ACS Summer School on Green Chemistry and Sustainable Energy 2018

ACS Summer School on Green Chemistry and Sustainable Energy 2018

By Kevin Szkop and Rachel Hems

The Colorado School of Mines in Golden, CO is a wonderful campus with cutting-edge facilities and a great place to spend a week with 60 young scientists interested in green chemistry. This is where the ACS Summer School on Green Chemistry and Sustainable Energy was held from July 10 – 17. The group consisted of chemists and chemical engineers from North and South America, all with unique perspectives, experiences, and attitudes towards sustainability. Below is a photo of our awesome class!

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The 2018 ACS Summer School on Green Chemistry and Sustainable Energy class

The program consisted of technical and professional development sessions. A highlight was a life cycle assessment group project and presentation, led by Prof. Philip Jessop from Queen’s University. During Professor Jessop’s lectures, we learned how to think about the “greenness” of a process, and how this often-nebulous concept is best used as a comparative tool. While every process likely has downfalls, using the green chemistry principles and metrics allowed us to think critically about which process has the least downfalls, and how to address these in our work. The assignment included a group project, during which groups of students had to evaluate the merits and drawbacks of 5 synthetic routes to the same product. In this context, we learned that it is not only the reagents that go into a flask, but everything that happens behind the scenes, including shipping of reagents, the type of waste generated, amount of energy consumed, and much, much more. As a synthetic chemist (Kevin), it really made me think about solvent consumption and work up techniques in my own work!

In addition to learning about green chemistry and sustainable energy, there were some great professional development lectures and activities. Dr. Nancy Jenson, the program manager for the Petroleum Research Fund at the ACS, gave an engaging talk on tips for writing research proposals and common mistakes that are made. While she gave examples from her experience at the Petroleum Research Fund, there were many lessons that could be applied to any type of proposal writing.

Another great professional development lecture was given by Joerg Schlatterer from the American Chemical Society. He gave an overview of the ACS’s many resources for young chemists, such as the Chem IDP website for career planning, workshops for prospective faculty organized by the Graduate & Postdoctoral Scholars Office, and the new Catalyzing Career Networking program at ACS National Meetings. As part of the career planning case study, we took some time to make some SMART goals for ourselves for the next two years. I (Rachel) found it’s really helpful to have others share their goals and give suggestions for yours to make them the SMARTest they can be!

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Rafting down Clear Creek

Of course, we also had time to have fun! On the Saturday (also Rachel’s birthday!) we went white water rafting on Clear Creek. The river is mountain fed, so it was very cold, but it was a beautiful warm and sunny day! We had a great time rafting down the river, with a quick stop to jump in for a swim. It was a great way to spend my birthday! Throughout the week-long summer school, there was a decent amount of free time to enjoy the sunshine and the sights around Golden. Some of the fun things we got to do were swim in and raft down the river that goes through ‘downtown’ Golden, an early morning hike up the South Table Mountain, tour the Coors Brewery, and get to know all the other awesome chemists!

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Kevin and Rachel enjoying the Golden nightlife after a long day of learning!

We highly recommend attending this summer school. It is a great opportunity to learn and to meet great people who care about sustainable chemistry! Read more about past GCI members that have attended the ACS Summer School in 2014 and  2017.

More information on the summer school and how to apply can be found online here.

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The plastic problem – accumulation before alternatives

The plastic problem – accumulation before alternatives

By Karlee Bamford, Treasurer for the GCI

Plastics undoubtedly play a central role in our daily lives and played a pivotal role in the development of consumer societies across the globe for over a century. Concurrent with newfound materials and newfound possibilities, unprecedented environmental problems have emerged as a result of our reliance on plastics. The accumulation of plastics in allocated disposal sites (e.g. landfills) and in otherwise uninhabited spaces (e.g. beaches, open ocean) present threats to human health, water security, and food supply. These challenges now impact communities globally, irrespective of their actual contribution to the generation of plastic waste, and affect individuals of all economic backgrounds.

