The Smells of Fall

Although the first day of fall was on September 23 this year, I didn't notice it was fall until last night. Why? Well, it didn't smell like fall.

Here in Portland, there's a particular smell I associate with the onset of fall -- the smell of people's first fireplace fires of the year. And somehow, last night everybody in my neighborhood got the memo and lit up. You can tell it's the first fireplace fire in a long time, because there's a weird wet twinge to the smoky odor (presumably there's special stuff in the chimney that's been accumulating all year). This smell means to me: time to figure out how many vacation days I have left.

I spent most of my childhood in Florida, where there was no distinctive smell to mark the coming of fall. The only thing I'd notice was that it got dark a little earlier, and I'd feel weird about it being 95 degrees on Halloween night. Truly unfortunate.

I do remember a fall smell from my year living in Philadelphia as a young child. There, I knew it was fall (okay, almost winter) when I'd smell the rotting Ginkgo leaves -- a distinctive stink that was great fun to complain about, for a good three weeks each year.

So here I am, enjoying the onset of fall. Pretty soon it'll be time for the smells of winter (for me, this involves paperwhite narcissus flowers). But for now, boy does that chimney smoke smell nice. But what about you -- what smells mean it's fall for you?

(Photo courtesy of Flickr user Al-Ansari.)

Kathrin Weiland
Cow Manure and Elephant Dung Could Be Used to Make the Paper of the Future
Kathrin Weiland
Kathrin Weiland

The average dairy cow produces 82 pounds of manure daily. For elephants, that number is up to 300 pounds. According to researchers at the University of Vienna, all that dung represents an untapped resource that has the potential to change the way we make paper.

The team of scientists presented their findings at a meeting of the American Chemical Society on March 21. Waste from cows and elephants, they say, is rich in the same cellulose that's required to make paper products. What's more, the cellulose in manure has been broken down by digestion, making it easier for paper manufacturers to process.

"Animals eat low-grade biomass containing cellulose, chew it and expose it to enzymes and acid in their stomach, and then produce manure," researcher Alexander Bismarck said in a statement. "Depending on the animal, up to 40 percent of that manure is cellulose, which is then easily accessible."

Bismarck first got the idea to make paper from manure after seeing goats graze on dry grass in a small village in Crete. As he watched the plant matter go in, he wondered if that same matter wouldn't be suitable for making paper once it came out the other end. Today most paper is made by grinding down raw wood into nanocellulose, a process that takes a lot of power. The cellulose in dung has already been chewed and worn down by acid and enzymes in the animal's digestive system, cutting out the need for all that grinding.

Following Bismarck's goat manure–inspired revelation, he and his team began working with waste from horses, cows, and now elephants. Thanks to cattle farms and elephant parks around the world, this material is an abundant sustainable resource. The dung they collect is treated with a sodium hydroxide solution to remove lignin, the glue that holds cellulose fibers together (and can also be used as fuel). From there, they filter out other impurities like proteins and dead cells and bleach whatever's left with sodium hypochlorite to create a pure, white pulp that's ready to be made into paper.

The research team is currently exploring potential applications for the material. For now, they say it could be used as reinforcement for polymer composites or as filters for wastewater. It can also be made into paper for writing, though it may be a while until you see notebooks made from elephant dung at your local office supply store.

Good for You, Good for the Environment: 'Plogging' Combines Jogging With Picking Up Trash

If you can’'t motivate yourself to maintain a jogging habit for your own sake, try doing it for the sake of the planet. That's the thinking behind plogging: an eco-friendly Swedish fitness trend that's made its way to the U.S.

As Mashable reports, plogging (a mash-up of "jogging" and the Swedish word plocka, meaning "to pick") is simply going for a jog and picking up any litter you see along your route. The trash-collecting portion of the activity requires some bending and squatting, which adds variety to your workout routine. And at the end of your run, your neighborhood is a cleaner place for its residents—human and animal alike.

Improperly discarded trash can seriously hurt and even kill wildlife if it's ingested. Cities can hire people to clean up excess litter, but it comes at a high cost. According to a 2013 story in the Los Angeles Times, communities in California spend close to half a billion dollars a year keeping litter out of waterways.

Plogging alone won't solve the world’s litter problem, but if every jogger suddenly became a plogger, that would be a huge step in the right direction. Looking for a way to jump on the trend? The fitness app Lifesum now includes a plogging option for users.

[h/t Mashable]


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