Are bioplastics better for the environment or a waste of time?

August 21, 2019 by  
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There has been massive pushback against the use of plastics over the past few years, including single-use plastic bans in cities all over the world. Industrial entrepreneurs have responded to these mounting concerns with a new product that seems like the perfect solution– bioplastic. It looks and feels like plastic, but its made from plants, so it’s good for the environment, right? Turns out, the answer is much more complicated and likely just another case of greenwashing . What are bioplastics? Traditional plastic is a petroleum-derived product that is made from fossil fuels. In fact, 8 percent of all oil is used for the production of plastic. Bioplastic, on the other hand, is made at least partly from plant-based materials. There are two subcategories of bioplastics that are important to understand: Bio-based plastics These plastics are entirely or partially made from plant-based materials. Most are made from sugarcane that is processed in industrial ethanol facilities, but some bioplastics use corn and other plant materials. The plant materials are used in a lab to create chemical compounds that are identical to petroleum-based compounds. For example, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) can be made from either plant or petroleum products, but the end material is the same and it is not biodegradable. “There are a lot of bioplastics or materials that are called bioplastics that are not biodegradable,” said Constance Ißbrücker, the lead for environmental affairs at European Bioplastics. There are two main types of bioplastic produced: polyactic acid (PLA) and polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). PLA is made from plant sugars, while PHA is made from microbes that produce the substance when they are deprived of nutrients. Related: A guide to the different types of plastic Biodegradable plastics Biodegradable plastics are typically plant-based items that can be broken down by microbes within a reasonable time frame. All biodegradable plastics, however, require very specific conditions within an industrial composting facility. Otherwise, these so-called “biodegradable plastics” also function like petroleum-based plastic and remain in the environment for hundreds of years. What are the benefits of bioplastics? Although they aren’t perfect, many environmental and waste experts still believe bioplastics have the potential to reduce our negative impact on the environment. Here are a few of the main benefits of bioplastics: Bioplastics reduce fossil fuel demand Since bioplastics are made from plant-based materials instead of fossil fuels , their rising popularity means less oil extraction specifically for the purpose of producing plastic. Bioplastics are less toxic Despite their chemical similarity, bioplasitcs do not contain bisphenol A (BPA) which is known to be a toxic hormone disrupter. BPA is commonly found in conventional plastics, although it is increasingly avoided. Bioplastics support rural, agrarian economies Oil is concentrated in just a few countries and controlled by major corporations but plants, on the other hand, are everywhere. For this reason, it is believed that bioplastics support a more equitable and distributed economy. Who would you rather give your money to, a wealthy oil executive or a farmer ? Related: How to easily make your own reusable produce bags What are the drawbacks? Bioplastics require monocultures While you might feel better about supporting agriculture instead of the oil execs, there is still a lot of controversy about industrial agriculture and the use of land for plastic production. Currently, only 0.02 percent of agricultural land is used to supply bioplastic factories, but with the rising interest and demand, the percentage of land use is expected to rise. If the bioplastic industry expands into more agricultural land, some worry it will take over land that is needed to feed the world population. In addition to the threat to food security, the spread of monoculture crops like sugar and corn wreck havoc on natural ecosystems. The conversion of land to agriculture causes deforestation, desertification, loss of biodiversity and habitat, and increased pressure on limited water reserves. So these new straws aren’t saving the seas? Many people have seen the photos of sea turtles suffocating from a plastic straw stuck in their nose. In fact, these images were so powerful it further convinced people to ditch straws and opt for the biodegradable plastic straw, which we all thought would surely save the sea turtles without getting soggy in an iced coffee. Unfortunately, all biodegradable plastics can only biodegrade in industrial composting facilities, where temperatures reach a consistent 136 degrees Fahrenheit. And if your town doesn’t have those facilities, these new “green” straws are no better than regular straws in terms of threatening marine life. In other words, they don’t breakdown in the open environment and they don’t break down in the sea. Frederik Wurm , a plastic chemist, believes drinking straws made from PLA are “the perfect example for greenwashing.” They cost the vendor more money and they don’t break down on the beach or in the ocean. Some PHA materials have been found to break down on the seafloor, but the efficacy depends on the environment. Although it only took two weeks to breakdown in the tropics, it took months in colder climates and might never break down in the Arctic. Innovation and investment are imperative Given the surging popularity of bioplastics and biodegradable plastics, there is a need for increased investigation and investment in the industry. The best tool against the overwhelming challenge of climate change is human innovation. New products that aren’t just greenwashing but are actually sustainable are needed and may be possible with demand for more research. “This is a field right now for entrepreneurial investors. There’s no shortage of incredible opportunity for alternatives that are marine degradable, that don’t overtax the land and our food production system,” said Dune Ives , founder of an environmental nonprofit focused on business solutions. Via Undark Images via Flickr , Wikimedia Commons

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Are bioplastics better for the environment or a waste of time?

