Indigenous communities contain vast amounts of sophisticated knowledge about the plants surrounding them and the functions that those plants serve. This could be everything from how chewing a certain root can cure indigestion to how a berry can ward off chest congestion.
The majority of that ancient medical repertoire is contained solely in the languages of indigenous peoples. These cultures primarily transmit information orally, generation-to-generation, so if and when these languages die out, the unique knowledge they contain could also be lost forever.
For example, in the Madre de Dios region of the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest, a locally renowned Esa Eja Shaman, Don Ignacio, had been using traditional medicine from the jungle to treat and heal the local indigenous community for decades. Recently, the Infierno community of Tambopata compiled a book of this elder's knowledge about indigenous medicine and plants, conservation photographer Mohsin Kasmi reported on his Instagram. Shortly after the book's completion, the healer succumbed to COVID-19 at the age of 92. If not for that book, a tangible record of Don Ignacio's irreplaceable knowledge, it likely would have been lost with him.
"[L]anguage allows indigenous societies to use the biodiversity that surrounds them as a 'living pharmacy' and to describe the medicinal properties of plants," a University of Zurich press release explained. A new study by researchers from the university found that each indigenous language provides "unique insights" into the medicinal applications of plants. The study, published in PNAS, also set out to quantify to what degree indigenous knowledge of medicinal plants is associated with individual languages and how much indigenous knowledge may vanish as languages and plants go extinct, the study abstract explained.
"Here, we find that most medicinal knowledge is linguistically unique — i.e., known by a single language — and more strongly associated with threatened languages than with threatened plants," the study's authors, Rodrigo Cámara-Leret and Jordi Bascompte, wrote. "Each indigenous language is, therefore, a unique reservoir of medicinal knowledge — a Rosetta stone for unraveling and conserving nature's contributions to people."
The UN predicts that more than 30 percent of the world's 7,400 languages will disappear by 2100, The Guardian reported. More than 1,900 of the languages spoken today have fewer than 10,000 speakers, the news report continued.
Additionally, multiple crises continue to threaten the existence of indigenous peoples and cultures around the world — including the climate crisis, coronavirus, deforestation and the loss of traditional lands for development. In some populations, many of the speakers are aging, and real concerns about linguistic longevity after them are surfacing, The Guardian reported.
The research team focused on three regions with high "biocultural diversity," the study noted. The researchers surveyed 12,495 medicinal plant services in total and found that 75 percent of them are "linguistically unique," meaning they are only known to one language. The knowledge about how to use these plants as medicine is preserved in just one language within one culture, and it is precisely those cultures and those peoples that are most threatened, Bascompte told Swiss Info.
"This is a tragedy because there's no way to 'recover' these languages once they have disappeared," Bascompte warned, Swiss Info reported
Cámara-Leret predicted that the loss of this irreplaceable medical knowledge will be "even more critical to the extinction of medicinal knowledge" than the loss of the actual plants themselves, the university press release said. This is because "whereas most plant species associated with linguistically unique knowledge are not threatened, most languages that report linguistically unique knowledge are," the researchers found.
The areas with languages most at risk are northwest Amazonia, where 100 percent of unique medical knowledge was supported by threatened languages, in North America, where it is 86 percent and in New Guinea, where 31 percent of languages are at risk. If the indigenous languages in those areas become extinct, the medicinal expertise contained within them likely will too.
Traditional knowledge of medicines made of natural elements could be at risk due to indigenous language loss. Daniel Lloyd Blunk-Fernández / Unsplash
Cámara-Leret told The Guardian that the impact of language extinction on the loss of ecological knowledge is often overlooked. The biologist noted that while "much of the focus looks at biodiversity extinction... there is a whole other picture out there which is the loss of cultural diversity."
The study coincides with the United Nations proclamation of the next 10 years as the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022 - 2032) to raise global awareness of the critically endangered status of many indigenous languages.
"The next steps, in line with the vision of the UN, will require mobilizing resources for the preservation, revitalization and promotion of these threatened languages," Bascompte said in the university press release. The ecologist also recommended that communities begin to document endangered medicinal knowledge into more tangible records.
According to Swiss Info, Bascompte said, "The most important thing is to recognize the beauty and value of the diversity of languages, to let human beings speak their mother tongue and to document the languages that are threatened with extinction."
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If you love seafood but the documentary "Seaspiracy" and seafood fraud have you worried, there may be a solution: seafood that is actually sustainable. These foods come from the sea but are caught and processed in ways that either don't harm or help regenerate fragile ecosystems. Some even help in the fight against the climate crisis.
Just in time for World Oceans Day on June 8, three companies are using transparency, technology and traceability to innovate the seafood space. Whether you're enjoying a kelp burger, a piece of ahi tuna jerky or a fresh lobster tail that you can follow from the fisher to the table, these entrepreneurs are producing seafood to ensure that oceans remain healthy and productive.
1. KnowSeafood: Using blockchain to trace quality seafood
KnowSeafood is an online seafood market touting high-quality, sustainable and natural seafood. The idea is that "your seafood has a story," the company motto notes, and KnowSeafood wants you to know it even before you purchase anything.
Consumers can track the entire history of a seafood product, including a timeline and map, on KnowSeafood's website or on cellphones. It's possible to learn when and where the product was caught, by who, what methods were used, when it was frozen and when it will be delivered. Harvesters are required to upload catch information, which becomes the first block of information in the blockchain. According to Investopedia, blockchains are irreversible datasets that are readily available to view and "establish an exact and transparent order of events." At each processing step, the complete and chronological block of information about how the product has been handled is attached to the chain that follows the fish.
The 100 percent traceability and transparency "brings trust to the seafood chain," KnowSeafood Co-Founder Dan McQuade told EcoWatch. By only partnering with trusted, sustainable harvesters and tracing products from them directly to consumers, KnowSeafood has "virtually eliminated much of the fraud and abuse that plagues the seafood industry," a company representative said.
"I've worked in the seafood industry for decades and know exactly what happens when seafood goes through too many middlemen," McQuade said. "That's where additives, antibodies, rampant seafood fraud, unsustainable fishing and safety problems happen."
Blockchain traceability technology and transparency are available for everything KnowSeafood offers, including New England lobsters that are sorted to avoid reproductive and egg-bearing lobsters; hand-harvested Peruvian bay scallops; and aurora salmon farmed and fed an entirely plant-based diet of corn husk and kelp, McQuade shared. The company's newest venture is the world's first farmed, entirely plant-based fed, non-GMO shrimp from Ecuador.
More information is available at KnowSeafood.com.
2. Akua: Using regenerative ocean farming to create kelp burgers and jerky
Akua has introduced sustainable kelp burgers. Akua
"Sustainable seafood is sourcing food from the sea that leaves the oceans more or less as they were found, resulting in zero impact. Given the state of our oceans, sustainability isn't enough right now," Akua Co-Founder and CEO Courtney Boyd Myers told EcoWatch.
That's why her company focuses on ocean farming kelp. Boyd Myers explained how kelp grows "via photosynthesis, without the need for freshwater, land, fertilizer or feed." The algae farming process sequesters carbon and nitrogen from the water, much like plants on land do. According to Akua, this helps to reduce local ocean acidification, which also helps lower rising ocean temperatures, increase biodiversity and support other marine life.
