Thursday, January 8, 2015

Recycling Batteries and The Environmental Impact

Recycling Batteries and The Environmental Impact

Batteries are vital to our daily live and there are no viable technological substitutes for batteries.  Batteries are used in everything from our cars, phones, tablets, laptops, calculators, flashlights, and much more.  Eventually, these batteries lose their charge and are usually discarded improperly.  Improper disposal causes toxins such as cadmium, nickel, lithium, and alkaline to enter into the environment.  Recycling programs are capable of reducing this environmental impact when they are utilized.
During waste treatment and or the incineration process these chemicals can get into the water table and into the air.  Initially the soil will absorb the chemicals and the effects of the pollution will not be immediately noticeable.  However, the health of animals can be negatively impacted if they consume plants that grow in the contaminated soil.  Humans can also be harmed by these toxic chemicals if they consume animals that were exposed.
Batteries are recycled in a fairly straight forward process.  First, the metal or plastic coverings are removed and melted down into pellets that will be reused in new batteries.  Next, the internal components, such as lead, are removed and also melted down into pellets.  Then, the remaining sodium sulfate, which acts as an electrolyte while in use, is removed and formed into reusable crystals.  Almost all of these components are reused for new batteries.
Ibrahim and Ilinca
Increasing the participation rate for recycling programs is the greatest challenge for most countries.  One of the ways to increase participation is to attach a deposit to each battery.  This technique mirrors that of plastic bottle recycling.  The deposit will be given to the person delivering the batteries as a way of incentivizing environmentally friendly behavior.  Until we can find a replacement for batteries we must have a way of insuring that people are keeping them out of the landfills and incinerators.

Additional Reading

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Solid Waste Disposal: The Business of Incineration

Solid Waste Disposal: The Business of Incineration

The need to properly dispose of solid waste has been around for centuries.  Today, solid waste disposal is a multibillion dollar industry.  Unfortunately, this industry also has the potential to have an adverse impact on the environment.  However, the need to conduct solid waste removal in a profitable and environmentally friendly way will always be of the utmost importance.  Though there are many methods to handling solid waste, such as landfills and composting, the use of incineration or Waste-To-Energy (WTE) has largely been missing in the United States.
There are several benefits to utilizing WTE facilities but they are primarily created to reduce or eliminate the need for landfills.  Landfills, if not maintained properly, can  pose a serious risk to the ground water, release methane gas, and leave the land unusable for future development.  Incineration, with the use of specially designed filters, can create a reliable source of clean power generation and waste reduction.  The power from these WTE plants can then be sold to consumers at a reasonable rate.
These WTE plants also come with their own down side and environmental risks.  WTE facilities are known to emit pollution such as soot, heavy metal vapors, and acidic gases.  After the incineration/power generation process has been completed, left over ash and heavy metal debris must be disposed of appropriately.  If not properly regulated, emissions from WTE plants can have a significant negative impact on air quality.  Also, there is always the possibility that people and wildlife surrounding a WTE plant could be exposed to harmful airborne waste byproducts.
There are business opportunities at every stage of the waste disposal process.  Though Waste-To-Energy facilities are not the answer to our environmental and energy needs, they should be a part of the solution.  Recycling and re-purposing of all materials should always be the first in a series of steps prior to incineration.  The need to reduce or eliminate the need for landfills should continue to be top priority.  Many nations in the European Union have already adopted a robust strategy that includes a mix of recycling, WTE, and landfills.

Related Links

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Three Ways to Reduce Our Carbon Footprint Naturally

Three Ways to Reduce Our Carbon Footprint Naturally
The need to reduce our global carbon footprint has steadily become more and more important due to climate change.  There are various industrial techniques used to capture and store carbon.  However, there are also many natural ways to capture and store carbon without the need for complex technologies.  Many of these techniques, especially when applied on a large scale, are effective techniques that work seamlessly with the environment.
Saltwater marshlands create an important ecosystem for various forms of wildlife.  These marshlands can be found alongside rivers and shorelines.  Marshlands are also prodigious in the task of carbon capturing.  Instead of the carbon remaining in the atmosphere where it is a greenhouse gas, carbon is captured from the air and then naturally transferred into the soil.
Planting a new forest, or replanting a location that was clear cut for the timber industry, is an effective method of restoring habitat while creating a natural carbon sink.  Unlike more mature forests, new forests require more carbon during their initial growth years.  While this effect will eventually slow as these trees become older, the overall impact on the environment and the wildlife is essential for a healthy planet.
Weeds, or otherwise undesirable plants, can also be another natural method to capture excess carbon from the environment.  Unlike most domesticated plants, weeds can thrive in intense sunlight, high temperatures, and elevated levels of carbon dioxide.  Weeds also help to stabilize the surrounding soil with their deep roots.  This stabilized soil creates the type of habitat and micro-climates that are beneficial to the growth of small seedlings.
When all three of these concepts are performed in concert they can have a lasting positive impact on the health of the environment.  No one carbon capture technique will effective on its own.  There has to be a concerted effort on all nations to work towards environmentally friendly and cost effective carbon capture methods.  The negative effects of climate change can be avoided if these nations collaborate with each other sooner rather than later.

Additional Reading:

Friday, July 4, 2014

Geothermal Energy - The Untapped Power

Geothermal Energy - The Untapped Power
Geothermal energy is the natural heat energy stored with in the Earth.  Geothermal plants generate electricity by utilizing the steam of super-heated ground water to drive turbines within the power plant facility.  Most geothermal sites in the United States are located in Alaska, Oregon, California, Idaho, Utah, and Nevada.  Unlike the western states, there are few viable locations for geothermal power generation on the east coast.
The most obvious benefit to using geothermal is that it is a renewable energy source.  Unlike fossil fuels, geothermal energy does not have a carbon footprint.  All of the heat energy needed to run the facility occurs naturally within the Earth.  Also, geothermal plants have a minimal impact on the environment because the steam, which later condenses into water, is cycled back into the Earth.  If maintained well, geothermal site can create power for decades.
There are also some dangers associated with geothermal energy.  For instance, trace amounts of poisonous gas can escape while steam energy is extracted out of a natural spring.  Though these small amounts are relatively harmless, it is still important to note that this can occur.  Also, the hot spring can become depleted if water is not cycled back into the reservoir of the spring.  A sink hole can occur if enough water is displaced from the well.  Managed well, the vast majority of geothermal power plants can avoid all of these issues.
The current focus on energy independence and lower carbon emissions has created the necessity for environmentally friendly energy solutions.  To make geothermal power more prevalent across the world creative applications of current technologies must be put in place.  For example, the same deep drilling techniques that are used for fracking can be utilized to find geothermal springs.  Once drilled, a single geothermal plant can tap multiple hot springs simultaneously and reduce the dependence on fossil fuels.  Coupled with a more efficient electrical grid, there is a strong chance that this energy can be generated and transmitted with little environmental impact.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Green Building: The Homes of Tomorrow

Green Building: The Homes of Tomorrow

Until early 2006, individuals that invested in properties, commercial and residential, were able to make positive returns.  Tiffany Speir, Executive Officer of The Master Builders Association (MBA) of Peirce County, noticed that homebuyers at this time had confidence in the value of their home and overall job security, but wanted ways to increase the equity in their home.  These homebuyers were more willing to invest in a newly constructed environmentally friendly home, or make comparable upgrades to an existing home to cause the price of their home to appreciate.
 Since the collapse of the housing boom home prices have been slowly recovering.  However, environmentally friendly construction has not recovered on par with the overall housing market.  Tiffany Speir recounts that even in 2010-2011 the green building market was “very slow in Washington [State]” even though “Washington [State] is one of the leaders in green building across the country.”  This trend points to the challenges home owners face when considering the various commitments associated with green building.
Committing to building green means being willing to invest heavily in the upfront cost of construction.  Even though home builders have few issues with building green homes, they lack buyers that are willing to pay for such a home.  Homebuyers are aware that, with a sluggish housing market, they may not make a return on their investment any time soon.  Nevertheless, is quick to point out that “Some green products are more expensive, but as most choices become available, prices are coming down. In addition, many green building practices can actually reduce your costs by reducing waste and encouraging efficiency [sic].”
Even with all of the challenges to building environmentally friendly homes there are many successful contemporary examples.  One such example is the EnviroHouse located at the Tacoma Recovery & Transfer Center in Tacoma, Washington.  Part of the Mission of the EnviroHouse is to “…educate and encourage residential builders, developers and residents to adopt resource and energy efficient products and practices in their homes and gardens.”  Janda Volkmer, EnvioHouse Coordinator, recently gave a tour of this environmentally friendly home.  This tour demonstrated how the landscaping, exterior materials, and interior d├ęcor of a home can be constructed utilizing recycled materials and renewable resources.  Homes like this prove that creating an environmental home can be safe, clean, economical, and reduce its carbon footprint.

Additional Reading and Information:
Built Green Washington -
Built Green Peirce County –
Master Builders Association of Pierce County –
EnviroHouse, City of Tacoma –