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At Whole Foods, No Sludge-Raised Produce; Industry Tries to Counter Bottle Bill Expansion; “Pickup Artists” Clean Up Needles in Holyoke

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Wednesday, February 05, 2014
image courtesy of the Center for Media and Democracy

At Whole Foods, No Sludge-Raised Produce

Whole Foods Market has said that it will not offer fruits and vegetables grown with municipal sludge as fertilizer after this fall, when the company puts into effect a new set of criteria for food sold in its stores (also among the new criteria: a ban on food grown with pesticides hazardous to pollinators such as bees). People who object to sludge point not so much to the fact that it contains human waste as to other things in the mix, particularly antibiotics and chemicals such as flame retardants and endocrine disruptors, the latter of which damage animal and human reproductive systems.

There’s good reason to put sludge on fields; it does contain many plant nutrients, and using millions of tons of it as fertilizer each year saves disposal space. Also, the federal Environmental Protection Agency regulates—to some extent, anyway—its contaminant levels. Sludge has its supporters, including NPR blogger Eliza Barclay, who claims that sludge is “heavily” regulated by the DPA and attributes concerns about it to the yuck factor: consumers’ distaste for poop.

But the U.S. Geological Survey, which is currently studying the occurrence of chemical contaminants in sludge used as fertilizer and possible ways of removing them, acknowledges that “a variety of pharmaceuticals and other organic chemicals have been found in the wastewater discharged from WWTPs [wastewater treatment plants, the source of the sludge].” It cites one investigation that analyzed samples of sludge for 87 organic chemicals found in medications, personal care products and cleaners. According to the USGS, 55 of the 87 substances turned up in at least one of the nine samples, while 45 of the chemicals were found in one sample.

Whole Foods has taken this step after the Center for Media and Democracy reported about Mario Ciasulli, a North Carolina resident who asked the chain to label produce grown in sludge. After Whole Foods staff told Ciasulli that the chain didn’t ask its suppliers whether or not their product was grown in sludge, thousands of CMD readers emailed Whole Foods to ask the company to question its suppliers and disclose which of its products, if any, were fertilized with sludge.•

 

Industry Tries to Counter Bottle Bill Expansion

An enormous setback to recycling.” That’s how representatives of the Massachusetts Sierra Club, MASSPIRG and the Environmental League of Massachusetts described a bill, currently under consideration in the state Senate, that would alter the bottle recycling process in the Commonwealth.

Its passage, the groups said, would be “an enormous setback for recycling... [cause] the loss of an estimated 1,600 jobs, and cost municipalities throughout the state an estimated $76-$121 [million] in ‘unfunded mandate’ costs.”

The bill in question, S.379, would repeal the Bottle Law and end the familiar bottle recycling system—a five-cent tax for bottles and cans that contain carbonated beverages—replacing it with a flat one-cent tax on all beverage containers. It would require municipalities across the region to “increase recycling opportunities” by putting recycling bins in “public facilities visited by at least five thousand individuals annually, including, but not limited to, stadiums, arenas, marinas, airports, theaters and parks.”

According to the report by the Sierra Club and others, the one-cent tax would lead to a decrease in the revenue from beverage taxes, which would likely not cover the costs of installing the bins and disposing of their contents and the litter that would collect around them. (Under the existing Bottle Law, large volumes of bottles are taken to redemption centers by consumers and never become litter at all.)

An expansion of the existing Bottle Law long supported by environmental groups and the public—known in the Massachusetts House and Senate as H.2943 and S.1588, respectively—would keep the five-cent tax, extend the recycling program to water, tea, juice and sports drinks and allow the tax and handling fee related to bottle collection to be adjusted for inflation. A referendum that would put this proposal into law is scheduled to appear on the November, 2014 ballot.•

 

“Pickup Artists” Clean Up Needles in Holyoke

Still controversial but still in operation is the needle exchange program in Holyoke run by Tapestry Health. Opponents of the program say one of its undesirable side effects is an increase in the number of needles that end up on the ground in city neighborhoods; supporters say that was a problem a long time before the city got the needle exchange program in August, 2012 with the support of the Board of Health and Mayor Alex Morse.

