The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
7 Ways to Launch Your Own Anti-Plastics Movement
By Bibi Farber
The food you ate today was probably sold in plastic packaging, the vehicle you transport yourself in has plastic components, be that a car, bus, bike, train, plane, boat, kayak ... the computer you are reading this article on, even the charger and the wall socket protector … just look around.
It wasn't always this way. We have seen an explosion in the last 65 years. From 1950 to 2013, plastic production went from 1.7 million tons to 300 million tons a year. Then consider that all the plastic that has been produced since its inception is still here. It has not biodegraded, it has not been absorbed by the earth. It is, on the contrary, leaching toxic chemicals and causing destruction to the ecosystem on an unprecedented scale, choking and poisoning our ecological balance.
The dangers are visible, obvious and urgent–and paradoxically, microscopic, out of sight and not of great concern to the mainstream.
As a culture, we have been duped into thinking that recycling is enough of a step in the right direction. Certainly, any plastic we can keep out of the landfills and oceans is great, for whatever time that item is reused or recycled. But it simply postpones the plastic's destructive path and does not mitigate the damage. It's estimated only 25 percent of plastic is recycled anyway. The U.S. has one of the lowest overall recycling rates of any developed nation.
Worse, it keeps us consuming the stuff because we believe if we are recycling, it's ok.
It is not ok. According to The Davos Report by the World Economic Forum the oceans will contain, by weight, more plastic than fish by 2050. And, 77 percent of manmade waste that enters the ocean stays at the bottom. The waste enters the oceans via streams, rivers, drainage and all manner of marine vessels and fishing activities. Looking at the water's surface, you'd never know you're looking at a garbage patch. It's the microscopic plastic particles, small as a grain of salt, which fish mistake for food. The damage is vast: There are an estimated 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in every single square mile of the ocean, the United Nations Environment Program reported.
The anti-plastics movement is now evolving from simply recycling. Today the goal is to radically reduce our collective plastic footprint, with a major shift in lifestyle and some promising new earth-friendly materials.
Here are some options:
1. Innovative Natural Packaging: Mushrooms Replace Styrofoam
While polystyrene, known as styrofoam, takes thousands of years to decompose, a new mushroom-mycelium packaging made by Ecovative Design, can be disposed of simply by throwing it in the compost where it will biodegrade within weeks. It's solid, does not smell and can be "grown" to fit any package specifications. It's even edible, but perhaps not so tasty! Companies like IKEA and computer giant Dell are already using this amazing product.
Exciting developments are on the horizon for one of the strongest fibers known to man. Plastic can now be derived from plant cellulose. At least 16 U.S. states have legalized industrial hemp production for commercial purposes and 20 states have passed laws allowing research and pilot programs. Hemp is an extremely efficient crop that grows up to 60 feet in just 90 days. It requires few pesticides and no herbicides.
The company Hemp Plastic has a composite material that can be molded for any number of plastic items. Hemp plastic is said to be 5 times stiffer and 2.5 times stronger than polypropylene plastic, which is used in everything from packaging, to lab equipment and textiles. There are thousands of plastic replacement hemp products on the market right now, including for furniture, electronics, fiberglass and other construction materials. Even door panels of some BMW's, Mercedes and Bugatti are manufactured using a hemp fiber basis.
3. Renewable Wood Pulp
Innovia, headquartered in the United Kingdom created NatureFlex products. They look like any plastic food packaging that one might expect to be used for nuts or dried fruit. However they are made from sustainably sourced, renewable wood pulp. They have a high moisture barrier and are fully biodegradable, even in the ocean. In 2010, the company tested its products in seawater and discovered that nearly all disintegrated within four weeks.
Bioplastics are a new type of plastic made from plants. Though there is much less carbon dioxide produced during production, it does have a product footprint. Bioplastics also release carbon dioxide during the biodegrading process and do not biodegrade easily in all environments. Some in fact, do not biodegrade at all. However, they are less toxic than regular plastics.
