Tag Archives: recycle

How High Schools Can Promote Stewardship and Save the Environment

The future of environmentalism lies in the hands of the youth.

Greta Thunberg is an internationally-renowned climate activist who, at age 15, famously began protesting outside Swedish parliament and has inspired a worldwide movement since. (Photo by European Parliament / CC BY 2.0)

Young activists like Greta Thunberg, the sixteen-year-old leader of a global youth climate strike movement, are clear signs of a revival of the environmental sentiments that famously marked the 1960s. As the media continues to publicize contemporary environmental issues, young people around the world have championed the growing environmental movement. A worldwide study from Nielsen even reported that 15 to 20-year-old respondents, dubbed “Generation Z”, were willing to pay higher prices for products from environmentally-minded corporations.

Many of these teenagers and young adults spend a significant amount of time in high school, where they are exposed to new ideas and are able to pursue their passions. As of 2016, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that over 40,000 high schools existed in the United States.

Today, it is the obligation of these formative institutions – their students, teachers, and administration – to continue to make an environmental impact in their local communities and, most importantly, in the youth.

So here are four basic ways that high schools can make a difference.

Composting Programs

Composting is an easy way for high schools to give back. It is key for healthy gardens and prevents food waste from needlessly ending up in landfills. Best of all, it is dirt-cheap. Pun intended.

Many organizations will now compost for you, and they can be easily found online. (Photo by Oregon State University / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Composting can be done by students as a club activity, but it can also be done through composting services. Organizations like CompostNow make it effortless to find a service.

In 2014, an EPA study reported that America threw away more than 38 million tons of food annually. It was further estimated that more food waste was generated than any other type of everyday waste.

When high schools absent-mindedly waste substantial amounts of food every day, what better way is there to teach environmental consciousness, while giving back, than composting?

Recycling Education

“Reduce, reuse, recycle.”

Most Americans are taught the importance of recycling from a young age. Life 123 reports that 70% of Americans aged 18 to 30 participate in recycling. Nevertheless, although not a reportedly widespread issue, improper recycling still occurs in communities and households in America.

According to the Vice President of Sustainability at Rubicon, a company that offers recycling options for sustainable businesses, the smallest bit of contamination can easily transform a pile of recyclables into nothing more than waste.

Clearly, educating youth before they become full adults – responsible for their own recycling behavior – remains critical, and just like teaching responsibility and various academic skills, high schools are the perfect institutions to instill these necessary habits.

Recycling can be made easy with the proper education. (Photo by Joel Bombardier / CC BY 2.0)

Together, students and administration all around America (and the world) can work together to create posters, educational programs, and the proper bins to make recycling education as widespread as possible.

Tree Planting

Science has shown that planting trees has many benefits. (Photo by Daniel Cukier / CC BY-ND 2.0)

A Nature article published in 2015 showed that urban neighborhoods filled with trees were better for the physical health of nearby residents. It’s common sense after all; a little more fresh air can only help.

Tree planting, in fact, is an incredibly easy way to give back to Mother Earth while bettering one’s own local community. Oftentimes, local senior centers, gardens, and parks will usually welcome any help in planting trees.

With a large percentage of able-bodied youth cooped up in high schools for around seven hours every day, tree planting by high schools can be far more efficient and extensive than that of small volunteer groups.

Not to mention, tree planting can be a fantastic bonding experience!

Organizations & Activism

Environmentalism in high schools ought to be driven by the youth and supported by adults. Typically, this relationship takes the form of student-led clubs that are advised by one or more faculty members.

Through a cooperative dynamic between students and adults, these organizations can effect change in their local communities through environmental education as well as volunteering.

That being said, students should equally seek to effect change on larger scales, whether that be through climate marches or even trying to get a carbon emissions bill passed. Young voices matter, and anyone – from the aspiring engineer to the future politician – can make a difference.

Writing letters to Congress or your local representatives is a great activity for high school environmental clubs. (Photo by Misha Popovikj / CC BY-SA 2.0)

The role of adults remains paramount as teenagers ambitiously pursue these causes. Tangible support, like teaching how to write a letter to one’s representative, and intangible support, like simple encouragement, can make all the difference.

As the new generation of high schoolers inherits the environmental dilemmas of their predecessors, high schools will increasingly serve as training grounds for greater environmental consciousness through advocacy, education, and pivotal dialogue.

This is a guest contribution by Dennis Zhang

 

PDK plastic.

This infinitely-recyclable plastic might help us finally clean up landfills and oceans

New research from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has designed a type of plastic that can be recycled any number of times without any loss of performance.

Plastic bottles.

Image via Pixabay.

The DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has produced a new kind of polymer that, akin to a LEGO playset, can be broken down and reassembled into a different shape, texture, and color without impairing its quality. The new material is called ‘poly(diketoenamine)’, or PDK.

Plastic with a twist

“Most plastics were never made to be recycled,” said lead author Peter Christensen, a postdoctoral researcher at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry. “But we have discovered a new way to assemble plastics that takes recycling into consideration from a molecular perspective.”

The most recyclable plastic today, PET — poly(ethylene terephthalate) — is only recycled at a rate of around 20-30%. The rest winds up in incinerators, landfills, or oceans to be burned, releasing CO2, or left to clog the Earth for a few centuries until it decomposes.

Plastics are basically long chains of carbon-based molecules (‘mers’) tied together to form polymers (‘many mers’). Their structure makes them very stable chemically, meaning they won’t rust, rot or dissolve where other materials would. In order to tailor them to particular uses, manufacturers also mix in chemical additives to improve certain properties. Fillers, for example, make a plastic tough, while plasticizers are mixed in to make it flexible. These additives are chemically-bound to individual mers, and they hold on tight. So they’re virtually impossible to remove even as plastics get processed in recycling plants. Plastics with different chemical compositions get mixed together, ground into bits, and melted during the recycling process. It’s impossible to predict the properties of the resulting material before it’s actually produced.

This tendency of recycled plastics to inherit unknown additives has prevented plastics from becoming a “circular” material — one whose original building blocks (mers) can be recovered for reuse for as long as possible, or “upcycled” to make a new, higher quality product.

PDK plastic.

Unlike conventional plastics, the monomers of PDK plastic could be recovered and freed from any compounded additives simply by dunking the material in a highly acidic solution.
Image credits Peter Christensen et al., (2019), Nat.Comms / Berkeley Lab

Christensen was part of a multidisciplinary team led by Brett Helms, a staff scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry, which worked to develop a plastic that won’t have this problem.

“Circular plastics and plastics upcycling are grand challenges,” Christensen adds. “We’ve already seen the impact of plastic waste leaking into our aquatic ecosystems, and this trend is likely to be exacerbated by the increasing amounts of plastics being manufactured and the downstream pressure it places on our municipal recycling infrastructure.”

“With PDKs, the immutable bonds of conventional plastics are replaced with reversible bonds that allow the plastic to be recycled more effectively,” Helms explains.

The monomers that make PDK can be separated from any additives by simply dunking the plastic into a highly-acidic solution. The acid breaks the bonds between the monomers and the additives. This property was first discovered as Christensen was applying various acids to glassware used to make PDK adhesives, and noticed that the adhesive had changed. Christensen further analyzed the plastic with an NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) spectroscopy instrument and found the original monomers.

Subsequent research at the Molecular Foundry showed that the acid breaks down PDK polymers into monomers while also separating them from the additive molecules. The team also showed that recovered PDK monomers can be re-cast into polymers, and that the recycled polymers don’t inherit any feature of the original material. The plastic could also be upcycled through the use of additives, such as plastifiers. The researchers believe that their new plastic could be a good alternative to many nonrecyclable plastics in use today.

“We’re at a critical point where we need to think about the infrastructure needed to modernize recycling facilities for future waste sorting and processing,” said Helms. “If these facilities were designed to recycle or upcycle PDK and related plastics, then we would be able to more effectively divert plastic from landfills and the oceans.”

“This is an exciting time to start thinking about how to design both materials and recycling facilities to enable circular plastics,” said Helms.

The researchers next plan to develop PDK plastics with a wide range of thermal and mechanical properties to use in textiles, 3D printing, and foams. They’re also looking to incorporate more plant-based compounds and other sustainable materials into the PDK plastic

The paper “Closed-loop recycling of plastics enabled by dynamic covalent diketoenamine bonds” has been published in the journal Nature Chemistry.

PET plastic bottle.

New upcycling process for PET could finally nudge us into cleaning the seas

Researchers from the U.S. have developed a new recycling method that not only makes the polyester PET longer lived, but stronger and more valuable.

PET plastic bottle.

Image via Pixabay.

A lot of the plastic objects you use every day, from beverage bottles to clothes and carpets are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a type of polyester. Like most plastics, PET is recyclable — but it also degrades during this process, the team writes. PET thus loses value over time. Another problem is that we just tend to churn out a lot of PET — roughly 26 million tons per year — and later toss is straight into the landfill and oceans. There, the roughly 80% of PET we don’t recycle wallows for a few hundred years before biodegrading completely.

One team of researchers plans to fix this by developing a recycling process that actually makes the PET better than it was initially.

Upcycling

“Standard PET recycling today is essentially ‘downcycling,'” says senior author Gregg Beckham, a Senior Research Fellow at NREL.