Digging deeper for climate solutions: deep-root GMOs could feed world and store carbon

August 15, 2019 by  
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Scientists are experimenting with new genetic modification technology that “supercharges” plants to enhance what they already excel at– sequestering carbon. As the world scrambles to find innovative mitigation solutions, plants have been doing what they quietly perfected over millions and millions of years ago– taking carbon from the atmosphere and converting it into carbohydrates, energy and oxygen. A recent study shows one research institute’s promising progress on the quest to create a patented plant that grows deeper, cork-like roots that store 20 times more carbon than the average plant . The researchers believe these findings can eventually be applied to cash crops at a scale that can truly impact climate change. Related: Scientists confirm tree planting is our best bet against climate change The California-based Salk Institute is leading the way in what they call the Harnessing Plants Initiative. Their goal is to create an enhanced plant that not only stores more carbon but also yields an agricultural product that profits farmers and feeds people. Historically, genetic plant modification has been used to target and enhance specific traits within a plant, such as the size or taste of the fruit or its resistance to pests and disease. Now, Salk’s plant biologists are targeting specific hormones and genes that indicate and increase root biomass. Deep dive: why deep roots matter For centuries, farmers have recognized that deeper roots stabilize the soil and make trees and crops more resilient to heavy winds, floods, hurricanes and erosion. Deep roots also encourage drought resistance because they allow the plant to search for hard to reach water reserves that haven’t been dried out by the sun. But recently, deep roots have become coveted for their ability to sequester , store and stabilize carbon dioxide . The carbon in roots is stored as a complex carbohydrate that is not easily broken down by soil microbes and therefore it is more stable storage than above ground plants, especially for plants that are frequently harvested. The idea behind deep roots is actually very logical– deeper roots store the carbon further from the place we are trying to keep it away from– the atmosphere. Although plants have always sequestered carbon, they can no longer keep up with the rate that humans are pumping it into the atmosphere– at least not naturally. Globally, people emit 37 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year and plants can only capture about half. The idea, according the Salk’s plant biologist, Wolfgang Busch, is to “store carbon in parts of the soil where the carbon is more stable. Change the biochemistry, increase the stability. We’re not trying to get plants to do something they don’t normally do,” says Busch . “We’re just trying to increase the efficiency. Then we can use that to mitigate climate change .” Joanne Chory, also a plant biologist at the Salk Institute echoed Busch’s explanation in an interview with Foreign Policy News. “All we have to do is make them about 2 percent more efficient at redistributing carbon than they are right now, and we can effect a global change,” said Chory . The Salk Ideal Plant Wolfgang Busch, Chory and their team of plant biologists at the Salk Institute recently published their preliminary findings in Cell. Their research focused on a test plant – the thale cress – where they experimented with root hormones and a specific gene found to control the shape of roots. The science behind it: hormones and genes The hormone auxin is the most important hormone that dictates root growth. The biologists at Salk, however, also identified a gene – EXOCYST70A3 – that controls the shape and extent of roots by monitoring how much of the auxin hormone is released. By identifying and isolating these findings, the researchers can now control the size and direction of the roots in their test plants. The EXOCYST70A3 gene is present in all plants, so their research is profoundly scalable if applied to the world’s top grown crops. Indeed, Salk intends to apply their findings to corn , soy, rice, wheat, cotton and rapeseed (canola). Salk’s secret sauce: suberin But the researchers didn’t stop at isolating the hormone and gene, they also identified a specific substance to modify and replicate based on its benefits. According to their website, their ‘secret sauce’ is a substance called suberin . Suberin is a cork material that is carbon-rich, found naturally in plants and resistant to decomposition. It enhances soil, but is also one of the best (meaning most stable) storage vessels for carbon dioxide. Salk’s patented plant, The Ideal Plant, will maximize suberin within its roots. Ultimately, their plants will increase root biomass that is both deeper and higher in suberin. But aren’t GMOs bad for the environment? There is a lot of controversy surrounding genetically modified organisms , including their potentially harmful impacts on human health , ecosystems and farmers’ livelihoods. However, GMO proponents believe they are the answer to feeding the world’s growing population and increasing resilience against a rapidly changing environment. For the Salk Institute, GMO nay-sayers, like the European Union and India, aren’t their biggest concern. Their research continues (and receives millions of dollars of investment) for expected implementation in places where GMOs are not banned. In order to reach their goal of using the Salk Ideal Plant to store half of the carbon that humans emit every year, the researchers claim they would need their patented product in six percent of the world’s agriculturally productive land. While there are natural ways of cross breeding to reach similar results, it would take considerably longer and there simply isn’t enough time. The climate clock is ticking The Salk Institute’s recently published study holds promising breakthroughs, but they are still not ready with a usable product and time is running out. Environmental experts agree that drastic action needs to be taken to mitigate greenhouse gases , so the best time to start planting the yet-to-be-designed Ideal Plant was years ago. Via Vice Images via Salk Institute

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Digging deeper for climate solutions: deep-root GMOs could feed world and store carbon

Energy-efficient home uses recycled heat to reduce C02 emissions

August 15, 2019 by  
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The Lane End House by PAD studio incorporates natural building material and sustainable solutions to increase energy-efficiency . The resulting design creates a passive home with a smaller environmental footprint and a focus on sustainability.  The exterior of the house contains balcony areas that act as solar shading for the property, complete with thoughtfully-placed openings to create a greater distribution of natural ventilation to rid the home of intense heat during the hot Summer months.  Landscape-wise, the clients wanted to incorporate a natural feel as often as possible, with large windows to connect the inhabitants with the outdoors and a functioning herb garden located on the first floor balcony. The placement of the grand windows creates natural sunlight to light the home during the day while incorporating more profound landscape views. Related: Contemporary barn-inspired home adheres to passive house principles According to the client, “we wanted a house that was big enough to comfortably accommodate the two of us and our lifestyle – and no bigger. For us that meant carefully considered, flexible, multipurpose spaces that created a sense of space whilst retaining a modest footprint .” High quality, insulated timber wood used to create the frame both reduces the need for artificial cooling and heating in the home, and provides an eco-friendly alternative to traditional (and heavy carbon emission-inducing) building materials. Additionally, the timber is locally-produced from renewable sources and the brick used to make the fireplace is hand-made by local vendors. On the ground floor, concrete was inserted to make the structure even more air-tight and regulate interior temperatures even further.  The builders installed a MVHR system designed to recycle heat produced from the kitchen and bathroom and mix it with clean air circulated through the ventilation and naturally colder areas of the house. In addition to completing the standard methods such as SAP calculations and EPS ratings, the impressive home was also built to Passive House ideology. +PAD Studio Images via PAD Studio

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Do people in tiny houses live more sustainably?

