Environment & Energy

photo of Jim Tomko

The 23rd Great Backyard Bird Count ends tonight, and one group of birders is raising concerns about some disturbing trends.

Workers sorting through trash at Akron Greenstar Material Recovery Facility

Changes in international markets along with skyrocketing processing costs have thrown the industry into a tailspin.

In this first installment of our series Reduce, Reuse, Refocus, we sort through the confusion about recycling. 

snapshot of WKSU recycling guide

We heard it from you time and again.

"Why can't I find one place where I can get what I need to know about recycling in my city, my village, my township?"

We looked. We couldn't find one either.

So we decided to build one for you.

Lake Erie algal bloom

A state commission is asking people to comment on its latest plan to protect and restore Lake Erie. 

The first priority area listed in the Ohio Lake Erie Commission’s 2-year plan is reducing nutrient pollution. That’s a type of contamination mostly from farm fertilizer and manure, and it leads to toxic algal blooms.

Lake Erie is tearing away parts of the shoreline along Geneva-on-the-Lake. The village has declared a state of emergency due to accelerated erosion.

The shoreline along Geneva Township Park lost 35 feet of land to Lake Erie last week. In the past 24 hours, it’s lost between six and eight feet more, said Geneva-on-the-Lake Village Administrator Jeremy Shaffer.

“We’re cautioning people to look but stay away, at a safe distance,” Shaffer said. “But there’s also that imminent threat to public infrastructure, to critical infrastructure pieces in this.”

photo of a power box

For the last decade, Ohio lawmakers were locked in heated debates over how the state should address energy generation, from bailing out nuclear to rolling back green energy standards. With a new law in the books, House and Senate leaders are starting to turn their attention to a different energy debate: grid modernization. 

photo of Andrew Meyer

Where do all our recyclables go after sorting?

How clean should they be before they go into the bin?

Is recycling profitable at all?

Does my recycling really get recycled?

That’s just a small sampling of the questions we got from our listeners when we asked you for ideas for our next series. An overwhelming majority of you told us that you wanted to know more about recycling. Time and again, those questions pointed to a state of confusion.


So when you recycle paper or an empty bottle, do you get that warm little feeling because maybe you think, hey, I've done something right for the world? Well, maybe you shouldn't get that feeling because there's some new social science research out there that suggests recycling can have a downside. Why are you always bringing negative news?


MARTIN: Shankar Vedantam, NPR social science correspondent, here to rain on our recycling parade. Hi, Shankar.

VEDANTAM: Hi, Rachel.

The U.S. used to send a lot of its plastic waste to China to get recycled. But last year, China put the kibosh on imports of the world's waste. The policy, called National Sword, freaked out people in the U.S. — a huge market for plastic waste had just dried up.

Where was it all going to go now?

Lake Erie Slow To Freeze Over, Bringing Potential Erosion

Jan 16, 2020

Mild temperatures so far this winter could have a lasting impact on Lake Erie’s shoreline. Late ice formation on the lake can cause even more erosion, according to scientists.

Despite a cold November, temperatures this winter have remained mostly mild. Lake Erie’s water temperatures are hovering in the mid-thirties — not cold enough to freeze.

photo of a snowy owl

Researchers at Black Swamp Bird Observatory near Toledo are studying the migration patterns of snowy owls as part of a research effort called “Project SNOWstorm.”

Research Director Mark Shieldcastle helped tag one owl, which they named Wolverine, with a new tracker after it was recaptured at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

photo of student climate protest in Cleveland

This story was originally published on July 22, 2019.

Fifty years ago a burning river mobilized a generation of environmental activism. Citizens pushed for new laws to regulate pollution, and our water and air has gotten cleaner.

But significant environmental challenges remain including climate change, habitat loss, and plastics pollution.

Our series Watershed looks at today’s environmental warriors and the road ahead.

Photo of flooding in Kent

A Summit County judge is ordering the formation of the Yellow Creek Conservancy Court to determine whether the flood-prone area in western Summit County warrants its own watershed district.

After heavy rains flooded homes, residents in the Yellow Creek area stepped up to do something about it.

Mark Spisak is the director of the Yellow Creek Foundation. He said establishing a conservancy district will make it easier to manage the creek’s flow and curb erosion.

photo of Cuyahoga River

The Cuyahoga River received national attention this year with the 50th anniversary of the famous river fire. And one expert says 2020 could be just as busy for recreation on the river.

photo of The Blue Hole

This story was originally published on January 22, 2019.

Castalia, Ohio, is home to The Blue Hole, which was a tourist attraction for almost a century. WKSU’s “OH Really?” finds out why it’s been off-limits to the public for the last 29 years.

a photo of a timber wolf

Deer hunting season is winding down in Ohio. As it does, we’re considering a question about Ohio wildlife from a WKSU listener. Nicholas Kavalec asked our OH Really? team about apex predators—those at the top of the food chain. We connected him with a wildlife manager at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) in Akron.

Updated: 12:39 p.m., Friday Dec. 20, 2019.

A tax reassessment requested by a gas transmission company has Lorain County officials frustrated by the possibility of losing nearly 40 percent of the expected taxes before the county has collected any money at all.

The NEXUS pipeline was initially estimated to bring $9 million to Lorain County, but the company is appealing to the Ohio Department of Taxation for a reassessment of its value.

a photo of a container filled with nurdles

When the petrochemical plant being built by Shell Chemical Appalachia in Beaver County, Pennsylania is complete, it’s anticipated to bring 600 jobs as well as spinoff industries. Some researchers and activists warn that it could also bring a new type of pollution to the Ohio River Valley — nurdles.

A proposed wind energy project off the coast of Lake Erie is facing a lawsuit from two birding organizations. The groups allege not enough research has been done to determine the project’s environmental impact.

The suit, filed by Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) in Ohio and the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) based in Washington, D.C., against the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Army Corps of Engineers, argues the DOE “shirked its obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act,” along with the Clean Water Act and other environmental regulations.

Cuyahoga County Tree Canopy Down By 6 Percent

Dec 13, 2019

The tree canopy in Cuyahoga County shrank by more than 6 percent since 2011, according to a 2019 update on how much of county land is covered by leaves, branches and stems of trees.

The Cuyahoga County Urban Tree Canopy Assessment Update for 2019 shows 34.7 percent of the county is covered by trees. In 2011, it was 37 percent. The U.S average is 39 percent.

That equals a loss of about 6,600 acres of tree canopy, said Sandra Albro, co-chair of the Cleveland Tree Coalition, and with that, a loss of trees’ ecological benefits.

Study Finds Costly Tradeoffs to Economic Benefits of Shale Boom

Dec 12, 2019
Photo of a natural gas well in Washington County.

A new study by Carnegie Mellon University finds that in the Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia region, the economic boost from shale gas drilling has been less than the cost of premature deaths caused by pollution from the industry. 

Greta Thunberg, the activist who has quickly become a leading voice on climate change, is Time's Person of the Year for 2019. At 16, she is the youngest person to earn the title in the magazine's 92-year history.

Thunberg burst onto the world stage in the past year, organizing school strikes and protest marches to call attention to a climate crisis that she says older generations are not taking seriously enough.

The dam at Buckeye Lake undergoes repairs in March of 2015.

Just over a year ago, the $100 million project to repair the crumbling earthen dam at Buckeye Lake was finished two years early.  But the state is looking at dozens of the 1,420 dams in Ohio that could be failing.

The state says 124 dams are in poor or unsatisfactory condition. ODNR Director Mary Mertz says her agency is working its way through the list, but there aren’t any emergencies like Buckeye Lake’s dam on it.

“No, not that I’m concerned about that we’re going to wake up tomorrow and see a big dam breach.”

On "good" bad days, the shells lie open at the bottom of the river, shimmering in the refracted sunlight. Their insides, pearl white and picked clean of flesh, flicker against the dark riverbed like a beacon, alerting the world above to a problem below.

A photo of the drawing of parking deck

Kent State announced plans on Wednesday to improve parking and energy efficiency on its main campus as well as regional locations.