From the Community: waste and the environment

Turning wasteful Styrofoam packaging into biodegradable, mushroom-based materials, the current news on Hungary’s alumina sludge disaster, Frito Lay changes back to original chip bag packaging after consumer complaints about the “eco-friendly” bags and cities wasting water and using new technology to turn wastewater into energy.

Mushroom plastics: In the above TED video, Eben Bayer reviews the environmental impacts of plastics and Styrofoam on the environment and describes how mushrooms could replace these common materials. “In a single cubic foot of the material—about what would come around your computer or large television—you have the same energy content of about a liter and a half of petrol,” he said. “…it just doesn’t make sense to do this—to put a liter and a half of petrol in the trash every time you get a package….we should be creating material that fits into, what I call, nature’s recycling system.” Read more at “Eben Bayer: Are mushrooms the new plastic?”

Alumina waste: On Monday, red sludge burst from a waste reservoir at an alumina plant outside of Hungary, burning (and in some cases killing) nearby residents, wildlife and farm animals and damaging houses and property. Yesterday, officials were concerned with the potential effects the aluminum byproduct could have on the Danube River. Today, according to a BBC article, “Interior Minister Sandor Pinter said the Danube was no longer at risk of biological or environmental damage.” However, as one New York Times reporter described the scene, the story of the residents of Kolontar—a town affected by the sludge—“lends a human face to environmental problems that are too often out-of-sight, out-of-mind.” And NPR reports that the sludge may in fact be more toxic and harmful than previously thought—Hungarian officials have stated they have reduced the threat by reducing the alkaline levels.

Junk food: WhySharksMatter on the Southern Fried Science blog announced that Frito Lay retracted the use of compostable bags in five of its six flavors of SunChips, despite the bags’ waste reduction benefits. The reason, according to the blog, is that consumers found the new bags to be too noisy: “The fact that these bags reduce the enormous and unsustainable amount of waste that our society produces is apparently less important than the fact that they are a little noisier when you crinkle them,” said WhySharksMatter. Read more at “Frito Lay abandons eco-friendly SunChip bags.”

Wasting water: Natasha Gilbert wrote in a recent Nature News article, “Nearly 80% of the world’s population— 4.8 billion people as calculated in 2000—live in areas experiencing a high level of threats to human water security or biodiversity.” And climate change is an important contributing factor to water management in cities. Sarah Zielinski of Smithsonian’s Surprising Science explained that climate change will affect the timing of the water cycle, among other things—yet there are still plenty of unknowns: “surface water quality and groundwater will both be affected by climate change, but scientists aren’t yet sure in what ways. And then there’s the question of how all those changes to the water cycle will affect the living plants and creatures in these ecosystems.” Read more at “Why Climate Change Brings Both More and Less Water.”

Wastewater energy: Currently there are companies that are converting human waste and wastewater from sewage plants into usable energy. In a recent Planetgreen.com post, Rachel Cernansky outlined four current uses, including “a town in England [that] just started using sewage to heat about 200 homes,” and innovations that could be implemented on a city-scale. Read more at “Sludge Not So Dirty After All: Clean Energy from Wastewater On the Rise.”

Also, Arctic sea ice reaches its third lowest point on record, new contributors to honey bee collapse, President Evo Morales on the environment and the economy in Bolivia, ocean acidification’s threat to oysters, bug disguises, the White House gets solar panels, photos from the Census of Marine Life and scientists attribute fungal infection to “gushing” in beer.

Author: Katie Kline

Moderator of EcoTone and ESA's communications officer.

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