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Your Basic T-Shirt Has a Big Impact on the Environment

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Dig through your closet at home and you’ll likely find at least one basic cotton t-shirt. The t-shirt is a wardrobe staple that transcends the fashion boundaries of age, class, and gender, but its life cycle is a little more complicated than its simple style lets on.

In their new video, TED-Ed traces the major footprint the shirt industry leaves on the planet.

Your t-shirt came a long way before ending up on the shelf at your neighborhood clothing store. After the cotton is grown on a farm in one part of the world, a process that requires large amounts of water and pesticides, it needs to be treated, woven, and dyed at a facility, sometimes in a totally separate country. At this point the fabric still isn’t ready to hit stores—it needs to be woven together by hand, often by low-wage workers in Bangladesh, India, China, or Turkey. Only then are the shirts ready to make the long journey from the impoverished nations where they’re made to wealthier markets like the U.S. All this transportation required to get a clothing item into the hands of the consumer is why apparel production accounts for 10 percent of worldwide carbon emissions.

After buyers take their t-shirts home with them, the impact doesn’t stop there. That shirt will need to be washed many times over the course of its life cycle, eating up water and energy along the way.

Feeling overwhelmed yet? Fortunately, there are some easy choices shoppers can make to be gentle on the environment. Instead of supporting “fast fashion” outlets, find places that sell organic apparel that’s made close to home. Or better yet, buy second-hand from a thrift store. You can continue your environmentally-conscious streak after making the purchase by washing your clothes less and drying them on a clothes line.

For more ways to make your daily life a little greener, check out these eco-friendly suggestions.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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8 Projects That Reenvision the Traditional Cemetery
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Globally, nearly 57 million people died in 2016. If you happen to be a cemetery caretaker, you might be wondering where we managed to put them all. Indeed, many cemeteries in the world’s major cities are filling up fast, with no choice left but to tear up walkways, trees, and green spaces just to make room for more graves.

In response to these concerns, a variety of visionaries have attempted to reimagine the modern cemetery. These plans tend to fall into one of two camps: Biologists and environmentalists have brainstormed alternate methods for disposing of bodies, some of which are said to be better for the planet than the traditional methods of burial and cremation. Meanwhile, architects have looked at ways of adapting the burial space itself, whether that means altering a traditional cemetery or creating something new and more ephemeral. Here are just a few of the creative ideas that have emerged in recent years.

1. VERTICAL CEMETERIES

As cemeteries started running out of ground to dig, it was only a matter of time before they started building up. There's been a lot of talk about skyscraper cemeteries in recent years, although the idea dates back to at least 1829, when British architect Thomas Willson proposed a 94-story mausoleum in London.

"The vertical cemetery, with its open front, will become a significant part of the city and a daily reminder of death’s existence," says Martin McSherry, whose design for an open-air skyscraper cemetery with layers of park-like burial grounds was one of the proposals presented at the Oslo Conference for Nordic Cemeteries and Graveyards in 2013. Another recent plan by architecture students in Sweden suggested repurposing a cluster of silos into a vertical columbarium (a place to store urns). Brazil’s Memorial Necrópole Ecumênica was one of the first places to implement this vertical concept back in 1984, and at 32 stories high, it currently holds the Guinness World Record for the tallest cemetery.

2. REUSABLE GRAVES

For much of human history, graves were often reused, or common graves were dug deep enough to accommodate multiple bodies stacked one on top of the other. “Our current cemetery design is actually a pretty new thing,” Allison Meier, a New York City cemetery tour guide (and Mental Floss writer), tells us. “It wasn’t normal for everyone to get a headstone in the past and we didn’t have these big sprawling green spaces.”

Now that many urban cemeteries are filling up, the idea of reusing plots is once again gaining popularity. In London, it’s estimated that only one-third of the city’s boroughs will have burial space by 2031. In response, the City of London Cemetery—one of the biggest cemeteries in Britain—has started reusing certain grave plots (the practice is legal in the city, even though grave reuse is outlawed elsewhere in England).

Across continental Europe, however, it's not uncommon for graves to be "rented" rather than bought for all eternity. In countries like the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and Greece, families can hold a plot for their loved one as long as they continue to pay a rental fee. If they stop paying, the grave may be reused, with the previous remains either buried deeper or relocated to a common grave.

Meier says she isn’t aware of any cemeteries in New York City that have started reusing their plots, though. “That’s a tough thing for Americans to get on board with because it’s been a normal practice in a lot of places, but it’s never been normal here,” she says.

