Running Tide’s Buoys


An image of a man in boots in a kelp hatchery
Since kelp grows as fast as two feet per day, it absorbs a huge amount of carbon through photosynthesis. (Jamie Walter / Running Tide)

Kelp  has featured in our pages frequently enough to be considered an important topic. It will be a partial solution to something big. Thanks, as always, to Robinson Meyer for the weekly newsletter that sometimes depresses the spirit but on other occasions, like this one, titled How to Fight Climate Change With Buoys That Look Like Ramen Noodles, points a small ray of hope in an unexpected direction:

Running Tide’s buoys are made of reclaimed waste wood, limestone, and kelp seedlings. (Jamie Walter / Running Tide)

Last month, somewhere off the coast of Maine, a small group of researchers and engineers released a series of tiny, floating objects into the water. The team called them “buoys,” but they looked more like a packet of uncooked ramen noodles glued to a green party streamer than anything of the navigational or weather-observing variety. These odd jellyfish had one role in life: to go away and never be seen again. With any luck, their successors would soon be released into the open ocean, where they would float away, absorb a small amount of carbon from the atmosphere, then sink to the bottom of the seafloor, where their residue would remain for thousands of years. Continue reading

A Bit About The Origins Of Clean The World

Shawn Siepler, the founder of Clean the World, with used hotel soap before it will be recycled for those in need. Todd Anderson for The New York Times

Reusing things versus wasting them has been a major theme in these pages, especially in relation to travel and hospitality. Looking back at posts about washing hands for a cleaner world and then another about soap making for the same, it is not surprising we had already featured Clean The World in a couple earlier posts. Thanks to Victoria M. Walker for this conversation with the founder:

Getting the World Clean, One Recycled Bar of Soap at a Time

Meet Shawn Siepler, the founder of Clean the World. The nonprofit recycles partially used soap left behind from hotel guests for those in need.

When hotel or motel guests check into their rooms, they expect at the very least to be greeted with a clean space, a made-up bed and in the bathroom, soap.

But what happens when you leave that soap behind? Continue reading

Senegal’s Plastic Recycling Entrepreneurship

Waste pickers searching for plastics at the main dump in Dakar, Senegal.

The article below, written by Ruth Maclean and accompanied with photographs by Finbarr O’Reilly, is a portrait in developing world green opportunism. It is not a pretty picture, per se, but it is a sight to behold after the market for recycled plastic seemed to implode in recent years. The photo above shows the gritty reality of the work. The photos below show some of the prettier, and more entrepreneurial downstream opportunities from that work:

Workers stripping reusable plastic from mats at the Sosenap factory, which recycles plastic to make mats and carpets in Diamniadio, on the outskirts of Dakar.

‘Everyone’s Looking for Plastic.’ As Waste Rises, So Does Recycling.

Plagued by plastic pollution, Senegal wants to replace pickers at the garbage dump with a formal recycling system that takes advantage of the new market for plastics.

The main event at the outdoor venue for Dakar Fashion Week in December, which had a theme of sustainability.

DAKAR, Senegal — A crowd of people holding curved metal spikes jumped on trash spilling out of a dump truck in Senegal’s biggest landfill, hacking at the garbage to find valuable plastic. Continue reading

Fixing Carbon Offset Markets

A steel re-rolling mill in Narayanganj, Bangladesh. Well-designed carbon markets could spur companies in developing countries to reduce emissions. AHMED SALAHUDDIN / NURPHOTO VIA AP

Thanks to Yale e360 for this opinion on a hot topic that we have sometimes mused less seriously about:

How to Repair the World’s Broken Carbon Offset Markets

Markets that connect businesses hoping to offset their carbon emissions with climate change mitigation projects have been plagued by problems. But an economist and his co-authors argue that carbon markets can be reformed and play a significant role in slowing global warming

In the wake of the Glasgow climate summit, governments must now return to the daunting challenge of making good on their emissions-reductions pledges, which at this point remain insufficient to hold warming below 2 or even 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. Continue reading

A New Canopy Concept

This year, the garden produced more than 8,000 pounds of produce, while the panels above generate enough power for 300 local homes. Kirk Siegler/NPR

When the poro and other trees we planted in the last two years mature, they will provide shade for a thousand or so coffee saplings. High elevation arabica coffee likes shade, and birds like the habitat. Those trees are growing fast, but it will be decades until their full shade potential is reached. As I read “This Colorado ‘solar garden’ is literally a farm under solar panels” I can picture an interesting complement to the shade poro provides:

When Byron Kominek returned home after the Peace Corps and later working as a diplomat in Africa, his family’s 24-acre farm near Boulder, Colo., was struggling to turn a profit.

