The Ohio Soybean Council held their annual industry dinner last week. It featured lots of recognition and awards to farmers, officers and business folks who have served the group. Not to mention a great meal.
It also had one of the most interesting guest speakers I’ve heard in a while. Jim Evanoff spent 32 years in the National Park Service. He recently retired as the environmental protection specialist for Yellowstone Park where he has been for the last 24 years. Evanoff has worked at several parks, including a job that allowed him to rappel off the top of Mount Rushmore to clean the presidential profiles. At Yellowstone Evanoff says he “kinda created” his position after being hired on to the park’s maintenance and operations division.
You see every year the park gets 3.6 million visitors in 1 million cars and they leave about 4,000 tons of trash. Pretty amazing considering the average length of a visit to the park is only 1.5 days and 98% of the public spend their time on only 2% of the park’s property.
What’s this got to do with soybeans? The last nine years or so Evanoff has focused on making Yellowstone a greener place. It all started with soy biodiesel. In 1995 Yellowstone was the first park to introduce renewable fuels. It started with biodiesel made from rapeseed and mustard furnished by an agreement with the several Western universities. The park has since converted to soy biodiesel.
An early concern was that the cooking oil smell of the biodiesel might be attractive to grizzly bears. A test was run at Washington State University with real grizzlies, and researchers found the bears actually were more attracted to the fumes of petroleum diesel. The park now uses 12,000 to 15,000 gals a year of B20 or B30. That works even in the park’s cold and snowy winters when 16 feet of snow might have to be scraped off the park’s 440 miles of highways, Evanoff says. It saves 500 metric tons of CO2 equivalents a year and is a model for 40 other national parks that are converting their own fleets.
The park also pursues a rigorous recycling program. About 40% of the garbage in the park is food waste. In the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s, it was fed to bears as an attraction for visitors. Today the park service realizes the danger in that and instead composts the waste garbage. All garbage is separated at the facility with the compostable going one way and the non-compostable going another.
Small shampoo bottles from the park’s 2,000 local hotels made up a big part of the waste stream. Redesigns of the bottles along with new shapes and sizes of soap have greatly reduced the amount of waste.
It was a tougher problem to figure out what to do with the small 10 gallon steel propane cylinders used for camp stoves. There are 60 million of them made in the United States each year, Evanoff says. Because they might still have propane in them no one wants to handle them. So the park created its own recycling program. The excess propane is pumped out into a tank that runs a machine to punch two holes in each cylinder and then crush them. In 2005 the park recycled 4,500 cylinders and in 2011 it handled 40,000 of them.
Similar programs pulverize glass and process water bottles have created new industries in signature glass tiles and Yellowstone-branded carpet backing. The “carpets with a conscience” come in geyser gray and bison brown. Efforts to improve cleaning agents have produced biodegradable solutions. Winter smog from snowmobiles has also been reduced thanks to an effort to build a 4-stroke engine for the machines.
Stories and slides of Yellowstone remind me of my first visit to the park in 1959. We were camping alongside Lake Yellowstone and after dinner I was told to take the garbage to the garbage can. I walked up to the can just as another visitor turned on his flashlight. There in front of me not 20 feet away was a black bear pulling her head out of the trash can. I tossed the brown bag of garbage her way and hustled back to tell the story.
Now days such encounters don’t happen because the bears and the garbage don’t get together. Rangers like Jim Evanoff are setting a recycling example that more of America needs to follow.