Companies push Congress to promote climate action. Is anyone listening?

May 18, 2020 by  
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Companies push Congress to promote climate action. Is anyone listening? Joel Makower Mon, 05/18/2020 – 09:15 What happens when more than 300 business people descend, virtually, on Capitol Hill to advocate for climate action amid a pandemic and economic crisis? Logic would dictate that these well-intentioned lobbyists-for-a-day would be met with a resounding shrug. After all, with two of the most devastating events to hit the United States happening simultaneously, there doesn’t seem to be much room to talk about anything else. As with so many other things these days, logic is not always the best guide. That’s my takeaway from last week’s LEAD on Climate 2020 , organized by the nonprofit Ceres and supported by other sustainability-focused business groups. It was the second annual opportunity for companies to educate legislators and their staff on the need for congressional action on the climate crisis. Among the larger participating companies were Adobe, Capital One, Danone, Dow, eBay, General Mills, LafargeHolcim, Mars, Microsoft, NRG, Pepsico, Salesforce, Tiffany and Visa, along with hundreds of smaller firms . Last year’s LEAD (for Lawmaker Education and Advocacy Day) event brought 75 companies to Capitol Hill. This year’s garnered 333 companies, including more than 100 CEOs, to have video meetups with 88 congressional offices — 50 Democrats, 36 Republicans and 2 Independents — from both the House (51 meetings) and Senate (37 meetings). Some had as many as 70 companies in attendance. This year’s bigger turnout no doubt had to do in part with the ease of meeting from one’s sequestered location — no travel, no costs and a lot smaller carbon footprint — but also from the growing push to get companies off the sidelines on climate action advocacy, whether motivated by external pressure groups, ESG-minded investors, employee concerns or a company’s own board or C-suite. To be quite frank, it was some of the most valuable conversations we’ve had with members on climate in a long time. Last year’s LEAD event focused specifically on carbon pricing; this year’s focus was broadened, Anne Kelly, vice president of government relations at Ceres, the event’s organizer, told me last week. “We reframed it knowing that long-term solutions like carbon pricing are important, but that there were immediate opportunities that companies could speak to.” That, too, may have broadened its appeal. For Nestlé, the event was an opportunity “to have meaningful conversations with Congress on climate change and on our priorities,” said Meg Villareal, the company’s manager of policy and public affairs, in an interview for last week’s GreenBiz 350 podcast . “To be quite frank, it was some of the most valuable conversations we’ve had with members on climate in a long time. I think the virtual platform created an opportunity for us to have very in-depth discussions about what company priorities are and how we want to see Congress engage on climate going into the future.” Among Nestlé’s interests, Villareal said, was scaling up renewable energy use in its operations. “We also want to develop agriculture initiatives for carbon storage and reforestation and biodiversity that help support our carbon initiatives. That was definitely a key piece of some of the conversations we had as well.” Her company is a founding member of the Sustainable Food Policy Alliance , along with Mars, Danone and Unilever. “We put out a set of climate principles last May that have five principles as part of it, the first of which is creating a price on carbon.” Several congressional allies participated, first among them Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), who has a strong record on climate advocacy. It appeared that his role in the event was primarily to cheer the companies on and give them insight into the Capitol Hill zeitgeist. Bank shot Whitehouse made it clear that while CEO pronouncements on their company’s climate commitments are good, they only go so far. “CEOs may say we support a carbon price,” he explained. “No, they don’t. I happen to know that because I have the carbon price bill in the Senate. And nobody’s ever come to me and said, ‘We want to support your bill.’ You can’t underestimate the continued opposition and challenge that the fossil-fuel industry presents. They’re still really strong here and really powerful.” The senator cited the American Beverage Association as a case in point. “Coke and Pepsi both have terrific climate policies. They do all the stuff they should be doing. But they pretty much control the American Beverage Association because of their size. And the American Beverage Association has not lifted a finger, period” to support climate action, he said. CEOs may say we support a carbon price. No, they don’t. I have the carbon price bill in the Senate. Nobody’s ever come to me and said, ‘We want to support your bill.’ Whitehouse advocated what he called a “bank shot” — perhaps an unintentional play on words — as a way to build pressure on companies through their investors. “We put pressure on Marathon Petroleum for the climate mischief that they have done — particularly the CAFE standards, the fuel efficiency standards mischief, that they’ve been string-pulling-on behind the scenes. They could care less when I call them out on that. But their four biggest shareholders are BlackRock, Vanguard, State Street and JPMorgan. And all those entities care quite a lot when they’re funding climate misbehavior. And they get called out on it themselves. So, you can use the pressure that the financial community feels to defend itself now against these climate and economic crash warnings to bring pressure to bear on even very recalcitrant companies.” The human factor I had the opportunity to speak during the LEAD training day, the day before they “hit the Hill” for their member meetings. As part of that, I interviewed Leah Rubin Shen, energy and environment policy advisor to Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware), who co-chairs the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus with Sen. Mike Braun (R-Indiana). I asked Shen, a trained electrochemist with research experience in energy storage technologies and green chemistry, for some insights into what it takes to change minds on Capitol Hill. “I’m a scientist,” she responded. “I think there are plenty of things that we could do tomorrow, or today even, that would make all of our systems much more robust and resilient, and set us on the right path. But politically, it’s just really difficult. As tempting as it is to just say, ‘Well, this is what experts say,’ or ‘This is what people say we should be doing’ — I wish that were enough; it’s not. It needs to be something that will resonate back home.” Storytelling is key, she noted. “Don’t discount the human element. Facts and figures are helpful — ‘This is how many jobs we have in your state,’ or ‘This is what our annual revenue was last year.’ Those things are important and helpful. But being able to tell a story is something that will resonate with a lot of staffers and members both.” Nestlé’s Villareal experienced that in a conversation last week with a congressman from Florida “with whom last year it was a bit of a difficult conversation, particularly around carbon pricing,” she told me. “So, this year, we tried a new approach with that office. We didn’t go in and lead with the ask on carbon pricing but wanted to have more of a general conversation about the companies in his district and how we are prioritizing our carbon principles and our climate principles. And it led into a very healthy discussion on carbon pricing and why the companies in his district were supportive of it. It was a very productive and surprisingly good conversation, and we were really pleased coming out of it.” We have to make these introductions on a large scale so that Congress knows if they act on climate, the broad business community will have their back. The whole exercise isn’t just about getting members of Congress to support climate action. It’s also letting them know that if they do, they’ll get business support.  “We have to make these introductions on a large scale so that Congress knows if they act on climate, the broad business community will have their back,” explained Anne Kelly. “Most lawmakers think that big businesses only want to break the rules, not call for new ones.” Among other things, she says, members generally aren’t aware of corporate climate leadership, science-based targets or large-scale renewable energy procurement by companies. The LEAD exchanges help them understand such things.  According to Kelly, the success of the virtual advocacy day — which she dubbed a “high-impact, low-footprint and low-budget model” — and the enthusiasm by participating companies has led Ceres to consider upping the frequency of LEAD events, from annually to quarterly. “Based on the rave reviews, I’d say many colleagues are hooked,” she added. I asked Villareal, one of those enthusiasts, what advice she’d give someone who hasn’t yet dipped their toe into the congressional advocacy waters. “It can always be scary to try something new, but it is so worth it,” she replied. “In the end, you get tremendous benefit from using your voice and especially on critical and positive issues like climate.” I invite you to follow me on Twitter , subscribe to my Monday morning newsletter, GreenBuzz , and listen to GreenBiz 350 , my weekly podcast, co-hosted with Heather Clancy. Pull Quote To be quite frank, it was some of the most valuable conversations we’ve had with members on climate in a long time. CEOs may say we support a carbon price. No, they don’t. I have the carbon price bill in the Senate. Nobody’s ever come to me and said, ‘We want to support your bill.’ We have to make these introductions on a large scale so that Congress knows if they act on climate, the broad business community will have their back. Topics Policy & Politics Carbon Policy Featured Column Two Steps Forward GreenBiz Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off GreenBiz photocollage via Shutterstock Close Authorship

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Companies push Congress to promote climate action. Is anyone listening?

