#EarthDay2020: Water 101

Water is perhaps one of the most essential components for life. In the face of climate change and a growing population, water availability has become one of the biggest issues facing many communities around the world.

This blog is part of a series of blogs from ACE Recycling In recognition of the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day.  This series focuses on changes you can make to decrease your carbon footprint, lessen your water impact and help the environment.  These changes are intended to be user-friendly.  Being environmentally responsible has the added benefit of being healthier and more cost effective.  The goal is to create fun and engaging activities for the whole family.  Simple changes to our everyday lives have big impacts on our health and the health of our planet.  #EarthDay2020 #EarthRise2020 #ActsofGreen #ACERecyclingBlog #SmallChangesBigImpacts

Water Scarcity and the need for Conservation

Water is perhaps one of the most essential components for life. It provides humans, wildlife, and plants the ability to prosper. In essence, it provides a balance between resources and those who use said resources. It is important for many reasons; it provides plants and our crops a vital resource to thrive (without it, they can’t perform photosynthesis, and therefore live), it holds the many aquatic life we consume (fish and seaweed), and is necessary for humans to live (without it, a human can only 2-3 days!). The earth’s ability to survive is heavily dependent on water availability, without it there can be no plants, there can be no wildlife, and there can be no human life.

The Blue Planet

Water makes up a large portion of the earth’s surface (71%), however a majority is not readily available for drinking or commercial purposes.

Of the 71% of Earth’s Water:

  • 96% is in oceans (not readily usable for agriculture or drinking)
  • 3% is freshwater
  • 2.5% of freshwater is unavailable (trapped in glaciers, ice caps)
  • ~ 0.5% of freshwater is available 
    • 0.62% of available freshwater is in groundwater
    • 0.009% of available freshwater is in lakes
    • 0.0001 % available freshwater is in rivers

When put into perspective, the available water appropriate for agriculture and drinking (called potable) is only a small fraction of the earth’s total water. In the face of climate change and a growing population, water availability has become one of the biggest issues facing many communities around the world. Such impacts of climate change include increased drought (decreases availability) and increased flooding (decreases clean water availability due to contamination).

Colorado River Compact

Here in the U.S., water availability has been an issue in Western states such as California, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico, all of which share the Colorado River as one of their main sources of water. As a result, some of these areas have experienced drought and increased costs. California, for instance, suffered a drought lasting from December 27th, 2011- March 5th, 2019, a total of eight years. In the eight years, “the most intense period of drought occurred the week of July 29, 2014 where D4 [the most severe type of drought] affected 58.41% of California land” (Drought in California, 2019).

The struggle with access to the Colorado River’s water has not only caused economic and social issues within these states, but has impacted greatly a more vulnerable community: Native Americans. Although the original Colorado River Compact recognized the Native American’s water rights, the issues had been neglected until a 1963 Supreme Court decision quantified federal reserved rights of the five Native American reservations along the lower Colorado River. The Native American reservations included in 1963 Supreme Court (Arizona v. California) were the Chemehuevi, Cocopah, Colorado River, Fort Mohave and Quechan (Fort Yuma). However, this Supreme Court decision did not completely remedy the many issues on water availability that are still apparent in Native American communities/reservations.

Water as a Right

Seeing the impact of climate change on water availability in real time poses the need and urgency to tackle issues of conservation. Conservation is crucial to ensuring water availability for communities in need around the world (such as the many Native American communities/reservation in the U.S. mentioned above). In 2019, the United Nations (UN) launched “Leaving no one behind” as a part of their 2019 World Water Development Report, which obliges countries to work towards universal access to water and sanitation to everyone, without discrimination, while prioritizing those most sensitive to lack of availability and vulnerable to resource scarcity. As previously mentioned by the UN in previous years, access and sanitation are considered human rights. The UN identifies different components of access and sanitation as a human right:

  • Availability of water and sanitation
  • Physical accessibility of water and sanitation
  • Affordability
  • Quality and safety
  • Acceptability (by societal norms or culture of different areas)
World Water Day March 22, 2020

Using the framework already outlined by the UN these components can be implemented into conversations about conservation to help improve the well-being of vulnerable communities here in the U.S. This can be a step forward into tackling the global issue of water scarcity and availability.

As we come closer to Earth Day (04/22/2020), let us take a moment and celebrate a common resource needed and shared by all on March 22, 2020 which marks World Water Day.

Our next segment will go over conservation, specifically on what’s been done in the U.S., and what can be done.

This article was written by Carla Salas who has been working with ACE Recycling in conjunction with her schooling. Carla is a current college student attending her last year at Grand Canyon University. She is majoring in Environmental Science with a focus in Chemistry, along with a minor in Pre-Law. Her future goals include getting a Master’s/P.h.D in Environmental Science along with going to law school to eventually become an environmental lawyer to fight and advocate for environmental justice for vulnerable communities. As a member of the Latinx and Hispanic culture and as a bilingual Chicana/Mexican-American community member, she is passionate in providing equal access to environmental education and justice through her bilingual skills.  The proverb below summarizes her passion for environmental justice and her belief for all communities to be able to access the resources needed for a healthy life.  “La aqua y la comida es sagrada y nunca se desprecia”  “Both water and food are sacred and should never be despised (disdained)” 

FOLLOW CARLA: Instagram: environmental.lawtina Tik Tok: @carla.salas37 or Enviro.lawtina

Check out our series on Carbon!

#EarthDay2020: Your Carbon Footprint

Reducing our carbon footprint should a be goal for every household, for the environmental benefits, but also because it is generally a healthier lifestyle.

This blog is part of a series of blogs from ACE Recycling In recognition of the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day.  This series focuses on changes you can make to decrease your carbon footprint and help the environment.  These changes are intended to be user-friendly.  Being environmentally responsible has the added benefit of being healthier and more cost effective.  The goal is to create fun and engaging activities for the whole family.  Simple changes to our everyday lives have big impacts on our health and the health of our planet.  #EarthDay2020 #EarthRise2020 #ActsofGreen #ACERecyclingBlog #SmallChangesBigImpacts

Before we discuss ways to decrease our carbon footprints, we need to understand what carbon is and what a carbon footprint is.  Most are aware that carbon is an element found on the periodic table of elements and some are aware that life is carbon based.  It is important to understand there are complex systems at work.  For an overview of these systems read the first article in this series.  That will give you background and context for this article. 

Recently, carbon has come front and center as we engage in a world-wide conversation about the effect carbon is having on our climate, and consequently, humans as a whole.  This topic is discussed in more detail in the second article of this series.  It is in this context that the phrase carbon footprint has become part of our vocabulary.  When talking about a carbon footprint, footprint refers to what is left behind by an individual, specifically how much carbon that individual is releasing directly or indirectly through every day activities.  It is very important to understand that us humans are a part of the system and are subject to the laws of nature.  Therefore, when we alter one thing, it will alter something else and those alterations will affect all life on earth.  Likewise, your choices ripple out to affect humans half way around the world.  Reducing our carbon footprint should a be goal for every household, for the environmental benefits, but also because it is generally a healthier lifestyle. 

