Why the mystifying axolotl must be saved from extinction

February 20, 2020 by  
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Today’s axolotls are experiencing extirpation, but scientists and pet enthusiasts are saving them from true  extinction . Why? Axolotls have long fascinated the learned and laymen alike, thanks to the animal’s powers of regenerating and self-healing. While all organisms can regenerate to some degree, the axolotl’s capabilities are far more advanced. Historical documentation cites Spallanzani, in 1768, as the first Western observer of an axolotl’s complete regeneration of tail and limb. Then in 1804, renowned naturalist Alexander von Humboldt collected the first wild specimens, shipping them to Europe . By 1863, axolotls first debuted in official science laboratories when a French expedition shipped 34 of them to the Natural History Museum in Paris. French zoologist Auguste Duméril received six of those original 34. His successfully bred lines launched the global axolotl diaspora as he shared line progeny with international colleagues. Related:  Light pollution, habitat loss and pesticides push fireflies toward extinction Present-day wild axolotls have not fared well. Despite its status as “the most widely distributed amphibian around the world in pet shops and labs,” the wild axolotl is nearing extirpation, said Richard Griffiths, an ecologist at the University of Kent in Canterbury, UK, to  Scientific American . The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)  catalogs axolotls on the Red List, delineating threat risks from  habitat loss ,  water pollution , fierce competition with non-native species, predation by invasive species, climate change-induced droughts, disease and inbreeding. Only popularity in both the pet and laboratory industries keeps axolotls from all-out extinction. But what are axolotls exactly? They are  amphibians  in the Ambystomatidae family of mole salamanders and are identified by neoteny. That is, they retain larval traits or juvenile characteristics. What distinguishes them from juveniles of other salamander species is retention of their unmetamorphosed larva appearance, even as adults. Peculiarly, they appear as “sexually mature tadpoles,” spending entire lives underwater , veritably breeding in that form, unlike other salamanders that metamorphose and crawl onto land. Of course, with iodine, axolotls can be induced into metamorphosis, even developing into bona fide salamanders that phenotypically resemble tiger salamanders. However, metamorphosed axolotls experience much-diminished lifespans compared to neotenous counterparts. The most widely recognized axolotl is  Ambystoma mexicanum , whose only remaining natural  habitat  is Mexico City’s canal system. Legend says while the Aztecs built Tenochtitlan, their capital, they discovered, in the lake, a large, feathery-gilled salamander. They named it after Xolotl, their fire and lightning deity. As Quetzalcoatl’s twin brother, Xolotl enjoyed shapeshifting powers.  Live Science  explains how Xolotl apparently “transformed into a salamander, among other forms, to avoid being sacrificed so the sun and moon could move in the sky,” showcasing even then how axolotls captivated the fancy of this ancient civilization and garnered placement in their pantheon. Regrettably, Mexico’s endemic axolotls are dwindling drastically. From JSTOR Daily , the “first robust count of axolotls” in their natural habitat amounted to an estimated 6,000 axolotls per square kilometer. That population survey transpired in 1998. By 2015, the population plummeted, numbering “only 35 per square kilometer,” therefore revealing precipitous extirpation. Formerly at the  food chain  apex, what changed for axolotls? Development sprawl, tourism and recreational use drained the natural water levels of axolotl habitats. Whatever water has remained is polluted by litter and offal, pesticides and non-organic fertilizers, heavy metals and toxic chemical runoff. Because axolotls breathe through their highly permeable skin, they are incredibly susceptible to pollution, which adversely affects axolotl health, growth and development. Moreover, from the 1970s to 1980s, tilapia and carp, non-native fish that reproduce faster than can be caught, were released into the canals, disrupting local food webs and  ecosystems . Tilapia and carp also forage around the canals’ aquatic plants, where axolotls lay eggs, further reducing offspring numbers even more in a prelude to the grim species-level extirpation of wild axolotls. Additionally,  climate change  and severe weather, which the IUCN acknowledges as threats to the axolotl, in turn, perpetuate drought conditions, again decimating the axolotls’ natural habitat. It is feared only a few hundred axolotls remain in the wild. Whereas wild axolotls might not all be rescued from Mexico’s canals, the species are nonetheless thriving in captive breeding programs at universities and scientific laboratories as well as in private aquariums of pet owners. Indeed,  Scientific American  documented that “tens of thousands can be found in home aquariums and research laboratories around the world. They are bred so widely in captivity that certain restaurants in Japan even serve them up deep-fried.” In fact, from Duméril’s progeny lines, scientists continue to successfully breed axolotls to this day. This accounts for the  Journal of Experimental Zoology ’s assertion of axolotls being “the oldest self-sustaining laboratory animal population.” Duméril’s generosity ignited Europe and America’s axolotl breeding craze, says  Scientific American , giving way to the 1930s breeding stock at the University at Buffalo, New York. That stock was then hybridized with both wild axolotls and tiger salamanders ( Ambystoma tigrinum ). As that hybridized lineage population flourished, it was then relocated to the University of Kentucky – Lexington, where the current Ambystoma  Genetic Stock Center has evolved into academia’s epicenter of global axolotl breeding. From there, tens of thousands of axolotl embryos are sent to contemporary research labs. For more than 150 years, the scientific community has remained intrigued by axolotl regenerative abilities, which are quite unlike those in mammals . Axolotls, for one, can completely regenerate amputated limbs, even after multiple amputations, with each new limb as functional as the original. From  American Zoologist , their cells ‘know’ what to regrow, even supernumerary limbs when regenerating tissue grafted onto other body quadrants. Should axolotls have damaged internal organs, they would be regrown. Crushed spinal cords can be fully repaired as well. In other words, no other animal comes close to axolotl regeneration and self-healing. Likewise,  Science  journal has documented axolotls readily receiving transplanted heads. By the same token, back in 1865, “Duméril’s second generation of axolotls spontaneously transformed into air-breathing adults.” This hidden developmental stage led to 20th-century researchers discovering thyroid hormones, explains  Nova . Nowadays, the axolotl  genome  has been sequenced, and  Max Planck Institute  reveals it “is more than ten times larger than the human genome.” Besides being the largest genome decoded so far, the axolotl’s genome contains an “enormous number of large repetitive sequences.” Could these account for axolotl plasticity in developmental, regenerative and evolutionary assets, such as why it retains its tadpole-like qualities into adulthood? By studying the axolotl genome, scientists hope for ample opportunities to understand the gene regulation processes that make regeneration possible. These findings would revolutionize medicine and aging science. Meanwhile, laboratory-bred axolotls are still vulnerable to loss — from inbreeding,  disease  or laboratory disasters like fires. Crossbreeding is not without its challenges. For more genetic diversity, the lab-bred stock must be crossbred with wilds, but wilds are being extirpated, making their collection difficult. That leaves hybridization with tiger salamanders, but the true axolotl gene pool gets diluted as a result. With numbers in the wild not likely to rebound without help, it’s imperative to strengthen axolotl  conservation  efforts. Perhaps establishing sanctuaries and ecological refuges in the wild, as well as enacting more enforceable legislation, can help save axolotls from extirpation. No matter the case, axolotl conservation will require heavy human involvement. Once this exceptional organism goes extinct, the world loses out on all the knowledge they can provide. Via Nova and Scientific American Images via Pexels and Pixabay

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Why the mystifying axolotl must be saved from extinction

Craft beer waste saves Montana town $1M for wastewater treatment

February 18, 2020 by  
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A Montana town has found a money-saving solution to its sewage and wastewater treatment expenses, thanks to a nearby craft brewery. The innovation caught the eye of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which provided the town and its water reclamation facility an Honorable Mention accolade in one of the federal agency’s annual awards. Havre, Montana has a population of 10,000. Its 40-year-old water reclamation facility, as the EPA has described, “needed upgrades to help meet their final ammonia and residual chlorine limits,” while processing more than 6 million gallons of water . Related: EWG warns ‘forever chemicals’ are contaminating US drinking water at levels far worse than expected Unfortunately, with more than 10 breweries nearby, the wastewater generated further increased because beer waste is “rich in yeast, hops and sugar.” These contents are known to skew the microbial activity process that removes both nitrogen and phosphorus from the water as it is being treated. In short, if nitrogen and phosphorus are not removed before the treated water enters the drain-off into estuaries, then bacterial and algal blooms will arise. These unwanted blooms would disturb an estuary’s water chemistry enough to adversely affect the ecosystem. Engineering consultant Coralyn Revis offered a paradigm shift to solve the issue. “If we can use [brewery waste] correctly and put it in the right spot, it’s very beneficial to the process,” Revis said. “This is super-simplified, but like, if they’re eating their french fries, they need a little ketchup with it. So to get the nitrate out, you dose a little carbon, and the bugs are happier.” Havre’s wastewater plant manager, Drue Newfield, sought Michael Garrity, Triple Dog Brewing Company’s owner, to source leftover barley for feeding the water treatment microbes. The spent barley was used as a substitute for the chemical alum, an aluminum-sulfate solution. The joint endeavor saved the community from investing an additional $1 million in upgrades to the water treatment plant. “To further enhance the biological phosphorus removal process, 10 gallons of waste barley mash from a local brewery gets added daily as an external source of carbon and volatile fatty acid supplement,” the EPA explained. “These improvements have allowed the facility to continuously meet all permit effluent limits and has significantly improved the operability, reliability and treatment capability of the facility. These upgrades have greatly improved the quality of wastewater effluent discharged to the Milk River, particularly with respect to nutrient levels and ammonia toxicity.” The endeavor has been federally acknowledged as a creative and successful example for integrating community involvement at solving water quality infrastructure challenges in four key areas: public health, economy, sustainability and innovation. Via NPR , Core77 and EPA Image via Manfred Richter

