GSB News and Notes: Wind-Powered RVs at Tailgate Parties?; A Green Cactus League Partnership; Errant Golf Balls Add to Pollution of U.S. Waterways

Wind-powered recreational vehicles (RVs) could become a thing at college and pro football games. Arizona State University and the Oakland A’s launch a sustainability partnership at Hohokam Stadium. And golf balls hit into the oceans, lakes and more are a hazard for wildlife and water cleanliness. All in all, it’s a busy mid-week GSB News & Notes column.

 

WIND-POWERED RVs COULD BECOME TAILGATE PARTY STAPLES 

Drop in on the parking area of any SEC or Big Ten college football stadium on the Thursday before a big Saturday game and you will see dozens of RVs, filled with tailgaters, barbecuing, imbibing in adult beverages, playing touch football, watching TV and…promoting wind power?

OK, that last bit about wind power may be a stretch.

Or maybe not. According Michele Boyer, a retired writer and full-time RVer, mini wind turbines are now designed to be able to be mounted atop RVs.

 

RVs Penn State

A village of RVs stretch out to the horizon in the tailgate area before a Penn State University football game in State College, PA. Someday, perhaps soon, a portion of those RVs will sport wind turbines on the roof (Photo credit: visitpennstate.com)

 

Writing in the March 2nd issue of TripSavvy magazine, Boyer reports that Southwest Windpower, a subsidiary of Xzeres, a leader in the small wind turbine (45-80 feet high) market over the last 15 years, has gone even smaller, manufacturing a mini version that mounts on a large boat or RV.

The small size and rapidly declining cost has turned small wind systems into an economically viable option for RV owners, including, of course, those who tailgate. Many are now pairing small wind with small solar panel units to minimize the impacts of the intermittency problem — i.e. the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.

Solar and wind costs have each dropped dramatically over the last decade, with wind the cheaper option in many cases. “The cost of small wind has gone below five cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), about half the cost of solar power,” noted Boyer. “Installation and initial investment for an RVer are significantly less for a wind generator than for equivalent power-capable solar panels.”

Boyer does point out that, in addition to its intermittency, there are some drawbacks for RVers, including noise and dangers from electrical storms. 

That said, when I attend the Big Ten contest between the University of Iowa and Rutgers (the latter my alma mater) this September in Iowa City, I expect to see a windy, zip code-sized tailgate area, filled with RVs. And maybe a few will be topped by mini-wind turbines.

 

OAKLAND A’S MOVE TOWARDS ZERO-WASTE SPRING TRAINING, THANKS TO PARTNERSHIP WITH ARIZONA STATE

The Oakland A’s and Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability launched a partnership last month to help Hohokam Stadium in Mesa, Arizona move towards zero-waste during the 2019 spring training season. The goals are to increase operational efficiencies and improve the fan experience, all while moving Hohokam towards the 90 percent diversion rate threshold necessary to claim zero-waste status.

The A’s-ASU “Recycle Rally” program looks to build upon a similar program launched during spring training last year by ASU, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Colorado Rockies — the two National League West rivals share the Salt River Fields ballpark at Talking Stick, Arizona.

 

 

Hohokam

Panoramic view of Hohokam Stadium, spring training home of the Oakland A’s in Mesa, AZ (Photo credit: Baseball Pilgrimages)

 

As part of the initiative, a group of 21 ASU students are analyzing Hohokam Stadium’s waste stream and operations to help the 10,500-seat ballpark become more sustainable during the six weeks of spring training. They are putting their detective caps on to find the most innovative, fan-friendly and cost-effective approaches that can increase recycling, reusing and composting. After the A’s ship out at the end of the month to begin the regular season, the students will produce a report that recommends the best ways to approach waste minimization for spring training 2020 and beyond.

“The A’s are proud to call Mesa our home away from home, and we want to do our part to promote sustainability and minimize our environmental impact at Hohokam Stadium,” said A’s president Dave Kaval. “We are excited to team up with Arizona State University on this initiative and learn how to reach our goal of becoming a zero waste facility.”

Colin Tetreault, a senior sustainability scholar with the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, is directing the class of 21 “change agent” students as part of a capstone project. “The School of Sustainability is honored to hit a home run for sustainability and zero waste with the Oakland A’s,” Tetreault said. “This collaboration is an example of how sustainability can drive innovation, reduce costs and overhead, and increase the fan experience.”

 

GOLF BALLS CAUSE ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS IN SOME WATERWAYS

I gave up golf about 20 years ago, in part because too many of my wayward shots found their way into water hazards. My retirement from the links took place before I became passionate about sustainability and climate change, so thoughts about the environmental hazards associated with my inability to keep the little white ball dry did not enter my mind.

My perspective has changed, thanks in part to “How Golf is Polluting Our Oceans,” a recent story by Dalmeet Singh Chawla in Medium. The scale of the problem is bigger than I thought: Per Chawla, one estimate suggests the annual number of golf balls sent to the bottom of waterways could be as high as 300 million in the United States alone.

 

Matthew Savoca

According to esitmates, hundreds of millions of golf balls are hit into the waterways of the U.S. every year (Photo credit: Matthew Savoca)

 

That’s almost one wet golf ball per person in the U.S.

Crazy, no?

From that staggering macro number, Chawla’s story zoomed in to the micro, focusing on the efforts of 18-year-old scuba diver Alex Weber to do something about the problem. Since spring 2016, she has collected around 50,000 golf balls from Carmel Bay, California, not far from the legendary Pebble Beach Golf Links, site of the 2019 U.S. Open in June. 

To keep her beloved beaches pollution-free, she frequently carries out clean-ups to remove microplastics that wash up on the beaches from large ocean swells,” wrote Chawla. “One day in May 2016, Weber and her father decided to go free diving off the coast of their local beach. ‘What we came across was the entire sea floor was covered in golf balls,’ Weber recalls. ‘There were thousands of golf balls in every crack and crevice  —  I immediately felt sick to my stomach.'”

Her concern stemmed mainly from the toxins golf balls release from the bottom of oceans, lakes or bays, and the problems that poses for aquatic life. The solid core of a golf contain zinc oxide and zinc acrylate for enhanced the durability and flexibility. But both compounds are considered toxic in aqueous environments, and have been shown to activate stress responses in fish, algae, and crustaceans. Feeling responsible for cleaning up the mess that humanity created, the Webers continued collecting golf balls whenever they dove. 

Here’s more from Chawla: “Between May 2016 and June 2018, the Webers retrieved 50,000 golf balls in total, equaling around 2.5 tons of debris, roughly equivalent to the weight of a pickup truck. The father-daughter team have now co-authored a scientific paper, recently published in Marine Pollution Bulletin, describing the scope of the problem…Now known as the ‘Plastic Pickup Team,’ Weber and her father go on dives whenever the weather conditions allow, usually about six months out of the year. Sometimes, they spend up to 10 hours collecting golf balls.”

 

Alex Weber

Eighteen-year-old Alex Weber and her dad retrieve thousands of golf balls from Carmel Bay in Northern California (Photo credit: Alex Weber)

 

According to Matthew Savoca, a marine ecologist at Stanford University who co-authored the study with the Webers, around 10 percent of the collected balls were severely worn down. By calculating how much the balls had degraded, the authors predicted that the collected golf balls have given off around 28 kilograms of fragmented synthetic material to the oceans.

 

Robert Beck.png

Golf balls, unearthed from the bottom of the sea, in various stages of degradation (Photo credit: Robert Beck)

 

That said, and despite the Webers’ prodigious underwater efforts, golf balls represent a tiny percentage of the eight million tons of plastic humans dump into the oceans every year. And, as Robert Weiss, professor emeritus of polymer engineering at the University of Connecticut, remarked to Chawla, “the risk of leakage of harmful chemicals from golf balls is relatively low, partly because golf balls degrade slowly underwater.” 

But, per Savoca, in some locales —  in Carmel Bay, for instance  —  golf balls may be the most significant contributor of marine plastic. 

So what to do?

“The solution to our ocean pollution problem is not to take the plastic out but to stop the plastic from going in,” Weber told Chawla.

The researchers, along with the Pebble Beach Company, owner of several golf courses around Carmel Bay, are working with the Monterey National Marine Sanctuary   to identify possible solutions. PBC is already notifying golfers, directly and through caddies  that intentionally hitting balls into the water is prohibited. 

Other possible remedies include adding nets to prevent balls from landing in the water, training people to shoot more accurately (I wouldn’t bet on this one), and the development of biodegradable golf balls. On the latter, Albus Golf’s ecobioball®, biodegrades within 48 hours after hitting water, exposing an inner core consisting of fish food (brilliant, it says here!). Unfortunately, they don’t yet meet the exact requirements to be considered a golf ball by the U.S. Golf Association (USGA).

 

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The biodegradable Ecobioball® from Albus Golf

 

But it’s a start.

 

 


 

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