My Service Story: Capital Area Food Bank

Freshman Katie Bemb shares her experience at Capital Area Food Bank. 

During the first semester of Public Leadership Scholars, we were set up with various organizations for our service projects, depending on the social issue that we preferenced. My group chose to work with Capital Area Food Bank, which helps over 540,000 people get food every year. CAFB packs and distributes 42 million pounds of food per year, which equates to about 35 million meals.

The donations that CAFB receives are stored in their enormous warehouse until volunteers are able to sort and package the food for distribution. At the end of every volunteer shift, the manager tells you how many pounds of food you’ve packaged. During our first time there, we packed 6,000 pounds of beverages. Our second time volunteering, we helped pack 22,800 pounds of various meats. Both times, we left CAFB feeling exhausted, but also fulfilled.

What makes CAFB so unique is their partnerships with several grocery stores, who they channel most of their donations from. Giant Food Stores, in particular, will send tons of boxes filled with food to CAFB so that they can distribute it to those in need. This kind of partnership is essential, because otherwise, grocery stores trash the food that they do not sell (Or think that they cannot sell).

Are you interested in helping Capital Area Food Bank combat the issues of food waste and food insecurity? CAFB accepts volunteers every day of the week and is metro-accessible. Three people can pack at least 15,000 pounds of food in a morning. You can make a difference with CAFB, just like we were able to. Sign up to volunteer here:


Trash-tudo, anyone?

A “canstruction” project spearheaded by a first-year sustainable agriculture major resulted in this model of Testudo, UMD’s iconic mascot, made entirely out of canned food. The statue is visually appealing, but more importantly, it draws attention to the UMD Campus Pantry.

What do you think, Scholars? Our challenge to you this spring semester: come up with a similarly designed Trash-tudo. Maybe it can connect to a charity, too? And be displayed prominently on campus or in the Cambridge Community? One google image search for “trash art” will give you plenty of ideas.

UMD student’s canned-food Testudo statue will help out Campus Pantry [Diamondback]

Up the Waste Stream

Kate Richard, sustainability associate in the Office of Sustainability and in Dining Services, takes us on a journey through the waste stream and shares some insight about the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle.” Kate works on a range of campus sustainability programs. She graduated from the University of Maryland in 2013 with degrees in environmental science and policy and English.

You’ve just finished your lunch at Stamp. The three bins can be confusing, but you’ve mastered tri-sorting. Drink bottle in the recycling; napkin, plate, and food waste in the compost – all that goes into the trash is your fork. It looks like it’s almost a zero waste meal, but the waste that we see represents only a tiny fraction of the waste generated when any product is made. One garbage can-worth of waste you generate in your home generates 70 garbage cans upstream.[1]

Upstream waste is all of the waste related to extracting materials, producing or manufacturing the product, and transporting the product. The waste that we see – packaging, recyclables, etc. – is downstream waste. To stick with the upstream and downstream language, imagine a river that flows down the side of a mountain. At the top of the mountain is a factory that dumps polluted water into the river. Those substances float down the river, all the way to the bottom of the mountain. At the base of the mountain, a community works to eliminate the pollution in their stretch of river. This work is important, and it improves the environment in that community. But the larger pollution problem still remains, and the rest of the river continues to be polluted.

Continue Reading…

Students React to “Home(town) Security”

Scholars kicked off the “Trash Talks” lecture series on Wednesday, September 30 with a brilliant lecture by Majora Carter about transforming low-status communities through development strategies that are environmentally friendly and economically innovative.

Carter offered insight from her Sustainable South Bronx project, which revitalized her native New York City neighborhood through a combination of green job training, community greening programs, and social enterprise.

Three students in the College Park Scholars Environment, Technology, and Economy program react to Carter’s message about how communities treated as trash could be transformed through grassroots efforts to create genuine “Home(town) Security.”

With the permission of the students, the three excerpts have been extracted from reflection papers written after the event.

Continue Reading…

‘Tis the season for giving back (your smartphone)

Photo: One household’s e-waste. Assistant Director Erin Chrapaty’s personal technology graveyard. 

The sudden abundance of pumpkin spice isn’t the only indication that fall is upon us. If you’re like me, you’ve grown used to a tech-related signpost: Apple’s annual release of new electronic devices, all designed for better, faster (if rarely cheaper) text messaging and cat video viewing.

With the media blitz and inevitable tech-envy, our collective electronic waste graveyard grows larger. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, almost 2.4 million tons of electronics were disposed of in 2009, up more than 120 percent from 1999.  The real bummer is that a measly 25 percent were collected for recycling.

As we let old phones and tablets, computers and laptops sit tucked away in a drawer or closet, new metals using tons of fossil fuels are being mined when they could be recovered through recycling. The EPA says that for every million cell phones we recycle, 35 thousand pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered.

