Food system justice and environmental advocates on Wednesday urged all Democratic presidential hopefuls to follow in the footsteps of Sen. Elizabeth Warren in signing a pledge rejecting campaign cash from food and agribusiness corporations.
The Massachusetts senator, said advocacy group Friends of the Earth, is "leading the way."
BREAKING: Elizabeth Warren has signed our #NoBigAgMoney pledge! 77% of Iowa Democratic caucus goers want candidate… https://t.co/A0VudN01tO— Friends of the Earth (@Friends of the Earth)1579706562.0
"We applaud Sen. Warren for listening to voters that overwhelmingly support candidates rejecting Big Ag's money and influence," said Lisa Archer, food and agriculture director for Friends of the Earth Action. "We urge all presidential candidates to take the No Big Ag Money pledge and prioritize our families, farmers, food chain workers, our planet, and our democracy over Big Ag's profits."
The "No Big Ag Money Pledge" was launched last week. It states (pdf):
I pledge not to take contributions over $200 from large food and agribusiness corporation executives, lobbyists, and PACs and instead prioritize the health of our families, farmers, food chain workers, our planet, and our democracy.
The document lists dozens of companies that fall under that category, including giants Bayer, Caterpillar, Tyson, General Mils, and Sodexo. Rejecting cash from those entities, says the coalition behind the pledge, would show that presidential candidates won't favor the interests of factory farms over those of family farms.
If the opinion of likely Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa serve as a guide, candidates would be wise to sign on to the plege.
According to a poll (pdf) out earlier this month — commissioned to the Friends of the Earth Action and conducted by Lake Research Partners — 77 percent of these likely caucus-goers agree that presidential candidates should reject campaign contributions from Big Ag. Sixty-four percent also said they support breaking up the biggest food and agriculture corporations — a proposal backed by Warren and Democratic primary rival Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Make no mistake, Big Ag wields significant power. As Friends of the Earth outlined in a statement last week,
Currently in the United States, four corporations (many of them foreign owned) control 84 percent of the market for beef, 70 percent of the market for soy, 66 percent of the market for hogs, 80 percent of the market for corn, 59 percent of the market for poultry, 84 percent of the market for pesticides, and 60 percent of the market for seeds.
The food and family farms groups say that campaigns not accepting contributions from these interests would be a step towards neutering their political influence.
"It would be great to see all the candidates join Elizabeth Warren in taking the No Big Ag Money Pledge," said Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director of Citizens Regeneration Lobby. "It's time to stop agribusiness monopolies from using campaign cash and lobbying dollars to put a stranglehold on federal food and farm policy."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
By Andrea Germanos
Oxfam International warned Thursday that up to 12,000 people could die each day by the end of the year as a result of hunger linked to the coronavirus pandemic—a daily death toll surpassing the daily mortality rate from Covid-19 itself.
April saw the highest global daily mortality rate for Covid-19 thus far with just over 10,000 deaths per day.
Oxfam's warning comes in a new report entitled The Hunger Virus, which the humanitarian group says "shines a light on a food system that has trapped millions of people in hunger on a planet that produces more than enough food for everyone" and that has enabled global food and beverage giants to lavish billions on shareholders since the coronavirus crisis erupted.
Kadidia Diallo, a female milk producer in Burkina Faso quoted in the report, puts the crisis in stark terms.
"We are totally dependent on the sale of milk, and with the closure of the market we can't sell the milk anymore," she said. "If we don't sell milk, we don't eat."
The publication says the hunger crisis is set to deepen in already existing "hunger hotspots" like Yemen, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Afghanistan, and Syria. In those locations, the pandemic "has added fuel to the fire of an already growing hunger crisis." But millions of people in other countries are poised to be "tipped over the edge" as the virus rages, with nations including Brazil and India likely to emerge as new hunger hotspots.
"Covid-19 is the last straw for millions of people already struggling with the impacts of conflict, climate change, inequality, and a broken food system that has impoverished millions of food producers and workers," Oxfam interim executive director Chema Vera said in a statement. "Meanwhile, those at the top are continuing to make a profit: eight of the biggest food and drink companies paid out over $18 billion to shareholders since January even as the pandemic was spreading across the globe—10 times more than the U.N. says is needed to stop people going hungry."
Hunger Virus attributes the projected daily death toll to "spiraling unemployment and the economic disruption" as a result of measures to contain the pandemic, citing lost wages; lack of unemployment insurance; an estimated 20% drop in remittances—which are "a lifeline for millions of families that are living in poverty"; insufficient or absent social protection policies; evictions that lead to loss of land on which to grow crops; and restrictions that have slowed or barred the delivery of crucial humanitarian aid.
There also appear to be bad actors exacerbating the crisis. From the report:
There are also worrying signs that some companies are using the pandemic to take advantage of consumers. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Food Price Index, which tracks the average price supermarkets and other retailers pay for a basket of basic goods, has fallen steadily since January 2020. However, consumer prices are going up in many countries as a result of disruption to local production and supply chains, inflation, panic buying, and potential price gouging (where goods are sold at a much higher price than is considered reasonable or fair). In the USA, for example, consumer prices increased by 2.6% for groceries, on average, but farm income fell.
Many of the issues fueling the fears of starvation existed well before the coronavirus crisis emerged. The report points to "our industrial model of agriculture production, heavily reliant on chemical inputs to grow vast monocrops for export," which "was failing to provide food security and alleviate poverty for millions of people." Further, "the powerful agricultural traders, food and beverage corporations, and supermarkets that dominate the food sector are able to dictate the price and terms of food trade."
The climate crisis was affecting food insecurity before the pandemic, as were conflicts, such as in Syria and Yemen, where millions are facing humanitarian disaster, including insecure, at best, access to food. "Hunger can also be a weapon of war," adds the report. "Warring parties can destroy markets and warehouses, suspend food imports, and cut transportation links to gain power."
Deep inequality was another standing issue. The report notes:
[P]rofound inequalities extend to the food system, where unequal access to food rather than insufficient global production is leaving people hungry. Financial investments in large-scale agribusiness are often prioritized, while investments in small-scale producers are woefully neglected. Meanwhile, supermarkets and food and drink companies continue to keep the lion's share of the price consumers pay for their products.
Urgent action is required, Oxfam says, not only to address the immediate hunger crisis but to "build more resilient and sustainable food systems that work for all people and the planet."
"Governments must contain the spread of this deadly disease," said Vera, "but it is equally vital they take action to stop the pandemic killing as many—if not more—people from hunger."
The report lays out a number of actions governments should take, including providing emergency assistance; actively engaging women—"the backbone of local food systems"—in joining and leading decisions on fixing food systems; canceling poorer counties' debts, backing U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres's global ceasefire call; and taking swift measures to tackle the climate crisis.
"Governments can save lives now by fully funding the U.N.'s Covid-19 appeal, making sure aid gets to those who need it most, and cancelling the debts of developing countries to free up funding for social protection and healthcare," said Vera.
"To end this hunger crisis," she continued, "governments must also build fairer, more robust, and more sustainable food systems, that put the interests of food producers and workers before the profits of big food and agribusiness."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
- These 6 Men Have as Much Wealth as Half the World's Population ... ›
- Climate Change Forces 20 Million People to Flee Each Year, Oxfam ... ›
- Pandemic May Have Left Over 250 Million People With Acute Food Shortages in 2020 - EcoWatch ›
There's no better way to show your dog that you love them than by keeping them healthy. In addition to exercise, a healthy diet, grooming, and regular checkups at the vet, you can also help support your dog's wellbeing with CBD dog treats. Learn how CBD oils and treats can benefit your four-legged friend and see which brands made our list of the best CBD treats for dogs.
How CBD Treats and Chews Can Help Dogs (and Other Pets)
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of the many naturally occurring compounds found in the hemp plant. CBD oil is derived from the leaves, flowers, and stems of the cannabis plant. This important cannabinoid compound has been found to possess both medical as well as therapeutic benefits in both humans and animals.
Like humans, dogs possess an endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS plays a role in the body's natural processes related to mental function, mood, inflammation, pain, appetite, energy, digestion, and more.
Some of the potential benefits of CBD for dogs include support for:
- Separation anxiety and stress
- Chronic inflammation
- Arthritis and joint pain
- Digestive issues
- Seizures, tremors, or spasms
With so many potential benefits, more and more pet owners are seeking CBD for dogs as a natural way to help keep them healthy.
Related: Best CBD Oils for Dogs of 2021
Top 6 CBD Dog Treats Online
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best Overall - Joy Organics Premium CBD Dog Chews
- Best for Anxiety - Charlotte's Web Calming Chews for Dogs
- Best for Mobility - Zesty Paws CBD Mobility Bites Soft Chews
- Best for Skin & Coat - R+R Medicinals Hemp Extract Dog Chews
- Best Flavor - FAB CBD Calm & Cool Dog Treats
- Best Hard Chew - Paw CBD Dog Treats
How We Review CBD Treats for Dogs
To select the best CBD dog treats, we considered specific factors around the CBD, the ingredients, the flavoring, and the brands themselves. Here are more details about how we reviewed each of CBD treats for dogs that made our list.
Source of CBD
Just like with CBD products for people, we only choose brands that use CBD from safe and trustworthy sources. We prefer brands that use CBD from hemp plants grown in the U.S., and we also look to see if the CBD is grown organically or naturally. The extraction process also matters, especially if they use clean CO2 extraction. This helps determine the type of CBD contained in their products, whether it's full spectrum, broad spectrum, or CBD isolate.
In addition to the CBD, we look to see what other ingredients go into each dog treat. The best brands use all-natural ingredients and flavorings and avoid fillers or allergens like corn, wheat, and soy. We also look for additional healthy ingredients like sweet potato, flaxseed, turmeric, passionflower, sunflower oil, and more, that are known to promote better health in dogs.
A CBD dog treat won't do much good if you're dog won't eat it! We select products that come in appetizing flavors that dogs will love. It's important that these come from natural ingredients instead of artificial flavoring. We also chose different types of treats, both soft and hard chews, to give you more options depending on your dog's preferences.
We only recommend CBD dog treats from brands that we trust. All of the best CBD brands include third-party lab testing on all of their products to ensure the strength and purity of their CBD. Certain brands also offer veterinarian-formulated pet CBD treats, or are certified by the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC). We also look for brands that offer affordable prices and money back guarantees.
