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Birds Love Native Trees

Illustration: birds flying around tree with fall colorsNative trees — species that are native to a particular geographic area — help protect water quality through their deep, well-adapted root systems that naturally increase the ability of soil to absorb, treat and retain water. These trees are also essential for supporting our region’s diverse bird populations. Native trees produce more insect prey for birds than non-natives ― and 96 percent  of birds raise their young on insects. They are crucial to preserving habitats, and can support 35 times more insect-eating birds than non-natives. Ever-increasing population density in cities makes it more important to consider the impacts of the built environment on wildlife habitats. To promote avian biodiversity, urban areas must be suitable for both humans and wildlife.


Trees that birds love:

The following native trees attract both birds and beneficial insects in our region. Images and information used with permission from the GrowNative! program.

Downy Hawthorn, Crataegus mollis
Roughleaf Dogwood, Cornus asperifolia
Wild Plum - Prunus Americana
Sassafras, Sassafras albidum
Shingle Oak Quercus imbricaria

Because local insects did not evolve with non-native trees and plants, many lack the ability to overcome a non-native tree’s natural defenses and must feed elsewhere. Caterpillars, a fundamental food source for breeding birds, are one of the most specialized groups — over 90 percent of butterfly and moth larvae feed exclusively on certain plants. Currently, more than 80 percent of suburban areas are landscaped with Asian flora, leaving a food-barren environment for birds looking to find nourishment. When non-native trees replace native species, entire food webs can be disturbed by loss of adapted insects, wiping out sustenance for birds.

A study conducted through Smithsonian’s Neighborhood Nestwatch program found birds are more likely to build nests in yards dominated by native trees, and will fly farther to find grub if nest locations are not ideal. Although humans may find non-natives exotic and alluring choices for their landscapes, such choices can decrease birds’ survival and fitness, as many lack nutrient-dense seeds and fruit and may lure birds toward predators. Research by ecologist Amanda Rodewald found that chickadees nesting in invasive honeysuckle reared 20 percent fewer young due to increased predation during the breeding season. Non-native trees can be destructive to bird populations by disrupting natural selection.

Help protect habitats that allow birds to flourish by landscaping your yard with native trees. Birds, insects and many other species will thank you!

Visit the MARC Water Quality native plants page for more about native trees, including some that display fall color. »

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Invest in “Black Gold” by Composting

Compost, or “black gold” as gardeners sometimes call it, is a decayed mixture of plant waste that is used to improve soil. You can make compost from yard waste, food waste or both. As a natural fertilizer, it is one of the best investments you can make for the health and beauty of your yard and garden. It’s also a great way to reduce food and yard waste, which comprise approximately 20–30 percent of your household waste stream.

Compost has many benefits:

  • It enriches the soil, helping retain moisture and suppress plant diseases and pests.
  • It reduces the need for chemical fertilizers.
  • Composting waste instead of throwing it in the trash reduces methane emissions from landfills.
  • It lowers our carbon footprint.
  • It encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich nutrient-filled material.

food waste turns to compost

Your compost investment strategy

Option A: Set up a backyard compost bin

If you have a yard, select a dry, shady, or partly shady spot near a water source and preferably out of neighbors’ sight. Ideally, the compost area should be at least one cubic yard in size. A pile works great for just leaves and grass clippings, but if you want to incorporate food waste, you’ll need to use a bin to prevent rodents and pets from invading.

You can build your own bin or purchase one online or at retail locations. You’ll also need a small kitchen compost bin where you can collect and store food waste before taking it to your backyard pile.

There are four types of ingredients needed to make great compost: browns for carbon, greens for nitrogen, air for organisms, and water for moisture. Visit What is composting? for a list of items you can and can’t compost and tips for mixing it right.

