One plastic teabag can release billions of microplastics into your cup

September 30, 2019 by  
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The next time you are craving tea , choose the paper teabag or loose-leaf tea in a reusable infuser — just steer clear of the plastic teabag. Why? A recent McGill University study found that just one plastic teabag can leach billions of microplastic particles into your beverage. Professor Nathalie Tufenkji, of the McGill University Chemical Engineering Department, was surprised to find that premium teabags, made of plastic , were offered at her local Canadian coffee shop. For research purposes, she then asked graduate student Laura Hernandez to purchase several plastic teabags from a number of different brands. Next, the research duo collaboratively ran tests and analyses in the laboratory to discover the amount of microplastics being released after steeping the teabag. Related: Have your plastic and eat it, too — average American ingests 50,000 microplastic particles a year Results alarmingly showed that as many as 11.6 billion microplastic particles and 3.1 billion nano-sized particles were contaminating the tea. Nano-sized particles are small enough to enter the human bloodstream and human cells. These numbers were considerably above-average — in fact, thousands of times higher — relative to other food products and beverages. Tufenkji said, “you’re literally adding plastic” into your cup each time you steep a plastic teabag. Microplastics are everywhere, contaminating the oceans and the marine organisms that live there, and often making their way into our food chain. A joint study — published earlier this year by the University of Newcastle in Australia and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and available for viewing here — announced that humans are ingesting about 5 grams of plastic per week, which is about the size of a credit card. Consuming tea brewed from plastic teabags could very well increase that collective annual amount. Currently, the two types of plastics linked to adverse effects on the human body are Bisphenol A ( BPA ) and Phthalates. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have issued warnings on BPA exposure creating negative effects like metabolic disease, birth complications and other health problems. Phthalates, meanwhile, are known to disrupt the body’s natural endocrine functions. Even more worrisome, regarding ingestion of microplastics, is that microplastics act as “toxic rafts” that pick up other environmental pollutants around them. In other words, microplastics attract environmental pollutants, concentrate them and carry them. Ingesting these microplastic “toxic rafts” rife with concentrated pollutants therefore increases the risks to your health. Unfortunately, there is no study yet that examines the actual danger that the plastic teabags, made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and nylon, pose to humans. Instead, more research is required to understand the long-term impact that various microplastics can have on human health . “There’s really no research,” Tufenkji said. “But this really points to the need to do those studies. Think of people who drink one or two or three cups of tea a day, every day.” Tufenkji moreover emphasized that these plastic teabags are just another example of single-use plastics that are fomenting more environmentally destructive trouble than they are worth. It is up to consumers to fight for alternative packaging and to urge government policymakers to regulate plastic production and plastic use. Decreasing plastic packaging will not only improve the environment, but it could also safeguard one’s health as well. + Environmental Science & Technology Via EcoWatch Image via Conger Design

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One plastic teabag can release billions of microplastics into your cup

More than half of Europes native trees face extinction

September 30, 2019 by  
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Europe’s endemic trees are threatened by extinction, states a recent International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) assessment on biodiversity. The unfortunate decline is due to the combination of three paramount factors: problematic invasive species , unsustainable deforestation from logging and wood harvesting and urban development. According to the IUCN’s European Red List , there are 454 native European tree species, of which 265 species are found nowhere else on the planet except in continental Europe, and 252 species are found only in the 28 European Union (EU) member-states. Of these, 168 species (or 42 percent) are regionally threatened with extinction. Related: Ireland will plant 440 million trees in 20 years Circumstances adversely affecting European trees include changes in forest and woodland management. More poignant is the significance of ecosystem modification, as in the case of forest fire, land abandonment, agricultural encroachment, livestock farming and even tourism. But the three most hazardous are invasive species, deforestation and urban development. “It is alarming that over half of Europe’s endemic tree species are now threatened with extinction ,” said Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the IUCN Red List Unit. “Trees are essential for life on Earth, and European trees, in all their diversity, are a source of food and shelter for countless animal species, such as birds and squirrels, and play a key economic role. From the EU to regional assemblies and the conservation community, we all need to work together to ensure their survival.” The IUCN report calls for more data gathering and analysis, especially regarding overlooked species. By improving knowledge of all these “overlooked” European species, the continent’s biodiversity can be better managed and protected. Tree species , unfortunately, are rarely prioritized in conservation planning and policy making. But it is hoped that the recent disclosure of the IUCN’s European Red List findings will change that. Growing public awareness can help galvanize urbanization control, conservation action and sustainable management. “This report has shown how dire the situation is for many overlooked, undervalued species that form the backbone of Europe’s ecosystems and contribute to a healthy planet,” explained Luc Bas, director of IUCN’s European Regional Office. “We need to mitigate human impact on our ecosystems and prioritize the protection of these species.” + IUCN Images via Noël Zia Lee

