The benefits of sustainable irrigation

Increased irrigation could help feed billions globally (/stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | November 14th, 2018

Irrigation, a controlled method of watering crops using pipes, canels, and other systems, has long been used to boost harvests and food production. But irrigating crops is an expensive process, and a lack of fresh water and weaker, underfunded infrastructure makes this method often inaccessible to many less developed regions.

Lorenzo Rosa from the University of California, Berkeley is determined to make a case for increased irrigation globally. By biophysically examining cropland across several nations and determining the water consumption of these areas, they were able to deduce that global irrigation could increase by 48%, as there is enough freshwater to contribute an additional 408 cubic km of water per year to different croplands.

Many crops globally are rain-fed, and relying only on rain can be shaky at best. Lorenzo’s team estimates that by increasing global irrigation, the extra water could help grow enough crops to feed an additional 2.8 billion people–and that is certainly a cause worth pressing.

Clothing’s role in sustainability and the environment

We need sustainable business models for fashion now more than ever (/stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | November 13th, 2018

Cheap, mass-produced clothing is an absolutely booming industry, with many significant players in the fast fashion business raking in millions every year. But clothing comes at a cost, and as more brands are making moves towards a sustainable market, these costs become more glaringly obvious.

Fashion produces a lot of waste. About 10% of global carbon emissions come from the fashion industry, and tons of microfibers are released into oceans and other water sources every year from washing clothing made with plastic or otherwise synthetic fibers.

The textile workers that create fast and cheap clothing are almost always underpaid, and frequently work in dangerous conditions.

There are some movements towards more sustainable business models for clothing producers. Everlane’s ReNew, a recently launched clothing line, creates fashionable streetwear, coats, and jackets from recycled plastic. But there’s still a considerable way to go before most companies reach this level of sustainability.

Many sustainable brands are expensive and often inaccessible to many individuals who want to help the environment, but cannot afford anything luxury. For those that wish to do their part in reducing the waste the fashion industry can produce, buying second-hand from consignment or resale shops has always been a great option.

Renewable energy capacity in the UK increases

Renewable energy is steadily becoming a major source of power in the UK (/source)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | November 7th, 2018

The capacity of renewable energy in the United Kingdom has now outweighed the country’s capacity of fossil fuels by a small margin.

Renewable sources of energy, like solar- and wind-power, reached a capacity of 41.9 gigawatts between July and September, while non-renewable sources stayed at 41.2 gigawatts.

The UK has been making steady progress towards increasing its use of clean energy and inching away from its previous dependence on fossil fuels,

Fossil fuels often negatively impact the environment. Everything from the extraction of gas and oil to the emissions from its use damage our atmosphere and soil in some way. With clean energy becoming more and more prevalent, hope lies in major countries like the United Kingdom moving away from fossil fuels completely.


After years of damage, the ozone layer is starting to heal

The ozone layer, after decades of thinning out, may be recovering in some areas (stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | November 6th, 2018

The ozone layer slowly thinning and dissipating was, for a while, a tight focus in news stories about the environment–and this protective layer in our stratosphere remains an important part of our overall environmental protection.

Ozone is a molecule with three oxygen atoms, and the ozone layer’s stability is determined by the amount of molecules existing at any given time. This layer absorbs some of the radiation from the sun–UVB, specifically–and helps keep the levels of UVB on Earth at a manageable level, as these rays are the perpetrators behind many skin cancers.

Ozone depletion has been linked to the heavy use of chlorofluorocarbons, or CFOs, which are primarily used in aerosol sprays. In the 1970s, a hole in the ozone layer was discovered over Antarctica, launching the world into a frenzy over global warming.

While the ozone layer seems to continue thinning over populated areas, over places like the North and South pole the stratosphere may make a full recovery by the mid-2030s. 


Edible packaging and candy’s dodgy manufacturing process

A close up landscape of colorful candy of many varieties.
Candy is great, but the sweets can come at a cost (/source)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | October 31st, 2018

When Halloween rolls around, people are bound to eat a metric ton of candy.

Unfortunately, most brands of candy are individually wrapped in non-recyclable materials, creating loads of extra trash during the holiday. With other non-biodegradable materials already littering our soil and water in abundance, an extra influx of plastic wrappers just seems like an inevitable side effect.

Many brands of candy have controversial making processes, too. Cocoa, depressingly, is largely manufactured using child labor, especially on farms along the Ivory Coast. Nestle, one of the biggest companies that uses these coast farms, also owns a water bottling company–and its trash makes up a good amount of debris found by the ocean.

Fortunately, even though ethical issues are abound with candy, there are other, smaller companies leaping to make foods that aren’t so problematic. Recyclable packaging has been around for a while, and now, a new type of product is finding its way onto the market: edible packaging.

With plastic being a constant issue, companies like Tinning Straws are finding materials like seaweed to make everything from edible straws to digestible burger wrappers. The Canadian company Candy Cutlery makes edible spoons for customers to use with dessert. Many of these companies, partially because they’re often indie brands themselves, support local and fairly-produced foods and candies.

Being an ethical consumer is hard, especially when the alternative costs so much and is hard to obtain. As we collectively start to think about the impact candy and other foods have on the environment and on lower-income populations, these better alternatives will slowly become more and more widely available.

Until then, stay safe, don’t litter, and–obviously–Happy Halloween!

Tobacco farming’s awful environmental impact

Every part of the tobacco process carries some damage to the environment (/source)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | October 30th, 2018

Smoking is well-established as a health hazard, both for the smoker and for the people around them. Inhaling cigarette smoke over long periods of time can cause lung and throat cancer, along with dulled taste buds and altered eating patterns. But the consumption of tobacco isn’t the only way to cause harm. Tobacco farming has its negative effects, too.

The tobacco industry, as it turns out, has a massive carbon footprint, exceeding the footprint of some countries.

Every aspect of tobacco production is environmentally harmful. The plant is grown as a monocrop, staying in the same soil and left un-rotated with other crops. Curing tobacco leaves requires a lot of energy for little yield; a single tree contributes enough wood to dry tobacco that will find its way into 300 cigarettes, a relatively small number compared to how many cigarettes are smoked each year. The toxins in cigarette butts leech into soil and water, contaminating everything it touches.

With aggressive campaigns to reduce smoking habits in the US, cigarettes may not seem like a particularly large threat. But smoking is prevalent in the EU and in parts of East Asia, and without stricter guidelines for growing tobacco, this under-the-rader industry will continue damaging our already delicate environment.

Microplastics may be making their way into people

Microplastics are one of the larger threats to ocean life (/source)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | October 24th, 2018

“Microplastic” is something of a buzzword, catching people’s attention as a leading cause for concern in terms of water and soil pollution. Many types of plastic are not biodegradable and break down instead into smaller and smaller versions of itself, causing major problems for the delicate ecosystem in the ocean. When these pieces reach sizes of less than 5 millimeters, they become, by definition, microplastics.

There are many sources for microplastics, including plastic bags, plastic packaging, and even clothing, something that more companies are becoming aware of. “Green” methods of packing products and a decreased use of plastic bags are slowly starting to become the norm, but there is still a long way to go before single-use plastic ceases to exist.

Because of their size, microplastics can easily be ingested by animals and humans as these plastic particles find their way into food and tap water. A recent pilot study led by researchers from the Medical University of Vienna found evidence of plastic particles in stool samples collected from a variety of people spanning several nationalities. The small size of the study sample is something to be cautious of, and a larger study would reveal more accurate data.