3. A FLOATING COLUMBARIUM

A rendering of a floating columbarium
BREAD Studio

Ninety percent of bodies in Hong Kong are cremated, according to CNN, and niches in the city's public columbaria are at a premium. The average wait for a space is about four years, sparking concerns that Hong Kongers could be forced to move their loved ones' ashes across the border to mainland China, where more space is available. (A space at a private columbarium in Hong Kong can be prohibitively expensive, at a cost of about $128,000.) To address this issue, a proposal emerged in 2012 to convert a cruise ship into a floating columbarium dubbed the “Floating Eternity.” Designed by Hong Kong and London-based architecture firm BREAD Studio, the columbarium would be able to accommodate the ashes of 370,000 people. Although it's still just an idea, BREAD Studio designer Benny Lee tells CNN, "A floating cemetery is the next natural step in Hong Kong's history of graveyards."

4. UNDERWATER MEMORIALS

An underwater lion sculpture and other memorials
Neptune Reef

Land may be limited, but the sea is vast—and several companies want to take the cemetery concept underwater. At Neptune Memorial Reef off the coast of Key Biscayne, Florida, human ashes are mixed with cement to create unique memorials in the shape of seashells and other objects of the client's choice. The memorials are then taken by divers to the ocean floor and incorporated into a human-made reef designed to look like the Lost City of Atlantis. Eternal Reefs, based out of Sarasota, Florida, offers a similar service.

5. SPACE MEMORIALS

Not a water person? Try space instead. Elysium Space, a San Francisco-based company founded by a former software engineer at NASA, offers a couple of “celestial services.” At a cost of nearly $2500, the Shooting Star Memorial “delivers a symbolic portion of your loved one’s remains to Earth’s orbit, only to end this celestial journey as a shooting star,” while the Lunar Memorial will deliver a "symbolic portion" of human remains to the surface of the moon for a fee of nearly $10,000. Another company, Celestis, offers similar services ranging in price from $1300 to $12,500.

6. HUMAN COMPOSTING

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Critics of burial and cremation say both are bad for the environment. To address the need for a memorial method that doesn’t emit carbon dioxide, waste resources, or release carcinogenic embalming fluid into the soil, a number of eco-friendly options have emerged. One such innovation is the “mushroom burial suit," a head-to-toe outfit that's lined with mushroom spores designed to devour human tissue and absorb the body's toxins. Another company, Recompose, espouses human composting—a process by which a corpse would be converted into a cubic yard of soil, which could then be used to nurture new life in a garden. The procedure isn’t legal yet, but the company plans to work with the Washington State legislature to make it available to the general public before eventually rolling it out nationwide.

7. DEATH AS ART

Many innovative proposals have emerged from the DeathLAB at Columbia University, including a plan to convert human biomass (organic matter) into light. The design—a constellation of light that would serve as both a memorial and art installation—won a competition hosted by Future Cemetery, a collaboration between the University of Bath’s Centre for Death & Society and media company Calling the Shots. John Troyer, director of the UK-based center, says they're working on raising funds to install a concept piece based on that design at Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol, England, but any usage of actual biomass would have to be cleared through the proper regulatory channels first. According to DeathLAB, the project would save significant space—within six years, it would more than double the capacity of the cemetery orchard where the memorials would be installed.

8. VIRTUAL CEMETERIES

As virtual reality technology gets more and more advanced, some question whether a physical cemetery is needed at all. The website iVeneration.com, founded by a Hong Kong entrepreneur, lets users "create virtual headstones anywhere in an augmented reality landscape of Hong Kong, including such unlikely places as a downtown park," as Reuters describes it. In Japan, one online cemetery allows the bereaved to “light” incense, share memories of their loved one in comments, and even grab a virtual glass of beer. Similarly, an app called RiPCemetery created a social network where users can craft a virtual memorial and share photos of the deceased.

However, Troyer says he doesn’t believe technology will ever usurp the need for physical spaces. “A lot of the companies talking about digital solutions talk about ‘forever’—and that’s very complicated with the internet, because the virtual material we create can easily disappear," he told the The Guardian. "The lowly gravestone has been a very successful human technology, and I suspect it will last … I would go with granite.”

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15 Things You Can Do to Help Keep Oceans Clean
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Summer is here, and millions of people will take to the most beautiful beaches all around the world for relaxing afternoons of sunbathing and swimming in the ocean. Our beaches and oceans are a natural wonder that should be taken advantage of, after all. But they're also facing a pollution crisis. From untold tons of plastic to carbon emissions and household chemicals getting into our waterways, the dangers facing marine life are mounting.

In honor of World Ocean Day on June 8, it's important to realize that it's not enough just to enjoy our oceans—we also have to keep them clean and actively protect them. And here are 15 ways you can help.

1. EDUCATE YOURSELF.

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It's hard to clean up the ocean without knowing why and how it gets polluted in the first place. So the first step is to get informed. Go online, turn on a documentary, or grab a book from the library—there are countless ways to learn about the ocean without having to move off the couch.

Learn how your plastic water bottle winds up in the ocean in the first place, or how the oil from your engine can travel through the sewer and into nearby bodies of water. You can even learn about lesser-known forms of pollution—did you know that even noise pollution underwater can kill marine life? The best way to begin your ocean advocacy is to know the hows and whys.

2. CUT DOWN ON PLASTIC.

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There are plenty of reasons to cut down on the plastic you use every day, but if you want to do your part for the ocean, it's doubly important. To put it into sobering perspective: It's possible that around 8 million tons of plastic get into our oceans every year, harming plant life, water quality, and marine animals around the globe. To put that into further perspective, around Los Angeles, around 10 tons of plastic fragments find their way into the Pacific every day.

Single-use plastics are among the most wasteful, but they're also the easiest change you can make to your lifestyle. Instead of buying single-use plastic water bottles in bulk, switch to reusable bottles you can fill up again and again. There is also a movement among cities, countries, and certain restaurant chains to get rid of plastic straws, bags, utensils, and other smaller plastic items that can be easily swapped out for something more sustainable. Make that change in your own home, too.

3. HOLD COMPANIES ACCOUNTABLE.

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It's not just individual consumers who need to watch their plastic consumption—it's local restaurants and global corporations as well. Find out which companies and businesses employ the best practices when it comes to packaging and plastic usage and which ones don't.

If you feel like your local take-out place or café is being excessively wasteful, tell them. (Also, do your part by telling them you don't need any plastic utensils or paper napkins if you're planning to eat at home or the office.) And if your issue is with a larger chain, get in touch with them on social media or write an email. Then you can start digging deeper. Harmful microbeads are banned in the U.S. [PDF] for their impact on oceans (though the ban's not 100 percent in effect yet), but what about in other countries? And are the products you're using actually free of them? Find out, because while you may practice clean ocean habits, the companies you buy from may not.

4. BE AWARE OF CHEMICALS IN YOUR GARDENS AND ON YOUR LAWN.

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Pesticides, fertilizers, weed killers—three things that are ubiquitous on lawns and gardens around the world, but each can be very harmful for our oceans. Pesticides and weed killers work by using dangerous chemicals, and though your plants and yard may benefit, those chemicals can easily get into our water systems. And if you live close enough to an ocean, they’ll likely end up there.

Fertilizers have an interesting effect on the eco-system. The excess nutrients can be carried by rain and wind to various water systems. Once in rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans, these nutrients can help with the growth of algae at an unnatural rate. When this happens, the algae's natural toxins can not only poison marine life, but the algae itself can use up the oxygen in certain areas of water, making it impossible for anything else to survive. These are called "dead zones," and the roughly 500 of them around the globe cover some 245,000 square kilometers (that's about the size of the UK). Luckily, there are ways to have and maintain a garden while being responsible to the environment.

5. RECOGNIZE THE HARM OF INDIVIDUAL LITTER.

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Picking up after yourself on the beach should go without saying, but just take a look around the sand the next time you're by the shore—obviously someone didn't get the memo. Stray bottles, cans, bags, and napkins can be ubiquitous along waterways, and even just one piece of litter can pose a problem. This garbage can be picked up by the wind, get stuck around the necks of birds and other animals, and carried back out to sea by the tides.

Keep anyone in your party accountable for their messes, and if you encounter some trash that isn't yours, pick it up anyway and throw it away. That plastic bag or discarded soda can is an immediate threat to any marine life that could get caught in it, so be sure to do your part.

6. VOLUNTEER YOUR TIME TO CLEAN UP.

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Picking up litter while on a beach vacation is great, but you can also organize your own cleanup in your community if you live near an ocean. First, talk to local politicians and community groups to see if there's an existing ocean cleaning effort in your area. If not, go through those channels to help organize one. This is a great way to call on townspeople in your area—including friends, strangers, and local schools—to help beautify the area and teach positive habits when it comes to maintaining a cleaner ocean.

7. DONATE TO AN OCEAN CHARITY.

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Not everyone lives near an ocean to help do the legwork, but a simple donation can go a long way. Research charities in your state or around the country that help clean the ocean and see if they're holding a fundraiser or collecting supplies for a cleanup effort.

In addition to donating to cleanup charities, there are also ways to give money to research efforts, conservation groups, and educational foundations.