This process is "much more than sustainable — it's a regenerative practice" that leaves the oceans and planet healthier, Boyd Myers said.
In the first six months before official launch, Akua sold 22,000 kelp burgers and another 10,000 during its May 20 launch week. According to New York Times Food, the burgers are best served off a hot griddle.
"2021 is definitely the summer of the kelp burger," Boyd Myers added. "We're seeing a big shift in all forms of agriculture from sustainable to regenerative because it's hugely important that we leave the planet better than it is right now for future generations. We can't just stop, we have to reverse. We need to grow food in a way that is healing and not just sustaining."
More information is available at Akua.co.
3. Pescavore: Using local, minimally harmful fishing methods to create ahi tuna jerky
Wild-caught tuna promotes responsible tuna fisheries management. Healthy Oceans Seafood Company
According to Healthy Oceans Seafood Company CEO and Co-Founder Matthew Owens, the company that owns Pescavore, the brand focuses on innovative fishing technology, local and traceable fisheries and sustainable packaging.
For example, the brand's ahi tuna jerky is a single-serve, wild-caught product that promotes responsible tuna fisheries management.
Owens was frustrated that more than 90 percent of seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported, despite having the world's second-largest exclusive economic zone (which grants jurisdiction over natural resources) and access to locally harvested and sustainable seafood.
"In addition to a large carbon footprint, an over-reliance on imports creates traceability challenges and thus increases the risk of illegal, unreported and unregulated fish entering the market," Owens told EcoWatch. That's why all of Pescavore's tuna is landed in Los Angeles and made in the U.S. The focus on local catches also returns economic value to domestic coastal communities, which is critical in the post-pandemic economy, Owens added.
Pescavore only sources from healthy and abundant fish populations, such as yellowfin tuna, and avoids overfished and sensitive species while using innovative fishing methods.
"We source tuna that is unassociated with dolphins or fish aggregating devices, and caught without longlines," Owens shared. The selective fishing methods also create "less carbon footprint than pole and line fishing and with almost zero bycatch" of dolphins, sea turtles and other sensitive species, he added.
Pescavore snacks are shelf-stable for up to 18 months, while innovative pouch packaging saves 96 percent of space compared to caned tuna storage. This further reduces the product's carbon footprint.
"One truckload of our packaging has the capacity of 28 truckloads of tin cans," Owens said. "The pouches are made in part from recycled material and are recyclable after use in Europe and hopefully, with improved systems, will also soon be recyclable in the USA."
More information is available at https://pescavoreseafood.com.
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You can't discount the importance of your gut health. Research shows that the microbiome within your digestive system has a disproportionate impact on how well your whole body functions.
Unfortunately, bad diets, the overuse of antibiotics, and other stressors mean many of our digestive systems are in trouble. Probiotic supplements claim to solve this problem by replenishing your gut with the healthy bacteria it needs for optimal functioning. Here, we'll analyze the popular probiotic brand Seed to determine whether its supplements are worth taking.
How We Review Probiotics
Whenever we review a probiotic supplement, we evaluate six specific categories.
- Number of active strains - How many types of bacteria are included?
- AFU (Active Fluorescent Units)/ CFU (Colony Forming Units) - These units of measurement tell you how many billions of bacteria are estimated to be within each supplement dose.
- Storage Requirements - Some probiotics are shelf-stable, while others require refrigeration.
- Ingredient Transparency – does the company disclose where it sources its active strains and provide clinical research for their efficacy?
- Value - How are the probiotics priced? Can you purchase them without an auto-ship program?
- Sustainability - Does the company show ways its supplements are better for the environment through sustainable ingredient sourcing or packaging?
Let's evaluate these criteria for Seed.
About Seed Probiotics
Seed is an e-commerce supplement brand with a single product—the DS-O1 Daily Synbiotic probiotic. The company got its start in 2018 when cofounders Ara Katz and Raja Dhir determined that the current probiotic supplements available weren't hitting the mark.
Katz's experiences of pregnancy and breastfeeding as a new mom led her to develop a deeper appreciation of the body's microbiome and its role in overall health. She joined forces with Dhir, who had the scientific experience to understand what could be improved within the probiotic industry.
Together, they strove to create a supplement that "raised the bar on bacteria" by giving the body what it needed for all its systems to operate most effectively. They collaborated with a large team of entrepreneurs, artists, and scientists to develop a probiotic known as DS-01 Daily Synbiotic.
The Seed DS-01 Daily Synbiotic
- Active Strains - 24
- AFU - 53.6 billion AFU
- Storage Requirements - Shelf-stable for 18 months after opening
- Ingredient Transparency - Clinical data available for each strain
- Sustainability - First order ships in reusable glass canisters and subsequent orders arrive in compostable biofilm.
- Value - $49.99/60 supplements (30-day supply subscription)
The DS-01 Daily Synbiotic is a broad-spectrum probiotic that combines 24 probiotic strains with a non-fermenting prebiotic concentrate of Indian pomegranate for better delivery. Of these strains, 23 are human-derived, and one is isolated from fruit and added to promote healthy cholesterol levels.
These strains work synergistically to support the 38 trillion bacteria that make up your microbiome. They will purportedly help the body digest food, minimize inflammation, and better synthesize nutrients.
This supplement contains four distinct probiotic blends:
- Digestive Health/ Gut Immunity/ Gut Barrier Integrity: 37.0 Billion AFU
- Dermatological Health: 3.3 Billion AFU
- Cardiovascular Health: 5.25 Billion AFU
- Micronutrient Synthesis: 8.05 Billion AFU
(See strain-specific studies here)
How It Works
With these multiple strains, the company claims to take a 'Microbe-Systems Approach' through microbes that impact specific physical functions beyond the digestive system. These include skin and heart health, better immune system functioning, and micronutrient synthesis.
In other words, DS-01 goes beyond digestive issues to support full-body health. The company claims it's even one of the first probiotic formulations able to synthesize folate and increase its production.
Seed's DS-01 Daily Synbiotic probiotic also stands out with its delivery system. The supplement utilizes "nested capsule technology" along with a patented algae delivery system. This two-in-one capsule design houses the probiotic formula within a prebiotic casing made from Indian pomegranate to ensure these fragile bacteria survive both sitting on store shelves and the perilous journey through stomach acid to your colon.
Through this method, Seed claims to average a 100% delivery rate of the probiotic's starting dose to your colon. According to internal testing, DS-01 probiotics will exceed the living cell counts listed on the label even after ten days of constant 100º F exposure.
Adults can take two Seed probiotic supplements per day, preferably at the same time. It's best you do so on an empty stomach to limit the capsule's exposure to digestive enzymes that start to break it down. However, those with sensitive stomachs may want to eat something first. While you'll get optimal results from taking the supplements daily, it's not a problem if you occasionally skip one.
If you're new to probiotics, start by taking one per day for the first three days and then increasing your dosage to two per day. You may feel its effects on your digestive system within 48 hours, though long-term improvements to the cardiovascular system take more time and might not be noticeable to you.
