Teaching Lego To Play Well By Eliminating Plastic

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Tim Brooks, Lego’s vice president for environmental responsibility, says the company emits about a million tons of carbon dioxide each year. Credit Carsten Snejbjerg for The New York Times

For a company, and a product, that has been a part of so many lives for so long–and especially one whose name means to play well, it is still a shock to be reminded of their carbon footprint. And three years after first reading about their commitment, it is good to read details of their plan and progress:

Lego Wants to Completely Remake Its Toy Bricks (Without Anyone Noticing)

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At Lego, petroleum-based plastics aren’t the packaging, they’re the product — and the bricks making up these dinosaurs have barely changed in more than 50 years. Credit Carsten Snejbjerg for The New York Times

BILLUND, Denmark — At the heart of this town lies a building that is a veritable temple to the area’s most famous creation, the humble Lego brick. It is filled with complex creations, from a 50-foot tree to a collection of multicolored dinosaurs, all of them built with a product that has barely changed in more than 50 years.

A short walk away in its research lab, though, Lego is trying to refashion the product it is best known for: It wants to eliminate its dependence on petroleum-based plastics, and build its toys entirely from plant-based or recycled materials by 2030. Continue reading

Behavioral Science & Green Innovation

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Green registration plates are already in use in China. Photograph: Roman Pilipey/EPA-EFE/Rex/Shutterstock

The UK, whatever other challenges it may be experiencing, is proving itself creatively committed to green innovation:

Green number plates ‘could boost sales of electric cars’ in UK

Behavioural insights unit proposes new colour for registration plates to help ‘normalise the idea of clean vehicles’

A Time and Place for the Public Service Announcement

One of the many Advocacy Priorities of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA)

While indoor plumbing is more or less taken for granted, not everything that can flush, should. Thanks to the NYTimes for clarifying the basics.

Should I Flush It? Most Often, the Answer Is No

It might seem harmless at first: a thread of dental floss tossed in the toilet, a contact lens swirling down the drain of the bathroom sink. But even the tiniest of items can contaminate waterways.

The small fragments of plastic contact lenses are believed to be contributing to the growing problem of microplastic pollution. Pharmaceuticals, which are also frequently flushed down the drain, have been found in our drinking water, and the consequences are not fully known.

Larger products like wipes and tampons are also clogging sewer systems, resulting in billions of dollars in maintenance and repair costs.

Wondering what’s safe to flush or wash down the drain? We spoke with several wastewater management experts who explained why many frequently disposed items belong in a garbage can, not the toilet. Continue reading

Europe And The Race To Car Electrification

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Thanks to Adam Vaughan and the Guardian for this update on this race:

Electric cars exceed 1m in Europe as sales soar by more than 40%

Milestone reached nearly a year after China but ahead of the US

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Between January and June around 195,000 plug-in cars were sold across the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Photograph: Miles Willis/Getty Images for Go Ultra Low

There are now more than a million electric cars in Europe after sales soared by more than 40% in the first half of the year, new figures reveal.

Europe hit the milestone nearly a year after China, which has a much larger car market, but ahead of the US, which is expected to reach the landmark later this year driven by the appetite for Tesla’s latest model.

Between January and June around 195,000 plug-in cars were sold across the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, a 42% increase on the same period a year before. Continue reading

Off Halogen, On With LED

Switching to LEDs has been estimated to save consumers up to £112 a year. Photograph: imageBroker/Rex/Shutterstock

Arthur Neslen at the Guardian shares the news, in Europe to ban halogen lightbulbs, that we have been waiting to hear for years:

After nearly 60 years of lighting homes halogens will be replaced with more energy efficient LEDs

After nearly 60 years of brightening our homes and streets, halogen lightbulbs will finally be banned across Europe on 1 September.

The lights will dim gradually for halogen. Remaining stocks may still be sold, and capsules, linear and low voltage incandescents used in oven lights will be exempted. But a continent-wide switchover to light-emitting diodes (LEDs) is underway that will slash emissions and energy bills, according to industry, campaigners and experts.

