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by the Editors of E - The Environmental Magazine

From the Editors of E - The Environmental Magazine


Has one of the many popular shows on HGTV inspired you to renovate your own home? If so, you’re not alone! Home renovations have been on the rise the last few years in the U.S. and Canada, which can mean lots of leftover paint. Extra paint can last for years when properly sealed and stored away from extreme heat and cold, and if unneeded, can be donated to organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Keep America Beautiful. But if paint can no longer be used, what are some safe, environmentally-responsible ways to dispose of it?  

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that about 10 percent of the house paint purchased in the United States each year—about 65 to 69 million gallons—is discarded. Leftover and unusable paint wastes causes pollution when disposed of improperly, the EPA warns. Before you can decide how to dispose of old paint, you'll need to determine what kind of paint it is. There are two types of paint: oil-based and latex; and regulations on disposal of each type of paint vary by location.

In some areas, latex paint can be thrown out with the trash as long as it is completely dried. Keep in mind that some household waste haulers may not pick up latex paint even if it is completely dried, so always check with your local waste disposal service provider on rules and regulations applicable to your area.

Oil-based paints, as well as paint thinners and other paint solvents, are considered hazardous household waste (HHW) and are typically disposed of at HHW facilities. While many communities across the country will hold annual or semi-annual HHW collection days to make paint disposal easy for local residents, the new non-profit PaintCare is allowing residents of California, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Oregon, Minnesota and Vermont to have convenient disposal of house paint, primers, stains, sealers and clear coatings year-round. There is no charge for dropping off paint at a PaintCare drop-off site, and Paintcare’s site locator (available on their website and app) allows residents of applicable states to quickly find their closest drop-off location. PaintCare locations can be found at select Sherwin-Williams, True Value, Ace Hardware and other retailers.

“Retailer support of the PaintCare program is not only good business practice, but also an extension of good customer service,” says Scott Cassel, Chief Executive Officer of the Product Stewardship Institute, Inc., a nonprofit that in partnership with the paint industry, led the national dialogue that laid the foundation for the PaintCare program. “By providing paint drop-off locations, retailers not only encourage more foot traffic, but they also offer an important kind of community service that addresses both environmental protection and convenience.”

PaintCare manages the leftover paint it receives according to a policy of “highest, best use.” Their goal is to recycle as much as possible. Most of the oil-based paint is taken to a cement plant where it is blended into a fuel and burned to recover the energy value. Latex paint that is not rusty, molding or spoiled is sent to recycling companies and reprocessed into new paint. Some paint that the non-profit receives is nearly new and in excellent condition, and is given away at swap shops or to charitable organizations. Paintcare plans to expand its locations into Colorado in July of 2015, Maine in August of 2015 and the District of Columbia in January of 2016.

CONTACTS:  EPA Paints & Coatings Program, www.epa.gov/sectors/sectorinfo/sectorprofiles/paint.html; Paintcare, www.paintcare.org.

Dear EarthTalk: How have polar bear populations in the Arctic been faring since the U.S. put them on its endangered species list in 2008, and what efforts are underway to protect them?
  -- Melissa Underhill, Bangor, ME

Biologists estimate that as many as 25,000 polar bears roam the far north these days, with two-thirds of them in Canada and most of the remainder in Alaska and northern Russia. Environmentalists cheered in May 2008 when the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) listed polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act because of forecast evidence that circumpolar warming is melting sea ice, the great white carnivore’s primary habitat. This listing represented the first time that climate change effects were officially considered as a cause for a species’ decline, emboldening activists to start calling for stricter regulations on carbon emissions nationwide.

Polar bears have been “protected” in the U.S. since 2008, but only recently has the USFWS released a species management plan. The Draft Polar Bear Conservation Management Plan (CMP) outlines six strategies to manage bear populations, including: limiting global atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases to levels suitable for supporting polar bear recovery and conservation, supporting international protection efforts, managing human-polar bear conflicts, collaboratively managing polar bear hunting by Alaska natives, protecting polar bear denning habitats and minimizing risk of contamination from oil spills.

