In the not-so-distant future, expect to see a spike in diseases like diabetes and a food supply that is increasingly vulnerable to global warming due to the world's growing reliance on a narrow range of foods.
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According to a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, people's diets around the globe have become too similar over the last 50 years, to the point where 90 percent of people get their calories, protein and fat from the same 50 crops.
Experts say this is due mainly to modernized agriculture, urbanization and the rise of supermarkets and processed foods.
The study states:
The modernization and globalization of agriculture through the replacement of human labor with machinery, investments in the breeding and distribution of high-yielding major crops as a development strategy, and subsidies dedicated to a narrow range of crop commodities, among other factors, have further contributed to the increasing global availability of a limited number of major crop plants, with lesser priority given to nutritional diversity.
More people every day, the study found, are consuming a "Westernized" diet of animal meat, dairy, sugary drinks and oils. Meanwhile, local grains and vegetable crops, from sorghum and rye to yams and sweet potatoes, have decreased.
"People are eating more fats, more calories and more protein," lead author Colin Khoury, a scientist at the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture, told HuffPost. "The sum total is, we're heading toward a more homogenous diet."
The research which analyzed national per capita food supply data from 152 countries comprising 98 percent of the world population from 1961 to 2009, found people were eating more energy-dense foods, such as soybean, wheat, sunflower oil and palm oil.
Most alarming is how the growing reliance on a smaller number of crops will accelerate a worldwide rise in obesity, heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes, particularly in developing countries.
Aside from the health risk, having a global preference for a narrower range of foods presents environmental risks, the study notes.
"It makes agriculture more vulnerable to major threats like drought, insect pests and diseases, which are likely to become worse in many parts of the world as a result of climate change,” said study co-author Luigi Guarino, a senior scientist at the Global Crop Diversity Trust in Germany.
Reversing the Trend
Khoury suggests introducing strong government policies that encourage food diversity and a healthy diet. Some possible solutions include distributing farmers market food stamps, or boosting funding for the research and development of alternative crops to diversify the world's food supply.
"We have learning techniques and tools and agriculture that we could apply to other crops to make them more competitive and productive, if we had the energy and we wanted to," said Khoury. "But right now the overwhelming majority private and public research funding in crops is going to soybean and maize and wheat and rice."
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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