Destroying ‘forever chemicals’ is a technological race that could become a multibillion-dollar industry

Read the full story at Inside Climate.

Researchers and companies across the country are eager to find a way to destroy harmful PFAS chemicals as regulation tightens and producers face a mountain of lawsuits.

Why is aluminum packaging use on the rise?

Waste360 recently published a two-part series on the popularity and sustainability of aluminum packaging. Part 1 includes comments from ISRI, Ball Corporation, and others. In Part 2, Scott Breen, vice president of Sustainability, the Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI) and Matt Meenan, vice president of External Affairs, the Aluminum Association, detail the industry’s progress in cutting its carbon footprint and work to go further. And they respond to a McKinsey report that states plastic bottles’ overall greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) are significantly lower than that of aluminum beverage cans.

We still use appliances like it’s 1970. There’s a better way.

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

When I was a kid, my dad followed behind me, shutting off the incandescent lights I left burning around the house. “You’re wasting energy,” he’d scold as I tried to slip out of the room. He was right, of course. In the 1980s, 5 to 10 percent of an average household’s electricity bill went to keeping the lights on. So when my own son was born last June, my dad joked he was waiting for the day when his grandson would exact his revenge on my utility bill.

Luckily for me, this day will never come. I’ve been rescued by LED lights, now the primary lighting source for about half of U.S. homes. LEDs are wafers of semiconducting material that emit as much light as incandescent bulbs while using about 10 percent of the electricity. Later this year, incandescent bulbs will disappear from store shelves for good as new federal efficiency standards take effect. If it isn’t already, your home lighting will soon be a rounding error on your energy budget.

Yet many people still sound like my dad. When you ask Americans how they save energy at home, “turn off the lights” has been at the top of the list since the 1980s. But when it comes to actual savings, it doesn’t even crack the top 10. Like most conventional wisdom about how to reduce householdenergy and emissions, much of what we believe about our homes and appliances is wrong.

It’s time to update our thinking.

Lots of people believe in Bigfoot and other pseudoscience claims – this course examines why

Don’t believe the hype about Bigfoot, a flat Earth or ancient aliens. Collage from Getty Images sources, CC BY-ND

by Craig A. Foster, State University of New York Cortland

Text saying: Uncommon Courses, from The Conversation

Uncommon Courses is an occasional series from The Conversation U.S. highlighting unconventional approaches to teaching.

Title of course

“Psychology of Pseudoscience”

What prompted the idea for the course?

While teaching a course on research methods at the United States Air Force Academy, I concluded that the course needed a bigger emphasis on broad scientific reasoning skills.

So I incorporated material about the difference between science – the systematic process of evidence-based inquiry – and pseudoscience, which is the promotion of unreliable scientific claims as if they are more reliable than other explanations.

I wanted to understand why people promote claims that conflict with science. I jumped at the opportunity to develop this type of course at SUNY Cortland.

What does the course explore?

We look at some of the common scientific reasoning failures that pseudoscience exploits. These include hand-picking anecdotes to support a belief, developing a set of beliefs that explain every possible outcome, promoting irrelevant research, ignoring contradictory information and believing in unsubstantiated conpiracies.

We particularly highlight motivated reasoning, the tendency for people to process information in a way that helps them confirm what they already want to believe. For example, someone might accept scientific consensus about cancer treatments but question it with regard to vaccines – even though both are supported by strong scientific evidence and expert consensus.

We also review group polarization, in which people develop more extreme positions after interacting with similarly minded group members.

Some of the topics we examine include the flat-Earth belief, creationism, Bigfoot and other cryptozoology ideas, psychic ability, conversion therapy, anti-vaccination, astrology, ghosts and climate change denial.

Students complete two papers to reinforce their knowledge. First, students develop their own bogus scientific claims and a corresponding plan to convince people that their claims are legitimate. Allowing students to invent and promote novel forms of pseudoscience gives them a safe context in which to examine specious scientific arguments.

