Sustainability: A Force for Good in our Galaxy

WRITTEN BY: Katherine Gardiner ISTC staff

 

You may have heard that a new Star Wars movie came out last week. If you haven’t had a chance to see it yet, don’t worry, we won’t spoil it for you. But it got us thinking about sustainability in the Star Wars universe.

 

Yes, it was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. But are there lessons, and warnings in the story for us? On one end of the sustainability spectrum there are the Ewoks, who live respectfully off the land and use their resources wisely. On the other end of the spectrum there’s the Death Star, which destroys entire planets just to show off its power. Generally speaking, folks in our world fall somewhere in between.

 

recycling is not just for jawas!The Ewoks’ Forest Moon of Endor sustained them in their happy lifestyle. But what happened on Tatooine, where Anakin and Luke grew up? Environmentally it took a wrong turn at some point, reminding us of droughts and wildfires growing more common in California and across the country.

 

Habitat preservation is important if we want our world to remain habitable for generations to come. On Tatooine, they acknowledged the scarcity of water on their planet and relied heavily on moisture farms. One predicted effect of climate change here on earth is altered weather patterns, leading to a shift in agricultural growing zones. In the Midwest, we love our corn and soybean farms. No one wants to replace this valuable facet of our economy with moisture farms, which use moisture vaporators to pull water from the humidity in the air, just to have access to clean water. If avoiding the effects of climate change means reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, count me in.

 

C-3PO, rebuilt by young Anakin Skywalker from scrap parts, demonstrates the value of reusing resources and recycling. Han Solo and Chewbacca also repaired and refurbished the legendary Millennium Falcon many times rather than scrapping it for a new starship. The electronics and machinery repair in Star Wars is inspiring, as we have so much electronic waste in our society today. To learn how to reuse, recycle, and repair your electronics, visit the Illini Gadget Garage, or check what repair resources are available in your community.

 

You may be wondering what fuel these spaceships used to travel such great distances – let’s hope they didn’t have to deal with inflated gas prices around the holidays! The Millennium Falcon and other standard starships use different sorts of fuels, commonly Rhydonium, mined on the planet Abafar. According to Wookieepedia, the Millennium Falcon used hypermatter to go into hyperdrive and reach lightspeed. While we’re not sure about the sustainability of using hypermatter, we do know about at least one renewable energy source in the Star Wars universe.

 

As part of Jedi training, younglings were sent to the Crystal Caves of Ilum to mine kyber crystals for their lightsabers. Kyber crystals, while rare, are inexhaustible sources of energy as their power does not diminish over time. These crystals are used to power lightsabers as well as the Death Star’s planet-destroying superlaser — I guess both the light- and dark-sides appreciate renewable energy!

 

When we look to our own world we can see renewable energy sources such as wind and solar on the rise. Innovations in these areas include printable solar panels, floating wind turbines, and sustainable lighting that help fight mosquito infestations.

 

Ah, Star Wars…. A fictional story perhaps it may be. But, teach us much about how to keep our light in the galaxy it can.

 

New data summary reports from the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable

In 2015, the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable (GLRPPR) began a project to analyze data from U.S. EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI)Greenhouse Gas Emissions database, and the Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns database to determine the impact of manufacturing on the economy and environment of the six states in U.S. EPA Region 5. The following fact sheets are currently available:

The full report, The Economic and Environmental Impact of Great Lakes Manufacturing: Snapshot of Emissions, Pollution Prevention Practices, and Economic Impact Using Public Data, is available in IDEALS, the University of Illinois’ institutional repository.

Rethinking the holidays

This post originally appeared on Environmental News Bits.

 

It’s that time of year again. The days are at their shortest, the temperature has plummeted (at least here in Illinois), and the stores are hitting all of us with messages to buy, buy, buy.

 

Whether you’re tired of the commercialization of the season, want to lighten up your environmental footprint, or just don’t have a lot of money to spend on gifts, here are some alternatives to consider.

 

New Dream’s guide to simplifying the holidays is a good place to start.  The site includes SoKind, an alternative gift registry that encourages the giving of homemade gifts, charitable donations, secondhand goods, experiences, time, day-of-event help, and more. It also features a catalog of low-cost, non-material gift ideas and a printable coupon book, an easy-to-use template that you can print out, customize, and give to family and friends of all ages.

 

Looking to give the gift of experience instead of stuff? The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s list of 50 things you can give that are more about experience is a great place to start. Although some of the suggestions highlight Minnesota experiences, they can help spark ideas that are local to you (or your recipient).

 

Finally, you can give the gift of charity this holiday season. Make a gift contribution to an organization that does work that’s important to your friends and family.

 

For other tips on reducing holiday waste, see:

Mr. Grinch says ‘demand fast, free shipping at all times’

free two-day shipping

Two-day free shipping is shifting competition toward more speed. But is it the green thing to do?

What a wonderful world when we can shop online and get free two-day shipping.

 

What could be better?

 

From a climate perspective, perhaps slower is better.

 

More than thirty years of engineering have made passenger cars highly efficient and clean burning. That trip to the local store might have a smaller footprint than that uber-delivery to your door. Diesel trucks are lightly regulated and impact air quality more.

 

Experts at the University of California say today’s competition to get it to you fastest is eroding the logistical progress they had made in consolidating their shipments.
Grist explains some of the complexities of shipping that determine the carbon-intensively of your shipping choice. All of those individual shipping boxes have also been implicated for their impacts.

 

MIT’s 2013 analysis concludes that you’ll impact the planet least if you shop completely online, without going to the store to field test your purchase.

 

But now there is the added variable of free two-day shipping? Just because it is free you don’t have to choose it, according to Miguel Jaller, of the Institute for Transportation Studies at the University of California Davis. Consolidate your own purchases and choose a slower delivery option — that gives shippers the best chance of consolidating their shipments. Happy Holidays!

Recycling in America Goes Home, But Can it Go BIG?

2017 Illinois Sustainable Award winners recycle

Recycling was the number one achievement of 2017 Illinois Sustainability Award Winners.

Happy America Recycles Day!

 

This annual upbeat reminder that “we use too much, buy too much, and toss too much” shines a light on a society that more and more gets it.

 

At our homes and schools, the interest and the opportunities for recycling keep growing, slowly. Here in Champaign, IL, two collection events this year gathered 146 tons of electronics for recycling.

 

But as much as we waste at home — over-consuming our disposable goods — that is a small fraction of the estimated volume of non-household waste (i.e. industrial, manufacturing, commercial, construction, mining, etc.).

 

A new analysis of winners of the 2017 Illinois Sustainability Award suggests many of those big players get it too. The number one sustainability initiatives by ISA winners was for waste reduction. When AbbVie took down three buildings on its North Chicago campus they wasted nothing. All of the metal was recycled and all of the masonry and concrete was crushed for current and future use.

 

illinois sustainability award winnerCaterpillar, Inc. knows big. When its Surface Mining and Technology site in Decatur committed to a Zero Landfill goal, they created a by-product catalog, devising a “plan for every waste.” The result has been an average recycling rate in the 90s.

 

Dynamic Manufacturing Inc. in Melrose Park is in a recycling business of sorts. They restore used automotive transmissions and torque converters for reuse “as-new.” By installing a solvent recovery system, they now recycle 35,000 gallons for reuse on-site rather than transporting it for disposal.

 

What was number two? Maybe better news – process upgrades, optimization, and planning. These achievements eliminate waste before it exists. Here is where sustainable supply chains, sustainable product design, and better packaging open doors to easier recycling and hopes of a circular economy.

 

The third most prevalent achievement leading to a 2017 Illinois Sustainability Award was community involvement. That brings us back home. These companies value recycling and that is reinforced by employees and their communities. Marion automotive parts maker Aisin Manufacturing Illinois purchased four collection trailers for the Recycle Williamson County program. Caterpillar in Decatur encourages its employees to reduce waste and recycle by donating all recycling proceeds to local charities and agencies, also nominated by those workers.

 

That’s a Happy America Recycles Day.