Your Carbon Footprint

You carbon footprint is essentially the carbon that you have pulled out of storage and put back into circulation.  Most of us think of driving a car when we think of putting carbon into the atmosphere, but there are far less obvious ways we do this.  For example, when you eat a quarter pound hamburger you are pulling 14.6 gallons of water out of the system, using 13.5 pounds of feed and producing 4 pounds of greenhouse gases. How many quarter pound hamburgers have you eaten in the last year?  We tend to be disconnected from the process of production.  This blinds us to the resources that we are actually using.  To calculate your true carbon footprint these hidden emitters of carbon dioxide need to be counted.  There are hundreds of carbon footprint calculators on the web.  We recommend the Footprint Calculator put out by the Global Footprint Network.  This calculator allows you to “add detail for accuracy” for some of the categories, make sure you do that.  At the end it will give you, not only your carbon footprint but many other stats.  It will tell you your Earth Share.  This number represents how many Earth’s there would need to be to sustain your lifestyle.  It tells you your ecological and carbon footprints and breaks down your consumption by category. 

What's your carbon footprint?  Comment with your score and pledge to change one thing to help lower it!
The average ecological footprint per country in 2018.
The average ecological footprint per country in 2018.
Ways to Reduce your Carbon Footprint
Reducing Energy Usage

First let’s deal with the obvious ways to decreases our carbon footprint: reduce our use of electricity.  Here in Phoenix, this is challenging with temperatures in the summer hitting 115 degrees in the shade.  There are ways to reduce the need for the energy sucking air conditioner though.

  1. CREATE YOUR OWN SHADE.   Close your blinds and plant trees that will block south and west facing windows.  Plant life reduces the ambient temperature by several degrees and has the added benefit of pulling carbon out of the atmosphere.  It will also cut down on noise and pollution coming from cars on the road.  There are several native species that are low maintenance, low water and fast growing. 
  2. INVEST IN A SMART THERMOSTAT like the Nest.  The Nest “learns” your temperature preferences and will automatically adjust for optimal energy use when you aren’t home.  It will also give you a report with the amount of energy used.  This allows you to see your peak use times and adjust.
  3. UNPLUG AND ADJUST! When appliances are not in use, unplug them.  Adjust high energy usage for the night.  If your TV is off it is still drawing power (is there a light on?  That takes energy!).  For those appliances that are used every once in a while, unplug them.  Program your pool pump to come on when the sun has gone down and it doesn’t have to draw as much power to run. Use the dishwasher, washer and dryer and other high energy appliances at night and sparingly.   
  4. INVEST IN SOLAR.  Seriously, do it!  We went solar and we will never go back.  We have a 3,000 square foot house that was clearly not designed for energy savings.  The main living area is two stories and both thermostats are out in this cavernous space.  During the summer the upstairs bedrooms were like ice boxes because the air was constantly running.  Aside from being illogical, it was expensive for us, and the planet.  We invested in solar panels and got the Nest thermostat.  For 9 months out of the year, the electricity company owes us money. When we do have to pay, our bills are $300.00 – $400.00 less than they were. 
Reducing Carbon, Increasing Health and Community

Next, let’s look at all the ways you can reduce your carbon footprint that are less obvious.  The first three are circled around food.  The production of, consumption of and disposal of food is one of the greatest contributors to climate change.  The problem, however, is that many Americans aren’t hearing or talking about their food’s carbon footprint. More than half of those surveyed, in a survey conducted in concert with Yale’s Program on Climate Change Communication, the study, titled Climate Change and the American Diet, resoundingly reported the willingness among Americans to eat less meat.  Most have rarely heard about the environmental impact of food in the media. And nearly two-thirds said they rarely talked about how their food affects climate change. That same number said nobody has ever asked them to eat more plant-based foods.

 https://ourworldindata.org/environmental-impacts-of-food  This graph shows the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted at each stage of food production.  Beef is the highest emitter of greenhouse gasses, with crops being lowest.
https://ourworldindata.org/environmental-impacts-of-food This graph shows the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted at each stage of food production. Beef is the highest emitter of greenhouse gasses, with crops being lowest.

A surplus of food is a fairly new phenomenon that many older Americans will have seen over the course of their life time.  We eat and waste more food than ever.  This generally started in the 80s and has spiraled into “supersized” fries, drinks and humans, resulting in a tremendous rise in diabetes and heart disease.   Our health is at risk, as much as the planet is. In fact, about half of American adults have one or more diet-related chronic diseases such as heart diseasehigh blood pressuretype 2 diabetes, and certain cancers, the report states. More and more evidence shows that the types of food we eat have a worsening effect on our gut health and immune system, which play major roles in protecting our overall health. Researchers say that changing the way we eat could help prevent us from getting sick sooner — or later — in life. 

  1. EAT LESS MEAT, especially red meat.  We are the only society on Earth that feels we need to eat meat every day.  As mentioned above the amount of resources that go into producing that meat are intensive.  EarthDay.org is running a campaign specifically focused in on food.  It is called Foodprints for Future  and it highlights ways our food choices impact the planet.  One simple thing you can do to reduce your foodprint is, to make it a point to have one or two vegetarian meals a week.  My children love this because I make them pancakes for dinner.  This is one thing they will all eat (parents you know this is worth its weight in gold!) and it is meatless.  Win, win.  Red meat is really not good for us.  It is full of fat that raises cholesterol.  Heart disease is the number one killer in this country, largely due to our diets including so much red meat.   
  2. REDUCE FOOD WASTE.  When food decays it releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas.  I have three small children; food waste is very common in our house.  You don’t know how many times they want something and as soon as it is placed in front of them, they no longer “like” it or “want” it.  The struggle is real. To reduce food waste commit to making less food and reducing portion size.  In the US portion sizes are out of control and affecting our health.  According to research, Portion sizes began to grow in the 1970s, rose sharply in the 1980s, and have continued in parallel with increasing body weights.   We need to remember that an abundance of food is a privilege that we squarely take advantage of when we throw away food. The fact is food insecurity is an issue world-wide, including here in the US.  The USDA defines “food insecurity” as the lack of access, at times, to enough food for all household members. In 2017, an estimated 15 million households were food insecure.  According to ActionAgainstHunger.org, around the world, more than 780 million people live in extreme poverty on less than $1.90 per person per day, an amount which is impossible to support a healthy livelihood in any part of the world. 
  3. GROW YOUR OWN FOOD.  The processes of harvesting, packaging and shipping food all produce carbon.  Not to mention the trip to the store to buy it all.  Gardening is a great family activity.  We have a garden and grow food from the seed.  My children love this time with their dad playing in the dirt.  We compost and use the dirt to grow some very hardy plants, even in the desert. 
  4. BUY LESS. Everything you buy is manufactured, shipped and packaged.  All of that releases carbon, but also creates waste.  Swap clothes, jewelry, etc. with your sister, friends, etc.  My mom and I frequently swap jewelry and clothes to change up our wardrobe.  Have a garage sale or donate to local charities, homeless and/or woman’s shelters.  Buy from an electronics recycling facility like ACE.  Buying local helps strengthen your local economy and reduces carbon by cutting out the shipping and, often manufacturing.  But most importantly, it gets you out in your community. 
https://www.statista.com/chart/15143/percieved-food-waste/   The US is the highest producer of food waste.
https://www.statista.com/chart/15143/percieved-food-waste/ The US is the highest producer of food waste.
Call to Action

Historic evidence tells us that 21-25% of a population needs to change their behavior to enact significant system-level changes.  67% of US adults believe the US government is not doing enough to reduce the effects of global climate change.  It is clear that while we can lean on our government, individual behavior changes are more important. Individuals can make a difference; they have throughout history.  The present is not an exception to this truth. These behavioral changes influence our neighbors, children, family and friends.  They, in turn, influence their neighbors, children, family and friends.  This starts a ripple that cannot be stopped and spreads in ways we cannot imagine.  Soon these ripples touch governmental policy and law and before we know it, we have joined together to affect real institutional change that all started with simple choices. You can create big impacts with small choices you make.  The ripples we start ultimately are what we leave behind when we are gone.   

