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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By Daisy Simmons
1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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