Planet Plastic : How Big Oil and Big Soda kept a global environmental calamity a secret for decades

 

Recycling Company, SKM, Declared Bankrupt In Melbourne

Every human on Earth is ingesting nearly 2,000 particles of plastic a week. These tiny pieces enter our unwitting bodies from tap water, food, and even the air, according to an alarming academic study sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, dosing us with five grams of plastics, many cut with chemicals linked to cancers, hormone disruption, and developmental delays. Since the paper’s publication last year, Sen. Tom Udall, a plain-spoken New Mexico Democrat with a fondness for white cowboy hats and turquoise bolo ties, has been trumpeting the risk: “We are consuming a credit card’s worth of plastic each week,” Udall says. At events with constituents, he will brandish a Visa from his wallet and declare, “You’re eating this, folks!”

With new legislation, the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020, Udall is attempting to marshal Washington into a confrontation with the plastics industry, and to force companies that profit from plastics to take accountability for the waste they create. Unveiled in February, the bill would ban many single-use plastics and force corporations to finance “end of life” programs to keep plastic out of the environment. “We’re going back to that principle,” the senator tells Rolling Stone. “The polluter pays.”

The battle pits Udall and his allies in Congress against some of the most powerful corporate interests on the planet, including the oil majors and chemical giants that produce the building blocks for our modern plastic world — think Exxon, Dow, and Shell — and consumer giants like Coca-Cola, Nestlé, and Unilever that package their products in the stuff. Big Plastic isn’t a single entity. It’s more like a corporate supergroup: Big Oil meets Big Soda — with a puff of Big Tobacco, responsible for trillions of plastic cigarette butts in the environment every year. And it combines the lobbying and public-relations might of all three.

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What’s in your water? Researchers identify new toxic byproducts of disinfecting drinking water

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When phenols, compounds that are commonly found in drinking water, mix with chlorine, hundreds of unknown, potentially toxic byproducts are formed.

Mixing drinking water with chlorine, the United States’ most common method of disinfecting drinking water, creates previously unidentified toxic byproducts, says Carsten Prasse from Johns Hopkins University and his collaborators from the University of California, Berkeley and Switzerland.

The researchers’ findings were published this past week in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

“There’s no doubt that chlorine is beneficial; chlorination has saved millions of lives worldwide from diseases such as typhoid and cholera since its arrival in the early 20th century,” says Prasse, an assistant professor of Environmental Health and Engineering at The Johns Hopkins University and the paper’s lead author.

“But that process of killing potentially fatal bacteria and viruses comes with unintended consequences. The discovery of these previously unknown, highly toxic byproducts, raises the question how much chlorination is really necessary.”

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The sun is still a burning mystery. That may be about to change.

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The historic launch of the new European Solar Orbiter helps foster a golden age for understanding our nearest star.

On Sunday evening, a rocket lit up Florida’s nighttime sky as it ferried a spacecraft toward a first-of-its-kind adventure to the sun.

Even though our home star smolders every day in our skies, humans have only ever seen the sun from one perspective: face-on, from within the plane of the planets. The European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter, or SolO, is about to change that, as it is designed to perform a detailed reconnaissance of the sun that will allow it to see the star’s previously invisible polar regions.

From this unique vantage point, SolO’s suite of 10 instruments will help uncover how the star sends streams of energetic particles called the solar wind throughout our planetary system. It will also help answer what controls the sun’s 11-year magnetic cycle, which varies in intensity and creates unanticipated fluctuations in solar activity.

“We fundamentally really don’t understand that,” says ESA’s Daniel Müller, SolO project scientist. “Hopefully, we’re filling in that gap with Solar Orbiter.”

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Company to harvest green hydrogen by igniting oil fires underground

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Injection wells at the Superb oil field in Canada. To make hydrogen, workers heat the reservoir with steam and feed it air, setting off underground oil fires.