While saving polar bears is not the only reason to curb greenhouse gases, the CMP prioritizes that public officials start factoring in the “consequences to polar bears and their habitats of the likely effects of the current baseline greenhouse gases scenario” and “prompt the needed actions to maintain and, as needed, restore sea ice habitat by implementing sufficient regulatory, market-driven, or voluntary actions.”

As for supporting international efforts, the USFWS is aligning with Russia to protect denning habitats in Chukotka and on Wrangel Island, where almost all denning for the Chukchi Sea population occurs, and with Canada to support polar bear management efforts in the Canadian Archipelago.

To manage human-polar bear conflicts, FWS is joining communities and industry to develop safety procedures for bear encounters and establish best practices for garbage management and bear-proof food-storage options to reduce food attractants that draw polar bears into human communities. The agency has also committed to expand the scope and improve the effectiveness of community polar bear patrols.

Polar bears are hunted in 15 Alaskan villages for meat or handicrafts like mittens and mukluks, and the USFWS plans to collaborate with the North Slope Borough, the Alaska Nanuuq Commission and others on implementing sustainable hunt management strategies in these villages. The USFWS is also working to minimize development and disturbance on barrier islands, which provide crucial bear habitat.

To reduce the risk of contamination from an oil spill, the USFWS will continue to provide feedback on oil exploration plans and ensure that responders and companies have current information on seasonal bear movements and important habitat areas. Standard operating procedures are in the works for the rescue and handling of oiled bears. The USFWS estimates that implementing the CMP over the next five years will cost almost $13 million. Comments on the plan will be accepted via the Federal eRulemaking Portal (search Docket No. FWS-R7-ES-2014-0060) through August 20, 2015.

CONTACTS: FWS Polar Bear Draft Conservation Management Plan, www.fws.gov/alaska/PDFs/PBRT%20Recovery%20Plan%20Book.pdf; Environment Canada’s Conservation of Polar Bears in Canada, www.ec.gc.ca/nature/default.asp?lang=En&n=A997D1CC-1; Federal eRulemaking Portal, www.regulations.gov.

Dear EarthTalk: How is that being around trees and other plants can help us feel good?
  -- Amy Mola, Greenville, SC

Trees are known to improve air quality by capturing six common air pollutants and toxic gases: ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and lead. In fact, a single tree can absorb 10 pounds of air pollutants per year. In a study published in 2014, U.S. Forest Service scientists and collaborators calculated that trees are saving more than 850 human lives a year and preventing 670,000 incidents of acute respiratory symptoms. The researchers valued the human health effects of the reduced air pollution at nearly $7 billion every year.

"We found that, in general, the greater the tree cover, the greater the pollution removal, and the greater the removal and population density, the greater the value of human health benefits,” says Dave Nowak of the U.S. Forest Service.

More recently a 2015 study from the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL) in Barcelona, Spain found that children exposed to more greenery—as measured by satellite imagery of their schools and neighborhoods—demonstrated better attention skills and memory development. While the association was partly mediated by reductions in air pollution, Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, one of the study’s authors, noted that he and the study’s other researchers don’t think it’s all air pollution: “I think it’s also some kind of direct effect… you see quite a beneficial effect of green space on mental health.”

Numerous recent studies have focused on the positive effects that exposure to trees and nature has on our mental health. A recent study published in the journal Nature combined satellite imagery, individual tree data, and health surveys from 31,109 residents of the greater Toronto, Canada area, and found that people who live in areas with higher street tree density report better health perception compared with their peers living in areas with lower street tree density.

“People have sort of neglected the psychological benefits of the environment,” says Marc G. Berman, an author of the study and professor of psychology at the University of Chicago. “I’m very interested in how the physical environment affects the brain and behavior.”

Such studies correlate to the “biophilia hypothesis” associated with German-born American psychoanalyst Erich Fromm and Harvard evolutionary biologist Edward O. Wilson. The hypothesis proposes that humans have evolutionary biological and psychological needs attached with the natural world. According to the book, The Biophilia Hypothesis, co-edited by Wilson and Yale social ecology professor Stephen R. Kellert, relentless environmental destruction could have a significant impact on our psychological and spiritual quality of life.