“Our farm has mainly been hay producing for fifty years,” Kominek said, on a recent chilly morning, the sun illuminating a dusting of snow on the foothills to his West. “This is a big change on one of our three pastures.”

That big change is certainly an eye opener: 3,200 solar panels mounted on posts eight feet high above what used to be an alfalfa field on this patch of rolling farmland at the doorstep of the Rocky Mountains. Continue reading

Organikos A Decade Ago & Non-Patagonian Beavers

In a brief interview a student recorded my description of the work I was doing in southern Chile from 2008-2010. The Patagonia Expedition Race had secured Wenger’s sponsorship, and now graduate students from Columbia Business School, as well as from Cornell Hotel School, were developing a strategy for how best to use that sponsorship money to achieve lasting conservation results. The patch on the left arm of my jacket shows another sponsor.

Organikos was a minor sponsor compared to Wenger, but in that earlier iteration of Organikos we were already thinking about what is now the 100% Forward commitment.  As a sponsor, I also served coffee from sunrise to sunset at each station along the Race’s 500-mile route. Somewhere I have photos of the race teams drinking Organikos coffee, but at the moment I only find this one of me prepping coffee in the traditional Costa Rican manner to serve to Race volunteers in a farmhouse where we had spent the night on Tierra del Fuego.

In this photo to the left I was waiting for the racers who would soon be arriving at this station in their kayaks. As serious as I appeared to be, it would take nearly a decade to get that coffee launched more formally into the market.

Images Andrew Wilson, Mark Humpfrey, Nicola MaCleod and Bruce Duncan of Team Helly Hansen-Prunesco paddling their way to victory in stage 15 of the 2010 Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race on the island of Tierra del Fuego in southern Chile. Michael Clark Photography

Not long after the photos above were taken, we accepted a new assignment in India that would put the original idea of Organikos on hold. Recently, when Seth took the name and gave it a clear conservation mission, coffee was still the most viable product to start with. I am reminded of all that thanks to Sandra Laville, and the Guardian. Her article, full of good news related to conservation funding in the UK, triggers my memory of the fact that beavers are an invasive species in Patagonia and the Race had the mission of controlling their spread, in the interest of wilderness conservation. Beavers in their natural habitat are in need of protection in some locations, I see:

Wetlands, beavers and Cinderella causes; the growth of environmental funding

Donations from individuals and charities to green causes more than double since 2016

Funding from the People’s Trust for Endangered Species helped reintroduce beavers in Knapdale Forest in Scotland. Photograph: Steve Gardner/Scottish Wildlife Trust/PA

Philanthropic donations to environmental causes have more than doubled in value in the UK as the climate crisis and unprecedented biodiversity loss attract increasing attention from individuals and charities.

The amounts of money given to support efforts to tackle climate change and nature loss range from £5,000 to millions of pounds, and the focus of the funding is as broad.

It includes a £10,000 donation given to support a successful campaign for a deposit return scheme in Scotland; the funding of grassroots defenders of Europe’s last primeval forest, in Poland, and the protection of wetlands in Montenegro; and millions of pounds in support of environmental legal challenges and donations to back campaigning against fossil fuels. Continue reading

Getting a Bigger Bang Out of Plastic

Plastic has been on our radar for years, both as an environmental scourge and a raw material for the rising recycle and “upcycle” economy.  Finding these creative uses for an ubiquitous waste material around the world has been inspiring, to say the least.

We hadn’t been familiar with the Precious Plastic model until we met the wonderful women from the Wagát Upcycling Lab. We applaud the community ethos of open source plans to address a global crisis.

Big Bang, Indeed!

Where Does Your Plastic Go?

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Plastic bottles bundled in a recycling facility. Bales such as these travel around the world on shipping containers. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Thanks to the Guardian for this series on plastic waste management. It is not pleasant reading, but it should motivate change:

What happens to your plastic after you drop it in a recycling bin?

According to promotional materials from America’s plastics industry, it is whisked off to a factory where it is seamlessly transformed into something new.

