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.
Although plastics have led to many positive innovations that have benefitted human society (e.g. less expensive medical devices, more portable electronic devices, increased fuel efficiency of vehicles made with plastic incorporated in their bodies, etc.), it is clear that plastic pollution is an ever-growing problem that threatens human and environmental health. When considering the fate of all plastic ever produced, Geyer et al. estimated that as of 2015, “approximately 6300 Mt of plastic waste had been generated, around 9% of which had been recycled, 12% was incinerated, and 79% was accumulated in landfills or the natural environment. If current production and waste management trends continue, roughly 12,000 Mt of plastic waste will be in landfills or in the natural environment by 2050.” [Note: Mt=million metric tons] In its 2022 report, Global Plastics Outlook: Economic Drivers, Environmental Impacts and Policy Options, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) stated that “Widespread plastics use and inadequate prevention measures have led to persistent plastic leakage. In 2019 an estimated 22 Mt of plastics leaked into the environment. The largest leakage source (82%) is mismanaged waste, i.e. waste that is inadequately disposed of. Other sources are abrasion and losses of microplastics (12%), littering (5%) and marine activities (1%).” They define “mismanaged waste” as “Waste that is not captured by any state-of-the-art waste collection or treatment facilities. It includes waste that is burned in open pits, dumped into seas or open waters, or disposed of in unsanitary landfills and dumpsites.” Even when plastics are collected and processed at a recycling facility, there is still potential for pollution. A study published this month in the Journal of Hazardous Materials Advances describes the analysis of wastewater from a UK plastics recycling facility before and after filters were installed. While filters decreased the discharge of microplastics, even with the filters in place, the total discharge from the multiple washes used in processing could produce up to 75 billion particles per cubic meter of wastewater. If these findings are extrapolated across the whole of the plastics recycling industry, the potential pollution from plastic recycling facilities alone is mind-boggling.
EPA has identified three key objectives for the strategy. The draft strategy document lists proposed actions associated with each objective.
Objective A: Reduce pollution during plastic production. This entails designing products for reuse and recycling, using less impactful materials, phasing out unnecessary products, and ensuring proper controls at plastic production facilities.
Objective B: Improve post-use materials management. This involves the pursuit of circularity through pathways susch as reuse, refilling, and composting.
Objective C: Prevent trash and micro/nanoplastics from entering waterways and remove escaped trash from the environment. The pursuit of this objective may involve policy, programs, technical assistance, compliance assurance efforts, improved water management, improved measurement, increased public awareness, and further research.
Since 2021, the IFSCC has planned robust ICAW programming that combines in-person and hands-on experiences with virtual discussions and presentations to reach diverse and widespread audiences at all stages of life and composting experience. The 2023 line-up includes a day of “Adventures in Composting” with farmers, gardeners, and backyard composters around the state; a virtual International Cafe at which composting stories from around the world will be shared; a virtual Legislative Lunch & Learn; and multiple opportunities throughout the week to attend library programs and obtain finished compost.
First Followers is a Champaign-Urbana-based re-entry program that provides guidance for those impacted by the criminal justice system. GoMAD (Go Make A Difference) is a program within the First Followers that specifically targets people around the ages of 18-24. GoMAD teaches practical employment skills and prepares participants for apprenticeship programs in areas including construction.
Grace Wilken, a researcher at ISTC, organized this partnership to educate the young people in the program about some of the available career paths at the university level in facilities management, earth science, biology, chemistry, and engineering. The current cohort recently toured ISTC to learn about career possibilities in sustainability.
First, the group attended short presentations by Wilkin and Perry Akrie. Wilkin focused on her research with different types of algae and their applications. She talked about sustainability, what it means, and why it is so important for society. Akrie discussed earth science disciplines and possible career paths for people who earn those degrees. Earth science is underrepresented in many high school curriculums and minorities have been historically been underrepresented these fields.
Next, the group toured the ISTC lab space to show the researcher’s day-to-day work. The tour concluded with a walkthrough of the greenhouse space by Vanessa DeShambo, who showcased her work with sustainable algae systems. Her projects seek to address the food-water-energy nexus and integrate wastewater treatment improvements, food production, and energy savings.
The young men in the cohort were excited to learn more about the various uses of algae and in the idea of earth science as a possible career path.
As previously reported on the ISTC blog, the Farm to Food Bank program recently developed six case studies highlighting work with farmers during the 2022 growing season. Each case study includes a summary of the project, as well as lessons learned. Pilot project models included food flowing from farm to food bank, farm to food pantry, and utilizing aggregation sites.
Now the program has released “Illinois Farm to Food Bank Program 2022 Year in Review.” This report outlines all the different pilot projects that occurred in 2022 along with key takeaways. It also details central challenges and opportunities that exist in expanding this statewide program. The report was authored by the ISTC Technical Assistance Program (TAP) Zero Waste Program, in collaboration with Steve Ericson of Feeding Illinois.
Be sure to check ISTC’s social media platforms during April 10-16th, as we highlight some of the past and present work TAP is doing related to food waste. We’ll also share links to relevant blog posts, websites, videos, and other resources to help you on your food waste reduction journey. If you’re not already following us on social media, you can connect with us on:
Throughout the week, several partners across the U.S. will host webinars to inspire action to reduce food waste. For example:
Local Solutions: Food Waste Prevention Week. On Monday, April 10 at noon Central time, join the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) for a presentation featuring Food For the Soul, Hamilton County R3Source, Food Shift, and Alameda County StopWaste. County recycling experts and food rescuers will talk about valuing food, ensuring good food gets eaten, and how they share their stories with the community. Register here.
The Sustainable Management of Food on the U.S.-México Border. On Wednesday, April 12 at 12:30 PM Central, U.S. EPA Region 9 will present on food waste prevention, recovery, and recycling strategies, policies, and practices for and by border-adjacent communities. Register here.
School Food Recovery: Inventory Management, Share Tables, Smarter Lunchrooms and Food Donations. Also on April 12, at 1 PM Central, you can learn about food recovery in Florida schools. Guest speakers from Orange County Public Schools will provide key takeaways from their efforts to increase consumption, decrease waste, and donate excess food. Register here. [Note: Topics covered relate to TAP’s past Green Lunchroom Challenge project and efforts on a food waste reduction toolkit for IL Schools, though neither ISTC nor the Wasted Food Action Alliance is involved in planning or presenting this webinar.]
The Technical Assistance Program (TAP) within the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center at the University of Illinois is excited to announce an innovative training program under a grant funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The focus of this grant is to increase the competitiveness of Illinois manufacturers by reducing environmental impacts and costs.
This program will provide eligible manufacturers in Illinois with training and skills needed to assess their operations through a sustainability lens, resulting in minimized waste and improved energy and resource efficiency, while protecting environmental and human health. By training facility personnel in proven methods to perform an assessment, participants can achieve cost savings and reductions in energy, water, and hazardous materials/waste methods. This model can be incorporated into company practices to repeat source reduction/pollution prevention savings efforts for years to come.
This grant-funded serviceexplained in our flyer is delivered at no cost to manufacturers and their supporting industries across many sectors including aerospace; automotive; chemical; food & beverage; and metal finishing & fabrication.
The services provided by our team are fully confidential and completely free to manufacturers, with no obligation. Our technical assistance specialists work with your team to identify opportunities for continuous improvement and help guide you through the implementation process to ensure success in achieving sustainability goals and related cost savings. Note that priority for participation will be given to manufacturers in underserved communities, identified using the U.S. EPA’s EJScreen tool, though participation is not restricted to facilities in those communities. Other grant opportunities may be available to assist interested manufacturers.
TAP welcomes the opportunity to provide more details about this program. Please schedule your initial site visit today by filling out our online request form. Questions? Contact Irene Zlevor, email@example.com, for additional information or to connect with a member of our technical assistance team!