“The process we came up with is a way to ‘upcycle’ PET into long-lifetime, high-value composite materials like those that would be used in car parts, wind turbine blades, surfboards, or snowboards.”

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are behind the new recycling process. They combined reclaimed PET with products derived from renewable material, such as waste plant biomass. Two types of fiber-reinforced plastics (FRPs) were created this way, both of which are two to three times more valuable than the original PET, the team reports.

They also predict that these composite products would require 57% less energy to manufacture than PET reclaimed through the current recycling process. It would also emit 40% fewer greenhouse gases than standard petroleum-based FRPs, which the team calls ‘significant’.

“The idea is to develop technologies that would incentivize the economics of PET reclamation,” says Beckham. “That’s the real hope—to develop ‘second-life’ upcycling technologies that make single-use waste plastic valuable to reclaim. This, in turn, could help keep waste plastic out of the world’s oceans and out of landfills.”

The new materials, however, aren’t ready to leave the lab. The team plans to analyze their properties further and to determine how well the process would scale to a manufacturing setting. They also hope to develop composites that can themselves be recycled; the current ones can last years and even decades but are not necessarily recyclable afterward. They also want to develop similar technologies for other types of materials.

The findings could help protect oceans from PET waste by offering an attractive method of recycling the material.

“The scale of PET production dwarfs that of composites manufacturing, so we need many more upcycling solutions to truly make a global impact on plastics reclamation through technologies like the one proposed in the current study,” says first author Nicholas Rorrer, an engineer at NREL who also participated in the study.

The paper “Combining reclaimed PET with bio-based monomers enables plastics upcycling” has been published in the journal Joule.

European Union considers total ban on plastic straws and cutlery

The European Union (EU) wants to take its war on plastic to the next stage: the European Commission has recently proposed a total ban on almost all single-use plastic products in a bid to reduce Europe’s carbon emissions and marine litter.

This can’t possibly be the legacy we want to leave behind.

Plastic is a massive problem — sure, it was amazing when it was first developed (and it still is), but there’s just too much of it, and we’re clearly not using and recycling it responsibly. Recent studies have found that plastics are ubiquitous in the world’s oceans, slowly killing marine wildlife. There are an estimated 5 trillion plastic pieces in the oceans and a truck’s worth of plastic is dumped into the oceans every minute. This is clearly not sustainable and has to change as soon as possible. Some countries have already implemented laudable recycling systems, but that can only accomplish so much. At the end of the day, there’s no going around it: we need to reduce our plastic consumption, and we need to do it quickly.

A good place to start is single-use plastic. We don’t really need it, we can’t really recycle it, and by definition, it’s short-lived. The European Commission has recently proposed a total ban on some single-use plastic products: plastic cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers and sticks for balloons. They also want to drastically reduce the use of plastic food containers and drink cups by implementing a mandatory tax on them.

“Plastic can be fantastic but we need to use it more responsibly,” Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen said in a statement. “Today’s proposals will help business and consumers to move towards sustainable alternatives.”

Under the Commission’s proposal, all the member states (representing over 500 million people) will have to collect 90% of single-use plastic drink bottles by 2025, while producers will also have to chip in by paying some of the waste disposal costs. First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, responsible for sustainable development, said:

“Plastic waste is undeniably a big issue and Europeans need to act together to tackle this problem, because plastic waste ends up in our air, our soil, our oceans, and in our food. Today’s proposals will reduce single-use plastics on our supermarket shelves through a range of measures. We will ban some of these items, and substitute them with cleaner alternatives so people can still use their favorite products.”

The EU says that implementing these measures as soon as possible will also yield economic benefits. The entire world is moving in this direction, though some are moving slower than others, so having an early bird approach could offer a competitive advantage. This will also offer incentives to develop innovative, sustainable recycling or waste management solutions.

This is just a proposal for now. It remains to be seen whether it will be implemented or not, but it’s certainly a big step in the right direction.

Hamburg becomes the first city to ban coffee pods

They may not look like much, but coffee pods are a big problem. According to Science Alert, if you collected all the single-use coffee pods sold by market leader Keurig in a year and lined them up end-to-end, you’d have enough to circle the globe 12 times over. That’s a lot of waste, and to make matters even worse, these pods are extremely difficult to recycle because they are built from a mixture of plastic and aluminium, which most recycling plants can’t deal with. The city of Hamburg has taken a strong stance against coffee pods, banning them in all state-run buildings.

Photo by Andrés Nieto Porras.

Almost one in three American homes now has a pod-based coffee machine, while 13% of all Germans drink a coffee made from a single-cup brewer every single day. Last year K-Cups accounted for most of Keurig Green Mountain’s $4.7 billion in revenue, growing by 500% in a mere five years. Nespresso, another major player in the market sold more than 27 billion of its sleek aluminum capsules worldwide in 2012. With this growth came a lot of non-recyclable junk. As of 2014, only five percent of the pods made by Keurig were recyclable, and not much is changing in that aspect.