Our Top Picks for Dog CBD Treats
Best Overall: Joy Organics Premium CBD Dog Chews
These Joy Organics Premium CBD Dog Chews are made with premium grade broad spectrum CBD. That means they contain all of the beneficial terpenes and cannabinoids to help promote wellness without any THC. Joy Organics also uses water-soluble CBD powder for these chews, making them faster and easier to absorb. They are certified organic, non-GMO, cruelty-free, and third-party lab tested for purity.
Why buy: Joy Organics CBD dog chews are our favorites overall because they include real ingredients like beef liver, brewers yeast, flax oil, and sweet potato powder, as well as broad spectrum CBD. These treats are easy to digest, making them a great option for dogs with sensitive stomachs.We also love that Joy Organics offers carbon neutral shipping.
Best for Anxiety: Charlotte's Web Calming Chews for Dogs
Charlotte's Web Calming Chews combine full spectrum CBD from U.S. grown hemp with natural botanicals like valerian root, chamomile, and passionflower extract to help relax and calm your dog. Each chew contains 2.5 mg of CBD and other cannabinoids to help promote a balanced emotional state in your pet, especially for stressful situations like boarding, traveling, or vet visits. While we wish the offered a little more information on the ingredient breakdown, as a certified B corp we trust Charlotte's Web overall.
Why buy: We love that these calming chews include so many natural botanicals to help dogs manage stress and anxiety. Charlotte's Web CBD dog treats are also NASC certified and undergo independent third-party lab testing for quality assurance. These are great for nervous or anxious adult dogs.
Best for Mobility: Zesty Paws CBD Mobility Bites Soft Chews
Zesty Paws CBD Mobility Bites Soft Chews are made with CBDistillery broad spectrum CBD. They use non-GMO industrial hemp plants grown naturally in the U.S. and extract the CBD oil solely from aerial plant parts. The Hip & Joint formula also includes glucosamine, chondroitin, and OptiMSM to support joint lubrication, cartilage formation, and muscular function. Each soft chew includes 5 mg of CBD to help improve your dog's mobility.
Why buy: We recommend these chews for dogs with joint or hip pain as they can both help relieve pain and support joint health. We love that they are NASC certified, contain no grain, corn, or soy derivatives, and are made with an organic vegetarian roast beef flavor.
Best for Skin & Coat: R+R Medicinals Hemp Extract Dog Chews
These CBD dog chews from R+R Medicinals contain full spectrum hemp extract for a potent blend of natural plant compounds including terpenes, flavonoids, and antioxidants. Each chew contains 5 mg of CBD from Colorado grown hemp to promote mental and physical wellness. Plus the natural chicken flavor offers a savory taste your dog will love.
Why buy: We love R+R Medicinals Hemp Extract Dog Chews because they are made with real, natural ingredients like sweet potato, flax seed, and chicken liver. They also include grapeseed oil to promote a healthy coat and skin. These CBD treats are ideal for natural overall health.
Best Flavor: FAB CBD Dog Treats
FAB CBD Dog Treats are a great baked treat option for dogs who prefer some crunch. They include 3 mg of broad spectrum CBD per treat, and are baked without any corn, wheat, soy, or dairy. These Calm & Cool treats are also made to help dogs relax from anxiety or stress, and include natural ingredients like passionflower and chamomile to promote calm.
Why buy: We love that these baked CBD dog treats from FAB come in a peanut butter and apple flavor that most dogs won't be able to resist. We also like that they use organically grown hemp extract with no THC. These treats are a great way to help support a calmer dog naturally.
Best Hard Chew: Paw CBD Dog Treats
Paw CBD Dog Treats are veterinarian formulated hard chews made with cbdMD broad spectrum hemp extract. They come in two different flavors, baked cheese and peanut butter, and three different strengths so you can choose the right amount of CBD for the size of your dog. All Paw CBD Dog Treats are THC-free and contain no artificial preservatives or colors.
Why buy: We love that these hard chews not only provide CBD to help support your dog's wellbeing, they also offer a satisfying crunch that can help clean their teeth too. These CBD dog treats are perfect if your pet doesn't go for soft chews. Plus, cbdMD offers a 60 day money back guarantee.
What's the Difference Between CBD Oil and CBD Dog Treats?
CBD for dogs can come in several different forms. Some brands offer CBD oil for dogs, which comes as an oil tincture that you measure using a dropper. CBD oil can either be administered orally or mixed in with your dog's food. This provides a fast way for your dog's body to absorb the CBD and to experience the mental and physical benefits. CBD oils for dogs also typically contain fewer ingredients than some other pet CBD products, just the CBD and a carrier oil, so it's easier for you to know exactly what you give to your dog.
CBD dog treats are soft or hard chews made with CBD and are meant to be more palatable for dogs than oils. Some dogs do not enjoy the earthy or natural flavor of CBD oil and respond better to a savory treat. These products also typically include other natural ingredients meant to promote your dog's health, including sweet potato and flax seed. Treats make it easier to know exactly how much CBD you give to your dog each time, as every treat will contain the same amount of CBD. Dog treats with CBD are typically an easier, less messy option than oils.
What the Experts Say About CBD and Dogs
Research has found that CBD can provide a number of different benefits for dogs, from calming dogs with separation anxiety to helping older dogs that suffer from chronic joint pain.
A 2018 study concluded that CBD oil "can help increase comfort and activity" in dogs with osteoarthritis. Another study conducted in 2019 found that CBD could help dogs with epilepsy by potentially reducing the frequency of seizures when added to their existing medication.
In addition to joint pain and epilepsy, CBD is also frequently used to help relieve anxiety and stress in dogs. Recent research has shown that CBD can help to reduce aggression in some dogs, especially through calming dogs in stressful settings like shelters.
What to Look for in CBD Dog Products
While there are a lot of CBD dog products out there, not all of them are safe or effective. Here are the things to look for when evaluating CBD for dogs.
There are a few signs that can tell you if a CBD dog treat or oil is a quality product.
First, always look to see that the product has undergone independent third-party lab testing to ensure its potency and safety. Second, try to choose CBD products that are sourced from hemp grown in the United States. Third, you can always look for the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) seal that indicates a product or brand meets strict standards for safety and testing.
Additionally, look for labels and certifications that you trust like USDA organic, non-GMO, and products made without wheat, corn, or soy.
How to Read Labels
When comparing CBD dog treats, make sure to check the labels for a few key pieces of information.
Type of CBD
Make sure you know what type of CBD is in the product. Full spectrum CBD offers the complete profile of cannabinoids and plant compounds found in hemp. For some, this provides more benefits and stronger relief. Broad spectrum CBD, meanwhile, all of the same cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids as full spectrum, but it is THC-free. This can be important if your dog is especially sensitive or does not react well to full spectrum products.
Amount of CBD
Next, look to see how much CBD is contained in each treat or serving. This will help you determine the right product for your dog based on their size. Some brands include serving guides on their packaging to help make sure you give your dog the appropriate amount of CBD.
List of Ingredients
Check the ingredients list as well to make sure that the CBD dog treat does not contain anything your dog might be allergic to. You can also note if the treat is made with all natural ingredients. Depending on your dog, you can also look for treats that contain additional ingredients that are good for specific health concerns, like sweet potato, turmeric, passionflower, and flax seed.
How Many CBD Treats Should Your Dog Take?
The amount of CBD contained in each treat will determine how many you should give your dog at one time. As with humans, it's best to start with a small dose, monitor your dog's response, and gradually increase slowly from there. The same rule of thumb applies for dogs and other pets: start low and go slow.
Most CBD dog treats will include a recommended serving guide based on the size of your dog. For example, for dogs under 10 lbs you may only want to give them 1.5 mg of CBD daily. If a treat contains 3 mg of CBD total, you should only give them half of a treat per day. Dogs over 60 lbs, however, may need two treats a day, or 6 mg of CBD, to experience the desired benefits. Again, start with a small amount to make sure that your dog responds positively to CBD before gradually increasing the number of treats.
Possible Side Effects
As with any natural supplement or prescription medication for your dog, there is the possibility for certain side effects. Some of the more common side effects that dogs can experience include:
- Excessive panting
- Loss of balance
If you notice that your pet is experiencing any of these symptoms, then you may have given them too much CBD, as these are signs of toxicity. If your dog is experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, it's best to call your veterinarian right away.
CBD can offer a number of potential benefits for dogs. For those who don't want the mess of oil tinctures, or for dogs who don't like the taste of oils, CBD dog treats offer an easy and tasty solution. Whether you want to help your dog with anxiety and stress or mobility issues due to joint pain, you can find a CBD dog treat that you both will love.
By Jessica Corbett
A coalition of 80 U.S. agricultural, consumer, environmental, public health, and worker groups sent a letter Thursday to key figures in the Biden administration calling for them to "respect Mexico's sovereignty and refrain from interfering with its right to enact health-protective policies" — specifically, the phaseout of the herbicide glyphosate and the cultivation of genetically modified corn.
"Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador quietly rocked the agribusiness world with his New Year's Eve decree," Timothy A. Wise of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (ITAP) noted earlier this year. "His administration sent an even stronger aftershock two weeks later, clarifying that the government would also phase out GM corn imports in three years and the ban would include not just corn for human consumption but yellow corn destined primarily for livestock."
"Mexico imports about 30% of its corn each year, overwhelmingly from the United States," Wise added. "Almost all of that is yellow corn for animal feed and industrial uses. López Obrador's commitment to reducing and, by 2024, eliminating such imports reflects his administration's plan to ramp up Mexican production as part of the campaign to increase self-sufficiency in corn and other key food crops."
The groups' letter on the Mexican policies and U.S. interference — published in English and Spanish — is addressed to recently confirmed U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai. Its lead author is Kristin Schafer, executive director of Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA).
"We call on Secretary Vilsack and Trade Representative Tai, as key leaders in the new administration, to respect Mexico's decision to protect both public health and the integrity of Mexican farming," Schafer said in a statement. "It is completely unacceptable for U.S. public agencies to be doing the bidding of pesticide corporations like Bayer, who are solely concerned with maintaining their bottom-line profits."
BREAKING: 80 orgs deliver letter to @USDA, @USTradeRep opposing U.S. interference in Mexico's glyphosate phaseout https://t.co/m7M2o4sFmB— PAN North America (@PAN North America)1619722728.0
Fernando Bejarano, director of Pesticide Action Network in Mexico, explained that "we are part of the No Maize No Country Campaign, a broad coalition of peasant organizations, nonprofit NGOs, academics, and consumers which support the presidential decree and fight for food sovereignty with the agroecological transformation of agricultural systems that guarantee the right to produce and consume healthy, nutritious food, free of pesticides and transgenics."
"We reject the pressure from corporations such as Bayer-Monsanto—and their CropLife trade association—which are working in both the United States and Mexico to undermine the presidential decree that phases out the use of glyphosate and transgenic corn," Bejarano said.
The letter highlights Guardian reporting on U.S. government documents obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity through a Freedom of Information Act request. The documents revealed that CropLife America and Bayer AG—which acquired glyphosate-based herbicide developer Monsanto in 2018—worked with U.S. officials to lobby against Mexico's plans.
According to journalist Carey Gillam's mid-February report:
The emails reviewed by the Guardian come from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and other U.S. agencies. They detail worry and frustration with Mexico's position. One email makes a reference to staff within López Obrador's administration as "vocal anti-biotechnology activists," and another email states that Mexico's health agency (Cofepris) is "becoming a big time problem."
Internal USTR communications lay out how the agrochemical industry is "pushing" for the U.S. to "fold this issue" into the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) trade deal that went into effect July 1. The records then show the USTR does exactly that, telling Mexico its actions on glyphosate and genetically engineered crops raise concerns "regarding compliance" with USMCA.
Citing discussions with CropLife, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) joined in the effort, discussing in an inter-agency email "how we could use USMCA to work through these issues."
The Guardian also noted correspondence involving the Foreign Agricultural Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
As the letter to Vilsack and Tai points out: "This interference and pressure from the agrochemical industry is continuing. On March 22nd, industry representatives sent a letter directed to your attention as leaders of USTR and USDA, identifying Mexico's planned phaseout of glyphosate and genetically modified corn as a 'leading concern' for agribusiness interests and the pesticide industry (represented by the pesticide industry's trade group, CropLife America)."
"We strongly object to any interference by U.S. government officials or agribusiness interests in a sovereign state's right to enact policy measures to protect the health and well-being of its people," the letter states. "We urge your agencies to resist and reject these ongoing efforts."
"We welcome the administration's stated commitment to listening to the science, improving public health, protecting the environment, and limiting exposure to dangerous chemicals and pesticides, while holding polluters accountable and prioritizing environmental justice, particularly for communities of color and low-income communities," it adds. "We trust that these stated commitments, as well as your dedication to 'fairness for farmers,' extend equally to other countries and include respect for other nations' and peoples' rights to self-determination."
Other signatories to the letter include the American Sustainable Business Council, Beyond Pesticides, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace USA, Indigenous Environmental Network, ITAP, and Organic Consumers Association.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
By Brett Wilkins
Researchers warned of the need for urgent climate action as a study published Wednesday revealed that the world's mountain glaciers are melting at an unprecedented pace, with glacial thinning rates outside Antarctica and Greenland doubling this century.
For the first time ever, researchers analyzed three-dimensional satellite measurements of the world's approximately 220,000 glaciers, except for those on the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets. The results, published in Nature, show that the planet's glaciers lost 267 billion tonnes of ice each year from 2000 to 2019, the equivalent of 21% of sea level rise. The study's authors said that is enough water to flood all of Switzerland under six feet of water every year.
The paper notes that "thinning rates of glaciers outside ice sheet peripheries doubled over the past two decades."
The study's authors found that, on average, glaciers lost 4% of their volume during the two decades studied. They determined that the fastest-melting glaciers are in Alaska and the Alps. Alaska alone accounted for one-quarter of the world's glacial melt, with the Columbia Glacier in Prince William Sound retreating by around 115 feet annually.
"A doubling of the thinning rates in 20 years for glaciers outside Greenland and Antarctica tells us we need to change the way we live," Romain Hugonnet of the University of Toulouse in France, the study's lead author, told The Guardian.
"It can be difficult to get the public to understand why glaciers are important because they seem so remote," he added, "but they affect many things in the global water cycle including regional hydrology, and by changing too rapidly, can lead to the alteration or collapse of downstream ecosystems."
Today, the Guardian is launching a new series on global glacier loss. First up: A new study finds glacial melt is d… https://t.co/ixwp8HAzGw— Niko Kommenda (@Niko Kommenda)1619623553.0
Hugonnet said he was particularly concerned about glacier loss in high Asian mountain ranges, which are the sources of rivers upon which more than 1.5 billion people rely for water.
"India and China are depleting underground sources and relying on river water, which substantially originates from glaciers during times of drought," he told The Guardian.
"This will be fine for a few decades because glaciers will keep melting and provide more river runoff, which acts as a buffer to protect populations from water stress," said Hugonnet. "But after these decades, the situation could go downhill. If we do not plan ahead, there could be a crisis for water and food, affecting the most vulnerable."
Mark Serreze, director of the Colorado-based National Snow and Ice Data Center, told The Associated Press that sea level rise — which is exacerbated by glacier melt — "is going to be a bigger and bigger problem as we move through the 21st century." Serreze did not contribute to the new paper.
The new study's authors implore policymakers to devise adaptive measures for the estimated billion people threatened with water and food insecurity before 2050.
"We need to act now," stressed Hugonnet.
Samuel Nussbaumer of the World Glacier Monitoring Service, which did not take part in the study, said that "the new paper will have a big impact."
"This is the most global, complete study. The gain in new information is huge," Nussbaumer told The Guardian. "The rapid change we see now is really interesting from a scientific point of view. Never before in history has change happened this fast."
The new study follows research published last week showing shifts in Earth's rotational axis — which have accelerated over the past three decades — are caused by melting glaciers.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
- Climate Crisis Likely Behind Deadly Glacier Collapse in India ... ›
- Melting Glacier Study Could Hold Climate Polluters Accountable ... ›
- Greenland and Antarctica Already Melting at 'Worst-Case-Scenario ... ›
- 92 Percent of Greenland's Residents Believe Climate Change Is ... ›
Forever chemicals are everywhere, even in breast milk.
A study published in Environmental Science and Technology Thursday tested the milk of 50 U.S. mothers and found that every sample was contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). What's more, the chemicals were found at nearly 2,000 times the levels considered safe by environmental health groups, The Guardian reported.
"The study shows that PFAS contamination of breast milk is likely universal in the U.S., and that these harmful chemicals are contaminating what should be nature's perfect food," study co-author and Toxic-Free Future science director Erika Schreder told The Guardian.
PFAS are a class of chemicals that are used in a variety of consumer products because they are stain, grease, and water resistant, a Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families press release explained. They turn up in everything from food packaging to clothing to carpeting and have been linked to cancer, high cholesterol, liver damage, pregnancy-induced hypertension, fertility problems, thyroid disease and a weakened immune system.
Companies have begun to phase out older PFAS and replace them with newer versions that they say do not build up in the human body. The new study gives the lie to those claims.
The research was the first to analyze U.S. breast milk for PFAS since 2005. It tested for 39 different chemicals, including nine that are currently in use, and found that both newer and phased-out chemicals were present in the samples. PFAS were found at levels ranging from 52 parts per trillion (ppt) to more than 500 ppt. To put that in perspective, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommends a limit of one ppt in drinking water while the Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry suggests 14 ppt for children's drinking water, The Guardian pointed out.
"These findings make it clear that the switch to newer PFAS over the last decade didn't solve the problem," study co-author and Indiana University associate research scientist Dr. Amina Salamova said in the press release. "This study provides more evidence that current-use PFAS are building up in people. What this means is that we need to address the entire class of PFAS chemicals, not just legacy-use variations."
Further, the study also found that PFAS contamination is increasing around the world. The international breast milk data from 1996 to 2019 shows that, while the concentration of older chemicals is decreasing, the incidence of newer chemicals is doubling every 4.1 years.
To protect themselves and their children, the study authors recommend that pregnant people avoid grease-proof take-out containers, cleaners like Scotchgard, waterproof clothing that contains PFAS and non-stick cooking equipment that uses Teflon, according to The Guardian.
However, the researchers also acknowledged that the industry does not always disclose the use of these chemicals, and their ubiquity makes them difficult to avoid.
"Moms work hard to protect their babies, but big corporations are putting these, and other toxic chemicals that can contaminate breast milk, in products when safer options are available," Schreder said in the press release.
Toxic-Free Future, a Seattle-based nonprofit that contributed to the study, is therefore calling for state and federal laws prohibiting the use of these substances. They cited as a positive example a Washington state law that requires policy makers to identify products containing harmful chemicals and phase them out when healthier alternatives are available.
"If a harmful chemical can end up in breast milk due to its persistence or ability to bioaccumulate, it should be prohibited in everyday products we are constantly exposed to," Toxic-Free Future executive director Laurie Valeriano said in the press release. "It's time for more states and the federal government to follow the lead of Washington state and ban PFAS and other equally dangerous classes of chemicals in products, especially when safer alternatives are found. Prevention-based policies are critical to ending this harmful and unnecessary contamination of our most precious resources — from breast milk to drinking water."
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By Edwina Hughes, Richard Waite and Gerard Pozzi
With people increasingly aware of the climate impact of their lifestyles, the spotlight is falling on the food we eat. Agriculture and related land-use account for nearly a quarter of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But not all foods are created equal, and plant-based foods are generally a lot less resource-intensive to produce than animal proteins. Take beef vs. beans: per gram of protein, beef production uses 20 times the land and generates 20 times the GHG emissions as beans.
Much attention is paid to unusual innovations aimed at offering a wider variety of food options with a smaller climate footprint — like crackers made from insects or algae protein bars. But large institutions that want to offer diners climate-friendly food options are finding it's more straightforward than expected. That's in part thanks to recent behavioral science research, which shows that small changes in menu language or creating delicious plant-centered dishes can greatly increase the uptake of sustainable offerings. In short, they've found it's already possible to eat tomorrow's climate-friendly diet today, through easy changes that don't compromise on flavor or cost.
New data from the Cool Food Pledge — a group of restaurants, cities, hospitals and companies that have committed to cutting GHG emissions associated with the food they serve by 25% by 2030, in line with Paris Agreement goals — show that members were able to collectively reduce emissions by 4.6% overall and by 12% per plate in just four years. Some members have reduced emissions even more quickly, showing big changes are possible within a short time.
Food consumption in restaurants, workplace canteens and school cafeterias has fallen dramatically during the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns. While the industry begins to revive amid calls for a "green" recovery, these results can serve as inspiration, showing what could be achievable when the wider food service industry picks up again post-COVID. When diners return, food service operators should seize the chance to ensure strong and engaging sustainability credentials are at the center of their menu offerings. Offering more plant-rich options is key to hitting climate targets since as they are generally much less resource-intensive to produce.
So what does that mean for organizations serving food? And how feasible is it? Lessons from Cool Food Pledge members show that meaningful progress toward a sustainable food future is simple. It's just a case of keeping the spotlight on what's delicious, cost-effective and low-carbon.
Here are the three main lessons:
1. Make It Delicious
Climate-friendly food doesn't have to be dull. Take the example of biotech company Genentech, which has 10,000 staff based in California, and an in-house culinary team creating chef specials. When it joined the Cool Food Pledge it changed the chef specials to plant-rich options — serving up even more vegetables, pulses and grains. Some of the new dishes included "Vegan Jackfruit, Okra and Seitan Jambalaya" with brown rice, Creole sauce and shaved scallions as well as "Charred Yucatan Vegetables" with an array of vegetables, stewed black beans, habanero pickled red onions and flour tortillas. Following positive responses from employees, demand for the new plant-rich options grew while demand for the more traditional, meat-heavier options declined. Between 2018 to 2019 alone, the company reduced the climate impact of each plate of food it serves by an incredible 33%.
2. Keep It Cost-Effective
Climate-friendly food doesn't have to increase costs — and can even reduce them.
In the health care sector, at UCSF Health, forward-thinking chefs decided to couple a more climate-friendly ethos with a cost-effective one while feeding patients and visitors. UCSF had a 100% beef burger that wasn't selling well, so switching to a 70:30 beef/mushroom blended burger in 2017 that sold better was a no-brainer. The Department of Nutrition and Health Services at UCSF Health realized the blended burger would cost less, the mushroom would ensure it remained flavorful and the reduction in beef would help UCSF Health hit its climate-friendly target for food.
At the same time, its central menu evolved from serving 20 entrees featuring beef in 2017 down to just three by 2020. This more plant-rich menu has proven both better for the climate and more appealing to customers. UCSF Health's total food-related GHG emissions dropped by 13% in just three years, the biggest reduction amongst the health care members of the Cool Food Pledge.
3. Explore the World of Plants
A welcome consequence of committing to a climate-friendly menu offering has been a surge in the quantity of vegetables, pulses and grains procured and served by member organizations. In fact, members purchased 12% more plant-based food items in 2019 relative to the base year. The University of Cambridge's University Catering Service, which manages 14 cafés and canteens and caters for 1,500 events a year, has phased out ruminant meat completely, and guests can enjoy Swedish-style Vegballs, Smoky Moroccan Chickpea Stew and sweet potato burgers instead. Emissions dropped by more than 30% even as the university served 30% more food, reflecting the significant change in the ingredients that make up the meals it is serving.
Having an Impact Isn’t Rocket Science
This variety of progress reflects the distinct environments in which these organizations operate and the different diners they serve. Many are cutting emissions even as the number of meals they serve grows.
While every dining facility will have its own unique operations, the Cool Food Pledge is providing structure and guidance to help the food industry lower the carbon footprint of food in line with climate science. Members are guided through a three-steps of "pledge, plan, and promote": they pledge to reduce food-related GHG emissions by 25% by 2030; they develop a plan to achieve their aims using the latest behavioral science; and by promoting their achievements, they are on the front lines of a growing movement that's slashing the impact that food has on the climate.
Reposted with permission from the World Resources Institute.
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By John R. Platt
Humans and whales have a complex relationship.
We've hunted whales for food for centuries, celebrated them in our art and culture, admired their familial relationships and songs, and even worshipped them as gods.
But at the same time, we've overhunted multiple whale species to the brink of extinction, overfished their prey, poisoned their bodies and habitats, and scarred or killed them with our oceanic vessels.
While we've made great strides on many of those fronts, there's still a lot to do and many reasons to worry. Here are some of them, followed by an archive of related stories from The Revelator:
1. We're Still Discovering What's Out There — and What's Not
You'd think a large species like a whale would be easy to find.
Several new cetacean species have been discovered in the past few years, most recently the rarely seen Rice's whale in the Gulf of Mexico. Previously thought to be a subspecies of the Bryde's whale, the newly recognized species was identified just in time. Scientists estimate that fewer than 100 Rice's whales remain — perhaps as few as 60 — and say the species is critically endangered.
Similarly, it's often hard to realize what we're losing in the vast expanses of the ocean. In part that's because whales are hard to count — especially dead ones. While many whale carcasses wash up on beaches, most sink to the bottom of the ocean or are consumed by scavengers. That presents a challenge to understanding how many whales are being killed or, if we do find a body, how they died. This has important conservation implications. For example, recent research suggests we're undercounting the deaths of critically endangered North Atlantic right whales by 64% — and that's one of the world's most heavily monitored whale species, which all too often die after being struck by shipping vessels.
North Atlantic right whales. Sea to Shore Alliance / NOAA, under NOAA permit #15488
Speaking of which…
2. Ships vs. Whales
Globalization means more and more gigantic shipping vessels traversing the globe every day, where they can cross into whale feeding grounds or through migratory routes.
And when a ship strikes a whale, it's not the ship that loses.
Kees Torn / CC BY-SA 2.0
Most recently, necropsies revealed that at least two gray whales found dead near San Francisco Bay had been injured by ships, while an injured humpback whale was observed near Vancouver. Similar stories play out regularly around the globe.
And it's not just big ships. Fishing vessels of all sizes pose threats, either directly or through lost fishing gear. This April a research drone captured footage of a baby gray whale entangled in fishing line, dragging a buoy behind it.
3. Climate Change Comes Calling
Warming oceans pose multiple threats to whales, some of which relate once again to the shipping industry. In recent years the industry has rushed to newly ice-free waters in the Arctic, bringing with them noise, pollution and other harmful changes.
Additional threats from climate change continue to emerge, and exactly what's happening isn't always clear. One recent study found that a population of bowhead whales failed to make its annual autumn migration away from solid ice in the Bering Sea, but the reason remains undiscovered. One theory is that warming waters could have resulted in an increase in their food supply. Another theory suggests changing temperatures could have allowed more killer whales to block the bowheads' migration.
Similarly, climate change has resulted in decreased herring abundance in Quebec's Gulf of St. Lawrence, and this loss of food has resulted in fewer humpback whale pregnancies coming to term.
Meanwhile, there's a big reason to protect whales from climate change: their very existence helps protect us from climate change. Their feces help feed phytoplankton, which photosynthesize and absorb carbon dioxide before dying, sinking to the bottom of the ocean and sequestering that world-changing greenhouse gas. Whale bodies, similarly, also store an enormous amount of carbon that can be sequestered when they die.
4. Plastic: A Painful Threat
When whales accidentally consume plastic waste that they find floating in the ocean, the results can be deadly — either immediately or over time.
All too often, investigations into the cause of whale deaths find plastic to blame. One of the most recent examples occurred in Bangladesh, where two dead whales washed up near a resort town in April. "Primarily we think the two have died from consuming plastic and polluted objects," Jahirul Islam, executive director of Marine Life Alliance, told AFP.
And remember that new whale species that was just discovered? One of the reasons we know the species exists is because a carcass washed up near the Florida Everglades in 2019. Scientists found that it was killed by a tiny, 2.5-inch piece of jagged plastic that lodged in its stomach and caused internal bleeding and necrosis.
Smaller plastic particles may also have health implications for whales in even the most remote locations. A study published in 2020 found that seven beluga whales harvested by Inuvialuit hunters all had plastic fibers and fragments in their digestive systems. All the particles were what's considered microplastic, smaller than 5 millimeters in size. These may not be immediately fatal, but nearly half of the particles contained chemicals that could cause potential health problems, much like they could in humans. The risks whales may face from microplastics remains a field of active scientific investigation, with hundreds of papers published in just the past year.
A team of specially trained NOAA rescuers successfully free a humpback whale from a life-threatening tangle of fishing gear off the Kona Coast of Hawaii. R. Finn / NOAA MMHSRP permit #932-1905
Larger plastic waste, such as lost or discarded fishing lines and nets, poses an even bigger threat. "Imagine walking around with weights tied to your ankles," researcher Greg Merrill recently wrote in New Security Beat. "Whales struggle to get untangled from large nets and they end up dragging this weight along with them, expending extra energy they need to migrate and raise their young. An increasingly common tragedy is when whales become so overburdened by the weight of the plastic debris they cannot surface to breathe and drown."
5. Public Perception Still Lags
People generally love whales and support their conservation, but how much do they really know about whales and the threats the face?
Not much, it turns out.
A recent scientific survey found that the majority of people cared about legislation to protect whales, but at the same time they didn't know much about various whale or cetacean species. The researchers found that people thought common species such as bottlenose dolphins needed the most protection, didn't know about some of the most endangered species such as the vaquita, and believed more countries actively engaged in whaling than really do today.
Perhaps most strikingly, the survey presented people with the names of several fictional whale species (like the "pygmy short-finned whale"), which respondents said they believed needed protection more than real at-risk species.
This might not seem like a huge problem at first, but the future of whale conservation may rely once again upon grassroots efforts from caring citizens. As the researchers concluded, "A lack of awareness of the conservation status of whales and dolphins and continued whaling activities suggests that greater outreach to the public about the conservation status of whale and dolphin species is needed."
Reposted with permission from the Revelator.
While tossing orange peels and coffee grounds in the garbage might seem inconsequential, sending food waste to landfills has a real impact on climate change. When trapped without air, decomposing food in landfills produces methane: a greenhouse gas that's at least 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in the short term.
As much as we try to cut down on food waste in our kitchens, there will always be leftover banana peels, apple cores and other things that can't be used – much of which can be diverted from landfills by composting.
