Study finds 90 percent of table salt contains microplastics

October 18, 2018 by  
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According to a new study that observed sea, rock and lake salts, 90 percent of the table salt brands sold around the world contain microplastics. Several years ago, researchers discovered that microplastics were in sea salt, but no one was certain just how extensive the problem was until now. National Geographic reported that researchers in South Korea and at Greenpeace East Asia tested 39 salt brands, and 36 of them contained microplastics. This study — published in this month’s journal of Environmental Science & Technology — is the first of its kind to look at the correlation between microplastics in table salt and where we find plastic pollution in the environment. Related: Study suggests the average person consumes 70,000 microplastic bits every year “The findings suggest that human ingestion of microplastics via marine products is strongly related to emissions in a given region,” said Seung-Kyu Kim, a marine science professor at Incheon National University in South Korea. The salt samples came from 21 countries in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. The three brands that did not contain microplastics were refined sea salt from Taiwan, refined rock salt from China and unrefined sea salt produced by solar evaporation in France. The density of microplastics in salt varied among the different brands. The study found that the tested Asian brands of salt contained the highest amounts, especially in the salt sold in Indonesia. An unrelated 2015 study found that Indonesia suffered from the second-worst level of plastic pollution in the world. Researchers found that  microplastic levels were highest in sea salt, followed by lake salt and rock salt. This latest study estimates that the average adult consumes about 2,000 microplastics each year through salt. But how harmful that is remains a mystery. Because of knowledge gaps and a mismatch of data in more than 300 microplastic studies, there is limited evidence to suggest that microplastics have a significant negative impact. Microplastics could be detrimental to our health and the planet, or the focus on microplastic could be diverting attention from worse environmental problems. + Environmental Science & Technology Via National Geographic Image via Bruno

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Clean energy-producing Light Up wins the 2018 LAGI competition in Melbourne

October 18, 2018 by  
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New York-based NH Architecture and Seattle architectural practice Olson Kundig placed first and second respectively in the 2018 Land Art Generator Initiative design competition in Melbourne, Australia. Sponsored by the State of Victoria’s Renewable Energy Action Plan with clean energy targets of 25 percent by 2020, the international competition sought large-scale works of public art that generate renewable energy in visible ways for St. Kilda Triangle in the City of Port Phillip. NH Architecture’s winning proposal, named ‘Light Up,’ harnesses solar, wind and microbial fuel cell technologies to produce 2,200 MWh of energy annually — enough to power nearly 500 homes. NH Architecture’s winning Light Up proposal consists of a lightweight tensile shade structure topped with 8,600 efficient, flexible solar photovoltaic panels envisioned over Jacka Boulevard. Designed with the aim of “maximizing the public realm” without compromising views, the design makes use of tested components available on the market. The clean energy power plant was also designed to harness wind energy and uses microbial fuel cells to tap into energy from plant roots. Olson Kundig’s second-place submission ‘Night & Day’ also taps into the power of solar with 5,400 square meters of solar panels. The solar system is combined with two Pelton turbines and a hydro battery to operate 24 hours a day and produce 1,000 MWh annually. As an ideas competition, LAGI 2018 has no plans of realizing the winning submissions. The Light Up team will receive $16,000 in prize money while the runners-up will receive $5,000. Related: Olson Kundig solar sail proposal could power up to 200 Melbourne homes with clean energy “LAGI 2018 is a window into a world that has moved beyond fossil fuels — a world that celebrates living in harmony with nature by creating engaging public places that integrate renewable energy and energy storage artfully within the urban landscape,” said LAGI co-founders Elizabeth Monoian and Robert Ferry. “Light Up and Night & Day are power plants where you can take your family for a picnic. They both show how beauty and clean energy can come together to create the sustainable and resilient infrastructure of the future city. These artworks are cultural landmarks for the great energy transition that will be visited by generations in the future to remember this important time in human history.” + LAGI Images via LAGI

