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Julianne Troiano // 04 October 2015 // #Experts #GoingGreen 

Fran Ulmer, Chair of the U.S. Arctic Research CommissionEarly last month over 30 high school teachers of English as a foreign language had the chance to discuss current challenges concerning sustainable development in the U.S. with Hon. Fran Ulmer, the chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission. Fran Ulmer was in Germany to participate in the Polartagung Conference and to speak in Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Berlin about the Arctic Council’s work on
a network of marine protected areas and
prevention of oil pollution and ocean acidification. She took the time out of a very busy schedule to discuss sustainability in the U.S. with high school teachers from the Going Green program at the U.S. Embassy Teacher Training Seminar in Berlin. The Teacher Training Seminar followed an exciting event for the U.S. – President Barack Obama’s visit to Alaska where he put climate change in the spotlight and became the first U.S. president to visit the Arctic Circle (more on this in a future post).

We had a chance to ask Fran Ulmer a couple of questions about her opinion of President Obama’s visit to Alaska and how individuals can play a role in combatting climate change.

President Obama visited Alaska in August to, as the White House put it, “shine a spotlight on what Alaskans in particular have come to know: Climate change.” How would you assess the impact of this visit nationally and globally?

“President Obamas visit to Alaska was very significant for many reasons. He focused attention on how rapid changes in climate are impacting communities in the Arctic, today, not in the distant future. Over two hundred journalists from around the world came to listen and to learn. They took their stories to the world and helped increase the understanding of many people about why it is important to work together and take action to slow the warming of the planet.“


You recently took time out of a very busy schedule to address high school teachers engaged in the U.S. Embassy Going Green school project in Berlin. Combatting climate change requires an enormous global effort on behalf of government and industry. Can individuals really make a difference?

Everyone can make a difference by reducing their consumption of fossil fuels, and helping friends and neighbors understand and appreciate what can be done locally and globally. In addition, we can encourage elected leaders to prioritize action steps nationally and internationally; for example, supporting more renewable energy development, putting a price on carbon, increasing energy efficiency of homes and cars, and reducing waste of the resources, like water, on which on life depends.“

More on Hon. Fran Ulmer’s trip to Germany: An interview she gave for the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.


Julianne Troiano is a graduate student at the Center for Chemical Innovation on Sustainable Nanotechnology (CSN) at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. Julianne is interested in environmental science and has experience as a blogger (www.sustainable-nano.com). She recently travelled to Iceland to study glaciers and alternative energy and will share her experiences with us.
Picture of Julianne Troiano
by Julianne Troiano - 6 October 2015
 
Julianne Troiano // 04 October 2015 //  #GoingGreen 

My name is Julianne Troiano and I am the second virtual intern from the United States working on the Going Green project. Along with Brandon, I will be contributing to this blog by writing about sustainability efforts in the United States. Learning about and discussing the environment, sustainability, and current affairs is really important to me and I am excited to be a part of this team. I look forward to working with all of you and sharing this learning experience!

Let me tell you a bit about myself. I was born and raised on the beautiful south shore of Long Island, which is just across the river from New York City. I discovered my love for chemistry during high school where I had the greatest teacher, Ms. Kinlan, who always kept us on our toes with fun demonstrations like blowing up "evil" green gummy brears.

I discovered my love for research during my time as an undergraduate at Fordham University in New York City while working for Professor Jon Friedrich studying the elements (iron, oxygen, silicon, and many more) found in meteorites—one time we had a meteorite sample that was so rare, we were not allowed to take it out of its container! Now I am a graduate student in chemistry at Northwestern University, which is located on Lake Michigan in Illinois. I work in the lab of Professor Franz Geiger studying how nanomaterials interact with the environment. Nanomaterials are tiny chunks of materials (around 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair!) that have unique properties that can be used to improve technologies from solar panels to water purification to batteries (and many, many more), but we don’t know much about what happens if nanomaterials are exposed to the environment. The group that I work with hopes to be able to predict how nanomaterials will behave in the environment and use this information to create nanomaterials that are sustainable before utilizing them in technologies—our group calls this “benign by design.”

