Friday, November 15, 2013

Celebrate America Recycles Day Today! (November 15th)

Recycling programs differ by institution, town, city & county. So it does require one to do a little bit of research to sort your recyclables correctly. But it is worth it! Recycling saves energy, reduces landfills, preserves our resources & protects our wildlife, is good for the economy & reduces our climate problems.

Here at Union we recycle:
Paper Products: blue bin with paper slot found on each floor of every building
Plastic/Metal/Glass: blue bin with round hole on each floor of every building
Cardboard: Break down & place adjacent to trash or recycling bins
Plastic Bags & Film Plastic: recycling container outside of the C-Store (1st flr Reamer)
Electronics, Batteries, Lightbulbs & Ink Cartridges: Bring to Front Office of Facilities Services
Food Waste: in Upperclass & West Dining Hall. Or at your event upon request!

Sometimes recycling can be confusing, so if you have any questions please reach out!
ext 6765

Take the pledge today

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Hazardous Waste Reduction Program Created for Schenectady County Residents

Through the Hazardous Waste Reduction Program, Schenectady County Compost Facility & Recycling Center is now collecting unwanted household chemicals (paints, aerosols, bleach, etc.) from community residents for their safe and environmentally-friendly disposal.

This is part of the County's many efforts to support environmentally sound endeavors, and will provide community members with a disposal facility for common household items other than the trash can.

The community's next Collection Day is Saturday, November 16th, 2013. In order to participate in the event, residents must obtain an annual Compost Facility and Recycling Center permit. For a complete list of accepted chemicals and to register for Collection Day, please visit the Program's website.

Posted by: Sophie Cowley '17

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Electric City Food Co-op Kicks off Membership Drive

Schenectady's own food co-op in-the-making, the Electric City Co-op, has plans to boost its membership and raise funds-- as well as awareness-- over the next several months. One exciting event that the co-op board has planned is a traditional hoedown, with square dancing, food and fun hosted in a beautiful 150-year-old barn turned house in Rotterdam Junction.

Since the spring of 2012, Katherine Wolfram, the founder of the Electric City Food Co-Op, has been collaborating with community members to translate her dream into a reality. The Co-op's goal is to create a local, farm-to-table market in the heart of Schenectady, a place where anyone can have access to fresh foods and produce without needing to step foot into a grocery store. Over the past year and a half, many impressive strides have been taken toward the Co-op's development, but additional financial support is definitely needed to get the Co-op off the ground.

Painting table at Upper Union St. Harvest Festival last month

A future site for the Co-op has been chosen, and though the space will require a good amount of time and funds, the Co-op board is excited to see its transformation. If you or someone you know would like to see a place where delicious food meets benefits of local production and sustainability in our community, please consider donating to the Co-op or applying for membership.

Check out the link above for more information or visit the Co-op's Facebook page. Make sure to buy your tickets for the November 16th hoedown!

Posted by: Sophie Cowley '17

Monday, November 11, 2013

Hydrofracking Tour of Susquehanna County

Pipeline construction. (Kominoski, 2012)

Craig and Sandy Kominoski heard about the controversy over hydrofracking and wanted to see for themselves what it was all about. They arranged to take a tour of fracking country in Susquehanna County, PA and what they found shocked them. In their presentation at Union last Wednesday, they showed the pictures they took during their trip and told the story behind the pictures.

What struck me the most was how much of the impacts of fracking couldn't be seen in the pictures. When you drive past a fracking well, it looks fairly innocuous. What you don't see is hundreds of chemicals with the potential to contaminate groundwater, the miles of pipelines required to get the natural gas to its destination, and the compression stations required every two to four miles along that pipeline.

Three years of fracking in Susquehanna
County has brought 500 wells
with only 20% of plan completed.
There is drilling in 24 counties in PA.
(Kominoski, 2012)

One of the locals showed them around and told them about what goes on that they couldn't see for themselves. For example, one of the towns fought to get clean drinking water paid for by the fracking companies when their groundwater became contaminated, but lost that battle and now have to pay for it out of their own pocket. They could see the "water buffalo" storage tanks next to almost every house.

Craig and Sandy's presentation wasn't exactly impartial and as you can probably tell, I'm pretty biased too. How can I not be when I've seen the tears in my friend's eyes as she witnessed the fracking in her homestate? But there is a value to seeing the other side of the story. Why would people all across the country allow fracking on their property? Is there a way to make fracking safer and are any precautions being taken by companies? It's important to answer these questions too to get a complete picture of fracking.

