Sweden Imports Trash, Heats Nation

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The U.S. produces over 220 million tons of waste each year—55 percent of which ends up in landfills, 33 percent gets recycled and 12.5 percent is incinerated. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 65 percent of the waste generated by the U.S. in 2006 came from residences and 35 percent came from commercial and institutional sites. How can the U.S. implement an effective waste management system?

Sweden has an innovative waste management system in which the energy created by burnable waste is used to provide heat and electricity for the entire country. The heat produced by waste plants has become a substitute for fossil fuel.

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By Silvia Gutierrez, GMC Editor

Beyond Pretty Lights

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“Chemical compounds probably aren’t what come to mind when you think about fireworks. What comes to mind when you see fireworks? Do you think of the loud noises they make? Or do you think about the stench they leave behind following the grand finale of the display? While fireworks have become a huge tradition on the 4th of July, the chemicals that are used to make them have been found highly detrimental to the environment.

Bright flashes of colors such as red, white, blue, yellow, green, and violet light up the sky— results of the combustion of flash powder oxidizer potassium perchlorate and various nitrates. Strontium nitrate is responsible for red fireworks, barium nitrate for green, and copper chloride for blue.”

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By Kimberly Dallmann, GMC Writer

Off the Meds Yet?

Earlier this week, GMC celebrated the 23rd annual United Nations (UN) World Water Day. This year, the UN focused on the importance of the process of obtaining clean water, and the people who work to make sure water is safely distributed.

Purifying water is an extensive yet important process, and many people don’t realize how easily water is contaminated. For instance, people tend to not finish prescribed medication once they’re feeling healthier. What happens to that leftover medicine? It is common to dispose of prescription drugs by flushing them down a toilet. In some cases, it was even encouraged by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This was a way to ensure that unused drugs wouldn’t be abused by anyone else, or to avoid a potential hazard to family members or pets.

Flushing away some prescriptions could be more damaging to our water source than we think. Although the water used in our toilets is processed at sewage treatment plants, some prescription medications may not be completely removed from the water. This poses a hazard to human health, fish and wildlife, and may also potentially contaminate soil and groundwater in the future. In 1999 and 2000, the U.S. Geological Survey conducted a study and found traces of pharmaceuticals in 80 percent of sampled rivers and streams. Due to this staggering information and an increase in the use of prescription medicine, the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommend a more precautious disposal of certain medications.

The safest way to dispose of prescription medications is by turning them into a facility that collects pharmaceuticals or a collector registered by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). If those options are not possible, the FDA recommends that the prescription be placed in a sealed plastic bag filled with dirt or kitty litter and then placed into the trash.

It is important to remember that although prescription medicine can disappear with the flushing method, it is still going somewhere. As we celebrate events such as World Water Day, it is imperative to remember that we all contribute to the quality of the water we depend on. National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is right around the corner, on April 30th. For more information on ways to safely dispose of medication, click here.

Think twice before flushing unused medication.

By Kimberly Dallmann, GMC Writer

Managing Our Carbon Footprint: The Bright Side of Carbon Dioxide

We hear it all the time—we need to reduce our carbon footprint. There are companies such as Liquid Light that have discovered innovative ways to reduce the negative effects of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide, said to be the leading cause of climate change, is the biggest byproduct produced by mass transportation and manufacturing plants. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that carbon dioxide is responsible for 76 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Liquid Light proposed groundbreaking technology that recycles carbon dioxide into other chemicals that can be used in everyday products. Emily Cole, cofounder and chief science officer of Liquid Light, believes recycling carbon dioxide is necessary in order to change the way we reduce our carbon footprint.

“We take carbon dioxide from its source [like power plants or factories], add water and electricity to it, and create liquid fuels and chemicals such as ethylene glycol and glycolic acid,” said Cole.

Liquid Light’s efforts could greatly help reduce GHG emissions, as well as reduce the cost of producing the materials used to make products like plastic bottles. According to the website, Ban the Bottle, 17 million barrels of oil are needed each year for the production of plastic bottles, which doesn’t include fuel for the transportation involved in the process. The end products of recycled carbon dioxide could replace the petroleum used in not only the production of plastic bottles, but also during the making of asphalt, cleaning products, aspirin and synthetic rubber.

When it comes to reducing our carbon footprint and recycling, many people believe that it is just a way to divert waste and feel better about the act without it actually making an impact. This couldn’t be more wrong. Recycling will not have a true impact if we do not change the way we live and consume. If we continue to use petroleum instead of alternative chemicals, our carbon footprint will continue to depress greatly. In order to sustain a reasonable use of our resources, we need to make sure that we are extracting said sources at a lower or equal-to value. Thanks to companies such as Liquid Light, we might be able to expedite the process of leveling the rate at which we use resources that are harmful to our environment.

By Kimberly Dallmann, GMC Writer