How the EU’s new ‘toxic-free’ vision could shape your safer chemicals strategy

January 14, 2021 by  
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How the EU’s new ‘toxic-free’ vision could shape your safer chemicals strategy Bob Kerr Thu, 01/14/2021 – 01:00 For the last two decades, the European Union has played a leadership role in tackling the risks hazardous chemicals pose to our health and environment. It has now proposed a new vision for a “toxic-free environment” and published a strategy for moving the EU towards that goal. Just as its current policies have inspired imitation, it’s likely that these new policies will drive significant changes in the U.S. and elsewhere. While EU chemical restrictions have gained limited traction in U.S. federal statutes and regulations, many state laws increasingly rely on the chemical hazard criteria and analyses from REACH (the principal European chemical regulation) and other EU laws and regulations. California legislation, for example, prohibits sale of electronic products that would be subject to the EU Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive if amounts of cadmium, lead, mercury or hexavalent chrome in those products exceed EU RoHS limits . Many U.S. companies base their restrictions on hazardous chemicals on EU lists or restrictions such as the Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs) under REACH — even where unregulated in the U.S. The EU plans to promote safer substitutes or eliminate the need for chemical additives in some products altogether, so they do not end up being circulated indefinitely in commerce. The EU chemical regulation footprint is also strong in the rest of the world. Several countries in Asia, including China, the world’s largest chemical producer, have developed national chemical regulatory programs strongly influenced by the EU’s design. As the EU moves toward adopting specific legal and regulatory measures to begin to realize its vision, government agencies in the U.S. will look closely at the potential for adopting elements of the new EU programs. Beyond the regulatory world, many leading companies already at the forefront of looking to provide safer chemicals — including Walmart , Apple and Ahold Delhaize USA  — are likely to move toward adoption of components of the new EU policies, with ramifications for supply chains and potential competitive benefits in the consumer marketplace. EU’s new chemical policy vision Despite the successes of its current regulatory framework, the European Commission has found that “the existing EU chemicals policy must evolve and respond more rapidly and effectively to the challenges posed by hazardous chemicals.” In October, the commission published ” Chemical Strategy for Sustainability: Towards a Toxic-Free Environment .” To meet that vision, the EU plans a fundamental change in how chemical regulations manage the production and use of chemicals.  As explained by Frans Timmermans, commission vice president responsible for EU’s Green Deal, the EU intends to move away from an approach to chemical regulation that depends primarily on tracking down substances that are hazardous only after they’re already being used in products, even when similar to previously restricted substances. Rather, it will focus on prohibiting their use in the first place: One of the first actions we will take is to ensure that the most harmful chemicals no longer find their way into consumer products. In most cases, we now assess these chemicals one-by-one — and remove them when we find out that they are unsafe. We will just flip this logic on its head. Instead of reacting, we want to prevent. As a rule, the use of the most harmful substances will be prohibited in consumer products. Further, the new EU chemical strategy identifies a wide array of initiatives for realizing its goal of a toxic-free environment. Some are specific to the EU, including EU support for development of innovative green chemistry materials. Others are measures with general applicability for government regulatory agencies or company sustainable chemistry initiatives. Among the key measures are: Extending hazard-based approach to risk management for consumer products: The goal is to ensure consumer products, such as toys, cosmetics, cleaning products, children’s care products and food contact materials, do not contain chemicals that may cause cancer, gene mutations, neurological or respiratory damage or that may interfere with endocrine or reproductive systems. Grouping of chemicals for assessment of hazards and restrictions: Under most regulations, both in the EU and U.S., chemicals are usually assessed and regulated one-by-one. The European Commission plans to address PFAS and other chemicals of concern with a group approach. New hazard categories: The commission plans to finalize a legally binding hazard definition of endocrine disruptors and, to address classes of chemicals recognized as posing serious environmental risks, introduce two new categories of substances of very high concern (SVHCs): persistent; mobile and toxic (PMT); and very persistent and very mobile (vPvM) substances. Accounting for combinative impacts of multiple chemicals on health: Increasing evidence points to the risks from simultaneous exposure to multiple chemicals. The commission plans to integrate requirements for information on the impacts of chemical mixtures more formally into chemical risk assessment requirements. These above approaches are in some leading corporate safer chemical programs and, with clarity from the EU, they should be considered by more companies. IKEA , for example, bans use in its products of some chemical groups (PFAS, organic brominated flame retardants) and hazard classes of chemicals (carcinogens, mutagens, reproductive toxins and any REACH SVHCs). Beyond its direct effects on protecting health of consumers and reducing toxic chemicals in the environment, the chemical strategy is a key component in the EU’s path towards a circular economy that conserves materials and reduces waste. A critical barrier to circular production models for many products and materials is contamination with hazardous chemicals — either inadvertently added during sourcing and processing or intentionally added to change the product. Through the chemical strategy, the EU plans to promote safer substitutes (the replacement of ortho-phthalates with non-hazardous plasticizers) or eliminate the need for chemical additives in some products altogether, so they do not end up being circulated indefinitely in commerce.  The EU has outlined a leading safer chemicals strategy that companies can begin to apply to their own operations. Tools such as the Chemical Footprint Project survey and other benchmarking tools can help support these initiatives. Companies that take the lead in adapting their planning to the EU strategy will be ahead of EU requirements, mitigate future supply chain and product risks and operate in the best interest of consumers and the environment. Pull Quote The EU plans to promote safer substitutes or eliminate the need for chemical additives in some products altogether, so they do not end up being circulated indefinitely in commerce. Topics Chemicals & Toxics Circular Economy Policy & Politics European Union Collective Insight The Right Chemistry Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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Leveraging the ocean’s carbon removal potential

