Recycling 2.0, Maine Gets It Done

A collection facility in Bend, Ore. The state is expected to adopt a recycling law similar to Maine’s within weeks. Leon Werdinger/Alamy

When we were making decisions about coffee and chocolates that we would offer in the Authentica shops, which we knew to be best-selling categories for travelers wanting to take something home from Costa Rica, product quality was the top consideration. Packaging was a close second. Relative to what was sold in other shops, we radically reduced the carbon footprint of the packaging, and more recently took another step further down that road. We know that every little effort counts, but we also know that the big game is elsewhere, and we are happy to see a relatively small state making big strides in the USA:

Maine Will Make Companies Pay for Recycling. Here’s How It Works.

The law aims to take the cost burden of recycling away from taxpayers. One environmental advocate said the change could be “transformative.”

Gov. Janet Mills of Maine, a Democrat, signed the new recycling policies into law this month. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

Recycling, that feel-good moment when people put their paper and plastic in special bins, was a headache for municipal governments even in good times. And, only a small amount was actually getting recycled.

Then, five years ago, China stopped buying most of America’s recycling, and dozens of cities across the United States suspended or weakened their recycling programs.

Now, Maine has implemented a new law that could transform the way packaging is recycled by requiring manufacturers, rather than taxpayers, to cover the cost. Nearly a dozen states have been considering similar regulations and Oregon is about to sign its own version in coming weeks. Continue reading

The Sinking Cost Of Renewable Energy

Because its costs continue to slide with every quarter, solar energy will be cheaper than fossil fuels almost everywhere on the planet by the decade’s end. Photograph by Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times / Getty

Thanks to Bill McKibben, as always, for at least one bit of good news in his weekly newsletter:

Renewable Energy Is Suddenly Startlingly Cheap

Now the biggest barrier to change is the will of our politicians to take serious climate action.

Earth Week has come and gone, leaving behind an ankle-deep and green-tinted drift of reports, press releases, and earnest promises from C.E.O.s and premiers alike that they are planning to become part of the solution. There were contingent signs of real possibility—if some of the heads of state whom John Kerry called on to make Zoom speeches appeared a little strained, at least they appeared. (Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister of Australia, the most carbon-emitting developed nation per capita, struggled to make his technology work.) But, if you want real hope, the best place to look may be a little noted report from the London-based think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative. Continue reading

Moonshot To Meatless

Peter Prato for The New York Times

Last month I learned enough from Ezra Klein’s food-related conversation with Mark Bittman to share the podcast episode. I listen to his podcast for the quality of his discussions with knowledgeable guests. But he is also a great essayist and yesterday he published an op-ed essay that is worth a read on a topic we have linked to many times:

Let’s Launch a Moonshot for Meatless Meat

It wouldn’t actually take that much of an investment for Biden to get us headed in the right direction.

I’m a vegan, but I’m also a realist. There’s no chance humanity is going to give up meat, en masse, anytime soon. That said, we can’t just wish away the risks of industrial animal agriculture. If we don’t end this system, soon, terrible things will happen to us and to the planet. Terrible things are already happening. Continue reading

If You Are Not Already Vegetarian, Know Your Beef Source

logoProgress is slow on the route to vegetarianism, so we monitor what we can about the meat we continue to consume. Thanks to Mighty Earth for this scorecard:

Beef Scorecard: Global Food Brands Failing to Address Largest Driver of Deforestation

WASHINGTON, DC – The world’s top supermarket and fast-food companies are largely ignoring the environmental and human rights abuses caused by their beef products, a new scorecard by Mighty Earth finds. The scorecard evaluates the beef sourcing practices of fifteen of the world’s largest grocery and fast-food companies that have pledged to end deforestation across their supply chains. Despite beef’s role as the top driver of global deforestation, only four companies- Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Carrefour, and McDonald’s – have taken some action to stop sourcing beef from destructive suppliers. Continue reading

Look, Smell, Taste, Don’t Waste

Catchy. Effective? We will see.  Thanks to the Guardian for this view on a UK initiative to reducing food waste at home:

Cut food waste at home by sniffing and tasting, urges new campaign

National government-backed initiative will replace ‘use by’ with ‘best before’ and urge people to judge for themselves

Worried about whether the yoghurt, milk and cheese sitting in your fridge is still safe to eat? Rather than rely on the misleading “best by” date stamped on the side, perhaps its time to “sniff and taste” your staple foods. Continue reading

2021, Renewable Energy Race Heats Up

General Electric’s Haliade-X wind turbine at Rotterdam Harbor in the Netherlands. Ilvy Njiokiktjien for The New York Times

Stanley Reed has been our go-to expert on turbines for a few years. The photos and illustrations are particularly helpful to understand the scale of these new models. Thanks to the New York Times for giving him prime space on the front page on the first day of the new year for this story:

A Monster Wind Turbine Is Upending an Industry

G.E.’s giant machine, which can light up a small town, is stoking a renewable-energy arms race.

