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]

Oregon Launches the Country's First State-Wide Refillable Beer Bottle Program

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iStock

Being a frequent beer drinker doesn't just affect your waistline. It's also not good for the environment—all those cans and bottles add up. But Oregonians soon won't have to feel guilty for the bottles piling up in their trash cans, because the state just launched the first state-wide refillable beer bottle program in the U.S., as NPR and EarthFix report.

Oregon breweries are selling their beer in thicker, heavier beer bottles that customers can return to be cleaned and refilled, just like the milk bottles of yore. Seven craft breweries whose beers are available in stores across the state are currently participating in the refillable bottle program, but the distinct bottles can be used and refilled at any brewery in the state, and the program will likely expand in the coming years.

The bottles, stamped with the word "refillable," are made from recycled glass and can be reused up to 40 times. The design was developed by the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative, and customers can drop them off at any of the group's 21 redemption centers. The organization also runs the state's general container deposit-refund system, so customers can bring them to the same locations as any other recyclables.

The thicker shape allows them to be separated out from other recyclables that get dropped off at bottle deposit sites, ensuring that they get sorted out to be refilled rather than recycled with standard glass bottles.

Oregon passed the first state bottle bill in the nation in 1971 as a way to encourage recycling. In 2018, the state increased the bottle deposit from 5 cents to 10 cents, hoping to increase redemptions. About 73 percent of metal, glass, and plastic recyclables were actually redeemed in 2017, up from 64 percent in 2016.

While refillable beverage containers aren't the norm in the U.S., other countries are far ahead of us. Some provinces in Canada have nearly a 99 percent return rate for their refillable bottles, and the average bottle is reused 15 times. Most beer in Germany is sold in mehrweg, or reusable, bottles, and consumers can return them to any store that sells reusable-bottle beer to get their deposit back.

Though the Oregon program is an environmental boon, the carbon savings won't be as high as they could be. Oregon doesn't yet have a bottle washing facility to process the refillables, so they currently have to be shipped to Montana for washing. Eventually, the program will set up some of these washing facilities in-state, increasing its utility.

[h/t NPR]

You Can Visit Any National Park For Free This Saturday

Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images

Looking for something to do this weekend? Within driving distance of one of the country's more than 400 national parks? The timing might work out. On Saturday, September 22, the National Park Service will be celebrating National Public Lands Day by offering free admission to any national park that normally charges an entrance fee.

Established in 1994 by the National Environmental Education Foundation, National Public Lands Day is held annually on the fourth Saturday in September. The day is set aside to recognize and encourage stewardship of green space in individual communities. If you see an opportunity to volunteer that day, you can get a voucher good for admission on a day of your choosing.

Admission to federally owned parks during peak season averages $30 at the 117 locations that require payment for access. Recently, the National Park Service had considered raising the fee to $70 at 17 of the busiest parks. The potential move would help address maintenance and other costs, but it's drawn criticism from conservation groups arguing the locations should remain affordable to visitors. In the end, the NPS decided to raise prices by $5 for one-time entry, or $5 to $10 for an annual pass, though some fees won't rise until 2020.

You can search for parks by state or by activity using the National Park Service Find a Park search engine here. Note that any additional charges for camping or other attractions aren't included in the promotion.

Can't make it this weekend? The parks are open for a fee-free day four times in 2018, down from 10 in 2017. The next date is November 11, in honor of Veterans Day.

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