5. Make it Package Free
Since we can't easily find products packaged in eco-friendly wood cellulose, hemp or mushroom mycelium in our stores just yet, the best place to start is to be aware of all packaging and make every effort to reduce it.
Beginning in Germany, but now all over the world "packaging free" stores are emerging. These stores are designed to sell items in bulk, from pinto beans to hair conditioner. Just bring your own containers, weigh them, fill them up and pay by the pound as you check out. But we don't have to wait for a new store to open. Many health food stores are implementing this system for the items in the bulk section, so you can say goodbye to hundreds of pounds of extraneous packaging (glass, metal, paper and plastic) right away.
Lauren Singer lives a Zero Waste lifestyle in NYC. She is one of the founders of The Package Free Shop, a retail store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. "We offer everything that you'd need to transition to a low waste lifestyle in one place," she says. "For us living a package free life means that we are avoiding single use plastic and disposable products to the best of our ability."
In the store, you will find products like bamboo toothbrushes, re-useable cotton rounds for sustainable make up application and removal, and remember those stainless steel ice trays? Just pull the lever and the ice pops out perfectly every time. They sell steel airtight food containers and glass, organic cotton or bamboo replacements for hundreds of household items. Beauty and personal care products are sold in bulk, and in tins and glass jars. They also ship the goods to you, completely without plastic! All shipping materials are 100 percent recyclable and 100 percent compostable. Even the tape is made of paper.
Search here for packaging free stores in the U.S. and Canada: Litterless
Search here for packaging free stores worldwide: Bepakt
Life Without Plastic is another great example of a one stop online shop for safe, high quality ethically sourced, stylish and earth friendly alternatives to plastic products. You can see how to easily replace all that plastic in your kitchen. Use what you have—but there is no need to ever bring home any more.
Take a few minutes to look online at the thousands of new companies now making the plastic free life practical and affordable. Women's make up and personal care products no longer require relentless plastic consumption. How about flip flops made from natural rubber? Purrfect Play makes a whole line of plastic free pet toys.
7. Zero Waste Lifestyle
Zero waste is a term that rallies the goal that all waste will be recycled, composted, repurposed, and preferably never produced in the first place. There are zero waste restaurants and hotels, even stadiums and conference centers. Cities from Buenos Aires to Taiwan to San Francisco have passed zero waste resolutions, with innovative and ambitious plans to reduce consumption, extend recycling, and increase composting.
Zero waste is a revolution in the relationship between waste and people. It is a new way of thinking: There is no "away" when we throw away. We're just parking it somewhere else, at a tremendous cost.
With every purchase you make, consider the importance of the plastic-free future. A few things may cost a few more dollars initially. But the rewards of establishing a new precedent for how we shop, package, eat and consume have never mattered more. When it comes to plastic, it will always be here. Support the alternatives, starting now.
Learn more about the many impacts of plastic pollution at Earth Island's Plastic Pollution Coalition.
Bibi Farber is a songwriter and musician who feels passionately about environmental issues. For four years she published a daily video blog NextworldTV, (still online at www.nextworldtv.com) on topics ranging from food politics and homesteading skills to alternative energy and other solutions for a sustainable future: www.bibifarber.com.Reposted with permission from our media associate Earth Island Journal.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Tom Duszynski
The coronavirus is certainly scary, but despite the constant reporting on total cases and a climbing death toll, the reality is that the vast majority of people who come down with COVID-19 survive it. Just as the number of cases grows, so does another number: those who have recovered.
In mid-March, the number of patients in the U.S. who had officially recovered from the virus was close to zero. That number is now in the tens of thousands and is climbing every day. But recovering from COVID-19 is more complicated than simply feeling better. Recovery involves biology, epidemiology and a little bit of bureaucracy too.
