EC7C. Stay Current—Neighborhood and Global Stewardship

2024-01-24. Zapping ‘red mud’ in plasma turns mine waste into valuable iron. [https://www.science.org/content/article/zapping-red-mud-plasma-turns-mine-waste-valuable-iron] By ERIK STOKSTAD, Science. Excerpt: Over the years, mining for aluminum has left behind billions of tons of the caustic sludge called red mud. But today in Nature, scientists report that a simple chemical process can extract another useful metal, iron, from this waste and render the remainder into a mostly benign substance useful for making concrete. If the process can be scaled up and proves cost-effective, it could help manufacturers convert waste into climate-friendlier steel, the researchers say….

2023-10-14. ‘It was a plague’: Killarney becomes first Irish town to ban single-use coffee cups. [https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/oct/14/it-was-a-plague-killarney-becomes-first-irish-town-to-ban-single-use-coffee-cups] By Rory Carroll, The Guardian. Excerpt: Killarney used to accept it as a price of being a tourist town: ubiquitous disposable coffee cups spilling from bins, littering roads and blighting the area’s national park. The County Kerry town went through about 23,000 cups a week – more than a million a year – adding up to 18.5 tonnes of waste. Not any more. Three months ago, Killarney became the first town in Ireland to phase out single-use coffee cups. If you want a takeaway coffee from a cafe or hotel, you must bring your own cup or pay a €2 deposit for a reusable cup that is returned when the cup is given back. The results are evident in bins, which now seldom overflow, and on streets and forest trails where it is rare to see abandoned cups….

2023-10-13. Recycling is about to get much easier. [https://www.axios.com/2023/10/13/qr-codes-recycling-smartlabel-recycle-check] By Jennifer A. Kingson, AXIOS. Excerpt: QR codes with hyperlocal recycling instructions will soon show up on your milk cartons, ice cream tubs and more — meaning you’ll be able to scan an item, type in your ZIP code and see if it’s eligible to go in the blue bin. “Just because a product says it’s recyclable, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s recyclable where you live,” notes Rishi Banerjee, director of the Consumer Brands Association’s SmartLabel program. …60% of consumers are confused about what and how to recycle, according to The Recycling Partnership, a national nonprofit — depressing the already-low recycling law compliance rate. …Recycle Check, a new program run by The Recycling Partnership, launched earlier this year and is busy signing up consumer brands to add local recycling info to their packaging via QR codes. …Two early adopters are General Mills (maker of Yoplait, Pillsbury, Chex, Betty Crocker, etc.) and Horizon Organics, which makes dairy products….

2023-09-01. Can Plastic Recycling Ever Really Work? [https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/01/headway/plastic-recycling-california-law.html] By Susan Shain, The New York Times. Excerpt: Jan Dell …collects what she calls “bad plastic containers.” …Her specimens include lids from oatmeal canisters, cups from fast-food joints, cleaners wrapped in shrink sleeves, and many, many Amazon mailers. Each carries the familiar “chasing arrows” recycling symbol; none, she believes, will ever be recycled. …Ms. Dell has run a one-woman nonprofit, the Last Beach Cleanup,…. Ms. Dell also headed an advisory committee that pushed for a landmark truth-in-labeling law in California. Starting in the fall of 2025, that law will prohibit companies from placing recycling symbols on products that are not widely recycled in the state. Yogurt tubs could be among them. So could baby food pouches. And takeout containers. And coffee cup lids….

2023-08-31. Gardens blooming with endangered plants could prove a boon to conservation. [https://www.science.org/content/article/gardens-blooming-endangered-plants-could-prove-boon-conservation] By GRETCHEN VOGEL, Science. Excerpt: …For years, conservationists have heralded the benefits of growing native species in yards and gardens. But the potential for gardeners to help slow biodiversity loss by planting threatened species has received less attention, says Ingmar Staude, a botanist at the University of Leipzig. He and his colleagues now report in Scientific Reports that if more gardeners opted for conservation-relevant species, the overall threat level for plants—defined as the ratio of at-risk plant species to all species—could fall by 25% across Germany. They suggest other countries could see similar benefits…..

2023-08-15. An ultra-light sustainable sponge for elimination of microplastics and nanoplastics. [https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304389423009688] By Jianxin Fu et al, Journal of Hazardous Materials. Abstract: The currently established tools and materials for elimination of the emerging contaminants from environmental and food matrices, particularly micro- and nano-scale plastics, have been largely limited by complicated preparation/operation, high cost, and poor degradability. Here we show that, crosslinking naturally occurring corn starch and gelatin produces ultralight porous sponge upon freeze-drying that can be readily enzymatically decomposed to glucose; The sponge affords capture of micro- and nano-scale plastics into its pores by simple pressing in an efficiency up to 90% while preserving excellent mechanical strength. …Investigations into the performance of the sponge in complex matrices including tap water, sea water, soil surfactant, and take-out dish soup, further reveal a considerably high removal efficiency (60%∼70%) for the microplastics in the real samples. …With combined merits of sustainability, cost-effectiveness, and simple operation without the need for professional background for this approach, industrial and even household removal of tiny plastic contaminants from environmental and food samples are within reach….

2023-08-10. Plastic waste recycling is gaining momentum. [https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.adj2807] By Kevin M. Van Germ, Science. Excerpt: …the public is dissatisfied with recycling rates, notably below 9% in the United States…. This makes governments respond by enforcing a minimum recycled plastic content, such as the 30% target in the European Union. Therefore, a plastics circular economy, in which new, high-quality plastics can be remanufactured from plastic waste, is becoming increasingly popular. Plastics should no longer be considered waste but rather valuable resources. …A recent study showed that it is possible, by 2050, to produce all plastics in a circular way, without requiring fossil resources…. …Reducing CO2 emissions for plastic recycling technologies is also crucial. By electrifying the chemical process and using electricity from nonfossil sources, millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions can be avoided….

