By Natalie Marchant
- Wood accounts for 10% of yearly waste material in the US.
- The Baltimore Wood Project salvages wood from buildings to repurpose and resell locally to create a circular economy.
- The initiative also has social benefits, by creating job opportunities in a post-industrial city that has an 8.5% unemployment rate.
An initiative in the US city of Baltimore wants to salvage and reuse as much wood as possible, while also creating jobs.
The Baltimore Wood Project works with partners such as the US Forest Service to rethink and reclaim wood in the city in order to reduce landfill waste, rejuvenate disused land and engage local communities.
The pilot project salvages wood from abandoned buildings and urban trees before repurposing it and reselling it locally, thereby creating a closed-loop system or circular economy which has a host of environmental, economic and social benefits.
Reducing the City’s Waste
Wood accounts for more than 10% of the annual waste material in the US and, in some years, more tree and woody residue has been generated from urban areas than was harvested from national forests, according to the US Forest Service. This waste is costly for businesses that have to pay for its collection and disposal.
Post-industrial Baltimore is a particularly relevant base for the scheme, as it is estimated that there are 16,000 empty properties, with some 4,000 of them marked for demolition. Some estimates even put the number of vacant lots in the city at well over 40,000.
By reclaiming both freshly-cut wood and that from abandoned properties, the Baltimore Wood Project can reduce waste; provide green materials for construction, furniture making and other sectors; and help restore and reclaim neighborhoods.
Deconstruction Instead of Demolition
In addition to its obvious environmental benefits, the project also has valuable economic and social advantages. With a population of nearly 600,000, Baltimore has an unemployment rate of 8.5%, compared to a nationwide rate of 6.2%.
The Baltimore Wood Project helps tackle the city's joblessness problem by focusing on deconstruction rather than demolition, arguing that the former creates six to eight more jobs than the latter.
This enables those with barriers to employment to gain a valuable skill set and eventually a career, and also helps revitalize the neighborhoods in which they live.
The Benefits of a Circular Economy
Wood reclaimed and recycled by the project can be used for sustainable building, furniture and energy, among other uses.
Indeed, the project is intended to help the city achieve its aim of a sustainable future and serve as a model for creating a circular, self-reinforcing economy in urban areas.
Globally, it is estimated that transitioning to a circular economy – which promotes the elimination of waste and continual safe use of natural resources – could generate $4.5 trillion in economic benefits by 2030.
The World Economic Forum is supporting moves towards creating a worldwide circular economy through collaboration on The Circulars Accelerator 2021 program.
The accelerator is a collaboration with UpLink, the World Economic Forum's innovation crowdsourcing platform, and is led by professional services company Accenture in partnership with Anglo American, Ecolab, and Schneider Electric.
Reposted with permission from the World Economic Forum.
"I AM DONE!!! I DID IT!!!"
I AM DONE!!! I DID IT!!! After **589** days of picking up trash every single day, I can say with confidence that E… https://t.co/7ko2wntQK3— Edgar McGregor (@Edgar McGregor)1614982100.0
The 20-year-old visited Eaton Canyon, his local park, for at least an hour every day to clean up municipal waste. He persisted during the pandemic and through extreme weather, including hail, 65 MPH winds and ashy rain from nearby wildfires, he said in the viral video celebrating his accomplishment.
McGregor's goal involved cleaning up after visitors in order to leave the hiking trail, which is part of the Angeles National Forest in Southern California, trash-free. Armed every day with gloves and empty paint buckets, the activist told ABC that he filled up at least two buckets during each visit.
"I just started picking up one day because I knew it needed to be done. I knew no one was doing it, and that was that," he added.
McGregor shared his daily progress on Twitter, gaining more than 18,000 followers. He documented not just how much trash he picked up, but also the weather, minor injuries he sustained, where he cleaned and how long it took.
On March 5, the last day of his marathon cleanup, he proudly announced, "After **589** days of picking up trash every single day, I can say with confidence that Eaton Canyon, one of Los Angeles's most popular hiking trail [sic], is now free of municipal waste!" That single tweet has been liked on Twitter's platform more than 107,600 times, and even famed climate activist Greta Thunberg congratulated McGregor.
"There is nothing more satisfying than seeing brand new animals return to your park after months of cleaning up. I highly encourage anyone with any spare time to give this mission a shot. Your parks need you," McGregor told NPR.
During his months of garbage removal, McGregor separated recyclables from trash and traded the former for cash. It totaled roughly $30 every two to three weeks, NPR reported, and McGregor donated that money to various charities and causes that mattered to him and his followers.
Earlier this week, McGregor tweeted that he raised more than $400 from recycling and donated all of it to plant native trees in Eaton Canyon, fund charities around the world and support political candidates that promise to act on the climate crisis.
McGregor also uses his platform to explain why cleanups matter and how they help.
Five days after his monumental achievement and proclamation, he recorded a new message in Eaton Canyon. McGregor explained how new trash had entered the park from several adjacent communities at higher elevations.
Trash pickup day 594. This was a 150 minute pickup. #EarthCleanUp It's hailing! Did two buckets in my park. Most… https://t.co/AcEAkC10Xn— Edgar McGregor (@Edgar McGregor)1615406445.0
"So trash on city streets gets into storm drains and dumps into this park," he said. "So this morning, all of this trash in this bucket was brand new. It entered this park after midnight today, and I was able to come out here before the rainstorm hit and clean up trash."
