Links, links, green links. Get them while they’re hot!

Photo courtesy of A. Kotula at

Here at the Practical Environmentalist, we’re green news junkies. We keep an eagle eye out for the latest science, social, and environmental developments and try to sum up the big picture here. This week, a lot of exciting things are going on.

Discarded fishing gear is a major problem in the ocean. Lost nets and traps can get tangled with animals, catch boat propellers, and damage fragile coral reefs. Covanta Energy is doing something interesting – they’re offering a free waste disposal service that converts marine waste into electricity by incinerating it and filtering the emissions. The Fishing for Energy program is about to get a windfall too – thousands of yards of fishing line are about to become obsolete due to new laws about floating rigs. Instead of paying disposal fees, many fisherman were expected to dump the line overboard. Now, that rope can be used to reduce the amount of coal and natural gas burned in 2009:

Derelict fishing equipment can threaten marine life, impair navigational safety, and have serious economic repercussions on shipping and coastal communities. Since the program was launched in February, more than 80,000 pounds of fishing nets, trawl gear, crab pots, and fishing line have been collected and converted into energy.

Speaking of the ocean, new studies have shown that methane gas trapped under the ice caps is escaping. As glaciers recede, this greenhouse gas is accelerating the melting process. Since methane has more than 20 times the heat trapping powers of carbon dioxide and the amount of methane involved is enormous, this could have serious climate effects.

Since the news lately has been a bit dark and scary, it’s important to focus on some of the amazing things that are also going on. For instance, have you seen what kids these days are up to? What were you doing when you were 12? This kid won a prize for designing next generation solar cells. That certainly trumps the tree house I built back in the 90’s.

There are also some exciting things happening in our neighbors yards. Believe it or not – it’s possible to grow more than 10,000 tomatoes in a typical yard. Wouldn’t you get tired of eating tomatoes after about the 5,000th one? And, the next time you’re mowing grass or digging holes for new landscaping – keep an eye out for Paleo-Indian artifacts. That, and buried pirate treasure.

Ever hear the adage “Everything that’s old is new again”? Companies catering to green tourists are using this truth to their advantage, with a rise in carbon neutral activities such as geothermal steam cog railroad trips, sky trams powered by water pressure, bookings on river steamboats, and even horse riding tours! Although, if you’ve ever been on the south bound end of a north bound horse, you know that carbon emissions aren’t the only thing there is to worry about.

Photo courtesy of yourpicturesarejon at

The best and latest green news

Photo courtesy of
sterkworks at

Here at the Practical Environmentalist, we’re green news junkies. We keep an eagle eye out for the latest science, social, and environmental developments and try to sum up the big picture here. This week, a lot of exciting things are going on.

Not everyone who wants to eat local food has time to garden. That’s why a new breed of entrepreneurs are ready to help you out by managing your garden. They’re like executive chefs, but more hardcore.

An unusual new power plant is going up in Indiana. With an output of only 1.6 megawatts, the first phase of this electrical turbine isn’t going to power the entire eastern seaboard, but it is one of several new power plants that generate power using methane from garbage.
That’s equivalent to:

— Removal of emissions equivalent to over 22,000 cars per year, or
— Planting about 27,000 acres of forest annually, or
— Creating enough energy to power more than 2,000 homes per year

Computers contain some pretty toxic chemicals, and e-waste is a major problem we’ve blogged about before. Many companies are working from the other side of the issue and trying to produce greener computer components.

Climate change and invasive species threaten to destroy some of the most beautiful places on Earth. Here’s a list of endangered places to visit before they’re gone. If you do have the means to visit these places, please consider donating to local conservation groups.

Due to high oil prices, reduced gas consumption is resulting in shortfalls in the Federal Highway Fund at the same time that Congress is focused on rising road maintenance costs. What does that mean?

Well, for starters, we can expect more toll roads. And here’s a cruel irony: the increased use of mass transit may cause a cut in funding for mass transit.

Turning trash into fuel for our cars

Photo courtesy of JohnKit at

Trash, trash, trash. We’ve got plenty of it! Just take a look around your neighborhood on trash pickup day – all those bulging bags are headed to the landfill, where they’ll be buried and put out of sight, out of mind. Yet those bags may contain a solution to high fuel prices.

In the near future, our cars could be powered with gases produced by decaying waste. A test project is underway that will effectively convert a 30 acre cell of the McComas landfill into a giant compost pile. For the project, researchers are laying 7 pipes in various layers in the landfill, and the pipes will recirculate leachate through the trash heap. By adding nutrient rich moisture to the pile, these pipes will allow bacteria to digest the trash at an accelerated rate (200-300% the rate of decomposition in other landfills).

This accelerated decomposition will help conserve space in the landfill, but it will also produce methane gas as a byproduct. Methane gas (also known as natural gas) is distributed to homes and businesses by natural gas utilities. Methane from the McComas landfill will be transported by Atmos Energy, and sold to heat buildings, run industrial machinery, and generate electricity. Methane can also be compressed for use by buses that use natural gas for fuel , or even processed into hydrogen for the next generation of gasoline-free cars.

Landfill gas is an alternative source for hydrogen fuel, and using waste to produce our fuel is one way to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. The majority of hydrogen produced today is derived from petroleum products. Converting landfill methane into fuel is a double win, because it reduces the use of gasoline while also preventing the release of methane into the atmosphere. This is important, because methane gas has an even greater effect on climate change than carbon dioxide.

So, how much gas are we talking about here?

As it stands, McCommas already captures about 5.6 million cubic feet of methane a day, which is piped to an on-site plant operated by the independent company, Dallas Clean Energy. Some of the city’s estimates show that by 2012, output could exceed 20 million cubic feet per day.

The conversion rate from methane into hydrogen is about 66%. That means the McComas landfill could produce 13.2 million cubic feet of hydrogen daily. Across the entire country, our current production of Hydrogen amounts to about 3 billion cubic feet per year, so this one landfill could more than double our current hydrogen production.

There are many more landfills in the US. We have about 3,000 active landfills and 10,000 old landfills, all full of trash that’s breaking down into methane. Tapping them to produce hydrogen gas would be a great way to escape our addiction to oil.

Photo courtesy of
cosraifoto at

Cows, cow farts, fertilizer and climate change / global warming

Photo courtesy of rmrayner at

When governments talk about fighting global warming, they put a lot of emphasis on reducing industrial emissions. But, agriculture is responsible for a surprisingly large share of the gases that cause climate change. By some estimates, emissions from fertilizer, animals, and farm equipment account for about 20% of all global warming gases.

Overuse of synthetic fertilizers is a major problem because some of the chemicals in these fertilizers trap heat better than Carbon Dioxide. For instance, Nitrous Oxide can retain 300 times as much heat as CO2. There are many superior organic alternatives, but these account for only a fraction of the fertilizers used today.

Farm animals are another major source of global warming gases. As cows, goats, and sheep digest food, they release a high volume of methane. Cows are responsible for about 75% of all methane made by farm animals. That’s another potent gas behind global warming – Methane is about 25 times better at trapping heat than CO2.

It may be possible to reduce these emissions with big, sweeping government policy. But, if you want to make a difference, change starts in the grocery aisle. The next time you go to the grocery store, consider produce that’s raised with organic fertilizer and leave those slabs of prime rib in the grocer’s freezer. Your body will thank you, and you can breathe easier too!

Photo courtesy of OutdoorAlex at