Seed probiotics don't need require refrigeration. They are shelf-stable for 18 months at temperatures up to 78℉ and are safe to take when expired. Just note that the company can't guarantee their potency at this point.
How to Buy
Seed DS-01 Daily Synbiotic probiotics are only available on a subscription basis. They cost $49.99 per month and ship free throughout the US (international orders include a $10 shipping fee).
You will receive a 30-day supply (60 capsules) when you order through the company website, and the first order includes a reusable glass canister and travel vial. Each subsequent order arrives in compostable biofilm so you can transfer the capsules to the reusable ones.
All first orders are covered by a 30-day risk-free trial, during which you can return the probiotics for a full refund. It's possible to cancel the subscription at any time by contacting customer service at [email protected].
Note: At publication, these probiotics were sold out. They are available for pre-order and expected to ship again in 2-4 weeks.
What We Like About Seed
As a product within the largely unregulated supplement industry, Seed broad-spectrum probiotics earn major points from us for both transparency and abundant clinical research. The company shares detailed information about every bacterial strain within the supplement and links out to the scientific studies highlighting their effectiveness.
Customer reviews on Facebook and other review sites show that Seed probiotics work as described for many users. Some shared they experienced positive improvements in their digestive system within 48 hours and noticed better-looking skin within a month.
Those with allergies or food sensitivities will also appreciate these supplements are soy-free, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, corn-free, and free of binders and preservatives.
From a consumer standpoint, Seed makes taking probiotics simple. The shelf-stable formula means you won't have to store them in the fridge, and each 30-day supply is guaranteed to remain viable for 18 months after opening. Likewise, the nested capsule delivery system should improve how many billions of bacteria make it into your digestive system intact.
Equally noteworthy, we love Seed's commitment to environmental sustainability. By sending each customer two reusable glass containers at the start of their subscription, the company minimizes the packaging waste for each subsequent order.
What We Don't Like
Despite these positives, Seed broad-spectrum probiotics have some downsides. To start, they are pricier than many competitors. You will pay $1.66 per day's dose, which is more than some want to pay for supplements.
It's also not possible to try them without committing to a monthly subscription. While it will take several weeks or longer to start noticing their effects, some customers might not want to be locked into an auto-ship program so early in the experimenting process.
Likewise, some customer reviews complained of unexpected side effects such as breakouts and rashes. It's not clear whether these went away for users after a few weeks of use.
Finally, it's currently only possible to pre-order these supplements. If you're dealing with digestive distress today, you may want to try a probiotic brand that's available right now for faster relief.
Seed Safety & Side Effects
Seed DS-01 Daily Synbiotics are considered safe for adults over 18. Each supplement is vegan and free of common allergens like gluten, dairy, soy, and corn. They have undergone extensive third-party testing and adhere to the highest global regulatory standards for safety.
As with all probiotics, you might notice unpleasant side effects when you start taking them. Many people experience bloating, increased gas production, constipation, and other gastrointestinal problems for the first few days.
This can be discouraging, as many users take probiotics precisely to combat these symptoms in the first place. However, your system should adjust to the new bacteria within two weeks, and this digestive distress should diminish accordingly.
The DS-01 Daily Synbiotic is classified as safe for women who are pregnant and breastfeeding, although the company recommends speaking with a medical professional before starting them. As will all probiotics, you should not take these supplements if you have a weakened immune system, recently underwent surgery, or if you have a serious illness. Speak with your doctor before starting any dietary supplement if you have concerns or questions.
Takeaway: Are Seed Probiotics Worth It?
The Seed DS-01 Daily Synbiotic is well-formulated and shows clinical evidence of improving your gut biome for far-reaching health benefits. The company solves the tricky problem of selling a live product with its innovative delivery system that keeps the bacteria within the supplement safe both on the shelf and through the digestive process.
If you are dealing with digestive problems, or are looking for a way to improve your general health, then this broad-spectrum probiotic might be one worth trying.
Just keep in mind that you might feel worse for a few days before the microbes will take full effect in your gut and that giving it a try means you are committing to a monthly subscription.
Lydia Noyes is a freelance writer specializing in health and wellness, food and farming, and environmental topics. When not working against a writing deadline, you can find Lydia outdoors where she attempts to bring order to her 33-acre hobby farm filled with fruit trees, heritage breed pigs, too many chickens to count, and an organic garden that somehow gets bigger every year.
A UK blimp company has developed a new environmentally friendly airship for commercial flights. If it replaces airplanes on short, inter-city routes, the updated technology will reduce carbon emissions from air travel by 90 percent.
A company statement from the airship's developer, Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), quoted United Nations Secretary António Guterres' warning: "The latest analysis shows that if we act now, we can reduce carbon emissions within 12 years and limit global warming to 1.5C. But if we continue along our current path, the consequences are impossible to predict."
HAV created the new airships to "rethink the skies," as the company motto goes. BBC estimated that the aviation industry is responsible for around 2.4 percent of global carbon emissions and around 5 percent of global warming. There is an element of climate justice involved as well, because only a small portion of the world flies frequently, and often, those populations are not the ones who will suffer the most from the climate crisis. HAV developed their latest prototype, the Airlander 10, to combat the environmental cost of air travel.
"For many decades flying from A to B has meant sitting in a metal tube with tiny windows – a necessity but not always a pleasure," said HAV commercial business development director George Land in a company press release. "On Airlander, the whole experience is pleasant, even enjoyable. And in the hybrid-electric and future all-electric configurations, Airlander is fit for our decarbonised future."
Airlander 10 is HAV's hybrid-electric prototype offering floor-to-ceiling windows for incredible views and natural light and direct-aisle access to every passenger in the spacious cabins. In its press release, the UK-based company named a string of city-to-city routes it hopes to service, starting in 2025. The prototypes should be available for purchase the same year.
The futuristic-looking Airlander 10 is designed to be a fuel-efficient, low-emissions "ferry" for flying between cities. Hybrid Air Vehicles
Despite the futuristic cabin and unique interior, HAV's Chief Executive Tom Grundy compared their product to a "fast ferry" in The Guardian, emphasizing, "This isn't a luxury product. It's a practical solution to challenges posed by the climate crisis."
Grundy estimated that 47% of regional airplane flights connected cities less than 230 miles apart, The Guardian reported. But, because of the huge fuel expenditure (and carbon emissions) involved in all flights, these short flights emit a lot of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The Airlander 10 will require less fuel than a conventional aircraft due to a combination of "buoyant lift from helium, aerodynamic lift, and vectored thrust," HAV told CNN. Shifting these shorter journeys from airplanes to airships will produce 90 percent less carbon emissions, the HAV press release said.
"We've got aircraft designed to travel very long distances going very short distances when there is actually a better solution," Grundy told the news report. "How much longer will we expect to have the luxury of traveling these short distances with such a big carbon footprint?"
Total journey time in the hybrid-electric, 100-passenger airship should be "roughly the same" as airplane travel if time getting to and from airports is taken into account, The Guardian reported. What isn't the same is the CO2 emissions per passenger on the airships when compared with a jet plane, the news report said.
