Microplastics have made their way into human poop

October 23, 2018 by  
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Each year, humans around the world produce about 882 billion pounds of plastic waste, and about 80 percent of it ends up in landfills or in the natural environment. Now, scientists are beginning to study the effects of microplastics on people, and it turns out that they are showing up in human poop after contaminating our food . Microplastics are the smallest particles of plastic waste — so small that most are invisible to the human eye. They are found in most bottled and tap water, soil and sea, rock and lake salts. Related: Study finds 90 percent of table salt contains microplastics A small pilot study being presented this week at the 26th annual United European Gastroenterology conference in Vienna, Austria looked at stool samples from eight people from eight different countries, and every sample tested positive for up to nine different types of plastic . Researchers from the Medical University of Vienna and the Environmental Agency Austria conducted the study and found an average of 20 particles of plastic per 10 grams of stool. “Personally, I did not expect that each sample would … [test] … positive,” said Dr. Philipp Schwabl of the Medical University of Vienna and lead researcher of the study. “Is it harmful to human health? That’s a very important question, and we are planning further investigations.” In this first-of-its-kind study, researchers found that all eight samples contained polypropylene and polyethylene-terephthalate particles, which both make up a majority of plastic bottles and plastic bottle caps. According to NPR , each person kept a regular diet and maintained a food diary during the week before the stool samples were collected. Everyone had been exposed to plastics via beverages in plastic bottles and foods wrapped in plastic. No participants were vegetarian , and six of the eight had consumed wild fish. Schwabl said the concern is whether or not microplastics are entering the bloodstream, the lymphatic system and possibly the liver. In studies of animals, microplastics have caused intestinal damage and liver stress. Now that this initial study has shown we are ingesting microplastics, two questions remain: what is staying in our bodies rather than leaving as waste, and what impact will the microplastics have on our health ? Schwabl said that he and his colleagues are applying for funding for a larger study, so they can attempt to replicate their findings. Via  NPR Image via Shutterstock

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Zambia plans to cull 2,000 hippos over the next 5 years

October 23, 2018 by  
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Two years ago, the Republic of Zambia in south-central Africa suspended its plans for the controlled slaughter of up to 2,000 hippos over five years following protests from animal rights activists . The country has recently revived those plans, claiming that the water levels in the Luangwa River — where most of the hippos are located — can’t support the current hippo population. According to Zambia’s tourism minister  Charles Banda, it would be too costly to move the hippos to another part of the country. Instead, the government has decided to proceed with its plans to cull the hippo population in eastern Zambia. “The South Luangwa National Park has a population of more than 13,000 hippos, but the area is only ideal for 5,000 hippos,” Banda said. Related: Hippos could be threatened with extinction due to demand for their teeth The Zambian government believes that overpopulation could threaten Zambia’s ecosystem , and Banda added that moving the hippos to other bodies of water would be “very expensive,” leaving culling as the only option. The government also insists that controlling the number of hippos in the area will stop the spread of anthrax — a bacterial disease commonly found in sub-Saharan Africa that kills animals — and the low rainfall in the region has just made the situation worse. As Reuters reports, during the summer of 2016, the British wildlife charity Born Free led a campaign against the culling of hippos and described it as trophy hunting . After the recent announcement to continue with the culling, Born Free said on its website that Zambia has not provided any solid, scientific evidence that there is actually a hippo overpopulation problem at the Luangwa River. Born Free also stated that scientific evidence suggests that culling hippos actually stimulates breeding, ultimately increasing the hippo population, which could potentially establish a “cycle of death and destruction.” Back in 2016, Born Free also questioned Zambia’s scientific rationale for killing 2,000 hippos when the population in southern Africa is around 80,000. Via Reuters and Born Free Image via Lars Plougmann and Sarah Depper

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Zambia plans to cull 2,000 hippos over the next 5 years

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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New study suggests it’s time to replace modern, grassy lawns

October 12, 2018 by  
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The lush green lawns surrounding many homes, businesses, parks and other outdoor spaces might not be the greatest idea, according to Australian scientist Maria Ignatieva and Swedish scientist Marcus Hedblom. In a new study published in the journal  Science , the urban ecologists suggested that we need to rethink the modern lawn in favor of more sustainable options. Ignatieva and Hedblom said that the negative environmental consequences of green lawns far outweigh the natural benefits, and we need to start exploring new forms of groundcover. The scientists claimed that the amount of water , fertilizer and mowing that lawns require is a problem — especially when we use gas-powered mowers that emit carbon monoxide and other toxins into the air. The use of those mowers negates any positives of the lawn pulling carbon dioxide out of the air. Related: How to transform your wasteful grassy space into a food forest garden The ecologists also pointed out that globally, lawns occupy an amount of land equivalent to the area of England and Spain combined. In arid regions of the U.S., lawns are responsible for 75 percent of household water consumption. To make matters worse, weed killers and fertilizers used to keep lawns pristine find their way to the water table. If you think artificial turf is a solution, think again. Turf does not contribute to carbon sequestration — the process of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere — and it also causes problems with water runoff. It is also possible that it could poison local water tables. Ignatieva and Hedblom said that some communities have started allowing natural meadows to grow instead of lawns. In places like Berlin, residents have allowed the landscape to grow wild. These ideas are a step in the right direction, but the ecologists suggest the need for more scientific research into some plant types that could develop into naturally short grass alternatives that don’t require a lot of water for survival. The study also urges people to change their way of thinking when it comes to their lawns. + Science Mag Via Phys.org Images via Daniel Watson

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Zaha Hadid Architects weaves energy-saving tech into an otherworldly UAE landscape

October 12, 2018 by  
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Zaha Hadid Architects has revealed designs for the Central Hub, a new leisure and entertainment destination for the United Arab Emirates that looks positively out of this world. Marked by swirling pathways and pod-like buildings, the futuristic Central Hub will serve as the focal point for the $6.5 billion Aljada development in Sharjah, the UAE’s third-most populous city. Spanning an area greater than 25 football fields, the 1.9 million-square-foot Central Hub will be entirely car-free and integrate a variety of energy-saving technologies. With Phase One slated for completion in the end of the first quarter of next year, the Central Hub is expected to be the city’s largest mixed-use lifestyle destination. The first phase spans over 328,000 square feet in size and includes the Aljada Community Center; a food truck village; a children’s play area, outdoor activity zone and skate park; outdoor event space for film screenings, pop-up events and markets; as well as Arada’s experiential sales center. The second and third phases of the Central Hub will be completed in 2020 and 2022, respectively, and include more recreational and retail facilities, such as an 11-screen cinema, extreme sports center and an expansive community park . Much like the Aljada masterplan, which is designed with walkability and sustainable systems in mind, the Central Hub is flush with over 700,000 square feet of public squares and gardens that include natural cooling strategies for year-round enjoyment. Inspired by water droplets, the elliptical buildings will also help channel crosswinds into the public spaces. The grounds will be irrigated with recovered and recycled water and planted with native species. Lighting will be powered entirely by smart solar. Related: Zaha Hadid Architects designs robot-assisted vaulted classrooms for China “ Sustainability is absolutely central to Arada’s vision, and that has been reflected in the Central Hub’s design,” said HRH Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal, vice chairman of Arada. “We are working hard to protect and encourage local native species and natural environment. We’re doing this in a way that is cost-efficient and leaves as small an impact on the planet as possible.” + Zaha Hadid Architects Lead image by VA, others by Cosmoscube

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Zaha Hadid Architects weaves energy-saving tech into an otherworldly UAE landscape

Plastic-eating mushrooms are the new superheroes in combating the growing waste crisis

