Author Archive | Tim Werth

Diesel Disasters: Farmers Struggle To Cope With Increased Fuel Prices

Since diesel engines have been invented, they’ve helped a wide variety of industries thrive. Their fuel efficiency and versatility (there are over 50 different models of diesel engines available to consumers) has made them a staple for farmers in particular. Unfortunately, diesel is not good for the environment, even with fuel filters keeping out the four key impurities water, scale, rust, and dirt, and new regulations pose a serious threat to the livelihood of farmers across the country.

Rising Costs And Rising Concerns

There are over three million farmers in the U.S., many of whom rely on diesel equipment to manage every aspect of their land. Considering the fact that the average farm spans 442 acres, the need for machinery to keep up with such an expansive space is vital. Diesel engines power the majority of them, from planting and seeding equipment to tractors; for example, Kubota, a premier seller of agriculture equipment since 1890, relies heavily on diesel engines. Since you can’t power diesel engines without diesel fuel, farmers are suffering at the hands of rising fuel costs. In California, a gallon of diesel retailed for $3.967 as of April 15, up from $3.778 just one month earlier, and 18 cents higher than the same time in the previous year.

“We live in the West,” said Chris Torres of Princeton, who farms rice and runs a trucking company. “People like myself that live in the middle of the valley, we have to travel 30 minutes to go to a store. Traveling, sitting behind the wheel of our vehicles, is a way of life. It’s a cost that we can’t do anything about.”

The change comes as a result of California’s Senate Bill 1 (also known as SB-1), which expands the focus originally established by the Clean Air Act. In short, they’re interested in preserving, protecting, and enhancing the environment and natural resources in California (which includes national parks, national wilderness areas, national monuments, national seashores, and other areas with special national or regional natural, recreational, scenic, or historic value). Because diesel fuel emissions have been found to contribute to the development of cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory health effects, global climate change, and the pollution of air, water, and soil, they are a prime target for SB-1.

The Farming Financial Fallout

If you are a farmer of any crop — including livestock — you’re at risk for the results of these increased taxes. Currently, Senate Bill 1 has caused a 20-cent boost in the excise tax for on-road diesel, impacting those farmers who handle their own transportation.

“On livestock hauling, the rates are pretty much directly correlated with the fuel prices,” said Tom Stewart, a hay grower, cattle rancher, and livestock hauler based in Tulelake. “I’m sure if the price stays up this way for the next few weeks, or goes higher, then yeah, the rates will start reflecting that.”

As Stewart mentions, farmers won’t be the only ones experiencing the fallout from this bill; if farmers are forced to spend more to grow and transport their crops, the only way they’ll be able to make a profit — or simply break even — is to increase the prices of their products.

“What that means for California agriculture, it’s going to hurt our bottom line –whether it’s transporting from field to processor or whether it’s just being able to run our farm equipment,” said Robert Spiegel, policy specialist on transportation issues for the California Farm Bureau Federation.

Hopefully, the restrictions presented by Senate Bill 1 and others like it will be offset by green incentives — such as government payouts for using energy-efficient vehicles — but not much has been said so far. Only time will tell.

Flying Cars Could Actually Happen — And They Might Be Sustainable

Although there are more than 130,000 limousines currently in service across the country, it might not be too long before an even fancier kind of car takes over. It might sound like an idea straight out of a 1960’s science fiction best-seller or animated series, but researchers are saying that flying cars could be the next big thing in transportation. And what’s more, they might actually be able to protect the planet while bringing you to your next destination.

Currently, there are over 11 million road vehicles worldwide that run on natural gas as fuel. While popular and convenient, there’s little doubt that this practice contributes to harmful emissions and global warming. In other words, our traditional cars and buses aren’t so good for sustainability. And while electric vehicles have become more prevalent in recent years, they still lack the widespread adaptation that could make a discernible difference in the way most Americans get around.