In his video, McGregor pointed out how the nearby storm drain had filled with water from a flash flood and carried tons of trash a mile and a half. Had he not intervened, that trash would have entered a local watershed that feeds directly to the Pacific Ocean, he explained. McGregor added a call to action for his followers, saying, "So, if you see rain in the forecast, be sure to clean up trash on your local streets and your local boulevards. Because if that trash is not cleaned up and the rain hits, it's gonna flow into the storm drains, and it can get into your local parks. It can get into the rivers, and, even worse, it can get into the ocean. And, it's a lot harder to clean up."
ON CBS, McGregor shared his ideal solution to this massive trash problem, saying, "The only solution to picking up trash in our local parks is to... hire people to clean them up permanently."
Because that isn't yet a reality, McGregor continues to return several times a week to Eaton Canyon to remove trash while also considering new parks to clean up. He encourages everyone to go on their own pickup expeditions and post photos with the hashtag #EarthCleanUp, which he promises to retweet and celebrate.
"If you think my work is inspiring, prove it to me by going out there and defending this planet with all you've got," McGregor urged on Twitter. "It can be anything within your abilities. It just has to be something."
- The Power of Inclusive, Intergenerational Climate Activism - EcoWatch ›
- Youth Climate Activists Want a Role in Biden's White House ... ›
- Homeland Security Listed Climate Activists as 'Extremists' Alongside ... ›
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
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.
Nuclear power is a source of low-carbon electricity, but producing it creates dangerous radioactive waste that needs to be stored safely and permanently.
Recent research suggests that as seas rise, some nuclear waste storage facilities are at risk of flooding or storm damage.
"We really focused in to say, 'OK, well, how many plants might actually be subject to these risks?'" says Sarah Jordaan of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
Her team looked at 13 facilities along the U.S. coast.
They found that if seas rise about six feet – which is possible by the end of the century – more than half of the waste storage sites would be directly along the water's edge or even surrounded by water.
So she says it's critical to anticipate these long-term vulnerabilities and take action.
"There are certainly ways that those risks can be managed now," Jordaan says.
For example, after five years, spent fuel can be moved to dry casks. This is a safer long-term storage method than the cooling pools where a lot of spent fuel is currently stored.
So Jordaan says it's critical for policymakers to understand the risks at nuclear facilities and create regulations and policies to ensure greater safety.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
- Speeding Sea Level Rise Threatens Nuclear Plants - EcoWatch ›
- Louisiana Faces Faster Levels of Sea-Level Rise Than Any Other ... ›
- Sea Level Rise Is Locked in Even If We Meet Paris Agreement ... ›
- Atlantic Sea Levels Are Rising at Fastest Rate in 2,000 Years, ›
By Callie Babbitt and Shahana Althaf
It's hard to imagine navigating modern life without a mobile phone in hand. Computers, tablets and smartphones have transformed how we communicate, work, learn, share news and entertain ourselves. They became even more essential when the COVID-19 pandemic moved classes, meetings and social connections online.
But few people realize that our reliance on electronics comes with steep environmental costs, from mining minerals to disposing of used devices. Consumers can't resist faster products with more storage and better cameras, but constant upgrades have created a growing global waste challenge. In 2019 alone, people discarded 53 million metric tons of electronic waste.
In our work as sustainability researchers, we study how consumer behavior and technological innovations influence the products that people buy, how long they keep them and how these items are reused or recycled.
Our research shows that while e-waste is rising globally, it's declining in the U.S. But some innovations that are slimming down the e-waste stream are also making products harder to repair and recycle.
Recycling Used Electronics
Thirty years of data show why the volume of e-waste in the U.S. is decreasing. New products are lighter and more compact than past offerings. Smartphones and laptops have edged out desktop computers. Televisions with thin, flat screens have displaced bulkier cathode-ray tubes, and streaming services are doing the job that once required standalone MP3, DVD and Blu-ray players. U.S. households now produce about 10% less electronic waste by weight than they did at their peak in 2015.
The bad news is that only about 35% of U.S. e-waste is recycled. Consumers often don't know where to recycle discarded products. If electronic devices decompose in landfills, hazardous compounds can leach into groundwater, including lead used in older circuit boards, mercury found in early LCD screens and flame retardants in plastics. This process poses health risks to people and wildlife.
Gold mining in Ghana may be helping the economy, but it is devastating the environment. @AJ101East investigates:… https://t.co/UaBKf37itQ— Al Jazeera English (@Al Jazeera English)1481932756.0
There's a clear need to recycle e-waste, both to protect public health and to recover valuable metals. Electronics contain rare minerals and precious metals mined in socially and ecologically vulnerable parts of the world. Reuse and recycling can reduce demand for "conflict minerals" and create new jobs and revenue streams.
But it's not a simple process. Disassembling electronics for repair or material recovery is expensive and labor-intensive.
Some recycling companies have illegally stockpiled or abandoned e-waste. One Denver warehouse was called "an environmental disaster" when 8,000 tons of lead-filled tubes from old TVs were discovered there in 2013.
The U.S. exports up to 40% of its e-waste. Some goes to regions such as Southeast Asia that have little environmental oversight and few measures to protect workers who repair or recycle electronics.
Disassembling Products and Assembling Data
Health and environmental risks have prompted 25 U.S. states and the District of Columbia to enact e-waste recycling laws. Some of these measures ban landfilling electronics, while others require manufacturers to support recycling efforts. All of them target large products, like old cathode-ray tube TVs, which contain up to 4 pounds of lead.
We wanted to know whether these laws, adopted from 2003 to 2011, can keep up with the current generation of electronic products. To find out, we needed a better estimate of how much e-waste the U.S. now produces.
We mapped sales of electronic products from the 1950s to the present, using data from industry reports, government sources and consumer surveys. Then we disassembled almost 100 devices, from obsolete VCRs to today's smartphones and fitness trackers, to weigh and measure the materials they contained.