PREVIOUS ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES:

#EarthDay2020: Carbon 101

#EarthDay2020: Carbon & Us

#EarthDay2020: Carbon & Our Electronics

#EarthDay2020: Carbon & Our Electronics

For the next installment of ACE Recycling’s #EarthDay2020 blog series we are changing it up with a video. This video focuses on Carbon and Our Electronics. It explores the carbon footprint of producing, using and disposing of electronic devices.

This blog is part of a series of blogs from ACE Recycling In recognition of the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day.  This series focuses on changes you can make to decrease your carbon footprint and help the environment.  These changes are intended to be user-friendly.  Being environmentally responsible has the added benefit of being healthier and more cost effective.  The goal is to create fun and engaging activities for the whole family.  Simple changes to our everyday lives have big impacts on our health and the health of our planet.   #EarthDay2020 #EarthRise2020 #ActsofGreen #ACERecyclingBlog #SmallChangesBigImpacts

In the third installment of ACE Recycling’s #EarthDay2020 blog series we will look at Carbon & Our Electronics. As explained in the first two articles of this series, everything has a carbon footprint. The electronic devices we use daily are not an exception to this. Carbon is released through the mining of the raw material to make the components for our devices, the manufacture & transport of the device, and its use. Carbon and other toxic chemicals are also released through the improper disposal of the device at the end of its life. The video explains the #SmallChanges you can make for #BigImpacts on the carbon footprint of your electronics.

Other Articles in this Series

Carbon 101 – In the first article of this series we look at the carbon system as a whole.

Carbon & Us – In the second article of this series we look how carbon is affecting humans as a whole. We have always had a big impact on Earth and each other. This article explores some of those big impacts.

Up Next

Your Carbon Footprint: A look at what a carbon footprint is and how to calculate and reduce yours in fun, family-friendly ways.

[social_warfare ]

#EarthDay2020: Carbon & Us

In the second article of this series we will look how carbon is affecting humans as a whole. We have always had a big impact on Earth and each other. This article explores some of those big impacts.

This blog is part of a series of blogs from ACE Recycling In recognition of the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day.  This series focuses on changes you can make to decrease your carbon footprint and help the environment.  These changes are intended to be user-friendly.  Being environmentally responsible has the added benefit of being healthier and more cost effective.  The goal is to create fun and engaging activities for the whole family.  Simple changes to our everyday lives have big impacts on our health and the health of our planet.  #EarthDay2020 #EarthRise2020 #ActsofGreen #ACERecyclingBlog #SmallChangesBigImpacts

In the second article of this series we will look how carbon is affecting humans as a whole.  For a general run down on carbon, read Carbon 101, the first article in this series.   It is a scientific fact that the climate is changing at an unprecedented pace caused by human activities, in the same way that it is a scientific fact that a pencil will fall to the floor when dropped.  Now we need to band together to innovate and create a solution.  This communal problem solving is uniquely human and one of the most powerful forces on Earth.  We have created civilizations from dirt, flying machines from metal forged in fire and the internet.  We have always had a big impact on Earth and each other.  This article explores some of those big impacts.  These impacts come from choices made by you and I, but ripple out to affect humans half way around the world.  How do your choices have that far of a reach?  Because nothing exists in a vacuum, that is to say that everything affects everything else.  It is very important to understand that us humans are a part of the system and are subject to the laws of nature.  Therefore, when we alter one thing, it will alter something else and those alterations will affect all life on earth.  Being a former teacher and general science nerd, I believe knowledge is power and understanding is the first step to making conscious, deliberate choices in our everyday lives to decrease our impact.  Our choices, from the car we drive to the meat we eat, affect everything else because we are part of this big, beautiful system we call Earth.       

Climate Change is Happening Now

According to the 10 New Insights in Climate Science, “The pace of contemporary rise in greenhouse gas concentrations is unprecedented in the climate history over the past 66 million years.”A warming Earth alters more than just baseline temperatures.  A warmer climate alters the water cycle, (increased temperature causes evaporation) and is shifting biomes northward.  We are actively, in real-time, seeing life on Earth adapt to this ever-warming climate.  Migration patterns, mating seasons, harvest cycles and many other season-linked activities are changing or have changed.  Life is adjusting and adapting as it has done for millions of years. Humans are too, but most do not see the connection between climate change and societal issues.  Immigration, war due to drought and famine (Arab Spring), increased energy prices, higher food costs and more intense and far-reaching diseases, are all direct consequences of climate change. 

As the temperature increases, evaporation is increasing putting more water into the air to act as a greenhouse gas, which in turn, further warms Earth.  This is called a feedback loop and in “normal” circumstances this feedback loop creates and maintains the conditions needed for life to exist.  However, it can “runaway” and compound itself to the point that it will wildly swing in one direction and become irreversible. More frequent and more powerful storms in some regions and extreme drought in others are a direct effect of the altered water cycle. Both of these scenarios displace populations and change food production leading to immigration and higher food costs, respectively.  Conservative estimates on the average number of people pushed into poverty each year due to flooding and drought are 26 million.  It is estimated that 180 million people will be displaced by 2100 as a result of altered weather patterns

RCraig09 [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

What was once considered unlikely or rare (both in terms of the intensity and frequency) is becoming part of a “new normal”.  The impacts of this new normal will affect all sectors of society and include, increased food prices due to crop failure, health impacts from the outbreak of water-borne disease or heatwaves and infrastructure damage from storms.  All of this will cost us, both in monetary terms, but also in terms of human health and life.  One specific example of this can be seen in the Jet Stream.  “The jet stream – a fast-moving band of air 11 km [7 miles] up in the atmosphere – is increasingly showing signs of unusual behavior…” . It is shifting hot air circulation Northward around the globe, leading to hot African air reaching northward to France and Germany.  This will ultimately affect the economy of these regions changing what can be grown.  For France, this is especially pertinent, considering they are synonymous with vineyards.  

https://electroverse.net/multiple-all-time-low-temperature-records-fall-in-minnesota-the-changing-jet-stream/

