New York City is Fighting Fatbergs in Sewers with a New PSA Campaign

Chris Hondros, Getty Images
Chris Hondros, Getty Images

There are certain consequences to living in an age of convenience. Plastic straws are filling up landfills, prompting widespread bans and restrictions on their distribution. Now, New York City is turning its attention to an even more disgusting scourge: fatbergs.

A fatberg is a repulsive coagulation of things you shouldn't flush down the toilet, like bacon grease and so-called “flushable” sanitary wipes. They can be immense: One London fatberg grew to be 143 tons, becoming a cautionary tale for the rest of the world.

These mobile chunks of waste travel in sewers, creating significant blockages. The fatbergs can force untreated water into clean water sources and cause backups in residential plumbing.

With New York City currently spending $20 million annually on clearing these blockages, officials have decided to mount a public campaign cautioning residents against some of their bad plumbing habits. They have a new website admonishing people to abide by the “Four Ps” of flushing—poop, pee, puke and (toilet) paper are fine, while grease and wet wipes are not. Those should be thrown in the garbage.

While most people don’t have a problem directing their vomit and feces into a toilet without written instruction, there’s still a widely held belief that wet wipes are safe to flush. This is likely due to companies labeling them “flushable” on packaging, though the city’s anti-fatberg site insists that “flushable” simply means they won’t clog a toilet. Once it’s in the sewer system and mingles with grease, the wipes begin to contribute to a public health problem. The city removed almost 53,000 tons of debris from sewage treatment screens in 2017. Most of it consisted of the wipes.

With 8.6 million people in New York creating a substantial amount of waste, it’s easy to see why city management feels an urge to curb the problem. But no matter where you live, it’s a good idea to relegate flushes to bodily fluids and toilet paper only. Cooking crease should be allowed to cool, then put in a container and thrown away.

[h/t Slate]

These Grass Straws Are an Eco-Friendly Alternative to Plastic

Kickstarter
Kickstarter

We know plastic straws have created an incredibly serious environmental issue, and while many alternatives have been introduced, there are definitely some drawbacks to each of them. Paper straws, for example, tend to dissolve faster than you can finish your beverage. Some companies have tried to get around the issues paper and plastic straws present by introducing a special lid to sip cold beverages through. But they’re still made out of, well, plastic.

A Kickstarter campaign is offering a solution by producing sturdy grass straws that work perfectly in hot or cold drinks and decompose in just 15 days. With $3606 raised, the startup La Couleur Monochrome is still working toward a $27,877 goal, but you can back this project until January 31. For as little as $6, you can receive 100 straws in a reusable, eco-friendly zip-up bag, and the more expensive tiers offer bigger rewards.

The straws are made from hollow-stemmed grass that is grown and hand-harvested in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. After the grass is harvested, it is cut into 20-centimeter pieces and disinfected through a boiling process, rather than with harsh chemicals. Buyers have the option of selecting either dried-out straws, which can last for up to one year when stored at room temperature, or fresh straws, which can remain in the fridge for up to six weeks. According to the startup, both straws are suited for hot and cold drinks, but when using the fresh straws, you’ll get “a slight scent of fresh cut grass without changing the drink's taste.”

Grass straws
Kickstarter

If you’re worried about the environmental impact of harvesting the field, there’s no need. According to the campaign, the grass regenerates itself within a year. Currently, the startup is producing 1 million straws a month, but they hope to up it to 10 million by July 2020. Also beginning in July, the company plans to only send out orders once a month to create a more sustainable shipping program.

With so many large-scale changes that need to happen to help the environment, starting with a simple straw may seem inconsequential, but it’s not. Estimates have put the number of straws littering the world's coastlines at anywhere from 437 million to 8.3 billion.

If you want to visualize how much plastic humans have produced, it's equivalent to 25,000 Empire State Buildings or 80 million blue whales. And of all that plastic, only 9 percent has been recycled. At this pace, some have predicted that the amount of plastic in the ocean may outweigh the ocean's fish by 2050.

Cutting out straws is a great way to start reducing single-use products in your everyday life, and you can head here to find out more about the Kickstarter.

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Afternoon Map: The Most Endangered Plant in Each State

American globeflower
American globeflower
Chelmicky, iStock via Getty Images

Conversations about the groups most threatened by human development and climate change usually focus on animals, but plants may be even more vulnerable. An analysis from last year estimates the number of plants that have disappeared since 1750 is double than that of all birds, mammals, and amphibians combined. Plants are a vital part of the food chain, and as more of them go extinct, it could have catastrophic ripple effects across ecosystems.

To draw attention to this issue, the online loan provider NetCredit has illustrated a map of the most endangered plant species in each state. To create the map, they looked at data from the United States Department of Agriculture and found species that were either endangered or threatened on the federal or state level. From there, they selected plants that were unique-looking, had an interesting history, or had a limited range.

The result is a colorful graphic that demonstrates the diversity of threatened species in the plant kingdom. The map includes colorful flowers, like the dragon's mouth of Rhode Island and the American globeflower of Ohio. Other plants look more aggressive like the Nichol's Echinocactus that's under threat in Arizona. Two carnivorous pitcher plants make the list: the Jones's pitcher plant in North Carolina and the canebrake pitcher plant in Alabama.

You can view the full illustrated map below. To see which endangered animal is native to your state, check out this tool.

Map of most endangered plant species in each state.
NetCredit

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