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Environment

How Companies Are Innovating Food Waste Solutions

January 14, 2019
food waste solutions

Food waste is an enormous problem in countries around the globe. In the United States alone, it is estimated that between 30 and 40 percent of the food supply goes to waste — much of it perfectly fresh and edible that is discarded just because it doesn’t look like the ideal apple or pear. How are companies innovating food waste solutions?

Solutions in the Home

Many tech start-ups are working toward mass marketing techniques that will help reduce food waste in the home and on the supply chain as food moves from fields to manufacturing plants to grocery stores and then finally your fridge. How many times have you bought meat or produce, only to have it go bad within a day or two of purchase? The sheer amount of time that food spends in transit plays a large part of that, and tech and transportation startups have started to fight back.

BluWrap, for example, uses cells to monitor the oxygen content in shipping containers. By keeping the O2 level low, they can increase the food’s freshness window, enabling it to stay fresher while in transit. BT9 XSENSE is using IoT sensors and real-time cold-chain management to maximize quality and identify problems before the food ever reaches the grocery store. There is even a device that you can buy for your refrigerator that absorbs ethelyne gas — which is the gas that makes fruits and vegetables ripen — reducing food waste by preventing your produce from spoiling in the fridge.

Solutions in the Neighborhood

Good food is wasted every day, even though there are families who might not have any food in their fridge, whose kids rely on free breakfast and lunch at school to get a hot meal every day. Programs like Copia are hoping to change that. The work with facilities that cook a lot of food on a daily basis — like hospitals, restaurants, and cafeterias — to take their excess food to families that need it.

Getting seasonal produce is often a problem, especially in food deserts that might not have anything but a convenience store to do a grocery shopping. Startups like Leafy Green Machine, in conjunction with the Farmhand Connect smartphone app, are working toward creating closed-loop self-sustaining hydroponics that can be set up in a shipping container, moved anywhere and even monitored remotely to ensure a healthy and bountiful harvest.

Many smaller companies have realized what a big problem food waste is in our country, and have recognized that nothing is going to change until we take steps to change it, so they’re making inroads into the industry on a small scale that is growing larger by the year.

Solutions on a Larger Scale

What about all the food that goes to waste that isn’t fit for consumption? Produce that has spoiled in the fields or meat that has been contaminated by listeria or e.coli? It might not be edible, but it doesn’t have to be wasted. Some innovative companies are starting to take some of this spoiled food that would otherwise end up in landfills or incinerators generating more greenhouse gasses, and are turning it into fuel.

The food waste is put through an accelerated composting process, which turns it into a semi-liquid state that the folks at Waste Management call engineered bioslurry. From there, it is put into an anaerobic digester which is filled with bacteria that replicates the kind of decomposition that happens when the food is dumped in the landfill. This process produces methane, which can then be used to power a generator. One example generator exists in Freetown, Massachusetts. At full capacity, this single generator can power roughly 40 percent of the local grid.

This is just an example of what the technology can do on a small scale. Imagine what it could do if one or more of these generators were placed in every major city. They are also planning to incorporate technology that will allow customers on the local grid to use the methane gas produced to heat their homes, which could reduce local dependence on electricity or natural gas.

 

There is no one perfect solution for food waste. It is something that we will need to approach from multiple angles, which is precisely what these innovative companies are doing. We will all have to make an effort to reduce food waste. Whether that means investing in a startup that is doing just that or merely resolving to shop only at local farmer’s markets to minimize the distance that your food travels before it reaches your table is entirely up to you. There are steps that we can all take to reduce our food waste, but it will take everyone working together to stop the massive amount of food that is wasted around the world every single day. Start small, by composting, recycling or looking into green solutions in your area.

Oceans

How Coral Bleaching Is Changing Marine Life Behavior

January 10, 2019
marine life

An aquatic ecosystem is like a scale, delicately balanced, and even a small addition or subtraction can make it tip. There are many examples of these disturbances, like invasive species, natural disasters and resource exploitation, but of all the threats to marine life, coral bleaching is one of the most disruptive.

Bleaching is the stress response of corals under environmental pressure, caused by freshwater inflows, tropical cyclones and anthropogenic pollution. The most significant contributor to bleaching, however, is climate change, and the consequences of global warming on the ocean’s pH levels and temperature.

As the ocean absorbs high amounts of carbon dioxide, corals expel their zooxanthellae, the algae that live in their tissues. This gives them a white, faded look, hence the “bleach” in coral bleaching. That said, the issue is more than superficial, and the implications of this phenomenon are far-reaching.

We’ll examine those repercussions in greater detail, exploring the effect of coral bleaching on the behavior of marine life.

Effect of Coral Bleaching on Fish

Researchers from Lancaster University and collaborating organizations published a study in Nature Climate Change that assessed the behavior of butterflyfish, a species considered a sensitive indicator of reef health. Spending more than 600 hours underwater over a two-year period, the researchers collected data on 17 reefs across the central Indo-Pacific in the Philippines, Indonesia, Japan and Christmas Island. What they found was curious.

Dr. Sally Keith, leader of the expedition, said, “We observed that aggressive behavior had decreased in butterflyfish by an average of two thirds, with the biggest drops where bleaching had killed off the most coral.” She then went on to explain that the fish weren’t receiving enough sustenance, and since the most nutritious coral was also the most susceptible to bleaching, their diet was no longer adequate to sustain the same level of energy.

After recording 5259 encounters between individuals of 38 butterflyfish species, Dr. Kieth is confident in her conclusion that coral bleaching is the cause behind the lethargy. Though the overall population of butterflyfish didn’t see a substantial decline following the bleaching event, the behavioral changes are disconcerting for several reasons. While this type of flexibility is conducive to short-term survival, it can lead to problems later on if the disturbance endures.

So, how frequently do these bleaching events happen, and what are their effects beyond marine life?

Coral bleaching events have increased at a rapid pace in the last 30 years, occurring five times more often. A mass bleaching event in 2016 killed an estimated 30 percent of coral on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, speaking to the severity of the crisis and the need for immediate action on the part of policymakers. That said, climate change is not so simple to reverse, and the consequences are troubling.

Consequences of Coral Bleaching

According to Dr. Kieth’s study, reduced aggression has the potential to break down territories among butterflyfish. Typically, a mated pair would defend their claimed piece of coral. As individuals of the species extend themselves further in search of resources, aggressive defense is no longer a realistic option, and this could lead to a transition from interference to exploitative competition.

While behavioral changes in a single species don’t seem significant at first glance, it’s essential to remember the metaphor of the scale. An ecosystem is delicately balanced, and even a small addition or subtraction can make it tip. In this particular set of circumstances, the nutritional deficit among butterflyfish leads to a change in their energy, and as they adapt, the larger ecological community has to rearrange itself around them.

Natural predators of the reef butterflyfish like snappers, groupers and moray eels are also affected, and by extension, the natural predators of these predators are affected, as well. A weak link on the food chain can cause a decline in the population of other species that depend on that link for their survival. The disappearance of fish individuals and species on coral reefs is already happening, and according to researchers, it isn’t likely to get better.

Scientists warn that even if it were possible to halt climate change now, the oceans would still lose 90 percent of their coral reefs by 2050. With a mass bleaching event happening about once every six years, the ecosystems that rely on these reefs don’t have time to recover, and the damage gradually accumulates until there’s little left to save. It isn’t only bad news, however, and some groups have developed technology to help with monitoring and assessment.

Seasonal forecasts from special systems can detect anomalous sea surface temperature — otherwise known as SST — several months in advance, and proactive management measures have changed the way organizations handle coral bleaching. Though it’s a small victory, it’s an important step forward in the fight to preserve the Great Barrier Reef, the Coral Sea and similar ecosystems susceptible to global warming.

The Necessity of Environmental Conservation

Dr. Keith and her international team of researchers have added dimensionality to our understanding of climate change. They’ve shown the subtle way in which rising temperatures can affect marine life, and through detailing the direct consequences of mass bleaching on the behavior of butterflyfish, their study has provided further evidence for the necessity of environmental conservation.

Moving forward, the collected data will prove valuable in the deciding how these conservation efforts take shape.

Wildlife

6 Best Conservation Movies for the Whole Family

January 7, 2019
best conservation movies

It can be hard for anyone, child or adult, to believe in conservation and climate change when those in power are continually denying its existence. Thankfully, plenty of amazing movies and documentaries can introduce everyone to the idea of conservation, regardless of their age.

Here is a list of six of the best conservation movies you can watch with the entire family.

1. Fern Gully — The Last Rainforest

Message: The Impact of Deforestation

Fern Gully is a fun animated movie that follows a fairy, Crysta, who has to fight to protect her forest home when humans come in to cut down the trees. In their ignorance, the humans cut down a sacred tree that has acted as a jail cell for a pollution spirit named Hexus — voiced by the always amazing Tim Curry — letting him use the humans to attack Fern Gully.

This movie may be fun and animated with a voice cast that even adults can appreciate, but it carries a powerful message about the impacts of deforestation. Your kids won’t even realize they’re learning about conservation as they’re singing along with Robin Williams and Tim Curry.

2. Happy Feet

Message: The Dangers of Overfishing

This movie will have even the adults tapping their feet. Mumble, an Emperor Penguin, can’t sing like the rest of his family, so he expresses himself through dancing. Of course, the penguin elders look down on him because of this, so he tries to earn back his place by leaving to find out why there are no more fish left for the penguins to eat.

The underlying message of the movie is that humans have been overfishing the waters around Antarctica, taking away the food supply of the penguins. This is a massive problem in today’s world, but watching Happy Feet is an easy way to teach kids about it.

3. An Inconvenient Truth/An Inconvenient Sequel

Message: The Impact of Humans on Climate Change

This movie and its sequel get a lot of bad press because it is the brain-child of former Vice President Al Gore, but both films do a fantastic job of presenting the topic of climate change and its impact in a simple, easy-to-understand way. This makes it a perfect choice for both children and adults who may not understand what climate change is or how it will affect us in the long run.

It might be a little bit too serious for very young audiences, but for any children or adults interested in climate change, this movie should be on your watch list.

4. Plastic China

Message: The Impact of Plastic Waste Globally

This is one story many children might be able to empathize with. It follows an 11-year-old girl who works in one of the many waste processing towns in China. It’s a slice of life that will smack you in the face with the impact that plastic waste has on the world at large.

This one can be hard to watch for both adults and children, but it can also spark an essential conversation about recycling with your children.

5. Wall-E

Message: Why It’s Important to Take Care of the Planet

Wall-E’s titular character is a robot that has a single task — collect and compact garbage to try to restore the planet humanity has destroyed. He’s been alone on the earth for hundreds of years until a probe robot named Eve, sent by the last remaining humans, appears and finds proof that the planet is inhabitable again — a single plant, located in a fridge, growing happily in an old boot.

The whole message of this movie is that if we don’t take care of the planet, it will no longer be able to support us. While it’s funny to hear the captain of the spaceship talk about growing pizza plants, it’s a stark reminder that this is the only planet we have, and it won’t survive if we continue to treat it the way we are now.

6. Fly Away Home

Message: The Importance of Animal Conservation

In this feel-good movie, Amy — played by a young Anna Paquin — finds an abandoned nest of goose eggs that are nearly destroyed by construction equipment. She saves them, and she and her father raise the young goslings. But once they reach maturity, they run into another problem — if the geese are going to be released into the wild, they need to learn how to migrate.

Amy and her father take to the skies — literally — in ultralights to lead these geese along the migration path. It’s a fantastic movie based on a true story and shows that humans can make a difference without keeping these animals in a zoo or rescue. Animal conservation is just as important as any other form of protection, and this movie does a fantastic job of portraying that.