Twirling above a strip of land at the mouth of Rotterdam’s harbor is a wind turbine so large it is difficult to photograph. The turning diameter of its rotor is longer than two American football fields end to end. Later models will be taller than any building on the mainland of Western Europe. Continue reading

A Step To Reduce Overfishing, Even A Modest One, Is Better Than No Step

Research has found that sustainably managed oceans can provide six times more food than today. Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

It is too few countries protecting too little ocean space, but it is a step in the right direction:

Global sustainable fishing initiative agreed by 14 countries

Governments to reduce pollution in oceans and end subsidies that contribute to overfishing

Governments responsible for 40% of the world’s coastlines have pledged to end overfishing, restore dwindling fish populations and stop the flow of plastic pollution into the seas in the next 10 years.

The leaders of the 14 countries set out a series of commitments on Wednesday that mark the world’s biggest ocean sustainability initiative, in the absence of a fully fledged UN treaty on marine life.

The countries – Australia, Canada, Chile, Fiji, Ghana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Namibia, Norway, Palau and Portugal – will end harmful subsidies that contribute to overfishing, a key demand of campaigners. They will also aim to eliminate illegal fishing through better enforcement and management, and to minimise bycatch and discards, as well as implementing national fisheries plans based on scientific advice.

Each of the countries, members of the High Level Panel for Sustainable Ocean Economy, has also pledged to ensure that all the areas of ocean within its own national jurisdiction – known as exclusive economic zones – are managed sustainably by 2025. That amounts to an area of ocean roughly the size of Africa. Continue reading

Farming A Healthier Diet

Our thanks to Brent Loken for summarizing some the possibilities of better farming for a healthier diet:

About 10,000 years ago, humans began to farm. This agricultural revolution was a turning point in our history and enabled the existence of civilization. Today, nearly 40 percent of our planet is farmland. Spread all over the world, these lands are the pieces to a global puzzle we’re all facing: in the future, how can we feed every member of a growing population a healthy diet?

Prospects For Green Hydrogen

Green hydrogen can be stored in a liquid form. WOLFGANG KUMM/PICTURE-ALLIANCE/DPA/AP IMAGES

Thanks to Yale e360, as always, for news on innovative uses of water related to green energy:

Green Hydrogen: Could It Be Key to a Carbon-Free Economy?

Green hydrogen, which uses renewable energy to produce hydrogen from water, is taking off around the globe. Its boosters say the fuel could play an important role in decarbonizing hard-to-electrify sectors of the economy, such as long-haul trucking, aviation, and heavy manufacturing.

Green hydrogen is produced using renewable energy, making it a CO2-free source of fuel. SGN

Saudi Arabia is constructing a futuristic city in the desert on the Red Sea called Neom. The $500 billion city — complete with flying taxis and robotic domestic help — is being built from scratch and will be home to a million people. And what energy product will be used both to power this city and sell to the world? Not oil. The Saudis are going big on something called green hydrogen — a carbon-free fuel made from water by using renewably produced electricity to split hydrogen molecules from oxygen molecules. Continue reading

Biochar & Regeneration During The Dry Season

This is not the first time I am hearing of it, but this concept is counterintuitive to me because it involves combustion, which I associate with carbon emissions. On our hillside we are working to regenerate quality soil on what once was a fertile, productive coffee farm. When the sun rises over what we planted this year to help prepare the soil for next year’s coffee planting, I have been considering what we need to do differently during the dry season. October is the last month of rainy season, so we are almost there. It is clear that we need all the good ideas we can find in this effort. This seems worthy of consideration:

Loading soil with biochar allows farmers to cut way back on irrigation

At high applications levels, researchers found that biochar can not only soak up a lot of carbon, but also reduce the need for irrigation by almost 40%.

Biochar – the charcoal product used to enrich agricultural soil and trap carbon—may have a hidden commercial benefit for farmers: it could lock moisture in the soil and save on gallons of costly irrigation.

The coarse, black material, made by combusting wood, grass, and other organic materials under low-oxygen conditions, helps to sequester carbon in the soil. Continue reading

If You Have IKEA Stuff, Note This

I am not a fan of IKEA. That said, I shopped there once, as a younger parent. There seemed no other choice at the time, and I did not regret it until I became more acutely conscious of the perils posed by this business model. Thanks to Olivia Rosane at EcoWatch for sharing this story, which I missed in the Guardian because I scan the Environment section and usually skip the Business section (note to self):

IKEA to Buy Back Used Furniture This Black Friday in 27 Countries

IKEA created the world’s longest outdoor bookcase on Bondi Beach, Australia to celebrate its 30th birthday and promote literacy on Jan. 31, 2010. James D. Morgan / Contributor / Getty Images News

Swedish furniture giant IKEA has a plan to make this year’s Black Friday a little greener.

