A guide to the different types of plastic

April 18, 2019 by  
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BPA, PET, HDPE. You’re trying to do the right thing by recycling, following health alerts and shopping wisely, but you’re not fluent in molecular chemistry. So how do you decipher exactly what it all means and how to stay green? We’re here to help with a handy guide on different types of plastic and how they impact the planet and your health. Fast facts about our plastic problem According to Earth Day , here are some stats that give you an idea of the scale of our plastic addiction. • Since its invention in the 1950s, over 9 billion tons of plastic have been produced. • Ninety-one percent of all plastics are not recycled, meaning almost all plastic ever produced is piled up in our landfills and oceans . • Americans use 100 billion plastic bags every year. If you tie all these bags together, they reach around the Earth 773 times. • By 2050, there will be more pounds of plastic in the ocean than fish. • There are more microplastics in the ocean than stars in the Milk Way. What are microplastics? Keep reading! Types of plastic: what the terms mean, where you find them and how they impact health Courtesy of National Geographic and  Waste4Change , below are terms commonly used by manufacturers and health advisers. Additives Additives are chemicals added to plastic to enhance certain qualities. For example, they might make the material stronger, more flexible, fire-resistant or UV inhibitive. Depending on what is added to the plastic, these substances can be toxic to your health. Biodegradable This term means that a material can break down into natural substances through decomposition within a reasonable amount of time. Plastic does not biodegrade , so the term is misleading and still means that the substance may leave toxic residue behind. In fact, some states are now banning this term in relation to plastic. Bioplastic Bioplastic is a broad term for all types of plastic, including both petroleum and biological-based products. It does not mean that a plastic is non-toxic, made from safe or natural sources or non-fossil-fuel-based. This term can be misleading, because many consumers assume “bio” means natural and therefore healthy. Related: Shellworks upcycled leftover lobster shells into biodegradable bioplastics Bisphenol-A (BPA) BPA is a toxic industrial chemical that can be found in plastic containers and in the coating of cans, among other uses. It can leach into foods and liquids. BPA-free products have merely replaced the substance with less-toxic bisphenol-S or bisphenol-F, both of which still pose health concerns. Compostable This term means something can break down or degrade into natural materials within a composting system, typically through decomposition by microorganisms. Some new plastics are labeled as compostable; however, this certification mostly requires industrial composting systems, not your garden compost pile. Compostable plastics do not leave behind toxic residue after they decompose, but they must be separated out for industrial composting and not put in recycle or landfill bins. Some major cities like New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Minneapolis have industrial composting programs, but many do not. Ghost nets/fishing gear Approximately 640,000 tons of fishing gear are abandoned, lost or discarded in the ocean every year. Most of this equipment is made from plastic, including nets, buoys, traps and lines, and all of it endangers marine life . Related: Ghost gear is haunting our oceans High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) HDPE is thick plastic used in bags, containers and bottles. It is safer and more stable that other plastics for food and drinks and can be recycled . Microplastics Microplastics are particles less than 5 millimeters long. There are two types: Primary: resin pellets melted down to make plastic or microbeads used in cosmetics and soaps Secondary : particles that result from larger pieces of plastic (such as fabrics and bottles) breaking down into millions of tiny particles that can enter air and water Ocean garbage patches Specific ocean currents carry litter thousands of miles and cause it to collect in certain areas known as garbage patches . The largest patch in the world spans a million square miles of ocean and is mostly made up of plastics. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET, PETE) Polyethylene terephthalate is a widely used plastic that is clear, strong and lightweight. It does not wrinkle and is typically used in food containers and fabrics. It is the most likely to be recycled, but it is a known carcinogen, meaning it can be absorbed into liquids over time and cause cancer . Polypropylene (PP) PP is stiffer and more heat-resistant than other types of plastic. It is often used for hot food containers, diapers, sanitary pads and car parts. It is safer than PVC and PET but still linked to asthma and hormone issues. Polystyrene (Styrofoam) Typically used in food containers and helmets, this material does not recycle well and can leach styrene that is toxic for the brain and nervous system. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) PVC is considered the most hazardous plastic, because it can leach chemicals like BPA, lead, mercury and cadmium that may cause cancer and disrupt hormones. It is often used in toys, cling wrap, detergent bottles, pipes and medical tubes. It usually has to be recycled into separate and more rare recycling programs. Single-use plastic Single-use plastic is designed to be used only once and then disposed of, such as grocery bags and packaging. Environmentalists encourage reducing your single-use plastic consumption, because after their short lifespan, these plastics pile up and pollute the Earth for centuries. Via National Geographic ,  Earth Day , Waste4Change and The Dodo Images via Shutterstock

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A guide to the different types of plastic

LEED Platinum fire station is powered with solar energy in Seattle

April 11, 2019 by  
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The north end of Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood has recently become home to a new, contemporary fire station that’s also a beacon for sustainability. Certified LEED Platinum, Fire Station 22 was designed by local architectural practice Weinstein A+U to harvest solar power, as well as rainwater , which is used for all of the station’s non-potable water uses. The building also has an enhanced civic presence with a super-scaled and illuminated “22” on its facade and large walls of glass that invite the neighborhood in. Due to its location on a long and narrow corner lot confined by two freeways and a heavily trafficked road, Fire Station 22 forgoes the conventional back-in configuration in favor of a drive-through layout for better visibility and safety. However, this configuration and the constraints of the space meant that the two-story support and crew spaces needed to be put at the front of the site, thus blocking views of the fire station’s apparatus bay, which has always traditionally been visible to the public. To reengage the community, the architects added a public plaza at the main entry, a super-scaled “22” sign on the concrete hose-drying tower and a glazed lobby and station office. “The station needs to mediate this complex site while maintaining rigorous programmatic requirements and balancing users’ desire for privacy,” said the architects , who completed the project as the last full-building replacement project under the 2003 Fire Facilities and Emergency Response Levy. “It does so with a sculptural facade along E. Roanoke Street, which provides privacy for the building’s users while creating pedestrian interest and texture. The station opens up to the future 520 Lid at the northeast corner, with a fully glazed lobby, the iconic Apparatus Bay egress doors, and a hose tower that acts as a landmark on the singular site.” Related: LEED Platinum fire station boosts firefighter wellness in Seattle Built to meet current program standards, Fire Station 22 features highly efficient mechanical and plumbing systems in addition to a solar PV system and rainwater harvesting systems. The project has earned three 2018 AIA Merit Awards. + Weinstein A+U Images by Lara Swimmer

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LEED Platinum fire station is powered with solar energy in Seattle

Lyft vows to help customers find electric vehicles with Green Mode

February 14, 2019 by  
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Lyft is making important strides to decrease carbon emissions in the ride-hailing industry. The company just announced a new initiative called Green Mode, which will make it easier for customers to find electric vehicles (EVs) through the platform. The company, which was the first of its kind to get a carbon-neutral label last year, is planning to introduce a score of electric vehicles in 2019. Putting thousands of EVs on the road will offer a more eco-friendly alternative to customers while putting more money in the pocket of its employees. According to Lyft , the Green Mode program will eventually be incorporated in cities around the world. The company hopes that introducing electric vehicles to cities will significantly curb carbon emissions and reduce the number of gas-powered vehicles on the road. With electric vehicles producing half as much greenhouse gases as their traditional counterparts, Lyft’s program is promising. Lyft will introduce Green Mode in Seattle first before branching out into other cities in the United States. Other locations have yet to be announced. Once the program is widespread, customers will be able to use Green Mode in the company’s app to filter electric and hybrid vehicles . The Green Mode program is also beneficial to drivers. Individuals who use Lyft are always looking for ways to decrease fuel costs, and providing electric vehicles would be a major step to make that happen. That is why Lyft plans to offer an electric vehicle rental service, in which drivers can rent EVs without worrying about mileage or maintenance costs. The company would also pay for the insurance. Lyft will incorporate the rental costs into the driver’s weekly rate. Because electricity costs much less than gasoline, this will put more money in the pocket of drivers who use electric vehicles. In fact, the company estimates that its Green Mode initiative will save employees thousands of dollars every year — and that only accounts for fuel savings. + Lyft Image via Lyft

