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Readers: Ban Plastic Bags

ABOVE: Only 1-5% of plastic bags get recycled, which requires energy and expense

Last week readers voted in the poll and supported a ban on plastic shopping bags. Nobody has proposed such a ban but there is some support. The question is how it would play with the general St. Louis population?

Los Angeles will become the largest city in the United States to impose a plastic-bag ban, with some 7,500 affected stores and nearly 4 million residents. The city council vote, which took place Wednesday, sets in motion a months-long process including an environmental review, enactment of an ordinance, and a phase-in period that affects larger stores first, according to news reports. (Christian Science Monitor)

It’s time for St. Louis to actually take real action toward sustainability, not just have events to make it look like politicians are actually doing something meaningful.

Only 1 percent of plastic bags are recycled worldwide — about 2 percent in the U.S. — and the rest, when discarded, can persist for centuries. They can spend eternity in landfills, but that’s not always the case. “They’re so aerodynamic that even when they’re properly disposed of in a trash can they can still blow away and become litter,” says Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste. It’s as litter that plastic bags have the most baleful effect. And we’re not talking about your everyday eyesore. (Salon)

Here are the poll results from last week:

Q: Plastic shopping bags are banned in 75 jurisdictions in the US, should the City of St. Louis also ban their use?

  1. Yes 82 [59.85%]
  2. No 40 [29.2%]
  3. Maybe 9 [6.57%]
  4. Other: 4 [2.92%]
  5. Unsure/No Opinion 2 [1.46%]

The four “other” answers were:

  1. Stores should charge for bags and not give them away free.
  2. wouldn’t paper bags blow around like plastic bags?
  3. Stores should be encouraged to charge money for plastic/paper shopping bags.
  4. F*ck no, Steve. C’mon, man; what the hell is wrong with you? (I edited this to make it less offensive to some)

When stores try to do things on their own they get pushback from customers. Other than a ban cities could require stores to charge for bags. The stores would like to recoup the expense since bags aren’t free. Paper bags are heavier than plastic and thus don’t blow around as easily. A paper bag will break down quickly whereas a plastic bag takes thousands of years.

I ask that everyone keep their language here PG.

– Steve Patterson



Poll: Thoughts on Solar Panels In Historic Neighborhoods?

ABOVE: Bastille on Russel in Soulard

An interesting debate about solar panels in historic neighborhoods was in the news lately:

Bob Hiscox wants solar panels on his roof.

Energy costs are rising. Hiscox is increasingly concerned about the environment. And government rebates could help him fund the $45,000 cost.

But his building, the Soulard Bastille Bar on Russell Boulevard south of downtown, has a roof that faces the street. And that means his solar array would break neighborhood rules. Soulard, a national historic district, does not allow visible panels. (St. Louis battle over solar panels pits preservation against environmentalism)

Michael Allen has a thoughtful post on the subject, here is part:

The Soulard local historic district standards are not explicit about solar panels, which means that their installation requires a variance. The standards mandate that the character of sloped roofs be maintained through adherence to one of several times (sic) of approved roofing (most of which were not in use before 1900, I might point out). In a few instances, the Cultural Resources Office (CRO) has recommended that the Preservation Board grant a variance, and the Board has done just that. This time, however, CRO recommended denial of a variance based on the public visibility of the Bastille’s street-facing rear roof. (recommended –  Soulard Solar Collectors)

If you want to learn more here are some helpful resources:

I thought this would be a good topic for this week’s poll (see right sidebar). Poll results and my thoughts on Wednesday June 27th.

– Steve Patterson


Preparing Bellefontaine Cemetery For The Next 100 Years

Who doesn’t love Bellefontaine Cemetery? Bellefontaine’s narrative, a fascinating read, begins:

The story of Bellefontaine Cemetery begins in the early 19th Century when an international movement began to transform burial practice in America. Up until that time, the dead had been buried in churchyards, on family property, or in small vacant lots. As cities flourished, however, the land set aside for the dead grew increasingly valuable. When developers claimed these urban graveyards for the growth of cities, those interred there had to be moved elsewhere.

“The first interment at Bellefontaine took place on April 27, 1850” and the new cemetery was dedicated on May 16, 1850. In those days the main entrance was on the east side, facing an unpaved Broadway.

ABOVE: Entry to Bellefontaine Cemetery off W. Florissant Ave
ABOVE: Bellefontaine's original Broadway entrance, although these gates came later

In my 21+ years in St. Louis I’ve been to Bellefontaine many times, often taking out of town guests on a drive through the winding roads to see some of the notable structures. You’ve probably done the same thing.

ABOVE: Bellefontaine contains many beautiful mausoleum, such as the Wainwright Tomb, click image for more info on this structure

At the Compton Heights Home Tour this year I happened to meet Bellefontaine’s new landscape architect, Earen L. Hummel.

ABOVE: Bellefontaine Cemetery's Director of Landscape Design Earen L. Hummel reviews the master plan

Before I get into Hummel’s role I’d like to review what Bellefontaine is, and isn’t. The quotes below are from Bellefontaine’s FAQ page:

Bellefontaine does not have an owner – it is a non-profit, non-denominational cemetery. Our mission is to provide high quality service to people of all faiths; to preserve and protect the history and stories of our families; to protect and enhance the beauty of our landscape; and to ensure that the cemetery is well-cared for, far into the future.

The cemetery’s large endowment is professionally managed to ensure future financial needs are met:

Bellefontaine is very fortunate to have a large endowment that helps pay for the not insignificant costs of maintaining a 314 acre property that has many buildings and 14 miles of roads. 

While Bellefontaine contains important historical figures such as author William S. Burroughs, architect Theodore Link and brewing magnate Adolphus Busch, most of those interred are just regular folks like you and me.

Bellefontaine buries people of all faiths and walks of life – the cemetery was founded to serve all the citizens of St. Louis. In the mid-1800s, many cemeteries in St. Louis were faith based and buried only members of their congregation or others of the same faith. As the population grew exponentially, cemeteries were filled up. Others were sold to developers, eager for land in the expanding city. City leaders at the time conceived of Bellefontaine as a cemetery for everyone, large enough that it would have land available for the citizens of the city far into the future, and far enough away from the downtown that there would be no demand from developers for its land.

Note that it said “buries” in present tense — Bellefontaine is far from being full:

Bellefontaine still has over 100 acres of open land, which means that the cemetery will be available for interment for generations to come. In fact, we have so much land that we are planting some of it in prairie and woodland, which is beautiful to look at, and provides habitat for many birds and animals.

Who knew? Personal story, I knew and in the days before my stroke I called Bellefontaine to get plot information after discussing the with a friend about being buried in such a beautiful cemetery. The information came while I was comatose in intensive care.

Hummel gave me a personal tour of the cemetery, including the open spaces.

ABOVE: Some of the space available for burial today

Hummel was part of a consultant team that worked for a year on the master plan for the next 100 years.  After the team finished their work Bellefontaine’s board created a new position and hired Hummel to oversee the implementation of the new plan. It’s an exciting plan too!

More green options will be offered, though they’ve always permitted a simple green burial:

those who wish to minimize their environmental impact (and often reduce their costs too), unlike many cemeteries we do not require outer burial containers, often called vaults, which surround the casket. And if you wish burial in a simple pine coffin or even a shroud, that is fine with us too. We call this “traditional” green burial: it is what our forbearers did for hundreds of years.

Want to be greener yet?

As mentioned above, at Bellefontaine you do not need to be embalmed, have an outer burial container, or even a traditional coffin. Old-fashioned pine, wicker or other bio-degradable materials are perfectly acceptable. This is better for the earth, and can also significantly reduce your costs. We will also soon be offering even “greener” options in our woodland or prairie areas, such as in-ground scattering of cremated remains or burials with simple, natural monumentation.

Within a couple of years they hope to have areas that will be free of pesticides.

ABOVE: The ruins from an old service building will become a walled garden
One of several new prairie areas being created
ABOVE: Open land along Florissant Rd

I planned to include one image from the master plan but I couldn’t pick just one:

ABOVE: Artist rendering of future visitor's center off new entrance at Florissant & Shreve Ave
ABOVE: Planned trail network, click image to view larger version
ABOVE: Artist rendering of a stream side path
ABOVE: Artist rendering of a hillside trail

It’ll take all of 20 years to implement the master plan. I look forward to watching it happen.

– Steve Patterson


Poll: Should The City Of St. Louis Ban Plastic Shopping Bags?

Recently Los Angeles joined many others in banning plastic shopping bags:

In the first five months of the year, the number of plastic bag bans in the U.S. has doubled, from 37 to 75, after almost doubling, from 19 to 37, in 2011. The industry has been unable to stop major U.S. cities such as Seattle, Austin and now, most likely, Los Angeles, from banning its products.

ABOVE: Reusable bags are often free or low cost

Two-thirds of the bans are in California, and plastic bag bans are now in place in three of the 14 largest and five of the 29 largest cities in the U.S., with Los Angeles — the nation’s second-largest city, with a population of 4 million — set to join that group. (Plastics News)

However, such measures are not without controversy:

Many cities are imposing fees and bans on plastic shopping bags. Advocates argue these measures help the environment. But others say these measures are ineffective, and hurt the urban poor. (NPR)

Some stores, such as Aldi, don’t offer free plastic bags, customers must buy bags or bring their own. Other stores offer five cent discounts if you bring your own bag.

This is the topic of poll this week, the question is “Should the City of St. Louis ban plastic shopping bags?” The poll is in the right sidebar, results on Wednesday June 20, 2012.

– Steve Patterson


Recycling Is Normal

June 9, 2012 Environment, Featured, Politics/Policy Comments Off on Recycling Is Normal

Recycling seems commonplace these days, especially compared to 30-40 years ago, I’ve even taken stuff home to recycle rather than discard it in  a trash receptacle on the street.

ABOVE: Recycling and solar trash compactor bins exist throughout Uptown Normal IL

Increasingly municipalities, such as Normal IL,  are providing recycling options on the street. Lately solar trash compactors have helped reduce trash collection costs.

Here’s a news report on these solar trash compactors:


I like these compactors, hopefully their initial cost will come down and we’ll start getting them in St. Louis.

 – Steve Patterson