August 2, 2019 by  
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Minimalist living is as old as time, but the tiny house trend sweeping across North America and Europe has influenced many people to downsize, declutter and live simply. A new investigation into the habits of tiny house residents reveals that living in smaller houses encourages people to adopt more sustainable habits across the board. What are tiny houses? The unofficial definition of a tiny house is typically any single housing unit under 500 square feet. Many tiny houses are on wheels to get around state and federal government laws that limit the minimum habitable dwelling size. Because of this restriction, tiny house owners often own the transportable housing unit but not necessarily the land that it is on. Related: Is a tiny home right for you? The media and tiny house designers market the micro-dwellings as environmentally friendly alternatives to large family homes. Sellers encourage prospective buyers to downsize their possessions and kiss their mortgages goodbye in exchange for experiential riches like travel and financial freedom. Though they take up less space and store less junk, few studies exist that actually prove that living in tiny houses is more sustainable. Little house habits Maria Saxton, an environmental design and planning PhD candidate, studied the impact that downsizing into a tiny house had on inhabitants’ sustainable behaviors. She conducted surveys and in-depth interviews of 80 downsizers who had been living in their new tiny homes for at least a year. She calculated their individual ecological footprints before and after the move and examined which behaviors changed for the better and which changed for the worse. Her research discovered that on average, residents reduced their individual footprints by 45 percent after they settled into a tiny home, which is a huge reduction. She also found that the move and new lifestyle impacted other aspects and behaviors even without the inhabitants realizing it. Ecological footprint is usually calculated by determining the amount of land that it would take every year to support an individual’s consumption. The average American’s footprint is 8.4 hectares per person per year. That’s about the equivalent of eight football fields per person. Among those who downsized to tiny houses, the average footprint was approximately 3.87 hectares per person compared to a per-person average of 7 hectares before the move. How tiny houses encourage sustainable living Remarkably, housing-related behaviors and consumption patterns weren’t the only changes that the residents experienced. Of more than 100 individual behaviors examined, about 86 percent changed to become more environmentally friendly. For example, tiny house residents tended to shop and buy significantly less than the average American and less than they themselves did previously. Without room to store additional items, tiny house inhabitants simply could not support their old consumption habits. While 86 percent of behaviors changed for the better, about 13 percent changed for the worse. For example, tiny house residents tended to eat out more to avoid the frustration of cooking in a cramped kitchen. These residents recycled less because they had limited space for sorting and storing recyclable materials. They also tended to travel more, including both adventure trips and traveling further for basic items, likely because many tiny houses are located in more rural areas than where the owners previously lived. According to a separate investigation into the habits and motivations of tiny house dwellers, the majority of downsizers simply kept a storage unit. So, while they had fewer items within an arm’s reach, they hadn’t really committed to a minimalist lifestyle, and they could still support the overflow of their overconsumption. Smarter designs to support sustainability According to Saxton, the results of this study are critical for tiny house designers as well as to influence archaic laws that restrict tiny houses. If tiny house inhabitants truly do live more sustainably, towns and cities should be encouraging residents to make the move. Related: 7 tips for decorating a tiny home Architects and designers of the little abodes can also use the results of the research to integrate designs that address the prohibitive factors causing that 13 percent shift to less sustainable behaviors. For example — how can the kitchens be larger and more functional? How can trash and recycling storage be expanded to accommodate proper sorting of recyclable materials? Despite the tiny trend, housing is growing in size and destruction In 1973, the average house was 1,660 square feet, but by 2017, the average house sold was 2,631 square feet . This represents a 63 percent increase in the average size of a house in just 45 years. Although the tiny house trend skyrocketed among a niche corner of the population in over-industrialized countries, the majority of people still think bigger is better, which comes at a cost to the environment . The construction of oversized houses means loss of natural habitat and biodiversity , including the fragmentation of ecosystems to clear the way for new housing developments. In addition, the carbon footprint of the materials and construction industry is enormous. Commercial and residential buildings together contribute 39 percent of the U.S.’s total carbon emissions. This includes the transportation and sourcing of the building materials, the energy needed for construction and the environmental cost of maintenance. Maybe they are just another trend, but maybe tiny houses can be a small solution to global warming on an individual and community level. At the very least, the research concludes that cities and towns should re-examine existing laws that discourage tiny house dwellers from owning land or remove the wheels to at least allow residents to feel a sense of permanence. One town, Spur, Texas, adjusted its laws and sells itself as the first tiny home town in America. As the trend continues, other towns and cities would be wise to follow suit. Via The Conversation Images via Paul VanDerWerf , Christoph Scholz and Nicolás Boullosa ( 1 , 2 )

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Do people in tiny houses live more sustainably?