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Australia takes stand on single-use plastic bags

July 2, 2018 by  
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Single-use plastic bags are going out of style in Australia, but shoppers aren’t thrilled by the reduction. Two major retailers, Big W and Coles, have officially ended the use of plastic shopping bags from their stores. The move effectively outlaws their use in nearly every Australian state. After Tasmania and South Australia started by installing a plastic bag ban, national retailers voluntarily began relying on them in stores. On June 20, 2018, Woolworths stopped offering single-use bags, instead charging shoppers 11 cents for reusable plastic totes starting July 9. After sharp customer backlash, the totes will be free until July 8. Related: Billions of pieces of plastic trash are sickening the world’s coral reefs The other two retail chains pulled the plastic shopping bags off their shelves July 1. To quell community outrage, Coles brought on more staff to ensure check-out lines moved quickly as a result of the shift. As a nation, Australia is reducing its reliance on one-use plastic products to combat ocean pollution . According to the United Nations’ Environment Program , the world produces over 300 million tons of plastic annually. Approximately 2.6 percent – eight million tons and as many as 5 trillion plastic bags – end up in the ocean, where they can poison marine life. Without reducing single-use plastic production, the UN estimates plastics could outnumber ocean fish in just over 30 years. While the move is environmentally conscious , it isn’t popular with shoppers. According to Australian labor union SDA, around 43 percent of retail workers said they suffered “abuse” from shoppers because of the change. At least one was reportedly assaulted, leading the union to start a public service announcement campaign to educate the public about plastic pollution. In the United States, the National Conference of State Legislatures shows only two states have instituted single-use plastic bag bans for shoppers: California and Hawaii . Six major cities, including Austin, Boston, Chicago and Seattle, have all banned single-use bags, while four states and at least six cities charge fees to shoppers who opt for plastic bags. Via NPR and Reuters

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Worlds largest single-domed tropical greenhouse unveiled for France

March 27, 2018 by  
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A lush paradise of waterfalls and tropical plants has been unveiled in Coldefy & Associates’ designs for Tropicalia, the world’s largest tropical greenhouse under one roof. Proposed for Pas-de-Calais, France, the 215,000-square-foot greenhouse will be sheathed beneath a double-insulated dome and designed for energy efficiency and include heat recycling. The $62 million project will feature a variety of tropical landscapes filled with flora and fauna and linked by a one-kilometer walking path. Created in collaboration with energy company Dalkia , the greenhouse project aims to impress with its size and energy efficiency. “Tropicalia was imagined by Coldefy as a ‘bubble of harmony’ perfectly integrated with the local environment, endowed with a new innovation: the project is autonomous – energy producer by the use of a double dome creating a air chamber heated by a greenhouse effect,” wrote the architects. In addition to the double-insulated glass dome that will be constructed of structural steel and ETFE plastic, the greenhouse will be partly embedded into the earth to take advantage of natural insulation and ensure a stable 79-degree indoor environment year-round. Excess heat could be recycled for use in neighboring buildings. Related: Amazon’s incredible plant-filled biospheres open in Seattle In addition to the tropical flora and fauna that include an 82-foot-tall waterfall and Olympic-sized pool with Amazonian fish, Tropicalia also houses an auditorium, restaurant, bed and breakfast, and research area with a conference room, laboratory, and clinic. The project is expected to break ground in 2019 and open in 2021. + Coldefy & Associates Via ArchDaily Images via Coldefy & Associates

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Nature-based preschool trend flourishes across the United States