So where do you take your old stuff? Turns out pretty much anywhere. Just be sure to wipe your devices clean before parting ways. So go ahead, put that new tech toy on your wish list – and recycle your old one(s). Here’s how.

Give back to retailers (for a reward?)
Big box retailers like Best Buy will take them off your hands, and Staples might even give you a gift card reward. The EPA has the details.

Sell back to carriers
If you’re eyeing that upgrade this holiday season, see how your carrier or manufacturer might offer to buy back your current device.

Donate to soldiers
In 2004, a couple of really smart (and kind!) tweens started a nonprofit that donates smartphones and tablets to soldiers. Join them.

More: Watch Terra Blight with Scholars
Scholars will host a screening of Terra Blight this spring as part of our Trash Talks series. This feature-length documentary explores America’s obsession with the latest technology and waste we create.

Techno Trash Repurposed at Mallows Bay

Photo of the Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay via

Guest Post by Sajni Patel. On September 20, 14 students in the Scholars Science, Technology and Society program went kayaking in Mallows Bay, which is on the Maryland side of the Potomac River in Charles County, MD. Sajni is a freshman from Chantilly, VA who plans to double major in marketing and psychology but joined STS because she wanted to be involved in science, technology, and research. Sajni says that she loves Scholars because, “It gives me the benefits of a smaller community in an otherwise huge school.” 

From a distance, Mallows Bay appeared to be just another lake or pond, scattered with algae and green shrubbery emerging from small islands of random debris. But when I got closer, when I hopped in a kayak and started paddling through the bay, I noticed that the debris wasn’t just any regular, abandoned waste—instead, it was the remnants of decades-old, abandoned ships.

Exploring this graveyard of ships with my STS field trip group was a memorable experience filled with both amazing and frustrating moments. Because it was a windy day, propelling the kayak through the waves was difficult and even exhausting at times. On top of that, being a beginner, I almost flipped my kayak, and at one point was soaked with grimy bay water. However, when I finally reached the shipwrecks, the struggle was absolutely worth it. The sight of the ship relics had an almost haunting beauty. The rusted metal spikes and the tall, decomposing wooden hulls were surrounded by silence. This shallow bay gave me shivers, and I imagined that it undoubtedly had a notable history that was completely unfamiliar to me.

During World War I, President Woodrow Wilson had a tall order to fill for his British allies; he needed 1,000 ships in a record time of 18 months. To complete this task, President Wilson approved the greatest shipbuilding project of the time—the construction of 1,000 wooden ships, to be paid for in American tax dollars. However, this huge project soon became a huge failure, and the United States was only able to build around 290 inadequate ships, most completed too late to be used in the war. Initially, the useless ships were docked in the James River, at an expensive cost of $50,000 per month. So, after World War I, the United States government sold the ships to be scrapped to a company called Western Marine & Salvage Company (WMSC). WMSC failed to finish scrapping the ships due to many issues: protests from concerned citizens and especially watermen, costs of relocating, and the Great Depression. Eventually, WMSC went bankrupt and was forced to abandon the remaining 170 ships at Mallows Bay in 1924.

Over a decade later, at the onset of WWII, the US government, foreseeing metal shortages, called upon Bethlehem Steel to collect scrap metal from the Mallows Bay ship remnants because the price of metals had skyrocketed. However, the project proved too expensive, as the salvaged metal failed to cover the cost of the process. So Bethlehem Steel terminated the project and over 100 ship hulls remained in Mallows Bay.

Thinking about the history of Mallows Bay, I realized what I had come on this field trip to learn about. I realized that technology and its impacts and future depend a great deal on society and social and economic circumstances. In the case of the ships still lurking between the waves at Mallows Bay, technology was created for an urgent societal issue—World War I. However, when the ships, the technology, weren’t efficiently built, the need for them diminished, and they went from being touted as an essential component of a war effort to useless in the span of several years. However, over the next 20 years, societal circumstances shifted to make the metal scraps of the ships valuable again. Specifically, when WWII changed the US economy, demand for metal parts increased, and Bethlehem Steel invested in the ships. So why didn’t WMSC or Bethlehem Steel finish selling the parts? The answer has almost nothing to do with the ships themselves, and everything to do with an interaction among science, technology and society.

In the 1920s, WMSC experienced a great financial loss when local protests about water quality and damage to fisheries in the James River caused them to relocate the ships to Mallows Bay and eventually cease their project all together. The watermen of the area refused to let WMSC destroy an ecosystem that would hurt their fishing and boating industries. So, a clash of environmental science, society, and technology led to the ships being brought to Mallows Bay. But even here, the watermen and other local citizens did not approve of the ships being torched and scrapped in the bay; and this, along with the huge societal and economic downturn during the Great Depression, caused the scrapping project to be ceased.

