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The History Of Environmental Racism Black man holding a protest sign reading "Liberty & Justice for ALL"

The History Of Environmental Racism


June has been a month focused on inequality. A massive movement sparked by the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota has stretched even beyond the United States into other countries where racism still plays a role in society. This week, I want to share how environmental racism has affected millions of lives over the past century and a half and provide both examples of progress and ideas for moving forward.

Environmental Racism In The Past

Race and environmentalism have been uniquely intertwined since the beginning of the conservationist movement that started near the turn of the 20th century. After the Civil War, the US government had promised land to newly freed blacks, but this land and land provided to Native Americans was taken to create national parks and monuments instead.

The Founding Fathers Of Conservation

It wasn’t just the government who discriminated against people of color. Many founding fathers of conservation were white supremacists and racists who valued the lives of animals and even plants over the lives of persons of color.

Environmentalist John Muir felt a brotherhood with “animal people” but often commented on “dirty” Native Americans. Early conservation efforts pushed Native Americans off of their own lands so they could be enjoyed by white tourists instead.

Madison Grant, who founded the American Bison Society and played roles in creating Denali and Glacier National Parks, was a eugenicist and white supremacist. He published a book titled The Passing of the Great Race, or The Racial Basis of European History in 1916 warning of the decline of “Nordic” people to a rise in minorities.

President Theodore Roosevelt supported these environmentalists and even praised The Passing of the Great Race, calling it “a capital book; in purpose, in vision, in grasp of the facts our people most need to realize.” He took radical steps to protect land, but he did not do the same for black humans.

Mid-Century Racism

Over a decade before Rachel Carson’s iconic book, Silent Spring, William Vogt published Road to Survival (1948) which also warned about the dangers of pesticides and encouraged conservation efforts, but it also suggested eugenics and sterilization of the poor as solutions to overpopulation.

Waste Facilities

Landfills and other undesirable industry located predominantly in black neighborhoods. For example, a 1979 study on waste in Houston discovered “82 percent of all solid waste disposed in Houston from the 1930s to 1978 was dumped in mostly black neighborhoods – even though blacks made up only 25 percent of Houston’s population.”

In 1967, an 8 year old black girl drowned at the garbage dump next to her school. This event sparked riots at Texas Southern University, whose student population was mostly African Americans. The student protest escalated. A ricocheting bullet struck and killed an officer. Multiple protest leaders were arrested. This event was one of the first protests against environmental racism in America.

In 1979, residents of the Northwood Manor neighborhood in Houston, a mostly black neighborhood, formed the Northeast Community Action Group and filed a class action lawsuit against Southwestern Waste Management Corp (Bean v. Southwestern Waste Management Corp). They brought historical evidence of waste management companies siting landfills in black areas and claimed this new proposed landfill was a violation of civil rights. A judge ruled there was no discrimination.

The Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is an environmental organization started over 125 years ago by John Muir. The organization polled its members in 1972 asking if the organization should “concern itself with the conservation problems of such special groups as the urban poor and ethnic minorities.” Forty percent were strongly opposed while only fifteen percent were supportive of the idea.

John Tanton served at the Sierra Club’s national population committee chair in the seventies. In 1988, he wrote, “What will happen when [the white population] goes into minority status, and the groups that comprise the new coalition majorities don’t share the same [environmental] values?”

The Beginning Of The Environmental Justice Movement

The environmental justice movement did not start with companies or even the EPA realizing the ties between race and the environment. It grew out of community action which grew out of the civil rights movement. This new wave of activism for social and environmental reform began in the 1980s, and while some progress has been made since then, we have a long way to go.

In 1982, residents of Warren County, NC, protested against a hazardous waste facility by blocking the streets to prevent trucks carrying harmful PCBs from reaching the facility. Although this protest did not permanently stop the facility, it was one of the first events which launched the modern environmental justice movement.

The 1990s

Even after the movement began to gather steam, environmental organizations were a whitewash. In 1990, activists sent letters to these organizations “claiming that non-whites were less than two per cent of the combined seven hundred and forty-five employees of the Audubon Society, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (N.R.D.C.), and Friends of the Earth.”

In the early 1990s, the EPA created an internal Work Group on Environmental Equity, an Office of Environmental Equity, and an Environmental Equity Cluster after pressure from activists and academics.

Greenpeace released a report in 1990 showing the extent of the discrimination. Here are some key findings:

  • “The minority portion of the population in communities with existing incinerators is 89% higher than the national average
  • Communities where incinerators are proposed have minority populations 60% higher than the national average
  • Average income in communities with existing incinerators is 15% below the national average
  • Property values in communities with incinerators are 38% lower than the national average
  • Average property values in communities where incinerators are proposed are 35 % lower than the national average.”

Beyond African Americans

The environmental justice movement isn’t just about discrimination against African Americans. Native Americans and Latinos face similar discrimination when it comes to siting waste sites and industry, although to a lesser degree. The distribution of wealth, housing and real estate practices, and land use planning also put Latinos and Native Americans at a higher health and environmental risk than whites. For example, Native American reservations are not subject to state regulations, making them enticing places to set up waste sites which will be exempt from state environmental regulations.

Environmental Racism In the Present

You may have thought that we surely must have come a long way in the four decades since the beginning of the environmental justice movement, but you would be wrong. Environmental racism is alive and well, and there are plenty of studies to prove it.

Unchanging Numbers

Remember how less than 2% of environmental organizations were non-white? The numbers have slightly improved, but not much. The Green 2.0 initiative showed “only 12 percent of the leadership staff and less than 5 percent of NGO boards of directors are people of color. When it comes to general staffing for these organizations, less than 13 percent of those hired between 2010 and 2014 were people of color.” Rachel Langstone, an environmental consultant surveyed by Green 2.0, said the persons of color brought onto boards of directors were usually there as a token role.

A 2014 study found that non-whites only made up 11% of leadership positions in environmental organizations. For comparison, non-whites make up about 27% of the US population.

A 2018 EPA study found that, in 46 states, non-white residents are exposed to higher concentrations of particulate matter than white residents. In Indiana and Alabama, non-whites were exposed to up to twice the amount of pollutants. (In case you’re wondering about the other 4 states, they are Maryland, New Mexico, North Dakota, Virginia, and Washington.)

Compared to the average American:

  • “Black US residents are exposed to 1.54 times more fine particulate matter, a pollutant that contributes to haze and has been linked to heart and lung diseases.
  • Hispanic US residents are exposed to 1.2 times more fine particulate matter.
  • People below the poverty line were exposed to 1.35 times more fine particulate matter.”

But race, not class, is still the determining factor on how much pollution one can expect to be exposed to. This 2009 study shows how African American households with incomes between $50,000 and $60,000 were living in neighborhoods with higher pollution than white households, even when those white households were making less than $10,000. “Even when income is held constant, African American children are two to three times more likely than white children to suffer from lead poisoning.

Unrecognized Privilege

The link between race and environmentalism has a lot to do with privilege. Non-whites are more likely to have limited access to resources (green spaces, farmer’s markets, extra money to buy zero waste alternatives, etc.) and barriers from the banking and real estate industries prevent them from moving out of polluted areas.

Since at least the 1980s, low income communities have been labeled as “least likely to resist” new waste facilities. Part of this is due to housing. It is easier for homeowners to protest new developments than it is for renters. While almost three quarters of whites own their homes, only about 42% of African Americans do.

Here is a good explanation about why privilege can be hard to see taken from this article: “The reason privilege is such a potent source of unquestioned beliefs is that it is itself quite stealthy, at least to those who possess it, while it is almost always blatantly obvious to everyone else. This is the result of a psychological process called cognitive dissonance, whereby the brain essentially rewires itself so as to not perceive aspects of the world that present painful contradictions or challenge one’s sense of identity. In the context of privilege, this means that we structure our experience of the world so that our social advantages seem natural and/or deserved.”

My privilege as a white person sometimes makes it hard to see how difficult “going green” can be for other people because of the thinking that since I have the time and resources to put toward it, doesn’t everyone else? Why doesn’t everyone else “care” as much as I do? But it may not be a case of who cares about the environment the most. The modern environmental movement is mostly middle class whites because they are more likely to have the resources to be able to care about the environment instead of more basic things like putting food on the table.

In addition to a difference in resources, the way environmental organizations go about stirring up emotions does not connect as easily with people more likely to be of color. Those who are trapped in concrete inner cities who have never seen forests or mountains or real wildlife for themselves and those who live in rural areas who depend on nature to survive do not have the same appreciation for nature as suburban folk who take vacations to national parks to experience its majesty.

Recent Events And Progress

In the past few years, finally a handful of environmental organizations have amended their platforms to also include racial justice and environmental justice. The Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Earthjustice and more have begun to realize how race has been swept aside in the fight for a greener planet. In addition, new environmental organizations have sprung up like Outdoor Afro and Latino Outdoors to give voices and a community to POC environmentalists.

The NAACP also recognizes environmental justice as a major issue to fight for and created the Environmental and Climate Justice Program to address “the many practices that are harming communities nationwide and worldwide and the policies needed to rectify these impacts and advance a society that fosters sustainable, cooperative, regenerative communities that uphold all rights for all people in harmony with the earth.”

The Black Lives Matter movement has also added environmental justice as one of their top issues on their #WhatMatters2020 campaign.

In more recent news, the role of pollution in minority neighborhoods has created an imbalance in the number of people contracting COVID-19 and dying from the virus. Air pollution causes respiratory problems which make fighting COVID-19 harder. A study from Harvard released in April stated that even small increases in the amount of fine particulate matter leads to an 8% increase in COVID-19 deaths. We are seeing the life or death effects of environmental racism playing out in real time.

Combating Environmental Racism For A Better Future

So now that we know about the beginning of environmental racism and the problems minorities still face, what can we do to create environmental justice? Here’s a brief and incomplete list of ways we can lead our nation into an equitable future for all people.

  • Get the facts and spread them with others.
  • Organize within your community to address environmental racism.
  • Protest and make your voice heard, in person and online.
  • Vote for candidates and policies that advocate for environmental justice.
  • Attend local planning and/or zoning board meetings and speak up when something doesn’t sound fair.
  • Continue fighting in court for environmental justice.
  • LISTEN to other people’s stories, gain a better understanding of their struggles, and learn from them.

Now how about things on a larger scale? What must governments, businesses, and organizations do?

  • Address police brutality and mass incarceration.
  • Hire more minorities and let their voices be heard (not just token roles).
  • Include assessments of how new developments or policies may affect different communities before they are approved.
  • LISTEN to citizens’ concerns and work with them to find equitable solutions.
  • Strengthen existing legislation and pass new legislation regarding environmental policy and environmental racism.
  • Ensure environmental regulations are being followed and penalize those who are disregarding them.
  • Reject the idea of pushing environmental racism elsewhere. Do not allow hazardous facilities here just pack up and move abroad to harm other communities.
  • Utilize the EPA’s Resources for Creating Healthy, Sustainable, and Equitable Communities.


It’s clear we have a long way to go in this fight, but it’s uplifting to be seeing both enthusiasm and progress as we move forward in addressing these long-ingrained inequalities. Check out my other post on getting involved in environmentalism for more advice and resources.

If you want to read about some examples of environmental justice in your community, check out this page from the EPA where you can search by region and read about how the environmental justice movement has brought about real change.

The History Of Environmental Racism Black man holding a protest sign reading "Liberty & Justice for ALL"
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Profits Over Planet Amid The Pandemic Climate strike cardboard sign stating "No business on a dead planet"

Profits Over Planet Amid The Pandemic


While the pandemic rages on, the United States government is using the virus to pass “shock doctrine.” The term “shock doctrine” was coined by author Naomi Klein who wrote a book describing how leaders will exploit national crises to pass unpopular policies that would have faced much more push-back in peace times. It is possible you don’t know about the many ways our government is putting profits over planet during the pandemic, so take a look. Then do something about it.

EPA Reduces Environmental Regulations

On March 26, the Environmental Protection Agency released a memo stating it would temporarily allow companies to violate testing, training, and other obligations without punishment. There is no indication of how long “temporary” means, and this broad new policy opens the door for negligence. If companies can make a strong enough case for noncompliance due to the pandemic, they could get away with cutting corners to increase profits.

What Does The EPA Memo Say?

The memo addresses the effect the pandemic may have on a facility’s ability to properly monitor and test as required, move or store property and waste, and even train its employees. The memo says “these consequences may affect the ability of an operation to meet enforceable limitations on air emissions and water discharges, requirements for the management of hazardous waste, or requirements to ensure and provide safe drinking water.”

The EPA “does not expect to seek penalties for violations of routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification obligations in situations where the EPA agrees that COVID-19 was the cause of the noncompliance”.

The Agency provided an expectation that all facilities should continue operating in compliance with environmental regulations, but it will not punish those who defy those regulations. While the policy does not apply to any criminal violations, the EPA stated it would work with the Department of Justice to “exercise enforcement discretion” with regards to companies that pollute during this time.

It is important to note this policy also does not apply to any imports, Superfund activities, or RCRA Corrective Action enforcement instruments. The EPA memo stated it expects public water systems to continue normal operation and maintenance activities, including timely sample analysis of water systems.

The Agency says it will distinguish between noncompliance that stems directly from the pandemic and noncompliance that was avoidable. It is unclear how that determination will be made.

