In the wake of new research showing that microplastics are present in watersheds throughout Western North Carolina, Asheville-based nonprofit MountainTrue is calling for bans on single-use plastics in Asheville, Buncombe County and Boone.
A study conducted by MountainTrue found an average of 19 microplastic particles — pieces smaller than 5 millimeters, formed by the breakdown of larger plastics — per liter of water in local river systems. Exposure to microplastics has been tied to allergic reactions and other health impacts in humans, as well as negative effects on fish.
“The first step to stop the contamination of our environment and our bodies is to reduce the amount of plastic that enters and escapes the waste stream,” says Anna Alsobrook, MountainTrue’s French Broad watershed outreach coordinator. “And that starts by breaking our dependence on single-use plastics like plastic grocery bags and fast-food utensils and packaging.”
A model ordinance developed by the nonprofit and the WNC Sierra Club would prevent restaurants and retailers from offering many single-use products, mandate that all single-use utensils be recyclable or compostable and require merchants to charge a 10-cent fee for paper bags. (Customers using government benefits such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program would be exempt from the fee.)
North Carolina state law doesn’t explicitly prevent local governments from establishing such rules, and communities in the Outer Banks got the General Assembly to pass a local plastic bag ban in 2009. However, that ban was repealed by a Republican legislative supermajority in 2017.
More information on the MountainTrue proposal is available at PlasticFreeWNC.com.
Local solar companies join legal challenge to Duke Energy
A battle over a Duke Energy proposal to change how owners of home solar panels are compensated for the power they generate now involves several Western North Carolina businesses. Weaverville-based Sundance Power Systems has formally objected to the new rule through the N.C. Utilities Commission; the company also joined Asheville-based Asheville Solar Co., Rhino Renewables Solar & Electric, Sugar Hollow Solar and SolFarm Solar Co. in signing an open letter to Gov. Roy Cooper urging him to reject Duke’s changes.
The companies claim that the new rules, which would let Duke pay less for solar electricity sent to the grid during hours of peak sunshine, would reduce the average value of rooftop solar by 25%-35%. “If approved by the N.C. Utilities Commission, Duke’s revised [net metering] rider will dramatically slow the fast-paced growth of the rooftop solar industry, cost thousands of well-paying solar jobs and also slow the transformation of North Carolina’s economy to clean energy,” says Dave Hollister, president of Sundance Power Systems.
In a statement to Xpress, Duke spokesperson Randy Wheeless argued that the changes would not hurt solar customers and pointed to support from environmental groups, including the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Southern Environmental Law Center and Vote Solar. “Duke Energy is committed to finding collaborative paths forward to help with the clean-energy transition and carbon-reduction goals in the Carolinas,” Wheeless wrote. “Our settlement with many leading solar groups ensures fair and reasonable treatment for all customers whether they choose to install solar or not.”
Duke has until Thursday, April 28, to reply to the formal objections over its proposal. The NCUC will then consider whether to allow the new rules. The full docket for the case is available at avl.mx/prwp.
- Three teams of students from Buncombe County’s Nesbitt Discovery Academy placed among the top seven in the Area 1 Regional Envirothon, qualifying for the state Envirothon later this month. The interactive, outdoor competition tests students on wildlife, aquatic ecology, soils and other environmental topics.
- Five students from Asheville High School and the School of Inquiry and Life Sciences at Asheville were selected by NASA to develop an experiment that will be launched to the edge of space next year. The group plans to collect air samples and test them for new pollutants that may be formed when fracking chemicals interact with wildfire smoke.
- Western North Carolina farms received $320,000 in WNC AgOptions grants for 2022. The funded projects will help 41 local agricultural businesses grow and expand their offerings. Recipients include The Never-Ending Flower Farm in Buncombe County, Cold Mountain Angus Beef in Haywood County and Clem’s Organic Gardens in Transylvania County. More information is available at WNCAgOptions.org.
The Waterfall Keepers of North Carolina removed over 2,400 gallons of trash from WNC’s public lands during the nonprofit’s second annual Waterfall Sweep. Nearly 50 volunteers participated in the effort, collecting items such as mattresses, tires and televisions.
- The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners declared April to be Food Waste Reduction Month during its April 5 meeting. The proclamation estimates that the county generates over 57,000 tons of food waste each year and urges residents to adopt food saving and composting practices.
