Goal For The Green

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Archive for the ‘Sustainability’ Category

A Look at Where Our Energy Goes

Apr-12-2014 By Barbara Zak
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The Electric Slide (Infographic) | Where Americas Energy Goes
Presented by Americantrainco.com

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A Nation Choking On Styrofoam

Mar-21-2014 By Barbara Zak
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by Zeke Iddon

Styrofoam: The Pollutant People Forget About

It’s no surprise that our industrialized world has a problem with waste, but the scope of the issue can be mind-boggling to conceive. The U.S. alone is responsible for generating 200 billion tons of garbage every year, and an overwhelming amount of that is non-biodegradable waste that lingers in landfills or escapes into the world’s oceans. Plastic products are a major culprit, with Styrofoam leading the pack.

polystyrene pollination

An amazing 25 billion Styrofoam cups are thrown away each year in the U.S.; once you add in egg crates, packaging peanuts, take-out containers, meat trays and other products, the number of Styrofoam products in landfills climbs even more.

What exactly is Styrofoam?

Most people are familiar with Styrofoam, the most common brand name for polystyrene foam. This lightweight foam is made from long chains of hydrocarbons. These are obtained through the polymerization of petroleum, which converts the fossil fuel into foam. The end result is a lightweight product with a low melting point but excellent insulating qualities, which is why it’s so popular in food packaging.

Aside from the polystyrene products that are thrown away by consumers, the production of polystyrene generates a substantial amount of waste as well. Altogether, the process creates 57 different chemicals, including liquids and gases, and many of these byproducts can cause health concerns among those in direct contact with them.

The Polystyrene Menace

Aside from the chemical waste created by manufacturing Styrofoam, the greatest problem with polystyrene is that it lasts essentially forever. In 500 years, the discarded cups and take-out containers thrown out today will still be sitting in landfills, essentially unchanged. This is because the polymerized styrene is resistant to photolysis, or the natural breaking down of a substance subjected to protons from a light source. In other words, while some objects degrade in the sun, petroleum-based plastics and foams do not.

polystyrene pollination

Polystyrene is especially problematic because it’s lightweight. This increases its chances of blowing away from landfills or trash cans and finding its way into rivers, lakes and oceans. Once in the water, the polystyrene does indeed break down. In the process, it releases chemicals like bisphenol A into the water.

The Styrofoam itself also poses a threat to the environment. Marine wildlife often mistake plastic products for food, leading them to choke on bits of Styrofoam or die of starvation after obstructing their digestive tracts.

Taking Control of Waste

The risks of polystyrene production and disposal are becoming well-known, and many solutions have been offered to deal with the problem:

- An ingenious process perfected by the minds behind Poly2Petrol.com allows petroleum-based plastics, including polystyrene, to be broken down and converted back into oil. This oil can then be burned as fuel, reducing the overall demand for newly drilled oil while cutting down the amount of plastic waste. The project is still in its early stages, but as it catches on, this has the potentially to dramatically reduce the amount of petroleum waste entering the ecosystem.

- Some polystyrene products can be recycled. Recycling polystyrene is resource-intensive, however, and many community recycling initiatives are not equipped to handle these products. Only hard polystyrene, such as the kind used for packaging inserts, can be recycled. Any polystyrene that has been used to hold food cannot be recycled.

- Some polystyrene products can be reused. One example is packaging peanuts, which can generally be returned to a shipping company for additional uses. This is an imperfect solution as it can be inconvenient for the consumer, and it still does not solve the issue of food packaging and other polystyrene products, but it does offer slight relief to the overall problem.

- As more people become aware of the problems
caused by plastic waste, they’re demanding alternative packaging. This is great news for both landfills and the limited oil reserves throughout the world. New technologies are developing biodegradable food packaging, and more people are opting to buy in bulk or reduce waste by using reusable items instead of disposable ones.

Ultimately, the solution to the plastic waste problem will be a multi-pronged approach combining recycling, fresh technology and public awareness. Only by educating people on the dangers of Styrofoam and similar products can we hope to achieve relief from the choking presence of non-biodegradable waste in our landfills and oceans.

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How Green is the Internet?

Mar-4-2014 By Barbara Zak
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Guest Post by Zeke Iddon

Yes, the entire Internet.

A fairly odd question, but one that will probably give you pause for thought; in a world where the phrase ‘global warming’ is synonymous with SUVs, air conditioning and poor recycling, it isn’t often that we consider one of the most widely-used resources ever to grace the planet.

So, how green is the Internet? The answer will probably surprise you…

The Case Against

Putting aside for one moment the amount of energy used to power offices and home computer set-ups around the world, the data centers which they access are worth examining.

Forming the core of the ‘net, these data centers are absolutely gigantic – many are the size of large shopping malls – and house rows and rows of power-hungry cabinets as well as the systems which keep them cool.

It’s difficult to quantify exactly how much CO2 is produced globally since it can vary wildly depending on what power grid they derive their energy from (for instance, if a country runs its electricity grid via fossil fuels), but our best estimates put the worldwide CO2 emissions from data centers at around 80 megatons.

It’s a hard number to visualize, but to put it into perspective these data centers account for 1.5% of all the world’s electricity (as of 2010). By 2020, it is predicted that the emissions put out by all of the data centers on the planet will quadruple, making this sector of industry a bigger pollutant than the airline industry.

But if you think that sounds extreme, consider this: data centers are only 10% of the equation.

90% of the pollution is generated within our own homes.

Connecting to a network wirelessly (either through routers or via mobile carriers) accounts for nearly 43.2 TerraWatts of all energy usage, which carries a carbon footprint equal to putting nearly 5 million new cars on the road.

With this in mind, it’s not surprising that having this technology in our homes has implications not just for the planet, but also our own health. There’s strong evidence to suggest that radiation emissions from WiFi routers and static towers has a tangible effect on the human body, which gives further rise to concern about our reliance on WiFi. These dangers – as well as the carbon footprint – are greatly mitigated by simply plugging into a router directly.

Obviously we’re not suggesting that the world shuts down the entire Internet, but at face value, the Internet appears to be one of the biggest – and most often ignored – drains on our resources, and something that should be used sparingly… or is it?

The Case For

In order to fully understand this tricky puzzle, we need to look at the bigger picture. Every activity uses up resources; what it really comes down to is how sustainable those activities and resources are.

We cannot begin to count the amount of hours spent watching cat videos on YouTube, or how much energy is used up by teenage girls pursuing One Direction on Twitter. But what we can quantify is the energy savings afforded to businesses on a practical level:

Increased connectivity allows for better telecommuting. Home offices typically use half the energy of a corporate set-up, and hugely telecommuting reduces emissions caused by traffic congestion.

This applies to numerous industries, too – particularly ones that are moving towards digitization. If you cut out the amount of unnecessary travel, and also factor in that telecommuting is proven to increase productivity, the Internet is very much a force for environmental good.

And while the amount of data centers needed to house the ‘net is on the up, so are their efficiency levels. In part driven by Green Peace activism (and for cost reasons), many of the big data companies – Google, Apple, Facebook, etc. – are striving to make their data centers more energy efficient.

According to a Standford report, the big players have the potential to reduce CO2 emissions by a huge 88%, and Apple have already managed to become carbon-neutral.

In Conclusion

So the question isn’t necessarily how green the Internet is, but more one of how green we can make it.

The answer for those of us at home?

Plug directly into your wireless routers, and try to work from home more often.

The planet will thank you for it.

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