Julianne Troiano

Julianne in the research lab (photo credit: Julianne Troiano)

Nanomaterials may sound very technical, but we encounter them in our everyday lives and they could play a huge role in sustainability because of the unique properties they possess. Through these posts I strive to make the science of sustainability accessible to everyone, but also challenge myself to consider the political and economic angles of each topic. I am very excited to learn with you throughout the year and I am happy to chat by email, phone, or video, so please feel free to contact me through the Going Green organizers. Also, if there is a topic, technology, or news story that you would like to see a post about, just let us know!

Let’s learn together!
Julianne


Julianne Troiano is a graduate student at the Center for Chemical Innovation on Sustainable Nanotechnology (CSN) at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. Julianne is interested in environmental science and has experience as a blogger (www.sustainable-nano.com). She recently travelled to Iceland to study glaciers and alternative energy and will share her experiences with us.
 
Julianne Troiano // 24 November 2015 // #GoingGreen

This past summer I did something incredible. I hopped on a plane to Iceland and spent ten days learning about a land made of volcanoes, waterfalls, and glaciers, and the renewable energy technologies that fuel its people’s everyday life. From the scenery, to the food, to the unexpected presence of elves and trolls in Icelandic culture, there are tons of experiences that I could blog about from this trip. But I want to tell you about the moment when I realized just how important education, community, and science are to the world. First though, let’s talk about Iceland. 



 

          Iceland is a unique place. It sits on the Mid Atlantic Ridge, the boundary that separates the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, which are moving away from one another at a rate of 2 cm per year. This causes a lot of geological activity (volcanoes!). You can even walk and snorkel at points in the fault line throughout the country! Iceland is also located just below the Arctic Circle, meaning that glaciers cover 11% of the country. This makes for a pretty amazing landscape that includes volcanoes, glaciers, hot springs, and waterfalls—the Land of Fire and Ice. This also means that Iceland has access to hydro- and geothermal power, which are renewable energy technologies used to generate electricity and provide hot water and heat.

 

photo1The Mid Atlantic Ridge in Thingvellir National Park. The wall in the distance (actually “The Wall” from Game of Thrones!) is the North American plate and the near wall is the Eurasian plate.

  

          In short, Iceland runs completely off of renewable energy (except for transportation) through the use of hydro- and geothermal power. Hydropower plants use the flow of water and geothermal power plants use steam to turn the blades of a turbine, which spin a generator, and produce electricity. Geothermal water is also used directly as a hot water and heating source for houses, businesses, and schools.

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 Outside and inside the first large-scale hydropower plant built in Iceland.

 

          Research is also being done to develop greener transportation. We actually visited a farm that is growing rapeseed, which is used to produce canola oil to use as fuel, as part of a research effort studying how to make greener fuels. We poured some of this fuel into our bus and I can happily say that our bus ran just fine throughout the trip! Even the byproduct of producing canola oil, canola meal (see video below) has a purpose-it is food for the animals on the farm!

 

 

Here you see the production of canola meal, which is a byproduct when producing the canola oil for fuel. The canola meal is used to feed the animals on the farm. We all ate some!

 

          I was in awe of this country that harnesses the power of the Earth to bring hot water, heat, and electricity to homes, businesses, and schools, and is working at making transportation greener. Yet on day eight of my trip I felt a rush of emotions, from sad to a bit angry, but eventually I felt inspired. And this is the day and the moment that I would like to share with you. For this week I will leave you with one last photo of Iceland, but come back next week to find out what happened on day eight of my trip! 

 

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          Gunnuhver, Iceland. A highly active geothermal area of mud pools and steam vents on the southwest part of the Reykjanes Peninsula. The steam generated in natural hot springs like these can be used to generate electricity and even be used as hot water, which eliminates the need to use energy to heat the water!


Julianne Troiano is a graduate student at the Center for Chemical Innovation on Sustainable Nanotechnology (CSN) at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. Julianne is interested in environmental science and has experience as a blogger (www.sustainable-nano.com). She recently travelled to Iceland to study glaciers and alternative energy and will share her experiences with us.

 

 
Julianne Troiano // 24 November 2015 //  #GoingGreen

In Part 1 of this post we learned about Iceland’s unique landscape and its access to renewable energy. But what happened on the eighth day of the trip that left me so inspired?