November 11, 2020 by  
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Leveraging the ocean’s carbon removal potential Katie Lebling Wed, 11/11/2020 – 00:30 To meet the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius 2.7 degrees F), greenhouse gas emissions must reach net-zero by mid-century. Achieving this not only will require reducing existing emissions, but also removing carbon dioxide already in the air. How much carbon to remove from the atmosphere will depend on emissions in the coming years, but estimates point to around 10 billion-20 billion tons of CO 2 per year through 2100, globally. This is a tremendous amount, considering that the United States emitted 5.4 billion tons of CO 2 in 2018. As the need for climate action becomes more urgent, the ocean is gaining attention as a potential part of the solution . Approaches such as investing in offshore energy production, conserving coastal ecosystems and increasing consumption of sustainable ocean-based protein offer opportunities to reduce emissions. In addition to these opportunities, a range of ocean-based carbon removal approaches could help capture and store billions of tons of carbon. Importantly, these approaches would not increase ocean acidification. The ocean absorbs just under one-third of anthropogenic CO 2 emissions, which is contributing to a rise in ocean acidification and making it more difficult for organisms such as oysters and corals to build shells. The ocean absorbs just under one-third of anthropogenic CO2 emissions, contributing to a rise in ocean acidification. A few options for increasing the ocean’s capacity to store carbon also may provide co-benefits, such as increasing biodiversity and reducing acidification. However, many approaches remain contentious due to uncertainties around potential ecological impacts, governance and other risks. If research efforts increase to improve understanding in these areas, a combination of approaches could help address the global climate crisis. Ocean-based ways to remove CO 2 from the atmosphere Proposed methods for increasing the ocean’s ability to remove and store carbon dioxide — including biological, chemical and electrochemical concepts — vary in technical maturity, permanence, public acceptance and risk. Note: This graphic represents the general types of proposed approaches, but may not reflect every proposal. 1. Biological approaches Biological approaches, which leverage the power of photosynthesis to capture CO 2 , offer a few approaches for carbon removal. Ecosystem restoration Restoring coastal blue carbon ecosystems , including salt marshes, mangroves and seagrasses, can increase the amount of carbon stored in coastal sediments. Globally, the carbon removal potential of coastal blue carbon ecosystem restoration is around a few hundred million tons of CO 2 per year by 2050, which is relatively small compared to the need. However, ample co-benefits — such as reducing coastal erosion and flooding, improving water quality and supporting livelihoods and tourism — make it worth pursuing. Restoring coastal blue carbon ecosystems, including salt marshes such as this one, can help store carbon in addition to other restoration benefits. Photo by Bre Smith/Unsplash Large-scale seaweed cultivation Another proposed approach is large-scale seaweed cultivation , as seaweed captures carbon through photosynthesis. While there is evidence that wild seaweed already contributes to carbon removal, there is potential to cultivate and harvest seaweed for use in a range of products, including food (human and animal), fuel and fertilizer. The full extent of carbon removal potential from these applications is uncertain, as many of these products would return carbon within the seaweed to the environment during consumption. Yet, these applications could lower emission intensity compared to conventional production processes. Seaweed cultivation also can provide an economic return that could support near-term industry growth. One interesting application is adding certain seaweeds to feed for ruminant farm animals, which significantly could reduce their methane emissions. Methane has especially high climate warming potential, and methane emissions from ruminants contribute roughly 120 MtCO1e per year in the United States. Emerging research shows that certain types of red seaweeds can reduce ruminant emissions by more than 50 percent, although more research is necessary to show consistent long-term reductions and understand whether large-scale cultivation efforts are successful. In addition to reducing emissions, seaweed cultivation also may reduce ocean acidification. In some places, this application is already in use for shellfish aquaculture to reduce acidification and improve shellfish growth. Understanding potential ecosystem risks is critical to implementing this approach at scale. Potential risks include changes to water movement patterns; changes to light, nutrient and oxygen availability; altered pH levels; impacts from manmade structures for growing; and impacts of monoculture cultivation, which can affect existing marine flora and fauna. Continued small-scale pilot testing is necessary to understand these ecosystem impacts and bring down costs for cultivation, harvesting and transport. Iron fertilization A more controversial and divisive idea is iron fertilization , which involves adding