Tag Archives: Lawrence Kansas

The Business of Bugs


Businesses Cash in on What Bugs do Naturally

‘Twas the night before Christmas and as Cassandra Ford would soon see, creatures were stirring, especially the pound of worms packaged under her Christmas tree.

For Ford, who heads the composting department for the city, getting worms for Christmas was like bringing her work home. Ford maintains the Lawrence Department of Waste Reduction and Recycling’s set of worms that it uses for vermicomposting — a process where worms break down food scraps into organic fertilizer — in addition to keeping her own vermicomposting worms at home.

“People thought I was crazy,” Ford said, “but now when my parents call, they always ask me how my worms are.”

Although people benefiting from bugs seems unusual, places such as the Department of Waste Reduction exploit the bugs’ natural processes for the businesses’ gain. Different bugs work different jobs, but all bug “employers” profit from the creepy-crawlies.

The vermicomposting worms at the Department of Waste Reduction eat their body weight in food scraps each week, which reduces the department’s waste. The worms produce an organic fertilizer, called worm castings, after three months.

“Sometimes we don’t have enough at the office to feed them, so some people will bring their food scraps from home,” Ford said.

The worms produce something else useful too — more worms. Ford said the department started with one pound of worms (about 1,000) a year ago, but worms produce offspring in just seven weeks.

“The worms will die eventually, but you’ll rarely have to buy worms again,” she said. “You’ll have to take some worms out, if anything.”

Lawrence’s Most Recent Hires: Ladybugs

About a mile down the street from the department’s worm bin, other city employees are working in the old Union Pacific Depot’s flowerbeds. The city purchased these ladybugs to fight off the growing aphid infestation.

“From a natural standpoint, lady beetles are great for feeding on aphids,” Jeff Whitworth, an extension entomologist with Kansas State University, said. “When you have a large aphid population, they are like cows feeding on grass.”

Ladybugs are a natural predator of aphids, but they are the most transient of the bug employees.

“I’ve seen too many people put ladybugs in their garden and then they are gone,” Greg McDonald, owner of Sunrise Garden Center, said. “But they leave because they didn’t have anything to eat.”

Still, the bugs are popular gardening partners. McDonald said he has already sold out of ladybugs for the year.

“Every year, we never have any left over,” he said.

Busy As A…

Unlike ladybugs that leave when the food is gone, other bugs bring the food with them and rely on the keeper to give them a house.

Richard Bean, owner of Blossom Trail Bee Ranch, who has owned bees for more than 30 years, said he had seen an increased interest in beekeeping.

Although no organization tracks the number of beekeepers in the United States, the number and size of beginner beekeeping classes has increased, confirming the trend.

A national beekeeping conference that took place in California in January registered 1,200 participants, up from about 600 the previous year, according to the American Beekeeping Federation.

Bean said he hoped to create a basic beekeeping class.

“I like to see more people get started,” he said. “There are getting to be a lot of beekeepers in Douglas County.”

A mysterious disease termed Colony Collapse Disorder may have sparked some of the recent interest in beekeeping. The number of honey-producing bee colonies has fallen from 5 million in the 1940s to 2.5 million now, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, causing some people to keep bees in an attempt to be saviors of the food supply. Whitworth said bees pollinate 80 percent of the crops in the United States.

The cause of CCD is unknown, but some attribute it to climate change, mites or even electromagnetic radiation from cell phone towers.

Bean said so far his 100,000 bees have not been affected from CCD. He said he expected about 100 pounds of honey this season, a larger-than-usual supply that he attributed to the tremendous amount of moisture and cool spring.

Like all bug employers, Bean’s business and some of his income is largely based on the temperature.

Bean said a freeze last April was the worst climatic disaster he had ever seen.

“I had a big bee population,” he said, “and then nothing. There was nothing for them to work with.”

Still, that didn’t make Bean nervous.

“The bees are such overachievers that someone has to be there to take care of them,” he said.

Although people have relied on bugs to do work for them for centuries, people today have mostly swatted bugs away until recently.

“We receive a lot of benefits that we don’t realize, like the breaking down of dead organic matter,” Whitworth said. “Willfully or not, we have used insects or been the recipient of beneficial aspects of insects. We have been able to use them where we need to.”

Some bugs are little more than a click away.

“Now you can buy worms on eBay,” composting specialist Cassandra Ford said. “A few years ago, you would think, ‘Who would do that?’ Now you can find them on the Internet and have them shipped to you overnight.”