A researcher takes apart a smartphone to find out what materials are inside. Shahana Althaf, CC BY
This dissected tablet shows the components inside, each of which were logged, weighed and measured by researchers. Callie Babbitt, CC BY
We created a computer model to analyze the data, producing one of the most detailed accounts of U.S. electronic product consumption and discards currently available.
E-waste Is Leaner, But Not Necessarily Greener
The big surprise from our research was that U.S. households are producing less e-waste, thanks to compact product designs and digital innovation. For example, a smartphone serves as an all-in-one phone, camera, MP3 player and portable navigation system. Flat-panel TVs are about 50% lighter than large-tube TVs and don't contain any lead.
But not all innovations have been beneficial. To make lightweight products, manufacturers miniaturized components and glued parts together, making it harder to repair devices and more expensive to recycle them. Lithium-ion batteries pose another problem: They are hard to detect and remove, and they can spark disastrous fires during transportation or recycling.
Popular features that consumers love – speed, sharp images, responsive touch screens and long battery life – rely on metals like cobalt, indium and rare-earth elements that require immense energy and expense to mine. Commercial recycling technology cannot yet recover them profitably, although innovations are starting to emerge.
Re-envisioning Waste as a Resource
We believe solving these challenges requires a proactive approach that treats digital discards as resources, not waste. Gold, silver, palladium and other valuable materials are now more concentrated in e-waste than in natural ores in the ground.
"Urban mining," in the form of recycling e-waste, could replace the need to dig up scarce metals, reducing environmental damage. It would also reduce U.S. dependence on minerals imported from other countries.
Concentration of hazardous (left) and valuable (right) materials within the U.S. e-waste stream. Althaf et al. 2020
We also see a need for responsive e-waste laws in place of today's dated patchwork of state regulations. Establishing convenient, certified recycling locations can keep more electronics out of landfills. With retooled operations, recyclers can recover more valuable materials from the e-waste stream. Steps like these can help balance our reliance on electronic devices with systems that better protect human health and the environment.
Callie Babbitt is an Associate Professor of Sustainability, Rochester Institute of Technology.
Shahana Althaf is a Postdoctoral associate, Yale University.
Disclosure statement: Callie Babbitt receives funding from the National Science Foundation, the Consumer Technology Association, and the Staples Sustainable Innovation Lab. Shahana Althaf received funding from the National Science Foundation, the Consumer Technology Association, and the Staples Sustainable Innovation Lab.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
By Elliot Douglas
First developed in China more than a thousand years ago, fireworks have since become an integral part of celebrations all over the world. From New Year's Eve festivities, to U.S. Independence Day and Diwali in India, many events have become almost synonymous with the spark and spectacle of mini explosions lighting up the night sky.
But as awareness of climate and environmental issues grows, the impact of these pyrotechnic light shows is inching into a spotlight of its own. Made of harmful plastics and chemical compounds, fireworks don't only cause ground pollution, but can seriously affect the quality of the air we breathe.
The Real Impact of Fireworks
In November, concern over excessive air pollution during the coronavirus pandemic prompted several Indian states and the capital of New Delhi — which has one of the worst smog problems in the world — to ban fireworks from this year's Diwali festival.
Often known as the festival of lights, Diwali is a five-day celebration observed by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs that ends in large firework displays.
Many revelers defied the ban. On the final day of the festival, the India Air Quality Index (AQI) recorded "severe" fine particulate matter (PM2.5) levels of 481 in the capital. The index has a maximum rating of 500.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), "PM2.5 can penetrate the lung barrier and enter the blood system. Chronic exposure to particles contributes to the risk of developing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as of lung cancer."
In Germany, a recent Federal Environmental Agency report said over 2,000 tons of particulate matter are added to the atmosphere every year by fireworks. Of that, 75% is generated on December 31st, when the skies and pavements become a canvas for bangers and rockets let off at will on any and every street corner.
Contributors to Pollution
Jürgen Resch, leader of the German environmental group the Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH), has long been campaigning for stricter firework legislation. Though estimates on levels of greenhouse gas emissions generated during the country's annual festivities vary, Resch explained that the problem goes beyond air pollution.
"In Germany, we see 10,000 tons of plastic and hazardous waste caused by fireworks left lying around after New Year's Eve every year," he said.
Georg Alef from leading German fireworks manufacturer Weco is quick to point out that there is no such thing as a climate-neutral firework. But he says modern technology has made a difference to their environmental impact, and that his company is working to make its products more eco-friendly.
"There is a combustion and as with every combustion, reactions produce something into the air. Our products are not free of fine particles," he said.
"But then there is the question of the use of heavy metals or heavy metal compounds such as lead, mercury, chrome and so on. These are all natural components, which were perhaps still used in parts in the last century. But today they are banned."
Alef claims Weco has gone further than many other firework manufacturers: for example by trialling compostable fibers in their rockets and using batteries that are partly made of plant-based materials. By 2021, they hope to be able to replace the plastic caps of rockets with a version made from recycled paper. Nitrogen-based rather than carbon-based fireworks are also produced by some companies.
Weco says one issue slowing down progress is that biodegradable materials are both more expensive than regular firework parts and not yet widely available. There's also the issue of safety. It can take years for new firework components to be properly tested.
"We can't use every (eco-friendly) component, especially when it comes to security concerns," Alef said. "And if you want to have complete zero emissions, then the only way is to get rid of fireworks entirely."
Drone Shows and Laser Shows
That is an appealing thought for the likes of Resch.
"Why do we have to celebrate events by firing rockets and letting off explosions in this primitive way?" he said.
