Soil Conservation News and Tips
from Please Conserve

New Pen Consists of Mostly Biodegradeable Components

Newell Rubbermaid has announced that its Paper Mate brand is bringing innovation to the everyday writing experience and helping consumers go green with the introduction of Paper Mate Biodegradable, the first widely available line of pens and mechanical pencils made with a majority of biodegradable components, which break down in soil/home compost in about a year.

“The Paper Mate Biodegradable pen and pencil were developed based on insights that consumers desire simple, affordable ways to incorporate greener practices into everyday activities at school, home or the office,” says Bill Mullenix, president of Newell Rubbermaid’s Everyday Writing global business unit. “This is the first line of biodegradable writing instruments to be widely available to consumers globally. By offering a unique combination of performance and affordability, we’re making it easy for consumers to be greener.”

The Paper Mate Biodegradable line is the latest demonstration of Paper Mate’s ongoing commitment to the environment. In 2009, the brand launched a line of products made from recycled sources, including the Earth Write Recycled Pencil made from 100 percent recycled wood and Paper Mate Write Bros. Recycled Ball Point Pen made from 80 percent recycled material.

Additionally, Newell Rubbermaid Office Products brands are partnering with TerraCycle, the upcycling company that finds new ways to use items that would otherwise be thrown away, to create the world’s first program to collect and reuse or recycle pens, markers and other writing instruments.

Paper Mate Biodegradable products look and feel like conventional plastic, but their compostable components are a bio-plastic made from plant-derived sugar, an annually renewable resource. When disassembled and placed in yard soil or home compost, they decompose in about a year, increasing compost and reducing waste. Additionally, the products are packaged in 100-percent PVC-free recyclable material.

Farmers Come to Forefront of Conservation

At first glance, one would think that the Midwest, home to so much farmland, would naturally be in the forefront of “green” initiatives. After all, that farmland is producing a major share of the nation’s food. And the farmers who own that land are surely setting the best examples of how to be green – because that is what their life work is all about.

But the truth of the matter is this: Farmers who own several hundred acres of property may be using only a portion of that land to produce agricultural commodities. Some may be using a great portion of their land for production, but not doing it in a way that preserves or protects nature.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has stepped in with federal programs that provide incentives for working farms to also be working to conserve by introducing the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). CRP is a voluntary program for agricultural landowners, which provides annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to establish long-term, resource-conserving covers on eligible farmland.

The USDA’s Farm Service Agency reports that CRP protects millions of acres of American topsoil from erosion, thus keeping the nation’s natural resources safe. By reducing water runoff and sedimentation, CRP protects groundwater and helps improve the condition of lakes, rivers, ponds and streams. Acreage enrolled in the CRP is planted with resource-conserving vegetative covers, making the program a major contributor to increased wildlife populations in many parts of the country.

Another facet of the program is called the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), which is a voluntary land retirement program that helps farmers protect environmentally sensitive land, decrease erosion, restore wildlife habitat, and safeguard ground and surface water. CREP tends to be a community-based effort under local leadership that addresses local and national conservation issues – impacts to water supplies, loss of critical habitat for threatened and endangered wildlife species, soil erosion, and reduced habitat for fish populations such as salmon.

As an example of these federal programs in action, the Illinois Farm Bureau reported that a Peoria County farmer has 320 of his 700 acres devoted to soil and water protection, animal habitat, and prairie conservation. This farm is a showcase for visitors, providing an education in viewing prairie grasses, wildflowers, woodlands and wetlands. The farm also features a system of dams, terraces, waterways and grass filter strips that capture potential pollutants from water before they reach streams or rivers.

As more farmers understand that CRP reimburses those who remove environmentally sensitive cropland from production and foster wildlife habitat, more farms will become living “classrooms” for conservation and the protection of our planet.

Keystone Farmers Have Extra Incentive to Grow Green

In Pennsylvania, making the transition to more sustainable methods of food production has become more financially sustainable. For the second year in a row, the state will offer substantial monetary incentives for those farmers making the switch.
Pennsylvania farmers moving to organic agriculture or those who are certified organic have the opportunity to receive assistance for applying conservation practices through the state’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program organic initiative.

