Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Plants Not Plastic

Image result for plant based plastic

In a society that is fueled by capitalism and petroleum, often we are blinded to the adverse affects of petroleum based products. What alternative products exist to help us move away from our Mountain Dew bottles piled up in our bedrooms?

PlantBottle technology is an initiative started by the Coca-Cola Company in 2009 as a first step toward producing environmentally friendly packaging for their products. This alternative oil product makes up 30 percent of all Coca-Cola Company plastics in North America. In the last decade, Coca-Cola has worked with major companies worldwide to use PlantBottle such as Nike, Proctor & Gamble, and H.J. Heinz.  The goal is to work towards 100% plant-based plastics.

With so many major companies interested in PlantBottle and other plant-based technologies, we will continue to see more products that are alternatives to our copious amounts of petroleum based plastics.

Image result for tipa plant based plastic
Another company that is paving the way for alternative plastic products is the Tipa Corporation. Through years of hard work and dedication Tipa Corp. was able to manufacture a plant-based plastic product that is 100% bio-degradable. 

One of the biggest barriers for bio-degradable packaging is the durability of the packaging over long periods of time. In the past, these plant-based packages were unable to keep products fresh and properly sealed. 

 Plastic waste is an issue that affects every person on the planet. If we as a whole can continue to combat this issue, we may be able to reduce our carbon footprint, one step at a time.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Polyester, the Petroleum product in EVERYTHING. Part II

Last post we talked about Polyester and a little bit how it's made and how it comes from Petroleum. This post we're going to talk about what Polyester is in. And boy, is it a lot of stuff.

First, Polyester is in clothes. A lot of clothes. You know those Nike shorts you have? Polyester.

And what are you playing wearing your Nike shorts? Maybe it's soccer.

Which is partially made of Polyester.

Or Basketball.

Which is also partially made of polyester.

Fine, you've had enough of ball related sports. You want to go waterskiing!

That lifejacket though?


And the rope pulling you?


We won't even talk about how the Skiis are also a petro-product.

But you've had enough of these sports that use petrochemicals. You're going home!

But wait, you're seatbelt!

Also polyester.

The drapes in your house,

Okay, you're leaving, you're skipping town. Away from all the plastic, you're going to the forest!

But your tent, polyester. Your towels. Polyester. Much of your clothes. Polyester. Your fishing pole is made of plastic. Your underwear is a polyester cotton blend. Your blankets, your pillows, your sleeping bag. Polyester.

Finally, you run naked into the forest. Away from all the petro-products.

Really, that's all you can do to escape it. It's EVERYWHERE. What does this highlight? The need for research into petrochemical alternatives. Petroleum has INVADED our lives. We won't reduce our oil dependency without reducing our petrochemical dependency. Reducing our automobile usage is not enough!

Polyester, the Petroleum product in EVERYTHING. Part 1

Have you ever played the game Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon? Talking about Polyester is a little bit like that. One, it's in a lot of things. Two, to look at how Polyester is made and how it comes from Oil is a bit like the above mentioned game.

Plus, it's complicated.

So what is Polyester? First, it's important to understand what a Polymer is, which is what Polyester is. A polymer is a substance that's made up of a lot of little similar substances stuck together. It's basically one substance repeated a bunch of times until it makes one larger substance, does that make sense?

That's what Polyester is.

Now specifically, it's a synthetic material most commonly made from Polyethylene terephthalate, also known as PET or PETE. Now what is Polyethylene terephthalate? It's a thermoplastic polymer. We know what polymers are, so what's a thermoplastic? It's a plastic that's pliable.

Now, what is PET made from?

Ethylene glycol and Dimethyl terephthalate.

Where does Ethylene glycol come from? Well it comes from Ethylene.

Now this is the important part. Ethylene is a PETROCHEMICAL that comes oil refining process, specifically steam cracking.

The important part there is that's it's a petrochemical. Something that derives from Petroleum.

And that's our bingo. This would be where we go, HAH, Kevin Bacon! Now you knew from the start that Polyester came from Petroleum, I kind of spoiled that part. But now you see exactly how it comes from Petroleum. That's the important part. It's not as simple as, you have oil and then next step you have Polyester. The system in which we develop these petrochemicals is VERY complex. It involves many steps.

Which is why it's important to highlight just how pervasive petrochemicals are in our day to day lives. They're in a lot of things, and it's not easy to find out exactly what because the process is so complex.

In Part II I'll explore just how much stuff Polyester is in.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

No Place too Risky to Find Oil

The higher demand for oil has prompted oil companies to start drilling in risky territory. However, continued oil spills have forced people to start thinking about what drilling does to our planet, and calls for alternative options.

These alternatives have been proposed as utilizing public transportation or switching to an electric powered car, but how much of a difference would this make? Apparently not necessarily enough to stop these risky drilling proposals. Perhaps a tax on oil would slow these projects? According to Ian Parry, an employee at the environmental think tank, Resources for the Future, seems to think this tax would still not sway the United States from being oil dependent. So how do we fix this problem?

The International Energy Agency proposed a rather intense scenario that would help the United States cut consumption by 29 percent in just 23 years. Sixty percent of that cut would be from using cleaner modes of transportation. The rest made up of using different modes of electricity to heat homes and power buildings.

The implementation of a plan like this would benefit the United States in many ways. It would decrease our reliance on other countries for oil and we would be less susceptible to rising oil prices. Greenhouse gases and pollution would also decrease. The thing is that these types of plans take time, and with oil spills and ongoing risky drilling projects, it might not be a luxury that we have.

Source: http://www.cfr.org/oil/reducing-us-oil-consumption/p22413

Turning Seawater Into Fuel; The Future of a World Moving Away From Oil

According to the US Navy they have developed a ship that can be completely powered by seawater, eliminating their need for oil. Even though the plan turned out not to be as green as one would think, it poses the question, what if some ground-breaking development completely eliminated our reliance on oil? What would happen? Dr. Walter Ladwig III, an international relations professor at King’s College in London answered.

Say this sort of technology was created and was able to be geared towards powering our cars and homes, our reliance on these countries in the Middle East that provide oil, would greatly decline. Ladwig suggests that in Saudi Arabia specifically, we would see an intense Arab Spring if money from the US were to halt. This is due to the fact that many people who are benefiting from the oil money, are buying off those in politics, and without that money, the country would see a vast political change. 

In contrast, in developing countries like Nigeria, a sudden decline in demand for oil would be devastating to the economy. A decline in power would also hit Russia, a country who heavily relies on the income of oil and gas.

When we think of new technologies that can power our lives it is easy to only focus on the good it will do for our planet and health. However, it is interesting to consider what this would do to the places that rely on the trade of this resource to keep the lights on. Would they find something else to generate money? Or would the reduction of oil usage devastate half of the world?

Source: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/what-would-international-relations-be-like-if-oil-wasnt-important

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Don't believe the propaganda, hybrid vehicles ARE better for the environment.

Maybe this happened to you like I remember it happening to me. About 10 years ago I was talking about the Prius and it's reduced emissions with a friend before I got a stern rebuke along the lines of "but the Prius is actually worse for the environment!"

I asked how and I got some long explanation about the dangers of Nickel mines and how shipping the Prius was so bad for the environment it actually negated the reduced emissions of the Prius.

And I believed it.

After that I saw that same argument against the Prius on social media many times. Facebook posts with titles like "DID YOU KNOW?!" with fancy graphics illustrating how the Prius was worse for the environment than a hummer. Sensationalist but, it seemed like it could be true, right?

Wrong. In fact, that's an argument started by Oil Industry intended to specifically discredit hybrid cars, which around 10 years ago, were becoming increasingly popular.

According to this post on reddit the viral post about Prius batteries was entirely propaganda.

The supposed incredibly toxic nickel mines were actually just incidents that had occurred decades before the creation of the Prius.

And the environmental cost of shipping cars? Completely overstated.

Hybrid cars are in fact better for the environment than normal cars, something many people believed but others, like myself, questioned due to oil industry propaganda. Nevertheless the moral here should be "do the research yourself!" 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Hidden Oil under our feet (Literally)

While we focus on the different petroleum products we consume in our day to day lives, we often don't think about where some of that oil comes from. When we think about oil drilling, the first places that come to our minds are places like the Middle East, or Oil Rigs drilling deep below the ocean, or maybe even Texas.

The idea of drilling for oil seems foreign to us in the Pacific Northwest. That doesn't happen around here.

But a little closer than we may think is the third largest Oil Field in the United States. Where is it exactly? It's not some dry arid environment that we picture when we think of Texas or Middle Eastern oil wells.

It's Los Angeles.

Deep beneath the City of Stars lies hundreds, if not billions, of barrels of oil.

Some Pump Jacks sit right inside residential areas.

Other Pumps are hidden in buildings all over.

Thousands of Oil Jacks, some hidden and some in plain sight, litter Los Angeles, the second most populous metropolitan area in the United States. 

Oil isn't just inside the daily products we use, for many, it's right under their feet. 

Source: https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2014/08/the-urban-oil-fields-of-los-angeles/100799/

Activated Charcoal - Everyone's Favorite Ingredient


From masks, soaps, and scrubs, to toothpaste and juice, activated charcoal is a common ingredient found in many trendy products these days. 

Activated charcoal or activated carbon has been used for centuries to decontaminate water and remove toxins from the body. But traditionally, when you think charcoal, you think black soot remnants from a campfire or a toxic coal mining environment. 

So, how do we go from burnt campfire soot to facial exfoliator? 

Well, as it turns out most activated charcoal-based products are produced with natural ingredients that produce zero greenhouse gasses, like coconut husks and bamboo. 

Coconut shell and wood are renewable resources. Bamboo grows quickly, making it an ideal base for activated carbon. Coconut plantations provide the benefit of trees, while still providing the benefits of their shells. 

The process of carbonization (converting coconut shells to charcoal) is surprisingly non-toxic. Volatiles released during the carbonization process include methane, CO2, water vapor, and other organic vapors. Disruptive technology is used to prevent the emission of greenhouse gasses during the carbonization process. Coconut shells are chared in a reactor, which captures the greenhouse gasses and uses them in a controlled manner for the production of thermal energy. 

As long as the benefits of activated charcoal will continue to adorn the beauty industry, we can rest easy knowing that activated charcoal is an eco-friendly ingredient and a great alternative to other petroleum-based and micro-plastic based products. There are no serious health or environmental risks associated with activated charcoal products, so get to scrubbin’ for that soft toxin-free skin. 


Coconut Oil!

Coconut Oil

The use of coconut oil has rapidly increased within the last couple of years thanks to popular culture. There was a time where coconut oil was very frequently used at least more than it was now. It was the go-to cooking oil back in the day, but because of the saturated fats in the oil it was widely disapproved and newer polyunsaturated oils were introduced. A downside to these polyunsaturated vegetable oils is that they have too many omega-6 fatty acids and those led to problems with your body that include heart disease, inflammatory conditions in your joints and skin, such as arthritis. Perhaps it is the reason for the rise in high rates of disease in America?

