US to Ban Microbeads for 2017

President Obama sat down on Monday of last week (12/28/2015) to sign a bill banning microbeads from products sold or distributed in the United States of America.  You may have become accustomed to the soothing exfoliation in your face wash, but trust us – this bill is a good thing.  Microbeads are plastic fragments or beads that are smaller than 5 mm (though most are smaller than 1mm) contained in a variety of products from toothpaste and other personal care items to household cleaning supplies.  Their small size is part of their design – they’re built to go down the drain – but because of their small size, they aren’t all filtered out during waste water treatment and get flushed into our waterways.

Small things like this tend to add up:  a study from Environmental Science & Technology from September conservatively estimates that approximately 8 trillion microbeads are released into our waterways every day – that’s enough to cover over 300 tennis courts daily.  Not to mention that the microbeads that do get filtered out during waste water treatment may still end up in our water ways through various disposal methods – and they’ve been soaking in sewage sludge.  The microplastics are nuisance enough – they take a long time to break down due to their lives being spent in cool waters where they accumulate in higher and higher concentrations.  These kinds of plastics have been found to soak up chemicals and pollutants from the air and water, like pesticides and hydrocarbons that are related to cancer.  Fish and other aquatic life are mistaking them for food particles and eating them, which not only can harm the fish, but also can lead to microbeads ending up on our plates.

microbeads-cartoon-by-steve-greenberg

This new law will mandate that these environmentally harmful beads will be excluded from products starting in July 2017. This shouldn’t prove a problem for corporations like Johnson & Johnson as these microbeads were simply created to mimic exfoliants found in nature, which, to no surprise, are hands-down more effective exfoliants than their plastic counterparts.

You don’t have to wait until next July to begin making a change, you can begin avoiding microbeads right now.  Check your labels:  if you see things like polyethylene, polylactic acid (PLA), polypropylene, polystyrene, or polyethylene terephthalate – stay away.  If you see things like walnut husk, pumice, oatmeal, or apricot – scrub away.  You can also check out this helpful list of products that contain microbeads from the International Campaign Against Microbeads in Cosmetics, or visit their website beatthemicrobead.org.

New Year's Resolution: Drive Less

If you’re still scrounging for a New Year’s Resolution, take a page from our book: resolve to drive less this coming year. Not to go less places, not to do less things, but to simply drive less. Recognizing we have a problem is the first step – approximately 92 percent of people in the region drive alone to work (16 percent higher than the national average). This is astounding, especially when you consider how many different options we have for travelling locally here at UT Knoxville. We have public transportation both on campus and throughout the city of Knoxville, we have the greenways that are perfect for biking, walking, running, or even hoverboarding, as well as the sheer fact that everyone you’re stuck in traffic with before and after work is headed in the same direction as you at the same time (just look at all of those carpooling opportunities!).


Driving a car costs money, and more than just the cost of gas. Maintenance, insurance, depreciation, and yes, gas, add up to between $7500 and $9500 a year – and that’s not including the cost of the car itself. The more you drive it, the more it costs, and the more you’re at risk: accounting for approximately 40,000 deaths a year, driving a car is one of the most dangerous things you can do. The environment, of course, is another consideration. Due to our high driving rate, our region’s air quality is ranked 7th worst in the nation. Commuting alternatives, like carpooling, biking, or walking, help us shrink our greenhouse gas emissions, and if you’re choosing something active, help us shrink our waistlines too!

If saving money and burning calories aren’t enough incentive for you, check out Smart Trips, a commuter rewards program that promotes alternatives to driving alone. They have a ridematching service so you can get in touch with people near you who are looking to carpool, they have a number of awesome services like Emergency Ride Home that make alternative commuting a breeze, not to mention their Commuter Rewards program that gives you prizes for your environmentally conscious choices.

For those of you ready to take the plunge and leave your car at home for the semester, you can rest assured that you’d have a ride if you ever needed it: between your friends and UT’s partnership with ZipCar, a car sharing service that gets you where you need to go when you need to go without all the hassle and accompanying responsibility car ownership brings.

For more information on transportation options here at UT Knoxville, email us at sustainability@utk.edu. Safe travels!

UT Public Dropoff

UT Facilities Services recently featured UT Recycling‘s Mackenzie Read in their latest DIY Video on the Public Dropoff.

