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Ansgar Walk, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.5
Ansgar Walk, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.5

Polar Bears Are Consuming Less Mercury—But There's a Downside

Ansgar Walk, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.5
Ansgar Walk, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.5

Scientists studying mercury levels in polar bears say that melting sea ice has forced the bears to change their diets. The researchers published their study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Mercury is all around us. Some of it occurs naturally in plants, animals, and the soil. Some of it is our fault, the result of industrial pollution from coal and other fuels.

Regardless of its source, it piles up in living things the same way. Tiny animals eat plants containing mercury, and the mercury stays in their bodies even after all the plant matter is gone. Then those tiny animals are eaten by small animals, and on and on, onward up the food chain. Apex predators like swordfish and sharks are swimming globs of mercury, which is why we tell pregnant women not to eat them.

For the same reason, they shouldn’t eat polar bears, either (although we would kind of like to see them try). Previous tests on bears in the southern Beaufort Sea found alarmingly high mercury levels in the animals’ hair and body tissue—the result of the bears’ diet of mercury-saturated ringed seals. Or their former diet, we should say.

Researchers followed Beaufort Sea bears from 2004 to 2011, taking regular tissue and hair samples from sedated bears and by long-distance biopsy dart. Chemical analysis of the samples showed a clear and steady decline in mercury levels. Each year, the bears’ bodies contained 13 percent less mercury.

But it’s not as though these bears were getting 13 percent smaller. They weren’t wasting away. So what had happened?

It turns out their main prey, ringed seals, had grown scarce. Ringed seals spend most of their time on sea ice. But as the sea ice disappeared, so did they. In response, the bears shifted their predatory attention to bearded seals and bowhead whales, both of which carry less mercury. Even as their mercury levels dropped, the bears' BMI increased, perhaps because they were eating more blubber from the larger prey.

The authors note that the bears in their study might not represent all bears in that region. They could only take samples from the bears they could find along the coast. Less successful hunters might still have been struggling out at sea.

They also say that the polar bears’ prey-switching is, sadly, not a sustainable solution. We’re not exactly experiencing a surplus of whales, here.

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Amsterdam is Turning Plastic Trash Into 3D-Printed Furniture
PrintYourCity
PrintYourCity

The city of Amsterdam in the Netherlands is taking a unique approach to waste management, Inhabitat reports. Under the direction of The New Raw, a Rotterdam-based design studio, recycled plastic is being used to make public benches that capture a lot of the area’s charm while providing solutions for the 51 pounds of plastic refuse each Amsterdam resident tosses away each year.

The initiative is called Print Your City! and encourages those materials to be repurposed via 3D printing to make new, permanent fixtures. The New Raw calls it a “closed loop” of use, where the plastic is used, reused, and materialized in the same environment. The bench, dubbed XXX, seats two and rocks back and forth with the sitters' movements, offering a metaphor for the teamwork The New Raw is attempting to cultivate with the general public.

A plastic chair is surrounded by trash
Print Your City!

“Plastic has a major design failure,” says Panos Sakkas, an architect with The New Raw. “It’s designed to last forever, but it’s used only for a few seconds and then easily thrown away.”

The goal is to collect more plastic material in the city to use for projects that can be designed and implemented by citizens. In the future, 3D printing may also support bus shelters, waste bins, and playground material—all of it recyclable.

[h/t Inhabitat]

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To Encourage Responsible Trash Disposal, a Startup in Nigeria Pays People for their Waste
iStock
iStock

Nigeria is home to more than 180 million people, who produce more than 32 million tons of waste per year and just 20 to 30 percent of this garbage is collected, according to one estimate. To provide Nigerians with incentive to dispose of their trash responsibly, Junks, a Nigerian waste management startup, provides people with the chance to exchange their trash for cash, according to Konbini.

The company offers to pay for items and materials like discarded electronics, glass, plastic, aluminum, books, and clothes. Once purchased, these materials are re-sold to wholesalers and recycling companies, according to Techpoint. Potential users who want to sell their trash are required to register on the startup's website, Junks.ng, and fill out a form with a description of the trash they're selling, along with their asking price and contact information. Once this information is received, representatives from Junks are sent to pick up and pay for the waste.

Computer programmer Bradley Yarrow founded Junks.ng in August 2017. Based in Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, Nigeria, the company currently has just three employees, in addition to Yarrow. That said, the tiny startup appears to be doing big business, judging from a growing list of sold junk—which includes laminating machines, old laptops, and scrap car parts—already listed on Junks.ng.

[h/t Konbini]

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