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PPPL’s Earth Week features Colloquium on NYC green plan, cleanup and awards

The U.S. Department of Energy's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) celebrated Earth Week last week with a talk by a New York City official about New York’s sustainability plan, a Labwide cleanup by a team of industrious volunteers and awards recognizing PPPL staff members who have promoted a greener PPPL.

A group of 41 PPPL volunteers cleaned up the grounds around the Laboratory in honor of Earth Day on April 22. They collected 220 pounds of trash, 40 pounds of recycling, 55 pounds of composting, 78 pounds of scrap metal and 76 pounds of wood. Robert Sheneman, head of the Environmental Services Division, said the effort was so successful that PPPL may join with nearby companies to organize a similar event to clean up the area outside the PPPL campus.

Adam Cohen, PPPL’s deputy director for operations, noted during the program on April 23 that PPPL has a weeklong “Earth Week” celebration rather than just marking Earth Day. "At this Laboratory, we take actions to celebrate and protect the earth every day - from the research we do in pursuing fusion to power the world with zero greenhouse gas emissions, to our sustainability and environmental protection programs," Cohen said.

Cohen was one of several PPPL’ers to receive a “Green Machine award” for his support of recycling and composting at PPPL.

Award for green holiday party organizers

Sheneman praised “the really exceptional job” of Green Machine award winners Sue Hill, Carol Ann Austin, Rich Torraca and Marianne Tyrrell for their efforts in making PPPL’s 2013 holiday party a green event. Some 93 percent of the food and paper goods refuse from the party were compostable, 6.5 percent was recyclable and only one-half of 1 percent was trash sent to the landfill.

Efforts by the PPPL staff have contributed to PPPL’s environmental programs being recognized with several awards, Sheneman said. Last year, for example, the Lab received a special DOE Sustainability Award for outstanding progress in meeting federal sustainability goals. “You deserve to give yourselves a lot of credit as a Laboratory,” he told audience members.

Sheneman urged PPPL’ers to continue their efforts to keep PPPL green by trying to cut down on the amount of documents they print and “think before you ink.”

Colloquium on NYC sustainability plan

The special Earth Day Colloquium by John Lee, the deputy director for Buildings and Energy Efficiency in New York City ’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability, focused on how New York City ’s PlaNYC has mapped out a comprehensive long-term sustainability plan for New York City that seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030. The plan details how the City will cope with an anticipated population increase of 1 million people in the next three decades. It also seeks to anticipate the effects of climate change such as severe storms, particularly after parts of the City experienced severe flooding during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

A “Bluebelt” to protect coastal area

The City has worked to improve the waterways that surround the City, Lee said. He noted that the City ’s “Bluebelt” program to use wetlands and other natural areas in Staten Island to absorb storm water runoff is an integral part of the system. It not only protects the waterways from pollution but also helps protect the coastline.

Many of the places that flooded the worst during the storm were areas that had expanded the original footprint of the five boroughs through landfills, Lee noted.

The growing population has put a strain on the City ’s electrical system, Lee said, which often faces peak demands during the summer. “Every year we set new records for peak demands,” Lee said. “There are limits to the capability if we’re not able to keep that in check.”  

The City ’s extensive public transportation system means most of the City ’s carbon emissions come from heating buildings and electrical use, Lee said.  The City has challenged universities and hospitals as well as large corporations to reduce their emissions by 30 percent by 2017. The City also has a Greener Greater Buildings plan outlining energy conservation measures. It has required the owners of the City ’s largest buildings to change to green lighting by 2025. New regulations have gradually phased out some of the heaviest fuel oils that create the most pollution, Lee said.

Goal to reduce waste by 75 percent

The City ’s goal is to reduce the amount of waste it sends to landfills by 75 percent. So far, it has cut 30 percent of the waste it transports by rail or barge, Lee said. And a Food Waste Challenge to over 100 restaurants will encourage more composting.

Recognizing that “despite the moves by government, it ultimately comes down to people and their behavior,” the City has a public education campaign that is aimed at “a fundamental cultural shift” among the City ’s residents on using LED and fluorescent lights, composting, recycling and other sustainable practices, Lee said.  

The City has already succeeded in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 19 percent, Lee said, but more effort is needed not only in New York but also in the surrounding suburbs in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. One lasting lesson of Hurricane Sandy, he said, is that New York and its neighbors must join together when it comes to sustainability plans. “It’s more than just us, it’s everyone,” he said. “We have to come to solutions to this problem together. I hope that New York City can be the exemplar of how to get there.”

The audience at the morning colloquium gave Lee a warm round of applause. 

Earlier in the morning, several groups including Sustainable Princeton, the Mercer County Improvement Authority and AmeriCorps, as well as PPPL vendors with sustainable products, showed off their wares and gave out seeds, calendars and other goodies at displays in the LSB lobby before the Earth Day Colloquium.

Other Green Machine recipients

Other Green Machine recipients included: Deedee Ortiz and Kathleen Lukazik, who were recognized for ensuring that Science on Saturday was a zero waste event by making all the food and coffee served compostable;  Kim Mastromarino for organizing a bake sale for America Recycles Day; Elle Starkman and Rosemarie Fuchs-Smith for their continued support of recycling and composting; and Ana Pinto, Mark Kijek, and Michael Bernardo for coming up with energy efficiencies that not only saved energy but also helped reduce costs. 

U.S. Department of Energy
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Princeton University.

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