May 06

One Drop At A Time

waterdropIn beginning a new season, we are inclined to become introspective. We look at our daily lives and routines and evaluate in order to improve. You may wonder if you are doing enough to care for yourself, your fellow humans and the environment.

When looking for ways to live a more fulfilling and responsible life, it is easy to become overwhelmed. There are many facets of life on which one could focus; however, the thought of conquering everything at once can be daunting. A great solution to this is to begin with some small, simple things that involve daily activities. In reality, the small things that you do each day make the biggest impact overall. For example, here are three easy ways to save water, the world’s most precious resource. In doing so, you will be helping yourself, fellow humans and the environment, one drop at a time.

Time it: Every day, you do things that involve running a faucet for a period of time, whether it’s washing dishes or brushing your teeth. The mind can wander while the tap is running and valuable water is going down the drain. One way to get the job done effectively is to set a timer. If you know that the timer is going to go off, and you will have to shut off the sink at the sound of the alarm, you will be more cognizant of the amount of resources you use. Once you use a timer a few times, you will subconsciously become accustomed to using water in a timelier manner. This way, in addition to saving resources, you will also save time.

Install it: In doing a little research about water conservation devices, you might be surprised at how easy they are to install and implement into your daily routine. Water-saving showerheads use a fraction of the H2O that regular showerheads use, while still functioning efficiently. Once you have your high-efficiency shower head installed, you can save the wet stuff by simply showering normally. You will use less, therefore simultaneously saving money on your bills and helping our planet.

Drink it: Ironically, drinking water is a great way to conserve it. Use a filter to purify your tap water and opt to drink it instead of bottled water, soda or other beverages. Considering that water composes 75 percent of your body, it must be the healthiest thing you can drink. By drinking purified water from you tap, you are also reducing the amount that goes into manufacturing non-water beverages. Everyday, millions of gallons of precious H2O are used to manufacture soda. Make a resolution to limit or discontinue drinking packaged drinks and create a healthier Earth and a healthier you.

Water conservation is one of Ashley’s favorite topics to write about. If you’re looking for more information regarding water saving showerheads, please visit http://www.niagaraconservation.com/

Apr 13

Uncovering Great Lakes Garbage Patch

Microplastics fro Great Lakes on Penny

A penny provides scale for the size of micro plastics being found in the Great Lakes ‘Garbage Patch.’ Credit: 5Gyres.

Until recently, my concept of a ‘garbage patch’ was of an area of ocean with large pieces of floating debris, the kind of stray fishing gear and trash from ships and shorelines that collect where currents form eddies far from view of most people.

Having seen my share of sea trash in 20,000+ miles of lake and ocean sailing and even untangled sheets of plastic and thick ropes from the propeller and rudder of my 37-foot sailboat, I was shocked to learn that the kind of garbage scientists are most concerned about is invisible to the naked eye. They’re finding tiny bits of plastic known as “micro-plastics” floating near the surface of the water in high concentrations. The particles are so small that a microscope is needed to even see them.

The scary news this week was about a garbage patch discovered in the Great Lakes last year. Although scientists have studied plastic pollution in the oceans since NOAA researchers discovered the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” in 1988, a team of scientists is conducting the first-of-its-kind research on the open water of the Great Lakes. One of the team members presented preliminary results of a study on the topic at meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Photo: Great Lakes Garbage Patch research team. Source: 5Gyres

The team of researchers studying the Great Lakes ‘Garbage Patch’ in 2012. Credit: 5Gyres.

I spoke with Lorena Rios-Mendoza, an environmental chemist at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, and found that the buzz was certainly justified. Her background includes studying plastic debris and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in the Pacific Garbage Patch and in the Southern Ocean. Now an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, she has turned her attention to these same issues on the North American Great Lakes.

“I’m interested in learning more about what happens to persistent organic pollutants when they attach to the plastic particles,” Rios-Mendoza told me. She is now studying 110 fish samples to see if they have plastic debris in their guts and to learn more about what happens to POPs associated with the plastic pollution. She wonders whether the accidental consumption of tiny bits of plastic by fish might be a new source for toxins in the food chain.

Photo: Sampling plastic pollution on the Great Lakes. Source: 5Gyres.

Sam Mason (on right) collecting samples of plastic pollution aboard the “Niagara” on the Great Lakes. Credit: 5Gyres.

Rios-Mendoza is working with a team of researchers led by Sherri “Sam” Mason, a SUNY-Fredonia chemistry professor and researcher at the forefront of research on plastic pollution within freshwater ecosystems, including the Great Lakes. Mason is actually an atmospheric chemist, but she also has a passion for environmental sustainability. A few years ago, a colleague at Niagara University invited her to teach an environmental science course aboard the Flagship Niagara, a rebuilt version of a tall ship used during the War of 1812 that is now used for on-water education programs. Having lived near the shores of Lake Erie for over ten years, she had never been out on the lake, let alone a sailboat, before teaching the summer course. Mason’s time on the water inspired her to take up an entirely new area of research: studying plastic pollution in the Great Lakes.

Modeling herself after scientists like Rachel Carson who are committed to sharing relevant research, Mason found that studying and trying to raise awareness about plastic pollution in freshwater systems suited her. “This is a fantastic area for research because the information is much needed and relevant to the scientific community and to people concerned about the Great Lakes,” she told me.

Mason and Rios-Mendoza have been working in collaboration with the 5Gyres Institute, a research and education group studying garbage patches in five subtropical gyres in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern Oceans.

Photo: Microplastic pollution in Lake Erie. Source: 5Gyres

Tiny pieces of plastic pollution found while sampling in Lake Erie. Credit: 5Gyres.

The team of researchers studying the Great Lakes wasn’t surprised to find plastic pollution, especially in Lake Erie, the smallest (by volume) and shallowest of the five lakes. They did find something interesting when comparing their results to the research in oceans. The concentration of PAHs (polyaromatic hydrocarbons) in Lake Erie is twice as high as what is found in the world oceans. “This makes sense because the oceans are so much larger – there’s a dilution factor,” Rios-Mendoza said.

Something else the research team didn’t expect was the predominance of micro-plastic particles (less than 1 millimeter in diameter). In the world’s oceans, scientists have found higher percentages of debris in the 1-5 millimeter diameter size range as compared to the micro-plastics. Mason suspects that this is because of the larger ratio of shoreline to open water, creating an abrasive action to break down the plastic.

Photo: Sample of micro plastics from Lake Erie. Source: 5Gyres.

A sample taken from Lake Erie showing micro plastics less than 1 millimeter in size. Credit: 5Gyres.

They’re finding tiny, perfectly round beads of plastic in many of the samples, and this might hold another clue about the source of particles. “The cosmetics industry uses plastic micro-beads in soaps, toothpaste and other products. Because the products are not designed for ingestion, they don’t have to test for this. It’s completely unregulated and may be a significant source of micro-plastics finding their way into the environment,” she says.

Finding the sources of plastic pollution and getting a better idea of the degradation process is the subject of follow-up studies Mason and her team are working on.

More research is needed to compare the amount of plastic pollution from one lake to the next, but Rios-Mendoza explained to me that it takes more than two hours of towing the fine-mesh sampling net in Lake Superior to recover the amount of plastic in a 30-minute trawl from Lake Erie. The team plans to sample the St. Lawrence River and Lakes Erie, Michigan, and Ontario this summer, and as funding allows, to carry out more systematic studies of all five lakes.

How do plastics end up in oceans and now lakes? Well to begin with, we have become a throwaway society. We’re using and throwing away more and more plastics, sometimes after only using them once. The plastics are designed to last a long time, more than 500 years in some cases, Mason told me. In the U.S. alone, we consume “billions” of plastic bags and bottles. According to the 5Gyres website, only five percent of the plastics produced for things like water bottles, cups, utensils, toys and gadgets are recycled. “Roughly 50% is buried in landfills, some is remade into durable goods, and much of it remains unaccounted for, lost in the environment where it ultimately washes out to sea,” their website states.

Photo: fishing boats on Lake Erie. Source: Lisa Borre.

From the deck of a boat on Lake Erie, micro plastics are not visible in the water. Photo by Lisa Borre.

Plastic pollution is not only a problem in the water but along beaches and shorelines as well. Beaches in Hawaii were found to contain 50% sand and micro-plastics, Rios-Mendoza told me. The research team has not studied the amount of micro-plastics on Great Lakes beaches yet.

The Alliance for the Great Lakes leads an Adopt-a-Beach program to address the problem of beach pollution throughout the Great Lakes region. Mason participates in the Adopt-a-Beach program and says that her students are always surprised by how much trash they find on a beach that doesn’t look that bad at the outset. She is also leading a one-week course this summer in collaboration with Pangaea Expeditions, collecting samples for future research along the way.

“People need to be aware that we are the source of the problem, and because of this, we need to be part of the solution,” Mason said. “We all need to become aware of how much plastic we use in our lives and avoid using single-use products. Don’t buy water in plastic bottles or cosmetic products with micro beads. Bring re-usable bags to the store with you. Simple things like this make a big difference, but it’s also important to keep talking about this issue and raising awareness about how it affects the Great Lakes and the world’s oceans.”

It turns out that even this observant sailor has sailed right through garbage patches on the Atlantic Ocean and Great Lakes without noticing anything but the deep blue water that appears infinitely transparent. Now I realize what all the fuss is about. These new findings give me all the more reason to find ways to reduce, re-use, and recycle plastic at home and on my boat.

In short, I need to do my part to reduce plastic pollution in the world’s lakes and oceans.

Lisa Borre is a lake conservationist, freelance writer and sailor based in Annapolis, Maryland. With her husband, she co-founded LakeNet, a world lakes network, and co-wrote a sailing guide called “The Black Sea” based on their voyage around the sea in 2010. She is a native of the Great Lakes region and served as coordinator of the Lake Champlain Basin Program in the 1990s.

Apr 03

5 Ways To Make Your Workplace Eco-Friendly

Ways To Make Your Workplace Eco-Friendly

Image by Chris Potter

From melting polar ice caps to smog-filled cities, the threat of global warming isn’t going away. Despite the red flags and the bombardment of warnings, the majority of people continue to turn a blind eye to their carbon footprint. Ignorance really is bliss.

It’s all too easy to turn away and leave it to someone else, but if we all do that then nothing’s going to change.

Instead, you could make a few small changes to your day-to-day life that can have positive effects on the environment. You may not have the money or time to become totally green, but these short easy to do steps will leave you slightly more satisfied in the knowledge that you are doing your part.

Here are five quick and easy ways to make your workplace more eco-friendly:

1. Less Waste, More Recycling

Minimize the amount of waste that goes to landfill by installing recycling bins in your workplace. The majority of packaging can be recycled now, and you’ll find that most of your colleagues will happily ‘go green’ if you provide them with the opportunity to recycle items.

2. Use Less Energy

Your workplace may be a-buzz with energy, but make sure it’s not wasted electronic energy. Turn off equipment such as computers, chargers and lights when they’re not in use, and remind your colleagues to do the same.

3. Minimise Your Mileage

Don’t travel unnecessarily for company business if a conference call could achieve the same result. If you can’t avoid travelling, try to car share where possible.

4. Be Proud To Be Green

Lead the way in your workplace’s green revolution by displaying your green credentials for all to see. Update your email signature to say:

Think before you ink – please consider the environment and do not print unless absolutely necessary.

5. Print Double-Sided

It seems so simple, but by printing and photocopying on both sides of a sheet of paper, you’re cutting your energy and paper use in half. If you have an IT team, speak to them about making double-sided printing the automatic default on all of the company’s computers and photocopiers.

That’s five simple ways to a more eco-friendly office, but it doesn’t end there. You could even speak to your procurement team about buying environmentally friendly products like Xerox business paper, which is manufactured using less water, chemicals and energy.

Have you got a great idea on making workplaces more eco-friendly? If so, leave a comment below!

Featured images:

Matt Reilly is a professional copywriter. He blogs about the environment, the business world and the links between the two. He writes for Continua.

Apr 03

Eco-home: 5 Tips To Make Your Home More Sustainable

ecohomeIt seems to be the new trend at the moment and with good reason too! In the last decade particularly, many governments and communities have zoned in on the idea of sustainability. Sustainability is the concept where current needs are met without depleting the resources of future generations.

Likewise, individuals and families can also operate in more environmentally friendly ways. Indeed, sustainability in the home can also cut down on costs and make your home more comfortable. There are countless ways to go about sustainability in your home. Here we survey five top suggestions.

Choose your plants wisely

Aren’t having plants an eco-friendly choice in the first place? In some respects, yes. However, plants that require lots of water are generally considered a less sustainable choice. The choice of plants will often depend on the climate in which you live in. For example, if you live in a dry climate such as in Australia, look out for Australian native plants. Fruit trees are also a good idea in providing shade for your backyard and fresh fruit for you!

Choose eco-friendly paints

Many people would be surprised to know that the UN International Agency on Research into Cancer (IARC) categorises painting as a “hazardous profession” due to various toxic components in many paints. This is because paints contain harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Instead, choose plant based oils. Plant based oils are low-VOC and more sustainable than paints derived from petrochemicals.

Choose eco-friendly floors

With flooring, it is not so much the material that matters but the maintenance routine required to maintain its durability. This is because most floor finishes are also plastic based, meaning that VOCs and allergens will be emitted from your floor after installation and recoating. Once again, you can avoid this by choosing low VOC floor finishes. Alternatively, choose ceramic, hard tiles, linoleum, and cork as your flooring.

Use less electricity

While the choice of paint and flooring are sustainable design choices, there are also sustainable living choices you can make every day in your home. Saving energy is an easy way to be sustainable. This includes simple things like turning off lights when not in use. Some less common ways: turning off your cable set-top box when not in use, having a correctly sized air conditioner, and organising your fridge!

Use recycled or reclaimed materials

If you’re hunting for that perfect piece of real estate to buy or build up, consider choosing or building a home with recycled or reclaimed materials. If you’re after wood, look for wood from older torn-down buildings or else types such as bamboo that grow quickly and sustainably. If you’re already settled into a property, consider buying more recycled products at the supermarket, whether it be pens or even toilet paper!

Amy Hopkins is a university student and freelance writer who is interested in flicking through the newspaper looking at NSW real estate. You’ll often find her dreaming about properties she can’t quite afford to buy!

Mar 31

Endangered Species And Ecosystems

ecosystemTo save our environment is the primary responsibility of every one of us, and in order to save our environment, we have to make sure that all the species and animals on this planet must be saved. The reasons behind this are that many of these endangered species are important to sustain life on this planet. Some of these endangered species are an important part of the chain reaction that is important to save our ecosystem. We depend on different types of ecosystems to get food, fresh air,  and water. By polluting these ecosystems, we are actually gradually moving towards  the destruction of this planet. Cutting down the trees is the main cause for endangering the many important plant and animal species.

Causes of Endangered Species and Ecosystems
Industrialization has been the main cause of endangering the plant and animal species as well as ecosystems. Many of the animal species have already disappeared due to a lack of care, and every day we are threatening various other species by our continuous industrialization all over the world. Our planet is in danger at the moment, and every step towards industrialization is actually becoming the step towards destruction of this planet. The pollution caused by the industries also affected the animals living under the sea. It is not just the wildlife that is endangered at the moment, but the sea life is also in extreme danger. There are various causes for this process, but the results are the same, endangered species and ecosystems are increasing every day.

Why to Protect Endangered Species
Many plants as well as animals are important to develop medications, and research has revealed that almost half of the drugs prescribed by doctors are either made from the plants or animals. These animals and plants are not only working as the life savers, but these are also important for the growth of the pharmaceutical industry. Besides medications these species are also important for agricultural purposes also. At the moment, 90 percent of the food needed for the world has been fulfilled through plants; therefore, we have to protect all of these endangered species for our future generations.

How Endangered Species are Important for Our Ecosystems
The basics of any ecosystem are plants and animals, and these ecosystems are the key to sustaining life on this planet. Some of these ecosystems are ancient forests, grasslands, and coastal estuaries. These ecosystems are responsible to provide clean air, food, and water to the humans. Without these ecosystems, we cannot imagine life on this planet. When animal and plant species are in danger, that means our ecosystems that are essential for life are also in danger. Protecting our ecosystems by protecting these endangered species is the responsibility of everyone.
The endangered species and ecosystem are the major environmental issues today which need to be addressed accordingly if we want to keep our planet in a better condition. It becomes the responsibility of all people to protect our environment,and these endangered species.

Khavin, S is a freelance writer with a tremendous knowledge about environmental issues. No wonder he is actively engaged in environmental issues. Read his latest post about Jaguars.