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Craft beer waste saves Montana town $1M for wastewater treatment

DIY sweet treats for Valentines Day

February 14, 2020 by  
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From pesticide residue on cut flowers to the questionable ingredients in conversation hearts, standard-issue Valentine romance won’t cut it for your earth-conscious sweetie. But don’t worry, you can make DIY treats that are delicious, personalized and easier on the environment than conventional Valentine’s Day candy. Fair-trade ingredients The best Valentine’s Day candy starts with fair-trade ingredients. Cocoa is one of the most important fair-trade items, as 90% of the global cocoa supply comes from small family farms in tropical places. The 6 million farmers earning their living through growing and selling cocoa beans are vulnerable to pressures that drive the market price down. If you buy chocolate bars and chips that are Fair-Trade certified, you know that the farmers are being fairly paid for their work. Since 1998, this program has invested about $14 million into cocoa-producing communities in places like Peru, Ecuador, Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Many other ingredients besides cocoa are covered by the fair-trade certification system. Some of these items that you might use in Valentine’s Day recipes include sugar, coffee, honey, tea and fruits like bananas . Simple Valentine’s Day treats Does the intricacy of the treat reflect your love for your partner? Not necessarily. Even if you’re challenged by lack of time and/or kitchen skills, you can still produce a thoughtful and tasty Valentine’s Day gift. Related: 14 vegan and vegetarian Valentine’s Day dinner ideas Three-ingredient vegan chocolate pots contain only chocolate, dates and almond milk. You melt unsweetened chocolate in a microwave, throw it in a blender with the dates and almond milk, then refrigerate until it solidifies. The trickiest thing is remembering that you’ll need to refrigerate it for at least four hours, so plan ahead. Get the full recipe here . Another option for those who have trouble juggling multiple ingredients, this three-ingredient velvety chocolate fruit dip combines coconut cream, cacao powder and maple syrup. Just add a fourth ingredient — some fruit — and you’ll be ready for Valentine’s Day. Try bananas, mango slices or chunks of pineapple for best results. Does your darling love ice cream? The simplest vegan ice cream consists of two ingredients: cocoa powder and bananas, both of which you can get fair-trade certified. You just need a blender or food processor and a freezer. Want to jazz it up? Add coconut, berries or nuts. Prefer to be even more minimalist? Make a one-ingredient ice cream of bananas only. Chocolate delicacies For a more traditional Valentine’s Day candy gift — but still vegan and fair-trade — make your own vegan chocolate salted caramels . You can get really romantic by shaping them into hearts. What if your love is not only vegan, but a gluten-free raw foodie? A vegan chocolate almond cheesecake with a gluten-free crust is an excellent solution to this Valentine’s Day gift-giving challenge. This recipe tops the cheesecake with cocoa nibs and extra almonds. Perhaps cookies are your loved one’s favorite treat. These heart-shaped chocolate sugar cookies are vegan and gluten-free. You’ll need heart-shaped cookie cutters and a rolling pin for this recipe. Fancy and fruity desserts It’s hard to fathom, but not everybody rates chocolate as their favorite. Some people don’t like it at all and would even prefer fruit ! If your partner values berries over cocoa, whip up a raw strawberry cashew cream tart . The crust is made of dates, coconuts and almonds, and the filling is strawberry cashew cream. Remember that strawberries usually top the dirty dozen list of produce that you should buy organic, so shop accordingly. No pesticides for your valentine! Strawberry donuts with jam frosting make for a sweet Valentine’s Day breakfast. If you like decorating, you can heap on the pink frosting and arrange freeze-dried strawberry bits or candy sprinkles. Related: 9 ways to have an eco-friendly Valentine’s Day Few vegan desserts involve dusting off your blowtorch. But this vegan crème brûlée recipe made with coconut milk will awe and impress your partner, especially when they see you welding that blowtorch in the name of love. Flowers for those who don’t like sweets What if your partner doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth? Cut flowers are a Valentine’s Day staple, but they are notoriously pesticide-ridden, and many flower farms don’t treat workers or the environment well. If you’re concerned about sustainable practices in the floral industry, the internet provides a few tools. For California-grown flowers, you can look at Bloomcheck , which measures wildlife protection, air and soil quality and impact on workers and community. Rainforest Alliance monitors South America , with more than 1.3 million farms using Rainforest Alliance methods to protect local ecosystems and workers. Veriflora vets farms in the whole western hemisphere. A low-key Valentine’s Day Sometimes Valentine’s Day is the worst time to go out to dinner or to dessert shops. The stress of making reservations and battling a sea of lovers can put a damper on romance. Instead, consider celebrating at home with a simple, homemade dinner followed by DIY treats. Whipping up dinner together is a good way to show your love and is much more personal than making a reservation. Images via Shutterstock