8. WATCH WHAT YOU FLUSH.

Using a plunger on a backed-up toilet.
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Medicines have been detected in groundwater and in marine life in the past, likely from being flushed and lingering in water systems afterwards. And 4500 wet wipes were found in a 154 square-meter portion of the Thames river in 2017—a byproduct of a bathroom staple that doesn't break down in the flushing process like people think.

These are just two examples of products that are often flushed or poured down a drain without a second thought but could build up over time and pollute local waterways, soil, and oceans. Cotton balls, floss, cat litter, insecticides, vegetable oil, paint—this is just a snapshot of products that are harmful for oceans and marine life if flushed. So next time you open that toilet lid to discard a harsh cleaning agent, find out if it's safe.

9. CONSERVE WATER.

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Any of the water you use in your home is later sent to a sewage treatment plant [PDF] where the pollutants are removed before being reintroduced into local bodies of water. The problems come not only when harmful products and chemicals are flushed, but also when we simply use too much of the available water.

As the Surfrider Foundation points out, excess water at these treatments plants can overwhelm the systems—many of which are older anyway—leading to pollutants getting through and finding their way into oceans, rivers, streams, etc. To do your part, simply conserve the use of water in your home. Take shorter showers, don't leave sinks running, and cut down on any superfluous activities like washing your car for long periods of time.

10. DON'T THROW ANYTHING OVERBOARD.

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Whether you're out on a cruise or fishing on a lake, be mindful of what you leave behind. Never throw any trash overboard, even if you think it's harmless, like a stray fishing hook or line, or something small like a used piece of chewing gum or a cigarette butt. There's a ripple effect to any foreign item that enters a waterway, and often the consequence is that those tiny items amass into a large problem for the local ecosystem. Encourage those around you to be similarly mindful, and take proactive measures to ensure garbage and recycling bins are onboard during your trip.

11. WATCH WHAT YOU EAT.

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Being a responsible seafood consumer is a vital part of ocean conservation, and knowing what fish you're eating and where it's coming from is a big part of that. Familiarize yourself [PDF] with the fish you buy and where it was caught when you pick out your next meal, and ask your local supermarket chain or restaurant if their selection of seafood has been farmed in an ethical way that protects the ocean's ecosystem and doesn't pollute the water in the process.

12. REACH OUT TO ELECTED OFFICIALS.

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What's your state representative or governor's stance on ocean pollution and conservation? Is your state considering offshore drilling, which can result in accidents that impact the environment? Find out what the politicians in your state are doing about the environment and see if it's a plan that will provide a cleaner ocean for future generations.

If your state is in a good place, ask if there is a chance to volunteer to help realize the goals of your elected officials. If your state isn't doing enough about the oceans, write letters and get in contact with both elected officials and local environmental clubs of influence. For instance, the Pacific Fishery Management Council recently voted to protect approximately 140,000 square miles of ocean from bottom trawling, a move that will prevent commercial fishing nets from harming coral and rocky reefs in that area. According to The Pew Charitable Trusts, who were also involved, this vote was a result of five years worth of research and lobbying from environmental groups and charities, and thousands of letters from activists and concerned citizens.

13. STAY UP TO DATE ON THE NEWS.

A person reading the news on their phone.
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Taking care of oceans and waterways requires vigilance, and staying informed is vital to that cause. Read up on the latest products that have been deemed harmful to the ocean or environment (like this recent study on why black plastic can't be recycled the same way as other plastics); keep an eye out for any environmental tragedy, like an oil spill or a tropical storm in your area that requires a cleanup; and be sure you're in the know about any organized rallies or fundraisers you can take part in.

14. UNDERSTAND YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT.

Car exhaust emitting smoke.
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Carbon dioxide isn't just responsible for pollution in the air—it also makes its way into the ocean. In fact, about a third of manmade CO2 makes its way into the ocean, which equates to about 22 million tons a day. This can cause acidification of the water, which affects the health of the marine life—especially shelled animals—that live there.

Taking stock of your own carbon footprint is important, and it becomes even more urgent when you think of the impact it has on everything. Climate change is all connected with one danger leading to another, leading to another, and so on. See how your energy habits can be more sustainable for the environment and make some much-needed adjustments. Simply driving less, buying energy efficient lights and appliances, and using fewer disposable goods can help.

15. TELL YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY.

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Don't keep all this knowledge to yourself! Bring up some of the more important facts to friends and family next time you're at the beach or out at a seafood restaurant. Invite them to join you for a cleanup, and encourage them to be mindful of their own carbon footprint. Your enthusiasm for healthy oceans and environments could be contagious, and you may soon find yourself with a network of like-minded individuals looking to make a difference.

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