Turn off that camera during virtual meetings, environmental study says

Read the full story from Purdue University.

It’s not just to hide clutter anymore – add “saving the planet” to the reasons you leave the camera off during your next virtual meeting.

A new study says that despite a record drop in global carbon emissions in 2020, a pandemic-driven shift to remote work and more at-home entertainment still presents significant environmental impact due to how internet data is stored and transferred around the world.

Just one hour of videoconferencing or streaming, for example, emits 150-1,000 grams of carbon dioxide (a gallon of gasoline burned from a car emits about 8,887 grams), requires 2-12 liters of water and demands a land area adding up to about the size of an iPad Mini.

The study, conducted by researchers from Purdue University, Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the first to analyze the water and land footprints associated with internet infrastructure in addition to carbon footprints. The findings are published in the journal Resources, Conservation & Recycling.

Webinar: SciStarter, Citizen Science, and How You Can Help!

Jan 27, 2021, 2-3 pm CST
Register here.

Learn about how you can make a difference in the world of scientific research. Citizen science is an effort that enables people from all walks of life to do just that through volunteering to contribute data to or analyze data for global research projects.

Using the SciStarter website, you can find projects that match your interests and explore the world of science and nature while helping our scientific community. Do it on your timetable, whenever you can, wherever you can. Spend as much or as little time as you want. Citizen science is fun on your own, in groups, and even with your grandchildren!

On Wednesday, January 27th at 3pm ET, SciStarter Program Manager Caroline Nickerson will host a Zoom webinar in partnership with 4 Seasons, a community in New Jersey, to introduce citizen science. Anyone, anywhere in the world is welcome to attend.

The featured projects for the webinar include Stall Catchers (https://scistarter.org/stall-catchers-by-eyesonalz), Nature’s Notebook (https://scistarter.org/natures-notebook), and The Great Sunflower Project (https://scistarter.org/the-great-sunflower-project).

The founder of SciStarter, Darlene Cavalier, is a professor at Arizona State University. She is also the daughter-in-law of 4 Seasons residents Bonnie and Ron Cavalier.

Webinar: Citizen Science Month in Your Library or Community-Based Organization

Jan 22, 2021, 1-2 pm CST
Register here.

Citizen Science Month (April 2021) is a great time to bring citizen science — public engagement in real scientific research — to your library or community-based organization (CBO). Join this webinar to learn about Citizen Science Month (https://CitizenScienceMonth.org) featured projects and resources showcased by SciStarter, Arizona State University, the Network of the National Library of Medicine, the All of Us Research program, and other champions of Citizen Science Month.

See also: The Library & Community Guide to Citizen Science

Consumer electronics have changed a lot in 20 years – systems for managing e-waste aren’t keeping up

Most of the world’s electronics are not recycled, posing health and environmental risks. catscandotcom/Getty Images

by Callie Babbitt (Rochester Institute of Technology) and Shahana Althaf, (Yale University)

It’s hard to imagine navigating modern life without a mobile phone in hand. Computers, tablets and smartphones have transformed how we communicate, work, learn, share news and entertain ourselves. They became even more essential when the COVID-19 pandemic moved classes, meetings and social connections online.

But few people realize that our reliance on electronics comes with steep environmental costs, from mining minerals to disposing of used devices. Consumers can’t resist faster products with more storage and better cameras, but constant upgrades have created a growing global waste challenge. In 2019 alone, people discarded 53 million metric tons of electronic waste.

In our work as sustainability researchers, we study how consumer behavior and technological innovations influence the products that people buy, how long they keep them and how these items are reused or recycled.

Our research shows that while e-waste is rising globally, it’s declining in the U.S. But some innovations that are slimming down the e-waste stream are also making products harder to repair and recycle.

Sending electronics to junkyards or landfills wastes an opportunity to recycle valuable materials inside them. Joe Sohm/Visions of America /Getty Images

Recycling used electronics

Thirty years of data show why the volume of e-waste in the U.S. is decreasing. New products are lighter and more compact than past offerings. Smartphones and laptops have edged out desktop computers. Televisions with thin, flat screens have displaced bulkier cathode-ray tubes, and streaming services are doing the job that once required standalone MP3, DVD and Blu-ray players. U.S. households now produce about 10% less electronic waste by weight than they did at their peak in 2015.