How To Green Your Move

image from evanhamilton

As the last week of this semester begins and the student population of Lawrence moves into new apartments and houses, let’s do something besides get “wasted.” That’s trashy.

In this last week, let’s focus on cutting back our waste.

Moving out is one of the most trash-intensive events of the year, as demonstrated by the industrial-size dumpsters that the University sets in front of the dorms. But the majority of the “trash” that fills these containers isn’t trash at all: It could have been recycled, donated to charity or used by other students. One man’s recyclables are often another man’s living room furniture.

Step 1: Find unwanted items.

Are those sheets, bedspread and kitchen utensils from the dining hall not going to cut it next year? Gather everything you don’t want or can’t use next year, and assess its worth to determine its final destination. Here’s a handy guide:

Your stuff rules: Sell it on eBay.

Your stuff is pretty damn good to moderately good: Sell it on Craigslist or have a garage sale.

Your stuff is useable: Donate it to Goodwill, 2200 W. 31st St., or give it to your friends or neighbors.

Your stuff is pretty much done for: Recycle it.

Your stuff is moldy, broken beyond repair (and you’ve tried), or for some other reason is no longer fit for human interaction: This category should be a last resort.

Even the most unlikely items can be donated or sold. The Lawrence Community Shelter, 214 W. 10th St., accepts food donations, which can be dropped off at the shelter. Don’t forget about resale shops, where you can sell back clothing, furniture or electronics.

Step 2: Green pack

Pack your remaining items with packing materials that you already have, such as towels, plastic containers and old newspapers. Call the produce departments at local grocery stores and ask them to set aside large, sturdy boxes for you. Most will be happy to do this if you pick up the boxes in a few hours.

Step 3: The trip

The fewer trips you make, the more gasoline you’ll save. Depending on the amount of large furniture you have, it may be most cost-effective (and environmentally friendly) to hire a moving service so everything can be moved in one trip.

Step 4: Home, new home

You’re almost done, so keep up the green mantra.

Save old boxes or newspapers to reuse for your next move, or recycle them.

Step 5: Think long-term

If you pack up your life once a year, you have a unique opportunity to step back and look at all the things you own. If packing up is something you dread, simply keep less stuff around.

When buying furniture or anything new for your place, check out resale shops first. These items are usually cheaper than buying new and have more personality than expensive, cookie-cutter new furniture. Plus, if you plan on getting new furniture after college, it would the most economical to spend less on furniture now.

Steer clear of the build-your-own-desk-in-52-easy-steps pieces of furniture that are usually found in big-box stores like Target or Wal-Mart. Even though this furniture is usually cheaper, it is hard to move to a new house and will typically get trashed after a year. It’s also not as sturdy or durable as its pre-built counterparts.

originally published in Jayplay magazine on May 8, 2008 (PDF). Click here for its original online home.

Snakes on a Plain

image from Capitan St. Lucifer

Forget Hollywood. Global warming is making horrible movie sequels better than those hotheads in the hills can.

Soon coming to a Midwest near you: An Inconvenient Truth 2: Motherfuckin’ Snakes in the Motherfuckin’ Great Plains.

That’s right. But why exactly are there snakes on this Plain?

According to a study by the U.S. Geological Survey, the python’s habitat is expanding northward with the increase in temperatures caused by global warming. As the Midwest warms up, our grasslands, previously uninhabitable to such snakes, could become home to the 23-foot-long creatures.

“If we had normal, cold winters, that snake probably wouldn’t survive, but we haven’t had winters like that for a long time,” says Joe Collins, a herpetologist with the Kansas Biological Survey.

Researchers first discovered a Burmese Python invasion in Florida in 2003. The Burmese Python, a type of Indian Python, is an invasive species, meaning that it is not native to the United States, and researchers think that the growing python population came from the offspring of a pet that someone released into the wild. The colony of pythons is now self-sustaining.

Climate models for the year 2100 show the python’s potential habitat slithering north and putting a stranglehold on the eastern half of Kansas, including the Lawrence area.

“The Indian Python is loose and breeding in the Everglades,” Collins says. “It could go as far north as Kansas, but that’s a hypothesis based on guesses. We aren’t sure that it’s going to happen.”

The habitable areas for reptiles are always based on temperature because these animals are cold-blooded and must have warm weather to survive.

“Reptiles are temperature-dependent,” Collins says. “If it goes down to freezing, they can die. If we have global warming, the mean annual temperature would increase so that the habitats would creep upwards.”

Collins says he received a call about a year ago from a farmer who lived south of Lawrence who said he had a snake problem. The farmer mailed him the shedded skin of a large snake, which Collins says was that of an Indian Python and was about 11 feet long.

“The farmer said, ‘All of my cats and small dogs are gone. What can I do?’” Collins says.

These snakes typically live underneath buildings and come out during the night.

“As far as I know, that Indian Python is still down there,” Collins says. “The snake could have been a pet that got turned loose or escaped. It’s a good example showing that it’s just not cold enough up here anymore.”

Collins said that other invasive reptile species have already been seen on the KU campus. Species like the Italian Wall Lizard, which can now be found in Lawrence, originally came from Europe.

“There are lots of species that come in through the South, a lot of those from Florida,” Collins says. “There are 64 kinds of invasive species in the U.S., and many have been moving north.”

Collins says Mediterranean Geckos were discovered two years ago in Lenexa. The geckos were crawling under warehouse lights in the business district.

“There is a lot of lumber here from Florida,” he says. “The animals can escape when packages or crates break. Florida has a big, big problem. All kinds of things are loose down there.”

As Kansas’ climate gets warmer, the eastern part of the state would provide a better habitat to animals previously found in wetland-filled areas like Florida.

“It’s more humid here in the eastern part of the state, so we would have more tropical animals,” Collins says. “Desert animals would probably do better in the western part.”

Calling these recently moved-in species invasive is somewhat misleading. At least with amphibians and reptiles, Kansas’ ecosystems have not seen many negative impacts, Collins says.

“There are no problems that we know of,” he says. “We could not find any bacteria or diseases. Many think that the python poses a danger to humans, but I don’t think so. But who knows what will ultimately happen. This definitely changes things.”

originally published in Jayplay magazine on March 27, 2008 (PDF). Click here for its original online home.

From the Hill to the Landfill

photo by Lauren Keith

The four Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle, remember this phrase for the rest of eternity) have been drilled into our heads, and it seems Lawrencians are finally learning that one man’s trash is another man’s recycling.

When throwing something away, most people do not usually think about the final destination. Where exactly is “away”?

For most of northeast Kansas, “away” is about 10 miles north of Lawrence, just past the Jefferson County line. Tucked away on 360 acres behind limestone quarries and rows of trees is the Hamm landfill, the final resting place of the University’s trash.

Charlie Sedlock, division manager for Hamm Waste Services, estimates that KU Facilities Operations hauls in about 40 tons per month. He says this number changes seasonally, but this averages out to about 3 pounds of trash per student every month.

Current statistics show that an average American produces a little more than 7 pounds of trash every week.

How could it be that the average American generates a pound of trash daily, but KU students are only producing one-tenth of that?

Enter the ubiquitous blue recycling bins that litter campus.

Sedlock says the amount of trash generated per person has decreased because of recycling. Even though the landfill serves more customers, Sedlock says the amount of waste coming in has plateaued during the last five years.

Even as a waste company, Sedlock says Hamm Waste Services has a vested interest in seeing cost-effective and well reasoned recycling programs succeed.

“Disposal is the cheapest option, but not necessarily the only option,” he says. “It’s more of a philosophical question. If the citizenry that our clients are serving want some sort of recycling program and our client is able to do that in a cost-effective manner, we think it’s a win-win situation. If they aren’t serving their citizens, then multi-national corporations can come in and take control.”

Although many picture the surface of the landfill as a liquefied mess of diapers and yard clippings, the ground is actually hard, and the landfill appears to be filled with discarded paper products. Sedlock says the largest percentage of waste coming in is paper products, such as cardboard.

All paper products can be recycled, and the City of Lawrence is doing a better job of advertising this, but Sedlock says that by the time they get to the landfill, they are beyond being returned to the blue bins.

“It’s not an environment for recycling by the time it gets here,” Sedlock says.

When trash is dumped, the pressure that accumulates from the weight of the trash above does not allow it to break down and biodegrade.

“It becomes mummified trash,” Sedlock says. “I can show you a banana peel from the day you were born or a yellowed newspaper from 1984.”

