Nine Prairie Research Institute (PRI) carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) researchers traveled to Melbourne, Australia in October for the Greenhouse Gas Control Technologies Conference 14, the field’s leading biennial scientific gathering, sponsored by the 30-nation Energy Technology Network.
While at the conference, they visited Australia’s major CCS center, the Otway National Research Center. Otway’s CO2CRC gas separation test facility is developing membranes and techniques for CO2 storage, according to ISTC Director Kevin OBrien.
OBrien added that Dr. Abdul Qader, CO2CRC’s facilities manager, explained new strategies for separating CO2 from methane. “This would be a major driver for the natural gas industry in the Asia-Pacific region,” OBrien explained.
“They also have the ability to test new sorbents as part of their research into pressure swing absorption,” he said.
Because global demand for fossil fuels is not likely to decline soon, technologies must be developed to reduce carbon emissions by capturing, storing, and finding beneficial ways to use the waste gas, OBrien said. Capture requires a lot of energy and work at PRI and CO2CRC both search for better capture efficiency to lower its cost.
Work is underway worldwide to perfect a wide variety approaches. Successful commercialization of any of these technologies could be a game changer for climate change efforts because most of the world’s economies will continue using coal and other fossil fuels for the foreseeable future, said OBrien.
Those of us in the Great Lakes region (and the rest of the US and Canada) live in a so-called “throw-away society” in which consumerism is rampant, and goods are not often designed or produced with durability in mind. In fact, in recent years, more and more goods are designed to be explicitly or implicitly disposable. Even complex products, such as consumer electronics, are treated as if they are meant to be ephemeral. The classic example is the smartphone. These devices are astounding feats of scientific innovation and engineering. For perspective, consider ZME Science’s article from September 2017: Your smartphone is millions of times more powerful than all of NASA’s combined computing in 1969. Despite their complexity, and the fact that you, and probably everyone you know, barely scratch the surface in terms of using these devices to their full potential, we are constantly bombarded with cues to upgrade to the latest model. And new models seem to be released ever more frequently, always being touted as somehow greatly more advanced than their predecessors. A simpler example is clothing–when was the last time you sewed up or patched a hole in a shirt or pair of pants? Something that once would have been done by most people as a matter of course might now be deemed peculiar. A modern member of our culture might wonder why one would bother to patch a pair of pants when a new pair could be obtained so cheaply.
Our “take-make-dispose” model can also be called a linear economy, and the message you receive in such a system is clear: if you have something that becomes damaged or has minor performance issues, you should just replace it. In fact, even if what you have is working well, the time will quickly come when you should just replace the old with the new. Replace, rinse, and repeat. A linear economy is one in which natural resources are extracted and used to create goods which will entirely, or partially, inevitably end up in landfills or incinerators. Some materials may be recovered and recycled, but over time these materials degrade in quality and are used for increasingly lower grade purposes, so that ultimately they will become waste, of little or no further use.
Of course, in order to replace whatever is being disposed of, new goods are required. And those new goods require as much or more resources as the ones that went before them–new minerals and other raw materials must be extracted. Extraction processes can have negative environmental and social impacts (e.g. pollution, habitat destruction, human rights issues related to labor practices, health issues related to exposure to chemicals or physical risks, etc.). Materials are transported to factories (requiring the use of energy in the form of fuel) where they are transformed into new products, again potentially with new human exposures to toxins or other adverse conditions, and potential new emissions of toxins or other substances of concern. In the case of products such as electronics, sometimes components are manufactured in places distant from each other and must be further transported to be brought together in yet another factory to create a complete device. And the finished product is in turn transported across the globe to reach consumers, resulting in more expenditure of energy, more emissions. By the time most products reach the consumer, a great deal of natural and human resources have been invested in them, and however positively the product itself may impact a human life or the broader ecosystem, the number of potential negative impacts all along the supply chain have stacked up. Clearly, any tendency to treat products as disposable, purposefully or incidentally, exacerbates those negative impacts by requiring the manufacture of more products, more quickly than might otherwise have been the case, as long as the demand for product does not diminish.
