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By Charli Shield
Not too long ago, many people weren't sure if trees had a place in cities. People, cars, houses and buildings made up urban areas — there wasn't much room for nature.
Trees now have a fundamental place in many big cities around the world, says Sonja Dümpelmann, landscape historian at the University of Pennsylvania — though in most of them, they are still vying for space.
If we want to reap the benefits of urban treescapes, ecologists say it's vital trees are seen as more than just an aesthetic addition to cities. That's especially true now that half the world's population live in cities and a further 2.5 billion are projected to live in them by 2050.
As Cities Evolve, Trees Keep Us Grounded.
Trees are powerhouses when it comes to regulating city microclimates — filtering air pollution, providing shade, absorbing CO2, helping prevent flash flooding, as well as acting as an important antidote to the urban heat island effect that makes cities far hotter than surrounding rural areas.
"Trees can make a huge difference to a city's temperature," says Tobi Morakinyo, an urban climatologist whose research into the cooling effect of trees in Akure, southwest Nigeria, showed using trees to shade buildings could cool them down by up to five degrees Celsius.
In hot sub Saharan African cities like Akure — where average maximum summer temperatures can reach 38 degrees (100 degrees F) — Morakinyo says trees' cooling effect is an important tool councils can wield against both heat stress and cooling costs.
Alongside the eco-services urban trees provide, there are also the qualities "that we can't put monetary value on," adds Cris Brack, a forest ecologist from the Australian National University and director of the National Arboretum in Canberra.
Those are "biodiversity, aesthetics and our visceral, gut-need to experience nature," Brack told DW, referring to the concept of 'biophilia' — the idea that humans have an innate desire to connect with nature. Mounting evidence shows that people who live in places with more trees experience lower levels of stress and mental illness, even when controlling for socio-economic factors.
Trees Make Us Feel Good — Do We Return the Favor?
Though our need for trees in cities appears to only be becoming greater, they often battle oppressive urban environments. Street trees are "in a constant struggle" for space in cities, says Brack, where below ground their root systems can be choked by water pipes, roads and underground car parks, and above ground by pollution, power lines and traffic.
They also face mechanical damage from cars, battering from increasingly extreme weather conditions and regular uprootings to make way for construction sites.
Perhaps the most damaging modern challenge for city trees, though, says Somidh Saha, urban forest ecologist at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, is drought. Following Europe's unprecedented heatwave in 2018, a study co-authored by Saha found 30% of the trees planted in Karlsruhe in southwestern Germany over the previous four years had died — both directly and indirectly because of a lack of water.
"Without enough water, trees become weak and that makes them vulnerable to disease," Saha told DW. At the same time, declining city populations of birds and arboreal mammals, such as bats, leaves insect populations unchecked, and local trees susceptible to their growing numbers.
Seeing the Forest for the Trees
Ambitious greening projects have cropped up in several megacities around the globe in recent years. New York City planted a million trees between 2007 and 2015, London mayor Sadiq Khan hopes to green more than half the capital by 2050 to make the world's first "National Park City," while Paris announced it would build four inner-city urban forests throughout 2020.
But outside the Global North, in places such as Saha's native India and Morakinyo's native Nigeria, where they cite a lack of resources and political will as big barriers to making urban greenery a priority, trees in cities are much scarcer.
As climate change brings hotter temperatures and unpredictable downpours, cities are demanding a new kind of resilience from urban trees. For many cities in the world, ecologists say that means planting more exotic species of trees.
While many people are opposed to the idea of planting non-native species, ecologists Brack and Saha say alternative species are usually better adapted to the artificial environment of a city — especially in the face of increasing heatwaves.
The three-toothed Maple, native to China, Korea and Japan, is one species that could appear in greater numbers in other parts of the world as temperatures rise.
There's also an important distinction to be made between "exotic" trees, which just means they aren't local, and "invasive" trees, which are harmful — spreading very quickly and dominating the environment. As for local wildlife, while ongoing studies are being carried out in places like Germany by Saha's team, Brack says in his local Canberra, where almost all tree species in the city are exotic, birds happily eat fruit from non-natives and mammals alike find homes wherever there is an appropriate hollow.
Citizens Pitch In
One solution to preserving city trees that's grown in popularity in recent years is citizen involvement in urban tree caretaking. New York City's citizen pruner program allows city dwellers to take classes to become official city tree carers, and Berlin — a place that has typically excluded citizens from looking after urban flora — is now allowing residents to apply for permits to maintain tree pits and has proposed that they water city trees in summer.
Involving citizens has its pros and cons, Dümpelmann says, and these kinds of programs may or may not be effective depending on the culture of the city – but even watering trees alone "has been shown to be a really relevant maintenance effort."
While planting trees in urban spaces is an effective and fairly efficient way to adapt to climate change, Dümpelmann stresses that it isn't a holistic solution.
"It's something we should work on while at the same time addressing the root causes of climate change," she said.
Beyond using trees as geo-engineering fix, urban ecologists point out that more trees in cities could change perspectives on urban living and give people a greater understanding of how to value nature as part of a sustainable, livable city – not separate from it.
That means seeing trees as living, growing beings, Brack says – not fixed in time, or immune to the stressors of living in harsh urban environments.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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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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