JeffCoH20:Baked, broiled, grilled or fried

More than 3,000 miles of sanitary sewer lines serve 480,000 people in Jefferson County.  This vital function makes it possible for customers to rise in the morning, get ready for work or school, and not have to think about what happens to their waste water after showering, brushing teeth, or flushing!  One challenge to the operation of the sanitary sewer system is the buildup of fats, oils, and grease – FOG – in the sewer lines.  Over time, these substances can create clogs and result in backups that cause sewage to overflow into homes, yards, streets, and waterways.  Not only are these events costly to repair, they also can be a health hazard.  One main source of FOG in the sewer system is households. 

Dirty dishes in sink

No matter what you cook or how you cook it, there usually is some fat, oil or grease involved in the process.  When the holiday meals are over and it’s time to wash the stack of plates, pots, pans, and casserole dishes piled in the sink, take a few minutes to make sure that FOG doesn’t wash down the kitchen drain.  Even if you have a garbage disposal or use hot water and detergent, it will not prevent FOG buildup in your plumbing or the sewer system.  If you are connected to a septic system, a similar scenario applies – FOG can build up and cause your septic system to malfunction.  

The good news is that the solution is easy!  Discard in the trash unwanted food scraps from plates and cookware.  Any remaining FOG can be cooled and poured or scraped into a plastic or metal container with a lid and taken to the nearest Jefferson County cooking oil recycling station.  New recycling containers are available to you for free at all recycling stations.  Preventing FOG from going down the drain can go a long way toward reducing plumbing emergencies and unhealthy sewer overflows.

Proper FOG disposal

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

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JeffCO H20: Take the ‘Hazard’ out of Household Hazardous Waste

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The start of a new year often inspires us to get rid of clutter and organize our living space.  Sometimes we even become motivated enough to tackle what’s stacked in the garage, stuffed under the kitchen sink, or gathering dust in the pantry.  Often that includes a collection of old household products that we no longer need.  Before tossing these unwanted items into the trash, first take a look at what your collection includes.

Many products like drain openers, automotive fluids, adhesives, batteries, oil based paint, solvents, and cleaners containing bleach are considered to be household hazardous waste (HHW) because they contain corrosive, toxic, flammable, or reactive ingredients.  It is unsafe when these items are discarded with regular household trash, since some can emit harmful fumes or create a dangerous reaction if mixed with other chemicals.  And any of these products spilled on the ground can harm water quality in local creeks and streams when washed by rain into the nearest storm drain.  That’s why HHW requires special handling by a facility which accepts these items.

Some local municipalities offer opportunities for residents to drop off HHW.  If you live in an unincorporated area, the Alabama Environmental Center (AEC) website (aeconline.org/recycling) is a great resource for locating facilities which accept specific types of HHW.  One of those facilities is Mercedes Benz U.S. International (205-507-3300) in Vance which accepts HHW from the public at its Plant 2 on the third Friday of each month from 5 am – 8 am and 1 pm – 6 pm.

Certainly there are some household tasks that require specialized products for which there is no substitute.  When purchasing this type of product, try to buy just enough for the job to eliminate leftovers.  But in many cases, you can choose a less toxic approach to handle most household cleaning jobs.  Items found in your kitchen or bathroom easily can be used to make safe, inexpensive cleaners.  They are better for your family’s health and the environment, and they help reduce the need to purchase more toxic products.

There are many tips and recipes available online for making your own cleaning products.  Here are just a few:  Want to make your windows sparkle?  Mix a few tablespoons of white vinegar with water in a spray bottle, lightly spray the glass, and wipe dry with newspaper or a microfiber cloth.  Need to scrub the sink or tub?  A few sprinkles of baking soda or salt on a damp sponge should do the trick.  Add a splash of hydrogen peroxide to remove stains and mildew.  Time to disinfect the counter?  Heat 1 cup of undiluted white vinegar to 150º and carefully pour into a spray bottle. Spray the warm vinegar on the counter, let it sit for a few minutes, and wipe dry.  Got pesky streaks on the mirror?  Equal amounts of white vinegar, distilled water, and alcohol sprayed on the mirror and wiped clean with a microfiber cloth will give your reflection perfection in no time.  Fingerprints on the furniture?  A few drops of olive oil and white vinegar rubbed onto furniture with a soft cloth can make wood shine.  Want more?  A good place to start is GreenerChoices.org.

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Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

JeffCO H20: Recycle, downcycle, upcycle, ecycle, precycle . . . What’s it all mean???

According to the EPA, recycling is the process of collecting and processing materials which otherwise would be thrown away as trash and turning them into new products, thereby conserving raw materials, lowering energy consumption, curtailing littering, and reducing impact on landfills. 