The tragedy of this linear cycle of use and disposal has lead to the advocacy for a circular economy–one in which extraction of resources is minimized and products and services are designed in such a way as to maximize the flow of materials through resource loops as close to perpetually as physically possible. In such a system, what might have once been considered “waste” continues to be valued in some form or another. A circular economy is built upon design for durability, reuse, and the ability to keep products in service for as long as possible, followed by the ability to effectively reclaim, reuse and recycle materials.
There are many barriers to repair, including costs (real or perceived), knowledge, confidence in those performing the repair (one’s self or someone else), and access to tools, instruction manuals and repair code meanings which tell technicians exactly what the problem is so they can address it. Manufacturers of a variety of products, particular those with electronic components (everything from automobiles to cell phones to tractors) have come under pressure in recent years over the attempt to monopolize access to parts, tools, and necessary information for performing repairs, leading to what is called the Right to Repair movement. Currently, 18 US states, including Illinois, Minnesota, and New York in the Great Lakes region, have introduced “fair repair” bills which would require manufacturers of various products to make those tools, parts, and pieces of information accessible to consumer and third-party repair shops. You can read more about the history of the right to repair movement and right to repair legislation on the Repair Association web site.
In an increasing number of communities around the world, citizens are coming together to share their knowledge, tools, and problem-solving skills to help each other repair every day items for free. I’m writing this on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and here are some examples of local projects that can help you repair the items you own:
Illini Gadget Garage. This one’s my favorite, but I’m admittedly biased, since I helped launch this project and coordinated it for the past few years. The IGG is a collaborative repair center for personally-owned electronic devices and small appliances. “Collaborative repair” means that project staff and volunteers don’t repair your device for you; rather they work with you to troubleshoot and repair your device. Assistance is free; consumers are responsible for purchasing their own parts if needed, though staff can help determine what parts might be necessary. In addition to working with consumers by appointment at their campus workshop, the IGG crew conduct “pop-up” repair clinics in various public spaces around the Champaign-Urbana community and across campus. Consumers not only benefit from the “do-it-together” approach, they also get access to specialized tools (e.g. soldering irons, pentalobe screwdrivers, heat guns, etc.) that enable device repair, which many folks wouldn’t have in their tool box at home. Though successful repair obviously can’t be guaranteed, project staff say that if it has a plug or electrical component, and you can carry into the shop (or pop-up), they’ll help you try to figure out and fix the problem.
The Bike Project of Urbana-Champaign. Including both a downtown Urbana shop and a Campus Bike Center, this project provides tools and space for bicyclists to share knowledge and repair bicycles. This project sells refurbished bikes, and individuals who are willing to work on fixing up a donated bike (with assistance) can eventually purchase a bike at a discount. See https://thebikeproject.org/get-involved/join-the-bike-project/ for membership fees; an equity membership based on volunteer hours is available.
CU Community Fab Lab. Though technically a makerspace, this project provides access to a variety of tools that individuals may not own themselves, as well as a community of tinkerers and creative minds to foster sharing of knowledge. See http://cucfablab.org/inside-the-lab/tools/ for available tools. Note that some fees may apply for consumable materials. Workshops are also offered to help you learn various skills. The Fab Lab is free to anyone in the community during open hours.
Restart Project. Focused on electronics, this is a UK project, but you can host a “restart party” anywhere, and some K-12 schools, including some in the US are integrating restart centers to help teach repair skills and instill ideas of sustainability among students.
August and September mark the end of summer and the beginning of the school year. Back to school season is often stressful, especially because of the emphasis put on buying new school supplies. According to the 2018 Huntington Backpack Index, parents can expect to pay anywhere from $637 to $1,355 per child for classroom supplies, depending on their grade level. Back to school shopping is not only expensive, but it is also often wasteful because many students don’t end up using all of their supplies. Luckily, you can reduce the stress and expense of going back to school by following a few simple steps:
Take inventory of everything you already have
This is an essential first step not only because you won’t buy more of something you already have, but also because it gives you the opportunity to donate or sell things you don’t need anymore. Take a look at the C-U Donation Guide for more places to donate your used stuff.
