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Sustainable plastics: the world’s future materials



Four members of the University of Minnesota’s Centre for Sustainable Polymers write about how making sustainable plastics is not just a pipedream.

Polymers are the giant molecules that make up plastics. These ubiquitous materials protect our foods, make our cars lighter and more efficient, and are in myriad household items.

Nearly all polymers are derived from fossil fuels, led by high-volume products such as polyethylene (PE), polystyrene (PS), and polyvinylchloride (PVC). In both their production and their disposal, these materials present inescapable environmental challenges that are costly to correct in the short-term and unsustainable in the long run.

Fortunately, the advent of a vibrant and growing bio-based chemical industry that does not rely on finite resources such as natural gas and oil as feedstocks provides a new driver for the invention of competitive and sustainable polymers, while simultaneously fuelling economic development and generating green chemistry jobs.

About 300m tons of plastic are produced globally each year, and only about 10% of that is recycled. Roughly 33% of plastic is designed for single use, and then is typically thrown away (e.g., most packaging materials).

Ironically, the very attributes that make plastic so desirable are the same things that make it so problematic. Plastic is inexpensive, lightweight, and durable, which makes it an ideal material for various industries (e.g., retail, packaging and manufacturing). However, because plastic is so desirable the volumes generated are huge, and because it is so durable it does not naturally erode in the environment on reasonable time scales.

Video: Plastics are a vital part of our lives, but they also are rife with adverse environmental impacts. In “Can We Make Plastics Sustainable?”, the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and the Centre for Sustainable Polymers explore how we can enjoy the benefits of plastics and keep our planet healthy, too.

The accumulation of plastic waste over the last sixty years has culminated in an environmental crisis. One needs only walk a few yards along any of the Earth’s tens of thousands of miles of sandy beach to spot a fractured chunk of yesterday’s shiny new plastic creation.

Moreover, the petroleum market is notoriously volatile, and over the last decade as the price of petroleum has escalated, the cost of raw materials used in the production of polymers has also steadily risen. For example, from 1985-2007 the price of soybean oil in the US grew by just 50% while over the same time period the price of crude oil has risen 150%.

One strategy to address these problems is to use renewable resources to prepare polymeric materials with the same (or even better) properties as traditional plastics, but that will not carry the same environmental taxation associated with petrochemically derived plastics.

The Centre of Sustainable Polymers (CSP) at the University of Minnesota is pursuing this strategy.

The overarching goal of the CSP is to develop a comprehensive knowledge base that enables the efficient and economical conversion of natural and abundant molecules into tomorrow’s advanced polymeric materials. Such plastics are targeted to be compostable and biodegradable, ultimately alleviating the accumulation of plastic waste.

A recent study by the US Department of Agriculture estimated that renewable polymers could account for up to 20% of the global polymer market by 2025, so the future for these types of technology is close at hand.

CSP researchers are tackling the scientific challenges inherent in developing new, sustainable materials through multiple projects using a variety of approaches. For example, studies of the detailed chemical mechanisms by which biorenewable polymers are prepared are leading to the development of new, more efficient polymerisation catalysts.

New building blocks derived from plants for sustainable polymer synthesis are being developed and used to prepare complex polymer architectures that lead to useful properties. Thus, multiblock polymers built from natural starting materials are being pursued as thermoplastic elastomers and pressure sensitive adhesives.

Also, CSP researchers are preparing new vegetable oil-derived polyols that are key components of polyurethane (PU) foams. Polyurethane is one of the most versatile polymeric materials with regard to both processing methods and mechanical properties.

Based on the selection of reactants, the resulting PU can be a rigid material, a flexible elastic substance or even a viscoelastic gel. This wide range of achievable properties makes PUs an indispensable component in building construction, consumer products, transportation and medical devices.

The use of vegetable oil‐derived polyols in foam synthesis is not only desirable but also critical in reducing petroleum components in PU.

The CSP has adopted a multi-disciplinary basic research approach to developing, improving, and expanding bio-based polymers that is well-suited to the inherent challenges associated with innovation and development of these exciting new materials.

The centre has partnered with industry leaders to understand their needs and to seek guidance in research directions, and has also established collaborations with colleagues in the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs in order to foster relationships with legislative leaders and participate in policy decisions that may impact the direction of these industries.

Finally, we continue to reach out to the public in order to educate them about the importance of sustainable polymers as the world’s future materials.

Laura Seifert, Marc Hillmyer, Bill Tolman and Tom Hoye are all part of the University of Minnesota’s Centre for Sustainable Polymers.

Further reading:

Global food system crisis

The Great Recycle


What Kitchen Suits Your Style? Modern, Classic or Shaker?




shaker kitchen designs

A kitchen is the centre of the home. Your kitchen ranges between where friends and family gather, talk about their day, cook meals, have drinks, to somewhere you can just enjoy each other’s company. The kitchen is the heart of the home. But, everyone’s lifestyle is different. Everyone’s taste is different. So, you need a kitchen that not only mirrors your lifestyle but matches your taste too. Whilst some prefer a more traditional design, others want a modern feel or flair – and it’s all down to personal taste.

When it comes to redesigning your kitchen, what style would you go for? It’s a difficult one isn’t it. With so many different styles to go for, how can you know exactly what you want until you’ve seen it in action? Leading kitchen designer, Roman Kitchens, based in Essex, have provided three examples of bespoke kitchens and styles they specialise in, accompanied with beautiful images. This design guide will get you one step closer to picking your dream kitchen for your home.

1. Modern

New home in the city centre? Or even a sleek new modern build? You want a trendy and modern kitchen to reflect your city lifestyle. In modern kitchen design, colours are bolder and fresher, with sleek design and utilities that are distinctive and vibrant.

modern kitchen designs

This modern kitchen is sleek and smooth with flawless design and beauty. Minimalism doesn’t stop this kitchen standing out. Featured walls of wood and vibrant mint green draw the eye, whilst the white surfaces reflect the light, illuminating every nook and cranny of this kitchen. This kitchen features products from Rotpunkt, innovators of modern kitchen design. Made with German engineering, a Rotpunkt Kitchen is the ultimate modern addition to your home. Rotpunkt Kitchens have timeless design and amazing functionality, they work for every purpose and are eco-friendly. Sourced from natural materials, a Rotpunkt kitchen uses 37% less timber, conserving natural forests and being more environmentally conscious.

2. Classic

Prefer a homely and traditional feel? Classic kitchens are warm, welcoming and filled with wood. Wood flooring, wood fixtures, wood furniture – you name it! You can bring a rustic feel to your urban home with a classic kitchen. Subtle colours and beautiful finishes, Classic kitchens are for taking it back to the basics with a definitive look and feel.

classic kitchen designs

With stated handles for cupboards, Classic kitchens are effortlessly timeless. They convey an elegant but relaxing nature. Giving off countryside vibes, natural elements convey a British countryside feel. The wood featured in a classic kitchen can range between oaks and walnut, creating a warmth and original feel to your home. Soft English heritage colours add a certain mood to your home, softening the light making it cosier.

3. Shaker

Any kitchen planner will tell you that the meeting point between traditional and modern design, is a Shaker kitchen. They have a distinctive style and innovative feel. Shakers are fresh, mixing different colour tones with stylish wood and vinyl. The most important feature of a Shaker kitchen is functionality – every feature needs to serve a purpose in the kitchen. Paired with stylish and unique furniture, a Shaker kitchen is an ideal addition to any home.

shaker kitchen designs

The ultimate marriage between Classic and Modern kitchens, this Shaker kitchen has deep colour tones with copper emphasis features. All the fittings and fixtures blur the line of modern and tradition, with a Classic look but modern colour vibe. Unique furniture and design make Shaker Kitchens perfect for the middle ground in kitchen design. Minimal but beautifully dressed. Traditional but bold and modern at the same time. Storage solutions are part of the functionality of Shaker kitchens, but don’t detour from conveying yours as a luxury kitchen.

Whatever you choose for your new kitchen, be it Modern, Classic or Shaker – pick whatever suits you. Taste is, and always will be, subjective – it’s down to you.

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Ways Green Preppers Are Trying to Protect their Privacy



Environmental activists are not given the admiration that they deserve. A recent poll by Gallup found that a whopping 32% of Americans still doubt the existence of global warming. The government’s attitude is even worse.

Many global warming activists and green preppers have raised the alarm bell on climate change over the past few years. Government officials have taken notice and begun tracking their activity online. Even former National Guard officers have admitted that green preppers and climate activists are being targeted for terrorist watchlists.

Of course, the extent of their surveillance depends on the context of activism. People that make benign claims about climate change are unlikely to end up on a watchlist, although it is possible if they make allusions to their disdain of the government. However, even the most pacifistic and well intentioned environmental activists may unwittingly trigger some algorithm and be on the wrong side of a criminal investigation.

How could something like this happen? Here are some possibilities:

  • They could share a post on social media from a climate extremist group or another individual on the climate watchlist.
  • They could overly politicize their social media content, such as being highly critical of the president.
  • They could use figures of speech that may be misinterpreted as threats.
  • They might praise the goals of a climate change extremist organization that as previously resorted to violence, even if they don’t condone the actual means.

Preppers and environmental activists must do everything in their power to protect their privacy. Failing to do so could cost them their reputation, future career opportunities or even their freedom. Here are some ways that they are contacting themselves.

Living Off the Grid and Only Venturing to Civilization for Online Use

The more digital footprints you leave behind, the greater attention you draw. People that hold controversial views on environmentalism or doomsday prepping must minimize their digital paper trail.

Living off the grid is probably the best way to protect your privacy. You can make occasional trips to town to use the Wi-Fi and stock up on supplies.

Know the Surveillance Policies of Public Wi-Fi Providers

Using Wi-Fi away from your home can be a good way to protect your privacy.However, choosing the right public Wi-Fi providers is going to be very important.

Keep in mind that some corporate coffee shops such a Starbucks can store tapes for up to 60 days. Mom and pop businesses don’t have the technology nor the interest to store them that long. They generally store tips for only 24 hours and delete them afterwards. This gives you a good window of opportunity to post your thoughts on climate change without being detected.

Always use a VPN with a No Logging Policy

Using a VPN is one of the best ways to protect your online privacy. However, some of these providers do a much better job than others. What is a VPN and what should you look for when choosing one? Here are some things to look for when making a selection:

  • Make sure they are based in a country that has strict laws on protecting user privacy. VPNs that are based out of Switzerland, Panama for the British Virgin Islands are always good bets.
  • Look for VPN that has a strict no logging policy. Some VPNs will actually track the websites that you visit, which almost entirely defeats the purpose. Most obviously much better than this, but many also track Your connections and logging data. You want to use a VPN that doesn’t keep any logs at all.
  • Try to choose a VPN that has an Internet kill switch. This means that all content will stop serving if your VPN connection drops, which prevents your personal data from leaking out of the VPN tunnel.

You will be much safer if you use a high-quality VPN consistently, especially if you have controversial views on climate related issues or doomsday prepping.

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