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From Used To Useful: The Ultimate Form of Recycling

Posted on November 14, 2017 by | Comments Off

Most people think what ends up at a wastewater treatment plant is exactly that – waste. Something that is worthless. Now, I admit it is smelly and gross. I’ve stood at the headworks of one of our larger plants, the place where sewage first enters to be treated and where big bar screens trap and filter out all of the large pieces of trash that somehow got down into the sewers. It’s not pretty. I may or may not have gagged. So when I say it’s smelly and gross, I speak from personal experience. How could anything useful come out of that? There is nothing left to be reused or recycled, right? Wrong.

When I talk about wastewater, AKA sewage, I’m not just talking about your toilet flushes. Sinks, showers, washing machines, dishwashers, restaurants, and other businesses all drain to the sanitary sewer system, which is a collection of pipes and pumps that send all that dirty water to our wastewater treatment plants to be cleaned.  And all that dirty water adds up to about 150 million gallons a day. Still sounds like “waste,” I know, but it’s actually full of resources and resources can be reused as long as they can be recovered. That’s why wastewater treatment plants across the country are being renamed for what they actually are – resource recovery facilities.  It’s not just about treating dirty water; it’s about REUSING and RECYCLING. Here are a few ways HRSD is recovering resources:


Environmentally-friendly fertilizer made with phosphorous that used to be inside a sewage pipe.

1.  Nutrients – HRSD partners with Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies to recover phosphorous from sewage and turn it into an environmentally-friendly commercial fertilizer right here in Suffolk. It’s called Crystal Green® and its slow-release formula reduces fertilizer runoff as an added bonus. But it gets even better. Crystal Green® is made from struvite, a concrete-like material that builds up on the inside of sewage pipes and causes clogs. Not only are we reducing nutrients going into our waterways by removing them from the wastewater, but we’re creating something useful from something that is normally a big and costly pain-in–the-you-know-what.


HRSD’s Combined Heat & Power System uses 100% of the gas produced; previously, more than half the gas was wasted.

2.  Energy – In Virginia Beach, HRSD’s Atlantic Treatment Plant Combined Heat and Power System generates renewable power and heat from gas produced during the plant’s treatment process. This system meets about half of the plant’s electricity demand and produces enough electricity to power 1,200 homes for a year. And P.S., cleaned water at this plant is sent into the Atlantic Ocean about 1.5 miles offshore, but a portion of it is routed through heat exchangers at the Dam Neck Naval Facility to provide energy-efficient building heating and cooling.


HRSD’s highly treated water passes through the Carbon-Based Advanced Water Treatment step at the SWIFT Pilot facility.

3.  Water– The wastewater that flows to our plants every day is treated and then the cleaned water is sent into local waterways to be reused in the environment. But we decided we could do better than that. HRSD’s Sustainable Water Initiative for Tomorrow (SWIFT) will take highly treated water that would otherwise be discharged into local rivers and put it through additional rounds of advanced water treatment to meet drinking water quality standards. The SWIFT Water will then be added to the Potomac Aquifer, the primary source of groundwater throughout eastern Virginia. This will not only replenish our dwindling groundwater supply, but help the Bay by reducing the nutrients we currently discharge into local rivers, and help fight the impacts of sea level rise. Our SWIFT Research Center is currently under construction and you can check for updates and to learn more.

This might sound like resource recovery to the extreme, but ideas and technologies like these are being implemented all over the world as more communities seek forward-looking solutions. You can also turn your home into a resource recovery facility (and it’s way easier than what HRSD is doing!). Take the #BeRecycled pledge for America Recycles Day on November 15th and pledge to:

  1. Learn – Find out what materials are collected in your community.
  2. Act – Reduce the amount of waste you produce, recycle more, and buy materials made with recycled content.
  3. Share – Encourage others to take the #BeRecycled pledge.

Compost Grown

I have plants growing out of my compost bin – I guess that means it’s working!

This year I’m recovering resources by composting my kitchen scraps and yard waste. All of those leaves littering my backyard right now will be put to use fertilizing my garden beds in the spring. Check out the photo I took this week of my compost bin – it can’t wait to get started! 



Posted in: Going Green, Household tips, Reduce reuse and recycle, Research, Waterways

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Bay Star Homes Fall Workshops

Posted on September 27, 2017 by | Comments Off

BSHFallWorkshop_logoHampton Roads residents have two chances in October to attend a free fall workshop presented by Bay Star Homes.

On October 16 and 17, Bay Star Homes will host workshops on fall tips for native tree selection and care and a variety of pollution prevention topics to help keep our region clean and beautiful.

Each attendee will receive a FREE TREE just for attending and two lucky attendees will each take home a FREE RAIN BARREL.

Registration is free and open to anyone but space is limited, so sign up today by clicking on the links below.