Recycling is not a 20th century idea.  The first documented recycling program began in 1031 when Japan required that documents and other used paper be recycled.  Various forms of recycling came and went over the ensuing centuries, but it wasn’t until the all-aluminum beverage can was introduced in the late 1950s that recycling gained traction in America.  Today, many US communities advocate and provide recycling opportunities for residents.

530325_10150945940686155_1005889778_nPinson’s community recycling trailer located at City Hall

So how are we doing?  At 4.6 pounds of trash per day for every American, we generate much more trash than we recycle.  The EPA estimates that while 75% of America’s trash is recyclable, we only recycle about 30%.  So it makes sense that our country’s biggest export is . . .  trash!  China, our biggest customer, buys the material we throw away, reprocesses it, and sells it back to US manufacturers.  And then we buy new stuff, throw it away, sell our trash to China . . . you get the idea.

While there are many domestic companies which process recycled materials, companies in countries with low labor costs and lax environmental laws have been the major producers of cheap recycled plastic resin.  But China recently passed ‘Green Fence’ restrictions which prohibit its import of plastics #3 – #7.  This could mean that here in the US, many more plastics will be headed for landfills.

When we do recycle, are these recycled materials used to make more of the same products?  The answer is . . . it depends.

According to the Container Recycling Institute, US consumers use 70 million plastic water bottles per day; 60 million of these are discarded as trash. The International Bottled Water Association reports that manufacturers currently are using just 50% recycled plastic in their containers.

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Some materials are downcycled to produce entirely different products with less value and recycling potential than the original product.  Many plastics and some paper fall into this category.  Some materials are upcycled to make products with more value than the original product such as countertops made from glass containers and fabrics made from plastic bottles.

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upcycled glass counter tops

Ecycling recovers usable materials from discarded electronics such as plastic, metal and wire, and valuable elements such as gold, silver, palladium, and copper which all can be reprocessed for use in new electronic components.  Ecycling also properly handles toxic materials found in electronic devices such as lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic which can leach from landfills and pollute groundwater.  According to the Electronic TakeBack Coalition, US consumers discarded 3.4 million tons of electronics in 2011 but recycled less than 25%.

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It’s even possible to reduce the need for recycling by choosing products which either can be reused or decrease the amount of waste generated. Precycling is making those choices which have some degree of sustainability or upfront waste reduction such as purchasing reusable rather than single use or disposable products; buying food, cleaning products, and other consumables in bulk to reduce packaging waste; or choosing items that can be repaired or refurbished rather than discarded.

Reducing the amount of waste we generate means less litter, trash and hazardous materials carried by rain into waterways.  Less energy used for manufacturing and transportation means less particulate air pollution deposited in surface waterways.  Putting a little effort into choosing wisely, reducing waste, reusing materials, recycling whenever possible, and conserving natural resources can have a big impact on improving our future on planet earth.

Speaking of Recycling . . .

Just in Time for the HolidaysIt makes sense to de-clutter your living space before the coming weeks filled with family gatherings and house guests. Consider some alternatives for getting rid of unwanted items that are not in good enough shape for donation. There may be a better choice for them than the landfill!  Check out the Alabama Environmental Center’s (AEC) Recycle Alabama website for the lowdown on most things recyclable.  The site makes it easy to find out what AEC accepts, any material-specific guidelines, and other vendors which accept these materials.  AEC is one of the few collection sites in Alabama that accepts glass containers and textiles (yep, even your old t-shirts, undies and shoes).

Tree Recycling – When the ornaments come off, a live Christmas tree is just some mulch waiting to happen.  Find a tree recycling location near you.

Recycling Trailers Recycling just got closer to home with drop off trailers placed in Jefferson County locations which do not have access to other recycling opportunities.  Find a recycling trailer near you.

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Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

Get Some ‘Re-Leaf’ this Fall

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By now, it’s probably becoming impossible to ignore all those leaves falling in your yard.  If you tried mulching leaves last year, you probably found that you saved yourself some serious time and money by using your mower to mulch leaves into your lawn (free nutrients) and by re-purposing excess leaves (free mulch) to provide cover for your landscaped areas.

If you’ve never tried these techniques, maybe this is the time to move on from hours of blowing and bagging, the cost of buying mulch and fertilizer, and the effort involved in loading and bringing all these materials home – to that solution that just fell into your yard! It’s best to mulch leaves into your lawn every week or so to make the volume of leaves more manageable for you and utilized more efficiently by your lawn.

Try using your lawnmower with the bag attachment on to shred and collect leaves prior to spreading on landscaped areas.  Shredding before spreading reduces matting and creates a more uniform appearance.  If you simply can’t let go of the more manicured look that commercially produced mulch gives your landscape, try spreading a thin layer of purchased mulch over a layer of shredded leaves.

What’s Happening?

