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Environmental Technology

The Environmental Technology Blog is the place for conversation and discussion about refuse and recycling, pollution control solutions, hazardous waste and remediation, and environmental sensors. Here, you'll find everything from application ideas, to news and industry trends, to hot topics and cutting edge innovations.

Best Practices in Eco-Friendly Innovation for Manufacturing and Materials Handling Industries

Posted April 23, 2017 12:00 AM by ahorner_22
Pathfinder Tags: radwell sustainability

For many manufacturers, the prospect of moving towards eco-friendly solutions is very much front of mind; however, implementing the necessary changes is easier said than done. There are many available options for saving not only the bottom line, but the environment.

Recycling

Recycling is something that people have been doing for decades. Despite this, many businesses’ recycling efforts are not as effective as they could be. Implementing this notion across a manufacturing floor can be difficult. A solid recycling process is imperative to making the most of recycling efforts.

Streamlining inventory and warehousing

Streamlining is key. Inefficiencies in production can be costly to the business and to the environment. It is worth spending money to properly evaluate any inefficient processes in order to implement savings strategies.

Use low-impact and recycled materials

Recycling your own waste materials is one thing—but is your business completing the cycle by purchasing recycled products? Recycled paper for the office is just the beginning. Many packaging firms are now offering eco-friendly options, such as recycled plastics.

Green machines

Technology in machinery is advancing at an incredible rate. Driverless technology can cut down on wasted time and energy costs by avoiding human error. But this is only the beginning. Hydrogen powered forklifts are another innovation which are already proving their worth in the industrial sector.

Invest in maintenance

The phrase ‘working like a well-oiled machine’ is a cliché for a reason: maintenance is important. Not only do poorly maintained machines cost a business in downtime, they also require replacement of parts at an accelerated rate.

Solar power

Solar technology, while not a new concept, is becoming increasingly more affordable and reliable. Storage is becoming more advanced. Energy is a huge cost to manufacturers, and is perhaps the largest single area for savings potential in the industry.


Editor's note: This is a sponsored post from Radwell International.

4 comments; last comment on 04/24/2017
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Are We All Litterbugs?

Posted March 08, 2017 10:00 AM by MaggieMc

As someone who frequently weaves out of my path to pick up the tiny scrap of plastic on the sidewalk on the other side of the road, I recently read an article that made my stomach feel queasy. In that article, Bloomberg’s Justin Bachman told the story of the “orbiting junkyard” that floats around the earth.

This orbiting landfill is rarely shown on satellite views of the planets, and it isn’t blocking our view of the stars, but Bachman points out it is “presenting plenty of hassles for satellite operators who do business in orbit.” The debris field has been growing over the last decade. Notably due to a satellite destroyed by a missile test and the collision of one defunct satellite with another owned by Iridium Communications Inc.—consider an estimated 2,500 pieces from the first satellite alone, each of which are traveling at about 18,000 mph. As Bachman explains, “a 1-centimeter-wide aluminum sphere in low-earth orbit packs the kinetic equivalent of a safe moving at 60 mph.” Unsurprisingly, considering those numbers, the debris field in low-earth orbit is quickly becoming a minefield for functioning satellites.

Entrepreneurs are looking to capitalize on “the detritus of unmanned and manned space flight” by tracking the debris, helping satellite operators avoid the pieces of junk. The DoD also maintains a public database that tracks some 20,000 pieces of waste, while the Air Force has contracted Lockheed Martin to develop a “Space Fence” radar system to track as many as 200,000 objects.

This kind of tracking capacity is becoming increasingly necessary as more and more junk is created—enough junk that some worry low-earth orbit could eventually become “commercially dubious.” While this fear—supported by the an idea that was originally presented by retired NASA astrophysicist Donald Kessler in 1978, that each time pieces of junk collide, they break apart to create more junk—is considered by many to be a concern for the distant future, it’s still a distinct possibility.

Perhaps to many of us this kind of litter seems too distant to be a concern, let alone a source of guilt, but it parallels data being gathered by Jeff Kirschner and his band of (Instagram) followers.

Rather than tracking space junk, those with the Litterati app use images and geotags to track litter. Each tag is then integrated into a map that shows where the trash was collected and allows users to ‘tag’ the type of litter. As I’m writing this, Litteroti reports collecting 340,832 pieces of litter.