HAV also provided comparisons to other modes of transportation such as car and train. To get from Seattle to Vancouver, for example, the total journey by conventional airplane would take just over 3 hours of flight time and produce 53.15kg of CO2 per passenger. The same journey by car would take 2.5 hours at an environmental cost of 23.62kg of CO2 per passenger. Trains take double that time, or 5 hours, at less than a third of the carbon cost, 7.75kg of CO2 per passenger. And the Airlander 10 takes the second longest, 4 hours, but at the least carbon cost, 4.61kg of CO2 per passenger.
Airlander also cites a "significant advantage" in not having to rely on airport infrastructure. The airships can take off and land from "any reasonably flat surface," Grundy told CNN. "That includes water."
HAV doesn't plan to compete with long-haul flights or routes already well-served by high-speed rail, Grundy told CNN. The focus will be to connect cities a few hundred miles apart where the carbon pollution savings will be maximized.
HAV plans to develop all-electric powered airships by 2030 that would allow for travel with an even smaller carbon footprint. Even though the prototype is still a concept design, engineering and regulatory demands have guided HAV's plans and that the product is "practical, feasible, and ready for the transition into production," the press release said.
HAV has attracted big funding in the past for other developments, including backing from the UK government and the European Union, AIN online reported. The company is currently in discussions with a number of airlines to operate inter-city routes and expects to announce partnerships in the next few months.
A time and carbon emissions comparison of travel between Seattle and Vancouver shows travel by airship to be the most environmentally friendly. Hybrid Air Vehicles
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Mattel, the maker of Barbie, Matchbox and MEGA toys, wants your old toys. The 76-year-old toy company has launched a pilot program to recover and recycle materials in certain old toys into future Mattel products, creating a more circular model with sustainability in mind.
"Mattel PlayBack," as the program is called, is a "toy takeback" program that "enable[s] families to extend the life of their Mattel toys once they are finished playing with them," a company press release said. The idea is to offer parents "guilt-free solutions for toys that have reached the end of their useful life," the program webpage said, and to ensure that "fun comes full circle."
To participate, consumers can visit Mattel.com/PlayBack to print out a free shipping label. Once Mattel receives the old toys, they are sorted and separated by material type. What can be processed and recycled is, and what cannot is either downcycled into other plastic products or converted from waste to energy, the press release noted.
"At Mattel, we are committed to managing the environmental impact of our products," Mattel's global head of sustainability Pamela Gill-Alabaster said in the press release. "The Mattel PlayBack program helps parents and caregivers ensure that materials stay in play, and out of landfills, with the aim to repurpose these materials as recycled content in new toys. It is one important step we're taking to address the growing global waste challenge."
CNN reported that of all the plastic ever created, only 9 percent has been recycled. The majority ends up in landfills or in the natural environment like the ocean, where they can take hundreds of years or longer to break down. Unfortunately, plastic toys are no different. A recent study found that LEGO bricks, which are made of plastic, can survive up to 1,300 years in the ocean. In that time, they can cause a lot of harm to marine life and fragile ecosystems.
One of the most frequently recommended ways to combat the plastic pollution crisis is to curb the use of new plastics and to recover and recycle what plastic already exists. Because of this, conscientious actors in the play space are beginning to create toys out of new materials and/or to find ways to recycle and upcycle old toys.
Mattel Playback will begin by accepting three brands of toys for recycling: Barbie, Matchbox and MEGA. The initiative has begun in the U.S. and Canada. The plan is to add more brands in the future and to extend to France, Germany and the United Kingdom through partnerships with third-party recycling partners.
"We get to keep these valuable materials out of a landfill and have the opportunity to learn from the circular model," Gill-Alabaster told CNN.
For ineligible toys, including non-Mattel brands, that are in good condition, one option is to pass them on to friends or donate toys to charities, USA Today reported.
PlayBack is Mattel's latest step towards increasing the overall sustainability of its products. The company previously committed to using 100% recycled, recyclable or bio-based plastic materials across all of its products and packaging by 2030, CNN reported. In line with that goal, the company introduced new toy innovations like baby blocks made of bio-based plastics and a fully recyclable UNO deck, the press release said. Mattel also announced the Matchbox Tesla Roadster, a die-cast vehicle made from 99 percent recycled materials and certified Carbon Neutral, the release added.
Mattel is not the only toy manufacturer trying to improve its processes and products. Another CNN article reported that the pandemic created an "unanticipated surge" in the demand for toys because parents were stuck at home with their children. The news report noted how large toy companies are meeting the new demand with more environmentally friendly products, packaging and programs.
For example, in early 2020, McDonald's in the UK announced that their Happy Meals will be plastic toy-free. Children will have a choice, instead, for a soft toy, a paper toy, or a book. The fast-food chain also will organize "toy amnesty" programs where children can recycle old toys to be made into play equipment for Ronald McDonald House Charities.
Additionally, according to Forbes, all of the "Big Three" toymakers — Mattel, Hasbro and Lego — have "greened up" their products to align with the environmentally-conscious values of millennial and Gen Z parents. The news reported cited a May 2019 trade group report that recommended biodegradable toys that can be composted in residential compost bins, neighborhood toy exchanges, and toy banks to collect donations for children in need.
"Toy companies need to recognize and respond to a fast-rising movement against plastics that is shaping consumer behavior," the report stated, Forbes reported.
Mattel says their PlayBack program is designed to teach kids about the values of recycling and sustainability in the context of their own toys, while recovering valuable materials for reuse in future toys and products. Mattel
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Origen Farms in Castilla-La Mancha was founded two years ago to create a lot of one thing: crickets. In central Spain, the company is growing thousands of these bugs as healthier, more sustainable "livestock" for consumption.
As it turns out, crickets are a great alternative source of protein and nutrients. An unrelated 2020 review of cricket species being consumed around the world found that most edible crickets have a higher protein content than many traditional animal-based proteins, such as chicken, pork and goat. The review also found that digestibility of crickets in humans is slightly lower than that of eggs, milk or beef, but better than popular plant-based sources of protein such as rice and corn, Healthline reported.
Some species of cricket are even complete protein sources, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids that humans need in suitable amounts, a 2019 study on the protein quality of commercial cricket and mealworm powders found.
Healthline also reported that crickets are a good source of critical vitamins, minerals and fiber. The latter is a strong advantage of cricket protein over other animal proteins, which lack a fiber content, the news report found. The fats contained in crickets are "good fats" that can help alleviate the risk factors for heart disease, Healthline reported.
Origen focuses primarily on creating a protein-rich flour out of Acheta domesticus, the house cricket. This is used in foods such as pasta, snack bars, crackers, chips and tortillas. The common insects are "habitually overlooked" for their nutritional benefits, the company told The Guardian. Being made of 70 percent protein, Origen's crickets also contain healthy amounts of iron, zinc, calcium and amino acids, the news article reported.
Despite some wary neighbors, Origen's founders are optimistic about scalability and potential growth and are looking for franchising partners.
"We were looking to start a business that was sustainable and profitable," founder Andrés García de Lis told The Guardian. "We looked at various things, from spirulina to other kinds of insects, but we ended up going for crickets for human consumption because it's a young market which could be profitable."