How does your body fight off COVID-19?<p>Once a person is exposed the coronavirus, the body starts producing <a href="https://www.mblintl.com/products/what-are-antibodies-mbli/" target="_blank">proteins called antibodies to fight the infection</a>. As these <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/27/serological-tests-reveal-immune-coronavirus/" target="_blank">antibodies start to successfully contain the virus</a> and keep it from replicating in the body, symptoms usually begin to lessen and you start to feel better. Eventually, if all goes well, your immune system will completely destroy all of the virus in your system. A person who was infected with and survived a virus with no long-term health effects or disabilities has "recovered."</p><p>On average, a person who is infected with SARS-CoV-2 will feel ill for about seven days from the onset of symptoms. Even after symptoms disappear, there still may be small amounts of the virus in a patient's system, and they should stay <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html" target="_blank">isolated for an additional three days</a> to ensure they have truly <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">recovered and are no longer infectious</a>.</p>
What about immunity?<p>In general, once you have recovered from a viral infection, your body will keep cells called lymphocytes in your system. These cells "remember" viruses they've previously seen and can react quickly to fight them off again. If you are exposed to a virus you have already had, your antibodies will likely stop the virus before it starts causing symptoms. <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.5114%2Fceji.2018.77390" target="_blank">You become immune</a>. This is the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK27158/" target="_blank">principle behind many vaccines</a>.</p><p>Unfortunately, immunity isn't perfect. For many viruses, like mumps, immunity can wane over time, leaving you <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160421145747.htm" target="_blank">susceptible to the virus in the future</a>. This is why you need to get revaccinated – those "booster shots" – occasionally: to prompt your immune system to make more antibodies and memory cells.</p><p>Since this coronavirus is so new, scientists still don't know whether people who recover from COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/faq.html" target="_blank">immune to future infections of the virus</a>. Doctors are finding antibodies in ill and recovered patients, and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/clinical-guidance-management-patients.html" target="_blank">that indicates the development of immunity</a>. But the question remains how long that immunity will last. Other coronaviruses like <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/jmv.25685" target="_blank">SARS and MERS produce an immune response</a> that will protect a person at least for a short time. I would suspect the same is true of SARS-CoV-2, but the research simply hasn't been done yet to say so definitively.</p>
Why have so few people officially recovered in the US?<p>This is a dangerous virus, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is being extremely careful when deciding what it means to recover from COVID-19. Both medical and testing criteria must be met before a person is <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/disposition-in-home-patients.html" target="_blank">officially declared recovered</a>.</p><p>Medically, a person must be fever-free without fever-reducing medications for three consecutive days. They must show an improvement in their other symptoms, including reduced coughing and shortness of breath. And it must be at least seven full days <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">since the symptoms began</a>.</p><p>In addition to those requirements, the CDC guidelines say that a person must test negative for the coronavirus twice, with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/care-for-someone.html" target="_blank">tests taken at least 24 hours apart</a>.</p><p>Only then, if both the symptom and testing conditions are met, is a person officially considered recovered by the CDC.</p><p>This second testing requirement is likely why there were so few official recovered cases in the U.S. until late March. Initially, there was a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/health/coronavirus-test-shortages-face-masks-swabs.html" target="_blank">massive shortage of testing in the U.S.