trace amounts of iron to certain parts of the ocean, spurring phytoplankton growth. The phytoplankton would take in atmospheric CO 2 as they grow, with a portion expected to eventually sink to the ocean floor, resulting in permanent storage of that carbon in ocean sediments About a dozen experiments indicate varying levels of carbon sequestration efficacy, but the approach remains compelling to some due to its low cost. Although iron fertilization theoretically could store large amounts of carbon for a comparatively low cost, it also could cause significant negative ecological impacts, such as toxic algal blooms that can reduce oxygen levels, block sunlight and harm sea life. Additionally, researchers are hesitant to pursue this method due to a fraught history, including one experiment that potentially violated international law. Iron fertilization, which involves adding trace amounts of iron to certain parts of the ocean, spurring phytoplankton growth. Because of the relatively low cost, there is also the risk of a single actor’s conducting large-scale fertilization and potentially causing large-scale ecological damage. Given that this method remains contentious, a critical first step is creating a clear international governance structure to continue research. Iron fertilization continues to face scientific uncertainties about its efficacy and ecosystem impacts that, if pursued, would require at-sea testing to resolve. 2. Chemical approaches Chemical approaches, namely alkalinity enhancement, involve adding different types of minerals to the ocean to react with dissolved carbon dioxide and turn it into dissolved bicarbonates. As dissolved carbon dioxide converts into dissolved bicarbonates, the concentration of dissolved CO 2 lowers relative to the air, allowing the ocean to absorb more CO 2 from the air at the ocean-air boundary. Although mineral sources are abundant, accessing them would require significant energy to extract, grind down and transport. While alkalinity enhancement is in use at small scales to improve water quality for calcifying creatures such as oysters and other shellfish, large scale applications would require pilot testing to understand ecosystem impacts. Additional research also will help map accessible and suitable sources of alkalinity and determine how to most effectively apply it. 3. Electrochemical approaches A handful of electrochemical concepts also store carbon as dissolved bicarbonate. Unlike chemical approaches, electrochemical approaches do so by running electric currents through seawater. Variations of electrochemical approaches also could produce valuable hydrogen or concentrated CO 2 for industrial use or storage. Scaling up this approach would depend on the availability of low-carbon energy sources in suitable locations. Additional research will help map such sources and analyze potential benefits, such as hydrogen production. Governance and social considerations of ocean-based carbon removal Ensuring appropriate governance frameworks — both national and international — for ocean-based carbon removal approaches will be a critical pre-condition before many are ready to scale. International legal frameworks for the ocean, such as the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea and the London Convention and Protocol, predate the concept of ocean carbon dioxide removal. As a result, these frameworks are retroactively applied to these approaches, leading to differing interpretations and a lack of clarity in some cases. Some legal scholars suggest amending existing legal instruments to more directly govern ocean carbon removal, including carbon removal in ongoing negotiations for new international agreements or shifting governance to another international body entirely. Robust environmental safeguards, including transparent monitoring and reporting, also must be in place. Lastly, ocean carbon removal approaches should not move forward without first considering the impacts on local communities and indigenous populations. Community acceptance of potential pilot testing and impacts on coastal communities also must be a pre-condition to moving forward at scale. Climate action must include the ocean As the world seeks effective tools for the climate action toolbox, employing approaches on land and at sea would prevent over-reliance on any one approach and spread the carbon removal burden over larger systems. However, before any large-scale application, ocean-based carbon removal approaches require continued research to better understand their effectiveness, cost, capacity and ancillary impacts. Such research will ensure a strong scientific foundation from which to pursue these concepts, while minimizing unintended impacts on ocean ecosystems. If understood and effectively developed and implemented, ocean-based carbon removal approaches could prove valuable to reaching net-zero and avoiding the worst effects of climate change. Pull Quote The ocean absorbs just under one-third of anthropogenic CO2 emissions, contributing to a rise in ocean acidification. Iron fertilization, which involves adding trace amounts of iron to certain parts of the ocean, spurring phytoplankton growth. Contributors Eliza Northrop Topics Oceans & Fisheries Carbon Removal World Resources Institute Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off GreenBiz collage via Unsplash Close Authorship

