Tag: pollution

An Underappreciated Weapon Against Air Pollution: Our Dead Skin

By Patrick Morgan | May 17, 2011 8:21 am

We humans have a whole lotta skin: The average adult human body has about 22 square feet of it. If you could step out of your skin and plop it on a scale (kids, don’t try this at home), it would weigh 8 pounds. And every minute, 40,000 of your dead skin cells flake off your body and join their brethren among the dust that accumulates in your home. Knowing how much dead skin we slough off, some scientists decided to test what that skin is up to, discovering that the oils in dead skin cells actually help reduce indoor air pollution. Read More

A Toast! To Scottish Homes Powered by Whisky

By Patrick Morgan | May 10, 2011 8:36 am

If you live in Scotland, the same whisky that energize your visits to the pub may also energize your home: Contracts are underway to construct a combined heat and power plant that runs on the leftovers of some of Scotland’s most famous distilleries. Scheduled to be up and running by 2013, this particular alcohol-powered project is Scotland’s first whisky-fueled energy project that will provide electricity to the public.

Sixteen whisky labels located in Speyside, Scotland—including Glenfiddich, Chivas Regal, and Famous Grouse—will contribute material to the new power plant. They’ll transport their  spent grains (or draff) from the distilleries to the biofuel plant, where it’ll be combined with wood chips and burned, generating over 7.0 MW of power. This energy output—about the same as two large wind turbines—is expected to power at least 9,000 homes. In addition, the residue called pot ale, which accumulates in the distilleries’ copper stills, will be turned into animal feed and fertilizer for nearby farmers. Read More

New Zealand Enlists Dung Beetles to Deal With Piles and Piles of Crap

By Patrick Morgan | February 18, 2011 12:11 pm

In New Zealand, there’s a running joke that the sheep outnumber the people. What’s not funny is the consequence of all those woolly creatures: poop. Piles and piles of it. To reduce this overflowing cornucopia of crap, the government is calling in reinforcements in the form of 11 Australian dung beetle species.

The country’s excess poo not only finds it way into water reservoirs, it also releases nitrous oxide into the atmosphere–and to put that in perspective, cow crap alone accounts for 14 percent of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions. “One of the big things basically is the accumulation of dung on pasture surfaces,” Landcare New Zealand research scientist Shaun Forgie told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. It’s bad for cattle because more dung increases the “zone of repugnance, which means there’s an area around dung which is basically offensive to grazing livestock…. They don’t want to eat around that, so unless you break feed, you’re losing that surface area to graze on.”

Dung beetles cut the crap by feasting on it: adults lay eggs in manure, and the baby beetles feed on the scrumptious scat, devouring an entire pile within 48 hours. Farmers are excited about the project, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

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How to Prep for Oil Spills: Dump 210,000 Gallons of Popcorn in the Water

By Jennifer Welsh | December 6, 2010 11:55 am

popcorn-spillOne large bucket of popcorn, please, hold the salt, oil, and butter. Actually, make that 210,000 gallons of popcorn. We have an oil spill to re-enact.

Brazilian oil spill clean-up experts leapt into action last week to clean up a popcorn spill that makes movie theater accidents seem pretty tame. It turns out that popcorn makes a good approximation for spilled oil, explains the EFE, a Spanish news agency:

Although it sounds quaint, popcorn has been used to replace oil in simulations for over ten years by [Petrobras]. After testing seeds and grains, the experts found several positive factors in the popcorn: it is biodegradable–prepared without salt and no cooking oil–gives good flotation and serves as food for fish.

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"Octopus Head War" Pits Korean Health Officials Against Fishermen

By Jennifer Welsh | October 29, 2010 2:16 pm

tentacleCharges by South Korean health officials that octopus heads contain large and unhealthy amounts of the heavy medal cadmium have sparked a war with the fishermen who profit from the $35 million-a-year trade.

Octopus heads are a popular delicacy in South Korea, revered by locals for their health benefits and their supposed role as an aphrodisiac. About 12 million octopuses are sold for eating every year, says the LA Times:

Nakji, a dish featuring baby octopuses, head and all, is a popular snack at sporting events. Another dish, sannakji (“live octopus”), features squirming tentacles dipped in a sesame oil and salt sauce. Enthusiasts have been hospitalized after a wiggling tentacle lodged in the throat.

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Recycled Chewing Gum Turned Into Chewing Gum Bins

By Joseph Calamia | August 24, 2010 3:40 pm


Tired of gum-plastered streets, Anna Bullus decided to design and install chewing gum receptacles made, naturally, from recycled chewing gum. Her pink “Gumdrops” now appear in five UK locations and Six Flags Theme Park in New Jersey.

Though she won’t reveal the gum rubber’s exact contents, Bullus told The Guardian that eight months in a lab allowed her to perfect her technique, making gum first into a foam and then a used-gum pellet, before extracting a polymer modestly called BRGP (Bullus Recycled Gum Polymer). Perhaps it’s not surprising that you could turn gum into plastic, since the “nonnutritive masticatory substance” that gives gum its chewiness can include butyl rubber, used in inner tubes.

If her Gumdrops can keep gum off the streets, such bins might save British taxpayers an estimated £150 ($300) million per year–that’s what the government spends now on steam hoses, freezing machines, and corrosive chemical street cleanings. Plus Bullus says the Gumdrops, once full, can provide fodder for more Gumdrops and other plastic products. She told The Guardian:

“The amazing thing is you can use it for any plastic product…. I’d love to do some Wellington boots, for example. Gum boots, in fact.”

