Waste not: Saving the environment by saving food

Food waste has become a major problem in the US. (istockphoto)
Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | December 14,  2017

As the holidays draw near, most consumers are preoccupied with gift-buying and family preparations. Solid waste specialist Noelle Bowman, however, wants people to be mindful of their food waste as well.

Food waste is an enormous problem in the United States. Around 125 billion pounds of food scraps are discarded in the US per year, accounting for roughly 40% of all food waste worldwide.  Equally surprising, around 1 in 7 US citizens are food insecure.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has a “Food Recovery Hierarchy”; a pyramid chart illustrating the different tiers of important steps to take in order to reduce overall food waste. Source reduction is the first and primary goal; a large amount of food waste starts at the harvest and at mishandled inventory.

A study on food waste increase in Singapore gave tips to consumers looking to reduce food waste by buying only what they will use, storing or freezing food for later use, and composting any unusable ingredients they can.

The debate about the environmental friendliness of Christmas trees continues

tree close up
Consumers debate about the environmental safety of real and fake trees. (istockphoto)
Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | December 7, 2017

Here’s a dilemma that’s common among Christmas-observing households around the holidays: Real tree or artificial tree?

The question goes a little further than skin-deep. There has long been a debate about the safety and eco-friendliness of the real tree versus the artificial tree, with parties on both sides presenting evidence for their claims. The goal, overall, is to figure out which one leaves a smaller carbon footprint–is it the fake tree, the one that you buy once and haul out of your closet every year for a decade, thus saving on transportation costs for the real tree? Or is it the real thing, a true Christmas pine tree, an all-natural, biodegradable organism that won’t be left in a landfill?

The numbers are tricky because they’re variable. A lot of the measurements depend on how the real tree was transported to a store or warehouse, how much fuel that took, how eco-friendly the harvesting process for real trees is. Fake tree fans usually make an interesting point: with a fake tree, you save literally a decade’s worth of production.

Real tree enthusiasts have their own retort: artificial trees are plastic. PVC plastic, actually. They are definitely reusable, but once they’re discarded, they end up in landfills and in the ecosystem with other bits of equally dangerous trash that will take years and years to break down properly. Most artificial trees are imported from China, but a consumer can more easily pick local businesses when searching for a real tree.

There is a general consensus that both options have their advantages and disadvantages. Whatever decision a consumer makes, researching before a purchase is one of the best ways to give back to the Earth this holiday season.



Why Glitter May Soon Be Banned In The UK

Scientists are slowly growing more vocal about the dangers of plastic particles. (Shutterstock)
Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | November 30, 2017

Glitter is looking less and less like a fun craft material and more like an environmental hazard.

Almost on the heels of a recent scientific discovery that plastic has now penetrated even our deepest ocean floors, there has been a push by the UK government to ban the small bits of plastic that still make their way into the ecosystem.

Glitter is a microplastic, cut into small shapes that reflect light and give everything from cards and crafts to lotions and body washes an extra gleam. While pretty, the stuff can quickly escape into drains and become a hazard to marine life. British scientist Stephan Cotton has been working on an eco-friendly version of glitter, one that uses eucalyptus tree extract instead. Mica–a mineral used in cosmetics for shimmer and luster–is another natural alternative, but there is an ongoing battle to reduce child labor in mica mines and quarries.

For now, the UK government is looking seriously at banning microplastic glitter, as it has already planned to ban micro-beads in 2018. Micro-beads are found mostly in face scrubs and exfoliating products, and the ban has forced companies to find natural alternatives. Some companies are already using natural, eco-friendly, and ethically sourced materials to make things shine,  and scientists are confident that a ban on microplastic will convince others to do the same.

Even The Deep Sea Isn’t Free From Plastic

Garbage and debris is choking the ocean’s ecosystem
Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | November 16, 2017

Recent studies have unearthed the unsettling fact that at this point in time even deep, supposedly remote areas of Earth are polluted with plastic.

Academics in Newcastle University studied a variety of deep-sea crustaceans from the Pacific Ocean and found traces of plastic fiber in their stomachs. The samples were gathered not just from the Mariana Trench, but from a wide swath of trenches off the coast of South Africa and East Asia. The deepest area sampled was the Mariana Trench’s Challenger Deep–roughly 10,890 meters below the surface of the ocean, making these samples the deepest ever found. 100% of the crustaceans from the Mariana Trench were contaminated with plastic.

The study raises concerns about the pervasiveness of pollution. Two months prior to this case, a study conducted by Orb Media gathered drinking water samples from dozens of countries. The findings revealed that around 83% of our drinking water is contaminated by small plastic particles.

Scientists at Newcastle worry that no ecosystem has been left untouched by pollution and man made waste, and the complexity of deep-sea biology makes solving this problem even more difficult. Plastics are not biodegradable; there is o current way to make the petroleum product completely harmless. Efforts to conserve the ocean with organized cleanups and an increased focus on recycling and re-purposing the harmful material are some of the first steps forward towards a cleaner environment.