 

 

 

          On the eighth day we hiked on the Sólheimajökull glacier located near the crater of the Katla volcano (and not far away from Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that erupted in March 2010, causing the largest air traffic shut down over northern and central Europe since World War II). We were standing on the ice, listening to our guides, trying our best to move gracefully while wearing crampons (spikes attached to our boots!), and that’s when it happened!

          I realized that no one area is immune to climate change and that we all have to work together to take care of our planet. I was looking out to the edge of the glacier at a beautiful lagoon when our guide told us that the lagoon used to be a parking lot in the 1990s, meaning that the glacier melted to form a lagoon over the parking lot! It was a bit sad. Because of the location and shape of this glacier, it is sensitive to climate change. In fact, it has retreated (melted) about a kilometer in the last decade, much faster than originally predicted. The landscape around the glacier is changing extremely quickly and the dirt trail that we took down to the glacier has to be re-made every week because of these rapid changes (the old parking lot clearly can’t be used anymore). This is when I realized that we needed to act as a community to take care of the Earth.

 

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Our path to the glacier. The people at the bottom of the photo are preparing a new path to access the glacier; a weekly job because of the rapidly changing landscape.

 

          This glacier hike was perfectly timed. Our guides brought us out here towards the end of the trip to educate us – to show us that we are all in this together—to show us that we, as citizens of this planet, are a community. We learned about all of the efforts that Iceland is making to go green and this hike pushed me to think what can I do? What can every community do?

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Looking out from the top of the Sólheimajökull glacier. In the distance you can see the lagoon that was once a parking lot.

 

          Personally, I believe that science, education, and community are the key. On our hike someone asked our guide, “Doesn’t having people on hiking tours walk all over the glacier make it melt more quickly?” Our guide told us that walking on the ice does cause it to melt, but it is so minuscule compared to global warming. Our guide said it is much more important to get people out onto the glacier, educate them about the effects of climate change, and have them experience it for themselves. From that moment on I felt just as a part of the global community as a part of the community of my hometown in New York.

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Having some fun during the glacier hike on the Sólheimajökull glacier.

          Of course Iceland is a special case. Economically it makes sense for an island like Iceland to avoid importing goods, including oil, and instead harness the energy of its unique landscape. We can’t expect the whole world to eliminate fossil fuels tomorrow with the snap of a finger, but we can work together as a collective community and take care of our planet. Through science we can improve renewable energy technologies to make them efficient and practical, through education we can spread this knowledge, and if we act as a community we can really make this happen.

          This is what makes the Going Green project so important. We are connecting through education and learning about sustainability. What types of things can you do in your community and at your school to go green? How can we educate our communities about climate change? 

 

Some Fun Stuff

The World Bank: Greenhouse gas emission data that you can use to generate charts and tables of your choice. Here I have data chosen to compare the CO2 emissions per capita for Iceland, Germany, and the U.S.

Global Citizen: a social movement that aims to tackle the world’s largest issues, including climate change, as a community

Orkustofnun: the National Energy Authority in Iceland


Julianne Troiano is a graduate student at the Center for Chemical Innovation on Sustainable Nanotechnology (CSN) at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. Julianne is interested in environmental science and has experience as a blogger (www.sustainable-nano.com). She recently travelled to Iceland to study glaciers and alternative energy and will share her experiences with us.

 

 
 Julianne Troiano // 18 December 2015 //  #GoingGreen

xcTrJ9Map of recent plastic bag bans (click on the image to open the map; photo credit: Factory Direct Promos)

This past August the town that I live in, Evanston, Illinois, banned the distribution of single use plastic bags. Large stores in Evanston can now only provide paper bags at checkout. With its approach, Evanston is following the example of Los Angeles and many other communities in California and elsewhere in the U.S. in an attempt to reduce municipal plastic waste (check out the case study in the Plastic // Recycle module for more background on this). Similar legislation has become popular throughout the world in the last 10 years as a way to make cities and countries more sustainable. In many cases plastic bags are banned, but stores can still distribute paper bags. This got me thinking about how sustainability is assessed. What factors are considered when determining how green a product is? Is paper really more sustainable than plastic?

 

Think in life cycles

When I initially think about choosing between paper and plastic bags my mind goes to the photos of plastic pollution in our waterways. Plastic is slow to break down when it ends up in the environment and plastic products are often swallowed by birds and other animals with fatal consequences. However, when we assess the sustainability of a product, or how green a product is, we have to consider its entire life cycle, not just what happens to it after use. If we only consider one part of a product’s life cycle, such as the fate of plastic bags in our oceans, we may not have an accurate description of how green a product really is.

 

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General life cycle of a product. 

(photo credit: National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Manufacturing Engineering)

 

The life cycle of a plastic bag

The life cycle for a plastic bag actually begins with oil (for more on the life cycle of a plastic bag after it is used check out this video). Crude oil, the unprocessed oil that comes out of the ground, contains hundreds of different hydrocarbons (molecules made from hydrogen and carbon), as well as small amounts of other materials. The job of an oil refinery is to separate these materials and also to break down (or "crack”) large hydrocarbons into smaller ones. Next, a petrochemical plant receives refined oil containing the small hydrocarbons, including ethylene and propylene, which can be used like building blocks to make long chain molecules called polymers. A plastics factory buys these polymers in the form of resins and introduces additives to modify or obtain desirable properties, then molds or otherwise forms the final plastic products. This video on how plastics are made explains this process in more detail.

 

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The molecule ethylene, a monomer, is the building blocks put together to form the polyethylene polymer that is used to make polymers.

Even though plastics are made from oil, a natural resource that cannot be replenished, the production of the polymers used to make plastics is a fairly efficient process through the use of catalysts, molecules that help to speed up a chemical process. The discovery of catalysts for the polymerization of plastics by Drs. Karl Ziegler and Giulio Natta led to a shared Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1963. Today, Ziegler-Natta catalysts are used throughout the world to produce a variety of polymers.

 

And paper bags?

On the other hand, paper bags are manufactured using energy-intensive methods. To make paper, trees must be cut down, de-barked and chipped, then, the remaining material must be pulped and refined. This process is energy intensive, consumes tons of water, and introduces pollutants to the atmosphere. Pollutants from paper manufacturing include greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, as well as methanol and sulfur, which as you can imagine makes for a pretty smelly process.

 

So, which one is 'greener'?

To determine this, we need to look at the entire life cycle of shopping bags. Life cycle assessments that involve quantitative (that is, frequency-based or numerical) information need to be gathered and studied, for example, how much carbon dioxide the manufacturing of a bag produces. Typically, when comparing statistics for the production of shopping bags, bags made from plastic are found to have a lower carbon footprint (less energy input, fewer green house gases out) than bags made from paper or cloth as seen in the chart.

 

Comparison of existing life cycle analysis of shopping bag alternatives (click for higher resolution image). Image Credit: Copyright 2007, State of Victoria, Australia.

Comparison of existing life cycle analysis of shopping bag alternatives (click for higher resolution image).

(photo credit: Copyright 2007, State of Victoria, Australia)

If the production of single use plastic bags actually has a lower carbon footprint, then why are cities targeting plastic bags? You’ve probably figured this out already: the environmental consequences of improperly disposed plastic bags and bottles can still be devastating, and this is primarily what these cities are trying to avoid. In other words, it's not the production, but the disposal of plastic bags that creates so many problems.

 

What can we do to merge low carbon footprint manufacturing with minimizing plastic waste?

You’ve probably guessed this as well… a reusable grocery bag. If a reusable plastic bag is made from recycled plastic it has a low carbon footprint, and potentially never needs to be thrown away. If consumers understand the science behind the paper vs plastic question we can all make environmentally friendly decisions, which include recycling plastic properly and using reusable bags that are manufactured from plastic. While many cities with a plastic bag ban offer paper bags, the hope is for people to choose reusable bags. In Evanston for instance, our plastic bag ban came with a campaign called Think Outside the Bag, which kicked off with an event of reusable bag giveaways and started a reusable bag sharing program that allows people to donate and pick up bags.

The bag problem is relatively simple, and many of us already knew the answer before we started this discussion, but it is a good example of how you have to look deeply at a product’s many environmental impacts in order to judge its sustainability and it gave us a chance to learn a bit of chemistry.

