The world’s protein companies still failing to address their environmental impact


5006431374_a888dc5f7c_o.jpg
(Mike Myers/flickr)

Kasey Dresser| September 9, 2019

The Coller FAIRR Protein Producer Index, in its second active year, just released their report analyzing the environmental, social, and governance risks of meat, dairy, and farmed fish producers. One large take away from this year’s study was the lack of attention given to environmental and animal welfare by some of the world’s largest protein producers.

The FAIRR Index looked at 60 different companies and found evidence of lacking sustainability efforts for greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, food waste, conditions for workers, antibiotic use, and animal welfare. Only 30% of the analyzed companies were able to give the researchers specific environmental strategy plans which focused only on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. One-quarter of the companies refused to even disclose their use of antibiotics on their animals.

As more research regarding climate change emerges, this isn’t just a problem for consumers. The conversation is shifting toward some of the financial consequences of severe weather for these large companies.

“What we’re seeing is that companies in the sector are contributing to many of the risks we discuss in the report, but they’re also deeply vulnerable…to the impacts of climate change,” says FAIRR’s Head of Research, Aarti Ramachandran. In an interview with Forbes, Ramachandran gave an example of an Australian Agricultural Company that lost over $100 million in damages due to extreme flooding.

Ramachandran does leave the report on a positive note acknowledging the increased investments in plant-based proteins by meat and dairy companies. He stated, “we think that, overall, there should be a rebalancing of protein so that animal protein consumption doesn’t continue to grow at the same trajectory, and so that there is a sustainable balance between plant-based and animal-based food.”

On The Radio- Ohio’s bug invasion


9059451001_fd6bb27d2b_o.jpg
Mayfly (Paul/flickr)

Kasey Dresser| August 26, 2019

This weeks segment looks at the dramatic increase in summer mayflies in Ohio. 

Transcript: 

Part of northeastern Ohio went through a mayfly invasion this summer like never before. 

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus 

The Mayfly swarm was so dense that weather radars picked up the swarm of mayflies as they moved out of Lake Erie into the nearby cities. 

Mayflies covered cars, buildings, and storefronts. Mayflies are not uncommon for Ohio residents; however, the high volume of mayflies that have descended on some areas is undoubtedly out of the ordinary. 

Mayflies like clean water and they love to hatch their eggs in Lake Erie.  They lay their eggs on top of the water surface and they sink into the lake sediment. In about a one to three years, they ascend to the surface, emerging fully winged and ready to take flight. 

Mayflies do not have a long-life cycle. Individual mayflies live up to two days after they emerge. A swarm of mayflies typically lasts about a month. 

According to The Ohio State University, Sea Grant College Program this is a good thing because a swarm is a sign of healthy water in the Great Lakes. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency uses insect population data to determine how clean the water is in the Great Lakes.

For more information, visit Iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org. 

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E. Mason.

Experts encourage towns to invest in composting


Photo by Plan for Opportunity, Flickr.

By Julia Shanahan | August 2nd, 2019

Composting all organic waste could eliminate one-third of materials sent to landfills and trash incinerators, according to a study from Composting in America, U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Environment America Research, and Policy Center and Frontier Group.

The reports says that each year the U.S. disposes of enough organic material  to fill 18-wheelers stretching from New York to Los Angeles ten times over. Only 326 U.S. towns nationwide provide curbside food pickup, leaving people no option but to throw food scraps in the trash.

The report says that increasing composting would help replenish soil and prevent erosion, reduce the need for chemical fertilizers, and help combat climate change. Composting excess organic material would help pull carbon out of the atmosphere and return nutrients to the soil. 

In Iowa, some small compost facilities are exempt from solid-waste permits, but must adhere to a list of requirements: facilities must be greater than 500 feet away from any inhabited residence, outside of wetlands, 200 feet away from any public well, and runoff from the composting operation must be correctly managed – according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

The national report lists several things that would make composting more accessible and user-friendly, saying that towns should offer curbside pickup for organic waste, make composting programs affordable, require commercial organic-waste producers to compost excess materials, and to encourage local markets to buy back compost materials to distribute to public projects or community projects.

Farms no longer have to report air emissions caused by animal waste


Photo from Pexels.com

By Julia Shanahan | July 5th, 2019

The Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule that will exempt farms from reporting air emissions caused by animal waste. 

Reporting will still be required for the release of animal waste into water. This exemption is in the form of an amendment to EPCRA section 304, where its main purpose is to alert emergency responders of dangerous emissions, like chemical leaks, so they can potentially evacuate a community or alert locals to seek shelter. In a news release, the EPA said this final rule will ensure that “emergency planners and local responders receive reports that focus on these kinds of emergencies.”

This new rule also applies to decomposing animal waste. All other hazardous emissions above a recommended threshold will still need to be reported. 

Animal waste emissions into the air can increase the risk for respiratory health issues like asthma, and also contribute to climate change. A 2013 report from the UN Food and Agriculture Association said that 7.1 gigatons of CO2 emissions can be attributed to the global livestock sector annually.

Iowa is the country’s leading producer of animal and human waste. The Iowa Environmental Focus reported on research engineer Chris Jones’ March study that calculated how many people each livestock group accounted for in terms of the amount of waste it produces, and called it Iowa’s “real population.”

While Iowa has a population of just over 3 million people, this is what Jones found in his March study and lists in his blog:

  • Iowa hogs: equivalent to 83.7 million people
  • Dairy cattle: 8.6 million people
  • Beef cattle: 25 million people
  • Laying chickens: 15 million people
  • Turkeys: 900,000 people

On The Radio- Iowa’s energy consumption


2802371502_0eb35842de_o.jpg
Wind Energy (flickr/Aaron Arroy)

Kasey Dresser| July 1, 2019

This weeks segment looks at how Iowa’s energy consumption has increased over the years.

Transcript:

Iowa’s energy consumption has increased over the years—but have we been moving in a greener direction?

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Iowa’s population has grown from two and a half million in 1960 to just over three million now, and our methods of producing energy have grown and changed over the decades. In the 60s, Iowa was mostly run on natural gas and coal. Wind energy didn’t enter our sphere until the late 90s. Now, coal is our primary source of energy, followed by natural gas and wind.

The consumption of energy is measured in BTUs—British Thermal Units, with each unit representing the amount of energy needed to heat one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. 

In the 60s, the average Iowan used about 217 million BTUs of energy per year. In 2016, that number jumped to a consumption of 488 million BTUs per Iowa every year, over double the amount of energy despite a population increase of less than a million.

New technology and an increased energy grid are partly to blame, but Iowa would benefit from cutting down energy use when possible, and relying more heavily on green energy—like solar and wind—to light our homes.

For more information, visit Iowa Environmental Focus dot org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Sara E Mason.

Beware “greenwashing” this Earth Day


161206672_1395818085_z.jpg
Watch out! Consumerism can be made to appear “green” (flickr). 

Julia Poska| April 22, 2019

“Earth Day deals to save money and help the planet,” one headline reads. “10 products that will help you buy less this Earth Day,” says another. Other articles advertise “clean” beauty products or “green” technology.

Don’t fall for it; buying anything, especially anything you don’t need, ultimately contributes to fossil fuel emissions, resource consumption and the planet’s pervasive trash problem.

“Greenwashing” occurs when an institution puts more resources and effort into marketing itself as eco-friendly than it does actually minimizing its environmental impact. This doesn’t only happen on Earth Day, of course. Many companies, public figures and organizations  feature “sustainability missions” on their websites year long,  making vague claims about their “zero-waste journey” or “environmental stewardship,” with little concrete information about the implementation or outcomes of such initiatives.

Rebecca Leber, an environmental reporter for Mother Jones, wrote today that she “hates” Earth Day, mostly because it has devolved from a day of protest and activism to a day when anyone can claim to care. Every April, her inbox floods with PR pitches promoting  Earth Day news from companies that she knows are less-than-sustainable 364 days of the year.

“Earth Day provides a fine opportunity to showcase how [a company’s] generally negligible corporate gestures demonstrate their commitment to ‘going green,'” she said.

Reducing consumption by fully utilizing what we already own or sharing with others is far better for the planet than consuming new products, even if those products are well-intended.  So think critically about the messages you come across. Use up all your shampoo before you invest in that more natural version, buy a used shirt instead of a brand new “organic” tee and forego using a straw at all over buying a metal one.

And if you want to absolutely minimize your carbon footprint today, Quartz writer Ephrat Livni makes the case for “sitting perfectly still” at home with the lights and air conditioning turned off, so that “ever-so-briefly you are not contributing to climate change.”

 

 

Iowa passes new bill on advanced plastic recycling


10323143465_358c362cdc_z.jpg
Pyrolysis technology can recycle the bottles inside these bags AND the bags (flickr).

Julia Poska| April 12, 2019

The Iowa Legislature and Governor Reynolds passed a bill this week in support of chemical recycling facilities for plastic in the state.

The bill defines gasification and pyrolysis, two chemical recycling methods, as processes that convert waste plastics into raw materials like crude oil, gasoline and other chemicals by heating and melting them in oxygen-deficient environments then processing them accordingly.  Those materials can be used to make new plastic products or as “feedstock” to fuel industrial processes. Plants conducting these activities in Iowa will be regulated more like manufacturing plants than solid waste disposal facilities, according to the trade publication Plastics Recycling Update.

There are obvious benefits to recycling plastics. Transforming plastic waste into useful materials will keep it out of landfills, rivers and oceans. A National Geographic story on plastic recycling said that pyrolysis plants can handle filmy plastic bags, which most traditional recycling plants cannot. Recycling also reduces the amount of new material that must be manufactured to meet demands.

Recycling Today reported that five advanced recycling facilities could generate $309 million annually by converting 25 percent of Iowa’s plastic waste into industrial feedstocks or transportation fuel. According to National Geographic, however, it is still cheaper to make diesel from fossil fuel than plastic. The article said pyrolysis startups have closed in the past because they haven’t been able to make money or meet pollution control limits.

Burning plastics releases carbon and toxins into the atmosphere, albeit at fairly low rates  according to industry experts. Michigan State University Extension says gasoline and diesel produced from plastic appear to contain more energy and less carbon that traditional fossil fuels, too.

Plastics Recycling Update said the Iowa Recycling Association had been opposed to the bill but did not say why. This post will be updated if and when the Iowa Environmental Focus is able to learn more.