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  Sierra Magazine
  January/February 2004
Table of Contents
A Neighborhood Named Desire
A Fine Balance
Circling Back to the Sierra
Interview: William Greider
Old Europe’s New Ideas
Ways & Means
Let's Talk
One Small Step
Lay of the Land
Food for Thought
Good Going
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Lay of the Land

Air Wars | WWatch | Drinking Water | Bold Strokes

Bold Strokes

Bridge to the Future
On a stroll through the woods, the last thing you want to see is a bunch of trash. But in New Jersey’s Wharton State Forest, it’s trash that’s saving the trees. Researchers at Rutgers University found they could make superstrong structures out of throwaway milk, detergent, and shampoo bottles mixed with plastic food containers and utensils. When Wharton needed a new auto bridge, the 56-foot-long structure was built using 30,000 pounds of recycled plastic instead of lumber.

Playing It Safe
San Francisco has become the first city in the nation to adopt the "precautionary principle." Now, whether they’re buying new buses or deciding which pest-control measures to use on city parks, officials must consider effects on human health and natural systems. The precautionary principle will also come into play when deciding how much to invest in renewable energy. Given the overwhelming evidence that greenhouse gases contribute to climate change, for example, the new ordinance mandates that the city must get as much electricity as it can from solar and wind. The healthy choice often appears pricier than the polluting one, but San Francisco’s new rule also forces officials to factor in long-term cleanup, disposal, and health costs. When the future is taken into consideration, suddenly being safe looks like a bargain.

A Corny Idea
Agribusiness giant Cargill and chemical manufacturer Dow are not known for environmental sensitivity, so a cynic might assume that their joint venture to create a plastic-like product out of corn is only good for the bottom line. Yet the new material is good for much more. It can be thrown in the compost rather than the garbage after use. Wild Oats Markets has jumped on the "corntainer" bandwagon: At 11 of its Pacific Northwest grocery stores, customers can use the biodegradable containers for deli products and salads. Afterward, they can either compost the containers in their own backyards or return them to Wild Oats–which will recycle them into organic soil to be sold in its stores.

A Better Way to Caffeinate
In the last three years, as wholesale coffee prices tumbled nearly 50 percent, small-scale growers have borne the brunt of the decline. But a move by a couple of America’s largest coffee companies means that some farmers are now going to get a fair price, and the land will benefit, too. Prodded by its shareholders, Procter & Gamble has agreed to purchase 2 million to 3 million pounds of "fair trade" coffee a year for its Millstone specialty-coffee division. (Current prices average 52 cents a pound. Procter & Gamble will guarantee a minimum of $1.26.) According to Global Exchange, a human-rights and environmental group, getting a decent price allows farmers to remain on the land and "cultivate high-quality, environmentally sustainable coffee." After Procter & Gamble’s announcement, Kraft Foods ponied up, too, committing to purchase over 5 million pounds of environmentally friendly beans annually. —Marilyn Berlin Snell

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