The Gadget Garage will help you fix broken electronics. The Idea Store is a great place to go to for used school supplies. They stock everything from highlighters, to notebooks. The University YMCA also holds an annual Dump and Run sale in August where students can purchase a variety of used furniture and other household items for their apartments.
Buy used books
Choosing used or electronic books is always better than buying new ones because it is cheaper and saves so many trees. Also, consider borrowing the book from a friend or your local library.
Prepare a packed lunch
Taking lunch from home can save a lot of money and prevent unnecessary, single-use packaging from entering landfills. Plus, packed lunches are often more nutritious. Introducing Meatless Mondays into your schedule and limiting meat consumption whenever possible can also greatly reduce your environmental impact.
Bike or walk to class
Cars are expensive to maintain and to park. Instead of driving, consider walking or biking to class. If you don’t have a bike and are interested in getting one, you can check the Campus Bike Shop where you can buy one used. You can also rent one from Neutral Cycle. Also, look for the Urbana Police Department’s annual bike giveaway in the spring. If you really need a car, consider ditching yours and using ZipCar.
Take public transportation
All students, faculty, and staff with an icard can ride the Champaign-Urbana MTD for free. It can take you almost anywhere in the Champaign Urbana area free of charge.
Plastic waste is one of the leading environmental concerns in the world today.
Many times, consumers use a plastic product just once before throwing it away. We might only see it for a short time – a plastic shopping bag, for example – but that plastic bag can sit in a landfill for decades before it is broken down completely.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, areas of floating plastic pieces and microplastics (<5mm) in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii, is estimated to be three times the size of France. Dianna Parker of the NOAA Marine Debris Program insists that cleaning up the garbage patch isn’t enough. She explains, “until we prevent debris from entering the ocean at the source, it’s just going to keep congregating in these areas.”
What if there was a way to stop plastic from filling up our landfills and polluting our waterways?
ISTC researchers B.K. Sharma and Kishore Rajagopalan worked with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to convert plastic bags into fuel.
The team collected high-density polyethylene (HDPE) bags from local shops and used a pyrolysis unit to turn them into plastic crude oil (PCO). After distilling the PCO, analyzing the resulting fuels, and adding antioxidants, the products met nearly all specifications of the conventional diesel standards.
In fact, the researchers’ HDPE-derived fuels beat out conventional petroleum diesel when it came to the fuel’s lubricity and derived cetane number, which is an indicator of the combustion speed. The team concluded that their plastic-based fuel could be blended safely and efficiently with petroleum diesel fuel, reducing the amount of plastic ending up in landfills or out into the environment while also creating something valuable from the waste plastic.
More recently, ISTC researchers B.K. Sharma and Sriraam Chandrasekaran developed the first energy-efficient and environmentally friendly process to separate mixed polymers in waste plastics, allowing the waste plastic to be recycled into new, high-quality plastic products.
Single polymer plastics, such as water bottles, are easy to recycle because they are made with a uniform plastic. Sharma explained that products that are made of more complex polymer blends, such as cellphone cases, “pile up at recycling centers and eventually end up being incinerated or sent to landfills” due to the lack of safe and efficient ways to recycle them.
Currently, the most efficient method for this process involves a chemical called DCM that releases carcinogenic vapors in conditions close to room temperature. The method created by Sharma and Chandrasekaran uses a solvent called NMP, which Chandrasekaran assured, “will only release vapors when heated to 180 degrees Celsius, far above the temperature needed to dissolve the polymers.”
ISTC isn’t the only organization committed to reducing plastic waste.