García de Lis and his partners grow their crickets on cereal and vegetables, and then humanely freeze them. Dried crickets can be eaten as snacks, but the majority of them are shipped to the Netherlands to be turned into flour, which is then imported back to Spain. After being mixed with Mexican corn, the flour can be turned into tortillas and chips. Spanish law currently prohibits the processing of insects into flour for human consumption, but does allow such flour to be used in foods, The Guardian reported.
"There are companies here in Spain that are very ready to partner with us and develop the technology to process the insects, but we'll have to wait until we get the green light before we can really do something scalable," García de Lis told the news outlet.
Come July, Origen plans to make their flour, tortillas and chips available for purchase. They aren't the only company intently focused on insects. In fact, the bug revolution went global years ago, with the database "Bug Burger" listing out 324 currently running startups in the insect protein space. For human consumption, these companies can make everything from protein bars to pasta to candy to nutritional supplements from insects. Bugs are also used for pet food and commercial animal feed.
Insect-based proteins may be more sustainable and environmentally-friendly than traditional factory farming, Healthline reported. According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, livestock production is responsible for 14.5 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Healthline cited a study that found that broiler chickens had greenhouse gas emissions 89% higher per unit of edible protein produced than crickets. As chicken is already an animal protein with a smaller carbon footprint, the environmental implications for swapping red meat and other high-carbon-footprint animal products with crickets could be substantial.
Compared to livestock farming, insect rearing requires far less feed, water and land, insect protein provider Crickster noted. Energy is the only environmental sector where insects do not currently excel; more energy is required to keep cold-blooded insects warm during winter, the company reported.
Overall, the health and environmental benefits of eating insects may prove cruical as the existing climate crisis and food security challenges continue to grow around the globe. A 2020 UN report found that global hunger is increasing and that COVID-19 has only exacerbated the problems. Including insects as part of daily diets could help create a more sustainable and secure food system that doesn't necessarily have to destroy nature.
"We believe in the shift towards responsible and sustainable livestock production," Origen's company website says. "Many people have joined the insect-eating revolution. We are here to convert the rest."
Origen Farms in Spain focuses on protein powder made of house crickets. Origen Farms
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Iconic venues around the world have taken advantage of pandemic shutdowns to boost already-existing sustainability efforts and to create new environmental awareness. Their motivation, many observers say, is the planet and how everyone must do their part to create a better world before it is too late.
Dominique Meyer, CEO of the famed opera house Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Italy, noted the important role that opera houses can and should play, especially in mobilizing the younger generation. He told The New York Times, "Everyone observes what La Scala does or doesn't do," he said. "It is a duty to commit oneself — for all theaters."
As such, the "flagship" of Italian culture has worked to reduce its carbon emissions by over 630 tons since 2010, the Times reported. The most recent shift was to LED bulbs and smart lighting, accomplished during the shutdowns. La Scala also plans to install solar panels on its new office tower roof in Dec. 2022 and to digitize operations — saving at least 10 tons of paper annually, the news report said. The house has also selected partner vendors that prioritize recycling, including a water company with its own certified plastic recycling system and a coffee company that uses recycled filters, the Times reported. And costume designers are being asked to work with recyclable fabrics.
La Scala is not alone in targeting sustainability: the Sydney Opera House in Australia is green-certified and has been a "front-runner" in the green and sustainable opera space, the Times reported. Since its launch in 2010, the opera house's ambitious Environmental Sustainability Plan (ESP) has guided many decisions which have resulted in climate and environmental wins, Connect4Climate reported. Some of these have included saving $1 million in electricity through increased energy efficiency, ensuring large festivals are certified carbon-neutral and increasing waste recycling and food recycling, Connect4Climate reported. The World Heritage-listed building already succeeded in becoming carbon-neutral three years ago and even built an artificial reef alongside the venue's sea wall in 2019, the Times reported. Upcoming goals include recycling more construction materials, energy efficiency shifts and increasing their green star rating, the Times reported.
At the launch of the ESP, Sydney Opera House CEO Louise Herron AM said, "The Opera House was conceived with very broad ambitions in mind, as then-NSW Premier JJ Cahill said in 1954 'to help mould a better and more enlightened community,'" and noted that their sustainability efforts were "part of achieving that ambition," reported Connect4Climate.
Then-CEO of Green Building Council Australia Romilly Madew said, "The Sydney Opera House has shown the world that even the most challenging, iconic and historic buildings can be sustainable… If the Opera House can go green, anything can go green," reported Connect4Climate.
The current movement is not the first time that the lines between art and advocacy have blurred during the pandemic. In June 2020, the Barcelona opera house reopened with a concert for 2,292 plants that were then donated to frontline workers.
"Nature advanced to occupy the spaces we snatched from it," Eugenio Ampudio, the conceptual artist behind the unique concert, told Reuters. "Can we extend our empathy? Let's begin with art and music, in a great theatre, by inviting nature in."
Similarly, in March 2021, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra performed a modernized version of Vivaldi's classic ode, "Four Seasons." Called "The [Uncertain] Four Seasons," the remake actually changes based on where it is played to highlight the most pressing changes local ecosystems will face due to climate change. For example, light rains in Vivaldi's original become raging storms in the modern version; birdsong disappears as species will likely go extinct; and silence replaces the music in places like Shanghai where sea level rise threatens continued human presence.
Tim Devine, executive creative director of AKQA, the design firm that masterminded the project, told EcoWatch, "The challenge is not awareness of climate change. We're all aware of the science. The challenge is action. What are we doing? What are our governments and businesses doing?"
For the time being, it seems that opera houses are ready and willing to lead the way towards a more sustainable culture and way of life.
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Last week, an amazing and unusual fish washed up on the beach in Southern California.
Black, 18-inches long and football-shaped, it sported a long stalk coming out of its head with bioluminescent tips. This is used to lure prey towards its large mouth with transparent teeth "like pointed shards of glass," a Facebook post by Crystal Cove State Park described. Its large mouth can then suck up and swallow prey the size of its own body, the park noted.
The fish was found by beach visitor Ben Estes in a Marine Protected Area at the popular park and is a species of deep-sea anglerfish. There are more than 200 species of anglerfish worldwide, the post shared, and experts believed this to be a very well-preserved, intact Pacific Footballfish (Himantolophus sagamius).
"To see an actual angler fish intact is very rare and it is unknown how or why the fish ended up on the shore," Crystal Cove posted.
Though not rare in the deep sea, where they usually live 2,000-3,300 feet below the surface in complete darkness, anglerfish do not usually wash up on the shore. According to the California Academy of Sciences, the only other specimen of the Pacific Footballfish from California that scientists have was caught in 1985 by fishermen in Monterey Bay, who hauled it up in their nets. It now is housed at the San Francisco museum.
The museum describes the environment that the Pacific Footballfish lives in as so dark that "sunlight doesn't penetrate." Food is scarce, so the footballfish has evolved to feed on "whatever fits in its mouth — including other fish, squid, and crustaceans," Cal Academy noted. The lure dangles in front of its mouth until the prey comes within striking distance. By then, it's too late for the food: it gets sucked into the footballfish's large mouth, and its sharp teeth, which are pointed inward, "ensure that what goes in doesn't come out," the museum said.
