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  Free recycling exists.

  If you don't believe it, talk to Ron Labrano of Lab Recylcing LLC. His company offers totally free curbside recycling service twice a month — or more, if you ask. Labrano has offered the service since 2004, and business is picking up. Labrano and a staff of only four others are "just trying to make a little footprint" in New Orleans, he says. He offers recycling at no charge for residential customers (commercial customers pay $20 a month), doesn't have any contracts, and he'll pick up mixed papers, plastics and electronics once every two weeks. Lab doesn't have the kind of overhead as larger recycling operations like Phoenix or SDT Waste & Debris, so Labrano can afford bins for every customer at no charge.

  "And I can't see charging someone for something that's we're turning around and making a profit with," he says.

  Lab sells its recyclables to paper processing plants in North and South Carolina, and its plastic and electronics are separated, cleaned and processed in the company's warehouse, then sold to recyclers across the country — a tough deal in the slumping recycle biz.

  Lab operates from a warehouse near Franklin Avenue at 2839 N. Robertson Ave. To get a free bin at your house for pickup, call Lab at 710-4833 or email — Alex Woodward

Biodiesel on Demand

  A new, eco-friendly public transportation service offered by New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (NORTA) aims to make life a little easier for residents of the Lower 9th Ward. Two buses from the Lil' Easy line — a stable of 10 smaller biodiesel Sprinters — began running their first routes in the Lower 9th in late January. Over the course of the year NORTA plans to add service to other storm-ravaged neighborhoods like Lakeview, New Orleans East and Gentilly.

  "It's a different type of service than your regular route," explains NORTA spokeswoman Rosalind Blanco Cook. "It's to provide service in areas that do not have the population they had pre-Katrina, to get people to the places they need (to go)."

  The current route runs until 10 p.m. nightly and includes three primary stops: the shopping center at 4600 Chef Menteur Hwy., the post office at North Claiborne and Poland avenues, and the Orleans and St. Bernard Parish line. Twenty-four additional stops can be scheduled from one hour to one week in advance by calling 827-7433 — "sort of an on-demand type of service," Cook says.

  Lil' Easy joins NORTA's existing biodiesel fleet of 39 regular-size buses. Although only half the overall routes from before Hurricane Katrina remain in operation, Cook says the alternative-fuel vehicles remain a priority. "Biodiesel costs a little more, but our fuel suppliers pass on subsidies," she says. "We're not saving money, but the environment is too important." — Noah Bonaparte Pais

Central City Recycling

  The Euterpe Recycling Center (ERC) is a rare symbiotic venture that benefits all parties involved. Lee Stafford, co-chairman of the Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard Main Street Design Committee, was looking for a cleanup company to operate a recycling facility behind his building at 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. Longtime friend Peter Wilson, co-founder of Eco Green Clean, a film-set cleanup crew, needed a terminal for his business. And Central City residents had no neighborhood options for recyclable materials other than their trashcans.

  February's opening of the ERC, located behind a brightly painted fence at 1829 Euterpe St., solved all three issues. Decorated by college volunteers from New York, the fence has cutouts for plastic and aluminum drop-offs. Proceeds will fund committee projects.

  "We're not making a lot of money off it," Wilson says. "But we've at least made that one face of the block look nice and clean. Let's face it, recycling takes a little more effort in your daily life. As an overall philosophy, the main purpose is to create an environment that discourages waste."

  The center has collected 40 yards of plastic and 150 pounds of cans so far, mostly from nearby businesses like Parkway Partners, Ashe Cultural Arts Center and Cafe Reconcile. "There's some really poor neighbors, too, that I had no idea would be curious about recycling," Stafford says. "They've been bringing their stuff over."

  The project is in line with the committee's mission of revitalizing the boulevard as a center of commerce. "Our focus is on visual improvements to O.C. Haley to make it a more attractive place for businesses to come and shoppers to shop," he says. "We're working on landscaping and maintaining a community garden. Now people can bring their recyclables (on their way) to Zeitgeist (Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center) and then go see a movie." — Pais

Big Trouble in Little Gypsy

  On March 11, the Louisiana Public Service Commission (LPSC) unanimously agreed to halt Entergy Corporation's efforts to convert the Little Gypsy plant in Montz from a natural gas plant to one that burns coal and petroleum coke. The Alliance for Affordable Energy, the Sierra Club, the Louisiana Environmental Action Network and others joined the commission to oppose the project.

  The commission's motion calls for Entergy to review the project's economics, which, if implemented, would place the cost of the $1.76 billion operation on Entergy customers over a 19-year period. The company anticipates coal being a far cheaper and more competitive fuel source in the future. The commission, however, anticipates the burning of petroleum coke and coal to become more expensive under the Obama administration's anticipated carbon regulations, leaving Entergy customers with even higher bills.

  Arkansas-based consultant James E. Metzger issued a 57-page report determining the Little Gypsy conversion would increase the cost to ratepayers, and the company should instead invest in efficient and renewable sources rather than coal. The report also says the conversion could cause potential environmental hazards by producing dangerous levels of mercury emissions, the problem of waste storage and an overall impact to global warming.

  The LPSC will review the project's economic viability at its April 8 session. — Woodward

Green Jobs at Work

  Members of the Conservation Corps of Greater New Orleans (CCGNO) showcased several of their service-learning projects throughout the New Orleans area two weeks ago. The March 20 showcase highlighted projects like the refurbishing of the Old City Building Center warehouse into an architectural salvage depot, where corps members reclaim lumber and other materials from a deconstruction site, process the materials for reuse and use them to build storage bins for the depot and a museum exhibit. Other projects include rebuilding a sustainable garden that flooded behind the Arc of Greater New Orleans.

  The Corps Network includes the Louisiana Green Corps, City of Hope Youth Development Corps, Limitless Vistas Inc., Recovery School District's Career Options Corps and the TriParish Youth Restoration Corps. The network trains youth who are recommended by the court system in New Orleans and surrounding parishes through environmental service learning projects that benefit the community and teach job skills. Project sites train up to 600 youths each year in the New Orleans area. — Woodward


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