Figure 1. Examples of waste plastic accumulation in landfills and the environment. Images source: Pixabay.

Given the scale and significance of these challenges, is there anything that chemists can do to resolve this panhuman problem? A recent blog post from the Green Chemistry Initiative (https://greenchemuoft.wordpress.com/category/author/molly-sung/) highlighted the advances that have been made in synthetic and materials chemistry towards plant-derived and biodegradable plastics as alternatives to traditional petroleum-derived plastics. While this is undoubtedly a crucial area of research as humanity has become permanently dependent on plastics, the design of next generation plastics that are inherently sustainable will not mitigate the overwhelming impacts of existing plastic waste. Arguably, attenuating the problem of plastic waste is more important than finding alternatives to traditional plastics. Indeed, the decomposition time for products made from the top four families of commodity plastics (PP, PE, PVC, PET), produced on a 224.6 million tonne-scale alone in 2017,1 is estimated at 1 to 600 years in marine environments2 and considerably longer in landfills due to lack of moisture.4

Figure 2. Examples of the top five most-produced commodity polymers and their production scale in 2017.1,3

Traditional plastic-recycling methods are not equipped to resolve the issue of waste plastic accumulation either. Recycling can be broken down into three distinct varieties: primary, secondary, and tertiary.5 Primary recycling, which is equivalent to repurposing or reusing, is used limitedly for products such as plastic bottles, typically made of PET, which be directly reused following the necessary sterilization. Secondary recycling involves mechanical processing of plastics into new materials and frequently results in reduction of the plastics overall quality or durability due to the thermal or chemical processes involved. Primary and secondary recycling account for the majority of recycling efforts, however, as a consequence of poor consumer compliance (e.g. <10 % in the US and 30-40 % in the EU)6 and the deteriorating value of plastics with repeated secondary recycling, all plastics eventually become waste. The last and most underutilized form of recycling is tertiary recycling, the degradation or depolymerization of plastics into useful chemicals or materials. In the last year alone, numerous high profile editorial and review articles have appeared in Science7,8,9 and Nature6,10 emphasizing the incredible potential of chemical (tertiary) recycling as means of reducing plastic waste and as a new, sustainable chemical feedstock for the polymer (plastics) industry.

The challenge of chemical recycling is immediately evident: plastics have been expertly designed to be highly durable and chemically resistant, and thus, plastics cannot be easily transformed chemically. Ideally, polymers used in plastics could be depolymerized to monomer for subsequent repolymerization. For condensation polymers, such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the reverse of the polymerization reaction is the addition of a small molecule to the polymer to reform monomer. While completely reversible on paper or in theory, such depolymerization strategies have had limited success for PET.

Reacting the polymeric PET material with protic reagents (e.g. amines, alcohols) followed by hydrolysis to give monomers that can be repolymerized, if of sufficient purity (Figure 3), requires high temperature (250-300 °C) and high pressure (0.1-4 MPa) conditions unless additives, such as strong acids and bases or metal salts, are used.11 The action of many additives is not well understood, thus precluding rational improvement of the system. Hydrolysis of PET itself, especially at neutral pH, is the most challenging approach to PET chemical recycling as water is a relatively poor nucleophile. Hence stronger nucleophiles, such as ethylene glycol, are preferred.

Figure 3. Depolymerization of PET by glycolysis.

One practical problem in the chemical recycling of any plastic is its insolubility. Phase transfer catalysts –  species capable of transferring from one phase to another – have been used to address the insolubility of PET12 and have permitted the direct hydrolysis of PET at operating temperatures as low as 80 °C, as in the work of Karayannidis and coworkers (Figure 4). The phases in these systems are the insoluble PET polymer (the organic phase) and the basic solution (the aqueous phase) surrounding it.13

Figure 4. Phase transfer catalyzed hydrolysis of PET (catalyst shown in blue).