February 14, 2018 by  
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Over 250 nature -based preschools have popped up across the United States, according to a recent survey cited by Public Radio International (PRI) – and that’s two-thirds more than in 2017. The schools , which offer lots of outdoor play , have been trendy in Europe for a long time, but the idea is picking up speed across the Atlantic. Advocate Richard Louv told PRI, “There is a new body of evidence out there that really shows a connection, at least, between spending more time in nature and being healthier, happier, and maybe even smarter.” Nature-based preschools give kids the chance to spend a large portion of their day outside. PRI said studies show children who learn outside experience better academic results, like higher standardized test scores. Living on Earth (PRI’s environmental news publication) visited Chesterbrook School of Natural Learning in New Hampshire to get a view of a nature-based preschool up close. Eight acres of fields and forest comprise Chesterbrook School, which has around 36 students in three classes. The kids get to spend time in nature every day, whether it’s snowing, raining, or sunny. There is an indoor classroom for some activities like letter flash cards, but many group times and play times are spent outside. Related: 9 forest kindergartens around the world where the sky’s the limit in teachings among the trees Louv says it’s important to build that connection between children and nature while they’re young. He’s concerned climate change and its impacts will prompt children to see nature as threatening. He told PRI, “It’s very hard to protect something if you don’t learn to love it. It’s impossible to learn to love it if you’ve never experienced it.” If a nature-based preschool isn’t an option for your family, Louv said there’s still plenty parents can do to help foster a child’s love of the outdoors, like reading books outside or going for a belly hike , moving around in the grass to get up close with all that lives there. Via Public Radio International and Living on Earth Images via Seattle Parks on Flickr ( 1 , 2 , 3 )

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Trump budget proposes huge cut to EPA and climate research

February 14, 2018 by  
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The Trump Administration released its fiscal 2019 budget proposal on February 12, revealing a desire to deeply cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). If adopted, the budget would cut the EPA ‘s budget by 23 percent, or more than $2.5 billion, and eliminate nearly all funding for climate change research. The Administration describes a return to the true mission of the EPA by reducing “unnecessary reporting burdens on the regulated community” and ending programs that “create unnecessary redundancies or those that have served their purpose and accomplished their mission.” Environmental groups describe the budget as an effort to dismantle federal environmental protections. “The Trump administration budget released today is a blueprint for a less healthy, more polluted America,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, in a statement . “A budget shows your values — and this budget shows the administration doesn’t value clean air , clean water, or protecting Americans from toxic pollution.” Related: Why Trump’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan is a disaster for the environment Specific targets include programs such as water improvement funding for U.S.-Mexico border communities, state funding for radon-detecting initiatives, and efforts to restore the health of large bodies of water, such as Puget Sound , the Gulf of Mexico, and the Great Lakes. While clearly laying out the administration’s priorities, the budget is not likely to become law. Congress recently passed a two-year bipartisan budget agreement, so Trump’s budget will have to wait its turn. At that point, Congress may have changed parties. Even if the Republicans maintain control in two years, it remains to be seen whether Congress would agree to inflict such draconian cuts onto important federal agencies and programs. Still, the budget is a telling symbol of what this Administration wishes the United States to become. Via The Washington Post Images via The White House/Flickr and U.S. Geological Society/Flickr

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Incredible net-zero floating home cleans the water around it

February 5, 2018 by  
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What if a home could improve the environment around it? That’s the question architect Michelle Lanker of Lanker Design LLC and her ecologist husband Bill Bloxom put to the test when they designed their new getaway—a floating home docked on Washington’s Lake Union that’s not only net-zero and certified LEED Platinum, but also improves water quality and biodiversity. Dubbed Houseboat H, this stunning sustainable home boasts a bevy of eco-friendly elements from material choices and renewable energy sources to its use of floating islands to create new aquatic habitats. Sustainability and symbiosis are at the heart of Houseboat H. Powered by solar and designed for minimal energy use, this net-zero home floats above a series of floating islands specially designed to improve water quality. Buoyant planters made of recycled plastic house native plants that form root systems to purify the water and encourage fish habitats. The growing aquatic habitats can be observed from a large window in the basement float of the home. In addition to the recycled plastics in the planters, thoughtful material choice can be seen throughout the home, most notably in the old-growth cedar logs used in the interior that were salvaged from Michelle and Bill’s original, century-old houseboat destroyed in a fire. Durable materials were carefully selected, like the plastic laminate for the cabinets and counters as well as the cement fiberboard for exterior cladding. The use of cedar and bamboo in the home lend a sense of warmth to the light-filled interior. Related: Rusting 1950s cargo ship transformed into a stunning modern floating home Natural lighting and beautiful Seattle skyline views are welcomed indoors through large triple-glazed windows that often span floor to ceiling. To minimize energy loss, the walls and roof are filled with spray foam insulation at maximum insulation thicknesses. A small green roof also aids in insulation. A 5.43-kW solar array attached to the standing seam metal roof powers the home’s LED fixtures, low-energy appliances, and water heater (with a 80 gallon storage tank) for the hydronic radiant floor system. A heat exchanger is also installed to collect heat from the lake. + Lanker Design LLC Images via Lanker Design LLC