Option B: Set up an indoor compost bin

If you don’t have a yard, or would prefer not to set up an outdoor bin, there are two options for indoor composting: vermicomposting and bokashi composting. Vermicomposting uses earthworms to convert food waste into compost. Bokashi composting involves fermenting food waste. If you don’t have an outdoor space to use your compost, use it for houseplants, give it to friends and family members, or contact a nearby community garden.

Option C: Mulch your grass and leaves

The best food for your lawn is grass clippings and leaves. When you mow your yard, mulch the grass clippings and leaves instead of collecting them for disposal. When done properly, the mulch will quickly decompose and return nutrients to the soil naturally. Visit What is composting? for mulching tips.

Option D: Send it off-site

If you suffer from the “ick factor,” you can take your food scraps to Kansas City’s Residential Composting Program at URBAVORE and they’ll compost it for you.

You can take lawn and garden refuse to a community collection center. Some yard waste drop-off facilities also offer residents opportunities to buy mulch or compost at low cost. Search RecycleSpot to find a center near you.

A number of communities offer curbside yard waste collection in addition to regular trash and recycling services. Search by community in RecycleSpot to see if your city is one of them (and call to verify). If you don’t have municipal leaf and brush curbside collection, look for a private company that collects and manages lawn refuse. RecycleSpot includes a list of many providers; contact them to inquire about costs and procedures.

For more information on recycling, visit RecycleSpot, the Kansas City metro area’s one-stop spot for recycling, reuse and waste reduction information.

 

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Keep kids safe this summer with air-friendly activities

It’s summertime and that means kids should be outside soaking up the sun. We want them to breathe easy while the living is easy, so here are a few activities that help improve air quality and some to try when it’s not as good:

AIR-FRIENDLY OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES

  • Ride a bike. Biking is practically a rite of passage for kids, and it doesn’t produce the same harmful emissions as driving. It’s also a fun way to travel and an excellent source of exercise. The Kansas City metro area has a number of great bike trails for you and your children to try.
  • Spend time at a summer camp with an environmental focus. Kansas City has a lot of camps that incorporate environmental stewardship within various areas of interests like science, performing arts and sports. Talk with counselors ahead of time to encourage them to check the SkyCast before outdoor activities.
  • Volunteer with an organization that helps the environment, like a sustainability group. For example, Bridging The Gap helps air quality by planting trees and restoring natural prairies in the Greater Kansas City region. Volunteering is a great way to give back to your community and it teaches your children responsibility and compassion.

INDOOR ACTIVITIES FOR OZONE ALERT DAYS

  • Discover the artist within by doing some arts and crafts. Your kids can draw, paint, sculpt or create hundreds of other projects all within the comfort of their own home when the air quality is poor. If you don’t want the mess at your house, Kansas City has several art studios where your children can go. Grab a play date and carpool there!

We want you and your children to enjoy your summer so be sure to always check the SkyCast before doing any outdoor activity.

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Breathe easy during outdoor summer activities

Summer is almost here and with it comes more fun in the sun. Outdoor activities are a great way to be active and stay healthy. However, the air you breathe could negatively impact your health when ozone levels are high, especially if you have asthma or other respiratory conditions. Here are a few ways you can protect yourself when you’re outdoors:

  • Always check the SkyCast before being outdoors for an extended period of time. It will tell you what the air quality is predicted to be each day. Sign up for alerts via email or text message, or follow MARC Air Quality on Facebook or Twitter.
  • Plan ahead when exercising outdoors. If the SkyCast calls for elevated ground-level ozone, consider an indoor activity. If you do choose to go out, do so during the cooler parts of the day — before 10 a.m. or after 7 p.m. Poor air quality typically occurs during the hottest part of the day, when conditions are right for ozone to form.
  • Limit vigorous outdoor activity during an ozone alert. The harder you exercise the more air you need. If ozone levels are high, you are consuming poor air at a rapid rate. Try walking instead of jogging or yoga instead of lifting weights.
  • Listen to your body. Regardless of whether air quality is good or poor, your body knows when it needs hydration or a break.
  • Buddy up with a partner or a group to watch one another for any health problems. Sometimes someone else will notice a problem before you feel it.