Sanjeev Das, Global Packaging Director at Unilever, announced that through a partnership with Ioniqa, a start-up company in the Netherlands, they have found a way to recycle any kind of Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) plastic. By using this new technology, they are able to break down the PET plastic to the molecular level, remove any colors or impurities, and turn it back into clear food-grade PET plastic.
While not available yet, Das estimates the technology could be ready for widespread use by the third quarter of 2019. He believes this technology can revolutionize the plastic recycling industry. By bringing value to PET waste, people and communities all over the world will be motivated to collect plastic, creating a circular economy.
In a commitment to sustainability, Nestle pledged to make all of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025. Nestle CEO Mark Schneider stated, “plastic waste is one of the biggest sustainability issues the world is facing today. Tackling it requires a collective approach.”
There are smaller steps companies can take to reduce plastic waste and encourage sustainable habits. Coffee giant Starbucks offers a discount to customers who bring in reusable mugs and has been doing so since 1985. Urbana-Champaign coffee chain Espresso Royale offers a similar discount. Retailers such as Target, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s offer discounts for bringing in your own reusable shopping bags.
While the best option for eliminating plastic waste is to reduce our reliance on single use products, plastic use is so heavily engrained in our culture that we might never phase it out completely. These scientific advances in plastic recycling pave the way for a future where there is minimal, if any, plastic waste.
The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) has received a Gold Award for its achievements in the State Electronics Challenge (SEC)–a comprehensive nationwide environmental sustainability initiative that currently reaches more than 223,000 employees in 39 states. ISTC was recognized for its accomplishments in green purchasing, energy conservation, and responsible recycling of electronic office equipment in 2017.
“The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center is truly an outstanding example of a commitment to environmental leadership,” commented Lynn Rubinstein, SEC Program Manager. “This is the fourth year in a row that ISTC has earned a Gold Award.” She added that “ISTC is one of only 16 organizations nationally being recognized this year and the only one in Illinois.”
“We’re honored to have received this recognition, and value our participation in the SEC program,” said Joy Scrogum, ISTC Sustainability Specialist and coordinator for its Sustainable Electronics Initiative and Illini Gadget Garage projects. “The guidance and resources available through the SEC were very helpful in creating ISTC’s policy on purchasing, use, and disposal of IT equipment. They also create a useful framework for discussing operational changes in terms of these lifecycle phases for electronics with ISTC’s own technical assistance clients. Even though public entities and non-profits are the types of organizations which may participate in the SEC, I often refer other types of organizations to the Program Requirements Checklist for a simple guide to best practices. I’d love to see more units at the University of Illinois join the SEC, and in general see more participants in the state of Illinois.”
The State Electronics Challenge offers its participants annual opportunities to document their achievements and receive recognition for those accomplishments. In 2017, the reported actions of 31 participants in green purchasing of electronic office equipment, power management, and responsible reuse and recycling:
Prevented the release of 5,503,212 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. This reduction in greenhouse gases is equivalent to the annual emissions from 1,163,470 passenger cars.
Saved enough energy to supply almost 5,000 homes per year .
Avoided the disposal of hazardous waste equivalent to the weight of 1,258 refrigerators.
Avoided the disposal of solid waste – garbage – equivalent to the amount generated by more than 750 households/year.
“The State Electronics Challenge provides state, tribal, regional and local agencies, as well as schools, colleges and universities and non-profit organizations with a great opportunity to integrate concepts of sustainability and waste reduction into their operations,” added Ms. Rubinstein. “It’s inspiring to see programs such as this one developed and implemented ISTC to ensure that the highest environmental practices are met through the lifecycle of office equipment.”
The State Electronics Challenge awards were made possible through donations from Samsung and the R2/RIOS Program.
About the State Electronics Challenge
The State Electronics Challenge assists state, regional, tribal, and local governments to reduce the environmental impact of their office equipment. It annually recognizes the accomplishments of Partner organizations. The Challenge is administered by the Northeast Recycling Council (www.nerc.org). Currently, 168 state, tribal, regional, colleges, schools, universities, and local government agencies, and non-profit organizations,representing more than 223,000 employees, have joined the SEC as Partners. For more information on the SEC, including a list of current Partner organizations, visit www.stateelectronicschallenge.net.