</a> So while many people were certainly recovering over the last few weeks, this could not be officially confirmed. As the country enters the height of the pandemic in the coming weeks, focus is still on <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/hcp/clinical-criteria.html" target="_blank">testing those who are infected</a>, not those who have likely recovered.</p><p>Many more people are being tested now that states and private companies have begun <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/testing-in-us.html" target="_blank">producing and distributing tests</a>. As <a href="https://www.dispatch.com/news/20200406/coronavirus-in-ohio-from-its-rocky-start-testing-for-covid-19-slowly-ramping-up" target="_blank">the number of available tests increases</a> and the pandemic eventually slows in the country, more testing will be available for those who have appeared to recover. As people who have already recovered are tested, the appearance of any new infections will help researchers learn <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/24/we-need-smart-coronavirus-testing-not-just-more-testing/" target="_blank">how long immunity can be expected to last</a>.</p>
Once a person has recovered, what can they do?<p>Knowing whether or not people are immune to COVID-19 after they recover is going to determine what individuals, communities and society at large can do going forward. If scientists can show that recovered patients are immune to the coronavirus, then a person who has recovered could in theory <a href="https://www.vox.com/2020/3/30/21186822/immunity-to-covid-19-test-coronavirus-rt-pcr-antibody" target="_blank">help support the health care system</a> by caring for those who are infected.</p><p>Once communities pass the peak of the epidemic, the number of new infections will decline, while the number of <a href="https://www.newsweek.com/china-says-passed-peak-coronavirus-epidemic-covid-19-1491863" target="_blank">recovered people will increase</a>. As these trends continue, the risk of transmission will fall. Once the risk of transmission has fallen enough, community-level isolation and social distancing orders will begin to relax and businesses will start to reopen. Based on what other countries have gone through, it will be <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00154-w" target="_blank">months until the risk of transmission is low</a> in the U.S.</p><p>But before any of this can happen, the U.S. and the world need to make it through the peak of this pandemic. Social distancing works to slow the spread of infectious diseases and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/what-you-can-do.html" target="_blank">is working for COVID-19</a>. Many people will <a href="https://www.yalemedicine.org/stories/2019-novel-coronavirus/" target="_blank">need medical help to recover</a>, and social distancing will slow this virus down and give people the best chance to do so.</p>
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
The future for the world's oceans often looks grim. Fisheries are set to collapse by 2048, according to one study, and 8 million tons of plastic pollute the ocean every year, causing considerable damage to delicate marine ecosystems. Yet a new study in Nature offers an alternative, and more optimistic view on the ocean's future: it asserts that the entire marine environment could be substantially rebuilt by 2050, if humanity is able to step up to the challenge.
- 3 Ways UN Leaders Can Restore the World's Oceans - EcoWatch ›
- We Still Have Time to Restore Our Climate. But the Climate Time ... ›
- Coral in Crisis: Can Replanting Efforts Halt Reefs' Death Spiral ... ›
Across the country, the novel coronavirus is severely affecting black people at much higher rates than whites, according to data released by several states, as The New York Times reported.
- New Drilling and Fracking in California Will Hurt Latino Communities ... ›
- First-of-Its-Kind Study Finds Racial Gap Between Who Causes Air ... ›
- Environmental Negligence vs. Civil Rights: Black and Hispanic ... ›
By Zulfikar Abbany
Bread has been a source of basic nutrition for centuries, the holy trinity being wheat, maize and rice. It has also been the reason for a lot of innovation in science and technology, from millstones to microbiological investigations into a family of single-cell fungi called Saccharomyces.