But recent research shows that the midcentury view of the far-off future might not have been so far off after all. In an examination of electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (VTOLs, for short), it was discovered that these flying cars might actually serve an important purpose. Although they use a lot of energy to take off, making them unsuitable for short commutes or running errands, they may actually be a more sustainable option for longer trips. Because it doesn’t get stuck in traffic and isn’t restricted by terrestrial speed limits, the VTOL can arrive at its destination much quicker. What’s more, the flying electric car has 35% less greenhouse gas emissions than the gas-powered vehicle. That said, the electric car that operates on our existing streets still wins out in terms of emissions — but it can be problematic to drive an electric car cross-country, given the unpredictability of charging station availability.

If they were to be put into use, VTOLs would serve a rather niche purpose. But in large cities that are prone to traffic congestion, this type of vehicle could make a substantial difference in terms of safety and the effects of climate change. Since transportation is responsible for 28% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, it’s essential that we start exploring new possibilities. Scientists report that by 2050, net carbon emissions will need to be nearly zero in order to avoid the most drastic and negative outcomes of climate change. But given that VTOLs are in their early stages and the data is in its infancy, we’ll have to wait and see whether or not this formerly futuristic vision will become our reality down the line.

3 Eco-Friendly Materials to Use in Your House

In today’s society, more and more people are choosing to do their part to help the environment. And fortunately, going green at home has never been easier. Something as simple as adding or utilizing your draperies during the winter can help reduce heat loss by up to 10%, saving a ton of energy. But if you’re remodeling, or even building a home from scratch, you have the opportunity to choose sustainable materials for your home. So let’s take a look at a few eco-friendly materials to consider.

Bamboo

Bamboo is quickly gaining popularity as a great eco-friendly building material. Bamboo materials are made from interwoven strips of bamboo — and bamboo plants don’t usually have to be replanted elsewhere; they simply grow in the same spot over and over. And because they take up less land and grow quickly, bamboo plants are very sustainable. This material is super durable, making it a great choice for flooring, but it can be used on walls as well. It can even be used underneath other materials for added durability and insulation. So while bamboo can’t be used as a material for a subfloor in a pier and beam foundation, which should be at least one half inch plywood, it can be used as flooring, wall materials, and even as mats and screens.

Recycled Steel

Metal fabrics, like steel, are also a great sustainable material choice. While producing steel at the beginning uses a lot of energy, steel can be recycled and used again — several times, actually. The materials of metal fabrics are generally 40% new materials and 60% recycled materials, which is already better than brand new materials. But consumers can buy recycled steel and use it for structure in a home. Steel can be used for structural support, like beams, or it can be used for floor or wall panels. All in all, recycled steel is durable and uses a lot less energy to produce.

Cork

Unlike wood and paper, making cork does not require cutting down an entire tree. Instead, cork is harvested from the bark, which leaves the tree to continue to grow. Tree bark only takes about seven to nine years to grow back, making cork an environmentally-friendly material choice. This material is usually found as flooring. Not only is it very comfortable to walk on, but it’s also hypoallergenic, anti-microbial, and adds great thermal insulation. Kitchen flooring is a great place for cork because it offers great shock absorption, making it comfortable to stand on for long periods of time. Cork is an economical material choice and can be a great green option. Fun fact about cork: cells were discovered in 1665 while Robert Hooke was observing a cork under a microscope.

Choosing green materials has never been easier with the wide variety of options that are available today. So if you’re doing some remodeling in your home, consider one of these materials to make your house a little more eco-friendly.

Recycled Paper & Packaging Company Expands With New Facility In Virginia

In this environmentally-conscious era, people care about how “green” a company is. Those who reduce their waste, commit to reusing materials, and host recycling programs are more valued for their ability to create a quality product without negatively impacting our ecosystem. And when they expand as a result of these efforts like in the case of Pratt Industries, the response is quite positive.

The recycled paper and packaging company has grown significantly since its founding 30 years ago, and is now the fifth largest corrugated packaging company in the United States. Pratt Industries specializes in creating paper-based packaging and shipping materials; by manufacturing products that are completely made from post-consumer recycled materials, they have maintained their commitment to the environment and sustainability. After having spread out to 27 states, they set their eye on Botetourt Country in Virginia (although multiple states competed for the project).

“We are proud to partner with an innovative, global manufacturer like Pratt Industries that shares Virginia’s commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability,” said Governor Ralph Northam. “This major investment that will have strong positive impact on the regional economy and help advance Virginia’s thriving manufacturing industry.”