Both the 1985 specimen and the most recent find from Laguna Beach were female footballfish, experts noted, because only females have the long stalk coming out of their heads. Bioluminescent bacteria flow into this appendage through small pores and live within the lure, multiplying due to the protection and nutrition that a host footballfish provides, Cal Academy explained. These bacteria are what actually emit the concentrated light from within the anglerfish lures.
Aside from lacking the bright lure, male footballfish are also much smaller than females. While the latter can reach lengths of 24 inches, males only grow to be about an inch long. Their sole purpose is to find a female and help her reproduce, Crystal Cove noted.
"Males latch onto the female with their teeth and become 'sexual parasites,' eventually coalescing with the female until nothing is left of their form but their testes for reproduction. Wild!" the state park posted.
"Using well-developed olfactory organs, they find and fuse themselves to females, eventually losing their eyes, internal organs, and everything else but the testes. The male becomes a permanent appendage that draws nutrition from its female host and serves as an easily accessible source of sperm," Cal Academy explained further.
Of the most recent find, Crystal Cove concluded, "Seeing this strange and fascinating fish is a testament to the diversity of marine life lurking below the water's surface in California's MPAs and as scientists continue to learn more about these deep-sea creatures it's important to reflect on how much is still to be learned from our wonderful ocean."
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Much of what we've been able to learn about the underwater world has built on the legacy of underwater explorer and pioneer Jacques Yves Cousteau. In 1943, Cousteau invented the aqua-lung, which completed his self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA). This technology forever changed how humans interact with the blue world and remains the precursor of modern-day scuba diving equipment.
Cousteau's eldest grandson, Fabien, was born to continue his grandfather's legacy. Fabien learned to scuba dive on his fourth birthday and joined his famous grandfather on his legendary ships, the Calypso and Alcyone. Now, the younger Cousteau is following in his grandfather's footsteps and bubbles, taking the ocean exploration and conservation he grew up with and giving it a modern, technology-driven, community-focused revamp.
EcoWatch recently joined Fabien and members of his team at the Fabien Cousteau Ocean Learning Center (FCOLC) on marine debris cleanup dives in the Florida Keys. Funded and organized by the "Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys" program, the program is a partnership between the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and Blue Star Diving Operators, who are trained in the best practices for marine debris removal. The community-led collaboration grew out of the devastating aftermath from Hurricane Irma in Sept. 2017, which displaced approximately 154,000 lobster traps, many of which were dragged across sensitive ocean habitats for up to 15 miles. In its first year alone, trained operators helped remove more than 10,000 pounds of marine debris from sanctuary waters. Now in its third year, the program teamed up with locals from the Florida Keys and the FCOLC team to spread ocean awareness and remove traps from local coral reefs.
During a clean-up dive, Fabien Cousteau and Jesus Gudino use lift bags to bring derelict lobster traps up from the seafloor. Tiffany Duong / Ocean Rebels
While helping the environment, EcoWatch took the opportunity to interview aquanaut and ocean conservationist Fabien about all things ocean.
EcoWatch reporter Tiffany Duong (far right) joins Fabien Cousteau and FCOLC members Martín Molina Castellnon and Pamela Fletcher for a marine debris clean-up. Tiffany Duong / Ocean Rebels
Tiffany Duong (EcoWatch): First, how much debris did we take off the reefs today?
Fabien Cousteau: 664.8 pounds — we smashed the old record!
Fabien Cousteau removes rope tangled around a coral reef in the Florida Keys. Tiffany Duong / Ocean Rebels
EW: Why oceans? What's the appeal?
FC: When one has experienced the ocean world, it's impossible to turn your back on it. It's a privilege and a responsibility to share the adventure and the passion with other... And, I love it. I'm addicted to oceans.
EW: What is your favorite thing about the oceans?
FC: The sense of being, the sense of community. The sense of tranquility that it gives. The fact that it gives us everything that we require as well as the things that make us — the intangibles that give us our humanity.
EW: How do you remember your grandfather?
FC: I had the luck of spending the first 30 years of my life with my grandfather around. For years, maybe the first decade and a half, I just saw him as my grandfather. We would see him in family gatherings, whether in the field or at home. He would tell us stories. He would be how I imagine most grandparents are — very interested in their grandchildren and spending time with them. It wasn't until we were in a Japanese restaurant in New York City one day and people kept coming up to our table to interrupt our family time asking for him to sign things that I realized our grandfather wasn't just for us. We were sharing him with the world. And that's when I realized — very naïve of me — what an iconic public figure he was, especially for the ocean world.
Fabien Cousteau is pictured with his pioneering grandfather, Jacques Yves Cousteau. Fabien Cousteau
EW: Why should others care about the oceans?
FC: Without the oceans, we're a brown rock in space like all the others. The oceans set our planet apart and allow us to survive and thrive. We share the planet with all kinds of sentient beings. To envision a better future, we have to live in symbiosis with all of them.
EW: What's the current state of the planet?
FC: We're facing a terminal illness if we don't do something. It's not trite to say that... As a species, we are directly responsible for our very own future. We're the only species that can do that, that can determine its own future. And that's the most fundamentally important thing everyone needs to understand.
Fabien Cousteau is an aquanaut, ocean advocate and conservationist. Carrie Vonderhaar
EW: You're not just taking this sitting down. Tell us about the Fabien Cousteau Ocean Learning Center and what you're trying to do.
FC: The mission is to educate, empower and engage. It's based on a quote my grandpa told me as a kid: People protect what they love, they love what they understand, and they understand what they're taught. The only way we're getting out of this is if we fill the proverbial bucket together one drop at a time — one action at a time. We're all responsible for what we see today, so the solution isn't from one source like myself or an individual doing their best, it's all of us pitching in.
EW: What does that look like for you and FCOLC?
FC: We all need to do our part and invest in ocean protection, conservation and science. Our Nicaragua program is a great example of all three.
(Editorial Note: Per FCOLC Nicaragua Program Manager Pamela Fletcher and Operations Manager Martín Molina Castellnon, the Nicaragua program addressed three phases, and involves mangrove restoration and sea turtle conservation.)
- Phase 1 involved the local and indigenous communities in mangrove restoration. As a critical blue carbon sink, mangroves sequester more carbon than any other plant or tree, Fabien noted.
- Phase 2 evolved into the current sea turtle conservation project. Nesting beaches of several species are patrolled, and nests are protected from poachers. Eggs are then relocated to guarded hatcheries, and the community and local university students are empowered to create a future in conservation and science.
- Phase 3, which has already started, will grow to include the empowerment of local women and girls. In transitioning the conservation program management to them, they take on the responsibility of protecting sea turtles and spreading awareness to their local communities. This builds the foundation for girls to envision a future in conservation and STEM. Girls and women also learn the tools for making conservation a viable business that can sustain them and their families.
Pamela Fletcher: Our biggest success is the shift we're seeing in how [the girls helping with the sea turtle program] value themselves in the community and value protecting these amazing species.