And there are alternatives. In South Korea, where fireworks usage is largely limited to official events, drone shows have gained traction in recent years, often producing brilliant and beautiful results.
The German city of Landshut, where fireworks have been banned at New Year's Eve for several years, has become renowned for its impressive laser light shows. And in the Irish capital Dublin, previous years have been welcomed in with a mixture of traditional pyrotechnics and laser shows.
While Alef believes fireworks are an important part of German culture and an "artform" that must be preserved, Resch hopes the pandemic will offer a chance for firework-loving countries to embrace more environmentally friendly alternatives.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
By Sean Fleming
What goes around comes around, according to the old saying. And in the case of the circular economy, that's certainly true.
The circular economy takes a different approach to the take-make-dispose model of consumption to which many have become accustomed. By reusing and recycling as much as possible, plus repurposing and selling on items that have outlived their initial use, the circular economy is creating jobs and generating economic activity, while easing some pressures on the environment.
It's an approach based on "designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems," in the words of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The idea is gaining momentum and truly hitting the mainstream as a growing number of household-name brands adopt circular methods and develop products with circularity built in.
Organizations around the world are creating new platforms to support circular innovation. For instance, the World Economic Forum's Scale360° Playbook initiative brings together technologists, researchers, entrepreneurs and governments to develop new products and solutions, maximize resources and rethink value chains. Additionally, emerging circular innovators from around the world can connect and work together in sharing ideas and solutions through UpLink, the Forum's open innovation platform.
Regenerate, reuse, recycle. Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Here are four examples of the circular innovation that could be coming to a store near you.
Recycling Incentives: Thousand Fell
Thousand Fell is already making a name for itself as an environmentally conscious manufacturer with shoes made from sustainable materials such as coconut husk and sugar cane, and even recycled plastic bottles,
Now, in partnership with TerraCycle and UPS, the maker has launched a special recycling incentive. Customers can return old pairs of Thousand Fell shoes back to the manufacturer. Thousand Fell will then recycle the returned footwear and send customers $20 that can be used toward a new pair of shoes.
A Big Brand Selling Goods Second-Hand: IKEA
Visitors to the Swedish town of Eskilstuna, about 100km outside of the capital Stockholm, could visit a 1,000-year-old stone covered with Viking runes and pictures. They could also visit IKEA's first-ever second-hand store.
The shop will feature gently used IKEA furniture as part of its efforts to reach its 2030 climate targets.
Head of sustainability at the Scandinavian furniture giant Jonas Carlehed told Reuters earlier this year that: "We are making a huge readjustment, maybe the biggest IKEA has ever made, and one of the keys to reaching [the company's 2030 climate targets] is to manage to help our customers prolong the life of their products."
The company has also recently started a buy-back scheme for customers – it gives vouchers in exchange for the return of unwanted furniture and other items. That scheme has, however, been suspended in some locations because of ongoing pandemic-related restrictions.
Re-usable Fast Food Packaging: Burger King
Takeaway food is big business -- but the packaging for those meals poses a sustainability challenge.
Global takeaway brand Burger King has unveiled a solution in the form of reusable packaging intended to reduce the amount of waste it generates. Customers in New York, Tokyo, and Portland, Oregon will soon be able to buy burgers and drinks in reusable packaging.
The plan, one in place for next year, features a small deposit charged initially and then refunded when the customer returns with the boxes and cups, which are taken away for cleaning and processing via the zero-waste e-commerce system Loop.
Shoes You Don't Own: Adidas
Sportswear multinational Adidas has a range of footwear designed with recycling in mind. Its UltraBoost DNA Loop shoes are made from just one material – thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). No glue is used in its manufacture, instead, it is assembled using high temperatures.
On its website, Adidas describes the UltraBoost Loop as the shoes customers will never own, but will instead return once they are finished with them.
"If the end can become the beginning, we can help keep products in play and waste out of landfill," the company says.
Reposted with permission from World Economic Forum.
- Fashion Industry Report: One Truckload of Clothing Is Wasted Per ... ›
- Electronic Waste: New EU Rules Target Throwaway Culture ... ›
- Toward a Circular Economy: Tackling the Plastics Recycling Problem ›
- Why We Must Ban Plastic Bags and Support a Circular Economy ... ›
- IKEA Parent Company Buys Georgia Forest With Pledges to Manage It Sustainably - EcoWatch ›
By Jessica Corbett
A joint report on Monday highlighted the pressure that President-elect Joe Biden is already facing to deliver on his environmental justice campaign promises—particularly when it comes to the 34 Superfund sites nationwide for which there is no reliable cleanup funding—the largest backlog of "unfunded" sites in 15 years.
The federal Superfund program began with the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), passed by Congress in 1980. While cleanup efforts were initially paid for by a trust fund created by taxing the chemical and petroleum industries, lawmakers let the tax expire 25 years ago.
The new report on the cleanup program from NBC News, InsideClimate News, and The Texas Observer is the fifth installment of the "Super Threats" series about Superfund sites and climate change. The first report, published in late September, detailed how hundreds of hazardous waste sites across the United States are threatened by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires, which are all exacerbated by a climate crisis that the Trump administration often refused to acknowledge let alone act to address.
Both reports pointed to a 2019 Government Accountability Office (GAO) analysis which found that 945 Superfund sites are vulnerable to extreme weather events that are intensifying because of human-caused climate change, including hurricanes, flooding, sea level rise, increased precipitation, or wildfires. The news outlets behind the series created an interactive map for all the locations on the office's list, which includes over half of the unfunded sites—19 of 34.
President-elect Joe Biden will have his work cut out for him as he attempts to reverse President Trump’s environmen… https://t.co/NIZ6juIClW— Inside Climate News (@Inside Climate News)1609155300.0
The outlets reported Monday that Democrats in Congress, environmentalists, and former officials at the Environmental Protection Agency are urging Biden to consider climate change when creating cleanup plans for not only the unfunded backlog—which has grown under President Donald Trump—but all 1,570 Superfund sites.
"Even before taking office, the Biden administration accomplished one of the GAO's key recommendations: acknowledge the climate threat," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). "A Biden EPA will need to assess every federal Superfund project and help states do the same. As the GAO showed, climate change brings a new priority to rapid Superfund cleanup work."
As the outlets reported:
Beyond Whitehouse's call for climate-threat assessments at every site, one senior former EPA official said the incoming Biden administration should review all of the agreements negotiated by the Trump EPA at Superfund sites with corporations liable for cleanups.
"You will want to see if the responsible parties were being given preferential treatment," said Mathy Stanislaus, who served as assistant administrator of the EPA's Office of Land and Emergency Management during the Obama administration.
Stanislaus said such reviews should focus first on any agreements negotiated since the election by the lame-duck Trump EPA.
Earlier this month, Public Citizen launched an online tool to track Trump's "most corrupt, norm-breaking, dangerous, and unjust actions during the lame-duck session," noting that the past four years have featured "cruelty, recklessness, and cronyism" from the outgoing administration.
The watchdog group has been critical of Trump's EPA administrators. Currently the agency is run by former coal industry lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, who was confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate in early 2019. His predecessor, Scott Pruitt, stepped down in July 2018 in the face of several ethics scandals.
The Monday report noted that "the Superfund program is led by Peter C. Wright, a lawyer who previously worked for Dow Chemical and represented the company in negotiations with the EPA over Superfund sites."
Although party control of the Senate will be determined by a pair of runoff elections in Georgia on January 5, Biden has already announced several of his preferred Cabinet picks, including Michael Regan, the top environmental official in North Carolina, to head the EPA—a move that drew a range of responses from campaigners.
On the campaign trail, Biden promised to take bold climate action with a focus on frontline communities. His $2 trillion green energy and environmental justice plan, unveiled in July, earned praise from various activists, including Varshini Prakash, co-founder and executive director of the youth-led Sunrise Movement.
Writing for The Hill on Monday, Prakash and Green 2.0 executive director Andrés Jimenez welcomed Biden's selection of Regan for EPA and Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) for interior secretary as "an encouraging sign that his administration is prioritizing the voices of the populations who are most in need of serious attention and aggressive action on some of the most important environmental challenges our nation faces."
"Still, much difficult work remains to be done if the concerns of frontline and at-risk communities are to be truly prioritized with forging and implementing equitable environmental policies," Prakash and Jimenez wrote, emphasizing that "communities of color have been disproportionately affected by our federal government's lack of action to solve ongoing environmental problems" and "are also at higher risk of the consequences of human-induced climate changes."
The pair urged Biden to "follow through on his promises to root out systemic racism when it comes to our nation's environmental policy," appoint environmental leaders of color to positions at all levels of his administration, and "take urgent action to curb the global climate crisis and to restore justice for communities impacted by air, water, and land polluters."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
- U.S. Military Is World's Biggest Polluter - EcoWatch ›
- Do You Live Near One of the 1,300 Most Toxic Sites in America ... ›
- 945 Toxic Waste Sites at Risk of Disaster From Climate Crisis ... ›
- Biden Has Pledged to Advance Environmental Justice – Here’s How the EPA Can Start - EcoWatch ›
- Toxic Waste Ponds Dangerously Vulnerable to Climate Change ›
- Living Near a Toxic Waste Site Could Lower Life Expectancy by a Year, Study Finds ›
Many people shop online for everything from clothes to appliances. If they do not like the product, they simply return it. But there's an environmental cost to returns.
Meagan Knowlton is a sustainability manager at Optoro, a company that helps retailers process and resell returns. Optoro estimates that each year, returns in the U.S. create about 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
That's about the same amount of carbon pollution produced by 3 million cars during an entire year.
"And that's just from putting returns in trucks and moving them around, back from the consumers … and then on to their next homes," Knowlton says.
That home might be another customer. But sometimes retailers cannot resell returns at a profit and unsold items may end up in landfills.
"We estimate that at least 5 billion pounds of landfill waste are created every year in the U.S. from returns alone," Knowlton says.
To reduce that waste, Optoro helps retailers find new places to resell or donate returned merchandise.
Knowlton says consumers can help by considering the environmental costs of returns before they buy.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
- Are We Doomed If We Don't Curb Carbon Emissions by 2030 ... ›
- California Winery Cuts Carbon Emissions With Lighter Bottles ... ›
- Wealthy One Percent Are Producing More Carbon Emissions Than ... ›
Secondhand Clothing Sales Are Booming – and May Help Solve the Sustainability Crisis in the Fashion Industry
By Hyejune Park and Cosette Marie Joyner Armstrong
A massive force is reshaping the fashion industry: secondhand clothing. According to a new report, the U.S. secondhand clothing market is projected to more than triple in value in the next 10 years – from US$28 billion in 2019 to US$80 billion in 2029 – in a U.S. market currently worth $379 billion. In 2019, secondhand clothing expanded 21 times faster than conventional apparel retail did.
Even more transformative is secondhand clothing's potential to dramatically alter the prominence of fast fashion – a business model characterized by cheap and disposable clothing that emerged in the early 2000s, epitomized by brands like H&M and Zara. Fast fashion grew exponentially over the next two decades, significantly altering the fashion landscape by producing more clothing, distributing it faster and encouraging consumers to buy in excess with low prices.