Energy-efficient greenhouses surround the new French Open tennis court

August 2, 2019 by  
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Plants from around the world are flourishing in four curved greenhouses in an unexpected place — directly behind the spectator stands of the new Simonne Mathieu tennis court at Roland-Garros, home of the French Open. Designed by the Paris-based studio Marc Mimram Architecture & Associés , the 5,000-seat sunken tennis court not only offers a strikingly modern space for the annual tournament but also offers a visual extension of the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil botanical garden, where the stadium is located. The steel-and-glass greenhouses were built to reference the historical hothouses of the 19th century but feature a modern, energy-efficient design built to the highest technical specifications. Named after the famous tennis player who played at the Roland-Garros in the 1930s, the Simonne Mathieu tennis court is a new venue for hosting the international tennis championships hosted every year in Paris. Taking inspiration from Auteuil’s greenhouses designed by Jean Camille Formige in 1898, Marc Mimram Architecture & Associés introduced new public space around the partially sunken tennis court in the form of four modern, steel-and-glass greenhouses that are visible from the spectator stands. Related: Solar-powered aquaponic greenhouses grow up to 880 lbs of produce each year “These new greenhouses form a glass backdrop, a case within which plants from four continents can flourish,” the architects explained. “They refer to the design of the nearby hothouses and are inspired by, without imitating, architecture in metal that, since the construction of the Crystal Palace in London in 1851, still stands, with its delicate relationship between light and structure, as the perfect model of airiness and economy.” Sheathed in double-pane glass for superior insulation, these curved greenhouses feature flora from the Americas, Asia, Africa and Oceania. A meandering paved pathway traverses each greenhouse. Because the greenhouses are a new addition of public space, they will be accessible to visitors throughout the year, even outside of the two-week French Open tournament. + Marc Mimram Architecture & Associés Via ArchDaily Photography by Erieta Attali via Marc Mimram Architecture & Associés

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Energy-efficient greenhouses surround the new French Open tennis court

The ultimate guide to eco-friendly period products

July 31, 2019 by  
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If you’re a person who is serious about protecting the environment, you’re probably conscious of how much trash you generate every time you have a period. In addition to being chock-full of plastics sent straight to landfills, pads and tampons also contain harsh chemicals that are toxic . Yet most people continue exposing their bodies to these products month after month. Luckily, there are better options out there for both you and the planet — here’s a guide to help you find what might work best for you. “Anything coming in constant contact with your skin will land in your bloodstream for distribution throughout your body,” Dr. Joseph Mercola wrote in an alarming Huffington Post article about the dangers of menstrual products. Despite the potential dangers, the chemical ingredients in tampons and pads are an industry secret, protected by nondisclosure policies that favor corporations, manufacturers and innovators but put consumers at serious risk. So if you want to cut down on polluting nature and your body, consider this comprehensive guide on more sustainable product options available right now. As always, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider to help determine the best options for you. Menstrual cups Menstrual cups are one of the most eco-friendly options out there. If you can get over the initial learning curve, they are easy and convenient to use. Why we love them Although the up-front sticker price is higher, when you calculate how much you spend every month on tampons or pads, the savings are obvious. The cups are comfortable and barely noticeable once they have been inserted — the same way you might get used to a tampon and hardly realize it is there. They are especially easy for travelers who want to save precious space in their luggage and say goodbye to last-minute, emergency trips to the convenience store. Most cup brands come in multiple sizes and some even come in varying levels of firmness, depending on your preference, flow, age and whether or not you have had a vaginal birth. The cups are capable of handling even heavy flow days, with most users reporting minimal — if any — leaks. Below is a brief review of a few popular brands. Diva Cup ($35) The Diva Cup is the most recognized and popular brand. It has three sizes (including one for teens), lasts up to 12 hours and is made from medical-grade silicone. Sustain Natural Period Cup ($39) These cups are flexible, compact and made entirely of medical-grade silicone . They claim to hold three tampons-worth of liquid and are available in two sizes. This is also the only brand that currently offers a microwave case for cleaning the cup. Peachlife Menstrual Cup ($22) Also made of medical-grade silicone, this cup uniquely comes in a variety of firmness levels (soft, medium-firm and extra-firm). Unlike other brands that come to a point, the Peachlife cup has a silicone ring at the bottom for easy removal (but remember, you still have to break the suction of the cup; you cannot just tug on the ring!). Cups are not without challenges Menstrual cups cannot be recycled at the end of their lifecycles, but when you calculate how many pads and tampons you averted from landfills, this product is worth it. The cups can also be difficult to maneuver at first. Once you have practiced and get the hang of folding the cup, inserting it and then breaking the seal to remove, it’s just as easy as any other option. It typically takes about three periods to fully adapt to using a menstrual cup. Because of cultural and religious beliefs, some people do have objections or hesitations to using a cup. Related: Study shows menstrual cups are safe and just as effective as tampons, pads A new spin on ‘period underwear’ Absorbent underwear brands like THINX and Lunapads are increasing in popularity and market share. They are simply underwear that you wear during your period that are specially manufactured to absorb menstrual blood. Why they’re so easy If you know how to put on your undies, then you know how to use these — they have all other products beat in terms of ease of use. They are also eco-friendly, because you wash and reuse them each time you have your period. That means they do not produce landfill trash every month. The downside of absorbent underwear Period underwear is more expensive than your typical pair of underwear because of their patented absorption technology . You will also need a few pairs depending on the length and flow of your period and how often you’re able to wash and dry them. Like the cups though, when you tally the cost of underwear against lifetime tampon expenses, they’re a smart economic choice. The horrors of tampons and better options “The average American woman uses 16,800 tampons in her lifetime — or up to 24,360 if she’s on estrogen replacement therapy,” said Dr. Mercola. That’s a lot of trash , but it is also a lot of time that your body is exposed to toxic chemicals. Cotton is better; organic cotton is best You may have heard health experts say that cotton underwear is best for promoting vaginal health — the same goes for tampons. Look for brands that specifically say they are made from organic cotton, but assume that most conventional brands are now made from plastics and synthetic materials. These materials are not breathable, can get fragmented and left behind and might encourage health problems like yeast and bacterial growth. Most tampons are also bleached with substances linked to abnormal tissue growth, abnormal cell growth and immune system suppression. Americans use 7 billion tampon applicators every year; the chemicals in the applicator, phthalates, have been generally linked to organ damage, lower I.Q. and asthma. What to try instead Using tampons without applicators will significantly cut down the plastic waste you generate. Brands like o.b. offer tampons that can be inserted with just your finger. Seventh Generation offers a chlorine-free, organic cotton tampon that reduces your exposure to chemicals. Organyc also offers a 100 percent organic cotton tampon. What about pads? Many people prefer pads for comfort or cultural reasons; however, the average sanitary pad contains “the equivalent of about four plastic bags, and this doesn’t include the other chemicals like BPA , BPS, phthalates and toxic dioxin created by the bleaching process.” Even though they have plastic in them, pads are never recyclable because they have been contaminated with bodily fluid. Because pads have a bigger volume than tampons, they produce even more waste. The average person throws away between 250 and 300 pounds of pads or tampons in their lifetime. What to use if you prefer pads There are reusable sanitary pads online that significantly reduce the amount of trash produced. Simply place the pad in your underwear; when it is dirty, rinse it with cold water and then add it to the laundry. You can buy reusable pads from Gladrags or find cute designs via Etsy. You can also try your hand at sewing your own . Disposable tampons and pads dominate the menstrual care market, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With small personal changes, you can protect your health, wallet and the planet. Images via Shutterstock

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How to easily make your own reusable produce bags

July 22, 2019 by  
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If you’re focused on sustainability and/or zero waste , you probably cringe every time you return home from the grocery store and pull out bag after bag of fruits and vegetables, each tucked inside plastic bags conveniently located in the produce section where you shopped. The good news is that it’s easy to end the cringe with reusable cloth produce bags. Fortunately, it’s easy to make your own cloth produce bags at very little cost. There are even no-sew options if a sewing machine isn’t your thing. The best part is that you likely already have everything you need to whip up a pile of reusable cloth bags this weekend. Related: RÆBURN upcycles North Face tents into one-of-a-kind bags Material An old, but freshly washed, bed sheet makes the perfect upcycle material for your cloth produce bags. Alternately, grab some lightly-used pillow cases. These work great since they already have seams on some of the sides. Ideally, you will want cotton or linen and organic is always best, but remember that turning one product into something else is already an eco-friendly action so give yourself a break if your sheets aren’t organic.  The linen closet is an easy place to start, but it’s certainly not the only place to find material in your home. Old clothing is an accessible option, especially when you look for shapes that make produce bags easier to make. For example, a child’s shirt will only need small adaptations to turn into a bag. Same goes for wide sleeves or a tight skirt.  No sew Sewing just might not be your thing. Perhaps you don’t have a sewing machine, or you don’t enjoy the whole needle and thread experience. That’s fine with us. To use no-sew reusable produce bags, simply use Velcro instead. Lay your fabric pieces out inside out. Glue Velcro to the length of each side and allow the strips to dry. Then press the Velcro pieces together completely. Use high-quality Velcro for a firm hold.  Sew Making your own produce bags doesn’t require extensive sewing experience. Simply cut and lay out two rectangles of fabric, back to back (or inside out). You can make bags in a variety of sizes. Sew the edges of three sides, leaving the top open. If you are using a material with existing seams, finish the additional edges. For example, cut a pillowcase in four quarters, turn each quarter inside out, finish the seams and turn it back right side out to see your completed bag. The top Now you have your upcycled produce bag ready to go, but you may be wondering how to keep it closed once you stuff your favorite produce inside. The answer is that you don’t really need to if your bag is deep enough. However, if you prefer to have a top that closes, there are several ways you can go about it. For those that enjoyed the sewing portion, go ahead and add a drawstring to the top. To do this, fold over the material at the top leaving about 1/2 inch before making a seam. The 1/2 inch gap allows room for a piece of rope or that non-partnered shoelace in the junk drawer. You can lay it into the space before stitching it up, but be sure not to stitch over it, which locks it into a stationary position and will inhibit the bag from pulling closed. For a no-sew option attach the two sides with Velcro. An even easier solution is to close the top while you’re at the grocery store or farmer’s market using a hair tie band. The elasticity allows the cashier to peak inside the bag hassle free. Plus, if you use your produce bag in the bulk section, you can attach the product number tag directly to the tie band.  Other Uses Produce bags are never just for produce. You can use them to store any number of foods . Beans are an excellent example. Rice, pasta and other pantry items also store well in fabric bags. Shopping bulk is a sustainable action that removes much of the packaging waste from the typical shopping venture. While glass jars are best for some things, fabric bags can handle the “bulk” of your dried foods. Outside the food realm you can use them to store art supplies such as markers, paint brushes and rocks. When it comes time to do laundry, throw small items such as kid’s socks inside and wash the entire bag. Care Fabric produce bags are easy to care for because they are machine washable alongside the rest of your laundry. It’s best to wash bags after each use considering the amount of germs they encounter in the shopping cart, at checkout and in your car. Bags can be hung to dry or tossed into the dryer if necessary. Remember to put your bags somewhere you will remember to take them with you for your next shopping trip, or take them directly to the car for storage. Congratulations on your step towards reducing plastic waste ! Images via Sean and Lauren , Pixabay , Laura Mitulla

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The pros and cons of electromobility

July 17, 2019 by  
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To those of us who concentrate on sustainability and green options for travel, electromobility appears to be a godsend — but the increasingly popular electromobility lifestyle still holds good and bad traits. Thankfully, as the market continues to grow, electric vehicles such as e-bikes and scooters only continue to improve since they were first introduced, and electric cars continue to get more and more sophisticated and efficient each year. While there are obvious benefits to using or even owning one of these trendy vehicles, the electromobility industry still has some kinks to work out. Here are the pros and cons to consider before embracing electromobility. Pro: less utilization of fossil fuels Though the extraction of different kinds of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) present different levels and types of impact on the environment, they all have one thing in common: emitting harmful pollutants and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when burned. These pollutants can include sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides that contribute to acid rain, smog and soot. While the burning of fossil fuels poses serious issues, it doesn’t stop there. The only ways to extract these fossil fuels from the Earth is by mining or drilling, and both have the potential to generate significant air and water pollution , inflict serious health issues to workers or the local community and alter ecosystems. Offshore drilling poses risks of oil spills that can absolutely devastate ocean life. As the transportation sector as a whole relies almost exclusively on fossil fuels, it is responsible for a majority of the hidden environmental costs that the fossil fuel industry implements on the Earth. According to the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy , “In general, EVs produce fewer emissions that contribute to climate change and smog than conventional vehicles … EVs typically produce fewer life cycle emissions [emissions from vehicles over the course of its life from production to disposal] than conventional vehicles, because most emissions are lower for electricity generation than burning gasoline or diesel.” Con: batteries Replacing harmful fossil fuels with electric vehicle batteries comes at a cost. Producing these large lithium batteries requires natural resources from lithium and nickel mines, which can emit pollutants such as sulfur dioxide into the air and pose health risks to workers. Most batteries, especially in smaller EVs like scooters and e-bikes, have a limited lifespan. After disposal, batteries can end up in landfills to release toxins into the environment or in the ocean to harm sea life. Related: We love electric scooters — but is the Bird trend actually bad for the environment? Pro: improved air quality The potential to dramatically improve air quality is arguably the biggest draw for electromobility from an environmental perspective. The lack of exhaust systems in electric vehicles means less carbon dioxide emissions and less greenhouse gas buildup in our atmosphere. According to the U.N. , air pollution causes 1 in 9 deaths around the world and, “Transport contributes approximately one quarter of all energy-related carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere, which is set to reach one-third, growing faster than any other sector.” The majority of car growth in the world is expected to take place in developing countries, most of which don’t have any type of vehicle emissions standards or programs incentivizing low-emission transportation. U.N. Environment is working to sponsor 50 countries and cities around the world to introduce electric cars and electric methods of public transportation. Con: energy use Even though electric vehicles don’t emit as much carbon dioxide, the batteries still need to be recharged regularly. As the demand for electric modes of transportation grows, so does the need for energy — and not all energy comes from renewable sources. For this reason, many owners of electric cars opt to install solar panels onto their homes to charge the vehicles from inside their garages at a much lower cost both financially and to the environment. Pro: decreased expenses Just the knowledge alone that their vehicle is better for the environment is enough for some consumers when it comes to purchasing an electric car, scooter or bike, but the reasons to make the investment into electromobility go far beyond peace of mind. A 2018 study from the University of Michigan revealed that in no U.S. state is it cheaper to use gasoline than electricity. Operating an EV in the United States, according to the study, was $485 per year, while the cost for operating a gas-powered car was $1,117. That means on average, gasoline-powered vehicles cost twice as much as electric ones. Because EVs don’t require oil either, oil changes aren’t necessary, meaning maintenance time and cost is significantly reduced as well. If all that still doesn’t convince you, some EV owners are eligible for a tax break as high as $7,500 depending on the individual tax situation and type of vehicle. The EPA website can help you estimate just how much money you could save by making the switch. Images via Airwheel , Trinity eRoller , RJA1988 and Markus Roider

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Where the 2020 candidates stand on climate change