The moment of Kirschner’s inspiration for the app that began as an Instagram movement was specific; he tells the story in his TED Talk:

“We were hiking in the Oakland woods when my daughter noticed a plastic tub of cat litter in a creek. She looked at me and said, "Daddy? That doesn't go there."

“When she said that, it reminded me of summer camp. On the morning of visiting day, right before they'd let our anxious parents come barreling through the gates, our camp director would say, ‘Quick! Everyone pick up five pieces of litter.’ You get a couple hundred kids each picking up five pieces, and pretty soon, you've got a much cleaner camp. So I thought, why not apply that crowdsourced cleanup model to the entire planet? And that was the inspiration for Litterati.”

After that, Kirschner began taking pictures of the litter he picked up, and the movement progressed from Instagram to its very own app—but not before it helped San Francisco double the litter fee on cigarette sales. As told by the San Francisco Examiner, between 2009 and 2014, cigarettes went from 22% to 53% of recorded litter, so the city increased the tax, making cigarette retailers responsible for collecting it. Then, as Kirschner describes, “they got sued by big tobacco, who claimed that collecting information with pencils and clipboards”—as the survey was done—“was neither precise nor provable.” So, they used Litterati, which Kirschner brags not only helped them defend and double the tax, but was able to tell them if the cigarette was “a Parliament or a Pall Mall” with photographic and geographic proof.

With Jeff Kirschner’s Litterati, tracking made a difference by proving a litter source and, at times, prompting a change from institutions or brands. As he says, the litter ‘fingerprint’ “provides both the source of the problem and the path to the solution.” Hopefully over time, tracking space junk will be able to prompt the same kind of change, since we’re currently just creating a path through the junk without ever removing any of it.

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Download Litterati at the Apple Store or sign up for a reminder once the Android version is available (you have to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page).

Image credits to NASA, Litterati, and the contributors to Litterati’s Instagram.

13 comments; last comment on 03/10/2017
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Are Trash Fire Power Plants The Future or a Failure?

Posted March 02, 2017 10:32 AM by HUSH

Sometime this year, the city of Copenhagen will open a small 1,400 ft. ski slope with three ski trails along its waterfront. Skiers and snowboarders will get to the top via elevators and surface lifts. In the summer, the slope will turn into a public park with one façade used as a rock wall for climbing.

And while Amager Bakke will provide easily accessible outdoor recreation for thousands of urban Danes, it is but a secondary feature of the construction. The facility’s main purpose is actually to burn up to 1,100 tons of rubbish each day to provide up to 247 MW of heat or 63 MW of electricity for the community.

That’s because Amager Bakke is actually a waste-to-energy (WtE) plant that was built with a social conscience. Not only will leisure activities remind residents of the power of recycling, but so too will the plant’s chimney, which will emit exhaust as a smoke ring with every ton of carbon dioxide burned (roughly equal to one ton of solid waste burned).

WtE facilities are not a new concept, but arguably an underappreciated one. It helps solve two important community issues: landfill reduction and energy creation. WtE facilities are most common in Europe, where denser populations result in shrinking space that can be dedicated to landfills. The creation of energy from a WtE typically drives down local energy prices as well.

In 2016, less than 1% of Sweden’s garbage ended up in a landfill. In the U.S. in 2014, more than 52% of our garbage had been landfilled. Exactly one WtE plant has been built since then (the first since 1995), so it’s safe to estimate our landfill percentage hasn’t changed dramatically since.

WtE plants have been on the back burner in the U.S. for several reasons. For decades, it has been cheaper to bury and forget about waste, rather than build a ten- or hundred-million-dollar facility. Additionally, WtE plants only really make sense if they’re built at least somewhat close to a population center, but no one really wants a trash fire near their house after all.

Environmentalists sometimes argue that WtEs discourage recycling (despite evidence to the contrary) and that only ‘zero-waste’ strategies should be pursued. These individuals might also point out that WtEs create pollution, including fly ash and incinerator bottom ash, which often contain concentrations of heavy metals that must be disposed of carefully. Particulate matter still ends up in the atmosphere to some degree. However, government carefully legislates how to deal with these pollutants. And the most carcinogenic of these pollutants, dioxin and furan, are kept in check by advanced filtering technologies such as lime scrubbers, electro-static precipitators, baghouse filters, reactors, and catalysts. In 1990, WtE plants contributed one-third of dioxin emissions in Germany, but 10 years later it was less than 1%.

When comparing WtE to landfilling with gas recapture in terms of greenhouse gases, there really isn’t much of a comparison. Incineration of one ton of municipal solid waste will generate about one ton of carbon dioxide. Had that ton of solid waste ended up in a landfill, it would have likely generated at least 1.38 tons of carbon dioxide. Incineration also prevents the release of methane in most instances. Since the fuel sources of WtE plants are at least partially biomass-based, it offsets the carbon for each plant product burned if another plant was sown in its place.

In the U.S., Florida and four states in New England are the WtE pacesetters, but there seems to be little appetite for more WtE plants, even in urban locales like New York and Los Angeles that ship their garbage hundreds of miles away, adding to the carbon footprint and cost of waste disposal.

There are other technologies that could make WtE more palatable for Americans. Gasification heats waste to very high temperatures without burning it and the resulting vapors are mixed with oxygen to create syngas. Plasma gasification is closely related and is used on Ford class aircraft carriers. Mechanical biological treatment plants don’t use thermal processes at all. Rather, they break down organic waste with anaerobic or aerobic microorganisms and, in most instances, can recapture biogas. This typically reduces waste volume destined for the landfill by half and eliminates carbon dioxide and methane emissions from landfilled rubbish.

No one is necessarily here to compare the progressive policies of Europe against those of the U.S., but what’s clear is that there is a lot of opportunity for WtE plants in America as the technology is here, and so too is the emphasis on sustainability. What we’re lacking is the willpower.

25 comments; last comment on 03/07/2017
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Water Contamination Footprints

Posted February 01, 2017 12:00 AM by Tourmaline

Most of us know what a carbon footprint is. Now, according to Chetan Pandit, Central Water Commission, Government of India, we should also be aware of our water contamination footprint. A water contamination footprint should be distinguished from a water footprint in that the first measures the amount of endocrine disruption caused by chemicals, whereas the latter is simply the amount of water that a person uses in their lifetime. (http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/water-contamination-footprint-paper-chetan-pandit)

Undergraduate students at Penn State, under Heather Gall, assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering, developed an Excel formula sheet that calculates contamination levels from medications and personal care products. The goal of the project is to help people become aware of and reduce their impact on the environment, and maybe start using more plant-based products. (http://news.psu.edu/story/440170/2016/12/01/new-tool-helps-consumers-measure-their-emerging-contaminant-footprint)

According to the Penn State Extension Water Quality Website, many of the chemicals found in household products are endocrine disruptors, which damage aquatic life at trace levels. (http://extension.psu.edu/natural-resources/water/drinking-water/water-testing/pollutants/endocrine-disrupting-compounds-calculator/view)

The calculator can be downloaded at http://extension.psu.edu/natural-resources/water/drinking-water/water-testing/pollutants/endocrine-disrupting-compounds-calculator/view.

Chetan Pandit states in his article (cited in first paragraph) that most water campaigns are aimed at reducing the amount of water used. He believes that we must now become aware that the quality of water is just as important.

http://vetmed.illinois.edu/envirovet/2006/programdeveloped.html

4 comments; last comment on 02/02/2017
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Explore A Green Option For Unused Inventory

Posted January 08, 2017 12:00 AM by ahorner_22
Pathfinder Tags: radwell recycling

In any large operation, there are always unused items that take up valuable space. Instead of just discarding these items, they can actually be recycled. By working with a company that helps recycle as well as purchases excess inventory, a manufacturing operation can open up valuable warehouse space and get paid to clear out outdated items that are no longer used within their operation.

For example, Radwell International offers various options for clients to sell their excess inventory. The sender can either do their own cataloging or have Radwell do the cataloging of the items for them. Before the interaction is complete, a Radwell representative will contact the customer with a value for their unwanted items and if the customer approves the amount, the sale is completed. It’s a win for the customer selling the items and also a win for future customers looking to purchase items that may be obsolete or difficult to find for their own operations. Surplus items from Radwell are evaluated and sorted upon arrival. If they can be resold they are placed into inventory, and if they cannot be resold they are disposed of safely. When these items are resold they can be purchased at a discounted rate (from 50-90% off retail). Recycling and selling used inventory can be a green solution that provides savings all around.

By exploring greener solutions for manufacturing, companies are saving energy, preserving natural resources for future generations and cutting operational costs. It would be difficult to dispute that facilities that “go green” are the ones who save the most green.

Editor's Note: This is a sponsored blog post by Radwell International.

8 comments; last comment on 01/09/2017
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