Sample Letter to IRS Administrator
On the eve of the 40th anniversary of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, The Wilderness Society today released a report that debunks one of the primary arguments allies of the oil industry have put forward to promote drilling in one of America’s last pristine, untouched landsc
Americans Uphold the Paris Agreement
In 2015, nearly every country in the world came together in Paris and agreed on a plan to fight climate change, together. The plan allows countries to develop their own policies to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
This month, President Trump announced his decision to withdraw the US from that historic agreement. While the actual process of pulling out of the Paris Accords will take years, the about-face was nevertheless a huge setback for a unified, global effort to build a better world.
Then, just hours following Trump’s announcement, prominent figures from Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto to Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg began expressing their support for the Paris agreement and pledging to step up to ensure continuation of the progress we’ve made.
Several days later, more than 1,000 governors, mayors, businesses, investors, and colleges and universities from across the US declared their intent to ensure America remains a global leader in reducing carbon emissions under the banner “We Are Still In”.
“There’s a $5.5 trillion market for low-carbon goods and services. We are ready to capitalize on this business opportunity… at Autodesk, we are all in, and are more committed than ever to enlist our customers to design, build and manufacture net positive climate solutions,” said Lynelle Cameron, Vice President of Sustainability for Autodesk.
Cameron’s sentiments were echoed, over and over again, by hundreds of other business leaders. Among the signatories of this new coalition are Ikea North America, Target, L’Oréal, Google, Adobe, The North Face, Nike, Apple, Unilever and many others.
While the process of reducing emissions will take many years, businesses and local governments have already been making changes that put them on the right path and set an example for others to follow.
California’s SB-32 bill that was originally passed in 2006 and updated in 2016 has expanded the state’s solar capacity, subsidized electric cars, and encouraged development around transit. Companies like Microsoft and Patagonia are taxing themselves for environmental damages, increasing building efficiency, scrutinizing their supply chains for sustainability, and much more. And cities and states across the country are passing more ambitious renewable energy targets.
What can individuals do to encourage these trends, aim higher, and help others get involved?
All of us are part of something bigger, whether it’s a company we work for or a county we live in. Get to know who your local, state and federal representatives are and talk to them about their strategy for addressing climate change. Talk to the brands you purchase from and encourage them to make sustainable changes, too.
You can also help your coworkers commit to your organization’s corporate sustainability goals by becoming an EarthShare Corporate Alliance partner or joining the EarthShare at Work program. We’ll give you the ability to directly assist the nonprofits working to find solutions, while learning more about the impacts of our changing climate on our environment, our work, and our lives.
People love to complain about the wastefulness of meal-kit delivery companies like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh. The baggies that hold a single scallion! The thousands of miles of shipping! The endless cardboard boxes! Those problems are annoying, but ultimately they’re not environmental catastrophes: The baggies don’t take up all that much landfill space, the cardboard boxes are recyclable, and it’s not clear whether shipping meal kits is less efficient than transporting food to grocery stores and then to homes.
But there is a much better reason to criticize meal-kit companies—and as far as I can tell, few people are talking much about it. That’s surprising, because it’s actually the biggest (or heaviest, at least) thing in every meal-kit box: the freezer packs that keep the perishables fresh while they’re being shipped. Blue Apron now sends out 8 million meals a month. If you figure that each box contains about three meals and two six-pound ice packs, that’s a staggering 192,000 tons of freezer-pack waste every year from Blue Apron alone. To put that in perspective, that’s the weight of nearly 100,000 cars or 2 million adult men. When I shared those numbers with Jack Macy, a senior coordinator for the San Francisco Department of the Environment’s Commercial Zero Waste program, he could scarcely believe it. “That is an incredible waste,” he said. The only reason he suspects he hasn’t heard about it yet from the city’s trash haulers is that the freezer packs end up hidden in garbage bags.
Given that many meal-kit companies claim to want to help the planet (by helping customers reduce food waste and buying products from environmentally responsible suppliers, for example), you’d think they would have come up with a plan for getting rid of this ever-growing glacier of freezer packs. Au contraire. Many blithely suggest that customers store old gel packs in their freezers for future use. Unless you happen to have your own meat locker, that’s wildly impractical. I tried it, and in less than a month the packs—which are roughly the size of a photo album—had crowded practically everything else out of my freezer. Two personal organizers that I talked to reported that several clients had asked for a consult on what to do with all their accumulated freezer packs.
