Heated plastic baby bottles release millions of microplastics in formula

October 21, 2020 by  
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A new study published in the journal Nature Food has revealed that babies around the world are consuming over 1.5 million microplastics each day. According to the study, microplastics are released in large quantities in baby plastic bottles, especially when the bottles are heated. But heating formula in the bottle is standard practice in preparing formula, and a majority of bottles on the market are plastic. While the study has proven beyond doubt that plastic bottles are releasing microplastics, the researchers said that there is no need for alarm yet. According to Philipp Schwabl, a researcher at the Medical University of Vienna who has also researched microplastics, parents should not be worried until more information is available. According to a report released by the World Health Organization last year, there is not sufficient evidence to show that microplastics are harmful to humans . Related: New study finds microplastics in fruits and vegetables “At the moment, there is no need to be afraid,” Schwabl said. “But it is an open question and definitely an unmet [research] need.” The study authors found that about 82% of all baby bottles sold globally are made out of polypropylene. Researchers reviewed 10 types of plastic baby bottles. When they were used to prepare infant formula, it was revealed that all 10 bottles released microplastics and nanoplastics. The infant formula was prepared according to the World Health Organization guidelines, which state that powdered formula should be mixed with water heated to about 158°F. The researchers concluded that the release of microplastics is heat-sensitive. “What’s happening is that there’s an interaction between the [plastic] polymer and the water. It’s almost like flaking of the surface of the actual plastic itself,” said John Boland, a professor of chemistry and materials science researcher at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland and one of the authors of the study. At the temperature of 158°F, most bottles released between 1 million and 16 million microplastics per liter. Further, the bottles also released millions of nanoplastics. The researchers said that more research needs to be done and more data collected to determine the exact effect of these plastic particles on babies and adults. + Nature Food Via NPR Image via Tung256

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Heated plastic baby bottles release millions of microplastics in formula

Surprising ways seaweed benefits the environment

August 19, 2020 by  
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While the news often mentions the terrible things in the sea, such as gyres of plastic and other trash, the oceans also hold an extremely valuable resource: seaweed. This renewable and easily harvestable organism is used for everything from food to spa treatments to a possible  COVID-19 medicine. This eco-friendly ingredient also features in many common products, including paint, toothpaste, ice cream and beer. Farming seaweed People collect seaweed both wild and cultivated from seaweed  farms . Wild picking involves either wading into the seawater to gather the slippery crop or picking it up off the shoreline. Especially abundant harvests usually come post-storm when seaweed washes onshore. For centuries, people gathered seaweed using this traditional method. Nowadays, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, 96% of global seaweed production comes from farms instead of wild gathering. Depending on the type of seaweed grown, farming may involve attaching the seaweed to rope lines suspended in the sea just off the coast, or growing the seaweed in nets. Seaweed farming in Japan started in the 1600s, and the practice may date back to the 15th century in Korea. Other parts of Asia, including  China , Indonesia and the Philippines, also produce seaweed for food and other products. In the Philippines alone, about 40,000 people made their living from seaweed production in the late 90s. When it’s time to harvest seaweed, people in most seaweed-growing countries use boats and machinery like rakes or trawlers. While easier than hand collection, harvesting with these tools can adversely affect habitats and wreck sea animals’ homes. To combat this, farmers in Norway devised a rake method that only removes the floating top canopy of seaweed, this avoiding seabed disruption. Seaweed helping the environment Farming seaweed might even improve the sea’s health, according to findings from Chinese researchers in a 2019 issue of  Stochastic Environmental Research and Risk Assessment . Research found that seaweed aquaculture can help combat eutrophication, the process whereby water becomes so overly enriched with nutrients that it causes excessive algae growth and oxygen depletion. The study discovered that seaweed aquaculture removed more than 75,000 metric tons of nitrogen and more than 9,500 metric tons of phosphate from coastal waters. Seaweed aquaculture also sequestered and absorbed a large amount of CO2 and released more than a million metric tons of oxygen. As a natural filter, seaweed helps remove pollutants from the environment; this does mean people should eat seaweed in moderation, though, as it can contain high levels of metals and iodine. In addition to keeping oceans healthy, seaweed also helps terrestrial farmers. When used as fertilizer, seaweed helps farmers avoid using nearly 30,000 tons of chemical fertilizers. Summarizing these benefits, the seaweed study’s authors wrote, “These results demonstrate that Chinese seaweed aquaculture has turned the  pollutants  that cause eutrophication into nutrients, which generates considerable environmental benefits as well as socio-economic values.” Seaweed in cosmetics and medicine Diverse parts of the world use seaweed in  cosmetics , too. Many Tanzanian women farm seaweed for export to China, Korea, Vietnam and other countries that use it as an ingredient in cosmetics and skincare products.  Even Ireland has harvested seaweed for hundreds of years. A 12th-century poem recounts how monks distributed edible seaweed to hungry poor people. In the early 20th century, the Irish coast housed nearly 300 seaweed bathhouses. You can still find some places in County Sligo to take a traditional seaweed bath. “This is our traditional spa treatment,” said Neil Walton, owner of Voya Seaweed Baths in the town of Strandhill. Scientists continue searching for more health benefits from  seaweed . The Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York has even explored using seaweed extract to treat COVID-19. This extract contains variations of heparin, a common anticoagulant. Though heparin usually comes from animal tissue, this seaweed alternative may become popular. If so, this could lower costs for seaweed as a biofuel resource. Seaweed as biofuel Seaweed aquaculture may also increase the use of biomass as  renewable energy . In 2015, biomass-derived energy accounted for about 5% of U.S. energy use . Biomass energy encompasses plant and animal-derived energy, such as food crop waste, animal farming, human sewage, wood or forest residue and horticultural byproducts. So far, seaweed as biofuel has garnered little commercial interest, and the market remains mostly unexplored. But the industry holds great potential. According to Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, a United States government agency that funds and promotes research and development of energy technologies, U.S. seaweed cultivation could reach 500 million tons and provide more energy than 23 billion gallons of gasoline. Seaweed farming paired with other industries Seaweed farming can also work with other industries, such as fish farming. Some environmental experts worry that open-sea fisheries negatively impact ecosystems due to the excess fish feed and fish feces floating in the water. Integrating seaweed production into fish farms could help reduce nitrogen  emissions  and break down other pollutants. A seaweed farm could also pair well with an offshore  wind farm . The first such operation is being built by Belgian-Dutch consortium Wier & Wind this year. The company plans to grow patches of seaweed for biofuel between large turbines 23 km off Zeebrugge in Belgium. This combination may lead to a genius symbiotic relationship. Seaweed production would make use of large open spaces between turbines, and the turbines would prevent ships from running over floating seaweed. Images via Pixabay,  Rich Brooks ,  Ronald Tagra  and  Gregg Gorman

