More Recycling Won’t Solve Plastic Pollution

Read the full post at Scientific American.

The only thing worse than being lied to is not knowing you’re being lied to. It’s true that plastic pollution is a huge problem of planetary proportions. And it’s true we could all do more to reduce our plastic footprint. The lie is that blame for the plastic problem is wasteful consumers and that changing our individual habits will fix it.

A Brief History of the Science of Naming Things

Read the full post on Medium.

Taxonomy has taken many forms throughout history, at some point unifying to a single system that is constantly reshaped by the needs of those who use it. Even today, those in the field are reconsidering the current system. Reviewing the origins and evolution of taxonomy provides a good overview of the many problems it’s faced (and solved) over time, and where it’s going.


Software beats animal tests at predicting toxicity of chemicals

Read the full story in Nature.

Machine-learning software trained on masses of chemical-safety data is so good at predicting some kinds of toxicity that it now rivals — and sometimes outperforms — expensive animal studies, researchers report.

Energy efficiency and environmental assessment of papermaking from chemical pulp – A Finland case study

Fabiana Corcelli, Gabriella Fiorentino, Jarmo Vehmas, Sergio Ulgiati (2018). “Energy efficiency and environmental assessment of papermaking from chemical pulp – A Finland case study.” Journal of Cleaner Production 198, 96-111. Online at

Highlights:  A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of papermaking in Finland was performed. The main environmental hotspots in each process step were identified and discussed.
Energy and material efficiency solutions leads to a noteworthy reduction of impacts. Pulp and paper industry is a benchmark model to transition towards a circular economy.

Abstract:  Pulp and paper manufacturing sector constitutes one of the largest industry segments in the world in terms of water and energy usage as well as of significant use and release of chemicals and combustion products. Since its chief feedstock –wood fiber– is renewable, this industry can play an important role in sustainable development, becoming an example of how a resource can be managed to provide a sustained supply to meet society’s current and future needs. This calls for a thorough assessment of environmental costs and impacts associated to pulp and paper operations, including both direct and indirect inputs supporting the whole papermaking process as well as the main outputs, co-products and by-products. By means of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology, this paper aims at assessing the environmental sustainability of the pulp and paper production so as to identify those phases across the whole supply chain that entail the highest environmental loads, thus requiring improvements. To determine the environmental impacts as accurately as possible, the manufacturing stages performed in the pulp and paper mill complex of Stora Enso Oyj Veitsiluoto Mills at Kemi, Northern Finland, were taken as a model and assessed by means of the SimaPro 8 LCA software, utilizing ReCiPe Midpoint (H) method for the impact assessment. As expected, most of the resulting impacts are caused by the industrial production phase. The production processes of pulp and paper jointly affect all the investigated impact categories with the highest shares, ranging from 50% of generated impacts on water depletion up to 88% on freshwater eutrophication. Generally, the main contributions to environmental loads come from the electricity and heat requirements and, only at a minor extent, from the use of chemicals such as the sodium hydroxide and sodium chlorate. In particular, pulp production process generates the main loads on global warming (46% of the total impacts), ozone depletion (39%), freshwater eutrophication (55%), human toxicity (46%), metal depletion (42%) and fossil depletion (46%). In the remaining investigated impact categories, namely terrestrial acidification, photochemical oxidant formation and terrestrial ecotoxicity, most of impacts derive from the use of optical brighteners and fillers in the final steps of paper production and from the intensive consumption of water in the recycling step of end-of-life affecting water depletion. Moreover, the implementation of measures for material and energy efficiency in the assessed system, such as the use of renewable energy generated in situ from black liquor and residual biomass to support the requirements of the integrated pulp and paper mills and the waste paper recycling, resulted to be crucial in lowering the environmental burdens. In particular, the partial fulfillment of electricity and heat requirements by means of a circular use of residues within the system leads to a noteworthy reduction of impacts in all the investigated impact categories, up to more than 70% in global warming and fossil depletion potentials, thus contributing to higher process sustainability compared with other averaged European systems for paper production.

The obtained research results are a valuable source of management information for the decision makers, at both company and national levels, with the aim to improve the environmental performance of pulp and paper industry.

Circular Economy in the Built Environment: Opportunities for Local Government Leadership

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Authored by StopWaste and Arup, this primer provides an overview of a circular economy framework for the built environment at the community, neighborhood and building scales. The ideas and concepts included here are intended to stimulate local government decision-makers and staff in Alameda County and beyond to consider policies and actions in their jurisdictions. It illustrates concepts with real-world examples of sites and policies. The document is intended to initiate conversation and action among public policymakers, public agency staff and other partners.

Grab & Go 2.0: Assessing the Effectiveness of a New Waste Reduction Program

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The reusable container program, Grab & Go 2.0, was implemented at Smith College in September 2017 as an attempt to reduce paper waste and costs associated with single-use paper products; however, it is unclear to what extent the program has achieved these goals.

Before fall 2017, Grab & Go 1.0 was available in two of Smith’s 13 dining halls and provided students with to-go lunch options such as pre-wrapped sandwiches, salads in disposable plastic clamshells, and hot paper soup cups. In dining halls without grab and go options, however, single-use paper plates were available for students to use at any meal time. As a result, purchasing single-use paper products for both the Grab and Go 1.0 program and regular dining halls led to an increase in both cost and waste for Dining Services. To combat these increases, single-use paper products were replaced with reusable plastic clamshells, manufactured by the Rhode Island based company Ozzi.

The Grab & Go 2.0 program provides each student on the meal plan with a token that can be exchanged for a reusable container and used at any dining hall. When students are finished with their meal, they return their container to any one of three collection machines, and receive a token in return. Dining Services has implemented Grab & Go 2.0 in the context of Smith trying to reach carbon neutrality by 2030. The disposal of solid waste generates carbon emissions, so by replacing paper products with reusable plastic clamshells, Dining is working towards this carbon neutrality goal. Based on purchasing data, the program has successfully reduced cost and waste, but it is unclear how students are using Grab & Go 2.0. To gain an understanding of student participation in the program we relied on a variety of data including: (1) interviews with project implementers, (2) historic swipe data from Grab & Go 1.0 dining halls Chapin and Hubbard, (3) Container return data from Ozzi collection machines and (4) an anonymous student survey.

The two major issues we identified in the current implementation of Grab & Go 2.0 are the token system and program outreach. We found that Grab & Go 2.0 is serving its purpose of giving students the option to take their meals elsewhere. However, major issues with the token system leave much to be desired for the future of the to-go system.

In the short term, Dining Services could provide students with two tokens, allowing them to continue to participate even if they lose one. Student understanding of replacing a lost token could be improved by adding this info to the dining website, dining app, and the front of the collection machines. For the long-term success of the program, Dining Services should work towards the goal of converting to a OneCard-based, electronic token system. Until then, a procedure for end-of-year token or container return should be established to minimize Ozzi product losses.

Energy Savings, Consumer Economics, and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions from Replacing Oil and Propane Furnaces, Boilers, and Water Heaters with Air-Source Heat Pumps

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To achieve the ambitious worldwide goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80% or more by 2050, consumers and businesses will increasingly need to use heat pumps powered by low- or no-carbon electricity for space and water heating. But does electrification make sense for homeowners considering the switch? This report finds that replacing oil and propane furnaces, boilers, and water heaters with high-efficiency electric heat pumps can often reduce total energy use and energy bills as well as emissions. The report also summarizes studies on consumer acceptance of heat pumps and describes some early programs to promote them for space and water heating. The most successful programs provide substantial upstream incentives (to wholesalers) or midstream incentives (to contractors) and include contractor training and certification so systems are properly installed.


Is the Global Era of Massive Infrastructure Projects Coming to an End?

Read the full story at e360.

The world’s wild places have been badly carved up by decades of roadbuilding, dam construction, energy exploitation, and other megaprojects. Now, as the financial community, environmental groups, and local citizens increasingly oppose big infrastructure development, the tide of environmental destruction may be turning.

Fossil Fuels Account for Lowest Share of U.S. Energy Consumption in More than a Century

Read the full story at e360 Digest.

Fossil fuels supplied about 80 percent of the energy consumed in the United States in 2017, the lowest share since 1902, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Energy. Meanwhile, renewable energy accounted for more than 11 percent, its highest share over the same period, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Renewables overtake coal as Germany’s most important power source

Read the full story at Clean Energy Wire.

Wind and solar power, together with other renewable sources, have overtaken coal as Germany’s most important power source, figures released by the industry group BDEW show. But this milestone in the history of the country’s energy transition must be taken with a pinch of salt, experts warn. The goal to further boost the share of renewables during the next decade is threatened by lagging grid expansion, political indecision, and fears over wavering supply security. All these make it difficult for renewable power companies to plan their next steps in the Energiewende process.