2023-07-27. Making Renewable, Infinitely Recyclable Plastics Using Bacteria. [https://newscenter.lbl.gov/2023/07/27/making-renewable-infinitely-recyclable-plastics-using-bacteria/] By Lauren Biron, Berkeley Lab. Excerpt: Scientists engineered microbes to make the ingredients for recyclable plastics – replacing finite, polluting petrochemicals with sustainable alternatives. The new approach shows that renewable, recyclable plastics are not only possible, but also outperform those from petrochemicals. …Most plastics can’t be recycled, and many use finite, polluting petrochemicals as the basic ingredients. But that’s changing. In a study published today in Nature Sustainability, researchers successfully engineered microbes to make biological alternatives for the starting ingredients in an infinitely recyclable plastic known as poly(diketoenamine), or PDK. …PDKs can be used for a variety of products, including adhesives, flexible items like computer cables or watch bands, building materials, and “tough thermosets,” rigid plastics made through a curing process. Researchers were surprised to find that incorporating the bioTAL into the material expanded its working temperature range by up to 60 degrees Celsius compared to the petrochemical version. This opens the door to using PDKs in items that need specific working temperatures, including sports gear and automotive parts such as bumpers or dashboards….

2023-07-06. Toxic algae a slimy mess for Florida’s Lake Okeechobee. [https://www.cbsnews.com/news/florida-lake-okeechobee-toxic-algae-problem-2018-07-06/] By Manuel Bojorquez. Excerpt: PORT MAYACA, Fla. — Rain, heat and pollutants have caused an outbreak of toxic algae blooms, which can cause health problems. Now, lawmakers in Florida want the governor to declare a state of emergency over an algae problem at Lake Okeechobee, the aquatic lifeblood of South Florida. …It’s a recurring nightmare. This year’s early bloom, however, could signal one of the worst summers yet. The problem starts at Lake Okeechobee. After heavy rains, the Army Corps of Engineers released millions of gallons to relieve pressure on the lake’s old earthen dam. But the water is chock full of chemicals and nutrients — much of it runoff from commercial agriculture and sprawling development. When that mix bakes in the summer sun, the algae population explodes. …Once the algae starts to cover a waterway, it deprives it of oxygen, essentially sucking the life out of it. Wildlife like manatees can choke to death. Under water, the entire marine ecosystem is at risk. So are waterside businesses. Sebastian Lahara held a mock funeral for his kayak rental operation, and Wittman said he has lost $20,000 on canceled trips this summer. …The federal government and the state have approved a $1.6 billion plan to clean and store some of the lake water, but it still has not been funded. Even the private sector is stepping in, offering a $10 million reward for the best plan to fix the problem….

2023-06-28. Call of the Rewild: Restoring Ecological Health to the Emerald Isle. [https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/27/world/europe/ireland-rewilding-deforestation-ecology.html] By Ed O’Loughlin, The New York Times. Excerpt: Centuries of overgrazing and deforestation have eliminated most native flora in Ireland, creating what ecologists see as a man-made desert in places. A growing “rewilding” push aims to change that. …Rewilding, the practice of bringing ravaged landscapes back to their original states, is well established in Britain, where numerous projects are underway. For Ireland, this would mean the re-creation of temperate forests of oak, birch, hazel and yew that once covered 80 percent of the land but now — after centuries of timber extraction, overgrazing and intensive farming — have been reduced to only 1 percent….

2023-06-01. Mussel poop may help clear oceans of microplastics. [https://www.science.org/content/article/mussel-poop-may-help-clear-oceans-microplastics] By Robin Donovan, Science. Excerpt: One of the most widespread pollutants in the ocean is also one of the hardest to see. Trillions of tiny particles of plastic—known as microplastics—can clog the intestines of fish, destroy the tissues of marine creatures, and cause entire populations to decline. Their small size also makes them almost impossible to clean up. Now, scientists have discovered a marine organism that’s not just invulnerable to microplastics, it may have a way to eliminate them—literally. The blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) …ingests microplastics and other pollutants alongside its typical fare, sequestering the contaminants in feces that are much easier to remove from the water than are the plastics themselves. …scientists confirmed that dense mussel feces, including those with microplastics, sink rapidly in seawater. That makes the pollutants easier to collect than free-floating particles. …“This is going to reduce [microplastics] slightly if it were applied on a large scale, but it certainly is not going to completely eliminate the problem.” …the true solution lies not in mussels, but in people. “We need to be stopping plastics at the source.”…

2023-04-27. Meet the climate hackers of Malawi. [https://www.nytimes.com/2023/04/27/climate/malawi-farmers-agriculture.html] By Somini Sengupta, The New York Times. Excerpt: When it comes to growing food, some of the smallest farmers in the world are becoming some of the most creative farmers in the world. Like Judith Harry and her neighbors, they are sowing pigeon peas to shade their soils from a hotter, more scorching sun. They are planting vetiver grass to keep floodwaters at bay. They are resurrecting old crops, like finger millet and forgotten yams, and planting trees that naturally fertilize the soil. A few are turning away from one legacy of European colonialism, the practice of planting rows and rows of maize, or corn, and saturating the fields with chemical fertilizers. “One crop might fail. Another crop might do well,” said Ms. Harry, who has abandoned her parents’ tradition of growing just maize and tobacco and added peanuts, sunflowers, and soy to her fields. “That might save your season.” It’s not just Ms. Harry and her neighbors in Malawi, a largely agrarian nation of 19 million on the front lines of climate hazards. Their scrappy, throw-everything-at-the-wall array of innovations is multiplied by small subsistence farmers elsewhere in the world….