Addition polymers, such as polypropylene (PP) or polyethylene (PE), cannot be depolymerized to monomer form using the above strategies as their polymerization does not involve the loss of small molecules. Until very recently, the best end-of-life purpose for the majority of plastics has been energy recovery through incineration. The work of Huang and coworkers on the chemical degradation of PE plastics is a break-through for the field of plastic recycling. While previous studies have reported that thermolysis of PE yields poorly defined mixtures of hydrocarbons, these authors have found a remarkable, highly targeted method for converting PE to a narrow distribution of fuels (3 to 30 carbons in length) using a dehydrogenative metathesis strategy (Figure 5).14 The homogeneous iridium catalysts employed were previously reported in the literature for alkane dehydrogenation (step 1) and hydrogenation (step 3), but no such polymer substrates had apparently been attempted for main-chain dehydrogenation. Similarly, the authors used a previously-established rhenium oxide/aluminium oxide catalyst for olefin metathesis (step 2).

Figure 5. The transition-metal catalyzed degradation of PE to liquid fuels reported by Huang and Guan (catalysts shown in blue).14

The chemical recycling of PET by phase transfer catalysis and of PE by dehydrogenative-metathesis have very little in common with one another on a technical level. What unites these two strategies is the desire to transform the problematic, highly abundant and inexpensive resource that is waste plastic into useful commodities. Perhaps more importantly, these two examples both take revolutionary approaches to old problems through inspiration from fundamental research and parallels found in small molecule catalysis. Rethinking the plastic problem into a challenge for catalysis, rather than solely a call for clever materials design, is critical if we wish to reduce the threats that waste plastics pose to our health and our environment.

References:

  1. Tavazzi, L., et al., The Excellence of the Plastics Supply Chain in Relaunching Manufacturing in Italy and Europe, The European House, Ambrosetti, 2013 (as cited in Bühler‐Vidal, J. O. The Business of Polyethylene. In Handbook of Industrial Polyethylene and Technology; Spalding, M. A.; Chatterjee, A. M., Eds.; John Wiley & Sons: Hoboken, NJ, 2017; p. 1305).
  2. Mote Marine Laboratory Biodegradation Timeline; 1993. Available from: https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2016/08/pq/pocket-guide-2003.pdf ; accessed July 10, 2018.
  3. Image sources: Image sources: (Plastic recycling symbols) http://naturalsociety.com/recycling-symbols-numbers-plastic-bottles-meaning/ ; (PP) https://www.screwfix.com/p/stranded-polypropylene-rope-blue-6mm-x-30m/98570 ; (LLDPE) https://www.polymersolutions.com/blog/differences-between-ldpe-and-hdpe/ ; (HDPE) https://chemglass.com/bottles-high-density-polyethylene-hdpe-wide-mouths ; (PVC) https://omnexus.specialchem.com/selection-guide/polyvinyl-chloride-pvc-plastic ; (PET) https://ecosumo.wordpress.com/2009/06/04/what-does-the-recycle-symbol-mean-part-2/
  4. Andrady, A. L. Journal of Macromolecular Science, Part C: Polymer Reviews, 1994, 34(1), 25-76.
  5. Hopewell, J.; Dvorak, R.; Kosior, E. Trans. R. Soc. B, 2009, 364, 2115–2126.
  6. Rahimi, A.; García, J. M. Nature Reviews Chemistry, 2017, 1, 0046.
  7. MacArthur, E. Science, 2017, 358 (6365), 843.
  8. García, J. M.; Robertson, M. L. Science, 2017, 358(6365), 870-872.
  9. Sardon, H.; Dove, A. P. Science, 2018, 360(6387), 380-381.
  10. The Future of Plastic. Nature Communications, 2018, 9, 2157.
  11. Venkatachalam, S.; Nayak, S. G.; Labde, J. V.; Gharal, P. R.; Rao, K.; Kelkar, A. K. Degradation and Recyclability of Poly (Ethylene Terephthalate). In Polyester; Saleh, H. E. M., Ed.; InTech: London, 2004; p. 78.
  12. Glatzer, H. J.; Doraiswamy, L. K. Eng. Sci. 2000, 55(21), 5149-5160.
  13. Kosmidis, V. A.; Achilias, D. S.; Karayannidis, G. P. Mater. Eng. 2001, 286(10), 640-647.
  14. Jia, X.; Qin, C.; Friedberger, T.; Guan, Z.; Huang, Z. Science Advances 2016, 2(6), e1501591.

