Engaging Middle America in recycling solutions

August 26, 2020 by  
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Engaging Middle America in recycling solutions Suzanne Shelton Wed, 08/26/2020 – 01:00 A few weeks ago, I wrote a GreenBiz piece about what Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs can teach us about the moment we’re in right now, based on our latest polling of Americans. At Circularity 2020, I’m talking about how to engage people in recycling, and the two ideas are linked together. The gist is that we can’t self-actualize as the people we want to be if we’re not getting our basic needs met. Pre-COVID, 41 percent of us wanted to be seen as someone who buys green products, and 25 percent of us could cough up an example, unaided, of a brand we’d purchased or not purchased because of the environmental record of the manufacturer. As of late May, smack in the middle of the pandemic, these numbers dropped dramatically, down to 2013 levels at 33 percent and 19 percent respectively. In the rock-paper-scissors game of survival, we just can’t take action on higher-level things when we’re worried about meeting our basic needs. And we’re really worried about getting our basic needs met. Worries about the health of the economy and human health far outweigh concerns about the environment right now. This was not the case pre-pandemic. We were just as worried about plastics in the ocean and climate change in early March as we were last summer, but that concern plummeted in May.  Think about it like this: We decided to take a cross-country road trip in a car with a transmission that’s on its last legs, so the whole time we’re driving we’re worried about the transmission failing. Then all of a sudden — boom — we get a flat tire.  Now we’re not worried about the transmission anymore. Coronavirus is the flat tire and once we can get it repaired and drive on it long enough to be sure it won’t go flat again, we’ll start worrying about the bigger transmission issue — the environment — again. For now, though, we feel disempowered and unable to do much about the environment.  For instance, last summer the one environmental issue 27 percent of us felt we actually could do something about was plastic waste. We’ve backslid in a major way one year later: Only 18 percent of us believe we can do anything about it now — and that’s the No. 1 answer! Not surprisingly, then, we’re less activated on trying to avoid single-use plastics. Last year, one-third of Americans said they actively tried to buy products packaged in something other than plastic and urged friends and family to do the same; as of May, only a quarter of us said we are doing that. Remember that so much of the outrage about plastics in the ocean is the fact that plastics are in our food stream, so it’s a human health issue. We now have a more pressing, immediate human health issue to deal with — as well as a pressing social equity crisis and economic crisis — so we’ve become less activated on single-use plastics. In fact, you might say that the Great Awakening of our massive systemic issues — spurred by COVID-19 and the murder of George Floyd — has allowed us to go to sleep, for the moment, on the environment. One last thing for context: With all the noise about the economy, coronavirus, politics and so forth, we’re all hearing less about every single environmental issue we track. For instance, last year 63 percent of Americans said they had heard about bans on single use plastic. Now that number is down to 54 percent.  In the rock-paper-scissors game of survival, we just can’t take action on higher-level things when we’re worried about meeting our basic needs. So, there’s something to be said for continuing to communicate about environmental issues, and there’s something to be said for demonstrating the behaviors you want people to adopt — both have a correlated impact on consumer action. And, again, it will be hard to motivate action on our environmental transmission while we’ve got an economic and health-related flat tire. So what does this mean for engaging Americans in recycling?   If we don’t feel like we actually can affect the plastic waste issue and some of us have gone to sleep in terms of our habits and actions, what does this mean for recycling?  Are we less inclined to throw our recyclables in the bin because we feel so disempowered and/or worried about the economy and anxious about keeping our families from catching COVID? And are we aware of the issues in the recycling market — that China won’t take our recyclables anymore and that the American recycling system is in turmoil? If they’re aware, does that affect their willingness to do their part? Well, it’s a good news/bad news scenario. In the good news column, the vast majority of Americans (80 percent) believe recycling is the bare minimum they can do for the environment, and it makes them feel better about all the stuff they buy. By the way, 77 percent of Americans say they recycle via a curbside pickup service. So they’re “in” on the current system of throwing stuff in the blue bin and rolling it to the curb. Some other good news: only 30 percent have really heard about some cities discontinuing curbside recycling programs. And only 10 percent say their curbside recycling services have been discontinued. So about a third of us are aware something’s going on with our recycling system, but the vast majority of us are happy to keep going along with our curbside guilt-assuaging approach to waste management. And it is a guilt-assuaging system. While roughly half of us have made some changes to reduce the amount of single-use plastics we buy, plastic is the No. 1 material we all think is easiest to process into a substance that can be used to make a new product or packaging.  And while 40 percent of us correctly answer that plastics coded with the number 1 (PET) are the easiest for recycling centers to process, 38 percent of us have no idea which number is easiest to recycle and the remainder of us answer incorrectly. So, we’re opinionated about plastics, but blissfully ignorant about them, and we let ourselves off the hook for doing anything different in our purchasing because of the current curbside system. So what happens when the municipal curbside system fails, as it’s starting to do? In this case, knowledge or awareness is not correlated to behaviors: 39 percent of us have heard about other countries no longer accepting our recycling and, of those folks, 97 percent say it hasn’t changed their recycling habits. Overall, 77 percent of us believe that what we put in the bin actually gets recycled. (It’s worth noting that’s down from 88 percent the year before.) In other words, we’re still chucking stuff in the bin with few worries about whether that stuff’s actually being recycled. We can laugh an ironic laugh at their ignorance or we can look at this as extremely good news. We worked hard to get consumers to adopt recycling behaviors and to adopt the idea that it’s the bare minimum they can do to do their part. And it’s sticking: In fact, they’re clinging to it.  We’re opinionated about plastics, but blissfully ignorant about them, and we let ourselves off the hook for doing anything different in our purchasing because of the current curbside system. The last thing we want is for them to throw in the towel, which is what they’re doing in places where curbside has been discontinued. Of the 10 percent who say their curbside programs have been discontinued, 56 percent say they no longer recycle.  So, if we want to engage Americans in recycling, here’s what we need to do:   1. We need to continue communicating about — and demonstrating action on — plastic waste Remember, we’re all hearing less about environmental issues and noticing fewer bans on plastic waste and fewer actions taken by retailers and restaurants on plastic waste, and that has a direct correlation to our own awareness and action. We need to keep the steady drumbeat of communications and action going if we want to bring people along. 2. We need to continue our curbside programs and make them really work. When these go away, we will see a massive backslide in recycling behaviors. This means we need to ensure that our system works, and that what gets thrown in the bin actually gets recycled. Given that will require massive infrastructure changes (and probably policy changes as well), as a stop-gap we need to: Teach them to “look before they toss”:  Only 22 percent actually look at the label on an item to see if it’s recyclable before chucking it in the recycling bin. Most haven’t noticed the new How to Recycle label or find it too hard to read. We need a massive campaign on this. Teach them what’s actually recyclable:  Back to the earlier point, many consumers feel bad about using single-use plastics, so their tactic for assuaging their guilt is to throw everything into their bins. That means they’re throwing a lot of things in that aren’t actually recyclable, which is rooted in a pretty big lack of understanding of what’s actually recyclable.  For example, when shown pictures of various types of used packaging and asked what should be done with them — put them in the recycling bin, the trash bin, or some combination — Americans don’t pick the right answer as often as you’d hope.  My favorite is the plastic creamer bottle with the plastic sleeve/wrap around it. 69 percent say they’d put the entire package in the trash can, 22 percent say they’d put the entire package in the recycling container and 9 percent say they’d put parts of it in the trash can and parts of it in the recycling container. So 91 percent of Americans get this wrong, despite these bottles having a How To Recycle Label displayed, telling them what to do. The point is that Americans have a mixed level of understanding about what’s recyclable and what’s not. And despite the progress made by getting the How To Recycle label onto so many products, it’s just not enough.  We either have to teach them to look before they toss and help them see what’s actually recyclable or, better, encourage them to put it all in the Blue Bin and upgrade our recycling system and technologies so that it all actually gets recycled. Want to learn more about all of this? Join me at 1:20 p.m. EDT Aug. 27 during Circularity 20 and/or download a free copy of the full report . Pull Quote In the rock-paper-scissors game of survival, we just can’t take action on higher-level things when we’re worried about meeting our basic needs. We’re opinionated about plastics, but blissfully ignorant about them, and we let ourselves off the hook for doing anything different in our purchasing because of the current curbside system. Topics Circular Economy Marketing & Communication Circularity 20 Collective Insight Speaking Sustainably Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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Who has the most sustainable fleets? Time to name names