Fall Plant Sale October 19-20 – Here’s your chance to stock up on native plants at Birmingham Botanical Gardens’ Fall Plant Sale.  http://www.bbgardens.org/fall-plant-sale.php

 Birmingham E-cycle Day October 23 – Don’t doom your old gadgets to a landfill! Bring them to Short 20th Street North for recycling.   http://www.aeconline.org/blog

Prescription Drug Disposal October 26Here’s a safe way to clean out your medicine cabinet.  Bring unwanted medications to one of these locations.  http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_disposal/takeback/

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Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

TCNP Currents: Trek Birmingham

For well over a hundred years, the Birmingham area has been known for the vast wealth of natural resources that can be found in its surrounding mountains, valleys, and waterways. These resources contributed greatly to the area developing into one of the most productive industrial centers in the southeastern United States. Slowly catching attention is Birmingham’s other natural resource, greenspace. In fact, Birmingham leads the nation in per capita public greenspace, with 17.9 acres per 1,000 residents.  With so much greenspace, there are now more options than ever for residents (and visitors) to get active outside.

Birmingham area

To help visitors on their way, Birmingham-Southern College’s Urban Environmental Studies program has developed Trek Birmingham, an online guide for many of the area’s most popular outdoor destinations.

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The site features informative articles on each location’s attractions, activities, history, and natural features. The site’s developers have gone above and beyond to provide an in-depth look at what is unique or interesting at each site. For example, on the Turkey Creek Nature Preserve page, scroll to the bottom and be sure to check out the articles labeled: “ECOREGION”, “GEOLOGY”, “WATERSHED”, and “BIODIVERSITY”.

Here is a short excerpt from the Trek Birmingham article on Turkey Creek’s Biodiversity, by Dr. Scott Duncan, author of Southern Wonder: Alabama’s Surprising Biodiversity:

The rich biodiversity of central Alabama is the result of many complex and inter-related factors. As each kind of habitat supports a characteristic flora and fauna, a mosaic of different habitats as found in parts of Turkey Creek could contribute to more unique discoveries. In the case of Turkey Creek, biodiversity is expressed in the 3 unique darter fish. The conditions that allow these rare beauties refuge may also open other niches for other animals as well as plants.  Unique water quality and geology could also allow others to be found. TCNP and the State Lands Division carefully survey the property for unique plant of animal species and protect the area from disturbance.

For the rest of this article, and more about Birmingham’s amazing natural resources, please visit http://trekbirmingham.com. With so many options, Birmingham is sure to surprise even you. So get out and see it for yourself.

Until then, we’ll see ya downstream!

Charles Yeager

Manager, Turkey Creek Nature Preserve

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TCNP Currents: Summer Time Tips

The Falls

Now that summer has finally arrived, those seeking refuge from the heat are flocking to Turkey Creek Nature Preserve. And why not? Turkey Creek offers some of the cleanest, coolest waters in town, not to mention breath-taking beauty.  Everyone seems to have their favorite shady spot for picnicking or reflecting as they watch the water flow by.

Since the crowds are growing thicker, it seems like a good time to discuss a few tips for how you and your family can make the most of your visit.

TCNP TIP #1: Always follow the rules!

No one wants to have their time or worse yet, their family’s time cut short because they could not follow the rules. This happens more often than it should, so please, make a point to review all Preserve’s regulations prior to your visit, which can be found HERE or on any of the Preserve’s kiosks. Please note that anyone found not adhering to these rules, will be asked to leave immediately. There is no excuse for not knowing.

TCNP TIP #2: Know the Hours of Operation and plan accordingly

It is easily the most common question by visitors to TCNP: “What are the operational hours?”. Well, this is a very easy one: Wednesday through Sunday we close at 5:30pm.  We are closed all day on Mondays and Tuesdays. On Friday and Saturday morning we have special “Pedestrian Only” hours from 7am-9am. At 9am regular motor traffic is allowed in. On all the other days (Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday) we open at 8am.

TCNP TIP #3: Come early or on a slow day

Anyone that has visited TCNP on a weekend knows how busy it can become and how difficult it can be at times to find a parking or picnic spot.  The simplest way to avoid this headache is to visit during off-peak hours.  I have spent over a year and a half watching the traffic and I am more than happy to share what I have observed. Come Early: traffic at TCNP (even on weekends) tends to be at it’s height in the hotter parts of the day. Visitors that come out early get the best parking/picnic spots.  Thursdays:  If you can swing it, a Thursday is the best time to come out and find a spot to yourself. Wednesdays and Fridays can be just as busy as a weekend, but for some reason, Thursdays are usually quite slow.

