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Working Toward a Waste-Free Valley; Dispensary Applicant Withdraws Bid; Who’s Tracking Your Kids Online?; Tower Talk in Hadley; Longer Terms for Legislators?

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Working Toward a Waste-Free Valley

The notion of a zero-waste society might sound far-fetched; even with diligent recycling and devoted composting, how, exactly, can we ever truly eliminate waste?

The answer, suggests Jessica Tanner, is to reframe the way we think about the subject: “Our current waste system is linear: you produce it, you use it, you landfill it.” Instead, she said, we ought to think of a circular system, in which the items that we now consider “waste” are, in fact, incorporated back into the production system.

The perfect model is just outside our windows. “There’s no such thing as waste in nature,” Tanner said. “Nature can teach us so much about how to design things that aren’t going to be toxic or linger around for thousands of years.”

That’s part of the message Tanner hopes to spread as a member of the steering committee of a new group called Valley Zero Waste. The group, which is working with Clean Water Action and other organizations already focused on reducing waste, aims to help the region dramatically cut down—and, someday, completely eliminate—the amount of stuff that now ends up in already overburdened landfills.

For instance, Valley Zero Waste will work with the Center for EcoTechnology’s RecyclingWorks program, which helps businesses find ways to improve their composting and recycling efforts. Volunteers with Valley Zero Waste will reach out to businesses to determine their needs, Tanner said. The group will also make videos highlighting examples of successful waste reduction efforts at other businesses, like one Tanner has already made about the extensive program at Northampton’s River Valley Market, which donates excess food, composts what can’t be reused and recycles packaging and other materials.

Still in its early stages, Valley Zero Waste recently held meetings in Amherst and Springfield to explain its work and solicit input from the public. The meeting included a presentation by Lynne Pledger, solid waste manager for Clean Water Action Massachusetts and another member of Valley Zero Waste, about the Extended Producer Responsibility, or EPR, movement.

EPR calls on manufacturers to take final responsibility for the products they make when those products reach the end of their lives; perhaps the best-known example of EPR in action is the bottle bill, which makes bottlers responsible for collecting and recycling containers. Shifting that responsibility to producers doesn’t just spare consumers the cost of disposal or recycling, proponents note; it also creates an incentive for manufacturers to use more recyclable components, to cut down on the use of dangerous and hard-to-recycle toxic materials and to reduce unnecessary packaging.

“Aside from the business focus, we as a group definitely want to focus more on the producer end,” Tanner said. “There’s a lot of emphasis on recycling, but that only targets a very small percentage of waste.” She refers to sources citing the “71 ton upstream rule,” which says that for every ton of paper, bottles and cans that are not recycled, 71 tons of new waste are created in producing and distributing new materials instead.

While reaching zero waste might seem like a lofty goal, Tanner believes it can be reached. “I think we need to experience a cultural shift,” she said, including focusing less on what to do with the waste we produce and more on how we can be less wasteful in the first place.

For more information on Valley Zero Waste, email valleyzerowaste@yahoo.com or call 413-727-3295.• Pot

 

Dispensary Applicant Withdraws Bid

 

There is one less competitor in the running to start a marijuana dispensary in the Valley (“Who Wants to be a Pot Clinic Finalist?”, Nov. 21, 2013, www.valleyadvocate.com). Susan Stubbs, president of Farm House Compassionate Care, has announced that Farm House has withdrawn its application to the state Department of Public Health to establish a dispensary in Hampshire County and another in Hampden County.

Stubbs is also president of the Northampton-based ServiceNet, which provides social services to mental health clients, homeless people, substance abusers and others in Franklin, Hampshire, Hampden, Berkshire and Worcester counties.

Stubbs said that the unresolved conflict between federal law about marijuana and more permissive state laws makes it too risky to enter the dispensary business. Though many states, including Massachusetts, have liberalized laws concerning the possession of small amounts of marijuana as well as its medical use, the federal Controlled Substance Act still classifies marijuana as an unsafe drug with a high potential for abuse and with “no accepted medical use.” Within the last year, federal agents have raided dispensaries in Washington and other states, sometimes alleging that money was being laundered or that unauthorized clients were buying marijuana.