2023-03-28. Plastics cause wide-ranging health issues from cancer to birth defects, landmark study finds. [https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/mar/29/plastics-cause-wide-ranging-health-issues-from-cancer-to-birth-defects-landmark-study-finds] By Melissa Davey, The Guardian. Excerpt: Led by the Boston College Global Observatory on Planetary Health in partnership with Australia’s Minderoo Foundation and the Centre Scientifique de Monaco, the review found “current patterns of plastic production, use, and disposal are not sustainable and are responsible for significant harms to human health … as well as for deep societal injustices”. “The main driver of these worsening harms is an almost exponential and still accelerating increase in global plastic production,” the analysis, published in the medical journal Annals of Global Health, found. “Plastics’ harms are further magnified by low rates of recovery and recycling and by the long persistence of plastic waste in the environment. Coalminers, oil workers and gas field workers who extract fossil carbon feedstocks for plastic production, along with plastic production workers, were at particular risk of harm, the report found…. For GSS Ecosystem Change chapter 7.

2023-03-21. ‘A living pantry’: how an urban food forest in Arizona became a model for climate action. [https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/mar/21/urban-food-forest-dunbar-spring-tucson-arizona-climate-crisis-drought] By Samuel Gilbert, The Guardian. Excerpt: Near downtown Tucson, Arizona, is Dunbar Spring, a neighborhood unlike any other in the city. The unpaved sidewalks are lined with native, food-bearing trees and shrubs fed by rainwater diverted from city streets. One single block has over 100 plant species, including native goji berries, desert ironwood with edamame-like seeds and chuparosa bushes with cucumber-flavored flowers. This urban food forest – which began almost 30 years ago – provides food for residents and roughage for livestock, and the tree canopy also provides relief to residents in the third-fastest warming city in the nation. It has made Dunbar Spring a model for other areas grappling with increased heat, drought and food insecurity caused by the climate crisis. “We’re creating a living pantry,” said Brad Lancaster, a resident and co-founder of the Dunbar/Spring Neighborhood Foresters organization, which planted the urban food forest. …Dunbar Spring’s urban food forest began on an early morning in September 1996, when residents gathered for the first-ever community-wide tree-planting event. Like many lower-income areas in Tucson, Dunbar Spring was unusually hot, lacking the street tree cover to provide shade during the city’s brutal summers. Temperatures today are 4.5F warmer than in the 1970s. …Almost 30 years later, neighborhood foresters have planted more than 1,700 trees and thousands more understory plants, transforming Dunbar Spring into an urban food forest fed by rainwater. …The work in Dunbar Spring, along with Lancaster’s books and website, have inspired people worldwide to take up water harvesting to irrigate native food-bearing street trees. “In almost every neighborhood in Tucson, you can now find at least one property doing this,” he said. …The work of Dunbar Spring neighborhood foresters has also informed Tucson’s climate action plan, including legalizing citywide rainwater harvesting and planting arid-adapted trees….

2023-02-27. Who rules Earth? Wild mammals far outweighed by humans and domestic animals. [https://www.science.org/content/article/who-rules-earth-wild-mammals-far-outweighed-humans-and-domestic-animals] By Elizabeth Pennisi, Science. Excerpt: …The study…“is the first that provides quite convincing values for mammals,” says Patrick Schultheiss, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Würzburg. Published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it concludes that wild land mammals alive now have a total biomass of 22 million tons, and marine mammals account for another 40 million tons. Those numbers are relatively puny: Ants alone amount to 80 million tons, …humans, who weigh in at 390 million tons, with their livestock and other hangers-on such as urban rats adding another 630 million tons. It is stark evidence of how the natural world is being overrun, researchers say. …lead author Ron Milo, a quantitative biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science …and his colleagues …In 2018, …grabbed headlines by estimating the global weight of all life; 2 years later, they added the global weight of all humanmade objects and infrastructure, …. They also made a rough estimate of 50 million tons for wild mammals—“a shockingly tiny fraction of the mass of life on Earth,” …On land, much of the wild mammalian biomass is concentrated in a few large-bodied species, including boar, elephants, kangaroos, and several kinds of deer. The top 10 species account for 8.8 million tons—40% of the estimated global wild land mammal biomass…. Rodents—not counting human-associated rats and mice—make up 16% and carnivores account for 3% of that biomass. …In contrast, on the domesticated front, cows collectively weigh 420 million tons and dogs about as much as all wild land mammals, the new study reports. The biomass of housecats is about double that of African elephants and four times that of moose….

2023-01-22. A New Way to Hand-Me-Down. [https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/22/style/hand-me-downs.html] By Anna Grace Lee, The New York Times. Excerpt: In a San Antonio garage, two millennial mothers …Kara Livingston, 36, and Nicole Boynton, 35, …founders of Hand Me Up, a small business aimed at helping parents shop more responsibly to cut down on children’s clothing waste. …There is little data available about how much children’s clothing is discarded, said Amanda Forster, a materials research engineer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and an author of a 2022 report that looked at how to extend the life of textiles. The report said that a circular approach focused on reuse and repair is key, and Dr. Forster said that the principle applies to children’s wear as well. …“You want to try and keep things circulating back through the economy in their original form as much as possible,” Dr. Forster said. …More children’s wear brands have embraced responsible fashion in recent years, said Sandra Capponi, one of the founders of Good on You, a website and app that rates fashion brands for their impact on people, animals and the planet. …Some major brands have their own reuse or resale initiatives, like Patagonia’s Worn Wear, and North Face’s Clothes the Loop. In 2021, Carter’s teamed with TerraCycle to start a program that allows parents to send unwearable clothes to be recycled into raw materials….

2022-12-14. They Fought the Lawn. And the Lawn’s Done. [https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/14/climate/native-plants-lawns-homeowners.html] By Cara Buckley, The New York Times. Excerpt: COLUMBIA, Md. — Janet and Jeff Crouch do not know which flower or plant may have pushed their longtime next door neighbor over the edge, prompting him to pen complaint after complaint about the state of their yard. Perhaps it was the scarlet bee balm that drew hummingbirds …Or the swamp milkweed that Monarch butterflies feasted upon before laying their eggs. Or maybe it was the native sunflowers that fed bumblebees and goldfinches. Whatever it was, their neighbor’s mounting resentment burst to the fore in the fall of 2017, in the form of a letter from a lawyer for their homeowner association that ordered the Crouches to rip out their native plant beds, and replace them with grass. The couple were stunned. They’d lived on their quiet cul-de-sac harmoniously with their neighbors for years, and chose native plants to help insects, birds and wildlife thrive. Now the association was telling them that their plantings not only violated the bylaws, but were eyesores that hurt property values. “Your yard is not the place for such a habitat,” the letter read. …instead of doing what they were told, the couple fought back, and ended up paving the way for a groundbreaking state law. …in Maryland, homeowner associations can no longer force residents to have lawns, thanks to the Crouches….

2022-12-03. An Indigenous reservation has a novel way to grow food – below the earth’s surface. [https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/dec/03/south-dakota-reservation-food-desert-residents-transforming-crop-oasis] By Hallie Golden, The Guardian. Excerpt: Near the southern border of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, a curved translucent roof peeks out a few feet above the dusty plains. …below ground, at the bottom of a short flight of stairs, the inside of this 80ft-long sleek structure is bursting with life – pallets of vivid microgreens, potato plants growing from hay bales and planters full of thick heads of Swiss chard and pak choi. …This is an underground greenhouse, or walipini, and the harvesters are members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. It is one of at least eight underground greenhouses that, over the past decade, have been built or are being constructed on the reservation – which has one of the highest poverty rates in the US. Some hope they can help solve the interconnected problems of the lack of affordable, nutritious food and the difficulties of farming in the climate crisis. Underground greenhouses, emerged three decades ago in Bolivia as a way of trying to help rural communities gain food security. Their conditions can be controlled to protect the crops from fierce storms and extreme temperatures. … the Pine Ridge Reservation has long faced extreme weather. But the climate crisis is ushering in more intense rainstorms and heatwaves and residents on the reservation say the situation is becoming untenable. …Traditionally, the Lakota people were buffalo hunters and keen gatherers. But after the US government confined them to reservations in the late 19th century, and the US army helped decimate buffalo populations, growing their own food was one way to adapt….

2022-11-30. Will We Ever Be Able to Recycle Our Clothes Like an Aluminum Can? [https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/30/style/clothing-recycling.html] By Alden Wicker, The New York Times. Excerpt: A new factory operated by Renewcell, a textile recycling company in Sweden, is the first step in turning old clothes into new, high-quality fashion. …More than 200 million trees are cut down every year to produce dissolving pulp for man-made cellulosic fabrics, including rayon, viscose, modal, and lyocell, according to Canopy, a Canadian nonprofit that works with the paper and fashion industries to reduce deforestation. …About a half-dozen start-ups around the world are aimed at commercial textile recycling, and Renewcell is the first to open. …Before industrialization, most people made their own clothing from all-natural materials. The wealthy repurposed and passed their clothes down to servants, and then on to people in rural communities, who patched them until the garments were no longer wearable and then bartered them to rag collectors, according to a 2018 study from the University of Brighton. In Europe, these rags were collected in warehouses and then finally sent to be made into paper or wool shoddy for affordable blankets and coats. …As garments fell in value, and women entered the industrial work force, consumers had fewer incentives and less time to mend and repair….

2022-11-28. Where Does All the Cardboard Come From? I Had to Know. [https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/28/magazine/cardboard-international-paper.html] By Matthew Shaer, The New York Times. Excerpt: Before it was the cardboard on your doorstep, it was coarse brown paper, and before it was paper, it was a river of hot pulp, and before it was a river, it was a tree. Probably a Pinus taeda, or loblolly pine, a slender conifer native to the Southeastern United States. …The foresters on Singleton’s crew spend much of their time zipping around the Southeast by pickup, using a proprietary smartphone app to monitor tracts of harvestable woodland. Many of the tracts are maintained by commercial tree-farming concerns well known to I.P.; others are on land belonging to local or state governments. “Then you’ve got the families who might harvest once in their lifetime,” Singleton said, “in order to buy a car or send their kids to college.” After a deal is struck with the landowner — the fee is based on total tonnage, and the location and quality of the timber — a logging team will remove the trees and transport them by truck to a paper mill. …American factories generated more than 400 billion square feet of cardboard in 2020, a leap of 3.4 percent from the year prior. Cardboard-box consumption spiked in the early days of the pandemic, when everything we needed arrived at our homes swathed in brown-paper packaging; astonishingly, the trend lines have never really reversed course. …The largest and fastest-growing market for corrugate is China, home to both an expanding middle class and the e-commerce giant Alibaba. Surprisingly, China does not produce much of its own pulp. It can’t; it doesn’t have enough of the right kinds of trees. …In its hunger for corrugate, China is helping to reshape the global economy, often in profound and lasting ways. “What we’ve witnessed is an explosion of Brazilian companies shifting into the containerboard space — planting and harvesting pine trees with the express aim of sending the pulp to China…

2022-11-03. Urban Oasis – Pioneering urban ecology finds surprising biodiversity in Berlin’s green spaces. [https://www.science.org/content/article/pioneering-urban-ecology-finds-surprising-biodiversity-berlin-s-green-spaces] By Gabriel Popkin, Science Magazine. Excerpt: BERLIN—A modest cemetery in the heart of this 3.6-million-strong capital city is hardly a likely nature haven. Yet it was here in the Domfriedhof, in Berlin’s Mitte district, that Anita Grossmann, an ecologist at the Technical University of Berlin (TU Berlin), turned up 19 wild bee species in a single parched and untended patch of grasses and flowers on the graveyard’s edge. Additional surveys soon revealed this metropolis buzzes with bee diversity. The researchers tallied 106 species living in 49 grassy plots around and just outside Berlin, they reported earlier this year. Inner-city spaces such as the cemetery are “perfect for wild bees,” Grossmann says. The insects love the warmth radiating from pavement and buildings—what’s known as the “urban heat island.” And they thrive in the diverse plant communities found outside of manicured and often chemical-soaked fields and gardens. “You don’t need a lot of space” if you’re a bee, Grossmann explains. “You just need pollen, nectar, and nesting space.” … Berlin’s “wastelands”—former industrial sites colonized by novel mixtures of nonnative and native species—can harbor as much biodiversity as more natural sites. Grasshoppers, sand lizards, nightingales, and skylarks that are declining or threatened elsewhere have been found thriving in the city’s green spaces. Bees are just one of several groups of organisms that often seem to prefer heavily urbanized areas.…