Conservation shows don’t all have to be bland documentaries. We have plenty of options to teach our little ones about conservation and being environmentally friendly without scaring them away or boring them to tears. Take a look at some of the movies on our list and see how you can start the conversation about conservation with your own children.

Green Technology

Renewable Energy Initiatives Around the World

January 3, 2019
renewable energy initiatives

Climate change is a global issue, and around the world, countries have organized renewable energy initiatives to reduce their environmental impact. These projects and programs reflect a society more conscious of its footprint, aware of the effect of carbon emissions and excessive waste on the planet’s health.

Though it’s a slow transition — and some are still reluctant to accept the change — the United States is moving closer to clean energy every day. While the president has made his position clear, state leaders across the nation continue to push for renewables as they distance themselves from fossil fuels.

Overseas, policymakers have shown the same dedication to preserving the environment, developing plans to decrease their dependence on coal, oil and natural gas. We’ll touch on a few of these ambitious initiatives and others like them, exploring projects in Tunisia, Nicaragua, Wales and China.

The TuNur Project, Tunisia

A new solar complex in Southwest Tunisia will aid the country in its goal of providing clean power for Europe. Known as “TuNur,” the project will employ concentrated solar power technology — or CSP technology for short — which uses parabolic mirrors connected molten salt energy storage on an enormous scale. Covering an area almost three times the size of Manhattan, the initiative has required significant investment.

As the energy accumulates, it will follow three separate routes through submarine cable systems until it reaches Malta, Italy and France. In developing the project, Tunisia hopes to revive Europe’s plans of importing inexpensive energy from North Africa, initially abandoned due to political instability in the area. Whether or not this will prove successful, TuTuNur Ltd has already requested authorization to start the project, and the first phase could begin by 2020.

Ongoing Energy Goals, Nicaragua

To make mention of a previous point, many policymakers are pushing toward renewables to replace existing methods of energy production, replacing coal, oil and natural gas with clean alternatives. Countries have set ongoing goals for themselves to reduce — and eventually end — their dependence on fossil fuels, and Nicaragua is a prime example. Far ahead of its time, renewables comprised 54 percent of the country’s electricity generation in June 2015.

Nicaragua has only continued to make rapid progress in the renewable energy sector, and they plan to reach 90-percent renewable energy by 2020 through a combination of solar, wind and geothermal sources. Much of their success is attributable to their president in 2007 who encouraged investment in renewables, prompting the public to give more consideration to clean energy. It had the intended effect, and the momentum would carry into the present day.

Tidal Lagoon Cardiff, Wales

Tidal Lagoon Power is developing a project with the potential to provide clean energy to every household in Wales, supplying electricity to more than three million people through the strength of the ocean’s tides. Located between Cardiff and Newport, the system will use around 108 tidal lagoon turbines in an attempt to harness the second highest tidal range in the world. If it’s successful, it’s safe to speculate that similar projects will show up elsewhere.

This turbine technology doesn’t often see large-scale use, and the cost of the project reflects the ambition of the initiative. The final estimates place the cost at more than eight billion pounds, or to convert that substantial sum to our currency, roughly 10.13 billion dollars. As of now, the future of the project depends on the success of Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay, a 320 MW pilot scheme in Swansea which is currently under development.

Solar & Wind Farms, China

China isn’t often associated with clean energy, as they’re the world’s leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Their high population and large industrial sector cause considerable pollution, but through recent renewable energy initiatives, they’re working toward reducing their massive carbon emissions. Though China may have a more significant interest in the financial benefits of the new technology over its environmental benefits, the effect remains the same.

They’ve used their abundance of free land to develop and operate large-scale solar and wind farms, using an enormous expanse of open space unavailable to other countries. As a part of the Paris Agreement, China has set goals for renewable energy they intend to achieve in the not-so-distant future, like meeting 20 percent of their energy needs through renewables by 2030. While this seems comparatively meager, the size of the country is something to take into account.

Toward a Better Future

It’s impossible to ignore the effect of fossil fuels on the environment, with unseasonable weather, fluctuating temperatures and a higher frequency of natural disasters. Yesterday’s technology won’t solve today’s problems, and politicians and entrepreneurs are turning toward solar, wind and geothermal sources as clean alternatives to coal, oil and natural gas. Through renewable energy initiatives, they’re changing the climate’s current trajectory.

So, where is the world heading next? Toward a better future — and countries like Tunisia, Nicaragua, Wales and China will take us there.

Environment

2018 Environmental News and Recap

December 31, 2018
environmental news

The future of the planet isn’t often a positive topic of discussion, and it’s admittedly easy to see the negatives. As fluctuating temperatures, unseasonable weather and natural disasters such as hurricanes and forest fires grow more common, it seems our current course is taking us toward even greater environmental disaster.

In truth, there’s still time to change the future’s trajectory, and politicians and entrepreneurs have made incredible progress in the renewable energy sector and other areas of restoration and conservation. 2018 was a pivotal year for the planet, and we’ll recap some important environmental news everyone should know about.

Compromised Ecosystems & Alternative Materials

The non-biodegradable properties of plastic make it an enormous threat to marine life. Many animals are unable to differentiate the material from their food, and an estimated 90 percent of seagulls have shards of plastic in their gut. In consideration of the unsettling fact that nine million tons of plastic enter oceans every year, the number of affected seabirds will only continue to grow, representing an enormous disruption in the ecosystem with severe consequences.

There’s hope for the future as a greater number of people adopt eco-friendly alternatives to plastic. Society’s growing awareness of the issue has led to an increase in the popularity of bamboo straws and compostable utensils made from cornstarch, simple solutions which divert massive amounts of waste from the ocean. Many cities, states and countries are beginning to restrict plastic bags, and Prime Minister Theresa May has outlined a plan to ban plastic straws.

The Global Food Supply and New Strains of Crops

Rising temperatures linked to climate change could hurt crop yields on a global scale. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a study claiming that for every degree (Celsius) the Earth warms, corn yields would decrease by an average of 7.4 percent. Wheat yields would drop by an average of 6 percent, soybean yields by 3.1 percent and rice yields by 3.2 percent — all disconcerting to think about.

As temperatures rise, however, scientists continue to develop new strains of crops to deal with climate extremes. They’re preparing for a future where intense changes in temperatures and weather conditions cause short-term droughts and other issues that compromise agriculture. That said, everyone can do their part, and those who make a vegetarian diet part of their New Year’s resolutions are helping to decrease greenhouse gases and extend the global food supply.

Climate Refugees and Renewable Energy Initiatives

Researchers estimate two billion people will have to flee their homes by the year 2100 due to rising sea levels. The problem will reach the U.S. in susceptible states such as Florida. Around the world, flooded coastlines will force refugees to search for safety on higher ground. Charles Geisler, the lead author of the study, predicts other conflicts such as the issues policymakers will inevitably face when they have to address migration for displaced families.

While the study is troubling, countries across the globe have organized renewable energy initiatives with the potential to change the future. In places such as Tunisia, Wales and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, politicians and entrepreneurs have planned ambitious projects and programs to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. Through solar, wind, geothermal and tidal technology, they intend to make a massive transition toward clean energy.

Climate-Related Illnesses and Wind Farms

Heat stress related to global warming, the spread of infectious diseases, extreme weather events and malnutrition are going to increase, according to the World Health Organization in a 2017 report. They estimate that death rates as a result of climate change will exceed a quarter of a million each year by 2050, a grim portent of what’s to come if policymakers don’t act to implement eco-friendly programs. Fortunately, some countries have taken note.

China’s air quality is notoriously poor, and the pollution is often harmful to the health of those who live there. As the world’s leading contributor of carbon emissions, this seems inevitable. Despite its reputation, China has developed the Gansu Wind Farm Project, a series of large-scale wind farms which will help the country move away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy, averting some of the short- and long-term consequences associated with dependence on fossil fuels.

A Better Balance With the Planet Is Possible

More than that, a better balance with the planet is plausible. Eco-friendly solutions such as alternative materials and renewable energy initiatives are promising, and as scientists develop new strains of crops, it’s clear we’re capable of adapting to the challenges that lie ahead. These challenges are inevitable.

Despite excessive waste, rising temperatures and sea levels, a compromised food supply and climate-related illnesses, not all the environmental news this year was negative. As countries acknowledge the threat of global warming and act with a greater awareness of their impact, the world is changing positively.

Environment

The Top Sustainable Beauty Brands

December 27, 2018
sustainable beauty brands

This is the fifth and final part of our series looking into environmental issues with the beauty industry, areas it’s excelling in sustainability and where we can expect to see sustainability efforts improve in the future. You can find the previous post here. Hope you have enjoyed reading!

 

You’ve decided to switch to sustainable beauty to benefit your health and the planet we all share. Good for you, eco-warrior!

Followers of this series already know some handy tips and tricks for making your daily beauty routine greener. Still, companies that have already gone the extra mile in implementing sustainable practices deserve some major props and increased patronage (although I’m not an affiliate with any of these brands — just a fan of sustainable companies). Read up on some top sustainable beauty brands that can make your grooming more Earth-friendly.

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Environment

Sustainable Cosmetic Packaging Revolutionizing the Beauty Industry

December 24, 2018
sustainable cosmetic packaging

This is the fourth of a five-post series looking into environmental issues with the beauty industry, areas it’s excelling in sustainability and where we can expect to see sustainability efforts improve in the future. You can find the previous post here.

 

While environmentally friendly personal care companies originally marketed primarily to those with a hippie or new age mindset, today, beauty product manufacturers who ignore trends toward sustainability risk becoming obsolete. Conscientious consumers, especially millennials and Gen Zers increasingly demand products that treat the planet kindly. As science develops ever more eco-friendly packaging materials, cosmetic manufacturers benefit both the Earth and their bottom line by utilizing these innovations to decrease their carbon footprint.

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Environment

How to Identify Sustainable Beauty Products by Their Ingredients

December 20, 2018
sustainable beauty products

This is the third of a five-post series looking into environmental issues with the beauty industry, areas it’s excelling in sustainability and where we can expect to see sustainability efforts improve in the future. You can find the previous post here.

 

Many people know that switching to sustainable beauty products helps the environment, but did you know it may improve your health as well?

As many of the chemicals typically used in cosmetic production have yet to undergo rigorous testing, no one truly knows the impact these synthetic substances may have on health. But we do know that the skin absorbs chemical additives like a sponge. So avoiding personal hygiene products laden with chemical additives and preservatives just makes sense.

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Environment

How Did Sustainable Beauty Begin, and What Are the Current Trends?

December 17, 2018
sustainable beauty

This is the second post in a five-part series environmental issues with the beauty industry, areas it’s excelling in sustainability and where we can expect to see sustainability efforts improve in the future. You can find the previous post here.

 

In today’s electronically connected world, consumers have greater access to information about the products they use than ever before. As a result, manufacturers face increasing public pressure to abandon wasteful production practices and embrace cleaner, greener alternatives.

The beauty industry stands at the forefront of the sustainability movement. Consumers criticize non-essential items most harshly. While few people encounter public scorn for activities such as driving — which pollutes heavily but remains a necessity — choosing to patronize beauty brands accused of unsustainable practices has long raised eyebrows. Cosmetics manufacturers continue to experiment with new techniques to create products that enhance beauty without destroying the planet.

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Environment

Common Beauty Industry Environmental Issues

December 13, 2018
beauty industry environmental issues

This is the first of a five-post series looking into environmental issues with the beauty industry, areas it’s excelling in sustainability and where we can expect to see sustainability efforts improve in the future.

 

More people than ever before recognize the importance of going green to humankind’s continued existence on this planet and with good reason. The most recent National Climate Assessment strongly suggests that failing to take immediate action to address climate change will cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars.

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