Author Archives: Paige Vermeulen

West Chester Green Team’s first annual organic garden tour

On Saturday, June 29th, about 100 West Chester residents toured organic gardens in the WC borough. Gardens that were toured showcased vegetables, flowers, rain gardens, tower gardens, and much more. The goal of the tour was to educate residents about the many different types of gardens you can have, even in a small space.

A popular attraction of the tour was Councilwoman Denise Polk’s backyard. Although Polk only has less than one-tenth of an acre, the space boasts more than 50 different plantings, in addition to a honey bee house. Polk suggests eating veggies fresh off the vine, and keeping chemical use to a minimum or not at all. (Photo by Bill Rettew: “Checking out Councilwoman Denise Polk’s backyard organic garden”)

In total there were 10 stops along the tour, with a site in each ward of the borough. Tour goers flocked to gardens in backyards, in addition to stops at West Chester University and the Melton Center.

Margaret Hudgings is an active West Chester Green Team leader, and she helped to organize the event. She was excited to see that a main goal of the tour had been accomplished; “The tour shows people that you can have a fantastic garden even if you have a small yard.”

West Chester Green Team hopes to run this tour again next year, with some improvements and new gardens featured.

For more details and photos from the tour, please visit “West Chester Green Team shines spotlight on local organic gardens” by Bill Rettew in the Daily Local News.

Christiane Torres’s garden

Home Depot, Lowe’s, and more remove harmful phthalates from flooring products



Success! – Home improvement retailers follow through on commitments to remove phthalates from flooring. The environmental organization Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (SCHF) celebrates this recent win in the reduction of phthalate use in home remodeling products. In 2015, SCHF secured commitments from home remodeling stores Home Depot, Lowe’s, Lumber Liquidators, and Menards to eliminate added phthalates from flooring. But first – what are phthalates and why are we concerned about them?

Phthalates are a class of chemical compounds commonly used in home flooring, along with plastic containers, cosmetics, and other personal care products. Phthalates are so widely used that they have made their way into our bodies. Once phthalates are inside the body, they break down into metabolites and pass through. The CDC and FDA have not said outright that these chemicals are harmful to us, although many are concerned that prolonged exposure may cause adverse health effects.

This is why SCHF started a collaboration with the Ecology Center, the Environmental Health Strategy Center, and Healthy Building Network, to reduce phthalates in popular home remodeling products. Tile samples recently taken from Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Lumber Liquidators, show no measurable amounts of phthalates – that’s great!

Nowadays, you can’t escape manufactured chemicals – they surround us everywhere we go, they’re in our homes, our food and water, and ultimately in our own bodies. So let’s applaud these stores that are reducing their contribution of chemicals to the environment! Please see SCHF’s full article and visit their site to learn more about minimizing your exposure to chemicals.

“Recycling is supposed to be the last resort” – Why our recycling system is broken

The US Recycling System Is Garbage (Sierra Magazine, 6/26/19, by Edward Humes) details the many issues in the US’s current recycling system. Most of what you put in the bin doesn’t actually get recycled, and recycling is now coming as a cost to our economy – and it’s all because China stopped accepting our dirty plastics.

Since about 1992, the US has been selling our plastic waste to Asia, namely China, because it is easier and less costly than processing it here. Then, the plastic would be processed under lax environmental conditions, along with much of it being dumped into rivers.

Prior to this offshoring, the US actually had a fairly healthy recycling system. In the ’70s and ’80s, US consumers would clean their recyclables and separate the materials. After we started shipping away this waste, the system deteriorated, as we no longer had to deal with the problem. Nowadays, consumers will throw anything into the recycling bin – from dirty food containers to old furniture.

In 2018, China finally banned imports of dirty foreign garbage. As part of an effort to reduce pollution, they decided to no longer accept poor-quality recyclables from other countries. As a result, this trash instead starting piling up at US ports. And since we had no machinery or infrastructure to deal with it – it lead to what was called a ‘national recycling crisis’.

However, perhaps looking at it as a crisis is all wrong. Steve Alexander, president of the Association of Plastic Recyclers, urges that ” . . . (this) has given us the opportunity to begin investing in the infrastructure we need in order to do it better.”

David Allaway of the Department of Environmental Quality says that instead of blaming China, “we need to recycle better and recycle smarter, which means recycling only when the positive environmental impacts outweigh the negative.” And at the moment, we aren’t achieving that. For instance, Stamford, Connecticut, went from earning $95,000 from its recyclables in 2017 to paying $700,000 in 2018 to get rid of them. Prince George’s County, Maryland, went from earning $750,000 to losing $2.7 million.

So what can you do as a consumer? Martin Bourque from Berkeley’s Ecology Center reminds us that “recycling is supposed to be the last resort after reduction and reuse.” This means you should try to cut back your use of single-use materials as much as possible. And when you do buy something, reuse it as many times as you can. The less that is making it into the bin, the better.

Private First Class Travis Dodson, an aircraft mechanic with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, and a volunteer at the base recycling center, separates contaminated material from the daily 5-ton load of trash and recyclables on a conveyor belt to effectively produce non-contaminated reusable products. Pendleton officials are asking base occupants to be aware of good recycling habits in order for its benefits to be truly effective.

The recycling system in the US may be in disrepair, but that does not mean you should stop trying. Every day you can reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills and in our oceans. For more information, please see the full article The US Recycling System Is Garbage from Sierra Club Magazine. If you would like to be involved in local waste reduction efforts, please follow our Facebook page to see upcoming events.