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Amazon opens new grocery store sans checkout lines

January 23, 2018 by  
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You’ll never wait in checkout lines at Amazon’s new grocery store, Amazon Go . Shoppers enter the store via an app , grab the food they need, and then simply walk out. The first Amazon Go just opened for business in Seattle . Amazon is opening up their first Amazon Go, an 1,800-square-foot physical grocery store. People scan an app on their smartphones to enter, pick up whatever food they want to buy, and leave without the hassle of waiting in line. Once through the doors, users don’t need the app to shop – Amazon said in a video they drew on “ computer vision, deep learning algorithms, and sensor fusion, much like you’d find in self-driving cars” to make the concept a reality. The Next Web said cameras on store shelves track what customers grab. Related: You can now buy tiny shipping container homes on Amazon What can you purchase inside an Amazon Go? Similar to a regular old grocery store of the past, customers can pick up staples like milk and bread, alcohol, and ready-to-eat snacks, breakfast, lunch, or dinners to start. The company will also offer Amazon Meal Kits, which include ingredients to cook a meal for two people in around half an hour. #AmazonGo opens on Monday, January 22 in Seattle. Get the app to enter the store. See you soon! https://t.co/jt7quQ4rke pic.twitter.com/shIyrifZyk — Amazon.com (@amazon) January 21, 2018 The New York Times said there are no baskets or shopping carts – customers place the items they want in a bag they walk out with. And while there aren’t cashiers, an Amazon Go store still requires staff – to stock shelves, help shoppers with any technical issues, help them find items, and check identification in the beer and wine section. Amazon unveiled plans for Amazon Go back in late 2016 – but had to delay the launch because of some technical difficulties, according to The Next Web. But it appears they’re ready to go with this first location, which is at 2131 7th Avenue, and is open Monday through Friday from 7 AM to 9 PM. The app works for Android or iOS. Amazon has not yet said whether they’ll open more Amazon Go stores, or utilize the technology in other ways — like selling it to other retailers. + Amazon Go Via The Next Web and The New York Times Images via Amazon Twitter and Amazon

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Amazon patents network-based ‘gardening service’

December 6, 2017 by  
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As if Whole Foods  isn’t enough, Amazon is looking beyond your shopping list, and right into your backyard. As first spotted by The Modern Farmer , the tech giant has just received a patent for a network-based “gardening service” that would provide users with the ability to get personalized recommendations for everything from ideal plantings based on location to recipes, required tools, and much more, by simply snapping a photo of their yard. The service, which is essentially a smartphone app for the gardening-challenged, uses algorithms and image recognition software to evaluate conditions and make recommendations. While the tool at first seems a bit perfunctory, it is a lot more specific and personal than a simple Google search. Related: You can now buy tiny shipping container homes on Amazon For example, the patent tells a hypothetical story of a woman named Evelyn who just moved to Seattle and would like to cook a meal with the “unfamiliar” veggies growing in her garden. To get started, she snaps a photo of her yard and the gardening service determines she has mint, tomatoes, and cucumbers growing in one corner. As such, it recommends she makes a Greek salad. At the same time, the service may also see that she has a “large brick pizza oven structure [that] may shade the south-end of the backyard.” Knowing that, it might suggest Evelyn plant some wild ginger—”available at the electronic marketplace” for purchase (of course), as it is a low-shade plant that would do well in those conditions. More broadly, the service is also able to provide recommendations on based on specific geo-location. So as long as one inputs their garden’s coordinates correctly, it can develop a personalized plotting plan, or “virtual garden,” detailing what plants would thrive. The feature would also allow one to see how their garden would look as it transitions through the seasons, and to be sure, what exactly you’d need to buy on Amazon to make it happen. Via Modern Farmer Images via Amazon’s U.S. patent and Pixbay

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