The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Pennsylvania has set aside $760,000 to support organic agriculture. Approved applicants may be eligible to receive up to $20,000 per year, totaling up to $80,000 over six years.

The EQIP organic initiative is designed to provide financial assistance in the form of payments of 75 percent of the average cost of a conservation practice, or 90 percent of the average cost of a conservation practice if the producer is in a traditionally underserved group, such as limited resource, beginning or minority farmers.

Technical and financial assistance is available for a large number of conservation practices. Core practices that receive additional consideration as part of the application evaluation process include conservation crop rotation, cover crop, prescribed grazing, nutrient and pest management, conservation cover, field border, riparian herbaceous cover, riparian forested buffer and windbreaks.

“Through the EQIP organic initiative, organic producers or producers transitioning to organic have a unique opportunity to receive assistance. By separating these producers into a special group, organic initiative applicants only compete with other organic producers for funding,” says Dave Brown, NRCS state conservationist. “There is also a general EQIP funding pool from which all eligible agricultural producers can apply. However, these applicants compete on a wider scale for funding, often against all other producers in a multi-county region or the entire state.”

For more information about EQIP or to apply, go to or contact the local USDA service center.

Coastline Preservation

Living in the Chicago, the only erosion I tend to worry about is the kind that results in decaying roadways, ergo creating construction zones and traffic jams that cause me to lose hours of my life stuck in traffic. I hear about erosion problems in the plains; about dust storms and flat, dry land that’s left unprotected from elements that sweep it away. Occasionally, I visit a relative’s home on Lake Michigan and notice the subtle wearing-away of the giant bluffs lining the shores.  This prompts me to think more about people who actually face the threats of erosion on a daily basis.

Although the farmers in the plains of the Midwest go to great lengths to prevent harmful erosion in their fields, it is the inhabitants of the oceanic coastlines that really make me wonder. My brother lived in the Florida Keys where, in some spots, the land is only inches above sea level. Oceanside dwellers are repeatedly blasted with hurricane winds and waves that flood their shores and quickly overtake their homes and businesses. Having so little land to begin, they cannot afford to lose any more ground to erosion.

According to the National Weather Center, the U.S. endured 273 hurricanes from 1851-2004, 92 of which were classified 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale. In 1992 Hurricane Andrew ravished through the Florida leaving an unprecedented path of destruction, and in 2005 Hurricane Katrina showed us how hellacious mother nature can be.

In Katrina, Louisiana learned how delicate their land was as it was swept away at hurricane force. The sudden deluge submerged miles and miles of land where homes, schools and businesses were built. People who had never questioned the stability of their homes were overcome as their foundations literally washed away from beneath their feet.

The devastation of a natural disaster can truly destroy the very basis of our lives. Whether its something small like a decaying roadway or a diminishing shoreline or something drastic like the erosion in the plains or a hurricane-ravished coast, the natural erosion of our land is a serious problem. Whether you recognize it or not, the earth is our foundation and, although we treat it as though it can take anything, it is a precarious element and we must be careful to conserve it.

Gardening…Not So Green

It is one of the greenest industries but also one of the most un-eco-friendly. How is this possible? Welcome to the world of gardening. Designed to enrich one’s surroundings with plants and trees, in reality, this industry has some of the most harmful environmental practices. An article by the Chicago Tribune titled “Push is on to green up the gardening industry” reveals how plastic is being thrown away and not recycled at gardening centers and at the homes of consumers who purchase from them.

Plastic is the problem. Most flowers and other plants come in plastic trays, pots, and flats that do not indicate they are recyclable and that most garden centers will not take back to recycle. The article features the stories of many frustrated gardeners who have been turned down at the door when they asked the stores to recycle. Unable to recycle, they were forced to throw the plastic away. This last-resort practice contributes to millions of plastic pots accumulating in landfills, never to be reincarnated.

The reason for this mass exodus of plastic? Simply, cost. Plastic pots are cheap to produce, cheap to ship, and easy to store and display. But with millions of flowers being bought and planted each other, tons of plastic is being wasted.