Composting recycles organic material and allows for the natural processes that decompose food, yard waste and other organics to create a nutrient-rich, natural fertilizer. Compost piles heat up as microorganisms break down leaves and kitchen scraps in the presence of oxygen, giving them a second life as "black gold" to fertilize gardens, houseplants and yards. Of the waste created by the average person – generally about nine times their body weight every year – more than 30% of it can be composted.
Luckily, composting isn't only for those with spacious backyards and large outdoor composting systems; there are plenty of options for composting with limited space, even in your own apartment.
Compost tumblers are a common composting solution, and are ideal for lucky apartment-dwellers with access to a yard, patio, or balcony. These outdoor, airtight containers don't attract pests (a point of concern for many urban composters) and trap heat, allowing decomposition to occur much faster. Unlike traditional compost bins or piles that require shoveling, tumblers can be easily turned with a crank and are attractive and discrete for common spaces.
Add yard and kitchen scraps to the tumbler over time, giving it a few turns each week. Once the tumbler is full, stop adding new material and continue turning once every few days for two to three weeks until the contents have completely decomposed. Some people even maintain two tumblers: one to which scraps are added, and one that's in the process of decomposing.
Ideally, to allow the compost to heat up properly and prevent undesirable odors, a composter should have a healthy ratio of "brown" (carbon-rich) and "green" (nitrogen-rich) waste. Brown waste can include leaves, shredded newspaper, nut and egg shells,and twigs, while green waste encompasses all fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, grains and soil. On a molecular level, an optimal carbon:nitrogen ratio is about 25-30:1, although some argue that when judging by sight, following a 3-4:1 ratio is sufficient.
Also known as vermicomposters, worm composters are small, efficient, odorless, require little money and effort, and result in rich, nutrient-packed compost. A DIY-worm composter can cost less than $30, requiring only a few plastic storage bins, organic matter for bedding, and worm castings, and can live out-of-sight in a closet or under a countertop.
Darkness, drainage and ventilation are the main components of a healthy worm composter. Start by drilling a few holes in the sides and on the bottom of a medium-sized plastic bin, and placing it inside a shorter bin or one of equal size. The smaller bin should be slightly raised, which might require stacking a few plastic bottles or containers underneath to allow for optimal airflow.
Inside the smaller bin, create the bedding for your worms; soil mixed with shredded paper or cardboard should be layered and dampened before adding in the worms. A good guideline for adding worms – generally red wigglers, which can be ordered online or bought in fishing stores – is one pound (about 1000 worms) per square foot.
Worm composters have some limitations based on what the critters can digest, and the amount of food waste that should be added at once. Freezing food scraps and adding them gradually will give the worms time to do their work without overloading them with food, especially when just starting out.
For those with very limited space, countertop electric composters are small, odorless and can process food waste within hours, producing a rich, dry fertilizer. While not exactly composting, these machines aerate, heat and pulverize food scraps, mimicking the process of traditional compost piles on a much tighter timeline – and, unlike traditional at-home compost piles, can safely process meat and dairy products.
While many electric composters can cost upwards of $300, their compact and user-friendly design makes them an attractive option for apartment-dwellers. Unfortunately, given the electricity needed to run them, the environmental impact of these composters is higher than more natural methods.
Government-Run Composting Programs
Some cities have taken food waste reduction into the own hands: San Francisco, California; Boulder, Colorado; and Portland, Oregon all have their own government-run composting initiatives. City-wide composting programs take different forms, but are often free or entail a small fee similar to trash and recycling. Residents usually fill a container with food scraps throughout the week and leave it on the curb to be replaced with an empty bucket, or bring scraps out to a designated bin alongside trash and recycling that's collected at regular intervals. Seattle and San Francisco have even made composting mandatory for all homes and businesses.
As you begin composting, it's a good idea to check whether your city already has a program in place for its residents.
Community Composting and Privately-Owned Collection Services
In the absence of city-wide composting programs, many non-profit and privately-owned organizations have stepped up to the plate.
In New York City, where curbside compost collection was suspended in 2020 due to COVID-19-related budget cuts, Big Reuse – a local non-profit – partners with community organizations to host free weekly drop-off sites. If tumblers and worm composters aren't for you, research compost drop-off locations in your city where you can bring your scraps for free. Some community gardens and farms might accept composted materials as well.
Composting has also become a lucrative business, especially in cities without government-run programs. CompostNow in North Carolina, Bootstrap Compost in Boston and WasteNot Compost in Chicago all charge a fee for pick-up services, offering a very convenient option for those without the time or space to compost at home.
Between trips to the compost tumbler or drop-off site, you'll need somewhere to store your scraps.
While a simple Tupperware container or glass jar would do, many countertop compost bins are attractive and discrete while controlling odors. Some are even dishwasher safe or use replaceable filters to prevent any smells from escaping.
When the pail fills up, scraps can be stored in the freezer until drop-off or pick-up day. Designating a container in the freezer specifically for compost can also keep things tidy and organized.
Adene Sanchez / E+ / Getty Images
As you begin your composting journey, make sure you know what items can be composted. To prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, meat and dairy products should be kept out of most small-scale composting systems, although larger composting facilities – where compost piles reach very high temperatures – might accept them.
Once your food scraps have completed their journey from "trash" to fertilizer, you'll have plenty of black gold to use. If you have limited outdoor space, or no garden on which to spread your finished compost, use it to fertilize house plants or window boxes, or offer it to friends and neighbors who might need it for their own gardens.
Apartment-composting requires some creativity! Consider all of the options in your area – whether it be a drop-off location, pick-up service, or city-run program – as well as your personal limitations and desires. Even with limited space, you can lower your environmental impact and give your waste a second life through composting.
Linnea graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a Bachelor's degree in English and Environmental Studies, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Most recently, Linnea worked at Hunger Free America, and has interned with WHYY in Philadelphia, Saratoga Living Magazine, and the Sierra Club in Washington, DC.
Linnea enjoys hiking and spending time outdoors, reading, practicing her German, and volunteering on farms and gardens and for environmental justice efforts in her community. Along with journalism, she is also an essayist and writer of creative nonfiction.
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The recycling industry in America is broken. With unsellable scrap materials and already-burgeoning landfills, many consider the entire industry confusing and complex, at best, and a lost cause, at worst. Nevertheless, some local governments are trying to address program shortfalls with various policies.
Over the last 20 years, as more and more scrap materials were diverted from landfills, recycling rates increased, RTS reported. Still, several factors have complicated and even stalled serious progress. First, the U.S. recycling program is less-than ideal. The single-stream system means that consumers put all recyclables (and anything else they hope can be recycled) into one bin. This has created "imperfect recycling habits" and general consumer confusion about what is and isn't recyclable. It's easier on the consumer, but the result has been a contamination rate of about one-fourth of U.S. recyclables, Columbia's State of the Planet reported.
The mixed-stream of materials in residential bins is subsequently trucked to a waste management facility, where it is cleaned, separated and processed into saleable bales of plastic, aluminum, paper and cardboard. These are the actual products that recycling facilities sell to other countries or to companies for processing into eventual new products, a Miami recycling facility representative told EcoWatch. The more contamination that a batch of recyclables has, the harder and more expensive it is to clean. Higher contamination rates result in a lower price for the product. At some point, it becomes more economical to landfill contaminated batches of recyclables rather than clean them.
In 2018, China threw a wrench in the U.S.'s already-precarious system when it decided to stop accepting most recyclables from the rest of the world. The goods were often too contaminated for proper recycling and would end up in landfills, oceans or polluting the countryside. The U.S. had previously shipped over half of its plastics and paper recyclables to China, and loss of this market meant that recycling facilities had nowhere to sell the increasing amounts of recyclable trash being created daily.
Having been so reliant on the Chinese market and without a federal recycling program, this forced recycling facilities to give cities and municipalities two choices: pay more for recyclables to be processed or send them to the trash, The Atlantic and State of the Planet reported.
In the years since, some states and cities have tried to regulate and legislate their way towards a third option: waste management policies that could work.
Here are some of the innovative local recycling policies:
1. San Francisco
According to the EPA, the West Coast city diverts 80 percent of its waste from landfills – the highest rate of any major U.S. city. A city ordinance requires both residents and companies to separate their waste into three streams – blue for mixed recyclables, green for compostables (including food scraps, food soiled paper and yard waste) and black for trash intended for the landfill. The system helps to protect the integrity of recyclables and allows for the diversion of 80 percent of food waste into compost for local farmers and wineries.
San Francisco also enacted a variety of aggressive regulations to support its goal of zero waste by 2020, including bans on single-use plastic checkout bags and polystyrene to-go food containers, construction debris recovery requirements, mandatory recycling and composting at all events in the city, and a government-private industry partnership with the city's waste removal company, Recology, to ensure that the latter will remain profitable while it gets the city to its zero waste goal, reported the EPA and Busted Cubicle.
2. Los Angeles
As of 2019, California's other major city recycled almost 80 percent of its waste, Busted Cubicle reported. LA went from voting against recycling in the early 1960's to having a goal of recycling 90 percent of waste by 2025 and 97 percent by 2030, RTS reported. Compelled by statewide goals for waste recovery and mandates for recycling, LA used related state grants to build up its recycling infrastructure and better public education surrounding recycling.
In a public-private partnership, the city collects curbside collection and transports it to private recycling facilities. Sub-programs include requiring restaurants to compost their scraps and giving companies tax breaks based on the amount they recycle, Busted Cubicle reported. The report estimated that the local recycling industry added $1.2 billion annually to LA's economy.
According to RTS and Busted Cubicle, forward-thinking Seattle adopted a mandatory food scrap recycling program in 2009, a zero-waste policy in 2010 and a mandatory commercial recycling program in 2013. In particular, the city hopes to eliminate landfilling and incineration of trash.
As of 2017, Seattle recycled 56.9 percent of its waste, with a goal to reach 72 percent by 2025. A three-year phase-in program for mandatory recycling allowed for better education of residents and creation of processes for effective enforcement, Busted Cubicle reported. Individuals are incentivized to reduce waste because, while recycling is collected for free, residents pay a per-bag fee for regular garbage, The New York Times reported. Individuals are further motivated to reduce waste because smaller trash cans incur a lower monthly rate for disposal. Penalties and even fines are levied against non-compliant residents. Private companies hired by the city to process trash are similarly "handsomely compensated" when they send less to landfills.
