How Air Pollution, Food Delivery and Plastic Waste Are Connected
In a study published in Nature Human Behavior, the researchers found that the more polluted air outside is, the more likely office employees are to use food delivery services. This, in turn, increases the waste produced from single-use food packaging and bags.
"While we see more research on the impact plastic pollution is having on the natural environment, there has been less work trying to understand the human behaviour that drives plastic pollution," Alberto Salvo, one of the study's authors, said in an NUS news release. "This is where our study seeks to contribute – finding a strong causal link between air pollution and plastic waste through the demand for food delivery."
The study surveyed the lunch choices of 251 office workers for 11 workdays each in three Chinese cities known for having levels of smog – Beijing, Shenyang and Shijiazhuang, the release explained. They also looked at data from an online food delivery platform with over 350,000 users. By comparing both datasets with air pollution data during the lunch hour, NUS researchers found that employees were 43% more likely to order food delivery when there was a 100 μg m–3 increase in particulate matter pollution (PM2.5), International Business Times (IBT) reported. By contrast, the general public was 7.2% more likely to use food delivery services with the same increase in air pollution.
PM is the most common indicator for air pollution, and includes nitrates, ammonia, sulfate, mineral dust and black carbon, the news report explained. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), PM affects more people than any other pollutant, and PM2.5, or fine particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, can penetrate the lung barrier and enter the blood system. Chronic exposure to particles contributes to the development of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and lung cancer, the WHO said.
During the lunchtime periods surveyed by NUS researchers, PM2.5 levels were often well above the 24-hour U.S. National Ambient Air Quality Standard of 35 μg/m³, making pollution highly visible, the NUS release said.
"Faced with smog or haze outside, a typical office worker at lunchtime can avoid exposure only by ordering food to be delivered to his or her doorstep," said NUS researcher Chu Junhong in the NUS release.
Chu also explained in the release why air pollution seemed to have a smaller impact on food delivery in the general public than in workers, because people try to avoid the outdoors on a polluted day by using a home kitchen or eating at a cafeteria within their office building.
In a second part of the study, office workers submitted photos of their lunches, which researchers used to quantify the amount of disposable plastic in different dining choices, explained an NUS Business School video.
Not surprisingly, researchers found that delivered meals used more plastic than meals eaten in restaurants. The average delivered meal used an average of 2.8 single-use plastic items or an estimated 54 grams of plastic, the video explained. By comparison, the average restaurant meal used an average of 6.6 grams of plastic, usually in the form of chopstick sleeves or bottles.
COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem by increasing the demand for delivered meals, which are usually packaged in plastic, the video explained.
According to the research, if all of China were exposed to a 100 μg/m³ PM2.5 increase in air pollution, the same as Beijing regularly experiences, 2.5 million more meals would be delivered daily, creating a total of five million more plastic food containers and plastic bags, reported Science Times.
NUS Researcher Liu Haoming said, "Individuals protect themselves from – and show their distaste for – air pollution by ordering food delivery which often comes in plastic packaging," in the NUS release.
IBT concluded that the study shows how people inadvertently contribute to the increasing plastic waste issues because they are trying to avoid air pollution. Liu added in the NUS release that the study makes it evident that "air pollution control can reduce plastic waste."
The findings could apply to other polluted developing nation-cities, such as Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Vietnam, he said in the release.
- Air Pollution Shortens Life Span by Three Years, Researchers Say ... ›
- Air Pollution Linked to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Damage in ... ›
- Plastic Packaging Use Increases During the Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- Coronavirus Plastic Waste Polluting the Environment - EcoWatch ›
- Biodegradable, Carbon-Negative Straws and Cutlery Could Help ... ›
- Pruitt Guts the Clean Power Plan: How Weak Will the New EPA ... ›
- It's Official: Trump Administration to Repeal Clean Power Plan ... ›
- 'Deadly' Clean Power Plan Replacement ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jonathan Runstadler and Kaitlin Sawatzki
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have found coronavirus infections in pet cats and dogs and in multiple zoo animals, including big cats and gorillas. These infections have even happened when staff were using personal protective equipment.
- Gorillas in San Diego Test Positive for Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- Wildlife Rehabilitators Are Overwhelmed During the Pandemic. In ... ›
- Coronavirus Pandemic Linked to Destruction of Wildlife and World's ... ›
- Utah Mink Becomes First Wild Animal to Test Positive for Coronavirus ›
By Peter Giger
The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
By John R. Platt
The period of the 45th presidency will go down as dark days for the United States — not just for the violent insurgency and impeachment that capped off Donald Trump's four years in office, but for every regressive action that came before.
- Biden Announces $2 Trillion Climate and Green Recovery Plan ... ›
- How Biden and Kerry Can Rebuild America's Climate Leadership ... ›
- Biden's EPA Pick Michael Regan Urged to Address Environmental ... ›
- How Joe Biden's Climate Plan Compares to the Green New Deal ... ›
Washington state residents are taking climate matters into their own hands. Beginning this month, 90 members of the public join the country's first climate assembly to develop pollution solutions, Crosscut reported.