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Taylor Guitars and the sustainable approach to instrument-making

February 11, 2020 by  
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Since 1974, Taylor Guitars has been a champion guitar brand, renowned for its signature sound and instrument-manufacturing innovations. In this feature, Inhabitat goes behind-the-scenes at the company’s headquarters and factory in El Cajon, California, where tour guide Ryan Merrill shares the Taylor Guitars approach to  sustainability , sourcing  wood  and making guitars.   Inhabitat:  What can you share about the process of making a Taylor Guitar? Merrill:  The very first step of building our guitars is housing them in this outdoor tent when the wood arrives. What we’re seeing here is mostly mahogany. When we bring in wood from around the world, they’re accustomed to other types of climates, places that are generally a lot more humid – Cameroon, India, Hawaii. When it gets here, we therefore need to make sure that wood acclimates to our  weather , temperature and  humidity . If we don’t, then as that wood is drying out in the factory, and we’re working on the guitar, it’s going to start bending and warping in different ways. We want all that bending and warping to happen here outside rather than during the process when we are building guitars because we have some tools in there that have high accuracy. And with that level of accuracy in cutting, if the wood is warping, it’s going to cause some problems. So we leave this wood outside here to acclimate. Water that’s sitting inside the grain of the wood, you want to bring down to about 10%. Sometimes that takes two weeks, sometimes that takes a month. Related: YouTube stars partner up in #TeamTrees campaign to plant 20 million trees Inhabitat:  What does Taylor Guitars do with any leftover wood cuttings? Merrill:  The first measure of our sustainability endeavors is that after we’ve cut wood for our guitars, the scrap wood — instead of us throwing them into the trash bin — we actually utilize it by giving them to other companies that need them, like toymakers, people who make birdhouses, even companies that turn the wood into  mulch . Inhabitat:  Forest management,  reforestation  and the sourcing of ethically harvested tonewoods — the wood used to build acoustic guitars — are important values to Taylor Guitars. Tell us more about that. Merrill: We understand that in order to make our products, we have to cut down trees. But we make sure to plant more trees  than we are taking out of forests every year, and we’ve continued to be dedicated to that goal. A pipe dream Taylor Guitars has is to plant all of the trees we use for all of our guitars on the land we own. That way, we won’t have to source our wood anywhere else in the world, but just focus on effectively using that one piece of land that is ours with all our trees on it. Of course, that’s still what we are working toward. For now, the two places we are focused on are in Cameroon, where we have our ebony, and in Hawaii, where we have our koa. Out in Hawaii, for instance, we own over 570 acres on the Big Island, where we are planting koa trees. Now, koa trees take about 40 to 60 years to grow — that’s a long wait for us to be able to use those trees for guitars. Ebony is even longer, taking 100 to 200 years to fully mature. Inhabitat:  Now, on display here in the corporate headquarters gallery are an array of signature Taylor Guitars, made from various types of wood. What’s the importance of wood type, or tonewood? And, why are certain ones chosen over others for guitar-making? Merrill:  The type of wood affects the instrument sound. First, it’s important to know that woods flavor the sounds. And, historically, there’s hundreds of years’ worth of experimentation on what types of woods are best for what is now the modern guitar . And the main ones that have been settled on are rosewood and mahogany, which are the hardest woods.  So, in a mahogany guitar, you’re going to hear a lot of mid-range sounds, not a lot of bass, not a lot of treble. In rosewood, you’re going to get a lot of bass, you’re going to get a lot of treble, but not as much of the mid-range. You’ll probably notice we’ll get more deep tones and more sparkle with rosewood. Inhabitat:  These are some exotic-sounding names of tonewoods lining this guitar gallery wall. Tell us more about them. Merrill:  Cocobolo is a South American rosewood, so it has a very similar tone to a rosewood guitar. Ovangkol is an African relative of the rosewood. Sapele is an African relative of mahogany. Most tonewoods are going to fall within those two very broad categories. There are some exceptions — we have  maple , which is a very bright wood. It’s the only wood that’s distinct from mahogany and rosewood. We have something like koa as well, which has the mid-range of mahogany and the sparkle of rosewood, but it doesn’t have the bass of rosewood.  Koa guitars have become increasingly popular amongst guitarists. And that’s because as koa wood ages, it gets more dense, which means it will start to produce a better low-end sound. So, if you buy a koa, it might sound one way, but then five years down the line, someone might pick up that same guitar and go, “Wow! This has way more bass than I ever heard out of this instrument!” And that’s one of the very unique things about koa — just the amount that it opens up over time. Inhabitat:  Taylor Guitars has been recognized as a leading guitar-making pioneer. What are some things you can share about what makes you stand out from other guitar manufacturers ? Merrill:  We’re the only company making sapele guitars. We’re the only company making ebony bodies. And we’re the pioneers of the V-bracing, whereas all other guitars elsewhere are still employing the X-bracing. Inhabitat:  What’s the difference between your V-bracing and the conventional X-bracing in guitars out there? Merrill:  One of the beautiful things about the V-brace is that it’s very forgiving of notes that aren’t quite in tune. With an X-brace, the notes start to warble — you can hear the notes bouncing back and forth. You can kind of hear the decay there — decay is just the note fading out. When you compare that with something like a V-brace, the notes just keep ringing — we call it bloom, where it almost grows into a larger chord after you first strum it. You can hear the difference, it sounds fuller, and a lot of that comes down to the sustaining, and that’s the V-bracing being a little more forgiving with those notes. It was fitting for Merrill to say the word “sustaining” to describe the V-brace and what it does to guitar notes, because it circularly tied into Taylor Guitars’ sustainability initiatives. As the tour winded down, a large plaque — entitled “Taylor’s Commitment to Sustainability” — was visible on the way out, reminding everyone of the quality the company stands for in the soundness of its products and  supply chain . Images via Mariecor Agravante

