Prison Green: A Philadelphia prison program diverts waste, saves money, and creates some primo compost

Philadelphia’s prisons have instituted an innovative recycling and composting program that is saving money, diverting waste from landfills, producing great compost and drawing national attention.

“We went from zero tons of single-stream recycling to about 310 tons the first year,” says Laura Cassidy, green program coordinator for the city’s prisons, who started the recycling program five years ago. “The cost for all of the prison facilities to dispose rubbish is about a quarter of a million dollars a year after single-stream recycling is extracted,” she says. “I’ve estimated that we could save as much as 70 percent once we implement our composting at all of our facilities.”

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Rust Belt Rising Almanac Celebrates Our Cities

Earlier this summer, the Philadelphia-based publisher The Head & The Hand Press released its latest publication, the Rust Belt Rising Almanac, is a compilation of literary and artistic depictions of life in America’s Rust Belt cities. According to company founder Nic Esposito, the book “looks at the beauty, art and value of revitalizing America’s urban core, through essays, stories and witticisms," says Esposito. "This book was made to do two things: The first is to show the world that Rust Belt cities are not just depressing, decrepit shells of what they once were, but that they are centers of innovation and opportunity that can provide some solutions for urban development, and also some great art and creativity. The second part is to remind the people of the Rust Belt that this is true."
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E-Waste Not!

Electronic waste (e-waste) recycling has been mandatory in New Jersey since 2011, but Magnum Computer Recycling, based in Pennsauken, N.J.,  has been providing eco-friendly and ethical recycling service to the state since 2006. “I didn’t understand why people wouldn’t recycle this stuff,” says Magnum founder John Martorano, Jr., referring to a pile of e-waste he found in the woods. “I did some research and found that it was actually a big problem. I decided to get involved and I haven’t looked back.”
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Home Care: Project Rehab is improving whole neighborhoods in University City, one house at a time

University City District (UCD) executive director Matt Bergheiser is only half joking when he says he’s not interested in sharing Ryan Spak. A Philadelphia native, Spak was busy building his construction management firm with his wife when UCD recruited him in 2011 to head a new effort called Project Rehab.

Spak, 32, has since gained a reputation for his ability to execute Project Rehab’s mission of collaborating with city agencies, banks and owners of blighted properties to revive left-for-dead sections of University City. Working roughly 20 hours a week for UCD, the Temple grad is having a noticeable impact on the area. “The project has positively affected almost 21 properties,” says Spak.

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Black and White and Green All Over: Sandy Bauers covers the sustainability beat for The Philadelphia Inquirer

I love bird stories,” says Sandy Bauers, who writes the bi-weekly GreenSpace column in The Philadelphia Inquirer. She also loves stories about rivers, wildlife and trees. Always has. In addition to exploring environmental health issues, from the science of cancer clusters to mercury in tuna, Bauers practices the conservation and self-sufficiency she writes about, living on a three-acre property in Chester County, spending time outside every day. “Just noticing the beauty of our world,” and tending to her vegetable garden, Bauers is reminded daily “how much effort it takes — and sometimes just how futile it is — to try to coax or control nature.”
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Fermenting Rebellion: Former fake flavoring flack finds fulfillment in fermentation

From cashew cheese to homemade soda, Amanda Feifer is Philly-fying fermentation with her blog  Once a marketing executive for a large food corporation, Feifer began making yogurt nearly 10 years ago, but it wasn’t until later that she realized she was actually fermenting. Though she made her living selling flavorings to food manufacturers, she was determined to find a better way of eating at home.
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Local documentarian looks at climate change, rising sea levels and coastal development in the Age of Superstorm Sandy

When Philadelphia-based filmmaker Ben Kalina set out to make Shored Up, a documentary about climate change and its impact on how we think about development in our coastal communities, one of the biggest challenges he faced was one faced by policy-makers around the globe: How do you make a compelling narrative out of abstract concepts and warnings about the future?

