Posts about pollution

Biodegradable Plastic Bags and Bottles

researchers look to make environmentally friendly plastics

Every year, more than 30 billion water bottles are added to America’s landfills, creating a mountainous environmental problem. But if research at Missouri University of Science and Technology is successful, the plastic bottles of the future could literally disappear within four months of being discarded.

The Missouri S&T research team is constructing new breeds of biodegradable and bioavailable plastics in an effort to reduce the tons of plastic waste that ends up in the nation’s landfills each year. Bioavailable plastics contain substances that can be absorbed by living systems during their normal physiological functions.

By combining and modifying a variety of bio-based, oil-based and natural polymers, the team seeks to create optimal blends that can be used to make agricultural films, bottles, biomedical and drug delivery devices, and more.

As polylactic acid degrades, the material reacts with water to decompose into small molecules, which are then mineralized into water and carbon dioxide.

“In general, the main end products of polymer degradation are water and carbon dioxide,” Shahlari explains. “Polylatic acid has the potential of replacing the regular water bottles, and we anticipate that our research could be incorporated into that field too.

It sure seems like they are saying these would really biodegrade. Plastic bags can photodegrade where they break down into small bits of plastic that might be hard to see but are still toxic that can be eaten by animals, and us. As one would figure – that is not a good thing. The ocean garbage floats are not huge amounts of plastic bags and bottles but instead huge amounts of small and tiny plastic particles. I know using corn based bags has been looked at previously and used.

Related: New Plastic Bags Biodegrade in Four MonthsManufacturers Push Biodegradable Plastic Bags (NPR podcast)Crisis at Sea

Bigger Impact: 15 to 18 mpg or 50 to 100 mpg?

This is a pretty counter-intuitive statement, I believe:

You save more fuel switching from a 15 to 18 mpg car than switching from a 50 to 100 mpg car.

But some simple math shows it is true. If you drive 10,000 miles you would use: 667 gallons, 556 gallons, 200 gallons and 100 gallons. Amazing. I must admit, when I first read the quote I thought that it must be an wrong. But there is the math. You save 111 gallons improving from 15 mpg to 18 mpg and just 100 improving from 50 to 100 mpg. Other than those of you who automatically guess that whatever seems wrong must be the answer when you see a title like this I can’t believe anyone thinks 15 to 18 mpg is the change that has the bigger impact. It is great how a little understanding of math can help you see the errors in your initial beliefs. Via: 18 Is Enough.

It also illustrates that the way the data is presented makes a difference. You can also view 100 mpg as 1/100 gallon per mile, 2/100 gallons per mile, 5.6/100 gpm and 6.7 gpm. That way most everyone sees that the 6.7 to 5.6 gpm saves more fuel than 2 to 1 gpm does. Mathematics and scientific thinking are great – if you are willing to think you can learn to better understand the world we live in every day.

Related: Statistics Don’t Lie, But People Can be FooledUnderstanding DataSeeing Patterns Where None ExistsOptical Illusions and Other Illusions1=2: A Proof

Altered Oceans: the Crisis at Sea

Extensive LA Times series on Altered Oceans: the Crisis at Sea [sigh, once agin pointy haired bosses broke a links, so they were removed – when will we have web sites run by people that understand basic usability?] by Kenneth R. Weiss and Usha Lee McFarling. Excellent.

Part 1 (of 5): A Primeval Tide of Toxins “Runoff from modern life is feeding an explosion of primitive organisms. This ‘rise of slime,’ as one scientist calls it, is killing larger species and sickening people”

Part 4: Plague of Plastic Chokes the Seas:

Their flight paths from Midway often take them over what is perhaps the world’s largest dump: a slowly rotating mass of trash-laden water about twice the size of Texas.

This is known as the Eastern Garbage Patch, part of a system of currents called the North Pacific subtropical gyre. Located halfway between San Francisco and Hawaii, the garbage patch is an area of slack winds and sluggish currents where flotsam collects from around the Pacific

Nearly 90% of floating marine litter is plastic — supple, durable materials such as polyethylene and polypropylene, Styrofoam, nylon and saran.

About four-fifths of marine trash comes from land, swept by wind or washed by rain off highways and city streets, down streams and rivers, and out to sea.

I have been unable to find a decent photo of this garbage patch – please post a comment if you know of one.