As part of its bid to become more sustainable, the store will allow customers to sell back their used furniture for up to half of its original price.

Sustainability is the defining issue of our time and IKEA is committed to being part of the solution to promote sustainable consumption and combat climate change,” UK and Ireland IKEA retail manager Peter Jelkeby told The Guardian. Continue reading

Know GEF Through Its New Leader

Mongabay‘s Rhett A. Butler offers an engaging conversation with the new leader of GEF, who we have confidence will lead this institution to the planet’s benefit. His realization at a young age about seasonal differences in bird abundance is a good example of why programs like Celebrate Urban Birds in places where migratory birds come and go are so important. It has been too long since we last sourced from Mongabay, but today we correct that with this recorded interview (click above) and the printed version (click below):

The post-COVID opportunity for the environment: An interview with the GEF’s Carlos Manuel Rodriguez

Tropical forests in places like Costa Rica (pictured) can be an important source of livelihoods by attracting nature-oriented tourists. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Rhett A. Butler for Mongabay: Congratulations on the new role at the Global Environment Facility.

Rodriguez: Well, I’m very pleased and honored. I’ve been working half my professional life in government and half within the civil society in Costa Rica. I have worked very close to the GEF, including in the early days of the GEF. I was a negotiator for CBD for the Rio convention and also had the fortune to work with the government of Costa Rica in the first implementation of GEF funding in Costa Rica. Those were very interesting times, the mid-1990s.

I’m really delighted that 25 plus years after that, I’m leading this very prestigious organization. I never thought I would have that opportunity, particularly for coming from a developing country, a recipient country. Continue reading

Milo, Mushroom Clubs & Mylo

Mylo, a material made from mycelium, in natural and black. Bolt Threads

Milo’s teen years convinced me of the wonders of fungi. The Mushroom Club of Georgia was in the right place at the right time for him to convert intense curiosity into something more powerful. On another day, more on what he has done with that in the decade since. For now a bit of thanks. We have had the privilege of hosting members of that Club in our home in Costa Rica, and intend to do so again now that travel restrictions have eased. This post is an overdue shout out to that Club and others like it. More kids in those clubs would be a good thing. Meanwhile, nice to see these folks making news again. It helps persuade me that fashion is of greater value than I have given it credit for up to now:

Fungus May Be Fall’s Hottest Fashion Trend

A surprising group of fashion rivals including Stella McCartney and Lululemon are joining forces to back Mylo, a new mushroom leather.

Bolt Threads mycelium mats in the grow facility. Bolt Threads

It may be fashion week in Paris, with showgoers in face coverings parsing runway looks from the latest designer ready-to-wear collections, but several thousand miles away from the French capital, out of the dank, dark belly of an industrial hangar, a potentially more momentous industry trend is … growing.

Mushroom leather might not sound stylish. But Bolt Threads, a start-up that specializes in developing next-generation fibers inspired by nature, is one of a growing number of companies convinced that the material is a viable replacement — in both form and function — for animal-sourced and synthetic skins. Continue reading

Upcycled Foods, Circa Late 2020

The first time I saw upcycling in action, I did not know the word. It became part of my vocabulary in 2012. And then I started seeing it more frequently, but only years later before I would see it in relation to food. Now it is more mainstream, but this PBS news segment shocked me anyway, with the revelation of how much waste there is in the production of tofu. In my experience growing up in the USA, tofu was one of the first “green foods” on the market. Little did we know. Shock is sometimes followed by awe. Case in point: Renewal Mill is providing solutions to tofu production waste and other forms of food waste that seem obvious once you see them do it. But first, someone had to do it. I have not tasted their products yet but I am confident I would savor it on multiple dimensions.

Paint Color: More Than An Aesthetic Choice

Image: Tyros.andi/Wikimedia Commons

Wind is a formidable renewable energy option, but the impacts on wildlife have long been discussed. It’s heartening that such a simple solution as paint has the potential to so drastically reduce the dangers to birds and bats.

A simple paint job can save birds from wind turbines

A small study in Norway showed that painting one blade of a wind turbine black reduced bird mortality by over 70%.

Wind energy is one of the world’s most popular renewables. It’s also one of the most promising—some calculations suggest that strategically placed wind turbines could conceivably power the entire planet. As more turbines go up worldwide, they’ll help us reduce pollution, water use and carbon emissions, along with the environmental degradation, habitat loss and human health risks that come with fracking and oil extraction.

But there are some who don’t benefit quite as much: flying animals. Each year, turbine blades kill hundreds of thousands of birds and bats. As wind power becomes more prevalent, this number may rise into the millions—although it’s important to remember that other power generation methods likely kill far more birds than wind farms do.

This concern has led to a number of proposed interventions, from turning off wind farms during migrations to installing special whistles only bats can hear. A new study presents a relatively low-cost, set-it-and-forget-it option: just paint one of the turbine blades black.

Continue reading

Scaling The Urban Farm, In Paris

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Nature Urbaine. Photograph: Magali Delporte/The Guardian

The future of food: inside the world’s largest urban farm – built on a rooftop

In Paris, urban farmers are trying a soil-free approach to agriculture that uses less space and fewer resources. Could it help cities face the threats to our food supplies?

Thanks to the Guardian for keeping stories like this  coming:

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Urban farming on a Parisian rooftop. Photograph: Stéphane de Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images

On top of a striking new exhibition hall in the southern 15th arrondissement of Paris, the world’s largest urban rooftop farm has started to bear fruit. Strawberries, to be precise: small, intensely flavoured and resplendently red.

They sprout abundantly from cream-coloured plastic columns. Pluck one out to peer inside and you see the columns are completely hollow, the roots of dozens of strawberry plants dangling into thin air.

From identical vertical columns nearby burst row upon row of lettuces; near those are aromatic basil, sage and peppermint. Opposite, in narrow, horizontal trays packed not with soil but coco coir (coconut fibre), grow heirloom and cherry tomatoes, shiny aubergines and brightly coloured chards. Continue reading

Bureo & Tin Shed Ventures

tsv-main-logoBureo is news to us, and we like good news. We are always on the lookout for fellow travelers, and while Tin Shed Ventures is by no means new it is news to us. And newsworthy based on the partners they have chosen:

Tin Shed Ventures is Patagonia’s corporate venture capital fund, which invests in start-ups that offer solutions to the environmental crisis. Originally launched as $20 Million and Change in May 2013, Tin Shed Ventures partners with businesses focused on building renewable energy infrastructure, practicing regenerative organic agriculture, conserving water, diverting waste and creating sustainable materials. Continue reading

Looking Again At Tegucigalpa, Seeing Why Place Matters

Starting in 1997 I got to know the entire country of Honduras over two years while working on a sustainable tourism development project for the government. I spent more time in Tegucigalpa than anywhere else because my monthly meetings with the Ministry of Tourism were held there. While poverty was visible, the city had a charm, unique in Central America, based on its particular history. At the time I also had many students from Honduras, most from Tegucigalpa, so it was more than a workplace for me. When hurricane Mitch descended on Central America in 1998, nowhere was more devastated than Tegucigalpa; by the time my project ended in 1999 I could not picture how or if the city would recover. I have not been back since, but continued to wonder. Nando Castillo has given me part of the answer, and I thank him for the clarity of his presentation on Medium, which I recommend taking five minutes to read:

Why Place Matters, Part I.

Can our cities evolve into the places we truly need?

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Image: Fuad Azzad Ham

At Raíz Capital our mission is sustainable urban revitalization. Our vision is for Tegucigalpa, a community with a neglected urban core, to become the creative capital of Central America and regain its glory as a prosperous city. We are still a ways from realizing it, but this is the story of how we found that vision and began to make it come true. Continue reading

Plants To Plastic To Progress

A mound of plastic bottles at a recycling plant near Bangkok in Thailand. Around 300 million tonnes of plastic is made every year and most of it is not recycled. Photograph: Diego Azubel/EPA

We’re always happy to give credit when due. While beer isn’t the first beverage that comes to mind when thinking about the scourge of plastics in the world, bottled soda and water certainly are. So it’s heartening to hear that a company like Coca-Cola, which has contributed to the proliferation of the world’s plastic problem, is backing a bioplastic project that could help to control it.

What To Do With Expired Trees

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Dead trees in a California forest in August 2016. U.S. FOREST SERVICE

It sounds like the inverse of rewilding’s restorative approach, when there is a large patch of expired trees; decisions must be made. Thanks to Jane Braxton Little for laying out the questions:

In California, A Push Grows to Turn Dead Trees into Biomass Energy

As forests in California and the Western U.S. are hit by rising numbers of fires and disease outbreaks related to climate change, some experts argue that using dead and diseased trees to produce biomass energy will help to restore forests and reduce CO2 emissions.

Jonathan Kusel owns three pickups and a 45-foot truck for hauling woodchip bins. He operates a woodchip yard and a 35-kilowatt biomass plant that burns dead trees, and he runs a crew marking trees for loggers working in national forests. Those are a lot of blue-collar credentials for a University of California, Berkeley PhD sociologist known for his documentation of how the decline of the timber industry affects rural communities. Continue reading