Kalina took on the challenge and was nearing the completion of a film that warned of the impact of climate change and rising sea levels on ill-conceived coastal development, when suddenly those abstract concepts became anything but.

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Chili Peppers: Hot time for hot peppers

There are polarizing foods out there, to be sure. Plenty of people aren’t fond of the spongy texture of mushrooms, the iron sweetness of beets, the bitterness of eggplant or the funk of cabbage. To the dismay of salsa lovers everywhere, we for whom cilantro tastes of soap walk among you. We form allegiances based on these preferences, collectively incredulous when people we thought we knew well reveal their inability to tolerate our very favorite food. But there is one flavor that elicits a stronger response than almost any other: the heat of chili peppers.
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Revival House

This unusual specimen of Victorian Romanesque Revival architecture near Norris Square in Kensington is a multicultural marvel: a German history with an Asian owner in a Latino neighborhood. Built in 1890, the hall hosted several German Singing Societies, including the Banater Maennerchor “male chorus.” During its 1920s heyday, the Maennerchor not only sang, but also offered free classes, trained local homeless men and sponsored a renowned soccer team. Following a 1939 merger, Maennerchor became the United German Hungarian Club, and eventually moved outside the city to Oakford, Pa., in 1961. The current owners have leased the building to an organization that wants to convert it into an art gallery. For more on this story,  visit the Hidden City Daily,

Meadow Lark: Hard work and determination restores Houston Meadows

A male rose-breasted grosbeak!” exclaimed Keith Russell, followed by an exuberant expletive uncharacteristic of Philadelphia’s  typically mellow and carefully spoken Audubon Outreach Coordinator. “First one I’ve seen here in years!” Even I could spot the pink chest on the bird zipping above us at the Houston Meadows, near Cathedral Road in Philadelphia’s Andorra neighborhood.

I remember stumbling onto the Houston Meadows six or seven years ago, as tiny patches in the thick forest of the Wissahickon Valley. Now you can see the first meadow from the street — no more stumbling.

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Schooled in Sustainability

Amanda Millatt stands tall and speaks confidently on the stage of the Musser Demonstration Theater at the Franklin Institute as she presents to a group of classmates, parents and teachers the water pump she has designed. Millatt is a graduating senior at the Science Leadership Academy (SLA), one of three schools that recently received a share of $6 million in grants from Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP). She hopes the pump will one day be implemented in developing countries such as Malawi. It was a trip to Malawi that inspired Millatt to redesign the UNICEF water pumps used there, which she says are fragile and inefficient. Her original idea was a pump powered by kids playing soccer, with gears that would be activated whenever a goal was scored. The finished design is more practical than that early concept and, she believes, more practical than the UNICEF pumps as well.


Millatt describes each component of the design in a way her peers can understand. The handle is an “egg-shaped piece of metal that is used to push down the piston.” The piston “is basically a bike pump in reverse so you know how you push out air, it basically sucks up water.” Describing the process with ease, Millatt says, “The gear that is on a 45-degree angle is rotating and pushing down the piston, which is basically sucking up the water into the reservoir, and then when you turn it, it comes out the faucet.” This is not the high school experience shared by most Philadelphia public school students.

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Grid #53 Is on Its Way, Just in Time for Back to School!

August is here, and that means the September issue of Grid must be on its way! The print version is being delivered as you read this (unless you're reading this after Monday, August 12, when the delivery should be complete), but of course, you can already read the issue on line at

Just in time for back-to-school (okay, maybe a little early) we take a look at two alternative schools with a focus on sustainability — Science Leadership Academy and The Workshop School (formerly The Sustainability Workshop) — that are expanding thanks to a major grant from The Philadelphia Schools Partnership. We also include a handy sustainable education resource guide, listing some of the area's most sustainably minded education institutions. (This list is far from exhaustive, so if you thnk we left something out, let us know at

We also have a whole slew of other stories, including pickling and peppers, celebrating cities and pondering the shore, park and ride without the ride, and a very different twist on audio books. Plus, favorites like Urban Naturalist, Dispatch and more.