COVID-19 disrupts recycling programs across the US

July 7, 2020 by  
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The pandemic is impacting yet another part of our world: recycling programs. The recycling industry is being riddled by budget shortfalls, an increase in single-use items and a shortage of centers open to receive reusable items. Since people have become more cautious about person-to-person transfer of COVID-19, single-use items are increasing. Many stores have banned reusable bags, and places, like Starbucks, aren’t refilling customers’ personal coffee cups. Restaurants have upped their use of plastic takeout packaging. Related: Starbucks suspends personal cup use because of coronavirus But most people are staying home, where they generate more garbage . The Solid Waste Association of North America noted a 20% average increase in solid waste and recycling in March and April, and some cities have reported even higher increases. Chicago’s waste has gone up by almost 50%. People are suddenly finding it harder to recycle and reuse. Spring cleaning became a popular pandemic activity, but charity stores weren’t open to accept donations of household goods. Meanwhile, many municipalities responded to severe budget shortfalls by axing their recycling programs. The U.S. recycling problems predate the pandemic. Since 2018, when other countries stopped buying poorly sorted recyclables and dirty food packaging from the U.S., recyclers have been strapped for customers. China used to buy up to 700,000 tons of scrap from the U.S. every year. Compounding that, oil prices are at the lowest they’ve been in decades, pushing the cost of virgin plastic down and making it less profitable to recycle plastics like PET (#1) and PE (#2 and #4). COVID-19 has also changed waste collection. Waste companies have come up with new procedures to protect workers from disease exposure while handling trash and recyclables. Recycling requires hands-on sorting, because machines aren’t as skilled as people at making sense of the collection stream. As companies try to minimize germ contact, they’re slowly improving automation. While recycling is down, the full picture of the pandemic and waste is not yet clear. “Historically, waste output from the commercial and industrial sectors has far outweighed the municipal stream,” co-authors Brian J. Love and Julie Rieland, a professor of materials science and engineering and a PhD candidate in macromolecular science and engineering, respectively, wrote on EcoWatch . “ With many offices and business closed or operating at low levels, total U.S. waste production could actually be at a record low during this time. However, data on commercial and industrial wastes are not readily available.” Via EcoWatch Image via Manfred Antranias Zimmer

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COVID-19 disrupts recycling programs across the US

Appalachian Trail spared from Atlantic Coast Pipeline

July 7, 2020 by  
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Duke Energy Corp. and Dominion Energy Inc. have canceled the controversial 600-mile-long Atlantic Coast Pipeline that the companies planned to build under the Appalachian Trail. The  energy  giants called off the $8 billion project “due to ongoing delays and increasing cost uncertainty which threaten the economic viability of the project.” This news comes as a win for the environmentalists who have spent years fighting this disruption to the Appalachian Trail in West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. The pipeline’s route was supposed to start in the gas fields of Harrison County,  West Virginia , then travel southeast through Virginia, ending in Robeson County, North Carolina. This route would have crossed both the Appalachian Trail and Virginia’s Blue Ridge Parkway. Related: Dakota Access Pipeline placed under environmental review Anti-pipeline activists took their battle to the Supreme Court, striving to preserve nature and protect local  endangered species . In June, the court ruled in favor of the utility companies. So, the pipeline cancellation announcement came as both a surprise and cause for celebration. “Its effective defeat today is a huge victory for  Virginia’s  environment, for environmental justice, and a testament to the power of grassroots action, the hundreds of driven, determined, frontline advocates who never stopped fighting this misguided project,” Michael Town, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement. Greenpeace also weighed in. “Duke and Dominion had hoped to carve up beautiful mountains, ignore catastrophic climate change, and delay a just transition to renewable energy to build this pipeline, but, thanks to the courageous activists who stood up to them, they have failed,” the organization said. But not everybody was rejoicing. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) issued a statement of regret, insisting the pipeline would have been safely constructed and that the surrounding areas would have been protected. The Virginia Chamber of Commerce also lamented that the estimated 17,000 jobs the  pipeline  project would have created will not come to fruition. “Unfortunately, today’s announcement detrimentally impacts the Commonwealth’s access to affordable, reliable energy,” the chamber said in a statement. “It also demonstrates the significant regulatory burdens  businesses  must deal with in order to operate.” + Huffington Post Images via Fibonacci Blue

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Appalachian Trail spared from Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Are you up for the Plastic Free July challenge?

July 1, 2020 by  
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How hard would it be to say no to single-use plastics for an entire month? People who sign up for Plastic Free July are about to find out. The global movement is asking people around the world to be part of the plastic pollution solution. Plastic Free July started back in 2011. Last year, about 250 million people from 177 countries took part in the movement. A survey about Plastic Free July found that participants reduced their household waste about 5% per year and made changes that became long-term habits. Related: How to replace single-use and plastic items in the kitchen Brought to you by the Plastic Free Foundation Rebecca Prince-Ruiz founded the Plastic Free Foundation as a not-for-profit in 2017 along with a team of committed folks in Western Australia. Now, the organization promotes Plastic Free July. The foundation’s ambassador, musician Jack Johnson, is instrumental in spreading the word. “Plastic Free July inspires me to step up my commitment to reducing single-use plastic in my daily life and on tour,” he said on the organization’s website. “A great first step is to commit to using reusable water bottles . I’m also working with the music industry (artists, venues, festivals and fans) to reduce plastic waste through the BYOBottle campaign.” The foundation’s website is its most accessible resource for people around the world. It inspires visitors with stories about ordinary people trying to escape the siren song of convenient plastic. A section called “What others do” features — and invites readers to submit — their stories about alternatives to plastics they use in their everyday life. For example, a mother of two in New Zealand has found strategies for working toward a zero-waste household, and another woman managed to talk her hospital coworkers out of using 70,000 single-use cups each year. You can download posters from the website urging people to avoid single-use straws , takeout containers, plastic bags and other pitfalls of modern life. The posters are suitable for hanging at work, school or local businesses. Ways to avoid single-use plastic People who take the Plastic Free July pledge probably figure they can do without straws for a month or more and remember to bring their reusable cloth bags to the market. But some plastic products are harder to avoid. The web page called “What you can do” provides solutions to many of these problems. For many people, menstruation seems to bring an unfair burden: cramps, moodiness and the responsibility for plastic tampon applicators and used sanitary napkins piling up in landfills or blocking sewage pipes and even causing ingestion issues for marine animals. Instead, the Plastic Free Foundation recommends using menstrual cups, period underwear or reusable pads. Worldwide, people struggle with what to do about bin liners. While putting a plastic bag in your trash can is exceedingly convenient, plastic stays in the landfill forever, eventually breaking down into microplastics that can harm animals. Instead, you can line your bin with newspaper, or let your bin go “naked” and wash it frequently. Of course, composting all your food scraps will cut down on the bin’s ickiest contents. Audit your bin Before you can improve, you need to know how bad the problem is. The Plastic Free Foundation recommends auditing your bin. Doing a bin audit will help you understand what kind of waste you’re creating and how you can minimize it. You can do a bin audit at home or in your workplace. Try to get your family or coworkers onboard to help with the audit and to implement changes based on your findings. Choose an auspicious day for the bin audit. This should be long enough after trash day so that some stuff has accumulated in your bin but not long enough for it to stink. Find a sheltered outdoor place with good airflow. Spread a tarp on the ground and dump your bin. Separate your trash into categories, such as paper , food, cans, batteries, plastics, etc. Estimate the volume and percentage of each category and write it down in a notebook. Later, after cleaning up, you can assess your findings. Some things will be obvious, like if you’ve been too lazy to carry your apple cores and potato peels to the compost and have been chucking them in the bin instead. Or maybe you’ll notice lots of food packaging and realize you could be buying more of those items in bulk instead. Focus on one or two behaviors that will be the easiest to change. Do another bin audit about six months later, check your improvement and pick a new goal. Take the plastic-free challenge Ready for a meaningful sustainability challenge? You can sign up on the Plastic Free July website. The web form asks for your name, email address, country and post code. You’ll get weekly motivational emails in your inbox with tips for avoiding plastic and news on the global movement. The form also gives you choices about the level of your participation. You can commit to going plastic-free for a day, a week, the whole month of July or indefinitely. You can also select whether you’re taking part in the challenge in your workplace, at your school or at home. + Plastic Free July Images via Laura Mitulla , Volodymyr Hryshchenko , Jasmin Sessler ( 1 , 2 ) and Good Soul Shop

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Are you up for the Plastic Free July challenge?

Free Yourself From Single-Use Plastic in July

July 1, 2020 by  
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Plastic-free July starts today. Even if you only reduce your … The post Free Yourself From Single-Use Plastic in July appeared first on Earth911.com.

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Free Yourself From Single-Use Plastic in July

New study finds microplastics in fruits and vegetables

June 29, 2020 by  
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A recent study published in the journal Environmental Research has revealed that microplastics are absorbed in the fruits and vegetables we consume. According to the study, scientists have discovered that some of the most commonly consumed produce, including apples, carrots, pineapples, kale and cabbage, may be contaminated with high levels of plastic. The study found that apples and carrots are among the most contaminated fruits and vegetables. This new revelation is a cause for concern, considering that these are vital parts of the food chain. Doctors often recommend eating plenty of fruits and vegetables to boost the body’s immune system. However, the abundance of microplastics in such foods could erode their benefits and lead to more health complications. Related: One plastic teabag can release billions of microplastics into your cup The research publication highlighted the daily intake of plastic as being worrying for both children and adults. Although the amount of plastic consumed from fruits was found to be less compared to that in bottled water, there is still cause for concern. According to another study published in the journal Nature Sustainability , microplastics can be absorbed by the roots of lettuce. Once the microplastics are absorbed, they are transported to edible parts of the crops through the internal water and food transport systems. Several lobby groups are calling for more information about microplastics’ affect on the human body. According to Plastic Soup Foundation’s founder Maria Westerbos, the company has been raising concerns about the presence of microplastic in fish and other marine animals . The foundation is now concerned about the presence of plastic in produce and speculates that there could be microplastics in our meat products. “For years we have known about plastic in crustaceans and fish , but this is the first time we have known about plastic getting into vegetables,” Westerbos said. “If it is getting into vegetables, it is getting into everything that eats vegetables as well which means it is in our meat and dairy as well.” Studies are now underway to determine the effects of consuming too many microplastics per day in our bodies. + Environmental Research Images via Hans Braxmeier

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New study finds microplastics in fruits and vegetables

Scientists support use of reusable containers during COVID-19 pandemic

June 25, 2020 by  
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Since the start of the pandemic, there have been concerns that using reusable containers and bags at grocery stores and cafes could enhance the spread of the virus. However, such claims have now been refuted by a team of 119 scientists. The team, which includes scientists from 18 countries, has published a document stating that reusable containers are safe. Many cafes, restaurants and grocery stores around the world have stopped accepting reusable cups, bags and other containers for fear that these items would spread COVID-19. Environmentalists have pushed for a long time to have restaurants and other businesses adopt the use of reusable containers. But these gains made over the years risk being eroded almost overnight if people continue to revert to single-use containers. Environmentalists are now accusing plastic manufactures of exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to lobby for single-use plastics. Related: COVID-19 leads to plastic ban reversals The scientists involved in reassuring the public include epidemiologists, virologists, biologists and doctors. They have compiled a statement that encourages restaurants and individuals to continue using reusable containers as long as public health requirements are observed. The team said that reusable items are safe as long as high standards of hygiene are observed. One of the signatories to the statement, professor Charlotte Williams of Oxford University, explained that COVID-19 should not stop the efforts made toward a sustainable future. “I hope we can come out of the COVID-19 crisis more determined than ever to solve the pernicious problems associated with plastics in the environment,” Williams said. According to the scientists’ statement, the coronavirus primarily spreads through aerosol droplets and not from contact with surfaces. Although surfaces can transfer the virus, washing reusable containers is much safer than relying on single-use ones. The scientists explained that most people do not bother cleaning single-use containers under the assumption that they are safe. Unfortunately, the virus can get in contact with any surface, including single-use containers. Europe plans to ban all single-use plastics starting next year. There is concern that plastic manufacturers are now using the coronavirus pandemic to delay the ban. Such a move would be detrimental, considering that plastic waste contributes 80% of all marine pollution . + Health Expert Statement Via The Guardian Image via Goran Ivos