In any case, Tapestry has now launched a hotline for people who spot needles on the street, in a park, or anywhere else in the city. Anyone can call (413) 650-2679 and leave a voice message, and someone from Tapestry will go out and retrieve the needle or needles in a safe manner. “We’re able to dispatch somebody either at the moment or the next morning,” executive director Tim Purington told the Advocate.

Tapestry trains a cadre of volunteers—about 20 at the moment—who call themselves “pickup artists” to handle needles safely. “On Martin Luther King weekend, we went out and cleaned up a neighborhood,” Purington said. “We teach people how to pick up and dispose of needles, to wear shoes that will protect their feet. If we find people that are using drugs, we stay in our role”—not confronting, not becoming involved in the user’s problem. The “pickup artists” are Holyoke residents, and the pickup program is part of a larger strategy being developed by the Holyoke Board of Health to combat drug use and its effects on the city, Purington said.• —SK

 

Granby Caught in Changing Waste Disposal Picture

The landfill located at 11 New Ludlow Road in Granby is currently operating on borrowed time, leaving the future of Granby residents’ trash and recyclables up in the air—a municipal dilemma that is a sign of the times as the era of community landfills in Western Massachusetts nears its end.

The town has announced an agreement with Waste Management, the company that operates the site, to keep the landfill open as a transfer station until the end of May. Under this arrangement, waste brought to the station will be trucked to other facilities.

In addition, the town will no longer receive $1 million annually in “tipping fees,” which Waste Management has paid Granby each year since 2000. Instead of a revenue stream, the town will find itself with a bill. According to town administrator Chris Martin, the new arrangement will cost the town $15,000 per month for Waste Management to continue operations, and an additional soft cost to cover recyclables and disposal of the solid waste, projected at $14,500.

Select board members have said Waste Management did not make it clear until November that it was going to close the landfill at the end of December. At a recent select board meeting, according to the Springfield Republican, members reviewed three possible plans from private companies for curbside garbage pickup, but did not choose to proceed with any of them.

The facility operator’s most recent calculations, as reported to the state Department of Environmental Protection, show that the New Ludlow Road site handled 70,690 tons of solid waste last year. This spring a larger landfill in South Hadley is also slated to close, removing another 156,000 tons per year of solid waste disposal capacity from the Valley. As the Advocate has previously reported, the remaining capacity of Massachusetts landfills is projected to shrink to just 600,000 tons by 2020, down from 2 million in 2010.•—BL

 

 

Mass. Lawmakers Get Good Food Grades

Massachusetts’ Congressional delegation scored well on a report card put together by Food Policy Action, a national nonprofit whose mission is to promote “policies that support healthy diets, reduce hunger at home and abroad, improve food access and affordability, uphold the rights and dignity of food and farm workers, increase transparency, improve public health, reduce the risk of food-borne illness, support local and regional food systems, treat farm animals humanely and reduce the environmental impact of farming and food production.”

The report card looked at lawmakers’ voting records on several key bills related to hunger, farming and environmental issues, including one filed by U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, of Massachusetts’ 2nd Congressional district, to restore proposed cuts to the food stamp, or SNAP, program. (It failed to pass.)

Not surprisingly, McGovern, who’s been a champion of anti-hunger programs, scored a perfect score of 100 on the report card. The Valley’s other Congressman, Rep. Richie Neal, scored a respectable 85; he lost points for voting against an international food aid bill and a crop insurance reform bill.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren received a grade of 83 percent—the lowest of any member of the Massachusetts delegation—losing points for voting against a bill, sponsored by Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, that would have granted states the right to label foods containing genetically engineered ingredients. (Massachusetts’ other senator, Ed Markey, didn’t receive a grade, having entered the Senate mid-term. During his last term in the House, he scored 92.)

In addition to McGovern, three of Massachusetts’ representatives scored perfect 100s: Reps. Niki Tsongas, Joseph Kennedy and John Tierney. Overall, all members of the Massachusetts delegation (excluding the ungraded Markey) did well enough to be named “Good Food Champions” by Food Policy Action. In Vermont, Sanders also made the Champions list, as did Rep. Peter Welch and Sen. Patrick Leahy.

Nationally, 28 representatives and 10 senators got grades of zero.

The report is available at www.foodpolicyaction.org.•

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