Study Reuse with ISTC’s Joy Scrogum

Beginning September 13, Joy Scrogum, ISTC sustainability specialist and technical assistance program team member, will teach “Reuse as a Sustainability Strategy” at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Illinois. Spaces remain available, so sign up today! The 8-week course meets through November 1.

 

Course overview: When thinking about how to decrease their own “carbon footprint,” or to improve the overall sustainability of our society, many people typically consider strategies involving reduction of consumption or resource use, or increased recycling and use of recycled materials. This course will focus on the often overlooked “third R,” reuse, and why it is an important component of sustainability. Students will be introduced to sustainability, the waste management hierarchy, and the circular economy. The course will explore different forms of reuse (e.g. repair, food recovery, etc.), and their economic, environmental, and social impacts. During the final session we’ll spend some time reflecting on the concepts covered throughout the course and students will brainstorm ideas for how they might apply those concepts to their own lives and/or communities—e.g. in day-to-day lifestyle choices, as part of their business or a volunteer effort, or in congregations or other groups in which they may participate. In other words, we’ll consider how you might take what you’ve learned and use it to be a force for positive change, or more broadly, how these concepts might be applied in the Champaign-Urbana area to make it a more sustainable place for all inhabitants.

 

Each 90-minute session will include lecture/discussion with roughly the last 20-30 minutes dedicated to questions and in-depth discussion. Course materials, including suggested readings and PDF versions of lecture slides, are made available to participants to download from a course web site. There are no assignments or grades–just learning for sake of learning.

 

Course outline: 

  • Week 1 (Sept. 13): Sustainability and Circularity. An introduction to sustainability, the waste management hierarchy, and the circular economy. We’ll explore the differences between reuse and recycling, the environmental impacts of reuse (beyond solid waste reduction), as well as related concepts and terms, such as “zero waste,” “cradle to cradle,” “biomimicry,” etc.
  • Week 2 (Sept. 20): Design Paradigms: Durability vs. Disposability. An exploration of the origins of planned obsolescence, as well as related concepts like technological and perceived obsolescence, and what it all means in terms of the way we interact with products, both from the consumer and designer perspectives. We’ll look at examples of how some products are being designed with reuse and materials reclamation in mind.
  • Week 3 (Sept. 27): Repair is Noble. This tag line is used by the repair-oriented company iFixit to convey how repair is tied to values such as freedom, respect, and conservation. We’ll discuss the extension of the product life cycle through repair, and how that not only reduces solid waste generation, but also consumption of “embodied” resources. Case studies of projects tied to fostering repair will illustrate economic and social benefits through community building and making technology accessible to more people. The “Right to Repair” movement will be outlined, including relevant legislation (proposed or on the books) in various states, including IL. Related concepts, such as refurbishment and remanufacturing, will be defined.
  • Week 4 (Oct. 4): Feeding People, Not Landfills. An exploration of food recovery as an important strategy to fight food waste as well as hunger and poverty. The magnitude of food waste both nationally and globally will be conveyed. Opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship, relevant policy, and challenges related to infrastructure and logistics will be discussed.
  • Week 5 (Oct.11): Secondhand Solutions. We’ll examine enterprises and organizations that contribute to our economy and culture by making commodities out of reused and reclaimed goods. Materials for the Arts, thrift stores, and reclaimed building and home décor warehouses will be presented as familiar examples, along with virtual examples, and tools for connecting individuals for the purposes of exchanging or sharing goods and surplus.
  • Week 6 (Oct.18): Finding Your Repurpose. An analysis of repurposing—reusing or redeploying products or objects with one original use value for an alternative use value. The “beneficial reuse” of buildings, products, vehicles, and materials will be examined, along with the reuse art movement.
  • Week 7 (Oct. 25): Repackaged: Packaging with Reuse in Mind. A survey of packaging waste issues and impacts along with opportunities for change through creative design. Examples of retailers, restaurants, and manufacturers employing reusable packaging strategies will be highlighted.
  • Week 8 (Nov. 1): Full Circle: Summary and Applications Brainstorming. A review of points about environmental, economic, and social impacts of reuse which were touched upon throughout the course, including potential negative impacts as well as positive ones. We’ll delve into ideas for how the strategies discussed are and might be applied in our community, organizations, businesses, policies, personal lives, etc. How might you reuse the information and inspiration gleaned from this course to be a force for positive change?

OLLI is a member-centered community of adult learners that is supported by the Bernard Osher Foundation, the Illinois Office of the Provost, and the generous donations of OLLI members and community partners. It is part of a network of 120 OLLI programs across the United States, and there are over 160,000 members nationwide. OLLI offers fall and spring semesters of 8-week courses taught by distinguished faculty (both current and emeritus) from the University of Illinois and other regional colleges and universities, and community members from a wide variety of areas. A selection of 4-week courses is also offered. The fall 2017 semester begins Monday, September 11th.

 

To sign up for an OLLI course, a community member must first sign up for an OLLI membership. You must be 50 or older to join OLLI. Your OLLI membership includes one free course per year; additional 8-week courses are $40 each, and 4-week courses are $20 each. Annual membership for an individual or the first member of a household membership, active from July 1, 2017, through June 30, 2018, costs $180. Adding a second member in your household costs $155. Current course offerings are listed at http://olli.illinois.edu/courses/current.html.

 

You may register for any course, including the Reuse as a Sustainability Strategy course, at any time, right up until the course begins. Register online at https://reg138.imperisoft.com/OlliIllinois/Search/Registration.aspx. If you are not yet an OLLI member, look for the “New user?” link in the log in box at this URL to become a member and obtain a user name and password to sign up for courses. Full registration instructions are available at

http://olli.illinois.edu/downloads/documents/Online%20Registration%20Instructions.pdf.

 

OLLI 10th anniversary (2007-2017) logo

 

Registration Open for Illinois Sustainability Awards Ceremony and Symposium, 10/24/17

Join us in celebrating the recipients of the 2017 Illinois Sustainability Award!  Register now for the Illinois Sustainability Awards Ceremony and Technical Symposium!  Don’t miss the event, held on October 24th at the Union League Club of Chicago, for an excellent opportunity to learn new trends in sustainability and connect with organizations who are on the cutting edge of implementing environmental change.  The morning Technical Symposium will feature keynote Rich Berger, Vice President of Engineering, Food Supply for Clif Bar & Company.  Luncheon keynote is Nancy Liaboe, Director, Global EHS Governance & Product Stewardship, Abbott.  Opportunities for sponsorship and exhibiting may be found at www.istc.illinois.edu/istcawards.

 

View the full agenda at https://www.istc.illinois.edu/cms/One.aspx?portalId=427487&pageId=751338.

 

Registration starts at $50 for the morning session only, $95 for the luncheon only and $130 for all-day admission.  Additional registration opportunities are available for exhibitors and sponsors. Note that the symposium begins at 8:30 AM and the luncheon and awards ceremony begin at 12:00 PM (noon).

 

2017 ISA awards ceremony, 10.24.17, Union League Club of Chicago

Symposium to explore solutions to plastic recycling in Illinois

Written by Jim Dexter

multi colored plastic beads

 

Ideas for “Revitalizing Plastics Recycling” will be the topic for a symposium hosted by the Illinois Recycling Association and the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center at the I Hotel and Conference Center on the University of Illinois campus from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 12.

 

Plastic production has risen steeply decade upon decade in the United States, primarily for use in packaging, and as a cheap, tough, lightweight substitute for glass and metal.

 

Ironically glass and metal are far more economical to recycle, so used plastic has come to blight the environment. The U.N. Environmental Program estimates that the U.S. recycled only nine percent of its post-consumer plastic in 2012. The program also reports that up to 43 percent of waste plastic finds its way into landfills. That leaves a lot of plastic unaccounted for.

 

Factors that make plastic easy or hard to recycle depends largely on logistics in the local recycling market, according to B.K. Sharma, senior research scientist at ISTC, a division of the Prairie Research Institute, and one of the presenters at the symposium.

 

Take polyethylene, for instance, which comes in two varieties – high density or low density, according to Sharma. If it is extruded (as in disposable drink bottles) it can usually be economically crushed, handled, and transported. If polyethylene products are molded they are typically too dense and/or brittle for a recycler to profitably manipulate. Expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam) is another example of a hard-to-recycle plastic. All volume and no weight, it is expensive to transport and few communities today offer opportunities to recycle it, Sharma explained.

 

Ken Santowski’s Chicago Logistic Service has been working to provide Styrofoam recycling to citizens of the greater Chicago area. He will speak at the symposium of his company’s success in dealing with that necessary evil.

 

The symposium will also deal with another scourge of plastic recycling – agricultural plastics. It wraps bales, covers forage, bags silage, covers silo bunkers, and makes farmers more productive in many ways. But once used it doesn’t all go easily into dumpsters and is too lightweight to make much economic sense to conventional recyclers. Tanner Smith, corporate development analyst for Delta Plastics, will discuss dealing with agricultural plastics at the symposium.

 

Sharma’s lab has approached the problem from a different angle. He has demonstrated how petroleum-derived polymers can be “reverse engineered” right back into gasoline, diesel, and even jet fuel. He has also shown how high-value “fractions” can be recovered from trash that might have ended up in landfills. He will be giving a demonstration at the symposium of the technology which can be used to convert plastics to oil.

 

The symposium will bring together experts on different aspects of the problem and share solutions on how to improve Illinois’ experience and record of plastic recycling. To register, and for more information about the symposium visit the Illinois Recycling Association’s website.

 

Illinois Sustainable Technology Center logo

Illinois Recycling Association logo

Champaign County Residential Electronics Collection Event Scheduled for Oct. 14, 2017

The next Champaign County residential electronics collection event has been scheduled for October 14, 2017. The event will occur from 8 AM to noon at Parkland College. Registration is required for participation; online registration (at www.ecycle.simplybook.me) opens on September 5, 2017 at 8 AM.

 

Read more on the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) Blog.

 

postcard announcing the October 14, 2017 electronics collection for Champaign County, IL

Death by Design Screening, August 22 at Champaign Public Library

On Tuesday, August 22, the Illini Gadget Garage will be hosting a screening of the documentary Death by Design at the Champaign Public Library. Doors will open at 6:30 PM and the film will begin at 7:00. The film duration is 73 minutes.

 

The Illini Gadget Garage is a repair center that helps consumers with “do-it-together” troubleshooting and repair of minor damage and performance issues of electronics and small appliances. The project promotes repair as a means to keep products in service and out of the waste stream. The Illini Gadget Garage is coordinated by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center.

 

Death by Design explores the environmental and human costs of electronics, particularly considering their impacts in the design and manufacture stages, bearing in mind that many electronic devices are not built to be durable products that we use for many years. Cell phones, for example, are items that consumers change frequently, sometimes using for less than 2 years before replacing with a new model. When we analyze the effort put into, and potential negative impacts of, obtaining materials for devices through efforts like mining, the exposure to potentially harmful substances endured by laborers in manufacturing plants, and the environmental degradation and human health risks associated with informal electronics recycling practices in various parts of the word, the idea that we might see these pieces of technology as “disposable” in any way becomes particularly poignant. For more information on the film, including reviews, see http://deathbydesignfilm.com/about/  and
http://bullfrogfilms.com/catalog/dbd.html. You can also check out the trailer at the end of this post.

 

After the film, there will be a brief discussion and Q&A session facilitated by Joy Scrogum, Sustainability Specialist from the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) and project coordinator for the Illini Gadget Garage. UI Industrial Design Professor William Bullock will also participate in the panel discussion; other panelists will be announced as they are confirmed. Professor Bullock is also an adviser for the Illini Gadget Garage project; see more about IGG advisers at http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/meet-the-advisers/.  Check the IGG web site calendar and Facebook page for room details and panelist announcements.

 

Admission to this public screening is FREE, but donations are suggested and appreciated to support future outreach and educational efforts of the Illini Gadget Garage. See http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/donate/donation-form/ to make an online donation and http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/ for more information on the project.

Bullfrog Films presents…DEATH BY DESIGN from Bullfrog Films on Vimeo.