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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Most polluted cities of the world’s biggest economies

Smog in Beijing

Beijing, China is frequently shrouded in dense, yellowish smog so thick that the other side of the road is obscured. But over the past weekend the deadly smog that enveloped the city was so bad that air-quality readings from a monitor on the roof of the American Embassy said simply: “Beyond Index”. (Chart)

 

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Cable boxes are the single largest nonstop power drain in American homes

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There are 160 million set-top boxes in the United States.

That cable box that sits on top of your television and ushers in cable signals and digital recording capacity into tv has become the single largest electricity drain in many American homes.  Some typical home entertainment configurations eat more power than a new refrigerator and even some central air-conditioning systems.

 

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Prenatal Exposure to Pesticides Leads to Diminished IQ’s in Children

prenatal pesticides

The study found some of the risks that pesticides were already known to pose to children, including ADHD and learning difficulties.

It was reported this week by the Environmental Working Group that three studies published simultaneously all came to the same eye-opening conclusion.  The conclusion was prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides leads to diminished IQs in children between the ages of 6 and 9.

 

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EPA Announces 2010 Environmental Justice Awards

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Grand opening of San Francisco’s EcoCenter,
one of this year’s EJ award winners.

The EPA’s environmental justice working group was only revived this year, but the agency has been giving out awards for leaders in the area for a few years. This year’s winners represent different regions and are focusing on different problems, but all unified in the struggle for environmental justice. Five awards were given to multi-stakeholder partnerships representing 35 organizations.

The 2010 winners are…

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The Chemical Unknown: Americans Exposed to Thousands of Untested Chemicals

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Only a tiny fraction of the compounds around us have been tested for safety.

Under current U.S. law, chemicals are, as Sanjay Gupta said, “innocent until proven guilty.”

“And the only way they are proven guilty is by health effects turning up in people who have been exposed, often years later. That makes us all guinea pigs,” Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, said at the Oct. 26 field hearing of the U.S. Senate subcommittee on environmental health held in Newark, NJ.

The Most Recycled Product in the U.S.

car-battery

Most recycled product is not what you might expect.

What Can We Learn From This Success?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), only about 1/3 of all waste in the U.S. is recycled or reused. 2/3 are going to landfills or incinerators. Scientific American wondered what product was the most recycled: “It’s not aluminum cans–only half are recycled. Or even office paper, at more than 70 percent. It’s the lead acid batteries from your car. More than 99 percent of such batteries wind up recycled, keeping toxic lead out of landfills and waterways.” That’s a good thing, because there’s an estimated “2.6 million metric tons of lead can be found in the batteries of vehicles on the road today”!

Clean Water Laws Neglected In The U.S.

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Dentists near Charleston, W.Va., say pollutants in drinking water have damaged residents’ teeth.

Jennifer Hall-Massey knows not to drink the tap water in her home near Charleston, W.Va.   In fact, her entire family tries to avoid any contact with the water. Her youngest son has scabs on his arms, legs and chest where the bathwater — polluted with lead, nickel and other heavy metals — caused painful rashes. Many of his brother’s teeth were capped to replace enamel that was eaten away.

 

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EPA Declares Greenhouse Emissions Endanger Human Health

EPA Declares Greenhouse Emissions Endanger Human Health

Total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions were 7,282 million metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent in 2007, an increase of 1.4 percent from the 2006 level.The U.S.

Environmental Protection Agency on Friday declared that greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide endanger human health and welfare, clearing the way for possible U.S. regulation.

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Disinfectants Used To Purify Water Create Toxic By-Products

Disinfectants Used To Purify Water Create Toxic By-Products

 

Although perhaps the greatest public health achievement of the 20th century was the disinfection of water, a recent study now shows that the chemicals used to purify the water we drink and use in swimming pools react with organic material in the water yielding toxic consequences.

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