Trees Save Big Cities $500 Million Each Year

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iStock

As if you really needed another reason to hug a tree: Scientists writing in the journal Ecological Modeling say trees in big cities deliver more than $500 million in environmental benefits every year.

A tree is a marvel of biology. Unfussed by the pull of gravity, it sucks water upward; unembarrassed by its resourcefulness, it makes food out of the waste gases we leave behind. And that’s just what it does for itself; for us, it does even more, cleaning our air, beautifying our neighborhoods, improving our health and well-being, reducing our energy use, and helping us beat the heat.

"Trees have direct and indirect benefits for cooling buildings and reducing human suffering during heat waves," lead author Theodore Endreny of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry said in a statement. "The direct benefit is shade which keeps the urban area cooler, the indirect benefit is transpiration of stormwater which turns hot air into cooler air."

Endreny and his colleagues wondered how these qualitative effects might translate into dollars, or rubles, or rupees. The researchers used a tool called i-Tree Eco to estimate the amount of tree cover in 10 huge cities: Beijing, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Istanbul, London, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Moscow, Mumbai, and Tokyo.

These densely packed megacities are home to almost 10 percent of the entire human population of Earth—people whose lives often depend on natural environments outside city limits.

“What is, however, most often disregarded,” the authors note, “is that nature conservation in the city can also contribute to human well-being benefits. The most common mind set separates cities from the rest of nature, as if they were not special kinds of natural habitats.”

Their results showed that those urban natural habitats occupied about 21 percent of each megacity landscape. That’s a lot of tree cover, but there could be a lot more; on average, the researchers found another 19 percent of land that could be given over to vegetation.

The data suggested that filling this space with trees could increase environmental and cost benefits by an average of 85 percent.

As they are now, the trees are already saving megacities gobs and gobs of money—about $1.2 million per square mile, or $35 per resident, per year.

"Placing these results on the larger scale of socioeconomic systems makes evident to what extent nature supports our individual and community well-being by providing ecosystem services for free," co-author Sergio Ulgiati of Italy’s University Parthenope said in the statement.

"A deeper awareness of the economic value of free services provided by nature may increase our willingness to invest efforts and resources into natural capital conservation and correct exploitation, so that societal wealth, economic stability and well-being would also increase."

A Team of Cigarette Butt-Collecting Birds Are Keeping a French Theme Park Litter-Free

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iStock

The six rooks pecking at litter within the Puy du Fou theme park in Les Epesses, France, aren't unwelcome pests: They're part of the staff. As AFP reports, the trained birds have been dispatched to clean up garbage and cigarettes butts from the park grounds.

Rooks are a member of the corvid family, a group of intelligent birds that also includes ravens and crows. At Puy du Fou, an educational amusement park with attractions inspired by various periods from French history, the rooks will flit around the park, pick up any bits of litter that haven't been properly disposed of, and deliver them to a receptacle in exchange for a treat. At least that's how the system is set up to work: The full team of six rooks has only been on the job since August 13.

Employing birds as trash collectors may seem far-fetched, but the experiment has precedent. The Dutch startup Crowded Cities recently started training crows to gather cigarette butts using a vending machine-like device. Once the crows were taught to associate the rig with free peanuts, the machine was tweaked so that it only dispensed food when the crow nudged a cigarette butt resting on a ledge into the receptacle. The cigarette butts were eventually removed, and the birds figured out that they had to find the litter in the wild if they wanted to continue receiving their snacks.

Crowded Cities had planned to conduct more research on the method's effectiveness, as well as the potentially harmful effects of tobacco on crows, before bringing their vending machines to public spaces. Puy du Fou, meanwhile, has become one of the first—if not the first—businesses to fully implement the strategy on a major scale.

Even if it doesn't prove to be practical, Puy du Fou president Nicolas de Villiers told AFP that cleaning up the park is only part of the goal. He also hopes the birds will demonstrate that "nature itself can teach us to take care of the environment."

[h/t AFP]

7 Products to Make Your Iced Coffee Obsession More Eco-Friendly

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iStock

As you may have heard, plastic straws are on their way out. There is an increasing push to phase out hard-to-recycle single-use straws in restaurant chains and even entire cities, and many people are becoming aware for the first time of just how harmful straws can be to the environment. So what’s an iced coffee aficionado to do? While there are some alternatives in the works—a new paper straw factory is opening in the UK, for one, and Starbucks is redesigning its plastic lids to include sippable lips—for now, finding alternatives to grabbing several plastic straws a day to support an addiction to cold brew, iced tea, and fountain sodas is largely up to consumers themselves.

If you’ve started feeling guilty about your two-a-day iced coffee habit or your love of an icy Coke, there are a number of options to replace all that single-use plastic you’re used to throwing away. Here are seven items that can make your cold beverage purchases a little more environmentally friendly. Let’s start with the straws themselves.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of sales. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck gift hunting!

1. COMPOSTABLE STRAWS; $11 FOR 100

A package of white compostable straws
Repurpose

Don’t want to give up the convenience of a classic plastic straw? Repurpose makes compostable straws out of plant matter that, unlike the conventional plastic options, will biodegrade. According to the company, they’ll break down after 90 days in an industrial composting facility. Amazon reviewers note that the straws look and feel almost exactly like plastic straws, so you don’t have to change your habits too much.

Find It: Amazon

2. STAINLESS STEEL STRAWS; $10 FOR 6

Two cleaning brushes, three straight stainless steel straws, and three bent straws with colored tips
Amazon

Stainless steel is durable, easy to clean, and affordable, making it the go-to option for many people looking to replace their plastic straws. However, metal straws can also feel harsh and cold. Luckily, each straw in this set has a soft silicone tip on the top for maximum mouth comfort. This pack of six comes with both straight and bent straws of different diameters, meaning they’ll work for thick smoothies as well as for coffee or soda. They’re also slightly longer than regular straws, so they’ll fit tall tumblers.

Find It: Amazon

3. GLASS STRAWS; $20 FOR 2

Two purple straws fit inside a blue carrying case.
Amazon

Glass straws are smooth to sip from, especially if you’re a person who doesn’t love the metallic taste of stainless steel straws. While they look delicate, they’re sturdier than you think, and can survive banging around in your bag all day or getting thrown in the sink. (They’re made from the same type of shatterproof glass as old-school Pyrex dishware.) While these colorful straws aren’t the cheapest glass versions available on the web, they come with a crucial component that not all manufacturers offer—a carrying case to keep your straws clean and safe throughout the day.

Find It: Amazon

4. STRAW CARRYING CASE; $14

A teal straw bag with illustrations of French bulldogs and catcuses
Shaunacy Ferro, Mental Floss

Not all reusable straws come with a case, but having one will improve the likelihood that you'll commit to ditching plastic straws. Instead of planning every coffee, soda, or smoothie you’ll buy, it's easiest to always have one of your reusable straws waiting in your bag. These colorful pouches from Hawaii-based Etsy seller Bernadette Rapozo come in a variety of patterns and feature a waterproof lining so that you don’t have to worry about throwing your still-slightly-wet straw in it after you finish your drink.

Find It: Etsy

5. HYDRO FLASK 22-OUNCE TUMBLER AND STRAW LID; $43 FOR BOTH

A black tumblr and a lid with a straw in it
Hydro Flask

If you’ve already committed to trying to reduce your straw usage, you may also find yourself feeling guilty about using plastic cups. This well-insulated stainless steel cup from Hydro Flask promises to fit in most cupholders and has a non-slip powder finish on the exterior for easy gripping, two design factors that led to it being named The Wirecutter’s favorite tumbler. The double-wall structure is made to keep your drink cold for a full 24 hours.

Hydro Flask recently debuted a splash-proof straw lid, sold separately, that makes the tumbler feel more like a traditional disposable plastic cup. The tumblers come in various sizes, including 10-ounce versions designed for wine and liquor—or, alternately, juice and small amounts of coffee—and 22-ounce and 32-ounce versions for larger drinks. For coffee, we prefer the 22-ounce version, because very few people can handle 32 ounces of highly caffeinated cold brew.

Find It: on Amazon: Tumbler, Lid

6. TERVIS INSULATED 16-OUNCE TUMBLER AND LID; $16 FOR BOTH

A clear plastic tumbler and black lid that reads 'Tervis'
Tervis, Amazon

Tervis makes simple, affordable plastic tumblers that come in a wide variety of designs and colors. (You may recognize them from college bookstores, since they’re available with a number of university’s emblems on them.) They’re especially handy if you’re looking to pair them with your own straw, since the large, puncture-style hole can fit almost any size straw.

Find It: on Amazon: Tumbler, Lid

7. SIMPLE MODERN 16-OUNCE TUMBLER WITH LID; $16

A dark gray tumbler with a black straw
Simple Modern

If you want something similar in design to a single-use plastic cafe cup but are looking for something more durable than most reusable plastic tumblers, Simple Modern’s 16-ounce stainless steel travel tumblers might be the right fit. While more affordable than Hydro Flask’s version, these tumblers also feature stainless steel insulated walls designed to keep your drink icy for hours. Each one also comes with two lids: a straw lid for cold drinks and a sippable lid for hot beverages.

Find It: Amazon

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