Second, students review old issues of Skeptical Inquirer, the leading national magazine about science and critical thinking, to summarize the topics that were being addressed at that time. Students also dive more deeply into a specific topic like unexplained cattle mutilations or the Bermuda Triangle. Then they write a paper based on an example I recently published in Skeptical Inquirer. I’m hopeful that future column installments will include students’ work.

Why is this course relevant now?

The internet has provided pseudoscience communities with the unprecedented ability to promote their false claims.

For instance, flat-Earthers have relied on YouTube to create doubt about Earth as a globe. The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization uses Facebook to support Bigfoot belief. These platforms take advantage of people’s tendency to believe material posted by their friends or authoritative-sounding sources.

This course is also relevant now because the consequences of poor scientific reasoning are so significant. People who believe these sorts of false claims risk their own health and that of the planet, by avoiding helpful, safe vaccines or useful discussions about the problems presented by climate change.

What’s a critical lesson from the course?

It’s important for students to understand that reasonable, intelligent people promote pseudoscience. When people encounter pseudoscience they don’t personally believe, they sometimes conclude that the pseudoscience supporters are unintelligent or mentally unwell. This type of explanation is shortsighted.

Everyday people are drawn into believing pseudoscience because they have limited cognitive resources and they use cognitive strategies, like relying on anecdotes, that can lead to erroneous belief. Human scientific reasoning is particularly flawed when humans really want to reach a particular conclusion.

Belief in pseudoscience also develops out of social interactions. Friends and family members commonly share their reasons for believing in creationism, ghosts, fad diets and so forth. This type of social influence goes into overdrive when people join communities that collectively promote pseudoscience. I have attended Bigfoot and flat-Earth conferences. These conferences create powerful social experiences, because so many friendly people are available to explain that Bigfoot is alive or the Earth is flat, both of which are, clearly, false.

What materials does the course feature?

The “Defining Pseudoscience and Science” chapter by Sven Ove Hansson in “Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem” sets up what I call the psychological puzzle of pseudoscience: How do people convince themselves and others that an unreliable scientific claim is actually reliable?

We also have guest speakers, including philosophy of science scholar Massimo Pigliucci, journalist and folklorist Ben Radford, exposer of psychics Susan Gerbic, a local Bigfoot enthusiast, and Janyce Boynton, who discussed facilitated communication, a discredited communication technique in which some people physically assist nonverbal people with their communication, for example, by guiding their hands as they type.

What will the course prepare students to do?

The course prepares students to identify dubious scientific claims. In so doing, they should become less vulnerable to being drawn into pseudoscience. The course also enhances familiarity with specific forms of pseudoscience. I expect climate change denial, anti-vaccination and creationism to remain major points of contention in American society for decades. Educated people should understand the discussions that occur around these kind of social problems.

Craig A. Foster, Professor and Chair, Department of Psychology, State University of New York Cortland

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

Closed Loop Partners joins forces with U.S. composters and composting industry to launch large-scale in-field degradation tests for compostable packaging

Read the full news release.

The Composting Consortium, a collaboration of industry partners managed by Closed Loop Partners, announced Monday the launch of its Compostable Packaging Degradation Pilot. The initiative is the most comprehensive collaborative study of real-world compostable packaging disintegration in the U.S. to date. The project marks a milestone for the Consortium, as it aims to improve available data on how certified, food-contact compostable foodware and packaging is currently breaking down at various types of composting facilities––from static piles to worms to GORE® covers. Participating facilities include Ag Choice; Atlas Organics; Black Earth Compost; The Foodbank, Inc. of Dayton, Ohio; Happy Trash Can Curbside Composting; Napa Recycling; Specialized Environmental Technologies, Inc.’s Empire Facility; Veteran Compost and Windham Solid Waste Management.

Working with these industrial composting facilities across the U.S., the Compostable Packaging Degradation Pilot will evaluate the disintegration of more than 30 types of certified compostable products and packaging––including compostable cutlery, molded fiber bowls, bioplastic cups and snack packaging––across facilities operating with varying climates, composting methods and equipment. Data gathered from the assessment will inform the Consortium’s broader work to align the rapid growth of compostable packaging with on-the-ground operational and business needs of industrial composters.

