Pollution Prevention (P2) Week begins on Monday. The 2023 theme is Pollution Prevention Works.
In celebration, this post highlights some classic P2 publications. Although these were originally in the published in the 1990s through early 2000s, they contain a trove of useful information to make P2 work in modern industrial facilities.
EPA Sector Notebooks (U.S. EPA, late 1990s) EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) developed the EPA Sector Notebooks to provide chemical profiles of selected industries. Each profile includes information about the processes conducted in the industry, chemical releases and transfers of chemicals, opportunities for pollution prevention, pertinent federal statutes and regulations, and compliance initiatives associated with the sector. Although these notebooks were published in the late 1990s, they still contain a wealth of information about the production processes, environmental impacts, and pollution prevention options for these sectors.
Facility Pollution Prevention Guide (U.S. EPA, 1992) For those who are interested in and responsible for pollution prevention in industrial or service facilities. Summarizes the benefits of a company-wide pollution prevention program and suggests ways to incorporate pollution prevention in company policies and practices.
The Industrial Green Game: Implications for Environmental Design and Management (National Academies Press, 1997) This volume examines industrial circulation of materials, energy efficiency strategies, “green” accounting, life-cycle analysis, and other approaches for preventing pollution and improving performance. Corporate leaders report firsthand on “green” efforts at Ciba-Geigy, Volvo, Kennecott, and Norsk Hydro.
Organizational Guide to Pollution Prevention (U.S. EPA, 2001) This Pollution Prevention (P2) Guide provides information to help organizations get P2 programs started or to re-evaluate existing P2 programs. It presents an alternative method for working on P2 projects and four approaches to implementing a P2 program in an organization.
Searching for the Profit in Pollution Prevention: Case Studies in the Corporate Evaluation of Environmental Opportunities (U.S. EPA, 1998) This research was initiated to more fully illuminate the challenges facing industry in the adoption of pollution prevention (P2) opportunities, and to identify issue areas that can be studied and addressed by policy-makers and industry. The case studies in this paper describe three P2 projects that were chosen/or analysis precisely because they were in some way unsuccessful. This analysis, based on a small and non-random sampling, is not necessarily representative of the experiences of all companies or all P2 investment possibilities.
September is a time to think about pollution prevention, aka P2, because the third week of September every year is celebrated as Pollution Prevention (P2) Week in the U.S. In 2023, P2 Week will be September 18-22. As you mark your calendar, you may ask yourself—what exactly is pollution prevention, and how can I contribute to the effort?
First, let’s take a moment to consider what pollution itself is. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines pollution as“any substances in water, soil, or air that degrade the natural quality of the environment, offend the senses of sight, taste, or smell, or cause a health hazard. The usefulness of the natural resource is usually impaired by the presence of pollutants and contaminants.” So, pollution is the contamination of the environment by potentially harmful substances. If you think of a polluted environment as analogous to a human body with harmful chemicals in it or disease, then it’s easy to think of pollution prevention as analogous to disease prevention. You’ve probably heard the old quote from Benjamin Franklin, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Although Franklin was talking about the prevention of house fires, in modern times, the phrase has come to be used in the sense of health care. It means that taking preventative measures (e.g., exercising, watching what you eat, getting enough sleep, etc.) is a much more sensible strategy to take, wherever possible, than waiting until disease sets in and then working to treat it. It’s far better to avoid a problem than to have to try to solve the problem afterward.
P2 practices for manufacturing and industrial sectors might entail using less toxic cleaners, less hazardous ingredients or process inputs, conserving energy and water, and reducing waste through the reuse of materials such as drums or pallets. Manufacturers and supporting industries in Illinois can also contact the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC ) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) to learn more about U.S. EPA-funded P2 assistance available free of charge to members of the aerospace, automotive, chemical, food and beverage, and metal manufacturing and fabrication sectors. See https://uofi.box.com/s/ypoep56408o4kk5pl0qpt2ojpwyo82qh and https://uofi.box.com/s/1crril27e0td9nd3j3njgh49mzoom0q5 for details.