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Plastic rain is contaminating protected habitats

June 24, 2020 by  
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The term “pristine” environment is no longer applicable even to the most remote locations on Earth. Recent research has established that plastic rain is now pouring in the most protected areas in the western U.S. The research, which was published in the journal Science , reveals that 11 protected areas in the western U.S. receive rain that is contaminated with plastic microparticles. Over a period of 14 months, the researchers collected rainwater samples across 11 areas that are known to have the most pristine environments. The rainwater in these protected areas was found to be highly contaminated with plastic particles. The researchers revealed that the 11 protected areas receive over 1,000 metric tons of microplastic each year. Related: Record high amount of microplastic found on seafloors Research director and environmental scientist Janice Brahney of Utah University said, “We just did that for the area of protected areas in the West, which is only 6 percent of the total U.S. area.” Brahney’s comments indicate that plastic rain might be a much bigger problem in areas that are not protected. This research confirms a situation that is already spreading around the world. In recent years, several studies have found increasing amounts of microplastics in rainwater, especially in protected habitats, like the French Pyrenees and the Arctic . When microplastics mix with rain, they freely flow into rivers and oceans. Consequently, they affect the natural environment and the lifespan of many species. Scientists are now saying that plastic rain is a much more complex problem than acid rain. In the past few decades, the increase in the amount of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide in the atmosphere resulted in acid rain in many parts of the world. Thankfully, efforts to control the emission of these gases have reduced acid rain significantly. Unfortunately, the microplastic problem is not one that can be solved overnight. We do not have a proper mechanism to trap the microplastics in the atmosphere. Even stopping the production of plastic today will only be half of the solution. To worsen the situation, the world still produces and uses plastics in large amounts. A Consultancy McKinsey publication reports that plastic waste is expected to rise from 260 million tons in 2020 to about 460 million tons in 2030. Although the research on plastic rain was only conducted in a handful of locations, it shows the gravity of the situation. If action is not taken to control the production and use of plastics, we are looking at a future where both water and air will be full of microplastics. + Science Via Wired Image via Dennis Kleine

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Plastic rain is contaminating protected habitats

