Have your plastic and eat it, too average American ingests 50,000 microplastic particles a year

June 10, 2019 by  
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The first-ever study to calculate how much plastic Americans are eating every year has some unsavory findings. According to research published in Environmental Science and Technology , the average American adult consumes 50,000 particles of microplastic every year. That number jumps to between 74,000 and 121,000 particles if combined with the average number of particles inhaled. The researchers used existing data on microplastic content in popular foods, including fish, sugar, salt, beer and water and multiplied these averages by the U.S. government’s daily dietary consumption guidelines. Because the existing data only covers about 15 percent of Americans’ caloric intake, researchers believe these estimates are modest, and the actual number of microplastics eaten every day is much higher. Related: Microplastic rain — new study reveals microplastics are in the air The research also concludes that water from plastic water bottles is one of the highest sources of microplastic ingestion. According to The Guardian, water in plastic bottles has 22 times more microplastics than tap water. Plastic materials are not biodegradable, which means they never decompose. Instead, they exist in landfills , oceans and ecosystems for centuries, slowly breaking down into smaller pieces through erosion and weatherization. Eventually, the particles become so small they are difficult to detect but can easily be ingested and inhaled by animals like birds, turtles, fish and apparently also humans. The implications on human health are still unknown as long-term studies do not yet exist; however, there is concern that the microplastics can enter human tissue and cause toxicity and allergic reactions. “Removing single-use plastic from your life and supporting companies that are moving away from plastic packaging is going to have a non-trivial impact,” said study lead Kieran Cox of the University of Victoria. “The facts are simple. We are producing a lot of plastic and it is ending up in the ecosystems, which we are a part of.” + Environmental Science and Technology Via The Guardian Image via Shutterstock

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Ingenhoven breaks ground on a hedge-wrapped green heart in Dsseldorf

June 10, 2019 by  
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In May, German architectural firm Ingenhoven Architects broke ground on Kö-Bogen II, a sustainable mixed-use development envisioned as the “new green heart” of Düsseldorf , Germany. Designed to visually extend the adjoining Hofgarten park into the inner city, Kö-Bogen II wraps the sloping facades of its two buildings with hornbeam hedges that total nearly 5 miles in length. The hedges and turfed rooftop spaces will also help purify the air and combat the city’s heat island effect by providing a cooling microclimate. Located at Gustaf-Gründgens-Platz, Kö-Bogen II will serve as a commercial and office complex covering 42,000 square meters of gross floor area offering retail, restaurants, office space, local recreation and a five-story underground parking garage with 670 spaces. The development comprises a five-story trapezoid-shaped main building and a smaller triangular building that cluster around a valley-like plaza. The sloping facades, which will be planted with hornbeam hedges, open up the plaza to views of the iconic Dreischeibenhaus and the Düsseldorf Theater nearby. The architects will also be refurbishing the roof, facade and public areas of the Düsseldorf Theater. “In order to do justice to the overall urban design situation, the design of Kö-Bogen II deliberately avoids a classical block-edged development such as that along the Schadowstrasse shopping street,” the architects explained in a press release. “In addition, the idea of green architecture has been applied systematically, thus distinguishing the development from conventional architectural solutions.” Related: A rainforest-like green heart grows within Singapore’s Marina One Ascending to a building height of 27 meters, the hornbeam hedges will offer seasonal interest by changing color throughout the year. The turfed surfaces planted on the triangular building’s sloped facades will be accessible to passersby, who can use the space as an open lawn for rest and relaxation. Kö-Bogen II is slated to open in the spring of 2020. + Ingenhoven Architects Images via CADMAN

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Ingenhoven breaks ground on a hedge-wrapped green heart in Dsseldorf

