If there’s one vital, but underappreciated, subject in the conversation about climate change, it’s waste: how to define it, how to create less of it, how to deal with it without adding more pollution to the planet or the atmosphere.
But experts say these aren’t necessarily the biggest problems. Reducing the damage from waste might require expanding the traditional definition of waste — not just as old-fashioned garbage, but as a result of wild inefficiency in all kinds of systems, which often results in emissions of greenhouse gases, among other problems.
While on the topic of food, thanks to Dustin Solberg and Cool Green Science for this:
Quite a few years back, while working the wheat harvest in the middle of Oklahoma, I met a leathery skinned farmer. He lived through the dusty, hardscrabble, droughty years of the Great Depression, and experience had taught him plenty. I still recall his silver belt buckle, his straw cowboy hat, and the funny joke he told me about the buffalo on a buffalo nickel, which I can’t repeat here. He wanted me to know, and so told me in no uncertain terms, that there’s one way, and one way only, to plow a field.
We were standing then in the fresh golden stubble of a wheat field. It was hot. We’d just finished combining and after a day of steady motion we were finally still, the diesel engines at rest. I can still recall the animated force in his muscly hands – he made his fingers into the tines of a chisel plow – to make his point as vividly as I recall what he said: “You’ve got to set the plow deep.”
The trouble was, he was wrong.
Food waste, a problem whose partial solutions are myriad, has been on my radar since Milo posted about it. Its root seems obviously related to not properly pricing the input resources, like land, water, etc., which paradoxically makes it possible to produce an abundance sufficient to waste. But dealing with the problem at the tail end of the value chain is another partial solution so the video above is worth a few minutes of your time.
If you live nearby, get more information about how to subscribe to their home composting program by clicking here. Sandy and her operation tell me that waiting for someone else to solve the collective action problem is wasted time. David Owen brought her and it to my attention in this short profile:
…BK ROT was founded, in 2013, by Sandy Nurse. She was born in Panama, in 1984—both her parents were in the U.S. Navy—and grew up mainly there and in South Korea and Japan. She studied international affairs at the New School and assumed that she was headed for a diplomatic career. But she changed her mind after working on food assistance in Haiti after the big earthquake there in 2010.
“I came back to New York and got really excited about urban resiliency and food sovereignty and disaster recovery,” she said recently. BK ROT was one of the results. “We have a very specific mission of environmental and social-justice values, and grassroots accountability to the neighborhood, and transparency, and giving our output, the compost, back into food-growing and soil-building operations.” BK ROT is partly a grant-supported jobs program for young people. (Ibarra and his co-workers, most of whom live in the neighborhood, earn fifteen dollars an hour.) Nurse also teaches community activism and basic construction skills, which she studied as a trainee of the New York City District Council of Carpenters.
At BK ROT, food waste is mixed with wood chips and sawdust, then moved, over a period of weeks, through a succession of wooden bins the size of washing machines. By the time it reaches the final bin, it’s black and bug-covered and unrecognizable as former food. Then it’s heaped into sloping, loaflike piles, called windrows. “Convection sucks in air from the bottom and pulls it to the top,” Nurse said. “That keeps the microorganisms inside the windrows healthy.” The resulting mass is eventually shovelled into a rotating cylindrical sifter that looks like something you might pull bingo numbers out of; the original version was built by a friend of Nurse’s, who found instructions on YouTube. The compost is sold in local stores and directly to individuals—“Somebody came from Staten Island yesterday and took a bunch,” Nurse said—but most of it goes to nearby urban farms and community gardens, a few of which Nurse herself helped to start.
I have been linking to stories about urban farming more frequently, and it has been an interest since Milo first posted this during our second year living in India. A resource I have for staying attuned is the Urban Farm podcast. The most recent episode is about one of the pioneers of organic farming, and depending on your interests may be worth a listen. The images in the video above will help you decide whether listening to the podcast is a good investment of time. Click the image of the book, which he talks about in this episode, to go to the publisher’s description and click the banner immediately below to go to the farm’s website:
Eliot has over fifty years’ experience in all aspects of organic farming, including field vegetables, greenhouse vegetables, rotational grazing of cattle and sheep, and range poultry. He is the author of The New Organic Grower, Four-Season Harvest,The Winter Harvest Handbook and an instructional workshop DVD called Year-Round Vegetable Production with Eliot Coleman – all published through our friends at Chelsea Green.
Eliot and his wife, Barbara Damrosch, operate a commercial year-round market garden and run horticultural research projects at their farm called Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine.