Leading by Example in the Lab

Leading by Example in the Lab

By Ian Mallov, Co-Chair for the GCI

Ask a scientist what their greatest satisfaction is from research.  Most will probably tell you something along the lines of “the pursuit and discovery of new knowledge.”

Some will mention the parallel satisfaction of originating inventions or techniques that are broadly applicable, and seeing that work applied for the benefit of society.

Much of the challenge of moving towards a truly sustainable culture is in applying what we’ve already shown to be effective on small scales.

Two years ago, the Green Chemistry Initiative’s 2014 Workshop team developed ten recommendations entitled “Simple Techniques to Make Everyday Lab Work Greener.”  Led by co-founder Laura Hoch, with important contributions from Cookie Cho and Dr. Andy Dicks, we publicized these during the workshop.  So what has happened to these recommendations since?  They’ve been developed – are researchers in our department incorporating them into their work habits?  Are we ourselves applying what we already know to be effective?

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that a number of our researchers were in fact using these greener lab techniques.  In an effort to make their use even more widespread, I’d like to highlight some examples of researchers in our department who are leading by example.

Further, next week our “Simple Techniques to Make Everyday Lab Work Greener” poster will be posted around the department!


Ian_July blog 1

 

Scientist: Karlee Bamford, Stephan lab

Technique: Recycling solvents from rotovap to use for cleaning vials and glassware

Why it’s greener: Saves solvent, reduces waste generated, and reduces energy used in production and disposal of additional solvent

Issues to Consider: Use in synthesis and purification often requires solvents to be more pure than those collected from rotovap


Ian_July blog 2Scientist: Aleksandra Holownia, Yudin lab

Technique: Setting GC to stand-by mode when not in use

Why it’s greener: The GC uses much less helium gas (a rapidly diminishing resource) and reduces the temperature of the oven, saving energy

Issues to Consider: Does take a few minutes to start up again


Ian_July blog 3Scientist: Karl Demmans, Morris lab

Technique: Using 2-methyl THF as a reaction solvent instead of THF

Why it’s greener: 2-methyl THF is derived from the aldehyde furfural, sourced from renewable crops.  THF, on the other hand, is derived from fossil fuels.  While crop-sourcing does not automatically make it “greener,” consensus in the case 2-methyl THF is that it is indeed less energy- and resource-intensive to produce than THF.

Issues to Consider: Unlike THF, it is immiscible with water.  Slightly less polar than THF


Ian_July blog 4Scientist: James LaFortune, Stephan lab

Technique: Isopropanol/dry ice instead of acetone/dry ice for cold baths

Why it’s greener: An Isopropanol/dry ice bath maintains a temperature of -77 oC, almost exactly the same as acetone/dry ice’s -78 oC.   However, isopropanol is much less volatile (bp: 83 oC) than acetone (bp: 56 oC); practically, this allows for the recovery and reuse of the isopropanol after several hours or overnight, while acetone evaporates.

                                                                          Issues to Consider: Must actually recover and reuse the isopropanol!


Ian_July blog 5

Scientist: Samantha Smith, Morris lab

Technique: Closing the fume hood sash when not in use.

Why it’s greener: Modern, variable-flow fume hoods – used in the Davenport wing of our building – regulate the strength of their vacuum for safety based on how far open the fume hood is.  When wide open, the fume hood uses much more energy than when closed (see Just Shut It campaign!)

Issues to Consider: Is your fume hood variable-flow?