Nine States Sue Over Memo

On Wednesday, nine states sued the EPA over the reduction of regulation and oversight. California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Virginia filed a lawsuit on the grounds that “the policy is too broad and not transparent.” They argue the EPA does not have the authority to waive the obligation of entities to inform the public about about pollution hazards. A month ago, multiple environmental groups filed a similar lawsuit regarding the temporary policy.

Fossil Fuel Bailouts

The Federal Reserve’s bond buyback program will benefit at least 90 fossil fuel companies and over 150 utility companies, many of which heavily rely on coal (). The total expected worth of the program is estimated at $750 billion, but the portion these companies would receive in still unknown.

An Oxford University study said investing in a green recovery from the pandemic would create more jobs and produce larger economic returns over investing in the fossil fuel industry, but the Trump administration continues to prop up a dying industry. This decision puts profits over planet by providing a lifeline to fossil fuel instead of investing in our future.

Big Oil and Gas companies also received over $72 million in “small business” bailout money despite having a value over the $2 million maximum. Despite all these bailouts, members of Congress sent a letter to President Trump complaining that banks are not using enough of their own bailout money to invest in the fossil fuel industry. They argued discrimination against fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy companies.

Some members of Congress are still searching for ways to provide more relief to renewable companies who did not receive access to tax benefits like oil and gas companies did. This slight stems from conservative lobbyists who urged Congress to reject renewable energy relief on the basis that “Climate change is not an immediate threat to humanity.

States Increase Fossil Fuel Protest Punishments

Right now Americans are urged to stay inside, but three states (Kentucky, South Dakota, and West Virginia) passed laws to increase penalties for those who participate in fossil fuel protests within days of each other. Last week Alabama moved forward a similar bill, which is much harsher than the others.

On March 16, Kentucky officially designated natural gas and petroleum pipelines as “key infrastructure assets.” The new law makes causing over $1,000 in damage or tampering that may make operations unsafe a felony for first degree criminal mischief.

Two days later, North Dakota’s governor signed into law a bill that reclassified oil, gas, and utility equipment as “critical infrastructure.” Causing interruptions to these facilities now carries a felony. The next week, the governor passed another measure which defines a felony riot as “intentional use of force or violence by three or more persons” that causes any property damage.

West Virginia then followed at the end of March the a similar reclassification of oil, gas, and pipeline equipment as “critical infrastructure” and will now be charging fines up to $20,000 on those guilty of causing over $2,500 worth of “damage, destruction, vandalization, defacing or tampering.

The proposed bill in Alabama would make the same “critical infrastructure” designation, prohibit where pollution watchdog groups can fly drones, and make actions that interrupt or interfere with pipeline activities or facilities a Class C felony. This felony carries at least one year in prison and up to $15,000 in fines.

After the end of the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2017, other states passed their own laws protecting pipeline infrastructure against protesters. These states include Indiana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas.

Executive Order Opens Up Offshore Fish Farms

On May 7, Trump signed an executive order that will make fish farming in the Gulf of Mexico and other waters less regulated. Specifically, the order calls for the removal of “unnecessary regulatory barriers” to increase domestic fish farming.

Marianne Cufone, executive director of the Recirculating Farms Coalition, opposes the order and pointed out how often the floating fish pens fail. She believes the measure was taken now so it could slide past while most concern is focused on the pandemic.

While fish farming is efficient, it poses many environmental risks. Escaped fish can damage the surrounding ecosystems by out-competing wild populations. Viruses can wipe out the farm population. And fish farming would mostly benefit large corporations and wipe out smaller family operations. This executive order will reduce regulations which will cause even more harm to our waters.

Administration Opens 2.3 Million Acres To Hunting And Fishing

While Americans are stuck inside, the Trump administration announced plans to open 2.3 million acres of federal lands to hunting and fishing. Fishing will now be permitted in several wildlife refuges including San Diego Bay in California, Umbagog in Maine and New Hampshire, and Everglades Headwaters in Florida. Alligator hunting will be allowed at refuges in Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas.

Hunters will soon hunt mountain lions and mule deer at Cabeza Prieta as well as mountain lions, bobcats, and fox in Buenos Aires. Both of these national refuges are in Arizona. Hunters may also go after migratory birds for the first time in Oregon at the Wapato Lake and Hart Mountain refuges. What is the point of a national wildlife refuge if humans can still kill its animals for sport?

Reduced Fuel Efficiency Standards

At the end of March, the Trump administration announced the Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles rule which will apply to vehicle models from 2021 to 2026. While this rule is an improvement from the administration’s initial plan to freeze emissions standards, it only requires 30% of the annual improvement the Obama administration’s standards required. Now vehicles must improve emissions by 1.5% per year instead of 5%.

The justification for this dramatic decrease is that it would make vehicles more affordable and encourage families to buy newer cars. Officials estimate this new standards would save around $1,000 on a $38,000 vehicle compared to the Obama era standard. This is only around 2.5% of the vehicle cost. I am unsure how much sway that small discount will have on potential consumers. To me, it sounds like a marketing campaign to sell more cars.

Leases and Land Auctions

On March 18, the US Department of the Interior auctioned off 78 million acres in the Gulf Coast for oil and gas leases. The following day, the Bureau of Land Management announced plans for a 45,000-acre auction for lands in New Mexico and Texas for even more oil and gas development.

The Bureau has also not given any indications of postponing or cancelling other scheduled auctions in Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.

The pandemic and a price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia dropped oil prices. This mean these auctions are not even bringing in as much money as they could be. Companies are buying up rights to drill on public lands at rock bottom prices. The government is giving companies the best deal, putting industry profits over planet and even their own profits.

Greenlit New Projects

The Bureau of Land Management approved a 497-acre expansion for a gold and silver mine located on public lands in Mojave County, Arizona. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved construction of both the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas export terminal and the Pacific Connector Pipeline which will stretch 230 miles. The terminal will be located in Coos Bay in Oregon, which is already seeing the effects of pollution.

Other Environmental Damages

The EPA has moved forward with expanding the proposal to restrict scientific research used to make environmental regulations. The Fish and Wildlife Service closed the public comment period regarding a proposal to weaken migratory bird protections forever.

The administration tapped Anna Siedman, a lawyer from Safari Club International, to lead the Fish and Wildlife Service’s international affairs department. She had sued the Fish and Wildlife Service many times over her career at the trophy hunting advocacy group. Someone against protecting the lives of animals should not have a position within the Fish and Wildlife Service.

What You Can Do

With federal and state governments putting economic profits over our planet, you may be asking what you can do about it. The best thing you can do is make your voice heard. Contact your elected officials. Be sure to turn out to vote.

Join or support one of the environmental groups below.

Get active on social media and in your community to spread awareness and support for environmental and sustainable policies. The #FridaysForFuture campaign started as a way to organize protests. The new #ClimateStrikeOnline campaign moves those protests online in light of the pandemic. Do not let quarantine keep you silent about environmental issues.

You can learn about more ways to get involved in protecting our future by heading over to my other post!


The main takeaway of this post is to not let the health crisis blind you to policies and laws that our government is passing to increase the profits of destructive industries. Keep speaking up even when it needs to be online. Stay informed about what’s going on in our country beyond the pandemic. Do not let them get away with destroying our future by placing profits over planet!

Today is Friday. Head over to Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter and post your own #FridaysForFuture post calling for climate action and calling out the profiteers only looking to make a quick buck.

As always, get your information regarding the pandemic from trusted sources, like the CDC or WHO.

Profits Over Planet Amid The Pandemic Climate strike cardboard sign stating "No business on a dead planet"
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Uses For Hemp: From Clothing To Concrete Dark green hemp leaves

Uses For Hemp: From Clothing To Concrete


You may have heard of hemp and thought it was another name for marijuana. I know I did. On the contrary, hemp and marijuana are different plants. Hemp has dozens of applications in many different industries, and using hemp over conventional materials is better for the environment. So let’s take a look at some of the uses for hemp to see how this one plant could help our planet.

What Is Hemp?

First of all, what is hemp and how is it related to marijuana? According to, “[b]oth hemp and marijuana come from the same cannabis species, but are genetically distinct and are further distinguished by use, chemical makeup, and cultivation methods.” Hemp does have some THC (what gives you a high), but it is less than 0.3%, which isn’t enough to affect humans.

Hemp and Sustainability

What makes hemp so sustainable? Hemp grows very quickly (just a few months) and can be harvested every year in perpetuity. It is a hardy, frost-tolerant plant that can grow on every continent except Antarctica.

The plants grow up to 15 feet tall and grow close together, which prevents weeds from sprouting up. This means there is no need for herbicides. They are also resistant to pests. No pesticides needed either.

While most plants steal much of the nutrients in the soil and degrade it over time, hemp returns 60-70% back to the soil after harvest and prevents erosion. Because of this, many farmers use it as a rotation crop to help maintain good soil.

The fast growth is due to the large amounts of CO2 hemp plants absorb from the air. Their efficiency actually makes hemp a carbon negative plant. Its quick growth and resistance to pests and disease allow hemp to produce more biomass than any other plant which can be put to good use.

History Of Hemp

With all of these great qualities of hemp (and we haven’t even gotten to the material qualities), why don’t we all grow it? Surprisingly, we used to. A lot. There are records of hemp being used in Asia all the way back to 8000 BC. In America, many of the founding fathers like George Washington grew hemp, and up until 1937, hemp was a major crop in America.

As a result of the movie “Reefer Madness” spreading fear of cannabis in the US, the Marijuana Tax Act passed in 1937, which regulated both cultivation and sale of cannabis, including non-psychoactive hemp.

Then the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified all cannabis forms as Schedule I drugs so hemp became illegal to grow or possess. The War on Drugs and fear of cannabis destroyed the hemp industry in the US and other countries around the globe, although some like the Soviet Union still produced large amounts (3,000 km² in 1970).

Current Politics

Commercial hemp production resumed in Canada, Germany, and the UK in the 1990s, requiring special licenses that certify the hemp grown will contain less than 0.05% THC. China is the highest producer of hemp currently, followed by France, Austria, and Chile. Hemp grown in the EU can even be certified as organic.

In the US, however, hemp production remained very restricted, although some legislation in recent years has opened the doors. The 2014 Farm Bill allowed states to grow hemp for research and development purposes. The Hemp Industries Association (HIA) estimated that $620 million worth of hemp products were sold in the US in 2014.

In 2015, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act was introduced in the House. This act would have amended the Controlled Substances Act such that it would be legal to grow and possess industrial hemp so long as it is in accordance with state laws, but it was never brought to a vote.

Luckily, the 2018 Farm Bill created the USDA Hemp Production Program, authorized hemp production in the US, and removed hemp and hemp seeds from the DEA’s list of controlled substances. This opens up so many possibilities for this amazing plant.

Uses For Hemp

So now that you’ve learned all about hemp its history, let’s talk about its many uses. As discussed, hemp has been used for thousands of years for food, textiles, paper, and other products. With today’s technologies, we can process hemp into replacements for fossil fuels and plastics too.

Most products come from the double layer stalk. The outer layer with long rope-like fibers is used for textiles, while the inner woody layer is used for other purposes like fuel or construction materials.

Textiles And Clothing

Hemp textile production began in the Iron Age (around 1000 BC). In fact, the oldest woven fabric was made from hemp. Today China produces 70% of the world’s hemp textiles.

Textile Production

Hemp fabric comes from the outer layer of the stalk. These long strands are separated from the bark during a process called “retting“. The strands are then gathered and spun into a thread to be woven into fabric. Many phases of production can be done mechanically without the aid of chemicals, although some companies use chemical processes instead to save time and money at the expense of the environment.

Benefits Of Hemp Textiles

Hemp is the strongest natural fiber. This strength and flexibility made it the best rope-making material. It has also been used for twine, netting, boat sails, and ship rigging. But there are even more uses for hemp fibers.

Hemp clothing is very durable and retains its shape, but it is also lightweight and breathable. These great properties convinced Levi Strauss to make the first pair of jeans using hemp fabric.

The fabric resists mold, bacteria, and UV ray damage, and is not susceptible to shrinkage or pilling. It is also thermo-regulating, meaning you will be kept cool in summer but warm in winter.

It is common to blend hemp fibers with another material, usually cotton or silk. Combining with silk creates a fabric that is softer than hemp but still very strong and durable.

Hemp Versus Cotton

Compared to cotton, hemp is the clear winner. It uses half the water needed to grow the same amount of cotton and, remember, none of the herbicides and pesticides. On the same patch of land, hemp will produce 250% more fiber.

Hemp softer than cotton but will last twice as long. Unlike other fabrics that wear out with use, hemp keeps its strength but gets even softer with use. Its porous nature also gives it a better ability to retain its dyed color than cotton and other fabrics.

Paper Products

Hemp has been used to make paper for thousands of years, and it’s actually much better than paper made from trees. First of all, hemp produces two to four times as much paper as the same area of trees would. This makes hemp more economical and environmentally friendly than trees. Switching to hemp paper products will help prevent deforestation and habitat loss caused by the logging industry.

Hemp paper does not degrade or discolor like tree paper, allowing it to last for hundreds of years. Additionally, it can be recycled more times than tree paper products and requires less chemicals to process.


The hemp plant has many uses for human nutrition. Leaves can either be eaten as a salad or pressed into a healthy green juice. Hempseeds contain lots of proteins, minerals, and fiber. They are also high in Vitamin A, various B vitamins, potassium, phosphorus, iron, copper, and magnesium.