LEDs consume five times less energy than halogen bulbs and their phase-out will prevent more than 15m tonnes of carbon emissions a year, an amount equal to Portugal’s annual electricity usage. Continue reading

Vegetarianism For Footprint Reduction

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Replacing 50% of meat consumption with a vegetarian diet would push back the overshoot date by five days. Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty

Our vegetarian diet ambitions are strengthening for all kinds of reasons. Footprint reduction among them. Thanks to our colleague Mathis Wackernagel for his regular reminders of the anything but regular footprint growth humanity imposes on the planet each year:

Earth’s resources consumed in ever greater destructive volumes

Study says the date by which we consume a year’s worth of resources is arriving faster

Humanity is devouring our planet’s resources in increasingly destructive volumes, according to a new study that reveals we have consumed a year’s worth of carbon, food, water, fibre, land and timber in a record 212 days.

As a result, the Earth Overshoot Day – which marks the point at which consumption exceeds the capacity of nature to regenerate – has moved forward two days to 1 August, the earliest date ever recorded.

Earth Overshoot Day falls on 1 August this year – marking the point at which consumption exceeds the capacity of nature to regenerate

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Guardian graphic. Source: Overshootday.org

To maintain our current appetite for resources, we would need the equivalent of 1.7 Earths, according to Global Footprint Network, an international research organisation that makes an annual assessment of how far humankind is falling into ecological debt. Continue reading

Other Farms Of The Future

170822-mms-a1-hoegaarden-event-brooklyn-08824.jpgYou can click on any of these photos to go to their source, and they are inserted here because the article that brought this farm (?), this company, this phenomenon to my attention did not have any images. It was good to have only the New Yorker words to start with because, like all good writing, it forced me to imagine what this might look like. However, my imagination fell short.

Out of the Ordinary

Farm+One.jpegFarm.One is New York City’s grower of rare herbs, edible flowers and microgreens for some of the best restaurants in the city. Our Edible Bar and Tasting Plates make these fresh, exciting ingredients available for the first time in an event setting. Guests can discover botanical ingredients for the first time, with the expert guidance of our farm team. Taste ingredients on their own, or paired with cocktails and other beverages, for a colorful, flavorful and aromatic experience like no other.

VS_Inspiration_at_Farm.One-9124This short piece by Anna Russell below continues our stream of thought about the farm of the future, and takes it into very unexpected territory. Hydroponics and urban farming have been featured many times in these pages over the years so that is not what has our attention. It is the mixing of art and agriculture that gets us thinking outside the box:

Tribeca’s Hydroponic Underground

Chic stems and tender greens thrive deep below Worth Street on the rolling shelves of Farm.One.

170822-mms-a1-hoegaarden-event-brooklyn-08817.jpgHydroponics are a slippery slope. You might find yourself, one Sunday morning, at a Santa Monica farmers’ market, loitering among the apples, say. You come across a bunch of papalo, a leafy herb native to central Mexico, and toss it in your mouth (your tastes are expansive; a papalo leaf is nothing to you) and wham!: a brand-new flavor. Suddenly, you’re up at all hours, watching vertical-farming videos on YouTube, ordering seed packets from eBay, buying rhizomes—rhizomes!—and worrying about spider mites. You get some fennel crowns and a pouch of parasitic wasps, and you’re on your way. Continue reading

Helping Plants Make Their Own Nitrogen

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Poplar trees at the Snoqualmie River in Washington State. The river is fed mostly by snow melt and is extremely low in nitrogen, yet the trees thrive thanks to endophytes. Sharon Doty

Thanks to our friends at the salt, and National Public Radio (USA) for this:

Microbial Magic Could Help Slash Your Dinner’s Carbon Footprint

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Endophytes are microbes that live inside plants — the ones tagged with a fluorescent dye in this image are found in poplars. The microbes gather nitrogen from the air, turning it into a form plants can use, a process called nitrogen fixation. Researchers are looking at how these microbes could be used to help crops like rice and corn make their own fertilizer.
Sam Scharffenberger

If you’re interested in sustainability, you’ve probably thought about how to reduce your carbon footprint, from how you fuel your car to how you heat your home. But what about carbon emissions from growing the food you eat?

Most of the crops in the United States are grown using chemical fertilizer – a lot of it: American farmers used over 24 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer in 2011. And making nitrogen fertilizer requires fossil fuels like natural gas or coal. Continue reading

Agroecology, A Guiding Principle For Food Entrepreneurship

Ryan Donnell for The New York Times

Our attention has been on food entrepreneurship recently, and here we continue the thread. With agroecology, a new word and robust concept, we have new food for thought. And for that we thank one of our favorite food writers, who we have relied since the first year of this platform. Many of the food stories we have linked to over the years have been authored by him. A year ago we linked to this story, which marked the first time we noted him as an activist. We expect, after reading Bringing Farming Back to Nature, which he co-authored with Daniel Moss, that he has found his new calling:

Workers in a paddy field in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India. Credit Noah Seelam/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Farming the land as if nature doesn’t matter has been the model for much of the Western world’s food production system for at least the past 75 years. The results haven’t been pretty: depleted soil, chemically fouled waters, true family farms all but eliminated, a worsening of public health and more. But an approach that combines innovation and tradition has emerged, one that could transform the way we grow food. It’s called agroecology, and it places ecological science at the center of agriculture. It’s a scrappy movement that’s taking off globally. Continue reading

Rise Products Reduce Waste

 

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Bertha Jimenez milling flour at Rise Products’ temporary kitchen in Long Island City, Queens.
Ms. Jimenez, an Ecuadorean immigrant with a doctorate in engineering, helped develop a method for making flour from the grain left over after brewing beer. 
George Etheredge for The New York Times

Thanks to Larissa Zimberoff for this:

From Brewery to Bakery: A Flour That Fights Waste

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In a temporary commercial kitchen in Long Island City, Queens, Rise Products dries spent beer grains in an oven before they are ground, milled and sifted into a fine flour. George Etheredge for The New York Times

For some people, beer is the perfect end to a workday. For Bertha Jimenez, it’s the start of a new way to eliminate food waste.

Breweries throw out millions of pounds of used grain every day that could have other uses. While some is repurposed as animal feed, compostable products or heating fuel, little has been exploited for its value as food.

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Because of the growing interest in reducing waste, many chefs and bakers are already eager to work with the flour. George Etheredge for The New York Times

But Ms. Jimenez, 35, has created a small start-up, Rise Products, that converts the grain into a flour that is finding its way into sustainable bakeries and kitchens in New York and as far away as Italy.

The potential for recycling beer waste first came into the cross hairs of Ms. Jimenez, an immigrant from Ecuador, while she was working toward her doctorate in 2015 at the Tandon School of Engineering at New York University. Intent on finding ways to reduce industrial waste, she started a side project with like-minded friends — most of them also immigrants — and craft beer provided an easy target: Everyone loved it, but it had issues.

Ms. Jimenez lives in Brooklyn, which at last count had 20 craft breweries that are tossing out grain. Ms. Jimenez and Ashwin Gopi, a classmate and a founder of Rise, began asking around for samples so they could figure out how best to reuse them. Continue reading

Copenhagenize Your City

3872 (1).jpgWho knew you could do such a thing? When did that become a thing? Nevermind, just read the graphs that accompany this story:

Danish-Canadian urban designer Mikael Colville-Andersen busts some common myths and shows how the bicycle has the potential to transform cities around the world (All images: Copenhagenize Design Company/ Mikael Colville-Andersen)

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Perspective On The Plastic Straw

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A typical Stone straw ad from a newspaper in 1899 (Google Books)

When we arrived in south India mid-2010 our toolkit was full of fifteen years worth of entrepreneurial conservation initiatives, starting in Costa Rica and followed by work in the Galapagos Islands, Chilean Patagonia, Montenegro, Croatia and Siberia. It took us a year to understand all the important ways India differed from everything we knew from elsewhere. Then Amie started targeting the elimination of plastic from our hotel operations, starting with bags in the gift shops. She might have been a latter-day Doña Quixote, tilting at packaged water bottles. All tourists had been instructed by guide books and travel agents to insist on these, and it was not as simple as deciding we knew better.

I might have been a latter-day  Sancho Panza, with a front row seat to the action and as occasional contributor to solution-sourcing. But nevermind the literary allusions. We did eliminate plastic bottles, and then moved on to straws, both in India and back in Costa Rica. We are still working on straws, which oddly enough are more puzzling than disposable water bottles. Alexis Madrigal, as always, has our gratitude for this illuminating history and perspective that helps stoke our motivation:

Disposable America

A history of modern capitalism from the perspective of the straw. Seriously.

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MIRAGEC / GETTY

A straw is a simple thing. It’s a tube, a conveyance mechanism for liquid. The defining characteristic of the straw is the emptiness inside it. This is the stuff of tragedy, and America.

Over the last several months, plastic straws have come under fire from environmental activists who rightly point out that disposable plastics have created a swirling, centuries-long ecological disaster that is brutally difficult to clean up. Bags were first against the wall, but municipalities from Oakland, California, (yup) to Surfside, Florida, (huh!) have started to restrict the use of plastic straws. Of course, now there is a movement afoot among conservatives to keep those plastics flowing for freedom. Meanwhile, disability advocates have pointed out that plastic straws, in particular, are important for people with physical limitations. “To me, it’s just lame liberal activism that in the end is nothing,” one activist told The Toronto Star. “We’re really kind of vilifying people who need straws.” Other environmentalists aren’t sure that banning straws is gonna do much, and point out that banning straws is not an entirely rigorous approach to global systems change, considering that a widely cited estimate for the magnitude of the problem was, umm, created by a smart 9-year-old. Continue reading

Plastic Reduction Via Straws Off The Menu

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The switch will affect McDonald’s 1,361 outlets in Britain but not the rest of its 36,000 restaurants worldwide. Photograph: McDonald’s/PA

Most of the stories we link out to are examples of revolution, or at least incremental innovation, by way of market forces. At a time when there appear to be incentives for sliding backwards, it is even more important to highlight the rationality and logic of conservation. One small but important example here on the plastic reduction front, where the clientele of a large company take the lead:

McDonald’s to switch to paper straws in UK after customer campaign

Fast-food chain, which uses 1.8m straws a day, says plastic straws will go by 2019

McDonald’s will end the use of plastic straws in its British restaurants next year, after nearly half a million people called on the company to ditch them.

The decision by the US fast-food chain to switch from plastic to paper straws follows a trial at a number of outlets in the past two months. The firm uses around 1.8m straws a day in the UK.

The switch will affect McDonald’s 1,361 outlets in the UK, but not the rest of its 36,000 restaurants worldwide. Continue reading

Reducing Our Intake Is The Only Answer

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Cattle at an illegal settlement in the Jamanxim National Forest, state of Para, northern Brazil, November 29, 2009. With 1,3 million hectares, the Jamanxim National Forest is today a microsm that replicates what happens in the Amazon, where thousands of hectares of land are prey of illegal woodcutters, stock breeders and gold miners. Photograph: Antonio Scorza/AFP/Getty Images

The argument made below by Damian Carrington, the Guardian’s Environment editor, is one nobody can hide from. We are not. Contributors on this platform have been reducing our intake of these forms of calories over the last couple years. We can report on its not being as difficult as it may sound at first to carnivores, ice cream aficionados and milk-drinkers. We are down some 40% and pushing the envelope further as fast as we can. It is not enough, relative to what these numbers say:

Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth

Biggest analysis to date reveals huge footprint of livestock – it provides just 18% of calories but takes up 83% of farmland

Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet. Continue reading

Renewables In Our Midst

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When it opens in 2020, Facebook’s new data center in Odense, Denmark will channel its waste heat to warm nearly 7,000 homes. FACEBOOK

Thanks to Nicola Jones and colleagues at Yale Environment 360 for this:

Waste Heat: Innovators Turn to an Overlooked Renewable Resource

Nearly three-quarters of all the energy produced by humanity is squandered as waste heat. Now, large businesses, high-tech operations such as data centers, and governments are exploring innovative technologies to capture and reuse this vast renewable energy source.

