Iowa Senate Subcommittee Advances Plan to Let Grocers Opt Out of the Bottle Bill


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | February 22, 2021

An Iowa Senate subcommittee passed legislation last week that would allow grocers to stop accepting cans and bottles if they are within 20 miles of the nearest redemption center.

The bill’s purpose is to address the concerns of grocers and other beverage retailers that wish to opt out of the bottle bill. However, some worry that the new bill would not be convenient for consumers and encourage recycling. Sen. Claire Celsi, a democrat from West Des Moines, told the committee that it would also fail to reduce the amount of litter going into Iowa’s landfills and waterways, according to an Iowa Capital Dispatch article.

Iowa Sierra Club representative Jess Mazour agreed with Sen. Celsi, adding that the new bill should be expanded to include containers like water, iced tea and sports drink bottles.

“We know that the bottle deposit law is wildly popular with Iowans and that you should expand it, not take this opportunity to gut it and make it less convenient for Iowans across the state,” Mazour added.

Other sections of the bill would require the Alcoholic Beverage Division (ABD) to track unclaimed refunds and enforce the new law. Any unclaimed deposits would also go into a “taxpayer relief fund,” preventing distributors from continuing to keep them. However, Jon Murphy of the Iowa Beverage Association said that the ABD might lack “enforcement capabilities,” an issue that the Iowa DNR is facing with the current bill.

The proposed legislation will now move to the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee for consideration.

New Report Suggests Human Health is Threatened by Plastics


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Thomas Robinson | December 22nd, 2020

A recent report by the Endocrine Society, and the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) presents a concerning summary of the widespread health effects from plastic pollution.

Within the report, around 144 hazardous chemicals are highlighted because they are used in plastics for a variety of purposes, such as flame retardants, and because they are hazardous for human health.  These chemicals can leach from the plastic products throughout the entire lifespan of the material increasing the potential for human exposure.  Unfortunately, human exposure has been measured and the study reports that nearly everyone tested for endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), tested positive.  While testing positive for EDCs doesn’t mean the person tested has acute health risks, little is known about what chronic exposure to a mix of the 144 chemicals culminates in.

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that influence how hormones in the body behave and are commonly linked to developmental and reproductive issues.  Some of these chemicals are widely known, such as Bisphenol A (BPA), while others, such as Per- and Polyfluoroalkly substances (PFAS) are beginning to capture attention.

It is projected that plastic production is likely to increase within the next six years, and as plastic production increases, so too does human exposure to these harmful chemicals.  Effective public policy is needed to gain a better understanding of how the chemicals used in plastic manufacturing influence human health, and how to address human exposure to them.

Scientists say War on Plastic Could Distract from Bigger Environmental Threats


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A team of environmental experts with the University of Nottingham has warned that, while plastic waste is an important issue, its prominence in public concern is taking attention away from greater threats like climate change and biodiversity loss.

The team of 13 published an article in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, WIREs Water. In it, they argue that the discourse around plastic waste is not always representative of the environments being sampled, and the aversion to plastic can promote the production of alternative materials with potentially greater harmful effects, according to a Science Daily article.

The authors also warn that the general public’s concern over plastic pollution has been exploited politically. Emotional imagery of wild animals stuck in plastic, small political gestures like banning microplastics in some cosmetics and promoting reusable bags and containers, for example, can instill societal complacency towards other, less tangible environmental issues made worse by today’s throw-away culture.

The authors use their article to urge governments to minimize the environmental impacts of over-consumption no matter how inconvenient, and they call on media outlets to make sure that the realities of plastic pollution are represented accurately. To do this, they say governments and other entities should also focus on environmental degradation associated with alternative materials, promote recyclable materials that have their end-of-life built in and ensure that more markets and facilities exist to recycle plastic waste.

The authors’ full article, It’s the product not the polymer: Rethinking plastic pollution, is accessible on the Wiley Online Library website.

Areas Devastated by Wildfires Face Emerging Water Contamination Challenge


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Thomas Robinson | October 6th, 2020

Attention is being drawn to municipal water contamination in Californian towns after exposure to devastating wildfires.

After the Camp fires ravaged California in 2018, testing of municipal water systems revealed widespread contamination by volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  Unfortunately, it isn’t known exactly how VOCs infiltrate the water pipes, however, it is thought that potentially melted plastics, or contaminated air and broken pipes could be the cause. Another issue for the recovering areas is that many water pipes in California are polyethylene based, which can melt during fires.  These pipes can absorb VOCs flowing through them and release them over a longer time period at lower concentrations.

