Environmental groups speak out about consequences of holiday consumerism


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This holiday season, environmental groups are reminding consumers that increasingly short-lived gadgets have an impact on the natural environment. (Curtis Palmer/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 29, 2017

U.S. shoppers spent $5 billion in 24 hours on Friday, making Black Friday 2017 a record haul for retailers. Whether it’s purchased online or in stores, the new Hatchimal or the Nintendo Switch, environmental activists warn that consumers should think twice about the impact these goods have on the environment.

Greenpeace, an independent global campaigning organization, reported that electronic goods alone are expected to generate 50 million tons of waste in 2017. Electronic goods like smart phones and laptops make up the quickest growing waste stream worldwide, less than 16 percent of which is expected to be recycled this year. About one-third of e-waste that is recycled is sent overseas to countries like Kenya and Pakistan to be taken apart by workers that are not protected from the toxic materials that can be found inside electronic gadgets.

Plastic is also a primary contributor to waste during the holiday season. Used for everything from toys to wrapping paper to grocery bags, more than 300 million tons of plastic is produced each year with about 8 million tons of it dumped into oceans annually. Plastic can take more than 400 years to break down and has mounted to form two enormous plastic islands in the Pacific Ocean, one of which is estimated to be more than one million square miles in size.

Friends of the Earth environmental activist Julian Kirby asked of holiday shoppers, “If you don’t need it or want it then don’t give them your money. If you are going to take advantage of what’s purported to be lower prices then don’t rush into it, think about whether it’s the most sustainable and ethical product and whether you might be able to get a second hand version that’s able to do just as good a job.”

On The Radio – 38 million pieces of trash found on remote Pacific island


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The most recent recorded density of litter on Henderson Island was 671 items per square meter. (Jennifer Lavers/Associated Press). 
Jenna Ladd| June 19, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses how an extremely remote island in the Pacific ocean bares the highest litter density in the world. 

Transcript: Henderson Island is one of the most remote islands in the world and is also the most affected by pollution from plastic debris.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

When researchers traveled to the tiny, uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, they were astonished to find an estimated 38 million pieces of trash washed up on the island.

The island is situated at the edge of the South Pacific gyre, where ocean currents meet in a vortex that captures floating trash, carrying some of it from as far away as Scotland.

Over 99 percent of the debris on the island is made of plastic—most pieces are unidentifiable fragments. The researchers say that fishing-related activities and land-based refuse likely produced most of the debris.

The researchers say the density of trash was the highest recorded anywhere in the world, despite Henderson Island’s extreme remoteness. The island is located about halfway between New Zealand and Chile and is recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site.

To learn more about the island, visit iowaenvironmentalfocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Converting food waste into energy


Compost pile. Photo by Joi Ito; Flickr
Compost pile. Photo by Joi Ito; Flickr

Wastewater treatment plants are on the cutting edge of renewable energy production, using technology that allows them to convert trash into valuable energy.

Food waste is first shipped to wastewater facilities, where it is mixed with sewage. The combined waste produces a gas, composed mostly of methane, that can be burned as fuel. In addition to this biogas, some facilities, like Des Moines’ wastewater treatment plant, are even able to produce an organic mixture that serves as an effective fertilizer.

This method is also beneficial to the environment, since methane is a greenhouse gas and would contribute to global warming if released into the atmosphere.

There are currently 15 facilities in the United States that utilize this technology, compared to thousands in Europe. Experts predict that this trend, along with composting, will continue to grow and innovate.

For more information, read the article at Environment 360.

For instructions on how to create a compost bin for your home, click here.

Nuclear waste research


Tori Forbes, Department of Chemistry
Tori Forbes,
Department of Chemistry

A University of Iowa faculty member is researching how nuclear waste moves in environmental systems

Tori Forbes specifically studies uranium, a byproduct of nuclear fuel, and how it interacts in natural waters. The team will soon study at neptunium as well.

By better understanding how uranium and other nuclear chemicals react in the natural environment, new processes can be established to remove these chemicals safely and effectively.

 

For the full profile, visit the CGRER webpage.

Plymouth County recycling groups earn Governor’s Iowa Environmental Excellence award


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Photo by tulipepower; Flickr

The City of Le Mars, Van’s Sanitation and Recycling of Le Mars, and Plymouth County’s Solid Waste Agency of rural Le Mars, earned the Governor’s Iowa Environmental Excellence award last week for their ongoing waste management efforts. Continue reading

On the Radio: UI Hospitals and Clinics decrease cafeteria waste


Photo by max-R, Flickr.
Photo by max-R, Flickr.

Listen to this week’s radio segment here or read the transcript below. This week’s segment discusses the addition of compost bins to cafeterias at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics are improving sustainability by adding compost bins to their cafeterias.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Continue reading

On the Radio: University of Iowa adds new hydration stations


Hydration station similar to the ones around the University of Iowa. Photo by UC Irvine, Flickr.
Hydration station similar to the ones around the University of Iowa. Photo by UC Irvine, Flickr.

Listen to this week’s radio segment here or read the transcript below. This week’s segment discusses recent efforts by The University of Iowa to cut down on disposable bottled water waste.

University of Iowa’s hydration stations are cutting down on plastic waste on campus.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Continue reading