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Leveraging the ocean’s carbon removal potential

Are lawyers and accountants doing enough on climate change?

October 13, 2020 by  
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Are lawyers and accountants doing enough on climate change? Joel Makower Tue, 10/13/2020 – 01:40 When it comes to the climate crisis, it’s not just what you make and sell, it’s what you do, and for whom you do it. That’s the message from several recent reports focusing on the role of service-sector companies in addressing — positively or negatively — climate change. The mere existence of these documents, and the campaigns behind some of them, represent another broadening of the conversation, a clarion call for nontraditional business players to lead, or at least not hinder, efforts to address the climate crisis. But, hopefully, lead. Exhibit A: law firms. According to a new report from Law Students for Climate Accountability, most of the top 100 law firms in the United States “provide far more support to clients driving the climate crisis than clients addressing it.” Its research focuses on the work of Vault Law 100 firms, “the most prestigious law firms based on the assessments of lawyers at peer firms.” According to the group’s scorecard , Vault 100 firms: litigated 286 cases exacerbating climate change (versus three cases mitigating it) supported $1.316 trillion in transactions for the fossil fuel industry received $37 million in compensation for fossil fuel industry lobbying The study analyzed litigation, transactional and lobbying work conducted from 2015 to 2019. Each firm received an overall letter grade reflecting its contribution to the climate problem based on the data in these three categories. Four firms receive an A while 26 received an F. Even among those in the middle, the group found that “some firms contribute far more to the climate crisis than others.” The report is intended to provide law students and young lawyers “with a resource when deciding on their current and future employment,” it said, adding: We cannot ignore the role of law firms in exacerbating the climate crisis, and this report is another step in raising consciousness of how our employment choices shape the world. We, the next generation of lawyers, can choose what firms to work for and where to spend our careers. We can ask law firms how they plan to address their role in the crisis and hold them accountable to do so. Of course, for the firms themselves, it’s mostly about following the money. After all, the $41 million ExxonMobil spent on climate lobbying in 2019 ( according to InfluenceMap ) exceeds the entire $37 million annual operating budget ( 2019 ) of Greenpeace USA. “Climate lobbying” in the report is defined as efforts “to delay, control or block policies to tackle climate change.” Still, as the group notes, “These firms could use their extraordinary skills to accelerate the transition to a sustainable future, but too many are instead lending their services to the companies driving the climate crisis. Law firms cannot maintain reputations as socially responsible actors if they continue to support the destructive fossil-fuel industry.” It will be interesting to see whether shining a bright light on the nation’s top firms — which generally avoid scrutiny, let alone comparisons with one another — will encourage them to forgo revenue in favor of the greater good. Will job-seeking law students truly shun firms seen as bad actors? And if firms dropped oil, coal and gas companies as clients, would it move the fossil fuel industry even one iota? Suffice to say, the jury is out. Lawyers aren’t the only service-sector firms targeted for their climate ties. A report coming out later this week from the Australia-based Sunrise Project “will reveal that the top 10 U.S. health insurers are all invested in the fossil fuel industry” and will call on insurers to divest from these companies, calling them “the greatest threat to human health.” On a more proactive note , the CFA Institute, a trade group that measures and certifies financial analysts, recently released ” Climate Change Analysis in the Investment Process ,” a report that aims to improve the industry’s understanding on how climate risk can be applied to financial analysis. The report, written by Matt Orsagh, director of capital markets policy at the institute, explains the economic implications of climate change and covers such topics as a price on carbon and the growing carbon markets, increased transparency and disclosure of climate metrics, and how analysts should engage with companies on the physical and transition risks of climate change. And then there are banks and other financial institutions , which have long been the focus of climate activists. That, too, is ramping up. Earlier this month, the Science Based Targets initiative released a framework and validation service for financial institutions “against the backdrop of growing awareness of the material risks posed by climate change.” Fifty-five financial institutions including Bank Sarasin, Amalgamated Bank and Standard Chartered are backing the new certification and already have committed to setting science-based targets. For the first time, those organizations have the opportunity to verify their emissions reduction plans against the goals of the Paris Agreement. I’m fairly certain that campaigns are already ramping up to get the world’s largest financial institutions on board. Follow the money, indeed. Topics Corporate Strategy Policy & Politics Featured Column Two Steps Forward Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off GreenBiz photocollage

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Are lawyers and accountants doing enough on climate change?