July 9, 2019 by  
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Climate change was predicted to be a hot topic for the first democratic presidential debates. Despite pressure from activists , the issue received just seven minutes of airtime on the first night of the debates and eight minutes on the second night. Still, it is important to be informed on where each person stands when it comes to the climate crisis. Below is a breakdown of the candidates’ current climate platforms (in no particular order). Jay Inslee (Governor, WA) Inslee has established himself as “the climate candidate.” Vox’s climate reporter went so far as to say that other candidates should simply adopt Inslee’s climate plan as their own platforms, as it is the only plan that adequately address the gravity of the crisis. Inslee’s Our Climate Movement plan includes: • Eliminating carbon emissions by 2045 • Investing $9 trillion in clean energy , green jobs and resilient infrastructure • Phasing out fossil fuel production Joe Biden (former Vice President) On June 4, Biden released a $1.7 trillion Clean Energy Revolution plan, which includes: • 100 percent net-zero emissions by 2050 • Investing in resilient infrastructure • Committing to the Paris Agreement • Spurring economic growth and green jobs Biden’s platforms are generally more moderate than other candidates, and he is wooing the labor unions. While some activists are sour about his appeal to moderate votes, others believe his ability to garner bipartisan support and labor votes may make him more effective in pushing through legislation. On June 27, Biden signed a pledge to refuse campaign money from oil companies. Elizabeth Warren (Senator, MA) Warren’s main focus is taking down big banks and big oil companies, including protecting public lands from oil corporations. She backed the Green New Deal , supports a ban on fracking and wants to focus on green job development and industries. She has also presented a plan to greatly reduce emissions produced by the military. Amy Klobuchar (Senator, MN) Klobuchar backed the Green New Deal and supports further development of nuclear energy as an alternative to dirty fossil fuels . Her proposal, released on March 28, includes a major investment in infrastructure adaptation and clean energy. She will also reinstate clean power rules and gas mileage standards and will rejoin the Paris Agreement. Seth Moulton (Representative, MA) Moulton backed the Green New Deal, plans to focus on green jobs and supports further innovation in carbon sequestration with farmers and rural communities. Kirsten Gillibrand (Senator, NY) Gillibrand co-sponsored the Green New Deal and avidly supported a carbon tax in the past. She opposes opening new land and water to oil drilling and supported legislation that would help the U.S. surpass its previous Paris Agreement commitment. Tim Ryan (Representative, OH) Ryan has defended his moderate stance on climate change and commitment to prioritizing jobs development and economic growth. He is critical of a carbon tax, arguing it would encourage companies to take jobs overseas. Pete Buttigieg (Mayor, South Bend IA) Buttigieg supports the Green New Deal, nuclear energy and a ban on fracking. He wants to focus on solutions that center low-income Americans and mentioned putting rural communities at the forefront of climate adaptation, such as supporting carbon sequestration innovation among farmers. He is also in favor of a carbon tax. Buttigieg would recommit to the Paris Climate Agreement and plans to decarbonize transportation and industries as well as support energy efficiency in homes. Marianne Williamson (author) Williamson wants to close existing nuclear power reactors and ban fracking. She supports the Green New Deal. Tulsi Gabbard (Representative, HI) Gabbard has been outspoken about climate action during her time in Congress. She supports aspects of the Green New Deal, including reaching carbon neutrality, but does not support nuclear power unless there is a solution for nuclear waste. She also supports a ban on fracking. Bill de Blasio (Mayor, New York City) Mayor de Blasio recently passed New York City’s own version of a Green New Deal, so he is expected to be an advocate for progressive climate action. Kamala Harris (Senator, CA) Harris has not taken a firm stance on a fracking ban, nuclear energy nor a carbon tax. She has come out in support of the Green New Deal and promised to rejoin the Paris Agreement. Joe Sestak (former Representative, PA) Sestak’s climate plan includes rejoining the Paris Agreement, ceasing subsidies for fossil fuel corporations, implementing a carbon tax and investing in regenerative agriculture . Bernie Sanders (Senator, VT) Sanders’ climate platform on his campaign website promises to: • Pass the Green New Deal • Invest in infrastructure for front-line communities • Reduce transportation-related pollution • Ban fracking and drilling • End exports of coal, gas and oil Corey Booker (Senator, NJ) Booker officially backed the Green New Deal, supports nuclear energy and wants to ban fracking. He also has an outspoken commitment to climate justice and to addressing the disproportionate impact that the climate crisis has on people of color and low-income families. Beto O’Rourke (former Representative, TX) O’Rourke has a $5 trillion climate plan that aims for net-zero emissions by 2050, but he still supports natural gas. His plan also includes $1.2 trillion in grants for energy and economic transformation at the community level. John Hickenlooper (former governor, CO) Hickenlooper previously worked as a geologist for a major oil company. He has not signed on to the Green New Deal and believes the U.S. should continue fracking. His climate plan includes: • Rejoining the Paris Agreement • Making $100 billion available annually in climate finance • Establishing a climate corps national service program Michael Bennet (Senator, CO) Bennet believes the U.S. should continue using natural gas and has not signed on the Green New Deal. On May 20, he released a climate plan with eight points: • Create 10 million green jobs by 2030 • Launch a 2030 climate challenge to push states to develop climate plans • Conserve 30 percent of land and oceans by 2030 • Establish a climate bank with $1 trillion to spend on infrastructure by 2030 • Cut energy waste in half by 2040 • Achieve 100 percent clean emissions by 2050 • Decarbonize agriculture • Develop options for houses to purchase retrofits, renewable energy and zero-emissions vehicles Andrew Yang (entrepreneur) Yang’s website mentions support for fossil fuel regulation and investment in renewable energy both for the environment and for the economy.  He also favors a carbon tax and dividend but believes much of the climate action needs to happen at the state and local level, with general support from the federal government. Steve Bullock (Governor, MT) Bullock said he would rejoin the Paris Agreement and invest in renewable energy; however, he does not support the Green New Deal nor does he think it will get very far. Bullock also has a long record of supporting the coal industry in his home state of Montana.  Wayne Messam (Mayor, Miramar FL) When pressed for his ideas about the climate crisis, Messam told radio station WBUR that he would develop an infrastructure bill that focused on resilience for bridges, dams and levees. He would transition the country to renewable energies and transition fossil fuel jobs toward the green economy. John Delaney (former Representative, MD) Delaney supports nuclear power and does not support the Green New Deal. He released a $4 trillion dollar climate plan that includes: • Establishing a carbon tax • Promoting negative emissions technology • Increasing renewable energy budget • Developing a climate corps national service program • Creating a pipeline network that delivers carbon dioxide to oil fields for sequestration Julián Castro (former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development) Castro supports the Green New Deal and was one of only three candidates to say climate change will be the No. 1 priority of his presidency. He has mentioned that his first action as president would be to rejoin the Paris Agreement, and he is opposed to subsidizing oil corporations. Greenpeace developed a report card to grade all candidates on their climate policies. See the visual here . Via Politico , Inside Climate News , NRDC and Greenpeace Images via Shutterstock