-Rachel Ross

Friday, November 8, 2013

Octopus' Garden Yields Seasonal Harvest of 1,589 pounds!

As the colder weather sets in and the harvesting season comes to a close, total yields have been counted to sum up the wonderful efforts of our campus' own organic garden.

The top yield of the season were carrots (237.5 lbs) and greens (237 lbs). Potatoes and sweet potatoes were also a large portion of the yield, about 100 lbs each. This is very good news for our garden! Of course, these efforts could not have been made possible without the help and devotion of the Octopus Garden volunteers, both students and faculty.

Thanks to the generosity of the Presidential Green Grant committee, along with Dining Services and an anonymous Alumnus donation, the Octopus' Garden has recently received a good deal of financial support for the upcoming year. We are hopeful that the 2014 season will produce an even more plentiful harvest!

Of course, Octopus' Garden could always use another helping hand. There is still time this season to get involved! Email for more information or to volunteer, or visit the Octopus Garden Facebook page.

Posted by: Sophie Cowley '17

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Presidential Green Grants - 6 years (and counting!) of funding sustainabilty at Union

This week, Union College awarded its 6th crop of Presidential Green Grant (PGG) awards. 20 different projects, proposed by students, staff, and faculty from all over campus, received between $700 and $2000 to support research projects to improve environmental conditions or initiatives to increase the sustainability of Union's operations.

Since 2007, we have awarded more than $75,000 to projects designed to reduce pollution, waste, and energy use; to increase energy efficiency, environmental education, and local food; and to generally support the tremendous creativity and drive in our own community on behalf of the environment.

These grants have become a key component of Union's research and sustainability efforts. They are a crucial mechanism by which grassroots ideas from within our own community can get support to become a reality.  

$2000 is practically chump-change for a large corporation, or even a Silicon Valley start-up in need of venture capital. But that seed money may be just the ticket to buy the supplies - and the moral support - needed for a project to go from the drawing board to reality. The combination of our financial support and our grantees' hard work has proven to be an unbeatable combination.

Today, thanks to PGGs, we have an organic garden that supplies local food to our Dining Halls and local food missions. An early $2000 grant to study the use of aerogels as an automotive catalytic converter led to more than $500,000 in grant funding from the National Science Foundation and at least one patent application. We have supported a variety of projects related to the development of more efficient solar and wind technologies.

I can't wait to see what the research in chemistry, biology, and engineering in this years' proposals will accomplish. Or how our recycling, composting, and energy efficiency efforts will get even stronger.

The Green Grants would not be possible without the unwavering support of President Stephen Ainlay and his Administration, who has generously funded the PGG's since I proposed them in 2007. The last three years a grant to Union's Environmental Science, Policy, and Engineering Program from the Mellon Foundation has specifically funded research proposals related to the environment. I can't thank them enough for their commitment to environmental efforts at Union, and for their support of our community's initiatives.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Environmental Club & Ozone House 2013 Trash Audit Results

This past Wednesday, the Environmental Club and Ozone House performed a trash audit to break down exactly how much waste-- including recycling and compost-- is wrongly sent to the landfill every day. The audit is meant to raise awareness on the amount of waste produced across campus and allows for potential improvement on the distribution of future waste.

Student volunteers removed trash bags from the following buildings: Ferro House, Humanities, Edward, Smith, Davidson, Lippman, Science & Engineering, Reamer, Webster, South College, Wells, Olin, West College, North College, Breazzano, Beuth, Schaffer Library, Golub House, and Ozone House. 

The trash was first weighed, then combined and finally sorted into eight different waste categories: compost, plastics, metal, paper + cardboard, plastic bags, glass, landfill ("true trash") and liquids.

While only about 40% of the trash collected was "true trash," about 25% of the trash was actually compostable, and approximately the remaining 35% were recyclables. 

The data on trash weight and distribution from Wednesday's audit can be found in the charts above and below. 

Credit: Annie Nelson

Credit: Annie Nelson

Posted by Sophie Cowley '17

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"Climate Change: Adaptation & Building Resiliency in our Communities" Conference Registration Now Open!

Register TODAY for the "Climate Change: Adaptation & Building Resiliency in our Communities" Conference! 

This event is hosted by Union, the Environmental Clearinghouse of Schenectady (ECOS) and the Schenectady County Environmental Advisory Council (SCEAC). 

Join us on January 24th in College Park Hall to hear from regional experts and get inspired to improve the environmental state of our communities!

Registration is FREE for students (excludes lunch fee) and $45 for non-students.