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These works of art record and provide shelter to urban wildlife

September 18, 2019 by  
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The Interaction Research Studio at Goldsmiths, University of London is proving that you don’t have to leave the city to experience wildlife. Inspired by both art and nature, the studio has created a series of habitats that use hidden cameras to capture images of wildlife. The habitat structures use My Naturewatch wildlife cameras, easy-to-find materials and simple electronics and are designed to be used by even the most novice of nature-lovers. The structures are also built with natural materials to make the animals feel more at-home, with the potential to serve as both shelters or food. The natural materials include things like wood, coconut shells, stones and branches, in combination with recycled materials such as plastic water bottles (used as a waterproof protective casing around the camera lens). Related: IKEA teams up with London artists to upcycle old furniture into funky abodes for birds, bees ?and bats This marriage of natural and human-made components not only benefits the animals but also serves as an important metaphor for the intricacy of urban environments and the problems that city animals face on a daily basis. The habitats are a welcomed sight to the animals; they provide the creatures with an acting shelter, feeding station, watering station and a spot to mingle with other wildlife . The studio is calling the project “ Nature Scenes ” and is presenting it as part of the Brompton Biotopia expedition taking place in September during the London Design Festival. Along with a series of similar projects showcasing sustainable shelters for animals by fellow designers, Nature Scenes will serve as an inspiration for others to build their own animal shelters using recycled or natural materials as well as the My Naturewatch cameras. Most residents don’t realize how many animals they share their surroundings with: rats, squirrels, falcons, foxes, mice and more. The ability to watch these animals living their lives without the interruption of human interaction is a great way to connect with nature — especially for those living in city environments. + Interaction Research Studio + Naturewatch Via Dezeen Images via Interaction Research Studio at Goldsmiths, University of London

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These works of art record and provide shelter to urban wildlife

Supermarket happy hour reduces food waste

September 10, 2019 by  
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A Finnish supermarket chain is fighting food waste by offering steep discounts during a “happy hour.” Every night at 9, food with a midnight expiration date is discounted 60 percent off already reduced prices. Shoppers are flocking to S-market’s 900 stores to avail themselves of bargains on meat and other food that has reached its sell-by date. S-market’s initiative is part of a much larger movement to decrease food waste. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations , nearly one-third of food made for humans winds up lost or wasted. This unused food weighs in at 1.3 billion tons annually, with a value of almost $680 billion. Related: New York is curbing food waste and helping people in need with a new initiative Not only is this a terrible waste, given that 10 percent of the world’s population is undernourished, but all that food rotting in landfills worsens climate change. As food decomposes, it releases methane . This gas is about 25 times as dangerous to the environment as carbon dioxide. Wasted food also requires a ridiculous amount of unnecessary transportation. Food is transported from where it is grown to stores all over the world. Then, after its expiration date, unsold food gets a final ride to the landfill . That’s a huge waste of water and fossil fuels. But S-market wants to help reduce food waste while also minimizing its own losses from thrown-out, expired foods. The chain will sell hundreds of items that are already reduced in price by 30 percent for an additional 60 percent off after 9 p.m. until closing time at 10 p.m., and many customers are enjoying the happy hour. “I’ve gotten quite hooked on this,” shopper Kasimir Karkkainen told the New York Times . Karkkainen scored pork mini-ribs and two pounds of pork tenderloin for US$4.63. While this is happening in Finland, U.S. grocers could benefit from adopting a similar initiative as Americans can be especially wasteful. “Food waste might be a uniquely American challenge because many people in this country equate quantity with a bargain,” said Meredith Niles, an assistant professor in food systems and policy at the University of Vermont. “Look at the number of restaurants  that advertise their supersized portions.” Via New York Times Image via Nina Friends / S-Market

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Great Barrier Reef outlook decreases from ‘poor’ to ‘very poor’

September 3, 2019 by  
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Conditions at one of the seven natural wonders of the world, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, is declining, and coral bleaching caused by climate change is to blame. The world’s largest coral reef, where 400 types of coral as well as about 10 percent of the world’s fish live, has gone from “poor” to “very poor.” The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) that manages the reef released a five-year study of the reef and stated, “Significant global action to address climate change is critical to slowing the deterioration of the reef’s ecosystem and heritage values and supporting recovery.” Related: University of Queensland wants to drop “bommies” on the Great Barrier Reef Located off the northeastern Australian coast , the reef is a major tourist attraction, bringing in around AU$5-6 billion (about $3.3-4 billion USD) yearly to the country’s economy. But if things don’t improve, the reef might not be around to enjoy for much longer. While coral bleaching and climate change are the main concerns, the report suggested the 1,400-mile reef has “multiple, cumulative and increasing” problems including run-off from agriculture , coastal land clearing and crown-of-thorns starfish that eat the coral. Another possible factor hindering the reef’s growth could be the increased use of coal mining in Australia. Statistics show that Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions have been on an upward climb for four years and counting. As reported by Deutsche Welle , a 2012 study said that since 1985, the Great Barrier Reef has lost more than half its coral cover. Five years later, the journal Nature said 91 percent had been bleached at least once in the last 20 years. Those concerned by the GBRMPA report have gone as far as asking UNESCO to quash the reef’s standing as a World Heritage site, which could humiliate the Australian government. In early 2019, the government did say it would spend AU$380 million to try and reproduce stronger coral. + Great Barrier Reef Via EcoWatch and Deutsche Welle Image via Robert Linsdell