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Clean energy-producing Light Up wins the 2018 LAGI competition in Melbourne

Environmental campaign floods UK Royal Mail with empty potato chip bags

September 28, 2018 by  
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The U.K. postal service has implored its public to stop mailing empty potato chip bags addressed without an envelope after a surge in chip bag mailings was encountered by its courier offices. The mailings are part of an environmental campaign urging the most popular brand of British crisps, Walkers, to reevaluate its plastic packaging. Walkers, owned by PepsiCo, is being met with a petition signed by more than 310,000 people and an online campaign that is sending unknown numbers of empty bags right to the company’s doorstep. Twitter is buzzing about the environmental activists , who have been posting pictures of themselves mailing the empty packets of chips through the Royal Mail service. The rebels are using the hashtag #PacketInWalkers to comment on the company’s latent efforts to revamp its packaging. An emailed statement from a Walkers spokesperson, released by CNN , stated, “We have received some returned packets and recognize the efforts being made to bring the issue of packaging waste to our attention. The returned packets will be used in our research, as we work towards our commitment of improving the recyclability of our packaging.” The company has announced that it plans to achieve plastic-free packaging by 2025. . @walkers_crisps 2025 is too long to wait for you to use plastic free packaging. It’s just not good enough. You produce 4 billion packs per year. I’m sending these back to you so you can deal with your own waste. #PacketInWalkers pic.twitter.com/S13uiZXpdx — Jarred Livesey (@Jaz_Livesey) September 22, 2018 For many campaign participants, such as Jarred Livesey, the commitments are vague and inadequate. “2025 is too long to wait for you to use plastic free packaging. It’s just not good enough,” he commented on Twitter last week. Despite PepsiCo working on a pilot project in the U.S., India and Chile that features compostable packaging , consumers are adamant about stopping the polluters as soon as possible. Related: UK’s Co-op to ditch single-use plastic bags for biodegradable bags Lisa Ann Pasquale went a step further in her Twitter commentary, suggesting, “What if — instead of buying crisps and posting the packages back to @walkers_crisps — we just save our planet AND cholesterol levels by not buying crisps… .” Pasquale makes a sound argument, considering the 11 million bags of potato chips Walkers produces daily in order to keep up supply for its spud-loving consumers, who consume approximately 6 billion packs of chips a year. The Royal Mail service is caught in the cross-hairs of this environmental argument. Bound by U.K. law to treat the empty potato chip bags as mail as long as they are properly addressed, there is not much else the national communications carrier can do. “If an item is addressed properly and carries the correct postage, then Royal Mail is obliged by law to handle and deliver the item to the stated address,” a Royal Mail spokesperson told CNN. “If they are taking part in this campaign, we would urge them to put crisp packets in an envelope before posting,” because improperly packaged bags could cause delays or be tossed from the sorting sequence. Via CNN Image via Allen Watkin

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Environmental campaign floods UK Royal Mail with empty potato chip bags

Plastic straws are a thing of the past, but which reusable straw is best for the future?

