Air Quality in American National Parks and Big Cities Is Roughly the Same

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iStock

National parks usually have more vegetation, wildlife, and open spaces than urban areas, but the two don't look much different when it comes to air quality. As City Lab reports, a new study published in Science Advances found that U.S. national parks and the nation's largest cities have comparable ozone levels.

For their research, scientists from Iowa State University and Cornell University looked at air pollution data collected over 24 years from 33 national parks and the 20 most populous metro areas in the U.S. Their results show that average ozone concentrations were "statistically indistinguishable" between the two groups from 1990 to 2014.

On their own, the statistics look grim for America's protected areas, but they're actually a sign that environmental protection measures are working. Prior to the 1990s, major cities had higher ozone concentrations than national parks. At the start of the decade, the federal government passed the Clean Air Act (CAA) Amendments in an effort to fight urban air pollution, and ozone levels have been declining ever since.

The average ozone in national parks did increase in the 1990s, but then in 1999 the EPA enacted the Regional Haze Rule, which specifically aims to improve air quality and visibility in national parks. Ozone levels in national parks are now back to the levels they were at in 1990.

Ground-level ozone doesn't just make America's national parks harder to see: It can also damage plants and make it difficult for human visitors to breathe. Vehicles, especially gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs, are some of the biggest producers of the pollutant.

[h/t City Lab]

Good News: Washing Your Dishes By Hand Is a Waste of Time, Energy, and Water

iStock.com/filadendron
iStock.com/filadendron

Often, being a friend to the environment means giving up some of the conveniences of modern life—trying to drive less, eating fewer delicious steaks, forgoing fast fashion, taking the time to separate all your recycling, turning down your AC. But there’s one way to reduce your carbon footprint that’s actually more convenient than the alternative. Use your dishwasher.

Washing dishes by hand isn’t just laborious. It wastes a lot of water. According to Lifehacker, a kitchen faucet might shoot out up to 2 gallons a minute. An Energy Star dishwasher, by comparison, uses less than 5.5 gallons per load. Older dishwashers use more, still only 10 to 15 gallons. A manual sud session just can’t compete. You’ll just end up working harder and wasting more water than if you stuck everything in the dishwasher.

Your dishwasher likely saves electricity, too. Newer dishwashers tend to have more efficient heating mechanisms than your average home water heater, according to CNET. Energy Star estimates that an efficient dishwasher can save you $40 a year in electricity costs.

Newer designs ensure that even with less water, you’re still getting your dishes as clean as possible. Dishwashers heat water up to levels you wouldn't be able to handle while manually washing dishes—Energy Star certification dictates that a dishwasher has to heat up to 140°F—meaning that it can disinfect those gross plates better than you could yourself. Internal sensors can detect the amount of grime in the water, according to NPR, so that the dishwasher only uses as much water as it needs, and manufacturers have tweaked the design of dish racks to make sure each dish and utensil gets as much contact with the water as possible during that brief period.

That’s why experts NPR spoke to recommended scraping your plates clean before putting them in the dishwasher, rather than giving them a pre-rinse. If you must scrub by hand, it’s better to fill up a large metal pot to wash in rather than filling a whole sink.

But why waste your time? Go ahead, throw it in the dishwasher—just make sure to wait until it's full to run it.

[h/t Lifehacker]

A Free Cup Share Program Is Coming to Coffee Shops in Boulder, Colorado

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iStock.com/fotostorm

Paper coffee cups are wasteful, taking decades to break down in a landfill after they're used for just a small part of someone's morning. But they're also irresistibly convenient to many. A new startup called Vessel Works is aiming to tackle the waste problem at coffee shops by applying the convenience of disposable to-go cups to reusable mugs, Fast Company reports.

The program, which is launching in four Boulder, Colorado cafes, takes the pressure off of customers to provide their own reusable cups. Instead, they can download an app and use it to check out an insulated, stainless steel mug free of charge. Throughout the day, the app updates them on ways their choice has made a difference, including how much waste they've prevented, how much water they've conserved, and how much they've reduced their carbon footprint. When they're done with the drink, users have five days to return their mug to a Vessel kiosk; from there it will be cleaned in one of the startup's facilities and returned to a cafe where the cycle will start all over again.

Vessel isn't the first company to attempt to bring reusable cups into the sharing economy. In 2016, coffee shops in Hamburg, Germany adopted a program where customers could acquire a mug for a small deposit and return it to a participating cafe to get their money back. Vessel Works's program differs in that users are never asked to pay unless they fail to return their cups on time (in that case, they'll be charged a fee).

Vessel is currently working with Boxcar Coffee Roasters and Trident Booksellers and Cafe in Boulder, and is coming soon to Seeds Library Cafe at the Boulder Public Library and the Pekoe Sip House at the University of Colorado. The startup hopes to eventually expand to more cafes and install dropoff kiosks at more convenient locations like transit stops.

[h/t Fast Company]

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