5 Most Common Things Found at River Cleanups
By Chelsea Alley
There is a wide variety of trash found at river cleanups—from shopping carts to sofas, bottles to baby dolls. National River Cleanup volunteers work to make these waterways trash-free—removing unique and common items alike. In no particular order, below are the five most common trash items found at river cleanups:
1. Cigarette Butts
Cigarette butts weigh one gram or less, but they account for 30 percent of all litter in the U.S. They are the single worst offender in spite of their small size (food packaging makes up a larger percentage of litter but includes more than just one item, like straws, takeout containers, snack wrappers, etc.). This means that more than one trillion cigarettes are discarded each year, weighing over two billion pounds … or the equivalent of 42 Titanics stacked together!
2. Plastic Bottles and Bottle Caps
More than 22 billion plastic water bottles are thrown away yearly, meaning only about one in every six water bottles purchased in the U.S. ends up being recycled. An average water bottle weighs about 12.7 grams, so the amount of water bottles wasted each year weighs over half a billion pounds. That's almost as heavy as the Empire State Building! Plastic bottles and bottle caps aren't biodegradable, but they do photodegrade. That means that this plastic breaks down into small parts in the sun, and releases chemicals into the environment as they disintegrate. The worst part? They continue breaking down for 500 to 1,000 years!
3. Food Packaging
Food packaging is the largest category of waste on this list, as it includes household packaging (i.e. milk jugs, juice boxes and snack packaging) as well as fast food packaging (i.e. paper, Styrofoam, paperboard wrappings, coffee cups and drink cups). Almost half of the litter in the U.S. is food packaging. While some of these items could be recycled, most are not, and often these are found weighing down shorelines and waterways. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that fast food chains and consumer brand manufacturers relying on single-use packaging waste over $11 billion a year, enough to fund ¼ of the U.S. Energy and Environment budget.
4. Plastic Bags
Plastic bags are so common in the U.S. that over 100 billion bags are used each year. Over three times more bags end up as litter in our forests and waterways than are recycled annually. Plastic bags only weigh about eight grams each, but enough are littered annually to weigh as much as 176 adult blue whales! Plastic bags take almost as long to degrade as plastic bottles, leach chemicals into the environment, and inhibit natural water flows.
5. Aluminum Cans
Almost 100 billion aluminum cans are used in the U.S. annually, and only about half of these cans are recycled. The rest go to landfills or into the environment. Beverage containers account for 50 percent of roadside litter (though this statistic includes plastic containers), and much of that is washed into our waterways. Every aluminum can weighs about 14.9 grams, which means that even if only 1 percent of the aluminum cans used each year were littered, there would be enough waste to equal the weight of 2,500 African bush elephants, and enough cans to circle the equator almost two and a half times.
Bonus: What Will Stay in Your River the Longest? Microplastics
Microplastics can come from larger plastic items when they break down, or in the form of products like microbeads. Most microplastics float into the ocean, but a lot will sink to the bottoms of riverbeds and mix in with the sediment there. This effects oxygen levels in the water as well as harms animals that depend on these ecosystems for their livelihoods. Because plastic takes so long to break down, microplastics are so small, and these items are located along the bottom of rivers, they can stay in the rivers for potentially up to 1,000 years.
These numbers are certainly overwhelming, but they don't need to stay that way! There are many things you can do on your own or with your community to reduce the amount of waste in rivers:
- Learn more about recycling with our National River Cleanup recycling guide.
- Take our River Cleanup Pledge to pick up trash and help us fill our virtual landfill.
Brothers Paddle Two of America’s Most Toxic Waterways: Watch the Series #BroCleanBKLN https://t.co/fmBZnuvZvE… https://t.co/1FLo92cExy— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1512867905.0
Chelsea Alley is the January 2018 National River Cleanup intern at American Rivers.
By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.