As researchers who study clothing consumption and sustainability, we think the secondhand clothing trend has the potential to reshape the fashion industry and mitigate the industry's detrimental environmental impact on the planet.
The Next Big Thing
The secondhand clothing market is composed of two major categories, thrift stores and resale platforms. But it's the latter that has largely fueled the recent boom. Secondhand clothing has long been perceived as worn out and tainted, mainly sought by bargain or treasure hunters. However, this perception has changed, and now many consumers consider secondhand clothing to be of identical or even superior quality to unworn clothing. A trend of "fashion flipping" – or buying secondhand clothes and reselling them – has also emerged, particularly among young consumers.
Thanks to growing consumer demand and new digital platforms like Tradesy and Poshmark that facilitate peer-to-peer exchange of everyday clothing, the digital resale market is quickly becoming the next big thing in the fashion industry.
The market for secondhand luxury goods is also substantial. Retailers like The RealReal or the Vestiaire Collective provide a digital marketplace for authenticated luxury consignment, where people buy and sell designer labels such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Hermès. The market value of this sector reached $2 billion in 2019.
The secondhand clothing trend also appears to be driven by affordability, especially now, during the COVID-19 economic crisis. Consumers have not only reduced their consumption of nonessential items like clothing, but are buying more quality garments over cheap, disposable attire.
For clothing resellers, the ongoing economic contraction combined with the increased interest in sustainability has proven to be a winning combination.
More Mindful Consumers?
The fashion industry has long been associated with social and environmental problems, ranging from poor treatment of garment workers to pollution and waste generated by clothing production.
Less than 1% of materials used to make clothing are currently recycled to make new clothing, a $500 billion annual loss for the fashion industry. The textile industry produces more carbon emissions than the airline and maritime industries combined. And approximately 20% of water pollution across the globe is the result of wastewater from the production and finishing of textiles.
Consumers have become more aware of the ecological impact of apparel production and are more frequently demanding apparel businesses expand their commitment to sustainability. Buying secondhand clothing could provide consumers a way to push back against the fast-fashion system.
Buying secondhand clothing increases the number of owners an item will have, extending its life – something that has been dramatically shortened in the age of fast fashion. (Worldwide, in the past 15 years, the average number of times a garment is worn before it's trashed has decreased by 36%.)
High-quality clothing traded in the secondhand marketplace also retains its value over time, unlike cheaper fast-fashion products. Thus, buying a high-quality secondhand garment instead of a new one is theoretically an environmental win. But some critics argue the secondhand marketplace actually encourages excess consumption by expanding access to cheap clothing.
Our latest research supports this possibility. We interviewed young American women who regularly use digital platforms like Poshmark. They saw secondhand clothing as a way to access both cheap goods and ones they ordinarily could not afford. They did not see it as an alternative model of consumption or a way to decrease dependence on new clothing production.
Whatever the consumer motive, increasing the reuse of clothing is a big step toward a new normal in the fashion industry, though its potential to address sustainability woes remains to be seen.
Hyejune Park is an Assistant Professor of Fashion Merchandising, Oklahoma State University.
Cosette Marie Joyner Armstrong is an Associate Professor of Fashion Merchandising, Oklahoma State University.
Disclosure statement: The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
- UK Shoppers Spend More Than $3 Billion on Barely Worn Holiday ... ›
- Fast Fashion: Cheap Clothes = Huge Environmental Cost - EcoWatch ›
- H&M Tests Renting Clothes to Boost Environmental Credentials ... ›
By Zheng Chen and Darren H. S. Tan
As concern mounts over the impacts of climate change, many experts are calling for greater use of electricity as a substitute for fossil fuels. Powered by advancements in battery technology, the number of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles on U.S. roads is increasing. And utilities are generating a growing share of their power from renewable fuels, supported by large-scale battery storage systems.
These trends, coupled with a growing volume of battery-powered phones, watches, laptops, wearable devices and other consumer technologies, leave us wondering: What will happen to all these batteries once they wear out?
Despite overwhelming enthusiasm for cheaper, more powerful and energy-dense batteries, manufacturers have paid comparatively little attention to making these essential devices more sustainable. In the U.S. only about 5% of lithium-ion batteries – the technology of choice for electric vehicles and many high-tech products – are actually recycled. As sales of electric vehicles and tech gadgets continue to grow, it is unclear who should handle hazardous battery waste or how to do it.
As engineers who work on designing advanced materials, including batteries, we believe it is important to think about these issues now. Creating pathways for battery manufacturers to build sustainable production-to-recycling manufacturing processes that meet both consumer and environmental standards can reduce the likelihood of a battery waste crisis in the coming decade.
Batteries pose more complex recycling and disposal challenges than metals, plastics and paper products because they contain many chemical components that are both toxic and difficult to separate.
Some types of widely used batteries – notably, lead-acid batteries in gasoline-powered cars – have relatively simple chemistries and designs that make them straightforward to recycle. The common nonrechargeable alkaline or water-based batteries that power devices like flashlights and smoke alarms can be disposed directly in landfills.
However, today's lithium-ion batteries are highly sophisticated and not designed for recyclability. They contain hazardous chemicals, such as toxic lithium salts and transition metals, that can damage the environment and leach into water sources. Used lithium batteries also contain embedded electrochemical energy – a small amount of charge left over after they can no longer power devices – which can cause fires or explosions, or harm people that handle them.
The dangers of disposing of lithium batteries improperly - Battery blamed for Guernsey recycling site blaze https://t.co/Xcs76DI520— Daniel Kinsbursky (@Daniel Kinsbursky)1533569733.0
Moreover, manufacturers have little economic incentive to modify existing protocols to incorporate recycling-friendly designs. Today it costs more to recycle a lithium-ion battery than the recoverable materials inside it are worth.