September 21, 2018 by  
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The days where plastic straws and their wrappers litter the countertops of restaurants, coffee shops and fast food joints are nearing the end. With several governments, like Australia and the U.K. , banning and taxing single-use plastic items and companies like Starbucks, Disney and Hyatt taking their own environmental stand by rejecting plastic straws, sustainable and reusable varieties of the pipettes have been growing in popularity. Nowadays, it’s no longer about what color straw you’re sporting, but which reusable material you’ll choose. According to the research firm Freedonia Group , Americans reduced their previous consumption of plastic straws by 110 million units in the last year alone. As momentum gains, consumers may now be getting purchase paralysis because of the sheer number of options. Metal, bamboo, silicone, glass — there are many options available when selecting an alternative to single-use plastic straws. The question is, which one is the best? Related: Starbucks ditches plastic straws for the environment There are several factors to consider when selecting a more sustainable option for sipping energizing morning smoothies and indulgent midnight milkshakes. Between lifespan and durability, width and length, taste, feel, shape and cleanliness, there are many variables to reusable straws that could make the leap to convert challenging. Are straws necessary? Before even delving into these seemingly negligible details some may ask, “Are the liquid chutes superfluous altogether? Do I even need straws at all?” Considering the widespread pollution that has been caused by disposable straws, eliminating the meal accessories seems like the best overall option. According to a report by 4Ocean , an organization dedicated to repurposing marine plastics to clear the ocean of pollution, a plastic straw can take up to 200 years to decompose. In the meantime, the harmful microplastics eventually disintegrate and contaminate our planet’s air, water and soil, poisoning wildlife and finding their way into our food. As a result, many people are now swearing by a straw-free lifestyle. But there are many reasons, such as dietary restrictions and health issues, that still call for the existence of straws. Related: UK plans to ban the sales of plastic straws to tackle ocean plastic pollution Factors to consider when purchasing reusable straws It’s no surprise that size tops the list of considerations when purchasing reusable straws. Both length and width are important depending on what type of liquid one intends to drink and from which assortment of container. Standard straws measure approximately 7.5-8 inches in length. Those who prefer to drink out of small glasses and coffee mugs are better suited with cocktail-sized straws. The miniature varieties span between 5 and 6 inches, while the longest options settle around 10 inches, although more extensive models can be found for tumbler and thermos users. A stress of function over form has become the sustainable-straw-purchasing mantra. Smoothies, bubble teas and shakes warrant straws with wider diameters, while less viscous beverages like water, juice and soda that are not semi-solid or thick can be easily consumed through thinner straws. Popular diameters range from around 7mm to 15mm (between 1/4 and 1/2 inches). Shape also comes into play: straight, bent, retractable, flexible — all of these have become important in the straw trade. Ultimately, most individuals would see these factors as a matter of personal preference. Given that straight straws, short straws and wide-rimmed straws are much easier to clean than their counterparts, they are the most hygienic options for users. It is this quality that makes them the most sustainable choices for new consumers, simply because they have a longer lifespan. Otherwise, unkempt straws get thrown out, and a long-term solution to plastic pollution could turn into another mass consumption (and pollution) trend. Steel straws When considering materials, stainless steel has become the most popular go-to material for reusable straw fans. The metal has odor-resisting properties and is the most durable material available for straws. Steel options are also the most widely available on the market because of their heat conducting properties. A cold drink is best enjoyed through a metal straw, because it maintains a crisp and refreshing temperature for the drinker. Unless consumers are turned off by the metallic flavor that steel can sometimes add to beverages, have sensitive teeth that are disturbed by the hardness of the straw or drink many hot beverages, metal straws serve as the best possible option. Silicone straws Those who prefer softer, more flexible straws may turn to silicone. But according to  Life Without Plastic , this material, which is generally categorized as a rubber, is actually similar to a hybrid between synthetic rubber and synthetic plastic polymer. The organization cites Beth Terry, author of Plastic Free , who said, “First of all, silicone is no more ‘natural’ than fossil-based plastic. It is a man-made polymer, but instead of a carbon backbone like plastic, it has a backbone of silicon and oxygen … the hydrocarbons in silicone come from fossil sources like petroleum and natural gas.” If this isn’t enough of a deterrent, the same silky texture that makes many people gravitate toward the silicone models is also to blame for its difficulty to wash. Silicone can harbor mold-forming bacteria, and it takes on unpleasant odors after continuous use. Bamboo straws With bamboo, consumers may see a reduction in availability. While bamboo straws might not be breakable, they ultimately do not hold up to long-term wear and tear. In addition, bamboo straws are the most difficult to clean of all the materials. Being naturally made from bamboo shoots, there is not a lot of precision in the shape and width to which they are constructed, making it hard to find the right kind of brush to use on them. Sadly enough, because of the chalky texture they leave in the mouth, bamboo straws inevitably fall lower on the enjoyment scale — despite the tropical taste they can generously impart to beverages. Glass straws In the end, there is only one other material that can compete with stainless steel in terms of sustainability: glass . Layered and tempered, glass straws are surprisingly durable and will not break easily if dropped or accidentally mishandled. Glass is a close runner-up to metal’s conductivity, and interestingly enough, it is capable of transferring hot liquids without burning the user. Because the glass is clear, making sure the straw is well-cleaned between uses is as simple as it gets. With no odor and no funny tastes imparted to the drinker, glass straws are a viable alternative to metal straws for the socially-conscious sipper. In the end, whether plastic straws are replaced with metal, glass or any other alternative, this trendsetting movement is turning a new leaf for the environment on a historical scale. Via Time , Going Zero Waste , Get Green Now ,  4Ocean and Life Without Plastic Images via Osha Key , Mark Pazolli , Glass Dharma and Shutterstock