 


Julianne Troiano is a graduate student at the Center for Chemical Innovation on Sustainable Nanotechnology (CSN) at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. Julianne is interested in environmental science and has experience as a blogger (www.sustainable-nano.com). She recently travelled to Iceland to study glaciers and alternative energy and will share her experiences with us.

 

 
Julianne Troiano  //   16 March 2016  //   #GoingGreen

Film poster 'Just Eat It' (Photo credit: Peg Leg Films, 2014)Imagine going to the food store, purchasing four bags of groceries, and then on your way home you drop one of the bags and just keep walking without going back to pick it up. This seems outrageous, right? Why would anyone just waste a whole bag of food?

Think of the cost of the food or the people who go without food! Believe it or not, this is essentially what we are doing with our groceries, given that 15-25% of the food bought by households in the United States is thrown out. Similar trends are seen around the world in developed countries.

I learned this surprising fact during a recent screening at my university of a documentary called Just Eat It. Grant Baldwin and Jenny Rustemeyer, the film’s director and producer, respectively, bring light to the developed worlds food waste issue by pledging to survive off of food waste for six months.

Yes, they survive off of food waste as their only source of food! What would you think if someone asked you to survive off of food waste for six months? I imagined this being extremely difficult and having to dive in a dumpster for leftovers, but as the story unfolds you discover that substantial food waste really is out there, and not just in the form of half eaten leftovers.

 

 

Just Eat It – A food waste story (Official Trailer) from GrantBaldwin on Vimeo.

 

One of the most shocking scenes shows Grant searching for discarded food in the back of a grocery store when he finds a dumpster full of unopened, prepackaged hummus that was perfectly fine to eat. At one point they also find hundreds of gourmet chocolate bars that they keep to give away on Halloween. Living off of food waste and they can still give out candy on Halloween!

 

When and where is food waste happening?

Looking at the origin of produce at farms I was surprised to find out how much produce is discarded at this early stage. There are strict guidelines from stores on the aesthetics of produce. For example, romaine lettuce that is sold in a plastic bag needs to fit in the bag, so the romaine can only be so tall and wide. And with peaches, they have to be a specific size and shape, or else they are discarded as well. You should see the dumpster of peaches in the documentary that were being discarded! The owner of the peach farm in California that participated in the film commented that they give away what they can, or try to sell to other vendors, but the reality is that a lot of perfectly good peaches are discarded because they are a weird shape, or have a bruise.

The worst for me was watching one of the farmers preparing the celery to be distributed. They cut off the bottom of the celery stalks and a few layers of celery. The amount of perfectly good celery discarded on the floor was enormous. Once the food is on display in the store even more produce is disregarded for is appearance. This definitely got me to search through the produce and choose the “ugly” fruit or vegetables. From there, we waste 15-25% of the food that makes it into our households; from food that goes bad before it is used to leftovers that you just can’t finish.

 

What does this mean for the environment?

Even if the amount of food waste bothers you, the connection to the environment isn’t always apparent. Think about all of the resources used to produce the food that we eat: fertilizer, water, food for animals, and fuel to transport the goods to name a few, and if we just discard food we are discarded these resources as well. The most interesting fact that I learned from the documentary was how food breaks down in a landfill. When food is disposed of it actually breaks down such that it produces methane, which is a greenhouse gas, and therefore this process contributes to climate change.

 

What can we do about food waste?

Although all too often overlooked, food waste is really a challenge that concerns us all and that we all can help prevent. One first and inevitable step is to raise awareness about the issue: I think that sharing knowledge about food waste, such as through watching documentaries like Just Eat It, is a great way to show people how much food waste really matters and what role everyone can play in diminishing the problem. This allows people to take food waste into their own hands and start with their own home.

Some suggestions for taking food waste into our own hands includes the following: buying the produce at the store that isn’t “picture perfect,” meal planning, and finding creative ways to use leftovers. Do you have any other ideas? Is there food waste at your school? If so, what can we do about it?

 

Fun and Educational Resources

 


Julianne Troiano is a graduate student at the Center for Chemical Innovation on Sustainable Nanotechnology (CSN) at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. Julianne is interested in environmental science and has experience as a blogger (www.sustainable-nano.com). She recently travelled to Iceland to study glaciers and alternative energy and will share her experiences with us.