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Spiders are becoming aggressive thanks to climate change

August 22, 2019 by  
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Can climate change influence a spider’s aggressive behavior? According to a recent study, yes! A team of researchers from Canada and the U.S., who were led by Alexander Little at the University of California, Santa Barbara, concluded that colonies of communal spiders ( Anelosimus studiosus ), who typically reside over rivers or streams, can be impacted by climate change and hurricanes in what they call a “cyclone-induced disturbance.” Related: The ‘tipping point’ has arrived as temperatures rise in 70 US counties The research group conducted its study in North America’s Atlantic coast and observed 211 spider sites before and after a hurricane struck. This was accomplished by traveling to the areas at various times, before and after a hurricane, and measuring the spiders aggression to web vibration caused with an electric toothbrush and piece of paper. Little and his colleagues study is “a remarkable example that addresses this knowledge gap; by studying the impacts of tropical cyclones with spatiotemporal replications and control sites, they show that selectivity for more aggressive colonies of Anelosimus studiosus  is a robust evolutionary response to cyclone-induced disturbance,” wrote Eric Ameca, a researcher at Beijing Normal University, in a Nature commentary . While aggression ranges in communal spiders, the group’s overall observations revealed that after a hurricane, the more aggressive colonies produced extra egg sacs and had more babies survive. Researchers also believe that spiders might become more aggressive due to less food availability after a cyclone or if a storm killed a mother spider. If so, it  forced the babies to survive on their own. In addition to this study, others have surmised that some weather patterns can be attached to animal behavior, however, those have centered on observations solely after an extreme weather event. Ameca said this study showed the importance into how some species like the Anelosimus studiosus can conform and survive in extreme weather. Via Gizmodo Image via Flickr

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Satellites show hope for Brazil’s disappearing Atlantic forest

August 2, 2019 by  
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While international media focuses on the important and devastating losses in the Amazon rainforest, an extensive forest biome along Brazil’s eastern coast is rapidly disappearing. The Mata Atlântica biome hosts incredible biodiversity and is critical for fighting climate change through its massive contribution to carbon sequestration. It is considered one of the most threatened large tropical forest ecosystems, but a new study finally reveals a glimmer of hope — the area of deforestation is bad, but not as bad as it used to be. According to the joint report by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research and Fundação SOS, heavily deforested areas have nearly 10 percent more forest cover than previous years. Their findings are based on innovative satellite mapping. Related: Deforestation and climate change combined may split Amazon in two “Just as important as analyzing the loss of Mata Atlântica in the last [most recent] period is to look at the historical series and think about prospects going forward,” said André de Almeida Cunha, an ecology professor at the at the University of Brasília. The forest used to stretch down Brazil’s eastern coast and through Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina. Now, it has been reduced to small, fragmented protected areas. The majority of deforestation is because of cattle grazing and land clearing for other agribusiness as well as real estate development. “Mata Atlântica is still the most threatened biome,” explained Pedro Brancalion, a researcher at the University of São Paulo. “The [deforestation] process we see in the Amazon began 500 years ago in Mata Atlântica. There is still deforestation [underway] in Mata Atlântica [today] where biodiversity losses have not been offset by reforestation initiatives.” While the report shows that some reforestation efforts have been successful, not all reforestation is equal. Throughout Brazil and much of the world, some reforestation initiatives have focused on planting monocrop trees for agriculture, such as eucalyptus or palm oil. While these trees are better than nothing, they are eventually harvested and do not provide the benefits of biodiversity . Via Mongabay Image via ICLEI América do Sul

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Scientific consensus reaches beyond 99% on human-caused climate change

