How the White House found EJ areas without using race

Read the full story at ClimateWire.

The White House was widely criticized a year ago for not using racial demographics to identify disadvantaged communities that would be targeted for extra climate aid.

The nation’s leading advocates for environmental justice were furious, saying that race must be considered because biased policies like redlining had forced minorities into heavily polluted neighborhoods that are vulnerable to climate impacts.

But the colorblind approach has succeeded at prioritizing minority neighborhoods, an E&E News analysis shows.

Environmental advocates express frustration over Biden regulation delays

Read the full story at The Hill.

Environmental advocates, generally strong supporters of the Biden administration, are expressing frustration at what they describe as too-lengthy delays for important regulations.  

Their frustration follows the administration’s recent release of its semiannual regulatory agenda, which pushed back timelines for a range of rules governing planet-warming emissions and other pollution coming from power plants, drinking water limits for toxic chemicals and stipulations for fossil fuel leasing on public lands.  

Depleted under Trump, a ‘traumatized’ EPA struggles with its mission

Read the full story from the New York Times.

The nation’s top environmental agency is still reeling from the exodus of more than 1,200 scientists and policy experts during the Trump administration. The chemicals chief said her staff can’t keep up with a mounting workload. The enforcement unit is prosecuting fewer polluters than at any time in the past two decades.

And now this: the stressed-out, stretched-thin Environmental Protection Agency is scrambling to write about a half dozen highly complex rules and regulations that are central to President Biden’s climate goals.

The new rules have to be enacted within the next 18 months — lightning speed in the regulatory world — or they could be overturned by a new Congress or administration.

The regulations are already delayed months past E.P.A.’s own self-imposed deadlines, raising concerns from supporters in Congress and environmental groups. “It’s very fair to say we are not where we hoped we’d be,” said Miles Keogh, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, which represents most state and local air regulators.

As staffing at the E.P.A. thinned out, the workload only increased, both the agency and its critics say.

Big winners from Biden’s climate law: Republicans who voted against it

Read the full story at Politico.

GOP lawmakers voted en masse against Biden’s signature bill. But roughly two-thirds of green-energy projects announced since it became law are going to Republican-held congressional districts, a POLITICO analysis found.

ESG debate escalates as GOP goes after influencers

Read the full story at Banking Dive.

As the new year begins, it’s natural to look at the environmental, social and governance policy debate and anticipate how the players would escalate their arguments. 

Last year, 19 Republican attorneys general wrote perennial ESG punching bag BlackRock with concerns over the asset manager’s strategy. 

Several of the same AGs, two months later, launched investigations into whether the nation’s six largest banks, through their ESG practices, were blocking credit to oil companies.

A handful of states — West VirginiaTexas and Kentucky come to mind — have either barred financial institutions they deem hostile toward fossil fuels from accessing new state contracts — or have asked state pension funds to divest their holdings from such companies.

Journalist’s Toolbox science resources

This collection, part of the Journalist’s Toolbox, includes links to a variety of science resources for journalists, including articles about the basics of science reporting, as well as links to science news sites and organizations of experts. See also their collection of links to environmental topics.

NREL develops systematic framework to compare performance of plastics recycling approaches

With only a small percentage of plastics recycled, determining the best way to recycle and reuse these materials may enable higher adoption of plastics recycling and reduce plastic waste pollution. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) examined the benefits and trade-offs of current and emerging technologies for recycling certain types of plastics to determine the most appropriate options.

The researchers provided a comparison of various technologies for closed-loop recycling, which allow for the reuse of plastic through mechanical or chemical processing, eliminating the need for fossil-fuel-derived virgin materials. They considered technical metrics such as material quality and retention, as well as environmental metrics including energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

“We know cost is one of the primary—if not the primary—drivers for recycling for companies wanting to invest in it,” said Taylor Uekert, lead author of “Technical, economic, and environmental comparison of closed-loop recycling technologies for common plastics,” which appears in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering. “But I think it’s just so important to remember that there are other things that are equally important for our life on this planet, and we need to be considering those environmental impacts as well.”

Her co-authors, all from NREL, are Avantika Singh, Jason DesVeaux, Tapajyoti Ghosh, Arpit Bhatt, Geetanjali Yadav, Shaik Afzal, Julien Walzberg, Katrina Knauer, Scott Nicholson, Gregg Beckham, and Alberta Carpenter.

The article outlines how effectively closed-loop recycling technologies would work on polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and three types of polyolefins: high-density polyethylene (HDPE), low-density polyethylene (LDPE), and polypropylene (PP). These plastics have many uses. PET, for instance, is used to make bottles, trays, and carpets. HDPE is found in milk jugs, bags, containers, and toys. LDPE is commonly used to manufacture squeezable bottles, lids, and bags. PP, meanwhile, is used to make yogurt tubs, hangers, and straws.

The recycling rates of these polymers varied in the United States during 2019, from 2% for LDPE to 15% for PET bottles and containers.

“PET is like your common single-use water bottle,” Uekert said. “You might recycle that. But most likely it’s not going to come out the other end as a bottle. It’s going to come out as a plastic tray for putting food on or it might be converted to plastic fibers that could be used for clothing. It’s going back into the same type of plastic, but not necessarily the exact same type of plastic product.”

Two closed-loop recycling methods are available for HDPE, LDPE, and PP plastics: mechanical, in which the plastic is ground up, melted, and made into something new; and solvent-based dissolution, which removes impurities so that the plastic is of suitable quality for reuse. Those same processes can be used on PET in addition to three chemical recycling technologies: enzymatic hydrolysis, glycolysis, and methanolysis.

More than 400 million metric tons of plastic waste is generated globally each year. Current recycling strategies can capture a fraction of these plastics, but there is a lack of consistent data on the capabilities and impacts of these processes. The NREL study quantitatively characterized the performance of plastic recycling technologies—including factors that are usually only discussed qualitatively, like contamination tolerance—and established a methodology for comparing new recycling processes as they emerge.

“It’s not just that you can recycle plastic,” Uekert said. “It’s how effectively can you recycle that plastic?”

Although mechanical recycling outperforms all other technologies as well as virgin plastic production across economic and environmental metrics, the process yields lower quality plastic. Increasing the quality and quantity of plastics to be recycled through better sorting and pretreatment could improve the viability of mechanical recycling, the researchers said.

“To really enable a circular system where we keep as much material in the economy as possible, that’s when we really need to improve our [material] retention through things like better sorting and better yields of your recycling processes,” Uekert said. “If you have a process that only has a 75% yield, you’re going to end up needing slightly more electricity, slightly more chemicals, to recycle one kilogram of plastic than you would if you had something like a 90% or higher yield. That means your overall environmental impacts, your overall cost, is going to decrease as you increase your material retention.”

The researchers pointed out recycling should be treated as a decarbonization opportunity, with the technologies using electricity that could be generated from renewable sources.

Funding came from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office and Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies Office as part of the BOTTLE Consortium, a collaborative effort that stands for Bio-Optimized Technologies to keep Thermoplastics out of Landfills and the Environment.

Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Air quality improvements lead to more sulfur fertilizer use

Read the full story from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

As the atmospheric deposition of sulfur has decreased, the use of sulfur fertilizer in Midwestern U.S. agriculture has increased between 1985 and 2015.

Loop touts retail store expansion as standalone e-commerce program sunsets

Read the full story at Waste Dive.

Loop, TerraCycle’s reusable packaging program, ended 2022 with about 150 active retail locations worldwide. This includes about three dozen U.S. locations, with grocery pilots at Fred Meyer in Oregon and Giant Food in Washington, D.C., and home delivery for Walmart customers in Arkansas.

Loop launched in 2019 as a standalone e-commerce platform to manage reusable container distribution and collection, but that concept largely is being phased out as the retail program gains traction. Going forward, Loop’s e-commerce presence will be integrated with partners, such as Walmart’s home delivery website, according to the company.

Loop plans for further growth in 2023, with announced expansions coming in France and Japan. It will also work with U.S. retail partners to build the reuse ecosystem and increase product distribution, although concrete plans haven’t yet been made public, according to Clem Schmid, general manager at Loop Global.

Stadiums pursue new technologies and tactics to boost waste diversion

Read the full story at Waste Dive.

As fans flock back to large venues, many are seeing new or updated waste initiatives. Operators are experimenting with different collection systems, reusable cups, reverse vending machines and more.