North America's Devastating Wildfires, Viewed From Space
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North America’s Devastating Wildfires, Viewed From Space

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North America's Devastating Wildfires, Viewed From Space

North America’s Devastating Wildfires, Viewed From Space

If you live on the west coast of North America, it’s likely that you’ve felt a bit smoked out, lately.

Wildfires in British Columbia, Canada are already the worst in the province’s history, while California has had a particularly rough season with human deaths, evacuations, and billions of dollars of damage.

Oregon has one confirmed death from a wildfire in mid-July, and Washington hasn’t gotten off easy, either. On July 31, 2018 a state of emergency was declared in the Evergreen State.

Visualizing Wildfires From Space

Today’s image comes to us from NASA, and it shows aerosols around the world including those originating from volcanoes, desert dust, cloud cover, sea-salt – and of course, smoke.

Here’s the same image with labels, indicating black carbon on the west coast of the continent:

Wildfires, hurricanes, and slash and burning

The wildfires are just as visible as the massive slash-and-burning occurring in Central Africa, hurricanes and typhoons, and even the dust swirling up from the Sahara, the world’s largest desert.

Here’s a visualization of the fires in North America, with some extra zoom:

North America smoke

It’s clear from this image that smoke isn’t just affecting the coast – in fact, experts say it has been travelling as far as Ireland, in lesser concentrations of course.

Other Visuals

While we thought the visualization above was the most striking, there are countless of other examples from the last month that show the extent of wildfires and smoke on the west coast.

Here’s another shot from NASA from a few weeks ago, during peak wildfire season in California and Oregon:

And here’s an image of Seattle and Vancouver from mid-August, when smoke from Canadian fires was so bad in those cities that it was like “inhaling seven cigarettes” per day:

Air Quality

Future Forecast

As we roll into September, the worst of the wildfire season is over.

Unfortunately, it’s already been the worst in British Columbia’s history. Here are the 10 worst fire seasons graphed since 1950, based on square kilometers burned:

BC Wildfires
Data as of Aug 29, 2018, and from the BC Forest Service

While this year has been an anomaly, it may also be a preview of what’s to come. One recent report out of California said that the number of wildfires over 25,000 acres is likely to increase by 50% leading up to 2050.

Is this the new normal?

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Top 10 Most Littered Plastic Items in the U.S.

Plastic waste can now be found everywhere on Earth, from the highest peaks to the deepest seas, but what is the most littered item in the U.S?

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The following content is sponsored by Greenbutts
Top 10 Most Littered Single-Use Plastic Items in the U.S.

The Top 10 Most Littered Plastic Items in the U.S.

Hailed as a miracle material when it first appeared, plastic has taken us to the moon, revolutionized medicine, and helped make computers and cellphones possible.

But plastic has a darker side. The world generates over 350 million tons of plastic waste every year, and over one-fifth of that is mismanaged. As a result, plastic waste can now be found everywhere on Earth, from the highest peaks to the deepest seas. There is also evidence that plastics at the nano-scale can cross cell walls.

This visualization from Greenbutts is the first in our Single-Use Plastics Series. It takes data from Keeping America Beautiful’s 2020 National Litter Study and asks the question: what is the most littered single-use plastic item in the U.S.?

2020 National Litter Study

A staggering 9.7 billion cigarette filters make them the single-most littered item in the United States. This is nearly one-fifth (19.6%) of all littered items. If you were to place these cigarette filters end-to-end, they would wrap around the Earth five times.

Waste typeNumber of pieces littered
Cigarette filters9,697,652,100
Plastic film (non-food)2,839,486,700
Plastic film (food)2,574,609,700
Expanded polystyrene (non-food)1,356,464,400
Non-film plastic food packaging649,688,000
Beverage packaging587,076,000
Expanded polystyrene (food)583,235,600
Single-serve wine & liquor325,476,500
Plastic bags307,365,600
Water bottles275,372,600

Considering that 240.9 billion cigarettes were sold in the U.S. in 2022, and that more than 80% of cigarette filters are littered, it is possible that this figure is actually conservative and likely only a small fraction of the true number.

These findings are in line with other international studies. Cigarette filters are routinely the number one most-collected items during the Ocean Conservancy’s annual International Coastal Cleanup.

Food and beverage containers of various kinds were also a key source of plastic litter, representing half of the top 10. Interestingly, plastic bags were only number nine, perhaps because of the success of bans at the state and local level.

Cigarette Filters Are Not Biodegradable

There is a common misconception that cigarette filters are biodegradable. Biodegradation is the breakdown of organic matter by microorganisms, and despite their almost cotton-like appearance, cigarette filters are actually made from a kind of plastic called cellulose acetate.

Plastics degrade in the environment, often through exposure from the sun’s UV rays, breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces. But ultimately, plastic gets into the food we eat, and even the air we breathe.

Cigarette filters can take years to degrade, from 18 months to 10 years according to research, causing significant harm to the environment in the process.

Tackling the World’s Number One Plastic Pollution Problem

Greenbutts has developed a certified biodegradable, plant-based alternative to the world’s number one plastic pollution problem, cigarette filters.

This is the first piece in our three-part Single-Use Plastics Series from Greenbutts. Next up is an exploration of the impact of plastic cigarette filters on the marine environment.

>> Interested in investing in Greenbutts? Click here to learn more now.

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