Farewell to ‘forever’ — Destroying PFAS by grinding it up with a new additive

Read the full story from the American Chemical Society.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are potentially harmful substances known as ‘forever chemicals’ because they are so difficult to destroy. One emerging technique to degrade PFAS involves forcefully grinding them with metal balls in a moving container, but this technique can require corrosive additives. Now, researchers report a new type of additive for ‘ball milling’ that completely breaks down PFAS at ambient temperature and pressure.

Experiment proves bacteria really eat plastic – broken down into harmless substances

Read the full story at SciTech Daily.

The bacterium Rhodococcus ruber eats and actually digests plastic. This has been shown in laboratory experiments by PhD student Maaike Goudriaan at Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ). Based on a model study with plastic in artificial seawater in the lab, Goudriaan calculated that bacteria can break down about one percent of the fed plastic per year into CO2 and other harmless substances.

Virus plus microplastics equal double whammy for fish health

Read the full story from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

Microplastics — tiny particles generated as plastics weather and fragment — pose a growing threat to ecosystem and human health. A new laboratory study shows these threats extend beyond direct physical or chemical impacts, revealing that the presence of microplastics increases the severity of an important viral fish disease.

Cheap sewer pipe repairs can push toxic fumes into homes and schools – here’s how to lower the risk

With many CIPP repairs, this isn’t just steam. Andrew Whelton/Purdue University

by Andrew J. Whelton, Purdue University

Across the U.S., children and adults are increasingly exposed to harmful chemicals from a source few people are even aware of.

It begins on a street outside a home or school, where a worker in a manhole is repairing a sewer pipe. The contractor inserts a resin-soaked sleeve into the buried pipe, then heats it, transforming the resin into a hard plastic pipe.

This is one of the cheapest, most common pipe repair methods, but it comes with a serious risk: Heating the resin generates harmful fumes that can travel through the sewer lines and into surrounding buildings, sometimes several blocks away.

These chemicals have made hundreds of people ill, forced building evacuations and even led to hospitalizations. Playgrounds, day care centers and schools in several states have been affected, including in Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin.

Steam and gases rise out of a sewer manhole.
With this sewer pipe repair method, the chemical waste is blown into the air and can enter buildings through buried sewer pipes, plumbing, foundation cracks, windows, doors and HVAC units. Andrew Whelton/Purdue University

With the 2022 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law now sending hundreds of millions of dollars into communities across the U.S. to fix broken pipes, the number of children and adults at risk of exposure will likely increase.

For more than a decade, my colleagues and I have worked to understand and reduce the risks of this innovative pipe repair technique. In two new studies, in the Journal of Environmental Health and Environmental Science and Technology Letters, we show that workers, and even bystanders, including children, lack adequate protection.

Our research also shows the technology can be used safely if companies take appropriate action.

Fixing aging pipes with harmful chemicals

As U.S. water infrastructure ages, communities nationwide are grappling with thousands of broken sewer pipes in their 1.3 million-mile inventory.

The new law provides US$11 billion for sewer fixes, about one-fifth of the EPA’s estimate of the need.

A face-on view into a sewer pipe, with a blue lining visible within the outer gray wall.
The blue cured-in-place pipe, or CIPP, can be seen inside this damaged storm sewer pipe. The CIPP was created by steam cooking the resin into the hard plastic. Andrew Whelton/Purdue University

The least expensive repair method is called cured-in-place pipe, or CIPP. It avoids the need to dig up and replace pipes. Instead, contractors insert a resin-saturated sleeve in the manhole and through the buried pipe. The resin is then “cooked,” typically with steam or hot water, and transformed into a hard plastic.

One challenge is that the resin safety data sheets do not disclose all of the chemicals, and some entirely new ones are created during heating.

Chemical plumes rising from nearby manholes and contractor exhaust pipes are also not just “steam.” These plumes contain highly concentrated chemical mixtures, uncooked resin, particulates and nanoplastics that can harm human health. When we examined the heating process in the lab, we found that as much as 9% of the resin was emitted into the air.

CIPP production is known to discharge about 40 chemicals. Some cause nausea, headaches and eye and nasal irritation. They can also lead to vomiting, breathing difficulties and other effects.

Waste that contains chemicals, uncooked resin, particulates, and nanoplastics is discharged into the air during CIPP manufacture. This complex emission is not steam. Andrew Whelton/Purdue University.

Styrene, the most frequently documented chemical, is acutely toxic, and “reasonably anticipated” to cause cancer, according to the National Research Council. Chemicals other than styrene can be responsible for plume toxicity.

CIPP-associated illnesses in nearby buildings

So far, chemical exposures have been reported in at least 32 states and seven countries. In addition to schools, this process has contaminated homes, restaurants, medical facilities and other businesses. Companies have been cited for exposing their workers to unsafe levels of styrene.

The earliest U.S. incident we know about was in 1993 at an animal shelter in Austin, Texas. Seven people were overcome by fumes and transported to a hospital. In 2001, fumes entered a hospital inn Tampa, Florida, causing employee breathing problems. Since then, hundreds more people are known to have been exposed, and the numbers are likely much higher.

In our experience, exposures are rarely made public. Municipalities have encouraged people affected by the fumes to only contact the CIPP contractor and pipe owner. In some cases, people were told the exposures were always harmless.

Chemicals can enter buildings through sinks, toilets, foundation cracks, doors, windows and HVAC systems. The chemicals can even enter buildings that have water-filled plumbing traps. Anticipating this risk, bystanders have been told to cover their toilets and close all windows and doors.

Wind can help dilute outdoor chemical levels. However, concentrated plumes can rush through buried pipes into nearby buildings. Bathroom vent fans may sometimes increase the indoor chemical levels. Levels that should prompt firefighters to wear respirators have been found in the buried pipes.

An illustration shows how fumes can move from the source into homes and buildings.
Fumes generated during sewer line repair, on the right, can enter nearby homes, schools and other buildings. Andrew Whelton/Purdue University

The highest levels have been found during and after the heating process.

Hand-held air testing devices commonly used by some firefighters and contractors do not accurately identify specific chemical levels. An earlier study showed the styrene levels were sometimes wrong by a thousandfold.

How to protect public health

With the wave of infrastructure projects coming, it’s clear that controls are needed to lower the risk that people will be harmed.

Our research points to several actions that residents, companies and health officials can take to keep communities safe.

We advise residents to:

  • Close all windows and doors, fill plumbing traps with water and leave the building during pipe-curing operations, especially when children are in the building.
  • Report unusual odors or illnesses to health officials or call 911. Seek medical advice from health officials, not the contractors or pipe owners. Evacuate buildings when fumes enter.

Companies can minimize risks too. They can:

  • Stop the cooking process when fumes leave the worksite to lessen the spread of contamination and exposures.
  • Use resins that release less air pollution than standard resins.
  • Ask federal agencies to evaluate hand-held air testing device use.
  • Capture and treat air pollution from the process. While this has not yet been done at scale, it is straightforward and would be a fraction of the overall project cost. This waste will be hazardous because of its toxicity.

Public health and environmental agencies should also get engaged. Federal agencies know that the practice poses health risks and can be fatal to workers. California and Florida recognize in safety documentation that bystanders could be harmed. But, so far, few steps have been taken to protect workers’ and bystanders’ health.

Andrew J. Whelton, Professor of Civil, Environmental & Ecological Engineering, Director of the Healthy Plumbing Consortium and Center for Plumbing Safety, Purdue University

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

The challenges of solar panel recycling

Read the full story at Resource.

Solar panel waste is set to increase by more than 4000 per cent in the next decade. Is the solar panel recycling industry ready to handle these volumes? With demand for new panels increasing exponentially and raw materials scarce, the race is on.