Related content:
Discoblog: Britain’s War On Chewing Gum Terror
Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: A moment on your lips, forever in your intestine.
Discoblog: Can the Texas BoE walk and deny evolution at the same time? (when chewing gum meets evolution)
DISCOVER: Oh, Rubbish (archaeologists dig up some old trash, including gum)


Another Thing BP Can't Do Right: Photoshop

By Joseph Calamia | July 21, 2010 5:54 pm

Notice anything weird in this picture from a BP website of Gulf relief photos? We’ll give you a hint: Look at the the upper left. That’s right; there’s a control tower in the window of a flying helicopter.


As directed by the blog Gizmodo, take a closer look at the high-res version. A screen on the cockpit clearly indicates “Check Status / door open / parking brake / ramp open.” Meanwhile, the photo’s caption on the BP site reads: “View of the MC 252 site from the cockpit of a PHI S-92 helicopter 26 June 2010.” If not this relief helicopter, something sure is up.

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What Happens When a BP Exec Spills His Coffee–and More Cathartic Comedy

By Joseph Calamia | June 10, 2010 6:14 pm

BPNeed a little relief from oil-soaked pelicans and dead dolphins, angry Louisiana officials and ambiguous BP representatives, top kills and containment domes?

The following hope to entertain, amuse, and mitigate (temporarily) depression and despair.

A New Logo

Greenpeace has started a contest to create a more fitting BP logo, such as the one on the left, featured on flickr. The flickr page boasts almost 1,000 fury-fueled entries so far.

A PR Twitter Feed

Fictional updates all day long about BP’s goings-on.

“Wait, Oil PLUMES? We thought you asked about oil PLUMS in the ocean. How silly! Yes, yes, there are TONS of oil plumes!”

A Coffee Spill?

Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre has given viewers a look at what might happen after a BP executive spills his coffee.

“Everybody calm down. I’ve got Kevin Costner on the phone. He’ll know what to do for sure.”

Recent posts on the Gulf oil spill:
80beats: Meet the Oil-Covered Pelicans, Symbols of the BP Oil Spill
80beats: This Hurricane Season Looks Rough, And What If One Hits the Oil Spill?
80beats: We Did the Math: BP Oil Spill Is Now Worse Than the Exxon Valdez
80beats: “Top Kill” Operation Is Under Way in Attempt to Stop Gulf Oil Leak
80beats: Scientists Say Gulf Spill Is Way Worse Than Estimated. How’d We Get It So Wrong?

Image: flickr / Amy Phetamine

Being Dead Is No Excuse for Not Being Environmentally Conscious

By Emily Elert | May 25, 2010 5:38 pm

dead-bodyNo one dreams of leaving a lasting carbon footprint on the world when they depart. But if it’s a choice between that and being reduced to a brown soupy liquid and a pile of bones, which option would you take?

The California legislature is considering allowing funeral homes to provide a third alternative to burial or cremation. Instead of hauling out the backhoe or firing up an incinerator to dispose of human remains, funeral directors could offer a method called alkaline hydrolysis or “bio-cremation.” This technique uses hot water, pressure, and sodium- or potassium-hydroxide (the strongly basic chemicals often referred to as lye) to break down the body’s tissues into simple molecules in a matter of a few hours.

Proponents of bio-cremation say it’s the eco-friendly death option. They note that cremation produces air pollution and greenhouse gases, while burials use tons of wood for caskets and involve treating bodies with hazardous embalming chemicals.

Four other states have already approved bio-cremation, but before funeral homes can offer the service, they have to figure out what to do with the environmentally friendly liquid remains. Last week, an undertaking service in Minnesota asked its local city council for permission to pour it down the drain.

Out of respect for the dead, or reverence for the city’s sewer system, or maybe just gut-level disgust, the council rejected the proposal.

Related Content:
Discoblog: Wireless Gravestone Tech Will Broadcast Your Awesomeness to Posterity
Discoblog: “Gravestone Project” Takes Citizen Science to the Cemetery
Discoblog: Save the Planet: Dissolve Your Dead
DISCOVER: The Future of Death
DISCOVER: 20 Things You Didn’t Know About… Death

Image: iStockphoto

MORE ABOUT: burial, death, pollution

Spring Cleaning in Everest's "Death Zone" to Sweep up Oxygen Bottles & Corpses

By Smriti Rao | April 19, 2010 6:25 pm

STS058-101-12_2The next time someone asks you to take the trash out, don’t make a big deal about it. Because, as Namgyal Sherpa will tell you, at least you don’t have to climb a mountain to take out the garbage. Namgyal is leading a team of 20 sherpas who, come May 1st, will be climbing up to the world’s highest garbage dump–on Mount Everest.

The Nepalese mountain climbers will trek to above 26,000 feet to an area known as the “death zone” due to its lack of oxygen, Reuters reports. Once there, they’ll gather up the trash left behind by previous expeditions.

The Mount Everest spring cleaning trip is expected to yield tons of garbage like food wrappings, torn tents, and discarded oxygen bottles left between an area called South Col at 26,000 feet and the summit at 29,035 feet. The sherpas also hope to bring back the dead bodies of three mountaineers who were killed in the death zone, and plan to cremate them near the base camp.

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