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Phoenix Forward magazine

5 eco-friendly innovations in green communities

Green community

While some of us still must remind ourselves to recycle scraps of paper or turn off the water when brushing our teeth, entire U.S. communities already are way ahead in their efforts to help preserve the planet.

In recognition of Earth Day on April 22nd, here are five environmentally friendly innovations in cities around the country:


Curbside composting

In 2011, Portland, Oregon, joined San Francisco and Seattle when it began providing containers in which residents and businesses can place food scraps for curbside pickup.

Cities that compost significantly reduce garbage in landfills because food waste is used for fertilizer and mulch, says Mark Leeper, an online instructor in the environmental science program at University of Phoenix and environmental program manager for the Defense Commissary Agency.


Generating energy

A utility company in Exeter, Maine, is generating electricity from cow manure. A process known as anaerobic digestion converts manure from a large dairy farm into biogas, Leeper explains. The energy generated from the waste goes into the utility’s electricity grid and can produce almost 8,000 megawatt-hours annually, enough to power 800 homes for a year.

Leeper believes many communities will follow Exeter’s lead. “Because of innovative processes like anaerobic digestion,” he says, “waste is going to become a marketplace commodity.”


Banning plastic bags

In March 2013, Austin, Texas, joined other eco-friendly cities like Aspen, Colorado, and Santa Monica, California, and banned plastic bags in merchant checkout lines in stores throughout the city.

Austin’s goal is to have less than 10 percent of waste sent to landfills by 2040, and community leaders say they believe the ban will encourage shoppers to transport goods in reusable shopping bags, resulting in less litter at landfills and in the ocean.


Planting rooftops

With 359 green rooftops, the city of Chicago has the most heat-absorbing garden-top roofs of any U.S. city. Containing soil and dense foliage, green roofs help regulate temperatures inside and outside buildings and reduce energy use because heat from the sun is absorbed by the plants, not the buildings. The foliage also provides insulation.

Chicago has mandated that all new buildings funded by public money be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, meaning they are designed to keep utility costs low. Since the Windy City is known for temperature extremes, Leeper says, it makes sense for officials to embrace the green rooftops concept.


Creating runoff gardens

Many forward-thinking residents and owners of commercial businesses in Philadelphia have taken steps to prevent runoff water from polluting the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers, key sources of drinking water for the region.

Garden-filled planter boxes installed directly below storm runoff gutters on the sides of buildings, homes and roadways keep dirty storm water from fouling the rivers, explains Alexandra Hilosky, an instructor in the University’s environmental science program and a chemistry professor at Harcum College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

“Planter boxes serve dual purposes,” she notes. “They absorb runoff water and beautify the communities with pretty little flower gardens.”

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