2022-10-04. Wax worm saliva rapidly breaks down plastic bags, scientists discover. [https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/oct/04/wax-worm-saliva-rapidly-breaks-down-plastic-bags-scientists-discover] By Damian Carrington, The Guardian. Excerpt: Its enzymes degrade polyethylene within hours at room temperature and could ‘revolutionise’ recycling. …Polyethylene makes up 30% of all plastic production and is used in bags and other packaging that make up a significant part of worldwide plastic pollution. The only recycling at scale today uses mechanical processes and creates lower-value products. …The research, published in the journal Nature Communications, identified 200 proteins in the wax worm saliva and narrowed down the two that had the plastic-eating effect. “This study suggests insect saliva might [be] a depository of degrading enzymes which could revolutionise the bioremediation field,” the researchers said.…

2022-09-29. Process converts polyethylene bags, plastics to polymer building blocks. [https://news.berkeley.edu/2022/09/29/process-converts-polyethylene-bags-plastics-to-polymer-building-blocks/] By Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley News. Excerpt: Polyethylene plastics — in particular, the ubiquitous plastic bag that blights the landscape — are notoriously hard to recycle. They’re sturdy and difficult to break down, and if they’re recycled at all, they’re melted into a polymer stew useful mostly for decking and other low-value products. But a new process developed at the University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) could change all that. The process uses catalysts to break the long polyethylene (PE) polymers into uniform chunks — the three-carbon molecule propylene — that are the feedstocks for making other types of high-value plastic, such as polypropylene. The process, admittedly in the early stages of development, would turn a waste product — not only plastic bags and packaging, but all types of PE plastic bottles — into a major product in high demand. Previous methods to break the chains of polyethylene required high temperatures and gave mixtures of components in much lower demand. The new process could not only lower the need for fossil fuel production of propylene, often called propene, but also help fill a currently unmet need by the plastics industry for more propylene.…

2022-08-24. Chasing Arrows: The Truth About Recycling (video). [https://ambr-recyclers.org/2022/08/ambr-release-chasing-arrows-the-truth-about-recycling/] By Alliance of Mission-Based Recyclers (AMBR). Excerpt: Reduce, reuse, then recycle: In the 1970s, this was the structure under which advocates built America’s recycling industry. Unfortunately, the petrochemical and packaging industries have exploited this fundamental premise and used recycling as a cover to increase plastic production exponentially.  AMBR’s new short film, “Chasing Arrows: The Truth About Recycling,” outlines how the plastics industry is trashing recycling with non-recyclable plastics. It exposes the recycling myths industry promotes, such as blaming the recycling system and consumers for plastic pollution. The real problem is one they created and are expanding: They are simply making too much plastic, most of which cannot be recycled. Recycling is not a strategy for making waste “go away.” It was designed to create feedstock for manufacturing new products so that virgin natural resources like trees, minerals, and fossil fuels are left “in the ground” and protected from being extracted and destroyed. A group of mission-based recyclers have banned together to reinforce this original role for recycling and to address myths about recycling by forming the Alliance of MIssion-Based Recyclers. 

2022-09-06. It Was War. Then, a Rancher’s Truce With Some Pesky Beavers Paid Off. [https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/06/climate/climate-change-beavers.html] By Catrin Einhorn, photographs by Niki Chan Wylie, The New York Times. Excerpt: WELLS, Nev. — Horace Smith blew up a lot of beaver dams in his life. A rancher here in northeastern Nevada, he waged war against the animals, frequently with dynamite. Not from meanness or cruelty; it was a struggle over water. Mr. Smith blamed beavers for flooding some parts of his property, Cottonwood Ranch, and drying out others. But his son Agee, who eventually took over the ranch, is making peace. And he says welcoming beavers to work on the land is one of the best things he’s done. “They’re very controversial still,” said Mr. Smith, whose father died in 2014. “But it’s getting better. People are starting to wake up.” As global warming intensifies droughts, floods and wildfires, Mr. Smith has become one of a growing number of ranchers, scientists and other “beaver believers” who see the creatures not only as helpers, but as furry weapons of climate resilience.…

2022-08-18. Simple mix of soap and solvent could help destroy ‘forever chemicals’. [https://www.science.org/content/article/simple-mix-soap-and-solvent-could-help-destroy-forever-chemicals] By Robert F. Service, Science Magazine. Excerpt: There’s finally hope for a simple, cheap way to destroy a class of ubiquitous environmental toxins found in shampoos, fast-food wrappers, and fire-dousing foams. A common ingredient in soap, mixed with water and an organic solvent, readily degrades per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), commonly known as “forever chemicals” because they can stick around in the environment for decades, a new study shows. The mixture doesn’t work on all PFAS compounds, but related approaches might offer communities a cheap way to rid soils and drinking water of contaminants that currently put millions of people at risk for cancer and other diseases. …PFAS contain strings of carbon atoms attached to fluorine atoms, which bind so tightly to one another they are nearly impossible to break apart. The compounds repel oil and water and can withstand friction and high temperatures, making them widely popular in industry. They accumulate in soils, water supplies, and even in living tissue. In the United States alone there are nearly 3000 PFAS-contaminated sites, from landfills to rivers and groundwater supplies. …The compounds have been implicated in kidney and liver cancer, thyroid disease, decreased immune response, and infant and fetal growth problems. Communities around the world have tried to filter out these chemicals or destroy them. …Two years ago, researchers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hit on a better approach by chance. When they placed a PFAS compound in a common solvent called DMSO as part of a toxicity study, the PFAS compound began to degrade. The new study builds on that work. Researchers …studied numerous recipes involving DMSO. One combined a little bit of the solvent with sodium hydroxide, a common component of soap, in water. When the team heated the mix to boiling temperature, it readily degraded one of the largest subsets of PFAS compounds.…