September 26, 2018 by  
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A new study from the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in London says that fungi are capable of expediting the breakdown of plastic waste. The aspergillus tubingensis fungus was featured in the  State of the World’s Fungi 2018 report , which also documented that fungi are optimal in producing sustainable building materials and capable of removing pollutants from soil and wastewater. Whereas plastic generally takes years to degrade, the mushroom, first discovered growing in a Pakistani dump in 2017, could make it possible to break down the pollutants in weeks. The 2018 report is the first release of its kind, marking its debut with the monumental discovery that mushrooms could provide a solution to the growing plastic waste crisis. The global concern has spurred research and innovation in the design and tech industries, but U.K. botanists say that nature might have already provided an answer by arming itself with a biological defense against the plastic plague with which it is overwhelmed. Related: Scientists reveal new technique to make biofuel from mushroom waste Because its properties catalyze the deterioration of plastic molecules, the report announced that aspergillus tubingensis “has potential to be developed into one of the tools desperately needed to address the growing environmental problem of plastic waste .” According to the scientists, the mushroom has the ability to grow directly on the surface of plastics, where it breaks down the chemical bonds between the plastic molecules. Armed with a unique enzyme that is secreted by the sprout, aspergillus tubingensis is one of the most interesting fungi featured in the team’s research paper. The report also confirmed that white rot varieties of fungus like pleurotus ostratus and trametes versicolor have a beneficial effect on soil and wastewater, removing pesticides, dyes and explosive remnants. The trichoderma species has been identified as a stimulant for producing biofuels through its conversion of agricultural waste into ethanol sugars. Fungal mycelium is also notable, especially for designers and architects interested in finding sustainable replacements for polystyrene foam, leather and several building materials. Tom Prescott, senior researcher at Kew Gardens,  told Dezeen , “The State of the World’s Fungi report has been a fascinating look into the fungal kingdom, revealing how little we know and the huge potential for fungi in areas as diverse as biofuels, pharmaceuticals and novel materials.” The State of the World’s Fungi report documents more than 2,000 new species found in 2017, identifying useful characteristics for both natural and industrial purposes as well as citing the obstacles they encounter as a result of climate change . More than 100 scientists from 18 countries collaborated on the study and cataloged the new mushrooms for the Kew Gardens “fungarium,” which houses over 1.25 million dried specimens of fungi from all over the planet. + State of the World’s Fungi 2018   Via Dezeen Image via Pree Bissessur

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New study finds glyphosate in kids’ cereals and snack bars

August 16, 2018 by  
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Bad news for anyone who likes to eat cereal, or granola bars, or anything that contains oats at all: a recent study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) tested 45 conventional oat products for the presence of glyphosate, and researchers found it in 43 of them.  And, of these 43 oat products, 31 had amounts of glyphosate that were far above the EWG’s Health Benchmark of safe ingestion amounts. The poisonous chemical may sound familiar since it’s the active ingredient in Roundup, the herbicide whose health risks Monsanto intentionally concealed from the public. Related: Court orders Monsanto to pay $289 million in cancer trial The World Health Organization has issued warnings about glyphosate in the past, stating as far back as 2015 that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” And yet, the majority of oat products tested for the study had glyphosate levels that exceeded 160 ppb, the maximum amount considered acceptable by the EWG. In fact, one popular brand of oats contained 1300 ppb. While organic oats did much better, 30 percent of samples using organic oats still tested positive for glyphosate, possibly due to Roundup drift from farms in the area or cross-contamination. Related: Beekeepers file a complaint against Bayer after glyphosate was discovered in honey Given the common use of oats in breakfast cereals, the study raises the possibility that millions of American children are being exposed to the dangerous chemical. “I grew up eating Cheerios and Quaker Oats long before they were tainted with glyphosate. No one wants to eat a weed killer for breakfast, and no one should have to do so,” commented Ken Cook, President of the EWG.  Calling for action on our part, he added, “it’s up to consumers to call on companies to rid their products of glyphosate.” + Environmental Working Group Via Treehugger

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Canada moves to ban bee-killing pesticides