TCNP TIP #4: Stay Hydrated

On a hot summer’s day, there is nothing better than cooling off in the refreshing waters of Turkey Creek. However, even in that cool water, you can quickly become dehydrated.  This happens quickly, and without a lot of warning at times. So, please drink a lot of water during your visit. It could save your life. Plus, it is never ends well if you are dizzy on slippery rocks!

TCNP TIP #5: There is more to TCNP than just “The Falls”

There is no doubt, The Falls offer some of the most majestic beauty TCNP has to offer. Their unique features bring many visitors to Turkey Creek, but they are often times quite crowded. For those of you that wish to enjoy the waters of TCNP or avoid the crowds, seek spots upstream of The Falls.  These upper reaches offer some equally stunning views of Turkey Creek, as well as some great spots to lounge in the shade. Furthermore, TCNP has recently added a mile and a half of beautiful new trail along the ridge above Turkey Creek. This offers visitors the opportunity park in the Highlands picnic area and hike to The Falls area.

Thank you for reading, I hope that these tips help you to better enjoy your next visit to Turkey Creek Nature Preserve.

Please remember, that we do not charge admission, and it is very difficult and expensive to keep the Preserve clean. On your next visit, take a look around you before you leave and pick up any trash (even if it is not yours). It will go a long way to making sure that others are able to enjoy TCNP as you have, and will help keep operational costs down.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below, or email me at cyeager@bsc.edu.

Next week, contributing author Lyn DiClementel, will provide readers with some insight into the importance of controlling stormwater runoff in her column JeffCo H2O.”

Until then, we’ll see ya downstream!

Charles Yeager

Manager, Turkey Creek Nature Preserve

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JeffCo H2O: Spread The Word

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When Less is More
     There are a few things that having more of can be a good thing.  Money and time are probably two of those things.  But with pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, using more than is recommended doesn’t provide any benefit, and in some cases can do more harm than good. Soil can absorb only so much of these products, and overuse just wastes your time and money. The package directions will indicate the amount of product to use based upon the size of the area to be treated, and will recommend the application rate to set on the spreader or sprayer dial so that the product will be properly applied.  When to use yard chemicals is important, too.  Many people think that it is best to apply granular fertilizer right before or during a rain.  Actually, that is the worst time, because rain will wash much of it from your yard before the soil has time to absorb the nutrients, and will create stormwater pollution.  Choose a dry day to apply fertilizer, and then carefully water it in with a hose or sprinkler. 
     How big is your yard or garden? You know the formula: length X width = area. Don’t forget to subtract paved areas such as sidewalks and driveways from the total.
 
What Goes Around Comes Around
     We’ve all heard that phrase at one time or another.  And when you consider chemicals used in lawn and garden care, it couldn’t be truer.  Fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides can be very helpful in achieving your landscape goals if you use only what your yard needs and carefully apply these products.  However, feeding your lawn and garden or ridding them of unwanted pests has the potential to create unintended results.  
     Many pesticides and herbicides cannot distinguish between a ‘pest’ and a ‘pal’, and most contain broad spectrum chemicals that kill all plants and insects they contact.  That includes insect ‘pals’ like bees and butterflies which are important in plant pollination.  Pesticides and herbicides also can be harmful to pets and humans if they are inhaled, absorbed through the skin, or eaten.  Washed from your yard by rain or carried by wind into nearby streams, these chemicals do the same thing in water that they do on land:  herbicides and pesticides kill fish, animals, and plants that live in and around the water while fertilizers cause algal blooms that deplete oxygen in waterways, killing aquatic life.  Pesticides and herbicides also can enter the food chain when animals and plants absorb and retain these chemicals in their systems.  These affected plants and animals could be consumed by other animals and even humans.  That’s why it’s so important to choose the least toxic chemicals for the job and control where, when and how they are applied. 
     One alternative is to let nature do some of the work by establishing an eco balance in your yard.  Insect ‘pals’ like ladybugs, preying mantis, green lacewings and nematodes (worms) naturally feed on pests such as beetles, aphids, ants and mosquitoes.  Native plant ‘pals’ also can help create this equilibrium in your yard since many act as hosts for insect ‘pals’ and are resilient enough to thrive in our local conditions.  Over time, your efforts can become a sustainable solution to keeping your lawn and garden free from the effects of pests and reducing the need for yard chemicals.   
Mark Your Calendar!
April 13
Just in time for spring cleaning, Recycle Alabama Day from 9 – 2 at the Downtown Recycling Center, 2431 2nd Avenue North.  Visit http://www.recycleAL.com for details.
April 27
Come on out to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens 11-4 and celebrate the environment at Earth Day at the Gardens.
April 30
Learn how Integrated Pest Management can help you safely control your garden pests at the Urban Gardening IPM Workshop.  Call the Alabama Cooperative Extension System at 205.879.6964 Ext. 11 to register.
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Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org