In these early days of climate change, the populations most affected are the world’s most vulnerable. It is estimated that poor populations are 8-32 times more vulnerable to the risks of climate change.  It could be argued that it is this reason alone that the developed world is so slow to accept that the climate is changing.  It is, after all, our lifestyles that are causing the most negative changes to the climate, but it is not us that are being negatively affected by that lifestyle. Yet.  Climate change is already affecting food production by reducing agricultural yields.  Increasing concentrations of carbon in the atmosphere decreases the nutritional value of food.  In the Western world we are largely disconnected from the source of our food and employ technology to fortify food with vitamins and minerals.  But what we must remember is, most of the world is growing their own food without the help of such technologies and catching their food from the natural world.  Most of the world meets its nutritional needs through rice and fish.  The oceans are taking on the brunt of the access heat on Earth.  As ocean temperatures rise, fish yields decline.  The global availability of protein is projected to fall by 4.1%, iron by 2.8%, and zinc by 2.5% at carbon concentrations expected by 2050.  This could affect the nutrient status of 600 million people.  This coupled with reductions in productivity due to climate change and the rising food costs associated with it, will leave many countries in economic and social crisis.  As climate change intensifies an estimated 100 million could be pushed below the poverty line by 2030 and 3 billion by 2050.  It will be the wealthy developed nations that are called upon to assist with the humanitarian crisis that climate change causes. 

https://ccafs.cgiar.org/blog/climate-change-and-farming-what-you-need-know-about-ipcc-report#.Xjx8zWhKg2x

Quite frankly, we should be the ones called upon to help those affected.  The US is the second highest producer of carbon emissions, second only to China.  In an ever-competitive environment this will only get worse.  It is the need for the latest, greatest thing that fuels production and waste.  SUVs (which are a squarely American invention) were the second most important cause for increased global emissions in the energy sector (after power) between 2010 and 2018.  Global emissions have increased 35% in 5 years and overall oil and natural gas use has increased every year, despite growing awareness of the consequences.  Why?  Money, which ultimately leads to power.  Four out of the five top fossil fuel investors are US based and four out of the five top coal investors are Chinese.  Since the Paris Agreement was adopted (and unadopted by the US), 33 global banks have invested $1.9 trillion in fossil fuel companies.  Another reason that we continue to emit carbon even though it is clear we shouldn’t be is very simple: change is scary.  This great country was built, literally, on coal.  This is part of the American identity and it feels as though we are betraying it when we walk away from it.  The most powerful reason why we continue to rely on carbon-based fuel is because we, the people of America and ultimately the world, have not demanded that we do not.  We have checked out and stepped back. 

Looking at it Another Way

What if, instead of seeing the call to reduce our carbon output as an attack on our way of life, we saw it as an opportunity?  This is an opportunity to be healthier, more community based and less obsessed with material things.  This is an opportunity to re-evaluate what is important to us and “cut the fat”.  This is an opportunity to harness the most important human behavior – communal problem solving, working together to innovate and create positive, sweeping change. Personally, I find that thrilling.  Really it boils down to this: the species that will be most uncomfortable, most affected, most desperate as the climate changes will be us humans.  Life will go on without us, just as it has for millions of years.  We are not the most important of the species, that is a subjective, man-made concept that has no basis is biological or ecological reality, we are just another life form on the planet.  The question is, how much do we care about our survival?  Not you as an individual, but us as a species. Personally, I see my fellow human beings as my tribe.  If I can make a small change that will have a big impact on them, I am willing to do it.  More importantly, if I can leave my children a better, healthier planet, I absolutely will because I am a mother and the drive to give my children “better” is innate and visceral. Everything affects everything, so I am sending out a positive ripple that I hope will be felt for years to come. After all, the ripples we start are ultimately our legacy after we are gone.

NOTE: For the first article in this series click here

COMING UP NEXT:

Your Carbon Footprint: A look at what a carbon footprint is and how to calculate and reduce yours in fun, family-friendly ways.

#EarthDay2020: Carbon 101

This blog is part of a series of blogs from ACE Recycling In recognition of the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day.  This series focuses on changes you can make to decrease your carbon footprint and help the environment.  These changes are intended to be user-friendly.  Being environmentally responsible has the added benefit of being healthier and more cost effective.  The goal is to create fun and engaging activities for the whole family.  Simple changes to our everyday lives have big impacts on our health and the health of our planet.  #EarthDay2020 #EarthRise2020 #ActsofGreen #ACERecyclingBlog #SmallChangesBigImpacts

In the first article of this series we will look at the carbon system as a whole.  This system is complex, and though I will attempt to simplify it, I suggest you use this article as a jumping off point to research more, as what is presented here is just the tip of the iceberg.  There are sources within the article that are worth looking at for more in-depth information.  Quintessential to understanding Earth’s cycles is the fact that nothing exists in a vacuum. That is to say that everything affects everything else.  It is impossible to alter the amount or composition of one thing, without altering another thing in some way.  It is very important to understand that us humans are a part of the system and are subject to the laws of nature.  Therefore, human activities affect all life on Earth. When we alter the path of a river, burn fuel, cut down a tree or build a road, there are consequences. The key to balance is understanding those consequences, good or bad, in the context of the “Big Picture”. Being a former teacher and general science nerd, I believe knowledge is power. To that end, understanding the “Big Picture” is the first step to making conscious, deliberate choices in our everyday lives to decrease our impact.  In the words of Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.” Understanding that our choices, from the car we drive to the meat we eat, affect everything else because we are part of this big, beautiful system we call Earth is the first step to creating balance.    

Carbon as a Greenhouse Gas

Earth is a closed system, much like a snow globe.  Our atmosphere acts like a shield, protecting us from harmful radiation, regulating our temperature and holding in essential things, like oxygen and water.  The only thing that can come and go, and must for life to exist, is energy in the form of light and heat (think the sun).  However, there are certain compounds that capture heat and hold onto it, keeping it from escaping into space.  This heat becomes trapped on Earth (hence the greenhouse analogy).  These compounds are referred to as greenhouse gases.  Water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and ozone (O3) are greenhouse gases. By burning fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, coal) humans are pulling carbon out of long-term storage and putting it back into circulation allowing it to capture heat that would have otherwise escaped. You put carbon into the atmosphere every time you start your car or turn on a light.  

Ultimately, through natural processes this carbon would have been released, though probably slowly over a long period of time.  It is the pace at which we are releasing it that is shifting the system so drastically. In the blink of an eye, in terms of the history of Earth, humans have been pulling massive amounts of carbon out of the ground. That being said, in that short time a lot has changed which is cause for alarm.  The warming trend over the last 50 years (about 0.13° C or 0.23° F per decade) is nearly twice that for the last 100 years.  But even more alarming is that we don’t really know the complex consequences of this drastic shift in atmospheric carbon concentration.  Science takes time, and quite frankly, all this is happening too fast for us to get a good grip on.  It would be prudent to slow down our carbon output until we fully understand the consequences of our actions.  

Natural Pathways

The elements on and within Earth exist in finite quantities.  This means that, the amount of any given element will remain the same.  That being said, elements can change form as a result of chemical reactions, temperature and/or pressure. Elements combine through chemical reactions to form various compounds, including water and minerals.  Regardless of their form they are trapped on Earth, in the ground, water, atmosphere or in living things.  These materials move through the environment, interacting with each other and responding to change, in predictable pathways.  For example, we understand that if water is heated up, it will evaporate and enter the atmosphere, once cool it will fall as rain or snow.  We call these pathways biogeochemical cycles.  Remember learning about the water cycle in school?  That is water’s biogeochemical cycle.   

The diagram shows the pathway water will take as it reacts to temperature and pressure changes on Earth. Along its path it will interact with other chemicals. https://i.pinimg.com/originals/b3/8c/74/b38c74dfe446bc3fcd4fa2fdc9f3ca6a.png

Generically, elements can be stored or they can be in circulation.  In storage, they are removed from the cycle and are not available to interact with other elements in the system, although they are still subject to temperature and pressure changes. In circulation, elements are actively interacting with the environment and each other.  Usually storage takes place because the material becomes trapped in Earth’s crust.  We call these materials minerals and find them valuable for many reasons.  An element in the atmosphere or (generally) water, is considered in circulation and becomes part of the billions of chemical reactions that take place on Earth every day.  Life stores elements, but on a shorter time scale than if they were underground. When the living thing dies, the elements it stores are released back into the environment and the cycle.

Natural Change, by Natural Forces

Throughout Earth’s history different elements have been more or less prevalent in circulation verses storage.  There was a time when carbon, in the form of carbon dioxide was more prevalent in the atmosphere then it is today and oxygen was scarce.  (Curious how scientists find out what atmospheric conditions were like millions of years ago?)  Plants evolved in this carbon dioxide rich environment and began pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and into their cells.  There, carbon was used to convert the sun’s energy into a form of energy (glucose) the plant could use to power itself.  A waste product of this chemical process is oxygen (lucky for us).  As carbon dioxide was pulled out of the atmosphere and oxygen was pumped in, the chemical make-up of the atmosphere changed.  Because everything affects everything else, this chemical change resulted in a change in the climate.

The chemical composition of our atmosphere is dynamic due to natural processes, like volcanic eruptions, decomposition, changes in Earth’s tilt and fires caused by lighting.  In most cases, these shifts in atmospheric chemical composition are small and therefore have small effects. But after what we would consider a catastrophic event, things change in an instant and have big effects. When change occurs slowly, life has time to adapt and adjust.  When change occurs quickly, as it is now, life cannot keep up with the changes and extinctions occur.  The most known example of this is the dinosaurs. After a catastrophic meteor strike, coupled with intense volcanic activity, 76% of all dinosaur species just ceased to exist. However, there have been five major mass extinctions in Earth’s history, all of which were a direct result of drastic changes in climate caused by a catastrophic event.

Long-Term Carbon Storage in Fossils

The footprint of chemical changes in the atmosphere can be seen in the analysis of the geochemical record held in Earth’s crust.  Studying the past, allows us to determine what will happen if a certain chemical is more or less prevalent in circulation.  Historically, when carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are high, temperatures are high. This is true because carbon is a greenhouse gas and traps heat.  When the dinosaurs roamed Earth, there was a lot of volcanic activity releasing massive amounts of carbon dioxide.  At that time there was no ice at the poles as there is now and average ocean temperatures were 95 degrees.  It was a tropical paradise on the coasts, complete with tree-sized ferns, but in-land there were massive barren deserts. It is during this time that the coal, natural gas and oil we use today was created.  Large plants and small photosynthesizing algae pulled in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to create their own energy.  With the carbon locked in their cells, they died and were fossilized.  Today we call those dead organisms fossil fuels. We dig them up and burn them to release the energy they hold and generate power.  As a result, the carbon they have been storing underground for 65 million years is released and put back into circulation.  This is an artificial (human-made) carbon release at a pace that is unprecedented and will lead to unprecedented challenges for life on Earth.  This is equivalent to a meteor strike – huge changes in a small amount of time that are resulting in mass extinction (yes, we are currently in a mass extinction). 

The yellow line represents atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations in parts per million for the past 800,000 years. The 2013 annual average concentration is the dashed line. The peaks and valleys in carbon dioxide levels follow the coming and going of ice ages (low CO2) and warmer interglacials (higher CO2). Graph by NOAA Climate.gov, based on EPICA Dome C data (Lüthi, D., et al., 2008) provided by NOAA NCDC Paleoclimatology Program. https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/2013-state-climate-carbon-dioxide-tops-400-ppm
The Most Powerful Force

It is a scientific fact that the climate is changing at an unprecedented pace and that it is caused by human activities, in the same way that it is a scientific fact that a pencil will fall to the floor when dropped.  The scientific foundation on which climate change sits, is the same foundation that medicine is grounded in. Science simply puts into words what occurs in the natural world, by gathering evidence and analyzing the data embedded in that evidence.

It is an unmistakable truth that humans have always had big impacts on Earth and therefore, life on Earth. We have continuously and drastically altered the environment around us, by damming rivers, building cities in swamps (Washington DC), flattening mountains and cutting down vegetation. Many of those impacts have resulted in positive consequences, but there are those that have negative consequences. Usually, the negative consequences are a direct result of our huge population (7.7 billion humans and counting). But our large population can be a positive. Two heads are better than one, right? We need to band together to innovate and create a solution that has resounding positive consequences.  This communal problem solving is uniquely human and one of the most powerful forces on Earth.  We have created civilizations from dirt, flying machines from metal forged in fire and the internet. The key is a focus on creating more of the positive consequences, while acknowledging the negative consequences. For any of this to happen humans must acknowledge our direct connection to the cycles on Earth. This cannot happen without first understanding that we are a part of these cycles, not the master of them or some force standing on the outside. The key to balance is understanding the “Big Picture”, in which we are a part of the whole. Science helps us place the small things into the context of the big picture by defining our role within the processes on Earth.

COMING UP NEXT IN THIS SERIES:

Carbon & Us: A look at the current impact of carbon on humans

Your Carbon Footprint: A look at what a carbon footprint is and how to calculate and reduce yours in fun, family-friendly ways.

Western Waste: The Far Reaching Consequences of Our Electronic Waste

A comprehensive look at the impact of creating and disposing of electronics.

With technology advancing at break-neck pace, electronic waste is piling up. Tech companies make millions off the latest, greatest tech built up by release dates and social media hype.  As a tech company, it pays to have new tech come out as often as possible to stay at the forefront of the consumer’s mind and give everyone something to talk about on social media. The consumer loves the idea of being part of this celebration and so, tech companies continue to ride the wave of hype and make sure products can be released on a regular basis.  The problem is the creation of all of this new technology and the electronic waste created is putting a strain on resources and the by-products of these processes are poisoning the environment. The lifespan of a CPU was 4-6 years in 1997, in 2005 the lifespan was 2 years. Seems counter-intuitive, right? With technology getting better it should last longer.  Not if you are a tech company and you want to make sure you can release the next thing within a year. Welcome to Western consumerism. 

To create 1 ton of laptops, 10 tons of carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere.  By 2040, carbon emission from the production of electronics will reach 14% of total world-wide emission.  This includes mining the raw materials for the technology, as well as, the actual manufacturing process.  Electronics contain sixty or more elements in various compounds, including precious metals, such as gold, copper and nickel, as well as rare Earth elements, such as indium and palladium.  The creation of electronics and the improper recycling of them, is resulting in a significant loss of scarce and valuable raw materials, including neodymium, platinum, ruthenium indium (in flat screen TVs) and cobalt (batteries).   One thing must be understood about minerals; they are finite. That is to say, the materials trapped in the Earth’s crust have been there since the creation of the Earth and they are not replenished. What we have is what we have and when it is gone, it is gone. Earth is a closed system; The only thing that can come and go, and must for life to exist, is energy in the form of light and heat (think the sun).  7% of the world’s gold is in the electronics we have already created. There is 100 times more gold in a ton of mobile devices than in a ton of gold ore. Extending the life of electronics and/or harvesting the resources from them, is far more sustainable than the current system, not to mention has a larger economic benefit. Eventually there will be no more gold in Earth’s crust to mine, the only gold available to us will be in the products we have already created.  

Electronic waste is the largest growing waste stream in the world, with 50 millions tons of electronic waste being produced every year (50% of that is produced in the US and Europe).   Annually electronic waste is worth $62.5 billion, which is more than the GDP of most countries. Here’s the kicker: most of it works. It is being thrown out, because everyone wants the latest, greatest tech and everyone rushed to replace their working tech from last year.  Only 20% of the electronic waste produced is recycled properly. In the past, the Western world’s electronic waste has been shipped to developing nations around the world. This is no longer an option and so the Western world is scrambling to reevaluate our recycling programs, electronic and otherwise.  Though this is changing, large amounts of electronic waste continue to be illegally shipped to developing countries, despite its regulation under the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal. Once there, recycling is done in informal, crude electronic recycling facilities where women and children make up 30% of the workforce. Many studies show increases in miscarriage, still and premature births, reduced birth weights and lengths in women exposed to electronic waste.  In most low- and middle-income countries, handling and disposal of electronic waste is unregulated. 

Most electronic waste is simply land-filled.  Electronic waste does not biodegrade and is considered toxic, due to the inclusion of heavy metals, such as arsenic, lead and mercury.   These heavy metals and flame retardants leach into the soil, contaminating underlying groundwater or crops that may be planted in the soil.  Much of the soil contamination is persistent and the pollutants remain in the soil for a long time, with some reacting with other chemicals in the environment to form even more toxic compounds. As rain water passes through the contaminated soil, it picks up heavy metals and other pollutants and carries it into the water system traveling hundreds of miles.  This leads to acidification and toxification of the water, which has adverse effects on ecosystems at a level that extends far from the communities where the electronic waste is.  Most people are aware that arsenic is a poison, but most do not know it is a heavy metal. Life does not tolerate heavy metals, even in small amounts. Plants can suffer from damaged cell structure and altered metabolism which leads to reduced growth and/or death.  Lead can coat the surface of the plant, reducing photosynthesis. Animals that consume these plants also become toxic. Toxins travel up the food chain and accumulate within the animals ingesting the plants. Over time the animal accumulates enough of the toxin to kill it.  This is called bio-accumulation. The larger the animal, the more the impact because of the amount of the toxin it eats to sustain life. This causes complex disruptions to an ecosystem. Why does this matter to us? We are a large animal and we are omnivores, which means we get a significant amount of these toxins between the meat and plants we eat.  We are a part of the ecosystem (which some will find that shocking).

There is another, largely unseen, and arguably more important, consequence of electronic consumption.  The minerals in our electronic devices are being mine in conditions that are inhumane, and often financially support rebel groups and terrorist organizations at the cost of human life and dignity.  Most are familiar with “blood diamonds” thanks to the movie of the same name that showed the reality of civil war in Sierra Leone and the economic power of the resources there.  There are many countries in the world where the same scenario is playing out with many different minerals that aren’t as well known, or as sexy, as diamonds.  By buying electronics we, in the Western world, are supporting those rebel groups and terrorists organizations. While some companies, like Apple, have taken steps to verify minerals are being sourced legally and humanely, this process is slow and difficult to regulate.  Ultimately, it is up to us, as consumers, to make better choices when buying and disposing of electronics. 

A circular economy approach needs to be implemented and invested in at all levels of society, starting with you.  A circular economy is a “system in which all materials and components are kept at their highest value at all times and waste is designed out of the system”.  If just the raw materials from 1.46 billion smartphones manufactured in 2017 were recycled they would be worth $11.5 billion.   A circular economy for electronics could reduce the costs for consumers by 7% by 2030 and 14% by 2040. Recycling metals is 2 to 10 times more energy efficient and cheaper than mining. That savings will ultimately trickle down to the consumer. Reducing the need for mining will also help to remove a source of funding for groups perpetuating inhumane practices by exploiting the resources and people of certain regions. The simple fact is we are struggling to find ways to deal with the waste we produce.  The practices of yesterday are no longer viable as China and other countries have banned imports of US garbage. We cannot continue to bury our trash or ship it to other countries for them to deal with, we have to re-use what we can or we will literally be up to our eyeballs in trash. The beautiful thing about this scenario is we, the consumer, ultimately guide companies. Stop and think the next time you are buying or disposing of electronics. Your choice, however small it may seem, matters.      

LEARN MORE:

https://www.npr.org/2018/03/15/594062903/how-cobalt-metal-affects-big-tech-firms-like-apple

https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2018/03/06/591265523/cobalt-rare-and-everywhere

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/business/batteries/congo-cobalt-mining-for-lithium-ion-battery/

https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127740457

https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2019-4-july-august/feature/us-recycling-system-garbage

Data Security: What does it mean to “wipe” data and how secure is it?

Over the past several years it seems we hear about data security breaches more and more often.  It is big news when millions of peoples’ personal information is stolen. When financial institutions get hacked this is especially alarming.  Our SSN, bank account information, home address, etc. is out there in the hands of individuals that have bad intentions. But as consumers we give out our information multiple times a day, usually in ways we can’t even imagine. The truth is, most of our information is already out there.  How many passwords do you have saved on your phone and computer? If someone got your phone could they open a banking app, social media app, Nest thermostat app and be “in” without entering a password? By the way, you should not have your password saved on a banking app on your phone for this very reason.  Take the two extra minutes to enter your password. It is for this very reason that the public is overly cautious about data held on a hard drive and companies are down right paranoid about it. It seems counter intuitive to hand over your laptop or computer to a company like ACE Recycling.     

Rest assured ACE Recycling has your privacy and data security at the top of our list of priorities.  We are consumers also. We also have hard drives at home and work and understand that sensitive data is on those devices.  When ACE Recycling takes your electronic device it is never booted up.  We never go into your operating system and quite frankly, we don’t want to.  We aren’t interested in your data, we are interested in the physical hard drive itself.  The industry ACE Recycling is in is called IT Asset Disposition (ITAD). This is an entire industry created around removing data securely, which makes sense considering all the data out there that would really rock the world if it got out (think CIA).  More recently it has become central to the idea of a circular economy and is increasingly built around the idea of disposing of electronic equipment in an environmentally responsible way.  This includes ensuring toxic materials are disposed of properly, materials are recycled for reuse to reduce the need to extract more. 

