Unpacking Life-Cycle Assessment Reports: Measurements, Model Mechanics, and Future Improvement

The field of environmental research has witnessed numerous advancements, and one such progression is the introduction of Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA). Unlike other tools, LCA stands out due to its unique ability to assess the environmental impact of a product, process, or decision throughout its entire lifecycle. This comprehensive evaluation of environmental impacts empowers LCA to provide invaluable insights for decisionmakers. It aids them in various arenas like product design, policymaking, and strategizing for sustainability.

So, how does LCA work? Think of LCA as an accountant, but not for money, for the environment. It begins its process by defining the objective and scope, then discerns what product or process is to be studied, identifies its lifecycle stages, and pinpoints its impact categories.

A product or process typically goes through several stages in its lifecycle. It starts with the raw material acquisition, wherein all the necessary elements are gathered. The subsequent phase is manufacturing or processing, where these materials are fashioned into the product in question. Then comes the distribution and transportation stage, the phase responsible for getting the product to its intended location. The next stage encompasses the use, maintenance, and repair of the product, which details its lifecycle while in the hands of consumers. Finally, the product reaches its end at the disposal or recycling stage, where it is either discarded or reprocessed for further use.

Following these stages, LCA delves into the inventory analysis. Here, it gathers detailed data about all the inputs, such as raw materials and energy, and outputs, like emissions and waste, associated with each stage of the lifecycle. This inventory serves as a comprehensive record of everything that contributes to and results from a product or process.

After the inventory analysis, LCA shifts its focus to the impact assessment phase. This is where the collected inputs and outputs are transformed into quantifiable environmental impacts. For example, Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions contribute to global warming and climate change by releasing heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. Energy Use, spanning from the extraction of raw materials to the final disposal of the product, can escalate GHG emissions further. Toxicity involves the release of harmful substances throughout the lifecycle stages, which can adversely affect both human health and the environment. Eutrophication marks the runoff of nutrients into water bodies, sparking algal blooms and negatively impacting aquatic life. Water Use assesses the amount of fresh water utilized throughout the lifecycle stages, an aspect of particular concern in regions experiencing water scarcity.

Then, it moves into the interpretation phase, carefully analyzing and interpreting the results, spotlighting crucial issues, drawing conclusions, and charting out recommendations.

However, as meticulous as LCA might be, its precision hinges on the quality and specificity of the data used. Though LCA models can yield trustworthy estimates of environmental impacts, they involve intricate systems and factors used in the model that may have substantial uncertainty in the base data used, which can be compounded with the uncertainty of other variables during the analytical process. Additional uncertainty can occur due to geographic difference and variations in the processes used and end uses assumed for recovered materials. Despite these uncertainties, LCAs are widely regarded as a comprehensive tool for evaluating environmental impacts.

But like every great tool, LCA too comes with certain limitations. First, LCAs are data-intensive, which can make them time-consuming and costly. Second, while LCAs are adept at capturing many environmental impacts, they might fail to fully acknowledge some, such as the local effects of biodiversity loss due to land use changes or social impacts like labor conditions. Third, comparing LCAs can pose a significant challenge if different methodologies or boundaries are used, as inconsistency in these aspects can yield drastically different results, muddling the comparisons. Finally, the results of LCAs may not reflect the spectrum of activities and, hence, the range of environmental impacts, owing to the variability in processes and systems. 

Despite these limitations, LCA is a valuable and promising tool. Its comprehensive and rigorous evaluation of a product or process’s environmental footprint across its entire lifecycle provides decisionmakers with invaluable insights. By identifying potential areas for improvement and highlighting the most damaging stages of a product’s life cycle, LCA serves as a powerful instrument for promoting sustainability. While it may not be perfect, the LCA remains a crucial ally in our collective pursuit of a more sustainable and environmentally conscious world.