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Taylor Guitars and the sustainable approach to instrument-making

Climate crisis drives bumblebees closer to extinction

February 10, 2020 by  
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The climate crisis, rampant misuse of pesticides , lack of plant diversity, habitat loss, parasites and pathogens have collectively created the perfect storm for a decline in the bumblebee populations in both Europe and North America, according to the research team of Peter Soroye, Tim Newbold and Jeremy Kerr, who have recently published their findings in Science . The research shows that “Within just one human generation, the odds for bumblebee survival have dropped by an average of more than 30%.” The imminent mass extinction of bumblebees could mean a dreary future devoid of wild plants and many farmed crops, given that bumblebees are among the most crucial pollinators out there. Global warming has led to both temperature extremes and unpredictable precipitation. The combination of these atmospheric conditions has exacerbated local bumblebee extinction rates by reducing colonization, shrinking site occupancy and diminishing a habitat’s fertility to support the bumblebee population. Bumblebees tend to overheat, which is why they prefer more temperature regions. Related: Native bees are going extinct without much buzz But weather isn’t the only culprit. The dynamic use of land has contributed to habitat loss, and pesticide use has likewise resulted in a significant decline in these pollinators. Bumblebees are larger and fuzzier than honeybees. While they are not honey producers, they are still key pollinators. Many important fruits, nuts, vegetables and staple crops rely on bumblebees thriving. “When they land on flowers, they physically shake these flowers and shake the pollen off,” explained Peter Soroye, the study’s lead author. “A lot of crops like squash, berries, tomatoes need bumblebees to pollinate them, and honeybees or other pollinators just can’t do that.” In Europe, bumblebee populations decreased by an average of 17% between 1975 and 2000. For North American bumblebees, numbers plummeted by about 46% over the same period. These numbers indicate that the loss of bumblebees could adversely affect food diversity in the future.  “If things continue along the path without any change, then we can really quickly start to see a lot of these species being lost forever,” Soroye said. To mitigate against extinction, he recommended, “If you have a garden , fill it full of native plants that the bees can go visit.” + Science Via National Geographic and Reuters Image via Valerian Guillot