2022-08-10. Can citizen scientists turn the tide against America’s toxic algal blooms? [https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/aug/10/red-tide-citizen-scientists-toxic-algal-blooms] By Lena Beck, The Guardian. Excerpt: ‘Red tides’ are an annual hazard in Florida and other coastal areas but a monitoring project can help limit harm to humans. …As climate change brings warming ocean waters, predictions of a dangerous phenomenon known as “red tide” are on the rise. …Red tides occur when warming waters and other factors spur the growth of a type of rust-colored alga known as Karenia brevis. The alga produces toxic compounds that are harmful to humans as well as dolphins, manatees, shellfish and other sea life. Exposure to the organism can cause respiratory illnesses and other problems for people who are exposed, and, in rare occasions, be debilitating or even fatal. …In an effort to address the threat, last year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) launched the Red Tide Respiratory Forecast, an online map that shows the presence and severity of red tide at select locations. People can use the map to check safety conditions before swimming or fishing or engaging in other activities in the water. The warning system is especially important during peak bloom season from August to December.…

2022-07-09. ‘Disturbing’: weedkiller ingredient tied to cancer found in 80% of US urine samples. [https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/jul/09/weedkiller-glyphosate-cdc-study-urine-samples] By Carey Gillam, The Guardian. Excerpt: More than 80% of urine samples drawn from children and adults in a US health study contained a weedkilling chemical linked to cancer, a finding scientists have called “disturbing” and “concerning”. The report by a unit of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that out of 2,310 urine samples, taken from a group of Americans intended to be representative of the US population, 1,885 were laced with detectable traces of glyphosate. This is the active ingredient in herbicides sold around the world, including the widely used Roundup brand. Almost a third of the participants were children ranging from six to 18.…

2022-06-17. The farmers restoring Hawaii’s ancient food forests that once fed an island. [https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jun/17/hawaii-traditional-farming-methods-ancient-food-forests] By Nina Lakhani, The Guardian. Excerpt: Rain clouds cover the peaks of the west Maui mountains, one of the wettest places on the planet, which for centuries sustained biodiverse forests providing abundant food and medicines for Hawaiians who took only what they needed. Those days of abundance and food sovereignty are long gone. Rows of limp lemon trees struggle in windswept sandy slopes depleted by decades of sugarcane cultivation. Agricultural runoff choking the ocean reef and water shortages, linked to over-tourism and global heating, threaten the future viability of this paradise island. Between 85% and 90% of the food eaten in Maui now comes from imports while diet-related diseases are soaring, and the state allocates less than 1% of its budget to agriculture. Downslope from the rain-soaked summits, there is historic drought and degraded soil. “We believe that land is the chief, the people its servants,” said Kaipo Kekona, 38, who with his wife Rachel Lehualani Kapu have transformed several acres of depleted farmland into a dense food forest on a mountain ridge. The soil there is once again full of life, with wriggly worms and multi-colored insects busy among the layered roots and mulch. This food forest provides a glimpse of the ancient forests that for millennia thrived on these slopes until being burnt multiple times to create cropland – a cultural and ecological tragedy documented in traditional songs, chants and stories. The couple are Indigenous farmers – ancient knowledge keepers – and part of a wider food and land sovereignty movement gaining momentum in Hawaii.…

2022-06-17. Meet the Peecyclers. Their Idea to Help Farmers Is No. 1. [https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/17/climate/peecycling-farming-urine-fertilizer.html] ByCatrin Einhorn, The New York Times . Excerpt: …Human urine… is full of the same nutrients that plants need to flourish. It has a lot more, in fact, than Number Two, with almost none of the pathogens. Farmers typically apply those nutrients — nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium — to crops in the form of chemical fertilizers. But that comes with a high environmental cost from fossil fuels and mining. …Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has worsened a worldwide fertilizer shortage that’s driving farmers to desperation and threatening food supplies. Scientists also warn that feeding a growing global population in a world of climate change will only get more difficult. …Toilets, in fact, are by far the largest source of water use inside homes, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Wiser management could save vast amounts of water, an urgent need as climate change worsens drought in places like the American West. It could also help with another profound problem: Inadequate sanitation systems — including leaky septic tanks and aging wastewater infrastructure — overload rivers, lakes and coastal waters with nutrients from urine. …algal blooms that trigger mass die offs of animals and other plants. In one dramatic example, manatees in the Indian River Lagoon in Florida are starving to death after sewage-fueled algal blooms destroyed the sea grass they depend on. “The urban environments and aquatic environments become hideously polluted while the rural environments are depleted of what they need,” said Rebecca Nelson, a professor of plant science and global development at Cornell University. …some are also drawn to a transformative idea behind the endeavor. By reusing something once flushed away, they say, they are taking a revolutionary step toward tackling the biodiversity and climate crises: Moving away from a system that constantly extracts and discards, toward a more circular economy that reuses and recycles in a continuous loop.…