As a result, responsibility for handling battery waste frequently falls to third-party recyclers – companies that make money from collecting and processing recyclables. Often it is cheaper for them to store batteries than to treat and recycle them.
Recycling technologies that can break down batteries, such as pyrometallurgy, or burning, and hydrometallurgy, or acid leaching, are becoming more efficient and economical. But the lack of proper battery recycling infrastructure creates roadblocks along the entire supply chain.
For example, transporting used batteries over long distances to recycling centers would typically be done by truck. Lithium batteries must be packaged and shipped according to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Class 9 hazardous material regulations. Using a model developed by Argonne National Laboratory, we estimate that this requirement increases transport costs to more than 50 times that of regular cargo.
Safer and Simpler
While it will be challenging to bake recyclability into the existing manufacturing of conventional lithium-ion batteries, it is vital to develop sustainable practices for solid-state batteries, which are a next-generation technology expected to enter the market within this decade.
A solid-state battery replaces the flammable organic liquid electrolyte in lithium-ion batteries with a nonflammable inorganic solid electrolyte. This allows the battery to operate over a much wider temperature range and dramatically reduces the risk of fires or explosions. Our team of nanoengineers is working to incorporate ease of recyclability into next-generation solid-state battery development before these batteries enter the market.
Conceptually, recycling-friendly batteries must be safe to handle and transport, simple to dismantle, cost-effective to manufacture and minimally harmful to the environment. After analyzing the options, we've chosen a combination of specific chemistries in next-generation all-solid-state batteries that meets these requirements.
Our design strategy reduces the number of steps required to dismantle the battery, and avoids using combustion or harmful chemicals such as acids or toxic organic solvents. Instead, it employs only safe, low-cost materials such as alcohol and water-based recycling techniques. This approach is scalable and environmentally friendly. It dramatically simplifies conventional battery recycling processes and makes it safe to disassemble and handle the materials.
Compared to recycling lithium-ion batteries, recycling solid-state batteries is intrinsically safer since they're made entirely of nonflammable components. Moreover, in our proposed design the entire battery can be recycled directly without separating it into individual components. This feature dramatically reduces the complexity and cost of recycling them.
Our design is a proof-of-concept technology developed at the laboratory scale. It is ultimately up to private companies and public institutions, such as national laboratories or state-run waste facilities, to apply these recycling principles on an industrial scale.
Rules for Battery Recycling
Developing an easy-to-recycle battery is just one step. Many challenges associated with battery recycling stem from the complex logistics of handling them. Creating facilities, regulations and practices for collecting batteries is just as important as developing better recycling technologies. China, South Korea and the European Union are already developing battery recycling systems and mandates.
One useful step would be for governments to require that batteries carry universal tags, similar to the internationally recognized standard labels used for plastics and metals recycling. These could help to educate consumers and waste collectors about how to handle different types of used batteries.
Markings could take the form of an electronic tag printed on battery labels with embedded information, such as chemistry type, age and manufacturer. Making this data readily available would facilitate automated sorting of large volumes of batteries at waste facilities.
It is also vital to improve international enforcement of recycling policies. Most battery waste is not generated where the batteries were originally produced, which makes it hard to hold manufacturers responsible for handling it.
Such an undertaking would require manufacturers and regulatory agencies to work together on newer recycling-friendly designs and better collection infrastructure. By confronting these challenges now, we believe it is possible to avoid or reduce the harmful effects of battery waste in the future.
Zheng Chen is an Assistant Professor of Engineering, University of California San Diego.
Darren H. S. Tan is a PhD Candidate in Chemical Engineering, University of California San Diego.
Disclosure statement: Zheng Chen receives funding from the National Science Foundation. Darren H. S. Tan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels convert sunlight into energy and continue to play an essential role in the fight to stop the climate crisis. As the pioneering panels of the early 2000s near the end of their 30-year electronic lives, however, they are at risk of becoming the world's next big wave of e-waste.
International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), a leading energy agency, projected that up to 78 million metric tons of solar panels will have reached the end of their life by 2050, resulting in about 6 million metric tons of new solar e-waste annually, reported Grist.
The IRENA report noted that since their debut, solar PV deployment has grown at "unprecedented rates," with global installed PV capacity reaching 222 gigawatts (GW) by the end of 2015, with projections rising to 4,500 GW by 2050. Earth911 reported that solar is the fastest-growing energy source in the world.
According to recent research, wind and solar renewable energy technologies will soon be cheaper than coal globally. This will drive even further deployment of solar panels. The United States, China, India, Japan and Germany have planned for "particularly high" deployment, the IRENA report said. As the global PV market continues to expand, so too will the e-waste we can expect when the panels are decommissioned.
IRENA also analyzed the potential upside and value creation of proper end-of-life management of PV panels. It noted that proper management could help shift the world to sustainable long-term development.
By 2030 and 2050, respectively, the report projected:
- Cumulative PV capacity to be 1,600 GW and 4,500 GW,
- Cumulative PV waste to reach up to 8 million tonnes and 78 million tonnes,
- Value creation to be $450 million and $15 billion in raw materials recovery,
- New industries and employment opportunities to arise from repair, reuse, recycling and treatment of PV panels,
- Enough raw materials recovered to produce 60 million new panels (equivalent to 18 GW) and 2 billion new panels (equivalent to 630 GW).
