Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Schools Ditch Styrofoam Lunch Trays for Compostable Plates

Food
Schools Ditch Styrofoam Lunch Trays for Compostable Plates

Replacing non-biodegradable polystyrene trays with a compostable version is the first target of a pioneering attempt by six big-city school systems to create new markets for sustainable food and lunchroom supplies.

The Urban School Food Alliance—whose members are public school districts in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and Orlando, FL—hopes to persuade suppliers to create and sell healthier, cheaper and more environment-friendly products by combining their purchasing power.

The sugar cane trays can help fill the high demand for compost. Photo credit: BioMass Packaging

Replacing the polystyrene trays with compostable plates are the alliance's first objective. New York and Miami are running pilot programs and another 30 schools are expected to join in about two weeks.

The alliance hopes to keep a lot of trash out of landfills and save money for other uses. A test run of the program last year reduced cafeteria waste by 85 percent in eight schools.

If all goes as planned, the compostable plates will replace styrofoam lunch trays by September for more than 2.6 million students nationwide. That could add up to some 271 million plates annually that will no longer be burned as trash or buried in landfills.

The alliance’s next target is healthier food and leaders are now considering suppliers of antibiotic-free chicken. Future initiatives could include sustainable tableware, pesticide-free fruit and goods with less packaging.

Short-term environmental and health benefits, such as reducing antibiotic use in food animals, are not the only goals, Eric Goldstein, the chief executive of school support services in New York City, told the New York Times. Using recyclable plates or serving healthier chicken sets an example students may carry into adulthood, he said, and sets a standard for other school systems.

The foam trays used in many districts are made from petroleum byproducts and can be quickly manufactured in large quantities. The compostable plates, which are made from sugar cane, take longer to make and require more machinery to produce in volume.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), as part of its overall food advocacy work in New York and around the country, is working with the alliance.

"Like these school districts, we see huge potential through this unique coalition to build new national markets for sustainable food and other products," Mark Izeman, NRDC senior attorney and director of the New York Urban Program, wrote this week in his blog.

Eating too much black licorice can be toxic. Nat Aggiato / Pixabay

By Bill Sullivan

Black licorice may look and taste like an innocent treat, but this candy has a dark side. On Sept. 23, 2020, it was reported that black licorice was the culprit in the death of a 54-year-old man in Massachusetts. How could this be? Overdosing on licorice sounds more like a twisted tale than a plausible fact.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sustainable t-shirts by Allbirds are made from a new, low-carbon material that uses a mineral extract from discarded snow crab shells. Jerry Buttles / Allbirds

In the age of consumption, sustainability innovations can help shift cultural habits and protect dwindling natural resources. Improvements in source materials, product durability and end-of-life disposal procedures can create consumer products that are better for the Earth throughout their lifecycles. Three recent advancements hope to make a difference.

Read More Show Less

Trending

There are many different CBD oil brands in today's market. But, figuring out which brand is the best and which brand has the strongest oil might feel challenging and confusing. Our simple guide to the strongest CBD oils will point you in the right direction.

Read More Show Less
A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

Financial institutions in New York state will now have to consider the climate-related risks of their planning strategies. Ramy Majouji / WikiMedia Commons

By Brett Wilkins

Regulators in New York state announced Thursday that banks and other financial services companies are expected to plan and prepare for risks posed by the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch