SEEDS would like to thank everyone who donated and or shared information about NEPA Gives this year. We were able to raise a total of $2,965, including online and mail-in donations, and we were one of 212 organizations that were able to raise funds through this annual event. Happening annually in June, NEPA Gives is a “one day online giving extravaganza,” where local Northeastern Pennsylvania nonprofit organizations are collected on the NEPA Gives website and people can give to their favorite organizations. To view the results of the day, and to read more about NEPA Gives and its impact on our community, go here.
We are incredibly grateful to receive monetary donations from the NEPA community to support our sustainability education and development initiatives in the local area. These are difficult times, and we are well aware of inflation and other stressors that are affecting everyone. Monetary gifts are deeply appreciated, but we at SEEDS also want to communicate that they are not the only gifts of value. Your time as a volunteer is a special and significant contribution to our organization which brings enormous value far exceeding that which can be enumerated. To learn more go here, and please consider reaching out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us about your interests, areas of knowledge, and or availability and we can match you with a volunteering opportunity that comes with community, connection, and contribution to spreading sustainability.
Thank you for all that you already to do promote energy consciousness and sustainable living in our communities.
Join the Community Science Project: Firefly Watch
One of the best summer pastimes just got scientific!
Firefly Watch Community Science Project is a collaboration between Mass Audubon, researchers from Tufts University, and anyone else who sees fireflies in their backyard and elects to participate by reporting their sightings. “Are firefly populations growing or shrinking, and what could lead to changes in their populations?,” explains the Mass Audubon webpage on the project, “With your help, we hope to learn about the geographic distribution of fireflies and what environmental factors impact their abundance.”
Participants create a log in to register for the project, and are asked to select a location and dedicate 10 minutes to observing firefly activity in that same location once a week for the summer, and report observations on their website. To read more about what is involved, go here. There is also a training video and a FAQ page, and you can view maps and current and previous data collected by the project on firefly observations on their page.
This project is a great example of community collaboration contributing to important biological and nature conservation work, and an excellent opportunity to learn about how data is collected to answer big questions in science. The success of the project depends on the involvement of as many firefly watchers as possible, so register as a participant and share the project with others. And SEEDS invites you to post pictures of your firefly watching and tag us on social media. Happy observing!
Participants are asked to bury a pair of 100% cotton underwear in a raised bed, yard, or field for 60 days and then dig them up. The more they decompose, the healthier the soil is. They ask that you post a photo and tag them on Instagram @alltogethernowpa or or send a picture to email@example.com. SEEDS asks that you tag us too! Participants’ resulting decomposed underwear will be collected, measured and accessed by the State of Pennsylvania. Once the data has been submitted, participants will receive information on how to improve the health of their soil.
For more detailed instructions and information about the project see this webpage. All Together Now PA asks that if you are purchasing cotton underwear for the project to consider purchasing from ATN-PA Clothing &Textile Coalition member, The Big Favorite. If you use the code SOILYOURUNDIES at check-out you can get the second pair free.
Saving Our World From Becoming Planet Plastic
One Road at a Time
by Jan Goodwin
Scientists are extremely concerned that the world has been mass-producing plastics since the mid-1950s to the point that we are now becoming Planet Plastic. From Mount Everest to the deepest oceans, vast amounts of plastic waste contaminate the entire planet. In the last 65 years, we’ve produced nine billion tonnes of the stuff. And plastic production is set to double in the next two decades. Only 9 percent of that is recycled, so 91 percent ends up in landfills. And none of these commonly used plastics are biodegradable. Even more concerning, fragmented microplastics are showing up in human bodies worldwide, even in newborns, and nursing mothers’ milk. We inhale or ingest tiny, invisible plastic fibers floating in the air around us, fibers shed by our own clothes, carpets, and upholstery, etc. We know that microplastics damage human cells in the laboratory, and air pollution particles already enter the body and cause millions of early deaths a year.
So some good news: roads internationally are now starting to be built from waste plastics –trash from the ocean, plastic bottles, grocery bags, yogurt containers, and even, surprisingly, from used disposable diapers, which Wales in the U.K. first began. This latter is welcome news indeed, as the US throws out 18 billion used diapers a year. But don’t worry, say the experts, diaper roads smell like roads, not baby poop.
Each mile of road built with plastic removes the equivalent weight of more than one million plastic bottles or 2.8 million single-use plastic bags from the environment.
“We created a repaved stretch of highway in Oroville, California, that looks like an ordinary road, but is the first highway in the country to be paved with recycled plastic–then the equivalent of roughly 150,000 plastic bottles per mile of the three-lane road. Now it is 1,600,000 per lane mile. Plus two more road sections in L.A. that are performing very well,” Sean Weaver, president of TechniSoil, Redding, CA., told SEEDS. “And this year and next, we have two more projects in Minnesota and Michigan. We also built one for the Democratic Republic of Congo six months ago, and will be doing a 75-mile pilot for them next. This new type of road is much more resistant to potholes and cracking and lasts two to three times longer than standard asphalt. They are also much more resistant to heat, cold and flooding. And because it lasts much longer than asphalt, it is much cheaper over its life cycle.”
Roads built from plastic also do not absorb water, have better flexibility which results in less rutting and less need for repair. Surfaces remain smooth, are lower maintenance, and absorb sound better. Roads built with plastic can withstand extreme temperatures (from minus 40F to 176F) much better than traditional asphalt roads.
TechniSoil uses PET plastic to design roads, Weaver says, which is the clear and lightweight plastic that is widely used for packaging foods and beverages, especially convenience-sized soft drinks, juices and water. Virtually all single-serving and 2-liter bottles of carbonated soft drinks and water sold in the U.S. are made from PET. “We also use the distressed or unwanted PET such as delivery food containers, food bags from the grocery store, straws, carpet, packaging waste, and industrial waste. Basically, it’s the 90 percent or more of PET that goes to the landfill,” he explains.“We recycle the plastic waste chemically back into its original monomers. Then use those monomers to build a new polymer called Neo Binder. It’s like super glue, just with properties that are ideal to bond recycled asphalt together.”
Encouragingly, road contractors already have all the equipment needed to build plastic roads, says Weaver. And even more positive news, there is no concern about plastic roads causing microplastic for us to inhale. “Our binder is chemically converted from plastic to an elastomer that is chemically bonded to the aggregate,” he says. “Even when it is recycled twice, or 100 years from now, it can be ground up and used for base rock without any shedding of microplastics into the environment.”
But in this new technology, the U.S. was late to the game. The first country to recycle plastics for roads was India, which started doing it 18 years ago, when the city of Chennai, formerly known as Madras, and India’s fifth largest city, commissioned 1,000 kilometers of plastic roads. The plastic road was invented by Prof. Rajagopalan Vasudevan, at Thiagarajar College of Engineering, an Indian scientist, who specializes in waste management concepts. For his innovative method of using plastic waste for roads, he was awarded the Padma Shri, one of India’s highest civilian awards.
Since then, India’s fishermen have been turning ocean plastic into roads. They started doing this when they realized that their shrimp and fishing nets were bringing up more plastic than fish. Fishing crews were spending hours separating the plastic garbage from their catch as the nets were heavily weighted down with all the plastic tangled in them. Now, some 5,000 fishermen from the state of Kerala, for example, have been hauling back to land all the plastic they find while they’re out at sea. With help from several government agencies, according to National Geographic Magazine, they’ve set up the first-ever recycling center in the region, to clean, sort, and process all the tons of sea-tossed plastic bags, bottles, straws, flip-flops, and drowned Barbie dolls they fish out.
Another concern about ocean plastic is that many types of fish mistake plastic for prey; studies show that they can die of either poisoning or malnutrition as a result. Other marine life gets caught in and strangled by abandoned nylon fishing nets. And large patches of plastic on the sea bed block some species from accessing their breeding grounds.
Initially, however, the region had no municipal waste collection, or recycling program.
But in 2018, the female state minister of fisheries came up with a solution after roping in five other government agencies, including the department for women’s empowerment. That agency is tasked with improving employment opportunities for women, in an area where many fields, like fishing, had long been dominated by men. So the agency hired an all-female crew to work there.
For the past four years, a group of women have been working full-time to painstakingly wash and sort plastic that the fishermen collect. Most of it is too damaged and eroded to recycle in traditional ways. Instead, they sell it to local construction crews who use it to strengthen asphalt for paving roads. The proceeds—along with government grant money—cover the women’s salaries.
Since 2009, the northern European environmental group KIMO has been recruiting fishermen in the U.K., the Netherlands, Sweden, and the Danish Faroe Islands for a similar program called Fishing for Litter. Globally, there are now 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic waste estimated to be in our oceans. I was shocked, for example, when visiting Bali three years ago, once known for its stunningly beautiful beaches, to find them covered in broken-down plastics, which the tides brought in every day. “The world is facing a tsunami of plastic waste, and we need to deal with that,” says Dr. Erik van Sebille of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, an oceanographer who tracks plastics in our seas.
Climate change is threatening to all infrastructure, but plastic roads mitigate flooding, are easier to maintain, and can be recycled up to seven times. They are also four times lighter, 70% faster to build, last three times longer, and produce up to 72% fewer carbon emissions than conventional roads.
In the last couple of years, countries as far afield as Australia, Dubai, South Africa, Germany and Taiwan are now constructing roads from waste plastic. Ah, if only we could persuade Penn-DOT to do the same. According to a recent study, Pennsylvania’s road infrastructure ranks fifth worse in the nation, as anyone driving over our constant terrain of potholes here knows. The study found that 30 percent of the Keystone state roads are in poor condition. And yet PA pays the 4th highest gas prices in the country, next only to California, Oregon and Washington, because of taxes on our gas, which is meant to go toward road repair! Where does that money go?
It turns out that Penn-DOT is currently testing an asphalt modified with recycled plastics in a pilot project through its Strategic Recycling Program, their spokesperson Alexis Campbell told SEEDS. The project is only two quarter-mile road sections in which recycled plastic asphalt modifier was used as a 2% additive to the binder in the road’s wearing course. “While this does not seem like a lot, it equates to recycling approximately 150,000 single-use plastic bags,” she says. The project in Delaware County will be monitored for sustainability for five years.
In the meantime, get used to our roads craters and ditches. “With Pennsylvania’s aggressive freeze-thaw cycle, our roadways will always experience potholes. Pavements in other states that do not experience similar freeze thaw cycles as Pennsylvania are not as susceptible to them,” says Campbell. “States to our north and in Canada may be colder but they do not experience the same number of freeze-thaw cycles. Also contributing to pavement deterioration is the large volume of heavy trucks that utilize Pennsylvania’s roadways daily throughout the year. Given PA’s geographical location, our Interstates serve as major freight corridors to the northeast.”
She adds: “PennDOT is reliant on gas taxes for 78 percent of its highway and bridge funding. We are far more dependent on this revenue source than any of our surrounding states. Gas tax revenues have been declining heavily over the past several years, due to changing travel patterns and more fuel efficiency. Our outsized reliance on gas taxes makes Pennsylvania’s transportation system incredibly vulnerable to market changes like we’re seeing now.”
Photo credit: Cal Trans
EV Cars aren’t Alone:
Electric Boats on the Rise
Electric motors for boats could offer boaters the perfect ride! Quiet, clean engines reduce impact on the environment, while the lack of fuel fumes makes for a more pleasant experience on the vehicle itself. Further, engineers state that electric motors require less routine maintenance resulting in lower expense throughout the lifetime of the vehicle. These inherent benefits of the electric motor, combined with the unique challenges of propelling watercraft, have attracted the interests of several businesses, established as well as new. GM has partnered with newer company Pure Watercraft to develop several electric water vehicles, including a pontoon. The Swedish company Candela has developed super high-tech hydrofoiling luxury speedboats. Former Space-X engineers moved into the electric boat field with the company Arc and also produce hydrofoil speedboats—boats that only touch the water with minimal surface.
The environmental benefits of electric motors for boats are numerous, but it is exciting to see how challenges are met with high end innovation, improving not just the environmental impacts but the entire experience, while drastically increasing the energy efficiency in the process. Watch the story here, or read about it here.
Do you have any #SEEDSGoodNews stories to share with the SEEDS community? Send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or tag us on social media! They can be local stories from your community, or stories from around the world–anything to celebrate and spread the word about the progress of energy efficiency, renewable energy or sustainable living wherever you hear about it!
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