What Americans did not know before is the actual health benefits of coconut oil in comparison to the vegetable oils. The benefits range from, skin care, to weight loss, and immunity. One helpful area of this coconut oil magic that is interesting is the ability to Heal in Infections: When the oil is applied to infected areas on the body, it forms a micro chemical layer that protects the body part from any dust, air, fungi, bacteria, and viruses. Coconut oil works very well and is effective on bruises as well as it speeds up the healing process of damaged tissues.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Artificial Turf in California: Water Conservation vs. Eco Waste

The recent drought in California has left many residents looking for alternative ways to maintain their landscapes. Grass is notorious for needing large amounts of water and chemicals to maintain. We know that we want to conserve water as a natural resource, and maintaining live grass is a a huge drain on this natural resource. A recently popular alternative to live grass is a new high quality synthetic turf. This turf has the look and feel of real grass, it lasts for years, requires no water and is green all the time. Sounds great, right? The problem is that it is made of petroleum products, and has all the pitfalls and problems associated with plastics and their impact on the planet.

This is a tough decision for a homeowner in California who wants a green lawn. You could have a traditional live lawn that requires chemicals and a generous amount of water to sustain, or you could install synthetic turf and deal with the disposal hazard and environmental impact of petroleum products.

Unfortunately there is no perfect solution for those of us who love our lawns. Going after things we want in life requires us to make sacrifices in other areas. A debate over natural vs. synthetic turf would be an interesting discussion for us to have as a society. There is no question that we will continue to landscape with grass whether it is natural or artificial. Opening up a discussion about what is a better choice could help people in drought prone areas make the right choice with regard to environmental impact.

Still wondering if your lawn is bad for the environment? Here is some additional info:

For those in California who are considering synthetic turf, here is a company called HERO that helps homeowners modify their homes to be more efficient and envrionmentally friendly.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Quick cup of coffee, quick kill to the environment

As time goes on, humans value time so much they create products to accommodate this value. The creator of the Keurig machine, John Sylvan, recently told The Atlantic that he 'feels bad sometimes that he ever did it.' To the unfamiliar, the Keurig machine is the Coffee Maker's cool younger brother- innovative, smart, and manages to get tasks done quicker than others. The Keurig is made for the perfect cup of coffee, using these singular pods to get the job done. However, it's been discovered that these pods, the "K-Cups" are actually harmful to the environment, hence the creator's regret.

killthekcup.org produced a video that discussed the issues K-Cups have on the environment. They claim that in 2013, the company that produces K-Cups created so many of these pods that it was enough to wrap around the equator 10.5 times. (As a side note, have you ever wondered why people use the equator as a comparison? I get that it's big, but can any of us really imagine how big that really is?) The killthekcup movement also claims that these pods are made of no.7 plastic, which they claim is hard to recycle.

A deeper look into no.7 plastic finds that it's a general plastic, meaning it can contain various types of plastics. The toxicity of this plastic seems to be higher than the others, containing bisphenol A (BPA), which can be a hormone or endocrine disruptor. If this plastic is used at a constant rate (which K-cups are made for an every day use), BPA could potentially be dangerous and harmful to the body, including higher risk of breast cancer and type 2 diabetes as an example.

However, the movement killthekcup is working on a new biodegradable pod to change the affect this plastic has on the environment and the body. There are reusable K-cups available, but it seems as if people prefer a one-and-done-deal from their coffee. The Natural Resources Defense Council claims that the production of making the pods have a much greater impact than the actual recycling of these pods.

An article by the New York Times claim that although these new K-cups will be recyclable, it doesn't mean that it's necessary better for the environment. The amount of time and resources to transport and create these pods release just as much harmful gases, if not more because of the popularity. Also, people would need to put their finished pods in a separate recycling bin, something most people are not used to quite yet.










Bad with chopsticks? Don't worry- it's bad for the environment!

It's a late night for you, so you want something easy and quick to eat. There's no time to cook or go out, so you settle for ordering Chinese takeout. The food comes, but they forgot the fork. All you have is chopsticks, but since you don't know how to use them, you throw them away and settle for a fork you already have at home.

The chopsticks you threw away were made by slave laborers in China's Gulag Archipelago. Those chopsticks were made in unsanitary conditions, possibly thrown all over the factory floor. Many consider chopsticks to be environmentally friendly because they're typically not made out of plastic. However, for that reason alone, these wooden, disposable chopsticks can be harmful among people as well as the environment. (Song)

In these factories, the chopsticks are exposed to sulfur, paraffin, hydrogen peroxide and insect repellent. These chemicals can be harmful to the environment as well as the human body. Paraffin and hydrogen peroxide can affect the digestive system. Once these chopsticks are thrown away irresponsibly, like in the ocean or rivers, these chemicals can affect wildlife as well.

Over 80 billion chopsticks are produced from China and thrown away every year. According to an article by The Epoch Times, a single 20-year-old tree can be used to make about 4,000 pairs of chopsticks. If you're bad at math like I am, that's a lot of trees that get chopped down, just for something to be thrown away at the end. This deforestation affects global warming, by the trees not being able to capture CO2.

To combat this issue, it's recommended to get reusable chopsticks instead. While Asian-Americans like myself agree that wooden chopsticks make a difference in taste, it's important to understand the impact these chopsticks make on the environment.





Photo: https://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/24/disposable-chopsticks-strip-asian-forests/


What better way to reduce your oil usage than to live in an ecovillage?

Extreme Oil Preservation

            There are many ways to live sustainably and reduce your oil usage. Dwellings like ecovillages have the goal of creating a sustainable community for their members. In doing so, permaculture is a main focus when it comes to the design of these communities. Permaculture is a set of techniques and principles used for designing a sustainable human community complete with plants, animals, buildings, and community organizations.
            Sustainable forestry is practiced at Earthaven. Most of the logging is done during the winter in order to preserve the ground and there is very minimal foresting done around streams or bodies of water to reduce erosion and protect runoff from being disturbed while the shade protects the water temperature and fish habitat. As often as they can, Earthaven members collect trees that have fallen on their own and only log when absolutely possible. When they do log, they take the smallest and most unhealthy trees and plant more in their place or grass. Forestry is used for heat and housing. Other sources of energy include hydro-power (micro-hydro system), solar electric systems, and generators or batteries that are able to be charged by the hydro station. In some situations propane is used for refrigeration and cooking. The plan is to implement two more hydro-systems to produce enough electricity for the entire Earthaven community.

At Earthaven there are forty acres that can be used as agriculture fields, including land around the water collection sites. When creating a storage plan for this community, the founders made it a point to build dwellings on sloped land so they could keep the flat land for growing and raising food. The idea for each site is to have their own garden in which they would grow small crops. When there is need for more crop land there are leasing options for community members to grow outside of their yard space. There is some work that still needs to be done, mainly clearing trees, before all of these ideas can be applied.

Aside from personal farming, there is quite the list of larger farms, gardens, and plant nurseries that are run by community members in order to produce more food that can be disbursed if members are not able to produce enough for themselves on their own. Livestock that is currently being raised is chickens, rabbits, and goats. Another interesting community resource is the forest garden learning center. The learning center is used as an example of a style of gardening that “mimics nature while emphasizing production of food, fiber, fuel, and other useful products” (Earthaven, 2016). There are also meditation type gardens for personal well-being and fishponds that are open to the community. Earthaven’s goal is to be sustainable and green, because of this they strongly encourage members to work on-site to reduce transportation costs and gas consumption. There isn’t a policy set in place but they are looking into ways to reduce peoples’ dependency on vehicles so on the farm there are three solar powered golf carts. Walking and biking is always encouraged on the farm, although some members still personally own their gas-powered cars that are used whenever they needs to go offsite to get food or supplies. Resources that are onsite and virtually within walking distance include the School of Integrated Living and a local herbal medicine shop. The community doesn’t offer much onsite work so a lot of the members have to go to the nearest town with is 10-15 miles away, as well as other major resources.

For more information about this ecovillage visit www.earthaven.org

"Earthaven Ecovillage." Earthaven Ecovillage. Genesis Framework, 2016. Web. 01 Mar. 2016. Retrieved from www.earthaven.org.

Take Responsibility!

Image from: clearingthefogradio.org

            When it comes to climate change, corporations must take responsibility for their actions especially those which have proven to be very harmful in terms of sustainability. Corporate social responsibility is known as “the commitment of business to contribute to sustainable economic development working with employees, their families, the local community and society at large to improve their quality of life,” this implies a focus on stakeholders who can influence the financial or competitive position of the firm, leaving little or no resources directed to serve the interest or marginalized stakeholder groups” (Banerjee, 2008). Although there are regulations put in place, corporations find loopholes in the rules that, in the end, earn them more money while not actually taking the responsibility they should be required to but just because something is ethically right or wrong does not mean that the big wigs will not find a way around it. Hand in hand with this idea of responsibility is the process of regulating the environment and its resources. Studies show that although regulatory teams have adopted cooperative strategies, owners and employees of corporations find them to be highly punitive. Because of this, there is an increased likelihood of “unintended negative consequences,” including being less likely to act on regulator suggestions for improvements or provide information to the regulator (Rorie, et. al, 2015).

            The main point that is being made here is that large, major corporations are not properly doing what they can to reverse climate change. There is so much power within these organizations that could be used to inform and to influence others’ decisions on how to go about creating a sustainable way of life rather than continuing to destroy the Earth we live on. We need to get back to our roots and approach this problem with changes in mind and not just ways around it. In order to jumpstart the environmental movement we need to turn away from market-based solutions and encourage positive media coverage while holding corporations responsible for strictly following new regulations that could be implemented to encourage and enforce renewables rather than fossil fuels. Innovations can be made and communities can be greatly improved if corporations start doing their part and taking responsibility.

Banerjee, S. B. (2008). Corporate Social Responsibility: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Critical Sociology, 34(1).

Rorie, M., Rinfret, S., & Pautz, M. (2015). The thin green line: Examining environmental regulation and environmental offending from multiple perspectives. International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice, 43(4), 586-608.

Reduce Your Consumption, Use Public Transportation!