The new facility, still in its fledgling state, sits on 22 acres at Botetourt Center at Greenfield and occupies a staggering 100,000 square feet — with room to at least double in size. The building is expected to create 50 new jobs in the area, adding to Pratt Industries’ more than 8,000 employees across the nation.

“Pratt Industries is excited to expand in Virginia,” said Chief Operating Officer of Pratt Industries David Dennis. “We are grateful to the Roanoke Regional Partnership, Botetourt County, and VEDP for their efforts to bring Pratt to Botetourt County.”

By salvaging and reusing a portion of the 92 million metric tons of paper that are produced in the U.S. every year, Pratt industries is working to change the way businesses operate. By offering 100% recycled corrugated boxes, they’re doing their part to protect the environment.

These Portable Bluetooth Speakers Are Absolute Garbage (Literally)

For many of us, the allure of technology and convenience has caused us to ignore the preservation of the planet. But now, one startup is attempting to be more sustainable — without sacrificing connectivity.

Gomi, a UK-based design studio, has based its entire ethos on producing beautiful technology from things we throw away. Although plastic wasn’t even invented until the late 19th century and widespread use didn’t occur until approximately 1950, we’ve managed to do a lot of damage in that time. Data from 2017 revealed that 6.9 billion tons of plastic has become waste, with 6.3 billion tons of that waste never ending up in a recycling bin. Trash dumpsters are already serviced at 60% fullness or less, on average, meaning that we’re wasteful in a multitude of ways.

And then, of course, there’s the plastic that cannot even be recycled. In many countries, including the UK, many flexible plastic products are not accepted for recycling. As a result, plastic bags, bubble wrap, and other items end up in landfills — or worse, become beach pollution. That’s where Gomi’s idea really came from: the plastics that cannot be recycled. With the startup’s vision, they’re now being repurposed as stunning Bluetooth speakers.

Each one of these speakers is made from approximately 100 non-recyclable plastic bags in multiple hues. Therefore, they have a unique and modern visual appeal. Not only is today’s consumer drawn to sustainability, but they also tend to like modular options, which provide more versatility. Gomi designers kept this in mind when creating their speakers, as they’re meant to adapt to the customer’s needs. Modular construction reduces construction time by up to 50% while improving cash flow, but modular design isn’t limited to industrial structures or residential buildings, like Downtown Container Park in Las Vegas–which spans 19,000 square feet with a mix of 30 shipping containers and 41 multifunctional modular cubes forming its perimeter. You might have modular storage in your home, for example, which can be rearranged to adapt to your needs. Many of these plastic storage components are made via the reaction injection molding process, where two liquid components are mixed and injected into a mold to chemically react and cure.

Gomi’s speakers aren’t made in the exact same way, but they’re constructed by melting down the plastic bags, compressing the material, and then molding the plastic into its final shape. Gomi has partnered with local wholesalers to source the plastic waste that might otherwise end up as pollution. The internal components, unlike the speaker housings, are comprised of wireless streaming technology that provides 18 hours of superior listening on one battery charge — a successful hybrid of both old and new.

As Gomi co-founder Tom Meades noted in a statement, “We were inspired by the cradle-to-cradle design process, thinking about our products full-lifecycle right from the beginning of our design process… With our Bluetooth speakers, we want to intercept a waste stream that would otherwise be landfilled or incinerated. Flexible plastics/LDPE is widely regarded as non-recyclable by UK councils, and so we thought this would be the perfect material to harness and show that through innovative design this can be valuable, and does not have to end up as waste polluting our environment. Instead, we can craft this material into desirable objects.”

The team is also working on a portable charging brick comprised of the same plastic materials and plans to offer free repairs and free recycling returns. The unique Bluetooth speakers are currently part of a Kickstarter campaign that’s made $15,000 of its near-$60,000 goal. That said, Gomi won a substantial grant from the Environment Now Programme last year for its project and has also received funding from the Santander Big Ideas Competition. Although not everyone will agree that a unique Bluetooth speaker is a necessary home accessory, one would hope that consumers would lend their support to an idea that utilizes otherwise discarded plastics and turns them into something far more beneficial than garbage: music.