Google becomes retroactively carbon-neutral

September 15, 2020 by  
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Google announced that it has now invested in enough high-quality carbon offsets to essentially erase its carbon footprint , compensating for all the carbon the company ever emitted. Google first became carbon-neutral in 2007. The goal is for all of Google’s offices and data centers to run on carbon-free energy by 2030. “We’ll do things like pairing wind and solar power sources together and increasing our use of battery storage,” said chief executive Sundar Pichai, according to BBC . “And we’re working on ways to apply AI [ artificial intelligence ] to optimize our electricity demand and forecasting.” Pichai’s plan could create 12,000 more jobs over the next five years. Related: Humans can’t count on rainforests to offset their carbon “Today’s announcement, combined with Google’s promise in May to no longer create artificial intelligence solutions for upstream oil and gas exploration, shows that Google takes its role in combating climate change seriously,” said Elizabeth Jardim, senior corporate campaigner for Greenpeace USA. This is all good news. However, the idea of offsetting all the company’s past use of carbon may not hold up when you take a closer look. Google’s offsets have so far focused on capturing natural gas that escapes from landfills and pig farms. As BBC points out, isn’t this something governments should be enforcing already? Planting trees to capture carbon dioxide, a popular offset strategy, also has its problems, such as ensuring that those trees never burn down or are felled. Google’s fellow tech giants have also announced plans to reduce or eliminate their carbon use. Microsoft plans to be carbon-negative by 2030. Amazon said it will be carbon-neutral by 2040, and Apple plans to have an entirely carbon-neutral business and manufacturing supply chain by 2030. And where the giants lead, smaller companies are apt to follow. Via BBC Image via Pawe? Czerwi?ski

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Dairy farmers forced to dump milk

April 9, 2020 by  
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Dairy farmers are suffering from pandemic-related kinks in the supply chain. Even as consumers face limits on how many dairy products they can buy at their local stores, farmers are dumping thousands of gallons of milk, which can also contaminate groundwater. Dairy cooperatives have asked members to start dumping milk , and Wisconsin-based Foremost Farms USA even suggested that members cull their herds. The cooperatives will reimburse members for at least part of the cost of the milk. But that barely soothes farmers’ feelings as they watch hard work go down the drain. Related: How to choose the healthiest, most sustainable milk alternative Since restaurants, schools and other wholesale food buyers have temporarily closed, processing plants have lost customers for their milk, cheese and butter. The dairy export market has tanked, and trucking companies have trouble finding enough drivers to get fresh milk to stores. Texas-based dairy food manufacturer Dean Foods Co. is offering new drivers $1,000 sign-on bonuses if they have experience hauling dairy, according to Reuters. As restaurant sales plummet, home cooking has soared. “About half of U.S. consumers’ food budget was spent on restaurants, and we’ve shut that spigot off,” said Matt Gould, editor at trade publication Dairy & Food Market Analyst. But dairy processing factories lack agility. Switching from manufacturing quantities of fast-food slices or bulk bags of shredded cheddar for commercial use to small bags for home use is too costly. Dairy isn’t the only industry to face supply chain problems. But because milk is highly perishable and raw milk needs to be processed before drinking, farmers can’t just donate it to food banks for later use. States expect farmers to follow certain guidelines to properly dispose of milk. In Ohio, “direct land application or transfer to on-site liquid manure storage structures” is allowed. Improper disposal of milk can contaminate groundwater. Milk has an even higher content of nutrients than manure, so dumping milk into bodies of water is even worse than discharging manure into it. Fish could be in danger if farmers fail to follow the proper protocols, and the smell of rotting milk won’t help lake recreation and tourism rebound when the coronavirus pandemic is finally over. Via ABC WISN 12 and Reuters Image via Pixabay

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Dairy farmers forced to dump milk

