Category Archives: Green infrastructure

An Introduction to Rain Gardens

West Chester Borough has now constructed several rain gardens, which filter out pollutants and reduce runoff into streams. Property owners can of course also construct rain gardens, and in fact by doing so can benefit from a reduction of their Stream Protection Fee. Here is good info from PennState Extension, 9/6/17:

What is a Rain Garden?

A rain garden is a planted depression that soaks up rainwater runoff from roofs, driveways, walkways, and compacted lawn areas—water that would otherwise carry pollutants directly to our streams. Rain gardens soak up 30 percent more water than an equivalent patch of lawn.
Where Do You Put a Rain Garden?

Choose an area where you want to soak up rainwater at least 10 feet from the house. Rain gardens can drain water from downspouts or catch water that drains off roads and walkways. Avoid areas over septic systems.

Do not place a rain garden in areas that are consistently wet. Rain gardens should drain completely within 24 hours….

Continue reading or download this handy guide to building and maintaining a rain garden at PennState Extension. See also our own 2019 post “Rain gardens / green infrastructure / Stream Protection Fee.”

“Toxic Textiles”: fast fashion and its effects on the environment

Green America, an environmental organization, conducted a report exploring environmental initiatives in leading clothing stores. The report looked at 14 major apparel companies to see if they were addressing issues like chemical use and waste from clothing production.

(+) means a company has a policy/goal, and metrics/plans in place; (/) means a company says it has a policy but doesn’t go into details; blank means a company does not talk about this policy. For chemicals, (•) means a company has an RSL but does not have an MRS; read full report for more details – greenamerica.org

Based on their investigations, they had four major findings:

  1. Many companies had large commitments without concrete plans, metrics, or timelines,
  2. Transparency is improving but mostly still lacking.
  3. Companies market token sustainability initiatives and brands.
  4. Overall, there are leaders and laggards.

The environment has been greatly impacted by “fast fashion”. Not too long ago, buying new clothes monthly was rare. Now, apparel stores have new clothes out every week – and American consumers purchase the clothes just as fast. Between 2000 and 2015, clothing production almost doubled! And consumers don’t hold on to their new purchases nearly as long as they used to. The Council for Textile Recycling estimates that Americans throw away 70 pounds of clothes and other textiles every year. That is a massive amount of waste that is being produced – and 66% of it goes directly to landfills.

Green Team’s advice to you is to purchase new clothes only when absolutely necessary – and to use the clothes you already have as long as possible.

For more information and to read the full report, please visit the article at greenamerica.org

“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.

Rain gardens / green infrastructure / Stream Protection Fee

Green infrastructure lessens adverse environmental impacts through features like rain garden, which intercept water flowing down a street, filter out impurities, and let the water drain slowly into the underlying aquifer. Rain gardens also enhance the beauty of streetscapes, slow down traffic , and encourage pedestrians to enjoy walking.

Our society has traditionally had a throw-away mentality: use it, toss it and put it out of mind. Recycling and waste reduction aim to break that destructive and contaminating cycle. The same applies to rain gardens, which break the cycle of wasting rain water.

Rain running through streets picks up sediments and chemicals from trash, cigarette butts, pet waste, drippings from car engines, bits of vehicle tires, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, leaves, other organic matter, and in winter highly damaging road salt. Street water eventually runs into streams, either directly or through storm drains.

Heavy flows erode stream banks; contaminants kill fish, amphibians, and insect larvae as well as making life difficult for communities that use water downstream for drinking.

Federal and state regulations require many communities to reduce pollutants; and besides, who these days wants to be worsening erosion and water contamination? West Chester Borough approved a stream protection fee after the state adopted enabling legislation in 2015.

Because all properties (and the sidewalks and streets next to them) produce runoff from rain and snow, all properties are subject to this fee, as the fairest way to repair and maintain the Borough’s storm water infrastructure, which at 100 years old has serious leaks and blockages.

Each property is assessed in proportion to its area that water cannot penetrate, such as roofs, parking areas, patios. Credits are available for certain measures that reduce runoff into the street, such as rain gardens, downspout disconnection, holding basins, and permeable paving.

Fees go into a separate fund used only for mitigating the storm water impact on streams. Unlike taxes, non-profits and government entities, including the Borough itself, pay their fair share.

With or without a fee, all residents and property owners should help to reduce runoff from properties and keep the streets clean!

This Information is from the West Chester Green Team. For official Borough information see here. See also the handout prepared by the Stormwater Assessment Advisory Committee for the May 4, 2016, hearing on West Chester’s future Stormwater Protection Fee (download here: Stream Protection fee overview).

Above: rain garden, corner of W. Nields and S. Everhart streets, West Chester. The sign says: “Better Roads / Cleaner Streams / Improving water quality, one road segment at a time! / This Environmentally Sensitive Road Maintenance Project has been funded by Chester County Conservation and your Municipality.”

Below: rain garden across the street on the same corner. Water runs in through the curb opening and over the stones into the basin part of the rain garden, where it stands and slowly seeps into the  ground.