Laura Markley is a scientist and a communicator who has been weaving these two skillsets collectively all through her educational profession. At present a Ph.D. candidate in civil and environmental engineering within the Faculty of Engineering and Laptop Science (ECS), Markley research plastics, water air pollution and perceptions of most of the people on environmental and sustainability points.
She can be the pressure behind the weblog WasteFreePhD.com, the place she writes in regards to the science of sustainability—together with her personal analysis—and shares insights on sensible methods the frequent shopper can cut back waste.
The product of two sustainability-minded mother and father, Markley has been passionate in regards to the surroundings from an early age. Upon taking a marine science course in highschool, she fell in love with the research of water and water science. She went on to obtain a B.S. in environmental earth science from Japanese Connecticut State College and a grasp’s in earth and environmental science at Lehigh College, the place she studied the formation of iron minerals in soils as an indicator of paleo precipitation.
Pushed by a perpetual thirst for information (pun meant), Markley completed each of her prior levels interested by how rather more she needed to be taught. “After finishing my undergraduate diploma, I felt just like the extra I realized, the extra I realized that I don’t know something,” she says. “I opted to do my grasp’s. That flew by after which I used to be like ‘I nonetheless don’t know something!’ In order that’s how I ended up right here at Syracuse engaged on my Ph.D.”
When trying to find a Ph.D. program, Markley knew she needed to delve into extra water-based analysis. She was drawn to the interdisciplinary alternatives supplied by ECS’s Middle for Environmental Methods Engineering and the EMPOWER program at Syracuse College. Markley is co-advised by Charles Driscoll, College Professor of environmental methods and distinguished professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Andria Costello Staniec, division chair and affiliate professor in civil and environmental engineering.
“Laura is without doubt one of the most well-rounded and engaged graduate college students that I’ve labored with,” says Staniec. “Her dedication to sustainability is clear each in her analysis in addition to her broad public environmental schooling platform. In each of those areas, Laura has already confirmed herself as a pacesetter and he or she is poised to have a big affect.”
Markley’s dissertation contains three distinctive initiatives which are related by their relationship to the life cycle impacts of plastics.
First, she research the results of sure stress circumstances—like being left within the automobile on a scorching summer time day or publicity to ultraviolet mild—on disposable plastic water bottles. Utilizing breast most cancers cells, Markley is investigating if these circumstances trigger estrogenic chemical substances to leach out of the bottle and into the water, and the potential impacts this has on human well being.
For her second venture, Markley is utilizing survey information from a 2019 social media marketing campaign known as #FuturisticFebruary to look at the technology of waste on the family degree and shopper views on waste, sustainability and air pollution points.
The marketing campaign inspired contributors to doc all their non-perishable waste for one month. By analyzing participant information, Markley is studying extra about not solely the composition of waste on the family/particular person degree, but additionally how environmental attitudes and information of environmental points issue into the equation.
“The survey asks common questions on how contributors view the sustainability of their waste and air pollution points, but additionally particular questions like ‘do you imagine there are floating islands of plastic within the ocean?’” she says. “ this information is useful in understanding the place we may have to enhance our communication about sure scientific matters because it pertains to sustainability.”
Markley presently spends the majority of her time on her third venture: researching the abundance, distribution and potential sources of microplastics in Onondaga and Skaneateles lakes. With funding from the New York State Water Analysis Institute at Cornell College by way of the U.S. Geological Survey and assist from the Upstate Freshwater Institute, she collects seize, bucket and internet samples seasonally from the 2 lakes to develop a profile of microplastic concentrations with area and time.
In keeping with Markley, 20% of the annual influx from the traditionally polluted Onondaga Lake is sourced from wastewater effluent (a standard supply of microplastics), with extra potential sources from road litter runoff from the encircling city areas and inputs from mixed sewer overflow occasions. A research in distinction, Skaneateles Lake is comparatively pristine and offers a lot of the ingesting water for the Metropolis of Syracuse.
“Our preliminary outcomes present it’s not solely the place we pattern, however how we pattern that adjustments what microplastics we acquire. What we’ve seen is that microplastics may be very various in these ecosystems, occurring in all varieties of colours, shapes and kind. Microfibers, which shed from textiles throughout laundering or throughout put on or use, are quite common, however not but properly understood,” Markley says.
When she’s not within the lab, Markley works on WasteFreePHD.com, the place she shares latest analysis, opines on the science of trash and paperwork her ongoing dedication to cut back her personal waste. She began the weblog in 2018 to handle a proliferation of misinformation within the waste-free motion.
“I seen there was loads of unhealthy info on the market about going waste-free and about plastics on the whole,” she says. “I needed to make that info extra accessible to individuals and likewise present the scientific citations to again it up.”
Markley’s fluency in speaking science to the layperson shines on her weblog, which provides approachable and non-dogmatic methods for lowering one’s personal waste.
“Not everybody essentially has the curiosity in or the entry to the science, however they’ve a proper to it,” she says. “I needed to create a spot the place individuals may get the data and make their very own choices about their behaviors, moderately than being informed what to do.”
Markley additionally has a aspect hustle doing graphic design, one other curiosity she’s had from a younger age, having lately designed a plant-based, minimal waste cookbook known as “Fetagetaboutit.”
“I’m a really visible learner so I’ve discovered it vital to include graphical components when speaking science,” she says. “If I’ve to be taught one thing by studying it, I’ll by no means be taught it.”
In honor of Earth Day and Earth Month being celebrated in April, Markley provides her ideas for anybody making an attempt to cut back their waste on the particular person or family degree.
- Have a look at your meals waste. Do an evaluation of how a lot meals and what varieties of stuff you’re throwing away and see if there are any alternatives to compost that waste. The breaking down of meals in landfills is a big supply of methane, Markley says, but meals waste is a side of trash that always will get ignored.
- Plan your meals and grocery lists. One other tip for lowering meals waste is to plot out your grocery checklist and meals for the week earlier than heading to the shop. Then you definitely’ll have a plan for all of the meals you purchase, guaranteeing none goes to waste.
- Conduct a waste audit. You possibly can have a look at all of your trash for the week and see what varieties of stuff you most frequently eliminate. Are you trashing plenty of paper towels? Or tossing extra transport containers and supplies from on-line procuring? Having extra consciousness of how a lot waste you’re producing and the primary sources of it may be a primary step towards lowering, Markley says.
- Step by step substitute disposable/single-use objects. Markley advises specializing in small adjustments that you would be able to make over time as you utilize up current provides. In the event you run out of paper espresso filters, you should purchase a reusable one. As an alternative of shopping for extra paper towels, spend money on material napkins. While you run out of plastic water bottles, look into buying a reusable/refillable one which you should utilize every single day.
- Store secondhand. Whether or not you’re in search of a brand new furnishings piece or to boost your wardrobe, there are many secondhand choices on the market to save lots of you cash and hold sources circulating. Purchasing secondhand additionally lets you tailor furnishings or clothes to your wants—making them extra distinctive to you!
Markley emphasizes the necessity for progress over perfection in the case of lowering our carbon footprints. “Individuals have loads occurring proper now with out somebody telling them they should make just one jar of waste per yr or one thing loopy like that,” she says.
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