Bay Star Homes Fall Workshop in Newport News
Topics: Fall Gardening and Tree Care Basics: Planting, Pruning and Selection & Preventing Pollution: One Bay Star Home at a Time 
Monday, October 16
6:00 – 8:00 pm
Denbigh Community Center
15198 Warwick Blvd, Newport News
click here to register

Bay Star Homes Fall Workshop in Chesapeake
Topics: Fall Tips for Native Tree Selection and Care, Keeping Hampton Roads Beautiful & Stormwater Basics
Tuesday, October 17
6:00 – 8:00 pm
Hampton Roads Planning District Commission
723 Woodlake Drive, Chesapeake
click here to register

These free workshops are made possible by a grant from the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund. You can support restoration activities in Virginia, such as this, by purchasing a Chesapeake Bay license plate.

Posted in: Beautification, Community events, Gardening, Going Green, Lawn and landscape, Outdoor tips

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My Messy (on Purpose) Garden

Posted on September 19, 2017 by | Comments Off


Tidy lawns – but where’s the habitat?

If a stranger were to pass by my house, they may think my yard is unkempt. The blanket flowers and coreopsis are sprawling and leggy. The seedheads of cone flowers are not trimmed back. The butterfly bush grows just a bit unevenly. Look closely and you may even see the remnants of leaves from LAST fall in the flowerbed. But what you wouldn’t know by just looking at my yard is that it’s messy on purpose.

I saw a great article recently from the Habitat Network promoting messy gardens. The Habitat Network allows people across the country to connect with tools and resources to help improve the wildlife value of residential landscapes. And how oh-so-important that is now that homeowner associations rule the land. It isn’t that a “working” yard suffers from a lack of care or maintenance. It’s quite the opposite, in fact. Those who let their yard complement their local environment are caring for all the residents of the neighborhood – big and small. Nature is a little messy — and our yards should be too!

So why should you get messy?

  • Native plants protect natural resources because they thrive in this region without needing extra water, fertilizer or chemical pesticide.
  • Seedheads left on dried flowers are an important food source for song birds and migratory birds.
  • Dead limbs and fallen leaves provide habit for wildlife including overwintering insects like ladybugs, butterflies and bees.
  • Gardens can be “alive” all year if we embrace lazy gardening.

Goldfinch & ConeflowerI’ve seen big changes in my yard since we went messy. We have a family of gold finches that started frequenting our yard this spring. The rabbits love the dense cover of our shrubs and raised their babies in our yard. We’ve seen hummingbirds, Monarch caterpillars, swallow-tail butterflies and even a hawk that likes to perch on our fence at midday. All this smack-dab in the middle of suburban Hampton Roads. So let your garden get messy and see what wildlife will show up for a visit.

Want to get messy? Here’s what to do:

  • Plant native plants that invite wildlife and insects to your yard.
  • Don’t remove spent flowers or berries from plants visited by wildlife.
  • Mulch mow your grass and rake fallen leaves into the mulched areas of your yard.
  • Ditch chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Reserve your yard maintenance for early spring when temperatures have reached at least 50 degrees for several days. This will protect any wildlife that has called your yard home during winter.

 Everything you need to know for creating a “working” habitat in your yard is available from the Habitat Network.

Posted in: Beautification, Gardening, Going Green, Outdoor tips

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Green Your School Year

Posted on August 22, 2017 by | Comments Off

back to school

G is for Green! Practice the 3 Rs of Reducing, Reusing and Recycling this fall

Reading, writing and arithmetic may be top of mind as the school year approaches, but parents and students should also be thinking of reducing, reusing and recycling as they head back to school. These simple green tips will save families time and money, while making the school transition easy on the environment!

  • Take Inventory: Before hitting the store for school supplies, take inventory of what is already around the house. See if last year’s staples—such as binders, pencil cases, supply boxes and backpacks—could be used for another term.
  • Close the Recycling Loop: When purchasing new items, such as pens, paper, notebooks and pencils, look for products made from recycled materials to close the recycling loop.
  • Choose Paperless: Many schools, PTAs and student clubs offer the option of paperless correspondence. Instead of receiving both hard and electronic copies of the school newsletter, fundraisers and announcements, sign up for electronic only and save these in an e-file for future reference.
  • Stockpile Cool Stuff for Art Projects: Those old magazines, cloth scraps, bottle caps and toilet paper rolls could be transformed into amazing works of art. Ask your student’s teachers if they can use such items.
  • Waste-free Lunch: No need to pack green eggs and ham to send children to school with a green lunch. Follow these quick tips for a waste-free lunch:
    • Use reusable meal/snack containers instead of plastic baggies
    • Send flatware instead of disposable utensils
    • Use refillable drink bottles instead of juice boxes or bottled water
  • Buy Used and Save: Consignment and thrift stores give clothes a second life and your wallet a break! Before buying new apparel, see what’s available at local secondhand stores. In addition, many PTAs sell used school uniforms as a way to fund field trips and special programs.
  • Catch the Bus: While walking or biking to school is the greenest way to get to class, sending your child to school on the bus saves gas and puts less cars on the road, resulting in fewer CO2 emissions and improved air quality.
  • Clean up your School’s Act: Organize a schoolyard cleanup at your school each fall and spring. Cleanup events are a great opportunity for students, parents, teachers and neighbors to come together to give your school’s outdoor area a good once-over. Pick up litter, rake leaves, spread mulch, plant native plants and repair and spruce up the playground for an A+ schoolyard.
  • Set up a School Recycling Program: If your school doesn’t provide recycling in classrooms or the cafeteria, speak with the administrators about starting one. Schools can also compete for national awards and prizes in competitive recycling contests such as the Recycle-Bowl or the Trex plastic bag recycling program.