Environmental Impact

Like most things, electronic disposal and creation is a multi-faceted issue with enough information and discussion to write a book on.  Electronics contain many toxic materials, such as arsenic, mercury and lead, but they also contain elements that are in themselves not harmful, but the environmental and human cost of the extraction of those materials is steep.  Three of particular importance are cobalt, neodymium and dysprosium. The latter are rare earth minerals (or rare earth materials) which means they are not found in the large seams that coal or copper are found in, and are therefore, not economically exploitable and are rare in any given area.  With the pace of mining these materials accelerating as demand for electronics increases, they are becoming more and more rare. Cobalt is of particular concern because it adversely affects not only the environment, but also the people of the regions in which it is mined . Cobalt is used for various electronics and is a conflict mineral (or conflict resource).  A conflict mineral is a natural resource extracted in a conflict zone that is mined and sold to perpetuate the fighting. ⅔ of the world’s cobalt is found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Mining cobalt in the DRC is done in small, unregulated mines, where child labor is widespread. What’s more, political and ethnic dynamics of the region have resulted in violent armed conflict largely financially supported by the mining and sale of cobalt.  For every new electronic device we buy, we are in some way supporting militant groups and child labor. In addition to this human impact there is an environmental impact in creating new electronics.  To create 1 ton of laptops, 10 tons of carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere.  By 2040, carbon emission from the production of electronics will reach 14% of total world-wide emission. There is 100 times more gold in a ton of mobile devices than in a ton of gold ore.  Extending the life of electronics and/or harvesting the resources from them, is far more sustainable than the current system of simply throwing it away, not to mention has a larger economic benefit.

Laws and Standards

Several data protection laws are in place at the Federal level.  The Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects your health information.  The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects student education records. The Wiretap Act and the Electronic Communication Privacy Act (ECPA) protect your communications (electronic or on “landlines”).  Each state has laws in place to protect data at the individual and business level as well. In addition to laws The Department of Defense, National Security Agency, the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and various other institutions directly concerned with data security, have data destruction standards and policies. However the NIST report Guidelines for Media Sanitization is widely considered to be the go-to industry standard for data erasure.  

Techniques for Data Sanitization/Wiping

Media sanitization/data erasure/data wiping are all the same name for the process of making data on a device unable to be retrieved. The NIST report defines three categories of sanitization: Clear, Purge and Destroy.  Clear is defined as, “logical techniques applied to sanitize data in all user-addressable storage locations for protection against simple non-invasive data recovery techniques”. Simply put, restoring your device to factory settings or using on-device standard Read and Write commands would constitute clearing your data.  These techniques can be applied by the average consumer, perhaps with a little help. Purge is defined as, “physical or logical techniques that render the Target Data recovery infeasible using state of the art laboratory techniques.” This is what ACE Recycling does through a process explained below. Destroy “renders the Target Data recovery infeasible using state of the art laboratory techniques and results in the subsequent inability to use the media for the storage of data.”  The storage device is physically destroyed and cannot be reused.

How it Works

Imagine a book.  Now imagine erasing every word from the book and writing over the pages with random letters.  This is what is done to a hard drive. The hard drive is “overwritten” with random 1s and 0s (computer language). One overwriting pass “hinders recovery of data even if state of the art laboratory techniques are applied to attempt to retrieve the data”; however, most programs use multiple passes.  The number of passes has become unnecessary with the inclusion of a “verify pass”, that scans for verification of data removal by selecting random places on the device to “check” the data is overwritten. According to the National Security Agency data wiped using these standards is “permanently destroyed as to make any type of forensic data recovery impossible”.  Complete data erasure destroys all data, including operating systems. Thus, the data on the hard drive is never accessed during the wiping process. ACE Recycling adheres to Department of Defense and HIPAA specifications for data erasure the foundation of which is the NIST report. This is a three-pass overwrite with verification, completed by the software itself.  This verification comes in the form of a serialized print out of all devices that were subject to the sanitization process and acts to, well, verify that the devices were successfully wiped. According to the NIST report, “verifying the selected information sanitization and disposal process is an essential step in maintaining confidentiality.”   In addition to the software verifying the effective wipe of your data, we verify ourselves. This is done by taking a random sampling of the devices that have gone through the sanitization process and hooking them up to a computer to verify they are completely erased.

ACE Recycling Data Security

What is Best for your Organization?

The best way to answer this is to consider the level of confidentiality of the information on the device.  In general if the device is leaving the organization’s control, as it would be if you are having ACE Recycling disposition it for you, it should be purged and validated.  Both of which ACE Recycling does. Clear should only be used if the device is remaining within the organization and even then there are risks involved. Data wiping offers an alternative to physical destruction, allowing the hard drive to be reused, reducing electronic waste and carbon emissions. The NIST report clearly states that “organizations should consider environmental factors” when disposing of electronic waste. For most companies, purge “may be more appropriate than Destroy when factoring in environmental concerns…”  In general, the destroy option should be used if the drive is not functioning or cannot be wiped. According to the NIST report, “The application of Destructive techniques may be the only option when media fails…other clear or purge techniques cannot be effectively applied…or when verification of Clear or Purge methods fails”. This is what ACE Recycling adheres to. Purge and Destroy achieve the same outcome with regard to data protection. The main difference is the hard drive is taken out of the circular model when it is destroyed. In a true circular economy items would be reused, refurbished, repaired, or consumption reduced, prior to the last resort of destruction. 

In this way ACE Recycling is meeting our commitment to contribute to the circular economy for the future of our planet by reusing as many materials as possible, while keeping your data secure.

More Information:

On Conflict Minerals-

http://conflictminerals.org/

https://enoughproject.org/special-topics/progress-and-challenges-conflict-minerals-facts-dodd-frank-1502

On Data Erasure-

https://www.esd.whs.mil/Portals/54/Documents/DD/issuances/dodm/522022M.pdf

https://web.archive.org/web/20160320074045/https://www.nsa.gov/ia/_files/government/MDG/NSA_CSS_Storage_Device_Declassification_Manual.pdf

What’s with the not-so-witty “high ozone, carpool tomorrow” messages on the highway?

Living in Phoenix we are all familiar with high ozone alert days.  We have all seen the not-as-witty-as-usual air quality messages on the highway message boards asking us to carpool the next day.  But what is ozone; why does the American Lung Association give Maricopa county a grade F on its State of the Air Report?

High pollution advisory sign on the 101

Ozone is O3 or three oxygen atoms bonded together. A bond is broken when there is an energy source, such as light, electricity or heat. The usual reaction to the discovery that ozone is oxygen is usually, “Oxygen is good, right?”, afterall it is what we breathe.  However, the oxygen we breathe is O2 or two oxygen atoms bonded together.  That one little atom makes a really big difference!  Our bodies cannot use ozone the way our body uses O2 because ozone is the wrong size and has very different properties.  For starters, ozone is a highly reactive oxidant. An oxidative molecule is one that wants to react or break its bonds, we call this a chemical reaction.  If energy (heat, light, electricity) is available ozone will take it and become something else, giving off a by-product as a result of the reaction. When we breathe in ozone it causes many negative side effects because it wants to react with our bodies, such as wheezing and coughing, shortness of breath, lung tissue inflammation and asthma attacks.  In plants if affects photosynthesis rates and has been found to decrease crop yield. Ever notice an increase in respiratory irritation/illness when we have stretches of high pollution days? This is due to the oxidative nature of the molecule and the fact that cells are sensitive to very small amounts of it (0.1 ppm). This video helps you visualize what that means: https://ed.ted.com/lessons/how-to-visualize-one-part-per-million-kim-preshoff-the-ted-ed-community In fact, we are so sensitive to it, we can smell it in very low concentrations.  Everyone knows what rain “smells like”, coming from the midwest this smells triggers a euphoric nostalgia in me. However, very few know that what you are smelling is ozone.  Humans can smell a teaspoon of ozone in the area of an olympic sized swimming pool. As high energy electrical charges are released as a storm comes in it forms ozone.  

Ozone is created when UV rays react with oxygen in the air.

The ozone layer is, at its closest, 6 miles above us.  When ozone is ground level and able to be breathed in, it becomes a dangerous pollutant to all life, including plants. Plants make life possible on Earth by providing O2  and glucose, two essential components for life. Low level ozone, or tropospheric ozone is a secondary pollutant. This means it is not directly emitted from a source, instead it is the result of chemical reactions between primary pollutants emitted directly from car exhaust and industry and UV rays.  Hydrocarbons, or fossil fuels, and nitrogen oxides (NOX) given off by cars and industry, use the energy in the UV rays to rearrange themselves into ozone. A by-product of this reaction is smog, often seen just at the horizon in Phoenix. Energy hungry ozone also absorbs heat bouncing off Earth and traps it, this classifies ozone as a greenhouse gas. This is why you are asked to carpool on poor air quality days, to reduce the amount of total car emissions, and therefore, help keep ozone levels down.

Phoenix is the perfect place for high ozone because of three major factors: climate, geographic location and population.  The more people you have, the more car exhaust and industry you have. Therefore, just generally there is higher ozone in urban areas than in less populated areas, however, the geography of our beautiful city compounds this.  The Valley of the Sun is just that, a valley. Think of Phoenix as the bottom of the bowl, where you mix your ingredients. The mountains around us are like the sides of the bowl, keeping the contents of the bowl, in the bowl.  Cloud cover in Phoenix acts as the lid to the bowl, trapping the contents of the bowl. Ozone gets trapped in Phoenix and the cloudy skies of monsoon trap the ozone. When the monsoon rains finally come, they help to “clean” the air of the ozone, dissolving it and pulling it down to be stored within earth.  The amazing Phoenix winds also help to clear the ozone from the city. According to U.S. Climate Data, Arizona has 3835 hours of sunshine in a year. That is an unusually high amount of available UV rays to help create ozone. Our beautiful blue skies and sunshine compound our ozone production. Add that to our population size and our geography and you have the perfect environment for ozone to form and stay.  But there is still one more factor, the climate coupled with the urban heat island effect seen in all cities, generates an enormous amount of heat. Remember that energy hungry ozone traps heat. Cities are already naturally warmer than the surrounding environment because of all the heat absorbing concrete and steel, but Phoenix is unique because of the desert environment it was created in. Phoenix is the 6th hottest city in the world according to the World Atlas.  Now add in a higher than average amount of ozone that is trapping even more heat. Ozone levels rise as much as 20% when it is hot.  

On high pollution days in Phoenix, smog can be seen on the horizon.

When one takes all this into consideration Phoenix seems like an unsafe, perhaps illogical city to live in.  Luckily we do have a system in place that allows us to make choices to limit our production of ozone and our exposure to ozone when it is high.  This is where the Air Quality Index (AQI) from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) comes in. The EPA has created air quality guidelines for ozone, and other air pollutants, and made this information available to the public through the AQI.  The information contained in the Air Quality Index has been gathered through controlled, replicated scientific study. Learn more about the AQI and how air quality is assessed and categorized here: https://www.airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=aqibasics.aqi. When the message board says “carpool tomorrow” it is based on the AQI and recommendations of the EPA, which are both based on good, solid science.  Consider carpooling, taking the bus or the light rail. To avoid exposure, limit time outside. Personally, I don’t let my small children outside to play on high ozone days, we find things to entertain us inside.  What does worry me is this – I, like many Phoenicians, did not grow up here, therefore I have not been exposed to high levels of ozone my whole life, my children will be. Hopefully, with everyone’s help, my childrens’ lives will see ever decreasing levels of ozone in the city of their birth and it not be something they are exposed to for the entirety of their lives.  So next time you see an alert for a high ozone day ask a friend to carpool…seriously, do it.

Author’s Note: This was just released August 13, 2019

Air Pollution May Be As Harmful To Your Lungs As Smoking Cigarettes, Study Finds

For More Information:

#Circulareconomy

We are all used to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. #reducereuserecycle But to create a truly circular economy, we need to add refurbish, reinvent and repair. ACE Recycling is committed to helping you with every aspect of a #circulareconomy.  

#Reduce – buy less, but also, buy what can be reused.  Our linear economy is based on single use – buy, use, throw way.  The linear model is not #sustainable. One small thing I did was to buy #reusable straws.  

#Reuse – aim for #multipleuse products. I also shop with cloth bags.

#Recycle – #ACERecycling has recycle bins EVERYWHERE!  We are constantly looks for #partnerships to offer more options for recycling more materials.  We currently have a partnership with @resinate for pill bottles and dispensary bottles.  We welcome these partnerships, because our goal is to #keepitoutoflandfills

#Refurbish – our #ITexperts can take two non-working devices and get at least one working again! Electronics are surprisingly easy to up-grade, most people however are intimidated by it.  WE AREN’T!! 

#Repair – think your laptop is a goner? It might not be – bring it to us! AZ Complete PCI can fix just about anything!

#Reinvent – this one is REALLY FUN!  Here are just a few ideas: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=crafts+with+old+keyboards

The Circular Economy Vision
A New Circular Vision for Electronics: Time for a Global Reboot

Why Recycle Electronics?

Electronic waste is created when an electronic product is discarded.  The rapid innovation of the technology we use everyday means the amount of e-waste is ever increasing.   Find out Why it takes 75 elements to make your cell phone.

More often than not, used electronics simply take up space. E-waste that is thrown away ends up in landfills—both at home and in the developing world—where toxic metals leach into the environment affecting the air, water and soil. Electronics contain heavy metals such as, lead, mercury and arsenic which are toxic to life.  

Electronics contain potentially harmful chemicals, such as heavy metals, that pollute the land, air and water.  Responsible recycling can reduce the amount of these pollutants being put into the environment.

In addition to reducing pollution, recycling electronic waste also helps to preserve land from destruction.  All the elements that go into electronics, must be extracted from Earth.  This requires the disruption or destruction of land and is a chief component of deforestation. According to the World Wildlife Fund 18.7 million acres of forest are lost annually.

Conflict resources are resources that are extracted in a conflict zone and used to finance the fighting.  Miners in these areas are often working in dangerous conditions and are paid poorly.  The article Toward Electronics Free of Conflict Minerals summarizes the issues facing the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The DRC is an especially important area because it supplies many of the components of Western electronic devices.  Recycling helps to reduce the need for conflict minerals and therefore, cutting off the money supply for militias and other groups committing human rights abuses. 

https://chemistryenglish.wordpress.com/2014/09/17/the-chemical-elements-of-a-smartphone/