Stuff!

'Tis the season to REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE, REPAIR, REPURPOSE, REGIFT

Many of us have collected so much stuff that a movie was made about it. The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard’s 2007 online documentary explored our problem with stuff:  we have too much of it, too much of it is toxic and we don’t share it very well..

We live in a throw-away society and in a way it’s not our fault. It can cost more to repair a printer than to just buy a new one. And every year, there’s a new gadget we can be convinced we need. But how many folks (like me) have a box full of old electronics hidden under the stairs waiting for the next “electronic recycling day” which I will then forget.

 In fact, it seems like the word “repair” has almost disappeared from our vocabulary. When was the last time you heard about a TV repair service? The New York Times profiled Jennings TV Service, a small family-owned shop in Manhattan in the 2005 story “Practicing the Dying Art of TV Repair.”  Repair vs. replace is an ongoing debate.

Discover Financial Services lists

5 Questions to Ask before Repairing or Replacing an Appliance” on its website:

  1. How much will the repair cost?
  2. How old is the appliance? (how old is too old)
  3. Do you need a more energy-efficient appliance?
  4. Could better maintenance extend the life of your appliance?
  5. Are you a stickler for style?

These questions may help but the decision usually comes down to money. According to HouseLogic, a website of the National Association of Realtors, repair may be better if the cost to repair is less than 50 percent of the cost of a new one (including installation and other related charges).

Old things can have new life through repurposing. There are lots of resources about repurposing, like this Popular Mechanics article “22 Ingenious Ways to Repurpose Old Junk.” Among the ideas – turning an old wheelbarrow into an herb garden and turning old tire rims (a large item in landfills) into a fire pit.

A well-thought-out repurposed item can add to your home or make a nice “green” gift. And it helps cut down on STUFF.

All this STUFF becomes even more evident as the holidays approach. Over the next few weeks the U.S. Postal Service anticipates delivering more than 15 billion pieces of mail, including 850 million packages and according to Hallmark, 1.3 billion holiday cards are sent every year.

Our industry is keenly aware of the far-reaching effects of the season. The aftermath of holiday consumerism begins to hit the waste and recycling industry in November. Waste and recycling volumes trend upwards, peaking during the two weeks following Christmas, according to Waste 360

                                                                          

M-PASS wanted to see what we could find to suggest as alternatives to the usual holiday habits.

CHRISTMAS TREES

Cut trees or artificial? On the one hand, fake trees can have a big carbon footprint. A few years back, The New York Times reported that a fake tree would have to be used over 20 times to be greener than decorating a cut tree each year. But on the other hand, we’re removing a lot of trees from our land.

While most places have successful programs for recycling Christmas trees (Keep Georgia Beautiful’s “Bring One for the Chipper”), there are new alternatives. In California The Living Christmas Co. rents live trees, taking them back at the end of the season. The trees travel in their own soil and are easy to move, and if cared for properly will be ready to go into action again the following year. If you become attached to your tree, you can tag it and have the same tree in future years, though it may be bigger. If trees become too large or unsuitable to rent, they are donated to tree-planting projects.

GIFT-GIVING

Regifting is not a new concept but it is only now getting respect. There are pages of information online, including thoughts from both Emily Post and Martha Stewart. Emily advises to only do it in specific and appropriate cases while Martha has a more open view.

There are even official rules for throwing a Regifting Party. Guests bring and leave with one gift each; no first-time gifts are allowed. We’ll skip the specifics but just say that there is some swapping, a little stealing, and a lot of laughing. If you don’t love what you end up with, you can donate it to charity.

And finally, if you just can’t ignore that shopping urge, shop locally and try to find “green” gifts for those on your list. Even amazon.com has a section for eco-friendly gifts (other gift ideas and links to other resources can be found below).

Just Little Changes, whose goal is to inspire people to start with small daily changes, shows us the possibilities in their “Ethical Hierarchy of Gift Purchasing.” Things we do make a difference every day and little changes add up to big changes.

We hope some of these ideas will enable you to have a less stressful holiday season.

“So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run.”