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Plastic straws are a thing of the past, but which reusable straw is best for the future?

California plans to launch its own satellite to monitor air pollution

September 17, 2018 by  
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California has promised to launch its own satellite to track air quality in the fight against air pollution. Governor Jerry Brown announced the major initiative amid President Donald Trump’s bid to decrease NASA’s part in monitoring climate change. Brown has not announced when the state will launch the satellite or how much it will cost taxpayers. Brown has long stood in opposition to Trump’s administration, which has fought California’s tough emissions standards. Following the effort to cut NASA funding for climate research, Brown hopes that the satellite will ensure that California has independent access to data gathering in the long term. “We’re going to launch our own satellite — our own damn satellite to figure out where the pollution is and how we’re going to end it,” Brown explained. Related: Striking, solar-powered LA roundabout manages stormwater runoff with art NASA has its own climate change program called the Carbon Monitoring System (CMS). The system gathers data from a collection of satellites and high-altitude aircraft to keep track of carbon emissions around the world. The program came under fire in the latest rounds of White House budget cuts, which were directly aimed at climate change initiatives. Fortunately, the appropriations committee did not cut CMS funding, but the threat left many scientists worried about the program’s future. Brown is collaborating with a company based out of San Francisco called Planet Labs to launch the satellite. The company will work with California’s Air Resources Board to build the satellite and track carbon emissions throughout the state and the world. So far, Planet Labs — backed by companies like Google and DCVC — has a fleet of 150 satellites, all of which take photographs of the earth and transfer the data to various governments, private companies, journalists, agriculture business and hedge funds. Brown hopes the program will lead to better climate monitoring, despite the efforts from the Trump administration. Via Earther and Huffington Post Image via Prayitno

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Scientists working to help manatees poisoned by Florida red tide

September 7, 2018 by  
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The toxic red tide has been raising states of emergency within Florida counties over the past few months. The harmful algal blooms are causing extensive fish deaths as well as sickness and death in sea turtles, birds and marine mammals, including manatees. Scientists at Florida International University (FIU), in coalition with Mote Marine Laboratory , are racing against the clock to neutralize the poisonings with a new treatment. Red tide accounts for 10 percent of manatee deaths in the last decade. Because of the current bloom cycle, that could jump to a tremendous 30 percent in the near future. Thanks to a $428,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s ECOHAB program , a three-year program is being launched by FIU and Mote to improve veterinary care for rescued manatees affected by the Florida red tide. The project allows scientists to study cellular immune responses in the marine mammal to various antioxidant treatments. “The current approach is simply to give palliative care and wait for them to clear the toxin and get better,” explained Kathleen Rein, the FIU chemist that is leading the research team in tandem with colleague Cathy Walsh, a marine immunology expert at Mote’s labs. Related: Manatees taken off the endangered species list – but that may not be good The current treatment, which uses anti-inflammatory substances, just isn’t ebbing the tide. “This new treatment could accelerate the healing process,” Rein said. “If this treatment is successful, it could be used with many other animals including dolphins, turtles and birds.” The manatee recently advanced from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered species list to threatened status. However, the current Florida red tide bloom, which is continuing without any predictions on its duration, has already claimed more than 103 of the 575 manatee deaths this year — almost 18 percent. “The need for better treatment is underscored by the current, long-lasting bloom of Florida red tide and its intense impacts on Florida manatees,” Walsh said. With the current red tide bloom being the worst the state has endured since 2005, the situation is critical. + Florida International University + Mote Marine Laboratory Image via Ramos Keith / U.S Fish and Wildlife Service