2022-06-01. Planting Wetlands Could Help Stave Off Climate Catastrophe. ByJennifer Schmidt, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: Repopulating forests, planting neighborhood trees, and stopping large-scale logging are popular strategies to offset or reduce carbon emissions. But forests pale in comparison to wetlands’ carbon sequestration potential. Peatlands, salt marshes, and other coastal and inland wetlands cover just 1% of Earth’s surface, yet they store 20% of our planet’s ecosystem carbon, according to new research. Restoring wetlands is a powerful additional tool to combat climate change, said Brian Silliman, an ecologist at Duke University and a coauthor of the study, published in Science. …Peatlands are particularly important carbon sinks. Peat moss—a primary ingredient in many boggy wetlands—grows as mats of spongy plant matter. Older peat is buried beneath newer sprouts, and in the submerged, low-oxygen environment, sluggish decay locks in thick mats of carbon for millennia. …Around 1% of wetlands are lost each year to threats such as construction, farming, and sea level rise, according to the study. With the loss of these environments comes the release of their stored carbon—accounting for roughly 5% of annual total global carbon emissions. …Restoring, protecting, and rebuilding wetlands can be both a global and grassroots strategy. [https://eos.org/articles/planting-wetlands-could-help-stave-off-climate-catastrophe

2022-05-24. Some Elephants Are Getting Too Much Plastic in Their Diets. By Joshua Rapp Learn, The New York Times. Excerpt: Some Asian elephants… sneak into dumps near human settlements at the edges of their forest habitats and quickly gobble up garbage — plastic utensils, packaging and all. …elephants are transporting plastic and other human garbage deep into forests in parts of India. “When they defecate, the plastic comes out of the dung and gets deposited in the forest,” said Gitanjali Katlam, an ecological researcher in India. While a lot of research has been conducted on the spread of plastics from human pollution into the world’s oceans and seas, considerably less is known about how such waste moves with wildlife on land. But elephants are important seed dispersers, and research published this month in the Journal for Nature Conservation shows that the same process that keeps ecosystems functioning might carry human-made pollutants into national parks and other wild areas. This plastic could have negative effects on the health of elephants and other species that have consumed the material once it has passed through the large mammals’ digestive systems. [https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/24/science/india-elephants-plastic.html] 

2022-05-05. US is recycling just 5% of its plastic waste, studies show. By Katharine Gammon, The Guardian. Excerpt: When most people toss a plastic bottle or cup into the recycling bin, they assume that means the plastic is recycled – but a new report lays bare how rarely that actually happens. According to the Last Beach Cleanup and Beyond Plastics, the organization behind the report released on Wednesday, the recycling rate for post-consumer plastic was just 5% to 6% in 2021. The Department of Energy also released a research paper this week, which analyzed data from 2019, and came to the same number: only 5% of plastics are being recycled. The researchers on that report wrote that landfilled plastic waste in the United States has been on the rise for many reasons, including “low recycling rates, population growth, consumer preference for single-use plastics, and low disposal fees in certain parts of the country”, according to a press release.… [https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/may/04/us-recycling-plastic-waste]

2022-05-04. Projected environmental benefits of replacing beef with microbial protein. By Florian HumpenöderBenjamin Leon BodirskyIsabelle WeindlHermann Lotze-CampenTomas Linder & Alexander PoppNature volume 605, pages 90–96 (2022). Abstract: Ruminant meat provides valuable protein to humans, but livestock production has many negative environmental impacts, especially in terms of deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, water use and eutrophication1. In addition to a dietary shift towards plant-based diets2, imitation products, including plant-based meat, cultured meat and fermentation-derived microbial protein (MP), have been proposed as means to reduce the externalities of livestock production3,4,5,6,7. Life cycle assessment (LCA) studies have estimated substantial environmental benefits of MP, produced in bioreactors using sugar as feedstock, especially compared to ruminant meat3,7. Here we present an analysis of MP as substitute for ruminant meat in forward-looking global land-use scenarios towards 2050. …substituting 20% of per-capita ruminant meat consumption with MP globally by 2050 (on a protein basis) offsets future increases in global pasture area, cutting annual deforestation and related CO2 emissions roughly in half, while also lowering methane emissions.… [https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-022-04629-w]

2022-04-27. Postcards from Kamikatsu, Japan’s ‘zero-waste’ town. By Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Julia Mio Inuma, The Washington Post. Excerpt: KAMIKATSU, Japan — Tucked away in the mountains of Japan’s Shikoku island, a town of about 1,500 residents is on an ambitious path toward a zero-waste life. In 2003, Kamikatsu became the first municipality in Japan to make a zero-waste declaration. Since then, the town has transformed its open-air burning practices used for waste disposal into a system of buying, consuming and discarding with the goal of reaching carbon neutrality. Now, the town estimates it is more than 80 percent of its way toward meeting that goal by 2030. …The Zero Waste Center is the town’s recycling facility, where residents can sort their garbage into 45 categories — there are nine ways to sort paper products alone — before they toss the rest into a pile for the incinerators. Residents clean and dry dirty items so they are suitable for recycling.… [https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/interactive/2022/japan-zero-carbon-village-climate/]

2022-03-08. Road Salts Linked to High Sodium Levels in Tap Water. By Sarah Stanley, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: When snowstorms hit, deicing agents such as road salts and brine help keep streets and walkways open. However, some deicers release sodium and chloride into the surrounding environment. Links between elevated sodium intake and human health risks, such as high blood pressure, are well established. The effects of deicers on drinking water, however, have been less clear. Now, evidence reported by Cruz et al. supports a link between deicers and elevated sodium levels in drinking water, with concentrations in the Philadelphia region sometimes surpassing recommended limits for people on sodium-restricted diets. The new study adds a public health perspective to research that has focused primarily on the harmful effects of deicers on freshwater aquatic animals, including amphibians and benthic macroinvertebrates.… [https://eos.org/research-spotlights/road-salts-linked-to-high-sodium-levels-in-tap-water]

2022-03-08. The largest remaining tall-grass prairie in Texas is getting solar panels. Environmentalists can’t stop it. By Mary Beth Gahan, The Washington Post. Excerpt: A solar facility on a 3,594-acre tract of land has environmental groups searching for a way to save what they consider a living museum …“We recognize the importance of this native prairie ecosystem,” said Daniel Willard, a biodiversity specialist at Orsted. “One of the best ways to protect biodiversity is the development of clean energy, and we are taking several steps to ensure that development is done in balance with nature.”… [https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/2022/03/08/texas-prairie-solar-panels-climate-change]

