YHD Blogs – The Potential of Piezoelectricity


This article is part of our “Youth Head Delegate Blog Series” — written by our YHDs! 


By Jenny L. 

Ever since the Industrial Revolution, our world has become reliant on fossil fuels. Despite major leaps made in the past few decades with solar, wind, air, water, and nuclear power, over 80% of the world still depends on this nonrenewable resource that entails catastrophic effects on our environment. Climate change, the melting of 175 billion tons of Arctic ice sheets per year, and the gradual destruction of the ozone layer are just a few examples of what use of this unsustainable energy source has done to the earth.

The seas absorb a quarter of all man-made carbon emissions, and through the burning of oil, coal and gas, it has become 30% more acidic. As the acidity in the waters rises, the amount of calcium carbonate, a material used by oysters and countless other marine organisms to form shells, has depleted drastically, thus slowing growth rates, weakening shells, and crippling entire ecosystems.

Oil is transported across the ocean in supertankers and is moved over land by pipeline, rail, and truck. In every case, the risk of oil spills poses a serious environmental threat. While major oil spills have decreased, they still occur; 3 large oil spills in North America released more than 5,000 barrels of oil each in 2013 alone. Spills and leaks from onshore oil pipelines also continue to be a major risk which holds the potential to release thousands of oil barrels at a time. 

However, the most detrimental effects of fossil fuels are felt when we burn these fuels and release carbon into the air. These emissions negatively impact the health of us humans, the ecosystem around us, and the planet. Of the many environmental and public health risks associated with burning fossil fuels, the most dangerous is the detrimental, irreversible changes incited by global warming. Fossil fuels produce large quantities of carbon dioxide, and when burned, these emissions trap the sun’s heat in the atmosphere, leading to a rise in temperature. This causes the melting of vast ice caps in the Arctic, decreasing the world’s access to freshwater, raising ocean levels, and posing dangers to wildlife. 

While many other forms of renewable energy have been discovered, such solar and wind energy, many depend on weather conditions, require much more space than fossil fuels, and are too costly to implement. Hydropower provides most of the world’s renewable energy and almost 90% of British Columbia’s electricity. The building of hydroelectric dams is not, however, without environmental drawbacks. The consequences of damming are far-reaching; conversion of surrounding valleys to lakes displaces communities of both humans and animals. Along with this, slowed flow-rates can cause severe losses in biodiversity, and increases in sedimentation may permanently change the river ecosystem.

Luckily, a new type of renewable energy is emerging. Piezoelectricity, a source of energy generated by applying pressure to certain materials, has proven to be very effective. Many companies are experimenting with piezoelectric tiles in hopes that it can take the load off unsustainable energy sources and make way for a cleaner future. Though a single step only generates a miniscule amount of energy, there is strength in numbers, and thousands of steps combined can greatly impact our lives. 

Currently, the VSB spends 3.7 million dollars per year on electricity bills, excluding the cost of maintenance. VSB is considering rebuilding many schools, as old construction has been deemed unsafe for earthquakes, including the school I attend, Eric Hamber. This is a great opportunity to add piezoelectric tiles and stairs into buildings, utilizing their efficiency and minimizing costs in electricity consumption once initial costs are covered.

 

There is a lot of work ahead towards a cleaner future, and piezoelectricity definitely has potential to play a role in this journey. We must work together to tackle the issue of nonrenewable energy, one step at a time!

YHD Blogs – Loss of Plant Biodiversity


This article is part of our “Youth Head Delegate Blog Series” — written by our YHDs! 


By Gwynneth T.

The world is full of amazing animals. Little pieces of life that we could stand to learn a lot from, in the way that they live and interact with the world around them. But, one thing that doesn’t get quite as much attention is the loss of plant biodiversity. From what we know, 39.4% of plants are now threatened with extinction. This is an unimaginable number when you consider the impacts of this on the way we live, and how the world functions around us.