Bioplastic made from fish scales wins international James Dyson Award

June 18, 2020 by  
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Single-use plastics are a growing problem for our planet, but they have also become a mainstay for people around the world. How can we replace the plastic bags, wrappers and more that plague us? One student has come up with a novel plastic alternative that also happens to avoid the use of virgin materials. This innovative bioplastic is made with materials otherwise destined for disposal — fish parts. Lucy Hughes, a product design student at The University of Sussex, aimed to source materials from the waste stream when she began working on her senior project. With guidance from a tutor, Hughes discovered a fish processing plant called MCB Seafoods, where she took a tour to learn more. During that experience, Hughes learned about the discarded remnants of fish processing including offal, blood, crustacean and shellfish exoskeletons and fish skins and scales. She got to work right away to figure out how she could turn this waste into something useful. Related: W?KE LifeProof phone cases use recycled ocean-bound waste The result is MarinaTex, a bioplastic film made primarily from fish scales and skins and bound with an organic binder. Creating MarinaTex required a lot of trial and error, but the result is more than a polymer; MarinaTex is biodegradable plastic sheeting that is versatile and naturally decomposes in 4 to 6 weeks in a home compost environment. It required over 100 different experiments to get the right combination before Hughes entered the product into a competition and won the 2019 International James Dyson Award for her efforts.  MarinaTex is best suited for single-use applications such as wrapping sandwiches, replacing the little plastic sheeting around the opening in tissue boxes or substituting for the plastic, transparent window in artisan bread loaf bags. Claiming to be stronger than mainstream LDPE, MarinaTex can also become a durable, biodegradable alternative to plastic bags. According to the website, “The organic formula does not leach harmful chemicals and can be consumed, causing no harm to wildlife or humans.” MarinaTex is currently still in development and not yet in the marketplace for order. However, if you’d like to keep up with the progress, you can receive updates via email newsletter. + MarinaTex Images via MarinaTex

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Bioplastic made from fish scales wins international James Dyson Award

Why are toothbrushes so hard to recycle?

May 28, 2020 by  
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Even the remotest islands have no lack of used toothbrushes. Researchers studying  Cocos Keeling Islands  — 6 square miles of uninhabited land 1,300 miles off  Australia’s  northwest coast — found 373,000 toothbrushes among the mountains of plastic debris. Reading studies like this makes almost any thinking person wonder why we can’t recycle toothbrushes. Toothbrushes pose a problem, as no matter how much we care about the planet, most of us aren’t going to sacrifice our dental hygiene. So why is it so hard to recycle toothbrushes? Dental professionals and the American Dental Association recommend getting a new toothbrush every three to four months, or when the bristles fray. This means the average American — or at least one that follows dental advice — goes through three to four toothbrushes per year. Even if each American used only two toothbrushes annually, that’s roughly 660 million toothbrushes headed for the  landfill . Why? “Regular toothbrushes are hard to recycle because they are made from many components, including plastics derived from crude  oil , rubber and a mix of plastic and other agents,” explained Dr. Nammy Patel , DDS and author of  Age With Style: Your Guide To A Youthful Smile & Healthy Living.  “It takes the plastic toothbrush over 400 years to decompose.” Usually, the plastic handle would be the most desirable part for recycling. Nobody wants those grotty nylon bristles that spent the last several months poking between your teeth. And it takes a lot of effort to separate the bristles and the metal that keeps them in place from the  plastic handle. The  Colgate Oral Care Recycling Project  is one rare effort to recycle used dental gear. The project accepts toothpaste tubes and caps, toothbrushes, toothpaste cartons, toothbrush outer  packaging  and floss containers. Reusing your old toothbrushes Instead of recycling your toothbrush, it’s easier to find ways to reuse it. Patel suggests using your old toothbrush for coloring hair, cleaning car parts, or anything that can be accessed by the small bristles. “It can be used for cleaning mud under shoes,” she suggested. Toothbrushes are the best tools for cleaning grout on your kitchen counter or between your bathroom tiles. Just add baking soda or bleach. You can also use a dry or just slightly damp toothbrush to clean the sides of your computer  keys. It’s amazingly gross, the stuff that accumulates in a keyboard. Other places to use those tiny bristles to your advantage include cleaning grunge out of your hairbrush, scrubbing around faucets and reviving Velcro by removing the lint. Old toothbrushes even have  artistic  uses. Painters can use them for splattering paint on a canvas, or for adding texture. In another artistic application, toothbrushes are great for scrubbing crayon marks off walls. Sustainable alternatives Of course, the best way to avoid disposing of a non-recyclable item is by not buying it in the first place. “Toothbrushes made from more sustainable products are great,” said Patel. “They offer the same or better clean and are better for the environment.” Bamboo  is the most popular alternative toothbrush handle material. However, most still have nylon bristles. Some companies use compostable pig hair bristles, but this won’t be a happy solution for vegetarians. Still, the handle is the biggest part of the toothbrush, so using a bamboo toothbrush with nylon bristles is still a step in the right direction. Some companies even offer replaceable heads so you can use the same bamboo handle for years. If style is of paramount importance, check out  Bootrybe’s  pretty laser-engraved designs. You could also opt for a toothbrush that’s already been recycled. Since 2007,  Preserve  has recycled more than 80 million yogurt cups into toothbrushes. They partner with Whole Foods to get people to recycle #5 plastics, which is one of the safer yet least recycled types of plastic . And when your Preserve toothbrush gets old, you can mail it back to the company for recycling. Or ditch the plastic and go electric. “Electric toothbrushes are a better alternative than regular toothbrushes,” said Patel. “They give a great clean and they minimize the amount of waste.” She recommends eco-friendly brands like Foreo Issa and Georganics. “There are some brands like Boka brush which have activated  charcoal in its bristles to help reduce bacteria growth. Many companies also have a recycling program where you can send your toothbrush head and they will recycle it for you.” Better yet, she said, get the electric rechargeable brushes so there is no battery waste. “If you have to purchase a battery-operated one, make sure to use rechargeable batteries to decrease waste.” Some people like to further reduce waste by making their own toothpaste and mouthwash. While homemade toothpaste lacks the cavity-fighting power of fluoride, you might want to occasionally use homemade products to decrease packaging waste and save money, or just to tide you over until your next trip to the store. For a very simple and inexpensive paste, combine one teaspoon of baking soda with a little  water . + Dr. Nammy Patel Via Toothbrush Life Images via Teresa Bergen

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Why are toothbrushes so hard to recycle?

UK residents enjoying record low emissions

May 28, 2020 by  
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By now, almost everybody has heard about record low CO2 emissions brought on by  coronavirus  lockdowns. But new data shows not only that the U.K.’s emissions are the lowest they’ve been since the 1920s, but there’s reason to hope they might not shoot back up to pre-pandemic rates as soon as life returns to quasi-normal. A recent paper published in the scientific journal  Nature Climate Change examined six sectors known for their climate change contributions: electricity  and heat; surface transport; industry; home use; aviation; and public buildings and commerce. They found that surface transport was notably down, partially accounting for why the U.K. cut emissions by 31% during lockdown, compared to a global average of 17%.  “A lot of emissions in the UK come from surface transport – around 30% on average of the country’s total  emissions ,” said Professor Corinne Le Quéré, the paper’s lead author. “It makes up a bigger contribution to total emissions than the average worldwide.” Since the U.K. reached full lockdown, Quéré said, people were forced to stay home and not to drive to work. Mike Childs, Friends of the Earth’s head of policy, reminds us that our problems are far from over. “A 31% emissions drop in April is dramatic, but in the long run it won’t mean anything unless some reductions are made permanent,” Childs told HuffPost UK. “This lockdown moment is a chance to reset our carbon-guzzling economy and rebuild in a way that leaves pollution in the past, to stop climate-wrecking emissions spiking right back up to where they were before, or even higher.” Fortunately, British drivers appreciate the cleaner air and plan to permanently alter their driving style, according to a survey. In the Automobile Association’s poll of 20,000 motorists, half plan to walk more post- pandemic , and 40% aim to drive less. Twenty-five percent of respondents said they planned to work from home more, 25% intend to fly less and 20% to cycle more. The U.K. government plans to spend £250 million on improved infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists. “We have all enjoyed the benefits of cleaner air during lockdown and it is gratifying that the vast majority of drivers want to do their bit to maintain the cleaner air,” said Edmund King, Automobile Association president. “ Walking  and cycling more, coupled with less driving and more working from home, could have a significant effect on both reducing congestion and maintaining cleaner air.” + Nature Climate Change Via HuffPost and BBC

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