or above having the power density of 150- 200 watts per square meter or a wind speed of 11.4-12.5 miles per hour.   These areas are generally suitable for utility scale generation.  According to Encyclopedia Britannica  October 2018 the best sites in the U. S. are in the Great Plains and offshore.   In 2018 the largest wind farm  was the Jiuquan Power Base in China’s Gansu Province.  It has 7,000 turbines and produces more than 6,000 megawatts.   The largest offshore farm is the London Array in the outer approaches of the Thames Estuary.  It covers 47 square miles and produces 630 megawatts.

           Wind power is a growing industry.  According to National Geographic,  wind capacity increased around the world by 17,000 to 430,000 megawatts from 2000 to 2015.   The industry predicts that at this rate, one-third of electricity could be produced by wind power by 2050.  According to the U.S Energy Administration, which collects and analyzes energy information,  wind power produced 6% of the nation’s electricity in  2017.   According to their data, sources for U. S. electricity for 2017 are as follows:

Natural Gas     32%

Coal                   30%

Nuclear             20%

Petrolem           Less than 1%

Hydro                7%

Wind                  6%

Biomass              2%

Solar                    1%

Geothermal        Less than 1%


           While wind power produces no emissions,  there are concerns over dangers to wildlife.    In two weeks, the next article will address this side of the debate.