For more information, and to register, visit the Conference website 

Tickets are now on sale for the Schenectady Greenmarket Local Harvest Dinner!

Join in on the celebration of local food and vendors as well as the 5th anniversary of the Greenmarket itself! Support the market and buy a ticket for the local harvest dinner today!

The dinner will be held on Thursday November 14th, from 5:30PM - 8:30 PM at River Stone Manor in Scotia. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit the Schenectady Greenmarket's website  

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Bottled water sales to pass soda sales by 2020

The New York Times has an interesting article this morning about the decline in soda sales and what it means for Coke and Pepsi. The article includes the following fact: "By the end of this decade, if not sooner, sales of bottled water are expected to surpass those of carbonated soft drinks..."
Source: The New York Times

There are many dimensions to this trend. From a public health perspective, the decline in soda sales
have to be viewed as a good thing. Coke and Pepsi have contributed to the high rates of obesity among children and the general population. Water is healthier, and so the switch is a good thing for our health.

But the drop in soda sales need not - and SHOULD NOT - be accompanied by a rise in bottled water sales. Water bottles are wasteful in energy and resources. They fill our landfills and oceans when they are thrown away, and even then only 30% of bottles that are recycled require energy to process. They are expensive. And they are not healthier or safer or cleaner or better regulated that municipal tapwater.

Sales of bottled water should be dropping just as sales of soda is dropping. There are easy alternatives that have none of the drawbacks of plastic. Buy your own refillable bottle and fill it up on-the-go. Use a drinking fountain.

Union College's Ban Bottled Water Subcommittee of U-Sustain is working to eliminate bottles from campus. This is a long-term project that will require education and improvements in our facilities. Acceptance will be much higher when people understand the motivations, and when water fountains and bottle-filling stations are convenient. We host an annual "Water Week" in which these issues are discussed. And we are funding the installation of new water fountains and bottle-filling stations through our Presidential Green Grant program. 2013's Graduation featured water "boxes" that require less energy to produce and are also recyclable.

We are following in the footsteps of the more than 90 colleges and universities that have already banned bottled water. I am confident that Union will join them soon.

And we will help drive sales of bottled water in the same direction as soda sales.

(For more, see Annie Leonard's wonderful "Story of Bottled Water," for a clear presentation on many of these issues.)

(Update 10/28/13)
Looking again at the NYTimes article, including the graphic to the right, I wonder whether the story over-hypes bottled water. Notice that bottled water sales have been pretty flat over the last ~5 years. The anticipated point where bottled water sales pass soft drink sales appears, from the graphic, to be driven by the decline in the Coke etc. rather than a rise in Dasani etc.

That's a good thing. In any case, we still want to reduce them both.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Union Students Re-inspired at Power Shift 2013 in Pittsburg, PA

By: Austin Anderson '15
     When I registered for Power Shift 2013, I knew that I would be participating in workshops and lectures providing me with the tools to fight the multi-dimensional monster that is climate change. Looking back upon this amazingly enlightening and empowering weekend I shared with fifteen other Union College students, I can say that preconception was undoubtedly true. However, what I personally took away from this conference far transcended the theoretical skills and knowledge necessary to achieve victory for this cause that is the environmental movement. That something was inspiration.
Part of the group of Union Students at Power Shift 2013
     This inspiration is a call to action that radiated from the faces of the eight thousand idealistic individuals from every imaginable background and corner of our country that participated in Power Shift this past weekend in Pittsburgh. I saw a generation coming together under a banner of solidarity, not only for the environment, but standing for all progressive values that are right and just; a generation founded in inclusive equality. What I saw underway was a shift in power from the old order to the new and I couldn’t be any more excited to be present to witness and take part in it.

So what did we learn?