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Trump administration furthers Arctic drilling plan

August 19, 2020 by  
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The Trump administration’s environmental protection rollbacks seem to now come daily. Today’s bad news? A plan to allow  oil  and gas companies to drill in Alaska’s so-far pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In 2017, a Republican tax bill opened part of the refuge to gas and oil leasing. Monday’s development pushed the plan further, aiming to sell the first drilling leases by the end of 2020. Many Republicans back the plan, despite opposition from environmental groups and Alaska’s Indigenous communities. Related: EPA loosens restrictions on methane emissions The over 19 million-acre refuge has long remained off-limits to development. Managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, most of the refuge is true wilderness, free from roads, trails and facilities, and open to the public for exploration. The few travelers who visit access the refuge by private planes and air taxis. Visitors may witness the Polar and grizzly bears , wolves, wolverines, caribou, beluga whales, musk oxen and walruses that call this area home. Though wildlife outnumbers people here, both the Gwich’in and Iñupiat people reside on and live off resources from the land.  Sometimes calling themselves “caribou people,” the Gwich’in have based their culture around these reindeer for centuries. The Gwich’in live in 15 villages across northeast  Alaska  and northwest Canada and have actively fought against gas and oil leasing. David Smith, a Gwich’in leader in Arctic Village, worries that the industries will harm caribou and change his nation’s way of life. “I would say this is like no other place on earth, so we shouldn’t be treated like any other place on earth,” Smith said in an interview with  Alaska Public Media . “I can drive in any direction and  hunt  freely. I can drive in any direction and go trapping.” Despite the recent news, the fight to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge continues. Still, environmental groups say that once companies buy drilling rights, it will be harder for future presidents to stop  Arctic  drilling. “The Trump administration never stops pushing to drill in the Arctic Refuge — and we will never stop suing them,” said Gina McCarthy, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “America has safeguarded the refuge for decades, and we will not allow the administration to strip that protection away now.” Via Thomson Reuters Foundation Image via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters

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First-of-its-kind device prototype harnesses renewable energy from ocean waves