Portland- The City of Possibilities

TriMet is one of the main providers of transportation in Portland. One of the main sustainable points is obvious, they provide a form of transportation for Portland area residents and visitors, at an affordable price, alternative to each person driving separately and producing CO2 from their vehicles. Doing so provides better air quality and decreased traffic congestion. One of TriMet’s goals as a transit system is to meet the increasing needs of transportation in the community and to connect land use and transportation in order to reduce the regions ecological footprint. TriMet works hard to select earth-friendly products and design principles to support a healthy community. TriMet is forced with daily sustainability challenges figuring out how to maintain and operate their vehicles. According to the article, TriMet gauges their progress towards sustainability by, “promoting human and ecosystem health by improving air quality, addressing global warming and encouraging healthy lifestyles. Services are affordable, attractive and efficient, while offering safer choices of types of transportation and supporting a healthy regional economy. Services limit emissions and waste by continually reducing the resources we use, using renewable resources when possible and finding alternatives to nonrenewable resources. Services support equal access to transit and the social and economic opportunities it provides, while avoiding unequal harm to community members’ environmental quality.”

            TriMet’s sustainability Policy is all about curtailing, or buying less, using less, wanting less, and wasting less. The main idea of TriMet is to downsize the consumption of fossil fuels by running a transportation service that allows people to reduce their carbon emissions by taking public transportation. Now, this wouldn’t work if just a few people participated in it, because TriMet’s system still emits a good amount of CO2, but it helps when many people use this form of transportation because the emissions from TriMet are less than what the emissions would be if the people riding it each drove their own CO2 emitting car. Since TriMet will run whether 500 people are on the train or 400, it’s better to have that 500 because the train will be running anyways. According to Plan C, people are conservers rather than consumers, along with the idea that they view conservation efforts as insufficient. Although TriMet runs an efficient business and helps in the reduction of CO2 emissions, it isn’t the solution to our climate change problem. TriMet’s system is an implied permanent societal change, as suggested in Plan C, but can continue to be bettered as a standard of living.

Alternative Energy: Solar Panels

Alternative Energy

Are you curious about alternative energy sources that will aid you in your search for sustainability? Here’s a bit of information on solar panels, one of the largest and fastest growing alternative energy sources.

The First Solar Panels

 In the beginning, solar panels were designed to sit on the roofs of the buildings that the energy being collected was used for. The general shape of the first solar panels was rectangular. These solar panels consisted of multiple numbers of solar cells that were made from a silicon semiconductor. These solar cells were placed inside a laminate made of two sheets, one of which made of glass, with a layer of transparent synthetic resin. The laminate is there to provide protection of the solar cells along with the electric connections between them. It also acts as an immobilizer. Solar panels were often connected to the roof in a certain position in relation to the direction of the flow of rain water. The two side-by-side pieces of solar panels are connected at the edges of the laminate laying parallel to one another (Tourneux, 1982). These solar panels were large and expensive. They were built as best they could be with the technology that was present at the time. Because solar panels were just being developed, they tended to be more expensive than the average consumer could afford. Solar energy was soon adopted by many but ruled out by others.

Solar Energy Through The Years

Solar energy’s popularity reached its peak in the 1950’s. The controversy from the beginning of solar cells was their efficiency. At its lowest, solar energy’s efficiency was only at 14%. This was up until the 1970’s when Exon Corporation designed an efficient solar panel that cost less to manufacture. This milestone was the first of many breakthroughs in the history of solar power (EGT, 2013). The demand for solar energy has increased with the rise of technology. As materials become more accessible, so do different types of solar energy and different ways of obtaining it. Instead of the large solar panels that were brought to the attention of many interested people, technology has allowed us to create much more sustainable, portable, and desirable solar contraptions. Scientists have found a way to make new, thinner filmed cells that are cheaper and more flexible. These new solar cells are ultra-thin sheets of flexible plastic that are coated with a series of chemicals, including indium, gallium, and diselenide, and allow the module to turn sunlight into electricity.

Though solar technology has come a long way, it hasn’t happened over night. This new film is a young technology and moving it from a lab to become mass produced has been tricky. There are production disruptions and things that go unnoticed because factories produce these films on such a large scale. Another difficult process in making solar film is access to the raw materials needed. Companies are finding it more and more difficult to locate these materials and bring them to the factories safely.

In the late 1900’s and early 2000’s companies were pulling away from solar power completely because of the lack of materials. A company that was launched in 1999 had trouble at first trying to start-up its solar cell production because of this lack. It wasn’t until a patient backer inherited money into the company that they began their successful new beginning. The company now prospers with this new-found approach that allowed the company to bring the cost of solar materials down.
The new technology that allowed for this major breakthrough was because of Nanosolar CEO Martin Roscheisen. He claimed that he can achieve radical cost savings by directly applying photoactive chemicals with an ink composed of nanoparticles. Producers of solar panels and like objects are finding it easier to get into the market as it grows and cheaper thin film cuts into the share held by crystalline silicon (Walsh, 2008).

Current Solar Power Technologies

There are many new technologies and uses of solar energy. People are coming up with new ways to convert solar energy to be more efficient and there are many new inventions that have caught the eye of many investors.

Solar Chimney

 Roof integrated solar chimneys use solar radiation to heat air and induce natural ventilation through a house. The way these chimneys improve the performance of roof integrated photovoltaic arrays is by removing head absorbed by the panels, and enhancing buoyant free cooling at night. The model of this chimney is divided into several zones to better resolve the airflow and heat transfer. An analysis of this chimney confirms that the inside temperature difference is the most important predictor of ventilation airflow. This chimney is a possible alternative to wood or gas heat (DeBlois, 2012).

Portable Solar Powered Cellphone Charger

A new cellphone charger has been made with its primary source of power being solar. This charger includes two separate solar panels and a battery switch containing unit. The two panels are connected together by hinges and the battery switch unit is connected to the back side of one of the panels. The main part of the charger pivots between retracted configurations where the tree component parts lie in parallel panels. The device is operable in three different modes. In the first mode, the solar panels are connected to charge or power the cellphone.  In the second mode the solar panels are connected to charge the devices internal battery, and in the third the battery is used to charge or power a phone connected to the device (Po-Jung, 2005).

The technology of solar power has definitely grown since the first solar panels were introduced in the 1950’s. People have grown more accustomed to their likes and dislikes in the controversy of solar energy. Some people side with the pros of solar power and others side with the cons. Solar power is continuing to develop over time but isn’t the main source of energy for any country. However, the possibility still exists. As we continue to grow as a nation, the United States will adopt new technologies and ways of using solar energy.

References Consulted
Tourneux, M., Villacoubly, V. (1982, June 22). United States Patent. Retrieved from http://www.google.com/patents?hl=en&lr=&vid=USPAT4336413&id=3O8sAAAAEBAJ&oi=fnd&dq=what+are+solar+panels+made+of%3F&printsec=abstract#v=onepage&q=what%20are%20solar%20panels%20made%20of%3F&f=false

Copyright (2013). History of Solar Energy. Retrieved from http://exploringgreentechnology.com/solar-energy/history-of-solar-energy/

Walsh, B., Time, (2008, June 23). Solar Power’s New Style. Retrieved from http://web.ebscohost.com.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/ehost/detail?sid=2285e465-ef43-4eb6-93fa-4b798194988e%40sessionmgr11&vid=5&hid=19&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=a9h&AN=32637607

DeBlois, J.C., Bilec, M.M., Schaefer, L.A. (2012, November 28). Design and zonal building energy modeling of a roof integrated solar chimney. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/science/article/pii/S0960148112006684#

Po-Jung, J. (2005, December 20). Portable Cell Phone Battery Charger Using Solar Energy As The Primary Source Of Power. Retrieved from http://www.google.com/patents?hl=en&lr=&vid=USPAT6977479&id=QOIUAAAAEBAJ&oi=fnd&dq=solar+powered+cell+phone+charger&printsec=abstract#v=onepage&q=solar%20powered%20cell%20phone%20charger&f=false

Devabhaktuni, V., Alam, M., Depur, S., Green, R.C., Nims, D., Near, C. (2012, November 8). Solar Energy: Trends and enabling technologies. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/science/article/pii/S1364032112006363

How Much Convenience Would You Trade To Live In A World Without Oil?

I have had many discussions with friends about the way things used to be done. And it is true that especially today with so many technological advances, we do so many things differently than even recent history. One of the things that have changed is how we package our food. Do you drink milk? If you have milk in your fridge, chances are high that it is in a plastic jug. Not too long ago milk was consumed from glass bottles. These bottles were traded and exchanged as the milk was used up. This essentially created no packaging waste and the petroleum jugs were left out of the equation. The abundance and low cost of oil created a market for the plastic milk jug, and this plastic milk jug would not exist without oil.

The plastic jugs work very well for all the intended purposes of the milk product, this packaging is light weight, affordable, disposable and not bulky. The issue is that this man made product is made from oil and is very difficult to decompose. And, although it is recyclable, not all of the plastic jugs make it back into the consumer loop. Even worse is the impact plastic like this has on our oceans and other natural areas. So we are left with a choice between economic and personal convenience, or we continue to live with the adverse effects on our environment due to plastic production.

The tough part about this issue is that right now it is a personal choice on whether or not to consume these products. And really this choice of consumption comes down to two things: a higher cost for an alternative, and the convenience of the current plastic packaging. How do we get out of this cycle? We must be willing to sacrifice. We must be willing to sacrifice the extra money for milk in a glass bottle, we must be willing to sacrifice the convenience of a disposable plastic jug. This means we must be willing to do the extra work and pay the extra cost associated with glass. Would you apply this sacrificial attitude to all the other products we consume that are packaged with oil products? It is a discussion worth having, our planet is at stake.

Here is some great info on the plastic patch in our ocean:


Micro-plastics in the Environment

Plastics and their effect on the environment is something that is currently being analyzed by science. Large pieces of plastic can become obstructions in the marine environment to both humans and marine organisms.
                                        Marine litter (Credit: Bo Elde/Flickr)
Other than the larger plastic materials in the environment, something that must be taken into account is the less visible impact of plastic on the environment. Micro-plastics are tiny plastic granules and fragments that come from broken down macro-plastics and other materials such as cosmetics and cleaners.  Micro-plastics enter marine environments via, rivers, waste-systems, industrial drainage systems and other avenues. Due to the small size of these plastics as well as their prevalence in the environment, they are ingested by a wide variety of organisms along the food-chain.  This has the potential to eventually affect humans as these toxic materials travel up the food-chain.

The effect that these micro-plastics have on the environment is still being analyzed.  As stated before, micro-plastics can be consumed by very small organisms because of the small size of the material.  This has potential to cause toxic responses in the organisms which can potentially effect humans. There is still much to be understood about micro-plastics and their impact on the environment.  One thing is clear and that is that there is potential for negative impacts on the food-web as marine biota consume these plastic fragments.


Petroleum - A Lifesaver?

Could petroleum be the cure to cancer?

For all the furor surrounding the devastation and dangers, both hidden and apparent, that the oil industry presents us with, it's easy to forget just how pivotal a part it plays in helping us in our everyday lives. On this site, you can find a multitude of posts highlighting the benefits that the oil industry has provided us with, but perhaps none are as important as the advances it has allowed in medicine.


