The various successes of Iowa City recycling


Iowa City unrolled a new recycling program in 2018 | Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

Iowa City’s recycling program has proven so successful that workers will continue to collect on the 4th of July, instead of catching up the next day. Collection workers will get holiday pay with this new arrangement.

Iowa City uses single-stream recycling. Residents don’t have to sort through and categorize recyclable goods, and are instead instructed to leave everything in one container, save for a few items that need to be taken to one of the city’s many drop-off centers, like glass or shredded paper.

Recycling rates in the city have jumped by 30% since the implementation of the new recycling program back in December 2018. Larger curbside bins allow collection workers to make fewer stops and trips, reducing the overall carbon footprint of the program. The addition of compost bins campus-wide have also proven to be popular.

There is no national regulation for recycling, and programs are different state to state. Even different towns in Northern Iowa have various approaches to waste management. Some places require residents to separate and sort their recycling, while others take mixed items. The policies can be difficult for people to follow.

Educating people on waste management and making the recycling process easier and more accessible has proved beneficial for Iowa City. So successful, in fact, that collection workers are working weekday holidays to keep the flow from backing up. Overall, it’s a very positive conundrum.

On The Radio- Iowa’s energy consumption


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Wind Energy (flickr/Aaron Arroy)

Kasey Dresser| July 1, 2019

This weeks segment looks at how Iowa’s energy consumption has increased over the years.

Transcript:

Iowa’s energy consumption has increased over the years—but have we been moving in a greener direction?

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Iowa’s population has grown from two and a half million in 1960 to just over three million now, and our methods of producing energy have grown and changed over the decades. In the 60s, Iowa was mostly run on natural gas and coal. Wind energy didn’t enter our sphere until the late 90s. Now, coal is our primary source of energy, followed by natural gas and wind.

The consumption of energy is measured in BTUs—British Thermal Units, with each unit representing the amount of energy needed to heat one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. 

In the 60s, the average Iowan used about 217 million BTUs of energy per year. In 2016, that number jumped to a consumption of 488 million BTUs per Iowa every year, over double the amount of energy despite a population increase of less than a million.

New technology and an increased energy grid are partly to blame, but Iowa would benefit from cutting down energy use when possible, and relying more heavily on green energy—like solar and wind—to light our homes.

For more information, visit Iowa Environmental Focus dot org.

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

A week-long heatwave is settling over Europe


Paris is among one of the many cities affected by a staggeringly intense heatwave | Photo by Laura Stanley on Pexels.com

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | June 26th, 2019

Multiple countries across Europe have been put on alert as a massive week-long heatwave settles over the continent, with temperatures predicted to reach up to 40 degrees Celsius (roughly 104 degrees Fahrenheit). Humidity spikes that temperature to 47 degrees Celsius (116 degrees Fahrenheit).

France took a few extra steps to protect their citizens from the oncoming wave, installing more water fountains and keeping pools open late at night. These precautions came about after a deadly 2003 heatwave left an estimated 15,000 people dead.

These cooling measures are meant to assist people who may not have regular access to air conditioning, as many old buildings in European cities aren’t built for central air, and most people rely instead on boxed AC units, if they can afford them. It rarely gets hot enough to warrant a unit, and many smaller businesses survive without it; larger tourist attractions are normally more temperature-controlled.

The heatwave likely comes from hot winds blowing in from the Sahara Desert. Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland are also in the path of the heatwave. School exams have been postponed, and the Women’s World Cup, with games set for almost every night this week in Paris, is continuing forward with the condition that breaks will be given to the players if the temperatures spike too high.

European authorities nation to nation warn their citizens to stay hydrated and to be vigilant and watch for signs of heat stroke and heat exhaustion in their friends and family. As these rising temperatures descend over the continent, staying mindful is the best way to keep cool.

University of Iowa unveils new water well map


Many Iowans rely on wells for their water | Photo by Pedro Craveiro on Pexels.com

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | June 25th, 2019

Varies research teams at the University of Iowa recently launched an interactive private well map for Iowa residents. Lead by CHEEC (The University of Iowa Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination), the Iowa Geological Survey and the UI Hydroinformatics Lab, the Iowa Well Forecasting System–otherwise known as the IWFoS–is a powerful tool for the public.

Users looking to build new wells can use the map to determine the new well site and the quality of the water in that area. By looking at the water quality data of existing wells adjacent to the potential new build, a safe location for a new source of water can be determined.

Thousands of Iowans relay on wells for their water. CHEEC director David Cwiertny estimates that roughly 60% of Iowans rely on groundwater, with about 300,000 Iowans relying on private wells specifically. While recent news about nitrate levels from agricultural fertilizers has been concentrated on Iowa’s rivers, Iowa’s wells suffer from contamination issues too, and the comprehensive data that IWFoS provides is vital for those looking to expand a town’s water resources.