     In a nutshell, we learned how to direct our passion and inspiration towards productivity and progress. For example, workshops and panels included presentations on non-violent direct action to combat the Keystone XL pipeline which will dissect our nation, delivering dirty tar-sands from Canada to the Gulf for export internationally.
Schedule for Saturday
     There were United Nation climate negotiation round-tables where students and mentors gathered to discuss solutions to global climate change.  The most glaring and unsettling issue gleaned from these sessions being the fact that developing nations are the most vulnerable to the insatiable appetite of the first world for energy and resources and its resultant carbon footprint’s effect on greenhouse gasses.
Another interesting and informative topic was that of food justice. Like all environmental issues, the complexity of this one in particular included the relationship of the livestock and agricultural industries and their effect on the environment; from the way animals are inhumanely tortured for our consumption, the intensive strain on resources such as water and fossil fuels that further perpetuates environmental degradation, and the dangers and social implications of genetic modification by multinational corporations such as Monsanto.
 Next, the idea of a “green economy” was particularly informative and will be at the cornerstone of moving from an economic infrastructure based on fossil fuel consumption towards renewable energy. The green economy as defined by the UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme) is one that results in "improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities… is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive.”
     Finally, the networking aspect of the convention was invaluable; as such occurred a conglomeration of the most impassioned and driven individuals of this movement who spent forty eight hours together and took their new connections beyond the boundaries of Pittsburgh for a future of progressive collaboration.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Seeds Found in a 2,000 Year Old Clay Jar Give Life to Once Extinct Palm

The Methuselah date palm, 2012
Kibbutz Keturah, Israel
"Genetic analyses have shown that this tree is distinct from all known date palms, and scientists want to see if the ancient tree has any unique medicinal properties no longer found in today's date palm varieties." See blog post here

"For thousands of years, Judean date palm trees were one of the most recognizable and welcome sights for people living in the Middle East -- widely cultivated throughout the region for their sweet fruit, and for the cool shade they offered from the blazing desert sun...

Judean palm trees would come to serve as one of the kingdom's chief symbols of good fortune; King David named his daughter, Tamar, after the plant's name in Hebrew...

During excavations at the site of Herod the Great's palace in Israel in the early 1960's, archeologists unearthed a small stockpile of seeds stowed in a clay jar dating back 2,000 years. For the next four decades, the ancient seeds were kept in a drawer at Tel Aviv's Bar-Ilan University. But then, in 2005, botanical researcher Elaine Solowey decided to plant one and see what, if anything, would sprout.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Recent Governmental Controversies Raise Awareness Regarding New York Water Control

Over the past few years, Governor Cuomo has proven his dedication to green initiatives such as providing funding for parks and other important conservation projects. But recently, the government's role (or lack thereof) in water control across New York State has begun to cast a shadow on Cuomo's environmental record.

Ashokan Reservoir in Ulster County, NY

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is held responsible for reporting cases of water pollution, due to flooding and natural disasters, as well as fracking. It is also charged with enforcing New York environmental standards, such as Clean Water and Clean Air Acts.

Unfortunately, Cuomo's policy of "doing less with less" has led the DEC to report significantly less instances of water pollution, keeping the public in the dark about such matters. The largely understaffed organization simply does not have the resources to enforce the state's water quality laws-- which is incredibly worrisome for the people of New York.

Recently, Environmental Advocates of New York released a report, Turning a Blind Eye to Illegal Pollution, which revealed that the enforcement of environmental concerns such as pollution is on the decline. The report affirmed that water inspections have dropped by 74% since 2009 (Gahl). This is an astounding figure, and one that should not be taken lightly by the citizens of New York.

Environmental Advocates of NY's 2013 Pollution Report

All of the findings in the Environmental Advocates of New York's report are based directly upon the data that DEC submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But, DEC recently requested to discredit the report altogether, claiming it to be riddled with inaccuracies and accusations. Governor Cuomo and DEC's response to the report is rather troublesome to those concerned with real environmental issues such as pollution, since it seems that the government is more concerned with public relations than resolving this crisis.

Above all, the recent water pollution crisis serves as a call to action for the people of New York. For starters, anyone can sign the petition and urge Governor Cuomo to commit to enforcing the sewage/water quality law. This requires all instances of water pollution due to flooding and sewage (gross!) to be accounted for and subsequently reported.

Contaminated drinking water due to pollution

Don't let Governor Cuomo or the DEC let water pollution slip through the cracks! As citizens of New York, we reserve the right to know what is in our drinking water.

Submitted by: Sophie Cowley

Turning a Blind Eye to Illegal Pollution
Cuomo Controversy Over DEC Report Obscures Truth
Watchdog Documents DEC Environmental Enforcement Woes

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

From Farm to Table

As autumn begins to set into full swing, I’ve found myself craving fresh apples and cider, two of my personal staples of the season. The emerging foliage and sweet-smelling, crisp fall air inspired me to take a break from the West dining hall food and make a meal of my own. 

So, this past Sunday, a few of my friends and I made the short walk down to the Schenectady greenmarket, which is open every Sunday from 10AM-2PM. The greenmarket, now in almost its fifth year running, offers fresh produce as well as prepared local food and some funky artisan crafts. The walk down only took about five minutes from the Union campus, and by the end of our visit we had our hands full with more fruit, vegetables, bread, cheese and meat than we could possibly eat. (Although, we ended up eating all of it by the end of the day.)