The confusion created by the disconnect between federal law and the new state laws is a matter of concern to U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who in September held a hearing on the issue. “It is important, especially at a time of budget constraints, to determine whether it is the best use of federal resources to prosecute the personal or medicinal use of marijuana in states that have made such consumption legal,” Leahy said in a public statement. “I believe that these state laws should be respected. At a minimum, there should be guidance about enforcement from the federal government.”

That lack of guidance resulted in the withdrawal of the application by Farm House, which had passed the first round of scrutiny by the state. Gaining first-stage approval took considerable effort and money for applicants, who were required to check staff members’ backgrounds, verify their nonprofit status, line up $500,000 in working capital and pay a $1,500 application fee. (The second stage of the approval process, which began Nov. 21, carries a $30,000 fee.)

Stubbs wrote not only to the state DPH but to the federal Department of Justice that “no matter how carefully Farm House Compassionate Care were to adhere to the rules and regulations governing the operation of a registered marijuana dispensary in Massachusetts, there would be nothing we could do to assure that our staff would not be breaking federal law simply by doing their jobs.”•

 

Who’s Tracking Your Kids Online?

 

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has filed a bill that would limit marketers’ ability to track young teens online and also make it easier for kids to erase regrettable things they’ve shared via social media.

Markey’s “Do Not Track Kids” bill would expand protections already in place for younger kids to cover 13- to 15-year-olds. It would prohibit online companies from collecting personal and location information from kids aged 13 to 15 and from sending them targeted ads without their consent. For younger kids, parental consent would be required.

The bill also calls for the creation of a so-called “eraser button” that would allow users to delete private information from public view “when technologically feasible.” And it would require companies to disclose what information they collect and how they collect and use it.

“The speed with which Facebook is pushing teens to share their sensitive, personal information widely and publicly online must spur Congress to act commensurately to put strong privacy protections on the books for teens and parents,” Markey said in announcing the bill, which he said would protect kids from having “their information collected and sold to the highest bidder.

“Corporations like Facebook should not be profiting from the personal and sensitive information of children and teens, and parents and teens should have the right to control their personal information online,” the senator added.

A companion bill has been filed in the House by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.).

The bills have already inspired protests from social-media companies and marketers. In an interview with the Washington Post, Mike Zaneis, general counsel for the Interactive Advertising Bureau, questioned whether the bill’s “eraser” provision was even possible. “There is no way to magically make things disappear on the Internet. It isn’t written in pencil,” he said. “There is no real eraser button.”

California recently passed a state online privacy law that requires an “eraser button” for minors.

The Markey and Barton bills have won the endorsement of the American Academy of Pediatrics and Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that focuses on children and media and technology. Jim Steyer, the organization’s CEO, cheered the bipartisan bill on its website, saying, “Today’s kids are living so much of their lives online and are forfeiting their right to privacy before they fully understand what privacy is. Common Sense Media believes kids and families should have the right to control their privacy and personal information online.”•

 

UMass Recognized for Food Waste Recycling Efforts

This week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency named UMass-Amherst one of nine national winners of its 2013 Food Recovery Challenge.

The challenge, a voluntary undertaking, “invites organizations nationwide to reduce the amount of food they buy and throw out and to divert surplus food to feed people, thus reducing their environmental footprint.”

The EPA made special note of UMass’ composting program, which turns more than 1,400 pounds of solid food waste into nutrient-rich soil each year. The university says that it is “closing in on the ... goal of consistently recycling or composting 60 percent of the campus waste stream.”

Clark University in Worcester also was named to the list of winners, earning plaudits for a new program, put into practice this past fall, to compost waste produced in school dormitories. According to the EPA, each Clark dorm creates approximately 500 pounds of waste per day; a recent audit conducted by the university showed that 60 percent of that waste is compostable. Clark has composted waste in its dining areas and kitchens since 2007.

In a press release, Curt Spalding, regional administrator of the EPA’s New England office, commended the contest winners for their willingness to rethink existing practices, saying, “they are making a real difference for the environment and for their communities.”

Regional awards were given to several other Massachusetts institutions, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Genzyme, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston Organics and the Boston Red Sox.•

 

Tower Talk in Hadley

With a Berkshire Gas pipeline going in under the Connecticut River from Hadley to Hatfield and three megawatts of solar power soon to be installed on Mill Valley Road, infrastructure is the talk of the season in Hadley. Next up is a proposal by Verizon to replace one telecommunications tower—the one at the public safety complex on East Street—with a taller one and to build a new 80-foot tower at 319 River Rd. (Rte. 47), on the property where the Montgomery Rose wholesale florist business maintains offices and growing operations.

