By building a closed-loop system, Mango Materials tackles two environmental problems: climate change and plastic pollution

After completing her Ph.D. in Civil & Environmental Engineering in 2009 at Stanford University, Molly Morse harnessed her research on the production of PHA (polyhydroxy alkanoate) biopolymers from methane — and its biodegradation — and shaped it into a start-up business in 2010. Where her research at Stanford laid the theoretical groundwork, Mango Materials would focus on commercialization. “You know you have something worth commercializing if people do indeed want to buy it,” Molly said. After talking to customers, brands, and other interested parties, Molly and her three co-founders, Allison Pieja, Anne Schauer-Gimenez, and Bill Shelander, discovered their niche.

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Since we can’t just recycle our way out of the plastic pollution problem, there would need to be a number of biodegradable solutions instead. Mango Materials’ founders participated in an accelerator, Cleantech Open, where they learned about business plans, financial modeling, logo making, and how to incorporate. And with the help of a Phase 1 National Science Foundation grant, they were able to access other investment opportunities. But the road wasn’t always easy. …


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Forest restoration project in Chattahoochee, FL, part of ACC’s Electric Election 2020 Roadtrip

One environmental non-profit aims to change the conversation among conservatives

Conservative activist Benji Backer began the American Conservation Coalition (ACC) in 2017, after first coming up with the idea in a freshman entrepreneurship class at the University of Washington.

“He saw this gap in ideas when it came to the environment,” said ACC Communications Director Karly Matthews. “There was a lot of progressive and liberal engagement on the issues and he felt that conservatives did care about the issue, but they weren’t talking about it.”

By working with representatives at all levels of government, Benji hoped to “revamp this environmental conversation and actually make some progress in reducing emissions by bringing both sides to the table.” …


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Image by Lincoln Else (via www.alaskawild.org)

Why the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is worth fighting for

Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is witness to the largest land mammal migration on the planet. It sees millions of migratory birds every year that tour through six continents. Some call it the American Serengeti. And it’s currently under threat.

As Adam Kolton, Executive Director of the Alaska Wilderness League explained, this coastal plain, all the way in the Northeast corner of Alaska, is nothing short of a natural wonder. …


L.A. Compost’s Michael Martinez wants to change the way the city thinks about waste

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Image courtesy Michael Martinez

Michael Martinez loves soil — and, as founder and executive director of L.A. Compost, he’s making it his mission to help other people see the value it in too.

“There’s a lot of demystifying that needs to take place,” he said. “When we say compost, people think of manure or poop or flies or rats… or just dirt. The more you get into the world of soil, you recognize how beautiful it is, how alive it is, and how anything that is alive on this planet deserves protection and is viewed as sacred.”

Growing up, Michael’s parents always had a garden with fruit trees and held great respect for outdoor spaces and growing food. It’s this early outlook that led him to start a school garden while he was a fifth grade teacher in Los Angeles. This fostered meaningful conversations with students about where food really came from. …


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Art by Elkpen

How Friends of the LA River adapts to the times

The Los Angeles River conjures images of a concrete basin filled with water only a couple months of the year. But since 1986, Friends of the LA River (FoLAR) has fulfilled its mission to show Angelenos just how important the waterway is.

The organization, founded by rebel poet Lewis MacAdams, had “a pretty funky history in the eighties, with Lewis doing performance art where he would paint himself in blue and wear a white suit and channel Willy Mulholland,” said Michael Atkins, Senior Manager of Communications and Impact for the organization. …


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Courtesy: greatgreenwall.org

How the Great Green Wall became a pan-African solution

About 60% of the African continent is considered drylands. For people residing in these areas, that often comes with the effects of desertification, land degradation, drought, and climate change. So when politicians in 2005 made the ambitious plan to build a wall of trees across the Sahel, it was embraced — if not fully understood. By 2007, the African Union endorsed the plan to build a “wall” of vegetation over 7000 kilometers along the Sahel, at about 15 kilometers wide.

“The idea of planting a lot of trees was a political solution,” said Elvis Tangem, coordinator for the Great Green Wall Initiative at the African Union Commission. “Heads of state said, ‘Let us plant trees to stop the advancement of the desert. Let us plant trees to stop these droughts and dust storms. Let us plant trees.’ So the whole idea of planting trees was a metaphor for a multitude of actions to ensure that these lands can be restored to keep people in their communities.” …


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Crewmembers analyze plastic samples (Photo by Sophie Dingwall)

eXXpedition clocked 10,000 nautical miles before COVID-19 hit— and they aren’t done

When the first leg of eXXpedition’s Round the World mission set sail on October 8, no one could have anticipated the global pandemic that would force the research trip — and much of the world — to press pause. Least of all Mission Leader Sally Earthrowl.

“We were out to sea, on one of the longest legs, between Easter Island and Tahiti, when COVID-19 became a global pandemic, so it was a race against time to get into port,” she said. …


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Hiro’s Bokashi Club volunteers make and distribute Bokashi to LA residents

A primer on Bokashi composting at home

The COVID-19 pandemic has flipped the script on sustainability. Where we used to gather and protest and plant and pick up strewn trash, many of us are now spending more time at home than ever. But that doesn’t mean our efforts are put on pause.

Climate change protests, for one, are staying strong online. And while traditional composting has become more difficult during the pandemic — New York, for example, stopped picking up curbside compost in May due to budget cuts —composting is still possible in any kind of home. …


Tracing hemp’s complicated history—and future—with industry pioneer Eric Steenstra

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Minnesota Hemp Farms

In 1938, Popular Mechanics dubbed hemp the “new billion-dollar crop” with over 25,000 uses and applications. That level of popularity never materialized. “If you look at it, it’s an amazingly beneficial plant. The fiber produces incredibly nutritious seed. You’ve got the cannabinoids. You can make building materials from the woody core. Even the roots have value,” said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, a DC-based advocacy group.

Eric was first turned on to the material when his friend Steve DeAngelo shared a book with him called The Emperor Wears No Clothes by Jack Herer. “Jack was the guy. He had rediscovered hemp in the late ’70s, early ’80s. Without him, I don’t think any of this would have happened,” Eric said. “He self-published his book and went all over the country to college campuses to talk to anybody that would listen and try to get the book out there. Through that process, he was able to educate. From what I understand, there were millions of copies of the book eventually sold. It got published in multiple different languages. It was across Europe and a number of other areas. …


Residents along Cancer Alley are fighting for their right to clean air

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RISE St. James members have fought for their right to pray and lay flowers at gravesites beneath the Formosa Plastics site. (Courtesy RISE St. James/Facebook)

There’s a stretch of land along the Mississippi River corridor that has been the target of petrochemical companies for years. Between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, hundreds of plants fill the air with toxins and soot at such speed that the area is already considered to have “some of the most dangerous air in America.” It’s known as Cancer Alley — it has the highest cancer rates in the U.S. — and as if the effects haven’t been felt enough already, seven new petrochemical facilities and expansions have been approved since 2015, including a $9.4 billion Formosa Plastics factory in St. …

Nadine Zylberberg

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