“These portion packs cause unnecessary resource consumption and waste generation, and often contain polluting aluminium,” Jan Dube from the Hamburg Department of the Environment and Energy told the press over the weekend.

“The capsules can’t be recycled easily because they are often made of a mixture of plastic and aluminium. It’s 6 grams of coffee in 3 grams of packaging. We in Hamburg thought that these shouldn’t be bought with taxpayers’ money.”

The move didn’t come out of the blue. Hamburg has a long list of things it wants to do to to become a truly green city in the future. Among other things, Hamburg wants to become car-free in 20 years and build green spaces above noisy highways.

aluminium manufacturing

Everything about Aluminium: facts, recycling, importance

Image credits Natalie Hodson.

Being the most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust, aluminium probably doesn’t make it very high on the “We’ve really gotta start recycling this” list of most people. Surely stuff like paper or plastic should take precedence. Paper comes from trees and I’m fairly sure we need those to breathe, and there’s plastic even inside animals!

Well, yes, that second part is true, and is exactly why we should aim to reuse as much of anything as we can. It’s not convenient nor free — beyond the collecting, sorting, and washing that needs to be done, there’s an energy cost to making materials reusable. You can’t just fill a bottle someone threw in the ocean ten years ago back up with beer. it needs to be melted and re-shaped. Scrap iron must be treated to eliminate rust and re-cast. It takes a lot of juice, too: recycled paper uses as much as 60% of the initial production energy, plastic 30% and glass some 60%. So why waste our time on such a common metal?

For all its abundance, aluminium wasn’t discovered until 1807 — by Sir Humphry Davy — and an economically viable process to refine it wasn’t developed until 1886. In the 19th century, it was so expensive and hard to refine aluminium, even from bauxite, that the Washington Monument was given an aluminum tip to symbolize its value.

Why? Because most of our planet’s reserve of the metal is mixed up in minerals from which it’s not easy to extract. Actually, you can probably find it in most types of rocks, soil, or even vegetation, but it’s so dispersed and chemically bound it’s just too expensive to extract. This is why mining and refining it will always be costly and damaging to the environment, both from extraction and processing.

Thankfully, among all other materials, aluminium stands out as a shining (and often shiny) beacon of efficiency when it comes to recycling.

And I’m here to tell you all about it.

All about Al

Aluminium is a chemical element with the atomic number 13 — it has 13 protons in its nucleus, surrounded by 13 electrons. It’s a silvery-white, very soft when pure but very strong in alloy form, nonmagnetic metal. Aluminium is the most abundant metal and the third overall in our planet’s crust, making up 8% of its mass. But being very chemically reactive, it’s almost impossible to find aluminium in native form — pure aluminium nuggets can only be found in extreme environments, but atoms of the element appear in almost 270 minerals.

A very striking feature of the metal is its density — one cubic centimeter weighs in at a modest 2,70 grams. Compared to the other metals we’re used to seeing in day to day life, like iron with its 7.87 grams per cubic centimeter, copper clocking in at 8.96 grams per cubic centimeter or the whopping 19.30 grams per cubic centimeter of gold, aluminium is practically buoyant.

It’s also very ductile and easy to machine, cast, draw or extrude, and has thermal and electrical conductivity almost as good as coppers. Throw in good corrosion resistance, and it’s easy to see why aluminium is the most produced and widely used nonferrous metal: from airplanes, satellites and space shuttles to beer cans and packaging, we can’t get enough of it.

Even artists want in.
Image via youtube

Infinitely recyclable

A lifecycle for aluminium. Image via constellium

When aluminium is exposed to air, a very thin layer of aluminium oxide forms on the surface, insulating the body of metal from oxygen. This metal is only corroded by water at temperatures in excess of 280 degrees C. There are some chemical substances that do attack it — most notably salt, which is why aluminium isn’t used in plumbing — but given it’s general resistance to corrosion, aluminium isn’t consumed during its lifetime as a product, it’s just being used.

As such, one ingot of aluminium can be recycled infinitely, with no loss in quality. It’s one of the most recycled and recyclable materials today — so much so that almost 75 percent of all aluminium ever produced in the U.S. is still being used today.

Profitably recyclable

One of the reasons aluminium is so widely recycled today is that it’s profitable to do so. With demand constantly growing and because reusing waste to cast bars is dirt cheap compared to refining it from ore, recycling aluminium is a nice way to turn a profit.