“Why do people bring flowers to the hospital all the time? Is it just superficial? Is it just a nice gesture, nice but not important? I would suggest that it is a much deeper recognition of the healing effects associated with affirming life,” Kellert told Yale 360. With over 80 percent of Americans living in urban areas, this newer research implies an indispensable need for growth and implementation in urban tree planting, urban greening and biophilic design in educational institutions and places of business for enriched physical and mental health.

CONTACTS: CREAL, www.creal.cat; Nature, www.nature.com; Yale 360, www.e360.yale.edu.

Dear EarthTalk: I’ve been seeing this ad on TV a lot by SeaWorld claiming they don’t take orcas from the wild and that orcas live just as long in captivity as they do in the wild. Are these claims true? -- Mary Cleveland, Coral Gables, FL

SeaWorld has faced criticism and plummeting profits after the release of the 2013 documentary, Blackfish, which tells the story of Tilikum, a performing killer whale that killed several people while in captivity. Although wild capture was outlawed in the U.S. in 1972, killer whales continued to be seized in foreign waters: Tilikum was caught, aged two, off Iceland in 1983. Today, SeaWorld asserts that its population of killer whales has been successfully producing healthy offspring since 1985, and the success of this program has made it possible for them to care for and display killer whales to the public without collecting a killer whale from the wild in 35 years.

For its part, SeaWorld disputes the negative accusations. Earlier this summer, SeaWorld San Diego released a study contrasting current published data for survival and reproductive activity of known-age Pacific Northwest killer whales since 1975 with the life history of killer whales in SeaWorld’s care. The study concluded the average life expectancy for SeaWorld’s killer whales is 41.6 years; average life expectancies for Southern and Northern Resident killer whales are 29.0 and 42.3 years, respectively.
“Our animals are living as long as wild populations,” says Dr. Todd Robeck, Vice President of Theriogeneology at SeaWorld and the primary author of the study. “The data shows without a doubt that our animals live as long as the ones in the wild.” Additionally, the study indicates that average calf survival rate to age two in the Southern Resident killer whale population is 79.9 percent—less than SeaWorld’s 96.6 percent average.

“Although emotion will always be a part of the debate as to whether killer whales, or any other species, should be maintained in human care, it is absolutely necessary to have validated facts when an argument for or against is being made on scientific grounds,” says study author Kevin Willis, Vice President for Biological Programs for the Minnesota Zoo. “Based on the available data, it is now clear that it cannot be truthfully argued that killer whales should not be maintained in captivity because they have a shortened life expectancy relative to their wild counterparts,” Willis adds.

Animal rights groups have been quick to criticize SeaWorld’s study. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) points out that another study published in April 2015 in the journal Marine Mammal Science found that the median life expectancy of 83 killer whales kept in captivity from 1961-2014 in the U.S. was only 12 years. The study also determined that 118 killer whales kept in facilities outside the U.S. during those same years were found to have a median lifespan of just four years.

"Contrary to what the authors of this study—three of whom are SeaWorld employees, while the fourth works for a zoo—would have people believe, the average age of the orcas who have died at SeaWorld is 13 years, and only one orca at SeaWorld—Corky, who was captured in the wild—has actually reached SeaWorld's claimed ‘average life expectancy’ of 41.6 years,” reports Jared Goodman, PETA’s director of animal law. “Every single orca who has perished at SeaWorld died far short of how long they are expected to live, though it is in fact hard to call it ‘living’ when their ‘life’ consists of being forced to perform circus-style tricks in a tiny concrete tank. SeaWorld's claims simply don’t hold water.”

CONTACTS: SeaWorld, www.seaworld.com; Blackfish, www.blackfishmovie.com; PETA, www.peta.org.

EarthTalk® is produced by Doug Moss & Roddy Scheer and is a registered trademark of Earth Action Network Inc. View past columns at: www.earthtalk.org . Or e-mail us your question: earthtalk@emagazine.com

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