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Nguyễn Thị Hồng Thắm is paid $6.50 a day to sort recycling on the outskirts of Hanoi. Photograph: Bac Pham/The Guardian

This is not the experience of Nguyễn Thị Hồng Thắm, a 60-year-old Vietnamese mother of seven, living amid piles of grimy American plastic on the outskirts of Hanoi. Outside her home, the sun beats down on a Cheetos bag; aisle markers from a Walmart store; and a plastic bag from ShopRite, a chain of supermarkets in New Jersey, bearing a message urging people to recycle it.

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Migrant workers sort through plastic bottles at the Thaiplastic Recycle Group plant in Samut Sakhon, outside Bangkok, Thailand. Photograph: Diego Azubel/EPA

Tham is paid the equivalent of $6.50 a day to strip off the non-recyclable elements and sort what remains: translucent plastic in one pile, opaque in another.

A Guardian investigation has found that hundreds of thousands of tons of US plastic are being shipped every year to poorly regulated developing countries around the globe for the dirty, labor-intensive process of recycling. The consequences for public health and the environment are grim.

A team of Guardian reporters in 11 countries has found: Continue reading

Taking Responsibility For Stuff

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Recycled materials being stacked at facility in Costa Rica last June. EZEQUIEL BECERRA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Some time a millennium or so from now, an article like this one, or perhaps like this one, will be written with wonderment about the waste management practices of the early 21st century. They will not be as amazed by how we digitally stored our most prized possessions, but curious what we did with all our unwanted stuff.

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Scrap metal at a dock in Liverpool, England, waiting to be exported. CHRISTOPHER FURLONG/GETTY IMAGES

And we have known for some time now that we have not been so clever. We have mostly been hiding that stuff. Out of sight, out of mind. If it seemed too good to be true, there was a reason for that. The long stretch of time during which China’s labor costs and their resource input equations made importing our unwanted stuff a win-win created a kind of mirage. Thanks to Cheryl Katz, writing in Yale e360, for making that clear in this story:

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A worker sorts through plastic bottles at a waste facility in Vietnam. Other Asian countries have increased their waste imports in response to China’s ban. NHAC NGUYEN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Piling Up: How China’s Ban on Importing Waste Has Stalled Global Recycling

China’s decision to no longer be the dumping ground for the world’s recycled waste has left municipalities and waste companies from Australia to the U.S. scrambling for alternatives. But experts say it offers an opportunity to develop better solutions for a growing throwaway culture.

The story is big, which is why I was not surprised to see Alana Semuel’s story on the same topic. Both are worth reading, but this one takes a starker view, and the disturbance its title question causes provides an effective added prod to reduce how much unwanted stuff gets created in the first place.

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Bales of plastic are piled at a Recology facility in San Francisco. (Alana Semuels / The Atlantic)

Is This the End of Recycling?

Americans are consuming more and more stuff. Now that other countries won’t take our papers and plastics, they’re ending up in the trash.

After decades of earnest public-information campaigns, Americans are finally recycling. Airports, malls, schools, and office buildings across the country have bins for plastic bottles and aluminum cans and newspapers. In some cities, you can be fined if inspectors discover that you haven’t recycled appropriately. Continue reading

15 Minutes Of Fame For A Good Cause

It takes the full 15 minutes of video above to fully appreciate what happened a few days ago. The soundbite 57 second version had me convinced that the senator was haughty and deserved to be schooled by these kids. But the full picture above, as often happens, provides better perspective, an attribute of little l liberalism. She was not quite the jerk I first thought.

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In an exchange that went viral, the senator from California demonstrated why climate change exemplifies an issue on which older people should listen to the young. Photograph by Mark Peterson / Redux

There was a moment in time when a political slogan about something very important became a movement with potential; and then it seemed to disappear as quickly as it had appeared. That was my first exposure to political activism, and certainly not my last. But it provided an important lesson. Use the time you have on the stage wisely. I get reminded of this constantly in the last few years. This dispatch by Bill McKibben is what I take away from the moment these kids had in the spotlight:

The Most Interesting News Today

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The greenhouse in Hinwil where Climeworks uses carbon dioxide pulled from the air to grow fruits and vegetables. Luca Locatelli for The New York Times

When this platform started in 2011 it was two young men, one a senior at Amherst College and the other a sophomore at Cornell University, who thought it would be useful to share their experiences with other students. It continued beyond their summer internships. At some point, hard to pinpoint the date, it started serving as a daily exercise for me. It became an exercise in finding something in the world that is worthy of attention, as much as possible something that inspires hope rather than reinforces dread (though that has been unavoidable from time to time).