The principles of P2 can be applied to any sector or effort and in homes and schools. It’s all about more efficient use of valuable resources, such as energy and water, using less-toxic materials and products, and avoiding the generation of waste so you don’t have to deal with as many disposal considerations. So, if you practice waste reduction by eliminating disposable products and single-use plastics, if you purchase and use energy-efficient appliances and weatherize your home for the winter, if you look for and fix leaky pipes or faucets, or if you use safer cleaners, you’re practicing P2!
Use the following resources to learn more about P2 and how you can contribute to “preventative medicine” for environmental health and our collective human health which depends upon a healthy environment.
With Governor JB Pritzker’s signature on House Bill 2879, the Farm to Food Bank Program has been established in Illinois. The program helps farmers donate their surplus produce to local food banks and assists more than 1 million Illinoisans facing food insecurity. An ongoing three-year Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) effort, which includes a feasibility study and pilot projects, has proven that the program can be successful in Illinois.
“This new law recognizes that we have a lot of residents facing hunger and a lot of surplus food on farms,” said Zach Samaras, ISTC technical assistance engineer and project director. “This program will support farmers with a secondary market, provide local, nutritious food to those in need, and reduce wasted food and wasted resources at the farm.”
The ISTC feasibility study began in 2020 when Feeding Illinois, the association of Feeding America food banks serving the state, commissioned ISTC to discover if the Farm to Food Bank Program is needed, wanted, and achievable in Illinois. ISTC staff visited eight food banks to learn about any existing relationships with local farmers and interviewed organization personnel that manage similar programs in 14 other states. In partnership with the Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Specialty Growers Association, they also surveyed and conducted focus groups with Illinois farmers.
Over 60 percent of farmers surveyed were interested in finding new markets for some or all their commodities. The barriers to donating or selling food to food banks were primarily packing and labor expenses, storage, and transportation.
In 2022, ISTC coordinated six pilot projects that resulted in donations of nearly 2.5 million pounds of produce that would have otherwise gone to waste, yielding nearly 990,000 meals. Feeding Illinois received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that provided $611,000 to reimburse farmers for some of their expenses incurred in donating produce.
“We learned from our focus groups that farmers want to donate their surplus food, but that it should not be a burden on them financially to pick produce, package it, and deliver it to food banks,” Samaras said. “This program provides a safety net for farmers so they can grow a few extra acres for their primary markets, knowing that if they don’t sell everything, there is a program that can help them recoup some costs and make sure that the food is going to end up on someone’s plate.”
The newly signed law will invest $2 million to support already strained food banks and the farmers who donate food. The law also provides grants for capital improvements to transport and store food for underserved communities, which often lack the resources for residents to obtain fresh fruits and vegetables.
DAC is a process that separates carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air, helping to reduce legacy CO2 in the atmosphere. The separated CO2 can then be safely and permanently stored deep underground or converted into useful carbon-containing products like concrete that prevent its release back into the atmosphere.
The three hubs are:
Illinois Basin Regional DAC Hub — Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois (Urbana, Illinois) will lead an effort to promote promising technologies that can capture CO2 from the atmosphere and store it in the Illinois Basin – a proven geological storage strata stretching under Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky. The Illinois Basin Regional DAC Hub intends to develop cooperative relationships between DAC technology providers, green energy providers, CO2 transportation networks, and companies seeking to pump CO2 underground or use it in industrial processes.
DOE Funding: $2,938,528
Non-DOE Funding: $808,057
Total Value: $3,746,585
Colorado (Pueblo) Regional DAC Hub — Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois (Urbana, Illinois) will lead an effort to promote promising technologies that can capture CO2 from the atmosphere and store it underground and develop a DAC hub that will build upon previous geological studies conducted on the Denver-Julesburg Basin. The Colorado Regional DAC Hub intends to develop cooperative relationships between DAC technology providers, green energy providers, CO2 transportation networks, and companies seeking to pump CO2 underground or use it in industrial processes.
DOE Funding: $2,999,992
Non-DOE Funding: $751,646
Total Value: $3,751,638
Florida Regional DAC Hub — Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois (Urbana, Illinois) will lead an effort to promote promising technologies that can capture CO2 from the atmosphere and store it underground in the Tuscaloosa Group (thick, permeable saline aquifers 4,920 to 7,050 feet deep). The Florida Regional DAC Hub intends to develop cooperative relationships between DAC technology providers, green energy providers, CO2 transportation networks, and companies seeking to pump CO2 underground or use it in industrial processes.
The transport of pharmaceuticals released from sewage treatment plants into farmland soils, with the potential to load into drinking water sources, is one that researchers at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) study carefully. Even at low concentrations, medications can affect water ecosystems and soil health.
“Applying sewage waste to crop fields is a win-win practice because it provides nutrients and organic matter to the soil and prevents waste sludge from ending up in landfills,” said Wei Zheng, ISTC environmental chemist. “The issue is that wastewater treatment plants cannot remove emerging contaminants and pharmaceuticals. We cannot ignore the potential risks from this practice.”
Biosolids, which are treated sewage sludge, are a product of the wastewater treatment process. Biosolids can be used on farmland to improve soil fertility, Zheng said.
In a recent study, Zheng and colleagues investigated the adsorption of sitagliptin in soils treated with sewage wastewater. Sitagliptin is commonly used to treat diabetes and is frequently detected in sewage effluent and the environment because it does not fully degrade during the wastewater treatment process. Lagoon-based sewage treatment systems in rural areas also remove fewer contaminants than typical municipal wastewater treatment facilities, so contaminant concentrations in sewage are higher.
Sitagliptin concentrations in the environment are unregulated in the United States. The drug is considered an emerging contaminant for its potential risk to the public.
Study findings showed that biosolids, which have a large amount of organic matter, bonded with the medication in soils and reduced its adsorption. Results also showed that increasing the amount of sewage effluent used for soil amendment reduces the adsorption of sitagliptin in soils.
Metformin is often prescribed, sometimes with sitagliptin, to treat diabetes. As part of this study, the researchers examined how this medication affects the uptake of sitagliptin in soils. Metformin is more water soluble, more degradable, and has less adsorption in soils than sitagliptin.
They found that increasing metformin concentrations in sewage effluent reduced the interaction of sitagliptin with the soil surface. This means that multiple pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) in sewage can compete in soils, reducing the adsorption capacities of individual products.
“Some states have regulations for contaminants, such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are considered ‘forever chemicals’, in biosolids and sewage effluent, so over certain levels, biosolids cannot be used for soil amendments,” Zheng said. “In Illinois, there are no regulations, so it’s highly possible that organic chemical contaminants released from biosolids will leach to drinking water supplies, especially in rural areas. It is important to study and explore ways to minimize the leaching and runoff of PPCPs.”
The results of this study can be used to predict how other PPCPs are transported and adsorbed on agricultural soils and develop management strategies to reduce the risks of using sewage wastes in rural areas.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture funded the project. An article, “Influence of Biosolids and Sewage Effluent Application on Sitagliptin Soil Sorption,” was published in the journal Science of the Total Environment. Zheng is also working on a project supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to monitor PPCPs in sewage effluent and develop mitigation strategies to protect the environment and drinking water quality.
It hardly seems possible, but August is just around the corner, and for many K-12 schools and institutions of higher education in Illinois, that means it’s back-to-school season. Whether you’re a parent with a school supply list in hand, a college student preparing for a new semester, or just someone in the market for office supplies, the following suggestions can help you make more sustainable choices as a consumer.
Please note that ISTC does not endorse, either explicitly or implicitly, any manufacturer, brand, vendor, product, or service. Information about specific products, brands, manufacturers, or vendors is provided for reference only and should not be construed as an endorsement. Also, please be aware that this list of suggestions and alternatives to consider is by no means exhaustive and is meant simply to inspire you to be more intentional in your consumption and to consider the impacts of everyday items.
First, shop your own supplies & reuse/use up what you already have.
Parents of elementary-aged children will likely relate to the experience of kids cleaning out their lockers or desks at the end of a school year and bringing home partially used notebooks, used folders, pens, pencils, etc. While it’s possible that some items from the previous academic year are nearly worn out, or that these items might be used up over the summer for non-school activities, it’s also likely that at least some tools and supplies will still have useful life left when it’s time to begin a new school year. Designate a closet, shelf, or storage bin in your home or office to store school or office supplies that aren’t currently in use, so that when you need such supplies, you can quickly check your existing inventory and draw from it before you go shopping. Establishing this habit will save both money and the resources used to manufacture the supplies in question.
Shop for gently or never used supplies at a creative reuse center.
If the items you need aren’t part of your existing inventory, check to see if there is a creative reuse center in or near your community. These centers accept donations of supplies for art and education, as well as non-traditional materials that might be used for arts, crafts, school projects, lessons, and home décor, which would otherwise be sent to the landfill. These “non-traditional materials” might be hard-to-recycle items, or simply objects of visual or textural interest that might be transformed in a creative way. Examples of creative reuse include painting an old tin and using it as a planter, turning fabric scraps into a quilt, or making a collage from colorful buttons, bottle caps, or photos. Donations to creative reuse centers typically come from businesses, manufacturers, local institutions, and members of the general public. Such centers then resell the donated items for profit or to support charitable organizations or initiatives while reducing waste and encouraging reuse. Think of them as thrift stores focused on art and office supplies. Some donated items have never been used. Like checking your own inventory before buying new, shopping at creative reuse centers will not only conserve resources by ensuring products remain in use and out of landfills for as long as possible, but they also typically save consumers money as compared to shopping for brand new items. So, once you’ve checked your own inventory of supplies, check your community’s pool of supplies. Multiple creative reuse centers exist in Illinois. Champaign-Urbana is served by the Idea Store, while the WasteShed operates creative reuse centers in Chicago and Evanston. Chicago is also served by Creative Chicago Reuse Exchange (CCRx). SCARCE serves DuPage County and is in Addison, IL. Springfield residents can shop at the Creative Reuse Marketplace. Keep in mind that other resale shops and thrift stores might also have office supplies, so if your community doesn’t have a creative reuse center, you might still be able to find “new to you” supplies that would otherwise have been wasted. Creative reuse centers can be found throughout the U.S., so if you’re reading this from outside Illinois, do an Internet search for “creative reuse center + [name of your state].”
Choose refurbished devices and remanufactured ink and toner cartridges.
Continuing the theme of reusing existing products before buying new ones, if you’re in the market for a new laptop or other electronic device, consider searching for a certified refurbished device first. While you would be wise to think twice before purchasing “used” items from a complete stranger on a platform like eBay or Craigslist, certified refurbished items have been restored to “like new” condition and verified by technicians to be fully functional. Quality is thus not an issue. But because these items can’t be sold as new, they’re typically available at a discount when compared to genuinely new items. Another win-win for the conservation of resources and money! Many companies such as Best Buy, Dell, or Amazon make it easy for consumers to find refurbished devices in their online stores. The downside of shopping for refurbished tech is that you can’t guarantee you’ll find the exact model or item you’re looking for at the precise time you search; it depends on what is available.
There are also non-profit and for-profit organizations throughout the U.S. which refurbish electronics (typically donated) and resell them at a discounted price to individuals who might otherwise not be able to afford such equipment. These organizations address both social and environmental aspects of sustainability, helping to bridge the digital divide while extending the useful life of products and stemming the ever-growing tide of e-waste. Keeping these entities in mind is great if you or someone you know needs help obtaining a device, or, on the other hand, if you’d like to donate an older device so someone else can benefit from it. You’ll find that reputable businesses in this sector can provide certification of data destruction, so security need not be a concern. Some of these organizations include a job training program, enhancing their positive impacts on communities. Some may also provide electronics recycling services to businesses, responsibly recycling devices that can’t be reused, and refurbishing and redistributing those that can. REcompute began in Champaign-Urbana, IL, and has expanded to Danville, IL, Los Angeles, CA, and is coming soon to Atlanta, GA. PCs for People has ten locations in the U.S., including two in IL (Oak Forest and Belleville). Free Geek began in Portland, OR, and multiple communities in the U.S. and abroad have started their own independent Free Geek organizations. Repowered in St. Paul, MN, is another example.
If you must buy a brand-new item, look for options that will foster future reuse through refilling. The classic example (and the one most likely to be compatible with K-12 supply lists) is choosing a refillable fountain, gel, or ballpoint pen instead of a disposable one. There are plenty of examples of such pens, but one that also incorporates recycled content is Pilot’s B2P or Bottle 2 Pen. B2P is made from recycled beverage bottles, is available as a ball-point or gel roller, and uses the same ink refill cartridges (available in several colors) that work in several other Pilot pens. For more info, see https://pilotpen.us/FindBrand and select “Bottle 2 Pen B2P” from the drop-down menu. The pens are 86-89% recycled content depending on pen type; product descriptions for the ball points say they are 83% post-consumer recycled material.
Refillable notebooks give you the compact feel of a spiral-bound notebook, as compared to a bulky three-ring binder, but like binders, allow you to insert new pages as needed or rearrange the order of notes. Some examples include Kokuyo Binder Notebooks, Lihit Lab, Filofax, and Minbok.
Dry erase markers are even available in refillable versions, such as the Pilot V Board Master or those from Auspen. The Stabilo Boss is an example of a refillable highlighter. Permanent markers such as those from Pilot can be refilled. Refillable acrylic markers are also available from brands like Montana. Crayola also has a DIY Marker Maker set, but they unfortunately don’t sell a refill pack. However, these could conceivably be refilled with inks available from other companies.
Choose new items made from recycled materials and look for high PCR content.
If refillable options aren’t available or applicable to some supplies on your list, try to find options made from recycled materials. When comparing options, examine product labels and descriptions for the percentage of “post-consumer recycled” content or “PCR.” These are materials that have been used by consumers and collected via recycling programs, so when you buy a product with the highest amount of PCR you can, you are genuinely “closing the loop” and making recycling effective and economically feasible by helping to create market demand for recycled materials. You’ve probably read articles about materials collected for recycling that ultimately don’t get recycled because there’s a lack of market for the commodities. That sort of thing has led some community recycling collection programs to stop altogether or to stop accepting certain materials. But most of the time, if a recycling collection program accepts a material it’s because they have an outlet for it; it wouldn’t make sense to collect materials that couldn’t be sold. The best things you can do as a consumer is to keep recycling the proper materials accepted by your local program, keep items NOT accepted by your collection program out of your recycling bins (contaminants can indeed ruin batches of materials collected or harm equipment at waste sorting and processing facilities), AND whenever possible, buy items with PCR content. Note that if a product is described as having a certain percentage of recycled content but there’s no mention of PCR, it’s likely that the recycled content is post-industrial (aka pre-consumer) rather than post-consumer. That entails excess materials or trimmings from a manufacturing process used as feedstock for the creation of the same or different products without ever being used by a consumer first (e.g., cardboard trimmings repulped and put back into the process of making boxes). Odds are, if a company has successfully incorporated PCR into their products, they will want to point it out on the label or in the product description/details in online stores. This blog post from EcoEnclose provides a good overview of PCR vs. post-industrial content.
That said, here are just a few examples of common supplies made from PCR (besides those already mentioned above). You can find more by searching the Internet for “PCR content + [product].”
Decompositionnotebooks, sketchbooks, and filler paper are made from 100% PCR paper. They also offer refillable ball-point pens made from 90% PCR plastic and three-ring binders made from 85% PCR plastic.
ACCOpaper clips contain 90% recycled materials, 50% of which is PCR.
Hopefully, this has given you some ideas for considerations and criteria to keep in mind when looking for school and office supplies. There are certainly other product categories and other factors that can be considered (e.g. more renewable materials, plastic-free items, items manufactured with renewable energy, etc.), but the suggestions above are a great start. Students, good luck in your classes, and may everyone else be productive while also conserving resources!
ISTC Director Kevin OBrien is one of the signatories on an open letter that outlines the importance of carbon capture and storage (CCS) in the fight against climate change.
While the letter is specifically addressed to international leaders, it is intended to encourage all levels of government and industry to recognize the value of CCS and to collaborate on finding realistic and sustainable solutions that will bring new projects to life across heavy-emitting industries worldwide.
The letter was published by the International CCS Knowledge Centre, which aims to advance the understanding and use of CCS as a means of managing greenhouse gas emissions.
For a dozen years now, people have taken time in July to consider ways they might help stem the tide of plastic pollution. Plastic Free July is an initiative of the Plastic Free Foundation which began in 2011 and has grown into a global movement to reduce single-use plastic consumption and pollution. You can sign up to take the Plastic Free July Challenge, and receive weekly emails in July to inspire and motivate your plastic reduction efforts. To help get you started the Plastic Free July website offers tips on ways to reduce single-use plastic. You can probably guess some of the tips which have become common mantras among those interested in waste reduction, such as using a refillable mug instead of accepting single-use coffee cups or bringing reusable bags when you go grocery shopping instead of packing your items home in plastic carrier bags. But the tips below might surprise you and inspire you to think about just how ubiquitous single-use plastic has become.
Note: ISTC does not endorse, either explicitly or implicitly, any particular manufacturer, vendor, product, or service. Information about specific products, manufacturers or vendors is provided for reference only.
Chew less gum and/or opt for plastic-free alternatives. It may surprise you to know that chewing gum, based on the indigenous tradition of chewing natural rubber called chicle, involves single-use plastic in its actual substance and not just in its packaging. According to the website Plastic Free Shopper, “Most modern chewing gums have what’s known as a gum base which makes up the majority of the chewing gum. This synthetic rubbery substance is commonly made from ingredients including: Butadiene-styrene rubber Isobutylene-isoprene copolymer (butyl rubber); Paraffin (via the Fischer-Tropsch process); Petroleum wax; Polyethylene; Polyisobutylene; Polyvinyl acetate. This synthetic plastic/rubber gum base is mixed with sweeteners and flavourings to make up regular chewing gum as we know it. Ingredients such as Polyethylene and Polyvinyl acetate are both common forms of plastic. Polyethylene is found in items such as plastic bottles and food containers, and Polyvinyl acetate is used in glues and adhesives.” So, when people spit their gum out on the sidewalk, they’re not just littering and setting the innocent up for sticky shoes–they’re also contributing to plastic pollution. If you enjoy chewing gum, a simple way to reduce your single-use plastic consumption is to opt for brands made with natural chicle, such as Simply Gum or Glee, among others.
Take plastic out of your water filtration equation. If you’re avoiding water in disposable plastic bottles, odds are you might be using a reusable bottle or pitcher with a filter. However, the more popular units for this purpose still incorporate plastic in the filters. In October 2022, editors of The Good Trade shared their top five plastic-free water filtration options. It should be noted that most of these are pretty pricey and the filter cartridges for the plastic-free vessels still tend to incorporate some small amount of plastic. But the Kishu charcoal stick option is quite affordable, completely plastic-free, and after its days as a water filter are over, the sticks can be composted, put out in your garden, or reused to absorb odors in your refrigerator.
ISTC researchers recently visited the University of Plymouth and the University of Birmingham to learn more about their contaminants research. Perry Akrie, a visiting scientific specialist at ISTC, shares his impressions of the trip.
Our journey began with a trip to Plymouth to visit with Dr. Andrew Turner, Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Plymouth, and a group of his students. John Scott gave a short talk about his research on microplastics at ISTC over the past several years and the students from Dr. Turner’s lab group presented their current research. Topics included polymer identification, additives and contaminants, adsorption of pollutants, fate and transport, weathering and degradation, and occurrence of microplastics.
We also met with Rob Arnold, a colleague of Dr. Turner’s. Rob is an artist and activist on the topic of ocean pollution. He brought some of his collection of plastics that he has found washed up on the shore. This included a collection of vintage toothbrushes, assorted toys, and food wrappers, as well as a collection he affectionately refers to as “wedgies,” bits of plastic which have had other bits of plastic wedged into them in their travels through the ocean. Some of his most well-known art includes a 5.5-foot sculpture in the shape of the Moai statues of Easter Island that is made entirely of plastic waste. You see more of his art on Instagram (@rob.arnold.art).
We then traveled to the University of Birmingham to meet with members of the BRIDGE Birmingham-Illinois Partnership. This partnership has been in place since 2014. It allows both universities to exchange knowledge across disciplines through face-to-face meetings between faculty, staff, and students. As part of this program, Kate Rowley and Sophie Comer-Warner, students from the University of Birmingham, will be visiting ISTC to further their research.
The group from the University of Illinois included ISTC chemist John Scott, geology professor Jim Best, assistant professor of civil engineering Rafael Omar Tinoco Lopez, and and myself. We met with ecohydrology and biogeochemistry professor Stefan Krause and hydrology professor David Hannah from the University of Birmingham. We gave feedback on short presentations made by the students from Birmingham on topics that included transport of tire wear particles, biodegradation of microplastics in soils, and microplastics response to rainfall events.
The next day, we were taken on a tour of the preparation and analysis labs. Some of the most impressive facilities there were EcoLab and the National Buried Infrastructure Facility (NBIF).
EcoLab is a versatile open-air facility that hosts an array of experiments from many disciplines. Researchers in our host lab group have used it to study how microplastics are transported through water.
The NBIF’s main feature is a 25m x 10m x 5m pit that can be split into smaller sections and filled with various structures, soils, and sensors related to several potential research questions. The sky is the limit for this one-of-a-kind facility.
World Environment Day (WED) is an annual event celebrated on June 5th which raises awareness of environmental issues and encourages people across the globe to take action to protect our shared environment. The United Nations (UN) General Assembly designated June 5th as World Environment Day in 1972, marking the first day of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. That same day, they adopted another resolution creating the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). UNEP coordinated the first celebration of WED in 1973, and it has led celebrations ever since. This year’s theme is #BeatPlasticPollution, shining a light on this worldwide issue (see past themes at https://www.worldenvironmentday.global/about/history). This year’s host country is Côte d’Ivoire in partnership with the Netherlands. Since 2014, Côte d’Ivoire has banned the use of plastic bags, supporting a shift to reusable packaging, and the country’s largest city, Abidjan, has also become a hub for environmentally minded start-ups.
On its WED website, UNEP provides a Beat Plastic Pollution Practical Guide, with recommendations for individuals; non-governmental organizations, faith organizations, and community groups; science and education organizations; governments; cities, towns, and local authorities; investors; and businesses and industry. The guide outlines how plastic pollution affects us, the sources of plastic pollution, what progress is being made, and what more needs to be done to address the situation.
The WED website also links to an interactive lesson on the plastic pollution problem and the UNEP report, Turning off the Tap: How the world can end plastic pollution and create a circular economy, which was released on May 16, 2023. This report examines the economic and business models needed to address the impacts of the plastics economy. UNEP suggests “a systems change to address the causes of plastic pollution, combining reducing problematic and unnecessary plastic use with a market transformation towards circularity in plastics. This can be achieved by accelerating three key shifts – reuse, recycle, and reorient and diversify – and actions to deal with the legacy of plastic pollution.” They explain that “reorient and diversify” “refers to shifting the market towards sustainable plastic alternatives, which will require a shift in consumer demand, regulatory frameworks and costs.”
What strategies do you use to reduce plastic consumption and pollution? Share your thoughts on social media this June 5th with the hashtag #BeatPlasticPollution. You can connect with UNEP on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram.