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I have moved on from my Energy and Environment class to an Environmental Law class. I am doing research on plastic bag laws. The web site has some interesting facts about plastic bags:

About 1 million plastic bags are used every minute.
A single plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to degrade.
• More than 3.5 million tons of plastic bags, sacks and wraps were discarded in 2008.
• The U.S. goes through 100 billion single-use plastic bags. This costs retailers about $4 billion a year.
• Plastic bags are the second-most common type of ocean refuse, after cigarette butts (2008)
• Plastic bags remain toxic even after they break down.
• Every square mile of ocean has about 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it.
• In good circumstances, high-density polyethylene will take more than 20 years to degrade. In less ideal circumstances (land fills or as general refuse), a bag will take more than 1,000 years to degrade.
• An estimated 3,960,000 tons of plastic bags, sack and wraps were produced in 2008. Of those, 3,570,000 tons (90%) were discarded. This is almost triple the amount discarded the first year plastic bag numbers were tracked (1,230,000 tons in 1980). (EPA)

What is the Solution?

There are some states that have introduced plastic bag taxes/fees and have mandated that stores collect plastic bags and send them to a recycling facility. These are good first steps, but I think they are insufficient. Some places have promoted paper bags and compostable bags as a way to reduce the amount of plastic entering the environment. Unfortunately, paper bags and compostable bags unnecessarily consume resources. We have to change our habits and use reusable bags. In order to change habits, multiple strategies will have to be implemented – a fee for carry-out bags, rewards for using reusable bags, and education to let consumers know the harmful impact of plastic bags on the environment and how convenient it can be to use reusable bags.

Bike-to-Work Day was a lot of fun! I enjoyed my free breakfast – what a treat to drink fantastic Reverie coffee, visit with fellow cyclists, and enjoy the view of the Keeper of the Plains! I set a goal to ride my bike to work at least one time per week. Today was actually my first day of experimenting with finding a safe route for getting to work- now I just need to be able to make the 21-minute commute without sweating. On Bike-to-Work Day, it was energizing to be part of a large movement.

The Wichita cycling community is strong and coordinates multiple great events throughout the year. Three exciting upcoming events are:

Saturday, May 31 at 11amI Bike Douglas Tour: an architectural tour along Douglas Avenue beginning at Ackerman’s Backyard and lasting approximately 1 hour – all ages welcome, bring your camera!      

Saturday, May 31 at 1 pm – your opportunity to help make history – join the world record attempt for the longest line of bicycles. The event will begin at the WaterWalk Pavilion. Be one of the 1200 bike riders needed to break the current world record (1148). This parade of bikes will travel north along the bike path to the Keeper of the Plains and then pedal past Kennedy Plaza before returning to WaterWalk.

Saturday, June 7 at 11amI Bike Douglas Tour: art tour along Douglas Avenue beginning at Ackerman’s Backyard and lasting approximately 1 hour – all ages welcome, bring your camera!

The Health and Wellness Coalition of Wichita provides cycling resources including local bike path maps and information about the Wichita Bicycle Master Plan. On their website, they also have tips about how to become a Bicycle Friendly Business.

Be sure to ride your bike to RiverFest and take advantage of the Bike Valet service (secured Bicycle parking) available from 5 pm-9 pm Mon-Fri and noon-10 pm on Sat. & Sun. There will be two bike valet locations: Ackerman’s Backyard and the WaterWalk Pavilion (beside the Wichita Boathouse).

May 16 is Bike to Work Day! There will be breakfast stations in several places around Wichita  - conveniently set up for you to grab some breakfast on your morning commute. Free lunch from 11:30 am to 1 pm will be available to individuals who ride their bikes at the Old Town Plaza (near the Warren Theater).

Check out the Find your Fit Wichita site to see a list of other Bike Month events happening in Wichita. 

My Green Biz blogging has slowed down because I have been working on another blog. For my Energy & Environment class, I began constructing a pedal-powered generator. To view my project, visit my PedGen blog. The next phase of the project will involve taking the generator to Haiti to be used for charging cell phones. After that, I will be focused on "amping up" (literally) the project to develop an off-the-grid concert at the Bartlett Arboretum on October 19, 2014. So prepare to pedal and enjoy a fun concert!

This week I learned about the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The role of this group is to assess climate change. They do not actually do their own research, but rather compile and review studies from all over the world. Scientists contribute their research voluntarily. The IPCC releases reports of its assessments. The 4th Assessment Report (AR4) was released in 2007 and AR5 is being released over the course of the next year.

The first two sections of AR5 have already been released. The Physical Science Basis for climate change section was released last fall, while the Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability section was released last week. There is a summary of the Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability available online. It includes a definition of climate change as "a change in the state of the climate that can be identified (e.g., by using statistical tests) by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties, and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer. Climate change may be due to natural internal processes or external forcings such as modulations of the solar cycles, volcanic eruptions, and persistent anthropogenic changes in the composition of the atmosphere or in land use."