Wild bees are building nests with plastic

June 10, 2019 by  
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While plastic use is going out of vogue with more enlightened humans, it’s catching on with Argentinian bees. Scientists don’t know why Argentina’s solitary bees are now constructing nests out of plastic packaging left on crop fields. Unlike the large hive model with queens and workers, wild bees lay larvae in individual nests. Researchers at Argentina’s National Agricultural Technology Institute constructed 63 wooden nests for wild bees from 2017 to 2018. They later found that three nests were entirely lined with pieces of plastic that bees had cut and arranged in an overlapping pattern. The plastic seemed to have come from plastic bags or a similar material, with a texture reminiscent of the leaves bees usually use to line nests. Related: McDonald’s creates McHives to raise awareness of the world’s decreasing bee populations The scientists’ study, published in Apidologie, is the first to find nests entirely made from plastic. But researchers have known for years that bees sometimes incorporate plastic into nests otherwise made of natural materials . Canadian scientists have chronicled bees’ use of plastic foams and films in Toronto. Like the Argentinian bees, bees in Canada cut the plastic to mimic leaves. Scientists aren’t yet sure what to make of this architectural development. “It would demonstrate the adaptive flexibility that certain species of bees would have in the face of changes in environmental conditions,” Mariana Allasino, the Argentinian study’s lead author, wrote in a press release translated from Spanish. But will the plastic harm the bees? More research is required to gauge the risks. While microplastics are a huge threat to marine animals, some enterprising creatures find ways to use trash to their advantage. Finches and sparrows arrange cigarette butts in their nests to repel parasitic mites. Stinky but effective. “Sure it’s possible it might afford some benefits, but that hasn’t been shown yet,” entomologist Hollis Woodard told National Geographic. “I think it’s equally likely to have things that are harmful.” Via National Geographic Image via Judy Gallagher

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Wild bees are building nests with plastic

A new study estimates how many people will die from global heating in your city

June 6, 2019 by  
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A new study reveals the severity of global heating by calculating how many heat-related deaths would occur in major U.S. cities if the world continues to heat at the current rate. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Miami are predicted to see the highest number of deaths every year, but with each half degree cooler that the world remains, hundreds of lives can be saved. The study estimates that if the world continues on the current path to heat up to 3 degrees Celsius above the average pre-industrial global temperature, 5,800 people would die annually from heat-related deaths in New York City, 2,500 in Los Angeles and 2,300 in Miami. The analysis included 15 cities, and the numbers may be conservative, because the researchers did not adjust for additional temperature increases from urban heat island effect . The calculations also did not adjust for population growth nor potential adaptation measures. Climate justice advocates, particularly from vulnerable small islands, have been vocal about the need to curtail global warming to just 1.5 degrees Celsius. Studies show that increasing temperatures will lead to disastrous coastal flooding, drought, sea level rise and extreme weather. This most recent study predicts that by meeting this ambitious target, 2,716 lives could be saved every year in New York City alone. Related: Climate twins — which city will your city feel like in 2080? By demonstrating specific numbers and individual lives lost, the researchers are hopeful their study will contribute to mounting evidence that radical action must occur to stop the climate crisis . “Reducing emissions would lead to a smaller increase in heat-related deaths, assuming no additional actions to adapt to higher temperatures,” said Kristie Ebi, a study co-author from the University of Washington. Despite President Trump’s efforts to expand the oil and gas industry both nationally within the U.S. and internationally as a major export, the average American is increasingly concerned and fearful about global warming. In fact, climate change is a central issue for democrats in the upcoming 2020 election and will certainly spur conversation and debate, though time will tell if it will also spur action. + Science Advances Via The Guardian Image via Martin Adams

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A new study estimates how many people will die from global heating in your city

Study shows biodegradable plastic bags still hold groceries 3 years after being discarded

May 1, 2019 by  
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Biodegradable plastic bags are not as eco-friendly as their labeling might suggest. A new study discovered that these biodegradable plastics can actually survive years in various environments without fully decomposing. Researchers examined different types of biodegradable plastic bags and found that they were still intact after spending three years in the ground, water and air environments. In fact, the bags were still able to carry groceries without tearing. The study was recently published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal. The scientists believe their research indicates that biodegradable plastic bags might not be a viable substitute for single-use plastics, because the rate of degradation is much longer than previously thought. Considering the growing concern surrounding plastic waste , the study could have significant impacts on the industry. Related: A guide to the different types of plastic “After three years, I was really amazed that any of the bags could still hold a load of shopping,” lead researcher Imogen Napper explained. “For biodegradable bags to be able to do that was the most surprising.” Researchers examined five types of plastic bags. This includes biodegradable, oxo-biodegradable, compostable and high-density polyethylene (conventional plastic) bags. The only bag that fully decomposed in marine environments was the compostable bag , which completely disappeared within three months. The reason the compostable bags did not perform well in the other environments is that they are designed to break down in the presence of micro-organisms. If they are buried in soil that lacks these organisms, the bags will not break down properly. In light of the study, the company that makes the compostable bags, Vegware, issued a statement about how its bags will only decompose in the right environment, which is what the product was designed to do. Based on the findings, experts believe the general public is being misled when it comes to biodegradable plastic bags and that companies should be required to change their labeling to reflect the reality of the situation. + Environmental Science & Technology Via The Guardian Images via Imogen Napper