In This Podcast:
In 1988, Eliot Coleman literally wrote the book on being an organic grower and has been an invaluable resource for organic gardeners and farmers for three decades. He only started growing food because it sounded like an adventure; and he learned how through books and making friends with farmers around the world. We learn who inspired and taught him, how he uses livestock on his farm, how he virtually moved his farm 500 miles to the south for the winter, and more. Continue reading
This is the time of year, in the days prior to the USA Thanksgiving holiday, when I tend to recall the first time food waste, one of the oddest of plagues, came to my attention. Thank you Meg. And thanks to Yale e360 for reporting this heartening news:
In the first 10 months of 2018, investors poured $125 million into U.S. companies whose mission is to prevent food from going to waste, according to a new report.
ReFED, a non-profit dedicated to drastically cutting the amount of food that becomes spoiled or is wasted in the U.S., said that the investments spanned a wide variety of companies focusing on new technologies, software, and business-to-business solutions. They include Apeel Sciences, which received $70 million in private financing to produce a natural second skin to extend the life of produce; Food Maven and Full Harvest, each of which received $8.5 million to help businesses sell excess or less visually appealing produce; Spoiler Alert, which helps businesses better manage unsold food inventory; and ReGrained, which makes flour out of spent distillers grains. Continue reading
Popular fast-casual chains brag of sustainability, as customers toss their compostable and recyclable bowls into the trash with wild abandon.
Every weekday, shortly after 11 a.m., a line forms at the Broadway and 38th Street location of Sweetgreen, the eco-conscious salad chain. By noon, the line has usually tripled in size. It often takes more than 15 minutes to get to the front.
The scene is similar at the Chop’t at 41st and Broadway, or the Dig Inn on West 38th, or the Just Salad one block south. In the heart of Midtown Manhattan, the evidence is hard to dismiss: Greens, once so unappetizing that parents all over the country had to beg and bribe their children to eat them, have never been hotter. (Almost as hot: their denser, younger cousin, grains.) Continue reading
The days of plastic straws are drawing shorter.
Marriott International on Wednesday became the latest big company to announce it will stop using plastic straws, saying it would remove them from its more than 6,500 properties by next July. The giant hotel chain said it will stop offering plastic stirrers, too.
It said the environmentally friendly move could eliminate the use of more than 1 billion plastic straws and about 250 million stirrers per year. Marriott said its hotels will “offer alternative straws upon request.” Continue reading
To me, conservation tourism isn’t just about facilitating guest experiences in nature, but rather, it is about ensuring that guests walk away from their experience having gained a new appreciation for the systems they have interacted with. When I first spoke with Crist about spending my summer at Chan Chich, we mostly discussed working on developing a hydroponic food production system at the lodge. Not only would this system serve as a food supplier for the kitchen, but would also have an interactive educational aspect so guests could learn about the process. While this project is still a focal point of my internship, sustainability isn’t just about improving one aspect of a system, just like good conservation tourism is about having a medley of experiences.
When strengthening both the guest experience and sustainable operations at Chan Chich, it isn’t enough to just focus on what is going in to the kitchen. Rather, it is essential to focus on what is coming out of the kitchen as well.
Sustainable waste management has been important to the operations at Chan Chich for some time now. However, never before has these processes been visible to guests. While the hydroponic project is still under development, applying the project’s ideas of sustainable technology and guest education to waste management in the meantime is highly beneficial.
Thanks again to Stephanie Strom for a story about ecology that surprises:
For the environmentally conscious eater, they are among the most inconvenient truths: Too much food goes to waste. Too much packaging comes with the food. And too much of the packaging is made to last for ages.
Now there may be a single answer to all three problems: using excess food to make the packaging. Continue reading
This other post today reminds me of the value of geeking out from time to time. Most of my attention to coral reef comes from Phil Karp’s posts on this platform and I admit to preferring stories featuring real people and their entrepreneurial approaches to conservation. But science is the other best friend of conservation. Today my attention is turning to coffee, in advance of the arrival this week of an intern coming from Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Just one of the many topics for an intern, with science and research on her side, to help us tackle over the next ten weeks, bird-friendly coffee has been on been on my mind in the last year but I have been waiting for the perfect moment to focus. Nothing like the arrival of an intern to focus your mind. And so today in my task-oriented wanderings I came across this website (click the banner above), which I loved immediately for sharing this news on capsules, but the rest of the site is a great resource for present purposes as well:
A short round-up of coffee news.
Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this new appreciation for an otherwise underappreciated creature:
People around the world use more than a trillion plastic bags every year. They’re made of a notoriously resilient kind of plastic called polyethylene that can take decades to break down.
But a humble worm may hold the key to biodegrading them. Continue reading
The photo above looks almost surreal, but this is not fake news:
Thanks to Conservation for their tireless effort to review important science and summarize it for we, the less scientifically-trained folk:
Vegetables grown in home gardens are associated with lower greenhouse gas emissions than vegetables bought at the store, according to a study by researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Home gardening reduces emissions by about 2 kilograms for every kilogram of produce, they report in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning.
The study is the first to show that gardening could make a meaningful contribution to helping cities and states meet their emissions reductions targets. Continue reading
There is no clean way to say this but…sewage sludge might just be the next thing to help grow the produce you consume. A recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition states that thermally conditioned sewage sludge could replace commercial chemical fertilizer as a sustainable option for improving soil properties. The greatest advantage of this alternative fertilizer is that it re-uses essential and finite phosphorus resources, which are commonly sourced from non-renewable phosphate rocks.
Sewage sludge is now a readily available substitute of commercial fertilizers in agriculture due to technological improvements that have increased the phosphorus content of it. Therefore, Andry Andriamananjara from the University of Antananarivo (Madagascar), along with his colleagues, decided to assess its effectiveness using a phosphorus radiotracer technique to measure the availability of phosphorus for plants in thermally conditioned sewage sludge.
We regularly report on innovations in agriculture, such as biofeedback and “certified transitional” ingredients, but also on tried-and-true methods like composting, or removing weeds in alternative ways. Cara Byington from The Nature Conservancy’s Cool Green Science blog reports on a recent study on nature and farmers:
A new paper in the Journal of Applied Ecology finds that two farm-based food safety practices – removal of non-crop vegetation in and around fields, and abandonment of composting – actually hurt farmers without making food safer.
“The practices are unnecessary,” said Danny Karp, lead author on the study. “Not only are they ineffective for their intended purpose, they damage growers by decreasing crop yields and pest control.”
Click the image above to go to the video on this new company’s page at Kickstarter, and then scroll down if you want to pre-order items to support the mission:
Eat your utensil and prevent waste at its source!
Bakeys is launching the world’s first edible cutlery line made of three flours: rice, wheat, and sorghum. Help us change the way we eat and think about waste!
And we understand how important it is to be able to provide delicious cutlery that can be eaten by anyone. We are already fully vegan, preservative free, trans fat free, dairy free and operate on principals of fair trade. We have put a focus on bringing up the following certifications within the following year: Continue reading
We are currently in the middle of filming a series of short films at Xandari, here in Costa Rica, to match the series of short films we have made of the various Xandari properties in Kerala, India. The film crew arrives at 4:45 so we can catch the rising sun, which I find best viewed from the west edge of the property. Above you can see some of the coffee planted in the last two years, in the midst of one of Xandari’s highly productive organic vegetable gardens. The film crew is drawn to this space at sunrise and sunset. Soon you will see why, cinematically. For now, some more images from the edge of the forest reserve, following Saturday morning’s outing; this time focused on various introduced species of flora that complement Costa Rica’s most famous introduced species of plant (high grade arabica coffee). Continue reading
Thanks to the Science section of Tuesday’s New York Times for pieces regularly covering alternative approaches to agriculture, such as this one today:
Soil-conservation farming, a movement that promotes not tilling fields and using “green” manures, is gaining converts in tough environments and markets.
In the early years of this site we highlighted a concept of “the fourth r” – focusing on the restaurants and events planners who support a form of social entreprenuership by donating excess food to local shelters. On an annual basis huge amounts of prepared foods go to waste in all forms of venues, but the classic buffet-style cafeteria is a long-term culprit. But luckily creative solutions have gone hand-in-hand with awareness of the problem. At the time we used the term “recycled” when taking about the food programs. Kudos to the new voices who redefined at as “repurposed.”
Back in 2011 when I was a student at the University of Maryland in College Park I once noticed a massive pile of trash in front of a dining hall. A closer look revealed that it was mostly food — a half-eaten sandwich, a browning apple and what appeared to be the remains of the day’s lunch special.
The heap was gross, but intriguing. Turned out it was a stunt to get students thinking about how much food they throw out each day.
Nowadays, students are coming face to face with their food waste, and its environmental and social impact, a lot more often. They also have more opportunities do something about it. Continue reading
Thanks to Ecowatch, we can consider the long lost love of our better, healthier selves, found: