Wait! Don’t flush! Responsible options for unused prescriptions

It’s no secret that the compounds and chemicals found in prescriptions and over-the-counter medications have also been found in our lakes, rivers, streams, groundwater and drinking water, and the old adage to flush unused prescriptions is now the least desirable option for clearing out your home and medicine cabinet. We now have options to help minimize the pharmaceutical ingredients found in our waters.

Saturday is the federal Drug Enforcement Agency’s National Prescription Take Back Day. Originally designed as an effort to curb prescription drug abuse, especially among teens, it has other benefits as well. By keeping these chemicals and compounds out of our waters, we keep them out of our bodies, minimizing the effects on our health. It also helps retain the effectiveness of our existing pharmaceutical options, as environmental exposure can lead to drug-resistant germs and “superbugs.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reported that 45,581 pounds, or 23 tons, worth of prescription drugs were dropped off at collection sites throughout Wisconsin during the April 2013 Take Back event, making our state one of the largest contributors of unwanted medications in the country.

To find a facility or medical waste drop site near you, a good starting place is the DEA website, which offers a searchable database of sites near you that will take old, unused and expired medications; you can search by city and state or by ZIP code.

Interestingly, some research on the topic also found that Wisconsin has a Drug Repository program. Patients may donate certain unused or discontinued medications and supplies to a participating pharmacy or medical facility. Those items will be given to individuals with cancer or chronic disease that do not have insurance or are underinsured. There are, understandably, restrictions on what can and cannot be donated; the website doesn’t specify what drugs can be donated other than to list a few that cannot, but you learn more on the website.

Have other non-pharmaceutical medical supplies you want to dispose of properly? The DNR offers this resource.

While the above disposal options have numerable benefits, responsible medical waste management starts before you even open the bottle. Take the full course of medication as prescribed. For as-needed medications, talk with your provider about obtaining a quantity you’ll reasonably use, reducing waste and possibly out-of-pocket costs. Store medications properly to reduce spoilage.


Update: Please check with your pharmacy as well. Some pharmacies provide take-back programs.

All in for Groundwater

A cool glass of water, a calm lake, a roaring river … how is this all possible? Clean, reliable groundwater. This Tuesday is Groundwater Protection Day and to keep it safe, we need to protect it from contamination and overuse. Here are 10 ways you can help:

  1. Safety First: Safely store and dispose of hazardous household products in a safe place and properly dispose of any unused or unneeded pharmaceuticals.
  2. Location, Location, Location: When installing wells, choose a spot far from possible contamination such as septic tanks. Be sure to use proper construction methods so that leaks do not occur later.

    A leaky faucet can cost you, fix that dip this Tuesday!

    A leaky faucet can cost you, fix that dip this Tuesday!

  3. Less is More: Reduce your water consumption by taking shorter showers, running the dishwasher less and installing water-saving devices such as water-efficient washing machines and toilets.
  4. Say No to Fertilizers: Overusing fertilizers and pesticides can cause them to wash away into the groundwater instead of being absorbed by the plants. Make sure to use them sparingly if at all.
  5. Reuse and Recycle: Find ways to reuse the water in your home. For instance, water from cleaning dishes could be used to water indoor plants.
  6. Free Water: Installing rain barrels in your yard will not only provide you with free water for the garden but also prevent yard runoff from bringing waste into our groundwater.
  7. Pitch in for Fido: Clean up after your pets so phosphorus from the poo doesn’t find its way into our groundwater. You’ll also probably avoid stepping in it later.
  8. Responsible Citizens: Make sure your community’s public groundwater system is inspected to ensure safe drinking water and any problems can be addressed quickly.
  9. Fix that Drip: Around your home or office repair any leaky faucets or taps. Dripping water can account for up to 10,000 gallons of water wasted in homes each year.
  10. Take Action!: Ask your legislators to oppose LRB 0823, a draft bill that would roll back Wisconsinite’s ability to protect their wells and their beloved waterways from excessive groundwater pumping. Take action here!

