• It’s Not Easy Being Green

  • I fondly recall Kermit the Frog on Sesame Street, singing “It’s not easy being green.” As an environmental scientist, I like to think I am pretty ‘green’. I advise clients how to prevent pollution, I clean up contaminated sites, and I am a big proponent of sustainable development and adaptive re-use of Brownfields. But at last fall’s Toronto AESAC course my colleague and guest speaker Dan Spasic of ALS Canada testing laboratory got me thinking about ways we can improve on some of our more wasteful practices in environmental site assessment (thanks Dan). Whether it’s in the field, lab or office; it’s not enough these days to just ‘talk the talk’, our industry must strive to generate less waste (especially single use plastics) and reduce our overall environmental footprint.

    I know we must prevent cross contamination, and obtain accurate and representative soil and groundwater samples in every environmental investigation. But just think of how many single-use plastic bags, plastic/silicone tubing, inertial foot valves, nitrile/latex gloves, plastic bailers, in-line groundwater filters and sample jars we use in a typical field sampling program (as shown in the accompanying picture of the back of my vehicle). Not to mention the drums of impacted soil cuttings from drilling, and purged ground water from monitoring well development that must be disposed of. How can we improve? Consider little things like bio-degradable sampling gloves instead of nitrile, and taking steps to reduce sample volumes. I remember having to collect four litres of groundwater in about a dozen sample bottles; which due to significant sample reduction at the labs, can now be conducted with about a litre. Selection of drilling method (direct push sampling versus hollow-stem augurs) can significantly reduce soil cuttings. The use of High Resolution Site Characterization (HRSC) technologies, such as Membrane Interface Probe (MIP), Hydraulic Profiling Tool (HPT), and Laser Induced Fluorescence (LIF) as an alternative to conventional drilling can further reduce sampling and residual drilling waste. Low-flow techniques or passive diffusion bag groundwater sampling can reduce both well purge volumes and the amount of single-use plastic tubing and inertial foot valves used.

    Although things have improved greatly with office recycling and general awareness, consider the amount of paper and other office waste we generate. In years past, most clients wanted multiple printed copies of every report. Now, with some of my regulatory ESA reports well over the 200-page marker; everyone gets an electronic copy, with very few hard copies issued. When you do have to print something, use recycled paper, print double sided, switch to an ‘eco-tank’ printer from cartridges, and think before you automatically print. Think about getting rid of the coffee pods, and get a coffee brewer. If you haven’t already done this, perform a waste audit of your operations.

    Remedial options and costs are quite varied, and not every method suits the specific type of contamination nor the proponent’s budget and time frame. However, the traditional ‘dig and dump’ method is getting more expensive, potentially takes up valuable landfill space, and really just moves the problem to another location. The advent of in-situ remediation techniques (chemical oxidization/reduction; bio-remediation, thermal treatment, stabilization); the gathering acceptance of alternatives like risk assessment and risk management; along with beneficial soil re-use legislation such as Ontario’s new excess soil regulations may all help to ‘green’ the Brownfield sector.

    There are lots of things we can improve on both large and small scales, we just have to do it. No, Kermit the Frog laments, it’s not easy being green; but as ‘Rage Against the Machine’ reminds us: “It has to start somewhere. It has to start sometime. What better place than here? What better time than now?”


    Bill Leedham, P. Geo., CESA

    Bill is the Head Instructor and Course Developer for the Associated Environmental Site Assessors of Canada (www.aesac.ca); and the founder and President of Down 2 Earth Environmental Services Inc. You can contact Bill at info@down2earthenvironmental.ca