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?

Wisconsin plans to go carbon-free by 2050

August 21, 2019 by  
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Following a year of historic flooding and sweltering heat waves across the Midwest, some states are ready to fight the climate crisis through legislation. If all goes according to plan, Wisconsin residents will be using 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2050. Wisconsin’s Democratic Gov. Anthony Evers recently signed an executive order kicking off the clean energy legislation he has been pitching for a while. “A transition to a clean energy economy will generate thousands of family-supporting jobs in Wisconsin,” Evers said in a news release as reported by Gizmodo . “Our state has a responsibility to current and future generations of Wisconsinites to act to prevent continuing damage to our climate and to invest in solutions that help to mitigate the changes that have already occurred.” Related: California legislature passes historic bill to achieve 100% clean energy Evers introduced the clean energy plan, which is not yet a mandate, in the state’s 2019 budget; however, it was removed by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, according to Madison.com . With its new goal of transitioning to clean energy by 2050, the Badger state is aiming to help curb the climate crisis. Some examples include addressing the higher than normal temperatures from heat waves and earlier 2019 flooding from heavy rains and storms. Additionally, the Wisconsin Initiate on Climate Change Impacts noted that if carbon emissions worldwide keep climbing come 2055, Wisconsin could see its problems increase by 25 percent. To make sure the newly signed legislation meets the 2050 deadline, the Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy will be formed. Part of its undertaking will be to hire workers who can develop and research strategies and technologies to implement the carbon-free energy policy. With Evers’ executive order signed, Wisconsin is now the first state in the Midwest to jump on the 100 percent carbon-free, clean energy bandwagon. Others following a similar path include Washington, California, Hawaii, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. Via Gizmodo and Madison.com Image via Anne Marie Peterson

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Wisconsin plans to go carbon-free by 2050

Greenland’s ice sheet lost 197 billion tons of ice in July

August 19, 2019 by  
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What melts faster than an ice cream cone on a sweltering summer day? Greenland’s ice sheet. In July, the world’s second biggest ice sheet lost 197 billion tons of ice and increased sea levels by about half a millimeter. On August 15 alone, Greenland’s ice sheet had a major meltdown, losing 11 billion tons of surface ice to the ocean, scientists reported. While it’s not unusual for Greenland’s ice sheet to melt during the summer, it usually starts at the end of May but began weeks earlier this year. Meteorologists reported that July has been one of the hottest months around the world ever recorded. For instance, global average temperatures for this July are in line with and possibly higher than July 2016, which holds the current record, according to preliminary data reported by the Copernicus Climate Change Programme . Related: Iceland will unveil monument for the first glacier lost to climate change According to Ruth Mottram, a climate scientist with Danish Meteorological Institute , Greenland’s ice sheet lost 197 billion tons of ice in July, enough to fill nearly 80 million Olympic swimming pools. Mottram told CNN the expected average of ice melt this time of year would be between 60 and 70 billion tons. What could it mean? All this wacky weather may ultimately result in one of Greenland’s biggest ice melts since 1950. With the melt season typically lasting to the end of August, Mottram said the ice sheet could see substantial melting; however, it might not be as much as in recent weeks. Melting ice isn’t the only issue facing the Arctic, as the area has also experienced wildfires , which scientists said could be because of high temperatures. Since June, Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service has observed more than 100 intense wildfires in the Arctic Circle. The recent wildfires and ice melt in the Arctic Circle could be strong indicators of more climate change -related issues ahead. Via CNN Image via NASA

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Greenland’s ice sheet lost 197 billion tons of ice in July

As ocean temperatures rise, so does mercury exposure in seafood

August 12, 2019 by  
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In case there weren’t already enough reasons to limit global warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius, a new study released in Nature reveals that even a 1 degree increase in ocean temperatures leads to a significant increase in mercury exposure among fish — and the people that consume them. The joint study was published by Harvard’s School of Public Health and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and used a variety of simulation models to examine and predict how environmental factors affect the levels of mercury in cod and dogfish. Their models use historical data, as far back as 1970, when cod had approximately 6 to 20 percent less mercury in their diets. Yet researchers also found that dogfish had 33 to 61 percent higher mercury in their diets in 1970, because overfishing at the time led them to eat squid that are high in mercury. Related: These fish and meat options are the most environmentally costly In the last four decades, policies that regulate and limit mercury emissions have made a dent in mercury exposure, but the researchers concluded that rising ocean temperatures are reversing this progress. “This research is a major advance in understanding how and why ocean predators, such as tuna and swordfish, are accumulating mercury,” said Elsie Sunderland, senior author and a Harvard professor in environmental chemistry. According to the researchers, unusually warmer water makes it harder for fish to breathe and swim; therefore, it forces fish to consume more energy . The more they eat, the higher their levels of mercury exposure are. Warmer temperatures might also alter the availability of their preferred diet, forcing fish like the dogfish to eat high-mercury options such as squid. For every 1 degree the ocean warms, dogfish are exposed to 70 percent more mercury . Cod, which also live in the researchers’ study area off the coast of Maine, are exposed to approximately 32 percent more mercury for every single degree the ocean warms. “Climate change is going to exacerbate human exposure to methylmercury through seafood,” Sunderland said. “So to protect ecosystems and human health , we need to regulate both mercury emissions and greenhouse gases.” + Nature Via Harvard Gazette Image via Pixabay