I recommend reading the summary of this report. It is 26 pages long with additional figures at the end. The Impacts section mentions ways in which climate change affects ecosystems, food production/security, human health, extreme weather, and economics. The Adaptations section offers examples of ways in which governments all over the world are adapting to climate change. It will be important for us to consider not only how we will adapt to climate change, but also how we will reduce our contributions to it.

Mark your calendars for the 13th Annual Arkansas River Trash Roundup!

Meet at Lawrence Dumont Stadium along with 700 of your closest friends to clean up the Arkansas River from 9am to noon on Saturday, April 26. Check-in starts at 8:30.

Why clean up the river? By removing trash from the river, you are beautifying our city – just in time for River Fest. You are also improving the habitat of the animals who live in and near the River. Cleaning up the River in Wichita impacts everyone downstream from Derby all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Check-in for the 13th Annual Arkansas River Trash Roundup is at 8:30am at Lawrence Dumont Stadium. There you can pick up trash bags and gloves. Wear sturdy shoes and clothes that can get dirty. After you fill a few bags, enjoy a post-cleanup cookout with Cargill and Ducks Unlimited back at Lawrence Dumont Stadium.

I am still thinking about the possibility of solar gardens in Wichita. As I drive around I keep noticing flat roofs and wondering if the owners of those roofs would be interested in hosting a solar garden.

One of my professors drew my attention to a Westar Energy press release from January 8 of this year. In the article, Westar announced that it is seeking schools, non-profits, and government agencies in Kansas who are interested in solar projects. Westar intends to fund the purchase and installation of solar panels at 15 to 20 of these locations. The installations will not only provide electricity, but also will provide an opportunity for people to learn about the potential for solar power generation in this state.

Westar has already approved funding for one solar project in Kansas. It is at the Flint Hills Technical College in Emporia. The installation will include three solar arrays – one rooftop and two on the ground. This location offers a great opportunity for students to experiment with the panels to discover how to manipulate their orientation throughout the year to reap the greatest benefit.

Last month I was thumbing through a Northern Sun catalog. A short article inside the front cover caught my eye. The article announced Minneapolis’ first community solar garden. I had never heard of the concept of a solar garden, but I was hooked immediately. According to the Solar Garden Institute, a solar garden is a community shared solar array with grid-connected subscribers. Homes and businesses, even if shaded by trees, receive a bill credit as if the panels were on their own roof using “virtual net metering”.” It is an opportunity for home owners, renters, businesses, churches, etc. to invest in solar energy without having to install solar panels at their own facility. The solar garden atop Northern Suns’ 5,000 square foot flat roof in Minneapolis, Minnesota will be able to produce enough energy to power 8-10 homes. The cost of the project is about $180.000.

Minnesota Community Solar lists four great benefits of solar gardens:

  1. Subscribers save money on their electric bills
  2. Rooftops and previously unusable land (former landfills, brownfields, airport land) can become sites for clean energy generation
  3. Utilities are assisted in reaching renewable energy goals
  4. Our carbon footprint decreases by a shoe size or two

Of course, I have been wondering how long it takes for subscribers to recoup their investment. I asked a Northern Sun employee, but he said that had not yet been determined for their facility. The Solar Garden Institute offers an estimate of 6-20 years for a solar garden investment to pay for itself. The length of time depends on the initial cost of the project, maintenance costs, tax credits, and the amount of available sunlight.

How ‘bout a community solar garden in Wichita, Kansas?

Have you ever wondered about the air quality in Wichita, KS? I had the opportunity to visit one of the air quality monitoring sites in Wichita. This site continuously measures the amount of particulate matter (tiny particles that can be inhaled and can negatively impact the heart and lungs), radiation, ozone, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide in the air. Daily Wichita air quality information is available online at the Wichita Air Quality Index. You can also visit the Air Now site for additional information and health warnings.


Have you ever heard warnings about our ozone levels – especially on hot summer days? Ozone is colorless and is found in air all around us. An ozone rating of 0 to 50 is good and will not result in negative health effects. However, a rating between 101 and 150 is unhealthy for people with respiratory problems, small children, the elderly, and people working or exercising outside. Some key contributors to increased ozone levels are motor vehicles, industries, and gas stations. Emissions from these sources react when exposed to sunlight and ozone is one of the products.

According to Air Now, there are ways to reduce your contribution to Wichita ozone levels:

  1. Limit driving whenever possible – combine errands, work from home, teleconference, carpool, walk , or use public transportation
  2. Refuel your vehicle early in the morning or after sunset
  3. Minimize idling of your vehicle
  4. Conserve electricity by using a programmable thermostat
  5. If you use a gas mower, postpone mowing to a day when the ozone levels are expected to be lower
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