August 26, 2020 by  
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Who has the most sustainable fleets? Time to name names Katie Fehrenbacher Wed, 08/26/2020 – 00:30 Sustainable fleets are at an inflection point , and we here at GreenBiz are looking to celebrate them. That’s why I’m particularly excited to share that GreenBiz plans to publish the top 25 list of sustainable fleets the week before our annual VERGE 20 conference (which will run virtually the last week in October).  The list will highlight the most innovative and aggressive companies, cities, governments and organizations buying and advocating for zero- and low-carbon vehicles, as well as using other technologies that can significantly reduce transportation emissions.  Many types of vehicle fleets move people and goods, or do important work in our cities, and we’ll consider them all as contenders — from passenger vehicles to delivery vans to transit and school buses to garbage trucks to long haul trucks. We’ll also consider all technologies from battery electric to alternative fuels to efficiency tech. Who’s being aggressive? Who’s being innovative? Who is rapidly speeding toward a goal to decarbonize their fleet?  Let us know! Fill out this form with more information about your/their organization. We’re asking for submissions until Sept. 30. If you have any questions, drop me a line: katie@greenbiz.com . Topics Transportation & Mobility Fleet Green Fleet Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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Eco-friendly Scarborough Home is designed to follow the sun

October 9, 2018 by  
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Set into a steep hillside in Christchurch , the Scarborough Home makes the most of its challenging location by embracing site-specific design. The modern family home is the work of New Zealand architectural practice Borrmeister Architects , which capitalized on the property’s stellar ocean views with a pavilion-like design. Modestly sized at 250 square meters, the breezy, passive solar dwelling also boasts environmentally friendly features including solar panels, rainwater retention tanks and a sculptural roof designed to follow the arcing path of the sun. Building on an extremely steep hillside required the architects to implement a strict 1.2-meter grid that informed the massing of the three-story Scarborough Home. On the basement level, stone walls anchor the home to the ground and appear like a natural extension of the rock face. In comparison, the upper two levels take on a more pavilion-like feel with massive walls of high-performance glass sheathed behind cedar sliding screens to mitigate unwanted solar gain. A lightweight, sail-inspired roof tops the building and is supported by two tree-like timber and steel structures. The open-plan living areas — including the kitchen, dining area and lounge — as well as a study and bathroom are placed on the top-most level. Three bedrooms, bathrooms, a sauna and the laundry room are located on the floor below. Outdoor living is emphasized with large connecting decks, a swimming pool, an outdoor shower and a vegetable garden. Related: Post-earthquake passive solar home is built around resilience “The brief was for a relaxed, playful home open to the sun, capturing the views to the beach and to the uphill park, whilst also providing shelter from the prevailing winds and incorporating easy driveway access and parking,” the firm explained. To meet the client’s wishes for an environmentally conscious home, the architects used locally sourced, low-maintenance, natural materials for construction. In addition to solar roof tiles and a  rainwater harvesting system, the Scarborough Home includes automatic overhead louvers and an ultra-low emission log burner. + Borrmeister Architects Images by Sarah Rowlands

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The ground under a West Texas oil patch is moving ‘at alarming rates’

March 23, 2018 by  
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Local residents, infrastructure, and oil and gas pipelines could be at risk from the ground heaving and sinking in West Texas after years of fossil fuel production, according to a new study from Southern Methodist University (SMU) scientists. In an SMU statement , research scientist Jin-Woo Kim said, “This region of Texas has been punctured like a pin cushion with oil wells and injection wells since the 1940s and our findings associate that activity with ground movement.” Two large sinkholes around Wink, Texas, may just be the start, according to Kim and SMU professor and geophysicist Zhong Lu. Scientific Reports published their research online earlier this month: Kim and Lu drew on radar satellite images revealing significant ground movement in an area of 4,000 square miles. One spot saw movement of up to 40 inches in two and a half years. Lu said the ground movement isn’t normal. Related: Massive sinkhole opens up in the middle of a Brazilian farming town Imagery and oil well production data from the Railroad Commission of Texas helped the researchers connect the ground movement to oil activity. Pressurized fluid injection into what SMU described as “geologically unstable rock formations” in the area is one of those activities; the scientists discovered ground movement corresponded with “nearby sequences of wastewater injection rates and volume and CO2 injection in nearby wells.” And, outside the 4,000 square mile area, more dangers may lurk. Kim said, “We’re fairly certain that when we look further, and we are, that we’ll find there’s ground movement even beyond that.” SMU said the region is vulnerable to human endeavors because of its geology , including shale formations and water-soluble salt and limestone formations. Lu said, “These hazards represent a danger to residents, roads, railroads, levees, dams, and oil and gas pipelines, as well as potential pollution of ground water . Proactive, continuous detailed monitoring from space is critical to secure the safety of people and property.” + Southern Methodist University + Science Reports Images via Nicolas Henderson on Flickr and Zhong Lu, Jin-Woo Kim, SMU

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Atacama ‘alien’ skeleton’s identity revealed by genetic testing

March 23, 2018 by  
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Genetic testing has revealed the true identity of an exceptional mummy found in Chile’s Atacama Desert , a skeleton so strange that some have claimed it as evidence of alien life . In truth, the remains are that of a human individual known as Ata, a girl with unique mutations, who is believed to have been stillborn or died shortly after birth. Despite skeletal features similar to those of a child between six and eight years old, Ata was only six inches tall. She also had two fewer ribs than an average human while her skull is long and conical, evoking pop culture images of a grey alien . In 2013, Stanford University professor of microbiology and immunology Garry Nolan conducted a genetic test that confirmed Ata’s humanity. However, the reasons behind Ata’s appearance remained a mystery. In a study published in  Genome Research , Nolan and researchers at the University of California in San Francisco have presented their full genetic analysis of Ata, which offers more information on who she was and how she came to possess such extraordinary features. While the exact time of Ata’s life and death is unclear, her mixed indigenous and European ancestry indicates that she must have been born sometime after the Spanish colonization of Chile in the 1500s. Related: Scientists build an alien ocean to test NASA submarine Ata’s DNA test indicates that she had mutations on at least seven different genes known for affecting skeletal development. Ata may also have suffered from congenital diaphragmatic hernia, a potentially life-threatening disorder defined by an undeveloped diaphragm. Despite Ata’s unique physiology, research done on her remains may prove applicable in modern medicine . “Understanding the process might allow us to develop therapies or drugs that drive bone development for people in, say, catastrophic car crashes,” Nolan told the Guardian . As for the alien angle, Nolan strongly rejects it. “While this started as a story about aliens, and went international, it’s really a story of a human tragedy,” said Nolan. “A woman had a malformed baby, it was preserved in a manner and then ‘hocked’ or sold as a strange artifact. It turns out to be human, with a fascinating genetic story from which we might learn something important to help others. May she rest in peace.” Via The Guardian Images via Dr. Emery Smith

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Vast Ice Age cave system discovered underneath Montreal

December 7, 2017 by  
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Walking the streets of Montreal , Canada, you’d probably never guess a cave system lurked 10 meters below. But that’s exactly what two speleologists, or cave experts, recently discovered. Daniel Caron and Luc Le Blanc found a 15,000-year-old network of caverns that might have formed as glaciers receded during Earth’s last Ice Age . They think it’s possible that no person had ever set foot inside these caves until now. Back in 1812, the Saint Léonard cave beneath Pie-XII Park was discovered. But cave experts wondered if there was more. Caron and Le Blanc, both amateur explorers, found a vast network in October after drilling through the limestone walls of the existing cave to expose a spacious chamber which branches off into several passages winding beneath the Saint-Leonard borough. Related: Magical New Zealand cave is illuminated by luminescent glowworms The cave system could have formed as pressure from colossal glaciers split the rock . The explorers uncovered between 250 and 500 meters (820 to 1,640 feet) of caves, according to The Canadian Press , although they think the actual dimensions are even longer. The furthest reaches extend to the Montreal water table, Caron said. Rock climbing equipment is necessary to explore some passages, and some may need more rock-breaking for a team to go inside. The team was stopped by water and could only partially explore one of the passages via an inflatable raft, but they aim to explore more in the dry season when the water level hopefully lowers. As the explorers only reached the system by drilling, they think it’s likely no other human beings have ever walked inside these caves. Caron said every caver’s dream is to find a place no one’s been before. He told The Canadian Press, “Normally you have to go to the moon to find that kind of thing.” Via National Geographic and The Canadian Press

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Vast Ice Age cave system discovered underneath Montreal

Striking green-roofed house cantilevers over a cliff in Japan

November 30, 2017 by  
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This striking concrete house extends from a cliff above a river in Japan , providing spectacular views of the surrounding landscape. The two-floor green-roofed structure, designed by architecture firm Planet Creations , establishes a delicate balance between rugged and warm materials, with raw wood contrasting against stark concrete walls. The villa is located in Tenkawa village, and it cantilevers over the Tenokawa River, 56 feet below. It’s built into flat bedrock, and the layout is split along the length of the structure. A bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom occupy one side, while the master bedroom, living room and deck area occupy the other. Related: Organic Japanese Shell Residence Wraps Around a Centenarian Fir Tree The steep slope dictated the design of the house and constrained the flatland space to only 64 square feet – enough to accommodate two cars and not much else. In order to ensure structural stability, the architect decided to “submerge the building near the rock so as to melt into this surrounding environment.” + Planet Creations Via Ignant Photos by Masato Sekiya

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UK tests cheaper, longer-lasting roads made with recycled plastic

April 25, 2017 by  
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Around 24.8 million miles of roads crisscross the surface of Earth. And hundreds of millions of barrels of oil have been used for that development. Engineer Toby McCartney came up with a solution to that waste of natural resources and the growing plastic pollution problem. His company, Scotland-based MacRebur , lays roads that are as much as 60 percent stronger than regular asphalt roads and last around 10 times longer – and they’re made with recycled plastic. Our city roads require a lot of maintenance over time as weather deteriorates them and potholes open up. Meanwhile there are around five trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean. McCartney came up with an answer to both issues. He turns 100 percent recycled plastic into what he calls MR6 pellets, or small pellets of waste plastic, which replace bitumen , the material used to bind roads together (extracted from crude oil) and sold by oil companies like Shell. Related: Vancouver Becomes First City to Pave Its Streets With Recycled Plastic Normal roads are comprised of around 90 percent rock, sand, and limestone, with 10 percent bitumen. MacRebur’s process replaces most of the bitumen, using household waste plastic, farm waste, and commercial waste. Much of the trash would have otherwise ended up in a landfill . At asphalt plants the MR6 pellets are mixed with quarried rock and a bit of bitumen, and a plant worker told the BBC the process is actually the same “as mixing the conventional way with additions into a bitumen product.” McCartney was inspired to design plastic roads after his daughter’s teacher asked the class what lives in the ocean, and his daughter said, “Plastics.” He didn’t want her to grow up in a world where that was true. He’d also spent time in India, where he saw locals would fix holes in the road by putting waste plastic into the holes and then burning it. He started MacRebur with friends Nick Burnett and Gordon Reid. MacRebur’s first road was McCartney’s own driveway, and now the company’s roads have been laid in the county of Cumbria in the United Kingdom . + MacRebur Via the BBC Images via MacRebur Facebook

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Research reveals the Earth may have once had a solid egg-like crust

March 2, 2017 by  
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Extending the symbolism of eggs as a metaphor for life and reproduction, recent research reveals the Earth itself may have once had an egg-like structure. According to a report from the University of Maryland , the plate tectonics that now define the Earth’s geology may have begun later in the planet’s history. Before the plates began moving and colliding to define the surface we know and love today, the Earth’s crust likely consisted of a solid but deformable shell encasing a molten liquid interior. The research, a joint effort between the UMD’s College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences, Curtin University and the Geological Survey of Western Australia , was recently published in the journal Nature, and represents the latest in a longstanding debate over the Earth’s geological history. One side of the debate says plate tectonics began right after the Earth started to cool (known as uniformitarianism), while the other proposes the planet went through a long phase with a solid shell enveloping it. This latest study clearly favors the latter view. Models for how the first continental crust formed generally fall into two groups: those that invoke modern-style plate tectonics and those that do not, says Michael Brown, a professor of geology at the University of Maryland and a co-author of the study. “Our research supports the latter ‘stagnant lid’ forming the planet’s outer shell early in Earth’?s history. Related: Geologists find seventh continent hiding in plain sight Coming to this conclusion was no easy task. Brown and his team studied rocks collected from the East Pilabara Terrane – a large area of ancient crust located in Western Australia . As old as 3.5 billion years, these rocks are some of the oldest on the planet. The researchers looked at the granite and basalt rocks for signs of plate tectonic activity, such as subduction of one plate beneath the other. As UMD explains it: “Plate tectonics substantially affects the temperature and pressure of rocks within Earth’?s interior. When a slab of rock subducts under the Earth’s surface, the rock starts off relatively cool and takes time to gain heat. By the time it reaches a higher temperature, the rock has also reached a significant depth, which corresponds to high pressure – in the same way a diver experiences higher pressure at greater water depth.” In contrast, a stagnant lid regime would be very hot at relatively shallow depths and low pressures. Geologists refer to this as a “high thermal gradient.” According to Brown, the results showed the Pilabara granites were produced by melting rocks in a high thermal gradient environment and the composition of local basalts shows they came from an earlier generation of source rocks supporting the ‘stagnant lid’ theory of the Earth’s early formation. Images via Robert Whitehead , domdomegg

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Scientists find evidence of lost continent beneath Mauritius

February 2, 2017 by  
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A group of geoscientists have uncovered an ancient secret. The scientists from German and South African research institutions found evidence of a formerly undiscovered continent beneath the small Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. This lost continent likely vanished into the ocean around 84 million years ago, undiscovered by humans until just recently. Three geoscientists realized zircon they found on Mauritius was much too old for the relatively new island which formed in the wake of underwater volcanic eruptions eight to nine million years ago. Volcanic eruptions on the island spewed out the zircon crystals that researchers now think may derive from an ancient continent linking India and Madagascar as part of the Gondwana supercontinent. Lewis Ashwal of University of the Witwatersrand , who is the lead author on a paper published online January 31 by Nature , said, “Mauritius is an island, and there is no rock older than nine million years old on the island. However, by studying the rocks on the island, we have found zircons that are as old as three billion years.” Related: Ancient ocean crust in the Mediterranean Sea may predate supercontinent Pangea Back in 2013, scientists found ancient zircons billions of years old in Mauritius beach sand, but that find was controversial as other scientists said the materials could have arrived at the beach from somewhere else. The new discovery lends credence to the idea that there once was a continent under Mauritius billions of years ago, as these zircons could not have been transported to the island via wind or waves, according to Ashwal. He said, “The fact that we have found zircons of this age proves that there are much older crustal materials under Mauritius that could only have originated from a continent.” Now some people think other pieces of the Gondwana supercontinent may be found in the future, as we explore deeper in the oceans . Via ScienceAlert and Phys.org Images via Ludovic Lubeigt on Flickr and Susan Webb/Wits University

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