Beware “greenwashing” this Earth Day


161206672_1395818085_z.jpg
Watch out! Consumerism can be made to appear “green” (flickr). 

Julia Poska| April 22, 2019

“Earth Day deals to save money and help the planet,” one headline reads. “10 products that will help you buy less this Earth Day,” says another. Other articles advertise “clean” beauty products or “green” technology.

Don’t fall for it; buying anything, especially anything you don’t need, ultimately contributes to fossil fuel emissions, resource consumption and the planet’s pervasive trash problem.

“Greenwashing” occurs when an institution puts more resources and effort into marketing itself as eco-friendly than it does actually minimizing its environmental impact. This doesn’t only happen on Earth Day, of course. Many companies, public figures and organizations  feature “sustainability missions” on their websites year long,  making vague claims about their “zero-waste journey” or “environmental stewardship,” with little concrete information about the implementation or outcomes of such initiatives.

Rebecca Leber, an environmental reporter for Mother Jones, wrote today that she “hates” Earth Day, mostly because it has devolved from a day of protest and activism to a day when anyone can claim to care. Every April, her inbox floods with PR pitches promoting  Earth Day news from companies that she knows are less-than-sustainable 364 days of the year.

“Earth Day provides a fine opportunity to showcase how [a company’s] generally negligible corporate gestures demonstrate their commitment to ‘going green,'” she said.

Reducing consumption by fully utilizing what we already own or sharing with others is far better for the planet than consuming new products, even if those products are well-intended.  So think critically about the messages you come across. Use up all your shampoo before you invest in that more natural version, buy a used shirt instead of a brand new “organic” tee and forego using a straw at all over buying a metal one.

And if you want to absolutely minimize your carbon footprint today, Quartz writer Ephrat Livni makes the case for “sitting perfectly still” at home with the lights and air conditioning turned off, so that “ever-so-briefly you are not contributing to climate change.”

 

 

Iowa passes new bill on advanced plastic recycling


10323143465_358c362cdc_z.jpg
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.

The fall of single-use plastics


bottles clean close up cold
Single-use packaging plastic may find itself obliterated within the century | Photo by George Becker on Pexels.com

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | April 2nd, 2019

Single-use plastic may eventually meet its end, with multiple bans setting global standards for how we should proceed with our packaging.

Defined as plastic products that are intended to be used only once before being disposed of, single-use plastic packaging alone makes up for roughly 40% of all plastic produced and discarded.

EU lawmakers recently voted to ban several single-use plastic items completely by 2021. Plates, utensils, coffee cups and cotton buds are all set to be wiped away soon, and manufacturers must use alternative methods of producing these products if they want to stay in business.

While environmental groups in the EU praise the ban, there is some pressure on EU lawmakers to ensure that the recycling systems in the Union are equally efficient.

New York has also recently stepped up to the plate, pledging to ban most plastic bags statewide, making it the third state to restrict this particular product. While it’s unlikely that the US will follow in the EU’s footsteps to completely ban single-use plastics, even a reduction in plastic manufacturing would be incredibly beneficial.

 

Iowa City Youth Climate Strike


DSC_1031.JPG

Kasey Dresser| March 19, 2019

On March 15th across the nation, youths gathered to raise awareness for climate change and its effect on our world. In the Ped Mall in Iowa City, over 50 students from Southeast Jr. High gathered to speak to the community about their concerns.

The students came prepared with a bullhorn and took turns sharing their opinions for two hours. They were holding hand made signs and handing out a sheet of climate change facts. While young, the passionate students created quite an audience stating, “the bigger the fuss we make, the more politicians will listen.” Congressman Dave Loesback was present and talked with the students in his office following the event.

From the climate change fact handout:

  • 408 parts per million. The concentration of carbon dioxide (C02) in our atmosphere, as of 2018, is the highest it has been in 3 million years.
  • 800 million people or 11% of the world’s population is currently vulnerable to climate change impacts such as droughts, floods, heat waves, extreme weather events, and sea-level rise.
  • Thermometer records kept over the past century and a half show Earth’s average temperature has risen more than 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius), and about twice that in parts of the Arctic.
  • We have 11 years to reverse the effects of climate change. We must act now.

On The Radio- Insect based dog food


46255612605_f44ac18638_o.jpg
(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- Microplastic pollution affecting aquatic organisms


4965073382_0127d787e7_o.jpg
Plastic washed up on a beach shore (Neil Brown/flickr)

Kasey Dresser| February 11, 2019

This weeks segment looks at developing research on the effects of microplastic pollution.

Transcript:

Scientists are still researching the dangerous effects of microplastic pollution. 

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus. 

A microplastic is defined as any piece of plastic measuring five millimeters in size or smaller. Every year 400 million tons of plastic are produced worldwide. A significant percentage of the plastic becomes litter and can take hundreds of years to decompose. Humans and other species can absorb plastic chemicals and aquatic organisms can absorb these small pieces of plastic into their skin.

Dr. Natalia Ivleva and her team from the Technical University of Munich Institute of Hydochemistry recently wrote a summary report of the technology they are using to test the effects of micro plastic on species. 

When scientists began to notice plastic entering the environment they used optical methods to observe damage. 

More recently scientists began utilizing heat analysis paired with gas chromatography. These methods helps determine the quantity and type of plastic but struggle to determine the size of the particles. 

Using new methods researchers at the Munich Institute were able to confirm plastic in the digestive tracts of water fleas and that mussels digest small particles of plastic under their shells.

Over the next several decades, plastic pollution is predicted to increase. At the end of her report Dr Ivelva emphasized the importance of plastic recycling in the new year. 

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

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