When Bethlehem Steel took over, it was faced with the constraints of other technology and costs. It didn’t have the technology to salvage the metal scraps in a cost-efficient way. Scrapping the ships would have created a significant loss of money for the company—economically, Bethlehem Steel could not have taken advantage of the metals left in Mallows Bay.

Though I understood that unfortunately (for the scrapping companies), many environmental and economic concerns in society prevented technology from being recycled, my experience at Mallows Bay caused me to realize that that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I think it benefitted society by creating a place that is currently teeming with greenery and wildlife, and is a beautiful, rare place where history can truly be observed. After WWII, people began to rethink the “Ghost Fleet.” Locals realized that it might ironically hold environmental benefits and began advocating for its protection. It’s not an area that I would want to be ruined. So thankfully, because of the influence of science and society on technology, Mallows Bay remains protected and undisturbed, a picturesque place where anyone can go kayak and connect with the history that it reveals.

For historical background on the ghost fleet of Mallows Bay, this post is indebted to marine archaeologist and historian Donald Shomette’s detailed account, accessible here.

Scrap Economics

Image and caption credit: Lexey Swall/For the Washington Post.

Image and caption credit: Lexey Swall/For the Washington Post. Trucks offload scrap at Joseph Smith & Sons recycling center in Capitol Heights, Md.

On my way to and from campus, I ride by a metal scrapyard (the scenic view, n’est ce pas?). Without getting close enough to read, it’s not hard to tell that a sign on the gate has to do with licensing and fraud (among the icons and logos, McGruff the Crime Dog). It hadn’t occurred to me that black market trade in used metal might find its way here, a block off a busy suburban avenue. Dark alley exchanges of copper pipes and cables seemed more like it. Nevertheless, the sign cued up questions of how the industry works.

Typically, any vehicles coming in or out or parked in the lot are conventional enough work trucks, some heavier than others, probably delivering from demolition sites. I’ve also seen individuals pushing shopping carts overloaded with cans and other small pieces of scrap roll in, so there’s variety in the modes and means of collection.

This weekend, you might have seen the Washington Post Magazine piece on two guys whose scrap business rides a precarious edge between commercial boom and bust, between reliable equipment and dying pickups, between stable employment and fluctuating profits. Continue Reading…

Home(town) Security with Majora Carter

And we’re off! Scholars kicked off the “Trash Talks” lecture series last night with a brilliant lecture by Majora Carter about transforming low-status communities through development strategies that are environmentally friendly and economically innovative. She offered insight from her Sustainable South Bronx project, which revitalized her native New York City neighborhood through a combination of green job training, community greening programs, and social enterprise. She also talked about some of her more recent work as co-founder of StartUp Box #SouthBronx, which aims to bridge the production side of the digital divide by encouraging diverse participation in the knowledge economy through entry-level jobs in, for example, quality assurance testing.

Carter spoke to a rapt audience of over 400 people, many of whom were Scholars students eager to hear how communities too often treated as trash could be transformed through grassroots efforts to create genuine “Home(town) Security.” Scholars Talks Trash will offer more detailed reflections on the event and Carter’s message soon. In the meantime, here are a few photos that convey some of the excitement generated by our first “Trash Talks” speaker. Enjoy!

From Trash to Table

A student working on the Scholars communications team was recently catching me up on her time spent studying abroad in Copenhagen. Among her tales of city architecture and countryside bike rides, she mentioned that her host family had the most surprising habit. They saved ALL of their food.

The family kept scraps and leftovers for add-ons in other meals or waited to accumulate enough to invent something new entirely. It got me thinking. Sure, I’ll stash a few leftovers in the fridge to reheat, but could I be stretching my food a little farther? Or helping to put food on someone else’s table?

The answer is a resounding yes. Continue Reading…

My “Garbology”

Or, Thirty-One Years of Banana Peels

I stood in the kitchen on a recent morning, my hand frozen in mid-toss over the wastebasket. I paused for a guilty moment, unable to let go of the remnants of breakfast. Weird, right? For more than thirty-one years, my partner and I have begun almost every day by sharing a banana as part of our commitment to eating a reasonably healthy breakfast. (Potassium is your friend, readers. Have a banana!) For more than thirty-one years, I have tossed the peels into the garbage without giving it a second thought. Banana peels can’t go down the garbage disposal, so, you know, in the bag they go.

On this particular morning, however, I hesitated, suddenly self-conscious and uneasy about the habit of a lifetime. On this morning, I stood in the kitchen, banana peel in hand, unable to stop thinking about — guacamole.

Hang in there. I swear this is about to make sense. Continue Reading…