Well forecasts–the details of well water quality and the locations of safe private wells–have been available through the Iowa Geological Survey for years, but these forecasts were generally only available during business hours. IWFoS is accessible 24/7 and uses IGS’s geological info for the well locations, combining this with datasets on well water quality from the Private Well Tracking System that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources manages.

Transparency with our water quality data is one of the best ways to ensure that safe natural resources are available for all Iowans, all the time.

Check out IWFoS.

On The Radio- Increasing Mass Extinctions


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The Iberian Lynx: a cat species from Spain. There are only a few hundred left in the world. (flickr/Mario Nonaka)

Kasey Dresser| June 24, 2019

This weeks segment looks at how human beings are causing mass extinction of over one million species

Transcript: 

Earths landscapes are changing and about one million species are in danger.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

With the human population passing seven billion, homo sapiens are pushing animals out of the picture in need for more space.

The sharp decline in species is likely to occur by 2050, and it will affect biodiversity. Humans are not the only problem that animals have to face, but global warming as well, a natural result of human treatment towards the environment. 

Nature provides trillions in non-monetized saving that benefits human beings every year. If wildlife and tropical rain forests cease to exist, our medicine would change drastically. Over 23 percent of the planets land area is being harmed because humans are producing more food than ever, causing land degradation. 

Our previous miniscule efforts of creating wild life refuges and efforts to protect individual species will no longer be sufficient.  Scientists have stated that nations need to step up in their efforts to protect natural habitats.  

For more information, visit Iowa environmental focus dot org.

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

 

 

Waste, water, and nitrates: Iowa’s growing problem


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Iowa’s livestock contributes heavily to our nitrate problem | Photo by John Lambeth on Pexels.com

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | June 18th, 2019

Nitrates are not a new subject for Iowans. We’ve already published a nitrate breakdown that explains the nitrate pollution contributions Iowa makes to the many larger bodies of water our rivers drain into and how nitrate pollution can affect our bodies.

With some new research emerging, it’s become clear that Iowa’s nitrate problem is intricately linked with its status as a heavily agricultural state–our amounts of livestock have a heavy effect on the quality of our water, and the problem may be larger than we realize.

Back in March, Chris Jones, a research engineer from IIHR, broke down what he calls Iowa’s “real population”–a collective census of our state’s population, one that includes more than just its people. By calculating the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and total solid matter excreted by different types of livestock and comparing those values to human waste, he was able to roughly calculate how many people each livestock group accounted for–and the numbers are staggering.

According to this line of logic, pigs in Iowa roughly equal a mind-blowing 83.7 million people. Dairy and beef cattle account for 33.6 million people. Chickens and turkey nearly equal 16 million themselves. Altogether, our livestock theoretically gives Iowa–a relatively small state with less than 4 million humans–an extended population of about 134 million. Recently, Chris Jones applied his research to Iowa’s actual area to determine the concentration of those numbers, and, in the process, updated that overall population to 168 million after some new data from the USDA.

Iowa produces a lot of waste. Livestock-heavy watersheds tend to have higher concentrations of nitrate runoff. We are not a large state, but when we account for our animals, we are one of the most densely populated for our total land area.

Overall, dissecting the effect that agriculture and livestock have on the environment is tricky, because our state relies heavily on our agricultural economy for many, many things. Advancements in green and natural nitrate filters and better methods of waste management seem to be some of the solutions we can work towards to solve our looming nitrate problem.

 

On The Radio- West Nile virus in Iowa


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(flickr/cesar monico)

Kasey Dresser| June 17, 2019

This week’s segment looks at the unwanted guest brought into Iowa by the rain and flooding this season. 

Transcript: 

The West Nile virus may soon run rampant because of the flooding that has been occurring in western Iowa.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Mosquitoes are not abnormal residents in the western region of Iowa. Yet these types of mosquitoes, the Culex tarsalis (Cool-ex tar-say-lis)  is carrying a virus that could hurt human beings.

The Culex tarsalis, have risen in grand numbers because they gather and breed in large pools of water and flooded areas. Iowa State University came out with new research that shows western Iowa has the largest presence of the West Nile virus, due to the resurgence of these mosquitoes.   

Iowa State professor and entomologist Ryan Smith believes that the virus is concerning as it is the common mosquito-born disease in the United States. The virus could affect one in five people bitten by the mosquito, and could lead people to develop fevers and potentially fatal symptoms.

The best way to protect yourself, would be to consistently spray insect repellent or wear long sleeve shirts. Make sure that you are fully covered before stepping outside.

For more information, visit Iowa environmental focus dot org.

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