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Heat radiates from the Grangemouth Oil Refinery in Scotland. About 70 percent of all the energy produced globally gets discarded as waste heat. CHRISTOPHER FURLONG/GETTY IMAGES

When you think of Facebook and “hot air,” a stream of pointless online chatter might be what comes to mind. But the company will soon be putting its literal hot air — the waste heat pumped out by one of its data centers — to good environmental use. That center, in Odense, Denmark, plans to channel its waste heat to warm nearly 7,000 homes when it opens in 2020.

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Data centers, such as Google’s facility in Dalles, Oregon, generate huge amounts of waste heat. GOOGLE

Waste heat is everywhere. Every time an engine runs, a machine clunks away, or any work is done by anything, heat is generated. That’s a law of thermodynamics. More often than not, that heat gets thrown away, dribbling out into the atmosphere. The scale of this invisible garbage is huge: About 70 percent of all the energy produced by humanity gets chucked as waste heat. Continue reading

Water, Power & Discontent

Early last year an article in the Guardian reminded me of work I had done in Montenegro in an earlier decade. The work was among the most impactful in my life, both professionally and personally, but the reminder was more a warning than a celebration. Something similar just happened with work I carried out in the region Rachel Dixon, a travel writer for the Guardian, brought to my attention with the film above, mentioned in this article:

Adventure in Albania: kayaking in one of Europe’s final frontiers

With wild rivers, mountains and Unesco sites aplenty, Albania is emerging as an exciting Mediterranean destination – but its wilderness could be devastated by huge dam-building projects

5188‘Go, go, go!” The white-water rafting guide shouted orders from the back of the boat and our five-strong crew paddled hard to stay on course. We were tackling a stretch of the Vjosa, a 270km river that begins in Greece (where it is called the Aoös) and flows through Albania and into the Adriatic just north of the city of Vlora. I was on a recce trip for a new southern Albanian break with Much Better Adventures, which specialises in long weekends to wild places in Europe and North Africa. But this trip was not just a fun adventure – rather just part of a campaign to save the river, which is under threat from proposed dams. A documentary film, Blue Heart, out this month, will highlight the fight to protect Europe’s last wild rivers, with help from ecotourism…

The film, and the article, have to do with the power of water. And the power of humans in deciding what to do with water. Not all reminders can be pleasant. This one is bittersweet. One sweet part is the call to action.

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Step 1: Register your interest in hosting a screening

We are aiming to host hundreds of screenings of Blue Heart globally in 2018 to raise awareness of the plight of the people affected in the Balkan region. If you are interested in hosting a screening, please complete the form below and a member of our team will get back to you ASAP.  Please note the film is 40 mins long and we recommend that you allow at least 20 mins for a post screening discussion. Continue reading

Being Ecological When Nature Is Perceived With Limits

BeingEco

A book about ecology without information dumping, guilt inducing, or preaching to the choir.

This new book is mentioned in a description of coming to terms with a life without water, an essay written from the perspective of living in Cape Town, South Africa. The essay is moving in the way a dream can be, which fits the writer’s reference to what we all might come to know as “the water-anxiety dream.”

The essay was effective enough to get me to click through to find out more about the book to the left. Which leads to Timothy Morton, who has somehow avoided our notice until now. How had we missed an author of books with titles like Dark Ecology, and The Ecological Thought, as well as Ecology without Nature?

Nevermind how. My thanks to Rosa Lyster for this, among other gifts from her essay.

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For some residents of Cape Town, the memory of the drought is already fading. But, in an increasingly parched world, will the anxiety ever really end? Illustration by Owen Gent

A friend of mine got married in her parents’ garden last year, on a lavishly beautiful late-summer afternoon in Cape Town. Many of the guests were British, and they could not stop remarking on the fineness of the weather. It was a startling reminder that some people still relish hot days with no possibility of rain, that not everyone looks upon February in the Western Cape as something to be endured. After the ceremony, my date and I stood by the swimming pool, drinking sparkling wine and monitoring the canapés. My friend’s stepfather came by to say hello, carefully picking his way past the bride’s two young brothers, who were playing an ecstatic game of hide-and-seek on the lawn, getting grass stains on their tiny suits. After gracefully accepting our praise about how lovely everything had been, he told us that he’d been having torrid anxiety dreams. We nodded. Weddings are notoriously hard on the old nerves—guests to be tended to, speeches to be made, and the pool just lying there, waiting for any old idiot to accidentally fall in and cast an undignified pall over the happy day. He shook his head. His dream, he explained, was about the garden. Continue reading

Just When Ford Started Being Great Again, The Signals Indicated A Shift To Reverse

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Cristina Spanò

Ford1I have been based back in the Americas for fifteen months. For the previous couple years I had been driving Ford’s best-selling vehicle in India –a vehicle with the three letters Eco in its name. This was the company that built the cars I grew up in, but had long since stopped believing in. That “Eco” car got me starting to believe again.

Then the election of 2016 happened. Holding aside all its other dangers, the election result has elevated ecological danger to perhaps its greatest level in my lifetime. A government elected on the slippery Make America Great Again slogan has given cover to companies seeing profit in rollbacks of erstwhile impressive ecological commitments. And the slope down which we all are now sliding seems to be getting steeper. An op-ed by Jamie Lincoln Kitman, the New York bureau chief for Automobile Magazine, illuminates the slip and the slope:

Why Is a ‘Green’ Car Company Pivoting Back to S.U.V.s?

Ford2Two years ago, the Ford Motor Company boasted about having been named Interbrand’s Best Global Green Brand and said it was committed to working to meet stricter fuel economy standards. Last week, after lobbying with the rest of the industry to strike down those standards, Ford announced that it would largely abandon the American passenger car market in favor of building more trucks, crossovers and S.U.V.s. Continue reading

Drink The Wonk

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Soft fruit, such as oranges, root vegetables and salad are particularly prone to waste. Photograph: Eric Farrelly/Alamy

Rebecca Smithers, consumer affairs correspondent for the Guardian, has reported on a simple idea to not waste fruit just because its appearance is not standard. Wonky, as they say on the island where the English language comes from. Don’t fear the wonk, this article and this brand are saying. Was this not already happening with juice, as with other waste-reducing beverages? Can a brand be built on such an idea? Thumbs up to that:

‘Wonky’ fruit and vegetables that would have been thrown away are now being used to make a new range of juices, in one of a number of assaults on food waste.

One of the UK’s largest fresh produce growers has teamed up with a Spanish fruit supplier to create a new product, Waste Not, which will stop edible but visually ‘imperfect’ ingredients such as fresh celery, beetroot and oranges from being dug back into the soil, or used for animal feed. The new juices will go on sale in branches of Tesco.

The move is one of a growing number of innovations to reduce food waste throughout the supply chain, following criticism of supermarkets and suppliers that perfectly good food is being thrown out while UK consumers are relying increasingly on food banks. Continue reading

Plastic Reduction Success Story

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A UK levy of 5p per bag introduced in 2015 has already reduced single-use plastic bags by 85%. Photograph: Stuart Kelly/Alamy Stock Photo

We never tire of reporting on efforts at plastic-reduction, so thanks to Juliette Jowit and the Guardian for this update:

Drop in plastic bags littering British seas linked to introduction of 5p charge

Scientists find an estimated 30% drop in plastic bags on the seabed in the same timeframe as charges were introduced in European countries

A big drop in plastic bags found in the seas around Britain has been credited to the introduction of charges for plastic bags across Europe. Continue reading