 


Ian_July blog 6Scientist: Brian de la Franier, Thompson lab

Technique: Using a closed-loop cooling system for refluxes and distillations.

Why it’s greener: Uses much less water.  While some of our undergraduate labs have built-in closed-loop cooling systems, Brian simply got a small fish tank pump from a pet store and uses a Styrofoam box with ice to keep his water cold – a very easy DIY solution!

Issues to Consider: Does water saved compensate for the extra energy for the ice/pump?  Consider the energy used to purify and deliver the extra water and we can safely say yes.


Ian_July blog 7

Scientist: Alex Waked, Stephan lab

Technique: Reusing rubber septa used to seal Schlenk flasks

Why it’s greener: Saves materials and money

Issues to Consider: There is a limit to their reusability.  At some point, if a septum has been perforated by too many needle holes it is no longer an effective seal.  Must also ensure septa are kept clean.


Ian_July blog 8

Scientist: Molly Sung, Morris lab

Technique: Reusing gas chromatography vial caps by replacing their septa

Why it’s greener: Saves materials and money

Issues to Consider: Somewhat time-consuming to remove and replace rubber septa for each cap

 


Ian_July blog last

Iceland is Greener Than You Think

By Peter Mirtchev, Member-at-Large for the GCI

This past summer I had the opportunity to travel to Iceland as part of the Global Renewable Energy Education Network’s (GREEN) 10-day program in Renewable Energy & Sustainability. GREEN organizes educational adventure workshops in a number of unique locations including Iceland, Costa Rica, and Peru. The trips are focused on a central theme such as Renewable Energy or Water Resource Management, and are open to undergraduate and graduate students from around the world through a competitive application process. The registration fees cover all expenses except the flight and even though the cost might be steep for a student budget, there are plenty of funding opportunities to explore through your university’s financial office. Feel free to email the GCI if you’re interested and want to know more!

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Iceland is as interesting to learn about as it is beautiful to explore. And that’s a lot.

Iceland is an amazing place. The country is completely isolated on a volcanic island in the mid-Atlantic and has a population of just over 300,000 or about the same as a few large sports stadiums packed together. As such, it tends to lead the world in per capita categories; for example Iceland has the most tractors per acre of arable land, but the second least amount of actual arable land of all countries that practice agriculture. More relevantly, Iceland is a global leader in renewable energy, supplying approximately 80% of its total energy demand from renewable sources. The country has abundant geothermal and hydroelectric resources that are used for heating and electricity generation respectively. In fact, the only fossil fuel burned in Iceland is the gasoline used to power everyone’s cars!

A geothermal plant in Iceland.

As part of the program, our group got guided tours of two geothermal and hydroelectric power plants and two days of energy lectures from professors at Reykjavik University’s School of Energy. We were also invited to a reception by Iceland’s President, Olafur Grimsson, where we discussed global renewable energy policy and how we might be able to implement some of the lessons learned in Iceland when we return to our home countries. At the end of the program, we developed innovative Capstone Projects and got feedback on their feasibility. And that was only the educational aspect of the program! When not working, we took advantage of Iceland’s stunning natural beauty, doing everything from soaking in hot springs to hiking on glaciers.

I’d like to conclude by saying that I only became aware of this fascinating program by being part of the GCI. As we’ve become more established and started getting more recognition outside of U of T, we’ve received many new opportunities for our members to get involved in outside initiatives. This has helped us expand our knowledge of sustainability, and helped us professionally by introducing us to many new contacts. To students, this is hugely helpful and I encourage anyone with an interest in sustainability to get involved in any initiative that tries to lessen our impact on our planet.

And try to go to Iceland. You won’t regret it.

Pesticides Can Be Your Friends: Be Informed

By Kiril Fedorov, Member-at-Large for the GCI

Pesticide-free living: hopeful future or wrong approach?

Pesticide-free living: hopeful future or wrong approach?

At the end of May, the GCI held its 2nd annual workshop entitled “Next Steps in Green Chemistry Research”, and one topic that was discussed that really resonated with me is the use of different toxins in our environment. Lectures like “Molecular Structures and Toxicology: The Search for Green Poisons” by Professor Keith Solomon and “Environmental Fate , Persistence & Disposition: The Role of Chemical Architecture” by Professor Scott Mabury both mentioned the use of pesticides, and I thought writing about it for my contribution to the blog would be a great way to clear up some misconceptions around the topic.

We constantly hear in the news that pesticides are toxic and that they do a lot of harm to the environment.  You may have heard of or read the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson that exposed the negative effects of the widely-used pesticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), or new stories about the effect of chemicals on polar bears, and decided as a result to not use pesticides or to only buy organic food. But the story is not that simple in the real world. First, we must define what a pesticide actually is before judging right away that pesticides should not be used and that we should grow everything naturally.

In the dictionary, the definition of a pesticide is “a chemical preparation for destroying plant, fungal, or animal pests”.

Now ask yourself: what does the definition actually tell you about pesticides?

It states that a pesticide is a chemical, which is basically anything you can touch (not just the bubbly stuff chemists work with in laboratories like you see in the movies). This means that anything could be used as a pesticide, even the most harmless product, if it destroys the pests that harm or prevent plants from growing. Paracelsus famously stated that “the dose makes the poison,” but now we are also hearing reports of molecules, such as bisphenol-A (BPA) that act as endocrine disruptors and can cause adverse effects that are not linear with respect to the dose. Again, the picture is complicated.

So should we give up using pesticides altogether? Unfortunately, it would be very difficult to meet the world’s need for food without them. The best option would be to make pesticides as green and efficient as possible, so that they accomplish their task of destroying pests with a minimal effect on the environment as a whole. Some of the design criteria for green pesticides include: not oil-based, low persistence, non-toxic to humans or other non-target animals, etc.

You may think that in the past, everything was grown naturally and clean, but you are only partially right since nature has a way of taking care of its own problems. There are many naturally occurring compounds that are more poisonous than some of the pesticides we used today. For example, some molds can produce aflatoxin (which is carcinogenic) and can infect cereals, grain, and legumes. If the crops are not treated to destroy these types of molds, then the harvest could potentially be lost or the carcinogens could possibly end up in some of the food we eat.

Pesticides are not always the enemy, but they are also not perfect, so we must continuously try to improve them, using all of the tools the chemical industry has to do so. Pesticides can be your friend or your enemy, it’s your choice and your responsibility to be informed about the effects (good or bad) of the products you are using.

No-Mess Composting with The Greenlid

By Kurtis Judd, Member-at-Large for the GCIImageEdit (February 2015): We, the Green Chemistry Initiative, are not associated with this product, but we do think that it’s a great option for household composting. If you’re looking for product information about The Greenlid, including where to purchase one for yourself, please visit www.thegreenlid.ca. Thanks!

Despite its many benefits, composting has not become the fixture that recycling has in Canadian homes. Walk by most subdivisions in Ontario on garbage day and you’ll see a blue box at the end of almost every driveway, but the green bin is a less frequent sight. According to Statistics Canada, in 2011, 61% of Canadian households composted their organic waste in some form. This is up from 39% in 1994, but just by my general perceptions, which are based on the practices of friends and family, we can do better.

I’ve had the conversation before, and many people seem to understand the importance of composting, but either aren’t sure how best to do it, or have tried it, and grew tired of dealing with the rotting mess in their kitchen that caused a fruit fly infestation, and left a rancid container to clean each time it was emptied. In apartments especially composting can be quite inconvenient, and this is enough to make some people not even bother.