Martín Molina Castellnon: In Nicaragua, these things are all managed by men, and we transitioned them to be women. It's taken off like a rocket. One little girl who's only eight years old has been in the program for two years, and she collects plastics, brings them to school and tells her friends about what's happening in the oceans. She's our future pioneer.
FC: She's a trailblazer.
MMC: Women empowerment has really changed their lives. And, it's made a big difference in the community.
Proteus is a new prototype underwater research station that could revolutionize how research is conducted and what it can uncover. Yves Béhar / Fuseproject
EW: Now, tell me about Proteus.
(Editorial Note: Proteus is a conceptual underwater research station that Fabien hopes will change how underwater research is tackled. It will be the world's largest and most advanced underwater habitat located 60 feet below the surface in Curaçao. The goal is for it to be completely modular and customizable, run by renewable energy and filled with cutting-edge technology.)
FC: This is a very large project. Proteus will be like the International Space Station of the sea. That was by design, and it's meant to give people that image because a lot of science will be coming out of it. Educational components and broadcasting will be for the social good, for the benefit of humanity and the planet. Underwater habitats are the missing tool in underwater exploration. It doesn't take away from ships, ROVs, probes, scuba, etc. — it's something that fills a big gap we currently have.
EW: What gives you hope?
FC: What's exciting to me is that we know so little about the oceans. We've explored only five percent. That's a huge opportunity. But, we also need to understand we're having a huge impact on our oceans, too. We're treating it as a garbage can, but really, it's a closed-loop system that we're banking on. Now, that bank account is going bankrupt, so we need to fill it back up.
EW: Any advice to those reading?
FC: Protect the ocean as if your life depended on it — because it does.
Locals joined Fabien Cousteau and his team from the FCOLC for a marine debris cleanup dive in the Florida Keys. Tiffany Duong / Ocean Rebels
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After almost a decade of no precipitation, 10mm of rain caused an entire desert in South Africa to bloom. Rare species in Richtersveld National Park awoke and flowered for the first time in nine years, only to be stolen for the illegal plant trade, The Guardian reported. Plant poaching is not new, nor is it unique to the area; but, pandemic-inspired houseplant purchases have exacerbated the issue worldwide.
According to Pieter van Wyk, a botanist and nursery curator at Richtersveld, the World Heritage Site is the world's most biodiverse desert. With its unique geology, including the world's oldest mountains, and location creating a perfect ecosystem for many plants to thrive, more than 3,000 plant species exist in a relatively small area, including 400 endemic to the region, The Guardian reported. Many of these are prized succulents that fetch high prices on the black market. Some species are so specialized they only grow in one valley or on one mountain top. There are even cases where an entire species lives in an area smaller than a soccer field, "so a poacher could render a species extinct in a morning," The Guardian noted.
"In regards to rare, more than half of the plants from the region were not rare, but are now becoming rare" due to environmental and human factors, van Wyk told EcoWatch.
Van Wyk adds how demand is high and supply is low, especially for charismatic and endangered species, making the black market quite profitable. South African plants such as those in Richtersveld are sold to distant places by crime syndicates who subcontract the actual theft to desperate locals and even tourists, he said.
"People [here] don't have work... People are desperate for money and food, willing to make quick money," van Wyk explained. Due to increased interest in rare plants, "now syndicates pay several months' worth of salary to locals for plants which, in the end, are being sold in Asia and Europe, as well as America, for values that could sustain a family for years in Namaqualand."
Van Wyk noted that the appeal of the black market continues to grow because ethical and legal nurseries can take five to 15 years to build up enough stock for retail sale, while it can be difficult dealing with export regulations and obtaining permits.
He told The Guardian that plant poaching in South Africa might eclipse the country's lucrative rhino horn industry. The nursery curator fears that many iconic species may go extinct within his lifetime, having already witnessed massive losses within the last five years, The Guardian added. This is mainly due to poaching and habitat loss from farming, mining and the climate crisis, van Wyk told EcoWatch.
The botanist also warned that the global-local crime cycle has caused locals to poach more than what is asked of them. "The quick money-making scheme has gone viral amongst locals who are now removing plants without having buyers, causing large-scale destruction with many plants eventually being thrown away," van Wyk told EcoWatch.
He warned that this biodiversity loss will have a greater impact on general ecology, ecosystem health and climate regulation. "This has a severe impact on humans as well, as [this area] eventually will become uninhabitable, and probably soon," van Wyk said.
Plant poaching itself is not a new crime nor limited to South Africa. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) defines the act as the illegal removal of rare and endangered plants from their natural habitat. Plants are stolen without regard to laws and regulations created for their protection, and theft can occur either on government land or private property.
In a 2020 "buyer beware" warning for Venus flytrap plants, FWS asked collectors to help stem poaching of the popular potted plant. Endemic to North and South Carolina, wild populations of the carnivorous plant are in serious decline. Habitat loss and alteration are the primary threats, but poaching causes enough damage that it was declared a felony in 2014.
Another article by The Guardian highlighted how the quarantine-fueled gardening craze around the world is also spurring plant poaching in the Philippines. Carnivorous pitcher plants and those used to cultivate bonsai became especially popular, and these and other endangered species are being dug up from forests and mountains in record numbers, according to the article.
Iconic saguaro cacti are another wild plant now threatened with extinction due to climate change and poaching. Saguaros grow slowly, taking 50 years to reach three feet tall, A Natural Curiosity reported. The cacti don't typically begin to grow their famous arms until they are at least 70 years old, and can live around 150 years. Coveted amongst collectors, the cacti sell for up to $100 a foot. But saguaro poaching has escalated to the point where individual wild plants are now microchipped to track and deter poaching.
Although not as widely publicized as animal poaching, removing plants from nature has an "equally large effect on the vital balance needed to maintain healthy ecosystems," A Natural Curiosity reported. The article also covered an issue facing small rosette succulents in California. These succulents prevent erosion on rocks and cliffs where few other plants can survive, and removing them for houseplants destabilizes the entire ecosystem base. And that's exactly what is happening due to pandemic plant demand.
As plants such as monsteras, hoyas and succulents gained popularity on social media, poachers have been enlisted to source them no matter the consequence, A Natural Curiosity found.
FWS offered a few tips to rare plant collectors to help avoid buying poached or stolen plants:
- Examine the entire tray. Nursery-propagated or tissue-cultured plants will have uniform sizing. Poached plants are more likely to vary in size.
- Examine the soil. Nursery soil is uniform, often with sterile peat moss. Mixed gravel and sand in soil is a tip-off.
- Look for other species growing in the same pot. Weedy pots are another indication that the plants were taken from the wild.
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Sustainable plastic alternatives can feel too good to be true or unfeasible on a large scale. Not the case with Restore foodware, a line of biodegradable straws and regenerative cutlery made from methane and now available at Target stores nationwide.
Restore is a sustainable foodware brand from California biotech company Newlight Technologies, Inc. The company's mission is to keep plastic out of the ocean by replacing it with a regenerative biomaterial called AirCarbon, a company representative told EcoWatch.
