Beyond ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ to a World Without Waste
An emerging realization that waste is a wholly human construct is being echoed across the globe. In nature, there is no waste. Every organism, molecule and particle provides an environmental service during and after its life, and this concept can be emulated by humans to create a society in which there is also no waste.
This simple and yet deeply complex system of closed-loop, waste-free recycling is encapsulated in the sustainability lexicon as two main concepts: zero-waste and biomimicry.
Zero-waste, as defined by the Zero Waste International Alliance, is a goal that aims to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use. Biomimicry, as defined by Biomimicry 3.8, is the imitation of the models, systems and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems, or more simply as sustainable innovation inspired by nature. The leader of the biomimicry movement, Janine Benyus, has given several great TED Talks which you can view here and here.
Doing “More Good”
In both cases, we are pushed to rethink the very nature of our activities, from design and production to consumption and disposal. Interesting applications of these principles are emerging at a rapid speed. One innovation we like is Mushroom Packaging® by Ecovative Designs. Ecovative is a material science company developing a new class of home-compostable bioplastics using mushroom mycelium, a living organism, and agricultural “waste.” Mushroom Materials are high-performance, environmentally responsible alternatives to traditional plastic foam packaging, insulation and other synthetic materials, which are environmentally damaging to produce and dispose of. Mushroom Materials are “self-assembling” (it grows itself!), a core principle of biomimicry, and at the end of their life, they can be returned to the earth to become beneficial feedstock to the next generation of life, a perfect zero-waste cycle. (Check out this video to learn more.)
Mushroom packaging from Ecovative Designs.
Other real-life applications of biomimicry and zero-waste principles can be found across a myriad of sectors from energy and transportation to agriculture and human health. An organization called Cradle to Cradle has even created a certification program to assess the sustainability of products based on their full life cycle from design to production to eventual disposal. Similar to biomimicry and zero-waste, Cradle to Cradle believes that the things we make need to be a positive force for society, economy and the planet—they need to be designed to be “more good” rather than simply “less bad.”
In the interim, companies like Terracycle are working to collect difficult-to-recycle packaging and products and repurpose it into affordable, innovative products. Terracycle’s creative waste solutions range from upcycled backpacks made of used chip bags to recycled plastic planters made from 100 percent e-waste. Upcycling and recycling not only prevent waste from going into landfills or incinerators where they have no value and harm the environment, but they significantly reduce the environmental impact of producing new materials from virgin inputs.
Let's Get to Work
Here at Sustainable America we strive to advance these principles as well. Through our initiatives and investments we are working to light the imagination of the nation to see the inherent value in waste. One example of this is our work helping to capture unavoidable food waste at large events, sporting stadiums and arenas, and in large food-based businesses for processing in anaerobic digestion facilities. Beyond traditional outdoor composting methods, which are an important piece of the sustainability puzzle, enclosed anaerobic digestion facilities allow you to not only produce nutrient-rich compost but also to capture the gas created during breakdown of the waste. The captured gases can be used to provide electricity or, with a little extra processing, be converted into transportation fuel in the form of compressed natural gas (CNG). This incredible process is gaining traction across the country and will likely impact the way we handle our food waste and source our energy in a significant way.
With millions of tons of non-recyclable waste entering America’s waste stream each year, we have a long way to go. But the guiding principles and real-life applications of zero-waste, biomimicry, Cradle to Cradle design and other zero-waste leaders like Terracycle provide an inspiring road map for us to follow. As you close your eyes tonight, imagine a world in which there truly is no waste. A world in which our everyday actions, from eating breakfast to driving to work, actually improve rather than harm the earth. It’s a beautiful vision, and one we are certainly capable of achieving.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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By Jessica Corbett
Green groups applauded Sen. Jeff Merkley on Wednesday for introducing a pioneering pair of bills that aim to "protect the long-term health and well-being of the American people and their economy from the catastrophic effects of climate chaos" by preventing banks and international financial institutions from financing fossil fuels.