We want you to be safe when engaging in any physical activity. Be sure to follow your doctor’s advice and carry any necessary medication with you, such as an inhaler. And don’t forget to take small steps to help take care of our air!

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Celebrating Trees beyond Arbor Days

Photo of three teenagers watering newly planted trees

As petals from blooms speckle the pavement after spring showers, trees catch our eyes and our attention. But after the rich purples, deep reds and bright yellows have disappeared from our daily surroundings, will we continue to notice our trees, and think of all that they do for us? In both urban and rural areas, trees contribute significantly to human health and environmental quality by providing various ecosystem services (i.e., the conditions and processes through which natural ecosystems, and the species that make them up, sustain and fulfill human life).

National Arbor Day is observed on the last Friday in April. The state of Kansas will observe the holiday on April 24, 2015, while Missouri’s Arbor Day is April 3.

Local events

April 4 — Annual Sapling Giveaway at Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens,
Overland Park, Kansas

April 18 — KC Parks Arbor Day event at Loose Park, 5200 Wornall, Kansas City, Missouri

April 24 —Arbor Day Celebration at Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens,
Overland Park, Kansas

April 24 — Arbor Day Celebration at Overland Park City Hall, 8500 Santa Fe Drive, Overland Park, Kansas

April 25 — Earth Day/Arbor Day Celebration Gardner Greenway Corridor – Madison Street, Gardner, Kansas

 

The Missouri Department of Conservation encourages residents to plant native trees. (See the tree selection and planting guide on the Missouri Department of Conservation website.) A state proclamation notes that trees are an integral part of Missouri’s quality of life:

  • Forests cover nearly one-third of the state.
  • Forests provide outdoor recreation, wildlife habitat, natural beauty, and watersheds for streams and rivers.
  • Forests provide employment for more than 33,000 people who convert trees into essential products.
  • Forests contribute beauty and shade to urban, suburban and rural areas while creating a more pleasant and healthful environment.
  • Missouri will continue to benefit from its forests for succeeding generations through tree planting and conservation.

 

“Assessing Urban Forest Effects and Values: the Greater Kansas City Region,” published by the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, lists a variety of ways that the MARC region benefits from its forests, including:

  • Water Quality: Tree coverage helps reduce total suspended solids found in streamways by natural filtration and reduces the amount of carbon in the atmosphere by sequestering carbon in new growth every year.
  • Air Quality: The urban forest improves air quality by reducing air temperature, directly removing air pollutants and reducing energy consumption in buildings (meaning less emissions generated from power sources.)
  • Stormwater Management: Increasing tree cover reduces stormwater drainage from both pervious and impervious areas.
  • Energy Conservation: Trees help conserve energy by shading buildings, providing evaporative cooling and blocking winter winds.
  • Carbon Removal/Storage: Trees in the Kansas City metro remove about 1 million tons of carbon per year (valued at $20.7 million) in addition to storing 19.9 million tons of carbon (valued at $411 million).

Remove 1 million more tons of air pollution each year. The study also found that increasing our tree cover by just 10 percent would:

  • Remove 3.1 million tons more VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions each year.
  • Sequester 9.4 million more tons of carbon each year.
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Congratulations to our 2015 SWMD grantees!

One of the most important things the MARC Solid Waste Management District (SWMD) does is provide financial support to organizations in our region for projects that reduce the amount of material we send to landfills. The district receives funding every year from the fees collected from the state’s landfills and transfer stations. Half of that amount is used to fund local waste reduction, reuse and recycling projects through a grant program.

We are very proud of our 2015 group of grant recipients and excited about their projects. The district could not accomplish its waste diversion goals without our grantees!

The 2015 grant projects are:

  • Avenue of Life: $203,492 to support the second year of a regional mattress recycling program.
  • Bridging The Gap: $79,740 to provide one-on-one consultations and assistance to businesses interested in starting new or expanding existing recycling programs.
  • City of Kearney: $5,700 to purchase a container to collect electronics at the Kearney Drop-off Recycling Center.
  • Kansas City Design Center: $30,000 to design a comprehensive, appealing and convenient recycling system for downtown Kansas City.
  • Meredith Car Sales & Recycling: $19,916 to purchase a trailer and hold at least 10 electronic recycling collection events in Cass County.
  • Missouri Organic: $4,000 to purchase carts and establish a paper towel composting program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus.
  • Missouri Recycling Association: $12,000 to support costs for a keynote speaker and AV equipment at the annual recycling conference scheduled for September in Kansas City.
  • Project Central: $47,044 to work with five schools to set up recycling and/or composting programs.
  • Southeast Enterprises: $12,000 to support transportation costs associated with a regional holiday light recycling program.
  • Sleepyhead Beds: $7,000 for staffing to conduct six mattress collection events and six presentations in the region north of the Missouri River. Sleepyhead Beds holds these events to collect quality used mattresses which are sanitized and provided to children in need.
  • The Rehabilitation Institute: $80,000 to collect and divert durable medical equipment from the waste stream. Equipment is then either repaired and made available for reuse, or recycled.
  • Truman Heritage Habitat for Humanity ReStore: $49,434 to provide a truck and staffing at the Lee’s Summit Resource Recovery Park to capture reusable materials before they enter the landfill.

Visit the Solid Waste Management District’s website to learn more about the grant program.

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Paper towels absorb more than spills

Without a thought, we grab a handful of paper towels to dry our hands in a public restroom or to clean up a spill in the kitchen and then we toss them in the trash. But what is the environmental cost? A lot of energy and resources go into making paper towels: harvesting the wood, processing it, bleaching it, packaging it, and transporting it — all just to reach the store! However, there is a great way to counter this resource and energy-intensive process: just say no.

papertowels-credit-SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget

In the restroom

In the old days, people used to carry cloth handkerchiefs. Today these make great paper towel substitutes. You can purchase handkerchiefs at most department stores, and a good one can last for many years. Keep one in your pocket or purse and use it when wet hands arise. If you’re worried about the dampness affecting other items, you can keep the handkerchief in a Ziploc bag between uses, or lay it out to dry on a desk. Wash handkerchiefs with the rest of your laundry.

In the kitchen

All bath towels must be retired at some point, so why not give those frayed and faded towels a second life in your kitchen? Store them in a kitchen cabinet or drawer, ready to be used the next time Junior spills his milk. Just like the hankies, these towels can go in with your laundry and serve many years as a greener, quicker picker-upper.

If all else fails, compost!

If you do end up using paper towels, they can be disposed of in your compost bin instead of the trash. Find information on composting at home on the MARC website.

For more information on waste reduction and recycling, visit RecycleSpot.org or call (816) 474-4326.

 

photo credit: SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget via photopin cc
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Real vs. artificial holiday trees: which is the greener choice?

By Matt Riggs, Solid Waste Management District outreach coordinator

christmas-tree-227014_1280Every holiday season we hear the same question: is it better for the environment to buy a real tree or an artificial tree? Currently, of all the American households displaying trees, 80 percent are artificial trees and 20 percent are real.

A recent study — sponsored by the American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA) and conducted by third-party international research firm PE International — showed that purchasing either a real or artificial tree has a negligible impact on the environment. However, the study found that length of ownership, disposal method and “tree miles” can make a difference on which tree is environmentally preferable.