Hemp is actually the only plant that contains the important fatty acids and all nine of the amino acids humans cannot produce themselves. Their fatty acid content makes them a great alternative to fish oil supplements. The production of those supplements contribute to overfishing and ocean pollution.

You can eat hempseeds on their own, or they can be crushed into a flour for baking or a cooking oil. As with many types of nuts, you can make hemp milk from the seeds, but hemp can also be used to make beers, wines, and other alcoholic beverages.

Personal Products

Hemp is also good when used outside the body. Hemp oil is non-comedogenic so it doesn’t clog up pores like ingredients used in many lotions. It contains beneficial oils and is soothing to the skin, which is why it is now being added to many skin, hair, and cosmetic products. Hemp contains EFA which moisturizes and heals dry, cracked skin and reduces dandruff caused by dry scalp.

Animal Care

Humans aren’t the only ones who can take advantage of eating hemp. The proteins and other nutrients in hemp make it great for pet food and dietary supplements. Hemp can be a substitute for corn-based animal feed, which is worse for both the environment and the animal.

The inner layer of the hemp stalk can also be used in animal care. Hemp bedding is available for small pets like guinea pigs, rats, and hamsters, and hemp can substitute in for cat litter.


As with corn, hemp can be turned into an ethanol biofuel to replace diesel. This hemp fuel is more renewable than fossil fuels and results in less greenhouse gas emissions. Before electricity, hemp oil was used to fuel lamps and lanterns for centuries.

Hemp biofuel meets the ATSM D6751 and EN 14214 standards for biodiesel quality and is better than other plant-based fuels. Hemp produces 800 liters of fuel per hectare, which outperforms other plants. It even outperforms diesel in every category except oxidation stability, although that can be remedied by the addition of antioxidants.

If you’re curious about the production process, here’s a quick look. It’s called cellulolysis and has six stages as outlined by the Hemp Gazette:

  1. “Pre-treatment to make the cellulose content in hemp suitable for hydrolysis.
  2. Breaking down the molecules into sugars using an enzyme that converts cellulose into glucose (cellulase).
  3. Separation of sugar materials from the lignin.
  4. Fermentation of the sugar solution.
  5. Distillation to extract the ethanol.
  6. The use of molecular sieves to increase ethanol concentration.”


Fossil fuels power our cars and machines, but we also use them to make plastics. And hemp can help with that too! Hemp-based bioplastics are non-toxic alternatives to plastic that are usually biodegradable. Remember though that bioplastics are not 100% natural and still contain some conventional plastic that will never fully break down.

These bioplastics are lighter and 3.5 times stronger than petroleum-based polypropylene. They also have high UV and thermal stability. Since the plants are renewable, we don’t run the risk of running out of it like we do with fossil fuels.

Hemp plastics have been used for many different items including shower curtains, DVD cases, packaging, and even car bodies. Speaking to that last point, Henry Ford himself designed a car body using a hemp bioplastic back in 1941, but it never went into mass production.

Construction Materials

The last main category of uses for hemp is construction materials. Construction is a resource-intensive industry, using “about 40% of the world’s global energy, 25% of the global water, and 40% of the global resources“. Substituting in hemp products can help reduce those figures.

Wood And Other Products

Hemp materials can replace wood in many applications. Hemp fiberboard is both stronger and lighter than wood. Hemp-based products can also replace wood for walls, shingles, and paneling. There are hemp-based paints and varnishes that are non-toxic and even pipes made from hemp.


The most interesting building material using hemp is called hempcrete. The inner layer of the stalk is mixed with a lime- or clay-based binder to create a bio-composite concrete material. The result is a great insulating material that weighs seven or eight times less than concrete.

Uses For Hempcrete

Hempcrete is not normally used as a structural element, although ten story buildings and bridges using hempcrete have been built in Europe. Instead, it is commonly used as building insulation, plasters, and floor slabs. It can, however, be used in some structural and load-bearing applications.

Benefits Of Hempcrete

Using hempcrete is great for the environment. Hempcrete sequesters lots of carbon, keeping it out of the atmosphere. For example, an “un-rendered 30 cm thick hemp concrete wall enables a storage of 36.08 kg of CO2 per m²“. The use of lime over cement saves 80% of the released CO2, and using clay binders instead of lime will increase those savings even more.

Since hempcrete is a great insulator, the building will require less energy to maintain a given temperature. This will reduce energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, hempcrete is easier to work with and less brittle than conventional concrete.

Here is a list of even more benefits of hempcrete from the National Hemp Association:

  • “Non-toxic
  • No off gassing
  • No solvents
  • Mold resistance
  • High vapor permeability
  • Humidity control
  • Durable
  • Sustainable
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Fire and pest resistance
  • Passive self-regulation of temperature and humidity
  • GREAT insulator”

Other Uses For Hemp

Finally, I wanted to just add a quick sections on even more uses for hemp that weren’t covered in the categories above.

  • Candles
  • Detergent
  • Ink
  • Lubricant
  • Soil contamination cleanup

That last use deserves a bit more detail. After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, industrial hemp fields planted at the site helped decontaminate the soil. The plants helped to clean areas contaminated with fly ash, sewage, and heavy metals, proving it has huge potential for fixing our environment.


As you can see, the uses for hemp are nearly endless. This one plant can replace many ingredients and products that are harmful to ourselves and our planet. It can clean up and add nutrients to soil, and it grows so much so quickly that it is a nearly renewable resource capable for use in dozens of applications.

I believe expanding production and use of hemp products along with algae products could turn the tide of climate change and environmental destruction. Want to learn more about what algae has to offer? Head over to my other post!

Uses For Hemp: From Clothing To Concrete Dark green hemp leaves
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The Impacts Of Coronavirus On The Environment A city skyline covered in dirty smog

The Impacts Of Coronavirus On The Environment


Our lives have really changed over the past weeks. The global economy has slowed tremendously as non-essential businesses have closed and many people are stuck in quarantine. Stress and worry have become everyday emotions, but there is some good in all of this. The impacts of coronavirus on the environment and its future are a bright spot in a time of darkness. Let’s take a look at some of the effects I’ve noticed.

Less Air Pollution

Perhaps you have seen photos online comparing pre-pandemic and current skylines or landscapes where smog has cleared up. These photos show that it is possible to quickly clear our air of toxins and particulate matter that harm human health and wildlife. With less industrial business and much, much less people driving around, emissions have plummeted which leads to cleaner air for us and the other life on this planet. According to this article, “the northeastern U.S. has seen atmospheric levels of nitrogen dioxide air pollution decline by 30% in March compared with the same period last year.”

Less GHGs

For the same reason, less carbon and methane are released into the atmosphere. With global energy demand predicted to fall 6% this year, greenhouse gas emissions will see their largest drop ever recorded (8%). By reducing the amount of additional greenhouse gases (GHGs), we can slow climate change caused by global warming. If companies adopt working from home opportunities after the pandemic, this reduction can continue.

Wildlife Resurgence

Although I live in the city, the return of wildlife is noticeable. The Boston subreddit was full of turkey photos taking strolls through empty streets. My parents live in a more rural area and are constantly sending my photos of deer and turkey and other animals that visit their yard. Reducing our presence and noise levels invite wildlife back into the land we have stolen from them.

Slowing Wasteful Industries

Many governments around the world have forced shutdowns of non-essential businesses. People are consuming less than before, which causes industry to produce less. Airlines and global shipping industries have seen significant declines. The fashion industry which preys on cheap Asian labor is being squeezed from both ends: slower production and decreased demand.

While unfortunately this affects workers, the slowing of industry provides an opportunity to re-evaluate supply chains and manufacturing choices. I have heard/read many news stories (like this one) that specifically point to global supply chains as a weakness, especially in times of crisis. I am hopeful this pandemic will shift manufacturing to domestic factories and stabilize our consumption levels.

Less Buying Of Non-Necessities

When shopping trips involve long lines and social distancing measures, most people are only going out when it is necessary. This leads to multiple benefits. Coronavirus has basically wiped out shopping as a hobby. People are not buying things they do not need and creating waste. They are not driving around to stores as often, thereby reducing emissions even more.

People are trying to make do with what they have and stretching resources to make them last. While it is unfortunate it is under these circumstances, these practices could easily extend beyond the pandemic and become a normal part of our lives.

Appreciation For Nature

Being stuck inside has led to an increased appreciation for the outdoors. Walks, hikes, or bike rides outdoors have become essential to both our mental and physical health during this time. Most of us have much more free time and use it to get outside (away from others) and appreciate Mother Nature. The peacefulness while walking alone in a forest really helps connect us with nature, and hopefully many people will maintain that connection in the future.

Appreciation For Slow Living

The previous two impacts of coronavirus on the environment both play into this one. Slow living is based on appreciating what we have, taking time for what matters, and reducing the waste and excess in our lives. You can read about the surprising benefits of slow living in this post. Slow living involves buying less and extending the lifespans of the objects we own, which most of us are now doing.

It also involves self-sufficiency skills. Many people have picked up new hobbies that fall into one of these categories. I have seen lots of posts online of people trying their hands at cooking, baking, sewing, and other activities that perhaps they would never otherwise try, and they see how fulfilling and fun they are. And skills like gardening or even slow living’s mindfulness practices heighten our appreciation for nature.

Coming Together For A Single Cause

While coronavirus has many impacts on our lives right now, it also can impact our environment in the future. The pandemic has brought us together. We are helping those who need it and share a sense of comradery because we are all in similar circumstances. This shows that it is possible to come together and fight for something.

The fight against climate change should be no different. We will all be affected by it, no matter who we are or where we live. We need to band together, help those who need it most, and demand policies that will protect us.

In addition to coming together, we all have changed our behaviors rather quickly. Our day to day lives have changed significantly since the winter. We do things differently: working from home, staying inside, wearing masks, socializing virtually. While some still refuse these behavioral changes, it is important to realize their success and how they can be applied to the environment. We could change our behaviors to reduce consumerism, waste, and pollution so long as we realize their importance.

Political Action

This impact also refers to future applications. Governments have had to work quickly to help citizens get financial aid and needed supplies. They have found trillions of dollars to provide assistance to individuals, small and large businesses, and governments. In the US, that figure is over $2 trillion. In Canada, it is over $60 billion, and in the EU, it is $3.7 trillion (all figures in USD). While this shows money can be found in times of crisis, if we take climate action measures now, they will cost less and can be spread out over time to reduce impact.

In the US, the CARES Act passed in a matter of days instead of months, showing policy can move through quickly. There is no reason climate action should move slower. We have seen that substantial bills can become law quickly and begin having an effect on the nation.


While most of the impacts of coronavirus on the environment may be temporary, it is possible for many to persist as we create a “new normal” post-pandemic. I, for one, am hopeful because coronavirus has taught us we can make big changes if enough of us realize their importance to our health and our future.

As a final note, always make sure you are getting information regarding the pandemic from reliable sources, such as your government or the science and health communities.

The Impacts Of Coronavirus On The Environment A city skyline covered in dirty smog
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10 Best Sustainability Apps For Saving The Planet Cellphone screen showing the forest path in the background

10 Best Sustainability Apps For Saving The Planet


Technology makes our lives easier. Why shouldn’t it also make your new zero waste life easier too? I’ll collected a list of the 10 best sustainability apps that cover a broad range of subjects and purposes to help make going green easy and fun.

1. Ecosia

I switched over to Ecosia a few months ago during the huge fires in the Amazon. Ecosia is a search engine that plants trees using ad revenue. They post monthly financial reports that show you how much money they made and where it is being spent. For instance, in February 2020, they invested about 57% of their earnings in tree planting projects (over $1.6 million!).

They say it takes about 45 searches to plant a tree, meaning I’ve planted 20 trees! Ecosia also has a browser plugin so typing in the address bar makes an Ecosia search (download here for Chrome, Firefox, or Safari). Because it’s so easy to start using instead of Google and does so much good, it’s my favorite sustainability app!

2. Poshmark

There are many fashion resale apps out there, but I recommend Poshmark because that’s who I’ve used. Unlike ThredUp, Poshmark items are shipped directly from seller to buyer. This reduces transportation emissions by cutting out the middle man. You can also see where sellers are located to reduce emissions even more.

Having an easy access to a wealth of secondhand clothing will make transitioning your wardrobe a breeze. You can also become a seller to clean out those items you no longer wear (or never wore at all) to reduce clutter.


This sustainability app is on a mission to reduce food waste by connecting neighbors and businesses to share items. They also go beyond food by allowing users to list household items like cleaning products, furniture, and more.

You can browse listings, request an item, and arrange a pickup all within the app. As a seller, posting is as easy as snapping a photo. Check out their website for more info!

4. American Farmers Markets

Want to shop local, but just don’t know where to go? American Farmers Market is the sustainability app for you! They provide a huge database of local markets so you can find one near you. Just search for your location, and they’ll provide an interactive map with pin-pointed farmers markets in the area. They also provide schedule details and a contact website (if available).

American Farmers Markets allows you to “check in” to a market and makes it easy to share with your social media to encourage others to shop locally produced goods.

5. Freecycle + Trash Nothing!

In addition to sustainability apps for secondhand shopping, check out Freecycle. Browse for just about anything, and everything is offered for free! You can use this app to declutter your home or fill it up with secondhand items instead of new ones.

