Tagged: education

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.

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.

[1] https://www.ustravel.org/research/us-travel-answer-sheet

[2] https://www.ustravel.org/news/summer-travel-expectations-still-strong-economic-pressure-and-poor-travel-experience-may#:~:text=This%20summer%2C%20air%20travel%20demand,up%20from%2019%25%20in%20Q1.

[3] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-05-24/summer-travel-in-2023-means-high-costs-and-big-crowds#xj4y7vzkg

[4] https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/backcountry-basics/leave-no-trace/pack-it-in-pack-it-out/

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.

Landfill operators discuss PFAS management, regulations and the need for more research

Now that the federal government has previewed new plans to regulate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), sometimes known as “forever chemicals,” landfill operators say they feel stuck between wanting more data and research before enacting future policy and needing clearer metrics to ensure safe PFAS management in the meantime.

That’s just one of several insights about PFAS that came out of an EREF Science Session webinar, which was described in a recent article in Waste Dive. Other insights indicate that operators believe that landfills, which utilize highly engineered liner systems, are capable of capturing PFAS and preventing leaching into groundwater. Additionally, given the variety of products and materials which contain PFAS, discussions are needed to stop PFAS generation at the manufacturing level.

The full article can be read here.

EREF’s New Science Sessions Puts a Conversational Twist on Solid Waste Education

Click here for a PDF of this release.

Raleigh, NC (January 7, 2021) – The Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) is excited to announce the inception of a new solid waste education series entitled EREF Science Sessions, which will kick off in mid-January.

In a time when interactions occur primarily online and Zoom fatigue has become a real concern, the Science Sessions aim to provide the content solid waste professionals need in brief, interactive segments lasting around 45 minutes to an hour.

These sessions will take a variety of forms, forgoing the typical presentation/webinar- style and opting for more interactive models such as interviews, panels and Q&A.

The first set of topics centers on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and emerging contaminants. While data and information surrounding the topic abounds, each session aims to bring new content to the table and focus on the role of the waste industry in the PFAS and emerging contaminants conversation.

Currently, 8 sessions have been confirmed with more anticipated to be lined up. Subtopics include:

  • Industry perspectives on PFAS management
  • PFAS policy
  • Management strategies
  • PFAS concentrations in domestic wastewater and leachate
  • Effective leachate treatment methods
  • PFAS stabilization and solidification
  • Exposure and health implications
  • And more to come!

While PFAS is the focus of the initial set of sessions, other topics will be added to the docket later in 2021.

EREF’s first session, entitled In the Room When It Happened: Industry Perspectives on PFAS, will be a panel comprised of Joe Benco (Republic Services), Sam Nicolai (Casella Waste) and David Pepper (GFL Environmental). This session will be held January 21 at 1 pm ET – registration is open!

Visit the EREF website to learn more and register.

Looking for a value-driven way to build your brand awareness? Become a Science Sessions sponsor! Sponsors receive a select amount of attendee spots with their sponsorship. Send an e-mail to events@erefdn.org to sponsor or learn more.

Thank you to our current Science Sessions sponsors, Golder and Republic Services!

EREF is a 501(c)3 class charity that funds and directs scientific research and educational initiatives for waste management practices to benefit industry participants and the communities they serve. For more complete information on EREF funded research, its scholarship program and how to donate to this great cause, visit erefdn.org.



Media Contact:

Catherine Ardoin, Communications Manager

Phone: 919.861.6876 ext. 109

Email: cardoin@erefdn.org

EREF to Host Virtual Annual Charitable Auction in 2020 Due to COVID-19

Raleigh, NC (June 4, 2020) – In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) will host its 2020 Annual Charitable Auction online in multiple phases.

EREF’s Auction, held each year at WasteExpo, accounts for a large portion of the Foundation’s annual revenue. Given WasteExpo’s virtual transition and ongoing uncertainties related to COVID-19, the EREF Board of Directors determined that the best way to minimize risk to the Foundation’s financial health would be to keep the event in the first half of 2020, which resulted in hosting the event virtually.

“The waste industry is an essential service during these difficult times; therefore, solid waste science remains essential. While we enjoy having the Auction at WasteExpo, I want to ensure that the Foundation is positioned to continue its mission, funding the research that still effects our everyday operations and lives,” said Pat Carroll, President of Environmental Solutions Group and EREF Board Chairman. “I encourage those who are able to contribute to the Auction, or EREF itself, to do so.”

When bidding opens June 15, Auction items will be available for bidding online through the Ritchie Bros. online bidding platform, IronPlanet.

EREF’s Silent Auction, which has been held online since 2016, will once again take place online, featuring must-haves and rare finds such as iPads and autographed images. Stay tuned for more bidding information.

New this year – in an effort to provide additional relationship-building opportunities, EREF has added a new element called the Super Silent Auction. This will consist of outings with key industry executives (e.g. procurement managers). The Super Silent Auction will take place during EREF’s Fall Classic & Networking Event from September 30th – October 1st in Pinehurst, NC.

“This was a difficult decision for the Foundation to make. Each year, we enjoy bringing together various facets of the waste industry into our WasteExpo booth to network and support solid waste science,” said Bryan Staley, EREF CEO and President. “However, EREF fully understands that safety and health are of the utmost importance in these unprecedented times. Hosting the elements of the charitable auction online will provide donors and bidders the opportunity to still support EREF. We hope to be back together again at WasteExpo in 2021.”

EREF will release more information as it becomes available. In the meantime, please contact events@erefdn.org with any questions.

EREF is a 501(c)3 class charity that funds and directs scientific research and educational initiatives for waste management practices to benefit industry participants and the communities they serve. For more complete information on EREF funded research, its scholarship program and how to donate to this great cause, visit https://erefdn.org.

Click here to view a PDF of this release.

Definition Dilemma: A Look at the Varying Recycling Definitions

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Of the 49 states that have recycling definitions, EREF identified 18 DIFFERENT DEFINITIONS! States use these when creating their waste reduction goals and measuring to see if they met their goals.

Check out this infographic on the differences in state recycling definitions!

Recycle Right: Are you Falling for these Recycling Myths?

ARD 2019 Recycling Myths FINAL smaller

When you hear phrases like “think green” or “environmental stewardship,” recycling is likely one of the first things that comes to mind. With all of the pseudo-science and myths out there, you might be confused on how to recycle and even the definition of recycling.

Check out this infographic in which EREF addresses common misconceptions associated with recycling!

EREF Awards Six Master’s and Doctoral Scholarships for 2019

The Board of Directors of the Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) are pleased to announce the award of six scholarships to Master’s and Doctoral students across North America pursuing education in solid waste management.

Click here for more information (PDF)

Supporting Canadian Solid Waste Research: EREF of Canada to Hold 2nd Silent Auction at the Canadian Waste & Recycling Expo

After the success of last year’s event, the Environmental Research & Education Foundation of Canada (EREF-CA) is excited to once again hold its Silent Auction October 9 and 10 at the Canadian Waste & Recycling Expo (CWRE) in Toronto, Ontario. Proceeds from this event, which is being held in partnership with the Ontario Waste Management Association (OWMA), support solid waste research needs in Canada.

EREF-CA’s Silent Auction affords donating companies greater visibility during the show and allows them to demonstrate their commitment to scientific research advancing the solid waste industry in Canada. Donations to the Auction consist of a variety of items, which could range from sporting event tickets to trips to electronics.

Click here for more information (PDF)