The bad news is that only about 35% of U.S. e-waste is recycled. Consumers often don’t know where to recycle discarded products. If electronic devices decompose in landfills, hazardous compounds can leach into groundwater, including lead used in older circuit boards, mercury found in early LCD screens and flame retardants in plastics. This process poses health risks to people and wildlife.

There’s a clear need to recycle e-waste, both to protect public health and to recover valuable metals. Electronics contain rare minerals and precious metals mined in socially and ecologically vulnerable parts of the world. Reuse and recycling can reduce demand for “conflict minerals” and create new jobs and revenue streams.

But it’s not a simple process. Disassembling electronics for repair or material recovery is expensive and labor-intensive.

Some recycling companies have illegally stockpiled or abandoned e-waste. One Denver warehouse was called “an environmental disaster” when 8,000 tons of lead-filled tubes from old TVs were discovered there in 2013.

The U.S. exports up to 40% of its e-waste. Some goes to regions such as Southeast Asia that have little environmental oversight and few measures to protect workers who repair or recycle electronics.

Disassembling products and assembling data

Health and environmental risks have prompted 25 U.S. states and the District of Columbia to enact e-waste recycling laws. Some of these measures ban landfilling electronics, while others require manufacturers to support recycling efforts. All of them target large products, like old cathode-ray tube TVs, which contain up to 4 pounds of lead.

We wanted to know whether these laws, adopted from 2003 to 2011, can keep up with the current generation of electronic products. To find out, we needed a better estimate of how much e-waste the U.S. now produces.

We mapped sales of electronic products from the 1950s to the present, using data from industry reports, government sources and consumer surveys. Then we disassembled almost 100 devices, from obsolete VCRs to today’s smartphones and fitness trackers, to weigh and measure the materials they contained.

A researcher takes apart a smartphone to find out what materials are inside. Shahana Althaf, CC BY
This dissected tablet shows the components inside, each of which were logged, weighed and measured by researchers. Callie Babbitt, CC BY

We created a computer model to analyze the data, producing one of the most detailed accounts of U.S. electronic product consumption and discards currently available.

E-waste is leaner, but not necessarily greener

The big surprise from our research was that U.S. households are producing less e-waste, thanks to compact product designs and digital innovation. For example, a smartphone serves as an all-in-one phone, camera, MP3 player and portable navigation system. Flat-panel TVs are about 50% lighter than large-tube TVs and don’t contain any lead.

But not all innovations have been beneficial. To make lightweight products, manufacturers miniaturized components and glued parts together, making it harder to repair devices and more expensive to recycle them. Lithium-ion batteries pose another problem: They are hard to detect and remove, and they can spark disastrous fires during transportation or recycling.

Popular features that consumers love – speed, sharp images, responsive touch screens and long battery life – rely on metals like cobalt, indium and rare-earth elements that require immense energy and expense to mine. Commercial recycling technology cannot yet recover them profitably, although innovations are starting to emerge.

Apple’s new robot, Daisy, can disassemble nine different iPhone models to recover valuable materials that traditional recyclers cannot. Apple

Reenvisioning waste as a resource

We believe solving these challenges requires a proactive approach that treats digital discards as resources, not waste. Gold, silver, palladium and other valuable materials are now more concentrated in e-waste than in natural ores in the ground.

Urban mining,” in the form of recycling e-waste, could replace the need to dig up scarce metals, reducing environmental damage. It would also reduce U.S. dependence on minerals imported from other countries.

Concentration of hazardous (left) and valuable (right) materials within the U.S. e-waste stream. Althaf et al. 2020

Government, industry and consumers all have roles to play. Progress will require designing products that are easier to repair and reuse, and persuading consumers to keep their devices longer.

We also see a need for responsive e-waste laws in place of today’s dated patchwork of state regulations. Establishing convenient, certified recycling locations can keep more electronics out of landfills. With retooled operations, recyclers can recover more valuable materials from the e-waste stream. Steps like these can help balance our reliance on electronic devices with systems that better protect human health and the environment.

Callie Babbitt, Associate Professor of Sustainability, Rochester Institute of Technology and Shahana Althaf, Postdoctoral associate, Yale University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Slow Down: The Case for Technology Neutral Transportation Policy

Download the document.

This report reviews existing scientific research of the various options available for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the transportation sector and urges policymakers to take into account the full emissions lifecycle of those technologies and considering technology neutral transportation policy.

Automakers urge U.S. support for EV charging, R&D, incentives

Read the full story from Reuters.

A major automotive trade association on Tuesday urged U.S. policymakers to back sweeping support for electric vehicles (EV), including new incentives for research and development and consumer purchases.


Local renewable energy resources could provide expansive economic opportunities for farmers and rural communities. To address Food, Energy, and Water futures, FEWtures will evaluate coordination of renewable, variable energy with agricultural needs.

The team is exploring the economic viability of using renewable energy to:

  1. increase usable water resources by treating degraded and unused water supplies, and
  2. produce ammonia that can both store energy and be used as fertilizer.

They are studying the potential of these innovations to create a multifaceted economic system able to sustain small town and rural (STAR) communities, and maintain needed agricultural production.

The goals of the project include:

  • producing decision support software that enables agricultural producers to explore new opportunities available through local renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
  • focusing on loads that serve agricultural interests, such as water treatment and small-scale ammonia production, means farm incomes can benefit, even in areas with modest renewable energy resources.
  • selecting and designing electricity uses to be tolerant of intermittent energy supplies. Locating them near energy production facilities reduces transmission costs.

The project is hosted by the University of Kansas Institute for Policy and Social Research. the team includes faculty at University of Kansas, Kansas State University, Washington State University, Western New England University, and University of Montana. The study area is the central part of the Arkansas River basin, which extends from the foothills of Colorado and New Mexico east to include the arid portions of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.

The project is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Clean Products Standard: A New Approach to Industrial Decarbonization

Download the document.

In this report, we propose a novel market-based standard for manufacturing, a clean products standard (CPS), which could reduce emissions from the manufacture of these GHG-intensive products.

Sustainability Prerequisites and Practices in Textile and Apparel Supply Chains

Warasthe R, Schulz F, Enneking R, Brandenburg M. “Sustainability Prerequisites and Practices in Textile and Apparel Supply Chains.” Sustainability 12(23), 9960. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12239960

Abstract: The proposed study deals with sustainable supply chain management (SSCM) in the textile and apparel (T&A) industry. We analyze prerequisites and practices of supply chain (SC) sustainability in a multiple case study of the German and Ethiopian T&A industry. Our analysis is based on ten semi-structured interviews conducted with the managers of seven companies in the Ethiopian T&A production and the German fair fashion retail industries. The contribution of expert knowledge helps in identifying SC sustainability prerequisites and practices. The chosen cases of production in Ethiopia and retail in Germany highlight the complexity of T&A SCs while representing both the suppliers’ and retailers’ perspectives, which is rare in the related literature. As a major research contribution, the study adapts a framework for SC sustainability in the chemical industry and transfers it to T&A SCs. Moreover, practitioners from the T&A industry find useful insights into relevant practices and their prerequisites, which helps in improving SC sustainability in this sector. The study reveals that management orientation and interest groups such as customers represent the most important prerequisites for sustainability. Manufacturers rely more on internal practices such as monitoring, while retailers focus on external sustainability practices, such as supplier development. In a comparative approach, similarities and differences between T&A SCs and the chemical industry are identified. View Full-Text

Error Correction Means California’s Future Wetter Winters May Never Come

Read the full story from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

California and other areas of the U.S. Southwest may see less future winter precipitation than previously projected by climate models. After probing a persistent error in widely used models, researchers at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory estimate that California will likely experience drier winters in the future than projected by some climate models, meaning residents may see less spring runoff, higher spring temperatures, and an increased risk of wildfire in coming years.

Earth scientist Lu Dong, who led the study alongside atmospheric scientist Ruby Leung, presented her findings at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 1, and will answer questions virtually on Wednesday, Dec. 16.