Homepage News Archive

Environmental Progress Reversed: Plans to Revitalize a Trash-To-Energy Plant in Hartfort, CT Fails Due to Lack of State Funding

Since the beginning of the Trump administration, there have been many environmental rollbacks on policy and as a result a reversal of federal environmental progress as a whole, especially since the onset of Covid-19. However, the reversal of environmental progress is beginning to occur more and more at the state level as seen in current events in Hartford, CT. Thirteen years ago, the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority (MIRA) of Connecticut identified and began planning for the redevelopment of an old trash incineration plant into a regional recycling and trash-to-energy plant in Hartford, CT. Lack of state funding is now forcing the MIRA to abandon this plan, forcing an average of over 640,000 tons of garbage a year to be trucked to landfills in other states. Not only is trucking Connecticut’s garbage not sustainable, but it is a step backwards in the environmental progress of the state. Read More


Malaysia: Don’t Dump Your Trash Here

Malaysia has announced that it will no longer be accepting containers of trash from wealthier countries, including France, the United Kingdom and the United States. At a press conference on Monday, Malaysian Prime Minister Yeo Bee Yin stated, “If people want to see us as the rubbish dump of the world, you dream on.” The country has put a foot down against the exportation of trash to developing countries and has since returned 150 containers of trash back to their originating countries. Read More.


SC elementary reopening despite toxic ‘Trash Mountain’ fire

A South Carolina elementary is reopening for the first day of school despite a smoldering, toxic fire in a 50-foot trash pile at a nearby recycling center.
About 25 neighbors have evacuated from the neighborhood.
The Environmental Protection Agency has found at least one hazardous substance in the area: Acrolein. People can be exposed to that toxin by inhaling it or through skin or eye contact, and it can attack the respiratory system and heart, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.  Read more.


Removal of toxic waste will begin in Andover, Minnesota landfill

On Tuesday, excavation began on the WDE Landfill in Andover, Minnesota, where toxic waste has been locked up since 1983. The landfill has been leaching hazardous chemicals into the surrounding environment since then, as testing found that the landfill lining was leaking. <Read more>

Backyard Talk

Just Moms STL Continue to Fight for Their Community

By: Katie O’Brien

The community surrounding West Lake Landfill near St. Louis, MO has been fighting for their lives. CHEJ has been working with the grassroots group Just Moms STL for over a year to help train them to organize their neighbors to join them in their fight to regain their health.

An underground fire is burning approximately one thousand feet from 50,000 tons of illegally dumped radioactive waste from the Manhattan Project, which experts estimate can reach the waste in as little three to six months. The fire has been burning for five years, sending smoke and soot into the streets and homes of the surrounding areas. Residents believe this toxic smoke has been causing an upsurge in health problems such as lupus and cancer, and the state health department defined the area to have a much higher than expected childhood cancer rate.  Children cannot play in their yards because the air is so toxic it causes nosebleeds.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listed West Lake Landfill as a Superfund site in 1990. Since then, the EPA has continuously mishandled clean up efforts and refuses to move families away from the hazardous site. Just Moms STL has been trying to meet with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy for over a year to discuss the health problems that are affecting their children and to establish a plan, but they are constantly denied a meeting.

The St. Louis County Government put together an Emergency Operation Plan in case of a potential nuclear threat; stating its purpose is to reduce or prevent the loss of lives within the county.  The plan states the catastrophic event will occur with little or no warning at all. Residents will be urged to shelter in place until the county can properly set up evacuation points. Just Moms STL continues to fight for their communities and the relocation of their families.

Sign the petition to help Just Moms STL get their families relocated!

Backyard Talk

Pioneering Green Carpeting Manufacturer Interface Ends its Defense of PVC

After years of defending PVC as an ecologically sustainable industrial material, Interface, one of the world’s largest carpet manufacturers and a pioneer in sustainable business, has announced that it will be eliminating virgin PVC from its entire product line by 2020.

The announcement comes as a welcome end to a long-standing conflict between the company and its core constituency of ecologically-minded consumers and businesses. In recent years, other major carpet manufacturers including Shaw and Milliken have phased PVC out of their product lines, but Interface had not followed suit. In a recent article in GreenBiz, the company’s sustainability team writes about the painful but productive process of incorporating vinyl’s full life-cycle impacts into its definition of sustainability.

Vinyl is the plastic environmentalists love to hate because of its life-cycle toxicity issues, which occur both upstream (emissions from plastic production) and downstream (if it gets burned under uncontrolled conditions). In addition, PVC always contains other chemical additives, some of which (e.g., heavy-metal stabilizers) may be quite toxic. While our Restricted Substances List adequately screens out toxic additives, it is not designed to account for these life-cycle toxicity issues.

As an early champion of lifecycle assessment (LCA), we were confident that we had a tool to account for the life-cycle of PVC. And while LCA has proven to be a reliable tool for more holistic decision-making, especially for considering carbon footprint or water impacts, it is notoriously weak at evaluating human health impacts like toxicity.

Even with robust life-cycle toxicity data (such as the chlorinated emissions from a PVC supplier), plotting it in a graph next to greenhouse gas emissions is scientifically meaningless and emotionally explosive, given that potential health impacts are far more personal and comprehensible.

Though it spent years defending PVC, in 2008 Interface began working more closely with its critics and adjusting its industrial criteria. The policy it has developed eliminates the use of virgin PVC by 2020, while reusing and diverting from the landfill millions of pounds of PVC carpet-backing currently in the waste-stream. It’s a major step forward for the carpeting industry, and we at CHEJ are glad to have Interface in our corner.

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image credit: iStockphoto

For me personally, first learning about Interface’s story was an “ah-ha” moment. I’d seen the movie “The Corporation,” in which Interface’s founder and long-time CEO, the late Ray Anderson, speaks dramatically of his conversion to an ecological approach to business. He realized that Interface’s extraction and production practices amounted to “the way of The Plunderer, plundering something that’s not mine, something that belongs to every creature on Earth.” I later read Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken and Amory and L. Hunter Lovins, and learned with great excitement about the ways in which ecological thinking had transformed not only the contents of Interface’s carpet, but their whole business model.

Anderson and his team realized that businesses don’t want to own carpet — they want the service of floor covering. They combined this insight with the fact that when standard broadloom carpet is replaced due to worn spots, traditionally once every ten years, huge amounts of perfectly good carpet gets torn out and landfilled. There is more carpeting in US landfills than almost any other product, much of it toxic.

In response to these two realities, the company fundamentally rethought their business approach. Interface created modular carpet tiles, allowing worn areas to be replaced individually; they then leased these tiles to businesses rather than selling them, taking the worn tiles back to the factory; and they developed a higher quality, less toxic, resilient carpet product called Solenium to cover the tiles, which could be completely remanufactured into itself, retaining the value of the materials and further reducing waste.

Reading about this type of holistic, innovative approach to industry was eye-opening. It was proof that businesses can make money by being smart and following their values, by protecting their customers’ health and the environment rather than endangering it. Interface is to be commended for finally incorporating PVC-elimination into its vision. I look forward to seeing where that vision it takes the company next.