A local band performing at the greenmarket

There’s something to be said about actually meeting the people who harvest the food that we enjoy, and knowing that we are supporting an organic and sustainable way of eating. Almost all of the vendors come from surrounding areas in New York, and the market pays careful attention to how all of the produce and meats are grown and harvested or raised.

Picking out some artisan crackers from Saratoga Crackers

My friends and I bought some delicious homemade pesto (called “Buddhapesto”) and local sheep-milk cheese from Danascara, an artisan cheese vendor. The plan was to make pasta (as well as steak marinated with hot peppers—for the non-vegetarians). The end result was delightful, and made for a nice break from the dining hall—not to mention how fun it was to pick out, cook and enjoy fresh food with friends.

Spaghetti with fresh pesto, grated sheep's milk cheese and local bread 

Feasting in Breazzano

The Schenectady greenmarket is held all year round, and is located downtown around City Hall through October 27th. The greenmarket then moves indoors to Proctor’s Theater until May 5th.

Check out more info on the greenmarket’s website:

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Lindsey Berger 
from Greenpeace

Learn about grassroots campaign organizing TOMORROW, Monday, September 29 
at 7pm in Breazzano

Lindsey is a MO (Missiouri) Beyond Coal Organizer. 

" Missouri youth are building the movement that is going to sustain this epic fight to stop the coal rush in Missouri. They are standing in solidarity with each other at Board meetings and rallying in their communities against coal ash. "

Read her post on here.

Octopus Garden

Harvest Thus Far:                               Upcoming Harvest Dates:
582.25 + pounds                                Thursday 10/3 and 10/10
                                                                   Common Lunch
                                                                                    Last harvests and prepare the garden for winter

Solar and Green Building Tour
of the greater Capital Region
October 5th 10am - 4pm

Over 30 homes and businesses who have invested in solar and green home projects are participating in the tour! Meet the homeowners and ask them questions about why, how, who, how much, etc. 
Solar & Green Building Tour

See the map with the index here

And, a list of the participants on Our Energy Independence Community 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Union College Recycles 150 Mattresses with 
LRP Recycling, Summer 2013

Why recycle mattresses?
Union must replace any mattresses with any tears or damage for health & safety reasons. Community service groups can not usually accept rejected mattresses. So what did Union do with them? This year, instead of being sent to the landfill, the mattresses were recycled!!! 

It is in most cases, it is cheaper to recycle or donate furniture instead of throwing it away. 

How it Works
Photo from LRP website

How it works:
The mattresses arrive at the processing center and are carefully examined to see what can be reused, donated, or recycled.
The recycled material is either shredded, baled, or sent to other vendors for recycling.
The cotton and foam of the mattresses are sent to insulation and carpet bagging companies.
The bed frame, either metal or wood, is recycled. The wood is typically made into wood chips. Old sofas are made into new furniture or a garment.

If you have household items that you would like to recycle, contact: or call 508-879-1732

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Funding Sustainability at Union!

Have a great idea to make the campus community more environmentally friendly?
Apply for funding through the
Presidential Green Grants
The Union College Green Fee Fund

Presidential Green Grants-funding for up to $2,000 for the following types of projects:

  • Campus projects: These are projects that will make Union more sustainable in such areas as energy use, recycling, transportation, or dining, among others.

  • Research projects: These are projects that will make specific contributions to sustainability at the regional or national level.
Students, Faculty, and Staff are welcome to apply.

DUE DATE: MONDAY, OCT 14th, 2013 at midnight

Guidelines and application form: to print, save image (forms) on your computer
For more information or a pdf copy of the RFP contact

The Union College Green Fee - $25,000 is available for a project that will measurably reduce Union's carbon footprint. 

 $25,000 available to a student(s) proposal which will measurably reduce Union College's carbon footprint. Proposals are assessed for creativity, uniqueness & reduction of the carbon footprint. Projects should not only reduce Union's Carbon Footprint, but also make a statement on campus that Union as a community is moving towards a carbon-free future. 

Proposals must be submitted by fully matriculated undergraduate students but collaboration with faculty & staff is strongly encouraged.

Contact Lucas Comstock: for more information or pdf version of RFP.

DUE DATE: FRIDAY NOVEMBER 1st, 2013  at midnight

Guidelines and application form: to print, save image (forms) on your computer