Oxygen masks, antiseptics, syringes, heart valves, artificial limbs - just some of the key tools used every day (if not every minute) worldwide, and a direct result of products made through what the oil industry has provided us with. Even common medication we take when combating everyday illnesses, such as aspirins for when we're plagued with those troublesome headaches, are derived from oil.

So how do we ameliorate this dissonance between recognizing the harm that the oil industry has caused, along with the fact that, through that very same industry, we're provided with vital tools that help us, not just in everyday life, but in surviving and maintaining healthy lives? I think a big step is to not just recognize the far-reaching presence of the oil industry, but then turning to perhaps more ecologically friendly alternatives. Luckily, green technology has become a booming industry itself in the past couple of decades, across a variety of fields, with medicine nestling amongst the largest. Click here, for example, to see ten great examples of green medical devices that can help continue to evolve the health industry while still keeping a green mindset that aims to help sustain our planet.

We can't simply switch off our need for the oil industry, nor should we. Despite the advances in green technology, it will be a very long time before they become a suitable and affordable replacement on a wider scale. However, we can be conscious of what we're using, and if we have a degree of control over our healthcare options, perhaps we can look towards greener pastures (pun intended!).

I highly encourage that next time you're feeling ill or have an appointment at the doctor's, or know someone in that position, to do some quick research for green alternatives to see if there's a good fit. Small steps like that can go a long way, especially if each of us approach these situations with similar mindsets.


Battle With Cancer Is Won: Treatment With Pure Petroleum! (2016, July 11). Retrieved March 14, 2017, from http://amazinghealthyfood.com/battle-cancer-won-pure-petroleum/

Medical. (n.d.). Retrieved March 14, 2017, from http://www.oilandgasinfo.ca/oil-gas-you/products/medical/

Top ten green medical devices. (n.d.). Retrieved March 14, 2017, from http://www.medicaldevice-network.com/features/feature128184/

The Nestucca Oil Spill: A Disaster Close to Home

You need not look far to see the impact and potential of oil spills all around us
When we hear tales of catastrophic oil spills that make headlines across the world, such as the infamous Deepwater Horizon oil spill (or, as it's been come to known, the "BP Oil Spill"), something that I, and I'm sure others, tend to forget, is just how much these incidents are absolutely not isolated events. 

It is a tragic fact that oil spills occur on a variety of scales around the globe, each one just as harmful to our global ecosystem. Some, like the BP Oil Spill, receive far more press attention due to the enormity of the scale in which the disaster transpires, but that's not to say that unless it receives widespread press coverage, that oil spills are a rare occurrence. I believe a big step towards witching on an active social mindset geared towards a broader awareness of the hidden cost of oil, is recognizing that these disasters do happen far more often than we realize.

With the main hub of this blog being based out of Portland, OR, I'd like to highlight a little known oil spill that happened just off the Washington coast, just a little over 150 miles away from Portland. Even to this day, not much information is readily available online, despite the fact that the "oil barge accident near the entrance of Grays Harbor unleashed one of the most damaging spills in Northwest history"¹.

As touched upon by Powell & de Place (2015) in their suitably titled piece, "Washington State has Forgotten its own BP Oil Spill", despite the large scale and impact of the events that took place on that day, you would be hard pressed to find many familiar with this incident at all.

On December 21, 1988, just four days shy of Christmas, the Nestucca tanker barge was loaded up with 2.8 million gallons of fuel - interestingly enough from a BP refinery, no less. That evening, due to what would be later uncovered as corroded tow wiring, the Nestucca snapped away from it's leading tugboat, the Ocean Service, and started drifting uncontrollably towards shore. Despite the Captain's efforts to chuck in an emergency line to retrieve the barge and reel it back towards the Ocean Service, swells in the ocean caused both vessels to collide into one another. While crew members were able to hop onto the Nestucca, the damage had been done - a huge gash spanning six feet had torn apart one of the Nestucca's cargo tanks, and oil started flooding the waters.

To make matters worse, no recorded efforts were made to remedy the situation, with an entire week having gone by after the incident before it was officially reported that a whopping 231,000 gallons of oil had spilled into the Pacific ocean.

When I look at an incident like this, decades on, I see parallels with a lot of the issues we still face to this day when combatting these catastrophes. It leads me to wonder how many of these incidents continue to float under the radar and out of the greater public's consciousness. Perhaps a more vested interest in the part of a larger majority, with increased scrutiny, might lead to large companies such as BP to feel compelled to put in stronger safeguards. If these types of incidents continue to be swept under the rug, I fear that little progress will continue to be made, as our planet needs a larger voice to speak up on its part.

So I'd like to end this post by urging you to go onto google, and find out the nearest and most recent oil spill that occurred near you, and then share that information. We live in a digital age where our voices can be heard greater than ever, and it's up to us to ensure that we use that power we've been given. Read more about the hidden cost of oil on this site, take just a couple of minutes to learn more about these events as they happen around you, and make a conscious effort to really try and put into perspective just how impactful these events are.


¹T. P., & E. D. (n.d.). Washington State Has Forgotten Its Own BP Oil Spill. Retrieved March 14, 2017, from http://www.sightline.org/2015/09/15/washington-state-has-forgotten-its-own-bp-oil-spill/

²(n.d.). Retrieved March 14, 2017, from https://www.cerc.usgs.gov/orda_docs/CaseDetails?ID=961

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Downfalls of Mineral Oil

Mineral oil is used in a lot of cheaper shampoos and conditioners, and are more affordable for low-income families. It is also made from crude oil, which is the same type of oil that can be used in cars. It is made, after crude oil is refined through a process of purification, and can also be used in other cosmetics. While it can be mass produced, and used a lubricant as well, it is very limited in its benefits and can actually prevent hair from growing more.