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How to properly and safely dispose of these 10 items in your home

February 10, 2020 by  
Filed under Eco, Green, Recycle

Toxic chemicals, e-waste, light bulbs and batteries are just a few common household items that exit our homes and can end up in the landfill , where they may or may not break down or leach into the soil and water. Equally concerning is the potential for broken glass and chemicals to cause problems to sanitation workers, the water system and wildlife. Even when you make the best purchasing decisions upfront, you will eventually find yourself with toxic household waste. Before tossing items in the trash, check out these disposal options for items like batteries and paint that are safer for the planet. Tires Because most automotive, tractor and machine tires are a mixture of rubber and steel, they can’t be recycled without separating those components. As a result, you will likely have to pay to drop them somewhere. The landfill is one option, but you can commonly return them to a local tire center. Regardless of where you take it, the fee typically ranges from $2-10 per tire, so consider upcycling those old radials into a property border or flower bed divider. Related: EWG warns ‘forever chemicals’ are contaminating US drinking water at levels far worse than expected Light bulbs Your local recycling center probably accepts spent CFL light bulbs. Because CFL bulbs contain a small amount of mercury, it’s important that they are properly disposed of. Most large home improvement stores also provide a return option for CFLs and basic fluorescent bulbs. Depending on your local recycling center, LED or incandescent bulbs may be recyclable with your glass items. You can also visit Pinterest for ideas on ways to repurpose bulbs. Batteries The best option when it comes to batteries is to make the investment in rechargeable batteries. When they wear out, look for drop boxes at your local home improvement and office supply stores. For single-use household batteries, you can return them during city household waste collection events, or your recycling center may have a drop spot. Some home improvement stores also provide a drop location. Car, tractor and motorcycle batteries are easily recyclable at any retailer that sells them. You will likely even get a core refund for returning them. Check with automotive repair locations, car part stores or your local Battery Exchange. Electronics When the stereo, computer, TV or cell phone bites the dust, skip the landfill and head to the recycling center. You may need to separate the cords and/or batteries from the laptop or TV remote, but most components are accepted at these locations. Also check with the manufacturing company or service provider. For example, Apple and many cell phone companies will accept old devices for recycling, and some even offer a credit for it. Medications Expired and unneeded medications are absorbed into the soil and waterways if flushed down the toilet. They are also a danger to children and pets, so proper disposal is important. Most local police stations accept medications, and they can be returned at city waste collection events. The U.S. DEA also provides an annual National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day in conjunction with local law enforcement agencies. Stains and paints The good news is that modern paints and stains are formulated to last, so you can finish up the can while doing touch ups or other projects, even years down the road. If you’re moving and have to come up with a quick yet responsible disposal method, visit your local Habitat for Humanity reStore, where it will reformulate the paint for resale. Another option is to allow the paint to dry in the can, either naturally or with the aid of a commercial paint-dry product. Once dry, it can be thrown out with the rest of your garbage without a risk of contamination, although we do recommend using it entirely or donating it for resell before turning to the landfill. Related: 6 of the best places to donate your things Cleaning products Between glass cleaner and furniture polish, household cleaners have a way of accumulating. So when you pull out the last of the carpet and no longer need carpet spot cleaner or you make the switch to natural cleaners and need to do away with your old bottles, keep an eye out for that city waste collection event. For cleaners you can still use, try to use them up and recycle the container when you can. Also consider giving away any cleaners you no longer want, but note that most donation centers will not accept them, so offer them to friends, family and co-workers. Lawn and garden products Insecticides and pesticides should not be added to the garbage, where they can leak into water systems and soil. The same goes for the old oil and gasoline from your lawn mower and other equipment. This type of pollution will impact plants, animals and humans. Hold onto any lawn and garden chemicals for the next household waste round-up to return them responsibly. Personal care products If you find your bathroom cabinets and shelves full of old skincare , fragrances or nail polish you don’t want anymore, it is important to dispose of them properly, especially if they are from your pre-green beauty days. Unused, unexpired products may be suitable for donation. Otherwise, do not dump products in the sink or toilet. Check with your local hazardous household waste facility to see if it can accept your items. If you must, put all of the contents of the containers into one jar and place it in the garbage. Eyeglasses Whether you’ve undergone laser eye surgery or upgraded your style, eyewear is another common household item that may no longer be serving its purpose. Fortunately, there are many ways to donate old eyeglasses where they can provide the gift of sight and keep them out of the landfills. Lyons Clubs International, New Eyes (a division of United Way), OnSight and Eyes of Hope are all options. You can also drop eyeglass lenses and frames at most optical centers or local drop boxes, or donate them to a thrift store. Via Earth 911 and EPA.gov Images via Shutterstock

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Light-filled home makes the most of affordable, sustainable materials

February 10, 2020 by  
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Proving that building on a budget doesn’t have to mean compromising on aesthetics, Uruguayan architecture practice Bercetche Estudio has completed the WS House, a single-family home on the outskirts of Montevideo. Built primarily with unpainted natural timber inside and out, the home takes on a minimalist design that highlights its simple palette of natural materials. A strong connection with the outdoors and access to natural light is also emphasized throughout the home. Located in the La Tahona neighborhood about a half-hour drive east from the capital, the WS House stands out from its suburban neighbors with its contemporary form comprising boxy, flat-roofed volumes of varying heights. Spanning an area of nearly 2,750 square feet, the home is shaped like a horseshoe that wraps around the main entrance. Oversized square pavers that lead from the road to the front door emphasize the geometry of the home, while the timber cladding is applied in both horizontal and vertical orientations for visual interest. Related: Danish home champions wood over concrete for lower carbon emissions The main entrance leads directly to the open-plan living area, dining room and kitchen, which seamlessly connect to the outdoor terrace with a sunken circular pool through sliding glass doors. Flanking the main living areas are two bedroom wings: the master bedroom with an en suite bathroom is located on one side, and a secondary bedroom wing contains three flex rooms and two baths. Large windows let in ample natural light and views of the outdoors. “It is an easy-to-read house, built with sustainable and economical materials, which prove that with well-manipulated basic components, an expressive and energy-efficient house can be made,” the architects explained. “[The house] shows great respect for the environment and, through a nice space distribution, takes advantage of it. Two opaque volumes separated from each other generates a permeable ‘in between’ that gives rise to all the common activities of the house.” + Bercetche Estudio Photography by Sebastian Aguilar via Bercetche Estudio

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Light-filled home makes the most of affordable, sustainable materials

Shipping container retreat in Brazil is inspired by tiny homes

February 7, 2020 by  
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Airbnb now has another incredible tiny home retreat to add to its unique lodgings on offer. Located on a stunning prairie landscape in Brazil’s Cambará do Sul area, the Cambará Container House is comprised of two 20-foot shipping container units that have been carefully crafted by local firm Mégui Dal Bó Arquiteta into cozy accommodations. The design was inspired by the minimalism and reduced waste ethos behind the tiny home movement. Working with owner Carina Boff, architects Saymon Tech Dali Alba and Mégui Pezzi Dal Bó wanted to create a serene retreat for people to get the most enjoyment out of their visit to the Cambará do Sul area, which is a popular spot for people to use as a base while exploring two national parks that are nearby. Along with the parks, the region is known for its expansive prairies and deep valleys. Related: This tiny home with a rooftop deck is made from two shipping containers Inspired by the area’s beautiful scenery, the architects decided to create two volumes out of repurposed shipping containers . Measuring just 365 square feet each, the shipping container guest houses were designed to be as sustainable as possible. Crafting the shipping containers into rental units allowed the architects to reduce the project’s overall construction time and waste. The shipping containers were also elevated off of the landscape in order to minimize impact on the environment. The shipping containers serve as tiny homes that offer guests all of the conveniences of a conventional luxury getaway but within a minimalist, cozy setting. Using as many environmentally friendly materials as possible, the lodgings feature contemporary living areas, kitchenettes and dining spaces. Each unit can accommodate up to four guests with a double bed and a sofa bed. The retreats are heated thanks to a wood-burning fireplace that lends a bit of a cabin aesthetic to the otherwise contemporary interior design . To foster a strong connection between the interior and the exterior , the shipping containers each feature two outdoor spaces. First, a pair of sliding glass doors open up from the living area to a front balcony. Secondly, guests can enjoy the containers’ rooftops, which were outfitted with spacious open-air terraces. + Mégui Dal Bó Arquiteta + Cambará Container House Via ArchDaily Photography by Guilherme Jordani via Mégui Dal Bó Arquiteta

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Shipping container retreat in Brazil is inspired by tiny homes

Light pollution, habitat loss and pesticides push fireflies toward extinction

February 7, 2020 by  
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There are more than 2,000 species of fireflies, and scientists are sounding the alarm that some of these species are on the brink of extinction . Research published in BioScience indicates that habitat loss, light pollution and pesticides are threatening these delightful insects. According to Tufts University biology professor Sara Lewis, the study’s lead author, “If people want fireflies around in the future, we need to look at this seriously. Fireflies are incredibly attractive insects, perhaps the most beloved of all insects, because they are so conspicuous, so magical.” Related: New Animal Endangerment Map shows global distribution of threatened animal species Habitat loss is the main culprit disrupting the environmental conditions and cues conducive to firefly development and lifecycle completion. One example cited was the Malaysian firefly species Pteroptyx tener , which needs particular mangroves and plants to breed appropriately, but their mangrove swamp habitats have been displaced by aquaculture farms and palm oil plantations. The second issue leaving fireflies vulnerable is light pollution . As CNN reported, light pollution can arise from “streetlights and commercial signs and skyglow, a more diffuse illumination that spreads beyond urban centers and can be brighter than a full moon.” Artificial lights can interfere with firefly courtship. Male fireflies flash particular bioluminescent patterns to attract females, who must flash responses in return. Unfortunately, artificial lights can mimic and thus confuse the signals. Or, worse yet, light pollution can be too bright for the fireflies to emit and properly recognize their ritual signals for mating to be initiated or completed. Thirdly, pesticides have been a significant driving factor in the decline of firefly populations. The Center for Biological Diversity has documented that “Systemic pesticides like neonicotinoids that get into the soil and water harm firefly larvae and their prey. Also, because fireflies are generally found in wetland habitats, they are threatened by insecticide spraying targeting mosquitoes.” As a result, the larvae either starve or have developmental anomalies that prevent population growth. Public outcries by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Firefly Specialist Group as well as the Fireflyers International Network have raised some awareness about the dwindling firefly populations. Yet, as stated by the Center for Biological Diversity, “There are at least 125 species of fireflies in the United States, but despite the many threats they face, none are protected by the Endangered Species Act.” To protect these luminous insects that have long captivated the imagination with their fairytale-like lights, much work still needs to be done, especially given the U.K. Wildlife Trusts ’ similar report on the ‘quiet apocalypse’ taking place now, wherein 41% of global insect species face extinction. + BioScience Via CNN , the Center for Biological Diversity and The Guardian Image via Shutterstock

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Light pollution, habitat loss and pesticides push fireflies toward extinction

Sustainable agriculture cleans up rivers in Cuba

February 7, 2020 by  
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New scientific findings reveal that Cuba’s rivers are in better health than the Mississippi River. The research was a joint effort between Cuba and the United States, marking the two countries’ first collaboration in more than 60 years. The work was part of a study on Cuba’s hydrology, focusing on the water quality of the island’s rivers. Despite centuries of cattle and sugarcane farming, research results reveal there hasn’t been much damage to Cuba’s rivers thanks to the country’s other sustainable agriculture methods. Compared to the Mississippi River, Cuba’s 25 rivers surveyed showed lower nutrient concentration of phosphorus and nitrogen pollution. This is likely attributed to Cuba’s shift toward sustainable agriculture , particularly the country’s shunning of imported synthetic chemicals. Related: Dutch company collects plastic pollution from rivers to make parks and products “A lot of stories about the value of Cuba’s shift to conservation agriculture have been based on fuzzy, feel-good evidence,” explained geologist and researcher Paul Bierman. “This study provides hard data that a crucial part of this story is true.” By contrast, the U.S. has more widespread dependence on chemical fertilizers . Hence, dead zones occur where the Mississippi River mouth opens into the Gulf of Mexico, adversely affecting the region’s marine ecosystems with dangerous bacterial and algal blooms caused by elevated nitrogen levels. Another interesting finding is that even though more than 80% of the Cuban river samples had E. coli bacteria, the source was found to be from fecal material by cattle and horses grazing along the riverbanks. The research team believes that this is partly attributed to “Cuba’s intensive use of horses and other draft animals for transportation and farm work.” The researchers concluded that the island country has been committed to promoting more sustainable agriculture to improve both its soil and water. The efforts have led to promising results. The American team was comprised of University of Vermont geologist Paul Bierman and Oberlin College geoscientist Amanda Schmidt. The Cuban team was led by Rita Hernández, representing the Cienfuegos Center for Environmental Studies, an ecological research group. Their joint research, supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, was recently published in the GSA Today journal of the Geological Society of America. “This research can help the people of Cuba,” Hernández said, “and may give a good example to other people in the Caribbean and all over the world.” + The Geological Society of America Via Phys.org Image via Wikimedia Commons

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Sustainable agriculture cleans up rivers in Cuba

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