By Victoria Jaggard, SCIENCE Executive Editor
Admittedly, I’m one of those people who only watches the Super Bowl for the commercials and the halftime show. I can’t even recall the last time I attended a football game in person. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised to hear that this year’s Super Bowl outside Miami—and stadium events in general—are making strides in being green by acting as test beds for the zero-waste movement.
As Nat Geo's Sarah Gibbens reports, the average Super Bowl game generates about 80,000 pounds of consumer waste, a lot of which is plastic. But this year’s big game will be replacing plastic cups with aluminum, which is easier to recycle, and it will be replacing most plastic cutlery and straws with compostable options.
The key here is that stadiums are basically closed ecosystems run by a single decision-maker: The stadium owner can instruct all the concession stands and gift shops on how to package their stuff and how to sort waste for disposal. When stadium managers are willing to (ahem) play ball, researchers can therefore use stadiums to test how well different zero-waste methods might work in the outside world.
In addition to limiting plastic trash, this year’s event will donate leftover food, recover kitchen oil for biofuel, and use energy-efficient lighting, among other green measures. And all that gives me a whole new reason to cheer on Super Bowl Sunday.
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Your Instagram photo of the day
Conserving water: “I had the pleasure,” photographer Sara Hylton writes, “of visiting a small farming community that has adopted small greenhouse technology to combat climate change in Telangana state, India. Like many places across the globe, this region experiences unpredictable rainfall and extreme weather fluctuations. These small greenhouses protect crops and rely on 90 percent less water.”
Related: Depleted groundwater supplies threaten 600 million people in India
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Today in a minute
Coronavirus update: The new virus has now infected more people in China than SARS did, the AP reports. Also, the first cases from the outbreak have been confirmed in the Middle East. Here's our look at how coronavirus spreads on an airplane.
Year of the locusts: East Africa is battling the worst desert locust storms in 25 years; the worst in 70 years in Kenya. The swarming insects, which can fly 80-some miles a day, are devastating large swaths of food and pasture in a region that struggles to provide enough food, CNN reports. Unusually heavy rains and a cyclone late last year proved to be ideal conditions for the locusts.
Tainted tap water: In 2016, six million Americans were reported to have toxic chemicals in their drinking water. A new movie, Dark Waters, is about the efforts at accountability toward DuPont, one of the biggest polluters of these chemicals. Now we are finding out these chemicals are more common in Americans’ tap water than previously thought, Nat Geo’s Sarah Gibbens reports. In tests of 44 different taps in 31 states, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group found that 43 exceeded a safe limit.
Baked: Two studies shed new light on how people died after the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79. One concludes that those taking cover were not really burned or vaporized, but instead baked as if inside a stone oven, Robin George Andrews writes for Nat Geo. The second study found a victim whose brain appears to have melted before being frozen into glass.
This week in the night sky
Winter Hexagon: One of the sky’s largest asterisms—a recognizable pattern of stars separate from a constellation figure—dominates the eastern sky this time of the year. The Winter Hexagon can be traced starting with Orion’s blue-white luminary, Rigel. From there, make a clockwise hop to Sirius in Canis Major, then glide over to Procyon, the lead star in the constellation Canis Minor. Next up are the equally bright twins Castor and Pollux of Gemini fame, followed by Capella shining with a hint of golden-yellow in Auriga.—Andrew Fazekas
The big takeaway
The power of a tree: “I have been into the lumber-yard, and the carpenter’s shop, and the tannery, and the lampblack factory, and the turpentine clearing; but when at length I saw the tops of the pines waving and reflecting the light at a distance high over all the rest of the forest, I realized that the former were not the highest use of the pine. It is not their bones or hide or tallow that I love most. It is the living spirit of the tree, not its spirit of turpentine, with which I sympathize, and which heals my cuts. It is as immortal as I am, and perchance will go to as high a heaven, there to tower above me still.” —Henry David Thoreau, from his diaries (hat tip to Maria Popova). Above: Britain’s Bedgebury National Pinetum and Forest, featuring dawn redwoods and swamp cypress.
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The last glimpse
Where did all the lava go? An extraordinary volcanic eruption in the Pacific nation of Vanuatu drained five lakes, like this one pictured above, of lava. The 2018 movement of earth sent the equivalent of 160,000 swimming pools of magma underground, some emerging on the ocean floor, writes Nat Geo’s Maya Wei-Haas. “It’s kind of a negative eruption, in a way,” volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer tells Wei-Haas. “It’s not stuff coming out of the ground, it’s the magma migrating beneath the ground.”