More people will compost if we can eliminate some of these inconveniences with sound engineering, and University of Toronto alumni members Morgan Wyatt and Jackson Wyatt are attempting to do just that with The Greenlid project. Morgan received his HBSc at U of T, while Jackson is an Innis College graduate. They have designed a water-resistant, fully compostable container made of post-consumer moulded pulp, about the size of a KFC bucket. It comes with a reusable lid (the Greenlid), and compostable lids for disposing of the container in a green bin. The water resistance is a huge key to the design, as it leaves very little mess to deal with and may be just what people need to convince them to compost more frequently. For $60, you can buy a package that includes 24 containers and one reusable Greenlid, a quantity which should last about a year. This price may still be a little steep, but the product is still new, so there may be room for that price to come down as the manufacturing process is better understood. [Edit (February 2015): this pricing is now out of date, please visit www.thegreenlid.ca for the latest pricing information.]

I asked the designers what their biggest challenge was in designing The Greenlid via their website, and Morgan Wyatt responded quickly. He said coming from an academic background, where research is easy, navigating the manufacturing world was difficult. “With manufacturers, there aren’t the same types of online resources, and there is a lot more direct interaction to find the right partner,” he said.

Using Kickstarter, Morgan and Jackson reached their pledge goal of $25,000 on March 16, 2014 and will be sending the first batch of Greenlid packages out to pledge donors in the near future. They will also be pitching The Greenlid on CBC’s popular show Dragon’s Den on April 11 (set to air next season). For more information about The Greenlid visit their website at www.thegreenlid.ca, or check out some of the cool videos on their YouTube channel. Anything to get more people composting and diverting waste from landfills is a positive change, so if you have any friends or family who have decided to give up on composting, let them know about The Greenlid.

No Impact Man and Leading By Example

By Ian Mallov, Member-at-Large for the GCI

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You may have heard this story in passing: a few years ago a guy in New York attempted to live for a year without making any impact on the environment.  The guy, writer and engineer Colin Beavan, documented his experience in a book, No Impact Man, which was made into a 2009 movie called – you guessed it – No Impact Man.

I’ll let the book’s first paragraph speak for itself: “For one year, my wife, baby daughter, and I, while residing in the middle of New York City, attempted to live without making any net impact on the environment.  Ultimately, this meant we did our best to create no trash (so no take-out food), cause no carbon dioxide emissions (so no driving or flying), pour no toxins in the water (so no laundry detergent), buy no produce from distant lands (so no New Zealand fruit).  Not to mention: no elevators, no subways, no products in packaging, no plastics, no air conditioning, no TV, no buying anything new…”

The rest of the book humourously details how Beavan and his family attempted this.  He didn’t go cold turkey: rather, he gradually replaced the products, services, and habits he was used to with alternatives.  And he didn’t begin as some kind of hyper-environmentally-conscious tree-hugger: among two of the first things he actually changed were to put his milk cartons into the recycling, and switch to reusable grocery bags.  Chances are, if you’re reading this, you already do these things and are two steps ahead of where he started.

Fast-forward to when they decided to unplug their fridge (responsible for a large percentage of household energy use).  Beavan and his family found the only thing they absolutely could not find another way to preserve, or buy fresh cheaply, daily, and in small portions, was milk.  Harnessing the power of phase-change thermodynamics, they discovered a solution used in Nigeria, where food spoils quickly in extreme heat and a much smaller percentage of the population owns a fridge.  They store their milk and vegetables in an earthenware pot with a lid, inside another, slightly larger earthenware pot.  Between the two a layer of wet sand is packed.  As the water slowly evaporates, the endothermic process draws heat from the surroundings, cooling the pot, which cools the milk and vegetables.  Because the wet sand is packed close and tight, the surface area is minimized and the evaporative process lasts several days.  Needless to say, sand need not be the medium – a damp towel will work.

This was on the extreme end of their journey – many other issues had already been addressed before they came to this.  Many of you will argue that changes in one person’s lifestyle make little material difference.  And you will be right.  But leading by example – being on the right side of the incremental changing of collective habits – you help to change the perceptions of normalcy among your friends and acquaintances.  For a humourous read and a few good ideas, check out No Impact Man.

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