08 April 2010

Detroit Looks At Downsizing To Save City

Reposted in full from Washington Times, 9 March 2010

'Detroit, the very symbol of American industrial might for most of the 20th century, is drawing up a radical renewal plan that calls for turning large swaths of this now-blighted, rusted-out city back into the fields and farmland that existed before the automobile.

Operating on a scale never before attempted in this country, the city would demolish houses in some of the most desolate sections of Detroit and move residents into stronger neighborhoods. Roughly a quarter of the 139-square-mile city could go from urban to semi-rural.

Near downtown, fruit trees and vegetable farms would replace neighborhoods that are an eerie landscape of empty buildings and vacant lots. Suburban commuters heading into the city center might pass through what looks like the countryside to get there. Surviving neighborhoods in the birthplace of the auto industry would become pockets in expanses of green.

Detroit officials first raised the idea in the 1990s, when blight was spreading. Now, with the recession plunging the city deeper into ruin, a decision on how to move forward is approaching. Mayor Dave Bing, who took office last year, is expected to unveil some details in his state-of-the-city address this month.

"Things that were unthinkable are now becoming thinkable," said James W. Hughes, dean of the School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, who is among the urban experts watching the experiment with interest. "There is now a realization that past glories are never going to be recaptured. Some people probably don't accept that, but that is the reality."

The meaning of what is afoot is now settling in across the city.

"People are afraid," said Deborah L. Younger, executive director of a group called Detroit Local Initiatives Support Corporation that is working to revitalize five areas of the city. "When you read that neighborhoods may no longer exist, that sends fear."

Though the will to downsize has arrived, the way to do it is not clear and fraught with problems.
Politically explosive decisions must be made about which neighborhoods should be bulldozed and which improved. Hundreds of millions of federal dollars will be needed to buy land, raze buildings and relocate residents, since this financially desperate city does not have the means to do it on its own. It isn't known how many people in the mostly black, blue-collar city might be uprooted, but it could be thousands. Some won't go willingly.

"I like the way things are right here," said David Hardin, 60, whose bungalow is one of three occupied homes on a block with dozens of empty lots near what is commonly known as City Airport. He has lived there since 1976, when every home on the street was occupied, and said he enjoys the peace and quiet.

For much of the 20th century, Detroit was an industrial powerhouse, the city that put the nation on wheels. Factory workers lived in neighborhoods of simple single- and two-story homes and walked to work. But then the plants began to close one by one. The riots of 1967 accelerated an exodus of whites to the suburbs, and many middle-class blacks followed.

Now, a city of nearly 2 million in the 1950s has declined to less than half that number. On some blocks, only one or two occupied houses remain, surrounded by trash-strewn lots and vacant, burned-out homes. Scavengers have stripped anything of value from empty buildings. According to one recent estimate, Detroit has 33,500 empty houses and 91,000 vacant residential lots.

Several other declining industrial cities, such as Youngstown, Ohio, have also accepted downsizing. Since 2005, Youngstown has been tearing down a few hundred houses a year. But Detroit's plans dwarf that effort. The approximately 40 square miles of vacant property in Detroit is larger than the entire city of Youngstown.

Faced with a $300 million budget deficit and a dwindling tax base, Mr. Bing says the city can't continue to pay for police patrols, fire protection and other services for all areas.

The current plan would demolish about 10,000 houses and empty buildings in three years and pump new investment into stronger neighborhoods. In the neighborhoods that would be cleared, the city would offer to relocate residents or buy them out. The city could use tax foreclosure to claim abandoned property and invoke eminent domain for those who refuse to leave, much as cities now do for freeway projects.'

07 April 2010

Charity Uses 300 Tonnes of Surplus Food to Feed UK Needy

Excerpt from Warmer Bulletin e-newsletter, 26 March 2010

'More than 300 tonnes of surplus food - the equivalent of 800,000 meals will be diverted from landfill sites each year and distributed to homeless and other vulnerable people, following a £362,000 grant from the London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB) to the charity FareShare.

The FareShare Community Food Network provides a paid-for collection service to the food and drink industry to distribute food that no longer has a commercial value but is fit for purpose to local community groups. The LWARB grant is providing 90 per cent of the funding needed to set up a new food distribution depot in the Park Royal business area in North West London. The new depot will lead to the creation of two new jobs and around 50 volunteering opportunities.