It’s so cost-efficient that during WWII, when aluminium refinement processes were far less efficient than today, families were encouraged to save strips of aluminium foil, and turn them in to the government. In many towns, they could be exchanged for a free entry to a movie theater. Government-sponsored posters, ads, radio shows, and pamphlet campaigns urged Americans to contribute to scrap drives. There was even a radio show — “Aluminum for Defense,” debuting in 1941 on the New York radio station WOR.

It was cheaper for the government to pay for your movie ticket and print, air and plaster their way through an entire PR campaign than produce more aluminium foil. Recycling is a core operation of the aluminum industry even today, with the United States and Canada recycling more than 5 million tons of aluminum each year, most of which goes back directly on the market

It’s a way, way more efficient process than refining

The Macquire Group, a global investment banking and diversified financial services group, estimates that around 40% of spending in the aluminium mining and refining sector goes toward energetic resources, such as electricity or oil.

Now, just getting the ore, known as bauxite, out of the ground is pretty easy, with less than 1.5 kilograms of diesel and 5 kWh of electricity consumed for every ton extracted. But refining it, that’s a different story altogether:

“Today, the average specific energy consumption is around 14.5 GJ per tonne of alumina, including electrical energy of around 150 kWh/t Al2O3,” The International Aluminium Institute reports.

Compared to refinement from bauxite, the process by which we recycle aluminium uses only 5 percent of the energy, so 20 ingots can be recycled for the same energy it takes to produce just one from ore. Using electrolysis in conjunction with renewable energy sources, there are practically no CO2 emissions in the process of aluminium recovery. Countries whose energy systems revolve around hydroelectric plants, such as Norway, Canada or Venezuela are traditionally large producers of this metal.

Even when using power from polluting sources, such as fossil-fuel plants, the process is still much much cleaner than refinement:

“A 10 percent increase in aluminum end-of-life recycling rates decreases industry greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent,” The Aluminum Association reports.

Some other cool recycling facts

It takes as little as 60 days to get a used can washed, melted, processed and into a grocery store as a brand new can. The process saves enough power to run a TV for three hours.

While cans are the most recycled — and the most produced — form of aluminium, siding, gutters, car components, storm window frames, and lawn furniture can also be recycled.

The next time you throw away an aluminium can, picture the can half full of gasoline. That’s how much energy goes into making it, and how much energy will have to be spent to produce a new one rather than recycling it.

Adidas unveils new sneakers made from recycled ocean trash

Adidas new shoes are trash – literally. The German company has announced the creation of a new type of shoes made from recycled garbage pulled out of the ocean; the sustainable prototype has the upper part made entirely of yarns and filaments reclaimed from illegal deep-sea gillnets and other ocean waste, while the bottom part is made from sustainable cushioning material.

Image via Adidas.

The prototype design was unveiled at United Nations Headquarters on 1 July 2015 and it marks the beginning of the partnership between Adidas and Parley for the Oceans, an organization which develops projects to promote the sustainability of the oceans and eliminate pollution.

“We are extremely proud that Adidas is joining us in this mission and is putting its creative force behind this partnership to show that it is possible to turn ocean plastic into something cool,” Parley founder Cyrill Gutsch said.

Adidas was also thrilled by this new direction that they’ve taken.

“The concept shoe illustrates the direction adidas and Parley for the Oceans are taking, ahead of consumer-ready ocean plastic products being revealed later this year.”

But gathering the material and developing the product was not easy. he Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which collaborated on the project actually retrieved the trash over a 110 day expedition to track an illegal poaching vessel off the coast of West Africa. The green fishing nets collected during that voyage can be seen in the design of the upper shoe.

For now, the shoe is only a prototype, and it’s not for sale; it’s unclear whether or not it will be in the near future. However, Adidas did announce that they will incorporate recycled plastic into its shoes by early next year. So you will be able to wear recycled plastic on your feet… it’s just likely not ocean plastic.

A Danish Festival Will Recycle Participants’ Urine to Make New Beer

Call it Beercycling – gallons of beer-urine will be used to fertilize barley, which will ultimately become beer, and then urine again. It’s the perfect cycle.

Image via Creative Lena.

Denmark’s Roskilde festival is the largest music festival in Scandinavia and one of the largest in the world. Roskilde Festival 2013 had more than 180 performing bands and gathered around 130,000 festivalgoers, with more than 21,000 volunteers, 5,000 media people and 3,000 artists – which means almost 160,000 people participated in the festival. This year, the likes of Paul McCartney, Muse, Kendrick Lamar and Florence and the Machine are participating.

Of course, organizing such a big festival is always a huge hassle, and one of the biggest problems is dealing with urine – the biggest by-product of music festivals. Now, Roskilde festival is launching the new “From piss to pilsner” program, which will take an unwanted product and transform it into a resource. As researchers explain, human urine is quite a potent fertilizer.

“Urine is a valuable fertilizer which poor people could use to increase yields and not contaminate their environment. It is a resource, not a pollutant, if correctly managed,” said Helvi Heinonen-Tanski, leader of a research group at the University of Kuopio’s Department of Environmental Sciences in Finland.

The use of urine as fertilizer is uncommon, but it’s starting to pick up ground. The researchers chose cabbage as a test crop, because it needs a lot of nitrogen and when it was harvest time, urine-fertilized cabbage had several advantages. It was slightly larger, it grew to its maximum size more quickly, and, for most of the growth cycle, it suffered less bug damage than the commercially fertilized variety. It was also reportedly tastier. Roskilde organizers believe the same will work for barley – and they have every reason to do so: barley is also a plant which requires significant amounts of nitrogen.

If the project succeeds, then Roskilde participants in 2017 will drink beer from barley fertilized this year’s urine: 25,000 liters of urine, to be more precise. So what do you say, fancy a pint?

 

IBM develops device which could power slums with used laptop batteries

An IBM team analyzed a sample of discarded batteries and found that they can still be used and can still provide benefits. They developed a device which uses re-usable Lithium Ion cells from discarded laptop battery packs to power low energy DC devices. They found that 70% of used batteries could still store enough power to keep an LED light on more than four hours a day for a year.

The UrJar uses lithium-ion cells from the old batteries to power low-energy DC devices.

Forty percent of the world’s population doesn’t have access to a stable electricity source. This is especially obvious and problematic in the poorer areas of the world. At the same time, especially in the richer parts of the world, there is an increasing problem with electronic waste – especially from Lithium Ion batteries. The two problems can solve each other, as an Indian IBM team has showed.

They have developed UrJar – a play on words for energy (urja in Hindu) and box (jar). Urjar has a rechargable battery component built from pieces of discarded laptop batteries which can power an LED lightbulb, cell phone charger or other similar appliances.

“The most costly component in these systems is often the battery,” Vikas Chandan, a research scientist with IBM, who led the project told MIT’sTechnology Review. “In this case, the most expensive part of your storage solution is coming from trash.”

As any smartphone or laptop user will tell you, the more you use and then recharge your battery, the less maximum energy it can hold. This is called the charge capacity. When the charge capacity of a laptop battery pack falls below a satisfactory threshold, the user often times simply discards it and replaces it with a new battery pack (or replaces the device altogether). Researchers tested 32 laptop battery packs that were discarded by a business division of a large
multinational IT company in India and found that they still have significant residual capacity the mean value was 64%. The mean value corresponds to more than 50 Wh of capacity for the batteries tested, which is sufficient to power a 3 W LED light bulb, a 6 W DC fan and a 3.5 W mobile phone charger simultaneously, for around 4 hours.

This is definitely not groundbreaking technology – it won’t revolutionize the world as we know it, and it won’t help countries like India escape from poverty. But it’s a nice initiative to alleviate some of the issues areas without electricity are facing, as well as the growing problem of electronic waste.

“UrJar has the potential to channel e-waste towards the alleviation of energy poverty, thus simultaneously providing a sustainable solution for both problems”, the study writes.

The estimates show that this product could be producted for about $10; a survey on people who would like to use it show that they would be willing to pay up to $16 for it, so it’s quite a good value. To make things even better, IBM announced that they don’t want to make a business out of UrJar, and will instead make the blueprints available for developing countries.

Computer Aid, a UK-based charity that redistributes unwanted old technology, welcomed the initiative.

“We think that this is an excellent initiative as it is in line with our practice of reusing and refurbishing rather than recycling,” said Keith Sonnet, its chief executive. Refurbishing has definitely a more positive impact on the environment and we should encourage more companies to adopt this practice.”

Original study.

Eco Rubbish Removal

Rubbish recycling for a sustainable future

Eco Rubbish Removal

Eco Rubbish Removal

It’s clear that this planet can’t take it too much. Mother Earth has cut us humans a lot of slack in the past, but there’s only so much she can stand. It’s important that we, as responsible citizens of this planet, do our parts and leave the slightest carbon footprint possible. Whether it’s walking to work instead of driving, buying eco-friendly light bulbs (read LED!) or recycling your waste instead of just throwing rubbish away, it’s vital that we all do our small bit to help turn the world a little bit greener. One of the most damaging things to our environment are the vast areas of landfills which populate our world. You would think that in this day and age we would have come up with better and greener ways to get rid of our waste. Well finally, there is an alternative to landfills.

Here are some of the advantages of going green and using an environmentally friendly rubbish removal service.

No Skips!

Skips & Flowers

Can Use Skips for Flower Growing Instead

Hiring an eco-rubbish removal service negates the need for hiring a skip. This means you don’t have to worry about over filled skips which aren’t very environmentally friendly as it can attract nasty rodents and unwanted creatures. Not only that, but a skip will probably need a permit if it’s on the street and often the skip doesn’t take certain types of waste. With most rubbish removal services, all waste types are taken.

Everything is Recycled

Recycled

Recycled

Everything that’s collected using a removal service, that can’t be rehomed along with all other rubbish and materials, is taken to a licensed recycling facility. Once there, it’s processed through various stages to extract and separate the different materials to be recycled and can be used again in industry. Usually, anything that can’t be recycled is used to produce refuse derived fuel, which as a coal replacement is used in power stations and industry power processes. This is how many eco-rubbish removal services such as Clearbee rubbish removals are able to achieve zero landfill, which saves a lot of waste and is a massive help to our environment.

Carbon Neutral

Carbon Neutral

Carbon Neutral

Carbon neutrality is the process of eliminating or offsetting your carbon outputs by adding environmental practices to your business to battle the carbon outputs. Carbon offsets include purchasing renewable energy sources like biodiesel. Many Eco rubbish removal companies are carbon neutral so using these environmentally friendly services will send out a clear message that you care about the state of the environment.

Unwanted Items are Rehomed

Bear

Bear !!

Most people tend to throw out many house hold items that aren’t of any use to them, but they fail to realise that what might be no use to them, might be of use to others. Many eco removals take your unwanted furniture and items and pass them onto families on very low incomes. This means that your decent unwanted items go on to benefit others, instead of adding to the UK’s landfill problems.

Hopefully, this article has made you think about some of the benefits of hiring an eco-rubbish removal service and why doing so can help make removing waste as environmentally friendly as possible. For instance, there’s a town in Germany that recycles 70% of their garbage! If they can do it, so can anyone else.

A word on plastic and reusable bags

A while ago, I was telling you about the big garbage island in the middle of the Pacific ocean, and why you should use and reuse canvas bags instead of going for the plastic bags. But here are some quick facts about reusing bags.

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An average reusable bag requires the same amount of energy as an estimated 28 traditional plastic shopping bags or eight paper bags. Most people don’t reuse paper bags, and even if you can, there’s only so many times you can do that before it breaks or gets wet, but if you take a canvas bag and use it less than 28 times – you’re actually doing more harm than good. However, according to an unofficial research by the Wall Street Journal, only 10% of bags are actually being reused.

Also, reusable bags get a lot of bad rep because people claim they are dirty. There was (and still is) a lot of fuss around a 2010 study conducted by University of Arizona and Limo Loma University which concluded that “Reusable grocery bags can be a breeding ground for dangerous foodborne bacteria and pose a serious risk to public health” [if people don’t wash them]. However, the study was highly criticized, calling into question the small sample size of bags examined in the study and the questionable danger of the type and amount of bacteria found. Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist at Consumers Union explained the situation pretty well:

“A person eating an average bag of salad greens gets more exposure to these bacteria than if they had licked the insides of the dirtiest bag from this study.” But Hansen notes that there are some reminders to take away from the study. It’s easy to spread bacteria from meat, fish, or poultry to other foods – in your kitchen or in your grocery bags. So he does think it’s wise to carry those items in disposable bags. Reusable bags are fine for most everything else, but it’s a good idea to wash them occasionally.”

So there you have it people – don’t be a hypocrite, don’t be a “green hipster” – buying reusable bags and not reusing them isn’t doing any good. Use them, wash them once in a while, recycle them when you can’t really use them any more, and spread the word.

German town recycles 70% of garbage

Take a look at your town; take a look at the people around you, at the streets, and the garbage cans. How much of the garbage do you think is recycled ? After that, think about how much trash gets labeled as “non-recyclable” by the recycling facility and will end up in a dump somwhere. After you do this, think about the fact that Neustadt an der Weinstrasse, a city with over 50.000 inhabitants in Germany, successfully recycles over 70% of all the garbage it creates.

The town itself is lovely; located in a wine producing area, it has a charming medieval look to it, and it’s one of the greenest cities around the world. Just so you can make a comparison, the average recycling rate for the UK is at about 40%, and the US is much lower than this – a clear number is not yet defined, but things are definitely way, way worse.

How did they get to this impressive rate? The answer is as surprising as it is simple: financial incentives for residents that are tied to landfill reduction. Stefan Weiss, on of Neustadt an der Weinstrasse’s waste managers in an interview with The Guardian:

“It’s all about providing financial incentives and education. We don’t charge citizens anything for the recycled waste they leave out. And the less waste you put out for incineration – we’ve had no landfill in Germany since 2005 – the less you pay. Having no incentive to reduce waste is poisonous to your aims. We have a separate, visible fee that is intentionally not embedded within a local tax.”

Imagine that; you have to pay for every percent of garbage you don’t recycle. Absolutely genius ! There is also some citizen work involved however, and a lot of desire do improve things. Do you think this could work in bigger cities, or is just limited to small cities ?

Just in case you didn’t know, there’s a garbage island twice as big as France in the Pacific Ocean

I was surprised to talk to a bunch of people today and find out they didn’t know about this, so I figured this is definitely something worth knowing. Here’s the deal.

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There’s a whole lot of garbage floating around; a whole lot ! Some are above the surface, some are below. What happens is they get sucked in by oceanic currents, and tangle up with other garbage (mostly plastic). But you shouldn’t think only about bottles and such; most of the times, the plastic particles are hard to see even from a boat, but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous – on the contrary. It’s been proved that albatross and other sea creatures ingest way more plastic this way. The total amount of ‘plastic soup’ is hard to quantify, varying from twice the size of Texas (or France) to twice the size of the USA. It’s also expanding – fast. Stretching from Hawaii to Japan the biggest such patch is estimated to weigh around 100 million tons, according to American oceanographer Charles Moore, who also explains:

“The original idea that people had was that it was an island of plastic garbage that you could almost walk on. It is not quite like that. It is almost like a plastic soup. It is endless for an area that is maybe twice the size as continental United States.”

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There’s also a missconception that it has well defined borders, like an island. There’s just a gradient of particle density, with most particles being as big as 1-3 mm. According to wikipedia, 80% is a result of terrestrial pollution, and the 20% left comes from ships. As you probably guessed, any effort towards cleaning the area is not going to happen any time soon, as it would require massive efforts and collaborations, and an estimated (very rough) cost of 10 billion dollars. No nation has made a step forward in taking responsability, and I can’t see anyone doing this in the near future.

“At this point, cleaning it up isn’t an option. It’s just going to get bigger as our reliance on plastics continues. … The long-term solution is to stop producing as much plastic products at home and change our consumption habits.”, said Chris Parry, public education program manager with the California Coastal Commission in San Francisco.

The effects are hard to estimate, varying from extremely harmful to catastrophic. Without even taking into consideration the long term effects and what will happen when it becomes even bigger (which quite frankly, won’t take that long if things continue to move the way they have), the short and medium term effects are devastating. Marine animals and birds ingest plastic which just doesn’t go away from their stomach. Eventually, it starts filling it up, and if it’s not toxic, and kills them, it fills their stomach and basically causes the animals to starve to death – a quite painful and tragic death. It can be harmful even for humans because we too eat the animals which ingest the plastic.

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In case you’re wondering, no, I don’t think there’s anything you can do to help clean the patch up (even if you wanted to). But you can limit it’s ever growing size, as well as the size of land garbage. Just do the basic stuff:

– Limit your use of plastic whenever possible. Take your canvas bags to the supermarket or just don’t take plastic bags whenever possible.

– Throw your garbage where it should belong; don’t leave it on the beach or on the street or whatever.

– Tell other people. Make it spread. Many people don’t care about this at all; but many do, and they just need a small push to act. Be that push !

Dutch University tests Air-purifying paving stones

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Technology has developed so much in these years that scientists are finding more and more brilliant ways to clear out the pollution that fills our lungs and to solve problems that trouble the very existence of our mankind in ways that sometimes surprise all of us. Often, for the most complex issues we have to look at mundane answers, even at the pavement from the street. The Univesity of Twente seems to have found such a fantastic answer.

The way they work is not as hard as you would probably imagine. The top layer of the concrete stones converts nitrogen oxide from exhaust fumes into harmless nitrates. Still, don’t get this wrong, that’s not nearly as easy as it sounds (and it doesn’t sound easy). What happens is that cars exhaus fumes that contain nitrogen oxides, which are the main factor for acid rains and smog. The top layer of the paving stones is made of air-purifying concrete which contains a special ingredient, called titanium dioxide.

Titanium dioxide uses sunlight to convert harmful oxides into harmless nitrates and after that the rain just washes them and cleans the street. This is based on a Japanese invention, but the Dutch University developed this technology and managed to get it to the point where it’s almost a reality. They need to test it, and after that it will definitely be put into practice.

The municipality has already created the space necessary for the tests, and everything seems to be going acording to plan. What they are going to do is they will divide a street in Hengelo into two differents parts, one with the paving stones and another without them. After that they are going to test and measurethe air quality. Also, these stones have another good part, because they always stay clean due to the fact that they repel dirt. Hopefully, this will not be the last time we will hear about these paving stones.