Iowa passes new bill on advanced plastic recycling


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Pyrolysis technology can recycle the bottles inside these bags AND the bags (flickr).

Julia Poska| April 12, 2019

The Iowa Legislature and Governor Reynolds passed a bill this week in support of chemical recycling facilities for plastic in the state.

The bill defines gasification and pyrolysis, two chemical recycling methods, as processes that convert waste plastics into raw materials like crude oil, gasoline and other chemicals by heating and melting them in oxygen-deficient environments then processing them accordingly.  Those materials can be used to make new plastic products or as “feedstock” to fuel industrial processes. Plants conducting these activities in Iowa will be regulated more like manufacturing plants than solid waste disposal facilities, according to the trade publication Plastics Recycling Update.

There are obvious benefits to recycling plastics. Transforming plastic waste into useful materials will keep it out of landfills, rivers and oceans. A National Geographic story on plastic recycling said that pyrolysis plants can handle filmy plastic bags, which most traditional recycling plants cannot. Recycling also reduces the amount of new material that must be manufactured to meet demands.

Recycling Today reported that five advanced recycling facilities could generate $309 million annually by converting 25 percent of Iowa’s plastic waste into industrial feedstocks or transportation fuel. According to National Geographic, however, it is still cheaper to make diesel from fossil fuel than plastic. The article said pyrolysis startups have closed in the past because they haven’t been able to make money or meet pollution control limits.

Burning plastics releases carbon and toxins into the atmosphere, albeit at fairly low rates  according to industry experts. Michigan State University Extension says gasoline and diesel produced from plastic appear to contain more energy and less carbon that traditional fossil fuels, too.

Plastics Recycling Update said the Iowa Recycling Association had been opposed to the bill but did not say why. This post will be updated if and when the Iowa Environmental Focus is able to learn more.

On The Radio- BP Oil


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Photo taken on April 3rd 2013 in Mauritania near Tiguent Parc-National-Diawling (jbdodane/flickr)

Kasey Dresser| April 8, 2019

This weeks segment looks at BP’s place in the coming decades with rising demands for renewable energy.

Transcript:

BP Oil and Gas has made energy demand predictions about the future—but are they accurate?

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

After the massive oil spill along the Gulf Coast in 2010, BP became known globally in a decidedly negative light.

Almost a decade later, and with settlement payments still being paid out, the energy company has thrown its weight behind renewable energy. BP outlines in its annual energy outlook that the planet could run on mostly renewable sources by 2040.

There is a small detail that some environmentalists find troubling, however; the BP report also lists an estimated rising global demand for energy well into the 2040s, while other scientific reports estimate that global demand will taper off and even out by the 2030s.

A rising global demand for energy is a given, as underdeveloped countries begin working on their infrastructure and making improvements for their citizens. But overestimating how much energy will be needed globally in the future could allow oil companies to continue selling more fossil fuels, even as renewable energy use grows.

For more information, visit Iowa environmental focus dot org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E. Mason.

Water quality researcher/blogger puts fresh perspective on stinking problem


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This map from Chris Jones’ blog relates the “real populations” (based on animal waste) of Iowa watersheds to the human populations other global areas.

Julia Poska| March 21, 2019

The public rarely gets its science straight from the source; we depend largely on the media to distill complicated academic research for us. University of Iowa researcher and adjunct professor Chris Jones is one of a rare breed of scientists who can adeptly communicate science on his own.

Jones has spent his career monitoring and researching the Iowan environment for institutions ranging from Des Moines Water Works to the Iowa Soybean Association. As an IIHR research engineer today he conducts original research and runs a blog where he explores the systems and nuances surrounding Iowa’s degraded water.

Recently, Jones calculated “Iowa’s real population” based on the nitrogen, phosphorus and solid matter in animal waste. He explained that Iowa’s millions of hogs, cattle, chickens and turkeys produce as much waste as 134 million people. The map pictured above matches the human populations of global cities and U.S. states to the “real populations” of Iowa’s watersheds.

“Managing the waste from these animals is possibly our state’s most challenging environmental problem,” he wrote. Weather and plant life cycles create a limited time window to apply it to fields, and hauling and handling it presents other challenges. When nutrients from manure enter waterways, they contribute to harmful algae blooms locally and in the Gulf of Mexico.

In another recent post, Jones used public data to compare the amount of nitrate purchased commercially and produced via manure in each Iowa watershed with the Iowa State University recommended application rate for corn. He found that, on average, Iowa farmers over-apply synthetic nitrogen by 35 pounds per acre. The addition of manure brings that surplus to 91 pounds per acre.

Other posts explore historical, social and political angles. Earlier this week, a post called “Ransom” related efforts to protect Lake Eerie in Ohio to the economic reality of farming and agribusiness in Iowa. “Who is getting the outcomes that they want from our policies, and in particular, the old school policies targeting improved water quality?” Jones asked.

Overall, Jones’ blog offers an informative and rather accessible expert perspective on a hugely complex issue. To subscribe yourself, visit here and enter your email at the bottom of the left sidebar.

***In an earlier version of this post, the number “134 million” was incorrectly written as simply, 134. Big difference! Thanks so much to those who pointed out the error***

On The Radio- The Green New Deal


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Foggy Atmosphere in Seattle, Washington (flickr/Danny Seidman)

 

Kasey Dresser| March 11, 2019

This weeks segment looks at The Green New Deal, a bill for clean transportation.  

Transcript:

The newly proposed Green New Deal gives some framework for a future of clean transportation.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Green New Deal, proposed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, may not end up passing, but the deal serves as a blueprint for potential environmental policies to follow. Some interesting broad goals for the future include high-speed rail and zero-emission public transportation.

The Green New deal also brings up concerns with transportation access. Many low-income communities of color suffer disproportionately from poor transportation infrastructure and vehicle-related pollution.

The deal focuses on public policy, but will likely need private investors backing it to meet its many lofty goals.

Even if the deal does not come to pass, it’s sparked a conversation in Washington and the country about the desperate need for clean, affordable, and accessible transportation.

For more information, visit Iowa environmental focus dot org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E. Mason.

On The Radio- Benefits of GMOs


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On the road, Lesotho (flickr/Steve Lamb)

Kasey Dresser| March 4, 2019

This weeks segment looks at how GMO crops could help African farmers.

Transcript: 

A new study from Iowa State University says genetically modified crops are far more helpful than harmful

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus. 

GMO crops have been studied extensively. Iowa State agronomy researchers recently examined dozens of previous studies to assess the overall safety of genetic modification in plants. 

They determined that GMO crops are not only safe, but that delaying their adoption poses risks for humans and the environment in the developing world. Insect resistant crops could help African farmers battle an emerging invasive pest, the fall armyworm, which has been devastating corn crops in Africa since 2016. But fear has kept insect resistant corn commercially unavailable in all but one African country. 

Study co-author Walter Suza directs the Plant Breeding E-Learning in Africa Program, which develops digital learning materials for African universities. He hopes the study will help African policymakers embrace GMOs. 

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E. Mason.

On The Radio- Insect based dog food


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(flickr/Buffalo)

Kasey Dresser| February 25, 2019

This weeks segment looks at new methods of creating dog food with less of an environmental impact. 

Transcript: 

A potential new insect based dog food could help the planet. 

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus. 

Meat production has been linked to increasing emissions of CO2 and methane into the atmosphere. This is the reason many environmental activists choose a vegetarian or vegan diet but humans aren’t the only mammals reliant on meat.

Pets are estimated to eat twenty percent of the meat produced world wide. A pet food manufacturer in the United Kingdom, Yora,  has introduced black solider flies as a protein substitute. Along with less emissions into the atmosphere, the black solider fly based dog food is cheaper to produce and requires less land and water.

At the Royal Veterinary College, pet diet expert Aarti Kathrani confirmed that soldier flies could meet a canine’s nutritional needs. She told the BBC,  “insects can be a very useful source of protein. More studies are needed to show how much of these nutrients can actually be absorbed by a dog’s body- but some studies suggest that insects can provide nutrients for dogs.”

Yora is not the only pet food manufacturer to use flies in their recipe but other manufacturers typically use only a small amount. Yora is currently planning to transition forty percent of their products to majority fly protein.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus dot org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E. Mason. 

On The Radio- Brazil and the negative affects of hydropower


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Brazil’s flag (flickr/Rodnei Reis)

Kasey Dresser| February 18, 2019

This weeks segment looks at the negative impact of the Bela Monte Hyrdodam in Brazil. 

Transcript:

Hydropower is one of the world’s leading sources of renewable energy, but in some places it has come at a cost.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Hydropower accounts for over fourteen percent of all energy globally and about seventy percent of all renewable energy. Although dams help bring power to people, they can also have negative social and environmental consequences.

Researcher Emilio Moran is helping investigate the negative impact of the Bela Monte Hyrdodam in a developing area populated with indigenous communities. The dam is the third-largest in the world, and was built over Brazil’s Xingu (SHIN-GOO) River near the city of Altamira.

The new dams reduced the amount of fish that flow downstream, impacting the fishing yields of villages that rely on the river for their livelihoods. The project took three years to complete, and twenty thousand people were displaced from their homes during that time. Altamira’s population increased by sixty thousand during construction, and the city built hotels and attractions in response. After the dam was completed, however, those sixty thousand workers left, leaving many buildings vacant in their wake.

Hydropower is an important source of power, protecting Brazil from blackouts. It is also much cleaner than coal. But dams are not guaranteed generators of power, and their effectiveness can be altered by rainfall.

Emilio Moran and other researchers are only looking for some accountability, and are pushing for dam developers to mitigate the negative economic and social consequences before building.

For more information, visit Iowa Environmental Focus dot org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E. Mason.