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Study shows biodegradable plastic bags still hold groceries 3 years after being discarded

Brazilian Biodiversity Information System is bringing Brazil’s biological diversity to the internet

March 18, 2019 by  
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As one of the most biologically diverse countries on Earth, Brazil is taking steps to consolidate all of the nation’s biodiversity data and information into one place to support scientific research , as well as decision-making and creation of eco-friendly public policy. In an effort to achieve those goals, the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovations and Communications (MCTIC) has created the Brazilian Biodiversity Information System (SiBBr), which is an online platform that gives free access to a collection of the largest amount of data and information on biodiversity in the South American nation. What is Megadiversity? In 1998, Conservation International made a list of 18 megadiverse countries, which meant that those nations harbored the majority of Earth’s species, as well as a large number of endemic species. The term megadiversity defines an area that features a significant amount of biodiversity . According to the UN’s Environment Program, Brazil is at the top of their list of the 18 most megadiverse countries in the world. With more than 120,000 species of invertebrates, 9,000 vertebrates and 4,000 plant species, Brazil hosts nearly 20 percent of Earth’s biological diversity. These natural assets can be a significant factor in Brazil’s future economic growth, but to avoid losing their biodiversity, the country wants to monitor conservation efforts and make sure their natural resources are sustainably used. Related: Biodiversity decline puts food supply at risk On average, “700 new animal species are discovered every year in Brazil,” says UN Environment. Considering how large Brazil is— as well as the numerous institutions researching the country’s biodiversity— putting all of that information in one easily-accessible place is a formidable challenge. “When the information is spread around different institutions, one is less able to find it, judge the quality of the data and understand how it can be used. Besides, the time needed to compile the data can make its use inefficient, as is the case in public policies,” explains Andrea Nunes, general coordinator of biomes of the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology , Innovations and Communications, and national director of the Brazilian Biodiversity Information System project. To illustrate her point, Nunes talked about Brazil’s special map that highlights the areas of the country that are a top priority for conservation and sustainable use. The map is a tool for public policy decision-making that takes two years to develop and is updated every four to five years. Nunes says that in terms of “territory dynamics and land use changes,” five years is a long time. However, SiBBr can change all of that. How SiBBr works Currently, the SiBBr gathers information and data from 230 Brazilian institutions, like state agencies, research centers, museums, and zoos. It has more than 15 million records about different species in the country published by those institutions. Researchers can use the database to find information on different species, as well as share their findings. Farmers can use the platform to calculate environmental compensation credits and get information about endangered animals and plants. There is also a way for Brazilian citizens to contribute their own information, like pictures and documentation on biodiversity in their area. There is also a tool called Biodiversity and Nutrition, which is a nutritional database of native Brazilian species. But, they aren’t just keeping all of this information to themselves. The SiBBr is also part of the Global Biodiversity Information Platform, which is “an international network and research infrastructure” that provides free biodiversity data from hundreds of institutions across the globe. Related: Cargill announces plan to reduce deforestation from cocoa This is the largest global initiative aiming to give people virtual access to free biological information, and it currently spans 60 countries and has more than 570 million species records. Conservation and sustainability is a top priority, and knowing Brazil’s biodiversity is key to achieving those goals. With SiBBr, anyone from government organizations to students and educators can access this vital information. According to their website, SiBBr is an accessible platform filled with tools to help with the “organization, publication, and consultation” of: Occurrences of species A catalog of species Ecological data Biodiversity projects The use of biodiversity Registration of the country’s biological collections The database continues to grow, and in the coming months SiBBr will switch to a new platform to make using the data even easier. BaMBa Connected to SiBBr is BaMBa, the Brazilian Marine Biodiversity database, which has the same goal for collecting data about the country’s marine life as SiBBr does for species on land. The information comes from sources like integrated, holistic studies and fish surveys which can be used for governmental policies related to the use and management of marine resources. Via U.N. Environment , SiBBr Images via Shutterstock

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Brazilian Biodiversity Information System is bringing Brazil’s biological diversity to the internet

Drones: the future of ocean conservation

March 6, 2019 by  
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Unmanned systems such as drones, are increasingly used in a variety of fields — from border patrol, to cinematography to just plain showing off your cool new toy with neighbors. Thanks to rapidly improving technology , durability and artificial intelligence, these unmanned systems also show significant promise in the field of ocean conservation. Scientists can save significant time and resources by collecting data, mapping species and monitoring huge areas of ocean impossible to reach by boat. “Drones are fundamentally changing the way we monitor and manage our environment ,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Institute Captain, Brian Taggart, told  DroneLife . Taggart explained that unmanned systems can help scientists track the abundance and distribution of endangered species, patrol for illegal fishing and monitor areas that might be hard for boats to reach — such as shallow reefs. Related: Oceans are dubbed the ‘ultimate sink’ for plastic waste WasteShark: the trash-eating ocean drone RanMarine, a Dutch technology firm, has launched a floating drone called “WasteShark” in several countries. This remote-controlled  or autonomously running drone collects floating trash at a rate of 130 pounds per trip, equaling 15 tons of waste every year. Think of it as a large, high-tech, trash -eating Roomba vacuum for the ocean’s surface. In addition to alleviating litter, the robot can also test water quality and remove oils, chemicals and harmful algae — all without threatening wildlife. Video: See how WasteShark works “WasteShark is cheaper, greener, more effective and less disruptive than other methods of dealing with marine litter,” Chief Commercial Officer of RanMarine, Oliver Cunningham, told the Daily Mail . Aerial mapping and measuring Drones are also used to collect data everywhere from the Caribbean to Antarctica. Conservation website Monga Bay reported that scientists in Antarctica are using drone imagery to measure and monitor leopard seal populations. This technology saves the researchers huge amounts of time, money and resources when compared to business as usual; physically capturing, sedating and then releasing each seal they measure. Weighing an average of 800 pounds each, this is a huge and costly endeavor that also disrupts the seal population. The researchers conducted a study to compare the results of drone-measured seals versus those that they hand measure and found the results only varied by two to four percent. “Because we took the time to develop this technique and verify that it’s doing what we think it’s doing, we can feel confident about gathering monitoring information in the future that will both help us understand ecosystem function and also give us better data to support conservation efforts,” lead scientist Douglas J. Krause told Monga Bay . Drones give students a new perspective   Drones can also be used for educational purposes by giving scientists, researchers, students and the general public a gorgeous, birds-eye view of marine ecosystems and restoration projects that they otherwise could never see up-close. The Nature Conservancy used drones to teach students in Grenada about a coral reef restoration project and used the awe-inspiring robot technology to hover over the project infrastructure and convince the students of how cool ocean conservation can be . Cracking down on drones in parks With advancing technology and decreasing prices, it seems like everyone has a drone now, and many local and state governments are cracking down on their use in parks. All drones have been recently prohibited in California’s San Luis Obispo Coastal Park with authorities arguing that the unmanned systems disturb both wildlife and the public’s recreational experiences. For example, unskilled drone users have been cited for accidentally landing drones on rock islands inhabited by sunbathing seals. Others have scared birds from their nests, while others lose their drones and trample through fragile ecosystems to retrieve them. Drone use for scientific research is still allowed with a permit and trained pilot. Related: Plastic pollution is causing reproductive problems for ocean wildlife Are drones taking jobs? There are many examples of how drone technology improves ocean conservation , but how does this artificial technology impact local fishers, park rangers and other ocean-based livelihoods? The National Geographic Society recently awarded Moroccan company ATLAN a World Oceans Day Prize for their drone that can identify, recognize and alert authorities of illegal fishing activities across 435 miles — far more than rangers on a motor boat could ever accomplish. This seems like a great achievement for protecting fish populations, especially when over 80 percent of the world’s fisheries are severely over fished. However, many marine protected areas — where fishing is prohibited — were established without consultation with subsistence and small-scale fishers. Despite their benefits to ecosystems, marine protected areas can often cause the displacement and criminalization of cultures and traditional ways of life without providing realistic alternatives. “The idea that conservation requires emptying the land of its customary inhabitants fails to acknowledge that Indigenous Peoples and local communities are the most effective and efficient guardians,” Rights and Resources’s Lindsay Brigda wrote in their publication, Cornered by Protected Areas . Many environmental organizations are now making a determined effort to consult with local communities and develop jobs in areas such as eco-tourism and conservation. With their extensive knowledge of navigated waters, fishers are often given jobs as park rangers– an opportunity to earn a living protecting the species they used to exploit. Video: See how a fisher woman in Jamaica become a fisheries warden Drones, like most artificial intelligence , are still years away from completely replacing the need for humans, but a concerted effort to protect already limited conservation jobs and budget for displaced people is paramount. Images via Shutterstock

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Toxic bacteria found in microplastics on 3 different coastlines around Singapore

February 18, 2019 by  
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Scientists have found toxic bacteria on microplastics in waters around Singapore . The bacteria are believed to be one of the culprits behind coral bleaching. They have also been known to cause wound infections in people. Researchers working out of the National University of Singapore (NUS) discovered over an alarming 400 varieties of bacteria on a little less than 300 pieces of microplastics . The samples, which are only around 5 mm in size, were taken from three coastlines in the region: Changi Beach, Sembawang Beach and Lazarus Island. According to The Straits Times , scientists located the toxic bacteria through DNA sequencing. Once the results were in, they discovered traces of photobacterium, which has been linked to coral bleaching , and a species called vibrio, which is known to cause infections in wounds. The team also found traces of arcobacter, a microorganism that has been linked to gastroenteritis. “As the microplastics we studied were collected from locations easily accessible to the public  and in areas widely used for recreation, the identification of potentially pathogenic bacteria is important in preventing the spread of diseases,” Emily Curren, part of the team at NUS, explained in the report. Curren noted that the majority of microplastics came from straws and disposable utensils, such as spoons and forks. These plastics biodegrade in a few hundred years and serve as vehicles that transport toxic bacteria around the world. Not only can these affect human populations by getting in the water supply, but microplastics are ingested by marine animals, many of which are later consumed by people. Sandric Leong, who led the research effort at NUS’s Tropical Marine Science Institute, added that microplastics are one of the most popular forms of plastic pollution in the ocean. Organisms in these environments accidentally ingest the microplastics, which is how toxic bacteria could end up on dinner plates around the world. Leong explained how more research in microplastic distribution is needed to better understand how to manage this worldwide problem. The biggest way to combat microplastics, of course, is to decrease our use of non-biodegradable plastics and cut down on how much plastic ends up in landfills. Via The Straits Times Image via Shutterstock

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Volvo creates the living seawall in Sydney to help with plastic pollution

January 25, 2019 by  
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With ocean habitats being degraded by plastic pollution and replaced with seawalls, more than half of the shoreline in Sydney, Australia , is now artificial. Scientists say that the amount of plastic waste in the ocean is so massive, removing it all simply isn’t possible. So, instead of hosting more beach clean-ups or tearing down seawalls, Volvo is taking a more modern, creative approach to the problem — a Living Seawall. Volvo has teamed up with the Sydney Institute of Marine Science and Reef Design Lab to create the Living Seawall. The Living Seawall is designed to recreate the structure of native mangrove trees and provide a habitat for marine life , according to the company’s website. The automaker also claims that Living Seawall will aid biodiversity and keep the water clean by attracting filter-feeding organisms that can absorb and filter out pollutants such as heavy metals. Related: Nestle ditching plastic straws, water bottles to reduce plastic waste Volvo’s commitment to sustainability goes far beyond the Living Seawall and Volvo Ocean Race, a beach clean-up initiative, as the company is also in the process of removing all single-use plastics from offices, cafeterias and events and replacing them with sustainable, eco-friendly options by the end of the year. It also has the goal of “putting 1 million electric cars on the road by 2025” and wants its manufacturing operations to be carbon neutral.  Volvo says that when it designs its cars, reduction of environmental impact is a top priority. The sales revenue from the Volvo V90 Cross Country is what funds the Volvo Ocean Race and Science Program, which measures ocean microplastics levels with sensors on boats. Volvo said it will continue to support research and thrive with its “radical and divergent style of thinking” that isn’t just what the company focuses on, but rather what defines it. + Volvo Images via Volvo