–Henry David Thoreau

For more information

Other gift ideas

  • A charitable donation in someone’s name
  • An “experience,” such as a composting class, wine tasting, or walking tour. You can even choose a specific city using Xperience Days which offers activities in a number of U.S. cities (including Atlanta).
  • A membership for an art museum or children’s museum
  • Give the kids a chance to play in the dirt with a gardening kit. It’s fun and also educational – and there could be vegetables or flowers at the end.
  • Homemade gifts like hand-knitted scarves, candles, mason jar lid coasters (links to some of these resources are at the end).

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Food For Thought

Food Loss, Food Waste

 

We first raised the issue of food waste here around the end of June. The article presented a lot of the reasons why, according to a 2016 article in The Atlantic, America leads the way in food waste because “calories are cheap and people are picky.”

What Can We Do to Reduce Food Waste?

“Ideally, we must make the term “food waste” obsolete.  Food at all stages of preparation and consumption should be captured for the next use and never thrown away.”                                                                 Susan Kidd, Director of Sustainability, Agnes Scott College

First, we can become smarter consumers – whether shopping at the market or dining out – and focus more on buying and ordering amounts we actually need. Since most of us don’t have the chance to go to a farmer’s market more than once a week, it has been easy – and necessary – to get into the habit of going to the supermarket weekly and stocking up. But plans can change and suddenly you’re going out to dinner several nights, abandoning your meal planning. (And don’t, like me, fall for every two-for-one deal the store offers).

The other primary way to better deal with leftover food is to increase the amount of organic waste we compost. It may seem like it should be an easy thing to recycle organic waste into compost – it’s an all-natural process after all. If you want to know more specifics about the science of composting, the UGA Extension program has a publication with all the details about why composting food waste is so important and how composting works. Guess the number one reason they mention it? Because otherwise it goes to landfills. Organic recycling saves resources, by reducing need for fertilizer and pesticides; reduces methane from landfills; and returns nutrients to the soil, improving soil health and conserving water

But on the contrary, it’s a complicated issue and has to be managed well. Some of the major challenges facing commercial composting and anaerobic digestion are:

  • equipment costs (The building and operation of anaerobic digestion plants are costly with a long return on investment);
  • increased transportation costs;
  • lack of availability of locations willing to allow organic composting (cost again – the margins are slim on food waste recycling);
  • potentially complicated permitting processes along with competition from relatively inexpensive landfill tipping fees . (We often see challenging permitting processes, though through changes in the rules in Georgia, the process today is less complicated in our state).

While there are numerous challenges, there are also lots of people, businesses, and organizations working on solutions. Since every day there seems to be some new bit of news, we’re going to give you some of the highlights:

  • The 2018 U.S. Food Waste Summit in Cambridge, Massachusetts had its largest attendance since the event began at the Harvard Food Law & Policy Clinic (HFLPC) in 2016. Co-hosted by ReFed, a multi-stakeholder nonprofit collaboration of the nation’s leading business, nonprofit, foundation, and government leaders committed to reducing U.S. food waste. ReFED has identified 27 of the best opportunities to reduce food waste.
  • Apeel Science, featured in CNBC’s 6th annual Disruptor list of companies whose innovations are changing the world, has developed an all-natural and edible substance that, when applied to the outside of harvested fruits and vegetables, creates an invisible shield that can double their lifespan without refrigeration. Apeel’s founder and CEO James Rogers put together funding from corporations and foundations and applied his background in material engineering to develop the system. The company’s first products are Apeel Avocado and Apeel Citrus.
  • Government Actions

As discussed in the first part of our story, the USDA is active in a number of efforts. In addition, as national conversations  on food waste expand, the EPA and USDA have developed a variety of resources including The EPA’s ongoing Food Recovery Challenge and U.S. Food Loss and Waste Champions 2030 programs, along with the USDA’s Foodkeeper app to help with food storage and planning.

  • Consumer Interest

As clients and customers of the food service and restaurant industry become more aware of, and committed to, sustainability issues, the “reputational value” of lowering and diverting wasted food becomes more important.

This past April, Waste 360 which provides information, events, and education to the solid waste, recycling, organics and sustainable communities, held the 50th annual WasteExpo Las Vegas. After the event, local Los Vegas Livestock collected nearly 4,000 pounds of food scraps which were processed and fed to livestock within 24 hours of collection.

WasteExpo discussions offered three key areas to watch in the national organics conversation

  1. Packaging Philosophy
  2. Infrastructure & Investment:
  3. Policy Moves, at the state and local levels of government as well as market-driving policy changes at some large corporations.

Closer To Home …

Georgia took a leading role in working to standardize permitting processes in 2006 through a coalition of public and private stakeholders including the Georgia Recycling Coalition; ERTH Products; Atlanta Recycles; Emory University; University of Georgia Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department; and The Coca-Cola Company. Funding for these programs came through a Resource Conservation Challenge grant awarded to Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division by the U.S. EPA. The state Department of Natural Resources Board adopted the revised compost rule in May, 2014. And in 2018, compost operation rules were amended to remove certain volume restrictions resulting in the ability of smaller sites to scale up and accept more material feedstocks.

Like many other places in the country, the cost of organic waste diversion is an issue for Georgia businesses. At the moment we have plentiful landfill space and fairly low landfill costs, as we discussed earlier this year the article “Waste Reduction and Diversion in the South.”

Today, Georgia does have five sites with designated and permitted composting capabilities – two are government-run and three are privately owned – which is great news. Even with these sites, though, businesses can face increased costs due to the need to transport the material over long distances.

In January of this year, the U.S. Composting Council held its annual conference in Atlanta for the first time in twenty-five years. This meeting gave local government, private, and nonprofit representatives an important place on the agenda along with experts from around the country. Highlights of the conference agenda included opening keynote speakers Georgia gardener Joe Lamp’l, Host and Executive Producer of the PBS series Growing a Greener World, and Scott Jenkins, General Manager of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Georgia – and the Atlanta area in particular – have the chance to bring continued change to organic recycling through the leadership of many key organizations that are stepping up to try to make this happen.

Other innovators in the state include the Georgia Recycling Coalition and Food Well Alliance. In 2017 with the support of an EPA grant, these two groups created The Atlanta Community-Based Composting Council to increase community-based compost production which benefits Metro Atlanta’s urban farmers and community gardeners. Also with the Georgia Recycling Coalition and other stakeholders including the City of Atlanta’s Office of Resilience, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and leading urban growers and social enterprises, Food Well Alliance published a white paper, Closing the Loop: Food Waste in Atlanta in June 2017. This is a huge step forward on the community level, but it’s just that – a step.

M-PASS continues to work toward finding new solutions to organic recycling and to enhance the services we currently provide. M-PASS’s Lorraine White said, “Food waste recycling has been an issue in Atlanta for years. We have to keep working on local solutions, because it’s our experience that companies in Atlanta want to recycle – if there’s an affordable way to do it.”

“As we increase community based and large-scale compost manufacturing in Georgia, the goals are to reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions, nourish depleted soils, conserve water and grow healthy food for our citizens. Healthy Soil, Healthy Food, Healthy People will become the mantra of our future.”

–Gloria Hardegree, the Georgia Recycling Coalition

Other tools and tips

EPA’s Food Too Good to Waste

USDA’s ChooseMyPlate.gov

On the Save the Food website you can fine

  • The guest-imator, a tool that does the dinner planning for you. Just tell it who’s coming and what’s for dinner to find out how much to make.
  • The Handpick App which takes any combo of ingredients left in your fridge and helps you find recipes to use them up.

 

 

The Clean Plate Club

The Clean Plate Club

Let's Talk About Food Waste

Remember “The Clean Plate Club”? Turns out it wasn’t just something parents made up to admonish kids about not eating all the food on their plates. Its history goes back to 1917 when Herbert Hoover, America’s first Food Administrator, proclaimed “food will win the war.” That campaign ended after the First World War, but in 1947 the “Clean Plate” theme returned. (source: Time magazine)

Since America had become strong agriculturally while parts of Europe were struggling to survive, the U.S. instituted a campaign called “The Gospel of the Clean Plate: Don’t Waste Any Food.” Thousands of women volunteers went through their communities asking neighbors to sign a food pledge. Fourteen million families displayed this sign in their windows to show they supported the campaign. (source: The Great War, PBS).

So, food waste is not a new issue. It was important in early 20th century America and it’s back as an important concern today.

Reports are constantly being released with data and statistics on food waste. They may vary a little depending on the source but the thing they all have in common is that the numbers are huge. According to recent data compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and published in the journal PLOS ONE, Americans throw away approximately 150,000 tons of food a day adding up to $160 billion in food waste per year. And thirty million acres of cropland are used to produce this food that’s not eaten.

According to the Food Waste Alliance, it’s estimated that 25-40 percent of the food that is grown, processed and transported in the United States will never be consumed. Where does it go? According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more food reaches landfills than other types of municipal solid waste.

These numbers are especially troubling since one in eight Americans is defined as “food insecure,” meaning that at some point they have difficulty feeding their family. And the United Nations Food & Agricultural Organization (FAO) reports that 800 million people worldwide are considered chronically hungry.

Obviously, food waste is not just an environmental issue – it has serious social and economic implications as well.

How did we get here? As a 2016 article in The Atlantic put it, America leads the way in food waste because “calories are cheap and people are picky.” But the great American squandering of produce appears to be a cultural dynamic as well, continues Atlantic writer Adam Chandler. We have developed an obsession with the aesthetic quality of food and will not buy (or we buy and throw out) anything that looks bruised or a bit wilted. But it’s not all our fault as consumers. Often grocers won’t even put fresh produce on their shelves if it looks the least bit ugly. Fresh fruits and vegetables account for 39% of food waste, followed by dairy (17%), meat and mixed meat dishes (14%), and grains and grain mixed dishes (12%).

One example of ways people are developing to counter this waste is Imperfect Produce, a San Francisco company which promises to deliver ugly, healthy and delicious produce at a 30% savings over grocery store prices. And it’s catching on: When Imperfect Produce entered the Seattle market, their goal was to sign up 300 households by the end of the year. Instead, more than 2,000 signed up within four weeks. (“Seattle’s love affair with ugly fruits and veggies,” Seattle Times, January 6, 2018).

But individual shoppers and diners alone don’t make up these numbers:

  • The average amount of purchased food that is wasted in a full-service restaurant is 11.3 percent.
  • Nearly 85 percent of all food waste happens in homes or consumer-facing businesses, such as restaurants, retail grocers and institution cafeterias.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 23, 2017

Where do we stand locally?  We’re better than some. According to “The United States of Financial Waste,” a recent survey of 2,000 households conducted by professional resources site Hloom, Georgia ranks about in the middle in percentages of which states waste the most groceries and restaurant meals

Last fall, food waste was one of the topics on the agenda for the 2017 Chefs Collaborative Summit held in Atlanta. The Chefs Collaborative is a national nonprofit whose mission is “to inspire, educate and celebrate chefs and food professionals building a better food system.” Their goal is for sustainable practices to become second nature for all chefs in this country. As part of this conference, local chef Steven Satterfield held a workshop where a group of the chefs “talked trash.”

And some hunger relief organizations in the Atlanta area are creating partnerships to reduce food waste and make more food available to the folks in need in our communities. The Atlanta Community Food Bank, one of the largest hunger-relief groups in the Southeast, recently established a partnership with Second Helpings Atlanta. The collaboration with Second Helpings Atlanta, a nonprofit food rescue organization, will allow the Food Bank to expand its efforts to reduce food waste in Metro Atlanta and get more food to local people in need. These two groups will continue to work together to identify new food recovery opportunities and test, refine, and implement new programs to reduce food waste – and hunger – in Atlanta.

Food Waste today is about more than a clean plate – when we waste food we also are wasting other important resources – water, labor, food, money, and valuable crop land.

Hopefully, you’re asking yourself now what else we can do – individually and as businesses – to help in the effort to reduce food waste.

Watch this space for news on what we can do to improve food and organics recycling.

Spoiler alert … there will be talk of commercial composting and anaerobic digesters/

Read More About It …

Articles on food waste are showing up in publications from Forbes to the Huffington Post, to the Washington Post, to WasteDive, to the Atlantic. We’ve included some of the things we’re reading:

Additional Resources …

Break Out the Red, White & Blue (Tablecloths)

Break Out the Red, White & Blue (Tablecloths)

During the snow days, we were probably dreaming about summertime. And finally, Memorial Day – first official day of summer – is almost here. No matter how you observe Memorial Day – marching in a parade, visiting cemeteries or memorials – there’s bound to be a picnic or cookout somewhere along the way.