The funding was announced by James Cleverly, Chair of LWARB, as he joined the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson to address an audience of city waste experts from around the world at the C40 Cities waste workshop at City Hall. They outlined what London is doing to cut landfill use and exploit maximum economic value from our rubbish.

Tackling food waste is a top priority for LWARB, with 1.4 million tonnes of food waste in the capital, 40 per cent of which ends up dumped in landfill sites. Later this year, the Board's consumer campaign Recycle for London will focus on a food minimisation campaign 'Love Food Hate Waste' and is also working on a Food Waste to Fuel Alliance in partnership with City Hall officials.

James Cleverly said: It is absurd that 8.3 million tonnes of perfectly edible food is chucked away in the UK each year. We are supporting an excellent charity to link up businesses who want to do the right thing with their excess food, with those who will most benefit. Not only will this mean that 300 tonnes each year of surplus food will be used by those who need it, rather than being dumped in landfill, but it will also create valuable job and volunteering opportunities for Londoners. This is part of the Board's vision to cut the amount of rubbish generated in the capital.

'By doing this not only will good food no longer be destroyed but thousands more vulnerable people across London will have regular access to quality food and carbon emissions will be reduced.'

* in 2008/09, the food redistributed by FareShare contributed towards more than 7.4 million meals

* every day an average of 29,000 people benefit from the service FareShare provides, and this will be 6,240 more because of this new depot.

* as well as redistributing food, FareShare provides a programme of education and vocational training opportunities eg. the Eat Well Live Well programme.

*this redistribution of food helped businesses reduce carbon emissions by 13,950 tonnes in 2008/09

UNEP Report Warns of E-Waste Mountains

Reposted in full from Warmer Bulletin e-newsletter, 13 April 2010

Developing countries are being urged to act quickly to avoid being overwhelmed with hazardous e-waste mountains.

A study released by the UN Environment Programme reports that most e-waste in China is improperly handled, with backyard incinerators used to recycle and recover valuable metals like gold.

Recycling from E-Waste to Resources - UNEP Report

The Green Economy’s Next Secret Weapon: Baby Boomers

Encore careers with a social benefit for boomers...

Reposted in full from Greenbiz, 5 April 2010

'At the age of 55, Bruce Rhodes swapped his restaurant career last year for a job preparing minority youths for green jobs.Real estate entrepreneur Mark Davis, 51, started his own solar installation company with the help of a federal grant.

Meanwhile, Sharon Ridings, 54, left corporate life to lead training and leadership development for the US Environmental Protection Agency's workforce."The training that I do is very critical to the agency's work," Ridings said.

Rhodes, Davis and Ridings are part of a growing wave of baby boomers who could prove critical in the next phase of the development of the green economy. Many, armed with years of valuable experience, are seeking "encore careers" in fields that a deliver a social benefit.

Green jobs, which many see as a bright spot in an otherwise troubled economy, appear to be a natural fit, according to "How Boomers Can Help the Nation Go Green," a recent report from the Council for Adults and Experiential Learning in Chicago."

By refocusing their knowledge, skills and experience, boomers can help meet the growing demand for talent in the green economy; play a major role in advancing energy independence and environmental sustainability; and assist in the creation of new jobs for all ages," the report said.

Between 5.3 million and 8.4 million people between the ages of 44 to 70 have shifted from midlife careers to encore careers, according to the 2008 MetLife Foundation/Civic Ventures Encore Career Survey. Half of those surveyed who hadn't made the move indicated they were interested.

The report identifies eight job positions representing prime career opportunities for baby boomers: weatherization installers and crew leaders, energy auditors, solar contractors, solar installation trainers, outreach workers, and conservation and sustainability consultants and advocates.

"We have focused on areas where need exists and demand is expected to grow for boomers to use their talent and experience to further the sustainability of their communities, the nation and the planet," the report said.

"With their skills and willingness to do good, these individuals are primed to help to stem expected US labor shortages across sectors."

Our £17bn Waste Mountain: Annual Bill For Throwaway Britain

Excerpt from The Independent, 4 April 2010

'The phenomenal amount of food and drink thrown away in Britain is costing the country £17bn a year, at a time when the economy is still struggling to emerge from the longest recession on record.

An astonishing new report paints the first complete picture of the scale of the UK's waste mountain, which hit 18.4 million tons last year. The figures, which include food, drink and excess packaging discarded by households, distributors, retailers and manufacturers, will increase pressure on the Government to accelerate its long-awaited plans to slash waste.

Wrap, the Government's recycling body that published the report, said the environmental cost is compounding the economic impact. The carbon cost of all that wasted food and drink is equivalent to an extra 12.4 million cars on British roads...

The report underlined that households produce the vast bulk of food and drink wasted in Britain, throwing away 11.9 million tons every year, at a cost of £12bn. This is two-thirds of the country's total waste mountain. Manufacturers are the next worst offenders, wasting five million tons annually, with retailers wasting 1.4 million tons and a further 100,000 tons getting lost during the distribution process.

In response to government pressure, retailers such as Tesco, Sainsbury's and Marks & Spencer are all trying to send less waste to landfill to meet EU targets and avoid hefty fines. Critics believe this focus on landfill is diverting retailers from exerting pressure on suppliers to cut waste throughout the supply chain.

Liz Goodwin, chief executive of Wrap, said the survey would help to focus attention on where the most food and drink are being wasted. But she warned that retailers and manufacturers had to work together to have any hope of reducing the vast vats of unused food and drink, and piles of excess packaging. "We need to improve communication between various parts of the supply chain. For example, if retailers talk to their suppliers, we will be able to get the best outcomes," she said.

While the big numbers concern household waste, Ms Goodwin said there is a lot of potential to reduce manufacturing waste. Some efforts were already working, she added, pointing to a Waitrose initiative to throw away fewer bananas. "Getting them to recognise the need for customers to accept more cosmetically imperfect fruit meant less than 3 per cent of its bananas got wasted in 2008, down from 40 per cent in 2002."

Wrap has also commissioned a number of so-called "food maps", which Ms Goodwin said would spell out exactly where food was being wasted along the supply chain. One example concerns onions: millions were being thrown away because they were not all standard shapes and sizes. "Sainsbury's has now added misshapen ones to its Essentials line, which has had a massive impact," she added.

MPs want the Government to force retailers and manufacturers to reveal how much food their businesses waste annually. They are also calling for retailers with annual sales greater than £50m to publish details of their waste prevention strategies, spelling out their targets to reduce each type of product. Although Wrap also recommended that companies measure waste so they could track their progress in reducing it, the Government last month said it would "not be logical" to isolate retailers.

Wrap's report, written by the consultancy firm Oakdene Hollins using data compiled by the services group DHL, makes the best estimate to date of the amount of food that supermarkets waste. Extrapolating figures from an analysis of one retailer's skip suggests grocers threw away 232,200 tons of food in 2008 – barely down from 291,300 the previous year.

Another shocking example of waste includes a biscuit factory that lost 20 tons of biscuits for every 100-ton batch that it baked. A further six tons were lost throughout the process, including 2.4 tons wasted by filling the packs with more than the stated weight.

The report urged manufacturers to focus on cutting the amount of waste they produce, rather than coming up with imaginative ways to avoid sending rubbish to landfill, which is expensive and environmentally questionable. It admitted this would require companies to overhaul their existing cultures.

But with the cost of inertia so high, Wrap questions whether companies can afford to ignore the findings. "Seventeen billion pounds is a large sum of money to waste and we need to reduce it, especially when times are hard. This is something that businesses will want to do to save money," said Ms Goodwin...

Retailers and manufacturers are also working with a London-based charity called FareShare, which redistributes food to those in need. But the report pointed out the tonnages involved were still only a fraction of the total problem with around 3,000 tons redistributed in 2008.
Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for the Environment, recently wrote to all major UK supermarkets, urging them to provide more support to FareShare, including giving suppliers their "explicit permission" to redistribute supermarket own-brand products.

Ms Goodwin said organisations such as FareShare have a role to play in reducing waste, but she added: "We should be focusing further up the supply chain, to ensure retailers have the right amount of food on their shelves and they are not stocking too much."

The carbon cost breaks down as 10 million tons of CO2 equivalent, from food and packaging waste in the supply chain, and a further 26 million tons of CO2 equivalent, from household waste. A spokesman for the Carbon Trust, which campaigns to cut carbon, said: "Helping people to understand the carbon footprint of the food they buy, cook and throw away is critical to help us all to lead lower-carbon lifestyles. Waste is just one source of carbon emissions from the food we eat."...'