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Exotic pets are most likely to be released in the wild and become invasive species

August 24, 2018 by  
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With imports of Fish and Wildlife-regulated reptiles exceeding one million individuals each year, it is no surprise that many of these animals are finding their way into the wild, where they are threatening natural ecosystems. Exotic pets can be extremely endearing and are bought at a low cost when they are babies. But when these animals get too large to handle or are cast off by wavering attention spans, they invade native ecosystems. This is the case for iguanas, Chinese water dragons and ball pythons, which have become the most commonly released pets in the wild, according to new research. The massive exotic pet trade, which isn’t fully regulated, has become the leading cause of invasive amphibians and reptiles in the wild. Whether as predatory hunters or as spreaders of “alien” diseases and pests to native populations, the discarded exotic pets are wreaking havoc that ecologists and animal control workers are endlessly working to offset. Oliver Stringham and Julie Lockwood, leading ecologists at Rutgers University in New Brunswick,  researched the prevalence of specific exotic species. The paper was published on Wednesday and cross-references attributes of species that are commonly released versus those that are typically kept by their owners. The study compared data from  citizen scientists  on numbers of species that were introduced into the wild with figures of imports and sales from online pet stores. Related: It’s finally illegal to own wild animals in the UAE In total, the researchers documented 1,722 species of reptiles and amphibians that were sold on the U.S. market between 1999 and 2016. They found that species that grow to large sizes were most likely to be released. Some of the animals also have long lifespans for pets, as in the case of the boa constrictor, which requires costly care over its 30+ year lifespan. “These species are so abundant in the pet market, they’re potentially more likely to be bought by impulsive consumers that haven’t done the proper research about care requirements with some small fraction of these consumers resorting to releasing these pets when they become difficult to care for,” Stringham said in an interview with Earther . “Even if released exotic pets fail to become established, they still cause harm to wildlife by spreading new diseases.” The effects have been catastrophic for many ecosystems . The animal trade-driven chytrid fungus plague alone has devastated amphibian populations on a global scale. In the Florida Everglades, where released exotic pets are the most prevalent, Burmese pythons and tegu lizards continuously scavenge native populations. Stringham and Lockwood hope that their research will deter importers from selling these wild animals from impulsive buyers in the future; a more likely scenario is the regulation of the amount of animals or the prices for which they are sold. Via Earther Images via Paul Hudson and Thai National Parks

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About 90% of world’s largest king penguin colony has mysteriously disappeared