First of all, we are barely on the brink of understanding plant consciousness. We are starting to see that forests and ecosystems are more interconnected than we ever thought. That they can communicate with each other using chemical signals bearing similarities to human emotions. Knowing this, it seems much more important that we give ourselves enough time to understand them before we assume there won’t be any negative impacts due to letting huge numbers of them go extinct. We’re finally starting to understand that plants are much more beautiful and complex than we could have ever imagined.

Another consideration is that the world is starting to tilt back towards natural forms of medicine. We are starting to see the long-term impacts of more chemically processed treatments. For all we know, the cure for cancer could exist in a certain plant. We could also be missing out on food sources that are more resilient to climate change. A great example of this is that it has been discovered that feeding livestock seaweed dramatically decreases their output of methane. If we let these seaweed species go extinct, we would be missing out on this opportunity to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Every plant species that go extinct means missed opportunities for the advancement and protection of our society in the face of a rapidly changing world. 



YHD Blogs – Climate Change


This article is part of our “Youth Head Delegate Blog Series” — written by our YHDs! 


By Valerie T.

Our everyday actions affect our community, but the main causes of Climate Change are from humans burning gas, coal, and oils, deforestation, and greenhouse gases produced by us.  The burning of the gases, coals and oils build up all the carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide in our atmosphere, hence creating a mass amounts of extremely small particles and acid rain.  Acid rain also plays a role in harming our forests due to it breaking down the nutrients in the soil therefore the trees are not able to absorb enough water for it to stay healthy.  They become weaker and easier to die which leads to the forests dying and us not having enough trees.  Forests are torn down by humans so we can fulfill the list of agriculture ideas, for us to build buildings on, and to achieve our activities which require lots of room.  When the trees die, are cut down, or burned, the carbon kept inside is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and once again contribute to the climate change and greenhouse effect.  Again, greenhouse gases being a big reason climate change is occurring.  Not just carbon dioxide being in the atmosphere but fluorinated gases, nitrous oxide, methane, and more are playing a part in such changes in our environment.  The fluorinated gases come from the industrial and manufacturing process, and also found in refrigerants and solvents.  Wetlands and grazing animals’ digestive systems are a huge factor in where methane is being produced. 

In order to reduce emissions, as humans who can do something to change the outcome.  To cut down on deforestation we could possibly move towards more forest-friendly business ideas to help maintain the forests we have left and keep them green.  If we decide to cut down trees, then we must plant as many or more than the amount we cut down. Trees are essential for life and the air that we breathe around us, in the absence of trees we wouldn’t have healthy oxygen and the atmosphere would not be as it is.  There are so many possible solutions to help with climate change, families can try to power their homes with renewable energy sources by having solar panels on rooftops.  In Hawaii, as I witnessed, many houses have solar panels on their rooftops so it is a very doable action many of us can fulfill.  Also, instead of buying so much food in our houses only buy what you need, some cultures may only be able to eat meat but for those who do have a choice, cutting down on the amount of meat being eaten.  The amount of food being thrown and wasted is a great deal.  Livestock products take lots of time and efforts to produce so to waste it because you cannot finish it, or you bought too much will contribute to the decay. The different solutions we can do to reduce emissions is endless, instead of driving your gas reliant vehicle, walking and biking are other options to reduce emissions into the air. 

Being environmentally responsible and aware of our community is the basis of taking care of our world.  I have learned that every small action matters, if we work together.  People who care about their environment right now and whom want to keep it this way will take part any way possible to reduce the emissions and live a sustainable lifestyle so that the growth of climate change will slowly flatten.  Educating others about the realities of climate change has become important to me as people must understand the urgency of this crisis.  Our actions, or lack thereof, determine the life future generations will live.

YHD Blogs – Discussing the Detriments of Disposable Bottles


This article is part of our “Youth Head Delegate Blog Series” — written by our YHDs! 


By Dean R.

Everyone needs water. Life depends on water to survive. The issue with bottled water specifically is that companies commoditize water, and change it from a natural resource to a tradable product. It is strange to put a price tag on a basic human right. Whenever you buy a bottle of water, you are buying the plastic the bottle is made of, not the actual water itself. Everyday, you are faced with a choice; do you carry around a reusable water bottle with you, or do you simply purchase plastic bottles of water throughout the day? 

The end result of a bottle of water is not worth the amount of effort and resources it takes to be created. Some companies use over 17 million barrels of oil to create one year’s supply of plastic bottles. It is a long process that is too complex for something that is manufactured and marketed as “disposable.” 

This is one of the main issues. Plastic water bottles are often used once or twice, but are then thrown away. The bottles accumulate and take up space in landfills and garbage dumps. Recycling isn’t really a viable option either, as only about 23% of plastic water bottles are recycled in the U.S. alone. Millions of bottles find their way into various ecosystems and habitats, where they take over 450 years to decompose and turn into microplastics. The most greatly affected ecosystems are oceans. According to the World Economic Forum, about a dumptruck’s worth of bottles ends up in the oceans every minute. The bottles harm marine life and ecosystems, and the plastics can even get into the food systems that humans rely on.

However, one exception is places where clean tap water and drinking water is scarce. People that live in these areas rely on bottled water because it is deemed “safer” than the normal tap water that they have access to. The issue of clean water is a completely different topic though, and buying bottled water out of necessity is not the fault of the consumer.

So what can we do to reduce plastic water bottle waste?  This is where reusable options come in. Before the surge of bottled water production in the 1990s, people had been using reusable water bottles for ages. Many ancient cultures had sustainable ways of storing and transporting water. These methods often used wood, glass, metal, or woven materials, and would last for quite a long time. They served the same purpose as disposable bottles, but were a lot better quality and not as flimsy.

Nowadays, water bottles are made from many kinds of materials, from thin plastic to insulated and durable stainless steel. The most sustainable options are metal, glass, and ceramic bottles. Some bottles come with filtration systems as well, to “purify” any water that may have pollutants, however the science behind this is still debated.

How can using reusable water bottles be beneficial? Not only are reusable bottles better for the environment, they’re better for you and your wallet. Investing in a good quality water bottle will save you a lot more money in the long term than buying disposable water bottles often. It is estimated that one person living in North America could save anywhere between $250-$3000 a year by refraining from purchasing bottled water.

So make the switch today. Go out and buy a good quality water bottle that is just right for you and your lifestyle. Or even better yet, you can upcycle something you already have at home, such as a jar! Your wallet, your health, and the planet will thank you deeply.

YHD Blogs – Greenwashing


This article is part of our “Youth Head Delegate Blog Series” — written by our YHDs! 


by Lauren T.

In the mid-1980s, oil company Chevron created a series of fancy TV and print ads to convince the public of its environmental authenticity.  The campaign was titled People Do. It showed employees protecting bears, butterflies and sea turtles, implying that cute animals and nature meant eco-friendliness.  It was so effective that it won an Effie advertising award in 1990.  It became the “gold standard” of greenwashing and a case study at Harvard Business school.  

Coca-Cola is another excellent example of a business that needs to demonstrate sustainability while advertising products.  In 2009, they launched an advertisement campaign centred on consumers recycling their Coke bottles after consumption.  It made people feel good about drinking their product; it was a great way to appease concerns about the sustainability of plastic bottles and cans.  Even now, they advertise their sustainable business with scenes of nature, colourful images and the claim to use less plastic.  Many of their descriptions hold vague or meaningless goals meant to sound impressive.  In reality, it is just a ruse to bury the truth of their unethical practices. This campaign is a case of “greenwashing,” a term coined by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in 1986.

Greenwashing is falsely conveying to consumers that a given product, service, or institution factors environmental responsibility into its offering or operations.  One group investigating and taking action against this is Greenpeace. “Corporations are falling all over themselves,” the group reported, “to demonstrate that they are environmentally conscious. The average citizen is finding it more and more difficult to tell the difference between those companies genuinely dedicated to making a difference and those that are using a green curtain to conceal dark motives.”  The most common greenwashing strategy, when a company touts an environmental product while its core business is inherently polluting or unsustainable.  Corporations pump out campaigns so that the consumer disregards the malpractice and instead focuses on its “voluntary action” to do better.

As consumers become more environmentally aware, corporations spend billions to convince them of a “green” or “eco-friendly” product.  Earth Day has become an advertisement opportunity for these greenwashers.  Activities like excessive logging and clear-cutting of ancient forests are covered with greenwashing used by governments and companies responsible.  Even solutions that are practically green and viable may be bathed in green light. Wind power is a clean and renewable resource and allows us to lessen our dependency on fossil fuels. On inappropriately placed wind farms, there are massive bird and bat deaths due to the completely unsuitable environments they run on.  When site locations are not carefully selected, greenwashing is used to cover questionable actions. Another example is solar power.  By itself, the sun creates renewable energy.  However, power plants are often built in fragile desert environments.  The energy may be renewable, but the desert ecosystem is not; this is again shrouded with greenwashing.  Installations themselves would destroy thousands of acres of desert vegetation that sustain native wildlife.

Educating yourself is one of the best ways to avoid greenwashing.  Look for labels that a third party has approved.  Just because it says “all-natural” or “made with organic ingredients”, does not mean that it’s true.  If you’re unsure, check a company’s website for misleading words, vague umbrella statements and graphics that make the product seem “natural”.  In a world we were can be so easily deceived, always take the time to see who is genuinely green.

 

Exec Team Recipes: Rachel’s Vegan Avocado Brownies


As part of our team’s continuing commitment to sustainability in our everyday lives, we have launched a new series — Exec Team Recipes! On this blog, we’ll share our favourite vegan recipes. Enjoy!


By Rachel Dong

Yield: 9 servings

Prep time: 10 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

Chia Egg Mixture

  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 3 tbsp cold water

Dry Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ⅓ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ cup avocado (mashed)
  • ¾ cup chocolate chips
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • ¼ cup coconut oil

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8 X 8 baking dish with parchment paper or grease with coconut oil. 
  2. Prepare the chia egg by mixing together chia seeds and cold water in a small bowl. Set aside.
  3. In a medium sized bowl, mix the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, cinnamon, and baking soda. 
  4. Mash the avocado into the dry ingredients.
  5. Melt and stir the chocolate chips, maple syrup, and coconut oil on the stovetop.
  6. Add the chia egg and melted chocolate mixture to the dry ingredients. Mix until well incorporated. 
  7. Spread the brownie batter into the prepared baking dish and sprinkle chocolate chips on top.
  8. Bake at 350°F for 18-20 minutes.

Lose that frownie, eat a brownie!

YHD Blogs – Sustainable and Eco-Friendly Products in the Cosmetics Industry


This article is part of our “Youth Head Delegate Blog Series” — written by our YHDs! 


By Ruby Pyo

The world of beauty and cosmetics is constantly undergoing changes as consumers constantly continue to look for products that do what they promise. And so, the beauty industry has evolved to become a massive $532 billion dollar industry that millions of people support. But what is hidden and unknown is that it solely relies on other industries that pollute the earth to produce the products we support. Studies show that the beauty industry produces 120 billion units of packaging a year, and the shipping industry that goes hand in hand contributes more than 1 billion tons of CO2 a year. Although we may not perceive it in its entirety, the beauty industry is in fact connected intricately with climate change. But things are looking up for the future of the beauty industry and its impact on the earth. Many beauty brands are finding solutions to diminish their impact on climate change when producing their products. In 2016, the “clean beauty” was worth $11 billion dollars, and will likely be twice its worth in 2025. Sustainable beauty brands have made promises to hydrate, clear your acne, and more all while being cruelty-free, vegan, and eco-friendly. But the remaining question is, why should consumers like ourselves purchase from sustainable and eco-friendly brands?

For consumers, the attractions of sustainable cosmetics outweigh the higher costs. Three major pros of sustainable cosmetics include environmental responsibility, increased effectiveness, and long-term health.

Firstly, modern consumers have grown to become more conscious of their global footprint, as well as their social and environmental responsibilities. But consumers often don’t care about how eco-friendly the packaging of beauty products is. No one would pick up a tub of face mask wrapped in layers of unnecessary plastic and go, “Is this biodegradable? Or could I reuse the tub for something else at home?”. But beauty brands have come up with a solution to this product. Biodegradable packaging and reusing is now our best friend when it comes to sustainability. For example, cotton rounds made of cloth and packaging made of recycled paper allows us to not worry about creating unnecessary plastic waste.

Secondly, research has proven that natural and non-chemical ingredients in beauty products are less likely to cause skin irritation and allergic reactions. Unlike synthetic chemicals and artificial colours which are often used in products for their publicity and promotion. Sustainable products rely solely on healing ingredients found naturally in plants and animals. For instance, glycerin is a derivative of palm oil. It is a liquid frequently used in soaps, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics. It is known to be a natural humectant, meaning it can hold onto water, making it an effective moisturizer. It is non-irritating, anti-ageing, and antimicrobial. Glycerin has all of the abilities of synthetic chemicals without their toxicity, therefore, it is a wonderful example of the natural effectiveness of sustainable cosmetics.  

Thirdly, the long-term effects of synthetic chemicals can be highly toxic to humans and the environment. It has been discovered that years of using them has led to headaches, eye damage, acne, hormonal imbalance and premature aging. By choosing sustainable cosmetics, consumers can invest in both their long-term health and beauty. A preventative measure that you can take to avoid this is to check the ingredients on the back of the product.

On the other hand, you may ask, which beauty brands offer these sustainable products? Wolf & Pine, Skin Essence Organics, The Cure Apothecary are all Canadian beauty brands that are low-waste and sustainable. In the past, I too was guilty of using products from big industries such as Neutrogena, St. Ive’s, etc. But now, I’ve made the transition to using soaps made from natural ingredients such as charcoal and apple cider, which has been life-changing for my skincare regime. So the next time you’re buying your next cleanser, moisturizer, or other product, stop and consider how using this product will affect not only you but the earth.

YHD Blogs — Sustainability in the Fashion Industry


This article is part of our “Youth Head Delegate Blog Series” — written by our YHDs! 


By Kaia Richardson

The world we live in is one that thrives on the overconsumption of goods due to ever-evolving trends. Clothing is widely regarded as a status symbol, used by the consumer to portray a certain persona and express creativity, and those who enjoy fashion will often find themselves regularly following trends globalized via social media. This obsessive -and often subconscious- need to maintain a specific presentation of oneself in the public eye is what fuels the fire that is the millions of tonnes of clothes thrown into landfills annually. As a seventeen-year-old girl who enjoys fashion as a creative outlet, I am absolutely guilty of buying clothes for the sake of trendiness and then only wearing them a couple of times. However, as I’ve developed my tastes and educated myself upon the issue of waste and pollution in the fashion industry, I have developed a list of ways to minimize my wasteful consumer habits and maximize the clothing that I already own. 

The first thing that I would like to mention is that I completely understand how people use trends to find a way of dressing that suits them; however, basing your entire wardrobe off of clothing items that go out of style every six months isn’t good for anyone. I suggest making mental notes of certain pieces, colours, and silhouettes that evoke excitement every time you style them. Find the trendier pieces you’re interested in at thrift or vintage stores, and spend more on long-lasting basics. I’m willing to spend a bit more on basics if they are exactly what I’m looking for and I know they were made sustainably, which brings me to my second point: ethical shopping. Sustainable brands are often listed at a higher price point, which is a dilemma that many people, like myself, face when trying to shop in an environmentally-friendly way. One of the main things to look for on a “sustainable” company’s website is “B-Corp Certified” or “B-Corp Pending.” B-Corp is an organization that uses a thorough screening process to ensure that the company is treating its workers fairly, using eco-conscious methods of production, and ensuring the safety of surrounding communities. This brings me to my third and final point: fast fashion. You can’t talk about sustainability in the fashion industry without bringing up fast fashion, which refers to companies that solely produce based on trends with little to no regard for how their means of production and sourcing are affecting their workers and environment. My personal opinion is to avoid these companies at all costs; however, if you have to buy, then only buy one or two pieces. Skip the two-hundred-dollar Shein haul. 

Overall, I highly recommend doing in-depth research on a company whenever you’re considering making a purchase. The idea that we “vote with our dollars” is entirely true, and holding brands accountable for their harmful practices is what needs to happen in order to make true change. 

YHD Blogs — Mealworms as a Solution to Polystyrene


This article is part of our “Youth Head Delegate Blog Series” — written by our YHDs! 


By Michael Z.

Polystyrene, commonly known as styrofoam, is a synthetic plastic used in a variety of applications throughout the world, mostly as cups and packaging. Each year, over 25 million cups are thrown away in the United States alone. This is largely due to polystyrene’s insulating properties and inexpensive production costs, making it a cheap, disposable commodity. The styrene polymer, although ingrained in contemporary consumer packaging and products, has detrimental environmental effects because of its non-biodegradable properties. Similar to many other plastics, polystyrene is non-biodegradable, with scientists estimating that it will take over 500 years for polystyrene to decompose. This is especially alarming because of the high amount of polystyrene within our landfills and ecosystems. While certain measures have been taken to reduce the reliance on polystyrene-based materials, over 30% of our landfills are filled with polystyrene. Furthermore, while some may argue that recycling is a solution to the plastic epidemic, sadly, most plastic doesn’t meet this end. Only 9% of all plastics are recycled, and even worse, only 6% of polystyrene-based materials are recycled.

Because of the non-biodegradable properties of polystyrene, it has resulted in the accumulation of the material upon our beaches, shores, and bodies of water. Polystyrene can be carried by water or wind through waterways into large bodies of water, where it can be decomposed into polystyrene beads, sometimes smaller than a centimetre. These beads can be easily digested by various organisms within the contaminated environment, sometimes resulting in choking or chemical buildup within each respective organism’s system.  Collectively, this has created the contemporary plastic epidemic: a problem where plastics like polystyrene have infiltrated natural environments, seemingly an insuperable issue. 

Enter the mealworm larvae. The mealworm is the larvae form of the Tenebrio Molitor (mealworm beetle), commonly used as a food source for reptiles and birds. In 2015, scientists from Stanford University discovered that the mealworm larvae could ingest and decompose polystyrene relatively safely. Because of certain microbes within the mealworm’s stomach, they don’t retain the same harmful chemicals that other organisms may perpetuate when digesting polystyrene. When fed a sole diet of polystyrene, the mealworms sustained the same cognitive and somatic health in relation to mealworms fed a normal bran diet. In a group of 100 mealworms, they were able to digest around 40 milligrams of polystyrene a day. Through gel permeation chromatography, the scientists analyzed the feces of the mealworms, which concluded in products of gas (99%) and biomass (1%).

 While the amount of biomass produced from ingesting Polystyrene is relatively small, mealworms stand as a possible solution to un-biodegradable polystyrene. Although the logistics and practicality behind mealworms as a large scale answer remain in the air, mealworms do enable new possibilities for plastic management and a brighter future. However, the plastic epidemic cannot be resolved just by mealworms. By utilizing sustainable and reusable commodities, you can stand with mealworms in the fight against polystyrene.