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Volvo creates the living seawall in Sydney to help with plastic pollution

How to teach children about climate change

January 22, 2019 by  
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As the saying goes, children are our future. Because they will be the next voice in striving toward a sustainable planet, they must first be aware of the problems and possible solutions. But implying that the earth will eventually burst into a fiery ball and there’s little we can do about it might not be the best approach. When educating children about climate change , it’s important to make sure the information is age-appropriate, you use positive, empowering language and you remember to revisit the conversation often. Here are a few pointers to get you, and your potentially earth-saving discussion, headed in the right direction. Make it age-appropriate Children are both imaginative and literal, so a phrase like, “We’re killing the planet” can set the conversation off on the wrong path. Remember that those developing minds are a blank slate when it comes to climate change. They don’t have decades of knowledge, facts and fallacies from which to work. For children under the age of eight, keep the conversation focused around a love of nature . Impress upon them the beauty around them. Talk about the importance of picking up garbage, helping animals and growing plants. With an understanding of nature, children will have a better comprehension of climate change down the road. Around the age of nine or 10, children are able to consume more abstract concepts. This means that they can absorb information through discussion and hands-on activities. Related: 7 ways to conserve water and reduce your water footprint Make it tangible Although children become capable of engaging in the discussion, it’s always better to help them see the problem through hands-on activities. The goal is to visually express the point. For example, create a science experiment in your kitchen where you grow plants in an aquarium and add chemicals to the water. Show them images of environmental pollution and talk about how the food chain is affected by the loss of a species. When thinking about examples that will resonate with your child, keep in mind his or her interests. Are they passionate about a particular animal? What about babies, trees, bugs or food? Meet them where their interests lie for the best results. Be factual, not inflammatory For children to have an understanding that might lead to change, they must first understand the facts. Using fear tactics is not likely to net the result you’re looking for. Instead, focus on facts that are easily digestible. Don’t worry about statistics and hard data. Instead, discuss things that interest them. Make it a regular conversation. While washing the vegetables at the kitchen sink, discuss where the water comes from, how it’s treated and where it goes after it heads down the drain. Explain how chemicals in that water end up back in the system. When planting the garden, talk about how the plants benefit from sunlight and water, and how that ultimately brings energy into our bodies. Remember that the conversation regarding climate change will be ongoing. As they get older, discuss reports, news and articles. Educate them about how the fossil fuels  that plastic is made from affects the planet, and challenge them to think about changes you could make as a family to eliminate plastic in your home. Your children will have questions. When they do, admit if you don’t have the answers. Empower them by showing them how to perform effective research and find the answers together (within the allowed boundaries of internet usage in your home). While you’re online, track down a carbon footprint calculator and have your children complete it with you as a measurement of your electrical and water consumption. Find resources for every age The idea of climate change is certainly not new, and generations of teachers and parents have found interesting ways to discuss the issues with children of all ages. Books and videos that cover the effects of climate change on our planet are prevalent and allow you to preview material before sharing it with children. Read books that are engaging and informative. Start with “The Magic School Bus” or “Bill Nye the Science Guy” for digestible and entertaining content. Related: Oceans warming 40 percent faster than previously thought Keep it positive Although a virtual dark cloud sometimes goes hand-in-hand with discussions around climate change, try to focus conversations around positive actions. Discussing the topic by showing your child news reports of other children picking up plastic trash or businesses aimed at sustainable practices. This shows them that many, many people are making tangible changes already and offers encouragement that they too can make a difference through small or large actions. Do as you say The most powerful statement you can make to your child is living the life that you talk about. Although children hear what you say, when they see you taking your own shopping bags to the grocery store and they understand why, it drives home the message. Work with your children to avoid single-use plastic by making your own yogurt and applesauce, taking a reusable water bottle everywhere you go and declining straws at the restaurant. Recycle at home and explain the process as you go. Nurture their environmentalist tendencies by signing up for a beach clean up day or a community tree planting event. Via Rainforest Alliance , NASA , Scholastic and Study Images via Shutterstock

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