Read all about it
- Brad Rouse, co-founder of the Asheville-based Energy Savers Network, published Climate Warrior: Climate Activism and Our Energy Future in March. The book describes Rouse’s personal journey from the business world to environmental work and outlines his model for a sustainable energy system. More information is available at ClimateWarriorBook.com.
- Juliet Blankespoor, founder of the Asheville-based Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, released The Healing Garden: Cultivating and Handcrafting Herbal Remedies earlier this month. Buyers of the book can also access an online course on medicinal herb gardening and medicine making. More information is available at HealingGardenGateway.com.
- Robert Turner, director of the Creekside Farm Education Center in Arden, will publish Lewis Mumford and the Food Fighters: A Food Revolution in America Sunday, May 15. The work of narrative nonfiction outlines Turner’s work to counter the industrial food system in favor of regenerative, local agriculture. More information is available at RobertETurner.com.
- The N.C. Department of Transportation holds its Spring Litter Sweep from Saturday, April 16, through the end of the month. Those who volunteer to pick up trash from roadsides during that period will receive supplies and support from local NCDOT crews. More information is available by contacting the program coordinator for each county, with details listed at avl.mx/bg6.
- The National Park Service seeks volunteers for the fourth annual Project Parkway, a workday taking place throughout the Blue Ridge Parkway, 9 a.m.-noon, Saturday, April 23. Tools and safety gear will be provided. More information is available by emailing BLRI_Volunteers@nps.gov.
- The Pisgah Conservancy holds its Pisgah Project Day at locations throughout Pisgah National Forest, 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday, April 30. Volunteers will conduct trail maintenance, invasive species removal, habitat improvement and other projects, with an after-party to follow at Oskar Blues Brewery in Brevard. More information and registration are available at avl.mx/bg1.
- Conserving Carolina’s Habitat at Home photo contest is accepting submissions through Sunday, May 15. Images should showcase native plants used in gardens or landscaping, local habitat improvement projects or wildlife observed close to home. Full details on the contest and prizes are available at avl.mx/bg2.
- The N.C. Tomato Growers Association is offering a $1,000 scholarship to a North Carolina student pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree in horticulture or agribusiness. Applications are due Tuesday, May 31; more information is available at avl.mx/bg9.
Save the date
- The town of Woodfin opens the new Silver-Line Park at 4 p.m. Thursday, April 21. The $3.2 million facility offers boat ramp access to the French Broad River, as well as walking trails, picnic shelters and a pirate-themed playground. The park represents the first stage of the Woodfin Greenway and Blueway, which will construct a standing wave feature in the French Broad and 5 miles of greenway along the river.
- RiverLink’s Earth Day Kids Festival returns to Rabbit Rabbit in downtown Asheville, noon-4 p.m. Sunday, April 24. Now in its seventh year, the event features interactive displays from local environmental organizations, eco-friendly vendors and an awards ceremony for the Voices of the River art and poetry contest. More information is available at avl.mx/bg3.
- The N.C. Arboretum celebrates the 200th birthday of Biltmore Estate landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted noon-6 p.m., Tuesday, April 26. Festivities include guided trail walks, children’s games, live music and a seedling giveaway. More information is available at avl.mx/bg7.
- Appalachian Standard, a craft hemp farm in Candler, hosts its Spring Fling Farm Fest 11:30 a.m-4 p.m. Saturday, April 30. TikTok CBD influencer Lauren Davis of @fiddyshadesofgreen will hold a meet-and-greet noon-1 p.m., and local music, food and vendors will be on-site throughout the afternoon. More information is available at avl.mx/bg4.
- Also on April 30, the Brevard Music Center hosts its inaugural MindTreks Forum on the topic of “Climate Change in Western North Carolina — Why Should I Care?” Facilitated by Asheville Watchdog reporter Tom Fiedler, the forum includes presentations by Deke Arndt of the National Centers for Environmental Information, James Fox of UNC Asheville’s National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center and Ben Teague of Biltmore Farms. More information and registration are available at avl.mx/bg5.
Edited at 11:30 a.m. April 15 to note the role of the WNC Sierra Club in developing the model plastic-reduction ordinance.