The problem with coffee pods and the eco-friendly alternatives to use instead

March 28, 2019 by  
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Many Americans have become accustomed to using single-serving brewers to make their morning cup of coffee. Not only are these coffee pods — such as K-Cups and Nespresso pods — convenient to use, but they come in an assortment of flavors and coffee types to meet anyone’s taste. While coffee pods are a convenience of modern times, they come with a dark side. The vast majority of these plastic capsules end up in our  landfills  every year, contributing to the  growing problem of plastic pollution . Fortunately, there are viable alternatives to the  single-use  coffee pod — and even coffee distributors like Keurig are doing their best to address the problem. What are coffee pods? Coffee capsules, like K-Cups and Nespresso pods, are typically filled with enough coffee  grounds for a single cup of a caffeinated (or decaffeinated) beverage. They generally consist of small plastic containers fitted with an aluminum foil lid. Once the coffee has been dispensed, the containers are no longer of use and are disposed of in the trash. The coffee pods end up in a variety of places after they are thrown away. The majority of them end their lives in landfills, though a good amount ends up in rivers, lakes and ultimately oceans. The plastic containers eventually break apart into smaller chunks, which can endanger  wildlife . Why are they so popular? Coffee pods have been around since the ’90s , but they only recently boomed in popularity. The rise of single-use coffee pods happened in 2012, when the number of pod users jumped to around 10 percent. That number has steadily risen over the years. According to USA Today , over 40 percent of residents in the United States have purchased a single-cup coffee brewer at some point in time. Convenience is the biggest reason people are switching over to coffee pods, and companies, like Keurig, Folgers, Starbucks and Kraft Heinz, have made them more accessible than ever. Coffee pods are difficult to recycle One big issue with coffee pods is that they are frequently too small to recycle . The sorting systems used in recycling plants have trouble picking them up, which means most of them end up in the trash. Related: This British cafe is serving to-go coffee in ceramic mugs to combat waste There are a few companies that use aluminum coffee capsules, which are easier to recycle. The downside, however, is that aluminum exposure is a health concern. Luckily, companies are looking into making pods out of polypropylene, which can be shredded and recycled. How many coffee pods end up in landfills? It is difficult to determine how many coffee capsules end up in the trash on an annual basis. Some researchers estimate that there were enough coffee pods buried in landfills in 2014 to go around the Earth 10.5 times, though other estimates put that number at 12. In 2018 alone, Keurig sold close to 10 billion K-Cups, though its new multi-cup pods are recyclable. Speaking of recyclable pods, more and more companies are offering these eco-friendly alternatives . In fact, Keurig plans to become completely recyclable by next year, though it is still up to users to actually put them in the recycling bin. Compostable and biodegradable options There are a few companies, such as San Francisco Bay Gourmet Coffee, that offer biodegradable and compostable pods. These pods can be placed in compost bins, or users can put them in their home compost piles. Related: HuskeeCup is an eco-friendly cup made entirely from coffee waste The downside to these pods is that you need to have a public composting facility in your town if you are not composting at home. You should also know that the biodegradable pods still take a long time to break down and are not that beneficial to the environment. Refillable pods With  plastic waste  continuing to be an issue around the world, the best way to improve the environment is to curb our dependence on single-use plastics altogether. To that end, the better alternative is coffee pods that are  refillable and reusable . These pods are not thrown away after use and can be cleaned and refilled on a daily basis. There are several companies that offer reusable capsules, including Keurig, Fill ‘n’ Save and Eko-Brew. Just ensure the refillable pod fits your machine before purchasing one. Single-serve alternatives For those who have not purchased a Keurig coffee maker or are looking to switch things up, there are single-serve systems that do not use plastic pods. In fact, several coffee makers have features that enable users to make anywhere between one to 12 cups of coffee at a time. This includes Cuisinart and Hamilton Beach. French press systems are another good alternative to using coffee pods. A few companies even have single-serve French press machines, some of which attach themselves on top of a coffee mug. What does the future hold for coffee pods? Given the environmental concerns, the future of coffee capsules remains in question. If companies are able to produce more eco-friendly alternatives to the plastic model, it is possible that single-serve pods will continue to grow in popularity. If the environmental concerns are not addressed, there are fortunately other alternatives that will hopefully replace the single-use pods once and for all. Images via Shutterstock, Tony Webster and Inhabitat

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The problem with coffee pods and the eco-friendly alternatives to use instead

Supreme Court will make historic Clean Water Act ruling

March 4, 2019 by  
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This Fall, the Supreme Court will make a monumental decision on whether the Clean Water Act prohibits groundwater pollution. The upcoming case is in response to a 2018 verdict in Hawaii, which ruled that a wastewater facility needed a Clean Water Act permit to inject treated wastewater into ground wells. The ruling will have national implications about what constitutes direct water pollution with two possible and controversial outcomes: either creating a massive loophole for major polluters or drastically expanding the Clean Water Act to include infinite sources of non-direct pollution. “This is the most significant environmental law case in the last few year,” former Head of the Justice Department’s Environment Division, John Cruden, told E&E News . First, what is groundwater? According to the U.S. Geological Survey , ground water is water that is beneath land surface. It is water that fills pores and fractures in sand, soil and rocks. Groundwater supplies 40 percent of water used by the public and 39 percent of water used in U.S. agriculture. It also feeds into bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers and the ocean. Related: Compensation for conservation: water markets are economists’ answer to scarcity What is the Clean Water Act? Since 1972, the Clean Water Act has been the main federal law governing the health of the country’s waterways. The Clean Water Act explicitly covers all navigable bodies of water. This definition has been up to judicial interpretation, but widely includes ocean, rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands, arguably including bodies of water that fill after heavy rains. The Clean Water Act channels federal funding to state and Tribal governments for water protection and remediation projects. Direct polluters are also required by the Act to obtain permits for any pollution discharged into bodies of water. The pollution case in Hawaii Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility in Maui was in violation of the Clean Water Act and needed a permit for its ongoing practice of injecting 3 to 5 million gallons of treated wastewater into the ground every day. In 2011, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study used tracer dye to prove that treated sewage was seeping out into coastal waters near Kahekili Beach. In 2012, a coalition of environmental advocacy organizations sued the treatment facility in order to protect nearshore coral reef. In 2018, the Court determined that because of its traceability, this case was considered direct pollution and therefore required a Clean Water Act permit. “If the Supreme Court reverses the lower courts’ decisions, chemical plants, concentrated animal feeding operations, oil refineries, and other industrial facilities would effectively have free rein to discharge pollutants indirectly into the nation’s waterways without Clean Water Act permits,” Earth Justice said in a statement reported in USA Today . However, the County of Maui argues that this is their most environmentally friendly option given limited resources and that they would need more time and funding to explore alternate methods of disposing of wastewater, such as offshore facilities.The County believes such issues should be determined at a local level, where judges understand the constraints. “We all want unpolluted waters, healthy coral and fish. But we want workable solutions, not onerous and costly government red tape. This is a home-rule issue that should be addressed here, not by far-off regulators imposing rules that don’t properly address our real world problems,” Maui County spokesperson Brian Perry said to the Lahaina News . Have other courts ruled on groundwater pollution? This is not the first time a local court has had to make a decision on indirect versus direct groundwater pollution and the Clean Water Act. In fact, USA today reports that in 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in South Carolina ruled that an oil spill from a burst pipeline was in violation of the Clean Water Act because the oil seeped through groundwater and entered bodies of water such as the Savannah River. However, in 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Kentucky ruled that pollutants from a coal ash pond that entered groundwater was not in violation of the Clean Water Act because groundwater does not fall under “navigable waters”. The Supreme Court has important decisions to make both about state versus federal jurisdiction and also about the possibilities of discharging pollution into groundwater. If the Supreme Court rules against the local decision, environmentalists believe this would give polluters free reign to contaminate the country’s important water sources. If it upholds the local decision, municipalities worry they will be inundated with costly changes to infrastructure as well as open targets for lawsuits for everything from road runoff to leaky water fountains. The Supreme Court is expected to hear the County of Maui, Hawaii versus Hawaii Wildlife Fund in October or November, 2019. Via The Lahaina News Image via Shutterstock

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Indonesia builds a resilient "living shoreline"

March 4, 2019 by  
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The Demak District on Indonesia’s most populous island of Java is four years into a five-year plan to restore its disappearing and degraded shoreline. In a collaborative and holistic approach to nature restoration and sustainable development, local and international partners successfully completed many integrated components to build back the shoreline. This “ Living Shoreline ” vision creates natural defenses against further erosion while increasing economic opportunities for coastal residents. Why is Indonesia vulnerable to climate change? Small islands around the world are experiencing erosion and sea level rise . In Demak, severe erosion is coupled with subsidence — the gradual sinking or caving-in of land. These risks have been attributed to three interrelated and man-made causes: Unsustainable development along the coast The island of Java and the district of Demak are important economic hubs for Indonesia, a country comprised of over 17,000 islands. As the city’s population grows, its urban footprint spreads into natural and coastal areas at unsustainable rates and with little time for developers to consider the ecological impact. Increased urbanization, in the pursuit of economic development, has led to a rise in emissions, pollution and degradation. Cutting down mangroves for shrimp farms Indonesia is the world’s second largest shrimp producer  and home to the largest mangrove forest in the world. In addition to logging and pollution, the Food and Agriculture Organization lists shrimp aquaculture as one of the major causes of mangrove loss in Indonesia. Despite the importance of this coastal habitat as a nursery and breeding ground for shrimp and other species, entrepreneurial farmers are rapidly cutting down mangroves to make way for more aquaculture ponds. Over-extraction of groundwater Rising urban populations and the construction of new development projects are using Java’s groundwater supply faster than it can be replenished naturally. Overdrawing of water has caused some areas of the coastal district to sink at alarming rates of up to 8 centimeters every year. Sinking causes serious risk for infrastructure such as roads, buildings and homes and puts lives in danger. See how the project vision compares to Wetland International’s prediction of flooding , erosion and evacuation along the same coast. Permeable dams build back the shoreline In response to these vulnerabilities, the Building with Nature Project installed resilience-building green infrastructure. First, the team of interdisciplinary partners and local groups constructed nearly 3 miles (4.7 km) of permeable dam structures with bamboo and brushwood. These partially submerged structures trap sediment from coastal erosion but allow water to pass freely. Over time, these structures collect and build back shorelines, which provides a stable coast for mangroves to regrow. The growth of new mangroves and their interconnected web of roots further fortifies the coast. Related: Indonesia unveils first zero-waste restaurant build with sustainably sourced materials In January 2019, the project partners officially handed over the maintenance of the permeable dams to local community groups. This hand-off is an effort to make the project sustainable and community-owned after the project funding runs out. Though project managers assisted community members with training and outreach to seek further funding from local and regional governments, it remains to be determined how the future maintenance of project infrastructure will be sustainably financed and managed. Shrimp farming sustainably The project also worked with shrimp farmers to introduce sustainable aquaculture  practices. According to the project website , over 422 hectares of ponds have benefited from environmentally friendly practices, and farmers surveyed reported that their income tripled as a result. Seventy hectares of damaged ponds have also been designated for potential mangrove restoration. Community and policy dialogues are underway to address persistent groundwater issues in an effort to integrate new development with the project’s living shoreline vision. The project is unique in its multi-year, multi-sector approach that integrates many environmental and economic approaches to sustainable development. While the longevity and sustainability of the project are still unknown, other cities and small islands are looking to the Building with Nature Project for examples of comprehensive coastal resilience strategies. The Building with Nature Project is a collaboration between an extensive collection of local and international partners, including EcoShape, Wetlands International, the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, the Ministry of Public Work and Human Settlement, Witteveen + Bos, Deltares, Wageningen University, UNESCO-IHE, Von Lieberman, the Diponegoro University and local community groups. The project is funded by the Dutch Sustainable Water Fund, The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), Waterloo Foundation, Otter Foundation, Topconsortia for Knowledge and Innovation and Mangroves for the Future. Images via Dion Hinchcliffe , Wave Haven Bali , Stephen Kennedy  and Shutterstock

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Indonesia builds a resilient "living shoreline"

Biodiversity decline puts food supply at risk

March 4, 2019 by  
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Biodiversity decline around the globe is hurting our capacity to develop food. A new study from the United Nations found that biodiversity is a key element in producing sustainable and secure food sources — such as crops and livestock — is currently in a decline due to several factors, including climate change . Scientists working with the Food and Agriculture Organization arm of the UN discovered that biodiversity has dropped across three levels: ecosystems, genetics and species. Without diversity in all three of the sectors, farmers and livestock owners will have a more difficult time raising reliable food sources in years to come. “The proportion of livestock breeds at risk of extinction is increasing. Overall, the diversity of crops present in farmers’ fields has declined and threats to crop diversity are increasing,” the research stated. Related: SUPERFARM design envisions an urban vertical farm that is energy self-sufficient The decline in species, for example, affects essential tasks in nature like managing pests and pollination. With an estimated 40 percent of species expected to go extinct over the next 20 to 30 years, this could have a devastating impact all around the world. Large mammals are also hurting from a lack of biodiversity, with over 25 percent of livestock on the verge of extinction. Further, there are only around seven percent of livestock breeds that are not at risk of extinction, which is alarming for the future of breeding. The UN report concluded that climate change is a contributing factor in the decline of biodiversity. Other human interactions with the environment are also leading to a change in biodiversity, including pollution, demographic changes, land abuse, and overcultivation. The study also warned that our ability to monitor changes in biodiversity is limited, which means we might be worse off than we think. Fortunately, the topic of biodiversity is getting more attention by worldwide leaders. In fact, it will take center stage at the upcoming G7 meeting and the World Conservation Congress gathering. It is unclear what will be done to combat the issue, but biodiversity decline is a problem that can no longer go ignored. Via CNN Image via Shutterstock

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Biodiversity decline puts food supply at risk

The US just experienced its hottest May on record

June 11, 2018 by  
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It’s a familiar theme: each year, it seems, is the hottest year on record. The most recent climate change milestone in the U.S. occurred last month, when the country experienced its hottest May ever recorded. “Nature is dealing cards from a very different deck now compared to the 20th century,” climate scientist David Titley told USA Today . The average temperature for May in the lower 48 states was 65.4°F, 5.2°F above the average temperature for the month in the 20th century. Prior to this year, the record hottest May occurred in 1934, at the height of the Dust Bowl. While climate change contributed to the record warmth, two significant tropical storms brought heat and precipitation north from the Gulf of Mexico. While more than a quarter of the contiguous U.S. remains in drought, some states, including Maryland and Florida , experienced their wettest month of May on record. As a result of heavy winter snow melting rapidly in a warm spring, locations in Idaho, Montana, Washington and Wyoming have experienced significant flooding. Related: Climate change has transformed much of Alaska over the past three decades Beyond the average monthly temperature, more than 8,590 daily warm temperature station records were either broken or tied throughout May. “This was 18 times more than the approximately 460 daily cold temperature station records during the month,” NOAA wrote. “Several of the daily records were noteworthy, including 100°F on May 28 in Minneapolis, Minnesota  — the earliest such occurrence on record.” + NOAA Via Ecowatch and  USA Today Images via NOAA

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The US just experienced its hottest May on record

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