ACTA encourages consumers to consider five helpful tips when deciding which tree to buy this year:

  • If you buy a real tree, buy from a local farm if possible.
  • Consider “tree miles” — How far the tree had to travel to get to the store or farm, and how far you had to travel to get it.
  • Consider purchasing an artificial tree to minimize your environmental impacts if you have purchased more than nine live trees in the last nine years.
  • If you own an artificial tree, plan to use it for at least six to nine years.  If you replace an artificial tree, donate the old one instead of disposing it.
  • Properly dispose of your natural holiday tree. Find local disposal services at RecycleSpot.org!

Missouri bans the disposal of real holiday trees and greenery, just like it does other yard waste materials, and Kansas discourages the practice. Area communities, businesses and organizations offer a number of ways to recycle those trees instead of trashing them. These services divert materials from landfills while creating resources that can be used for a variety of purposes. For example, trees can be shredded into mulch that is used for trail surfaces, erosion control and landscaping, or left whole to create fish habitats in area lakes.

To ensure a pure recycling stream and protect workers and machinery, it’s very important to remove lights, decorations, plastic bags, stands, metal frames, nails and wire from trees and greenery before recycling them.

For more information on where to donate your artificial tree or recycle your real tree and greenery, visit RecycleSpot.org or call (816) 474-4326.

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Don’t waste the holidays

When you’re making your holiday to-do list, be sure to add reduce, reuse and recycle! There are many great ways to practice the three Rs — from Halloween to New Year’s Eve.

Decorating

  • Shop thrift stores or online for pre-owned décor you want; donate or sell what you don’t.
  • Take good care of your decorations so that they will last many years.
  • Make handmade decorations that are re-useable, recyclable or compostable.

BinnyDance-02-01Cards and Invitations

  • Purchase cards made from recycled content.
  • Make handmade, recyclable cards.
  • Send electronic invitations and cards.
  • Donate used cards.

Costumes

  • Make your own costume from secondhand clothes or items you already have around the house.
  • Skip the chemical-laden face paint (which can be disposed of safely through your local HHW program). Instead, make your own safe, planet-friendly makeup.

Gifts

  • Shop at thrift stores or online to find a unique used gift.
  • Give an experience! Try gift cards for food and entertainment, tickets to a show, or memberships to a museum or zoo.
  • Make a donation in someone’s name.

Gift Wrap

  • Use recyclable wrapping such as old posters, maps, paper grocery bags or the funny papers.
  • Wrap with attractive cloth, fabric ribbons or a reusable bag.
  • Use last year’s boxes, tissue paper, bows and ribbons.

Gatherings

  • Use durable tableware: dishes, cups, utensils, napkins, tablecloths, etc.
  • Recycle cans and bottles.
  • Compost food waste.

binnyLightsClean Up

  • Compost your pumpkins, gourds and poinsettias. You can also keep poinsettias as houseplants (they’ll bloom year after year).
  •  “Treecycle” your holiday tree, wreaths and garland (natural only).
  • Recycle your old or broken holiday lights.
  • Recycle packaging and cards.
  • Save boxes, tissue paper, bows and ribbons for next year.
  • Donate gently used items to charities or thrift stores.

For more information, visit RecycleSpot.org or call 816-474-8326.

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Walk tall and breathe deep

idle-free school zone

By Doug Norsby, Air Quality Planner III

The trees are changing colors and the last few days of beautiful fall weather are upon us. Take this opportunity to get out and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature before the warm glow of sunlight is replaced with the white snow and cold winter days.

As you breathe in the cool fall air, take a moment to congratulate yourself on everything you’ve done this year to help protect our air quality. By walking instead of driving, you’re doing your part to keep the air — and yourself — healthier.

Consider these tips before you step out:

  • Trade a trip. Try walking instead of driving to destinations near home such as school, church or the park. At work, try walking to lunch or a nearby business meeting.
  • Choose your shoes. Running, cross-training or walking shoes? What are the differences and how do you choose the right ones? When should you replace shoes? When is the best time to test the fit of a new shoe? The American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society has answers to all of these questions! A good fit is a critical part of enjoying your walk.
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