This month, on the frozen plains of Saskatchewan in Canada, workers began to inject steam and air into the Superb field, a layer of sand 700 meters down that holds 200 million barrels of thick, viscous oil. Their goal was not to pump out the oil, but to set it on fire—spurring underground chemical reactions that churn out hydrogen gas, along with carbon dioxide (CO2). Eventually the company conducting the $3 million field test plans to plug its wells with membranes that would allow only the clean-burning hydrogen to reach the surface. The CO2, and all of its power to warm the climate, would remain sequestered deep in the earth.

“We want to launch the idea that you can get energy from petroleum resources and it can be zero carbon emissions,” says Ian Gates, a chemical engineer at the University of Calgary and co-founder of the startup, called Proton Technologies.

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Hydrogen is a bad car fuel, but it’s the perfect boat fuel

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Because boats are cars too

There are issues inherent with hydrogen as a fuel for cars. It is incredibly expensive and energy intensive to create, it is difficult to pressurize and transport, and the infrastructure for hydrogen as fuel is far less developed than battery electric charging. A few automotive manufacturers, chiefly Honda and Toyota, have hung their zero emissions program hat on the hydrogen peg, but it’s still a very small sliver of the automotive market. It’s pretty much only viable in a small area of Southern California near the fueling stations. As a car fuel, hydrogen straight up sucks.

 Toyota and the Energy Observer are proving that hydrogen might be best served as a fuel for traversing the high seas, however. Toyota has adapted what it has learned from the Mirai hydrogen experiment to the Energy Observer, a former racing catamaran which now travels the world preaching the gospel of maritime ZEVs.

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The ‘forever chemicals’ fueling a public health crisis in drinking water

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About 700 PFAS-contaminated sites have been identified across the US while those exposed to enough chemicals can face devastating health consequences

Recent tests revelaed dangerous levels of PFAS in rain, a range of foods and sewage sludge that farmers spread on cropland as fertilizer.

In 2002, the French multinational Saint-Gobain boosted production of chemically weatherproofed fabrics that it produced in its Merrimack, New Hampshire, plant. Soon after, serious health problems began hitting residents living near the facility.

The Merrimack Citizens for Clean Water (MCCW) advocacy group says people there suffer from high levels of cancer, cardiovascular issues, autoimmune disorders, kidney disease and developmental disorders. That includes an alarming number of children facing rare and aggressive cancers, said MCCW’s Laurene Allen, who lives in the city of about 30,000 that sits an hour north of Boston.

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Everything you know about recycling is probably wrong

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A refresher for the new decade.

The next time you pass a recycling bin, do yourself a favor and take a peek inside. See anything unusual? Let’s rip the Band-Aid off right now: Turns out many of the things we drop into recycling bins don’t go on to beautiful second lives as bespoke greeting cards or shiny new bikes — a large percentage of this stuff actually ends up in landfills.

If you’re just tuning in, some background to our current recycling problem: In 2018, China, which previously bought and processed 70%(!) of the US’s recycled plastics, changed its policies about what kinds of recycled waste it would accept. China banned imports of certain types of paper and plastic, and cracked down on contamination (like leftover food scraps) in the materials they still process and recycle.

As long as we were shipping our recycling overseas, Americans never really had to deal with the repercussions of being, to quote Alana Semuels at The Atlantic, “terrible at recycling.” We tend to just throw everything into the bin without much thought about whether everything is actually, you know, recyclable. Now that US towns and cities are scrambling to figure out how to deal with recyclables, Semuels explains, they have two options: “pay much higher rates to get rid of recycling, or throw it all away.”

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Rolls-Royce plans to build up to 15 mini nuclear reactors in Britain

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Artist’s concept of a Rolls-Royce SMR plantRolls-Royce

Rolls-Royce has announced that it plans to build, install, and operate up to 15 mini nuclear reactors in Britain, with the first set to go online in nine years. In a BBC Radio 4 interview with business journalist Katie Prescott on January 24, 2020’s Today program, Paul Stein, chief technology officer for Rolls-Royce, said that the company is leading a consortium to produce factory-built modular nuclear reactors that can be delivered for assembly by ordinary lorries.

Currently, the world is undergoing a boom in nuclear power. According to the World Nuclear Association, there are 448 operating civilian reactors and another 53 under construction. However, almost all of these are being built in Eastern Europe and Asia, with China alone building more reactors than the entire Western world combined.

Part of the reason for this is political with every reactor program in Europe or North America facing implacable environmentalist opposition and part of it is the expense of building and operating large reactors in an energy economy now dominated by cheap natural gas. However, one technology trend that could reverse this stagnation is the development of small, modular nuclear reactors that could be mass-produced in factories, carted to the site by ordinary lorries, and then assembled to generate cheap carbon-free electricity.

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Igloo says goodbye to styrofoam coolers, releases biodegradable update

 

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Styrofoam coolers are lightweight, cheap, and pretty good at keeping beverages cold.

They’re also pretty bad for the environment.

Styrofoam is Dow Chemical’s trademarked name for extruded polystyrene, and in addition to being conveniently disposable, it’s also a source of greenhouse gases, doesn’t degrade for centuries, and is highly flammable. Oh, and animals confuse it for food and could eat enough of it and die.

Igloo’s come up with a less destructive alternative made out of paraffin wax and recycled paper called RECOOL. The 16-quart cooler has a weight capacity of 75 pounds and is highly water resistant. Igloo says the RECOOL can keep ice cold for up to 12 hours and hold water for up to five days without leaking.

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Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff says over 300 companies have agreed to help plant one trillion trees

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Marc Benioff, Chairman and CEO of Salesforce.com speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 23, 2020

KEY POINTS

  • Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said Thursday that over 300 companies have joined his latest initiative to plant 1 trillion trees by the end of the decade.
  • President Donald Trump announced U.S. government support for the initiative on Tuesday.
  • Environmental activist Greta Thunberg criticized the initiative in her keynote speech at the WEF on Tuesday for not doing enough to counter climate change.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, whose known for badgering tech executives to be more civic-minded, said Thursday that over 300 companies have joined his latest initiative to plant one trillion trees by the end of the decade.

“Nobody’s against trees,” he said in an interview with “Squawk on the Street” co-host Sara Eisen from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “The tree is also a bipartisan issue.”

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This leaf-shaped bottle cap condenses and collects atmospheric moisture, turning it into drinking water

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Designed to magically ‘turn air into water’, the Limbe is a new sort of dehumidifier that works without electricity, giving its user access to drinking water throughout the day. Its unique leaf-inspired design harks back to how water droplets condense on the surface of leaves, while its 3D printed intricate PET structure helps guide those water droplets down the ‘veins of the leaf’ into Limbe’s central axis which collects the water in your regular plastic drinking bottle.

Fabien envisioned the Limbe as an easy way to allow people with no access to running water, to easily capture atmospheric water vapor for drinking purposes. While the Limbe works best in high-humidity areas, it can work wonders in deserts and drought-struck regions too, gathering condensed fog in the early hours of dawn, filling up a single bottle. Plus, its ability to be printed or even molded at a relatively low cost means anyone can dehumidify air into drinking water… without electricity!

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5 bold urban design projects that made cities more fun, clean, and accessible in 2019

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Cities can get rid of cars—and build urban ski slopes.

You may think the only changes to cities have been negative ones, and yes, urban areas have certainly seen increased traffic and heightened housing problems, but plenty of places have also debuted new features that aim to make a positive impact. Whether adapting to climate change, trying to be more inclusive to underserved populations, or updating their infrastructure with new technology, cities around the world are serving as laboratories to test bold ideas.

Here’s a look at some of the most fun and interesting urban innovations of 2019, proving that some cities are already in the future and are using their corners of the world to make our planet a little bit better.

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