Located at 2121 Stephenson Drive, Knoxville, TN 37996, the UT Public Dropoff is open 24/7 for anyone to come and dispose of their recyclables. Taking a look at all of those bins might be a little overwhelming, especially when you get closer and see that all of those bins are for different categories of materials, from batteries to styrofoam. The Waste Warriors at UT Recycling do their best to make separating your recyclables go as smoothly as possible, from videos to their website to having staff members there to help you put everything in the right place throughout the day!

The Paris Agreement

COP 21 was able to reach their main goal in coming to a consensus on an agreement to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius (which they hope to limit even more to 1.5 degrees Celsius) above pre-industrial levels. The Paris Agreement was able to address that and more: including all of the crucial areas that the more than 40,000 delegates from 195 countries identified as essential to achieving their goals.

  • Reducing emissions that contribute to temperature rise, with a goal of reaching the global peak of GHG emissions as soon as possible.
  • Establishing a transparency system throughout the globe to account for climate action nation to nation.
  • Increasing adaptability of nations as we deal with the already occurring and future impacts of climate change.
  • Strengthening nations so they can recover from already occurring and future damages of climate change.
  • Establishing a network of support, including finance, to build a clean and resilient future for the globe.

Climate change is an issue that the world will have to face together, and in Paris, we saw an example of how we can do that.  According to Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, the Paris Agreement serves as a message to the people of the world that “a low-carbon, resilient future is now the chosen course for humanity in this century.”  There is still a great deal of work to do,  but it’s worth it – we don’t have a back up plan!

For more information on COP 21 and the UNFCCC, check out our earlier post.  For more information on the Paris Agreement, check out the UNFCCC’s article.

Green Holidays

Trees are green, lights are green, wreaths and garlands and holiday-themed wrapping paper are green – but they aren’t always green in the sense of sustainability.  The winter holidays tend to promote traditions like abundant feasts, elaborate decor, and gratuitous indulgences.  All of these things tend to not be environmentally-friendly, though that’s not to say that they can’t be.  Last year, we focused on how to avoid waste during the winter holidays, so this year we wanted to focus on other things that can save your money, save your time, and save our environment!

When decorating this season, rethink your lights.  There’s nothing quite like seeing all of the houses lit up and twinkling during the winter holidays, but then again, there isn’t much like the accompanying electricity bill either.  Use more LED and other energy efficient lighting when decking your doorstep.  They require 1/50th of the electricity required by conventional lights, and last for decades to come (if you can get them untangled year after year!).  You can also lessen your footprint by putting your lights on a timer or turning them off when no one is home.

For those of you who celebrate Christmas, consider using a real tree!  Plastic trees can be reused from year to year, but they’re often made from non-renewable resources, and they also find their way into a landfill after a few years (where they’ll live for many centuries to come).  Living trees are a renewable resource that not only support our nation’s farms and economy, but also improve our air quality.  Not to mention live trees can be broken down into mulch, or even replanted if you get a potted tree.

The holidays are about family and friends, which translates into a lot of travelling, gift giving, and feasting. There are ways to engage in these traditions without breaking the bank or filling the landfills with trash and un-re-gift-able presents.  When gift-giving this season, consider giving things like experiences (tickets to an event or a place that they love), your time (babysitting, cooking, helping out), or a charitable donation.  When visiting your friends and family, avoid the traffic by using more sustainable forms of transit, like public transportation, carpooling, and simply lessening your time behind the wheel and clearing unnecessary traffic.  Remember, 50 people in 50 cars takes up a lot more road than 50 people on a bus, walking or riding bikes, or carpooling together!

Winter holidays are full of warm traditions, nostalgia, and gratefulness.  Incorporating more sustainable practices into your traditions will ensure that we’ll have this great earth to share with our future generations for years to come.

Happy holidays to you and yours,

UT Knoxville’s Office of Sustainability

PS:  If you haven’t already, you can download December’s Make Orange Green Calendar (pictured above) for your phone or your computer here!

UT Charged to Develop Cutting-Edge Classes in Power Electronics

The US Department of Energy selected UT as one of two institutions to receive almost $6 million in combined funding for the development of postgraduate courses and studies in power electronics.

Because of the university’s close ties to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), investment in the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI), and programs like the Center for Ultra-Wide-Wrea Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks (CURENT), UT has established itself as a major player in the field.  The university really hopes to help in this national cause, churning out research and trained engineering professionals to better our nation’s future through technological advancements in energy efficiency.

Classes and training programs supported by the DOE funds are to begin in the fall semester of 2016.  For more information on this honor, check out TN Today’s article.