Restore claims that their products never get soggy in hot or cold conditions, contain no plastics or glues, require no food crops for production and are compostable at home.
How? It's because of AirCarbon, the cutting-edge biomaterial used to make Restore's forks, knives, spoons and straws. The innovative production process starts with an ocean microbe that absorbs and converts methane and carbon dioxide into a biomaterial called PHB. This material is extractable, meltable and shapeable into a range of products, from straws and office chairs to eyeglass frames, the company website explained. Newlight pioneered a way to recreate this process in tanks in order to extract the AirCarbon.
Newlight also sources methane from an abandoned mine; this methane would otherwise leak into the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect. So each AirCarbon item actually reduces the amount of atmospheric greenhouse gases through the production process, which is considered regenerative and carbon-negative. A Newlight press release estimated that "for every one kilogram of AirCarbon produced in Newlight's production process using methane seeping from abandoned coal mines, 88 kilograms of CO2e are sequestered."
Not only that, but if and when Restore's foodware products end up in the sea or soil, as disposable plastics often do, they will naturally biodegrade into non-toxic components. The company also claims that their products quickly degrade In home compost bins. However, the foodwares are meant to be durable, dishwasher-safe and reusable.
"Because [AirCarbon is] naturally occurring, microorganisms in the ocean know how to eat it and consume it like a food source," Newlight CEO Mark Herrema explained to Spectrum News 1. This is why the Restore products have a natural end-of-life pathway.
In March 2021, Restore piloted its AirCarbon straws and cutlery at Shake Shack locations across the country as part of the latter's "Stand For Something Good" campaign. One month later in time for Earth Day, Newlight began distributing Restore products in Target stores nationwide and on target.com, Bioplastics Magazine reported. By reaching this scale with its first national distribution partner, Newlight is now able to offer Restore products directly to consumers for the first time. Consumers can buy 24-piece packs of wrapped straws and three-piece cutlery packs that come in a reusable natural fiber carrying bag.
"Our goal is to help end ocean plastic pollution by finding a shared middle ground," Herrema told Bioplastics Magazine. "For us, that means making sustainable products that people love and that also work for the environment. This launch is the culmination of many years of hard work by many dedicated people."
As for what's next, Herrema told EcoWatch, "The next goal is to continue to expand our impact — we're focused on expanding production capacity as quickly as we can, and continuing to grow the availability of AirCarbon in foodware, fashion, and other industries. We'll be announcing new partners and projects as part of that in the months ahead."
Longer term, Herrema told Spectrum News 1 that Newlight's plan during the next five to seven years involves replacing more than 90 percent of plastic products that end up in the ocean, including plastic bottles.
"This is very much the beginning," he added.
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How can you tell that the fish on your plate is the real thing? You can't — and that's the problem.
A new report in The Guardian's "Seascape" series on the state of the world's oceans surveyed 44 separate studies published since 2018, and found that almost 40 percent of 9,000 seafood products from restaurants, markets and fishmongers were mislabelled. According to Food & Wine, the report detailed how rampant seafood fraud has become on a global scale.
The U.S. and Canada had the highest rates of mislabeling followed by Europe, Eat This reported. Food & Wine also highlighted how seafood fraud is not a new issue: in 2017, a study found that half of Los Angeles sushi was not what it claimed to be, while a 2018 study revealed that more than 25 percent of supermarket fish in New York was mislabeled.
"And yet, despite government action and the promise of technical solutions like detectors and databases, it's not getting better," Food & Wine lamented.
The studies in the Seascape report used new DNA techniques and tests to ascertain exactly what was ending up on consumers' plates. They found fish substitutions from the same family, such as low-grade tuna species, being sold as higher-valued species, such as bluefin. The lower-value, lower-quality substitutions point to fraud more than error, the report suggested.
There are "so many opportunities along the seafood supply chain" to falsely label low-value fish as high-value species, or farmed fish as wild," Beth Lowell, deputy vice-president for U.S. campaigns at Oceana, told The Guardian. She noted that all the studies found mislabeling in the global seafood industry to be common and pervasive.
There were also substitutions for entirely different species, including Singaporean prawn balls that repeatedly tested negative for containing prawn DNA, and were instead made almost entirely of pork, Seafood Harvest reported. Other mixed seafood products turned out to be similarly mislabeled.
Among the most alarming substitutions were rare and endangered species being marketed otherwise. One study found that 70 percent of UK snapper instead consisted of 38 different species of fish, many of them critical reef-dwellers, The Guardian reported. This deceptive swapping is a problem for coral reefs that already suffer from overfishing of key fish species that eat algae and allow for a healthier ecosystem, The Guardian added.
The final mislabeling category that the Seascape report highlighted involves laundering illegally caught fish. Rashid Sumaila, a fisheries economist, explained to The Guardian how fish laundering is often linked to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing that threatens the sustainability of many fish stocks worldwide. Oceana's examples of IUU fishing include fishing without authorization, ignoring catch limits, operating in closed areas, targeting protected wildlife and fishing with prohibited gear. Then, too often, illegal and legal catches are commingled when they are processed aboard ships with little monitoring and less transparency. This makes it nearly impossible to trace what is and isn't illegal, let alone what comprises a specific catch. The fraud continues with relative ease and a lot of profit, Sumaila told The Guardian.
In a press statement urging President Biden to increase transparency and traceability in American seafood, Oceana called IUU fishing "one of the greatest threats to our oceans" and estimated that it costs the global seafood industry up to $50 billion each year. In the U.S., up to 90 percent of fish consumed is imported, the statement noted. This non-transparent, foreign supply chain has allowed for a high degree of U.S. imports to come from IUU fishing, the statement claimed.
"IUU fishing is a low-risk, high-reward activity, especially on the high seas where a fragmented legal framework and lack of effective enforcement allow it to thrive," Oceana said. The Guardian's reporting also found the complex and opaque seafood supply chains to be highly vulnerable to mislabeling that is profitable and relatively easy to execute.
Lowell said in the Oceana statement, "Americans have a right to know more about the seafood they eat and should have confidence that their dollars are not supporting the pillaging of the oceans or human rights abuses at sea." She concluded that, "All seafood sold in the U.S. should be safe, legally caught, responsibly sourced and honestly labeled. Until then, honest fishermen, seafood businesses, consumers and the oceans will pay the price."
Still, some in the industry have hope. In another article by The Guardian, Organic Ocean Seafood in Vancouver, Canada, was singled out for its DNA testing. Dane Chauvel, the company's co-founder, uses e-DNA testing to fight seafood fraud. Chauvel supplies many high-end restaurants with wild-caught salmon and other gourmet fish, and can prove that his fish supply is legitimate thanks to the world's first random DNA testing program for authentication. This removes any lingering doubt about its origins for his top-end clients, Chauvel said. The test can even identify the origin river of a specific fish sample.
Generally, "The fishing industry is a mess," Chauvel admitted to The Guardian. "It's dysfunctional." He urged others to follow his lead and voluntarily submit their products for testing and authentication. It would be even better if regulatory agencies followed suit, he added. Chauvel told The Guardian, "I hope using DNA testing becomes more commonplace in the industry. It's been a great business advantage for us."
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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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