Enlightening the Path Forward: Paving the Way for PFAS Action through Essential Briefings

June 2023

Would you buy a home without seeing it first? That idea would have been unthinkable to most consumers 10 or 15 years ago, but a recently released step-by-step guide shows it’s becoming increasingly common practice[1]. Some buyers will merely take a virtual tour and submit an offer. Even with an excellent on-site buyer’s agent guiding the process, it would be a stretch to consider this action fully informed or without potential risk.

Sometimes government and business policies are made in a similar way. An emergency or crisis arises, decision-makers are quick to respond, and efforts are put into practice without full understanding of the underlying scientific data. The Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) is playing a role in making sure that doesn’t happen with PFAS.

EREF’s President, Bryan Staley, has had conversations with numerous local, state, and government officials in recent months, discussing the organization’s extensive research on Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These briefings underscore the significance of the organization’s research for informing policy, and they serve as vital steps toward establishing EREF as a trusted thought leader in PFAS study and regulation.

PFAS, often referred to as ‘forever chemicals’ due to their persistent nature, have emerged as significant pollutants potentially affecting human health. EREF has already written about the primary ways humans are likely to encounter the chemicals and the organization’s involvement with a key briefing to US Senate staffers earlier this year. Since that briefing, Dr. Staley has continued this conversation with state, federal, and corporate business decisionmakers who’ve sought EREF’s research on the extent of PFAS risks, effects, and potential treatments.

These briefings serve as a vital conduit between science and policy, enabling comprehensive, unbiased scientific research to influence regulatory decisions. It’s vital to pursue research, but it’s a distinctly different step to transform that research into practical knowledge for decisionmakers. In presenting the science of PFAS, EREF’s research offers the tools to navigate PFAS management decisions with clarity and informed judgement.

While EREF doesn’t propose solutions or advocate for policy, the organization’s research and conversations have uncovered one recurring theme that seems to be in conflict: an almost singular focus on end-of-pipe regulations while at the same time highlighting such facilities are a potential solution for PFAS disposal (e.g. EPA’s Interim Guidance on PFAS Management). Much of the research and legislation on PFAS has been aimed at water treatment plants, landfills, and recycling and compost centers. While these facilities play an important role in the overall approach to PFAS, they are not enough. There has been very little research on stopping PFAS at the source, but EREF has written about how consumers are most likely to encounter these chemicals.

Through continued research, informed advocacy, and strategic policy recommendations, EREF aims to lead the way towards a safer, healthier environment. We believe our work with PFAS – encapsulated by the briefings given to officials – serves as a model for how research can directly influence policy, ensuring that our collective decision-making is informed by the best available scientific evidence. We are committed to continuing this vital dialogue, embracing our role as a thought leader, and working tirelessly towards a future free from the harmful impact of PFAS.


There’s Something in the Water, but Where Else?

May 2023

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of human-made chemicals that have infiltrated nearly every aspect of modern life, from nonstick pans to water-repellent clothing, firefighting foams, and food packaging. Their unique properties, such as resistance to heat, water, and oil, have made them desirable in various industries, however, PFAS are not without controversy. As “forever chemicals,” their persistence in the environment and adverse health effects have raised concerns among scientists, policymakers, and communities worldwide.

The advent of PFAS began in the 1930s when chemists at 3M developed the first PFAS chemical, perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS). Not long after, in the 1940s, DuPont scientists invented another form, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), as part of their development of Teflon, a non-stick coating for pots and pans. These two chemicals, PFOS and PFOA, are the most well-known and widely studied of the PFAS family.

For decades, the advantageous properties of PFAS – resistance to heat, water, and oil – made them highly valued in a variety of industrial and consumer applications. However, it wasn’t until the late 1990s and early 2000s that the potential environmental and health risks associated with these chemicals started to surface. Studies revealed that PFAS are not only incredibly persistent in the environment, but exposures at significant concentrations have adverse effects on human health. This led to a voluntary cessation of PFOA and PFOS use by U.S. manufacturers. However, these have been replaced by thousands of other PFAS compounds. Nonetheless, the environmental and health concerns have created a significant shift in the narrative around PFAS, sparking what has become an ongoing and complex discussion about regulation, remediation, and the future of these ubiquitous substances.

In April 2023, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took its first enforcement action to reduce PFAS in drinking water, using the 2022 Clean Water Act as its basis[1]. While this seems like an obvious step in minimizing consumer encounters with the forever chemicals, in fact, humans are likely to experience significant direct exposure from sources other than drinking water. Primary means of direct exposure have been documented by multiple research groups, including a paper by Harvard University[2], which are summarized below.


Why does the cheese from a fast-food burger or pizza not stick to its packaging? It’s likely the result of PFAS chemicals[3]. This also includes microwave popcorn bags, candy wrappers, and even some pet food containers[4]. PFAS in this food packaging can leach into the food it contains, causing dietary exposure to the chemicals. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is increasingly aware of this possibility, but like the EPA, has not banned the use of these chemicals in food packaging[5]. Non-stick coatings in cookware still commonly contain PFAS and are considered an “authorized use” by the FDA[6] despite continued research into its potential risks. However, researchers have established a systematic review protocol[7] to assess these risks to provide EPA and product manufacturers with the most current and accurate data.


Just as the FDA has yet to ban PFAS use in cookware, they’ve also taken no action to limit its use in cosmetics products. Manufacturers aren’t required to have cosmetic ingredients evaluated for PFAS before hitting the market[8]. FDA is aware of their presence and cites a 2018 study by the Danish EPA on their website denoting the dangers and current research trends[9]. To date, this study is the only risk assessment that has evaluated PFAS in cosmetics. Results found the highest PFAS content in sunscreens, followed by foundations and concealers[10]. Levels of contamination in samples were not enough to be concerning in any single product for one use, but of course, that’s not how cosmetics work. The concern is that consumers are often layering these products daily. For instance, if one applied foundation, concealer, and a sun-repellant moisturizer each morning, the exposure is essentially tripled. Applied day after day, this repeated dermal transmission could have serious effects. 

The FDA implemented a reporting system for “manufacturers, packers, and distributors of cosmetic products that are in commercial distribution in the United States,” but the reporting is entirely voluntary[11]. So far, the program has shown a decline in PFAS usage in the limited products reported, but considerably more data and research are needed to adequately assess PFAS usage and consumer risk in all five of these contamination categories and beyond.

Studies have shown that PFAS can also be present in carpet fibers and household dust from those fibers[12]. This presence is concerning because it can result in long-term exposure to these chemicals which can accumulate in the body over time. Babies and children are at a higher risk for this exposure given the extended periods of time they often spend on the floor.


Though included as a potential means of exposure, to date, PFAS exposure through the skin appears to represent a low risk relative to ingestion or inhalation. Many fabrics use forever chemicals on clothing, pillows, blankets, and carpeting – mentioned earlier. The chemicals are used in spray starches, stain-resistant coatings, and Gore-Tex. While these may make many consumer textiles harder to stain or ruin, they do not break down once textiles are discarded. The Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) is currently funding research into textile-to-textile recycling, which could lead to new textile production streams and additional new treatments.


Finally, it is possible to consume PFAS in drinking water. Treatment processes have been studied and implemented to reduce levels of PFAS in drinking water, and as mentioned earlier, EPA took action to regulate levels in March of this year. However, those regulations do little to remove PFAS from the product stream altogether. The EPA’s potential inclusion of PFAS in the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) currently includes passive receivers (entities that neither produce nor manufacture PFAS but receive them through the waste stream) rather than the producers and manufacturers who are introducing the chemicals upstream. Thus far, much of the policymaking around PFAS has focused on managing PFAS concentrations at “end of pipe” rather than preventing them from entering the systems initially. However, in most cases any PFAS existing in end of pipe systems, like wastewater treatment plants or landfill leachate treatment systems, undergo multiple steps of treatment and dilution which represents multiple degrees of separation between a point of contact and human exposure. This is in stark contrast to the other methods of exposure where PFAS directly applied to consumer products is being ingested or inhaled.