Don’t see what you need? You can also post a request, asking those in your community if they can help you out. Freecycle also allows you to share listings on social media to spread the word.

6. Vegan Maps

Changing your diet is one of the best ways to lower your carbon footprint. But eating out and being vegan often mean limited menu options that mainly include salad. Vegan Maps provides you with an interactive map of restaurants marked with either a “vegan”, “mostly vegan”, or “vegan and raw” location pin.

Select a pin to learn more about that restaurant, including hours, phone, website, and reviews. You can also favorite locations to save them for later. Never settle for a side salad again!

7. iRecycle

Earth 911 created the iRecycle app to help users find recycling locations in their area. You search by item, and the app will provide the contact information and location of companies/towns that will take that item.

This sustainability app also links you to Earth 911’s latest articles about recycling, green tech, and green living.

8. Hoopla

Hoopla is an online library. Your local brick-and-mortar may be partnered with Hoopla to offer a huge variety of ebooks, audiobooks, movies, and more. (Other library apps are Overdrive and Libby, but I personally use Hoopla). These partnerships give you access to many titles you wouldn’t otherwise be able to enjoy for free.

Hoopla gives you 10 borrows per month, which never bothers me since I prefer real books to a screen, but it may be an issue for others. Ebooks and audiobooks are borrowed for three weeks. You can borrow music for one week, and movies/videos for just 3 days. You can also use your computer to borrow items from their website.

9. AllTrails

Would it really be green living if we stayed inside all day instead of enjoying the outdoors? My husband and I have been using AllTrails for a while now to research new hikes when we go on vacations. They have running and biking trails too.

AllTrails lets you sort by difficulty level, length, or other criteria like dog-friendly. Many trails have frequent reviews which are very helpful for assessing a trail’s current condition (icy, washed out, how well marked, etc.). AllTrails even provides GPS directions to trailheads.

You can save trails to different lists, track your progress while on the trail, and share your adventures with social media. I included AllTrails in my top sustainability apps because not only does help you enjoy Mother Nature, but it also makes sure the only energy you’re burning is calories.

10. JouleBug

So you’ve downloaded some sustainability apps, but you still need some motivation to stick with zero waste? JouleBug helps you record all your daily green actions by “buzzing”. Then it puts them into perspective by telling you how much carbon, waste, or water those actions have saved.

I tried out ecoCRED, which is a similar sustainability app specifically for motivation, but JouleBug offers a way bigger list of actions, runs much smoother, and offers a social aspect. You can follow friends, like or comment on other people’s “buzzes”, and join local challenges and events to boost motivation even more!


I hope you download some of these sustainability apps to help you make eco-friendly living an easy, everyday part of your life. What other apps do you use to help you reduce your footprint? Leave a comment below!

10 Best Sustainability Apps For Saving The Planet Cellphone screen showing the forest path in the background
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How Algae Can Save The World Algae covered rocks along the seashore in the late afternoon sun

How Algae Can Save The World

This post contains affiliate links. I will receive a commission if you make a purchase using these links, at no additional cost to you. Read more on my Disclaimer page.


Our planet is facing an uncertain future right now. Climate change, growing pollution, and even food and water to keep us all alive. Could there be one solution for all of those problems? Let’s take a look at how algae can save the world.

What is Algae?

“Algae” is a term that applies to many different organisms ranging from unicellular planktons to giant kelp growing meters and meters tall. They produce oxygen through photosynthesis, though some species are heterotrophic as well. Unlike plants, they lack true roots, stems, or leaves, but they produce half of the world’s oxygen.

Algae can live in freshwater or saltwater, and even on land! For example, lichens that grow on trees and rocks are a symbiotic relationship of algae and fungi. “They can also endure a range of temperatures, oxygen or carbon dioxide concentrations, acidity and turbidity“. Algae multiplies quickly and can “double their numbers every few hours“. So how can algae save the world?

As a crop, algae is very easy to grow due to its hardiness (even in the desert!). Algae can utilize land unsuitable for traditional crops as well as saltwater, brackish water, and even wastewater to grow. This is super important because 70% of the world’s freshwater goes toward food production (crops and animals).

Algae are packed with nutrients including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), and plenty of protein. In the same amount of space, algae can produce seven times the amount of protein as soybeans. While they contain so many nutrients, they can also filter out toxins, pathogens, and heavy metals from water by either storing or using them.

Climate Change

Climate change is a broad subject, but algae can help in a variety of ways.

Carbon Sequestration

Carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is a greenhouse gas that warms up the planet. Like our forests, algae sequester carbon through photosynthesis. Carbon dioxide is captured and transformed into oxygen and sugar using sunlight.

Various companies like Hypergiant Industries is building prototype bioreactors that could sequester many times more carbon than trees in a given amount of space. For example, Hypergiant’s Eos Bioreactor is only 63 cubic feet in size but sequesters as much carbon as 400 trees.

The Cloud Collective designed an algal bioreactor which was installed over a Switzerland highway to capture CO2 emissions from cars. The reactor is composed of algae-filled tubed that run along an overpass and suck in car emissions from below.

Algal bioreactors could also capture carbon before it enters our atmosphere by installing them in factories. When compared to other crops used for biofuels, algae outperforms them all in the amount of carbon they take in.

Claudia Pasquero and Marco Poletto are two architects from EcoLogicStudio who designed algae-filled curtains that help pull carbon out of our air. The curtains hold algae in tubes while the rest of the curtain is a clear plastic. Air flows in from the bottom, and the algae can then pull out the carbon dioxide and transform it into oxygen. Although not the prettiest site, the curtains are an innovative solution to reduce greenhouse gases. The pair are working on a more aesthetically pleasing design.

Ocean Sustainability

Algae are imperative to healthy oceans. Most animals in the ocean rely on algae either directly or indirectly as a food source. As autotrophs, plankton algae are at the bottom of the food chain. If their numbers drop, it can spell disaster all the way up the line to apex predators. Algae convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, which even fish need to breathe.

Like the lichen I mentioned earlier, algae participates in various symbiotic relationships with other organisms. One example is the mutually beneficial relationship between sea sponges and green algae. The algae lives on the surface of the sponge that protects it from predators. Here, it produces both oxygen and sugar the sea sponge feeds on.

Another relationship is that with coral reefs. By producing oxygen and sugars, algae speed up coral growth. With coral reefs deteriorating and bleaching around the globe, we need algae to save these havens of ocean biodiversity.

Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels like petroleum are non-renewable resources, and drilling for them causes harm to the environment. Oil spills are extremely damaging to ecosystems and are hard to clean up. However, algal biofuels could be a replacement for traditional fossil fuels.

Algae produce energy-rich oils called lipids which can be extracted to produce the biofuel. Scientists at Rochester Institute of Technology call the process “doubly green” since algae consume pathogens in the water and filter it while growing.

Algae can produce between 2000 and 5000 gallons of biofuel per acre per year. They can produce between 10 and 100 times more biofuel than other crops. The US is leading the way with algal biofuels with over 100 companies and the government investing billions.


While they can’t pick up litter off the street, algae can save the world by cleaning its water. It can also replace some of the litter through the production of compostable algae packaging.


As discussed, algae can filter out lots of unwanted substances from wastewater. They can remove 100% of ammonia, 88% of nitrate, and 99% of phosphate from wastewater. They also remove heavy metals, pesticides, organic and inorganic toxins, and pathogens. Algae can even remove radioactive materials from wastewater!

Microalgae have been used in biological wastewater treatment for over half a century and the process is widely recognized to be as effective as conventional systems. The process can take a few hours to a few days depending on the amount of nutrients to be removed. After treatment, the algae can be used for biofuel.

Sustainable Packaging

I’ve actually written an entire post about how natural substances can be used as sustainable packaging alternatives. Companies like Skipping Rocks Lab and Evo & Co. use seaweed to create compostable, edible, and customizable packaging solutions.

Skipping Rocks Lab designed a material called Notpla, which is used in the Oohos handed out at the London Marathon in 2019. The two companies have also designed sachets, food wraps, and takeaway tray liners using seaweed-based materials.

Learn more about these solutions by heading over to my Sustainable Packaging Alternatives post!

Algae for Humans

In addition to all these fancy technologies using algae, we can also do the simple thing and just eat it.


Records have shown humans have been eating algae since 500 BC, and today, 42 countries commercially cultivate macroalgae.

As discussed, algae is super-nutrient-rich, containing various vitamins, minerals, and good fats as well as a heap of protein. Algae is already used commonly in nutritional supplements. A 1978 study showed how algae improved the health of a malnourished infant.

One company hoping algae will be the next big food trend is iWi. The company uses long saltwater ponds to grow algae in the deserts of New Mexico. The company currently sells algae as nutritional supplements on Amazon, but they are also developing snacks and protein powders made from algae. They say the algae will not have much of a taste, not will the protein powder be green, so it can seamlessly be added to various products.

The problems with human consumption of algae lies with food safety regulations, as some algae contains toxins. There are many species approved for market, such as spirulina, and companies are using these species to pastas, breads, and even yogurts and ice cream.

In addition to benefits of eating algae ourselves, there are significant benefits to feeding it to livestock. The amount of land and freshwater resources used to produce animal products will significantly decrease. Algae is also cheaper than other forms of feed. Incorporating algae into livestock feed has been shown to improve the immune system and reproductive performance of animals, increased their body weight, and reduced cholesterol.

Finally, algae can replace artificial food dyes by acting as a food colorant. Algae can be used for greens, blues, and even orange (due to the carotenoids some species contain).


The last way algae can save the world is by conserving our water supply. The planet only has so much freshwater to sustain us all, and many people . By using algae on a large scale and reducing the use of other crops, we free up tons of freshwater. Due to its filtering abilities, algae can clean our water so it’s safer. Their role in purifying wastewater could also extend into our drinking water if recycled water for drinking is implemented in more locations.


With all of these uses and benefits, it’s clear how algae can save the world. We can clean our air and water, restore the health of our oceans, feed ourselves, and use it to replace fossil fuels. I’m positive algae will lead us into a greener future. What do you think?

Want to read more about algae? Check out these sources:

How Algae Can Save The World Algae covered rocks along the seashore in the late afternoon sun
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All About Our Energy orange sunset on a field of wind turbines that generate clean, renewable energy

All About Our Energy


Electricity powers our world, but how much do we actually know about where it comes from? What energy resources are we using to fuel our society, and what do they mean for our environment? How can we ensure a sustainable future without sacrificing the technology and comforts of our modern world?

Energy Stats – Questions Answered

How Much Energy Do We Use?

Our energy use has been steadily increasing for decades due to our ever-growing population and technological advancements (all those cell phones need charging!). The graph below from the Global Energy Statistic Yearbook 2019 shows how worldwide energy consumption has increased over 50% in under 40 years.

Worldwide Energy Consumption graph from the Global Energy Statistic Yearbook 2019
Credit: Enerdata

China and the US have been the main parties responsible for increases in energy consumption. China has been undergoing a massive economic boom for the past couple decades and has required more and more energy for its industry and transportation sectors. In fact, China has been the world’s #1 consumer of energy since 2009.

Our consumption of fossil fuels has grown exponentially since the Industrial Revolution. According to Our World in Data, global consumption of fossil fuels has increased over six-fold since the 1950s.

Where Does Our Energy Come From?

Despite the recent ushering in of an era of renewable energy, three quarters of the world’s energy consumption is still from non-renewable sources (fossil fuels). In the US, just under 2/3 of energy produced in 2018 was fossil fuels which include petroleum, natural gas, and coal. The table below shows the official breakdown by energy source.

Renewable energy, however, is gaining steam due to decreased costs and increased efficiency, as well as the push from environmentalists concerned about our use of finite natural resources like coal. The graph below is from the US Department of Energy’s International Energy Outlook 2017 and shows the upward trend of renewables and natural gas (now being touted by the industry as a cleaner alternative to oils and coal, but it is still finite and harmful to our planet) as well as the slow decline of coal.

As far as energy production is concerned, five states (Maine, Rhode Island, Delaware, Idaho, and Hawaii) have already switched to 100% renewables. Oregon is just a tiny bit behind at 99.8%. This does not mean, however, they are consuming 100% renewables.

Worldwide, China and the US are the top two countries using renewable energy with China skyrocketing past all other countries with over twice the gigawatt-hours used compared to second place US. Below is a list of the top 15 countries using renewables from the World Atlas.

World Atlas Top 15 Countries Using Renewable Energy Table
Credit: World Atlas

Where Are We Using Our Energy?

So now that we know just how much energy we are using and what sources it comes from, let’s look at where all that energy is being put to use. The US Energy Information Administration’s table below shows the breakdown of energy consumption by sector. The industrial and transportation sectors together are consistently consuming nearly 50% more energy than residential and commercial sectors.

The Global Energy Outlook also looked at energy use by sector, but combined residential and commercial into a “buildings” category. This graph below emphasizes how global industrial activities consume the lion’s share of energy and highlights the need for investment in and utilization of renewables.

With this knowledge, we will now take a deeper look at each of our main energy sources to learn more about their growth or decline, how they create electricity, and their respective environmental concerns.

Energy Sources – From Fossil Fuels To New Technologies

Although there are many more energy sources, this post will cover the most common: fossil fuels, nuclear, hydro, wind, and solar. This order mirrors the US breakdown of energy sources.

Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels are a large category containing fuels like oils, natural gas, coal, and other gases. These fuels are hydrocarbons formed in the earth’s crust from organic materials under pressure, which can be burned for heat or to power turbines to generate electricity. The rate of fossil fuel use has continued to increase despite environmental concerns and cheapening renewable energy sources.

Beyond Coal

While coal is the most abundant fossil fuel on earth, natural gas and petroleum have grown in popularity and overtook coal in the mid-1900s. Natural gas consumption has grown in recent years mainly due to China and US, and the US is the #1 producer of natural gas in the world. While burning coal and oil produces carbon dioxide, burning natural gas produces methane, a greenhouse gas 30 times worse than CO2.

Crude oil production increased 2% worldwide in 2018 and increased 16.5% in US alone. In that year, the US consumed 142.86 billion gallons of gas. Our World in Data has a ton of graphs breaking down our fossil fuel usage over the years and are definitely worth checking out.

Environmental Concerns

There are many problems with using fossil fuels. As a finite resource, at some point we will entirely run out of these resources. The processes by which fossil fuels are extracted harm the environment. For instance, fracking not only using a lot of water which gets polluted with chemicals and seeps into the environment, but it also makes areas more susceptible to earthquakes and releases methane into the atmosphere. Fracking, rotary drilling, and directional drilling make it easier to extract hard-to-obtain deposits, meaning as resources become scarce, companies will begin to rely more heavily on these processes.

The burning of fossil fuels also releases greenhouse gases, both CO2 and methane. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, “[a]tmospheric CO2 concentrations fluctuated between 275 and 290 parts per million by volume (ppmv) of dry air between 1000 CE and the late 18th century but increased to 316 ppmv by 1959 and rose to 412 ppmv in 2018“. The Department of Energy has stated that in the past two decades, nearly 75% of all human-caused emissions are from burning fossil fuels.

Nuclear Power

Nuclear is a tricky subject. While technically a zero emissions and very reliable source of energy, it does have a waste problem that is currently not solved and exposing the environment to radiation is a big concern. Some people are for nuclear and others are heavily against it, but it is clear the general public has a large misunderstanding of what nuclear is and isn’t. Let’s take a look.

Nuclear Power

Nuclear power has existed for over 60 years. In the US, nuclear power makes up about 20% of our energy and 55% of carbon-free energy. Nuclear is a very reliable resource because unlike solar and wind farms, nuclear power plants can work 24/7. The Nuclear Energy Institute says “wind farms require 360 times more land area to produce the same amount of electricity and solar photovoltaic plants require 75 times more space“.

Currently three states get over 50% of their power from nuclear: South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Illinois. Nationwide there are 98 reactors, but some are closing (such as the Plymouth nuclear plant in Massachusetts which shut down last year).

Power is generated through nuclear fission. Nuclear fission is the process of splitting atoms of uranium. Uranium is surrounded by water, and the reactor causes the atoms split and release heat. This energy heats the water and creates the steam which powers turbines that generate electricity.

Nuclear Waste

Contrary to popular belief, the “smoke” rising out of the iconic nuclear power plant towers is just that steam being released into the atmosphere. There are also no toxic barrels of glowing green goo. Nuclear waste is a super dense solid, and the entirety of the US’s nuclear waste from past 60 years could fit in a 10 foot deep football field.

A huge concern with nuclear power is the risk of radiation. Radioactive emissions can enter both the air and the water and pose a serious health concern. Although plants are designed such that radiation cannot reach someone outside the plant, nuclear power plants are required to check for radiation around a facility in soils and bodies of water for contamination. Despite these regulations, nuclear power plants are not required to give advance notification to the public when radioactive materials are transported from the plant.

Scientists agree the best solution for nuclear waste is to bury it. Because the US has yet to establish a permanent holding facility, nuclear waste is stored in multiple temporary facilities across the country. Despite Congress designating Yucca Mountain (100 miles outside of Las Vegas, Nevada) as the nation’s permanent nuclear waste holding facility way back in 1987, the facility has yet to be licensed and is still a contested solution to the nuclear waste problem.

Temporary facilities cost tax payers millions of dollars, but shipping all the 536 tons of waste to Yucca Mountain would be no easy task. It would take decades to transport everything by rail through the heart of Las Vegas to the facility, and some scientists worry the waste may contaminate groundwater of surrounding communities.


Hydropower is the oldest renewable energy source and is by far the most popular. While China uses over three times as much as the US, hydropower accounts for around 7% of energy produced in the US. Washington state, however, gets around 75% of its electricity just from hydropower. Hydropower can be split into two categories: traditional hydropower (dams) and new hydrokinetic power (tidal power technologies).

Traditional Hydropower

Traditional hydropower uses a dam or other diversion structure to harness the flow of water for electricity generation. The most iconic dam is the Hoover Dam on the border between Nevada and Arizona. Constructed as part of the Public Works Administration during the Great Depression, the Hoover Dam produces around 4 billion kWh per year, enough to serve 1.3 million people in the area.

Although hydropower itself doesn’t contribute to air pollution, chemical runoff, or toxic waste, the construction of dams can negatively affect the environment. Dams can prevent fish migration, slow river flow, trap materials like logs, stones, sediment, and heat water which can kill wildlife. Dams can also change the landscape upstream and downstream by causing upstream flooding, creating upstream reservoirs, and reducing downstream flow volume.

Hydrokinetic Energy Technologies

According to the Department of Energy, “[m]arine and hydrokinetic energy technologies convert the energy of waves, tides, and river and ocean currents into electricity“. Hydrokinetic technologies include machines that harness the up and down motion of waves to move a piston to power a turbine, overtopping devices where water breaks over a barrier and drains out at the bottom powering a turbine, or an underwater turbine harnessing the flow of water much like wind turbines harness the flow of air. Unfortunately, these technologies are still in an infancy stage and require lots of funding before being they are able to be applied on a larger scale.

Wind Power

Although wind is slightly behind hydropower in terms of production in the US, wind power has the largest capacity of all renewable resources (enough to power 25 million homes!). There are utility-scale wind farms in 41 states, and wind power distribution is in all 50 states and in the territories.

It is projected that wind will make up 10% of energy mix nationwide this year as coal drops to 23%. In fact, wind will actually beat out coal power in Texas. According to the Department of Energy, “[w]ind energy provides more than 10% of total electricity generation in 14 states, and more than 30% in Kansas, Iowa, and Oklahoma“.

In 2016, Rhode Island became the first state in the nation to build an offshore wind farm. With regards to my home state of Massachusetts, Governor Baker signed into law the requirement for a study for the “necessity, benefits, and costs” of offshore wind in Massachusetts by July 31, 2019. This study recommended and requires electricity distributors to solicit another 1,600 MW of offshore wind on top of the 1,600 MW of offshore wind authorized under The Act to Promote Energy Diversity in Massachusetts in 2016. Currently 45 towns have large-scale wind turbines in Massachusetts.

The overall capacity of all wind turbines installed worldwide by the end of 2018 reached 597 Gigawatt.” There has been major recent growth in China, Brazil, and India as well as African markets. China’s capacity is over 200 GW, followed by the US (96 GW), Germany (59 GW), India (35 GW), and the UK (20.7 GW).


Although we may think of solar as something relatively new, the first photovoltaic solar cell was invented by Bell Laboratories back in 1954. Right away, NASA began using to power its satellites like Vanguard 1.

Solar is the most abundant energy resource on earth, and demand for solar power has increased over 23 times in just the past 8 years. The cost of a PV system in US has decreased nearly 60% in the past decade. Today there are over 2 million individual setups ranging from home roofs to utility-scale solar farms throughout the US which are enough to power over 13 million homes.

There are actually three main solar power technologies: photovoltaic (PV), solar heating and cooling (SHC), and concentrating solar power (CSP). Here is a quick breakdown:

  • Photovoltaics: “Electrons in [semiconductors] are freed by solar energy and can be induced to travel through an electrical circuit, powering electrical devices or sending electricity to the grid.”
  • Solar Heating and Cooling: “Solar heating & cooling (SHC) technologies collect the thermal energy from the sun and use this heat to provide hot water, space heating, cooling, and pool heating for residential, commercial, and industrial applications.”
  • Concentrating Solar Power: “Concentrating solar power (CSP) plants use mirrors to concentrate the sun’s energy to drive traditional steam turbines or engines that create electricity.”

Energy Use Tips – Doing Your Part To Conserve Resources

So what can you do to conserve energy and reduce your dependence on fossil fuels? Let’s look at some behavioral changes, product replacements, and activism to get you started.

Behavioral Changes

In 2010, 72 percent of the energy used in the average US household went to water heating and space heating and cooling. To reduce this energy, we need to step a little outside our comfort zones.

  • Take shorter showers
  • Take cooler showers
  • Wash laundry on cold or warm
  • Wash dishes in cooler water
  • Wear more clothes and blankets in the winter instead of turning the heat up
  • Open the windows at night in summer to cool the house
  • Use curtains to block the sun in the summer and keep out the cold air in the winter
  • Use fans over A/C
  • Spend time in the basement during the summers
  • Use draft stoppers under doors and around windows in winter
  • Have friends over in winter to warm up the house

In addition to heating and cooling tips, here are some other energy savings behaviors.

  • Turn off DVR box and other appliances that suck energy when sitting idle
  • Turn off lights when not needed and use natural lighting when you can
  • Schedule your day around sunlight hours
  • Switch your energy provider to one that uses renewable energy
  • Place electronics in power save mode
  • Dim the brightness on your phone and don’t leave Bluetooth on
  • Buy local to reduce the energy for transportation of that item
  • Drive less and bundle shopping trips into a multi-stop loop
  • Take the stairs over taking the elevator when you can manage a couple flights of stairs
  • Find low-energy hobbies like knitting, reading, or exercising to replace things like video game and watching TV
  • Take vacations closer to home or choose to have a stay-cation

More behavioral changes and other tips for reducing energy waste and physical waste can be found here!

Product Replacements

Items are becoming more energy efficient every year so when it comes time to replace an item, do your research to find the best one for your budget.

  • Opt for Energy Star-rated products (stove/oven, refrigerators, microwaves, laptops, etc.) and WaterSense fixtures (shower heads, toilets, faucets)
  • Line dry the laundry
  • Look for products that can multitask (e.g. a video game console can also be a DVD player, some blenders have a food processor attachment)
  • Don’t replace items you don’t really use once they eventually break
  • Buy rechargeable batteries
  • Use a solar-powered cellphone charger


Getting involved in your community and in politics can help spur larger change beyond your household use.

  • Write to companies to encourage better energy use practices
  • Vote in local, regional, and national elections
  • Write your politicians to provide your opinion on energy
  • Join an organization like Sierra Club
  • Join a climate protest


With a growing global population and the rise of technology, our demand for energy will continue to increase. Our best bet is to source our energy from renewables and use it efficiently.

What other ways can we reduce our dependence on electricity and energy? What surprised you the most about our energy use? Let me know in the comments!

All About Our Energy orange sunset on a field of wind turbines that generate clean, renewable energy
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Dishwashing v. Handwashing A load of newly cleaned dishes sitting in an open dishwasher

Dishwashing v. Handwashing: Can I Beat The Dishwasher?


Contrary to popular belief, many studies have proven that using a dishwasher is better than handwashing dishes. These studies cite comparisons of water and energy usage and the emissions from that usage to show how dishwashers are more efficient. I’m here to challenge the results of these dishwashing v. handwashing tests.

These studies fail to look at the broader picture of dishwashing v. handwashing. There are many more factors that should be considered: manufacturing and transportation emissions, end of life disposal, environmental effects, and even just practicality of always being able to fully fill a dishwasher.

In this post, I will not only take a closer look at these studies and examine what factors they conveniently exclude, but I will also perform my own experiment to see how efficiently I can wash a dishwasher’s worth of dishes by hand.

Study Says The Dishwasher Is Better

The average dishwasher uses 6 gallons of water for its entire cycle. Energy Star-rated dishwashers use 4 gallons. The water is heated by an electrical heating element in the dishwasher to around 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

In contrast, a normal kitchen faucet pours out 2 gallons per minute when fully open, and household water heaters are usually set to a max of 120°F (anything above this can scald/burn skin). So one would think there’s no way to wash all those dishes in just 2 to 3 minutes with the same effectiveness as an hour-long (or longer) cycle of the dishwasher.

Most articles online on the dishwashing v. handwashing debate are based on one of two things: water usage or monetary cost. Which is cheaper? Which is faster? Or which uses less water? There seems to be a shortage, however, of studies on which is more environmentally friendly (beyond water usage).

Bonn University Study

The same 2009 Bonn University study pops up frequently as “proof” that dishwashing is better than handwashing in multiple categories. It has been the only study I can find that actually performed an experiment to compare the two methods.

In this experiment, people from across Europe were left in a kitchen setup to clean 12 place settings of dishes in whatever manner they usually wash at home. The water use, energy use, soap use, time, and even “cleaning index” were all compared across nationality and then aggregated and compared to the average dishwasher. The results show the dishwasher beating out humans in every category.

The results of this experiment concluded the following averages for handwashing 12 place settings:

  • Water usage: 103 liters (27.2 gallons)
  • Energy usage: 2.5 kWh
  • Soap usage: 35 g (1.2 oz)
  • Time: 79 minutes

Here’s how those numbers compared to a modern dishwasher:


The cleaning index referenced in the table above is a measure of how clean the dishes were after washing. A higher number means a cleaner dish, so this experiment concluded dishwashers using a normal cycle did about the same as a person, and an intensive cycle resulted in a cleaner dish.

