On the Progress and Promise of Water Reuse

Building codes and regulations are changing—slowly—to accommodate systems that support the capture and reuse of graywater and blackwater.

Architect Magazine

Water is omnipresent in Virginia Beach, Va., where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic. Due to rising sea levels and land subsidence, sunny-day flooding during high tide is common here and in surrounding towns, stressing the region’s water utilities. But the Brock Environmental Center is stepping in to help. Completed in 2015, the 10,000-square-foot facility for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF’s) Hampton Roads office and conference site sources, purifies, and reuses its own water in a closed-loop system. Excess water cleaned by the center is being used by a local brewery to create its Rain Barrel beer.

Aerial view, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation Brock Environmental Center

Water management is a critical component of resilient design yet building codes and regulations typically assume a centralized, utility-provided water delivery and wastewater collection. Introducing decentralized systems to capture and reuse water has traditionally resulted in a regulatory quagmire.

The good news is that codes are changing to accommodate decentralized systems. Since 2012, when ARCHITECT last reported on water reuse systems, some municipalities passed important regulations to govern the design, permitting, and safety of graywater reuse systems. In fact, the city of San Francisco now requires any building 250,000 square feet or larger to install and operate an onsite non-potable water system to treat and reuse available graywater, rainwater, and foundation drainage. Seattle also recently adopted a rainwater capture and reuse mandate for large buildings.

Read the full story here.

Alternate Materials and Methods: The Hoops of Specifying Green Products

For projects pursuing high standards in sustainable design and environmental health, architects should expect to work closely with manufacturers and code officials.

Architect Magazine

Architects who want to pursue the International Living Future Institute’s (ILFI’s) Living Building Challenge (LBC) or an upper tier of certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC’s) LEED rating system often find themselves in a quandary when it comes to specifying materials and products. The IFLI, for one, publishes its infamous Red List of 20 categories of chemical compounds and materials that have potential negative impacts on human health and the environment.

Electrical cabling is another building product often made with materials that appear on the ILFI Red List. 

Sourcing materials that comply with green certification frameworks and building codes, particularly those for fire safety and electrical, can be difficult—but not impossible.

“Codes are always very well-intended, and I think that in general they are written with the public’s best interests in mind,” says Heidi Creighton, AIA, an associate in the Los Angeles office of BuroHappold Engineering. “But I think codes are also written by people in particular industries that know a certain way of doing things. They tend to be rigid and very risk averse. So, that can make more progressive schemes, like the LBC, challenging.”

Read the full story here.

Lerner’s Permit: How Young Is Too Young to Begin Avalanche Ed?

Teens are breaking trail in the backcountry well before they can drink, vote, or even drive. Avalanche educators are hustling to get to them early.

Outside Magazine

In 2013, 15-year-old Dawson Toth was perched on a ridge watching his best friend, Evan, ski down the north slope of Hero’s Knob, a popular backcountry area in Kananaskis County, Alberta, when he saw the avalanche. “It started at my ski tips,” he recalls. “Then I watched the slide spread across the whole slope.

The wall of snow engulfed Evan, then both teens’ fathers, who were waiting farther downhill. Once the slide petered out, Dawson jumped off the crown onto the now bare shale below, switched his beacon to search mode, and made his way toward the buried victims. “There wasn’t much going on in my head except that I needed to find my friends and family fast.”

Luckily, three years earlier Dawson had received training from a guide certified by Avalanche Canada for just this sort of scenario. Within a minute he’d dug out Evan’s dad, whose hand was protruding from the softly packed snow near the top of the slide. Thirty feet down, he saw his own father buried to the waist. But where was Evan? Dawson worked downslope in a grid pattern, and soon his beacon homed in on another signal. When his snow probe struck something roughly five feet below, he and a few helpers who’d come upon the scene began digging frantically. Evan was unresponsive when Dawson pulled him from the debris. But as soon as Dawson cleared the snow from Evan’s mouth, his friend coughed and inhaled rapidly.

Read the full story here.

AI for Good: Energy, Water, Food

A series looking at how the energy, food and water sectors are using AI and machine learning to try to reduce consumption, cut costs and make the use of resources more efficient. It’s not kindness, it’s economics.

Medium ($)

How Artificial Intelligence Is Making Energy Smarter and Cleaner

Artificial intelligence is powering more and more of the things we interact with every day, from our gadgets to our cars. But it’s also playing a growing role in how society’s undergirding resources — energy, food, and water — are sourced, secured, and delivered. (Read the full story here.)

