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Environment

Making Fast Food Chains More Sustainable

November 19, 2018
sustainable fast food chains

Fast food chains rule the casual eating landscape in the United States and around the world. Companies like Taco Bell and the omnipresent McDonald’s regularly feed enormous proportions of the population — around 84.8 million U.S. adults every day, according to some estimates — in part due to their ability to supply meals quickly and cheaply.

Considering their prevalence in society, it doesn’t seem like fast food chains are going anywhere anytime soon. Accordingly, many people wonder whether these chains can adjust business practices to fit growing demands for ethically sourced food.

Fast food companies impact the sustainability of the food supply, since their practices may differentiate lucrative farming practices from unsuccessful ones. Let’s look at how fast food chains impact the environment and consider how they could become more sustainable in the future.

The Cost of Convenience

When considering sustainability, most people don’t imagine their favorite drive-through burger chain. When compared to eating at home or dining at a local, family-owned restaurant, fast food generally takes a larger toll on the environment.

To provide supply for millions of customers every day, fast food companies must buy large amounts of ingredients. In most cases, local farmers cannot provide all of these ingredients, so stores must ship them from around the world, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

In some cases, the ingredients themselves produce greenhouse gas emissions. Cows raised for beef, for example, emit copious amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas with more warming potential the carbon dioxide. Americans alone consume one billion pounds of beef at McDonald’s annually. When beef makes up a large portion of a fast food company’s menu, as it does at McDonald’s, that chain contributes heavily to climate change.

In addition to the ingredients themselves, fast food companies also produce packaging waste, since most products come wrapped in paper, stored in cardboard boxes and stuffed in paper or plastic bags. It’s easy to see how fast food convenience negatively impacts the planet.

A Sustainable Food Supply

The USDA defines sustainable agriculture as plant and animal production practices that maintain and enrich the environment while filling human food requirements and improving life for farmers and farming communities. This loose definition covers a wide range of practices.

From an environmental standpoint, sustainable agriculture tends to have a stricter definition, one that prioritizes responsible land use, protection of the water supply, reduced carbon emissions and humane conditions for farm animals.

However you define sustainable agriculture, the term grows in influence as the public grows increasingly concerned about environmental issues like climate change and deforestation. Sustainable life for humans depends on a sustainable food supply, which fast food chains are beginning to realize.

Sustainable Baby Steps

Some fast food companies have started sustainability initiatives in hopes of appealing to an environmentally conscious audience. McDonald’s, for example, recently committed to recycling packaging in 100 percent of stores by 2025. Similarly, as part of the Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge, Wendy’s has committed to reducing energy consumption 20 percent by 2025.

From reducing the number of animals raised with antibiotics to purchasing more cage-free eggs, companies have hopped on the sustainability bandwagon in recent years. While these baby steps do help the environment, some believe fast food companies can and should do more to encourage sustainable food production.

Until companies make big changes, eco-conscious consumers may want to limit environmental impact when eating out at restaurants, either by skipping fast food altogether or by choosing menu options with the least impact.

Big Bargaining Power

Here’s the good news: fast food chains have the power to make a big impact on the food supply chain. As they make changes, the rest of the market will follow. And investors are beginning to demand sustainable changes.

When giant fast food companies switch over to sustainable practices, their suppliers have to keep up or risk going out of business. Companies like Chipotle lead the charge by purchasing only responsibly raised pork from sustainable farms. However, small and innovative farming operations sometimes struggle to compete.

Fast food companies often use only one part of the animal raised. This means that sustainable farmers must find buyers for the rest of their products as well. Cheap prices can keep sustainable farms from growing when compared to factory farms. In order to truly provide sustainable food to the market, fast food companies may need to pay more for their ingredients and work together to help farmers improve agricultural practices.

Though fast food companies’ big bargaining power could allow them to make big changes in food production, it’s unclear whether or not they will take this important plunge.

A Better Food Future

Fast food companies have the ability to improve sustainable agriculture. Through small initiatives and changes to business practices, many companies are already moving forward. However, these companies still have a lot of work to do before they can call their menus “sustainable.”

By demanding ethical production and helping small farmers compete, fast food companies may help create a better future for food production.

Oceans

Common Chemicals in Our Water Supply and How to Avoid Them

November 15, 2018
chemicals in water supply

People rely on tap water almost every day of their lives, at least in the United States, where we are lucky enough to have running water available in our homes. Most of the time, people don’t question the safety of their water. However, when a water crisis such as the one in Flint, Michigan captures public attention, people grow more concerned about the chemicals that may exist in their water.

The human instinct to guard the water supply exists for a reason. Water contaminated by undesirable bacteria and chemicals can make people sick, sometimes severely so. For this reason, it’s smart to remain cautious about water safety even when no obvious problems present themselves.

Let’s consider which chemicals enter the water supply and how you can avoid them.

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Wildlife

Wildlife Forensics Helping Uncover Illegal Poachers

November 12, 2018
Wildlife forensics

It isn’t an uncommon scene in the savannas of South Africa. A grazing rhinoceros lowers its head to a patch of grass, and a sudden gunshot from a heavy caliber weapon catches them in the side. An illegal poacher comes to collect its horn, and in little as 10 minutes, they’ve moved on to their next target.

Poaching remains a critical issue across the globe, with endangered animals at threat of extinction over the value of their body parts. The musk deer of Asia are a popular target for their glands, which can sell to foreign traders for upwards of $200. A single tiger can yield over $50,000 in their skin, teeth and claws.

Through the application of wildlife forensics, however, poachers have a far more difficult time plying their illegal trade. Modern technology has proven so effective in stopping them that a system installed in a South African reserve has reduced the number of poached rhinos to zero. So how do these new methods work?

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Green Technology

Are Wind and Solar Viable Options for 100% Renewable Energy?

November 9, 2018

As public concern over climate change increases, more people see the need for sustainable energy production. Traditional power generation relies on burning fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, a process which releases the warming greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Renewable energy sources like wind and solar aim to produce essential energy without the carbon emissions.

The popular demand for 100 percent renewable energy, reflected in public opinion and policy in states like California, has lead to increased investment in wind and solar power in recent years. Despite growing interest in renewable energy, it remains unclear whether renewable energy alone can get us to a zero-carbon future.

Wind and solar power represent great potential for clean, renewable electricity. However, they may not fill all the world’s energy needs by themselves. Let’s examine wind and solar as a path to 100 percent renewable energy and consider possible alternative solutions.

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Environment

Preventing Pharmaceutical Pollution in Water

October 29, 2018
pharmaceutical pollution in water

The pharmaceutical industry is one of the biggest in the world, but it also creates some of the worst pollution on the planet — especially when it comes to water contamination. A recent report has found multiple cases where everything from opioids and amphetamines to hormone-altering drugs in natural water supplies were found, affecting the behavior and reproduction of the animals that are exposed to them. What can pharmaceutical companies and consumers do to help prevent water pollution caused by pharmaceutical production?

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Oceans

Stopping Florida Red Tide From Spreading

October 25, 2018
Florida red tide

Off the coast of Florida, something in the water is causing wildlife to wash up dead on beloved beaches. The phenomenon is causing fishing operations to stall and costing the state millions of dollars in lost tourist revenue and cleanup costs.

The cause isn’t the apocalypse. In fact, the phenomenon isn’t even particularly unusual. The algal bloom causing Florida’s problems, called red tide, began to appear in records of Florida’s Gulf Coast as early as the 1840s.

The culprit behind Florida’s red tide is a tiny organism called Karenia brevis, a type of algae. It’s effects on humans and the ocean ecosystem can be devastating, but currently, there isn’t a lot people can do to stop it.

Here are a few answers to common questions about red tide and a few ways normal citizens can help.

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Wildlife

What Are the Longest Living Animals?

October 22, 2018
longest living animals

Humans live a pretty long time — estimates for human lifespans generally fall between 70 and 80 years — but humans don’t even come close to outliving some of the planet’s oldest creatures. For some animal species, living past 100 is the norm, not the exception. Some scientists even think other species can teach humans a thing or two about aging well.

Studying earth’s longest living animals benefits people for a myriad of reasons. It can allow us to understand the biological aging process better, discover conditions that make for long lifespans and even understand how to protect our planetary elders. In addition to practical reasons, though, humans are fascinated by old animals because they represent the Earth’s past. It’s amazing to think that some animals alive today have been around since before the United States became a country.

Some of the planet’s oldest animals have endured changing climate conditions, predators and disease. They remind us that the results of our actions today can affect the environment not just now but for years and years to come.

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Green Technology

How Can Lean Manufacturing Be Sustainable

October 18, 2018

Sustainability is more than just a buzzword — it is an important part of almost every industry if the industry wants to continue to grow and thrive in the modern economy. Lean manufacturing can be a great way for a number of different industries to increase efficiency and productivity but can it also be sustainable?

What is Lean Manufacturing?

First, what is lean manufacturing?

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Environment

Bayer Is Not About to Escape Monsanto or Roundup History

October 15, 2018
monsanto bayer

Bayer had little time to celebrate its purchase of the U.S. agrochemical company Monsanto after an untimely controversy involving the popular herbicide product Roundup. After a $66 billion investment, Bayer suffered public backlash when a school groundskeeper attributed the weed killer to his cancer.

Already an unpopular name among farmers and the general public, Monsanto has a long history of illicit practices with involvement in chemical warfare. Agent Orange, a defoliant used to eliminate forest cover in the Vietnam War, continues to cause deformities in babies born in affected areas.

It stands to reason, then, why Bayer is choosing to discard the Monsanto name — it comes freighted with a dark past of immorality and greed. Bayer cannot do much to escape this most recent controversy, however, which has attracted a significant amount of attention in the context of Monsanto’s reputation.

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Oceans

Is There Any Way to Stop Vaquita Extinction?

October 11, 2018
vaquita extinction

Is there any way to stop the extinction of the world’s rarest marine mammal? It’s a pressing question for conservationists.

They’ve posed the same question of the white rhino, saiga antelope and golden lion tamarin with varying degrees of success. Conservation is no easy task, and saving an endangered species of marine life comes with a unique set of challenges that complicates the undertaking.

Compared to the white rhino or saiga antelope, the vaquita is a relatively new discovery. It’s the most recent cetacean — a grouping that includes whales and dolphins — to be recognized by modern science. It was only in 1966 that a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recovered the first full specimen for observation.

Since then, the vaquita population has only continued to diminish. Earlier in the decade, an estimated 200 vaquitas inhabited the Northern Gulf of California in Mexico — shallow waters that make up their natural habitat. Today, fewer than 30 of these rare porpoises remain.

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