Waukesha’s Plea for Water

As we learned last week, the Great Lakes are protected by the Great Lakes Compact which prevents any community outside the Great Lakes Basin from diverting water for their own needs. The City of Waukesha is the first area outside this basin to request water from the Great Lakes.

Here is where things stand currently:

-          Waukesha is in need of a new water source due to the water levels in their well dropping by 500 feet and newly discovered radium levels. They have been using water from the Mississippi River while waiting for their proposals to pass.

-          After ruling out other water source options for economical or environmental reasons, the City has written several proposals to make their case for water from the Great Lakes. If Waukesha is successful the pipeline would come from Oak Creek and return water through Underwood Creek.

-          As of July 15th, the DNR has allowed for public informational meetings in Waukesha, Milwaukee, and Racine led by Waukesha city members. This will allow the public to comment on the proposal and ask questions before the DNR and the Great Lakes Compact reviews the proposal. All eight states and two Canadian providences must approve the proposal.

So what does this mean for the future of the Great Lakes and the strength of the Great Lakes Compact? If Waukesha successfully gets the approval of all 10 officials with the Compact, then other communities outside the basin would make similar cases for their water resources. The Compact would lose its authority to protect the Great Lakes from being tapped into by any city having water quality or quantity issues.

The City of Waukesha is under a public mandate to find a new water source by June 2018.  With this deadline, Waukesha will want to get meetings underway quickly. Similar to other environmental issues this decision affects all of us. Check back with Clean Wisconsin for more information as this historical story unfolds.

What is the Great Lakes Compact?

Wisconsin continues to help protect the Great Lakes and the good news is the rest of the Midwest is helping too! The Great Lakes Compact is a binding agreement to prevent water from being diverted from the lakes. Here are five facts about the Great Lakes Compact that are fun to know and share:

  1. Former Wisconsin Governor Doyle signed the Great Lakes Compact in May 2008, adding Wisconsin to the list of states and Canadian provinces bordering the Great Lakes who agreed not to redirect water out of the Great Lakes beyond the need of the residents in the Great Lakes Basin. President George Bush signed the Compact into law in October 2008
  2. Any community that lies within the Great Lakes Basin, an area where the water naturally drains into the Great Lakes, may use the water for their community’s needs. Waukesha is the first community outside of the Basin seeking to redirect water from the Great Lakes since the Compact was signed. (Next week we’ll explore what that means for the future of the Great Lakes).
    The Compact protects the water of the communities that lie in the tan area.

    The Compact protects the water of the communities that lie in the tan area.

  3. The Great Lakes Compact ensures that all eight bordering states and the two Canadian provinces must work together in managing the Great Lakes resources equally.
  4. Eliminating the number of diversions out of the Great Lakes will preserve the natural flow of the water. This prevents invasive species from being directed in the Great Lakes and native species from being rushed out.
  5. Inspiration for the Compact came from looking at other lakes and how diverting water for drinking, economic use and recreation effecting the water levels. For instance, the Aral Sea in Central Asia has lost 90% of its water since 1968.

The Compact brings together communities to help protect the Great Lakes. Keep the Great Lakes Great shares this same goal and believes that Wisconsin can be a good example of how to keep the Great Lakes beautiful and healthy.

Protect Our Lakes from Invasive Species

Protect Our Lakes from Invasive Species

This Independence Day, Clean Wisconsin is working to keep the Great Lakes independent of invasive species. Here are five ways you can help while enjoying the holiday:

  • Day at the Beach: While enjoying a sunny day at the beach, remember to not remove any plants or living animals from the lake and shore. These native species belong there and help maintain the health of the ecosystem.6022374441_c6b65689fa_z
  • Leftover Bait: After spending the day fishing you might have extra bait. Dispose of the leftovers in the trash so that they do not become invasive to your favorite fishing spot.
  • Boating Etiquette: Before putting your boat in the lake, clean off your propeller and trailer. Be sure to hose and pull off any weeds after exiting the lake, too. This will keep you from bringing in any uninvited guests to the next lake.
  • Contact Officials: Express your interest in the protection of the Great Lakes by contacting local and national officials. By supporting the separation of the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes, you could help prevent species like Asian Carp from entering the Lakes.
  • Be Informed: Stay educated about native and invasive species in your area. If you see something fishy, be sure to contact the proper authorities so they can handle the situation.

The Great Lakes are part of what makes us proud to call Wisconsin home. You can help Keep the Great Lakes Great. Happy 4th of July!

Mercury, and Plastics, and Runoff, Oh My!

Chemicals in the Great Lakes and How You Can Help

Toxic chemicals from coal-burning power plants and other industries, litter and urban storm water runoff are polluting our Great Lakes and causing problems for the lakes’ ecosystems and Wisconsinites.

coal power plant on lake michiganMercury from burning fossil fuels

Most of Wisconsin’s lakes and rivers, including the Great Lakes, are under a fish consumption advisory warning people to be careful how much fish they eat due to high levels of mercury. Exposure to mercury can cause a host of health problems, such as developmental issues in infants and children and can lead to memory and vision loss in adults.

In addition, the concentration of mercury in the Great Lakes alters the acidity of the water and impacts the biological development of animals. Larger fish, such as Muskie and Walleye, accumulate more mercury, making them dangerous to eat, making business difficult for fishermen. Power plants along the shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior continue to burn fossil fuels, which release mercury into the air and water, causing most of the mercury pollution in Wisconsin. With Wisconsin’s utilities continuing to favor fossil fuels, consumers are encouraged to check fish consumption guidelines to keep themselves and their families safe.

While most of the pollution from burning fossil fuels happens on land, the S.S. Badger, a historic ferry that runs between Manitowoc, Wis., and Ludington, Mich., operates on coal and dumps its leftover coal ash directly into Lake Michigan. This coal ash contains mercury, arsenic and lead, among other toxins that pollute the sediment on the bottom of the lake and harm aquatic life. In 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency gave the S.S. Badger until 2012 to find a solution to their polluting; they were unsuccessful and continue to dump coal ash into the lake. This past spring the EPA allowed the S.S. Badger to continue service as long as they reduce the amount of coal ash unloaded into the lake by 15%. By 2015 S.S. Badger needs to have a containment system so 100% of the ash is stored on the ship and not dumped in the lake. Clean Wisconsin has consistently urged the EPA to put an end to this unnecessary contamination.

What you can do

By voting and encouraging renewable energy in Wisconsin, you can help reduce the amount of fossil fuels we use. In your own home, look for ways to reduce our energy use, such as buying the most efficient light bulbs and electric appliances available, insulating your home well, using a programmable thermostat and looking into incentives and rebates offered by Focus on Energy, the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency program.

Plastic waste

Last spring, the first Great Lakes Plastics Survey found between 1,500 and 1.7 million pieces of plastic per square mile in Lake Superior. Research for the survey was done through the University of Wisconsin-Superior, where they found that chemicals stick to these plastics, making them dangerous for animals to consume and problematic for water quality. With chemicals such as mercury sticking to the plastics, this will only increase the amount of mercury in the Great Lakes. Children born in the Lake Superior Basin in Wisconsin already have a higher chance of being born with increased levels of mercury in their blood. Research to address the issues resulting from plastics entering the Great Lakes continues, but there are actions we can take to help as well.


What you can do

By not littering in our lakes or near our shores, we can keep plastics from becoming a larger issue in the Great Lakes. When you can, use a reusable water bottle instead of purchasing water and other beverages in disposable plastic containers.  When you do use those containers, make sure they’re recycled when you’re done. Avoid buying body wash that contains plastic micro beads, which don’t break down in your shower and eventually end up in our lakes. Volunteering to clean up beaches and wetland areas keeps the Great Lakes and your community clean, safe and beautiful. While you’re on the water, remember to bring a bag or bucket for garbage to keep trash from going overboard.