Mineral oil is also used in Vaseline, and incredibly popular product used for all types of things - babies, lip balm, and so forth. It is a petroleum based product, and also can harm the skin.

It is also used in a lot skincare products, such as moisturizers or lip balm. Baby oil is also completely, made out of mineral oil. It does not provide any nutrients however, and does not help to maintain clear skin. Cell renewal slows down, and collagen breaks down. While it is harmful to have mineral oil applied to your skin or hair, it is also unfortunate that a lot of times, it is in products that can be more affordable, and purchased for those that can only afford these types of products. People in lower income brackets can’t afford to buy expensive skin care or hair care products, and so they end up stuck using these products that cause more harm than good.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Press Play: Oil in CD's

There are plenty of ways to listen to music or even watch your favorite film. One way in particular has been popular for years and comes in the shape of a small circle made out of plastic and aluminum. Its called a CD (Compact Disc) or DVD (Digital Video Disc) only a few millimeters thick, they provide hours of entertainment and hold huge volumes of information. Do you ever stop to think about how CD’s and DVD’s are made, what materials they’re made out of, or what happens to the discs when you don’t want them any more? Making products like CD’s and DVD’s consumes natural resources. produces waste and uses energy. By learning about product life cycles, you can find out how to reduce the environmental impacts and resources used in products you use daily. when you understand these connections, you can make better environmental choices about the products you use and how to dispose them. Follow the  life cycle of a CD or DVD and learn more about how these products are made and what you could do to help reduce waste and save natural resources.

CD’s and DVD’s are made from many different materials, each of which has its own operate life cycle involving energy and waste. They include:

Aluminum- the most abundant metal element of the Earth’s crust. Bauxite ore is the main source of aluminum.

Polycarbonate- a type of plastic, which is made from crude oil and natural gas extracted from Earth.

Lacquer- made of acrylic, another type of plastic.

Gold- a metal that is mined from the Earth.

Dyes- chemicals made in laboratory, partially from petroleum products that come from the Earth.

Other materials such as water, glass, silver and nickel.

When it comes to processing the minerals there is some work that goes into it. For example, Bauxite ore is processed into a substance called alumina by washing, crushing, dissolving, filtering and harvesting the materials, Alumina is then turned into aluminum through a process called “Smelting”. Then the material is shaped rolled and made into a cast.

To make plastics crude oil from the ground is combined with natural gas and chemicals in manufacturing or processing plant.

When it comes to manufacturing, its pretty much the same for both CD’s and DVD’s.  A injection molding machine creates the core of the disc. A 1 millimeter thick piece of polycarbonate (plastic). The plastic is melted and put in a mold. With several tons of pressure, a stamper embeds tiny indendation or pits, with digital information into the plastic mold. A CD’s players laser reads these pits when playing a CD.

The plastic molds then go through the “metallizer” machine, which coats the CD’s with a thin metal reflective layer (usually aluminum) through a process called “Sputtering.” The playback laser reads the information off the reflective aluminum surface.

The CD then receives a small layer of lacquer as protective coating against scratching and corrosion.

Most CD’s are screen printed with one to five different colors for a decorative label. Screen printing involves squeegees and inks, which are also objects made out of petroleum oil.

When it comes to the packaging, CD’s and CD’s are packaged in clear to colored plastic cases (Jewel cases) or cardboard boxes that are then covered with plastic shrink wrap. This packaging can be made from raw materials. For example, the plastic used can be from recycled bottles of from crude oil and natural gas extracted from the Earth combined with chemicals.

Useful Life
CD’s and DVD’s are created with materials that are extremely stable. IF properly stored and handled most discs will last for years, even decades. Certain conditions such as high temperatures, rapid temperature changes or even exposures to certain type of light can damage discs or shorten their useful life. Taking care of your discs by keeping them out of direct sunlight or away from heat will help them last longer.  Not only will you save money but you can also help reduce waste by preventing long term damage.

Reuse, Recycling to Disposal

A good way to keep discs from going in the trash is to reuse them. Minor scratches can be repaired by rubbing a mild abrasive (such as toothpaste) on the non-label side of a disc in circular motion form the center out. Also some commercial refinishers can inexpensively repair your CD’s.  Unwanted CD’s or DVD’s can be sold to stores, traded with friends, or donated to schools or libraries. Buying CD’s or DVD’s or borrowing them from the library can also help reduce the environmental impact associated with manufacturing new products.

CD’s can be recycled for use in new products such as:
Automotive industry parts.
Raw materials to make plastics..
Office Equipment.
Alarm Boxes and panels, street lights and electrical cable insulation.
Jewel cases.

There’s no need to dispose your discs when you could send them to donations or collection centers. Always try to share, donate or trade your discs. If all fails, send them to a recycling center. CD’s and DVD’s that are thrown away waste energy and result in lost valuable resources.

Fun Facts:
In 1983, when CD’s were introduced to the United States, 800,000 discs were sold. By 1990 this number had grew to 1 billion! Every month approximately 100,000 pounds of CD’s become obsolete (outdated, useless or unwanted).

Heres a video on the process in which CD's are made. Very interesting and informative stuff!

Resources: http://www.cdrecyclingcenter.org/learn/facts-general-information

Video Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3FQzwNzUE4