Webinar: Energy Efficiency Programs for K-12 Public Schools

Aug 25, 2022, 11 am-noon CDT
Register here.

The UIC Energy Resources Center presents An overview of the strategies & benefits of energy efficiency for K-12 schools in the Midwest. K-12 schools today face many challenges ranging from rising energy costs to reduced annual operating budgets in the face of growing student populations. Energy efficiency is a potential cost-saving strategy that can redirect savings back to educating students in a safe and healthy learning environment.

Hidden inside the Inflation Reduction Act: $20 billion to help fix our farms

Read the full story at Vox.

The single greatest threat to the environment isn’t hunting or suburban sprawl or invasive species. It’s farming.

Farms cover roughly 40 percent of the country, and they’ve replaced countless ecosystems with vast fields of soybeans, corn, and cattle. Agriculture also accounts for about 11 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions.

The Inflation Reduction Act could help blunt some of those impacts.

Alongside more headline-grabbing investments in clean energy and health care, the bill — which President Biden is set to sign into law this week — includes nearly $20 billion to make farmland more environmentally friendly. The funds are designed, in part, to help farmers create more habitat for pollinators like bees, store more carbon in the soil, and make farms more resilient in the face of extreme weather.

How to fix food supply chains? Make them more local

Read the full story at Bloomberg.

Food banks in Illinois got a special treat last year: more than 600,000 pounds of peaches, nectarines and apples. Marred by a dimple here or there, the fruit was bounty that previously might have been left to rot, deemed unsuitable for grocery stores.

Instead, a three-year pilot program distributed tons of such fresh fruit to food pantries, shelters, senior centers and other groups serving people in need. The Farm to Food Bank project shores up local supply chains by creating another market for local growers, while also eliminating food waste and relieving hunger…

Each year, the US generates about 229 million tons of surplus food — unsold or uneaten food — worth $408 billion, according to nonprofit ReFED. Farms generate 21%, or 17 million tons, of that food. Some 45% of Illinois farmers leave unmarketable produce in the field and 61% are looking for other outlets for their goods, according to a 2021 survey by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) at the University of Illinois.

Sulfoxaflor poses risks to endangered species, US EPA finds

Read the full story in Chemical & Engineering News.

The insecticide sulfoxaflor, which is less toxic than organophosphates and neonicotinoids, is likely to harm about one-third of species listed as endangered or threatened in the US, according to a draft biological evaluation released July 19 by the Environmental Protection Agency. The agency predicts that mitigation measures will protect most of those species, however.

Utilities are planning to shift to clean energy — just not too quickly

Read the full story at Canary Media.

At EPRI’s Electrification 2022 conference in Charlotte, North Carolina last month, the leaders of heavy-hitter utilities unanimously embraced cutting carbon emissions and electrifying transportation. That is, on its face, a huge win for climate activists and clean-energy advocates. 

So the if is settled. But that leaves a crucial question: when?

Home Depot has cut electricity consumption by 44% since 2010. How?

Read the full story at Environment + Energy Leader.

The Home Depot is one of the best-known home improvement stores in the world. It sells everything — from power tools to home appliances to construction equipment. Headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, it operates in Mexico and Canada and has nearly 500,000 employees. In 2021, it had $151 billion in revenue.

The Home Depot has recently joined the SBTi, the Science-Based Targets initiative, by establishing a clear path to reduce emissions in line with the Paris agreement goals. The retailer is committed to reducing CO2 emissions by 50% by 2035 and running all its stores using 100% renewable energy by 2030.

At the same time, Home Depot is partnering with its suppliers to reduce virgin plastic in the products it sells. In 2019 and 2020, more than 1,200 products were redesigned to avoid such waste. Furthermore, between 2017 through 2020, the company redesigned 366 packages to reduce size and materials — something it says prevented thousands of cargo ships from setting sail. 

How to shrink AI’s ballooning carbon footprint

Read the full story in Nature.

As machine-learning experiments get more sophisticated, their carbon footprints are ballooning. Now, researchers have calculated the carbon cost of training a range of models at cloud-computing data centres in various locations. Their findings could help researchers to reduce the emissions created by work that relies on artificial intelligence (AI).

This startup redesigned the electric toothbrush to make it repairable and recyclable

Read the full story at Fast Company.

When the rechargeable battery wears out inside a typical electric toothbrush, it can’t be replaced—which means the entire, otherwise functional toothbrush ends up in a landfill (or, if someone is particularly responsible, an e-waste recycling facility). But a new modular electric toothbrush, designed with sustainability in mind, can be repaired, so it lasts as long as possible.

From the London-based startup SURI (for Sustainable Rituals), the toothbrush has a body made from easily-recyclable aluminum rather than plastic. The plant-based plastic heads can be sent back for recycling in either the U.K. or the U.S., or, in some cases, industrially composted. And the electronic components inside are designed to be replaced if a repair is needed.

Most Americans today are choosing cremation – here’s why burials are becoming less common

Environmental concerns are one of the reasons Americans are opting for cremation. Godong/Stone via Getty Images

by David Sloane, University of Southern California

The National Funeral Directors Association has predicted that by 2035, nearly 80% of Americans will opt for cremation.

When the first U.S. indoor cremation machine was opened in 1876 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the creator and operator, Francis LeMoyne, was severely criticized by the Catholic Church. The new method of disposal was viewed as dangerous because it threatened traditional religious burial and society’s sense of morality and dignity.

Less than 100 years later – in 1963 – English writer Jessica Mitford wrote the bestselling book “The American Way of Death” as a way to educate Americans about what she viewed as the awful commercialization of dying, death and commemoration. After a strong criticism of funeral directors, cemeterians and other associated professions, she ended with a plea for cremation.

However, as late as 1970, according to figures from the Cremation Association of America, only about 5% of American chose the method. In 2020, more than 56% Americans opted for it.

So what has led to such a dramatic shift today? As an American historian who wrote “The Last Great Necessity: Cemeteries in American History,” following that up almost 30 years later with “Is the Cemetery Dead?,” I know that people are choosing cremation for different reasons, depending on their circumstances.

Here are three main ones:

1. Funerals and ground burials are expensive

Although figures differ depending on the source, families are spending an average of over US$8,000 on funerals, ranging from $6,700 in Mississippi to just under $15,000 in Hawaii, according to the World Population Review.

That compares with $1,000 to $2,000 for a direct cremation, in which the crematory or funeral director doesn’t provide any services beyond the actual cremation of the body, as the blog Parting.com, which compares the pricing of funerals and cremations, points out.

However, many survivors don’t choose to do the least costly cremation. The National Funeral Directors Association noted that for a funeral with a cremation, the median cost was over $6,000 – certainly a savings, but not the enormous amount many websites proclaim.

Additionally, this is not a new development: Direct cremation was far cheaper than a full burial in 1960 or 1990, too.

2. Environmental costs

Cost clearly plays a role, but not a determining one for such a rapid shift in cultural practices. A second major factor is environmental concerns related to a conventional internment, in which a body is placed in a casket and the casket is buried or entombed.

Alexandra Harker, a landscape architect working to improve America’s sustainable environments, has described how concerns about such burials in the cemetery range from issues about the use of the land to the methods by which the body is prepared and stored.

Some people are increasingly upset by the environmental costs of a burial. A conventional burial necessitates the body being embalmed, usually with formaldehyde; placed in a casket, often made of hardwood or steel; then lowered in many cases into a concrete or steel grave liner or vault, with the surrounding lawn typically kept green by the use of pesticides. Roughly 1.5 million burials or entombments means Americans are using thousands of tons of copper, bronze and steel, over 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid and millions of feet of wood.

In a related concern, Harker notes that in a survey by the Cremation Association of North America in 2008, 13% of people chose cremation because of worries about cemetery land scarcity. Cremation internments take up much less space than ground burials.

However, people are exploring the idea of “green” burial in some new cemeteries where money earned from burials can serve to fund a “conservation easement” that protects the space so it will be there long after those interned have become part of the land.

Conventional cremation burns the body by use of natural gas, which is not considered as environmentally sensitive as simply burying the body without the use of harmful chemicals among other materials. Natural gas emits particulate matter and hard metals such as mercury, especially in older crematories.

3. Fewer Americans belong to a church

A third factor is the disruption of people’s connection to religious institutions, which leads them away from the cemetery.

In 2021, only about 47% of Americans belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, compared with 1999, when over 70% of adults stated they were affiliated with one such religious institution.

A growing number of younger Americans in particular are not tied to the religious institution where their grandparents and parents may have had a service after their death or from which funeral corteges would have left for the cemetery. The result is that they are more likely to opt for a method of disposing the body that places them in control of the remains.

Is cremation here to stay?

Will the rise of cremation affect other elements of the way Americans respond to deaths? Americans have long been accused of having “death anxiety,” a fear of even discussing death. For many families, the control that cremations give them has been accompanied by a increased willingness to publicly mourn, as evidenced by the rapid spread of roadside shrines, memorial tattoos and other “everyday memorials” that are utilized by a widespread number of families.

Most Americans are now comfortable with cremation as a practice. They like the power that it gives them to inter the remains in the cemetery, keep them at home, or scatter them in forests, parks, oceans and streams.

Alternatives, such as green burial, will challenge this practice, but for the foreseeable future, Americans have joined much of the world in embracing cremation.

David Sloane, Professor and Chair of Urban Planning and Spatial Analysis, University of Southern California

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

Tomatoes, but not farm workers, gardeners, safe from soil lead

Read the full story from the University of Illinois.

Scientists don’t know much about how vegetables and other crops take up and accumulate lead in real-world settings, but new research in Chicago backyard gardens shows tomatoes are likely safe to eat, even when grown in highly lead-contaminated soils.