Archive for May 20, 2013

Composting in the East End

There are several recommendations in the Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan related to the climate benefits of composting yard and food waste. A recent City Paper Article highlighted a pilot project in the East End.

Reprinted from the Pittsburgh City Paper, May 8, 2013. “One Man’s Trash,” by Amy Jo Brown. 

“One trick to good composting, if you use worms, is coffee grinds.

“Worms eat their food mechanically. There is no acid in their stomachs to break that stuff down; they have no teeth. So they mush it around in their bellies,” says Travis Leivo, as he grabs a handful of rotting food from a bin he started a few months ago. “If you have stuff like coffee grinds … they will break down the food a lot quicker.”

The 30-year-old Shadyside resident sniffs the compost in his hand as he talks: “I’m a weird geek. When I smell compost, it smells good. Like earth, natural dirt.”

Leivo is working on a startup, Shadyside Worms, taking what has become his passion and turning it into a residential curbside compost pickup service, picking up food scraps weekly and offering, in exchange, the resulting fertilizer. Hosted at the moment at Shadyside Nurseries, the operation is small and limited to the East End. Leivo’s goal, he says, isn’t to immediately scale to servicing at the city’s level of trash and recycling pickup. But he does hope he is creating the spark that could lead the city there.

“I don’t want to just … offer to pick up everybody’s food. I want to teach people, get them involved, so that even if the city does end up doing it, they’re informed on how to benefit from it.”

Jim Sloss, energy and utilities manager at the city of Pittsburgh’s Office of Sustainability and Energy Efficiency, says the city has “kicked around” the idea of picking up yard waste curbside and composting it — but the idea of picking up household food scraps has never crossed his desk.

There is interest, though. Another local company, Ag Recycle, works with large, commercial spaces to recycle their food scraps. But, for household and smaller businesses, options can seem sparse. Ryan Spak, owner of Spak Brothers Pizza, works with Leivo and the nonprofit Grow Pittsburgh to dispose of his restaurant’s scraps. But it’s not always enough: “The amount of compost we’re putting out is overwhelming,” he says.”


CO2 Concentrations Surpass Threshold

On Friday, researchers at the Mauna Loa Laboratory in Hawaii announced that for the first time in over 800,000 years, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 surpassed 400 parts per million. While the UN has established a goal of keeping CO2 emissions under 450 ppm, most climate scientists advise that 350 ppm is the safe level.

Read more from National Geographic and the New York Times.

What does this mean? While every area of the world may be affected differently, it means a continuing shift in weather patterns and climate that will lead to rising sea levels, stronger storm events, increasing droughts in many parts of the country and flooding in others. Learn more about CO2 levels at

Communicating climate science, risk, and what people can do is an ongoing challenge for PCI and other climate-related organizations. We welcome your feedback on what you find helpful or confusing about climate messaging.


Assessment Shows Half of Recommendations in Climate Action Plan Enacted

The City of Pittsburgh is well on its way toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions by twenty percent in the next decade, according to the Pittsburgh Climate Initiative (PCI).

PCI reports that over half of the recommendations in the Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan, v. 2.0 have already been completed or are in-progress, just one year after the plan was adopted.

The plan is an update to a 2008 climate action plan and includes 126 specific recommendations for reducing greenhouse gas emissions throughout the city.  Of those, 33 have been completed and 44 others have been implemented and are in progress. Examples include purchasing at least fifteen percent of electricity used by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority from renewable energy sources, upgrading Pittsburgh Housing Authority buildings for energy efficiency and reducing energy use in city government buildings by twenty percent over five years.

The plan includes both government operations as well as private businesses.  Local corporations, including Bayer, BNY Mellon, Highmark, UPMC, Eaton Corporation, Del Monte Foods, evolve:ea, and Pashek Associates have already collectively saved over $4.2 million, 67 million kilowatt hours of energy and 91 million gallons of water, through the Green Workplace Challenge. Colleges and universities are also involved in this effort through the 11-member Higher Education Climate Consortium.

Community members have also gotten involved through the Black and Gold City Goes Green campaign. Participants have reported actions that together have added up to an annual reduction of more than eight million pounds of carbon dioxide.

Examples of recommendations from the 2008 plan that have been successfully accomplished include hiring a city sustainability coordinator and creating a Sustainability Commission,  improving recycling in the City-County Building, retrofitting streetlights to be more efficient, helping businesses complete greenhouse gas emissions inventories, establishing a Higher Education Climate Consortium and completing greenhouse gas inventories for most of the colleges and universities in Pittsburgh.

While the 2008 plan recommendations focused largely on preliminary steps, the updated plan focuses much more on measurable actions. Because only three percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Pittsburgh are the result of government operations, a goal in 2013 is to engage more residents and businesses in climate protection efforts.

While much of the media attention on climate change has focused on the effects to sensitive species and ecosystems, PCI urges Pittsburghers to recognize the predicted impacts of climate change on our region, including higher summer temperatures, longer heat waves and a greater incidence of torrential downpours and flash flooding. As an area already challenged by poor air quality, flooding, and combined-sewer overflows, the Pittsburgh region has a clear incentive to reduce the effects of climate change.

UK Chief Scientific Adviser Offers Grave Warning

The Telegraph recently reported that the UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Sir John Beddington, offered grave warnings regarding climate change as he steps down from his position. He explained that because of the lag time between when greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere and the resulting effects, while we wait for world leaders to agree on an emissions reduction strategy, GHG are “still climbing, and when that increase is reversed, we will be left with the weather and the climate for the next 25 years from whenever that happens.”

The article noted that Beddington “admitted there were some ‘uncertainties’ in the analysis of climate change but stressed that there was clear evidence that it is happening in the way that climate models suggest.”

Read the full story here.

Source: “World faces decades of climate chaos, outgoing chief scientific adviser warns” by Sam Marsden, from The Telegraph, March 25, 2013