2022-02-23. World’s nations start to hammer out first global treaty on plastic pollution. By Erik Stokstad, Science Magazine. Excerpt: Each year, an estimated 11 million tons of plastic waste enter the ocean, equivalent to a cargo ship’s worth every day. The rising tide—in the oceans and beyond—is just a symptom of much wider problems: unsustainable product design, short-sighted consumption, and insufficient waste management, scientists say. To curb the flood, says Jenna Jambeck, an environmental engineer at the University of Georgia, “we need to take more action and it needs to be further upstream” in the production process. That’s exactly what negotiators from 193 countries are setting out to do when they meet in Nairobi, Kenya, next week. Their ambitious goal: to create a negotiating committee that will try to hammer out, within 2 years, a new global treaty intended to curb plastic pollution. An already released proposal, modeled on the United Nations’s climate treaty, would have nations adopt action plans, set binding waste reduction targets, and establish monitoring systems and a new global scientific advisory body.… [https://www.science.org/content/article/world-s-nations-start-hammer-out-first-global-treaty-plastic-pollution]

2022-02-14. Exploration and Evaluation of Deep-Sea Mining Sites. By Aaron Sidder, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: The seafloor near a mid-ocean ridge is often home to rising hydrothermal fluids from the deep crust that deposit minerals on the ocean bottom. These seafloor massive sulfide deposits offer new sources of copper, zinc, lead, gold, and silver. The ore potential led to the European Union’s initiation of the Blue Mining project in 2014 with the goal of turning seafloor mining into a viable industry. Two recent and related studies sought to optimize the detection and exploration of seafloor massive sulfide deposits. …The two studies are a significant step forward in identifying and characterizing active and inactive hydrothermal mounds on the seafloor. The findings move seafloor mining toward cost-effective exploration and assessment of currently undeveloped mineral resources, with a focus on exploiting the hydrothermally inactive deposit to minimize negative environmental impacts. (Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earthhttps://doi.org/10.1029/2021JB022082 and https://doi.org/10.1029/2021JB022228, 2021).[https://eos.org/research-spotlights/exploration-and-evaluation-of-deep-sea-mining-sites]

2022-02-09. An electric jolt salvages valuable metals from waste. By Sam Kean, Science Magazine. Excerpt: As chemists scramble to find ways to reclaim valuable metals from industrial waste and discarded electronics, one team has found a solution that sounds a little like magic: Zap the trash with flashes of electric heat. Rare earth elements (REEs) present an environmental paradox. On one hand, these dozen or so metals, such as yttrium and neodymium, are vital components of wind turbines and solar panels, and cheap sources of REEs could give those green technologies a huge boost. On the other, mining REEs causes billions of dollars of environmental damage each year. …mining companies have to chew through tons upon tons of ore, stripping and gutting landscapes. …Old electronics and other industrial waste, in contrast, are rich in REEs. But existing recycling methods are inefficient and expensive, and require corrosive chemicals such as concentrated hydrochloric acid. The new process could help break that logjam. Today in Science Advances, a team led by organic chemist James Tour of Rice University reports using pulses of electrical heat to make it easier to extract REEs from industrial waste. The technique is roughly twice as efficient as current methods and uses far more benign chemicals. …In addition to fly ash, Tour’s team has extracted REEs from so-called red mud—a byproduct of making aluminum—and from electronics. In the latter case, the team gutted an old laptop and ground its circuit board into powder to experiment with.… [https://www.science.org/content/article/electric-jolt-salvages-valuable-metals-waste]

cover for GSS book Ecosystem Change

Non-chronological resources

Aquabarrel: Simple rain collecting and storage device – attaches to downspouts.

Composting

Excellent Packaging and Supply.

Forums for reusing items online.

Growing Power: a nonprofit organization supporting people to provide healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food for people in all communities. Promotes development of Community Food Systems that help people grow, process, market and distribute food in a sustainable manner. 

The Story of Stuff – From its extraction through sale, use and disposal, all the stuff in our lives affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden from view. The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns. 

The Nature Conservancy – Conservation easements. 
A conservation easement is a voluntary, legally binding agreement that limits certain types of uses or prevents development from taking place on a piece of property now and in the future, while protecting the property’s ecological or open-space values.

Life cycle assessment of supermarket carrier bags: a review of the bags available in 2006. Environment Agency (for protection of the environment in England and Wales).

To MORE NON-CHRONOLOGICAL RESOURCE

cover for GSS book Ecosystem Change

More non-chronological resources

Biosphere 2 http://www.bio2.edu/

Environment & Ecosystems on the Net from SciLinks®

Environment & Ecosystems in NSTA Journal Articles–high school

Environment & Ecosystems in NSTA Journal Articles–intermediate

Books on the Environment & Ecosystems from NSTA Press and NSTA Recommends.

Bats

Birds

Earth Shots–Satellite Images of Environmental Change

Fair Trade Cocoa and CoffeeGenetic Engineering

Marine/Ocean life

Native Plants

Organic Farming

Alibrandi, Marsha, GIS in the Classroom and CD-Rom. Heinemann Educational Books, Inc. Portsmouth, NH. 2003. ISBN 032500479X. Grade level: 9-12. Reviewed here (10/15/2003) by Eloise Farmer [GSS teacher leader and] Biology Teacher retiring in June after 37.5 years. The book would be useful with Life and Climate, since many suggested activities have students monitoring the effects of human activities on a variety of things on local bodies of water, or ecosystems in general. It also could be used with Ecosystem Change, or Changing Climate for the same reason. Students could use GIS to map changes in coastlines due to erosion, the effects of storms on an area, etc. It really emphasizes systems, so it could be used with any of the GSS books. This link tells how it has been used in a high school.

Organic Food – Restaurants, Farmers Markets, Coops