A more sustainable version of plastic could be a reality

Mountains of plastic in China

News: It’s well known; very little plastic is actually recycled globally–only 10% or less.


It’s the plastic itself along with the materials that are commonly added to it–dyes, flame retardants, and much more. These additives are hard to separate from the plastic during the recycling process due to the way plastics are currently made; the chemical bonds that hold the plastic together are hard to break. And, even when successfully recycled, few manufacturers want to use the resulting nurdles (pellets). The recycled plastic is lower quality than new plastic.

However, a newly developed plastic, a type of vitrimer, has chemical bonds that require “less energy to break than those in traditional plastics.” This new plastic can be separated “into its constituent parts” using just “water and a strong acid at room temperature.” This makes it much easier to sort out and collect the higher-quality plastic byproducts from the additives and even the lower-quality plastic components during the recycling process. The result is recycled plastic that is “on par with brand new material.”

Will manufacturers use and recycling plants accept this new material? That’s a next step …

Learn more: Read the article (Alex Fox, Science, 22 April 2019).

And, go to the sourceClosed-loop recycling of plastics enabled by dynamic covalent diketoenamine bonds (Peter R, Christensen, et al., Nature Chemistry, 22 April 2019).

Social media and depression

Social media and depression

News: These social media behaviors are related to major depressive disorder (MDD): individuals who are more likely to compare themselves to others better off than they are (or that they think are better off than they are; social comparison), those more bothered by being tagged in unflattering pictures, and those less likely to post pictures of themselves. “Participating in negative social media behaviors [especially on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat] is associated with a higher likelihood of having MDD.”

But, social media use is not all negative for people suffering from MDD or having depressive symptoms. “Increasing social interaction, whether face-to-face or through social media, may buffer feelings of loneliness and isolation”–feelings common to depression.

It comes down to individuals understanding the positives and the negatives and then using social media accordingly.

Go to the original sourceSocial comparisons, social media addiction, and social interaction: An examination of specific social media behaviors related to major depressive disorder in a millennial population (Anthony Robinson, et al., Journal of Applied Biobehavioral Research, 8 January 2019).

Why don’t we do anything about climate change?

Lack of action on climate change will especially impact our children
Lack of action on climate change will especially impact our children

News: Our climate–Earth’s climate–is changing. It’s a fact, not a theory, not a guess. Overall, our climate is getting warmer; we will see fewer periods of “normal weather”, there will be longer stretches of extreme temperatures (hot and cold), longer periods of drought interspersed with sporadic episodes of torrential rain or heavy snow. Ice at the Poles is melting rapidly; sea levels are rising. We will see more frequent and more powerful storms, more and larger wildfires, more climate refugees fleeing areas that will become virtually uninhabitable. The areas of the Earth without enough fresh water will grow, large numbers of animal and plant species are declining or becoming extinct, the impacts of climate stress on people will grow including a likely increase in the number of suicides … all of this and more is happening right now and will continue. Our children, our children’s children, and future generations will pay the price of our collective inaction, greed, and folly.

So, why don’t we do something about it? Why didn’t we do something about it? There was research back in the 1970’s and 1980’s that pointed clearly at what was going to happen if we did not act. But, we–collectively–have done almost nothing.


Because, humans are strange creatures. Psychologically, “humans are naturally prone to making short-term decisions as opposed to pursuing longer-term collective interests.” Short-termism may be one of the greatest threats today to humankind. People are impacted much more by the concrete rather than the abstract. And, climate change is often presented in a very abstract way. Charts, graphs, text–it will impact us but we don’t know exactly how much and only sometime in the hazy future. In contrast, “concrete information tends to convey greater urgency, triggering the belief that we need to act now.” Concrete information is also more likely to trigger strong emotions. “And, concrete experiences can have powerful effects.”

Missouri River flooding in Iowa 2019
Missouri River flooding in Iowa 2019

For example, watching unprecedented spring flooding in the midwestern U.S. on TV or your computer from the comfort of your (dry) living room makes the event seem abstract. It’s happening over there, somewhere else; it’s not happening to me or in my town. But, having your own house flooded, your possessions destroyed, your town submerged, your life upended–that is very concrete and may cause you to move away from the river and start a new life, or at least to buy flood insurance, etc.; it may cause you to take immediate, real action.

Flood damage inside a home
Flood damage inside a home

So, what does this mean for climate change? Is there a lesson here that can assist long-term beneficial collective action to reduce, mitigate, and adapt to climate change?

Make climate change concrete, make it personal, show the impact on children, our children, especially. Make it real enough that we extend our default, selfish human self-interest from the short-term to the future, even extend it to a concern for other species … that may drive action and make us collectively more mindful of our impact on the future.

Learn more: Read the article (Paul A.M. Van Lange and Brock Bastian, Scientific American, 23 April 2019).

Microplastics now found in the mountains

Microplastics now found in the mountains

News: Microplastics–tiny fragments of plastic waste–can be “ingested and inhaled by humans.” There are many news reports and studies that have shown that microplastics can now be found in all areas of the oceans–with severe impact on ocean life and increasing impact on people that live near the oceans. New research confirms that microplastics can now also be found in mountainous areas remote from cities. Specifically, researchers discovered microplastics “falling from the sky in dust, rain, and snow” in the Pyrenees mountains in southwestern France over 60 miles from the nearest city.

When analyzed, it was found that these microplastics mostly came from the single-use plastic packaging used in shipping. When swept up into the atmosphere, these tiny bits of plastic may float well over 60 miles before “falling back to Earth.” Extrapolating from the amount of plastics collected in the Pyrenees, the researchers estimate that some 2,000 tons of microplastics fall from the atmosphere over France each year.

Microplastics of this size “are virtually impossible to clean up.” The only solution “is to produce less in the first place.”

Learn more: Read the article (Alex Fox, Science, 15 April 2019).

And, go to the sourceAtmospheric transport and deposition of microplastics in a remote mountain catchment (Steve Allen, et al., Nature Geoscience, 15 April 2019).

See also —

Microplastic pollution can be spread by mosquitoes

How to deal with single-use plastics

Science Primary Literature Database–last 5 added

The Science Primary Literature Database provides access to primarily journal articles and book chapters that have been found useful by college and university science students.  The publications included in the Database have been both used and cited by multiple students and highly cited in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. The Database continues to grow as new items are identified.

The last 5 items added to the Database are —

Grimm, J. B., Heckman, L. M., & Lavis, L. D. (2013). The chemistry of small-molecule fluorogenic probes.
Progress in Molecular Biology and Translational Science113, 1–34.

Ptaszek, M. (2013). Rational design of fluorophores for in vivo applications
Progress in Molecular Biology and Translational Science113, 59–108.

Pearcy, R. W., Tumosa, N., & Williams, K. (1981). Relationships between growth, photosynthesis and competitive interactions for a C3 and C4 plantOecologia48 (3), 371–376.

Genz, M., Melse, O., Schmidt, S., Vickers, C., Dörr, M., van den Bergh, T., et al. (2016). Engineering the Amine Transaminase from Vibrio fluvialis towards Branched-Chain Substrates. ChemCatChem8(20), 3199–3202.

Sklash, M. G., & Farvolden, R. N. (1979). The role of groundwater in storm runoff. Journal of Hydrology43(1-4), 45–65.

Good carbs and high fiber

Good carbs are high in fiber and not high in sugar
Good carbs are high in fiber and not high in sugar

Just as with fats, there are “bad carbs” and “good carbs” (and conflicting dietary claims and sometimes controversy). Importantly, good carbs are high in fiber but not high in sugar. Good carbs include fiber-rich whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.

Despite the proponents of low-carb diets, recent scientific reviews and research indicate that for long-term health (and not just immediate weight loss) people should eat more carbs, not less–but they should consume good carbs rather than bad.

The reviews and research suggest that consuming more good carbs as part of one’s diet (and that’s significantly more than what most people currently eat) can lead to 15-30% decreases in mortality and the incidence of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and colorectal cancer. Other benefits can include weight loss, lower blood pressure, and lower cholesterol. “The relationship between a high-fiber diet and lower disease risk could be causal.”

Read the article (Rita Rubin, JAMA, 17 April 2019).

And, go to the source — Carbohydrate quality and human health: a series of systematic reviews and meta-analyses (Andrew Reynolds, et al., The Lancet, 10 January 2019).