Whenever you think of sustainability, the Olympic Games, with all its grandeur and flashy ceremonies, probably is not the first event that comes to mind. All it takes is a second look, though, and you’ll see that sustainability is central to the Olympics.
This year, the Olympics are being held in PyeongChang, South Korea. The PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic Games (POCOG) has integrated sustainability into all stages of its Games – from construction of the venues, to the athletes’ and fans’ experiences and the legacy the Games will leave.
There are 92 countries and over 2,900 athletes participating in the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, up from 88 nations in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. That is a lot of people and it is not even counting the enthusiastic fans pouring in from each nation.
It can be a challenge to host so many travelers at once, knowing they will only stay temporarily. POCOG has managed this by constructing an Olympic Village to accommodate the athletes and coaches, and once the Games are over, the Village will be used as condominiums. All the condo units were sold months before the Olympics even started, guaranteeing the Village will be in use long after the athletes have left the city.
The Olympic-sized stadiums have also been developed with green infrastructure and eventual repurposing in mind. POCOG constructed all six new venues to conform to South Korea’s green energy certification standards, G-SEED. The venues utilize solar, wind, and geothermal energy and POCOG repurposed land previously used as a landfill to build the Ice Hockey Arena. After the Games, the arenas will be used for multipurpose sports complexes to accommodate professional athletic training as well as culture, leisure, and sports activities for the public.
POCOG’s sustainability report outlines a goal to go beyond “zero emissions” and accomplish “O2 Plus” effects through “low-carbon operations and resource circulation.” As of September 2017, 1.33 million tons of greenhouse gases were reduced or offset. To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, mass transit transportation has been encouraged. Personal vehicles cannot enter the venues, which encourages fans to park off-site and ride the shuttle. The high-speed railway was also built to connect Incheon International Airport in Seoul to the venues in PyeongChang and Gangneung. Staff will use electric cars and hydrogen-powered cars during the Games. As a result, charging stations have been installed, which POCOG hopes will encourage locals to use electric cars.
To further reduce carbon emissions, POCOG is locally sourcing much of their food and introducing an electronic meal voucher system for Olympic staff for the first time in Olympic history, with the intent to prepare exactly the amount of food needed and avoid food waste.
POCOG even accounted for stewardship of nature in their planning. A combined Men’s and Women’s alpine ski course has been implemented for the first time in the Winter Olympics to reduce estimated forest impact. Plants, seeds, and topsoil have been collected to assist in the restoration process post-Games, and 174 hectares of forest have been pledged to be restored. A project to repopulate endangered species in the area has been implemented to maintain biodiversity, and nine additional forests have been designated as protected since 2013.
The PyeongChang Olympics was awarded ISO 20121 certification to recognize its work system that “minimizes burden on local communities while maximizing positive impacts,” marking a first for the Winter Olympics and third for Olympic Games after London 2012 and Rio 2016.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has aligned itself with POCOG’s vision for a sustainable Olympics. Olympic Agenda 2020 is made up of three pillars – credibility, youth, and sustainability. In fact, the field of sports was officially recognized as an “important enabler” of sustainable development by the United Nations in 2015 and is included in the UN’s Agenda 2030.
While South Korea doesn’t know its final medal count yet, PyeongChang has definitely earned gold in being green.
You may have heard that a new Star Wars movie came out last week. If you haven’t had a chance to see it yet, don’t worry, we won’t spoil it for you. But it got us thinking about sustainability in the Star Wars universe.
Yes, it was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. But are there lessons, and warnings in the story for us? On one end of the sustainability spectrum there are the Ewoks, who live respectfully off the land and use their resources wisely. On the other end of the spectrum there’s the Death Star, which destroys entire planets just to show off its power. Generally speaking, folks in our world fall somewhere in between.
The Ewoks’ Forest Moon of Endor sustained them in their happy lifestyle. But what happened on Tatooine, where Anakin and Luke grew up? Environmentally it took a wrong turn at some point, reminding us of droughts and wildfires growing more common in California and across the country.
Habitat preservation is important if we want our world to remain habitable for generations to come. On Tatooine, they acknowledged the scarcity of water on their planet and relied heavily on moisture farms. One predicted effect of climate change here on earth is altered weather patterns, leading to a shift in agricultural growing zones. In the Midwest, we love our corn and soybean farms. No one wants to replace this valuable facet of our economy with moisture farms, which use moisture vaporators to pull water from the humidity in the air, just to have access to clean water. If avoiding the effects of climate change means reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, count me in.
C-3PO, rebuilt by young Anakin Skywalker from scrap parts, demonstrates the value of reusing resources and recycling. Han Solo and Chewbacca also repaired and refurbished the legendary Millennium Falcon many times rather than scrapping it for a new starship. The electronics and machinery repair in Star Wars is inspiring, as we have so much electronic waste in our society today. To learn how to reuse, recycle, and repair your electronics, visit the Illini Gadget Garage, or check what repair resources are available in your community.
You may be wondering what fuel these spaceships used to travel such great distances – let’s hope they didn’t have to deal with inflated gas prices around the holidays! The Millennium Falcon and other standard starships use different sorts of fuels, commonly Rhydonium, mined on the planet Abafar. According to Wookieepedia, the Millennium Falcon used hypermatter to go into hyperdrive and reach lightspeed. While we’re not sure about the sustainability of using hypermatter, we do know about at least one renewable energy source in the Star Wars universe.
As part of Jedi training, younglings were sent to the Crystal Caves of Ilum to mine kyber crystals for their lightsabers. Kyber crystals, while rare, are inexhaustible sources of energy as their power does not diminish over time. These crystals are used to power lightsabers as well as the Death Star’s planet-destroying superlaser — I guess both the light- and dark-sides appreciate renewable energy!
When we look to our own world we can see renewable energy sources such as wind and solar on the rise. Innovations in these areas include printable solar panels, floating wind turbines, and sustainable lighting that help fight mosquito infestations.
Ah, Star Wars…. A fictional story perhaps it may be. But, teach us much about how to keep our light in the galaxy it can.
This annual upbeat reminder that “we use too much, buy too much, and toss too much” shines a light on a society that more and more gets it.
At our homes and schools, the interest and the opportunities for recycling keep growing, slowly. Here in Champaign, IL, two collection events this year gathered 146 tons of electronics for recycling.
But as much as we waste at home — over-consuming our disposable goods — that is a small fraction of the estimated volume of non-household waste (i.e. industrial, manufacturing, commercial, construction, mining, etc.).
A new analysis of winners of the 2017 Illinois Sustainability Award suggests many of those big players get it too. The number one sustainability initiatives by ISA winners was for waste reduction. When AbbVie took down three buildings on its North Chicago campus they wasted nothing. All of the metal was recycled and all of the masonry and concrete was crushed for current and future use.
Caterpillar, Inc. knows big. When its Surface Mining and Technology site in Decatur committed to a Zero Landfill goal, they created a by-product catalog, devising a “plan for every waste.” The result has been an average recycling rate in the 90s.
Dynamic Manufacturing Inc. in Melrose Park is in a recycling business of sorts. They restore used automotive transmissions and torque converters for reuse “as-new.” By installing a solvent recovery system, they now recycle 35,000 gallons for reuse on-site rather than transporting it for disposal.
What was number two? Maybe better news – process upgrades, optimization, and planning. These achievements eliminate waste before it exists. Here is where sustainable supply chains, sustainable product design, and better packaging open doors to easier recycling and hopes of a circular economy.
The third most prevalent achievement leading to a 2017 Illinois Sustainability Award was community involvement. That brings us back home. These companies value recycling and that is reinforced by employees and their communities. Marion automotive parts maker Aisin Manufacturing Illinois purchased four collection trailers for the Recycle Williamson County program. Caterpillar in Decatur encourages its employees to reduce waste and recycle by donating all recycling proceeds to local charities and agencies, also nominated by those workers.
Course overview: When thinking about how to decrease their own “carbon footprint,” or to improve the overall sustainability of our society, many people typically consider strategies involving reduction of consumption or resource use, or increased recycling and use of recycled materials. This course will focus on the often overlooked “third R,” reuse, and why it is an important component of sustainability. Students will be introduced to sustainability, the waste management hierarchy, and the circular economy. The course will explore different forms of reuse (e.g. repair, food recovery, etc.), and their economic, environmental, and social impacts. During the final session we’ll spend some time reflecting on the concepts covered throughout the course and students will brainstorm ideas for how they might apply those concepts to their own lives and/or communities—e.g. in day-to-day lifestyle choices, as part of their business or a volunteer effort, or in congregations or other groups in which they may participate. In other words, we’ll consider how you might take what you’ve learned and use it to be a force for positive change, or more broadly, how these concepts might be applied in the Champaign-Urbana area to make it a more sustainable place for all inhabitants.
Each 90-minute session will include lecture/discussion with roughly the last 20-30 minutes dedicated to questions and in-depth discussion. Course materials, including suggested readings and PDF versions of lecture slides, are made available to participants to download from a course web site. There are no assignments or grades–just learning for sake of learning.
Week 1 (Sept. 13): Sustainability and Circularity. An introduction to sustainability, the waste management hierarchy, and the circular economy. We’ll explore the differences between reuse and recycling, the environmental impacts of reuse (beyond solid waste reduction), as well as related concepts and terms, such as “zero waste,” “cradle to cradle,” “biomimicry,” etc.
Week 2 (Sept. 20): Design Paradigms: Durability vs. Disposability. An exploration of the origins of planned obsolescence, as well as related concepts like technological and perceived obsolescence, and what it all means in terms of the way we interact with products, both from the consumer and designer perspectives. We’ll look at examples of how some products are being designed with reuse and materials reclamation in mind.
Week 3 (Sept. 27): Repair is Noble. This tag line is used by the repair-oriented company iFixit to convey how repair is tied to values such as freedom, respect, and conservation. We’ll discuss the extension of the product life cycle through repair, and how that not only reduces solid waste generation, but also consumption of “embodied” resources. Case studies of projects tied to fostering repair will illustrate economic and social benefits through community building and making technology accessible to more people. The “Right to Repair” movement will be outlined, including relevant legislation (proposed or on the books) in various states, including IL. Related concepts, such as refurbishment and remanufacturing, will be defined.
Week 4 (Oct. 4): Feeding People, Not Landfills. An exploration of food recovery as an important strategy to fight food waste as well as hunger and poverty. The magnitude of food waste both nationally and globally will be conveyed. Opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship, relevant policy, and challenges related to infrastructure and logistics will be discussed.
Week 5 (Oct.11): Secondhand Solutions. We’ll examine enterprises and organizations that contribute to our economy and culture by making commodities out of reused and reclaimed goods. Materials for the Arts, thrift stores, and reclaimed building and home décor warehouses will be presented as familiar examples, along with virtual examples, and tools for connecting individuals for the purposes of exchanging or sharing goods and surplus.
Week 6 (Oct.18): Finding Your Repurpose. An analysis of repurposing—reusing or redeploying products or objects with one original use value for an alternative use value. The “beneficial reuse” of buildings, products, vehicles, and materials will be examined, along with the reuse art movement.
Week 7 (Oct. 25): Repackaged: Packaging with Reuse in Mind. A survey of packaging waste issues and impacts along with opportunities for change through creative design. Examples of retailers, restaurants, and manufacturers employing reusable packaging strategies will be highlighted.
Week 8 (Nov. 1): Full Circle: Summary and Applications Brainstorming. A review of points about environmental, economic, and social impacts of reuse which were touched upon throughout the course, including potential negative impacts as well as positive ones. We’ll delve into ideas for how the strategies discussed are and might be applied in our community, organizations, businesses, policies, personal lives, etc. How might you reuse the information and inspiration gleaned from this course to be a force for positive change?
OLLI is a member-centered community of adult learners that is supported by the Bernard Osher Foundation, the Illinois Office of the Provost, and the generous donations of OLLI members and community partners. It is part of a network of 120 OLLI programs across the United States, and there are over 160,000 members nationwide. OLLI offers fall and spring semesters of 8-week courses taught by distinguished faculty (both current and emeritus) from the University of Illinois and other regional colleges and universities, and community members from a wide variety of areas. A selection of 4-week courses is also offered. The fall 2017 semester begins Monday, September 11th.
To sign up for an OLLI course, a community member must first sign up for an OLLI membership. You must be 50 or older to join OLLI. Your OLLI membership includes one free course per year; additional 8-week courses are $40 each, and 4-week courses are $20 each. Annual membership for an individual or the first member of a household membership, active from July 1, 2017, through June 30, 2018, costs $180. Adding a second member in your household costs $155. Current course offerings are listed at http://olli.illinois.edu/courses/current.html.
You may register for any course, including the Reuse as a Sustainability Strategy course, at any time, right up until the course begins. Register online at https://reg138.imperisoft.com/OlliIllinois/Search/Registration.aspx. If you are not yet an OLLI member, look for the “New user?” link in the log in box at this URL to become a member and obtain a user name and password to sign up for courses. Full registration instructions are available at
Ideas for “Revitalizing Plastics Recycling” will be the topic for a symposium hosted by the Illinois Recycling Association and the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center at the I Hotel and Conference Center on the University of Illinois campus from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 12.
Plastic production has risen steeply decade upon decade in the United States, primarily for use in packaging, and as a cheap, tough, lightweight substitute for glass and metal.
Ironically glass and metal are far more economical to recycle, so used plastic has come to blight the environment. The U.N. Environmental Program estimates that the U.S. recycled only nine percent of its post-consumer plastic in 2012. The program also reports that up to 43 percent of waste plastic finds its way into landfills. That leaves a lot of plastic unaccounted for.
Factors that make plastic easy or hard to recycle depends largely on logistics in the local recycling market, according to B.K. Sharma, senior research scientist at ISTC, a division of the Prairie Research Institute, and one of the presenters at the symposium.
Take polyethylene, for instance, which comes in two varieties – high density or low density, according to Sharma. If it is extruded (as in disposable drink bottles) it can usually be economically crushed, handled, and transported. If polyethylene products are molded they are typically too dense and/or brittle for a recycler to profitably manipulate. Expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam) is another example of a hard-to-recycle plastic. All volume and no weight, it is expensive to transport and few communities today offer opportunities to recycle it, Sharma explained.
Ken Santowski’s Chicago Logistic Service has been working to provide Styrofoam recycling to citizens of the greater Chicago area. He will speak at the symposium of his company’s success in dealing with that necessary evil.
The symposium will also deal with another scourge of plastic recycling – agricultural plastics. It wraps bales, covers forage, bags silage, covers silo bunkers, and makes farmers more productive in many ways. But once used it doesn’t all go easily into dumpsters and is too lightweight to make much economic sense to conventional recyclers. Tanner Smith, corporate development analyst for Delta Plastics, will discuss dealing with agricultural plastics at the symposium.
Sharma’s lab has approached the problem from a different angle. He has demonstrated how petroleum-derived polymers can be “reverse engineered” right back into gasoline, diesel, and even jet fuel. He has also shown how high-value “fractions” can be recovered from trash that might have ended up in landfills. He will be giving a demonstration at the symposium of the technology which can be used to convert plastics to oil.
The symposium will bring together experts on different aspects of the problem and share solutions on how to improve Illinois’ experience and record of plastic recycling. To register, and for more information about the symposium visit the Illinois Recycling Association’s website.