Students Applaud University of Cincinnati for Commitment to Move Beyond Coal
This week the University of Cincinnati (UC)—a leader in campus sustainability—announced that it plans to completely replace coal as a fuel for electricity within the year. The university currently uses 90 percent less coal to power its campus than it did in 2011. The administration’s motivation for the change came from a student movement, part of the Sierra Student Coalition (SSC), which called for safer, cleaner energy sources and leveraged energy savings opportunities provided by Ohio’s energy efficiency laws.
“We believe that universities have an obligation to provide clean energy and a safe climate future to their students,” said Morgan Billingsley, a student leader from the campaign. “The university’s recent announcement is a strong reminder of the change that students can create and is a shining example of the abundant opportunities for clean energy and energy savings that exist in Ohio.”
Starting in 2011, UC students joined the national SSC movement to protect public health and the climate by retiring the more than 60 on-campus coal plants. So far, more than one-third of all on-campus coal plants have set retirement dates. UC students organized large-scale events, including a flash mob that formed into a giant wind turbine in front of the office of former UC President Greg Williams, ultimately delivering more than 3,000 petitions and close to 60 handwritten letters calling for a move to cleaner sources of energy.
“Today we applaud President Santa Ono for responding to student interests in energy efficiency, and now we look forward to the type of leadership that finally begins to bring renewables like wind, solar, or geothermal into the mix,” said former student president Alan Hagerty, who fully supported the change during his term in 2011-2012. “These are measures that will help curb climate disruption, stabilize tuition costs and keep our community healthy.”
Ohio’s energy efficiency law provided an important catalyst behind the university’s ability to act on students’ concerns. Despite record-setting enrollment rates, total energy use in 2013 on campus was down from the previous year, continuing a three-year trend. Using incentive programs offered by Duke Energy Ohio, UC is able to avoid more than $4.5 million in electricity costs each year.
“The University of Cincinnati’s leadership shows the benefits of harnessing Ohio’s money-saving energy efficiency law,” said Dan Sawmiller, campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Ohio Beyond Coal campaign. “UC is a great example of how successful this law has been in helping to save money while making Ohio a cleaner, safer place to live.”
This week, Washington University students enter the third week of their historic sit-in in protest of the university's connection with Peabody Energy, a St. Louis-based coal giant. Check out the slideshow below for a glimpse into the ongoing protest:
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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