Polluted runoff

Spring and early summer 2013 keep bringing the rain, which is great for agriculture and our gardens (and the mosquitoes!), but when we don’t manage the runoff from our agricultural and urban areas properly, all that excess runoff and the pollution it carries with it can harm our lakes. Storm water carries waste from streets and sidewalks, oil and other chemicals from leaky cars, and leaves, soil and fertilizers from yards and parks into the Great Lakes. This contributes to the amount of plastic waste entering the lakes and certain chemicals, such as phosphorus, feed the nasty algae blooms in the lakes, especially with warmer water temperatures. Algae blocks out sunlight, harming aquatic life and can cause respiratory problems for swimmers, in addition to making swimming and even walking along lake shorelines gross. This destruction to the Great Lakes not only impacts the fish and animals that live there, but also the health and livelihood of the people in Wisconsin.

What you can do

Installing rain barrels and rain gardens at your home to collect rainwater can decrease the amount of runoff that goes into our Great Lakes. Avoid overusing fertilizers in your yard and garden—this will save you money and reduce runoff pollution into the lakes.

For years, Clean Wisconsin has supported the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and other successful programs and efforts at the local, state and national level to restore and protect the Great Lakes from problems such as toxic hot spots, polluted runoff, habitat loss, invasive species and more. In many ways, the Great Lakes are suffering, but the good news that is we all have a hand in improving our lakes.  Please help be a part of the solution. This summer, let’s work together to Keep the Great Lakes Great.


Summer 2013: Gone to the Lakes

This summer Clean Wisconsin is encouraging you to help Keep the Great Lakes Great. We’ll be posting different images, blog posts and videos about the health of the Great Lakes. This campaign will show what you can do to protect the Great Lakes from harmful chemicals, invasive species and dropping water levels.

Over the summer we will:

  • Update you on chemicals, such as mercury, in Wisconsin’s Great Lakes, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. Due to mercury levels, statewide fish consumption advisory has been issued, but pollution from boats such as the S.S. Badger and from plastics due to littering cause chemical trouble too.
  • Photo by NASA Goddard, taken August 28, 2010 of the Great Lakes

    Photo by NASA Goddard, taken August 28, 2010 of the Great Lakes

    Teach you how to keep invasive species out of the Great Lakes and inform you of the whereabouts of invasive species like Asian Carp. These nonnative species can have dramatic effects on the Great Lakes ecosystem making it crucial to keep them out.

  • Illustrate the drastic changes in water levels the Great Lakes have experienced in the last few decades. There are a few reasons why this is happening and many effects that impact aquatic life and Wisconsinites.
  • Define the Great Lakes Water Compact and how it protects the Great Lakes. Also we’ll hash out what’s happening in the city of Waukesha and why that’s important to the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes are a major part of the Wisconsin lifestyle and they’re in danger. This summer let’s work together to help Keep the Great Lakes Great.


Exploring New Trails and Protecting Loved Places

On Saturday, dust off your hiking boots, pack your trail mix, and grab a friend there are trails to explore!

The first Saturday of June is National Trails Day. Wisconsin is home to over 2,730 miles of hiking trails. While Wisconsin is lucky to have these hiking trails across that state, Clean Wisconsin is working harder than ever to protect these places we love.

Want to hit the trails this Saturday? Here are a few you’re sure to love.

  1. North: For longer trips, a hike down the Nicolet State Trail might be just the ticket. Spanning 89 miles, it offers spots for fishing, water recreation, and watching wildlife. A trail head and parking lot are located in the town of Suring next to the city hall.
  2. Northeast: Starting in Green Bay, the Fox River Trail is 14 miles long and allows for walking, biking or skating with paved paths. This historical trail follows a path Native Americans walked from village to village. The trail head is located just south of the Mason Street Bridge, with other entrances along the river.
  3. East: With eight trails all less than one mile, Harrington Beach State Park a fun place to explore and wander. This park is open year-round and is just 35 miles north of Milwaukee.
  4. South Central: Our “State Scenic Trail” is the Ice Age Trail that winds its way through the state. The Ice Age Trail follows along where the glaciers began to recede during the Ice Age. The portion of the trail in the Kettle Moraine Forest is 31 miles long. A trail head and new parking area is located in Fitchburg.
  5. West: Following along an old railroad route, the La Crosse River State Trail is 22 miles long and permits biking and foot travel. This trail also connects to the Elroy-Sparta State Trail and the Great River State Trail for further adventures. The trail headquarters is located in Sparta on Milwaukee Street for daily and seasonal passes.
The Nicolet State Trail is a great way to spend National Trail Day.

The Nicolet State Trail is a great way to spend National Trail Day.

Spending a day outdoors and enjoying nature is good for us and the environment. Maintaining trails and natural areas for public help prevent runoff, provide wildlife habitat and protect our natural resources, but recent funding cuts and other policy measures introduced in the state budget put these areas at risk. Clean Wisconsin is committed to protecting the places we all love.

For more information on trails in your area and around the state visit the Wisconsin DNR’s website.

It’s Barbecuing Month!

May is National Barbecue Month, a great way to celebrate warmer weather and to kick off summer. Make your next cook-out environmentally friendly and a hit with your guests.

Set the table: It’s easy to default to paper plates since you’re eating outside, but instead try reusable dishware. This time of year, you can find outdoor-ready dishes and utensils in bright colors perfect for entertaining.

Fuel choice: Studies show that gas grills emit less carbon dioxide than charcoal grills. They cook more efficiently, saving you time and reducing your carbon footprint.

Think local: For your cookout shopping, hit up your local farmers market to buy everything from meats to vegetables. Supporting farmers markets is better for the local economy and the environment.

Toasting time: In Wisconsin, it’s easy to find a local microbrewery with great tasting beer close to home. Not only is it a short drive to buy it, but you are also supporting your local economy. Cheers to a win-win.

Easy cleaning: While the grill is warm, clean it with baking soda, water and a wire brush. This will prevent your grill from smoking and your food will taste better.

With these tips, the whole neighborhood will want to be at your next cook-out. Happy grilling!

Trade Four Wheels for Two

On the fence about biking to work this Bike to Work Week? Here are 5 tips to make biking to work successful.

  1. Route planning: Check for bike paths and residential streets that have less traffic. In larger cities, combining a bike ride and a public transit commute is also effective.
  2. Morning preparation: Biking to work is exercise. Make sure to eat a good breakfast and drink plenty of water before starting to bike. The Wisconsin morning sun can be hot, bring an extra shirt so you can confidently tackle your day when you get to work.

    This could be you on your way to work this week!

    This could be you on your way to work this week!

  3. Extra storage: Planning on doing errands before or after work? Attach a rack to the back of your bike or a basket to the front. You can carry anything you need to pick up or drop off right there on your bike.
  4. Maintenance: The miles will start to add up quickly, so check your tires and brakes often. Keeping your bike in top shape will keep you in better shape and keep you safe.
  5. Dress Up: Wearing a helmet can protect you from anything you hit while biking. Wearing reflective bands and attaching a blinking light to your bike will prevent anything from hitting you. While on your mission to saving the environment, remember safety.

Want some extra riding time? Join us every Thursday starting May 16 for the Clean Wisconsin & Friends Bike Club. We leave at 5:30 from the Clean Wisconsin office. Each week we’ll offer two different routes, and everyone is invited to join us afterward at our neighborhood bar, Echo Tap, for Happy Hour pricing (bring your own wallet)!