Science Newsletter #4: What “Biodegradable” Means, World’s Warmest September, and a 1,670-Pound Trash Pickup

Christopher Owen

Is “Biodegradable” Material Environmentally-Friendly?

New York Times -Biodegradable products, created to simplify the recycling process, are known to degrade naturally in landfills under specific conditions. However, scientists are still studying the effectiveness of these products, such as how specifically and how easily they degrade.  A group of Scientists at the University of Georgia completed a study on the effectiveness of various “environmentally friendly” packaging alternatives. .For example, Corn-Based Plastics are designed to easily break down but aren’t necessarily compostable. They often have to be shipped to a corporate landfill in order to be properly decomposed since using a personal compost bin can lead to unnecessary pollution. Another material examined was paper/cardboard,  intended to cut down plastic leaching into the ground/underground waterways. Although marketed as a compostable and natural alternative to plastic, paper cartons (add- like the ones you get in Chipotle) aren’t so environmentally friendly. Oftentimes, the insides are made of numerous layers of plastic to maintain the shape of the carton and prevent the beverage from leaking. The UGA scientists also took a look at Bagasse, a fiber derived from sugar cane that is supposedly completely compostable and Earth-friendly. Several fast-food restaurants have been known to use Bagasse bowls, including Chipotle and Sweetgreen. Although this material can be composted entirely, chemicals linked to many types of cancer have been found in the coating of these bowls, and these chemicals can become airborne once the decomposing process begins at a landfill. A much more promising method of composting, PHA, has been found to break down plastics in a fraction of the time it normally takes (as long as 450 years), but engineering the bacteria which this process utilizes in the first place poses another challenge. 

September 2020 Hottest September Ever Recorded

New York Times – In addition to more frequent severe weather, prolonged droughts, and the wildfires ravaging California, September 2020 brought some of the highest fall temperatures worldwide, including Northern Siberia, Western Australia, and the Middle East. This discovery was made by the Copernicus Climate Change Service, a governmental agency that has been following extreme weather patterns and hurricanes since 2005. Noticing drastic shifts in the frequency, severity, and duration of weather since 2005 years, the group published their findings showing how this September was, on average, the hottest ever, on average 0.63 degrees warmer.e. To put this into context, although two-thirds of a degree doesn’t sound like much, the Earth only needs to warm 2.5 to 3 degrees Celcius more before it starts becoming inhabitable. Another agency, the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) released their reports this year, which yielded similar results.. Although both groups found different data points on the temperatures, one dire conclusion was reached: this year’s drastic rise in temperature, combined with current climate crises around the globe, is evidence that humans need to act quickly to prevent the gravity of our environmental situation from worsening.

North Fork Beach Cleanup Competition Amasses 1,670 Pounds of Trash

Suffolk Times – The North Fork of Long Island held a trash collection competition beginning in September and ending last week. Contestants entered in groups of three to five people and were given a month to pick up as much trash as they could. The first-place team, Team Fork and Anchor, collected the most pounds of trash -t around 357 pounds of it, most of which originated at beaches located in East Marion and Orient Point. Despite the top-three teams being awarded prizes, most teams entered for a different reason. According to Erin Johnson, a member of the team Fork and Anchor, she joined the competition in order to “set a good example for her daughters,” who frequently visit local beaches and were appalled to see how filthy they sometimes were. The event coordinator and competition host, Estefany Molina, said this experience showed everyone how neglected public nature spaces are, stating that scattered across the East Marion and Orient beaches, there was some sort of engagement or proposal or celebration had occurred and no one bothered to pick up their stuff.” The most common articles of trash collected were bottle caps and plastic bags/bottles, but some teams were able to find less common such as car tires (which were allowed to be weighed as long as they fit inside the bag they were given). All of these items will be sorted, examined, and donated to UpSculpt, which is a nonprofit organization focusing on making environmental art. Its founder, Cindy Pease Roe, says that she aims to draw attention to environmental issues and spread awareness about the importance of protecting our ecosystem. In the end, all of the participants took place in making the world a safer and cleaner place through this competition, which was not only a personally gratifying, but also environmentally beneficial experience.