August 16, 2018 by  
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Environmentalists scored a victory in Canada on Wednesday, securing restrictions on two pesticides that have been posing threats to bees and aquatic insects. The Canadian government’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), branched under the division ‘Health Canada,’ has agreed to impose constraints on the crop chemicals, slowly phasing out their use over the next three to five years. Thiamethoxam, produced by Syngenta AG, and Bayer AG’s clothianidin are common farming applicants to protect crops such as corn, soybeans and canola from damage caused by insects. Thiamethoxam and clothianidin fall under a category of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, or neonics. Reports examining the link between honey bees and neonics in North America have been emerging over the past years in an attempt to explain declining bee populations. A recent review also found bodies of water contaminated with these pesticides can harm aquatic insects. Food chains within the environments are being affected by the infected insects, which are food sources for fish and birds . Related: EU approves complete ban on bee-killing insecticides “I’m thankful we’re going to see a phase-out,” said Jim Coneybeare, president of the Ontario Beekeepers Association . “I’d like it to happen sooner.” According to the association, the overwhelming use of neonics has been disastrous for bee colonies in Ontario. The survival of bee habitats is already precarious; only a little more than half were able to survive the most recent winter season alone. Farmers, on the other hand, are given few alternatives to sustain consumer demands and not have their stocks fall to pestilence. Barry Senft, CEO of Grain Farmers of Ontario, said neonics are an “important tool” in farming. Many farmers, and some beekeepers, also worry that the regulation will prompt the use of even harsher chemicals , because the development of successful eco-friendly alternatives has been slow. Related: Beekeepers file a complaint against Bayer after glyphosate was discovered in honey A third compound, imidacloprid, also produced by Bayer, will come under scrutiny in Canada by the end of the year. The EU banned the outdoor use of neonics in April, and the pesticides are undergoing scientific review in the U.S. before proposed action opens to public commentary next spring. Ultimately, the pesticide ban in Canada will face a 90-day consultation period, and the verdict will not be finalized until late 2019. Via Reuters Image via Aleksandar Cocek

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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

Arctic shipping routes could threaten "unicorns of the sea"

July 3, 2018 by  
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Narwhals, or the “unicorns of the sea,” could be at risk from additional Arctic shipping routes as polar ice continues to recede. A peer-reviewed study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests as many as seven marine mammal species may face new threats and uncertain consequences from increased ship traffic. The Arctic Ocean is home to hundreds of animals, like narwhals, polar bears and whales. However, as the polar ice caps retreat, more shipping companies are taking advantage of open waters to reduce travel time. To determine how the increase of ships could affect marine mammals , the research team from University of Alaska Fairbanks and University of Washington studied wildlife during the fall shipping season. The group looked at 80 different subpopulations among the seven species to determine if they were directly exposed to the ships and how much these ships could affect the wellbeing of the marine life. Related: The melting Arctic is already changing the ocean’s circulation During the study period, over half of the subpopulations were impacted by ships, with narwhals inheriting the highest amount of risk. In addition to an increased risk of injury or death from collisions,  toothed whales also face communication challenges because of their audio sensitivity. Like dolphins, the ocean unicorn “talks” with a language of buzzing, clicking and calling. While narwhals could have the most to lose, polar bears and seals have the least risk because of the time they spend on land. But researchers note their populations also come with high long-term uncertainty, and the team concluded more data is required to determine how shipping affects their livelihood. The news wasn’t entirely bad for wildlife populations. The scientists noted through additional data collection, shipping companies could plan for environmentally-sustainable transportation options. “Regions with geographic bottlenecks, such as the Bering Strait and eastern Canadian Arctic, were characterized by two to three times higher vulnerability than more remote regions,” the researchers wrote in their study abstract. “These pinch points are obligatory pathways for both vessels and migratory [ocean mammals], and so represent potentially high conflict areas but also opportunities for conservation-informed planning .” Arctic planning groups are aware of the wildlife threats and are working out plans to balance shipping with environmental concerns. The Arctic Council instituted regulations on transport companies in January 2017, with the goal of making shipping safer for both crews and marine mammals. + Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Via Earther

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Arctic shipping routes could threaten "unicorns of the sea"

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