We have all done it: a greasy pizza box, a disposable coffee cup, the odd plastic bag. Sometimes, we want things to be recyclable, so we put them in the recycling bin.
Waste managers often call this wishful or aspirational recycling. But, unfortunately, putting these objects in with the rest of the recycling can do more harm than good. While rules differ in every municipality (check your local recycling website to find out what’s acceptable), we have picked out some key offenders to keep in mind.
Too many of these items will contaminate a batch of recycling. That means waste managers might not be able to find buyers for the materials — especially now that China, one of the world’s main importers of recyclable waste, has said it will reject shipments that are more than 0.5 percent impure. Contaminated loads could be sent to the landfill instead.
What could you be recycling incorrectly? Check with your local recycler prior to disposing the following items.
- Disposal Cups – many are lined with polyethylene which makes recycling difficult & expensive
- Pizza Boxes – the oil seeps into the cardboard fiber making it less valuable
- Yogurt Cups – there is little demand for plastics numbers 3 – 7
- Takeout Containers – the containers themselves may be fine, but be sure to rinse all food scrap away
- Plastic Bags – can only be sent to special facilities, do not include with your everyday recycling as they plug up machinery
Nine months ago, Hurricane Maria slammed Puerto Rico and damaged the system that feeds drinking water from the main island to Vieques. Moses West, 59, a retired Army officer from Texas, brought in the machine made by his company to help fill the void.
He spends his days beside it, fine-tuning the repurposed 20-foot shipping container, which is capable of producing 3,500 gallons of water daily and holding 528 gallons in storage.
Residents initially approached the machine and him with curiosity and skepticism, West said. They asked questions about how it worked and whether the water was clean. They also worried that he would return to the mainland and leave them to fend for themselves in the rubble of a paradise lost.
The machine is called an atmospheric water generator. It cools humid air until the water transforms from a gas to a liquid, otherwise known as condensation. The device pulls water from its gas form and filters it. The final product is clean, drinkable water.
The technology is more than a decade old, but the machines haven’t caught on, in part because few people know about them. The low market demand helps keep the price tag high, which again discourages potential buyers.
A monumental eco-challenge facing the planet is plastic marine debris. The modern economy has produced more than eight billion metric tons of newly manufactured plastic, but 75% of it becomes plastic waste. It is estimated that approximately five trillion pieces of plastic, or roughly 250,000 metric tons, have littered the waters.
So, what can be an effective measure to combat or eliminate plastics from ending up in coastlines, rivers, lakes, and oceans? It may be daring for most, but ocean privatization is the way to go.
Water capitalism implies that there would be private ownership of oceans, rivers, lakes, and aquifers.
When something is unowned, there is very little incentive to maintain, preserve, or defend it. On the other hand, when something is privately owned, we do our very best to maintain, preserve, or defend it. This is why private property is typically better than public housing, or why private transportation is generally more bearable than government transit.
A recent study of bottled water, conducted by the journalism organization Orb Media, found that almost every major brand of bottled water is contaminated with particles of plastic.
The researchers tested 250 bottles of water—from nine countries and 11 brands. They dropped a red dye in each, which stuck to the plastic and glowed when passed under a certain light.
On average, in 93% of bottles, they found more than 10 pieces of plastic thicker than a human hair and hundreds of smaller pieces that the researchers and outside experts believe are probably plastic as well.
According to these findings, a person drinking an average amount of water from bottles could be consuming anywhere between hundreds and tens of thousands of microparticles a day.
Efforts to restore Georgica Pond are proving to be successful thanks in part to the help of an aquatic weed harvester.
Georgica Pond has been invaded by toxic cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, in recent years, which can cause serious health problems. For the second consecutive year, the foundation has leased an aquatic weed harvester to remove plant material, or macroalgae, from the pond, which releases nitrogen and phosphorous as it decays and is believed to promote cyanobacteria.
The mechanical harvester 32,700 pounds of this material represent 6% of the pond’s nitrogen load and 12% of its phosphorous load; down from 2016 when 55,740 pounds, representing 13% of the nitrogen load and 23% of the phosphorous load, were harvested. Officials say part of the reason for the decrease in 2017 was due to the large quantity of macroalgae harvester the previous year.
According to a Fish and Wildlife study, almost 80 percent of non-native species found on the West Coast were first sighted in California.
You might have heard about ballast water. Cargo ships fill their holds with seawater to stay balanced, but that water can also carry invasive species.
Since 1999, ships have been required to either retain ballast water or discharge this water at least 200 nautical miles away from shore — and over 90 percent of them do.
But invasives remain a problem well beyond the ports. Researchers say recreational boating also plays a part. Small vessels can spread around species that have been introduced by cargo ships.
There’s another less-obvious way invasive species gets introduced —and it’s cost California millions of dollars.
After “Finding Nemo” was released, people started flushing fish and plants down the drain, or taking them to the ocean and dumping them in. It led to a pulse of invasion around the country.
A study from UC Davis found that aquariums contribute to a third of the world’s worst aquatic and invasive species.
In 1970 Beth Martineau fought the Conservation Commission (the predecessor of the Department of Natural Resources) over access to Upper Spring Lake in Palmyra Wisconsin as they attempted to add the property to the Kettle Moraine State Forest.
Now, the fate of Upper Spring Lake is once again back in court. The original dam was washed out while the current owners were under negotiations to buy the property out of bankruptcy. When the deal went through, the owners worked with the DNR to rebuild and improved, modern dam; spending about $1 million in the process.
As part of the dam permitting, the creek became a navigable waterway and canoers and kayakers were allowed to portage past the dam. As more visitors arrived, some quite carelessly and with little respect for the water and surrounding lands, the owners posted “Private Property” signs. It will be up to the courts to decide if in the fact it is private property or DNR land.
Beth Martineau was ruled to own “as much land as the water covered when the water at the old dam was 13 feet, 4 inches deep. Because it was somewhat lower in 1972, the judge said Martineau also had a strip of dry land varying from 6 to 50 feet around the water’s edge.” The DNR is claiming the owners are exceeding the 13-foot-4-inch water level behind the dam, meaning more water is impounded and trespassing on state forest land that surrounds the lake.
In the fight against alien animals that invade and overrun native species, the weird and the wired sometime win.
Invasive species are plants and animals that thrive in areas where they don’t naturally live, usually brought there by humans, either accidentally or intentionally. Sometimes, with no natural predators, they multiply and take over, crowding out and at times killing native species.
A new underwater robot is targeting the stunning but dangerous lionfish. The robot, called Guardian LF1, uses a gentle shock to immobilize the lionfish before they are sucked alive into a tube. In its first public outing this month, the robot caught 15 lionfish during two days of testing in Bermuda. Top chefs competed in a cook-off of the captured lionfish which sells for nearly $10 a pound.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials are using souped-up old technology to catch Asian carp, a fish that’s taken over rivers and lakes in the Midwest. They use a specialized boat – the Magna Carpa – with giant winglike nets that essentially uses electric current as an underwater taser to stun the fish, said biologist Emily Pherigo. At higher doses, the fish are killed and float to the surface. In just five minutes, they can collect 500 fish, and later turn them into fertilizer.
Phosphorus is one of the most important components in the ongoing struggle to balance agricultural prosperity with water quality. When farmers fertilize their fields with this essential nutrient, plants use some, with precipitation carrying excess amounts into nearby bodies of water, fueling algal blooms that can kill fish and and endanger drinking water quality.
But phosphorus that lingers in the soil, sometimes for decades, is troublesome as well.
What scientists call “legacy phosphorus” — or “legacy P,” a common abbreviation — exists in a sort of nutrient limbo.
Phosphorus can easily bind to soil particles, a state in which plants don’t usually access it. The nutrient generally must be in water plants take up in order for them to use it. Moreover, as farmers spread more fertilizer, new quantities of phosphorus are made available to crops. But as land erodes or heavy rains hit fields, some of that older phosphorus will make its way into streams, rivers, lakes and ultimately groundwater. In coming decades, greater quantities of legacy phosphorus could get flushed into water sources due to climate change, which is projected to increase heavy precipitation events in the Midwest.
Portland’s first snowstorm of the winter storm season hit mid-day prompting thousands of people to head home early. Unfortunately, roadways were clogged for hours leaving many to abandon their cars. Cautious motorists decided to stay home from work when the second snowstorm that left roadways icy for days. Portland is now looking at adding road salt to their arsenal to make road ways safer.
The city is concerned with the damaging effects of road salt. It would ultimately get washed into storm drains which flow to a sewer treatment plant. Will the salt corrode old metro-area pipes? It affects the roads, the steel in the bridges and the concrete and it affects your car. And, the salt that stays on the roads will eventually get washed into the environment.
Minnesota is beginning to see some of the environmental effects of road salt use. In the Twin Cities metro area, the level of salt (chloride) in 39 surface waters now exceeds water quality standards. An additional 38 surface waters are almost above the standard and many others remain untested. Data shows that salt concentrations are continuing to increase in both surface waters and groundwater across the state.
The fact is that it only takes one teaspoon of road salt to permanently pollute 5 gallons of water. Once in the water, there is no way to remove the chloride. At high concentrations, chloride can harm fish, aquatic plant life, groundwater and drinking water supplies.