How AI Could Smarten Up Our Water System

It’s easy to take water for granted. Turn on the tap, and you’ll receive clean, life-giving water (with some very notable exceptions). But for a myriad of reasons, ranging from our changing climate to aging infrastructure to growing demands for water, all aspects of the water cycle — how it is collected, cleaned, distributed (and repeat) — are overdue for a technological makeover. (Read the full story here.)

Why Farmers Are Turning to AI to Boost Yields

Environmental author Wendell Berry might shudder at this comparison, but farmers are like data scientists. To make decisions, they ferret out meaning from a sea of data.

That data just happens to be related to environmental conditions like temperature, rainfall, salinity, nitrogen, pests, commodity prices, and other variables. (Read the full story here.)

Dumpster Diving Robots: Using AI for Smart Recycling

Recycling facilities use robotic sorting stations and object-recognition technology to identify and put garbage in its proper place.

iQ magazine

July 5, 2017AMPRobotics_1

Filled with intricate mazes of high-speed conveyor belts carrying yesterday’s garbage, high-tech recycling centers use sophisticated sensors to sort plastic from paper from aluminum. While this technology may streamline sorting, it’s not smart or nimble enough to finish the job.

Behind the scenes, recycling workers continue to sort the materials, making sure cereal boxes don’t mix with soda cans. And because this isn’t just a dirty job, but a mind-numbingly tedious one, there’s particularly high turnover at modern recycling centers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But the future of smart recycling is looking brighter. Spider-like robotic arms, guided by cameras and artificial intelligence (AI) — think of it as facial-recognition technology for garbage — are helping to make municipal recycling facilities (MRFs) run more efficiently.

“I think the way we move waste recovery forward is by creating new, innovative ways to process material,” said Thomas Brooks, director of technology for Bulk Handling Systems (BHS), which produces the Max-AI robotic sorter. “That is how we’ll get others involved, and how we’ll get more material recycled.”

Read the full story here.

Invisible plastic: microfibers are just the beginning of what we don’t see

The tiny pollutants in our clothes are forcing us to look harder for, and think more carefully about, the ways humans have shaped the environment

The Guardian

June 29, 2017

2017-06-02 18.43.453040Opening my washing machine at the end of a cycle is not something that generally fills me with excitement. But today it did, because doing so – I thought – would finally allow me to see and touch something I’ve been reporting on for years: synthetic microfiber pollution from apparel.

Instead, it illuminated something I already knew: my dog sheds a lot.

Multiple studies have shown synthetic fibers to make up the lion’s share of microplastics found in oceans, rivers and lakes, and clothes made from synthetics (polyester, nylon, and so on) are widely implicated as the source of that pollution. Microfibers, as the name implies, are tiny, so they can easily move through sewage treatment plants. Unlike natural fibers, such as cotton or wool, synthetic fibers do not biodegrade, and tend to bind with molecules of harmful chemical pollutants found in wastewater, such as pesticides or flame retardants. Studies have shown health problems among plankton and other small organisms that eat microfibers, which then make their way up the food chain. Researchers have found high numbers of fibers inside fish and shellfish sold at markets.

But I had recently received the Guppy Friend, a fiber-catching laundry bag made of a very fine nylon mesh developed by Alexander Nolte and Oliver Spies, surfing buddies and co-owners of Langbrett, a German retailer that sells outdoor apparel. The bag is designed to reduce the amount of fiber shed by garments in the wash and catch those that are shed. So, I was excited because this bag is supposed to make this invisible pollution visible.

I was relieved that my 15-year-old fleece jacket and month-old nylon leggings did not fill the bag with a mass of lint. But when I also discovered that only a teeny bit of fiber (and a lot of dog hair, each strand likely bigger than the microfibers found in waterways) in the bag after washing a bright blue Snuggie (hey, it was a gift), I became dubious about how effectively this device captures fibers.

Read the full essay here.

Your Fleece Jacket Pollutes the Ocean. Here’s the Possible Fix.

A large Canadian gear retailer is working on a project to trace the microplastics that come off its apparel in the wash and prevent them from entering local waterways.

Outside Online

May 25, 2017

2016-09-22-Peter-Ross-CORI-Lab-For-Web-3492By now you’ve probably heard the news: your favorite fleece sheds hundreds of thousands of tiny synthetic fibers every time it’s washed. Those fibers often skirt through wastewater treatment plants and make their way into aquatic organisms that eat the floating fibers.That’s bad for the fish, because the fibers are vectors for toxins and can retard their growth, and it could be bad for people who eat the fish.

This shedding puts outdoor manufacturers in a bind: many want to protect the outdoors, but they also want to sell product. Consumers who love their warm fleece are also faced with a dilemma.

Some brands have taken steps to address the threat of microfibers, which are considered a type of microplastic pollution. In 2015, Patagonia asked university researchers to quantify how much fiber its products shed during laundry—the answer was a lot. And the Outdoor Industry Association has convened a working group to start examining microfiber pollution. But here’s the thing: rather than using money to develop a process that prevents the shedding, most brands are still focused on defining their culpability. Because there are other sources of microfiber pollution in the sea, such as fraying fishing ropes, these brands want to be able to know for certain how much they’re contributing before they move further.

That won’t be an easy task, but Mountain Equipment Co-op, an REI-like retailer headquartered in Vancouver, recently gave microplastics researchers at the Vancouver Aquarium a $37,545 grant to help scientists develop a tracking process. The yearlong project will be led by the aquarium’s ocean pollution research program director and senior scientist Peter Ross. The first step is to create a database of fibers from up to 50 different textiles commonly used in MEC’s house-brand apparel.

Read the full story here.

Guardian: Will clothes companies do the right thing to reduce microfiber pollution?

Photo: bixentro/Flickr
Photo: bixentro/Flickr

Over the past few years, evidence has been mounting that synthetic textiles such as polyester and acrylic, which make up much of our clothing, are a major source of pollution in the world’s oceans. That’s because washing those clothes causes tiny plastic fibers to shed and travel through wastewater treatment plants into public waterways. These microfibers are sometimes inadvertently gobbled up by aquatic organisms, including the fish that end up on our plate.

The apparel industry is largely responsible for stopping microfiber pollution, yet it has been slow to respond, according to a report released Tuesday by Mermaids, a three-year, €1.2m project by a consortium of European textile experts and researchers. The report recommended changes in manufacturing synthetic textiles, including using coatings designed to reduce fiber loss.

Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation, an Amsterdam-based nonprofit and Mermaids’ public outreach partner, urges the apparel makers and sellers to apply the report’s recommendations.

Read the full story here.

Guardian: Only 14% of plastics are recycled – can tech innovation tackle the rest?

The world recycles just 14% of the plastic packaging it uses. Even worse: 8m tons of plastic, much of it packaging, ends up in the oceans each year, where sea life and birds die from eating it or getting entangled in it. Some of the plastics will also bind with industrial chemicals that have polluted oceans for decades, raising concerns that toxins can make their way into our food chain.

Recycling the remaining 86% of used plastics could create $80bn-$120bn in revenues, says a recent report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. But those revenues will never be fully achieved without designing new ways to breakdown and reuse 30% (by weight) of the plastic packaging that isn’t recycled because the material is contaminated or too small for easy collection, has very low economic value or contains multiple materials that cannot be easily separated. Think of candy wrappers, take-out containers, single-serving coffee capsules and foil-lined boxes for soup and soymilk.

Large companies have developed plant-based alternatives to conventional, petroleum-based plastic so that they can break down without contaminating the soil and water. The market opportunity has attracted small, young companies that focus on developing recycling technology to tackle that troublesome 30% of plastic packaging that is headed to landfills at best, and, at worst, to our rivers, lakes and oceans.

Read the full story here.

Guardian: The Latest Weapon in the Fight Against Illegal Fishing? Artificial Intelligence.

A $150,000 reward is up for grabs for any data scientist who can write code for facial recognition software that can pinpoint illegal catch on fishing boats.

The Guardian

gif_pactunatechchallengeFacial recognition software is most commonly known as a tool to help police identify a suspected criminal by using machine learning algorithms to analyze his or her face against a database of thousands or millions of other faces. The larger the database, with a greater variety of facial features, the smarter and more successful the software becomes – effectively learning from its mistakes to improve its accuracy.

Now, this type of artificial intelligence is starting to be used in fighting a specific but pervasive type of crime – illegal fishing. Rather than picking out faces, the software tracks the movement of fishing boats to root out illegal behavior. And soon, using a twist on facial recognition, it may be able to recognize when a boat’s haul includes endangered and protected fish.

Read the full story here.