It All Comes Down To Dollars and ¢

Recycling is referred to as the process where waste materials are converted into new products that can then be redistributed for the same or similar purpose. Through the process of recycling, the aim is to prevent the waste of potentially useful materials, reduce the consumption of raw materials, reduce energy usage, and eliminate conventional waste disposal methods that yield high greenhouse gas emissions. One of the biggest debates pertains to recycling, particularly plastic, as some believe that it saves the environment while others say it fails basic economic principles.

spoiled-brat-quotes-5
Cartoon of Emissions https://indianinthemachine.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/horseycartoonindustrialpolluters.gif?w=350&h=371&h=260

History of Recycling and Plastic

The history of recycling began at 400 BC to the time of Plato. Recycling primarily began out of a rise for precious materials, which at times were metals or ore. Industrialization began the demand for affordable materials, ranging from rags to scrap metals. These goods would be reused and purchased by major industries like Carnegie steel for his railroad development and Ford for the growing automobile industry. Because of recycling, railroads dominated the United States in all directions, and highways were being driven by reused metals for Ford vehicles. In terms of the world’s most used item, plastic, it is believed to have been developed around 1860 when Phelan and Collander offered a $10,000 cash prize to anyone who could design the best substitute for natural ivory. John Wesley Hyatt developed a cellulose derivative for the content and later after being patented, was used commercially for dental plates to men’s collars. Shortly after, other plastics were being introduced into circulation which led to the development of synthetic plastic from Leo Hendrik Baekeland. But the major breakthrough occurred in 1920 under the German chemist Hermann Staudinger, who introduced element combinations in plastic to create greater strength and durability. His breakthrough paved the way for the introduction of nylon, methyl methacrylate, also known as Lucite or Plexiglas, and polytetrafluoroethylene, which was marketed as Teflon in 1950.

159547_600
Plastic Bag Cartoon http://www.cagle.com/2015/02/plastic-bag-bans/

Modern Day Recycling Methods

Today, there are two methods of recycling used. The first form is Single Stream Recycling, also known as fully commingled and single sort. This method refers to a system where all the recyclable materials are mixed together into one truck and are handled together in the recycling process. Multi-Stream Recycling, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. When the recyclable materials are gathered together, they are sorted by the depositor into the separate commodities (i.e. glass, paper, plastic) before being placed onto the truck. These materials are then handled separately during the recycling process. Single Stream Recycling takes collection and processing as one event whereas Multi-Stream Recycling separates collection and process into two separate events.

single-stream-recycling (2)
In Single Stream Recycling, the truck would take all of these materials in one load and carry it to the facility that way. The processing of it would be in one conveyor belt line where each item is individually sorted. http://www.wheelock.edu/Images/single-stream-recycling.jpg

 

Recycling rubbish
The dual stream recycling method allows recyclable materials to be sorted beforehand. Contrary to the other method, the plastics will be sorted and processed separately from the paper and glass products. This essence makes it dual steam. http://recyclenation.com/resources/2015/3/recyclingbins.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now that we are aware of the types of recycling, the next thought would be what can be recycled? Recyclable materials consists of glass, paper, metal, plastic, electronics, and textiles. In order to get these materials recycled, they are either brought to a recycling collection center or picked up from the curbside by trucks. These materials are then sorted, cleaned, and reprocessed into reusable materials destined for manufacturing.

To receive a much more detailed and visual representation of the information above and to understand the different types of recycling for different materials, please take a look at the video below.

Recyclers and Anti-Recyclers: The Never Ending Debate?

When it comes to recycling, there’s two main perspectives: the people who support recycling, referred to as recyclers, and the people who see no purpose in it at all, who are known as anti-recyclers. As discussed prior, one of the largest debates in recycling is plastic. Pro-plastic recyclers argue that recycling will conserve raw materials, save energy, and remove harm that the landfills cause. On the other hand, anti-recyclers believe that more energy is ultimately being used for the process of recycling than the energy that can be used to create new products from the start, and that our landfill area is more than enough to support our waste. Personally, after the data I have concluded, I believe that the anti-recyclers present less data, but information that is more alarming and demands attention.

Pro-Plastic Recycling

http://www.cafr.org/pdf/resources/RecyclingandtheEconomy.pdf
http://www.cafr.org/pdf/resources/RecyclingandtheEconomy.pdf

From an economic perspective, pro-plastic supporters argue that recycling has created its own industry, employing jobs, and stimulating the economy. In terms of plastic, the figure above shows that it creates some of the highest recycling jobs per year in the country per 10,000 tons per year (93), showing that recycling does provide some economic benefit.

Now to put this number into perspective, let’s look at the amount of jobs created. The diagram below represents the facility type and its current and potential outputs of certain recycled products. When looking at the current throughput of plastic, including reclaimers along with shredding and grinding, it is 398,000. We can actually determine the amount of jobs in California incorporating both of the charts above.

http://www.resource-recycling.com/images/e-newsletterimages/CalRecycle_chart_March15.jpg
http://www.resource-recycling.com/images/e-newsletterimages/CalRecycle_chart_March15.jpg

Now, let’s do some math to show the global job effect of recycling plastic:

             93 Jobs             x 398,000Tons Per Year               = 2,790 Jobs

10,000 Tons Per Year       10,000 Tons  Conversion

Although 2,790 jobs does not seem like a large amount, take into account that this focuses only on one state. If we look at the entire nation, by multiplying it by 50 states, we would find out that recycling employs approximately 139,500 jobs per year on average, clearly showing from an economic perspective that recycling does stimulate the economy in more ways than just one. It provides the United States with a bustling industry that helps enable economic stability.

Another argument that pro-plastic recycling focus on is the idea that recycling reduces landfill and water table pollution. As shown by the diagram below, plastic can sit in landfills for anywhere between 1,000 and 100,000 years. Because this product can sit in this area for such a large period of time, it economically is taking away the opportunity for other building projects to be produced there. Furthermore, the bottles in the landfills  not only take up such a  large amount of space, but it can lead to water table pollution.

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https://ureco2.wordpress.com/category/environment/

Plastic and other landfill items can leak a large amount of toxins into the water table that lies beneath the landfills, which could ultimately end up in homes as drinking water. Since landfills usually are near large bodies of water, it could also threaten animal habitat life.  For instance, TCE is one of the products that results from the biodegradation of plastic, and the article shockingly says that, “It would take less than 4 drops of TCE mixed with the water in an average swimming pool (20,000 gallons) to render the water undrinkable. Some surveys conducted have shown that 82% of the landfills have leaks and up to 41% of the landfills had a leak area of more than one square foot.” It is clear that there is a problem of throwing items such as plastic into landfills, and it should be less harmful to recycle the products by themselves. This also shows that there is a clear environmental problem if we do not recycle.

As seen in the data table below, the number of landfills has dramatically decreased because we are running out of space. Landfills seem to no longer be the solution, as recycling seems to be a current viable option.

http://www.perc.org/sites/default/files/2011/03/985bbb591c_0.jpg
http://www.perc.org/sites/default/files/2011/03/985bbb591c_0.jpg

Now that we looked at the harmful effects of landfills and the minimal of space we have left, let’s look at how recycling seems to solve that issue.  Below I created a chart to show how each individual recycled item saved energy:

Plastic Glass Steel
Landfill Space Saved 30 cubic yards 2 cubic yards 4 cubic yards
kWh Energy 5774 42 642

As you can see, it is clear environmentally that recycling  products can save tremendous amounts of space and energy for certain recyclable products.

Anti-Plastic Recycling

Although recycling plastic seems to be something important , the anti-recycling arguments seems to be of greater importance. One of the primary arguments from this perspective is the idea that it costs less money to manufacture a  new plastic product rather than recycling the plastic product.  To provide some quantitative perspective, look at the chart below:

http://www.economist.com/news/economic-and-financial-indicators/21632569-price-making-plastic-bottle
http://www.economist.com/news/economic-and-financial-indicators/21632569-price-making-plastic-bottle

The cost to make a plastic bottle in the United States, according to the picture above, is 2.1 cents. This includes how much energy (Ethane, electricity, fuel) is being put into it and the labor costs. In order to recycle, we can calculate the costs by looking at how much it costs per ton to recycle and how many tons are being recycled of plastic. When comparing to the material of polyethylene terephthalate, a plastic bottle for soft drinks, it costs about $360-$480 per ton. If you divide by a ton, you get approximately the weight of 1 water bottle, which is about 1 lb. By diving $360/2000, we get $.18 per bottle to manufacture a water bottle from the recycling process.

When comparing the $.18 per bottle of recycling to the $.021 it costs to manufacture a new water bottle, there seems to be no point. It is almost 10 times as worse to manufacture a water bottle from the recycling process as it costs to manufacture 1 water bottle from scratch.  And at the cost of manufacturing on the higher end, meaning $480 per ton, it costs $.24 per bottle to manufacture from the recycling process, producing an even worse result of over 11 times the loss as opposed to originally manufacturing the water bottle.

Environmental

From an environmental perspective, anti-recyclers claim that recycling emits more CO2 than dumping the products into a landfill. Curbside recycling is the most popular form of recycling, and as a result, trucks are always out on the streets collecting material and producing extra pollution and waste. It is no wonder that the United States has already seen a decline in curbside recycling programs, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In fact, approximately 8,660 curbside recycling programs exist nationwide, down from 8,875 in 2002.  What ends up happening is that whatever environmental benefit recycling could’ve provided by saving energy and reducing waste is surpassed by the pollution and waste yielded by the trucks and processing plants.

What is even more surprising is the amount of toxic waste recycling facilities produce.  The EPA has reported that “recycling 100 tons of old newsprint generates 40 tons of toxic waste” and 13 of the 50 worst Superfund Sites (hazardous waste sites) are currently or were at one point recycling facilities. Recycling plastics creates a waste stream that includes contaminated wastewater and air emissions.  As stated above, many toxic additives are used in processing and manufacturing plastics such as colorants, flame retardants, lubricants, and ultraviolet stabilizers.  Recycling facilities that do not properly manage these chemicals cannot only cause health problems for humans, but chemicals that get mixed with rainwater can also damage nearby biomes and percolate into groundwater. In addition, when the plastic cannot get properly sorted according to their resin codes, it can deem very large loads unrecyclable due to contamination.

According to the EPA, municipal solid waste landfills cause only one additional cancer risk every 13 years. Today, modern landfills must also be lined with clay and plastic, equipped with drainage and gas-collection systems, covered daily with soil and monitored every day for underground leaks.  With heightened safety standards for landfills, they have become a more reliable method of waste management in the United States. Landfill safety has significantly increased over the years and has been implemented in ways where it is less detrimental to the environment and to humans. Not only this, landfill costs, according to location of course, are typically so much more feasible for city municipalities.

Although criticisms exist that there is not enough landfill area for America’s waste, it is not true. In fact, holding all of America’s garbage for the next one hundred years would require a space only 255 feet high or deep and 10 miles on a side. The carbon dioxide released in the landfill process is not considered harmful or as a major contribution to global warming as it is equivalent to the carbon dioxide released by natural decomposition. With curbside recycling, however, this is not the case. It is significantly more impactful with curbside recycling because trucks emit carbon dioxide in huge quantities that significantly destroys the ozone layer. ~40% of our waste ends up in landfills anyway and when compared to recycling plastics considering its complexities and costs, landfills are easily an easier and more cost efficient option.

economics

This article states the costs in certain cities, comparing and contrasting recycling with anti-recycling, and providing numerous examples from large cities how recycling is flawed. Specifically the text says, “In California, for example, a ton to recycle costs $147 compared to $28 a ton to landfill waste. Not only is it much more expensive per ton, the overall profits are diminished with the high costs to upkeep recycling.” The article also focuses on other cities. For instance,  in Atlantic County, New Jersey, selling recyclable goods brings in $2.45 million but costs over $3 million resulting in a significant monetary loss. In New York City, for every ton of recycled goods that a truck delivers to a recycling facility, the city spends $200 more than it would spend to dispose of that waste into a landfill. Glass, metal and plastic recycling costs New York $240 per ton, almost double what it costs to just throw it away. As you can see, this source seems to clearly bash recycling by its overuse of energy and monetary input.

Conclusion

Looking at the arguments of the Recyclers and the Anti-Recyclers, it seems clear that there are certain economic and environmental benefits for recycling plastic and not recycling plastic. In the long run, it is much more feasible to not recycle plastics for its complexities in material composition and costs of sorting and processing. Rather, putting waste into a landfill costs much less and is also much less hurtful to the environment since it yields less carbon dioxide emissions. In addition, putting waste into the landfill does not acquire as much space and energy recycling facilities do and as such, waste management can be headed with landfill disposal.