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, landfills are the No. 1 source of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Sedlock says waste produces a mixture of gases for about 20 years after it is discarded, peaking like a bell curve in the middle of the life cycle.

He says a fair share of gas passively vents from the landfill, but it is required to meet regulatory EPA thresholds.

However, a promising aspect of methane is the fact that it is one of the few greenhouse gases that can be harnessed to create energy.

Sedlock says Hamm Waste Services will look into converting emitted methane into energy, but the current system lacks a way to transport that energy.

It seems like Lawrence has overcome the hurdle of creating an effective recycling program, but it was disheartening to see that the majority of the waste in the landfill could have been recycled. Residents in the northeastern part of the state have obviously decreased the flow of waste going into the landfill, but the city and the University should look into mandatory recycling programs that would cut this back even more.

We can’t trash-talk recycling any longer. With recycling bins and other trash alternatives available nearly everywhere, there’s no excuse not to clean up your act.

originally published in Jayplay magazine on Feb. 28, 2008 (PDF). Click here for its original online home.

The New BYOB

image from diongillard

College students should start a new BYOB: Bring Your Own Bag.

At the grocery store, when asked if you want paper or plastic, your answer should be neither.

Plastic bags are made from polyethylene, which, like all plastics, is derived from oil. According to WorldWatch, fewer than 1 percent of plastic bags are recycled, leaving the other 100 billion to clog streams and take up space in landfills.

Plastic sucks.

It takes 11 barrels of oil to make a ton of plastic bags. Our reliance on this seemingly innocent staple of American life could be continuing our country’s dependence on oil from the Middle East.

Because of the plastic bags’ detrimental effects on the environment, San Francisco banned them last year. It is the first city in the United States to do so, but other large cities like Boston and Chicago are considering similar proposals.

Even though nothing that green is growing in the Midwest, consumers can still curb the amount of waste generated by their everyday shopping habits.

Some stores in the Lawrence area offer a discount for customers who bring in their own bags. Both The Merc, 901 Iowa St., and all Dillons stores offer a five cent discount for every reused bag.

“We do this for grocery bags, produce bags and coffee bags,” says Janie Wells, general manager of The Merc. “I started in 1996, and we’ve been offering the discount at least since then.”

Sheila Rowrie, Dillons spokesperson, says that Dillons has been offering the discount “for as long as any of us can remember,” and that she has been with the company for 11 years.

Even though five cents may not seem like much money, the spare change adds up over time. The problem with offering this discount is that many customers have no idea that it even exists. Rowrie says that the discount is not explicitly advertised.

“It’s more of a word-of-mouth thing,” she says.

Wells says that The Merc has some in-store signs about the discount and that it is occasionally mentioned in advertisements or newsletters.

For people who don’t see the environmental benefits of using reusable bags, they need to be notified of the four Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle, remember this phrase) and shown the monetary benefit they would gain.

Larger chain stores, such as Wal-Mart, do not offer a discount for bringing in your own bag, but assistant manager Robert Garner at the store at 3300 Iowa says that the store welcomes people who want to BYOB.

“You can bring your own bags in—that’s fine,” he says. “We probably don’t offer a discount because we have a very big recycling program that the company uses for all stores, so that the bags are used as many times as possible.”

Although reusable bags are omnipresent at all types of stores now, larger corporations are still dragging their feet on the issue.

“Customers can buy a reusable bag for $1 at the store, but we do not offer a merchandise discount,” Wal-Mart spokesperson Bill Wertz says. “That may be something we’ll consider in the future, but I wouldn’t want to speculate at this point.”

Bringing cloth bags to the grocery store is more common now than it was in the 1980s or 1990s, Janie Wells says. She estimates that 30 percent of The Merc’s customers now bring their own bags.

Wells says that The Merc has resisted charging customers for using the store’s bags, a trend that is becoming increasingly popular on the West Coast.

“It’s the Midwest,” she says. “That’s pretty harsh. I would rather approach this through education and offering a reward for making a good choice.”

Now that you’ve got the facts, don’t be left holding the wrong bag.

originally published in Jayplay magazine on Feb. 14, 2008 (PDF). Click here for its original online home.

How To Green Your Sex Life

image from margolove

Nothing says “I love you (and the Earth)” like a Valentine’s Day full of organic massage oils, a box of fair trade chocolates and a bottle of locally produced wine.

