Sustainability FAQs

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  • Sustainability - General
  • What is sustainability?

    The Lehigh Valley Sustainability Network uses this description of sustainability:  Sustainability means that people can provide for their economic and social well-being, while living within the natural limits of the environment, now and for the future.

    There are hundreds of definitions of sustainability. You can find many of them on the Sustainable Measures website.  The site points out that all the definitions address these three points:

    • Living within the limits
    • Understanding the interconnections among economy, society, and environment
    • Equitable distribution of resources and opportunities
  • Climate Change
    Questions about the impacts of climate change.
  • How does climate change affect public health?

    Climate change intensifies environmental risks to human health and causes new issues. Air pollution causes asthma and cardiovascular disease, especially in urban areas, and increasing allergens can lead to respiratory allergies. Water contamination can cause cholera and other infectious diseases. Extreme heat can provoke illness and death, especially cardiovascular failure, and more extreme weather patterns such as storms and floods lead to injuries and fatalities. Climate change impacts water supply and agriculture, which can lead to food shortages. Other changes in the environment alter the patterns of disease vectors such as mosquitos and ticks, which increases exposure to malaria, Lyme disease, and West Nile virus. Many of these health hazards, especially agricultural changes and vector-transmitted diseases will deeply impact the Lehigh Valley.

  • How does climate change affect national security?

     

    Military experts say that climate change is one of the biggest and fastest growing national security risks. The U.S. Department of Defense is concerned with the climate related increase in instability between and within foreign nations in areas of the world where U.S. forces are operating - droughts, floods, extreme weather events, etc. cause conflict, which puts U.S. troops and their allies at risk. Climate change will also impact the design of current and future weapons systems to account for extreme weather. Domestic effects are also a concern; infrastructure, military installations, and hurricane evacuation routes are increasingly vulnerable to climate change related issues such as higher sea levels, storm surges, and flooding. Increasing ocean temperatures could lead to changes in ocean-based food security. Extreme weather events are already affecting the production and distribution of energy, causing disruptions in the electric supply.

     

     

  • How does climate change affect agriculture?

    Climate change poses a major challenge to U.S. agriculture because the agricultural system depends on having a stable climate. Climate change will alter the location, timing, and productivity, and quality of crop, livestock, and fishery systems at local, national, and global scales. Extreme weather patterns such as droughts, floods, and storms can ruin crops and kill livestock, as can abnormal temperatures. As the effects of climate change continue to grow, the stability of food supplies in the U.S. may falter.

     

  • Everyday Sustainability
    Questions about how to make more sustainable choices in daily life.
  • How can I buy more sustainable products?

    Purchasing more sustainable products is an effective way to reduce your carbon footprint and support sustainable companies. Food, clothing, appliances, and other products are made using different standards, support different political causes, etc. When purchasing food, look for Fair Trade options that ensure humane treatment of workers, labels that certify organic or free range food, and products that were made or grown locally. When purchasing clothing, consider buying second hand clothing to avoid wasting resources such as water, land, and energy that go into clothing production - you can also seek out eco-conscious brands. For appliances, look for the Energy Star label that identifies the most efficient products. You can also use apps to buy sustainable products; the OpenLabel smartphone app allows users to scan the barcode of a product and instantly see the reasons to buy or avoid the product or the company.

  • What uses the most energy in my home?

    Heating and cooling are the main contributors to high home energy bills. Air conditioning and heating usually make up around half of home energy use, followed by hot water heaters, lighting, and appliances and electronics. To reduce your monthly bills and save energy, consider replacing your air conditioning system (especially if it is older than 10 years) which can save up to 30% of energy use. Make sure that your thermostat is set to a reasonable temperature (no more than 68 degrees in winter and no less than 75 degrees in summer) and turn the heat down at night or when no one is in the house. Use nature's free heat from the sun in the winter by keeping blinds open to heat the house, and close curtains and blinds in the summer to stay cool. It is also important to check your house for air leaks and keep doors, windows, attics, and crawlspaces insulated.

  • Food
    Questions about food waste, the food industry, and food labeling.
  • Does food waste harm the environment?

    Food waste has serious environmental consequences. Agricultural production in the U.S. uses half the total land, 80% of the fresh water, and 10% of the total energy, so when food is thrown away those resources are being wasted. In the U.S., food production is to blame for 22% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Since over a third of all the food produced in the U.S. will never be eaten, 9% of national emissions stemmed from the production of food that is thrown out. The food system also leads to environmental degradation in the form of methane emissions from livestock, chemical runoff from growing and processing, soil degradation from unsustainable farming practices, ecosystem destruction to make room for farmland, etc. As waste, food takes up about 20% of landfill space and releases greenhouse gases as it decomposes; preventable food waste is responsible for 3% of GHG emissions in the U.S. This brings the total GHG emissions for food waste to 11% of the national emissions. As these and other emissions increase the effects of climate change, drastic changes in weather patterns, sea levels, etc. will affect agriculture and increase the risk of food loss.

  • How can I compost my food waste?

    To compost food scraps at home, simply purchase a composting bin or make one by drilling holes in the top and bottom of a plastic tub. The bin should be placed in a shady area with good drainage. Fill the bottom of the bin with newspaper, leaves, or other coarse matter, and add soil. Bury the food in the soil. Add food scraps and other yard waste in alternating layers. Make sure the compost is moist. Turn or stir occasionally with a shovel. The compost will turn into nutrient rich soil, which can be used in place of fertilizers.

     

    For a more detailed guide to home composting, see this Guide to Composting Yard & Food Scraps.

  • How do I know if a food product expired?

    It's important to understand that what most people think of as the "expiration date" on food does not necessarily indicate safety - the only products that are legally required to have expiration dates are infant formula. Other dates are voluntary, and are set by the company rather than a regulatory agency. It is also important to note the different terminology used; "sell by" dates indicate how long the company wants a product to be on the shelf so that it is still at peak freshness when a consumer buys it, but it is still edible long after that date. "Best if used by" also refers to quality, not safety, and "use by" is the last date that the manufacturers recommend consuming the product. Use these dates as guidelines, but use your judgement or this resource about food safety and storage to cut down on food waste.

  • Recycling
  • Where do I take my used light bulbs and fluorescent tube lights?

    Most building supply stores such as Home Depot and Lowe's accept used CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs and fluorescent tube lights. You can find local addresses here. The EPA also provides information on why recycling of CFLs is important, what other kinds of bulbs that contain mercury should be recycled, and how to find recycling outlets as well as companies that will allow you to mail used CFLs back.

  • Where can I recycle my old computers?

    Electronics recycling or eCycling is handled at the county level in the Lehigh Valley. Northampton County holds county-wide eCycling days. Lehigh County suggests several options for eCycling. You can find specific information under eCycling in the Sustainability A to Z.

  • Can I recycle batteries? Where can I go to recycle them?

    Yes you can recycle batteries! Batteries contain a number of heavy metals and toxic chemicals and their dumping has raised concerns over soil contamination and water pollution. There are a number of places to recycle batteries in the Lehigh Valley:

    Batteris Plus Bulbs: 3021 Lehigh St, Allentown, PA 18103  Phone: 484 221-8946

    Free Cycle: North side, 795 Roble Rd, Allentown, PA 18109  Phone: 484 866-0927