The environmental trail of the global charcoal supply chain

April 2, 2020 by  
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Use of the fuel is alive and well, with devastating implications for forests in sub-Saharan Africa.

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The environmental trail of the global charcoal supply chain

Scientists get closer to artificial photosynthesis for renewable energy

March 26, 2020 by  
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Scientists at Berkeley Lab are getting close to a long-held goal of using artificial photosynthesis to generate renewable energy from the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. If produced in large enough quantities, the energy created from artificial photosynthesis could be a huge step to slowing climate change. Photosynthesis is the chemical reaction by which algae and green plants turn carbon dioxide into cellular fuel. Scientists at Berkeley have designed square solar fuel tiles containing billions of nanoscale tubes between two pieces of thin, flexible silicate. These squares will comprise the new artificial photosynthesis system. Related: New photosynthesis machine is twice as efficient at creating hydrogen fuel The Berkeley scientists recently published a paper in Advanced Functional Materials explaining how their design “allows for the rapid flow of protons from the interior space of the tube, where they are generated from splitting water molecules, to the outside, where they combine with CO2 and electrons to form the fuel.” So far, the scientists have managed to produce carbon monoxide as the fuel but are trying for methanol. “There are two challenges that have not yet been met,” said senior scientist Heinz Frei in a press release from Berkeley Lab . “One of them is scalability. If we want to keep fossil fuels in the ground, we need to be able to make energy in terawatts — an enormous amount of fuel. And, you need to make a liquid hydrocarbon fuel so that we can actually use it with the trillions of dollars’ worth of existing infrastructure and technology.” Once the scientists are satisfied with their model, they should be able to quickly build a solar fuel farm out of the tiles, which measure a few inches across. “We, as basic scientists, need to deliver a tile that works, with all questions about its performance settled,” Frei said. “And engineers in industry know how to connect these tiles. When we’ve figured out square inches, they’ll be able to make square miles.” + Berkeley Lab Images via Andreas Senftleben

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Scientists get closer to artificial photosynthesis for renewable energy

Children hurt after Delta jet dumps fuel on schools

January 16, 2020 by  
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On January 14, a Delta jet malfunctioned and dumped jet fuel over Los Angeles-area schools. The incident injured more than 50 people, including students from Park Avenue Elementary, San Gabriel Elementary, Graham Elementary, Tweedy Elementary, 93rd Street Elementary and Jordan High School. Currently, injuries such as skin and eye irritation and breathing problems have been reported. As the Los Angeles Unified School District said, “Students and staff were on the playground at the time and may have been sprayed by fuel or inhaled fumes.” Several people affected by the fuel were treated on-site. A “reverse 911” text message was sent out to locals, informing them of the event, noting affected areas and advising residents on how to proceed. The L.A. County Fire Department also updated its Twitter with the number of patients affected at each school site. As of Tuesday evening, the patient count included 31 patients from Park Avenue Elementary, six patients from Tweedy Elementary, one patient from Graham Elementary and six patients from San Gabriel Elementary. The Delta flight in question was Flight 89 to Shanghai , which apparently experienced an engine malfunction after takeoff. According to Delta, safe landing procedures following such a malfunction required fuel release — though the Federal Aviation Administration commented that fuel-dumping procedures “call for fuel to be dumped over designated unpopulated areas, typically at higher altitudes so the fuel atomizes and disperses before it reaches the ground.” This event isn’t the first environmental issue Park Avenue Elementary has faced, either. For an eight-month period between 1989 and 1990, the school was closed due to a mysterious ooze appearing. Investigation then discovered that the school was formerly the site of a city dump . As Elizabeth Alcantar, recently appointed mayor of Cudahy, said, “The very same playground experienced another environmental injustice. For our residents, they’re rightfully upset, and there is concern over when this will truly be over.” Via L.A. Times and CNN Image via Pixabay

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Children hurt after Delta jet dumps fuel on schools

Kansas City approves free public transportation for all

December 12, 2019 by  
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Last week, the city council of Kansas City unanimously voted for free public transportation via the Zero Fare Transit proposal. The program will boost ridership of city transit systems, allaying concerns about equity and the challenges of global greenhouse gas emissions and the climate crisis . Kansas City’s streetcar service is already free, and the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) likewise provides free services to veterans. But approval of the resolution is a historic move allowing for free bus and streetcar services to all. Related: When in Rome, recycle more to earn free metro and bus travel tickets “The City Council just took a monumental, unanimous step toward #ZeroFareTransit — setting Kansas City up to soon become the first major metropolitan city with free public bus service,” Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas tweeted. “This is going to improve the lives of so many and help fuel the local economy.” According to a 6-month study by the Citizens for Modern Transit group, which was commissioned by the Missouri Public Transit Association in partnership with AARP, Missouri’s public transportation sector in 2019 provides “an annual average of 60.1 million rides, which is equivalent to 9.8 rides per year, per Missouri resident.” That number is expected to rise with this new Zero Fare Transit program, especially in Kansas City. The rise in public transportation use can help confront the planet’s current environmental challenges. With less vehicles on the road, greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced, thus improving air quality . With ride sharing through public transportation, there will be less need for many individual trips by private vehicles in dense urban areas. Plus, traffic congestion will be relieved, saving the fuel that might have been wasted in traffic gridlocks. As to concerns about the fuel use of public transportation, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the United States Department of Energy have both documented that modern buses use alternative fuels rather than diesel and gas, unlike a decade ago. Again, this emphasizes how Kansas City’s new legislation promises a smaller carbon footprint for the city. The new legislation has already garnered attention and praise outside of Missouri, with advocates in Nashville, Portland and Toronto seeking similar measures in their respective cities. Via ArchDaily Image via David Wilson

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Kansas City approves free public transportation for all

Can GreenBelly meal bars power you through an outdoor adventure? We put them to the test

August 14, 2019 by  
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For camping and hiking enthusiasts, deciding what foods to pack for the trip can be tricky. You need to meet your nutritional and energy needs, but space is limited, especially if you are heading out with just a backpack. GreenBelly aims to fill this gap by creating nutrient-dense, plant-based bars that are lightweight yet energy-boosting to get you through your adventure. We tried three different meal bars by GreenBelly to put the flavor and nutritional claims to the test. GreenBelly’s “stoveless backpacking meals” come in small packages that can fit into nearly any side-zipper section of a backpack. The company offers both Meals2Go (in four flavors, three of which we tested) as well as Mud Meals, or powdered drinks that can be added to water (in two flavors, which we did not sample). Where most bars designed for backpackers are meant to be a quick snack to refuel mid-trip, GreenBelly has packed the nutrients of a full meal into its bars. This means staying fuller for longer, creating the opportunity to reach new heights. Related: Get ready for an adventure with this ultimate checklist of backpacking essentials The Meals2Go come in three flavors : dark chocolate and banana, peanut and apricot, cranberry and almond and the brand new mango, cashew and coconut variety. If you really have a sweet tooth, we recommend the dark chocolate and banana flavor. While peanut and apricot might sound a bit offbeat, it tastes like sweetened peanut butter. The cranberry almond option has a generic fruity flavor with a salty aftertaste. We didn’t sample the mango, but it sounds like a refreshing and tropical option. We won’t lie — the flavors aren’t as appealing as some of the mainstream snack protein bars on the market, but these GreenBelly bars include the benefit of more natural ingredients that can fuel you for so much longer. Each package contains exactly one-third of the recommended daily values of everything from calories, fats, sodium, carbohydrates (including fiber and sugar) and protein. They also have impressive (and varying) amounts of iron as well as trace amounts of vitamins A and C and calcium. The nutrients pack a punch, too. Although they are rather high in sugar, the Meals2Go are very filling and equally power you through a long day at the office or a scenic weekend hike. Each package is the rough equivalent to a meal, although we do recommend incorporating other meal options for your travels for variety. While the flavors are unique and satisfying, the nutrient quotients are impressive and the long-lasting provided energy is ideal for exploring. Before you wander off into a long trek with these handy protein bars, there are a couple of things to keep in mind with the GreenBelly Meals2Go. Each package contains two bars, or one meal. This packaging can add up quickly, especially for longer excursions. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear these packages are easily recyclable, if at all. Another thing worth mentioning is that the ingredients list for each flavor includes palm oil , which is an industry well-known for its problematic contributions to deforestation. GreenBelly’s Meals2Go are a convenient, plant-based meal consideration for your next backpacking, hiking or camping trip. Each includes plenty of nutrients to fuel you without the need for cooking on-the-go. But it is important to keep in mind the packaging and the palm oil when comparing these bars to other ready-to-eat meals designed for adventurers to ensure that you choose the fuel that is the best for both you and the planet. + GreenBelly Images via Inhabitat Editor’s Note: This product review is not sponsored by GreenBelly. All opinions on the products and company are the author’s own.

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Can GreenBelly meal bars power you through an outdoor adventure? We put them to the test

Trumps July 4th celebration cost our National Parks millions

July 5, 2019 by  
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The Independence Day festivities hosted by the White House yesterday cost the National Park Service an estimated $2.5 million dollars, money that is typically earmarked for park maintenance and rehabilitation. The rainy celebration, which included military jet fly overs, tank displays and the largest firework display in D.C. history, is the most expensive July 4th celebration any president has hosted. What Trump promoted via Twitter as the “show of a lifetime” was loosely inspired by his trip to France during Bastille Day. After the proposed budget for a similar celebration last year reached $92 million, Trump had to scale back his plan. Related: How National Parks benefit the environment The president also made a speech yesterday, a first in 32 years. For the past three decades, presidents have elected to not speak at the Independence Day celebrations out of respect for unity and patriotism and an attempt to not politicize the holiday. “Today, we come together as one nation with this very special salute to America. We celebrate our history, our people and the heroes who proudly defend our flag — the brave men and women of the United States military,” Trump said during his speech. Despite his message of unity, tickets for the highly anticipated events were given out as gifts to high-rolling donors to the Republican National Committee. “This is a breach of trust with the public,” said Theresa Pierno, president of the National Parks Conservation Association. “The public pays parks fees to fix national parks and for educational programs, not the president’s parades.” The national parks are reportedly $12 billion dollars behind in their maintenance needs, and this event is another major setback. While the event cost the country’s parks $2.5 million, the Trump administration refused to reveal exactly how much the antics cost taxpayers in total. Before the celebration, Trump tweeted , “The cost of our great Salute to America tomorrow will be very little compared to what it is worth. We own the planes, we have the pilots, the airport is right next door (Andrews), all we need is the fuel. We own the tanks and all. Fireworks are donated by two of the greats.” Via EcoWatch Image via Joyce N. Boghosian / The White House

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Trumps July 4th celebration cost our National Parks millions

Pipeline explosion in Mexico kills 91 and counting

January 23, 2019 by  
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Last week, a gasoline pipeline exploded in central Mexico , killing 91 people, with numbers expected to surpass 100. Mexico’s state-owned oil company, Pemex, did not respond properly to the initial leak, which resulted in backlash from citizens towards the newly appointed President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. The leak is believed to have been caused by thieves attempting to steal fuel after President Lopez Obrador mandated all pipelines close in an effort to crackdown on criminal activity in late December. According to Reuters, Pemex held a press conference on Monday where an engineer stated the leak began as a “small puddle” in the Tlahuelilpan district of Hidalgo, and later resulted in a “fountain” of fuel. The engineer added that the company was able to “take actions.” What those actions were exactly isn’t clear, and the company didn’t say when they shut off the flow of fuel . Hundreds of local residents rushed to the punctured pipeline to collect fuel and were caught in the explosion. Related: Virgin Atlantic plane takes flight with fuel from recycled waste Pemex Chief Executive Octavio Romero defended the company’s actions and said that they followed protocol, but would not admit to any negligence or corruption. “Everything will be looked at,” said Romero. However, Mexican Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero said there is a current  investigation underway into possible negligence and will call in all of the officials involved to answer questions this week. Additionally, a nearby pipeline a few miles southwest of Tlahuelilpan was also breached on Monday by suspected thieves, according to Hidalgo Governor Omar Fayad. Via Reuters Image via Shutterstock

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Pipeline explosion in Mexico kills 91 and counting

Green-roofed home is built of waste bricks and wood in Poland

January 23, 2019 by  
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Environmentally friendly with a beautifully textured facade, this brick house built of recycled materials in Poland has been nominated for the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award 2019. Polish architecture firm Biuro Toprojekt designed the dwelling — fittingly named the Red House — that pays homage to the Cistercian landscape and history of Rudy Wielkie, a region in the Upper Silesia known for its brick architecture, with its walls built from hand-sorted waste bricks sourced from nearby brickworks. Environmentally friendly principles guided the design of the Red House, which was built mainly from locally accessible timber and bricks. The spacious, 364-square-meter building was constructed on a clearing at the edge of the forest. Views of the forest are embraced through full-height glazing that pull the outdoors in. A green roof was also installed and will blend the building into the landscape as the roof grows increasingly lush and the brick walls develop a patina. Unlike traditional brick construction, Red House adopts a more textural approach to its brick walls inspired by chiaroscuro, an art term describing the contrast between light and dark. The architects explained how they achieved this effect: “A variation of cross-linking was used, in which two bricks next to each other with heads on top of each other are pushed out on one side and pressed on the other side in relation to the face of the wall. This simple treatment significantly enriched the work of chiaroscuro on the façade. By completely removing the same pair of bricks , an openwork wall was created, concealing the window openings that could break the clean structure of the façade.” Related: Lego-like kindergarten sparks creativity with a playful brick facade Roughly square in plan, the Red House is accessed through an outdoor brick courtyard that takes up approximately a quarter of the home’s footprint. The entry foyer opens up to a stairway leading up to a small upper floor as well as the L-shaped, open-plan living room, dining area and kitchen. The master bedroom is located to the south of the living areas. A large outdoor patio on the west side of the house connects seamlessly to the living spaces and the master bedroom through sliding glass doors. + Biuro Toprojekt Photography by Juliusz Soko?owski via Biuro Toprojekt

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Green-roofed home is built of waste bricks and wood in Poland

California teen finds golf balls are a major source of plastic waste in our oceans

January 23, 2019 by  
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The plastic waste in our oceans is a major environmental problem thanks to humans tossing out single-use items like take-out containers, plastic straws, water bottles and plastic bags. But there is also an unexpected source of plastic waste that a teenage diver recently discovered — golf balls. When 16-year-old Alex Weber was swimming in a small cove near Carmel, California two years ago, she looked down and discovered there were so many white golf balls in the water that she couldn’t see the sand. Weber immediately decided to pick up as many as she could. Over the next few months, she and her father hauled hundreds of pounds of golf balls out of the water and stored them in the garage. But with five coastal golf courses nearby, golfers continued to hit the balls into the ocean. Eventually, Weber discovered Matt Savoca, a Stanford University scientist who studies plastic waste in the oceans . The teen emailed Savoca and invited him to look at her stash, which featured thousands of golf balls. Weber’s haul impressed Savoca, and he told her that she should write a scientific paper, but Weber didn’t know how to do that. So the two ended up working together, and he started diving with her. They also brought kayaks so they could take the golf balls back to land. Related: Study finds microplastics in sea turtles around the world After grabbing the golf balls, Savoca said they would put them on the kayak, and Weber explained that the kayaks were “so filled with plastic ” that they had to tow them by swimming them to shore. The biggest threat to the pair while they were recovering the golf balls wasn’t the sharks in the water. Instead, it was golf balls flying from the nearby courses right into the spot where they were collecting. Golf balls are coated with a thin polyurethane shell, and overtime as the shells degrade, they emit  toxic chemicals . The balls also degrade into microplastic pieces that marine animals eat. Since the first discovery, Weber continues to collect golf balls and manages The Plastic Pick-Up to encourage eliminating ocean pollution. Weber said, “If a person could see what we see underwater, it would not be acceptable.” + The Plastic Pick-Up Via NPR Images via Alex Weber

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California teen finds golf balls are a major source of plastic waste in our oceans

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