July 31, 2018 by  
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Recent satellite images and a new study show that only 200,000 of the two million king penguins who lived on the French island of Île aux Cochons in 1982 still remain. The drastic disappearance of these penguins is a puzzling occurrence that scientists are still trying to piece together, but they are looking at climate change as the likely culprit. The remote Île aux Cochons lies halfway between the tip of Africa and Antarctica and is home to the largest colony of king penguins in the world. Henri Weimerskirch, ecologist at the Centre for Biological Studies in Chize, France , first witnessed this colony in the early 1980s and plans to return to the island in early 2019 after three decades of satellite images revealed the population collapse. “It is completely unexpected, and particularly significant since this colony represented nearly one third of the king penguins in the world,” Weimerskirch said. Related: The world’s largest wildlife sanctuary proposed for Antarctica The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is still listing the conservation effort for these creatures under the “least concern” status despite the recent decline in numbers. As for what happened to hundreds of thousands of mated pairs of king penguins, there are several possibilities that Weimerskirch and his colleagues are juggling. The most likely causes are climate change and resulting El Niño weather events, competition for food and avian cholera. Scientists have not been able to examine the penguins for indications leading to a singular cause, but chances are that the factors are intermingled and aggravated by each other. Competition, which can be worsened by climate change, leads to a lack of food, resulting in struggles that are “amplified and can trigger an unprecedented rapid and drastic drop in numbers,” according to Weimerskirch. Another possible factor in the penguins’ decline could be an incident similar to the El Niño event that decimated the Emperor penguin population in Terre Adélie by 50 percent in the late 1970s. Meanwhile, avian cholera has impacted birds on nearby islands, and could be the problem on Île aux Cochons. The news is particularly daunting for the king penguins, because they only lay one egg at a time when nesting. The penguins carry the egg around on their feet, and the mates take turns every few weeks protecting and incubating the chick until it is hatched. This process takes over two months. Because the penguins do not nest year-round, and with food becoming scarcer and scarcer, a rapid rebound in population does not seem likely. + Antarctic Science Via The Guardian,   IUCN and Cool Antarctica Image via Liam Quinn

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About 90% of world’s largest king penguin colony has mysteriously disappeared

Colorado Caravan converts a vintage Airstream into a sleek office for under $20K

July 31, 2018 by  
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You’ve probably spotted a caravan rolling down the road once or twice, looking shiny and new, and longed for that ramblin’ life. That freedom may be beyond your grasp at the moment, but Kerri Cole and Patrick Neely, the couple who own and operate Colorado Caravan, are ready to help. Cole and Neely are  Airstream  renovation experts, and their recent conversion of a vintage caravan into their company office will inspire you to embrace tiny home living. Since 2016, the Denver couple has transformed old Airstream trailers into portable bars, rooms on wheels for motor lodges and mobile sales offices. The duo is using their latest refurbishing of a 1969 Airstream Globetrotter as a sales office and showroom for the company — and they love the fact they can hit the open road whenever the whim strikes. Colorado Caravan’s latest project, named Bonnie, emerged after Cole and Neely posted on Craigslist that they were looking to buy old Airstream trailers. They paid only $2,500 for the 21-foot caravan , but a mice infestation in the insulation and extensive water damage required gutting the whole structure and rebuilding the interior. Related: Couple restores an old Airstream into a chic tiny home on wheels The materials for the renovation cost only $19,180 thanks to the couple’s creativity and innovation. Cole, a professional interior designer , and Neely, a former vintage car renovator and house flipper, combined their talents, cut corners wisely and indulged in features like a good air conditioning system and a two-burner gas cooktop. Related: Vintage Airstream converted into home/office hybrid The amount of interior space nearly doubled by ripping out all the upper cabinets. Choosing simple styles and a basic black-and-white color scheme with leather and brown accents gives the interior an open, airy ambiance. Cost-conscious IKEA cabinets, walnut veneer counters, basic kitchen appliances and engineered wood flooring kept costs low. The trailer’s original pendant light fixtures and sconces and were kept intact as homage to the original design, and the wet bath’s molded fiberglass sink and shower were undamaged and left in place. With Bonnie renovated and ready to go, the couple can take their business on the road whenever the mood strikes. + Colorado Caravan Via Dwell Images via Alison McQuain Photography and Colorado Caravan

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Colorado Caravan converts a vintage Airstream into a sleek office for under $20K

Could You Be a Citizen Scientist?

July 23, 2018 by  
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Mystery lovers were thrilled by a recent real-life whodunnit in … The post Could You Be a Citizen Scientist? appeared first on Earth911.com.

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