According to the city, 98 percent of Boise residents recycle, a credit to their extensive educational programs, Busted Cubicle reported. When China's recycling ban disrupted the city's recycling, Boise came back with an innovative recycling initiative for previously non-recyclable plastic films.
In partnership with Hefty® brand bags and Renewlogy, a company that converts plastics into diesel fuel, Boise encouraged residents to collect their plastic films in orange bags provided to them by the city, RTS reported. The lightweight plastics, which include grocery store bags, food packaging and even candy wrappers, are bagged and put into normal blue recycling bins for pickup. At local processing centers, they are sent to Renewlogy in Salt Lake City for conversion into a diesel fuel that has 75 percent lower carbon footprint than fossil fuels at one-third the cost, Busted Cubicle reported.
5. San Jose
Just south of San Francisco, the Bay Area hub committed to 75 percent waste diversion by 2013, zero waste by 2022 and zero landfill or incinerator waste diversion by 2040, Busted Cubicle reported. A three-way partnership for commercial waste management between the city and two private companies has been critical to San Jose's success.
Republic collects recyclables and organics from more than 8,000 businesses in the city. It processes the former and sends the latter to Zero Waste Energy Development Company for processing into energy or compost, the news report said. Residential curbside recycling continues to improve through various sub-programs including street sweeping, curbside junk pickup and cleanup events.
Colorado's capital city currently has a low diversion rate – 22 percent as of 2017 with a modest goal of 34 percent by 2020 – but it has an advantage in housing Alpine Waste & Recycling. This cutting-edge waste management company uses technology to simplify single-stream recycling even further. Rather than asking customers to correctly figure out what is recyclable, Alpine finds ways to increase what types of items can be recycled in Denver.
The company has paved the way in new processes to recycle materials that traditionally were confusing or impossible to recycle, including paper coffee cups, juice and milk cartons, styrofoam and large, rigid plastics, Busted Cubicle reported. Their new facility employs state-of-the-art technology to quickly process many tons of waste per hour.
7. New York City
As recently as January 2020, The New York Times reported on "7 Reasons Recycling Isn't Working In New York City." The metropolitan "lagged' behind other major cities, only recycling around one-fifth of its trash, The Times reported. Reasons included lack of recycling and composting bins, political reluctance and fiscal challenges to implementing additional recycling policies and the local culture built around hyper-consumerism, Amazon deliveries and takeout food.
Despite these shortcomings, the big apple makes this list because of a new proposed bill hoping to force manufacturers to pick up the tab for recycling paper, plastic, glass and metal. The extended producer responsibility (E.P.R.) bill would compel manufacturers to pay for the end-waste their products produce, another New York Times article reported. This could incentivize companies to create more sustainable packaging and products to lower fees. The municipality could use collected fees to offset recycling expenses. Proponents could also write in an anti-price gouging provision to ensure manufacturers don't pass the new costs onto consumers. The profits from such a program would be infused back into New York's struggling recycling programs, with the goal of upgrading technology and even creating more jobs, The Times reported.
While ambitious and innovative, many of these local programs are still far from reaching their lofty goals. As they work to become sustainable and profitable, the global market for high-quality recycled materials is actually growing, State of the Planet reported.
For the U.S. to take advantage of this, domestic recycling processes must be reformed, the news report emphasized. Whether through better technology at facilities like in Denver and Boise, innovative public-private partnerships like in the three California cities or in precedent-setting legislation like in New York, cities must lead the way in order to modernize and save the U.S. domestic recycling industry.
Tiffany Duong is an avid ocean advocate. She holds degrees from UCLA and the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School and is an Al Gore Climate Reality Leader and student member of The Explorer's Club.
She spent years as a renewable energy lawyer in L.A. before moving to the Amazon to conduct conservation fieldwork (and revamp her life). She eventually landed in the Florida Keys as a scientific scuba diver and field reporter and writes about the oceans, climate, and the environment from her slice of paradise. Follow her on Twitter/Instagram @lilicedt.
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By Sarah Derouin
Drive along the backroads of the U.S. Midwest and you'll see farm fields stretching for thousands of acres. The rolling hills are sliced into straight rows, filled with the same plants all standing in line.
Many farmers here are monoculture-focused, planting only corn or soybeans. These crops are annual plants; each year, fields are prepared and planted, using large amounts of energy, fertilizers, and pesticides. Excess agrochemicals seep from field to stream, polluting waterways and killing beneficial insects, while constant plowing hastens soil erosion. In years of excess water, like the 2019 flooding, these detrimental effects can be exacerbated.
But what if many of these problems, ecologic and economic, could be tempered by going back to the Midwest's roots? Instead of one or two dominant crops being grown, could some farmland be planted with perennial, native, nut or fruit trees?
Trees stabilize soils while holding and filtering water, encourage biodiversity, which can reduce the need for fertilizers and pesticides, and temper the effects of a changing climate. And the nuts and fruits can be harvested and sold, diversifying a farmer's crops and revenue streams.
Changing course from monocropping to diverse multicrop farms has a few bottlenecks, but researchers are working to help farmers with agroforestry — as the combination of woody perennials like trees and shrubs with annual crops is known — and propping up nut tree markets. If successful, agroforestry could be a boon to Midwestern farmers and communities.
Alley cropping like this co-planting of soybeans between rows of walnut trees allows farmers to diversify their crops, while reaping the benefits of perennial plants (water storage, soil erosion prevention, shade and wind breaking, among others). NAC / CC BY 2.0
Annual Planting, Annual Challenges
Row cropping is king in the Midwest, covering three-quarters of all the land. Corn and soybeans blanket most fields, and producing these singular species gobbles up energy: around the world, agriculture is responsible for a large chunk of human-caused emissions (10-12% of CO2, and a whopping 54% of other non-CO2 greenhouse gases).
Annual tilling of fields reveals bare earth leading to erosion of the soil — a little or a lot at a time. Over the past century, some researchers estimate that a third of the most fertile topsoil has disappeared from the Midwest.
Relying on a single crop also means that it only takes one weather event — a drought, late freeze, or flooding — to devastate a harvest. In 2019, the Midwest experienced an extremely wet spring, causing more than 7.9 million hectares (19.4 million acres) of corn to not be planted. Considering our changing climate, farmers who practice monocrop farming may therefore face more economic uncertainties as unexpected weather becomes the norm.
"In any one year, crops can be majorly impacted by the environmental situation," said Sarah Lovell, director of the Center for Agroforestry at the University of Missouri. "Whereas if we have a wider range of crops, they're oftentimes more resilient under those conditions."
"In the upper Midwest, we have a water quality problem," said Jason Fischbach, woody crops specialist at the University of Wisconsin Extension and co-leader of the Upper Midwest Hazelnut Development Initiative (UMHDI), adding that tillage and annual row crops are to blame. He said that with climate change, larger storm events are making things worse. "We've seen two 500-year floods in the last five years in our neck of the woods. And farther south, where there's more exposed soil, it is just getting worse and worse."
Bill Davison, program manager of tree crop commercialization at Wisconsin-based agroforestry research nonprofit the Savanna Institute, said that if farmers could establish perennial vegetation, many environmental issues could be mitigated. Trees and shrubs reduce runoff and erosion, can foster less agrochemical use, and encourage the capture and storage of water, while filtering agrochemicals. Davison said replacing annual crops with nut and fruit trees "takes a system that is burning carbon, and is based on fossil fuel inputs, and replaces it with a more sustainable form of production."
In fact, Midwestern farms might be the perfect spot for sequestering carbon while making a profit. In a new book, It's Not Too Late, Frances M. Lappe writes that gradually expanding alley cropping — where widely spaced rows of trees are planted with crops like corn in between — could remove large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere: hitting a target size of 20 million hectares (50 million acres) could remove 1.07 gigatons of carbon dioxide from the air.
While all these benefits seem straightforward on paper, there is still a big factor for farmers: what will it cost? "This is the challenge: it does reduce soil and nutrient loss, but does it really help the farmers' bottom line?" said Fischbach. He noted that for farmers to fully embrace planting perennials, agroforestry solutions need to be "productive conservation."
Riparian agroforestry adds fruit or nut trees near water sources to improve water quality, wildlife and pollinator habitat, and increase revenue sources. NAC / CC BY 2.0
Making Agroforestry Work in the Midwest
For farmers interested in stepping away from monoculture farming, planning new agroforestry plantings can feel overwhelming, so researchers at the USDA's National Agroforestry Center (NAC) are trying to provide information tailored to farmers' needs.
"It's really practice-specific and farmer-specific," said Matt Smith, a research ecologist with the NAC, noting that farmers are trying to address problems on their land with potential agroforestry solutions — and it's not always a one-size-fits-all solution. "What one farmer is doing, their neighbor could be doing something completely different," he said, adding that agroforestry solutions could be geared toward ecological or economic goals.
Agroforestry practices have to yield specific solutions to be embraced. For example, on big monoculture farms, alley cropping might not work. "[Farmers] have huge fields where they're planting 24 rows at a time," said Missouri's Lovell. "Jockeying around trees just really isn't feasible for farmers."
Instead, farmers could take a bolder approach and change larger areas into perennial crops. Lovell explained that some "difficult" areas — the small, odd-shaped fields, flood-prone areas, or hillside fields — can be perfect for perennial crops. For example, for a sloped, flood-prone field, she noted that crops like pecan are well adapted to that type of setting. The change could be more profitable in the long run, and have environmental benefits for the farmer.
"Replacing annual crops with perennial crops generally improves the quality of habitat for wildlife and in many cases will lead to increased populations of species that depend on perennial cover," said Davison. He added that by increasing the size of riparian buffers and windbreaks, wildlife will have more natural habitat. More diverse, robust wildlife also means more habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects in general. "This can lead to a more balanced system that has fewer pest and disease outbreaks," Davison said, adding this ultimately leads to lower costs of production for farmers.
Gary Bentrup, a research landscape planner at NAC, said farmers turn to agroforestry not only to solve problems on their land, but to also even out their labor demands. "You can have some really peak times, particularly if you just have one or two crops," said Bentrup, adding that for a diversified farm, labor demand is spread out over the whole year.
Bentrup said there's a lot of interest in agroforestry among farmers. "[They're] looking at integrating livestock, which can create a more closed loop system with animals providing fertilizer, and in some cases providing management services such as weed and pest control," said Bentrup. "These systems can also enhance livestock well-being, and shade [and] protection from extreme weather events that we're seeing more frequently."
