Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Cute, Cuddly Contaminators: Pick up Pet Waste to Prevent Pollution

It’s a cold day in Superior.  Pet owners, you’re probably not looking forward to walking Fido around the block today.  In summer, it’s warm and you can stop to chat with neighbors on your walks.  Winter walks, on the other hand, are cold, terrain can be questionable, and taking the time to scoop poop out of a snow pile seems like a waste when you could be inside drinking cocoa and eating cookies.  Spend the extra few seconds to pick up the gift Fido left on someone else’s lawn.  It’s not only polite, it’s also the law in Superior and important for protecting our water resources.
In the summer, when yards are tended to daily, a big pile of brown stuff will stand out in a lawn of green.  When there’s snow to hide it, it’s easier to forget that pet waste needs to be picked up.  Come spring, you’ll be glad you did though.  When the snow melts, pet waste is carried with the water down the storm drains.  As we’ve previously mentioned, most of the storm drains in Superior go straight to rivers and rivers, then go out to Lake Superior without making a stop at the wastewater treatment plant.  If pet waste is allowed to go along with the snowmelt, imagine what you could see when you’re fishing or swimming.  Yuck!  Even if you can’t see it, evidence of pet waste in our waters is shown through summer beach closings. 
Pet waste carries many diseases and parasites that can be transmitted to people.  When the waste decomposes, it uses up oxygen.  The nutrients in the waste can also cause overgrowth of algae; when algae dies, it also uses up oxygen.  Both of these factors can lead to unhappy aquatic life. 
Many people use grocery bags to pick up pet waste.  There are also several different brands of biodegradable bags available locally.  The City of Superior also has biodegradable pet waste bags conveniently located in the city parks.  So what should you do with the pet waste once you’ve picked it up?  There are a few options.  Flushing it down the toilet will take it to the wastewater treatment plant and allow it to be treated before it is released into the lake.  You can also put it in the trash.  Another option is to bury it, but be sure to keep it away from any food you may have growing in the yard or water sources. 
Thanks for being a responsible pet owner!  For more information, please check out these links:
Wisconsin Beach Health

-Written by Jillian Schubert Edwards

Friday, December 21, 2012

Public Works Department Closed Monday and Tuesday

The Environmental Services Division of Public Works will be closed Monday, 12/24 and Tuesday, 12/25.  If you see a stormwater pollution issue while we’re out, you can leave a message on the stormwater hotline: 715-394-2761.

Safe travels and we’ll be back in the office on Wednesday!

-Written by Jillian Schubert Edwards

Monday, December 17, 2012

Comfort, Joy, and E-waste?

Ah, the holidays.  Filled with evergreens, twinkling lights, and brightly wrapped boxes.  Every year, there are a few hot items that every child hopes to find when they unwrap their gifts.  This year, the top toys are filled with the latest and greatest technology.  If you’re planning on buying electronics for your family and friends, you should know a few things about electronics disposal. 
Many people purchase electronics as gifts when their loved ones have old or broken devices.  If this is the case for you, make sure you know the laws governing electronics disposal.  Electronics disposal is regulated in many states (including Wisconsin) because of the components of electronics.  The amount of electronic devices that are disposed of each year is growing rapidly as well.  Electronics can be composed of more than 1,000 different materials, many of which can be harmful to your health and the environment (Electronics Take Back Coalition, 2012).  For example, CRT TVs (tube TVs) contain lead, while newer flat screen TVs contain mercury.  If these TVs are thrown in a dumpster and taken to the landfill, these materials can leach into groundwater.  If the e-waste is incinerated, it can create toxic ash which can also get into groundwater or soil.  Both of these options are detrimental to human health and the environment. 
So, if you’re replacing old electronics with new ones this holiday season, recycle!  There are many places in Superior that will recycle them (listed below), as well as many manufacturers and distributers that will take back old electronics.  Landfilling many types of electronics is illegal in Wisconsin and the state’s E-Cycle program requires manufacturers of electronics to pay for recycling programs.  For more information on e-waste and where to recycle electronics in Superior, see below. Remember, even batteries for less techie toys should not be disposed of in your household trash.
Happy holidays!                                                                                    
For more information:

Disposal in Superior:
AA Roll-off
Afterlife Electronics Graveyard
Balcum Appliance
TLK Industries
Superior Landfill (bring to landfill, don’t put in trash)

-Written by Jillian Schubert Edwards

Friday, December 14, 2012

Food Waste

Food makes up about twenty-one percent – which is the largest percentage – of waste going into municipal landfills and combusted for energy recovery, according to data from the 2011 Municipal Solid Waste Characterization Report.   About 33 million tons of food waste reach landfills each year in the United States.   Putting food waste in your garbage and sending it to a landfill leads to more methane gas production at the site as the food waste rots.   There are many resources related to producing the food and those are ultimately wasted as the food is discarded.   To reduce food waste from your daily meals going into a landfill you can plan ahead and only buy what you will be eating.  Produce has a limited life. Items in your freezer also have a limited life.  When fruits and vegetables rot or bread goes moldy a way to handle it is to use a compost bin in your yard.  Even in the winter, taking the food to the compost bin need not be difficult.  A variety of bins are available to place in your yard.  Small covered bins are a simple covered bucket in your kitchen can reduce your trips to the outdoor location.  Links are provided below on tips on what can be composted.   Banana peels, orange rinds don’t need to go to landfill.  Over the years you will be making rich compost for your garden.   Perhaps toward the end of the year as you reflect over the year’s happenings and set goals for the new year you could create a journal of food wasted in your home.  Becoming more aware about how much is wasted can play a role in reducing the amount of waste produced.  Then, work toward planning ahead – go ahead and eat the veggies shortly after purchasing them.  Add a compost bin to your holiday wish list and get set to start the new year with reducing your contributions of wasted food to the local landfill.

Perhaps worms are in your future.  You can try vermiculture.  In our area, Ellen Sandbeck is a great authority on this and sells books, bins and the worms to help you get started.  She has been working with the Federal Prison Camp in Duluth managing a 100 foot long worm bin, processing approximately 4,000 pounds of food waste per month.    How many pounds of waste could you keep out of the local landfill by either composting or composting with worms?  It’s all up to you.

-Written by Wendy Grethen

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hazardous Holiday Lights

As the holidays approach, many of us are pulling out last year’s lights to decorate.  Each year you find a few more lights on the strand that don’t work; eventually, the whole string of lights is out.  These little lights can cause you more harm than just the frustration you feel while trying to get them to work.  The Ecology Center, a non-profit organization based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, found that 79% of lights tested contained lead (, 2010).  While your main concern about lead in holiday lights is probably your family’s health, please also consider the environment.  When bulbs break or the strand mysteriously stops working  and the lights are discarded in the trash, they end up in a landfill.  Lead can leach out of landfills and into our water.  Animals that rummage through landfills can also be harmed by ingesting or becoming entangled in the lights.
Please consider the environment by recycling holiday lights rather than discarding them in the trash.  Recyclers chop the lights into pieces and sort by material.  Each material component is then separately recycled. 

Local holiday light recycler:

WLSSD Materials Recovery Center
4587 Ridgeview Road
Duluth, MN 55803

Mail-in holiday light recyclers:

Environmental LED
The LED Warehouse
Attn: Christmas Light Recycling
109 E. Prairie Street
Vicksburg, MI 49097
Attn: Recycling Program
3849 Guest Road
Jackson, MI 49203

Useful Links:

HealthyStuff.Org Report

-Written by Jillian Schubert Edwards

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Shaken, Not Poured: The Case for Using Winter Salt Sparingly

Little mounds of salt piled along buildings and sidewalks are a common sight during the winter months in the Great Lakes states.  Now that winter is fully upon us, the plow and salt trucks will be out in full force.  But why do we use salt?  And what is all of that salt doing to the environment?
Salt lowers the freezing point of water.  So, less water can become ice because there is salt in the water. 
What all of this means is that salt can decrease the number of traffic accidents due to slippery road surfaces.  It can also keep sidewalks and driveways clear for pedestrian traffic.  While it’s great that we have an abundant resource that allows us to get around in the winter, it also has some detrimental impacts on the environment and us.  Some impacts of sodium chloride use are:
1.       Damage to vegetation: When salty slush from roads, sidewalks, and driveways gets on your garden or lawn, the salt water can seep into the soil.  Plants can’t get water from the soil as easily, dehydrating them.  The salty water that ends up on leaves, it can desiccate the plant further.
2.       Corrosive to vehicles: Salt is hygroscopic, meaning that it attracts water.  If that slushy spray from passing cars gets on your car, the salt from that slush will attract more moisture to it and will lead to rusting. 
3.       Water pollution: As spring approaches and warmth returns to Wisconsin, the snow begins to melt.  You’ve seen it; rivers of melted snow, pouring into the storm drain.  It takes with it the salt that has been used throughout the winter.  Many storm drains, including the majority of Superior’s, take stormwater and snowmelt (along with anything mixed in to them) into streams, rivers, and lakes.  Lakes are getting saltier because the salt settles at the bottom of the lake and accumulates.  This prevents water from mixing and can be toxic to aquatic life.
What can you do to mitigate some of the detrimental impacts of salt while staying safe in the winter?  First of all (and most importantly), remove as much snow and ice as possible first.  Once it has been walked/driven on and is compacted, it will be more difficult to get rid of.  Second, pay attention to the products you’re using.  Different kinds of salts (besides the most commonly used NaCl) have different temperatures at which they are effective.  Sodium chloride works best at or above 20*F.  For colder situations, use a different product or use sand for traction.  Finally, apply using the guidelines set forth on the package.  Use a shaker to spread more evenly and to avoid spreading on your lawn or garden.  Sweep up excess salt and use it again for the next storm.
Some more links to check out:

Friday, December 7, 2012

Flushing Medications Leads to Not so Healthy Waters

Cold and flu season are well underway through much of the United States.  Many people stock up on decongestants, cough syrup, and pain relievers to get through it.  But what should you do after the illness has passed?  Over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, like prescription medications, have expiration dates after which time their safety and potency is no longer guaranteed by the manufacturer.
If your pharmaceuticals (over-the-counter or prescription) have expired or you no longer need a specific medication, you should know a few things about medication disposal.  First of all, you should never flush pharmaceuticals down the toilet. When you take medications, some of the chemicals are absorbed, but you still excrete some.  Wastewater treatment plants are not specifically equipped to remove pharmaceuticals.  If you flush medications, the excreted chemicals and the flushed chemicals together will both be going to the wastewater treatment plant. So, what happens after wastewater is treated?  It’s released into water bodies with medications still present.  Aquatic life is affected by these chemicals.  Synthetic estrogens, for example, are feminizing male fish.  When we draw our drinking water from these same water bodies, we’re ingesting a mix of people’s medications as well. 
Here are some tips for better disposal:                                                                                      
1.       Take your pharmaceuticals to a take-back event or a pharmaceutical drop box.  These have emerged all over the country and are the best way to dispose of your unwanted, unused, or expired medications.  If you don’t know where to find a drop box or take-back event, try contacting your local police department or pharmacy.  Superior residents, the Superior Police Department now has a drop box, open from 8:00 AM-4:30 PM Monday-Friday.  See here for more information.
2.       Follow instructions given on the original medication packaging.  Do not flush the medication unless the packaging specifically instructs you to do so.
3.       If you do not have access to a drop box or take-back event, you should dissolve pills in water.  You should mix liquids with an undesirable substance like kitty litter or coffee grounds.  After mixing them, the medications should go in an opaque, sealed container in the garbage in order to prevent diversion from your garbage.
For more information:
-Written by Jillian Schubert Edwards

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Climate Change and Stormwater

 With the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Doha, Qatar wrapping up this week, the topic of climate change has been making headlines all over the world.  While climate change has the potential to impact all aspects of our lives, we're going to focus on the possible effects on stormwater.
Rising global temperatures can lead to more extreme weather events (larger storms, longer droughts, etc.)  More intense rainfall events can bring increased flooding, runoff and erosion.  This could lead to major issues for many municipalities as stormwater conveyance systems were built with historical weather events in mind.  Municipalities may not be equipped to handle frequent, intense storms that could become the normal with increasing temperatures. 
So what does this mean for you?  More frequent extreme weather events that current stormwater conveyance and storage measures cannot handle could lead to flooding and property damage.  Some ways to mitigate these effects include: decreasing impervious surfaces to allow for more stormwater infiltration, planting trees and maintaining riparian buffers to prevent erosion, and using low impact development (LID) practices for new development.  Implementing preventative measures now can help us weather the storm in the future.
To learn more about climate change and stormwater, visit these pages: