Scientists Say They Can Break Down PET Plastic With One Weird Trick
Jun29

Scientists Say They Can Break Down PET Plastic With One Weird Trick

Again this week the media is repeating big claims about revolutionary plastic technology (see also, “Japanese scientists engineer plastic-eating bacteria,” et al.). This time, organic chemists in China have announced that they have discovered a high-efficiency method for degrading plastic, a technique that can also be used to turn plastic into diesel fuel. There are two main problems with most methods for breaking down polyethylene plastic resins. The process is either too energy intensive, or, like the plastic-eating microbes developed in Japan, not easily scalable. Yet Zheng Huang, who led the new research project, claims that his technique overcomes both obstacles. “Our products are much cleaner than those obtained by conventional [combustion] methods,” Huang said recently to Gizmodo Australia. Huang is a Chinese Academy of Sciences chemist, and writing in Science Advances he describes a new method for degrading PET at temperatures of just 150 degrees Celsius with one weird trick: adding a common organometallic catalyst to the reaction. So far the method has only been demonstrated with small samples of plastic packaging, like bags and bottles. Already, PET is one of the most highly recycled materials on the planet, and there are a combined 19,400 curbside recycling and drop-off programs in the United States alone. As much as 100% of a PET plastic can be recycled, yet diversion efforts have failed to keep plastic out of the world’s landfills and oceans. So while Huang’s claims about plastic degradation should be taken with a grain of salt for now, the technology does seem incredibly promising. “We think that the future potential is there — as long as we can improve the efficiency and reduce the cost of the iridium,” Huang said. “Hopefully, very soon we can scale up the process from gram scale in the lab to kilogram and even ton...

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Dairy Farmers Nationwide Suffer As Milk Prices Decrease
Jun23

Dairy Farmers Nationwide Suffer As Milk Prices Decrease

Dairy farmers all throughout the nation are struggling to break even in light of government mandates that were originally meant to protect them. Low milk prices have been plaguing the nation for the past year. In order to resolve this, a nationwide margin protection program was implemented to provide financial assistance when the gap between the price of milk and average feed costs goes below the coverage levels paid by individual farmers. Recent figures, however, shows that this plan is not working. Farmers in the northeast explain that the standards for this assistance program are based on the nationwide cost for feed, which is less than the standard in the northeastern states. This comes to light in an economic environment where farmers have been failing because of an oversupply of milk both in the United States and worldwide. The milk prices paid to farmers is around $14 or $15 per one hundred pounds of milk, a figure that has been falling below production costs for months. And now, the farmers do not know how to break even. Doug Dimento, a spokesman for Agri-Mark, a Northeast dairy cooperative tells the Concord Monitor, “Because milk prices are so low… dairy farmers are producing more milk to keep their cash flow. Obviously that only makes the situation worse.” Dairy farmers also face another factor with a negative influence on the milk supply: presidential candidate Donald Trump. With his plans to deport all immigrants out of the country if he is to become elected, dairy farmers nationwide will suffer as the majority of their staff are immigrants. In 2014 one-third of all dairy farms employed foreign born workers, and a complete loss of immigrant labor could eliminate 7,000 dairy farms, 208,000 jobs, and reduce milk production by 50 billion pounds. Without immigrant labor, dairy farms will close and force consumers to pay almost twice for milk. Milk is a popular commodity in the U.S. and is used to produce cheese, butter, and other dairy products; as much as 9% of all milk produced nationwide is used to make ice...

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Booming Monterey Housing Market Still Skeptical About Affordable Housing Projects
Jun20

Booming Monterey Housing Market Still Skeptical About Affordable Housing Projects

The housing market in and around California’s Monterey County has experienced a significant upswing, but affordable options are still scarce. The city of Monterey has seen a 5.16% growth in median home prices since last year, and Salinas has experienced a similar 6.3% growth. Other areas, such as Sand City and Seaside, have witnessed increases in the double digits — 42% and 27%, respectively. The median cost of a new home throughout Monterey County is $497,500 for 2016, a 7% increase over last year and well above the national average of $272,900 back in 2010. A recovering economy and increased job opportunities in the area are credited for booming sales and a strong market in the area. “I think it’s great for the city and underscores the fact Salinas is a great place to live and work,” Kevin Stone, CEO of the Monterey County Association of Realtors, told the Monterey Herald. “It continues to be the driver in home sales in Monterey County.” Despite the promising gains for area Realtors, controversy continues over the proposed affordable housing development project in Pebble Beach. The Monterey County Planning Commission unanimously approved the Pebble Beach Company’s project of 24 inclusionary housing rental units on Wednesday amidst outcries from the Del Monte Neighbors United Association that argued against the deforestation necessary for construction. “My problem is that they are going to destroy a chunk of the forest that doesn’t need to be destroyed,” said Tom Housel, a Pebble Beach resident who spoke at the Commission meeting. “We’re very much for affordable housing, but we think it should be in a location that has already been deforested,” said Lynn Mason, who lives in Del Monte Park. Nevertheless, the project will commence, clearing 2.7 acres of Del Monte forest area while preserving another 10.5 acres as open space. The company promises to plant new trees in a one-to-one ratio to make up for those...

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Study: the Latest Threat to Global Warming Is Inside the House
Jun13

Study: the Latest Threat to Global Warming Is Inside the House

Even if global warming slowly roasts the planet to death, at least irony will be alive and well. The 10 hottest years ever recorded have all occurred since 1998, with 2016 shaping up to be the warmest one yet. Already, last year absolutely shattered the record for the hottest year ever. And the warmer it gets, naturally, the more people use their air conditioning systems. These aren’t simply luxury items, either. As summers grow more intense, young children and the elderly can die in severe heat waves. According to a new study, that’s only making global warming worse. Of course, it seems obvious in retrospect. After all, it’s one of the most basic laws of the universe. For every action, there is an equal yet opposite reaction. The colder you make it inside your home, the warmer it gets outside. “The more cooling you have, the more heat air-conditioning systems release into the urban environment, which then elevates the ambient temperature and further increases the cooling demand,” said Afshin Afshari, a professor with Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Institute. “It’s a vicious cycle.” Of course, there’s not a one-to-one direct correlation between the temperature inside your home and the temperature of the air outside. But HVAC systems are energy-hungry machines, so the more human beings rely on heating and air conditioning, the higher energy consumption goes up as well. And since most energy is still produced through the burning of fossil fuels, that means more greenhouse gases trapped in the atmosphere. Simply installing an HVAC unit incorrectly can increase a home’s energy consumption by up to 30%. Here’s the problem: the world HVAC industry is growing fast, and not because of warmer temperatures, although that doesn’t help. Here in the United States, air conditioning has been a part of daily life for two generations. Yet globalization has only recently opened up the market for air conditioning systems in countries like Brazil, India, and Indonesia. A new report from Berkeley National Laboratory Study found that AC unit sales are growing by 10 to 15% in developing countries with emerging economies, which also have some of the highest population growth in the world. The study concludes that the global supply of AC units will spike from 900 million in 2015 to 1.6 billion by 2030. That’s great news for the millions of people who won’t have to suffer through heat waves over the summer, but bad news for the environment. Already, U.S. scientists are researching ways to develop super efficient new AC units for the warmer years to...

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Fact Check: Is Facebook Listening in on You 24/7?
Jun09

Fact Check: Is Facebook Listening in on You 24/7?

Facebook has gone full big brother and started listening in on its users’ daily lives via their smartphones, the better to target them with advertising with. Or so these viral headlines would have you believe: “Facebook is using smartphones to listen to what people say!” “Facebook is Listening to Users’ Conversations, Here’s How to Stop it.” “Forget Big Brother, Facebook Is Watching (And Listening).” When the internet first became a part of our daily lives, Silicon Valley leaders like Mark Zuckerberg predicted it would usher in a new information era, an age when knowledge and information would travel at the speed of light. But while the web is a powerful tool for spreading human knowledge, it’s equally effective at spreading total garbage nonsense, also at the speed of light. And this time, Facebook itself is the victim of another viral hoax. While Facebook does have an app called “Identify TV and Music,” the app only identifies whatever song or TV show is playing at the time, and the user must turn on the app to activate it. While there are plenty of new privacy concerns in the age of Big Data, this hoax isn’t one of them. Today, popular social media sites like Facebook have billions of users, and corporations will pay insane amounts of money to collect data on those users’ preferences and behaviors. Today, blogs and social media apps now account for 23% of all time spent on the web, reaching 80% of internet users. Some version of this Facebook Big Brother hoax has been floating around the Interwebs since at least 2014. A typical retelling of the story reads, “Facebook just announced a new feature to its app, which will let it listen to our conversations through our own phones’ microphone. Talk about a Big Brother move…. Not only is this move just downright creepy, it’s also a massive threat to our privacy.” And according to mythbusting website Snopes.com: WHAT’S TRUE: The Facebook ‘Identify TV and Music’ app can use a smart phone’s microphone to identify what song or TV show a user is listening to and automatically insert that information into a status update. WHAT’S FALSE: The app does not secretly record and store private conversations; Facebook repeatedly stated that the feature is never used to tailor...

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