In order to mitigate this waste, consumers are urging gardening centers to recycle. And this may be happening quicker than expected. With rising oil prices and the threat of a diminishing supply of oil in the horizon, it is in the best interest of the gardening industry as well as other businesses to implement recycling programs to help offset costs and waste. Besides recycling, representatives of the Illinois Green Industry Association are pushing for a biodegradable pot that can disintegrate in soil. It may be a while before this idea is put into practice, so for right now recycling is the best option. The time has come for each industry to be scrutinized for its polluting practices, no matter how ‘green’ they claim to be.

Up On the Roof

Green is the new black. And I am not talking about this fall’s Gucci collection. Green is the new ‘it color’ of roofs, which are beginning to sprout all over the country. An article from the Baltimore Sun from July 31, 2009, describes how companies, public institutions, and even home owners are turning their bland black rooftops into serene refuges with the help of some foliage. The city of Baltimore has already turned 150,000 square feet of root top into green top, including places such as the city hospital and a gas station.

Although a roof seems like the last place you would turn to plant a garden, the logic is pretty rational. It’s an already existing part of your home, so why not spruce it up? Doing so, you will be seeing green. Literally. Green roofs can help cut utility costs as well as grocery bills. Because plants on the roof take up the sunshine, less is heat is absorbed by the construction, keeping the house cool. Various food-producing plants can also be planted, reducing the need to frequent the grocery store. Many cities also offer tax incentives to individuals who implement these roofs, meaning more moolah in your wallet.

But that’s not all. These roofs offer benefits that elicit a ‘Hallelujah’ from Mother Nature. They reduce storm water because the majority of rainfall ends up in the plants and not the streets. Also the plants and trees produce take up carbon dioxide, improving air quality.

Overall, green roofs are eco-friendly, wallet-friendly, and just plain nicer to look at than standard black or brown shingles. So when it comes to roofs, it’s time wake up and smell the green.

A Lesson Learned About Soil

While surfing the web, I came across and interesting article on the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) website – a site specializing in water and soil conservation. In an effort to learn more about these issues, I perused some of the links and I found one that worked particularly well for me. The link was titled “Helping People Understand Soils.” I know, I thought it was for kids at first, too. But, after reading through its ten key messages, I found that, although stated simply, this article contains lessons for anyone. So, here’s what it said (in a nutshell):

Lesson #1: Soils perform vital functions. They sustain plant and animal life below and above the surface. Soils regulate and partition water and solute flow. They filter, buffer, degrade, immobilize and detoxify. Soils store and cycle nutrients and they provide support to structures.

Lesson #2: Soil is the basis of the ecosystem. The living systems occurring above and below the ground surface are determined by the properties of the soil. We often ignore the soil because it is hard to observe.

Lesson #3: Soils Support Life. Organisms like bacteria, fungi, earthworms and more live in the soil and perform important roles in decomposition, release of nutrients, creating pores and stabilizing soils.

Lesson #4: Soil management affects soil quality.

Lesson #5: Soils have unique physical, chemical and biological properties that are important to their users.Traits like color, texture, structure, consistency, roots and pores all all important soil characteristics. Soil is a natural body of solids, liquids and gases with either horizons or layers or the ability to support rooted plants.

Lesson #6: Soil-forming factors determine the location and type of soil. Factors that affect soil formation include parent material, climate, living organisms, topography and time. Within the United States there are 23,000 soil series in various combinations with different slopes and surface textures.

Lesson #7: Soil Survey is a scientifically-based inventory. A soil survey includes maps, descriptions, properties, climate and interpretations. About 3,000 counties in the U.S. have a soil survey.

Lesson #8: Soils have limitations which must be understood. Soil related problems include corrosivity, flooding, rapid runoff, septic failure, soil born disease, contamination, crop loss, erosion, slope failures and much more.

Lesson #9: Just like plants and animals, soils are classified with scientific names using Soil Taxonomy – the highest level is Soil Order and the lowest is Soil Series.


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