July 25, 2019 by  
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Researchers have released three additional studies confirming the consensus among scientists that climate change is real. More than 99 percent of scientists have reached the same conclusion that global warming is real and caused by human activity, with findings showing that current warming is unprecedented when compared to the last 2,000 years. Even though most deniers are political or corporate-backed — rather than driven by science — scientists continue to release worrisome research repeating and reconfirming that all evidence indicates climate change is real in hopes that the consensus itself will be convincing. Related: Climate anxiety — is hopelessness preventing us from confronting our biggest challenge? “There is no doubt left — as has been shown extensively in many other studies addressing many different aspects of the climate system using different methods and data sets,” said Stefan Brönnimann of the University of Bern. The three studies were published in Nature and Nature Geoscience and indicate that the temperature spikes over the last few decades have not been as dramatic over the last 2,000 years . While there have been other roving and site-specific temperature changes, such as the Little Ice Age , the current record-breaking temperatures impact the entire globe. The researchers used proxy indicators such as evidence in trees , ice and sediment, which show that changes in climate have never been as severe as they are now. “The good news is public understanding of the scientific consensus is increasing,” said researcher James Cook, who wrote the original paper on scientific consensus in 2013. “The bad news is there is still a lot of work to do yet as climate deniers continue to persistently attack the scientific consensus.” Last week, the original paper was downloaded for the one millionth time, making it the most-read study by the Institute of Physics. Cook also wrote a follow-up to this study, but because of the recent rise in disasters and interest in climate change , he plans to revise his paper again. Via The Guardian Image via Christopher Michel

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Iceland will unveil monument for the first glacier lost to climate change

July 24, 2019 by  
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Scientists and local Icelanders will unveil a monument next month that memorializes the first glacier out of the country’s 400 glaciers to be lost to climate change. The Okjokull glacier, nicknamed “Ok”, no longer qualifies as a glacier, given that it is melting at a faster rate than it can expand. When this happens, glaciers become known as “dead ice”. Scientists in Iceland and Texas’ Rice University believe that this will be the fate of all Icelandic glaciers by year 2200— unless the world takes drastic action to curb climate change . “By marking Ok’s passing, we hope to draw attention to what is being lost as Earth’s glaciers expire. These bodies of ice are the largest freshwater reserves on the planet and frozen within them are histories of the atmosphere. They are also often important cultural forms that are full of significance,” said Cymene Howe, a professor at Rice University. Related:Earliest human air pollution detected in glaciers The unveiling celebration will be held on August 18 and attended by scientists, locals, media and Hiking Society members. Just 100 years ago, the glacier covered nearly six square miles and was over 150 feet thick. The plaque, located at a site where the glacier once covered, will read: “Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier. In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.” The plaque is in both Icelandic and English. The plaque also monumentalizes the current count of carbon parts per million in the atmosphere, which reaches a record breaking 415 parts per million in May. “An Icelandic colleague said: ‘Memorials are not for the dead; they are for the living,’” Howe said. “We want to underscore that it is up to us, the living, to respond to the rapid loss of glaciers and the ongoing impacts of climate change. For Ok glacier it is already too late.” The Guardian Image via RICE University

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Iceland will unveil monument for the first glacier lost to climate change

Smart fertilizers help farmers and fight climate change

July 9, 2019 by  
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Synthetic fertilizers aren’t great for natural ecosystems, but they do help farmers produce the crop yields needed to feed the world’s skyrocketing population. Since major chemical companies began pushing fertilizers, farmers have been spraying their fields and hoping for the best. Over the past two decades, however, controlled-release fertilizers have become available with high-precision release formulas that are not only better for the plants but are arguably better for the planet. Controlled release fertilizers contain nutrients in capsules instead of the soluble granules of conventional fertilizer. The capsules slow down the release of the nutrients, which gives the plant more time to absorb everything rather than having to take up the nutrients all at once. Recently, slow-release fertilizers have become even smarter. Companies like Haifa Group and ICL Specialty Fertilizers have capsules that release at different intervals depending on the soil conditions — such as temperature, acidity or moisture level. Related: Can vertical farming feed the world and change the agriculture industry? When combined with GPS sensors, soil quality mapping and artificial intelligence , precision farming technology can save farmers and neighboring ecosystems from serious fertilizer waste and pollution. A recent study by Michigan State University revealed that smart fertilizers also benefit the planet. According to the research, precision fertilizers and remote sensing technology could save 6.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere — the equivalent of 1.5 million cars per year. The technology they studied identifies a farmers’ most productive land using historical yield data and fertilizer rates. With this knowledge, large-scale farmers can focus crop production and fertilizer use on only the most productive land and reduce their use of fertilizers on land where the crops simply won’t perform as well. The researchers also suggest that farmers could use these least productive zones to develop “wild areas” specifically for important pollinators like the honeybee . “Nobody wins when fertilizer is wasted on areas that won’t produce,” the Michigan State researchers wrote in the published study . “Once farmers identify these areas, they can both save money and help the environment.” Via Scientific American Image via Binyamin Mellish

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