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Green power: Eco Expo shows St. Louis how to be more environmentally friendly

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 12, 2010 - Kermit, it's getting lots easier to be green.

On a perfect spring weekend in Forest Park, the second annual Eco Expo, presented by the St. Louis Science Center and EcoLifeSTL.com, educated and entertained visitors interested in a more sustainable lifestyle.

With more than 80 exhibits, demos and workshops, visitors could find a wealth of information, while families could enjoy plenty of child-friendly attractions. Of course, there were plenty of samples, free snacks and opportunities to replenish your ballpoint pen supply.


Recycling remains essential


Recycling was one major theme.


Mers Goodwill stores provided dress-up clothes for young and old and also put on a thrifty fashion show.

Stlouisgreen.com handed out fliers for an electronics recycling drive on April 17 at Kirkwood High School that would accept "anything ... with a plug or switch or that once used batteries." These items, from computers to refrigerators, are to be refurbished or recycled locally, with a no-landfill policy.

Habitat for Humanity had its ReStore, which collects and sells building materials and fixtures. "Who else is going to use your old toilet and keep it out of the landfill?" asked employee Annemarie Spitz. Habitat may sell it or use it in one of the 30 LEED-certified homes it plans to build in St. Louis this year.

For eco-pure entertainment a band with a recycle theme, the Cadence from Springfield, Mo., gave four shows of "percussion rock, " drumming on buckets, barrels and anything else with good resonance.


Local food, home gardens


"Local" is the latest buzzword of foodies. Onesto Pizza and Trattoria and L'Ecole Culinaire gave cooking demonstrations using foods from nearby sources.

Vito Racanelli of Onesto took the stage with one of his suppliers, farmer Craig Rudolf, who raises vegetables on 20 acres and sells them at farmers' markets and to St. Louis restaurants. Racanelli -- who says, "Any cook is only as good as his ingredients" -- entertained by telling how he buys the whole pig from a local hog farmer, butchers it himself and then cures his pancetta and other charcuterie with the herbs he likes (Rosemary is out, thyme is in.)

Gardeners just naturally are concerned with the environment. An exhibit sponsored jointly by Shaw Nature Reserve, Missouri Department of Conservation, and St. Louis Composting promoted rain barrels and rain gardens to keep heavy rains from overloading the sewers. Children got to plant their own beans in compost-enriched soil. Grow Native gave tips on raising local flowers, and announced their annual plant sale on May 7 and 8.

Rain gardens can be elaborate. Rain from a home's downspout can be stored underground and recirculated with a pump for a landscaper's dream -- the water feature. Exhibitor Stone Mill Design built one such brook, at the entrance to the Science Center.


For energy saving, there's no place like home

For many people, "green" means lower energy bills. Numerous builders and specialists in products such as insulated windows and solar panels were on hand, as were the construction unions. At least one company advertised white roofs, a measure that Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has espoused. White roofs reflect sunlight back through the atmosphere, instead of absorbing it as heat. Less heat absorbed in the summer means lower air-conditioning bills.

Several displays pointed out the environmental impact of using energy-efficient fluorescent light bulbs and energy star rated products.

One of the more innovative energy star products was the Solatube. The Solatube captures sunlight through a rooftop dome engraved with prisms to redirect the rays into a highly refractive tube. The light rays bounce along the tube for up to 30 feet and pour through a diffusing lighting fixture. The prisms circling the dome bend low-angle (morning and evening) light, while the clear top can deflect too-bright midday sunlight.

Getting from place to place in green fashion

Transportation is a great contributor to pollution problems. Eco Expo featured workshops and displays on electric cars, trails for biking and walking, and the federally funded Ride Finders program. Ride Finders serves 1,200 employers and at present 14,000 commuters by making car and van-pooling arrangements. They claim to save more than 2 million pounds of greenhouse gas pollution a year.

For the Expo itself, credits from AmerenUE's Pure Power project cut the carbon dioxide released by almost 51,000 pounds. The Pure Power project allows individuals and businesses to purchase credits that buy power from renewable sources such as wind.

Green is becoming much easier. According to a study conducted by HGTV and the Natural Resources Defense Council, 78 percent of Americans are willing to make a lifestyle change for the good of the environment. The Eco Expo tells them how to do it.

Jo Seltzer is a freelance writer with more than 30 years on the research faculty at the Washington University School of Medicine and seven years teaching tech writing at WU's engineering school. 

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