Here are a few things to consider as you prepare for the holiday …

The picnic is not a new concept. According to Merriam-Webster, the first known use of the word “picnic” occurred in 1826. Picnics even precede Decoration Day (the precursor to Memorial Day), declared in 1868. But the plastic items that we use for eating outside – and sometimes inside – are a fairly new invention. One might say plastic came late to the picnic. Early picnic baskets were filled with glassware, metal or crockery dishes and metal cutlery. According to the Superior Plastics Company, plastics came into wide use in homes after World War II and by the 1960s had replaced many materials in the kitchen. Manufacturers soon began making plastic spoons, forks, and knives that were meant to be thrown away after one use, eliminating the need to use water, electricity, and manpower to wash them. (According to Superior Plastics, this was a plus).

Then in 1970, along came the “spork,” patented by a Massachusetts company and made famous by Kentucky Fried Chicken. (If you’ve never bought a bucket of KFC, the spork is half-spoon, half fork).

Today, we do have more choices for our picnics. Companies are producing edible cutlery that  comes in flavors, compostable cutlery made of material like bamboo, and even dinnerware made of fallen leaves. But why don’t we just go back to the old-fashioned ways, reducing our dependence on these plastics?

Washing up was good enough for picnickers until the middle of the 20th century when we decided it was easier to just throw things away. We were swept away by convenience, not thinking about where these things would end up and how they would affect our environment.

So before you pack your picnic basket or get ready for the barbecue, remember that not only are these plastics taking up space in landfills, the manufacturing process uses up valuable resources. This Greenpeace video from a few years ago tells “The Story of a Spoon.”

And make sure dish soap is on your shopping list.

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother Nature’s Day

Many of us may think of Mother’s Day as one of those “Hallmark Holidays” designed to encourage shopping. However, the earliest efforts to establish a day to celebrate mothers started before Hallmark existed. Celebrations of mothers and motherhood can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, but the U.S. Mother’s Day wasn’t established until 1914 when Woodrow Wilson issued a Presidential proclamation establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

Of course, there’s our other Mother – Mother Nature. Her origins date even further back to Gaea, a goddess in Greek mythology who was seen as the embodiment of the Earth. As both a goddess and as Earth itself, Gaea features in many myths explaining the natural order of things.

Though how we view Mother Nature may have changed over the years, the basics idea is the same.

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, Mother Nature is “nature personified as a woman considered as the source and guiding force of creation.”

Native American Elders describe her this way: “The Great Spirit is in all things. He is in the air we breathe. The Great Spirit is our Father, but the Earth is our Mother. She nourishes us. That which we put into the ground she returns to us.”

But sometimes it seems like Mother Nature gets angry (like our own mothers may have done). Author Moisés Naím, a Distinguished Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC, wrote in a 2015 article in the Atlantic (just before the Climate Summit in Paris, “Human nature vs. Mother Nature. The Struggle for Our Time.” He continued by saying that it seemed like Mother Nature was trying to get our attention – with hard-to-miss signals.

It’s true that the Earth’s climate has changed all throughout history. But no matter what we believe is the cause, NASA reports that there is evidence today that most of the current warming trends are likely (greater than 95 percent probability) to be the result of human activity.

Fortunately, Mother Nature is strong and in some cases is able to help herself – it’s sort of like she’s gotten tired of waiting for us. An article published in Nature Geoscience earlier this year reported that wetlands are natural water purifiers on a vast scale and can reduce nitrate concentration (caused by run-off from farming) better than any other method. In fact, some types of wetlands are so good at this filtration function that environmental managers construct similar artificial wetlands to treat storm water and wastewater.

But we can’t leave Mother Nature to totally fend for herself.

And there are ways to recognize Mother Nature and mothers in May. You can plant a tree (in memory or celebration of someone), take a hike, or take a walk in a local arboretum. A number of places around Atlanta have been designated as an arboretum, including Georgia Tech University, Agnes Scott College, and the Atlanta Beltline.

Or if your family or friends are runners, you can go plogging, a new craze that’s come to the U.S. from Sweden. Plogging is a play on the Swedish words for “pick up” put together with “jogging.” It’s becoming so popular in the U.S. that Keep American Beautiful has partnered with Lifesum, a health app that allows users to log, track, and estimate the number of calories burned while plogging.

Oh, yeah, and please leave the cut flowers off the list this year, unless they come out of your own garden.

It’s never too early to start educating your kids, or your friends’ kids, about sustainability. Studies have found a significant relationship between how young children learn about sustainability when parents and teachers are part of sustainability-related discussions and activities.

Recycling and other conservation activities are good habits to nurture at an early age. So, find out if your local schools recycle. In one school in Vermont a few years ago, a persistent mother or two children in the elementary school worked with school principals, facilities managers, and food service staff to reinvigorate recycling.

Take time to read to children and other members of your family. There are children’s books on many topics, everything from young people who are becoming environmental activists at an early age to conservation and environmental protection.

To bring us back to the other Mother’s Day …

In an article on tentree.com, blogger Brooke Willson wrote about “10 Things Mother Nature Can Teach Us.” Reading through the list, it’s impossible not to see the similarities with qualities our own mothers probably tried to instill in us.

  1. Strength                                             6. Acceptance
  2. Perseverance                                    7. Balance
  3. Patience                                             8. Appreciation
  4. Optimism                                           9. Self-worth
  5. Respect                                             10. Happiness

(Ten Tree sells clothing and accessories and plants ten trees for every item sold).

Additional Information

  • More on the history of Mother’s Day
  • Here in the Atlanta area, Trees Atlanta has a lot to offer, including their Holiday Gift Program and they also tell you how to plant your own tree. They also partnered with WABE Atlanta Public Radio to planta tree in metro Atlanta for every pledge WABE receives on one specific day of their fundraising drive,
  • To find a designated Arboretum near you, you can search ArbNet
  • Farhana Borg, Mikael Winberg & Monika Vinterek (2017) “Children’s Learning for a Sustainable Society: Influences from Home and Preschool,” Education Inquiry, 8:2, 151-172, DOI: 10.1080/20004508.2017.1290915

 

Rootin’ for the Earth – Part 2

Rootin’ for the Earth - Part 2

We thought we might wrap up Earth Day 2018 with a few things that happened this year. Here’s a short list of what we’re reading …

The We Are Still In coalition – the 2,700 U.S. organizations who have come together to show the world that we stand by the Paris Climate Agreement and are committed to meeting its goals – launched ‘We Are Taking Action.” This venture is a multi-sector campaign to drive new and more ambitious climate action from non-federal actors across the country, ahead of the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco this September.

Waste Dive 360 wrote about “12 leading companies, nonprofits pay tribute to Earth Day 2018.”

Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Northeast Recycling Council, reflecting on 50 years of environmental action reminded us of this 1970 broadcast from famous newsman Walter Cronkite.
  • Apple announced Daisy – a new disassembly robot that takes Apple products and harvests the metals from them, reducing the new for extracting new material.
  • Outdoors retailer The North Face partnered with The National Parks Foundation on a collection of t-shirts and tote bags made from recycled bottles collected from three national parks. $1 from each sale will be donated back to the foundation, and the program has already collected over 160,000 pounds of bottles from Yosemite National Park alone.

According to CityLab, volunteers helped the Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program (VOSRP) stuff mesh bags with oyster shells, which they collect from restaurants around the state. The bags are then submerged into tanks, where staff members will introduce oyster larvae. The larvae attach themselves to the shells and grow into spat and eventually full-sized oysters, with shells of their own.

“Because an oyster shell has two valves, and 10 to 15 larvae typically attach themselves to each valve, “that means we return 20 to 30 oysters to the Bay for every oyster that we get,” program director Todd Jane ski said.

On the local front, The Saporta Report had a guest column by Sally Bethea, board president of Chattahoochee Parks Conservancy: An Earth Day reflection: America’s National Park System

We hope you enjoyed these highlights. We like sharing what we discover with you so be looking for more “What We’re Reading Now” columns