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As ocean temperatures rise, so does mercury exposure in seafood

This off-grid caravan offers escape into the magical Hoh Rainforest

July 31, 2019 by  
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Near one of the largest temperate rainforests in the U.S. lies a magical glamping getaway that lets you reconnect with nature in cozy and sustainable comfort. Meet the Hoh Rainforest Caravan Cabins, a cluster of remote vacation rentals in the Pacific Northwest that operate entirely off the grid without compromising on modern luxuries. Located in Kalaloch, Washington between the Olympic Coast at the Hoh Rainforest, the Hoh Rainforest Caravan Cabins are one of many nature-focused vacation rentals offered by Glamping Hub , an online third-party booking platform for unique outdoor accommodations. Thanks to a recent partnership with Red Awning, the world’s largest collection of vacation properties, the glamping company now lists over 30,000 accommodations on its website in over 120 countries. The rentals range from caravan cabins to safari tents, tree houses, domes, tipis and more. As with Glamping Hub’s other listings, the Hoh Rainforest Caravan Cabins were selected by the company for their “hotel-quality comfort” and ability to offer guests a “unique experience.” Although all basic amenities are included—including hot water, electricity, a fridge, and a stocked kitchenette—the rentals minimize their environmental footprint with a renewable energy supply and self-contained, compostable toilets. Guests can also enjoy access to communal areas on the property, such as a campfire site. Related: Round, minimalist cabins with sliding glass walls take glamping up a notch “The unique location and privacy of the wooded forest allow for a truly magical experience on the Olympic Peninsula where lodging is very limited,” says Glamping Hub’s listing description. “Glampers can look forward to a starlit night by the campfire and a re-energizing full night sleep on a cozy queen size mattress. Friends and kids are welcome with both three-person and four-person accommodations available.” The property includes three units with a 10 guest capacity. Bookings start at $284.30 per night. + Glamping Hub Images via Glamping Hub

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This off-grid caravan offers escape into the magical Hoh Rainforest

Ethiopia plants 350 million trees in one day

July 31, 2019 by  
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Ethiopia broke the world’s tree-planting record by planting more than 350 million trees in just one day. The effort is part of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Green Legacy Initiative, which aims to address climate change and deforestation. The goal of the program is to plant more than four billion indigenous trees throughout the country. It has already reportedly planted three billion, and last week’s efforts made significant progress toward meeting the target. Related: Scientists confirm tree planting is our best solution to climate change Some government offices were shut down for the day to allow staff to participate in the planting efforts. Representatives from the United Nations, African Union and foreign embassies also came out to support the event. “We’re halfway to our goal,” the prime minister announced midway through the planting day, and he encouraged Ethiopians to continue the work in the remaining time. He later announced on Twitter they had not only met the “collective #GreenLegacy goal” but exceeded it. The prime minister is hopeful that he can reach his final target if every citizen plants 40 seedlings. The government is running educational videos about planting and maintaining trees to encourage citizens to join in. The biggest concern for young seedlings is grazing by goats and other livestock that would destroy the trees before they have a chance to grow. Ethiopia’s forest cover is alarmingly low and plummeted over the last few decades. At the start of the 20th century, the country had approximately 35 percent forest cover, but that number dropped to just 4 percent in 2000. Over 80 percent of Ethiopians rely on agriculture or forest products for their income. “I think we demonstrated the capacity for people to come together collectively and deliver on a shared vision,” said Billene Seyoum, Ahmed’s press secretary. The previous record for tree planting was held by India, where 66 million trees were planted in one day in 2017. Via CNN and Climate Change News Image via Pixabay

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Ethiopia plants 350 million trees in one day

Small cruise line treats the whole world as one ocean

July 26, 2019 by  
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Cruising between ports in Canada’s Maritime Provinces, the passengers and crew gather in a bar for the fundraising auction. The crew members take turns playing auctioneer, spinning wildly exaggerated tales of the attributes of lighthouse-shaped magnets, a maple syrup cookbook and a bottle of whiskey. Passengers get into a bidding war over a maple leaf mug, with a winning price of $60. The One Ocean Expeditions’ flag that’s been flying on the ship goes for over $200. It’s a silly and fun event that raises almost $1,200 for the cruise line’s favorite ocean-related charities, including the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, Scott Polar Research Institute and the penguin-tracking Oceanites. Over the past eight years, One Ocean’s passengers have contributed nearly half a million dollars toward conservation groups. This is just one way that the small, British Columbia-headquartered company balances business with social and environmental responsibility. As stated in One Ocean Expeditions’ philosophy on its website, “We view the world as one large ocean containing a series of large islands. So, it stands to reason that our actions in one part of the ocean will trickle down and have an effect in another part.” The company strives to give guests a fun and memorable travel experience while being a model of ecological sensitivity. Respectful port visits One Ocean Expeditions gives a lot of thought to partnering with its destinations, whether visiting wilderness or developed communities. Since the company began with polar expeditions, biosecurity has always been extremely important. To be sure that passengers aren’t bringing seeds and other contaminants ashore, guests must check their zippers and Velcro for debris and scrape out the treads of their shoes. Passengers line up to vacuum backpack pockets and closures on jackets. Everyone must also dip the soles of their shoes in a special chemical bath before visiting certain ports. Related: Meet Maya Ka’an — Mexico’s newest ecotourism destination On the Fins and Fiddles cruise of eastern Canada , the only stop that requires biosecurity measures is Sable Island. This long, narrow island southeast of Nova Scotia is famous for its wild horses and enormous gray seal colony. Bird life is also abundant. Ipswich sparrows nest here, and roseate terns will let you know you’re getting too close to their quarters by dive-bombing your head. “In Canada, Sable Island is really special to a lot of people,” Alannah Phillips, park manager of Sable Island National Park Reserve , told Inhabitat. “It has kind of a magic and mystery to it that people want to make sure it’s protected.” Only about 450 people per year manage to visit this remote island. Visiting requires special permits, and nobody but Parks Canada staff and a few qualified researchers are allowed to spend the night ashore. One Ocean Expeditions is one of the few small cruise lines to obtain a permit. The boot wash is the most important part of biosecurity, Phillips said, because the chemicals kill diseases that could be transported from horse farms. “You get a lot of horse people who want to go to Sable Island.” This is one of the most as-is beaches people will ever see. Seal skulls, shark vertebrae, plastics — all sorts of things litter the beach. What looks like kelp turns out to be long, unraveled seal intestines. “It’s an amazing platform to teach people,” Phillips said. “Even though it’s 175 kilometers from the mainland in middle of the Atlantic Ocean, what you drop in the water wherever you are can end up on Sable Island.” Helium balloons, coconuts and sneakers regularly wash up. The most exciting find Phillips remembers was a message in a bottle dropped from a Scottish ocean liner in the 1930s. Other Canadian stops feature low-impact activities, such as biking the Confederation Trail on Prince Edward Island, hiking in Highlands National Park on Cape Breton Island and taking a guided history walk of the ghost town island Ile aux Marins off Saint Pierre and Miquelon. A fleet of kayaks and stand-up paddle boards offer other planet-healthy options. Sustainable cruising One Ocean Expeditions is a tiny cruise line. At the moment, it’s only running one ship, the 146-passenger RCGS Resolute, which burns marine gas oil, a cleaner alternative than the cheaper heavy fuel oil. The ship avoids traveling at full speed, preferring a leisurely pace that reduces emissions while interfering less with the navigation and communication of marine animals. Cabin bathrooms feature fragrant biodegradable soap, shampoo and conditioner in refillable dispensers, made by an ethical producer on Salt Spring Island, Canada. Every guest gets a reusable water bottle. This is convenient, as there’s a water bottle filling station on every deck. Announcements over the loudspeaker remind passengers to bring their water bottles on expeditions, and One Ocean hauls a huge water dispenser ashore in case bottles run dry. Even the on-board gym offers a water dispenser but no cups. If you forget your water bottle, well, consider walking back to your cabin to retrieve it as part of your workout. One Oceans Expeditions has taken the #BePlasticWise pledge and is part of the United Nations Environment Programme’s “Clean Seas” working group, which aims to drastically reduce the consumption of single-use plastic . The cruise line regularly hosts scientists who do on-board research ranging from collecting meteorological data to tagging and tracking migrant whale populations to measuring plastic pollution in sea water. “OOE also takes part annually in the ‘Clean-up Svalbard’ program to protect the fragile ecosystem of the Norwegian Arctic,” according to Victoria Dowdeswell, part of One Ocean’s marketing and business development team. “Here, both staff and guests collect rubbish and assorted debris from fishing vessels, which are carried via the Gulf Stream to Svalbard’s shores each year. OOE know that there is only one ocean and that we all need to work to protect it.” + One Oceans Expeditions Images via Teresa Bergen / Inhabitat

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Small cruise line treats the whole world as one ocean

Recycled plastic art installation asserts that water is a human right in D.C.

July 26, 2019 by  
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In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly recognized access to clean water as a human right. To raise awareness about the “questionable privatizations” and climate change threatening this human right, Spanish design collective Luzinterruptus created ‘Let’s Go Fetch Water!’, a temporary art installation made from recycled plastic. Located on the grounds of the Spanish Embassy and the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, D.C., the art installation features an eye-catching waterfall effect created by a series of angled buckets cascading water sourced from a closed-loop system. When designing Let’s Go Fetch Water!, Luzinterruptus wanted to reference the daily toils that many people — mostly women — around the world must go through to fetch water for their family’s basic supply. As a result, buckets that are used to draw and transport water became the main motif for the piece. “These buckets transport this precious liquid from fountains and wells and are even hoisted down to the depths of the Earth in order to get it,” the designers explained. “They later carry them through long perilous trails during grueling journeys, where not even a drop must be spilled.” Related: A glowing river of books creates a traffic-free haven in Ann Arbor To minimize the loss of water, Luzinterruptus used a slow-flowing current and closed-loop system for the waterfall effect. The designers were also adamant about using buckets made from recycled materials rather than take the easy route of purchasing cheap buckets made in China. The buckets were mounted onto a wooden frame, and all of the materials will be recycled after the installation is dismantled in September. The installation is on display from May 16 to September 27 and will be lit up and functional at night as well. “We all know water is scarce,” Luzinterruptus said. “ Climate change is one of the main reasons; however, questionable privatizations are also to be blamed. Governments lacking financial resources give up this resource to private companies in exchange for supply infrastructures. Other governments just sell their aquifers and springs to large food and beverage corporations, which exploit these and everything around dry, leaving local inhabitants in deep crisis. We have enjoyed this particular commission since we have, for a long time, been dealing with issues concerning the recycling of plastic material, and we have experienced firsthand how these companies that sell someone else’s water, and seem to be especially focused on launching awareness campaigns for a responsible use of plastic, only try to deviate attention from this uncomfortable privatization issue.” + Luzinterruptus Photography by David Keith via Luzinterruptus

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Recycled plastic art installation asserts that water is a human right in D.C.

Cyclo is the packable and sustainable helmet made from recycled plastic

July 23, 2019 by  
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Study after study shows that wearing a helmet saves lives and reduces injuries during an accident, yet some statistics detail a usage rate as low as 17 percent. Users report that a contributing factor to not wearing a helmet is the bulk and inconvenience of packing it around. Fortunately, the next generation of helmet is here, and the construction brings style, safety and a compact, portable design. Currently trending on Indiegogo, the Cyclo helmet was created by a few people who have been in the design realm for a while, with notable careers as engineers at Aston Martin and Boeing. The Cyclo offers users packability never before seen in a helmet. That’s because of the unique design that allows the rounded upper portion to flip over into the lower part of the helmet frame. Released with a durable clip, the movable parts stay securely in place during use. The helmet is built to exceed all U.S., European and Canadian standards. Related: DIY device emits a distinctive sound to keep cyclists safe While packability was a significant goal during the design phase, co-founders Josh Cohen, CEO, Dom Cotton, CMO and Will Wood, design engineer, felt the pull of corporate responsibility . With sustainability becoming a hot topic in every industry, the team decided to incorporate recycled materials into the helmet. By partnering with Plastic Oceans U.K., Cyclo supports efforts to clean up significant plastic pollution in the ocean. As a result, each helmet represents 20 water bottles removed from marine ecosystems. Sparked by a helmet-less ride Cohen experienced while cycling in London, the helmet is aimed at convenience to encourage a higher user rate. Environmentally responsible, portable and safe, the Cyclo can be worn when riding scooters, skateboards, bikes or segways. With the compact design, it easily slides into a backpack, gym bag or work bag. “Josh’s experience of riding in London highlighted a clear gap in the market,” Cotton said. “Helmets are really important but can be inconvenient, especially for urban riders. We’ve created something that will help more people to ride more often and protect themselves and our planet in the process.” Cyclo is currently offering a discount through the Indiegogo campaign , which is ending soon. The team is taking orders now with production set to begin in early 2020, and the first product shipments going out the following spring. + Cyclo Images via Cyclo

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Cyclo is the packable and sustainable helmet made from recycled plastic

Russian Volcano Brings Life to North Pacific Ocean Pastures

July 17, 2019 by  
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Editor’s note: Originally published on russgeorge.net, this article was republished … The post Russian Volcano Brings Life to North Pacific Ocean Pastures appeared first on Earth911.com.

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Russian Volcano Brings Life to North Pacific Ocean Pastures

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