So it seems the dishwasher is both more water efficient (1/6 of handwashing) and energy efficient (2/5 of handwashing). It also is faster in terms of how long the person spends on the dishes (only loading and unloading). But is this study telling the whole truth about the water and energy usage?

Research Shows The Study Ignored Important Factors

What’s missing from this comparison? The study never looks at carbon or dioxin emissions caused by production, transportation emissions from factory to store to home, and the effects of disposal of the dishwasher versus a sink in its analysis.

Carbon Emissions

Production, Transportation, and Energy Use

To take a closer look at what’s missing in the dishwashing v. handwashing debate, let’s look at emissions. An assessment in Appliance Magazine from 2003 states it takes 4,300 MJ to manufacture a dishwasher. This is 1,200 kWh, which converts to 1,608 lbs of CO2.

In addition to production emissions, it takes about 18 MJ/cycle to run a dishwasher. According to, a household dishwasher is used 215 times per year on average. With a 15 year lifespan, the average dishwasher will emit over 21,600 pounds of CO2.

Emissions from transportation are hard to calculate due to the many unknown factors: distances traveled by component materials as well as the final product, transportation modes, weight of load on each trip, fuel efficiency, etc.

According to my research, it is highly likely for a US dishwasher to be produced domestically in the US using a majority of US-made components. This is pleasantly surprising in light of the rise of the global economy pushing manufacturing overseas, but there are still carbon emissions involved.

Since all houses have a sink no matter what, I decided its production was negligible (versus a dishwasher which is an optional appliance that some homes do not have). We can still look at the carbon emissions from the water.

Water and Heating Water

I couldn’t find something specific to the US, but I doubt there’s much difference. This article states 0.59 grams of CO2 are required to produce one liter of tap water in the UK. This converts to 0.005 lbs of CO2/gallon.

This worksheet on the cost of heating water can be used to calculate that a gas tank heater at only 59% efficiency requires 847 BTUs to heat a gallon of water from 60°F to 120°F. This converts to 0.25 kWh/heated gallon or 0.34 lbs of CO2/heated gallon.

This worksheet does conflict, however, with Treehugger’s calculations for heating from 60°F to 120°F that show “heating the water with gas for each 2-gallon load emits about .17 pounds of carbon dioxide.” They use a higher efficiency and higher kWh to CO2 conversion, but that would result in 0.38 pounds per gallon using the worksheet so I’m not too sure who to believe. The Treehugger article also says heating with a tankless water heater results in 0.07 lbs of CO2/gallon.

Total Emissions

The Guardian put out an article listing the carbon footprints of various washing methods:

  • Almost zero CO2e: by hand in cold water
  • 540g CO2e: by hand, using water sparingly and not too hot
  • 770g CO2e: in a dishwasher at 55°C (131°F)
  • 990g CO2e: in a dishwasher at 65°C (149°F)
  • 8000g CO2e: by hand, with extravagant use of water

In this case, handwashing is the greener choice so long as you are careful about how you wash (not leaving the water running, mindful of temperature, etc.). The Guardian does make a case that water must be very hot or else bacteria persists. They provide a statistic but have no source. I searched around and this statistic popped up on many other sites, but not one linked a source so I have no idea where it came from.

Note: CO2e is a carbon dioxide equivalent which converts the effects of other greenhouse gases like methane into the equivalent amount of CO2.


Dishwashers are made using several types of materials, the main component being a type of plastic called polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Plastics are made from oil, a non-renewable resource with harmful extraction processes.

Due to the chlorine used to create PVC, PVC releases harmful chemicals called dioxins into the air during production and incineration at end of life. Dioxins disrupt biological processes (hormones, development, immune and endocrine systems) and are carcinogens.

There have been large reductions in dioxin emissions over the past few decades due to stricter standards in developed countries, but dioxins are still a large problem in other countries like China. A 2007 study in China showed people who lived near e-waste recycling facilities had much higher concentrations of dioxins in their bodies than other people.

Dioxins released into the environment are long-lasting and can enter the food chain. Since humans are at the top of the chain, they consume higher concentrations of dioxins.

PVC itself is a highly durable material that does not easily break down in the environment. Like all plastic, it will degrade over centuries into smaller and smaller pieces, but it will never truly return to organic components.

Incinerating PVC also releases hydrochloric acid, lead, and cadmium. Lead and cadmium are found in the ash after burning, which gets sent to landfill and could potentially leak into groundwater.

Other Considerations

How important is hot water? Some websites will say hot water (such as that of a dishwasher) is the only way to properly clean plates. In fact, The Guardian’s article on the CO2 emissions of handwashing and using a dishwasher actually says “(but the plates aren’t clean)” if you use cold water to wash.

Most people can only tolerate 110°F for short periods of time, and the EPA recommends boiling water for 1 to 3 minutes to effectively purify water of bacteria. Although hot water helps activate soap/detergent to remove stuck on food, oils, and grease that can harbor bacteria, the temperature of water used either by the dishwasher or the sink itself does not make much of a difference in killing bacteria.

There’s also the practicality of needing an hour-or-more-long, superhot cycle to wash a dish. Most dishes, in my opinion, are not filthily dirty with bacteria and grime that they would require the dishwasher’s intensity (you did literally just eat off the thing, didn’t you?). A quick rinse to wash away some crumbs or scrubbing and soaping away food bits with warm water seems like a much better alternative than leaving the dish to wait around until you fill up the dishwasher and run a cycle.

The Bonn University study also specifically looks at how a group of random people do dishes instead of people who are trying to lower their environmental impacts. For the sake of showing in the average case what method is better, that’s fine. But could conscious consumers use less water and energy than a dishwasher?

Dishwashing v. Handwashing Experiment

It’s experiment time! Many articles and studies say people usually use way more water than a dishwasher does. They make it sound hard to come even close. So I wanted to see if I could wash a dishwasher’s worth of dishes by hand using less water than the dishwasher would. If I failed, I wanted to measure by how much. I also wanted to document my washing process to share how I limit my water usage. As a side note, I do not have a dishwasher in my apartment so I must wash all dishes by hand no matter the outcome of this experiment.

Thanks to AP Chemistry in high school, I still mostly remember how to fully write up an experiment. Enjoy the nerdiness!


To find out how many dishes you can wash with less water than a dishwasher uses.


If handwashing a set of dishes comparable to what a dishwasher is said to hold uses less than 6 gallons of water, then it is better than dishwashing.


  • Scrub brush
  • Dish soap
  • Pot for holding water (and to wash, as shown below)
  • Dirty dishes
    • 1 pot (4 qt)
    • 1 large plate
    • 4 small plates
    • 1 short glass
    • 1 tall glass
    • 2 metal straws
    • 1 bread pan (9×5)
    • 4 bowls
    • 1 ice cream bowl
    • 1 glass bowl
    • 4 small containers (1.25 c)
    • 1 tiny container (0.5 c)
    • 1 sandwich container (3 c)
    • 3 big containers (5 c)
    • 1 tiny bowl
    • 1 small lid
    • 4 big lids
    • 1 spatula
    • 1 paring knife
    • 7 butter knives
    • 13 spoons
    • 5 small forks
    • 4 single serve yogurt cups
    • 1 takeout container with lid (around 4 c)
    • 1 big yogurt container (32 oz)


  • Place pot under faucet
  • Quickly wet any dry dishes allowing used water to be captured in pot
  • Soap all the dishes with soap using the scrub brush
  • Rinse dishes under faucet and let all water drain into pot
  • Record how many times the pot fills with water before all dishes have been washed
  • Calculate total amount of water used
  • Compare to a dishwasher (scale to a similar number of dishes)


Total Water Usage

I filled up the big pot approximately 2.5 times, but I also need to add on additional water for all the water that the dishes were soaking in while sitting in the sink waiting for me to wash them. This would probably be another 1.5 gallons (pot-fulls), leaving me at 4 gallons.

Scaled water usage: I washed over the 54 individual pieces the EPA says a dishwasher holds. I washed a bunch of random stuff like recyclables and containers, but I did 25 pieces of silverware, 6 bowls, 5 plates, 2 glasses, and a serving utensil. I believe all the other stuff I washed definitely counts as at least the missing 2 bowls, 3 plates, 6 glasses, and 5 serving utensils.

So in total, I used around 4 gallons. This is an assumption though since I couldn’t/didn’t know how to measure the water used to rinse and soak the dishes each time we put more in the sink prior to washing. Despite this, it’s assuredly less than the 6 gallons an average dishwasher uses.

Water Temperature

I couldn’t hold a constant temperature because I turn the water off and on repeatedly. It ranged from cool to hot, but I tried to avoid really hot as much as possible.

Soap Usage

I don’t know how I would have measured soap usage since I don’t have a kitchen scale, but I believe I am more of a heavy soap user.

Total Time

The total time I spent washing dishes was about 1 hour.

Conclusion – Who’s The Real Winner?

From water use to energy use to carbon emissions, I think it’s safe to say I beat the dishwasher. From the standpoint of convenience, the dishwasher wins. If you are very concerned about hygiene, the dishwasher may get your dishes cleaner.

If you’re stuck doing the dishes (and we all have to handwash some things like pots and recyclables), try either my method of soaping then rinsing by turning the faucet on and off with each dish, or filling up separate soapy water and rinsing water bins/sides of the sink to minimize water use. I personally don’t think the hot water makes much of a difference, but to each their own.

If you have a dishwasher and want to use it, go right ahead, especially if you don’t want to be constantly thinking about saving water and energy while still getting the dishes as clean as they can be. If you have a shorter or eco cycle, use that over the more intensive washes.

Although I believe I’ve found the winner in the dishwashing v. handwashing debate, make the best choice that works in your situation. What works for me may not work for you, and that’s ok!

Who do you think the winner is? Is there anything I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!

Dishwashing v. Handwashing A load of newly cleaned dishes sitting in an open dishwasher
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What Does China’s Recycling Ban Really Mean large bales of recycling stacked up awaiting shipment overseas for processing

What Does China’s Recycling Ban Really Mean?


Did you know if you live in a developed country, most of your recycling is actually sent to other countries for processing? It didn’t use to be this way, but with the advent of a global economy and China’s extremely fast growth, exporting recyclables became much more profitable than recycling them domestically. But now China’s recycling ban has halted imports and left countries drowning in stockpiled recyclable material.

By 2016, China imported over half of all imported recyclable waste, but in 2017, China announced it would start enforcing stricter rules on its recycling imports, making it much harder and even unprofitable to export recycling there. So what does China’s recycling ban mean for all of us?

This ban took effect in 2018, and now many countries are struggling with what to do with all their recycling. Many municipalities have begun shutting down curbside recycling programs and sending truckloads of materials to landfill because they have no other profitable way to get rid of them.

Unfortunately, recycling is still a business, not a public good. This means recyclers will chose the most profitable option, even if that isn’t necessarily what’s in the public’s (or the environment’s) best interest. We’ll look at some possible solutions at the end of this post which can help confront the millions of tons of recyclable material we are used to sending elsewhere.

Global Recycling

Recycling as we know it today (curbside programs and bottle return machines) was born in the late 1960s due to the environmental movement and increased awareness about the effects of the disposable lifestyle introduced in the 1950s. Although during the 1970s and 80s there were huge relative increases in recycling rates, today’s rates are still pretty low. The US and UK recycle about 34% and 39% of the waste they generate respectively. Only 9% of plastic is recycled today.

In the beginning, recycling was a domestic industry, but in the 1990s China and other countries (mostly in Asia) began buying up larger and larger amounts of recyclable waste. The recycled materials boosted China’s manufacturing industry and led to its quick rise to power on the global stage. China made recycling easily profitable, and many countries began sending more and more material overseas, driving recycling to become a $200 billion industry.

Before China decided to impose bans and stricter standards on the waste it imports, the nation bought the majority of global recyclable waste. The US exported 1/3 of all its recycling, and half of that went to China. The UK exported 2/3 of its plastic waste directly to China. The EU sent 60% of plastic waste and 13% of paper waste to China for recycling.

U.S. total scrap exports to china by real dollar value graph 1996 to 2013
Credit: PIERS

In total, China was responsible for importing well over half of all global plastic waste and half of all global paper exports. But in 2017, China began rolling back its recycling purchases.

China’s Recycling Ban

What Is The Ban?

China’s recycling ban on importing foreign waste is actually two different policies. The first began in 2013 to enforce regulations passed in 2006 and 2010. This policy, called “Green Fence”, increases standards on imported waste by lowering the acceptable contamination percentage. In July 2017, China dropped the percentage to just 0.3% but increased it back up to 0.5% by October of that year. The University of Georgia has estimated that these policies could displace 111 million metric tons of plastic waste by 2030.

China announced the second policy, called “National Sword”, in 2017 which bans 24 different types of solid waste materials. Some of these materials are PET drink bottles, plastic containers, and mixed paper. Mixed paper includes paper products like magazines and catalogs. This policy also cracked down on permit fraud and the smuggling in of recycling waste to China.

China has also imposed higher quality control standards for all other wastes it hasn’t yet banned, but these policies are just the beginning. The country began a total phase-out of waste imports that started last year.

Why Ban Recycling Imports?