“Both of these towers are being proposed by Verizon Wireless, and it’s part of their improving cell phone coverage in Hadley,” David Nixon, Hadley town administrator, told the Advocate. Nixon said Verizon wants to take down the existing 60-foot tower at the public safety complex and replace it with an 80-foot structure that will have the Hadley police, fire, dispatch and emergency communications transmitters at the top, “to improve their range.”

Studies in Europe and elsewhere have associated proximity to cell phone towers and the antennas they house with sleep disorders, dizziness, inability to concentrate and more serious medical problems; there are controversial claims that the list even includes cancer. But Verizon’s plan to build a new tower on River Road has attracted little attention so far, though Nixon says Hadley residents have been notified through all the required channels, including local cable access television.

That River Road structure would be a so-called “stealth tower.” Around the country, stealth towers take many forms; some are placed in church steeples, for example, while some are made to look like trees.

“I hope they don’t put up a fake tree,” said Hadley resident Andy Morris-Friedman. “My parents live in New Jersey and those fake trees are all over the place. I’d rather see a tower than a fake tree.”

Verizon has already floated a proposal to construct a tower that looks like a water tank at the River Road site.

Both Verizon’s proposals will be taken up at a public hearing to be held by the Hadley Planning Board on Tuesday, Dec. 3, at 7:30 p.m. in the Hadley Senior Center Meeting Room. The hearing on the tower proposed for the public safety complex will be followed by a hearing on the tower to be built on River Road. The application and plans are available for viewing in the town clerk’s office.• —SK

 

Longer Terms for Legislators?

State Rep. Denise Andrews, Democrat from Orange, is a woman with a mission. She wants to get the two-year terms of Massachusetts legislators extended to four years by amending the state constitution, and she wants to give voters a way to abridge those longer terms by recall if the legislators are found to be derelict in their duty.

Andrews serves on the Joint Committee on Election Law. She said that she hears complaints from her constituents that the election cycle never seems to end, and as a second-term legislator who has been through two campaigns, she agrees with them.

“Having been through two elections myself and serving now for a second legislative session,” Andrews told the Advocate in an e-mail, “I am trying to look at this issue from an efficiency standpoint. Being that we have two-year terms of office in the Legislature, having to campaign every other year to continue in that role greatly diminishes the amount of time spent actually legislating. Having a formal session truncated by the biennial election season means that not much formal legislative business is done during the last six months of each two-year session, and then we start from scratch again—filing the bills, hearing the bills, and voting so many of them to study.”

Not everyone agrees that four-year terms with recall provisions to ensure accountability would achieve the end Andrews has in view. Pam Wilmot of Common Cause told the Advocate that she agrees with Andrews about the problems of frequent elections, but has reservations about extending legislators’ terms.

“I do think people are sick of elections, but I think it’s because we have municipal elections in odd years, and special elections,” Wilmot said. “That does get tiring, and there may be a way of grouping those in a more rational manner. I think that is certainly worth a close look. But we have not generally supported extending legislative terms to four years. Elections are messy, they are annoying, but four years when you don’t have to go to the voters is a long time.”

Andrews points out that her plan would give legislators the same terms as holders of constitutional offices, such as the governor. But to Wilmot, the governorship is different. The governor, she noted, is “an executive who requires some time to put a team in place.”

As for recalls, Wilmot acknowledged that they do strengthen the voters’ leverage over legislators, but they are, she said, “messy” and “tend to be used for political purposes.” And a successful recall creates the necessity for a disruptive special election in between regular elections.

As a practical matter, however, the rate of return for incumbents is so high in Massachusetts—92 percent of incumbents who ran here for statewide or state legislative office in 2010 won—that few legislators serve less than four years. So two-year terms haven’t solved the problem of entrenchment, a reality that may lend force to Andrews’ side of the argument. Meanwhile, she doesn’t hype her bills as the solution to all the state’s problems with the electoral process.

“To be sure,” she acknowledged, “these bills would not end the problems of money in politics; they will not stop the robo-calls, nor will they prevent the landscape from being blighted by political yard signs. But perhaps they would decrease how much and how often our lives are invaded by elections.”• —SK

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