Some sex toys, including dildos, contain chemicals called phthalates, which makes hard plastics like PVC softer and gives a jelly-like feeling. But phthalates are endocrine disruptors, which means the chemicals mimic hormones and do damage to sex organs. Contributed photo Even though most people don’t think about keeping the environment clean before doing the dirty, spending a little extra time choosing more environmentally friendly products is worth the delay.

Some sex toys and dildos contain chemicals called phthalates, which makes hard plastics like PVC softer and gives a jelly-like feeling. But phthalates are endocrine disruptors, which means the chemicals mimic hormones and do damage to sex organs. The European Union has banned the use of phthalates in children’s toys since 2004.

According to TreeHugger, a surefire warning sign is a disclaimer that you might find on sex toy packages that say that the device should be used for “novelty purposes only.”

To avoid the more dangerous end of the chemical spectrum, look for sex toys made from hard plastics, silicon, metal or glass.

As with all your purchases, try to find products that are labeled “natural” or “organic.” Steer clear from petroleum-based products and anything with artificial scents, flavors and colors. Find products that are sexy but durable and rechargeable. Although these products might be more expensive initially, you get more bangs for your buck in the long run.

Latex and lambskin condoms are generally thought to be biodegradable, but polyurethane condoms are basically plastic, which does not biodegrade and creates more landfill waste. Unfortunately, there are not many green products available locally — both Richard Osburn, the owner of Naughty But Nice, 1741 Massachusetts St, and Holly Kirkpatrick, manager of Priscilla’s, 1206 W 23rd St., say they did not carry any specifically environmentally friendly products — but a quick Google search should satisfy your green spot.

Latex and lambskin condoms are generally thought to be biodegradable, but polyurethane condoms are basically plastic, which does not biodegrade and creates more landfill waste.

Still, the best green love option available is to find someone who isn’t going to fuck over you or the planet. For single ecosexuals, there are several online dating sites that promise to hook you up with your green soul mate.

One of the oldest green dating sites is Green Singles, which first started out as a postal newsletter in 1985. Lee Schulman, president of GreenMatch LLC, says the site has just over 14,000 members with 800 new members each month.

Schulman says that GreenSingles was created “as a place for progressive singles in the environmental, vegetarian and animal rights community and other green singles who love the outdoors, holistic living, personal growth and spirituality to meet up and network for friendship, dating, romance and the exchange of information and ideas.” Other dating Web sites for the environmentally friendly include Green Passions, Human2Human, and Veggie Romance.

Of course, there’s always the Lawrence Farmers’ Market, the Wal-Mart Recycling Center, Critical Mass gatherings or the produce department at the Merc to find that special someone, too.

originally published in Jayplay magazine on Feb. 7, 2008. Click here for its original online home.

4 Things You Need to Solve Global Warming

image from recon2020

Today I would like to say a few words about global warming.

And now that I’ve lost half my readers, let’s get down to business.

Concerns about global warming have fueled the need for fundamental changes in daily life. The green movement is emerging everywhere, and businesses are finally picking up on the trend.

As college students, we know the value of a dollar, especially because we usually don’t have one. A common misconception about switching to a more environmentally friendly lifestyle is that it will be outrageously expensive and too time-consuming to fit your busy schedule.

Not true.

Whether being green is something you’ve been practicing for awhile, something that you set as a New Year’s resolution or something that you think is a huge crock spun by Al Gore, there is one facet of it that college students in particular will love: Going green means saving green.

The first and best thing you can do is to admit the problem. This does not necessarily mean that you have to believe in global warming (so I will spare you a lecture on receding glaciers and the changing chemical composition of our atmosphere), but it means that you must realize the excess and mindlessness that is plaguing modern American culture. Behind all the science and terminology of global climate change is stuff you care about, such as saving money and being able to breathe.

Here are a few items to pick up when you’re ready to start your journey into the green beyond:

Your brain. Always helpful when stepping out of the status quo.

“An Inconvenient Truth.” This documentary has become one of the most visible elements of the modern environmental movement, thanks in large part to its speaker, former vice president Al Gore (ctrl-alt-del the “inventing the internet” jokes). Gore bridges the gap between scientists and the common people by translating the heavy, technical language of science into something the public can easily understand.

A recycling bin. An excellent first step to reducing waste.

A good pair of walking shoes. The absolute best way to avoid high gas prices and to not contribute to them.

originally published in Jayplay magazine on Jan. 17, 2008 (PDF). Click here for its original online home.