Current global panel recycling trends are not yet poised to capitalize on this environmental and economic opportunity. According to Grist, while the E.U. requires manufacturers to ensure panels are properly recycled, in the U.S., there are no regulatory frameworks requiring the recycling of old panels, except for Washington state. In Japan, India and Australia, recycling requirements are being discussed. Without robust recycling mandates, most of this toxic trash will be sent to landfills.
There, the valuable silver and silicone in solar panels will go to waste and toxic chemicals like lead can leach out.
Another current challenge is the cost of recycling, which currently far outweighs revenue from recycling and dumping costs.
"We believe the big blind spot in the U.S. for recycling is that the cost far exceeds the revenue," Arizona State University solar researcher Meng Tao told Grist. "It's on the order of a 10-to-1 ratio."
Tao estimated that PV recyclers today can get about $3 a panel from recovering the aluminum, copper and glass out of a 60-cell silicon panel, the news report said. Sam Vanderhoof, CEO of Solar CowboyZ, one of the only U.S. companies dedicated to PV recycling, compared it to the cost of recycling that panel in the U.S. — between $12 and $25 — due to transportation costs. Grist also estimated that states that allow dumping charge less than $1 to toss the same panel into a solid waste landfill.
As a result, only about 10 percent of panels are currently recycled in the U.S.; the rest go to the landfill or are shipped overseas to countries with more lax environmental rules, the news report said.
"If we don't mandate recycling, many of the modules will go to landfill," Tao told Grist.
Better design of panels to align with recycling capabilities could help increase recycling rates, reported GreenMatch. New recycling methods may more efficiently extract and purify valuable silver and silicone, helping to improve the cost/dump to revenue ratios, Grist reported. Industry researchers are also brainstorming ways to repair and resell panels still in good condition and to repurpose old panels for things like e-bike charging stations and housing complexes, the news report found.
For the solar industry to substantially grow to meet global demands and to support a clean energy revolution, it will need supportive policies and regulations and a means to deal with the e-waste glut that will soon result.
"We need to face the fact that solar panels do fail over time, and there's a lot of them out there," Vanderhoof told Grist. "And what do we do when they start to fail? It's not right throwing that responsibility on the consumer, and that's where we're at right now."
- Is Rooftop Solar Cheaper Than Buying Electricity From the Grid ... ›
- San Francisco Becomes First Major City to Require Solar Panels on ... ›
- Solar Panels Bring a New Vision for Farming - EcoWatch ›
- Designing Batteries for Easier Recycling Could Avert E-Waste Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- E-Waste Management Is Not Keeping Pace With Consumer Electronics ›
- Find the Best Portable Solar Panels for Your Solar Generator ›
- Installing Solar Panels Over Canals Could Save Gallons of Water ›
By Alex Thornton
The Australian government has announced a A$190 million (US$130 million) investment in the nation's first Recycling Modernization Fund, with the aim of transforming the country's waste and recycling industry. The hope is that as many as 10,000 jobs can be created in what is being called a "once in a generation" opportunity to remodel the way Australia deals with its waste.
The need for a dramatic increase in Australia's recycling capacity pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic. Australians create approximately 67 million tons of waste a year, and like in many wealthy countries, much of that was sent overseas. That all changed when China announced it was banning the import of a huge range of foreign waste and recyclables. Soon other countries followed suit, and Australia was forced to look for alternative solutions.
Biggest exporters of plastic. Statista
Waste Export Ban
Australia has adopted a strategy of taking responsibility for its own waste. Starting in January 2021, it is phasing in bans on the export of different forms of waste. By mid 2024, Australia's home-grown recycling industry will have to deal with an extra 650,000 tons of waste plastic, paper, glass and tires.
"As we cease shipping our waste overseas, the waste and recycling transformation will reshape our domestic waste industry, driving job creation and putting valuable materials back into the economy," federal environment minister Sussan Ley said in a statement to Reuters.
Timeline for Australia's waste export ban. Australian Government
Trash Into Treasure
The benefits to the environment of boosting recycling rates are well known – less landfill, less plastic in our ocean, reduced need for virgin materials, and lower carbon emissions. The Recycling Modernization Fund initiative aims to divert more than 10 million tons of waste from landfill, part of an overall strategy to reduce the total waste generated per person by 10%, and push Australia's total resource recovery rate from 58% in 2017 to 80% by 2030.
But like many countries, Australia is focusing on the economic benefits of better waste management as well.
"This will mean Australia converts more waste into higher valued resources ready for reuse locally by manufacturers and brands in their packaging and products," Rose Read, CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council, told Reuters.
The great potential of the circular economy to create green jobs is being recognized across the world.
In the UK, the Waste and Resources Action Program has launched a six-point plan which it claims could add $90 billion to the economy, and create 500,000 new jobs. Investment in the circular economy forms a significant part of the $2 trillion climate plan that Democratic candidate Joe Biden is taking into November's US presidential election. And the European Union has put its Green New Deal at the heart of its plans for recovery from the economic shock of COVID-19.
The World Economic Forum's Future of Nature and Business report identifies 15 systemic transitions with annual business opportunities worth $10 billion a year that could create 395 million jobs by 2030.
As is the case with Australia's Recycling Modernization Fund, a combination of private enterprise and government investment can offer ways to get people back to work by building a more environmentally sustainable economy.
Reposted with permission from World Economic Forum.
- The Complex and Frustrating Reality of Recycling Plastic - EcoWatch ›
- U.S. Products Labeled Recyclable Really Aren't, Greenpeace ... ›
- Mutant Enzyme Recycles Plastic in Hours, Could Revolutionize ... ›
- Multisolving Our Way to COVID-19 Economic Recovery - EcoWatch ›
- Environment and Fashion Industries Are Primed to Lead Recovery - EcoWatch ›