Alternatives/Possible Solutions

While recycling and disposing of waste into landfills continue to be the most utilized methods of waste management in the United States, source reduction and reusing materials have proven to be more sustainable and economical.  Over the past five decades the amount of waste each person has created has almost doubled from 2.7 to 4.5 pounds per day.  The EPA’s Office of Solid Waste estimates that Americans produce 4.5 pounds of waste per day, which adds up to more than 1,600 pounds a year (EPA). The way to go about reducing your plastic usage is enabling yourself to buy reusable plastic materials and using that for several different purposes. This will in effect also decrease the amount of waste you produce, and on top of that, many business within America provide discounts for using your own bag. This shows how reusing certain items is useful, and it can lead to the reduction of dollars and ¢.

Sources

http://www.livescience.com/32231-does-recycling-plastic-cost-more-than-making-it.html

http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/is-recycling-worth-the-effort/

http://large.stanford.edu/courses/2012/ph240/micks2/

http://engineering.mit.edu/ask/why-it-cheaper-make-new-plastic-bottles-recycle-old-ones

http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=91824

What is some of the most convincing evidence for climate change? Final Version

I believe that a brief understanding of the earth’s climate history and greenhouse gases is essential to interpreting the evidence of warming and climate change.  Throughout history our planet ahs undergone multiple phases of change.  However, this doesn’t mean we should ignore our current situation.  Just because the planet was warmer in the past, does not mean that we should ignore modern climate change.  Studies show that there are a few key factors that contribute to climate change. Factors such as, extremely small variations in Earth’s orbit, which change the amount of solar energy our planet receives, which in turn contributes to climate change.  The current trend of warming is particularly worrisome and noteworthy because it is it occurring at an unprecedented rate not seen in the last 1,300 years; as a result of human activities.

History of Earth’s Climate Change:

Throughout history the earth’s climate has undergone tremendous change.  There are two distinct stages that accurately characterize earth’s climate:  greenhouse and icehouse.  During a greenhouse stage, there is little to no, permanent ice on both the south and north poles.  Warm temperatures are also found at high latitudes.  An icehouse climate is characterized by cool temperatures, cold enough to sustain large ice sheets at both poles.  The planet has transitioned between these two phases only a few times over the past 540 million years.  The most recent of these changes took place during the Cenozoic Era, which was approximately 56 million years ago.  It its extremely important that we have a brief understand of the history of earths climate; in order to analyze current evidence supporting global warming and climate change as an issue. The sudden end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago, marks the beginning of the modern climate period.  We currently inhabit an icehouse earth, which is comparatively colder to other periods in earth’s history.

Greenhouse Gasses:

The overall levels of greenhouse gases have increased over time. Source: WWF Global
The overall levels of greenhouse gases have increased over time.
Source: WWF Global

Many chemical compounds in Earth’s atmosphere behave like greenhouse gases.  Many gases are naturally occurring while others are synthetic and man made.  Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have a heat trapping nature. They allow direct sunlight to reach the earth’s surface. Greenhouse gases absorb this energy, which allows less heat to escape back to space, and traps it in the lower atmosphere.  Their propensity to affect the transfer of infrared energy through the atmosphere is the scientific basis of many studies and arguments that, increased levels of greenhouse gases cause the Earth to warm in response. Atmospheric concentrations of both the natural and synthetic gases have been rising at an alarming rate over the last few centuries due to the industrial revolution. Also, as the global population has increased; our reliance and use of fossil fuels has increased.  Therefore, emissions of these gases has increased.  Even though carbon dioxide is naturally occurring in the atmosphere, our interference with the carbon cycle through burning forest lands, mining and fossil fuel consumption.  We are artificially manipulating carbon from solid storage to its gaseous state (sublimation).  This increases atmospheric concentrations, which contributes to global warming.

 

The chart shows different types of gases. Source: NOAA
The chart shows different types of gases.
Source: NOAA

Studies conducted by the World Resources Institute indicate that human beings are responsible for contributing 2.3 trillion tones of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, in only the last 200 years!  Greenhouse gases are being emitted due to human activity at  a groundbreaking rate.  At this current trend, we have already increased the overall atmospheric carbon dioxide by 3.1%.  As a result, fossil fuel emissions and in particular CO2 emissions are 12 times larger when compared to emission levels 24 years ago.  It is now not even surprising that our climate has changed so drastically in an comparatively minuscule time period.

“Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.”

– Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

There is currently a plethora of evidence that supports the notion that our earth is warming and the climate is charging. Evidence such as increased sea levels, global temperature rise, warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, declining arctic sea ice, glacial retreat, extreme weather events, ocean acidification, and decreased snow cover.  Nonetheless, I want to focus on two specific areas and go in-depth and examine the cause and effect of these two factors on the planet.  Global temperature rise and shrinking ice mass are indisputable pieces of evidence that I will focus on and discuss further.

Global Temperature Rise:

The World is undeniably getting hotter; whether the cause is due to human activities or environmental variability and cyclical events.  Numerous studies have indicated the occurrence of this trend. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on climate change, “temperatures warmed roughly 1.53 °F between 1880 to 2012 across land and ocean surfaces.”  In a 30-year time period ranging from 1983 to 2012, the earth has experienced the warmest temperatures ever in the last 1,400 years.  So, why are temperatures rising globally?  These changes are largely a result of human activities such as burning fossil fuels and increasing levels of greenhouse gasses such as CO2.  Since the industrial revolution mankind has been using fossil fuels on an unprecedented scale.   Fossil fuels emit CO2 because they are carbon based; subsequently when burned and utilized as an energy source, the CO2 stored inside these elements are released.  CO2 and other greenhouse gases contribute to the greenhouse effect and the ‘blanket’ surrounding the earth.  The greenhouse effect refers to the process in which the sun emits short wavelengths of visible light that pass through transparent areas in the atmosphere and are absorbed.  This transparent medium exits because this medium is transparent to the visible light.  This transparency is due to the available electrons; the photons of visible light do not have enough quantum energy to get the electrons to the necessary available energy level.  So therefore the visible light is not transparent in the infrared.  The longer wavelengths of the re-radiated heat from earths heated surface are unable to pass through the transparent medium and are thus trapped in the atmosphere.  This phenomenon explains why sunlight will warm up the interior of your car and stay trapped inside. Visible light passes easily through the clear windshield; while the ultraviolet light is blocked by the glass because of their greater quantum energy. When the longer wavelengths are trapped, this leads to increased heating and results in higher temperatures.  Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere only exacerbates this issue.  Due to is inherent heat trapping properties, CO2 effectively absorbs infrared and prevents significant amounts from escaping back into space.

Global average temperature since 1880. The range of uncertainty is represented by the gray vertical bars. The blue line tracks the changes in the trend over time. source:NOAA National Climatic Data Center
Global average temperature since 1880. The range of uncertainty is represented by the gray vertical bars. The blue line tracks the changes in the trend over time.
source:NOAA National Climatic Data Center
The Graph illustrates earth's CO2 levels over a period of time. Source: NASA
The Graph illustrates earth’s CO2 levels over a period of time.
Source: NASA

Some may ask, “what are the potential consequences of such a drastic temperature rise, if any?”  There are many detrimental effects of global temperature increases that pose a tremendous threat to our planet.  Firstly, our agricultural system would be forever impacted.  Crops need certain and very specific conditions to grow and thrive.  If temperatures continue to rise, some plants will simply stop growing.  Our food resources are very much so in jeopardy if this trend continues.  Climate change will dwindle our current water supply by drying out bodies of water.  Precipitation patterns will be altered, causing  increased incidence of droughts and groundwater depletion.  Climate  change contributes to species extinction and loss of biodiversity through habitat destruction.  As the earth becomes water and water supplies continue to dwindle, wildfires will not only become more common, but also much more destructive.  This will also contribute a large amount of habitat and ecosystem destruction.

Disappearing Ice:

The Ross Ice Shelf Source: Google Images
The Ross Ice Shelf
Source: Google Images

Ice covers approximately 10% of the Earth’s total surface area.  Ice sheets are pieces of glacial mass that stretch for more than 20,000 square miles.  Today, there are two major ice sheets located in Greenland and Antarctica.  Unfortunately, these significant sheets are disappearing expeditiously!  The Antarctic ice sheet is composed of more than 7.2 cubic miles of ice and extends for more than 5.4 million square miles.  To put this into perspective, an ice sheet of this size is approximately the same area of Mexico and The United Sates!  However, the ice shelves lose about 134 billion metric tons of ice annually.  Greenland’s ice sheet is also substantially large; extending 656,000 square miles, covering about 82% of Greenland.  This is equivalent to three times the size of Texas!  During the summer melting period, in an observed period between 1979 to 2006, melting on the ice sheet increased as much as 30!  This rate of melting contributes to the annual ice loss of about 287 billion metric tons.  Due mostly to rising global temperatures the ice is melting.  Sunlight and temperature are generally the two main factors that control the amount of ice and general melting patterns.  Therefore, as temperatures continue to rise, it is no surprise that we continue to observe ice mass loses.   However, another factor is thermal expansion of oceans that contributes to the destruction of sea ice. As seawater warms it expands.  In other words, this leads to an increase of ocean volume, the water now takes up more space in the ocean basin and sea levels rise as a result.

A schematic illustrating the gradual decline of Antarctic ice mass over time. Source:Google Images
A schematic illustrating the gradual decline of Antarctic ice mass over time.
Source:Google Images

I will also mention sea ice because it plays an extremely vital and important role in regulating our climate.  Sea Ice is extremely effective at reflecting incoming solar radiation.  This ability is known as albedo, which indicates how effectively any given surface can reflect sunlight.  Sea ice is capable of reflecting 90% of the sun’ radiation, which really illustrates its effectiveness at reflecting solar radiation.    The Sea ice regulates temperatures by keeping them low through the albedo effect.  If there is less ice and more exposed ocean surface, the cold climates of the artic and Greenland will become warmer!

Arctic Sea Ice Depletion Source: Google Images
Arctic Sea Ice Depletion
Source: Google Images

Glaciers, are dynamic nature, responding to climate variation, revealing the effects and evidence of climate change. According to The World Glacier Monitoring service, Glacial retreat is occurring throughout the world. It is happening in areas such as the Alps, Himalayas, Rockies and Andes mountain ranges! But why are they melting? The retreat is due to serval factors, such as increasing summer temperatures and a sharp reduction in the winter snowpack. The snowpack is essential in forming and maintaining the glaciers. The mean average annual temperature has increased. Spring and summer temperatures have also increased. This causes an earlier snow melt during the summer. Additionally, rain has taken place as he dominant form of precipitation rather than snow. As a result glaciers have continued to shrink, indicating that the snowpack is not adequate to counteract the temperature changes and preserve the integrity of the glacier.

The image shows the retreat of the Gangotri Glacier in the Himalayas since 1780 Source: NSIDC
The image shows the retreat of the Gangotri Glacier in the Himalayas since 1780
Source: NSIDC

Conclusion:

After a large amount of research there are many different deductions and interpretations that can be derived.  Firstly, there is concrete and scientifically backed evidence that climate change and global warming is occurring.  One cannot argue against the vast plethora of evidence and quantitative figures that indicate our climate is in a dire situation.  I don’t believe one single factor is the most convincing evidence of global warming. I think all are equally important and when these different factors are combined together, they are the root cause of the issue at hand.  For example, rising temperatures contribute to melting ice mass which causes rising sea levels.  It is important to realize all these incidents of climate change are interconnected to each other.  Even in some cases dependent on one occurring for the other to happen.  If we as humans can develop a way to control and mitigate our negative impact and footprint on the environment, we may have a chance at bettering our current situation.

Sources:

  1. http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/
  2. http://www.wunderground.com/climate/SeaIce.asp
  3. https://www2.ucar.edu
  4. https://nsidc.org
  5. http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/aboutcc/problems/weather_chaos/temp_weather/
  6. https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/seaice/processes/albedo.html
  7. http://ete.cet.edu/gcc/?/icecaps_icesheets
  8. https://nsidc.org/glims/glaciermelt/
  9. http://www.climatecentral.org/gallery/graphics/co2-and-rising-global-temperatures

The Biggest Misconception in American History

Recycling, most renownly recognized by the 3 R’s of reduced, reuse, recycle, is a process of converting waste materials into new, usable products. Not only do we think about recycling as a beneficiary by its removing waste products from landfills, but it has shown signs of reducing air pollution and water pollution. Although recycling may be considered a crucial element to society, critics have recently shown that recycling is economically flawed and produces even greater levels of pollution than its original waste product.

Picture1

Figure 1 [14]

Reduce Reuse Recycling Diagram

Section I. History

Before we examine this controversy, lets focus on some background information of recycling. Recycling’s origin began around the year 400 with Plato, by following a very basic system [1]. The process focused on taking household materials such as ash, broken tools, and pottery, eventually being broken down into smaller components and converted into other products. As time evolved into the pre-industrial era, the methods by which people focused on recycling became more elaborate with greater participation. Greater technology yielded greater recycling, as the Japanese illustrated the art of repulped paper and selling the recycled product in 1031. Recycling also was used for home essentials, as the Britain’s used ash and coal as a basis to create bricks. On a more localized level, recycling was extremely important during times of war in the United States. During WWII, almost every sort of metal seemed to be melted down for artillery, as well as taking kitchen oils, fats, and other ingredients for artillery lubrication. Here are some early recycling advertisement photos during WWII:

2 Picture1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 2                                                                                             Figure 3

Recycling During WWII for Scrap Metal                       Recycling During WWII Oils

                                                    and Fats for explosives

 

Section II. Modern Uses

Now that we have examined the history, lets look at the modern uses and process before we focus on the controversies. Recycling occurs worldwide, reusing materials such as glass, paper, metal, plastic, textiles, and electronics. These materials can be recycled via a collection center, or curbside, where facilities further sort, clean, and reprocess the materials into something new and reusable. Curbside collection focuses on homeowners putting recycled materials into designated containers, which will then be picked up by a waste collection vehicle. Depending on the facility, the material is then sorted in a variety of ways depending on the technology, and then the materials are negotiated to buy-back centers which turn the processed material into a new recycled material. If you would like to see a more in depth video about curbside collection recycling, click here. The other type of recycling, known as drop-off centers, focuses on the waste producer to transport the recycled materials to a central location to be processed. Since this is more work for homeowners, it is less popular than curbside collection, which does not require any work from the homeowner. Below are images of the types of recycling:

2 [8]   3

Figure 4                                                                             Figure 5

Collection Center In Missouri                              Curbside Collection In Vermont

 

Section III. Is Recycling Economically Flawed?

When it comes to any side of the argument, there are two basic sides: Side of For & Side of Against. In this case, there are pro-recycling and anti-recycling. When it comes to the perspective of the pro-recycling, they focus on the mindset that it takes the items out of the dump, therefore helping the environment. However, on the minority side, the anti-recycling group claims that recycling is economically flawed and produces more of a cost then a benefit. Due to this controversy, let’s focus on some quantitative data to determine which side is correct.

A. Pro Recycling

The perspective of pro-recycling focuses primarily on the issue of major involvement and recycling’s ability to keep the waste product out of landfills. Figure 5 below focuses on the percentages in million tons of recycling products between the years of 1960 and 2012. As you can see, the data is pretty clear that there is a major involvement in terms of people’s willingness to recycle, as the percentage of total recycling grew from 5.6% to 86.6% over the past 52 years.

4

Figure 6 [9]

EPA released recycling rates over 50 years

  Another piece of data that seems to clarify this claim is from Clark University. It was published in the 1990’s as an article showing the percentage of recycling by country. Here is an image from this article:

5

Figure 7 [10]

Clark University World Recycling Percentage

As you can see from figure 7, every country seems to have some sort of involvement into recycling. Keep in mind that this source is from the 1990’s, and as we saw figure 6, recycling has increased dramatically. Because of this, we can viably make the conclusion that these countries color’s presently would be more yellow-greenish color, presenting the idea that nations as a whole are recycling more than 27% of their products.

Another argument that the pro-recycling group focuses on is keeping the waste product out of landfills. Let’s examine this by looking at the electronic waste diagram below:

6

Figure 8 [11]

Electronicstakeback released source of Recycling Electronics

                  When examining figure 8, which focuses on the amount of generated electronic waste over the last decade, it is clear that we have generated a much greater amount of electronic waste. However, what is clear from this data is that there has been a gradual decrease from the years 2010 to 2013 in terms of e-waste trashed even when the total e-waste increases and plateaus, showing that we are keeping more of these products out of landfills. Once again, similar to figure 6, we can see that from the last piece of data in this diagram that we are further differentiating the amount of products being recycled, as well as the rate at which the products are being recycled (going from 10% to 40.4%).

As we can see from these three pieces of data, the main arguments of the pro-side seems to be viable. Not only does it show that there is a greater involvement of people participating in recycling, but it also is resulting in a decrease of these items ending up in landfills

B. Anti Recycling

The side of Anti-recycling has only one major argument, the economics, particularly the idea that it takes more money to recycle the product than produce the real product. Because of this narrower argument, there are fewer sources to judge this argument. However, these fewer sources reveal crucial information that portray the idea that recycling could be the biggest misconception in American History.

7

Figure 9 [12]

Department of Sanitation Refuse vs. Recycling

 

One of the key pieces of information comes from the Department of Sanitation in New York City, as shown above. This diagram is comparing and contrasting the economic costs of throwing the item away, referred to as refuse from this diagram, or recycle the product. When looking at the conclusion of the collection section, which takes into account the cost of transportation and paying workers, it costs 186% more to recycle products than to refuse the products completely. Although it may cost more in total, you must take into account the fact that there was almost four times as much refused product as there was recycled product.

Discovery Magazine provides a similar thought about recycling’s flaws. “Recycling is generally far better than sending waste to landfills and relying on new raw materials to drive the consumer economy. It takes two-thirds less energy to make products from recycled plastic than from virgin plastic. By the last official measure in 2005, Americans recycle an estimated 32 percent of their total waste, which averages nearly a ton per person per year, around a third of which is plastic. Our recycling efforts save the greenhouse gas equivalent of removing 39.6 million cars from the road [3].” When looking at this article solely in terms of energy, one would simply realize that to throw away a product requires less energy than to run it through conveyer belt and recycle it to its proper location, only to use more energy to either heat it and or clean it to create a new product.

When looking at the energy costs of recycling, the video below seems to provide some alarming facts.

Figure 10

Energy Costs Of Recycling

 

Let’s focus on some of the main points of the documentary. The first point would be looking at if recycling saves energy. According to the video, it is clear that recycling is flawed, as it says, “Does recycling save energy? No, because it increases energy use in transport, sorting, storing, and cleaning.” By creating more steps of transport, we are creating more air pollution. Similarly, by using more materials such as water to clean the recycled materials, we are creating more water pollution. On another note, the video also raises questions about the monetary costs between dumping and going through the recycling process. One researcher from this film concluded that, “It costs about $50 to $60 dollars a ton to take the trash to the landfill, whereas it costs between $150 to $160 to recycle the materials.” Does that sound worth it?

As we can see from the documentary, one may be skeptical to recycle, so let’s look into the potential side effects if one recycles to further prove this side of the recycling argument. Alexander Volokh (photo below), a consumer research from Emory University, provides an explanation to why these items really are not recycled based on their potentials.

8 9

Figure 11 [13]                                                                                                                                                                   Figure 12

Alexander Volokh, Emory University Researcher                                                                                      Andrew Volokh Research On Potentials of Recycling

When looking at figure 12, keep in mind that Volokh focuses on the theoretical potentials of recycling certain products. As you can see, it seems like the majority of items that end up in landfills can be recycled, its just the costs and risks are an issue. As we can see from the chart, items such as glass, paper, and plastic have such high negative potentials with a much smaller upside. Why would somebody try to recycle glass at a $4 gain with a chance to lose more than 29 times that?

In terms of looking at costs and benefits, one valuable source would be people who actually are involved in the recycling process. Let’s look at a reasonably sized Waste Management Facility of Dunmore PA, which is a single stream system of recycling, meaning it sorts through and decides if the materials can be recycled or placed in landfills. One of the managers at the facility said, “Some materials such as glass are useless to recycle because creating new glass is cheaper than recycling it.” When looking at a Waste management facility, it is important to recognize that this establishment is used solely for the purpose of creating profit: by not only using workers from the penitentiary so they can pay the workers 20 to 30 cents an hour, but to only recycle and resell items that create profit. When items such as glass and certain plastics are refused rather than being recycled at a facility where its job it to recycle, it certainly raises questions about recycling’s validity.

Section IV: The Conclusion & Solution

Recycling seems to be the biggest misconception in American history. As we can see from multiple sources, many of the items that are in landfills can be recycled, it is just the fact that business do not want to recycle them because they will not generate greater profits for either the recycling plant or the company using the recycled materials to create new products. Instead, what can be done to turn this misconception into something beneficial is the idea that businesses should recycle all materials regardless of margins, and resell them to businesses. Businesses would slightly mark up the prices of the materials, or, it that is such a big concern, charge the same price and make slightly less margins. Although charging the same amount decreases profit, it more importantly decreases society’s material waste footprint in landfills across the world.

As we can see from a glance, recycling does have its issue, some much greater to the untrained eye. But now with this amount of information, the next question being asked is what can we do to fix this? One of the biggest issues seen as a college student is the background information we are taught about recycling. Essentially, students are told recycling is good, given no sources and or statistics. Instead, students should be given the information and determine if they think this process is good or bad. On another note, one should also look into how they can reduce their material waste footprint. According to earthday.org, they define ecological footprint as, “How much biologically productive land and sea is used by a given population or activity, and compares this to how much land and sea is available for human demands for food, fiber, timber, energy, and space for infrastructure” [5]. This may seem like a daunting task, but it can start with something small, such as bringing a reusable bag at the grocery store. In fact, ABC news points out the idea that by using a recyclable bag, some grocery stores give five to ten cents back for each used reused bag [6]. On a larger scale, companies or stores can look at rethinkrecycling’s website, which provides helpful suggestions to reduce one’s footprint such as composting food after a staff meeting, or go electric with mailing things as opposed to receiving physical copies of mail [7].

Like anything in society, business and processes have their positives and negatives. It is extremely important to note that recycling is not purely good or purely bad. Although the information provided above primarily sides with the idea recycling is bad, recycling does promote jobs and helped jumpstart the economy to a degree after the recession. However, it is important to not take anything said for granted or as fact, as the data above clearly shows that recycling is a more complex issue than first thought.

 

Citations:

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recycling

[2] http://www.usapropaganda.com/propaganda-world-war-ii-posters/world-war-ii-posters/006-large.jpg

[3] http://discovermagazine.com/2009/jul-aug/06-when-recycling-is-bad-for-the-environment

[4]http://volokh.com/sasha/consres.html?referer=https%3A%2F%2Fscholar.google.com%2Fscholar%3Fhl%3Den%26q%3Drecycling%2Bbad%26btnG%3D%26as_sdt%3D1%252C39%26as_sdtp%3D

[5] http://www.earthday.org/footprintfaq

[6] http://abcnews.go.com/Business/story?id=3609688&page=1

[7] http://www.rethinkrecycling.com/residents/reduce/top-10-ways-reduce-waste

[8] http://www.biomasspackaging.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/education-iStock_000007079127Large.jpg

[9] http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/refuseandrecycle.pdf

[10] https://ds.lclark.edu/sge/wp-content/uploads/sites/121/2012/09/GISLab13.png

[11] http://www.electronicstakeback.com/wp-content/uploads/ewaste-bar-chart-5.1.jpg

[12] http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/refuseandrecycle.pdf

[13] http://law.emory.edu/_includes/images/sections/faculty-and-scholarship/faculty-high-res/volokh-highres.jpg

[14]https://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/management/research/units/clms/images/copy2_of_copy_of_Recyclelogo.jpg/image_preview

 

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Blog 2 Revised

 

What is some of the most convincing evidence for climate change?

“Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.”
– Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

 

History of  Earth’s Climate Change

Throughout history the earth’s climate has undergone tremendous change.  There are two distinct stages that accurately characterize earth’s climate:  greenhouse and icehouse.  During a greenhouse stage, there is little to no, permanent ice on both the south and north poles.  Warm temperatures are also found at high latitudes.  An icehouse climate is characterized by cool temperatures, cold enough to sustain large ice sheets at both poles.  The planet has transitioned between these two phases only a few times over the past 540 million years.  The most recent of these changes took place during the Cenozoic Era, which was approximately 56 million years ago.  It its extremely important that we have a brief understand of the history of earths climate; in order to analyze current evidence supporting global warming and climate change as an issue.

203_co2-graph-080315
This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and direct measurements, shows that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution.

In the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago.  This marks the beginning of the modern climate era and of human civilization.  We currently inhabit an icehouse earth, comparatively colder to other periods in earth’s history.  However, just because the planet was warmer in the past, does not mean that we should ignore modern climate change.  Studies show that there are a few key factors that contribute to climate change.  The current trend of warming is particularly worrisome and significant because it is it occurring at an unprecedented rate not seen in the last 1,300 years.  It is also very likely occurring because of human activities, which is very concerning.  Very small variations in Earth’s orbit, change the amount of solar energy our planet receives, which in turn contributes to climate change.