October 16, 2019 by  
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Our planet is a water world, covered with 70 percent oceans. For centuries, it’s been widely known that the high seas can generate energy, if harnessed appropriately. With today’s renewables market rapidly expanding, it’s no wonder then that wave energy has recently gained traction as a contemporary, clean energy source. Two companies have jointly completed a marine hydrokinetic convertor, the OE Buoy, to leverage wave power as a renewable, green energy source. The city of Portland, Oregon is corporate headquarters to Vigor, a marine and industrial fabrication company that has had a long-standing record of cutting edge engineering projects. For this endeavor, Vigor teamed up with Irish wave-power pioneer Ocean Energy in a collaborative effort to push marine hydrokinetic technologies forward. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) helped to fund the $12 million design project. Related: Renewable energy surpasses fossil fuels in the UK Weighing 826 tons, the OE Buoy wave device measures 125 feet long, 59 feet wide and 68 feet tall. It will be deployed at the U.S. Navy Wave Energy Test Site (WETS) on the windward side of the Hawaiian island of Oahu, off the coast of Naval Base Pearl Harbor. The buoy has the potential to generate up to 1.25 megawatts of electrical power. In other words, it has enough utility-quality electricity supply to support marine-based data centers, desalination plants, naval autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) power platforms, offshore fish farming and off-grid applications for remote island communities. Besides that, the buoy has the capacity to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, making it a cleaner, more sustainable source of renewable energy . “This first-of-its kind wave energy convertor is scalable, reliable and capable of generating sustainable power to facilitate a range of use-cases that were previously unimaginable or just impractical,” said John McCarthy, CEO of Ocean Energy. “This internationally significant project will be invaluable to job creation, renewable energy generation and greenhouse gas reduction. Additionally, technology companies will be able to benefit from wave power through the development of OE Buoy devices as marine-based data storage and processing centers. The major players in Big Data are already experimenting with subsea data centers to take advantage of the energy savings by cooling these systems in the sea. OE Buoy now presents them with the potential double-benefit of ocean cooling and ocean energy in the one device.” + Vigor + Ocean Energy Via OPB Image via Tiluria

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First-of-its-kind device prototype harnesses renewable energy from ocean waves

Self-sustainable childrens center in Tanzania harvests water like a baobab tree

October 16, 2019 by  
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In northern Tanzania, a Swedish team of architects, engineers and a non-profit collaborated with local workers to complete the Econef Children’s Center, a self-sustaining facility for orphans in the King’ori village. Asante Architecture & Design , Lönnqvist & Vanamo Architects , Architects Without Borders Sweden, Engineers Without Borders Sweden and Swedish-Tanzanian NGO ECONOF created the center to provide sleeping quarters and classrooms to orphaned children, as well as to also increase ECONEF’s independence by reducing building maintenance and operation costs. The off-grid buildings are powered with solar energy and harvest rainwater in a system inspired by the African baobab tree. Built to follow the local building vernacular, the Econef Children’s Center uses locally found materials and building techniques to keep costs low and to minimize the need for external construction expertise. The new center provides sleeping quarters and classrooms for 25 children. “The aim of the Children’s Center Project is to increase ECONEF’S independence and reduce its reliance on private donations,” explains the team in a project statement. “To help achieve this goal the new buildings are planned to be ecologically and economically sustainable and largely maintenance free. The center produces its own electricity through the installation of solar panels. Systems for rainwater harvesting and natural ventilation are integrated into the architectural design.” Related: Timber-clad waterfront house in Norway epitomizes modern Scandinavian design Inspired by the African baobab tree that can retain up to 120,000 liters of water in its trunk to survive in the desert, the building’s rainwater harvesting system draws rainwater from the roof’s spine through a central gutter that funnels the water into two water tanks tucked beneath the two of the inner courtyards. The collected rainwater is used for showers and laundry. + ECONEF Images by Robin Hayes

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Ireland plans to ban single-use plastics

September 18, 2019 by  
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In a move that has environmentalists cheering, Ireland recently overhauled its waste sector by announcing a ban on single-use plastics, including cutlery, straws, cups, food containers and cotton bud sticks. The initiative also called for doubling the rate of recycled material and is considering new levy requirements for non-recyclable plastics, such as those found in food packaging at groceries. Richard Bruton, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, explained that the new policies are part of the Irish government’s improved climate action campaign to eliminate unnecessary packaging, reduce food waste by 50 percent, improve plastic recycling by 60 percent and cut landfill disposal by 60 percent. Related: Ireland will plant 440 million trees in 20 years In recent years, single-use plastic pollution has skyrocketed, prompting dismal reports that project an Earth of 2050 where our oceans are filled with more plastic than fish. Many people are realizing the urgency, and government officials are being pressured into addressing the plastic waste dilemma. Accordingly, the European Union has proposed banning single-use plastics — and Ireland is the latest EU member to join the bandwagon. That the campaign to remove single-use plastics has already taken hold on the Emerald Isle is a profound step in the right direction. To date, it is estimated that every person in Ireland annually generates more than 400 pounds of waste packaging, of which 130 pounds are plastic, and these per capita statistics are above the EU average. Implementing this single-use plastic ban is expected to bring promising results to Ireland’s ongoing war on plastic pollution . Bruton said, “All along the supply chain we can do better — 70 percent of food waste is avoidable, half of the material we use is not being segregated properly, two-thirds of plastic used is not on the recycling list and labels are confusing.” For those sectors unable to readily comply with the ban, heavy environmental taxes will have to be paid. These tax levies are a further measure designed to deter the widespread use of single-use plastics, especially non-recyclable ones. Conservation and ecology advocates are supportive of Ireland’s ban, confirming that plastic consumption must be reduced to safeguard the environment. Supporters also uphold that the cost of the added tax should reflect the dire impact single-use plastic has on the environment. Of course, the issue is not without its critics, some of whom claim the tax would do little to alleviate environmental conditions but would instead disproportionately affect lower-income consumers. Nonetheless, optimists assert that the Irish ban on plastic waste will mobilize a shift in industrial, business and consumer behavior that can ultimately contribute to a cleaner, greener Ireland, perhaps bringing the country closer to a sustainable Emerald Isle ideal. Via EcoWatch , RTE and Irish Times Image via Flockine

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These works of art record and provide shelter to urban wildlife

September 18, 2019 by  
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The Interaction Research Studio at Goldsmiths, University of London is proving that you don’t have to leave the city to experience wildlife. Inspired by both art and nature, the studio has created a series of habitats that use hidden cameras to capture images of wildlife. The habitat structures use My Naturewatch wildlife cameras, easy-to-find materials and simple electronics and are designed to be used by even the most novice of nature-lovers. The structures are also built with natural materials to make the animals feel more at-home, with the potential to serve as both shelters or food. The natural materials include things like wood, coconut shells, stones and branches, in combination with recycled materials such as plastic water bottles (used as a waterproof protective casing around the camera lens). Related: IKEA teams up with London artists to upcycle old furniture into funky abodes for birds, bees ?and bats This marriage of natural and human-made components not only benefits the animals but also serves as an important metaphor for the intricacy of urban environments and the problems that city animals face on a daily basis. The habitats are a welcomed sight to the animals; they provide the creatures with an acting shelter, feeding station, watering station and a spot to mingle with other wildlife . The studio is calling the project “ Nature Scenes ” and is presenting it as part of the Brompton Biotopia expedition taking place in September during the London Design Festival. Along with a series of similar projects showcasing sustainable shelters for animals by fellow designers, Nature Scenes will serve as an inspiration for others to build their own animal shelters using recycled or natural materials as well as the My Naturewatch cameras. Most residents don’t realize how many animals they share their surroundings with: rats, squirrels, falcons, foxes, mice and more. The ability to watch these animals living their lives without the interruption of human interaction is a great way to connect with nature — especially for those living in city environments. + Interaction Research Studio + Naturewatch Via Dezeen Images via Interaction Research Studio at Goldsmiths, University of London

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Sustainable tech powers the Corten steel-clad Cube in Denmark

September 18, 2019 by  
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When Danish architectural firm Christensen & Co. Architects was asked to design the new headquarters for the Helsingør Power Plant, they felt it would be fitting if the project serve as an extension of the client’s commitment to sustainable supply technologies. Clad in Corten steel as a nod to the surrounding industrial architecture, the sustainably powered Forsyning Helsingør Operations Center has been dubbed The Cube after its geometric shape. For a reduced energy footprint, the office complex draws excess heat from a nearby wood-chipping plant, while rainwater is collected from the roof and reused in the building. Spanning an area of 6,000 square meters, the Forsyning Helsingør Operations Center includes the five-story Cube as well as an Operating Facilities complex that contains storage space, garages, and all the operations equipment. The ground-floor of the public-facing Cube is organized around a central light-filled atrium that connects to administrative rooms, a customer service center, as well as an exhibition area. Large skylights and full-height windows also let in ample amounts of natural light and are shielded with Corten steel solar fins . “The design for Helsingør Power Plant´s new HQ supports the narrative about the municipality’s sustainable supply technologies – from wastewater treatment to energy and waste handling,” explains Christensen & Co. Architects in their project statement. “The project comprises the Cube and Operating Facilities, two buildings that will stand adjacent to the power plant with its distinctive architecture. The facility forms a protective shield around the central working area while screening the surroundings from noise.” Related: Danish city becomes world’s first to power water treatment plant with sewage Information about the sustainable technologies used in the building and by the municipality are made available to visitors in the Cube. Visitors can also enjoy views from the ground-floor customer center to the entire building thanks to the large atrium .  + Christensen & Co. Architects Via Dezeen Images by Niels Nygaard

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Sustainable tech powers the Corten steel-clad Cube in Denmark

Ireland will plant 440 million trees in 20 years

September 4, 2019 by  
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Ireland is about to get a whole lot greener. The 84,431-square-kilometer country is determined to fight climate change by planting 440 million trees by 2040; 70 percent will be conifers and the remainder broad-leaf. The initiative is part of Ireland’s larger goal to become carbon-neutral by 2050. Ireland has the lowest forest cover of all European countries — about 11 percent compared to an average of more than 30 percent. Some say planting additional trees could be the answer, while others aren’t completely sold. Related: Scientists confirm tree planting is our best solution to climate change In June, the Irish government said it was going to start planting more trees in its fight against climate change and to reduce carbon emissions, but it never said how many trees it would plant. Now, the government has come up with a specific number. “The target for new forestation is approximately 22 million trees per year,” a spokesperson for the Department of Communications Climate Action and Environment said . “Over the next 20 years, the target is to plant 440 million.” In order to make the tree planting initiative work, Ireland needs farmers to plant more trees on their properties. The problem is that this is not a popular idea among farmers . The government hopes to try to change these opinions by offering local meetings to garner support for reforestation. Other people in Ireland are also against planting more trees. For instance, Pádraic Fogarty of the Irish Wildlife Trust is not on board. “People are not good at planting trees, and trees do not like being planted. They prefer to plant themselves,” Fogarty told The Irish Independent . Rather than handing out around 94 million euros ($103 million) in forestry grants, the government should pay farmers to plant nothing and let their properties regrow on their own, Fogarty suggested. An earlier study explained that planting more than 500 billion trees was the “most effective” solution to combating climate change. Those opposed to the tree planting initiative say reforestation will not reduce greenhouse gases enough, and other ideas should be implemented. Planting trees is not a foreign concept when trying to address the climate crisis, as other countries have grabbed their shovels and dug in. For example, Ethiopia and Scotland have been successful in their efforts to plant more trees for reforestation and fight global warming . Via EcoWatch , The Irish Times and The Irish Independent Image via KML

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Ireland will plant 440 million trees in 20 years

McDonald’s new paper straws: thick, soggy, hard to recycle

August 7, 2019 by  
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Looks like the shakes at some McDonald’s restaurants aren’t the only things that are thick. Word is the fast food chain’s paper straws introduced a year ago to keep in tune with “protecting the environment” are hard to recycle , because they are too thick and become soggy in drinks. The new paper straws were introduced in 2018 after a trial basis to 1,361 McDonald’s franchises located throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland. Related: McDonald’s creates McHives to raise awareness of the world’s decreasing bee populations. The problem with these straws was first reported by the U.K.’s The Sun newspaper, which published an internal McDonald’s memorandum stating the fast food chain’s paper straws “are not yet recyclable and should be disposed of in general waste until further notice.” “While the materials are recyclable, their current thickness makes it difficult for them to be processed by our waste solution providers, who also help us recycle our paper cups,” a McDonald’s spokesman told the U.K.’s Press Association news agency. Although the original plastic straws could be recycled more easily, the European Union along with the British government has opted to move to banning plastic straws by 2020 and wants chains like McDonald’s to halt using such products. “The government’s ambitious plans, combined with strong customer opinion, has helped to accelerate the move away from plastic , and I’m proud that we’ve been able to play our part in helping to achieve this societal change,” Paul Pomroy, CEO of McDonald’s U.K. and Ireland, said in a press release at the time. Not surprisingly, the new paper straws haven’t been much of a hit from the get-go, according to other reports. For example, many social media users have been busy commenting that the paper straws get too soggy in drinks. Additionally, a formal petition asking McDonald’s to return to its former plastic straws has garnered more than 50,000 signatures. Via CNN Image via Meghan Rodgers

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