Now why would China suddenly refuse foreign waste (something that created a huge industry and led to the nation’s economic boom in the past decades)? They have cited both environmental and public health concerns.

China has no fully-developed waste management system so it has struggled to handle all the imported waste. The recycling facilities are not well-monitored and pay very low wages to workers workers. These workers must manually sort through all the material and remove non-recyclable pieces. They are exposed to toxic chemicals like mercury and lead. China has shut down many facilities because they failed inspections.

In addition to these issues, China has also reduced its need to import foreign material. Its quick rise as an economic powerhouse has caused an increase in domestic recycling, an increase in virgin material use, and an increase in domestic plastic and paper consumption.


Effects Abroad

This graphic from National Geographic shows the bottleneck effect China’s recycling ban has had on waste exports. From February 2017 to February 2018, there was a 557,000 metric ton drop in exports to China. Following the ban, over 50 countries have fully halted exports to China. This constriction has led to many problems in the countries that used to send their waste to China.

Other countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia have begun importing more waste as a result of China’s pullout, but this is not a solution to the problem. These countries do not have the buying power, the infrastructure, or capacity to fully takeover for China.

Effects At Home

A New York Times report from May of last year has shown that hundreds of recycling programs in America are collapsing due to the inability to do anything with the waste. Because recycling is a business, facilities have stockpiled material in warehouses and parking lots while trying to find a buyer that would turn a profit only to fail and instead incinerate the material or send it to landfill. They have increased recycling fees and even shut down or stopped collecting in certain cities.

Incinerating recyclable plastics forces an increase in virgin plastics, but burning plastics is also very harmful to the environment. Dioxins get released into the atmosphere, which can cause cancer. Incineration also contributes to global warming, and waste to energy plants aren’t as green as they might appear. An article in the Atlantic says “[s]tudies have found that they release more harmful chemicals, such as mercury and lead, into the air per unit of energy than do coal plants“.

Sending more and more waste to landfill has also led to an increase in landfill fees. Recyclers have little other choice but to pay them since recycling is even more expensive or impossible. Developed countries that have grown used to shipping recycling overseas do not have proper domestic facilities to handle the material themselves.

Here are a few examples of how China’s ban has affected American cities:

  • Broadway, VA – Suspended recycling program due to inability to cover a 63% cost increase.
  • Blaine County, ID – Stopped mixed paper collected and sent 35 bales to landfill.
  • Fort Edward, NY – Suspended recycling program and admitted to sending recycling to incinerators for months prior to shut down.
  • Akron, OH – Suspended glass recycling program

If you’re in the US, you can check out how the ban has affected your state by searching through Waste Dive’s collection of recycling impacts in all 50 states. In my state of Massachusetts, there have been higher recycling fees, material pile-ups, and canceled contracts. Some places have ended single-stream recycling in favor of old school sorted recycling to reduce the risk of contamination.


Although there may be no magic solution to solving our global recycling crisis overnight, there are options for industry to create a more sustainable future and actions you can take today to help combat the issue.

Because many countries have relied on global recycling, they do not have proper facilities. By building and rebuilding domestic recycling facilities, we can start taking responsibility for our waste instead of pushing it somewhere else. Recycling budgets must increase so domestic facilities can keep operating.

According to the National Waste and Recycling Association, around 25% of material placed in recycling bins is contaminated. To improve the quality of our recycling waste, we may need to revert back to a sorted system instead of the single-stream system in many municipalities today. Single-stream recycling increases the quantity of recycled material because people don’t need to put in much effort so will recycle more things, but it greatly decreases the quality because these items are too dirty or not recyclable in the first place.

The public must get educated on what they can and cannot recycle to reduce contamination and quicken the sorting process. Check out my post called What Can I Recycle and Where? for a quick guide.

Robot sorting machines can go through material much faster than humans and could provide a better end product (reduced contamination).

Since 89% of exported plastics are single-use food packaging, companies should move toward less packaging, reusable packaging, and/or compostable packaging. A tax on plastic waste has also been proposed as a way to discourage waste. Pushing for heightened corporate social responsibility (CSR) will put an end to consumers being responsible for and dealing with the effects of the poor choices producers make.


Do you have any other ideas for how we can tackle our recycling problem in light of China’s recycling ban? Have you seen the effects of the ban in your area? Leave a comment below!

What Does China’s Recycling Ban Really Mean large bales of recycling stacked up awaiting shipment overseas for processing
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2020 Democratic Candidates And The Environment voter holds American flag high ready to vote for pro-environment candidate

2020 Democratic Candidates & The Environment – Part 2


NOTE: This is a 2-part post. Part 1 covers topics 1 through 6, and Part 2 covers topics 7 through 13. You are reading Part 2. Read Part 1 here.

Ready to learn more about what the top 2020 democratic candidates have to say about protecting our environment? Part 2 will cover topics beyond energy and industry as we look at topics 7 through 13.

Again, I looked through the campaign sites of the top five 2020 democratic candidates. I limited my research to environmental policy and sorted quotes into the following 13 topics:

  1. Energy Sector
  2. Transportation Sector
  3. Fossil Fuel Industry
  4. Other Industry and Manufacturing
  5. Agriculture and Farming
  6. Infrastructure and Buildings
  7. GHG Emissions and Pollution Mitigation
  8. Public Lands and Conservation
  9. Environmental Justice and Equity
  10. Disaster Relief
  11. Diplomacy and Trade
  12. Government and Military
  13. Other Policies, Plans, and Info

The order of candidates in this post will be Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Michael Bloomberg, and Pete Buttigieg. This follows the current polling order. I imposed a 5-quote limit per candidate per topic. Some candidates did not reach this limit in every category.

Let’s get started with GHG Emissions and Pollution Mitigation!

GHG Emissions and Pollution Mitigation

Joe Biden

  1. “Ensure the U.S. achieves a 100% clean energy economy and net-zero emissions no later than 2050”
  2. “Biden shares the Carbon Capture Coalition’s goal ‘to make CCUS a widely available, cost-effective, and rapidly scalable solution to reduce carbon emissions to meet mid-century climate goals.’ Toward this end, he will double down on federal investments and enhance tax incentives for CCUS [Carbon capture, use, and storage].”
  3. “Requiring aggressive methane pollution limits for new and existing oil and gas operations.”
  4. “Embrace the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, adding momentum to curbing hydrofluorocarbons, an especially potent greenhouse gas, which could deliver a 0.5 degree Celsius reduction in global warming by mid-century.”
  5. “Ensure the U.S. achieves a 100% clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions no later than 2050.”

Bernie Sanders

  1. “In order to ensure we reach our carbon pollution emissions goals, the EPA will, under the Clean Air Act, regulate carbon dioxide, methane, and hydrofluorocarbons.”
  2. “We will invest $238 billion to clean up Superfund sites and $150 billion to clean up and revitalize Brownfields, and other areas and communities that have been polluted by the fossil fuel, chemical and mining industries.”
  3. “[C]omplete decarbonization of the economy by 2050 at latest”

Elizabeth Warren

From Environmental Justice

  1. “Reinstitute the Superfund Waste Tax”
  2. “[T]riple the Superfund tax, generating needed revenue to clean up the mess.”

Michael Bloomberg

From 100% Clean Power and Communities First

  1. “Mike Bloomberg commits to propelling the country to full decarbonization as soon as humanly possible and before 2050, and slashing emissions by 50% across the entire U.S. economy in ten years.”
  2. “Reverse Trump rollbacks of clean air, water, health and safety, and waste rules that expose all Americans to dangerous levels of pollution from these sources”

From Clean Buildings

  1. “As president, Mike will cut carbon pollution economy-wide in the U.S. by 50% by 2030 and put us on the pathway to full decarbonization before mid-century.”
  2. “Invest in R&D to advance technologies that can capture carbon from the atmosphere and transform it into valuable building products such as steel and concrete.”
  3. “Ramp up appliance efficiency standards and health-related pollution restrictions, including by taking carbon pollution into account, to shift to zero-pollution standards for new appliances and equipment as fast as possible, consistent with 2025.”

Pete Buttigieg

From Climate Change

  1. “[W]e will enact a price on carbon and use the revenue to send rebates to Americans”

From Mobilizing America: Rising to the Climate Challenge

  1. “We will develop a new CarbonStar program to provide consumers with information and rebates on products that have a lower carbon footprint”
  2. “We will enact rules that sharply curb methane emissions”
  3. “We will sign an executive order mandating that any new material the federal government uses or pays for to construct buildings, roads, bridges, or other infrastructure, must be under a specified level of carbon emissions”
  4. “Deploy at least 1 gigaton of annual CO2 removal capacity by 2040”

Public Lands and Conservation

Joe Biden

  1. [C]onserving 30% of America’s lands and waters by 2030.”
  2. “[P]ermanently protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other areas… banning new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters, modifying royalties to account for climate costs, and establishing targeted programs to enhance reforestation and develop renewables on federal lands and waters with the goal of doubling offshore wind by 2030.”

Bernie Sanders

  1. “Investing in conservation and public lands to heal our soils, forests, and prairie lands. We will reauthorize and expand the Civilian Conservation Corps and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Corps to provide good paying jobs building green infrastructure.”
  2. “Bernie is committed to providing a total of $1.34 trillion to ensure that all Americans have access to urban, suburban and rural recreational green space that are vital to our national heritage and our country’s tradition of recreation and conservation.”
  3. “Invest in green infrastructure and public lands conservation by reinstating the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)… We will invest $171 billion in reauthorizing and expanding the CCC”
  4. “We will spend $900 million to permanently fund the LWCF [Land and Water Conservation Fund]”
  5. “We will perform more than $25 billion of repairs and maintenance on roads, buildings, utility systems, and other structures and facilities across the National Park System.”

Elizabeth Warren

From Tackling the Climate Crisis Head On

  1. “She’ll fully fund our public land management agencies to eliminate the infrastructure and maintenance backlog in her first term, and make Land and Water Conservation Fund spending mandatory to ensure that we continue to preserve lands for conservation and recreation. And she’ll jumpstart a 21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps to create job opportunities for thousands of young Americans caring for our natural resources”

From Protecting Our Public Lands

  1. “That’s why on my first day as president, I will sign an executive order that says no more drilling — a total moratorium on all new fossil fuel leases, including for drilling offshore and on public lands.”
  2. “[M]ake Land and Water Conservation Fund spending mandatory to ensure that we continue to preserve and enhance public lands for conservation and recreation.”

From Honoring and Empowering Tribal Nations and Indigenous Peoples

  1. “As President, I’ll expand federally protected land that is important to tribes and protect historic monuments and sacred sites from companies that see it as just another place to drill or mine.”
  2. “[R]estore protections to Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and any other national monuments targeted by this Administration. I will also push for legislative action to save Oak Flat from copper mining and protect Chaco Canyon and the surrounding region from mineral development”

Michael Bloomberg

From 100% Clean Power and Communities First

  1. “Establish a moratorium on all new fossil fuel leases on federal lands.”

Pete Buttigieg

From Mobilizing America: Rising to the Climate Challenge

  1. “We will promote conservation of forests and grasslands through voluntary conservation programs, tax incentives, and the carbon sequestration market”

Environmental Justice and Equity

Joe Biden

  1. “Altering local regulations to eliminate sprawl and allow for denser, more affordable housing near public transit would cut commute times for many of the country’s workers while decreasing their carbon footprint.”
  2. “He will make it a priority for all agencies to engage in community-driven approaches to develop solutions for environmental injustices”
  3. “Biden will direct his EPA and Justice Department to pursue these cases to the fullest extent permitted by law and, when needed, seek additional legislation as needed to hold corporate executives personally accountable”
  4. “Ensure access to safe drinking water for all communities.”
  5. “Ensure that communities harmed by climate change and pollution are the first to benefit from the Clean Economy Revolution.”

Bernie Sanders

  1. “$40 billion Climate Justice Resiliency Fund”
  2. “Expanding the climate justice movement” so it “prioritizes young people, workers, indigenous peoples, communities of color, and other historically marginalized groups”
  3. “[E]stablish an Office of Climate Resiliency for People with Disabilities.”
  4. “Update permitting rules that allow polluters to target poor communities for polluting infrastructure.”
  5. “Promote urban sustainability initiatives to improve the environmental and social conditions of low-income neighborhoods and communities of color without rendering those neighborhoods inaccessible for future residents of limited economic means.”

Elizabeth Warren

From Environmental Justice

  1. “Improve environmental equity mapping” to “identify cumulative environmental health disparities and climate vulnerabilities and cross-reference that data with other indicators of socioeconomic health.”
  2. “I’ll transform the Council on Environmental Quality into a Council on Climate Action with a broader mandate, including making environmental justice a priority”
  3. “invest in land management, particularly near the most vulnerable communities, supporting forest restoration, lowering fire risk, and creating jobs all at once.”
  4. “We will establish a National Commission on Disability Rights and Disasters, ensure that federal disaster spending is ADA compliant, and support people with disabilities in disaster planning.”

From Honoring and Empowering Tribal Nations and Indigenous Peoples

  1. “Conversations about physical infrastructure must also include serious engagement with the unique threat of climate change to Native and indigenous peoples.”

Michael Bloomberg

From 100% Clean Power and Communities First

  1. “Centralize planning of environmental justice from the White House by codifying the existing National Environmental Justice Advisory Council.”

From Clean Buildings

  1. “Increase funding for the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), the federal lead-hazard reduction programs, and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), so that they are fully funded, and ensure that those programs encourage not only energy efficiency but also prioritize health and safety, as well as address accessibility for disabled people.”

From Clean Transportation

  1. “Mike will prioritize underserved communities for transit improvements, develop programs to switch trucks and buses from diesel to electric, and provide financial assistance to encourage trading in older vehicles for electric ones or for transit vouchers.”

Pete Buttigieg

From Mobilizing America: Rising to the Climate Challenge

  1. “Establish next-generation ‘Regional Resilience Hubs’ to help communities” which will be “supplemented with $5 billion in annual Resilient America Grants”

From Resilient Communities: A New Disaster Preparedness Approach

  1. “We will establish next-generation Regional Resilience Hubs” “which will encourage community leaders, the private sector, and academia to develop innovative solutions and provide grants to the most promising ideas.”
  2. “We will elevate consultation with tribal governments and Native communities to where it belongs, and will fight alongside tribes to stop any development that potentially harms their land and people.”

Disaster Relief

Joe Biden

Biden’s campaign site had no quotes related to disaster relief.

Bernie Sanders

  1. “We will provide coastal communities with $162 billion in funding to adapt to sea level rise.”
  2. “We will increase funding for firefighting by $18 billion for federal firefighters to deal with the increased severity and frequency of wildfires.”
  3. “We will amend the Stafford Act to ensure that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is empowered to address this problem specifically to ensure that recovery and rebuilding efforts make affected communities stronger than they were before the disaster so they are more resilient to the next disaster.”
  4. “We will invest $2 billion to ensure communities that are rebuilt after disasters strike have necessary resources to build back stronger than before the disaster.”
  5. “We will provide $130 billion for counties impacted by climate change”

Elizabeth Warren

From Environmental Justice

  1. “I will work with Congress to amend the Stafford Act to make grant funding more flexible to allow families and communities to rebuild in more resilient ways.”

Michael Bloomberg

From Wildfire Resilience

  1. “Double federal funding for fire resilience and management to $10 billion and devote half to forest restoration and mitigation efforts.”
  2. “Endorse Sen. Kamala Harris’s Wildfire Defense Act, and the similar House bill sponsored by Rep. Jared Huffman. The Act would invest $1 billion a year in funding community-based wildfire plans.”

Pete Buttigieg

From Climate Change

  1. “We will create a National Catastrophic Disaster Insurance program to provide stability to individuals and communities who experience the major disruptions caused by climate change and other natural risks such as earthquakes. And we will prioritize equitable disaster preparedness and relief so that all communities get the resources they need to prepare for, recover from, and rebuild from disasters”

From Mobilizing America: Rising to the Climate Challenge

  1. “[W]ithin my first 100 days in office, I pledge to set up a community-centered Disaster Commission to review and make recommendations to streamline the process for disaster preparedness and recovery.”
  2. “We will reinstate the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard to encourage common sense building practices”
  3. “Expand FEMA Corps. FEMA Corps is a partnership between FEMA and AmeriCorps, providing 18‐to-24-year‐olds the opportunity to develop professional experience while serving communities impacted by disasters.”

From Resilient Communities: A New Disaster Preparedness Approach

  1. “We will support loan programs that incorporate resilience and mitigation.”

Diplomacy and Trade

Joe Biden

  1. “Re-enter the Paris Agreement on day one of the Biden Administration and lead a major diplomatic push to raise the ambitions of countries’ climate targets.”
  2. “Biden will, in his first 100 days in office:
    • Convene a climate world summit to directly engage the leaders of the major carbon-emitting nations of the world to persuade them to join the United States in making more ambitious national pledges, above and beyond the commitments they have already made.
    • Lead the world to lock in enforceable international agreements to reduce emissions in global shipping and aviation.”
  3. “[T]he Biden Administration will impose carbon adjustment fees or quotas on carbon-intensive goods from countries that are failing to meet their climate and environmental obligations.”
  4. “A Biden Administration will institute a new Global Climate Change Report to hold countries to account for meeting, or failing to meet, their Paris commitments”
  5. “Pursue a global moratorium on offshore drilling in the Arctic and reestablish climate change as a priority for the Arctic Council.”

Bernie Sanders

  1. “Commit to reducing emissions throughout the world, including providing $200 billion to the Green Climate Fund, rejoining the Paris Agreement, and reasserting the United States’ leadership in the global fight against climate change.”
  2. “We will reduce domestic emissions by at least 71 percent by 2030 and reduce emissions among less industrialized nations by 36 percent by 2030 — the total equivalent of reducing our domestic emissions by 161 percent.”
  3. “Bring together the leaders of the major industrialized nations with the goal of using the trillions of dollars our nations spend on misguided wars and weapons of mass destruction to instead work together internationally to combat our climate crisis and take on the fossil fuel industry.”
  4. “Trade deals will be renegotiated to ensure strong and binding climate standards, labor rights, and human rights with swift enforcement.”
  5. “Place a fee on imported Carbon Pollution-Intensive Goods.”

Elizabeth Warren

From Tackling the Climate Crisis Head On

  1. “Elizabeth would return the United States to the Paris Climate Accord”

From A New Approach to Trade

  1. “I am establishing a set of standards countries must meet as a precondition for any trade agreement with America.”
    • “Be a party to the Paris Climate agreement and have a national plan that has been independently verified to put the country on track to reduce its emissions consistent with the long-term emissions goals in that agreement.”
    • “Eliminate all domestic fossil fuel subsidies.”
  2. “I will push to secure a multilateral agreement to protect domestic green policies like subsidies for green products and preferential treatment for environmentally sustainable energy production from WTO challenges.”
  3. “I will impose a border carbon adjustment so imported goods that these firms make using carbon-intensive processes are charged a fee to equalize the costs borne by companies playing by the rules.”
  4. “I will push for a new ‘non-sustainable economy’ designation that would allow us to impose tougher penalties on countries with systematically poor labor and environmental practices.”

Michael Bloomberg

From International Climate

  1. “Re-join the Paris Agreement as his first act as president, and meet the targets science recommends.”
  2. “Restore U.S. contributions to the Green Climate Fund, so that the developed countries meet and exceed their goal to contribute $100 billion a year to developing countries.”
  3. “Reinstate U.S. leadership on the Arctic Council and prioritize the removal of black carbon from the atmosphere.”
  4. “Make climate change a top priority of U.S. foreign policy, and intensify U.S. and international actions to stop the expansion of coal and otherwise lower emissions.”
  5. “Use trade and security agreements to encourage all countries with whom we have diplomatic relations to have verifiable plans to reduce emissions according to the Paris Agreement.”

Pete Buttigieg

From Mobilizing America: Rising to the Climate Challenge

  1. “We will take the steps necessary to rejoin the Paris Agreement on the first day in office”
  2. “We will pledge $5 billion per year to identify the best ideas and shift the global debate toward a focus on scaling proven climate mitigation and adaptation strategies”
  3. “Double the U.S. pledge to the Green Climate Fund”
  4. “We will place the issue of climate change front and center in multilateral dialogue at the Arctic Council and focus on reducing emissions from the Arctic, including by opposing drilling there and working with other countries to reduce short-lived pollutants that play a key role in Arctic climate change.”
  5. “We will rally nations to oppose China’s dirty energy projects and offer countries desperately in need of energy with more financing options for cleaner projects through the Global Investment Initiative.”

Government and Military

Joe Biden

  1. “Ensuring that all U.S. government installations, buildings, and facilities are more efficient and climate-ready”
  2. “Make climate change a core national security priority.”
  3. “Direct the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to report to him annually on the impacts of climate change on defense posture, readiness, infrastructure, and threat picture”
  4. “Direct the National Security Advisor, working with the Secretaries of Defense, State, Homeland Security, and others, to develop a comprehensive strategy to address the security implications of climate change.”
  5. “Invest in the climate resilience of our military bases and critical security infrastructure across the U.S. and around the world, to deal with the risk of climate change effects”

Bernie Sanders

  1. “[W]e will require the Congressional Budget Office to coordinate with the EPA to provide a ‘climate score’ for legislation”

Elizabeth Warren

From Our Military Can Help Lead the Fight in Combating Climate Change

  1. “[T]he Pentagon should achieve net zero carbon emissions for all its non-combat bases and infrastructure by 2030.”
  2. “Defense Climate Resiliency and Readiness Act to harden the U.S. military against the threat posed by climate change, and to leverage its huge energy footprint as part of our climate solution.”
  3. “I’ll invest billions of dollars into a new, ten-year research and development program at the Defense Department focused on microgrids and advanced energy storage.”
  4. “I want the Pentagon to produce an annual report evaluating the climate vulnerability of every U.S. military base at home and abroad, using real scientific methodology, so that we can make more informed plans moving forward.”

Michael Bloomberg

From 100% Clean Power and Communities First

  1. “Use the National Environmental Policy Act so that climate risk, environmental impacts, and equity concerns are considered in all federal actions. Also incorporate these considerations into the Office of Management and Budget’s annual budget process.”

From Clean Buildings

  1. “Require all federal buildings to achieve high efficiency and zero-carbon standards ahead of the national targets”

From International Climate

  1. “Establish an Office of Climate Security in the White House to coordinate climate-related strategies in intelligence, defense, development and diplomacy, and include civilian and military staff.”
  2. “Strengthen military bases at home and abroad on a path to self-sufficiency by improving the resilience of all infrastructure that the military relies on at home and abroad from the effects of climate change, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Pete Buttigieg

From Climate Change

  1. “We will increase the climate planning and regional readiness budget at the Department of Defense (DOD) to allow our military leaders to build resilience for military bases and installations.”

From Mobilizing America: Rising to the Climate Challenge

  1. The Pittsburgh Climate Summit – “In my administration’s first 100 days we will gather these leaders, including mayors, governors, and other community leaders to commit to concrete action within their communities”
  2. “[I]ncreasing the climate planning and regional readiness budget at the Department of Defense (DOD) to allow our military leaders to build resilience for military bases and installations and elevating and integrating climate security and resilience at DOD by creating a senior climate security role in the Secretary of Defense’s office responsible for preparation for climate security risks”
  3. “We will direct that all new DOD facilities and non-combat vehicles be zero-emissions by 2025”

Other Policies, Plans, and Info

Joe Biden

  1. “Biden believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face. It powerfully captures two basic truths, which are at the core of his plan: (1) the United States urgently needs to embrace greater ambition on an epic scale to meet the scope of this challenge, and (2) our environment and our economy are completely and totally connected.”

Bernie Sanders

  1. “Bernie will lead our country to enact the Green New Deal and bring the world together to defeat the existential threat of climate change.”
  2. “Declaring climate change a national emergency”
  3. “Making massive investments in research and development.”
  4. “Establish a nationwide materials recycling program.”
  5. “Reassert U.S. leadership in research and engineering by marshaling resources across the federal government and institutions of higher education, including the National Academy of Engineering and National Science Foundation.”

Elizabeth Warren

From Tackling the Climate Crisis Head On

  1. “Elizabeth is an original cosponsor of the Green New Deal resolution, which commits the United States to a ten-year mobilization to achieve domestic net-zero emissions by 2030”

Michael Bloomberg

From Foreign Policy

  1. “Mike is the president of the board of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, a network of the world’s megacities dedicated to finding and implementing proven climate solutions.”
  2. “Mike was appointed by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres as Special Envoy for Climate Action, with the charge of supporting the UNSG’s climate strategy and mobilizing support for a more ambitious approach to fighting climate change.”
  3. “Mike created the Climate Finance Leadership Initiative, which brings together seven of the world’s largest financial institutions with the goal of helping to fund and support ambitious climate plans.”

Pete Buttigieg

From Climate Change

  1. “We will also quadruple federal clean energy R&D funding to invest more than $200 billion over 10 years in developing new technologies. We will build three investment funds to spur clean technology development, including a $250 billion American Clean Energy Bank to fund locally-led clean energy projects, particularly in disadvantaged communities; a 10-year, $250 billion Global Investment Initiative to harness American innovation for clean energy and infrastructure projects around the world and counter China’s Belt and Road initiative; and a $50 billion American Cleantech Fund to fund demonstration projects.”

From Mobilizing America: Rising to the Climate Challenge

  1. American Cleantech Fund – “It will be capitalized with $50 billion in seed funding to support dozens of demonstration projects of new technologies that are too risky for the private sector”
  2. “Issue U.S. climate action bonds”
  3. “Establish the U.S. Climate Corps” – “Activities include training for communities on sustainability options, and resilience opportunities; resilience upgrades for homes in vulnerable communities; teaching in schools and communities on issues such as sustainability and conservation; and data and program analysis for local communities on how they can access support from public and privately-sponsored programs, grants, and technical assistance.”


The 2020 democratic candidates share many of the same opinions and plans when it comes to tackling climate change and the nation’s future. All would rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, seek to reduce the nation’s carbon emissions to zero, and understand the importance of environmental justice and community support initiatives.

I personally think it comes down to which candidate has the most developed plans with concrete numbers and strategies as well as who cares most deeply about the specific topics you do, including non-environmental topics. No matter who that person is for you, it’s important to go out and vote this primary season!

Check when your state’s primary election is here. What environmental issues matter the most to you when selecting a candidate?

2020 Democratic Candidates And The Environment voter holds American flag high ready to vote for pro-environment candidate

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