Evidence of Climate Change:

Increased levels of Greenhouse Gases

Many chemical compounds in Earth’s atmosphere behave like greenhouse gases.  Many gases are naturally occurring while others are synthetic and man made.  Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have a heat trapping nature. They allow direct sunlight to reach the earth’s surface.  As the shortwave energy (direct sunlight) heats the surface, longer-wave (infrared) heat energy is reradiated to the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases absorb this energy, which allows less heat to escape back to space, and traps it in the lower atmosphere.  Their propensity to affect the transfer of infrared energy through the atmosphere is the scientific basis of many studies and arguments that, increased levels of greenhouse gases cause the Earth to warm in response.

The chart shows different types of gases.
The chart shows different types of gases.

Atmospheric concentrations of both the natural and synthehtic gases have been rising at an alarming rate over the last few centuries due to the industrial revolution. Also, as the global population has increased; our reliance and use  of fossil fuels has increased.  Therefore emissions of these gases has increased.  Even though carbon dioxide is naturally  occurring in the atmosphere, our interference with the carbon cycle through burning forest lands,mining and fossil fuel consumption.  We are artificially manipulating carbon from solid storage to its gaseous state (sublimation).  This increases atmospheric concentrations, which contributes to  global warming.

Rising Sea Levels

“Global sea level rose about 17 centimeters (6.7 inches) in the last century. The rate in the last decade, however, is nearly double that of the last century.” – CSIRO ( The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization)

The latest sea level measurement take in June 2015: 65.91 mm

Rate of change: 3.22 mm increase per year

As the graph demonstrates, sea level is steadily on the rise.
As the graph demonstrates, sea level is steadily on the rise.

Sea-level rise is a result of increasing quantities and concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the subsequent changes in the global climate.  The rise in sea level is caused by primary two main factors due to the earth’s warming.  Firstly, as seawater warms it expands.  In other words, this leads to an increase of ocean volume, through the process of thermal expansion.   The water now takes up more space in the ocean basin and sea levels rise as a result.  Secondly, due to the added water from melting ice sheets, glaciers, and land ice.  More water is now added to the ocean.  This rapid increase poses huge detrimental environmental effects.  Such as, costal erosion and flooding of low lying areas.   The rise in sea level also contributes to saltwater intrusion into aquifers, deltas and estuaries.  This change damages coastal ecosystems, water resources, and settlement areas.

Annual averages of global sea level. Red: sea-level since 1870; Blue: tide gauge data; Black: based on satellite observations. The inset shows global mean sea level rise since 1993 - a period over which sea level rise has accelerated.
Annual averages of global sea level. Red: sea-level since 1870; Blue: tide gauge data; Black: based on satellite observations. The inset shows global mean sea level rise since 1993 – a period over which sea level rise has accelerated.

Global Temperature Rise

Temperature averages are one of the most citied sources of evidence for global climate change. According to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in recent decades with most occurring the 1970s, the average temperatures have risen over 0.8 degree Celsius around the world since 1880.  Studies conducted by the  United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that 11 of the past 12 years are among the dozen warmest since 1850.  This indicates that rate of warming is occurring at an alarming rate.  The 20 warmest years having earth has ever experience occurred since 1981.  All 10 of the warmest years occurring in the past 12 years.  Despite, a solar output decline  in the 2000s, surface temperatures continue to increase.  This decline resulted in an unusually deep solar minimum in 2007-2009.  However temperatures seemed to keep rising.

This graph shows the world annual average temperature measured over land and sea. The red bars indicate temperatures above and blue bars denote temperatures below the 1901-2000 average temperature. The black line represents atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration in parts per million.
This graph shows the world annual average temperature measured over land and sea. The red bars indicate temperatures above and blue bars denote temperatures below the 1901-2000 average temperature. The black line represents atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration in parts per million.

The warming trend that is apparent and confirmed by events such as the melting of mountain glaciers on every continent. Reductions in the extent and total area of snow cover.  Plants now are blooming earlier in spring due to recent warming. A shorter ice season on lakes and rivers has been observed.  The ocean heat content has also increased. Reduced ice levels in the  arctic sea, and rising sea levels are indicative signs of climate change and warming.

Warming Oceans

“The oceans have absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 700 meters (about 2,300 feet) of ocean showing warming of 0.302 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969.8”- NASA Global Climate Change

The ocean covers 70% of Earth’s surface, a tremendously large surface area.  However, because the Ocean is so large, it plays a big role in absorbing heat energy and distributing it evenly around Earth.  The ocean also soaks up large quantities of CO2. As the planet warms, the ocean gets most of the extra heat energy.  The ocean is an excellent absorber of excess heat from the atmosphere.  Interestingly, the top few meters of the ocean store as much heat as Earth’s entire atmosphere! So,  therefore as the planet warms, it is inevitable that ocean will also heat up.  However, if the ocean becomes too hot, it will become inhospitable to the plethora of species of fauna that inhabit the seas.  The leads to a loss of biodiversity through habitat destruction and food chain disruption. The ocean is also  great at absorbing CO2 from the air . Studies indicate that the oceans absorb about one-quarter of the CO2 that we humans create when we burn fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas.  If we didn’t have the oceans to absorb excess CO2 we would be in an even more dire situation.

A new study by NASA and university researchers, has show that warmer ocean waters are melting the undersides of Antarctic ice shelves.  The increasing temperature of ocean waters are responsible for most of the continent’s ice shelf mass loss.

The graph shows, global upper ocean heat content steadily rising
The graph shows, global upper ocean heat content steadily rising

Shrinking Ice Sheets & Glacial Retreat

Meltwater flowing off an ice sheet in Greenland
Meltwater flowing off an ice sheet in Greenland

Data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment show Greenland lost 150 to 250 cubic kilometers of ice per year between 2002 and 2006.  Antarctica lost about 152 cubic kilometers of ice between 2002 and 2005.  These are extremely shocking figures that indicate our ice sheets are shrinking rapidly.  Both Antarctica and Greenland are losing ice sheet mass extremely quickly.  Data from NASA’s Grace Satellite show that Antartica has already lost134 billion metric tons of ice since 2002.  While, Greenland’s ice sheets have been losing approximately 287 billion metric tons per year.

arctic ice Figure 3

Glaciers, are dynamic nature, responding to climate variation, revealing the effects and evidence of climate change.  According to The World Glacier Monitoring service, Glacial retreat is occurring throughout the world.  It is happening in areas such as the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa!  But why are they melting?   The retreat is due to serval factors, such as increasing summer temperatures and a sharp reduction in the winter snowpack.  The snowpack is essential in forming and maintaining the glaciers.  The mean average annual temperature has increased. Spring and summer temperatures have also increased.  This causes an earlier snow melt during the summer. Additionally, rain has taken place as he dominant form of precipitation rather than snow.   As a result glaciers have continued to shrink, indicating that the snowpack is not adequate to counteract the temperature changes and preserve the integrity of the glacier.

Declining Arctic Sea Ice

Studies conducted by the National Snow & Ice Data Center have indicated that not only the extent but also the thickness of Arctic sea ice has declined rapidly over the last several decades.  “In summer months, ice extent has declined by more than 30 percent since the start of satellite observations in 1979. ”

The increase of CO2 levels are huge driving factor in the reduction of Arctic Ice.  There is a  clear and plausible correlation between increasing CO2 levels and decreasing sea-ice.  Previous research showed a relationship between sea ice decline and global warming.  However, most of those studies focused on climate models, which explains the results of the study.  However a new study that was conducted provides independent confirmation that sea ice is declining because of human caused climate change.

A graphic showing arctic sea-ice melt: A comparison of March (left) and September (right) sea ice extent between 1979 (white plus blue) and 2014 (white)
A graphic showing arctic sea-ice melt: A comparison of March (left) and September (right) sea ice extent between 1979 (white plus blue) and 2014 (white)

imrs.php-2

Increases of Extreme Weather Incidents

The number of record high temperature events in the United States has been steadily rising.  The number of record low temperature events has been decreasing, since the 1950s. The U.S. has also experienced increasing numbers of extreme weather incidents, such as extreme rainfall events.  You may be wondering,  how extreme weather and global warming are related?   One result of global warming and increased temperatures is an increase in both ocean evaporation into the atmosphere, and the water  vapor capacity of the atmosphere.  Increased levels of water vapor in the atmosphere; create conditions more that facilitate heavy precipitation in the form of intense rain and snow storms.

storm1

Acidification of The ocean

What is acidification? Chemical reactions occur when carbon dioxide comes into contact and is absorbed by seawater.  When CO2 is absorbed the result is reduced seawater pH, carbonate ion concentration, and saturation states of biologically important calcium carbonate minerals. These chemical reactions and changes that occur are defining factors of the acidification process.   According to the PMEL Carbon Program, since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the pH of surface ocean waters has fallen by 0.1 pH units.   This represents an 30% increase in acidity. This is the result of human activity. We are increasingly emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  Therefore more is being absorbed into the oceans. Studies suggest that the amount of C02 absorbed by the uppermost layers of the oceans is increasing by about 2 billion tons per year! Quite an alarming figure that really puts into perspective the severity of the issue.

Bibliography

  1. “Global Climate Change Indicators.” NCDC. National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration, n.d. Web. 1 Nov. 2015.
  2. “Clues for Understanding Modern Climate Change.” National Fossil Day. National Park Foundation, 22 Sept. 2010. Web. 01 Nov. 2015.
  3. “Climate Has Changed Throughout Earth’s History.” National Fossil Day. National Park Foundation, 22 Sept. 2010. Web. 1 Nov. 2015.
  4. “Greenhouse Gases.” Greenhouse Gases. National Climatic Data Center, n.d. Web. 01 Nov. 2015.
  5. “Sea-level Rise Observations, Projections and Causes.” CSIRO. Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, n.d. Web. 01 Nov. 2015.
  6. “Global Warming Fast Facts.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 14 June 2007. Web. 01 Nov. 2015.
  7. Beitler, Jane. “Antarctic Sea Ice at Its 2015 Maximum.” Arctic Ice News. National Snow & Ice Data Center, n.d. Web. 1 Nov. 2015.
  8. “Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet.” The National Aeronautics and Space Administration. NASA, n.d. Web. 1 Nov. 2015.
  9. Leitzell, Katherine. “National Snow and Ice Data Center.” Icelights Your Burning Questions About Ice Climate. National Snow & Ice Data Center, 16 May 2012. Web. 01 Nov. 2015.
  10. What Is Ocean Acidification?” PMEL Carbon Program. National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration, n.d. Web. 01 Nov. 2015.
  11. “Is Global Warming Linked to Severe Weather?” UCSUSA. Union of Concerned Scientists, 17 June 2011. Web. 1 Nov. 2015.

Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle

What is Recycling?

Recycling is a method that takes the useful material in waste products and transforms them into raw materials to be used in future products. Products that can be recycled include various forms of plastics, paper, metals, and glass. These materials are sent to a recycling center and get sorted through many different types of machine to be processed and broken down to make new materials.

The recycling movement started in the 1980s in New York. People began to start to separate out their trash and recyclables to be picked up curbside weekly. The recycling movement was at first slow because people were unsure if it was too expensive to be sustainable in the future. Some of the costs that this included was the transportation of the recycled materials, paying all the new employees, and the costs and energy it would take to break down the materials. Year after year, the recycling companies made this process more efficient and proved that it is beneficial for both the economy and the environment to recycle. Different materials vary when it comes to the amount of energy it would save to use recycled materials. For example, aluminum uses 96% less energy when using recycled materials, which is obviously much more efficient to use. With other materials, such as glass, you only save 21% the amount of energy to reuse the old glass. Other materials will be somewhere in that range but overall there is a positive effect on the efficiency of producing new products when you use recycled materials.

Print

www.greeneridealcom.c.presscdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/101712-GM_Landfill-Free_Benefits.jpeg

When examining data from Jeffery Morris, there is no doubt that recycling limits our negative impact on the environment. He found that “it takes 10.4 million Btu to manufacture products from a ton of recyclables, compared to 23.3 million Btu for virgin materials. And all of the collecting, hauling and processing of those recyclables adds just 0.9 million Btu.” (1)

Rubber-Parts-Catalog-Delta-Flex-Reduce-Reuse-Recycle-Going-Green-EPA-GOV

http://rubberpartscatalog.com/sites/default/files/default_images/Rubber-Parts-Catalog-Delta-Flex-Reduce-Reuse-Recycle-Going-Green-EPA-GOV.jpg

Now with the knowledge of how environmentally helpful recycling is, it is also important to look at the economic effect. With all the research done, it came out that recycling is slightly more expensive then just brining all the trash to a landfill and disposing of it. The numbers are constantly changing with the economy but the estimate is that it costs $150 per ton of recycled materials while it would only take $50 a ton to just take the trash to the landfill.

 

Single Streamed vs Dual Stream recycling

With new technology developing it is becoming easier and easier to recycle in our daily lives. With the previous system of recycling, it was essential to separate your recyclables into the different categories, such as, plastic, metals, cardboard, etc. With the new system for recycling that is put in place in 700 of the 10,000 collection services there is single- streamed recycling, which allows for the consumer to put all recycled materials in one pile. Although it cost almost double to switch and continue to use the single streamed method, it has increased production a significantly and has also saved money. Using this method increases the yearly pay from consumers by $3, which isn’t a huge effect for the economy. Single steamed is more efficient for two main reasons. One of these reasons is the fact that most of the energy that is consumed in the recycling is from the collection services. The collection uses about 60% of the total energy it takes to recycle materials so if you cut back on the time each truck is transporting the recyclables, it will use less energy and be more cost efficient. The picture below shows the different types of materials that can be placed into the single stream recycling system which consists of most products that we use in our daily lives.

singlestreamrecyclingposter

www.desales.edu/images/default-source/sustainability/singlestreamrecyclingposter.jpg?sfvrsn=2

There are benefits to the single streamed recycling system that are both economic and environmental. One main reason why this system is beneficial is that it increases the amount of Americans that do recycle. It is helpful to just have one place to put all the materials that can be broken down and reused fast and easily, which the single stream allows for. In studies it has been shown to double the amount of recyclables that are collected during a curbside pick up. One benefit of the dual stream recycling system is that it usually produces better materials. Once the recycled materials make it through all the machinery to turn it into raw products it is then sold to paper mills or large manufactures but for some of the materials the quality is too low to be reused for the intended reason. When the quality is too low, this is called downcylcing. Downcycling is when products have to be sold at a lower price or even be sent to a landfill to get disposed of. For example, glass is one of the materials that usually get downcycled because it is broken or it is just cheaper to produce it using virgin materials. “ On average, 40% of glass from single-stream collection winds up in landfills, while 20% is small broken glass … used for low-end applications. Only 40% is recycled into containers and fiberglass.”(3). As you can see in the charts below, the unadjusted recycling rates for different counties in florida have increased a decent amount when transitioning from the dual stream to the single streamed recycling system.

Recycling Management Chart 2

http://waste360.com/site-files/waste360.com/files/uploads/2012/10/Recycling%20Management%20Chart%202.jpg

Recycling Management Chart 1

http://waste360.com/site-files/waste360.com/files/uploads/2012/10/Recycling%20Management%20Chart%201.jpg

How does Recycling Work?

The process of recycling is conducted in many different steps. When finding information I came across this list of 10 things that happen to metal when it is recycled that shows the efficiency, process, and different areas that energy would be used in this system. For example, when analyzing the different steps that a recycled can goes through it is about 10 various processes that it must undergo to be a full cycle recycled product. Once a person recycles a can, or any other recyclable product, it gets transported to a recycling facility. In a single stream recycling system, the facility uses a magnet to separate the metals from the non-metals which then takes them into their corresponding systems. The aluminum from cans is taken to a system that breaks down the cans and makes them into smaller pieces that are melted down and cleaned to be used to make more cans. The melted aluminum is then put into ingots which are practically molds that help the aluminum be shipped to companies to incorporate into their systems. When the products finally get transported to the factories they are molded into the new aluminum that they then use to produce more cans. Then the process starts all over again(2).

lg_Fig2_life_cycle_diag2

http://www.novelis.com/en-us/PublishingImages/lg_Fig2_life_cycle_diag2.jpg

As seen in this brief diagram above of the different areas of recycling there are many different uses of the raw materials that are produced when you recycle. Some other examples of other materials include ways that Plastic, glass, and paper are reused in society. When examining the process that plastic bottles go through it was interesting to find information about the cleanliness of the bottles that are recycled. It was stated that bottles that are half full or that have food or other substances in them throw off the recycling process because it is harder to break down the plastic and makes for the plastic to be possibly become a downcycled material. One plastic bottle that contains a substance other than plastic will most likely cause for the entire process to be ruined and all the bottles in the same part of the process will have to get taken to the landfill. For glass, the recycled material is used to produce and package solids or liquid food such as pasta sauce., wine or beer bottles, or coffee cups. Overall, the plastic recycling market is continuing to grow and become more efficient. About 31% of plastic bottles are recycled every year and this saves about 76% of the energy it would have taken to produce virgin plastic bottles. Paper and cardboard are similar in the sense that they need to be clean to be properly processed. For the vast majority of paper and cardboard products they are reused to package foods or make boxes, paper towels, and printing paper. Below is a ted talk that explains why and how recycling plastic is essential in our society today because it is the material that is the least recycled. Only 10% of plastic is recycled while about 90% of metal is recycled.

ted.com/talks/mike_biddle?language=en

Conclusion

Overall, recycling is a process that in the long run is very sustainable and will continue to be used for many years to come. The efficiency and technology that helps the recycling in the United States will continue to get better year after year. Recycling will also continue to help reduce our environmental impact that our generation leaves on the earth. With the issue of landfills not being sustainable in the future as there will just be too much waste and not enough space to put all the trash, it is essential that our recycling systems stays and continues to grow in our society. One main area that I think can improve our recycling system is to market recycled materials more and provide better resources to citizens all over the country to be able to recycle their products. Some areas to improve on include teaching younger people about the different types of products that can and should be recycled so they are aware from a early age how to appropriately dispose of their trash. Another way is to have more systems that collect recycled items such as old technology, batteries, and light bulbs that most people don’t know how or where to recycle these, as they are a good source of many chemical and mineral elements. To conclude I think that the United States has done a good job in increasing the amount of money and resources that are put towards recycling in the past 20 years but it is important that this movement continues to grow in the future. It is also essential in our society that our communities are conscious of what products we buy and learn to look at the labels to see if they are made using recycled products so that we can benefit our environment and reduce our footprint even further.  So, do your part in helping save our environment and reduce, reuse, and recycle your products. To further your knowledge, watch this short video that fully explains WHY recycling actually helps and how it is crucial we continue to make this process more efficient and sustainable in the future.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=osjRUoodb7Q

Sources:

  1. http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/environment/a3752/4291566/
  2. http://www.wm.com/thinkgreen/what-can-i-recycle.jsp
  3. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-chameides/single-stream-recycling_b_3955323.html
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recycling
  5. http://www.wired.com/2015/07/future-highways-made-recycled-plastic-bottles/
  6. http://e360.yale.edu/feature/incineration_versus_recycling__in_europe_a_debate_over_trash/2686/
  7. http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/environment/a3757/4291576/

 

OMG(EGA) Algae!

You know that disgusting green gunk you see on the bottom of some boats and lakes? I ask you to think about that in a new light- not as something that you do not even want to touch, but as something that you could use to run your car or heat your house? Is that our future? Possibly. When thinking of biofuel’s true definition you find that it is a fuel derived from a living product, which commonly brings corn to the front of most people’s minds. However, there are multiple problems with corn as a fuel source which need to be considered in full, and compared to other possible solutions or substitutes for these inputs.

Although better than using standard fossil fuels, corn produced fuel, commonly called ethanol does have drawbacks that make the search for a better alternative necessary. The process of the production of ethanol is accomplished through yeast and sugars. First, there is the creation of a solution that is highly concentrated with yeast, which are able to process sugars. This sugar is produced through milling of corn in one of two methods, wet and dry milling. The main difference between these two processes is in the first step of the processing. In wet milling, the corn grain is first soaked in water to soften the grain which helps in separating the starch fiber, and germ. Thus, in both processes when simple sugars are added to the mixture, the yeast is able to produce two by-products as the result of the reaction, carbon dioxide and ethanol. For each pound of sugars, the yeast can produce a half pound of both ethanol and carbon dioxide. In the scheme of corn production on a yearly basis, ethanol production accounted for 1.4 billion of the 11 billion bushels of corn produced, which produced over 4 million gallons of ethanol. This ethanol can then be mixed with regular gasoline up to 10 parts ethanol, and 90 parts traditional gasoline, commonly referred to as E10, and still be used as regular gasoline in most cars currently on the road.

Photo of Public Perception of Ethanol http://africagreenmedia.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/504127018288a.jpg
http://www.heat-inc.com/Heating_Industry_Applications/ManufacturingEthanol/Ethenol1full.jpg
Real Ethanol Production http://www.heat-inc.com/Heating_Industry_Applications/ManufacturingEthanol/Ethenol1full.jpg

Although this process does seem effective, and is able to occur at what most would consider a renewable rate, there are certain problems that need to be addressed. Most importantly, the carbon dioxide production rate of this process is on a one to one proportion as the ethanol production. This is a problem that needs to be addressed as we attempt to lower our emissions. Furthermore, the growing aspect of the corn also needs to be addressed as fertilizers, land area and water is used to produce the corn. All of these present issues, specifically fertilizers as they taint water resources and cause damage to ecosystems as this impacted water enters the groundwater and the chemicals begin to impact more water resources.

Given the above stated problems in the production of ethanol, there needs to be research towards finding an alternative biofuel that is just as useful and productive. One of the areas that has benefitted from this search for a new biofuel is in algal fuel. Algal fuel is achieved through the growing of algae, which grow at an extremely fast rate, while some of the fastest growing algae finish with nearly 50% of their weight coming from the oil it has produced. The way that the algae produces oil is through natural processes that are the result of reactions. As the algae grow, they absorb sunlight, carbon dioxide and water, with this absorption, the algae begin to grow, as well as produce oil within themselves. This process sounds simple, and the process itself is simple; however, it comes with its own set of drawback, but some of them have already begun to be solved.

Basic Description of Algae Harvesting Process  http://www.personal.psu.edu/nyg5099/blogs/worldcampus/algae.jpg
Description of the cycle of Algae fuel production- Carbon Neutral  http://news.algaeworld.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/algae-biodiesel.jpg

The Solution

One of these solutions is the project called Offshore Membrane Enclosure for Growing Algae(OMEGA). OMEGA is a project designed by NASA that solves many of the problems that algal fuel production faces. One problem, whose solution OMEGA possesses, is the need for land area. With traditional algae farms, it is hard to figure out where to locate the farms as they tend to need an amount of space that could become costly in highly populated cities. The solution that OMEGA presents for this problem is by hosting the algae farm offshore. OMEGA’s plan calls for the use of cheap inexpensive semi-permeable plastic bags. Within these bags, the plan also accounts for a solution to a problem outside of biofuels. OMEGA plans to inject these bags with human waste water allowing for the waste water to be consumed and purified by the algae, and passed back out into the ocean in a cleaner state, while also helping the algae grow. These bags are then connected to each other in a looped pattern, and attached to a floating dock to allow for a certain degree of movement with the waves. Therefore, the process of algae production would look something similar to first pumping a mixture of algae and waste water into the self contained unit. Then, the algae will begin to naturally feed on the wastewater, taking it in, while also absorbing solar power and carbon dioxide. Through this, the algae will grow, and with it, the amount of oil it contains grows, until it is ready to be harvested. At this point, the researchers ran into two problems. First, they realized that they needed to find a way to keep feeding the algae as they had now consumed all of the carbon dioxide and had large amounts of oxygen left within the system. The solution to this problem was to construct a column of sorts that allowed the algae to flow through the system then to fall through the system removing the oxygen. Then, after bubbling the wastewater, which produced more carbon dioxide, the wastewater would be pumped back into the system to repeat the process over. Another benefit to this column is that it allows the algae to settle along the bottom of the tank. As the algae settle, it can be transported into a new tank that allows the algae to be floated to the surface and then harvested.

Scientific Description of OMEGA design http://www.algaeindustrymagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/OMEGA-system.jpg

Benefits to the OMEGA Project

Given the design stated in the above paragraph, there are multiple benefits to this system. As previously stated, this proposal would solve or help lessen the impact of: the issues of carbon dioxide emissions, algae requiring too much land area, issues surrounding waste water disposal and the need for more freshwater, and even help ecosystems as the algae are natural and will only add to the ecosystem with the nutrients left from the cleaned wastewater. Moreover, and yet to be explained, the self-contained part of the proposal is very important to preventing the algae from becoming an invasive species. An invasive species is one that is introduced to an ecosystem and begins to reproduce and destroy the ecosystem. To prevent this from happening, the researchers were able to use freshwater algae that will die if the bag breaks as they can not survive in saltwater. Moreover, the wastewater that would be released into the bay will be no worse than what is currently being pumped into most water systems, proving that the addition of this system can do no harm. However, one of the biggest achievements that researchers have been able to make is the efficiency of the algae. Through studying algae and finding the type that will produce at the fastest rate with the highest yield, researchers have found that a farm of just about 2 square miles could produce over two and a half million gallons of fuel annually. To put this number in perspective, on that amount of land, you could produce approximately a quarter of a bushel of corn.

An overall image of the benefits of the OMEGA system http://cdn.phys.org/newman/csz/news/800/2012/nasashowsoff.jpg

Drawbacks to OMEGA

Given all of the above stated benefits to this plan, there are two main drawbacks. The first drawback, is the construction of the plastic bags. In order to keep the project economically feasible, the plastic needs to be readily available and in that, inexpensive to use. The main problem with this is that most of the plastics that fit this bill need petroleum to be produced. In an attempted solution to this problem, the OMEGA system presents the idea of reusing the plastic in agriculture scenes as plastic is already being used by farmers to improve efficiency of their fields. Although this does serve as a temporary solution to the problem, this will not function as a permanent solution and needs to be addressed. Another issue that the proposal runs into is that not all oceans are suitable for it. This meaning that at the current time, there is no feasible way that it can be incorporated into every ocean or bay in the world. In order for the OMEGA system to be implemented in a given location, the area needs to be either naturally or artificially protected, and located close to a wastewater facility plant so that there is something to feed the algae.

What a possible OMEGA system may look like were it to be installed. http://www.algaeindustrymagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/hypothetical-OMEGA.jpg

Corn Versus Algae 

A Comparison of Biofuels diagrammed in EROI versus GHG emissions. http://d35brb9zkkbdsd.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/algae-biofuels-GHG-EROI-555x706.jpg
A Comparison of Biofuels diagrammed in EROI versus GHG emissions. http://d35brb9zkkbdsd.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/algae-biofuels-GHG-EROI-555×706.jpg

Depicted in the above graph is a demonstration of greenhouse gas(GHG) emissions versus energy return on investment(EROI) for multiple different fuels. As can clearly be seen, gasoline has the highest average of both GHG emissions as well as EROI. This also does not account the fact that oil is getting harder and harder to find, which requires more and more drilling therefore driving the amount of GHG emissions produced to trend upward over time. Furthermore, in looking at this graph we can see that corn ethanol is barely better in GHG emissions, but much worse in EROI with an average lying below one. Because EROI is a ratio of energy put in to energy received, this EROI means that on average, the amount of energy produced from corn ethanol is less that the amount of energy put in. Meanwhile, the GHG emissions for algae, labeled in this graph as Scenario 1 and Scenario 3, are near a fifth of gasoline, and two fifths of corn ethanol. At the same time, the EROI for algae is within the range of 2-3, thus showing why algal fuel is more productive than corn ethanol.

An important idea to not when discussing this chart is that it does not study the OMEGA project, just a specific plan that is currently being implemented. Unfortunately, because the OMEGA project represents only one specific, advanced type of solution, there is not enough evidence to form a conclusive chart similar to the one depicted above. Although this may sound bad at first, when you study the OMEGA project, and break it down in way that I have mentioned above, a less exact graph can be hypothesized to represent the GHG emissions vs. EROI comparison for the OMEGA project. The result would be very similar to the chart above except for one distinct change. The OMEGA project possesses the ability to absorb/take advantage of more carbon that would shift the amount of carbon produced, when looking at the process holistically, to the left. Finally, possibly just as important, the corn ethanol number fails to take into account the process of clearing the land that corn needs. Due to the need for corn, for both food and biofuel, more land will need to be cleared to allow for farming of corn. This clearing of land, beyond the emissions caused by the machinery, will lead to less trees and plants to remove carbon dioxide from the environment.

Finally, the process of converting algae to fuel as opposed to corn to fuel is much easier and therefore produces less emissions as well. Although algae can be processed the same way as corn, Algae also has the ability to be drilled, or be mixed with chemicals to produce the oil. Although many believe that this is where algae fails due to costs, there is clearly room for improvement that may lower the cost. One example of how further research is lowering the cost of producing fuel from algae is seen in this article. The article demonstrates a process that allows the algae to be processed in a continuous fashion processing 1.5 L of algae an hour. Furthermore, the results of this process are much more useful than corn ethanol. The process creates crude oil, fuel gas, clean water, and nutrients needed to produce more algae. Therefore, as you produce algae, you are also producing more resources to grow more algae. The issue of cost is the biggest roadblock facing algal fuel, but this research clearly demonstrates that there are places where costs can be replaced, and that production on a large scale is viable.

Why I Care and Why You Should Too

We all know that fossil fuels are not our future, they are limited, and they produce emissions that will only further destroy our environment. In algae there is a future that is possible for us to pursue. It allows us to remove carbon from the atmosphere why still producing the energy that we need to keep up with our lifestyles. Through the years, many big sponsors have publicly removed their support for fossil fuels, specifically big oil, to get behind new cleaner resources that many believe are the future. One of the biggest loss of support was seen in the transition of the former BP executive, Cynthia Warner. The BP executive realized that big oil was no longer the option, Warner knew that the dangers were not worth the payoff anymore. Not only was the environment being hurt, but people were dying due to the actions they had ben brought to in order to keep recovering oil. As the resources were depleted, more and more money was being spent on infrastructure to dig deeper only to capture the same amount. This infrastructure became more and more unstable resulting in more and more incidents. Evidence of this is seen in the article when it is discussed that since 1999, BP has had to pay over $725 million dollars in fines, but still are not making movements to prevent the disasters.

An Image Depicting the BP Oil Spill http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01661/GULF-OIL_1661968c.jpg

After discussing her time at BP, Warner begins to discuss how she is not the only one to be moving away from big oil; but rather, there are a good amount of former BP employees who decided to leave BP in pursuit of more environmentally friendly fuel sources. Although the post remains generally vague to maintain a certain amount of secrecy, the post hints at the idea that the company, Sapphire, knows what it is doing and it will be able to succeed. Sapphire’s plan is to attempt a test facility that will produce 100 barrels a day to be sent to a refinery. If this is successful, their plan is to pursue a set-up that would produce about 10000 barrels a day in order to actually be considered by refineries as a supplier. This experiment will clearly demonstrate the viability of algal fuel as our future, and is a project to be closely monitored.

An Indoor Algae Farm http://alcnetwork.com/images/algae-biofuel-900×360.jpg?1445990400032

Given all of the previous information stated, there is a clear need for more research. Corn based ethanol is a fuel source that is energy negative due to the amount of energy needed to grow, process, and turn the corn into ethanol. Furthermore, as more researchers realize this fact, the algal fuel field is growing, and with it, there is new information by the day. With this new information, and wider spread acceptance of it as a biofuel, the problem of algal fuels could be solved. Admittedly, the OMEGA system will never be able to supply energy to the world; however, it does present a system that is easy to collaborate within. The OMEGA system offers the ability to be paired with a corporation that is producing too much wastewater and/or carbon dioxide, and draw funds through an emission tax program of sorts. Furthermore, facilities fitted with the OMEGA system could take advantage of the infrastructure by installing solar panels on different sections, as well taking advantage of other renewable sources that are naturally present such as wind and tidal power, all of which is demonstrated in the above picture. In conclusion, the OMEGA system is not the end-all-be-all, it is a piece of the intricate puzzle that we must solve in order to allow ourselves a future that is both longer and brighter.

Why We’re Dying, or how climate change is a really big problem

In February of this year, the climate change debate reared its ugly head again in the United States Senate. This time, however, Senator James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate’s committee on the Environment and Public Works, found a way to highlight his position: bringing a snowball into Congress.

Inhofe’s position against climate change is not unique, but it is pretty illogical. Over 97% of scientists agree that climate change is real, is directly impacted by human action, and is immediately a threat to the wellbeing of mankind as we know it. The science is there. A quick Google search of “climate change explained” renders 85,900,000 results in 0.40 seconds — articles and Youtube videos and organizations who have taken this research by scientists and condensed it down into consumer sized pieces. Take this one by the Youtube channel “It’s Okay To Be Smart”:

The host, Joe Hanson, holds a Ph.D. and does a really fantastic job of explaining what exactly is going on with our little blue planet. We’re dying.

Continue reading Why We’re Dying, or how climate change is a really big problem

The Biggest Misconception in American History

Recycling, most renownly recognized by the 3 R’s of reduced, reuse, recycle, is a process of converting waste materials into new, usable products. Not only do we think about recycling as a beneficiary by its removing waste products from landfills, but it also has shown signs of reducing air pollution and water pollution. Although recycling may be considered a crucial element to society, critics have recently shown that recycling is economically flawed and produces even greater levels of pollution than its original waste product.

Before we tie into the controversy of recycling, lets focus on some background information to gain a better perspective on the major issue. Recycling originated as far back as Plato in 400 BC [1]. There were sightings that household materials such as ash, broken tools, and pottery were being converted into other products. As time evolved into the pre-industrial era, there were signs that metals from Europe were melted and reused. With further technology came further recycling, with paper being recycling in 1031 by the Japanese selling repulped paper, as well as Britain’s using ash and coal as a basis to create bricks. However, recycling was extremely important during times of war. During WWII, almost every sort of metal seemed to be melted down for artillery, as well as taking kitchen oils, fats, and other ingredients for artillery lubrication. Here are some early recycling advertisement photos:

2        [2]          Picture1

 

Now that we have examined the history, lets look at the modern uses and process before we focus on the controversies. Recycling occurs worldwide, reusing materials such as glass, paper, metal, plastic, textiles, and electronics. These materials can be recycled via a collection center, or curbside, where facilities further sort, clean, and reprocess the materials into something new and reusable. Curbside collection focuses on homeowners putting recycled materials into designated containers, which will then be picked up by a waste collection vehicle. Depending on the facility, the material is then sorted in a variety of ways depending on the technology, and then the materials are negotiated to buy-back centers which turn the processed material into a new recycled material. If you would like to see a more in depth video about curbside collection recycling, click here. The other type of recycling, known as drop-off centers, focuses on the waste producer to transport the recycled materials to a central location to be processed. Since this is more work for homeowners, it is less popular than curbside collection, which does not require any work from the homeowner. These types of recycling seem to be a lot of work. This is true, as the National Waste and Recycling Association (NWRA), reported in May 2015, that recycling and waste has employed 14,000 people through the recycling process. Here are images of each:

3   [8]    4

Now with a good amount of background information, less look at the debate of recycling. Critics have recently shown that recycling is economically flawed and produces even greater levels of pollution than its original waste product. But from the majority of articles that provide quantitative data, they say that recycling it a true benefit, but does not really provide any quantitative data. One resource that did provide quantitative data in a positive fashion was Discovery Magazine, which points out the following: “Recycling is generally far better than sending waste to landfills and relying on new raw materials to drive the consumer economy. It takes two-thirds less energy to make products from recycled plastic than from virgin plastic. By the last official measure in 2005, Americans recycle an estimated 32 percent of their total waste, which averages nearly a ton per person per year, around a third of which is plastic. Our recycling efforts save the greenhouse gas equivalent of removing 39.6 million cars from the road [3].” However, as this article continues, it points out that a variety of plastics cannot be recycled, ending up in landfills and just skipping the recycling process completely. As the article concludes, it determines that it is best to recycle, but make sure you purchase products that can be recycled.

But, the truth is, after scientific studies from people such as Alexander Volokh, a consumer research, he provides an explanation to why these items really are not recycled.

5

As you can see, it seems like the majority of items that end up in landfills can be recycled, its just the costs and risks are an issue. This idea seems to correlate with a trip to the Waste Management Facility of Dunmore PA, which is a single stream system of recycling, meaning it sorts through and decides if the materials can be recycled or placed in landfills. One of the managers at the facility said, “Some materials such as glass are useless to recycle because creating new glass is cheaper than recycling it.” This idea seems to examine the environmental issues in regards to potential business practices. When looking at a Waste management facility, it is important to recognize that this establishment is used solely for the purpose of creating profit: by not only using workers from the penitentiary so they can pay the workers 20 to 30 cents an hour, but to only recycle and resell items that create profit. When going to this plant, it is important to see that materials that do not provide profit are thrown in landfills, further creating problems such as polluting drinking water and taking up space that can be used for home or commercial development.

However, why recycling is the biggest misconception in American history is the fact that the majority of items that are in landfills can be recycled, it is just the fact that business do not want to recycle them because they will not generate greater profits for either the recycling plant or the company using the recycled materials to create new products. Instead, what can be done to turn this misconception into something beneficial is the idea that businesses should recycle all materials regardless of margins, and resell them to businesses. Businesses would slightly mark up the prices of the materials, or, it that is such a big concern, charge the same price and make slightly less margins. Although charging the same amount decreases profit, it more importantly decreases society’s material waste footprint in landfills across the world.

Furthermore, the recycling process uses more energy that putting items directly in landfills. Watch this clip below:

When looking at the energy costs, the documentary says that, “Does recycling save energy? No, because it increases energy use in transport, sorting, storing, and cleaning.” By creating more steps of transport, we are creating more air pollution. Similarly, by using more materials such as water to clean the recycled materials, we are creating more water pollution.  Furthermore, as the video continues, it puts monetary values about the costs between dumping waste directly into landfills and taking the waste through the recycling process. One researcher from this film concluded that, “It costs about $50 to $60 dollars a ton to take the trash to the landfill, whereas it costs between $150 to $160 to recycle the materials.” Does that sound worth it?

As we can see from a glance, recycling does have its issue, some much greater to the untrained eye. But now with this amount of information, the next question being asked is what can we do to fix this? One of the biggest issues seen as a college student is the background information we are taught about recycling. Essentially, students are told recycling is good, given no sources and or statistics. Instead, students should be given the information and determine if they think this process is good or bad. On another note, one should also look into how they can reduce their material waste footprint. According to earthday.org, they define ecological footprint as, “How much biologically productive land and sea is used by a given population or activity, and compares this to how much land and sea is available for human demands for food, fiber, timber, energy, and space for infrastructure” [5]. This may seem like a daunting task, but it can start with something small, such as bringing a reusable bag at the grocery store. In fact, ABC news points out the idea that by using a recyclable bag, some grocery stores give five to ten cents back for each used reused bag [6]. On a larger scale, companies or stores can look at rethinkrecycling’s website, which provides helpful suggestions to reduce one’s footprint such as composting food after a staff meeting, or go electric with mailing things as opposed to receiving physical copies of mail [7].

Like anything in society, business and processes have their positives and negatives. It is extremely important to note that recycling is not purely good or purely bad. Although the information provided above primarily sides with the idea recycling is bad, recycling does promote jobs and helped jumpstart the economy to a degree after the recession. However, it is important to not take anything said for granted or as fact, as the data above clearly shows that recycling is a more complex issue than first thought.

 

Citations:

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recycling

[2] http://www.usapropaganda.com/propaganda-world-war-ii-posters/world-war-ii-posters/006-large.jpg

[3] http://discovermagazine.com/2009/jul-aug/06-when-recycling-is-bad-for-the-environment

[4]http://volokh.com/sasha/consres.html?referer=https%3A%2F%2Fscholar.google.com%2Fscholar%3Fhl%3Den%26q%3Drecycling%2Bbad%26btnG%3D%26as_sdt%3D1%252C39%26as_sdtp%3D

[5] http://www.earthday.org/footprintfaq

[6] http://abcnews.go.com/Business/story?id=3609688&page=1

[7] http://www.rethinkrecycling.com/residents/reduce/top-10-ways-reduce-waste

[8] http://www.biomasspackaging.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/education-iStock_000007079127Large.jpg

America in Denial About Climate Change- DRAFT

600px-Globe.svg

Climate change. Climate change is a topic that seems to always remain at the forefront of our minds in America. So what does climate change really mean you might ask? In today’s context, Climate change means that the temperature of the globe is increasing. This can most easily be seen in the rising sea levels and the melting of massive, ancient ice caps. We see this in media constantly with images of struggling polar bears all over nature magazines and newspapers. Besides being majorly impactful to all of humankind and almost every species on the planet Earth, this is a hot topic because of the intense debate over whether or not Climate Change is driven by humans. While many, many countries, I think it is even safe to say most countries, will agree that climate change is a scary reality and that humans have some sort of impact and therefore should be working to almost clean up and diminish the change that is occurring, the United States has yet to really take strong action against climate change. In a country so divided politically, we have found a way to make climate change a topic for debate and a political debate at that.

Let us first address common misconceptions about the environment that have led to the “political debate” surrounding climate change.  To list a few, many people think: scientists are conflicted whether it is happening and if it is happening it is probably too late to do anything.

GlobalGHGEmissionsByGas
Credit: http://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/global.html

To address the first misconception, the general global scientific consensus is that that climate is changing and that humans have made an impact on the acceleration of change.  All of the major greenhouse gases given off by human activity act to trap heat and form a sort of “blanket”, as Nasa puts it, around the atmosphere causing the global temperature to rise.  This rise in global temperature is climate change.  The greenhouse gases given off by human activity include: Carbon Dioxide, Nitrous Oxide, Methane, and Chlorofluorocarbons.  To the right is a pie chart that shows the percentages of all the greenhouse gas emissions by gas showing Carbon Dioxide as the largest by far.  Carbon Dioxide, as we know, is released in many natural processes, even as basic as breathing, however with human actions like deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels we have drastically increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which has upset the delicate balance of regulating global temperature.  Nitrous Oxide is given off from mostly human activities like in using of commercial and organic fertilizers, the burning of biomass, and like Carbon Dioxide, it is also given off by burning fossil fuels.  Methane, commonly known for its production by cow flatulence, is clearly produced naturally but with some man-made things like waste decomposition in landfills and intensive agricultural processes a great amount is contributed in addition to the natural amounts.  Although Methane may be less abundant in the atmosphere than Carbon Dioxide, it traps much more heat than Carbon Dioxide and therefore is much more harmful to the environment.  Lastly, Chlorofluorocarbons are a compound made almost entirely by people are given off by several man-made products like aerosol sprays and solvents like refrigerants.  These chlorofluorocarbons are very particularly harmful because of their ability to deteriorate the ozone and allow more heat and UV rays from the sun into the earth adding to the heat.  So because of many human activities are giving off these greenhouse gases which are trapping heat and chlorofluorocarbons are allowing in more heat we have a a clear imbalance of heat being given off so global temperatures have to increase.

F2.medium
Credit: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/348/6234/571.full.5

Now to address the point  of “we have reached a point of no return”.  We can limit the degree increase the earth may experience.  We still maintain that power.  Reducing greenhouse gas emissions in all sectors of the economy could allow us to get a grasp on how to manage a higher temperature, which there now is.  Doing nothing will contribute more to the problem and require more work to cleanup or cope with ever-increasing temperatures.  Increasing economic growth since the Industrial Revolution and population increases are largely the sources driving all these emissions, but when put to the right use we have the ability to manage and maintain a safe living environment for many of todays existing species.  In an article put out by Smithsonian, a study done by Mark Urban of the University of Connecticut was outlined and the findings were that if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated “16 percent of species will be threatened with extinction due to climate change by the end of the century” a trend which is shown in the relationship between extinction and global temperature increase. Mark Urban explained the relationship and its shocking reality that “extinction risk does not just increase with temperature rise, but accelerates, curving upward as the Earth warms”(7). The Graph to the right shows this upward acceleration as temperatures rise from the current temperature to the 2 degree increase temperature cap set by global leaders to the unabated increase that will come without capping emissions.

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 6.08.57 PM
Credit: http://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/carbon-dioxide/

 

 

 

 

 

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Credit: http://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/carbon-dioxide/

Proof of climate change is everywhere and human impact is largely agreed upon by scientists as we talked about above.  Global Warming is very much happening. Shown in the Chart to the left, The United States Global Change Research Program recently published their findings on climate change showing that the average temperature of the earth has gone from about a deviation from the average of about -. 6 in the decade of the 1900s to about a +1.05 in the early 2000s.  That is an aggressive change! As we know the earth is constantly changing and undergoes massive changes over time (think the Ice Age), but as we talked about, we humans have made natural changes much more aggressive.  Although year-to-year sometimes would seem that the global temperature is not always increasing, scientists at NASA have come to agree that “weather patterns cause fluctuations in average temperatures from year to year” but the fact there has been a “continued increase in greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere assures that there will be a long-term rise in global temperatures“(1).  Accompanying this massive deviation change in the average global temperature, we have seen a massive uptick in the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration (shown in the graph on the right showing the increase in both Carbon Dioxide and Global temperature), largely due to the increased burning of fossil fuels and other human activities outlined in the graph above to the right. The link between atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and global temperature is direct and clear. Recently, NASA has confirmed the link with a “new atmosphere-ocean climate modeling study” which showed “that the planet’s temperature ultimately depends on the atmospheric level of carbon dioxide”. The study examined the roles that water vapor and carbon dioxide play in the Earth’s greenhouse effect. The findings were that when carbon dioxide increases, water vapor increases in the atmosphere, but that water vapor in and of itself cannot uphold the greenhouse effect and that therefore carbon dioxide “acts as a thermostat in regulating the temperature of Earth.”(2)

So if this change is occurring, why is it occurring?  The Earth must balance what energy enters and what energy leaves its system(3). Changes in this balance can be due to a number of things ranging from variations in the sun’s energy reaching Earth to changes in Earth’s greenhouse effect.  Climate change may not be a new phenomenon, but this is the first major change in climate since the Industrial Revolution which shows the impact humans are now having.  In past changes, we have seen volcanic eruptions and earthquakes and other major natural changes that alter the status quo of that time, however we now have entered an era where humans have the ability to impact some of earths natural processes.  Since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, humans have continuously contributed massive amount of carbon dioxide, and many of the other greenhouse gases described above, to the atmosphere in everything from factories to transportation emissions.  As time goes on we continually find ways to make more in less time, creating more and more greenhouse emissions.

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Credit: https://www.sciencemag.org/content/348/6234/571/F2.expansion.html

So if this temperature increase is occurring what does that mean for the Earth? Temperature increases are most visibly seen in the melting of the ice caps and rising water levels around the world, however they affect way more than just the frozen ecosystems.  Rising global temperatures means adaptation or disappearance of whole ecosystems and all the species in them like Mark Urban found in his study.  Another study done Seth Finnegan of the University of California, Berkeley developed a map showing which ocean areas, already the most vulnerable for specie extinction, are most at risk for specie extinction as temperature increases, which is shown below.  Finnegan found that the most at risk species are oceanic species and then highlighted the most at risk for extinction as a gradient of yellow to red with red being the highest.  Most species are greatly affected by the temperature of the environment they live in and especially in this case, species who need cooler climates may not have anywhere to go.  Luckily for humans, we have air conditioning and heating so many of our environments can be regulated; however for polar bears and penguins where will they go?  The top four animals at risk for extinction now are as follows: tigers, polar bears, pacific walrus, and the Magellanic Penguin(9).  Aside from deforestation and poaching, rising sea levels threaten the mangrove habitats of Tigers, a consequence of global temperature rise.  Polar bears are the most at the most obvious risk because of climate change because of the melting of ice and loss of habitats they are facing, something also causing extinction risk for pacific walrus’s.  The Magellanic penguin is at risk because as fish are moved by warming currents they are forced to travel farther and farther for food.  These animals represent and remind us that every single species plays a role in the ecosystem and the disappearance of one can greatly impact the ecosystem as a whole in ways we cannot even imagine.

Temperature increase due to greenhouse gas emissions drives many harmful processes that affect specie extinction like the increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Increased acidity mixed with coral bleaching from higher water temperatures can kill off large amounts of coral, which is an essential part of the ecosystems of the oceans of the world. Without coral who know what will happen to the fish and other sea creatures we as humans need to survive! However, there is room for hope. Like I said earlier, adaptation is an option for species. Many species have already begun a process of adaptation. From chipmunks to spiders, animals are finding ways to survive in changing ecosystems. While many worry about impending extinction of many species, it is important to account for the fact that as Ary Hoffmann, a geneticist at the University of Melbourne puts it, “Organisms are not static”(4).  Adaption however, does mean extinction for those who can not adapt in time or at all, so regardless of how you look at it, specie extinction is a bad thing.

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Credit: http://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/co2.html

So what can we do?  Like I said earlier, hope is not lost.  We can make an impact by cutting our emissions immediately.  Cutting emissions means using less electricity, changing lightbulbs and cars to more energy efficient alternatives.  Maybe next time instead of driving your own car to class, take a bus or bike or walk!  Also invest in renewable energy! Solar, Wind, and other alternative fuel forms like biodiesel and E85 can help reduce your carbon footprint in a big way and think of what might happen if everyone could diminish their carbon footprints(8).

Now that we have the facts, what is the political debate even about?  Scientists everywhere know that trapped excess carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is causing a rise in temperatures and therefore a change in climate, however for a number of political reasons some people deny that working to reduce emissions and investing in renewables is necessary.  The Kyoto Protocol was an international treaty that was founded at a conference that took place in the late 1990’s where all the countries around the world met to commit their reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.  This Protocol was highly political because it gave “developing” countries much greater thresholds for carbon emissions because they are developing, while “developed” countries were given lower thresholds because they have already gone through the developing phase and therefore should be able to more easily reduce emissions.  The splitting of countries into “developing” and “developed” led to great political debate and China, one of America’s largest competitors was placed in the “developing” category and America in the latter.  Many Americans were angered about our having to reduce much greater emissions and that is one of the big reasons why some Americans refuse to admit that human impacted climate change is going on.  The United States has still yet to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and therefore is not tied to this international treaty.

If you ask me, I think the argument that “its not fair” that we have to cut emissions and they don’t, is immature and selfish.  Climate change is a Collective Action Problem, and by that I mean it effects all countries around the world and requires collective action by said countries to try to fix it.  So although economic losses in the short-term may occur, why not look long-term and think about the growing mess that our generation is going to have to clean up more of if we don’t start cleaning now.

 

Sources: 

(1): http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=80167&src=eoa-iotd

(2): http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/co2-temperature.html

(3): http://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/kids/impacts/effects/energy.html

(4): http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2622454/Nature-CAN-cope-climate-change-Unusual-behaviour-plants-animals-suggests-weve-underestimated-ability-adapt-claim-studies.html

(5): http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/science/aqa_pre_2011/energy/mainselectricityrev1.shtml

(6): http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=307&t=11

(7): http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/climate-change-will-accelerate-earths-sixth-mass-extinction-180955138/?no-ist

(8): http://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/wycd/

(9): http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/wildlife/6927330/Top-10-most-endangered-species-in-the-world.html

 

Wind Power in the United States and Abroad

Modern-day science has provided humans with many different ways to generate power. Harnessing the power of wind to create energy is an extremely cost-effective and low-carbon technology among the options of energy production today. Wind power produces no greenhouse gases and can generate large amounts of power while using small amounts of land.¹

The average lifetime output of a wind turbine is 216 terajoules.²  This is equivalent to 277,778 kWh. The average American household consumes about 911 kWh per year. Therefore, over the course of it’s lifetime, a single wind turbine is capable of providing the yearly amount of required power for an entire year to approximately 305 homes.

How Do Wind Turbines Work?

Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy of wind into mechanical power. In simple terms, wind causes the blades of a wind turbine to turn, and these blades cause a shaft within a turbine to spin. This shaft is connected to a generator, which makes electricity.⁵ In order to view an interactive wind turbine and explore the parts of the system, click here.

 

A detailed look inside a wind turbine. Credit

The amount of power that is produced by a wind turbine is given by the equation:

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where the Greek letter rho (ρ) represents air density, A represents area, and velocity represents wind speed. As shown by the equation, doubling the area of a turbine doubles the power it produces, while doubling the velocity of wind increases the power produced by the turbine by a factor of eight.⁷

In 1919, a German physicist name Robert Betz concluded that the maximum efficiency of a wind turbine in converting kinetic energy into mechanical energy by turning a rotor is 59.3 percent. This maximum power efficiency applies to all wind turbines ever created, no matter variations in design. This efficiency is often referred to as “Betz Limit” or “Betz’ Law”. However, it is impossible for wind turbines to operate at this maximum limit because of various engineering requirements and other factors that complete the wind turbine system. The actual efficiency of wind turbines typically ranges between 10 to 30 percent.⁷

Energy Return on Investment (EROI) of Wind Power

Wind turbines have a net energy gain, meaning they produce more energy throughout their lifetime compared to the amount of energy needed to build the turbine itself. The formula used to calculate the energy return on investment for wind energy is:

EROI = cumulative electricity generated ÷ cumulative energy required to                                                                              build and maintain a turbine

The EROI of a wind turbine, which is expected to have a lifetime of about 20 years, typically ranges between 10 and 25 with an average of 16.² In comparison with other types of energy, wind power has a higher EROI than solar power (based on data from solar PV in Germany) and biomass, while it has a smaller EROI than coal and nuclear power, as displayed in the graph below:

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Wind has many causes, such as the uneven heating of the atmosphere by the sun, irregularities of the earth’s surface, and the earth’s rotation. Therefore, the efficiency of a wind turbine varies depending on these variables, as the air flow which causes the turbine to generate energy varies on geographic location.⁵ Wind turbines are typically built on a land (preferably coastlines, where there is more wind) while some are built off-shore, about 10 km away from the coast.  Off-shore wind parks are able to produce more energy because of increased amounts of wind over the water, while they are more expensive to build and require more energy to transport the energy that they produce.²

An example of an on-shore wind farm. Credit
An off-shore wind farm. Credit

The United States has the greatest installed, land-based wind energy capacity, while the United Kingdom has the greatest installed, off-shore wind energy capacity.⁶ There are currently no off-shore wind turbines in U.S. waters, but the United States Department of Energy has increased funding in order to increase availability of this technology.⁵ The Deepwater Wind project (which is discussed in the following paragraph) is making steps to create the first off-shore wind farm in the United States. The off-shore winds off the coasts of the U.S. provide a promising source of energy because of above average wind speeds. It is estimated that off-shore wind resources could provide the U.S. with over 4,000 gigawatts of power, which is about four times greater than the entire generating capacity currently carried on the U.S. electric grid.⁶ Below is a map of the United States which provides a rough estimate for the potential energy that could be generated from coastlines based on annual average wind speeds:

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Deepwater Wind is a project headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island that is America’s leading off-shore wind developer. It is in the process of developing the Block Island Wind Farm, the first off-shore wind farm in the United States. Deepwater Wind won two competitive state solicitations to become the preferred offshore wind developer for the states of Rhode Island and New Jersey, and also succeeded in the first-ever competitive auction for offshore wind sites held by the U.S. government. Deepwater Wind has obtained over 35 billion dollars of assets in management, and plans to bring wind power to the coasts of New England, New Jersey, New York, and Oregon.¹²

Land Requirements of Wind Power

Depending on the configuration of wind turbines and the spacing between them, the land required to generate wind power varies. Only 1-10% of the total area of wind farms is actually occupied by wind turbines, while the rest of the land is used for grazing, agriculture and recreation.¹ Below is a table that displays the land transformation for multiple wind power plants, measured in meters per gigawatt hour, compared to the land transformations of coal mining (taking into account all of the processes of the energy production systems).

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Note the total land transformation column in the above tables. The power produced each hour per square meter of a wind plant ranges from 1030 to 3230 gigawatts.  In comparison, the power produced each hour per square meter of coal mining ranges from 2.3 to 840 gigawatts, which is extremely less productive than wind power. These numbers show that while the EROI for coal is higher than that of wind power, in terms of the amount of land that is required to produce energy, wind power actually performs much better than coal.

As American and European governments have been making steps to further the progress of wind power, increased funding has led to an increase in the size of wind farms. The expansion of wind farms must be done carefully in order to ensure that optimal turbine spacing is maintained. This is because an increased area of a wind farm results in a change in the drag forced induced by all of the turbines on the farm, thus possibly altering the equilibrium of the atmospheric surface layer.⁴

Challenges Preventing The Further Expansion of Wind Power

Considering the large amounts of power that can be harnessed from wind, one may wonder why wind power isn’t more popular than it is today. In the year 2014, wind was the source of only 1.8% of America’s total electrical energy consumption (renewable energy provides 10%, with wind energy being 18% of that), as displayed in this pie chart:

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Scientists believe that a serious challenge that faces the expansion of wind power is it’s cost. Although the cost of wind power has decreased dramatically over the past decade, the technology to produce wind power still requires a higher initial investment than fossil-fueled generators. According to the EIA, the total cost of wind energy without federal tax and other financial incentives is about 9.7 cents/kilowatt-hour, while the total cost of conventional coal without federal tax and other financial incentives is less (about 9.4 cents/kilowatt-hour).⁸ According to eia.gov’s primary energy production by source graph, which can be viewed here, coal power production has been decreasing since the year 2007. I cannot find the cost per kWh of coal in the year 2007 (or any year before that), but because between 2007 and 2012 the amount of coal production in the U.S. decreased by 25 percent, and the overall price per kWh of electricity has actually risen since then, I can conclude that when coal was being produced in higher numbers in large scale plants the price of coal was even less costly than the previously stated number (9.4 cents/kWh).¹³

Another issue regarding wind power is that wind farms that are capable of producing a lot of energy are often located far away from large cities which need energy. In these cases, transmission lines must be used to transport the energy produced at the wind farm to the cities/areas of civilization, which requires additional costs and additional energy.⁹

Although wind turbines produce very little environmental pollution, those who object to wind power believe that the sound produced by the turbine blades and the overall presence of a large wind farm can negatively affect the “aesthetic” of large plots of land.  In addition, many environmental activists are upset by the threat to wildlife that wind turbines pose. During the early development of wind power in the United States, it was observed that many birds and bats had died from flying into turbine rotators.

According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, technological development in recent years and increased funding for research has greatly decreased the negative affects that turbines have on the ecosystems of the land on which they are located.⁹ However, a scientific study done in 2006 on a wind farm located in Zeebrugge, Belgium concluded that each turbine on the farm killed on average 19.1 birds every year and negatively altered the breeding grounds of local bird colonies.¹⁰ This study most likely offers a less biased perspective than the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, but was also done years before the claimed technological development occurred.  Animal activists have been outraged for many years about the deaths of rare species caused by turbines. Below is a news report from 2011 that displays the controversy surrounding wind turbines in the state of California:

Wind power, however, is not the only form of energy generation that has an impact on it’s surrounding environment. For example, solar power poses a danger to the environment in which PV panels are installed because the installation of large panels can cause a detrimental loss of habitat to native species from the area, can result in an interference with rainfall and damage, and can cause injury and death to wildlife who come into direct contact them.¹⁴ Non-renewable electricity generation sources are extremely dangerous to surrounding wildlife due to the chemicals that they emit. According to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, “the comparative amounts of SO2, NOx, CO2, and mercury emissions generated from coal, oil, natural gas, and hydro and the associated effects of acidic deposition, climate change, and mercury bioaccumulation, coal as an electricity generation source is by far the largest contributor to risks to wildlife found in the NY/NE region.” While a coal mine itself may not pose immediate physical danger to surrounding wildlife, the chemicals which the process of mining and burning coal produce greatly endanger animals because of the air that they breath (this not only affects wildlife, but the human race as well).¹⁵

While the effect that wind power has on ecosystems can be debated, it cannot be debated that wind power emits much less carbon dioxide, methane, and other dangerous greenhouse gases compared to other forms of energy generation. Wind power is a viable carbon-dioxide emissions free technology. If serious efforts are taken to mitigate climate change in the future, it is likely that the United States electricity sector will have to become dependent on wind power for the production of electricity in order to decrease carbon dioxide emissions.¹¹

Sources used:

  1. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364032108001354
  2. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544213000492
  3. http://www.cuug.ab.ca/branderr/nuclear/petajoule.html
  4. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/we.469/full
  5. http://energy.gov/eere/wind/how-do-wind-turbines-work
  6. http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy10osti/40745.pdf 
  7. http://www.raeng.org.uk/publications/other/23-wind-turbine
  8. http://meic.org/issues/montana-clean-energy/cost-of-wind-vs-fossil-fuels/
  9. http://energy.gov/eere/wind/advantages-and-challenges-wind-energy
  10. http://download.springer.com/static/pdf/721/art%253A10.1007%252Fs10531-006-9082-1.pdf?originUrl=http%3A%2F%2Flink.springer.com%2Farticle%2F10.1007%2Fs10531-006-9082-1&token2=exp=1446134730~acl=%2Fstatic%2Fpdf%2F721%2Fart%25253A10.1007%25252Fs10531-006-9082-1.pdf%3ForiginUrl%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Flink.springer.com%252Farticle%252F10.1007%252Fs10531-006-9082-1*~hmac=1a40e634f51db78534fad55dae74de4a23b9d6c0d844171bd8bae3015a6adce7
  11. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421504001740
  12. http://dwwind.com/about/
  13. http://cnsnews.com/news/article/terence-p-jeffrey/electricity-price-index-soars-new-record-start-2014-us-electricity
  14. http://solareis.anl.gov/guide/environment/
  15. http://climatecrocks.com/2013/05/20/why-coal-and-nuclear-plants-kill-far-more-birds-than-wind-power/