Oceans are dubbed the ‘ultimate sink’ for plastic waste

March 4, 2019 by  
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Plastic waste has officially reached the deepest levels of the world’s oceans, which are now being dubbed as the ultimate sinks for pollution. Scientists discovered organisms that had ingested microplastics at the bottom of the Mariana trench, which descends over 6,000 meters. The Royal Society Open Science journal published the findings of the study, concluding that all marine environments have now been affected by plastic waste. Many of these microplastics come from substances that do not biodegrade quickly and make their way to the ocean via landfills. Once they reach the ocean, the plastics break down even further and float to the bottom. Related: Point Nemo, the most remote spot in the ocean, is plagued with plastic Scientists are well aware of the impact plastics have on shallow marine environments, where the waste is a choking hazard for seabirds, whales and dolphins. But nobody thought the problem to be as widespread as the study showed. Scientists captured creatures from six different locations deep on the ocean floor. The researchers examined organisms from the Japan trench, Mariana trench , Izu-Bonin trench, Peru-Chile trench and the New Hebrides and Kermadec trenches. Microplastics were discovered in all six locations. Some of the plastics that were ingested included lyocell, ramie, polyvinyl, rayon and polyethylene. The deeper the scientists looked, the more contamination they found. This is largely due to the fact that the waste has nowhere to go once it reaches the bottom of the ocean and cannot be flushed out. “It is intuitive that the ultimate sink for this debris, in whatever size, is the deep sea,” the study concluded. It is unclear how much these microplastics are harming deep sea ecosystems. Scientists believe the waste is more harmful at lower depths, because organisms that thrive in these environments often eat whatever they come across. While scientists continue to do more studies, researchers admitted that it is depressing finding so much plastic waste in a place where humans have such little contact yet are making the biggest impact. Via The Guardian Image via TKremmel

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Oceans are dubbed the ‘ultimate sink’ for plastic waste

Vulnerable nuclear waste stockpiles are becoming a"global crisis"

February 4, 2019 by  
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Nuclear waste is quickly becoming one of the world’s biggest problems. Earth’s growing stockpile of radioactive waste is troublesome, because these chemicals remain in their radioactive state for several millennia — and we have yet to come up with a foolproof storage solution. A new study explored facilities that store nuclear waste in seven locations around the world, including the United States, France, Japan, Belgium, Britain, Finland and Sweden. Officials discovered that the majority of nuclear waste lacked proper defense mechanisms, like secondary protocols, and are vulnerable to failing in the wake of natural and man-made disasters. Related: Blue dye could be the next key to harnessing renewable energy Storage of nuclear waste is one of the biggest obstacles facing nuclear power plants . It was once thought that deep underground was a good storage option, but that is not the case. According to Greenpeace , all of the storage facilities in the study showed some percentage of radiation leaks, which is incredibly detrimental to the environment. “More than 65 years after the start of the civil use of nuclear power, not a single country can claim that it has the solution to manage the most dangerous radioactive wastes ,” Shaun Burnie, who works with Greenpeace Germany and led the new study, explained. Even worse, some storage facilities are located in areas prone to natural disasters. For example, the U.S. is in the process of building a major nuclear waste site in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain range, which features seismic and volcanic activity, hardly suitable for keeping radioactive waste safe. The building of the Yucca Mountain facility was placed on hold by former President Barack Obama in 2010. Donald Trump, however, has expressed interest in reviving the construction and finishing the site before his term is up. As if that is not bad enough, governments are seemingly turning a blind eye to public concerns. The nuclear waste report comes after it was revealed that the U.S. government secretly moved weapons-grade plutonium across several states, despite passionate opposition from politicians in South Carolina. If scientists do not come up with a better method of disposing of nuclear waste, then it really could become the next global crisis. Fortunately, countries are exploring alternative renewable sources for energy that do not result in radioactive waste and are healthier for the environment. + Greenpeace Via EcoWatch Image via Pixabay

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EU proposes plan to ban 90 percent of microplastics

February 4, 2019 by  
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Microplastics may appear small on the outside, but they take a major toll on the environment. Not only do these plastics ruin soil and jeopardize ocean life, but they also create health issues for people all around the world. Fortunately, a newly proposed ban on microplastics might offer a solution to this growing problem. This week, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) put forth a new law that seeks to ban over 90 percent of Europe’s microplastics. If countries in the European Union agree to the legislation, the prohibition could significantly lower the amount of microplastics on a global scale. “Microplastics are a growing concern to a number of human rights. The steps proposed by Echa are necessary to help ensure present and future generations can enjoy what is their human right: a clean, healthy and sustainable environment ,” UN reporter Baskut Tuncak shared. According to The Guardian, there are close to 400,000 tons of these small plastic particles that end up in European environments. These microplastics come from a variety of household sources, including fertilizers, detergents, paint products and cosmetics. The proposed ban would eliminate the vast majority of microplastics that are integrated into these products, many of which are not necessary. Related: Study finds microplastics in sea turtles around the world If passed, the law would not go into effect until 2020. By that time, companies would need to have made drastic changes in the production of goods. This includes removing microplastics from a variety of products, a move that would require a major change in design . The new ban is similar in nature to what the U.K. passed last year. The country prohibited the use of microbeads in certain personal products, such as shower gel and toothpaste. The new law, however, is much larger in scope and would eventually remove the vast majority of microplastics from production. The ban, of course, would only apply to countries that are still in the EU. Following Brexit, there is a chance that the U.K. will not adopt the law, though that has yet to be determined. In the meantime, the ECHA will continue to explore the proposed ban and will vote on the measure in three months. If passed, the law is not expected to go into effect until at least another eight months after the vote is tallied. Via The Guardian Image via Shutterstock

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Endangered bluefin tuna sold for $3.1 billion to sushi tycoon

January 10, 2019 by  
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A recent predawn auction at Tokyo’s new fish market brought a record-breaking bid for the endangered bluefin tuna. Sushi tycoon Kiyoshi Kimura, who owns the Sushi Zanmai chain, paid $3.1 million for the enormous fish, more than double the price from five years ago. Kimura’s Kiyomura Corp has won the annual action in the past, but the high price of the tuna this year definitely surprised the sushi king. Nonetheless, Kiyomura says: “the quality of the tuna I bought is the best.” The 612-pound (278 kg) tuna was caught off Japan’s northern coast, and the auction prices this year are way above normal. Normally, bluefin tuna sells for about $40 a pound, but the price has recently skyrocketed to over $200 a pound, especially for the prized catches that come from Oma in northern Japan. The biggest consumers of the bluefin tuna are the Japanese, and the surging consumption of the fish has led to overfishing which could result in the species facing possible extinction . Stocks of Pacific bluefin have plummeted 96 percent from pre-industrial levels. “The celebration surrounding the annual Pacific bluefin auction hides how deeply in trouble this species really is,” said Jamie Gibbon, associate manager for global tuna conservation at The Pew Charitable Trusts. However, there have been some signs of progress when it comes to protecting the bluefin . Japan and other governments have endorsed plans to rebuild the stocks of Pacific bluefin, and the goal is to reach 20 percent of historic levels by 2034. Last year’s auction was the last at the world famous Tsukiji fish market. This year, it shifted to a new facility which is located on a former gas plant site in Tokyo Bay. The move would have happened sooner, but was delayed repeatedly over concerns of soil contamination. Via The Guardian  Image via Shutterstock

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Invasive longhorned tick could spread disease across the U.S.

December 17, 2018 by  
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The Asian longhorned tick used to be a species only found in China, Japan, Korea and southeastern Russia, plus parts of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. But last year, an established population was found in New Jersey, and since then, the ticks have been found in eight other states. Because the tick is parthenogenetic — which means the females can reproduce without needing male DNA — it is possible that it will soon occupy large parts of the Pacific Northwest and the eastern U.S. “There is a good chance for this tick to become widely distributed in North America,” said Ilia Rochlin, a researcher at the Rutgers University Center for Vector Biology. “Mosquito control has been very successful in this country, but we are losing the battle with tick-borne diseases.” Related: Winter ticks are responsible for New England’s moose massacres The Asian longhorned tick’s ability to clone makes it possible for them to cause “massive” infestations of hosts, and Rochlin said that researchers have already seen large numbers on livestock and dogs. He added that the ticks can bite humans, pets, farm animals and wildlife . The Journal of Medical Entomology published new research about the tick last week, and even though the tick can cause infectious disease, there have not been any reported illnesses in animals or humans in the U.S. One of the diseases the Asian longhorned tick can transmit is a hemorrhagic illness called thrombocytopenia syndrome. According to the CDC , the illness recently emerged in China, South Korea and Japan. The syndrome causes severe fever, nausea, diarrhea and muscle pain. Most patients must be hospitalized, and almost a third of infected people have died. The tick can also carry other illnesses like Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis. Rochlin said that all of these illnesses can lead to severe disabilities. Asian longhorned ticks can spread quickly in favorable habitats. If you add that to their aggressive biting behavior and potential for carrying pathogens, Rochlin said the tick is a significant public health concern. + Journal of Medical Entromology Via CNN Image via James Gathany / CDC

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Japanese cherry blossoms spring into unusual fall blooms

October 22, 2018 by  
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The springtime cherry blossom festival in Japan is an annual celebration that draws in spectators from all around the world. For the Japanese, the ‘hanami,’ or flower viewing, is a moment shared among family and friends who gather to celebrate nature’s beautiful and awe-inspiring rebirth. This week, however, cherry blossoms have been blooming two seasons ahead of schedule following two recent typhoons in the area. The premature fall blooms are extremely uncharacteristic of the sakura trees, which seemed to have been tricked by the extreme weather events to spring before … well, spring. “I have never seen anything like this,” tree surgeon Hiroyuki Wada said to local broadcasters. “This year’s storms affected wide regions, and the strong winds may have caused the blooming.” The strength of the September and October typhoons stripped many cherry blossom trees of their leaves, which experts are saying caused early indications for the trees to bloom. Furthermore, warm temperatures following the typhoons misled the trees by inviting the early flowering. Related: Climate change is causing spring to come earlier in national parks Normally, the earliest blooms are witnessed in the northern parts of Japan , where cherry blossom festivals begin as early as February in Naha. For the rest of the nation, the viewing season is concentrated around the first week in April, and the latest viewings in Hakodate and Sapporo occur in early May. While the current blooms are not expected to affect this year’s spring hanami, the unusual events are drawing attention to the issue of earlier bloom patterns. Last year, a report in The Washington Post shed light on the work of Yasuyuki Aono, an environmental sciences professor at Osaka Prefecture University, who assembled a data set of Kyoto’s blossom-flowering dates . The research chronicles blooms as far back as A.D. 850 and, when graphed, shows an undeniable and worrisome change in bloom periods over the past 200 years. Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann said, “Kyoto is just one location on the planet. But the large-scale warming of the past century is so distinct and widespread that it is increasingly evident from diverse records all around the globe.” Mann isn’t wrong. In 1912, Japan gifted Washington D.C. 3,000 sakura trees as a sign of friendship between the two nations. The National Park Service’s records, dating back to 1921, show a similar pattern of earlier and earlier blooming each year. Meteorologist Jason Samenow explained, “In both Kyoto and Washington, the warming trends and earlier blooms are most likely due to a growing urban heat island effect and increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.” Beautiful though they may be, the second blooming of the cherry blossom trees are not a welcome sight for the Japanese nor for scientists. While there is hope that this is a once in lifetime event, there is still much work to be done in ensuring this anomaly doesn’t become commonplace. Via NPR , The Washington Post  and Japan Specialist Image via Don Kawahigashi

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Ricoh is determined in its zero-carbon vision

October 16, 2018 by  
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In Japan, the electronics brand stands out with its ambitious goal of eliminating greenhouse gas emissions.

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Starbucks unveils store built from 29 recycled shipping containers in Taiwan

October 8, 2018 by  
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Starbucks Taiwan will debut its first Asia Pacific store that is built from recycled shipping containers in the Hualien Bay Mall. The mall has yet to be opened to the public, but it is situated in a touristic area of the city that is well known for its cuisine and features breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and neighboring mountains. The store spans two stories totaling 320 square meters (approximately 3,445 square feet) and features comfortable seating areas where guests are invited to congregate over a cup of Starbucks’ finest. Starbucks is the first retailer to claim space in the newly built mall. It does so using 29 shipping containers that have been refashioned by famous Japanese architect, Kengo Kuma, who has his name signed to two Starbucks store designs already: the Fukuoka branch in Japan and the upcoming Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Tokyo. Related: Starbucks ditches plastic straws for the environment Inspired by a combination of Chinese architecture and nature, the Taiwan edition receives patrons under traditional bucket arches connoting the overhanging foliage of coffee trees . Inside, the store features warm decor and a comfortable seating area spanning two stories that Kuma decided to stack, creating a much taller space that allows for natural sunlight to enter through skylights installed throughout. These skylights illuminate a brightly illustrated mural at one end of the store, designed as a tribute to the vibrant Hualien culture. The wall mural tames the geometric roughness of the cargo containers, creating a sociable space alongside aboriginal Amis figures whose heritage run deep within the city’s culture. At the other end of the store, visitors are invited to enjoy the beautiful mountain landscape that forms a picturesque backdrop to the port city. Related: A disused railway will become a sustainable green corridor in Taiwan The project is part of Starbucks’ recently announced “Starbucks Greener Stores.” The initiative is aimed at building sustainable stores, which will be designed and operated using reclaimed materials . The Taiwan store joins a suite of locations also built from shipping containers, 45 of which can be found in the U.S. already. The Seattle coffee-chain prefabricates the models offsite before delivery, allowing the company to occupy spaces not necessarily designed for traditional stores. By avoiding the damaging environmental effects generally output on building sites, Starbucks is committed to minimizing its environmental footprint. + Starbucks Images via Starbucks

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Lecomte reaches mile 1,000 in his swim across the Pacific Ocean

October 3, 2018 by  
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Ben Lecomte, the first person to swim across the Atlantic Ocean back in 1998, is now attempting to be the first swimmer to traverse the Pacific Ocean . The record-setter is taking on the challenge not only for himself, but also to raise awareness about ocean pollution, health and conservation. Lecomte has now passed the 1,000 nautical mile marker from his starting point in the port city of Yokohama, Japan. “My eyes are not too much on the milestones,” Lecomte said of his headline distance. “But it’s important to have milestones to celebrate any progress.” The swimmer is nearly a fifth of the way through his 5,500-mile expedition. Related: Man plans to swim the Pacific Ocean to raise awareness for plastic pollution Despite six years of preparation, Lecomte and his crew aboard the research vessel dubbed ‘Seeker’ have had to overcome many obstacles since leaving Yokohama in June. The team has been forced back to port by typhoons , suffered sea sickness aboard the 65-foot (20-meter) sailboat and rerouted several times to avoid cargo ships. Aside from this, Lecomte attempts to swim an average of 30 miles a day, aided by North Pacific currents and a protein-based diet of approximately 8,000 calories. Throughout the roughly eight hours it takes him to swim this distance, he is also collecting ocean debris and plastic that his expedition team geotags for research. “Every single day we collect trash,” Lecomte said. “I’m truly shocked by the amount of plastic I find on my way every single day.” The team has collected more than 1,300 pieces of floating trash along its journey, scooping up to four samples each minute with a specially designed net. Related: Mountain Heroes cyclist aims for world record to fight climate change Even among the heart-rending stages of Lecomte’s journey, there have still been touching moments. “I am very surprised by the amount of amazing encounters I made in the middle of nowhere — birds, jellyfish, swordfishes, turtles , dolphins, whales and even a shark who followed me for two days,” he said. “As I swim everyday, I see this wild and beautiful environment being affected by the virus of plastic. Every stroke is dedicated to inspire people and find ways to rethink their plastic consumption on land.” Viewers can tune-in to top science publisher Seeker.com and its social channels to watch daily videos and live moments from the expedition, with weekly updates also airing on Discovery. Follow Ben’s journey at Seeker.com/TheSwim . Via Seeker Images via Seeker

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Lecomte reaches mile 1,000 in his swim across the Pacific Ocean

Japan considers adopting daylight savings time for 2020 Summer Olympics

August 7, 2018 by  
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This summer’s deadly heatwaves in Japan  have caused government and Olympic officials to consider the benefits of adopting daylight savings time for the  2020 Summer Olympics to ensure athlete safety. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has ordered his ruling party to consider what impacts a two hour shift forward would have on the country after backlash on social media followed the announcement. Adopting daylight savings time would allow events such as the marathon to be scheduled in the cooler morning hours. Masa Takaya, spokesperson for the 2020 games, urged the time push, saying it would also “help protect the environment and realize a low-carbon society in Japan,” alongside other efforts to add more plant life and heat-inhibiting pavements in the city. Although the time shift would provide both energy-saving and safety measures in the face of climate change , many citizens are protesting that the change would result in longer working hours for them. This is not a light claim made by the Japanese labor force, as a 2017 report by BBC News revealed that most individuals in the nation clock in more than 80 hours of overtime each month. Related: Japan wants to make 2020 Olympic medals from recycled smartphones Japan has not used the daylight savings system since the U.S. Occupation following World War II from 1948 until 1952. The event, a sour subject for many Japanese, also impeded initiatives during the 1970s and early 2000s to return to the system in the hopes of conserving energy in the country. The 2020 Summer Olympics are set to be held in Tokyo from July 24 until August 9, 2020, followed by the Paralympics from August 25 until September 6. As these are typically the hottest months of the year and likely to become hotter with global warming , the decision to enforce daylights savings time in Japan weighs very precariously in the balance for now. + 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics Via Reuters and  The Japan Times Image via T-Mizo

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