As Nathanael Johnson at Grist points out, Blue Apron has also suggested that customers donate used freezer packs to the Boy Scouts or other organizations. I asked my local Boy Scouts council whether they wanted my old meal-kit freezer packs. “What would we do with all those ice packs?” wondered the puzzled council executive. (Which is saying a lot for an organization whose motto is “be prepared.”)
The meal-kit companies’ online guides to recycling packaging are not especially helpful. (Blue Apron’s is visible only to its customers.) Most of them instruct customers to thaw the freezer packs, cut open the plastic exterior, which is recyclable in some places, and then dump the thawed goo into the garbage. (Hello Fresh suggests flushing the goo down the toilet, which, experts told me, is a terrible idea because it can cause major clogs in your plumbing.) The problem with this advice is that it does not belong in a recycling guide—throwing 12 pounds of mystery goo into the garbage or toilet is not recycling.
To its credit, Blue Apron is the only major meal-kit service to offer a take-back program: Enterprising customers can mail freezer packs back to the company free of charge. But Blue Apron spokeswoman Allie Evarts refused to tell me how many of its customers actually do this. When I asked what the company does with all those used freezer packs, Evarts only told me, “We retain them for future use.” So does that mean Blue Apron is actually reusing the packs in its meal kits, or is there an ever-growing mountain of them languishing in a big warehouse somewhere? Evarts wouldn’t say.
Now back to that mystery goo, which, in case you’re curious, is whitish clear, with the consistency of applesauce. Its active ingredient is a substance called sodium polyacrylate, a powder that can absorb 300 times its weight in water. It’s used in all kinds of products, from detergent to fertilizer to surgical sponges. One of its most common uses is in disposable diapers—it’s what soaks up the pee and keeps babies’ butts dry. When saturated with water and frozen, sodium polyacrylate thaws much more slowly than water—meaning it can stay cold for days at a time.
Meal-kit companies assure their customers that the freezer-pack goo is nontoxic. That’s true. But while sodium polyacrylate poses little to no danger to meal-kit customers, it’s a different story for the people who manufacture the substance. (Meal-kit companies typically contract with freezer-pack manufacturers rather than making their own.) In its powdered state, it can get into workers’ lungs, where it can cause serious problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted in 2011 that workers in a sodium polyacrylate plant in India developed severe lung disease after inhaling the powder. Animal studies have shown that exposure to high concentrations of sodium polyacrylate can harm the lungs. Because of these known risks, some European countries have set limits on workers’ exposure to sodium polyacrylate. Here in the United States, some industry groups and manufacturers recommend such limits as well as safety precautions for workers like ventilation, respirators, and thick gloves. But on the federal level, neither the Occupational Safety and Health Administration nor the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have any rules at all. (The companies that supply freezer packs to Blue Apron and Hello Fresh did not return repeated requests for information on their manufacturing processes.)
Beyond the factory, sodium polyacrylate can also do a number on the environment. In part, that’s because it’s made from the same stuff as fossil fuels—meaning that making it produces significant greenhouse gas emissions, a team of Swedish researchers found in 2015 (PDF). It also doesn’t biodegrade, so those mountains of freezer packs sitting in the garbage aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
So to review: Freezer packs create an epic mountain of garbage, and their goo is not as environmentally benign as meal-kit companies would have you believe. So what’s to be done? One place to start might be a greener freezer pack. That same team of Swedish researchers also developed a sodium polyacrylate alternative using biodegradable plant materials instead of fossil fuels. A simpler idea: Companies could operate like milkmen used to, dropping off the new stuff and picking up the old packaging—including freezer packs—for reuse in one fell swoop.
A little creative thinking might go a long way—yet none of the companies that I talked to said they had any specific plans to change the freezer-pack system (though Hello Fresh did say it planned to reduce its freezer pack size from six pounds to five pounds). And when you think about it, why should they fix the problem? Heidi Sanborn, head of the recycling advocacy group California Product Stewardship Council, points out that the current arrangement suits the meal-kit providers just fine. “It’s taxpayers that are paying for these old freezer packs to sit in the landfill forever,” she says. “Companies are getting a total freebie.”
An order issued today by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit clears the way for BLM-Utah to begin implementing a comprehensive settlement agreement that will result in the completion of 13 new off-highway vehicle travel management plans over the next 8 years across eastern a
As U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke tours Alaska, a newly released TWS report says the Administration’s proposal to drill the Arctic is a mistake.