Just for Teachers

We have lots of resources available just for teachers including Green Learning, a free education guide geared toward the region’s sixth-grade classrooms. Written according to Virginia SOL guidelines by a team of experts who work in the region’s public works and public utilities departments, Green Learning is packed with colorful maps, bold graphics, puzzles and fun activities specific to the Hampton Roads environment. Download Green Learning and the Teacher’s Guide now and stay tuned for an exciting announcement regarding a new edition coming in 2018!

Teachers can also apply for environmental education mini-grants of up to $500 from The mini-grants are intended to provide funding for environmentally-themed projects and may be used to fund projects big and small. Start planning your project now!

Teachers can encourage their students to practice green behaviors around the classroom with the Green Classroom Pledge. Teachers can recognize and reward students at random throughout the school year for practicing green classroom behaviors such as using scrap paper, picking up litter or packing low waste lunches.

How will you green your school year? Let us know on Facebook!

Posted in: Going Green

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Suffolk School Takes Recycling Beyond The Bin

Posted on June 30, 2017 by | Comments Off

The Recycling Club at John Yeates Middle School in Suffolk is impressive to say the least. The club formed in the fall of 2016 when the school received an environmental education mini grant to start a recycling program. Made up of 12 students, with guidance from teachers, Ms. Sabrina Hayes and Ms. Lauren Rubash, they have been busy rolling out and managing the school’s recycling program. They have also given a recycling presentation to a manager at a local fast food chain that isn’t currently recycling, they’ve raised funds for their program, and now they are managing and maintaining a school garden complete with compost area and a rain barrel. Assistant Principal Dr. Wendy Van Housen has been instrumental in all of these activities, including applying for the mini grant. For her leadership and efforts, Dr. Van Housen won the askHRgreen Environmental Action Award back in February. As the Regional Recycling and Beautification Committee representative for Suffolk, I stopped by the school to see the newly-installed garden and catch up with Dr. Van Housen as the students are out on summer break.

JohnYeatesBefore&AfterDr. Van Housen and the school principal, Dr. Shawn Green, led me to their beautiful new courtyard garden. It was very impressive, and when Dr. Van Housen showed me how it looked before the makeover, I was curious to know how they did such a wonderful job in the middle of a busy school semester. 

As part of the school’s Earth Day (week) celebrations, Dr. Van Housen reached out to two businesses known for their community involvement, Lowes and Smuckers. She asked them for help with rejuvenating their school courtyard which she referred to as, “an eyesore.” The manager of Lowes, Steve Poole, agreed to help with the project by supplying tools and lending 12 employees. In addition, they supplied 400 bags of soil, 300 bags of mulch, and 200 bags of marble rock. More than 30 planks of wood were cut to build benches and lay the foundation for a rock path. Smuckers manager, Keith Hightower, also agreed to help and organized 9 employees to join the effort and contributed Chick-fil-A lunches for everyone involved. It took only two days to turn the courtyard around, installing three raised beds, a variety of benches, and a composting area. A remarkable team effort! 

JohnBYeates4Now that it’s built, The Recycling Club is managing and maintaining it. They are already harvesting cucumbers with peppers, carrots, and tomatoes on the way. Over the course of the summer, some of the teachers and supporting staff will help with maintenance until the students return. Dr. Van Housen told me how the cooking teacher had already visited the garden to teach the students about fresh food and in the new school year, there will be plenty of opportunities for other teachers to use the garden as a learning experience. Next year, they are planning to begin composting, install their rain barrel, and paint the benches with their school colors.

JohnYeatesAfterIt is amazing to think that a year ago the school did not have a recycling program or a recycling club and now they are looking to harvest rain water and begin composting. Before I left, I asked Dr. Van Housen if everybody at the school was recycling to which she replied, “Many students are recycling but not everybody just yet; however, everybody is aware of recycling. The school is making progress and we are excited to encourage our students to think about their environmental impact.”

 Blog post contributed by Wayne Jones, Litter Control Coordinator with the City of Suffolk.

Posted in: For educators, Gardening, Going Green, Lawn and landscape, Reduce reuse and recycle, Uncategorized, Using water wisely

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