These drones look for trash in waterways—and then send sailing drones to clean it up

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Together, flying drones and sailing drones are helping to clear rivers of plastic waste and oil spills. In a river in the Danish city of Århus, a small machine called the WasteShark now autonomously sails through the water collecting trash, bringing it to shore, and then recharging itself. Soon, a drone will begin flying through the air to help: Using a special lens that collects data to be crunched by a machine learning algorithm, that drone can identify pieces of plastic or other garbage and direct the sailing drone to pick them up. The system can also identify oil spills, which the WasteShark can help clean up with a special filter. Read Full Story

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Why it’s so hard to recycle coffee cups—and why that’s finally starting to change

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Recycling companies are making a small change to their systems, which could dramatically increase what we’re able to recycle. Have you ever stood in front of the trash can with your Starbucks cup and wondered whether to toss it in the garbage or in the recycling bin? You’re not alone . Until recently, the right answer has often been the trash . Disposable coffee cups, milk cartons, takeout boxes, and other food packaging has a plastic lining to make sure liquids and oils don’t seep through. But most recycling systems in the U.S. aren’t designed to process these plastic-coated containers: The plastic can jam up recycling machines, and if the plastic somehow makes it through the process, paper mills won’t be able to use it. Read Full Story

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Can ocean plastic cleaning projects actually clean all the ocean plastic?

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A new study finds that the volume of plastic flowing into the ocean will overwhelm any cleaning efforts. If we want to clean up ocean plastic, we need to start at the source. Our oceans have a plastic problem, and relying on tech that aims to collect plastic debris from the ocean’s surface won’t be enough to solve it, according to a new study. With the mass amounts of plastic that get funneled into our oceans from land—between 5 and 13 million tonnes annually—ocean clean-up technologies fall short, and can never catch up. The only way to truly reduce the amount of plastic in the ocean, researchers say, is to stop it from getting there in the first place. Read Full Story

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Watch how much microplastic flows from our rivers into the ocean

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This video shows the flow of plastics through 10 key rivers, with the largest amount of plastic found in China’s Yangtze River. Microplastics, tiny pieces of plastic less than 5 millimeters across, now show up in places as remote as Arctic sea ice and the deep sea , more than 1,000 feet below the surface of the ocean. Much of that plastic is reaching the ocean by flowing through rivers—and the largest rivers in densely populated areas are most to blame. A visualization from data artist Dan McCarey shows the estimated flow through 10 key rivers, with the largest amount of plastic in the Yangtze River in China. Read Full Story

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This Ugandan startup turns plastic waste into construction materials and COVID face shields

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Takataka Plastics is trying to build a local market for recycling—and has quickly pivoted to pandemic response. The city of Gulu, Uganda, is six hours from the nearest recycling plant—so most plastic bottles collected in that city end up trashed or burned. But in a small pilot facility that’s now operating behind a restaurant in the city’s downtown, a startup called Takataka Plastics is testing a new process to turn plastic waste into something valuable. Read Full Story

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Rain and wind bring 1,000 tons of microplastics to U.S. protected lands every year

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Our national parks and wilderness are being filled with plastic we can barely even see. When people talk about keeping our public lands free from plastic pollution, most people would picture an empty soda bottle, littered onto a trail. But while that kind of plastic might be easier to spot (and clean up), those same lands are being inundated by another kind of trash: microplastic—pieces 5 millimeters or less—that are so small they can be blown by the wind or evaporated into clouds and deposited by rainstorms. Though they’re tiny, together they add up to tons and tons of plastic ending up in protected areas. Read Full Story

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This cute little robot floats to oil spills and sucks up the oil

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Inside the robot is a nanomaterial made from leaves that repels water and attracts oil. A decade after a BP drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, sending an estimated 168 million gallons of oil gushing into the water over the course of months, local wildlife are still struggling to recover. Many of the people who worked to clean up the spill are still experiencing health effects. At the time, the “cleanup” strategy involved setting oil slicks on fire and spraying mass quantities of a chemical meant to disperse it, both of which helped get rid of the oil, but also worsened pollution. Read Full Story

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This new recycling plant uses steam to recycle ‘unrecyclable’ plastic

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The new British plant will break down the chemical bonds in plastic so they can be reconstituted, processing 80,000 pounds of plastic waste a year. Most of the 360-billion-plus metric tons of plastic manufactured each year isn’t recycled. Some of that’s due to laziness—in the U.S., where plastic bottles can be easily recycled almost everywhere, the vast majority still end up in the trash. But other types of plastic are so technically challenging to recycle that recyclers don’t find it economically feasible. If you put these in the recycling bin, they end up being incinerated . Read Full Story

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In the fight against malaria, there’s a new weapon: Drones

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A new platform is recruiting amateur drone pilots to offer their services in finding mosquito-breeding hotspots. In some African cities, part of the fight against mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever now involves drone surveillance, using the devices to fly over neighborhoods and search for potential mosquito breeding sites. A new “crowd-droning” platform called Globhe is helping connect governments to drone pilots to fly these missions, building detailed maps for public health; in the case of mosquitoes, the system can help the government find problem spots more quickly. Read Full Story

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Dove’s new deodorant comes in a refillable stainless steel case

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No more throwing out your plastic deodorant packaging when you run out. Now you just refill it. It’s part of the company’s pledge to cut its use of new plastic in half by 2025. A typical plastic deodorant stick ends up in the trash within months. A new alternative from Dove is designed to be kept for the rest of your life: The case, made from stainless steel, can be refilled with inserts that click into place. Read Full Story

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Microplastics are everywhere: even on top of Mount Everest

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Scientists find that fibers from climbers’ technical gear has polluted the world’s tallest mountain. The once-pristine and isolated Mount Everest is now sometimes called the world’s highest garbage dump: On one expedition in 2019, the Nepali government removed 24,000 pounds of trash , from used oxygen cylinders and plastic bottles to batteries that climbers had left behind. But even if all the visible trash was cleaned up from the world’s tallest mountain, we couldn’t return it to its original state: A new study finds that snow and streams in the area are also filled with microplastics. Read Full Story

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