Chemical leavening<p>If you like a little heft in your loaf, you will need a leavening agent.</p><p>For those short on time, you can use baking soda. That's a chemical compound of sodium bicarbonate mixed with potassium bitartrate, or cream of tartar.</p><p>Soda breads have their traditions in parts of eastern and central Europe, and in Ireland and Scotland, with Melrose loaves and "farls."</p><p>They can taste a bit bland, though, and are often considered only as an emergency solution on Sundays. No disrespect intended: They taste just fine fresh from the oven.</p><p>Whether it's chemical or more "natural," leavening relies largely on the production of carbon dioxide.</p><p>When you mix an acid, such as vinegar, buttermilk, yogurt or apple cider, with an alkaline compound like baking soda, you get CO2. That CO2 creates bubbles, which in turn capture steam in the oven and allow a bread to rise.</p><p><span></span>But it's better with yeast. Tastes better, too. It just takes more time. </p>
What is yeast?<p>There are yeasts all around us — on grains, in the air, in biofuels. It even lives inside us, but that's not always a good thing.</p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1090575/pdf/1471-2334-5-22.pdf" target="_blank">Candida yeast</a> can cause infections of the skin, feet, mouth, penis or vagina if it builds up too much in the body.</p><p>One of the most common yeasts, however, is <em>Saccharomyces cerevisiae</em>. That's <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/an-early-beer-archaeologists-tap-ground-at-worlds-oldest-brewery/a-45480731" target="_blank">"brewer's"</a> or "baker's" yeast.</p><p>You can get fresh baker's yeast, often in 42-gram (1.48-ounce) cubes, or as dried yeast (quick action or active, which requires rehydration) in a sachet of 7 grams.</p><p>There's little difference: One is compressed and the other is dehydrated and granulated. But they do the same thing, essentially. </p><p>Some commercial yeast producers add molasses and other nutrients. But natural yeast has plenty of useful nutrients in it anyway, including B group vitamins, so who knows whether it's good or necessary to add them. </p>
How does yeast work?<p>When you mix flour, yeast and water, you set off a veritable chain reaction. Enzymes in the wheat convert starch into sugar. And the yeast creates enzymes of its own to convert those sugars into a form it can absorb.</p><p>The yeast "feeds" on the sugars to create carbon dioxide and alcohol. The yeast burps and farts, releasing gases into the mix, and that creates bubbles to trap CO2. </p><p>It's a vital fermentation process that breaks down the gluten in the flour and helps make your bread more digestible.</p><p>The yeast cells split and reproduce, generating lactic and carbonic acid, raising the temperature and ultimately adding flavor to the mix.</p><p>The longer you leave the yeast to do its thing, the better for your bread. Time is more important than the amount of yeast. </p><p>In fact, that's an enduring question — how much yeast? I'll use 20 grams fresh yeast for 500 grams of flour. Others say that's enough yeast for 1 kilo. If you are converting a dry-yeast recipe to fresh yeast, some bakers advise tripling the weight. So, if a sachet of dried yeast is 7 grams, your fresh yeast is 21 grams.</p><p><span></span>But that also depends on the flours you are using, temperatures in the bowl and the room, and a host of other things. You'll just have to experiment and see. No number of books (and I've read a stack on bread) will help as much as trial and error.</p>
Wild yeast: Sourdough<p>So, good bread needs time. If you have a lot of time, why not move it up a notch and grow wild yeast — a sourdough starter — in your own home?</p><p>A sourdough starter is not to be mistaken (as it often is) for the leaven, or "mother," "sponge," or <em>levain</em>. That's more a second stage, a descendant of the starter. You take a scoop from your starter and add it to another flour and water mixture when you prepare the dough for a new loaf. </p><p>The sourdough process utilizes yeasts naturally present in flour and … yet more time. A longer fermentation process allows a richer lactic acid bacteria <em>lactobacilli</em> or LAB to evolve, and that can be healthy for your gut microbiome.</p><p>It's simple enough to start a sourdough starter. All you need is flour, warm water and time.</p><p>Some suggest equal measures of whole-grain flour and water at 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit), some say room temperature — just don't let the water exceed 40 C or the yeasts will die. Some suggest two parts flour to three parts water. But it's up to you whether you want a drier or wetter starter. You will know only through experimentation. </p><p>Some say you should filter tap water to remove chemicals like fluoride and avoid using water that's boiled and then cooled. Others say that really doesn't matter.</p><p>The main thing is, keep it clean and give it time. Days, weeks, months and years.</p>
- The 7 Healthiest Types of Bread - EcoWatch ›
- This Home-Baked Bread Can Help You Rise Above Industrial Food ... ›
- How Does Sourdough Get Its Unique Flavor? - EcoWatch ›
- UN Biodiversity Chief: Humans Risk Living in an 'Empty World' With ... ›
- World Leaders Urged to 'Act Now' to Save Biodiversity - EcoWatch ›
- Why Biodiversity Loss Hurts Humans as Much as Climate Change ... ›