EPA ‘forever chemical’ health advisory spurs lawsuit

Read the full story at E&E News.

EPA’s dramatic new health advisory for a contentious “forever chemical” is facing a lawsuit from its manufacturer over claims that the agency overstepped its authority in one of its most significant actions around the compounds to date.

Chemours Co. sued EPA yesterday mere weeks after the agency declared that the compound GenX’s severe health risks mean the chemical is only safe in drinking water at extremely low levels. That advisory carries no legal weight, and any forthcoming regulations would likely be at a higher threshold. But the action enraged the PFAS manufacturer, which argued EPA issued a health advisory that is “scientifically unsound.”

Ocean Conservancy retracts Stemming the Tide ocean plastics study

Source: Ocean Conservancy

In February 2015, a groundbreaking paper was published in the journal Science that estimated, for the first time, how much plastic was entering the ocean from land due to mismanaged waste. The Science paper ranked all 192 coastal countries according to plastic leakage into the ocean and highlighted that improving waste management around the world was a critical component to keeping plastics out of our ocean. In September 2015, Ocean Conservancy released Stemming the Tide, a report developed with outside consultants, that built upon the estimates published in Science.

In Stemming the Tide, Ocean Conservancy focused solely on minimizing the amount of plastics entering the ocean. We investigated and included incineration and waste-to-energy as acceptable solutions to the ocean plastic crisis, which was wrong. We failed to confront the root causes of plastic waste or incorporate the effects on the communities and NGOs working on the ground in the places most impacted by plastic pollution. We did not consider how these technologies support continued demand for plastic production and hamper the move to a circular economy and a zero-carbon future. Further, by focusing so narrowly on one region of the world (East and Southeast Asia), we created a narrative about who is responsible for the ocean plastic pollution crisis – one that failed to acknowledge the outsized role that developed countries, especially the United States, have played and continue to play in generating and exporting plastic waste to this very region. This too was wrong.

We apologize for the framing of this report and unequivocally rescind any direct or indirect endorsement of incineration as a solution to ocean plastic pollution. Accordingly, Stemming the Tide is no longer available on our website and we have ceased all promotion and reference of it. Waste management and recycling remain critical to solving plastic pollution, but these strategies must be paired with greater efforts to reduce virgin plastic production and as part of a larger move toward a circular economy. Incineration is antithetical to these efforts and to Ocean Conservancy’s commitment to a healthier ocean protected by a more just world.

Please email us if you have feedback or questions at plastics.feedback@oceanconservancy.org.

Recent peer-reviewed science

Please find below two peer-reviewed journal articles that more accurately highlight the global roles and responsibilities, including those of western nations, in stopping ocean plastic pollution and the needed, holistic solutions that are founded on principles of a circular economy:

“Evaluating scenarios toward zero plastic pollution”

Lau et al.’s paper, published in the journal Science (Vol. 369, Issue 6510, 23. July 2020), estimates the effectiveness of interventions to reduce plastic pollution. The authors make recommendations on the needed interventions to reduce plastic consumption and increase reuse while simultaneously increasing waste management capacity across all economies, and massively scaling up environmental cleanup of the remaining plastics that flow into waterways and the ocean.

“The United States’ contribution of plastic waste to land and ocean”

Law et al.’s paper, published in Science Advances (Vol. 6, No. 44, 30. October 2020), reveals that the U.S. ranks as high as third among countries contributing to coastal plastic pollution and challenges the widely-held belief that the U.S. is adequately “managing”—that is, collecting and properly landfilling, recycling or otherwise containing—its plastic waste. The findings underscore that the U.S. has outsourced its massive “plastic waste footprint” to developing countries and in so doing, become a top contributor to the global ocean plastics crisis.

What constitutes plastics recycling?

The renowned “chasing arrows” recycling symbol represents, ideally, a closed-loop or circular economy for materials. For plastics, this means that plastic materials and products are collected, processed, and manufactured into new products again and again. This reduces waste, pollution, and the need for new/virgin plastics, 99% of which are derived from fossil fuels (SOURCE: CIEL). For more information, please see this Ocean Conservancy fact sheet on what is and what is not recycling.

Our position on chemical recycling

Ocean Conservancy does not presently support any form of chemical recycling. In its current form, chemical recycling does not contribute to a circular plastics economy because it is not plastics-to-plastics recycling and creates environmental and social harms that are inconsistent with our goal of a healthier ocean supported by a more just world. At the same time, chemical recycling distracts from implementing much-needed systemic fixes to reduce our reliance on single-use plastics and improve waste management and recycling systems. For more information, please read Ocean Conservancy’s Chemical Recycling Policy Position.

A case for retreat in the age of fire

After the 2018 wildfire in Paradise, Calif., many fire-damaged homes were razed. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

by Emily E. Schlickman, University of California, Davis; Brett Milligan, University of California, Davis, and Stephen M. Wheeler, University of California, Davis

Wildfires in the American West are getting larger, more frequent and more severe. Although efforts are underway to create fire-adapted communities, it’s important to realize that we cannot simply design our way out of wildfire – some communities will need to begin planning a retreat.

Paradise, California, is an example. For decades, this community has worked to reduce dry grasses, brush and forest overgrowth in the surrounding wildlands that could burn. It built firebreaks to prevent fires from spreading, and promoted defensible space around homes.

But in 2018, these efforts were not enough. The Camp Fire started from wind-damaged power lines, swept up the ravine and destroyed over 18,800 structures. Eighty-five people died.

Across the America West, thousands of communities like Paradise are at risk. Many, if not most, are in the wildland-urban interface, a zone between undeveloped land and urban areas where both wildfires and unchecked growth are common. From 1990 to 2010, new housing in the wildland-urban interface in the continental U.S. grew by 41%.

Whether in the form of large, master-planned communities or incremental, house-by-house construction, developers have been placing new homes in danger zones.

Map showing wildfire risk highest in the Western U.S. and southern Plains, particularly the mountains.
First Street Foundation created a national wildfire model that assesses fire risk at the local level to help communities understand and prepare. The map reflects the probability wildfire will occur in an area in 2022. First Street Foundation Wildfire Model

It has been nearly four years since the Camp Fire, but the population of Paradise is now less than 30% of what it once was. This makes Paradise one of the first documented cases of voluntary retreat in the face of wildfire risk. And while the notion of wildfire retreat is controversial, politically fraught and not yet endorsed by the general public, as experts in urban planning and environmental design, we believe the necessity for retreat will become increasingly unavoidable.

But retreat isn’t only about wholesale moving. Here are four forms of retreat being used to keep people out of harm’s way.

Limiting future development

On one end of the wildfire retreat spectrum are development-limiting policies that create stricter standards for new construction. These might be employed in moderate-risk areas or communities disinclined to change.

An example is San Diego’s steep hillside guidelines that restrict construction in areas with significant grade change, as wildfires burn faster uphill. In the guidelines, steep hillsides have a gradient of at least 25% and a vertical elevation of at least 50 feet. In most cases, new buildings cannot encroach into this zone and must be located at least 30 feet from the hillside.

While development-limiting policies like this prevent new construction in some of the most hazardous conditions, they often cannot eliminate fire risk.

Illustration of a home set back from a road on a steep hillside
Development-limiting policies can include stricter construction standards. The illustration shows the difference between a home on a steep hillside that is hard to defend from fire and one farther from the slope. Emily Schlickman

Halting new construction

Further along the spectrum are construction-halting measures, which prevent new construction to manage growth in high-risk parts of the wildland-urban interface.

These first two levels of action could both be implemented using basic urban planning tools, starting with county and city general plans and zoning, and subdivision ordinances. For example, Los Angeles County recently updated its general plan to limit new sprawl in wildfire hazard zones. Urban growth boundaries could also be adopted locally, as many suburban communities north of San Francisco have done, or could be mandated by states, as Oregon did in 1973.

Two illustrations, one of a new subdivision, the other of a few homes.
Halting construction and managing growth in high-risk parts of the wildland-urban interface is another retreat tool. Emily Schlickman

To assist the process, states and the federal government could designate fire-risk areas, similar to Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps. California already designates zones with three levels of fire risk: moderate, high and very high.

They could also develop fire-prone landscape zoning acts, similar to legislation that has helped limit new development along coasts, on wetlands and along earthquake faults.

Incentives for local governments to adopt these frameworks could be provided through planning and technical assistance grants or preference for infrastructure funding. At the same time, states or federal agencies could refuse funding for local authorities that enable development in severe-risk areas.

In some cases, state officials might turn to the courts to stop county-approved projects to prevent loss of life and property and reduce the costs that taxpayers might pay to maintain and protect at-risk properties

Threehigh-profile projects in California’s wildland-urban interface have been stopped in the courts because their environmental impact reports fail to adequately address the increased wildfire risk that the projects create. (Full disclosure: For a short time in 2018, one of us, Emily Schlickman, worked as a design consultant on one of these – an experience that inspired this article.)

Incentives to encourage people to relocate

In severe risk areas, the technique of “incentivized relocating” could be tested to help people move out of wildfire’s way through programs such as voluntary buyouts. Similar programs have been used after floods.

Local governments would work with FEMA to offer eligible homeowners the pre-disaster value of their home in exchange for not rebuilding. To date, this type of federally backed buyout program has yet to be implemented for wildfire areas, but some vulnerable communities have developed their own.

The city of Paradise created a buyout program funded with nonprofit grant money and donations. However, only 300 acres of patchworked parcels have been acquired, suggesting that stronger incentives and more funding may be required.

Removing government-backed fire insurance plans or instituting variable fire insurance rates based on risk could also encourage people to avoid high-risk areas.

Another potential tool is a “transferable development rights” framework. Under such a framework, developers wishing to build more intensively in lower-risk town centers could purchase development rights from landowners in rural areas where fire-prone land is to be preserved or returned to unbuilt status. The rural landowners are thus compensated for the lost use of their property. These frameworks have been used for growth management purposes in Montgomery County, Maryland, and in Massachusetts and Colorado.

Two illustrations, one showing lots of homes. The other only a few, with old home sites evident.
Incentivized relocating can be used in severe risk areas by subsidizing the movement of some people out of wildfire’s way. The illustrations show what before and after might look like. Emily Schlickman

Moving entire communities, wholesale

Vulnerable communities may want to relocate but don’t want to leave neighbors and friends. “Wholesale moving” involves managing the entire resettlement of a vulnerable community.

While this technique has yet to be implemented for wildfire-prone areas, there is a long history of its use after catastrophic floods. One place it is currently being used is Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana, which has lost 98% of its landmass since 1955 because of erosion and sea level rise. In 2016, the community received a federal grant to plan a retreat to higher ground, including the design of a new community center 40 miles north and upland of the island.

This technique, though, has drawbacks – from the complicated logistics and support needed to move an entire community to the time frame needed to develop a resettlement plan to potentially overloading existing communities with those displaced.

Two illustrations, the first with many houses in a community. The other with none.
In extreme risk areas, wholesale moving could be an approach – managing the resettlement of an entire vulnerable community to a safer area. Emily Schlickman

Even with ideal landscape management, wildfire risks to communities will continue to increase, and retreat from the wildland-urban interface will become increasingly necessary. The primary question is whether that retreat will be planned, safe and equitable, or delayed, forced and catastrophic.

Emily E. Schlickman, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Design, University of California, Davis; Brett Milligan, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Design, University of California, Davis, and Stephen M. Wheeler, Professor of Urban Design, Planning, and Sustainability, University of California, Davis

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

Upcycled food launches leap as concerns around waste grow: report

Read the full story at Food Dive.

Launches of food and beverages containing upcycled ingredients saw a 122% compound annual growth rate in the five years ending third-quarter 2021, according to a report from Innova Market Insights. This figure was higher than products using recycled plastic in packaging (59%) and those carrying carbon-emissions claims (47%).

Nearly half of consumers surveyed by Innova said they are actively trying to cut food waste. The market research group also found that 62% of consumers are willing to pay more for food and beverage products that are dedicated to stopping food waste.

Consumers’ growing concerns around addressing food waste have supported a wave of new products, ingredients and innovation in the food and beverage industry. 

California mandates recycling of many single-use plastic items

Read the full story from Chemical & Engineering News.

A new California law requires at least 65% of single-use plastic packaging and plastic food ware, such as plates and utensils, sold or distributed in the state be recycled by 2032.

But making fuels from used plastic won’t count toward this recycling goal, under the measure that the California Legislature passed and Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed on June 30. The law also excludes technologies that produce significant amounts of hazardous waste from being considered plastic recycling.

2 new Shape partnerships bringing more sustainable materials to auto industry

Read the full story from MiBiz.

A West Michigan Tier 1 automotive supplier is leveraging two longstanding partnerships with overseas metal providers in an effort to bring more sustainable materials to the auto industry.

She tried to avoid plastic while grocery shopping for a week. Here’s how it went

Read the full story at NPR.

I didn’t see the thin plastic thread running between one leaf on my pineapple and its tag when I put the pineapple in my shopping cart, when I checked out or when I unpacked groceries at home. It wasn’t until I chopped off the top and tug on the tag that it hit me.

I’d broken the rules again.

That damn plastic tag tie joins the long list of mistakes I made in just one week of trying to eat plastic-free.

I had challenged myself to purchase a week’s worth of food without bringing home any plastic in my grocery bag. That meant no jugs of juice, yogurt containers, plastic chip bags, plastic packages or even stickers on some produce.

Why did I do this? Because very few of the plastic packages and containers we use once get recycled. Because there’s growing concern about the harmful health effects. Some research suggests that ingesting microplastics could disrupt hormone production or be associated with problems like asthma and learning disorders.

Green steelmaking will need technology and mining advances

Read the full story from IEEFA.

The shift towards green hydrogen-based direct reduced iron (DRI) processes is widely considered a key step in the global steel sector’s decarbonisation pathway.

While supply of suitable direct reduction-grade iron ore is a potential headwind, developments in mining and processing combined with technology solutions present a path to zero-emissions DRI.

The current dominance of coal-consuming blast furnace operations gives iron ore miners an incentive to continue producing blast furnace-grade iron ore, rather than DR-grade ores with higher iron content. Remedies include developing mines that can produce high-quality ores and new technology configurations that allow use of blast furnace-grade ore in DRI processes.

Inside Clean Energy: Yes, there are benefits of growing broccoli beneath solar panels

Read the full story at Inside Climate News.

New research shows that the shade from solar panels leads to a brighter green color for broccoli crops, reduced evaporation and increased income for farmers.

How utilities are prioritizing sustainability efforts in 2022

Download the document.

Business and policy drivers are leading utilities to increase their reliance on renewable energy and set carbon reduction targets for 2022 and beyond. However, simply increasing the total amount of renewables will not be enough, the fight for a sustainable economy will require a focus on equity as well.

Included in this trendline

  • Inside Ithaca’s plan to electrify 6,000 buildings and grow a regional green workforce
  • ‘Dramatic shift’ in utility regulations, better pilot designs needed to propel energy transition
  • Gensler sees limit to SEC rule on carbon emissions disclosure