One of the factors driving the plastic pollution crisis is that very little of it gets reused effectively—as of 2015, only 9 percent of all plastics ever made had been recycled, a 2017 Science Advances study found.
This is because, as ScienceNews explained, when plastics break down, they usually break down into molecules that can't be easily reshaped into plastics or other useful items without going through many different chemical processes.
But researchers at Colorado State University (CSU) have developed a potential solution to the plastic recycling problem.
In an article published in Science today, they unveiled a new polymer with many of the same characteristics as plastic that can be more easily returned to its original molecules to be recycled, without the need for toxic chemicals or complicated lab processes, a CSU press release reported Thursday.
"The polymers can be chemically recycled and reused, in principle, infinitely," Eugene Chen, a CSU chemistry professor whose lab developed the material, said.
Polymers, of which plastics are one type, are made from chains of repeating molecules. The new polymer developed by Chen's lab shares important characteristics with plastic such as strength, durability, lightness and heat resistance.
The recent polymer builds on another developed by Chen's lab in 2015, which could only be made under commercially impractical cold conditions. It was also softer than plastic, with less heat resistance and molecular weight.
But Chen said the lessons learned from that polymer were essential to developing the newer model, which can be made without solvents and under room temperature conditions that could be more easily replicated by industry. It can also be easily broken down using a catalyst and returned to its original shape for reuse.
The polymer still needs more work before it will be available commercially. Chen and his team have received a grant from CSU ventures that they are using to develop an even cheaper, more efficient process for developing similar polymers, as well as exploring how they can be produced on a larger scale. But Chen thinks he and his team are headed in the right direction.
"It would be our dream to see this chemically recyclable polymer technology materialize in the marketplace," Chen said in the press release.If Chen makes that dream come true, his work could aid governments and businesses as they work to reduce plastic pollution. Just a day before his paper was published, more than 40 UK businesses joined a UK Plastics Pact that aims, among other things, to source 30 percent of the UK's packaging from recyclable sources by 2025.
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By Tim Radford
The Colorado River is dwindling, and climate change is officially to blame. In the first 14 years of this century, the flow declined to only four-fifths of the 20th century average, according to new research. The water lost would have been enough to supply two million people for a whole year.
Altogether, the river supplies water to seven U.S. states and two in Mexico, and 40 million people rely on it for their water. But the entire Colorado River basin has been experiencing sustained drought since 2000. And somewhere between one sixth and one half of this liquid loss can be put down to global warming, scientists said.
They publish their findings in the journal Water Resources Research. "This paper is the first to show the large role that warming temperatures are playing in reducing the flows of the Colorado River," said Jonathan Overpeck, professor of geosciences and of hydrology and atmospheric sciences at the University of Arizona.
"We're the first to make the case that warming alone could cause Colorado River flow declines of 30 percent by mid-century and over 50 percent by the end of the century if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated."
His co-author Bradley Udall, a climate scientist at Colorado State University, said, "The future of the Colorado River is far less rosy than other recent assessments have portrayed. A clear message to water managers is that they need to plan for significantly lower river flows."
The two scientists began by looking at the drought years of 2000-2014. The river starts with precipitation in the upper regions of its drainage basin, in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.
They found that in the first decade and a half of this century, average temperatures in the region were 0.9°C higher than the average for the past 105 years. This is, very roughly, the temperature by which the globe has warmed on average over the last century, under a global warming regime driven by greenhouse gases emitted from fossil fuel combustion.
Lake Powell: Going, Going, Gone? - EcoWatch https://t.co/qu3xLvqQc7 @ClimateDesk @CeresNews— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1471384872.0
But there is another factor to consider. The U.S. Southwest has a climate history characterized by intermittent megadroughts—periods of much lower rainfall over spans of 20 to 60 years.
Researchers have proposed that the risk of megadroughts is likely to increase in any climate change scenario. What actually will happen is uncertain, but the scientists are betting that as greenhouse gas emissions rise, so will the difficulties of water supply.
"Even if the precipitation does increase, our work indicates that there are likely to be drought periods as long as several decades when precipitation will still fall below normal," said Overpeck.
According to Udall, "Current planning understates the challenge that climate change poses to the water supplies in the American Southwest. My goal is to help water managers incorporate this information into their long-term planning efforts."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.