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Where the 2020 candidates stand on climate change

The pros and cons of online versus in-store shopping

June 20, 2019 by  
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In as little as a few clicks and confirmations your online purchase can be at your doorstep in a matter of hours. Online shopping is so simple there is barely enough time to consider the process your order goes through in order to reach its destination, not to mention the cost! It’s easy to condemn Americans’ obsession with online retail as unsustainable over-consumption, but when the numbers are pitted against in-store shopping, online shopping is actually the more eco-friendly option. Think of delivery services as public transportation for your packages, where everyone’s package rides the same bus instead of your personal car. Online shopping Online shopping constitutes one out of every seven purchases around the world, that’s nearly 15 percent of all shopping. The online retail industry is worth over $3.5 trillion, a massive total that rises by 20 percent every year. The average carbon footprint of a package is difficult to calculate because there are huge discrepancies. For example, the time and resources used comparing a local clothing delivery and a refrigerator that travels across the world from China. The advantages In Britain, the average package produces just six ounces of carbon dioxide, which sounds tiny but has to be multiplied by millions of deliveries. Going to the store to pick up your item and back, averaging an estimated 13 miles, produces approximately 144 ounces of carbon dioxide , which is 24 times more than the delivered package. You would have to pick up 24 items in order to break even. According to a researcher and author of Decarbonizing Logistics , even when you consider mis-deliveries and returns, the averages point to online shopping as a more environmentally-friendly option. Nowadays, many popular brands no longer have (or never had) storefronts. The carbon footprint of running a website alone is also drastically less than the energy it takes to power and maintain a building space. The disadvantages The biggest polluter for delivery services is the last mile, and those emissions are multiplied every time the delivery is unsuccessful. Between 12 and 60 percent of all deliveries are unsuccessful on the first try, so they often make a second or third attempt. If they are still unsuccessful, the consumer must drive to a warehouse to pick up the package– negating all benefits in terms of carbon emissions . Furthermore, about one fifth of all products purchased online are returned, which can double the carbon footprint. In-store shopping The advantages Shopping in person partially cuts down on returns because customers are able to touch, see and try on the items before purchasing. This means they are more likely to select something they like and that fits them and avoid the common online practice of buying one item in a few sizes and returning all but one. Additional advantages of in-store shopping lie in the personal choices people make to reduce their carbon footprint. Many people walk or bike to stores, while others utilize public transportation . Although a bus still has a carbon footprint, you technically aren’t adding additional emissions since the bus was simply completing a pre-determined route. Moreover, shoppers tend to purchase more than one item at a time, which minimizes the emissions per item. The disadvantages Depending on the distance the consumer travels and their mode of transportation, online shopping is highly inefficient. In most cases, shoppers drive individually in personal cars to malls or commercial areas. Although shoppers can make personal choices to cut down their emissions, such as carpooling and staying local, research shows these steps still do not compensate for the benefits of online shopping . Related: Over 6000 employees demand Amazon take climate change seriously How to make smarter shopping choices New innovations Delivery services are growing rapidly and getting creative. Amazon is piloting drone deliveries and other companies are experimenting with ground-based robots. New apps and shared economy services are also popping up, like bike courier companies. One innovative app called Roadie is playing with the idea of a package hitchhiking system that connects your package with a delivery already heading in that direction. Slow shopping You’ve heard of slow food , but it turns out that slow deliveries might be more environmentally friendly too. Most people who can afford it opt for speedy deliveries, but this forces retailers to send packages out individually, immediately and sometimes in emptier trucks just in order to meet deadlines. With the wiggle room of a few more days, shippers can bundle items going to a similar location together and reduce the number of trips and emissions. Buy Local If you can walk or bike to the store, that’s a great option. If you have to ship something, check out different retailers and chose the one located closest to you. The less distance your package travels, the lower the carbon footprint. Conspicuous consumption There are a few ways to be a more responsible buyer. If you know a delivery is coming, make sure to be home when the delivery arrives so it does not have to double back. Select slower delivery times when not in a rush and shop more purposefully to avoid returns. Overall, the best way to reduce retail-related emissions is to buy less! Carefully consider what you need and do not buy items that you will barely use. But most importantly, always consider all items before a purchase. Are they necessary? Afterall, an item not purchased has the lowest footprint. Via Ensia Images via StockSnap , HutchRock, kasjanf, RouteXL

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