The title I give to today’s post is impossible to justify with any metrics, but read on and you may see my point. Jon Gertner, for this first time featured in our pages, and for what is likely the longest of any longform treatments of any topic in the New York Times, thank you for making it about this:

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Christoph Gebald, left, and Jan Wurzbacher, the founders of Climeworks, at their plant in Hinwil, Switzerland. Luca Locatelli for The New York Times

The Tiny Swiss Company That Thinks It Can Help Stop Climate Change

Two European entrepreneurs think they can remove carbon from the air at prices cheap enough to matter.

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A pilot project at a Swiss university that uses Climeworks equipment to make methane out of airborne CO₂. Luca Locatelli for The New York Times

Just over a century ago in Ludwigshafen, Germany, a scientist named Carl Bosch assembled a team of engineers to exploit a new technique in chemistry. A year earlier, another German chemist, Fritz Haber, hit upon a process to pull nitrogen (N) from the air and combine it with hydrogen (H) to produce tiny amounts of ammonia (NH₃). But Haber’s process was delicate, requiring the maintenance of high temperatures and high pressure. Bosch wanted to figure out how to adapt Haber’s discovery for commercial purposes — as we would say today, to “scale it up.” Anyone looking at the state of manufacturing in Europe around 1910, Bosch observed, could see that the task was daunting: The technology simply didn’t exist.

Over the next decade, however, Bosch and his team overcame a multitude of technological and metallurgical challenges. He chronicled them in his 1932 acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Chemistry — an honor he won because the Haber-Bosch process, as it came to be known, changed the world. His breakthrough made possible the production of ammonia on an industrial scale, providing the world with cheap and abundant fertilizer. The scientist and historian Vaclav Smil called Haber-Bosch “the most important technical invention of the 20th century.” Bosch had effectively removed the historical bounds on crop yields, so much so that he was widely credited with making “bread from air.” By some estimates, Bosch’s work made possible the lives of more than two billion human beings over the last 100 years. Continue reading

2018, The Year Food Waste Was Finally Taken Seriously

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Americans throw away 133 billion pounds of food annually. TAZ/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

This is the time of year, in the days prior to the USA Thanksgiving holiday, when I tend to recall the first time food waste, one of the oddest of plagues, came to my attention. Thank you Meg. And thanks to Yale e360 for reporting this heartening news:

In the first 10 months of 2018, investors poured $125 million into U.S. companies whose mission is to prevent food from going to waste, according to a new report.

ReFED, a non-profit dedicated to drastically cutting the amount of food that becomes spoiled or is wasted in the U.S., said that the investments spanned a wide variety of companies focusing on new technologies, software, and business-to-business solutions. They include Apeel Sciences, which received $70 million in private financing to produce a natural second skin to extend the life of produce; Food Maven and Full Harvest, each of which received $8.5 million to help businesses sell excess or less visually appealing produce; Spoiler Alert, which helps businesses better manage unsold food inventory; and ReGrained, which makes flour out of spent distillers grains. Continue reading

The Most Important Infrastructure

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People read in the Rose Main Reading Room of the New York Public Library MARK LENNIHAN / AP

This podcast featuring Eric Klinenberg resonated with many of our readers, and this article he wrote for the Atlantic may be the next best step in advance of reading his book:

Worry Less About Crumbling Roads, More About Crumbling Libraries

America’s social infrastructure is falling apart, and it’s hurting democracy.

Every four years, the American Society for Civil Engineers issues grades for the nation’s infrastructure. In the most recent evaluation, released in 2017, America’s overall infrastructure score was a D+, the same as in 2013. Although seven systems, including hazardous waste and levees, received modestly better grades than in the previous assessment, transit and solid waste, among others, did worse. Aviation (D), roads (D), drinking water (D), and energy (D+), retained their miserably low scores. Continue reading

Farm Innovations From Kampala

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Urban farms in Kampala, Uganda, make the most of their limited space. Photograph: Nils Adler

Vertical farming, urban farming, innovations we have seen mostly from industrialized places, are important in developing countries as well:

Rooftop farming: why vertical gardening is blooming in Kampala

Ugandans are finding creative solutions to the growing challenges of urbanisation

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Growth spurt: a child carries a tray of plants in eggshell flowerpots. Photograph: Nils Adler

When Martin Agaba realised his urban farm had run out of space, he decided the solution was not to expand outwards but upwards.

“We realised we had to use the roof,” he says. Of all the innovations that have galvanised people in his district in the Ugandan capital Kampala to grow their own food, these vertical box plantations remain his favourite.

Kwagala farm, located on half an acre of land, is the brainchild of Diana Nambatya, a professor in public health, who began growing vegetables to save money on food in 2010.

After receiving two cows as a dowry, she decided to use their dung to generate biogas for her home. Her burgeoning urban farm soon attracted the attention of the neighbours, and in 2012 she started training women at a small demonstration centre. Continue reading

Plastic Straws Going, Going, Gone

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Marriott International became the latest company to announce it will stop using plastic straws, saying it would remove them from its more than 6,500 properties by next July. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

We did not foresee the straw revolution gaining such momentum so quickly. But we are certainly happy to see it going mainstream, going global, going company-wide:

The days of plastic straws are drawing shorter.

Marriott International on Wednesday became the latest big company to announce it will stop using plastic straws, saying it would remove them from its more than 6,500 properties by next July. The giant hotel chain said it will stop offering plastic stirrers, too.

It said the environmentally friendly move could eliminate the use of more than 1 billion plastic straws and about 250 million stirrers per year. Marriott said its hotels will “offer alternative straws upon request.” Continue reading

The Footprint Of Our Data-Driven Lives

New-Dark-Age-1050-5927870a2b206657f6b87133d3f776c4.jpgThanks to John Harris, writing in the Guardian, for “Our phones and gadgets are now endangering the planet,” an opinion essay that doubles as a review of the book to the right:

It was just another moment in this long, increasingly strange summer. I was on a train home from Paddington station, and the carriage’s air-conditioning was just about fighting off the heat outside. Most people seemed to be staring at their phones – in many cases, they were trying to stream a World Cup match, as the 4G signal came and went, and Great Western Railway’s onboard wifi proved to be maddeningly erratic. The trebly chatter of headphone leakage was constant. And thousands of miles and a few time zones away in Loudoun County, Virginia, one of the world’s largest concentrations of computing power was playing its part in keeping everything I saw ticking over, as data from around the world passed back and forth from its vast buildings.

Most of us communicate with this small and wealthy corner of the US every day. Thanks to a combination of factors – its proximity to Washington DC, competitive electricity prices, and its low susceptibility to natural disasters – the county is the home of data centres used by about 3,000 tech companies: huge agglomerations of circuitry, cables and cooling systems that sit in corners of the world most of us rarely see, but that are now at the core of how we live. About 70% of the world’s online traffic is reckoned to pass through Loudoun County. Continue reading

Other Farms Of The Future

170822-mms-a1-hoegaarden-event-brooklyn-08824.jpgYou can click on any of these photos to go to their source, and they are inserted here because the article that brought this farm (?), this company, this phenomenon to my attention did not have any images. It was good to have only the New Yorker words to start with because, like all good writing, it forced me to imagine what this might look like. However, my imagination fell short.

Out of the Ordinary

Farm+One.jpegFarm.One is New York City’s grower of rare herbs, edible flowers and microgreens for some of the best restaurants in the city. Our Edible Bar and Tasting Plates make these fresh, exciting ingredients available for the first time in an event setting. Guests can discover botanical ingredients for the first time, with the expert guidance of our farm team. Taste ingredients on their own, or paired with cocktails and other beverages, for a colorful, flavorful and aromatic experience like no other.

VS_Inspiration_at_Farm.One-9124This short piece by Anna Russell below continues our stream of thought about the farm of the future, and takes it into very unexpected territory. Hydroponics and urban farming have been featured many times in these pages over the years so that is not what has our attention. It is the mixing of art and agriculture that gets us thinking outside the box:

Tribeca’s Hydroponic Underground

Chic stems and tender greens thrive deep below Worth Street on the rolling shelves of Farm.One.