COP 21 Coming to a Close This Week

This week, the fall semester will come to a close, and so will the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference.  If you haven’t been keeping up with the news, here’s a little rundown of what you missed.

  • The Climate Conference is officially the 21st Conference of Parties (which explains why the trending hashtag is COP21). The Conference of Parties is an annual meeting of all 195 nations that participate in the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  These meetings serve to assess the nations’ response to climate change, and can also negotiate agreements and goals for the nations’ to better combat this pressing issue.  This meeting will see more than 40,000 delegates from 195 countries, and is the largest conference that the French government has ever organized.
  • The specific goal of this year’s conference is for the nations’ to come to a consensus on a legally binding agreement that aims to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (which is the threshold that scientists agree would have disastrous effects on the habitability of the planet).  Some argue that the limit should be lower.  Regardless, we are set to reach 1 degree Celsius this year, so something must be done.  With significant reductions on emissions, especially from the United States and China (the largest emitters), and support for sustainable development in all countries, we may be able to avoid crossing that threshold.
  • This final week of negotiations will address proposed compromises, make revisions and edits as necessary, and ideally be finished by Thursday, December 10th, in order for legal verification and translation to the six official UN languages (English, French, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, and Spanish) to take place so that the agreement can be officially adopted on Friday, December 11th, at the closing session.

It’s important for this conference to achieve it’s goal.  Without this agreement, there won’t be anything regulating greenhouse gas emissions or sustainable development practices after 2020 (when the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement established at at COP 7, will run out).  Without these regulations, it’s pretty much guaranteed that the planet will cross the 2 degree Celsius threshold.  With that, we can expect changes in weather (hot and cold), changes in agriculture and food supply, and general strife as an unprepared planet is faced with an unpredictable environment.  We can all take steps to fight against climate change by reducing our carbon footprint through sustainable practices in our transportation, our energy use, and even the things we buy day to day.

For more information on the Paris Climate Conference, keep an eye on our Twitter and Facebook, and pay attention to #COP21!

UT to West TN Winter Break Trip

Heading to West Tennessee for Winter Break? Off-Campus and Commuter Services has you covered with a bus trip to take you home. Making stops in Jackson and Memphis, TN, the buses will leave from UTK campus on Friday, December 11th, at 9 AM eastern time. The return trip will leave from Memphis, TN (making a stop in Jackson again), on Sunday, January 10th, at 2 PM central time. The cost for the trip is $55 for both ways.

For more information or to register, follow this link, or get in touch with Off-Campus and Commuter Services (email: commuter@utk.edu, phone: 865 974 4546, twitter: @commuterVOLs). Registration for the trip is open now!

Water Distribution Project Honored by American Institute of Architects

The UT College of Architecture and Design was recognized by the East Tennessee Chapter of the American Institute of Architects at its annual design awards program where two educators and a design project were honored at the program.

Marleen Davis, Distinguished Professor of Architecture, was honored with the 2015 Gold Medal Award, and Bill Shell, retired UT architecture professor, received the organization’s Award of Merit.

The design project, a water kiosk project involving the design and build of a water distribution structure that provides clean drinking water for 9,000 families, earned a Design Award of Merit. The project was led by John McRae, professor of architecture, and carried out by faculty and students from the college’s schools of Architecture, Interior Design, and Landscape Architecture, as well as students from UT’s Colleges of Nursing and Engineering and the UT Law Enforcement Innovation Center.  The structure was fabricated over a three-month period and constructed on site in Kentucky during a one-week period last spring.  Funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services, it contains two water dispensers, a covered area for a farmers’ market, and a cistern to collect rainwater for use in an adjacent greenhouse.

For more information, check out the TN Today article.

Learning is Getting Your Feet Wet

Civil and environmental engineering senior, Brandy Manka, has been working as a part of the storm water analysis project (supported by the Green Fee) to study the flow and water quality parameters of Second Creek during storm events. She finds the hands-on experiential learning valuable, because it enables her to put the things she learns in the classroom to use. She was encouraged to engage in research during her freshman year by the RISER program (Research and Instructional Strategies for Engineering Retention)—a program that works to attract and retain students (primarily women) in engineering at UT.

To see the whole story, check out TN Today’s full feature.

The Green Fee, officially known as the Student Environmental Initiatives Fee, provides funds for student, faculty, and staff ideas for projects that contribute to a more sustainable UT. The Green Fee Committee meets once monthly, and the November meeting is coming up on Tuesday, November 24th, at 1 PM in Facilities Services Conference Room 110. For more information and directions to the meeting, go here.