Forever chemicals have been in the consumer product stream for almost a century, and their health impacts have largely centered around the 2 ‘legacy’ PFAS compounds: PFOA and PFOS. Most of this research has been conducted at high concentrations in animal studies. The demonstrated human health impacts similarly occurred under high concentration exposure conditions during PFAS manufacturing processes or with almost pure PFAS chemical products, such as anti-firefighting foam.

But what about the vast majority of society that doesn’t work in the PFAS manufacturing or fire-fighting sectors? The research behind exposure risk at lower “environmentally relevant” concentrations is still relatively immature with some studies suggesting impacts at lower concentrations could be benign[13]. However, such research is not conclusive, and more is needed. This, coupled with the fact that PFAS usage is dynamic and compounds being used are fluctuating substantially, makes answering this question both challenging and one that will take a much longer time frame. ­


[2] E.M. Sunderland, X.C. Hu, C. Dassuncao, C.C. Wagner, A.K. Tokranov, J.G. Allen. 2019. A review of the pathways of human exposure to poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) and present understanding of health effects. Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology. 29, 131–147,





[7]  Nicole M. DeLuca, Michelle Angrish, Amina Wilkins, Kris Thayer, Elaine A. Cohen Hubal,

Human exposure pathways to poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from indoor media: A systematic review protocol, Environment International, Volume 146, 2021, 106308, ISSN 0160-4120,





[12] Jinjin Chen, Linbin Tang, Wei-Qiang Chen, Graham F. Peaslee, and Daqian Jiang, Flows, Stock, and Emissions of Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances in California Carpet in 2000–2030 under Different Scenarios, Environmental Science & Technology 2020 54 (11), 6908-6918, DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.9b06956

[13] Georgia M. Sinclair, Sara M. Long, Oliver A.H. Jones, What are the effects of PFAS exposure at environmentally relevant concentrations? Chemosphere, Volume 258, 2020, 127340, ISSN 0045-6535,

EREF Joins Industry Leaders to Discuss PFAS and CERCLA on Capitol Hill

April, 2023

Did you ever watch The Magic School Bus? In the episode “For Lunch,” Ms. Frizzle’s class miniaturized and took a trip through Arnold’s digestive system. While simple (and far-fetched), the animated journey presented an educational overview into a complex scientific process. In March, Dr. Bryan Staley traveled to Washington, D.C. to join panelists from across the nation and encourage Congressional staffers to take a similar journey – with PFAS.

Dr. Staley, the President and CEO of the Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF), asked the audience to imagine being a molecule on a forever chemical’s life journey. It begins as a coating on your non-stick frying pan, or your microwave popcorn bag, maybe even your makeup. Those items get manufactured with or packaged in containers that can contain PFAS, transported by vehicles using microchips that are also coated with PFAS, and sent to the distributors. Once the item is in a consumer’s possession, it’s used and, eventually, disposed. At this point, one might consider the PFAS journey over – it’s headed to the bin! In reality, that journey is just beginning.

As the products leave consumers’ possession, they travel to passive receivers. Passive receivers are entities that neither produce nor manufacture PFAS but receive them through the waste stream. This was the topic at the center of the gathering in the nation’s Capital in March. Moderated by Anne Germain, National Waste and Recycling Association’s (NWRA) COO and SVP of Technical and Regulatory Affairs, panelists also included Amy Brittain, Environmental Programs Manager in the Land Protections Division of Oklahoma’s Dept. of Environmental Quality; Judy Sheahan, Assistant Executive Director for the U.S. Conference of Mayors; Richard Watson, CEO of Delaware’s Solid Waste Authority; Jeff Ziegenbein, Acting Director of Operations at Inland Empire Utilities Agency and President of the CA Association of Compost Producers; and Eric Labelle, Principal Project / Process Engineer at the Wastewater Department in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Each of these panelists represented a group of passive receivers in the waste, composting, or water treatment industry, and most presented a case for Congressional action to exempt passive receivers from last year’s Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). As an independent, science-based research organization, EREF does not advocate for any positions, policies, or exemptions from regulations. Instead, Dr. Bryan Staley presented current data on how PFAS enters the waste stream, how these chemicals impact consumers, and the research EREF is currently conducting on the subject. The word of the day was ubiquitous. It was used by every panelist for each industry alongside EREF’s call for further research and the need for more data.

EREF has written on how science and advocacy work together to affect change in the world. The recent Congressional briefing is one example how research can inform policy and empower advocates to explain and defend the most educated course of action. EREF has published a number of reports on PFAS in leachate and compost, and has assembled a resource of scientific and technical studies on the topic. This subject is of utmost importance as studies continually show links between PFAS exposure and health complications. Just like PFAS entering the waste stream, EREF’s journey with these chemicals has only begun. The foundation currently has seven active studies related to PFAS and will continue to release updates and reports as findings become available. 

Implications of LCA Studies on Curbside Recycling in the U.S.

Curbside recycling has been proven to have significant environmental benefits, according to a recent Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) report released by the Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF). The study highlights the importance of various factors in determining the effectiveness of recycling programs and their environmental impacts.

The LCA emphasizes that curbside recycling can lead to substantial reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and energy use compared to landfilling. However, the environmental benefits of recycling are influenced by several factors. These include the types of materials being recycled, the efficiency of source separation by residents, the structure of the recycling program, and the viability of end markets for recovered materials.

It’s crucial to recognize that waste management entities have limited control over these factors. While they can dictate the type of recycling program, they cannot directly control source separation or the viability of end markets. This highlights the complex interplay of various stakeholders in making recycling economically and environmentally viable.

The LCA study reveals that different materials have varying levels of GHG and energy savings when recycled. Aluminum cans provide the highest emissions avoidance, with 9,130 kg of CO2 avoided per ton of aluminum recycled. In contrast, recycling glass results in the lowest emissions avoidance. Energy savings follow a similar trend, with aluminum providing the highest savings.

However, it’s important to note that these results are based on an idealized recycling scenario. The actual benefits will depend on the recycling system, whether it’s a closed-loop system or an open-loop system where materials degrade in quality over recycling iterations.

The inclusion of different materials in recycling programs has a significant impact on overall GHG emissions reduction. According to the LCA study, including aluminum containers in curbside recycling programs results in the most substantial reduction in GHG emissions. Fiber recycling, including old, corrugated cardboard and mixed paper, provides the largest program-wide energy savings. Glass and ferrous containers show the least benefits in GHG emissions reduction and energy savings, respectively.

However, it’s important to consider that in certain scenarios, recycling certain materials could potentially result in higher emissions or energy use than not recycling them at all. Improving the curbside capture rate in recycling programs presents a significant opportunity to reduce GHG emissions. The study suggests that a 10-percentage point increase in curbside capture could decrease program-wide GHG emissions by nearly 25 kg CO2e per metric ton of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) managed. Focusing on materials with higher GHG offsets, like aluminum cans, could lead to even greater emissions savings.

The transition to single-stream recycling programs, despite increased contamination rates and energy demand for sorting equipment, has resulted in a significant net reduction in GHG emissions. The increased quantity of recyclable commodities sent for remanufacturing outweighs the negative environmental impact.

The end use of recovered materials from Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) significantly impact system-wide GHG benefits. Materials with marginal emissions benefits, such as fiber and glass, are particularly affected. However, any deviation from closed-loop or best-case recycling scenarios could substantially reduce or even negate the environmental benefits of recycling.  For example, using recycled glass in non-closed loop situations should be considered carefully, particularly when the transport distance from the recycling facility is significant.

Recycled materials are transported via Over-the-Road (OTR) vehicles, rail, or ocean-going vessels. OTR vehicles have the highest energy use and GHG emissions, while rail and ocean shipping significantly lower these impacts. Maximizing the load on transport vehicles reduces overall GHG emissions, highlighting the importance of transportation efficiency in recycling programs. The geographical location also influences the environmental superiority of recycling compared to landfilling or Waste-to-Energy (WTE) options.

LCAs often rely on ‘best-case’ assumptions due to limited end-use data. However, more comprehensive research is needed to understand how the end use of materials impacts LCAs. For materials with low market demand and negligible environmental benefits in their recovery, landfilling may be a more sustainable short-term option.

EREF’s LCA highlights the complexity of recycling programs and the need to consider multiple factors in their design and evaluation. While recycling is beneficial in reducing GHG emissions and energy use, these benefits are material-specific and influenced by various factors. Waste management entities, residents, and end markets all play essential roles in making recycling economically and environmentally viable.

EREF to Hold 2023 Annual Fall Classic in Palm Beach Gardens

Raleigh, NC | July 7, 2023 – The Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) announced it will hold its 2023 Fall Classic & Networking Event September 27 & 28 at the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. This annual event gathers waste and sustainability professionals from across the nation for networking, competition, and fun.

With a rich history of industry backing, this year is no exception, featuring GFL Environmental as the tournament’s primary sponsor. All proceeds from the event will support EREF’s charitable mission to advance scientific research and create educational pathways that enable innovation in sustainable waste management practices.

This year’s Fall Classic begins Wednesday, September 27, with a putting contest and networking reception featuring hors d’oeuvres and an open bar. Thursday, September 28, players will gather for breakfast and a shotgun start on the Palmer and Fazio courses. The tournament will conclude with an Awards Luncheon following tournament play.

The first and second place teams from each of the two courses will be awarded trophies. In addition, there will be multiple contests throughout the course, including the opportunity to win $10,000 during the putting contest at the networking reception on Wednesday evening. Click here to view our current sponsors and to register.

PRICING – One (1) Golfer: $1,500 I Foursome: $6,000. Club and shoe rentals are not included. Club rentals are available at an additional $90 and must be purchased through EREF’s website by September 22.

RESERVATIONS – Hotel reservations must be booked by 5:00pm on Tuesday, September 5.

  • Reservations can be made online here or by calling the Reservations Department directly at 1-844-821-0028, daily from 9:00 AM until 5:00 PM and reference the name of the group block or the booking ID.
  • Group Block Name: EREF – Golf Tournament – Fall 2023
  • Group Booking ID: 091123EREF

Additional sponsorship opportunities are available. Please email for more information.

EREF is a 501(c)3 class charity that advances scientific research and creates educational pathways that enable innovation in sustainable waste management practices. For more complete information on EREF funded research, its scholarship program and how to donate to this great cause, visit


Media Contact: 
Stephen Aber, Communications Manager 
Phone: (984) 884-7444

Sustainable Summers: Small Steps Towards Big Impacts

What costs $1.2 TRILLION and continues to get more and more expensive? The answer: Americans’ summer travel[1]

Now that it’s officially summer, many Americans are headed out of town. Whether weekends at the beach or months abroad, this summer is set to witness the strongest air travel since the pre-pandemic era, possibly making it the most robust ever. Over a quarter of Americans (26%), an increase from 19% in the first quarter, are preparing to embark on leisure travel in the coming three months[2]. This increase in travelers will translate into an approximate 12% growth in passengers for the three biggest U.S. airlines, expected to ferry 8.6 million people during the summer season[3]. While this mass mobilization symbolizes an exciting era of discovery and relaxation, it’s crucial to remember that our travel plans, while invigorating for us, can impose a heavy toll on the environment. In line with the increasingly prominent green trends sweeping the nation, it’s important that we approach our summer adventures with a mindful consideration of their environmental impact.

This summer’s surge in travel activity can unfortunately translate into increased waste production, with potential negative implications for our environment and lifestyle. Moreover, maintaining the allure and accessibility of our favorite scenic spots and lakes depends significantly on how well we protect them from pollution and trash accumulation. In a world where single-use plastic is commonplace, the path to sustainability can seem daunting. But a little planning can go a long way in fostering eco-friendly travel.

Unfortunately, it’s rare to see recycling bins at rest stops and gas stations, which makes it difficult for travelers to responsibly dispose of recyclables like plastic bottles or cans. As a result, these items often end up in general trash bins, destined for landfills. By including more visible and accessible recycling facilities at these high-traffic areas, we could make a substantial contribution to reducing travel-related waste.

As you plan your travel, consider these tips. When driving, pack snacks from home, carrying reusable beverage containers, and maintaining separate trash bags for recyclables and other waste in your car. Make a game out of minimizing waste – it not only teaches sustainability but can add a fun twist to the journey. When traveling by plane, one could manage waste by having a meal before a short flight to avoid single-use packaged snacks. For longer flights, taking advantage of in-flight meals helps reduce waste as these meals would otherwise be discarded. Train travel, in addition to being an efficient mode of transportation, also offers a refreshing respite from the bustling city traffic. If your travel requires documentation or tickets, digital documents on your phone or tablet help save paper and are less likely to be lost.

Choosing larger, shareable items, using snack cups for family members, and reducing hotel service to only when needed are effective ways to cut down waste. Don’t fall for the convenience of disposable utensils. Carrying reusable utensils, dishes, straws, and cloth napkins might seem like a chore, but such small steps can significantly lessen the landfill load.

Whether you’re headed to the beach, mountains, cities, or abroad, there are specific steps you can take to reduce waste. For beach or lake visits, the use of items that could be swept away by the wind or tide should be minimized. In the mountains, a pack it in, pack it out mindset goes a long way in preserving the natural beauty[4]. City travelers can cut down waste by enjoying meals in local restaurants instead of opting for takeaway. When traveling abroad, especially to European countries known for their waste minimization efforts, be sure to pay attention when you have items to discard as most offer a more diverse suite of options for disposal than the average American city and in many cases have separate recycling bins for plastic, glass, metal, paper and food.

These small steps may seem minor, but collectively, they can significantly impact our environment, potentially steering the future of the tourism industry towards a more sustainable path. As you make summer travel plans, and add to that $1.2 trillion price tag, consider a pledge to travel responsibly and sustainably.





Powering Down Safely: The Urgent Need for L/Li Battery Disposal Education

by Stephen Aber

Lithium and lithium-ion (L/Li) batteries are practically ubiquitous. They’re found in consumer devices like cellphones, tablets, e-bikes, and – increasingly – in electric vehicles. While the compact size and substantial energy storage of these batteries have revolutionized portable power, the improper disposal of these batteries is leading to an increasingly hazardous situation, causing significant and deadly fires.

The waste and recycling industry has been hit hard by these fires. Noteworthy incidents include the 2019 Sandalwood Fire, triggered by a garbage truck driver discarding a flaming load, which resulted in over 1,000 acres burned and two fatalities. In 2021, a similar fire in Tulsa, Oklahoma, destroyed a Material Recovery Facility (MRF), halting city recycling for nearly a year. These disasters, along with the 97% of recycling facilities reporting at least one fire between 2014 and 2020, demonstrate the gravity of this issue.

A primary cause of these fires is the improper disposal of L/Li batteries in standard trash or recycling bins, a practice that research from the Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) shows is alarmingly common. Even though L/Li batteries should never be disposed of in this manner, around 40% of nearly 3,000 surveyed consumers admitted to improperly discarding these batteries.

A lack of education and awareness regarding L/Li batteries and their safe disposal is at the heart of this issue. Many consumers are unaware of the inherent dangers and potential negative outcomes, such as fires at homes, refuse collection vehicles, recycling facilities, and waste management facilities.

L/Li batteries demand a different approach to disposal than most everyday items. As they aren’t ordinary recyclable products like paper or aluminum, they shouldn’t be placed in residential or commercial recycling bins. Instead, they should be taken to designated recycling or household waste collection points for proper handling. As an extra precaution to prevent fires, it’s recommended to tape the battery terminals or place the lithium-ion batteries in individual plastic bags. It’s crucial to note that, as of now, no universal recycling or recovery facility for these batteries exists, adding another layer of complexity to their safe disposal.

It’s important to distill the information into simple, concise messaging that the average consumer can understand. Complex technical jargon or lengthy directives often lose the audience’s attention. Clear, concise instructions can eliminate confusion about what to do with L/Li batteries at the end of their life, reducing the risk of them being improperly discarded in household trash or recycling bins.

Equally crucial is an emphasis on the potential consequences of consumer actions. By highlighting the potentially catastrophic outcomes of improper battery disposal—such as the devastating fires that have ravaged waste facilities, homes, and even claimed lives – we can underscore the urgency and importance of correct practices. Similarly, illuminating the positive impact of proper disposal methods, such as reduced fire risk and a safer environment for waste workers, can help motivate positive behaviors.

These batteries are an essential part of modern life, and that’s unlikely to change. By prioritizing education about their proper disposal, we can reduce the risk of accidental fires, ensuring safer and more environmentally responsible handling of L/Li batteries. A well-informed public is a vital first step toward protecting our communities, preserving our recycling capacities, and countering the dangers posed by an important but mismanaged resource.

EREF Funds Record-Breaking Number of Scholarships

New Funding Supports Scientific Research into Sustainable Waste Management Practices

Raleigh, NC The Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) has officially announced 16 newly awarded scholarships. Due to record breaking fundraising at this year’s charitable auction, EREF is able to fund more scholars than ever before.

A total of 49 scholarship applications were received, with 16 students (12 PhD, 4 MS) successfully funded to pursue their research, making the total number of active scholars reach 30. EREF has funded over $18.5 Million in research grants and scholarships since 1992. Forty percent of EREF scholars are employed in the solid waste field, with their research advancing sustainable materials management and a more circular economy.  This new historic funding of scholarships is thanks to donors’ generosity and moves the Foundation’s mission a significant step forward toward sustainable waste management practices.

“EREF serves as an essential resource to students pursuing a sustainable future backed by science. Due to record-breaking generosity at this year’s Charitable Auction, the Foundation is funding 16 new scholarships, for a total of 30 active scholars, the most in its history,” said Bryan Staley, PhD, PE, President and CEO of EREF. “EREF is grateful for the growing support of its mission to light the way toward a more circular economy while championing scholars researching sustainable waste management practices.”

To learn more about EREF’s scholarships program, click here. To learn more about current scholars, and to stay updated on the new scholars’ research when forthcoming details are posted, click here.


Media Contact:

Stephen Aber
Communications Manager

EREF Releases Life Cycle Assessment of Curbside Material Recovery

Raleigh, NC (July 21, 2022) – The Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) today released its new Life Cycle Assessment of Curbside Material Recovery.

In addition to providing an overview of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), this report provides information on the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and fossil energy use associated with curbside municipal solid waste (MSW) management systems including landfilling, recycling, and yard and food waste composting.

“When studying the environmental impacts of waste management systems, life cycle assessments (LCA) can provide valuable insight into the cycle of a product’s use, disposal, and potential re-use,” said Bryan Staley, PhD, PE, President and CEO of EREF. “The results of EREF’s LCA of Curbside Material Recovery shines a light on the importance of understanding the trade-offs of different collection and endpoint management options.  This study helps advance meaningful dialogue and informed decision-making by highlighting the nuances and sensitivities that should be considered with curbside material recovery.”

DOWNLOAD: The full report, including 13 Key Findings, can be downloaded for free here.

EREF is a 501(c)3 class charity that advances scientific research and creates educational pathways that enable innovation in sustainable waste management practices. For more complete information on EREF funded research, its scholarship program and how to donate to this great cause, visit


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