170822-mms-a1-hoegaarden-event-brooklyn-08817.jpgHydroponics are a slippery slope. You might find yourself, one Sunday morning, at a Santa Monica farmers’ market, loitering among the apples, say. You come across a bunch of papalo, a leafy herb native to central Mexico, and toss it in your mouth (your tastes are expansive; a papalo leaf is nothing to you) and wham!: a brand-new flavor. Suddenly, you’re up at all hours, watching vertical-farming videos on YouTube, ordering seed packets from eBay, buying rhizomes—rhizomes!—and worrying about spider mites. You get some fennel crowns and a pouch of parasitic wasps, and you’re on your way. Continue reading

Rise Products Reduce Waste

 

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Bertha Jimenez milling flour at Rise Products’ temporary kitchen in Long Island City, Queens.
Ms. Jimenez, an Ecuadorean immigrant with a doctorate in engineering, helped develop a method for making flour from the grain left over after brewing beer. 
George Etheredge for The New York Times

Thanks to Larissa Zimberoff for this:

From Brewery to Bakery: A Flour That Fights Waste

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In a temporary commercial kitchen in Long Island City, Queens, Rise Products dries spent beer grains in an oven before they are ground, milled and sifted into a fine flour. George Etheredge for The New York Times

For some people, beer is the perfect end to a workday. For Bertha Jimenez, it’s the start of a new way to eliminate food waste.

Breweries throw out millions of pounds of used grain every day that could have other uses. While some is repurposed as animal feed, compostable products or heating fuel, little has been exploited for its value as food.

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Because of the growing interest in reducing waste, many chefs and bakers are already eager to work with the flour. George Etheredge for The New York Times

But Ms. Jimenez, 35, has created a small start-up, Rise Products, that converts the grain into a flour that is finding its way into sustainable bakeries and kitchens in New York and as far away as Italy.

The potential for recycling beer waste first came into the cross hairs of Ms. Jimenez, an immigrant from Ecuador, while she was working toward her doctorate in 2015 at the Tandon School of Engineering at New York University. Intent on finding ways to reduce industrial waste, she started a side project with like-minded friends — most of them also immigrants — and craft beer provided an easy target: Everyone loved it, but it had issues.

Ms. Jimenez lives in Brooklyn, which at last count had 20 craft breweries that are tossing out grain. Ms. Jimenez and Ashwin Gopi, a classmate and a founder of Rise, began asking around for samples so they could figure out how best to reuse them. Continue reading

Alternatives To Dairy

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Photo illustration by Tracy Ma/The New York Times; Alamy (hands)

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Ripple’s pea-based milk contains 8 grams of protein per cup, the same amount as in a cup of cow’s milk.
Whitney Pipkin/NPR

This article on the subject of a new pea-based dairy alternative–not just milk for coffee or cereal but also thicker items like Greek-style yoghurt–reported by National Public Radio (USA), reminded us of the great gif showing the milking of oats. Which reminded us to read that article too. Both worth a read:

When did finding something to put in your coffee get so complicated?

For the lactose-intolerant or merely dairy-averse, there are more alternatives to good ol’ American cow’s milk than ever. First there were powdered “creamers,” with their troublesome corn syrup solids. Then came soy, which may come closest to the real thing in nutrients and consistency. Grocery stores now stock an army of nut milks — almond, cashew, hazelnut, macadamia, you name it — which can be too grainy, too thin or frankly too flavorful. Pea milk? Sounds like a kindergarten taunt. Coconut and rice milk are basically water. Hemp milk? For the birds … and the hippies. Continue reading

Enlisting Enzymes for Ecoefficiency

Models of stain-fighting enzymes, displayed on clothes in a washing machine. Credit Carsten Snejbjerg for The New York Times

We’ve been highlighting mycological innovation since the early days of this site, and our enthusiasm has yet to wane. The range of fungi-power will never cease to amaze.

Fighting Climate Change,
One Laundry Load at a Time

A Danish biotechnology company is trying to fight climate change — one laundry load at a time. Its secret weapon: mushrooms like those in a dormant forest outside Copenhagen.

In the quest for a more environmentally friendly detergent, two scientists at the company, Novozymes, regularly trudge through the mud, hunting for oyster mushrooms that protrude from a fallen beech or bracken fungi that feast on tough plant fibers. They are studying the enzymes in mushrooms that speed up chemical reactions or natural processes like decay.

“There is a lot going on here, if you know what to look for,” said Mikako Sasa, one of the Novozymes scientists.

Their work is helping the company develop enzymes for laundry and dishwasher detergents that would require less water, or that would work just as effectively at lower temperatures. The energy savings could be significant. Washing machines, for instance, account for over 6 percent of household electricity use in the European Union.

Enlisting enzymes to battle dirt is not a new strategy. Over thousands of years, mushrooms and their fungi cousins have evolved into masters at nourishing themselves on dying trees, fallen branches and other materials. They break down these difficult materials by secreting enzymes into their hosts. Even before anyone knew what enzymes were, they were used in brewing and cheese making, among other activities. Continue reading