One chemical measured in water tests that could be absorbed and leeched over time is Benzene, a known human carcinogen.  Benzene showed up at levels over two thousand times the federal level in drinking water samples after the Tubbs fire in 2017.  Benzene is part of a family of contaminants called BTEX which are connected to petroleum products. 

Fire damaged drinking water systems pose another challenge for struggling families returning to their homes after wildfires.  Contamination at the levels observed after wildfire events can lead to acute and chronic health outcomes, which will leave their mark on the affected communities for years to come.

Microplastics In Farm Soils Have Adverse Effects On Wheat Crops


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Thomas Robinson | September 8th, 2020

Microplastics in soils have recently been linked to increased cadmium uptake and root damage in wheat plants.

Researchers at Kansas State University have demonstrated that crops grown in the presence of microplastics are more likely to be contaminated with cadmium than crops grown in the absence of microplastics.  Cadmium is a heavy metal that is known to be carcinogenic and is commonly found in the environment from industrial and agricultural sources.  The researchers also found that microplastics were able to damage the roots of the wheat plants by clogging soil pores and preventing water uptake.

Microplastics are fragments of plastic products that are 5 millimeters or less in length, which is about the size of a sesame seed.  The influence these particulate plastics have on the environment and human health is still not well understood, and they are a growing environmental concern.  While most of the attention microplastics have received is in relation to the amount found in the oceans, a study published in 2016 demonstrates that microplastics actually accumulate more on land surfaces. 

Unsurprisingly, there have been microplastics found in Storm Lake, Iowa.  These pollutants can be found almost everywhere in the world which suggests we need a better understanding of microplastics and their effect on the environment. We also need to make changes to our behavior to prevent further pollution on top of what plastics have already been deposited across the globe.

Researchers Develop a New Method for Capturing Micropastics in Water


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Nicole Welle | July 13, 2020

Researchers at Shinshu University developed a promising new method for removing microplastics from water that involves using acoustics to separate and capture them.

Because microplastics are so small, traditional methods for removing them, like using filters and sieves, have been insufficient in filtering out the majority of microplastics from oceans and rivers. Filters are too big to filter out tiny particles and are prone to clogging, so they need to be regularly cleaned or replaced and are impractical for large-scale use.

Professor Hiroshi Moriwaki and Associate Professor Yoshitake Akiyama at Shinshu University created a device that uses piezo vibrations to collect microplastics and microplastic fibers. By using acoustics at a force and amplitude appropriate for size and compressibility of the microplastics, they found they could successfully collect it in the middle of a three-channel device, according to an ENN article. This device gathers debris in a middle channel while clean water flows out the two side channels.

This process could greatly improve our ability to filter microplastics from oceans and rivers in the future. However, improvements to the device’s draining system and further developments in its ability to capture tiny nanoplastics must occur before it can be implemented worldwide.

Proposed Changes to Iowa’s Bottle Bill Could Make it Harder for Rural Iowans to Recycle


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Nicole Welle | May 28, 2020

Iowa’s grocery industry recently proposed changes to a 40-year-old bill that requires grocery and convenience stores to take back cans and bottles for recycling.

One of these proposals would allow stores to stop accepting cans and bottles if there is a redemption center within a 15-mile radius of their store. Currently, the law states that they do not have to accept these recyclables if there is a redemption center within a 10-minute drive of their store, according to an article published in The Gazette.

Grocers urged the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to make this change just a day after Gov. Kim Reynolds extended the suspension of the bottle bill requirement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This change could lead to an increase in litter and the number of cans and bottles going into landfills since recycling would become more difficult for rural Iowans. It could also put a strain on smaller redemption centers that are not prepared to take in larger quantities of recyclables.

Some Iowan’s also raised concerns over a part of the proposal that would waive a requirement that retailers establish a written agreement with a redemption center before they are allowed to stop accepting cans and bottles. If that requirement is waived, retailers could simply tell the DNR that there is a redemption center within the 15-mile radius without the need for documentation. A lack of paper trail would make it difficult to require stores to begin accepting recyclables again if a redemption center were to go out of business, according to Troy Willard, owner of the Can Shed that services markets in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids.

The DNR has not yet set a deadline for making a decision on the proposed changes.

Efforts to Reduce Single-Use Plastics are Put on Hold During the COVID-19 Pandemic


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Nicole Welle | May 18, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused states to suspend bans on plastic bags, and some grocery stores are no longer allowing customers to shop using reusable bags due to public health concerns.

States like California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Hawaii, New York, Vermont and Oregon have all moved to ban the use of plastic bags in recent years to reduce plastic waste, but they are being forced to reconsider these bans as COVID-19 has made shopping with reusable bags unsafe. Because the virus can live on surfaces, contaminated reusable bags could become a health risk to store employees and other shoppers who come in contact with them or the surfaces they are placed on, according to an npr article.

Many stores that have not provided customers with lightweight plastic bags for years have had to begin stocking them again. Stores in California are also no longer charging 10 cents per bag as was required by law before the pandemic started, according to an article in The Mercury News.

Much of the personal protective equipment, like gloves, masks and other face and body coverings, required during the pandemic also has plastic components. As more businesses are allowed to reopen, the use of PPE by the public going out for the first time is likely to increase. Many businesses are now requiring customers to wear a face mask before entering, and many of the plastic face coverings used by the public are being discarded improperly.

Public health is a top priority during a pandemic, and these changes were necessary to maintain safe environments for shoppers and store employees. However, the increase in plastic bag use and improperly discarded PPE may take a toll on the environment. According to an article published by Environmental Health News, plastics are toxic to marine animals that ingest them, plastic in landfills can leach harmful chemicals into the groundwater, and plastics floating in the ocean can even serve as transportation for invasive species that disrupt habitats. Plastic production is also responsible for a large percentage of the world’s fossil fuel use.

Lawmakers are hopeful that these rollbacks on regulations regarding single-use plastics will be temporary, but they are unable to establish a timeline due to the uncertainty of how long the pandemic will last.

USDA approves hemp farming in Iowa


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Nutritional hemp seeds will soon be grown in Iowa (via flickr). 

Julia Poska | April 6, 2020

The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved Iowa’s hemp production plan last week. The move opens the door for Iowa farmers to begin growing the crop, often praised for its environmental advantages.

Hemp is a strain of the cannabis plant that contains very low levels of the psychoactive compound THC, which is more highly concentrated in marijuana.

Proponents of hemp often promote the crop based on its environmental footprint. Hemp grows well nearly everywhere with relatively low water, pesticide and fertilizer demands in comparison to other cash crops.

The national rise in hemp growing has been largely fueled by demand for CBD, a compound increasingly used in foods and personal care products for its alleged calming properties. The various parts of the hemp plant can produce a wide range of other products, as well, however.

Hemp seeds and milk provide plant-based protein. Hemp resin can produce petroleum-free plastic. Hemp fiber can make paper with a smaller environmental footprint than wood paper and textiles with a smaller footprint than cotton.

Industrial hemp cultivation and products are not legal everywhere however, posing regulatory challenges for those wishing to trade the crop.

The new Iowa law should become official Wednesday, when it’s scheduled to be published on the Iowa Administrative Bulletin, according to the Iowa Capital Dispatch. The USDA  indicated that Iowa farmers would be allowed to grow 40 acres of hemp, with THC levels below 0.3 percent.

 

Iowa American Water disputing forever chemicals found in Iowa water


 

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The company provided this graphic to prove their results.

 

Kasey Dresser| January 29, 2019

Last week, a study by the Environmental Working Group, found PFAS in more than 40 locations in 31 states. One of those places being the Iowa Quad Cities. PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” because they never biodegrade. They are a man-made substance, used in products like nonstick cookware and other food packaging. Nearly 5,000 different chemicals are associated with the PFAS family but only a few have been studied. Researchers do not know the health effects of drinking water with contamination but they have been linked to certain cancers, liver damage, and low birth weight according to Reuters.

Iowa American Water is currently disputing report’s findings from a drinking sample taken in August in Davenport that revealed high levels of toxic chemicals.

“We want our customers to know that we are doing our job for them and that we are meeting all federal, us, EPA and state standards related to water quality. So they can be confident when they take that tap water and give it to a child or a family member that it is safe,” Lisa Raisen, External Affairs Manager for Iowa American Water, said to KWQC staff.