Windbreaks between fields introduce perennial plants to a system, while adding soil erosion protection and water capture and filtration. Farmers can plant trees or shrubs that produce fruits or nuts, or after a few decades, they can harvest the trees for wood. NAC / CC BY 2.0
But some farmers are hesitant to embrace agroforestry practices. Transitioning toward a diversified crop system means a significant outlay. "They have a significant investment in their current operation: investment in equipment, in how their farm operation is laid out, in the buildings and facilities," said Rich Straight, a forester at the NAC. There are big financial considerations when farmers transition to a different type of scale of farming.
There's also a steep learning curve. "If a person spends half of their adult life farming in one particular way, it's a big investment in time and learning and finding resources," said Straight. "There's a fair amount of momentum going one direction. And change, as we all know, is not easy."
Related to this, there is a social and emotional component of transitioning to agroforestry that should be respected. "Folks say, 'It breaks our heart to plant trees, because our parents and our grandparents spent decades removing the trees from the landscape,'" said Straight.
Changing farming techniques can not only cause familial stress, but community tension as well. "I've talked to farmers who have transitioned to organic farming out here in Nebraska, and they have found that it caused a breakdown in relationships with other farmers in the area, that they maybe have known their entire life," said Straight. "People now perceive you as somewhat of an outsider, or they are thinking you're judging them because you've changed to a new system."
The trio at NAC noted that education for lenders, farmers and communities can help with resistance to agroforestry. "The National Agroforestry Center is always trying to consider the barriers and we do this by talking to landowners and natural resource professionals," said Smith, adding that they post potential solutions and latest research on their website. There are also investors who are increasingly looking to help farmers transition to agroforestry.
Farmers who have made the switch have also formed an effective support system. "It's a very supportive community of people who are looking at growing food and working the land in a different fashion," said Straight. "It can be very encouraging in that way [and] people do seem to rally around each other and support and encourage and share information."
Hazelnut alley cropping, where the nuts grow between an annual crop's rows. Savanna Institute
Is the Answer Nuts?
"For a long time, we would just wag our finger at farmers and say you're doing bad things — do something different," said Fischbach, but he added that suitable solutions were murky. So over the last couple of decades, the research community has focused on the feasibility of perennial crops, especially in the Upper Midwest where Fischbach works. "I was brought on to try to help revitalize the agricultural economy," he said, adding that the short growing season and "crappy, clay soils" make farming a challenge there.
So he and his team looked to native trees for an answer: enter the hazelnut. The team began looking at hazelnuts in part because they are a nearly $5 billion a year market, a big number that's predicted to grow.
While the majority of them are grown in Turkey, some recent weather events mean the country cannot keep up with demand. Currently, all of the U.S.-grown hazelnuts come from orchards in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, generating $100 million in annual revenue, so the Midwest may be in a great position to cash in on a growing market.
There are two main varieties of hazelnuts: European and American. European nuts are bigger, and a popular snack there: "People eat them like we eat peanuts," said Fischbach. The American hazelnut is more of a shrub and produces smaller nuts, but the plants are prolific. "The American hazelnut is widely distributed across the upper Midwest and actually most of the eastern U.S.," he said.
Nut size isn't necessarily an issue, as the American hazelnut can be used as an oilseed crop. "The nuts are 60% oil by weight and the fatty acid profile is identical to olive oil," said Fischbach, adding that it can be called "the northern olive oil."
For the past 14 years, scientists have been working on breeding a hybrid of the European and American varieties; they're aiming for a hardy shrub that can tolerate a variable climate, yet produces bigger nuts suitable for snacking on. Fischbach said that although they created a plant that grows well from seed, breeders are still trying to crack the code on propagating, or cloning, the most successful plants.
While hazelnuts may be the nut of the future for the Midwest (see Savanna Institute's report "What will it take to catalyze the Midwest hazelnut industry?" here), they aren't the only perennial plant that can help farmers diversify. Davison said that on some of the demonstration farms affiliated with them, farmers are combining multiple perennial crops.
"A system that is working for farmers would be chestnut trees, Christmas trees, and blueberries," said Davison. He explained that these crops need similar types of soil and conditions, so they work well together. And at the end of the day, Davison said having three crops is "a really good economic scenario for the farmers."
"We kind of overlook the huge potential of a lot of species that are native to the Midwest," said Lovell. There are many other native species — black walnut, pecan, elderberry, aronia, pawpaw, persimmon — that we haven't fully incorporated into our food system.
"They're oftentimes much more resilient and adapted under more extreme climate conditions," Lovell said. "Looking into the future, there's just a lot of potential here."
Chestnuts can also grow well in alley cropping systems. Savanna Institute
Reaping the Rows
When agroforestry is initially embraced, it's often for smaller efforts like windbreaks. These narrow bands are often fast-growing trees like poplar or pine that become profitable about 30 years later, but only for a one-time sale. If a farmer plants hazelnuts for that windbreak, though, Fischbach said that they will create a positive cash flow in just five or six years.
"That's how we're trying to position hazelnuts," said Fischbach. "We're not trying to convince people to take the other 40 acres of corn and beans and put in hazelnuts; we want you to deploy these hazelnuts in a way that makes your whole system better."
Davison has also noted this approach and said he's seeing signs of more people changing the way they farm. "When I talk to some nursery owners, for the first time in 40 years, they have been overwhelmed with orders for trees — more than they can meet. It's pretty exciting."
Once the hazelnuts ripen, the next questions are around harvesting and processing, and since farmers who only grow a few rows of hazelnuts might not want to invest in their own harvesting equipment, UMHDI created Grower Networks in 2019 to help farmers pool resources for harvesting, processing and selling them. Fischbach said that early on, Midwest farmers would pick hazelnuts by hand, but that quickly became untenable.
So they tried a blueberry picker, and Fischbach said they work pretty well, especially considering that they were "built to handle soft, squishy, wimpy little blueberries." He said they are still tinkering with the machine for greater efficiency. And because the Midwest is new to the nut industry, with no processing plants operating nearby, UMHDI created a processing incubator in Ashland, Wisconsin, so growers can now ship to this regional plant to crack and separate hazelnut kernels from their shells, to avoid large shipping costs for processing in the Northwest.
Researchers from the Savanna Institute use their hazelnut harvester on a farm in Wisconsin. Savanna Institute
The Future of Farms?
Shedding the image of a corn- and soybean-only farm might seem far-fetched, but Lovell said the Midwest has the potential to grow much more. "There's so many things that we can be producing on this landscape that would just be a win-win-win in terms of the environmental health, the human health, [and] other cultural aspects," she said.
Increasing perennial crops and reducing monocropping has far-reaching benefits for the ecosystem, she added, like that potential gigaton of carbon sequestration. "All of that plant material that you see above ground, and then oftentimes [in] equal amounts below ground, is carbon that's being stored."
"It's just such an exciting time in agriculture," said Fischbach. "We really have some new tools, new energies, new young people doing the hard work of developing new systems." He added that while farmers are willing to try new agroforestry crops like hazelnuts, it still relies on Midwestern markets and companies like the American Hazelnut Company, a small-scale operation that processes and sells Midwest-grown hazelnut products like oil, hazelnut flour and snackable kernels.
"Ultimately, for any of this to work, we need consumers in the Midwest to eat hazelnuts," he said, adding that convincing folks to buy the little nut isn't too difficult "because it tastes great."
So Midwesterners can be on the lookout for this tasty product that supports area farmers. And if hazelnuts take off, one day a locally grown Nutella knockoff might even be pantry staple.
This report is part of Mongabay's ongoing coverage of trends in global agroforestry. View the full series here.
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
By Reynard Loki
One of the most distinguishable features of the COVID-19 era is the public, everyday use of personal protective equipment (PPE), mainly in the form of disposable face masks and latex gloves. And while these thin layers protect us and others from transmitting and contracting SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes the lower respiratory tract disease, scientists are now beginning to understand just how harmful these objects can be for ecosystems and wildlife.
The demand for PPE has put some countries on a war footing, to give governments sweeping wartime authorities to control the economy and compel private businesses to join national fights against the pandemic. "Our national plan launches a full-scale war-time effort to address the supply shortages by ramping up production and protective equipment, syringes, needles, you name it," said President Joe Biden in January. Even the inventor of the lifesaving N95 mask favored by front-line medical workers, Dr. Peter Tsai, said that countries should stockpile PPE as if they were on a war footing. "Weapons are not profitable," he said in August. "But they need to have the weapons and then they don't use them for 10 or 20 years. You need to see this kind of PPE as military weapons." A majority of U.S. states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have instituted "mask mandates" requiring people to wear face coverings in public to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Pandemic pollution: Compilation of 256 images of PPE litter from Vista, CA, USA. Janis Selby Jones
But while these "weapons" that fight coronavirus have proved to be lifesaving for humans, an increasing number of non-human animals are finding them to be a brand-new, and often deadly, threat that has suddenly littered their natural habitat. One main problem is that face masks and latex gloves are disposable, and people often do not dispose of them properly. How many times have you seen a used mask or glove lying on the street or stuck in a bush or floating in a waterway? Welcome to the world's new pollution problem. (As if the scourge of plastic waste weren't enough of an issue for the global ecosystem.)
According to the World Health Organization, the fabric masks that should be used to fight the pandemic are made of three layers of fabric: an inner layer of absorbent material like cotton, a middle layer of non-woven non-absorbent material, like polypropylene, which is a kind of plastic, and an outer layer of non-absorbent material, like polyester. That means that these masks, if improperly discarded, have the power to threaten ecosystems for many decades, even centuries, to come. Polypropylene takes 20 to 30 years to decompose in a landfill. Polyester can take up to 200 years. Researchers from the University College London Plastic Waste Innovation Hub recently released a report that estimated that about 70,000 tons of plastic waste would be produced if all Britons wore a single-use mask each day for a year.
In August 2020, during a cleanup project at a canal in the Dutch city of Leiden, scientists discovered a fish trapped in a latex glove, a finding that prompted them to investigate whether this problem was more widespread. Their fears were soon realized: In just a few months, researchers found hundreds of face masks littering the city's historic canals. Their findings were released in a March report published in the journal Animal Biology about the impact that PPE litter is having on wildlife. The grim conclusion: All those face masks and latex gloves are killing birds, fish and other wildlife across the globe. The researchers, from the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, the Institute of Biology at Leiden University, and the Institute for Water and Wetland Research, all based in the Netherlands, said that animals are becoming entangled in the gear, while others, mistaking it for food, are dying from fatally ingesting it. Some animals are building homes with it.
Grounded flights: One of the early victims of COVID-19 litter, an American robin (Turdus migratorius), was found entangled in a face mask in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada, in April 2020. Sandra Denisuk
"As always with these single-use items, you're not really looking after them and they end up in the environment really soon. They start becoming a real problem," Auke-Florian Hiemstra, a biologist at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden and a co-author of the report, told CNN. "I think it's ironic that the materials that protect us are so harmful to the animals around us," he added.
The scientists included specific examples in their study, such as a dead perch (Perca fluviatilis) entrapped in a latex glove "with only its tail sticking out" in the Netherlands; a common coot (Fulica atra) building a nest with a face mask, also in the Netherlands; an American robin (Turdus migratorius) entangled in a face mask in British Columbia; a juvenile peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) whose talons got stuck in a face mask in Yorkshire; cygnets from a mute swan (Cygnus olor) with face masks wrapped around their beaks in Lake Bracciano, near Rome, Italy; and a red fox (Vulpes vulpes), entangled in a face mask, and a European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), entangled in a glove, both in the United Kingdom. Even stray dogs have been found with PPE in their stomachs. The list goes on and sadly, will go on and on: Hiemstra warned that the entire animal kingdom may ultimately be impacted by humans' COVID-19 litter.
"It makes sense that birds are being reported—they're conspicuous, and you have a lot of people looking at them," said Greg Pauly, a herpetologist and co-director of the Urban Nature Research Center at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, who suspects that PPE litter is being ingested by many wild animals—a serious problem, the impact of which we're not going to fully understand any time soon. "Ingestion isn't something you can easily see, and almost no one is looking at it," he said, recommending that wildlife biologists conduct more necropsies of wildlife across all species to collect data for future studies.
More than 30 years ago, the Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental group based in Washington, D.C., launched the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC), a global trash-picking event meant to eliminate ocean trash, mainly in the form of plastic waste. Every year, volunteers from states and territories throughout the United States and more than 100 countries around the world come together to participate in a local cleanup event. The COVID-19 pandemic has broadened the event's remit: In July of 2020, Ocean Conservancy added a new category of trash to Clean Swell, the mobile app that volunteers use to log their cleanup work: "PPE."
In March, the group released a report on the rising threat of PPE pollution and found that, based on a survey of ICC volunteers and coordinators conducted in early 2021, 94 percent of respondents observed PPE pollution at a cleanup in 2020, during which more than 100,000 pieces of PPE—mainly masks and gloves—were picked up on beaches across 70 countries. More than half of the survey respondents said they saw PPE littering their home communities every day.
What can we do? "We really encourage people to use reusable face masks," said Liselotte Rambonnet, a biologist at the Institute of Biology at Leiden University and co-author of the Animal Biology report, told CNN. "All the interactions we found were with single-use face masks because they are inexpensive and can be lost more easily," she added. Unfortunately, disposable PPE cannot be recycled, so they must go into the regular trash. When doing so, make sure that all contaminated PPE is disposed of in a covered waste bin lined with a garbage bag and that they are always out of reach from children and pets. In no case should you simply toss your used PPE on the street or in a waterway.
In addition, it is critical to cut the two ear straps on each side of your mask before disposing of it to reduce the possibility of wildlife getting entangled in it. And let's take this opportunity to look at the big picture: How all our medical and plastic waste is impacting the natural world and what we can do to reduce this global pollution crisis.
"As we protect our communities and each other in the face of this invisible threat, we can also do more to protect our communities and our ocean from the impacts of the pandemic," writes Janis Searles Jones, the CEO of Ocean Conservancy. "Once the need for PPE subsides as the pandemic recedes, we have a real opportunity to reduce our overall plastics footprint and to ensure that the plastics that we use are recyclable, made of recycled content, and stay out of the ocean and our environment."
But even if we change our behavior now when it comes to PPE disposal, it may be too late. According to a report by OceansAsia, a marine conservation group based in Hong Kong, an estimated 1.56 billion face masks entered the ocean in 2020 alone. "Even if we take steps tomorrow, then for hundreds of years there will be face masks floating around in the ocean, still impacting our wildlife," said Hiemstra. "I'm afraid it will not stop very soon, and actually the problem will only get worse over time, sadly."
Reynard Loki is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute, where he serves as the editor and chief correspondent for Earth | Food | Life. He previously served as the environment, food and animal rights editor at AlterNet and as a reporter for Justmeans/3BL Media covering sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He was named one of FilterBuy's Top 50 Health & Environmental Journalists to Follow in 2016. His work has been published by Yes! Magazine, Salon, Truthout, BillMoyers.com, Counterpunch, EcoWatch and Truthdig, among others.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
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By Courtney Lindwall
Coined in the 1970s, the classic Earth Day mantra "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" has encouraged consumers to take stock of the materials they buy, use, and often quickly pitch — all in the name of curbing pollution and saving the earth's resources. Most of us listened, or lord knows we tried. We've carried totes and refused straws and dutifully rinsed yogurt cartons before placing them in the appropriately marked bins. And yet, nearly half a century later, the United States still produces more than 35 million tons of plastic annually, and sends more and more of it into our oceans, lakes, soils, and bodies.
Clearly, something isn't working, but as a consumer, I'm sick of the weight of those millions of tons of trash falling squarely on consumers' shoulders. While I'll continue to do my part, it's high time that the companies profiting from all this waste also step up and help us deal with their ever-growing footprint on our planet.
An investigation last year by NPR and PBS confirmed that polluting industries have long relied on recycling as a greenwashing scapegoat. If the public came to view recycling as a panacea for sky-high plastic consumption, manufacturers—as well as the oil and gas companies that sell the raw materials that make up plastics—bet they could continue deluging the market with their products.
There are currently no laws that require manufacturers to help pay for expensive recycling programs or make the process easier, but a promising trend is emerging. Earlier this year, New York legislators Todd Kaminsky and Steven Englebright proposed a bill—the "Extended Producer Responsibility Act"—that would make manufacturers in the state responsible for the disposal of their products.
Other laws exist in some states for hazardous wastes, such as electronics, car batteries, paint, and pesticide containers. Paint manufacturers in nearly a dozen states, for example, must manage easy-access recycling drop-off sites for leftover paint. Those laws have so far kept more than 16 million gallons of paint from contaminating the environment. But for the first time, manufacturers could soon be on the hook for much broader categories of trash—including everyday paper, metal, glass, and plastic packaging—by paying fees to the municipalities that run waste management systems. In addition to New York, the states of California, Washington, and Colorado also currently have such bills in the works.
"The New York bill would be a foundation on which a modern, more sustainable waste management system could be built," says NRDC waste expert Eric Goldstein.
In New York City alone, the proposed legislation would cover an estimated 50 percent of the municipal waste stream. Importantly, it would funnel millions of dollars into the state's beleaguered recycling programs. This would free up funds to hire more workers and modernize sorting equipment while also allowing cities to re-allocate their previous recycling budgets toward other important services, such as education, public parks, and mass transit.
The bills aren't about playing the blame game—they are necessary. Unsurprisingly, Americans still produce far more trash than anyone else in the world, clocking in at an average of nearly 5 pounds per person, every day—clogging landfills and waterways, harming wildlife, contributing to the climate crisis, and blighting communities. As of now, a mere 8 percent of the plastic we buy gets recycled, and at least six times more of our plastic waste ends up in an incinerator than gets reused.
It's easy to see why. Current recycling rules vary widely depending on where you live—and they're notoriously confusing. Contrary to what many of us have been told, proper recycling requires more than simply looking for that green-arrowed triangle, a label that may tell you what a product is made out of and that it is recyclable in theory, but not whether that material can be recycled in your town—or anywhere at all. About 90 percent of all plastic can't be recycled, often because it's either logistically difficult to sort or there's no market for it to be sold.
That recycling marketplace is also ever changing. When China, which was importing about a third of our country's recyclable plastic, started refusing our (usually contaminated) waste streams in 2018, demand for recyclables tanked. This led to cities as big as Philadelphia and towns as small as Hancock, Maine, to send even their well-sorted recyclables to landfills. Municipalities now had to either foot big bills to pick up recyclables they once sold for a profit or shutter recycling services altogether.
According to Goldstein, New York's bill has a good shot of passing this spring—and it already has the support of some companies that see the writing on the wall, or as the New York Times puts it, "the glimmer of a cultural reset, a shift in how Americans view corporate and individual responsibility." If the bill does go through, New Yorkers could start to see changes to both local recycling programs and product packaging within a few years.
What makes these bills so groundbreaking isn't that they force manufacturers to pay for the messes they make, but that they could incentivize companies to make smarter, less wasteful choices in the first place.
New York's bill, for instance, could help reward more sustainable product design. A company might pay less of a fee if it reduces the total amount of waste of a product, sources a higher percentage of recycled material, or makes the end product more easily recyclable by, say, using only one type of plastic instead of three.
"Producers are in the best position to be responsible because they control the types and amounts of packaging, plastics, and paper products that are put into the marketplace," Goldstein says.
Bills like these embody the principles of a circular economy—that elusive North Star toward which all waste management policies should point. By encouraging companies to use more recycled materials, demand for recyclables goes up and the recycling industry itself is revitalized. What gets produced gets put back into the stream for reuse.
If widely adopted, we could significantly reduce our overall consumption and burden on the planet. With less paper used, more forests would stay intact—to continue to store carbon, filter air and water, and provide habitat for wildlife and sustenance for communities. With less plastic produced, less trash would clog oceans and contaminate ecosystems and food supplies. In turn, we'd give fossil fuels even more reasons to stay in the ground, where they belong.
That would be my Earth Day dream come true—with little hand-wringing of fellow guilt-stricken individuals required.
Courtney Lindwall is a writer and editor in NRDC's Communications department. Prior to NRDC, she worked in publishing and taught writing to New York City public school students. Lindwall has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Florida. She is based in the New York office.
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