sustainability

The New Recyclables

image via Living, etc.

Yogurt containers into toothbrushes, Cheetos bags into CD cases.
While you were dutifully rinsing out tuna cans and bundling newspapers, recycling kept moving forward.

Specialized recyclers have sprung up to handle everything imaginable— or unimaginable in some cases: broken crayons, used dentures, old sports trophies, even sex toys. The kitchen is particularly fertile ground for recycling. Following are kitchen items that you’ll probably be surprised to learn are recyclable.

Hershey’s Kisses
Those little bitty foil wrappers sure add up. Around 80 million chocolate Hershey’s Kisses are wrapped every day. That’s enough aluminum foil to cover nearly 40 football fields. Instead of tossing it out, toss it into the bin with aluminum cans.

Corks
We like our chocolate and our wine. 13 billion natural wine corks are sold each year. Get mailing instructions or find a local cork drop-off location on the websites for recyclers ReCORK and  Yemm & Hart. Used corks can  find new life as placemats, shoe footbeds, flooring, and other building materials.

Cooking oil
I hope you know not to pour used cooking oil down the drain. It’s the number one cause of clogs, so clearly a lot of people are pouring it out. Whatever you’ve been doing,  you might be surprised to learn that your used oil can be recycled into biofuel. Check Earth911 for a nearby recycling location.

Packaging and more
Terracycle accepts the previously non-recyclable and turns them into products like clipboards and backpacks. Terracycle accepts:

  • Drink pouches (like Capri Sun) and single-brew coffee pouches (like Flavia)
  • Single-serve treat packaging (granola bars, cookie, gum, and candy bar wrappers)
  • Lunch kits (like Lunchables)
  • Chip bags
  • diapers
  • toothpaste tubes
  • small electronics

Produce stickers
Barry Snyder doesn’t recycle but will upcycle all those little stickers that come on supermarket produce, turning them into mosaic homages to well-known works of art. Visit Stickerman Produce Art to check out his work and for sticker shipping details.

Kitchen appliances
Remodeling a kitchen, or even just replacing the old toaster— use the Steel Recycling Institute’s location finder to pass along old appliances large and small.

If your unwanted items still have some life in them, get them into the hands of people who can use them. Sell them or offer them up as giveaways on Freecycle, Craigslist, Throwplace, and iReuse.com.


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Tap Water: Cheap, Environmentally Sound, and Now Trendy?

[image via Pur]

Remember the aha moment when you realized that Evian is ‘naive’ spelled backwards?
It was a moment of clarity, of sanity. You wouldn’t be duped. You wouldn’t be one of those status-seeking suckers out there who were buying into baseless health claims and slick marketing. You knew that the Emperor was just plain naked.

So what happened?
You did become one of them. We all did.
We’re drinking more bottle water than ever—85 million bottles every single day. But there is one bright spot; one place where we have curbed the habit and are going out of our way to specify tap: tap water orders are way up in restaurants. According to the consumer research group NPD, restaurant tap water is one of the fastest-growing beverage orders, increasing annually by nearly a billion servings.

Economic conditions are clearly behind the trend. In the current recession, we’ve barely cut back on the frequency of dining out—just one percent in the past 5 years—but we’re looking for ways to trim the tab. We’re keeping dessert and dumping the bottled water.

Tap water also has a kind of reverse status for the restaurants.
For three decades, beginning with the Perrier days of the 1970s, restaurants were guilty of promoting water elitism. They sent their waiters out to push high mark-up/high margin bottled water menus, and made us feel like cheapskates when we chose the tap. Now they’re shunning bottled water to demonstrate their locavore and sustainability bonafides, and frankly, they owe us this one.

There’s an environmental upside to the down economy. Since 2006, just this little switch to tap water in restaurants has already saved 8.75 billion gallons of water, and all the associated packaging, transportation, recycling, and landfill waste. The challenge is to make this change permanent, and not lapse into our old water habits when the economy turns around.

 

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The Food Movement Will Occupy Wall Street Next Weekend

 

It’s our turn!
Next Saturday, advocates of food justice will be descending on the Occupy Wall Street encampment.

The connection
The food system is linked to Wall Street in ways that impact us personally and directly, as well as globally and ephemerally.

The scale and scope of the agribusiness monopoly puts the giants of Wall Street to shame.
While the 10 largest banks hold 54% of the nation’s assets, a mere 4 food companies churn out 75% of breakfast cereals, 75% of snacks, 60% of cookies, and 50% of ice cream. Inputs like seeds and pesticides, the mills and slaughterhouses that process foods, and even the supermarkets are similarly concentrated in a few hands, and they hold our nation’s food policy in a vise grip.

Then there is Wall Street’s effect on food prices.
The same deregulation that made the stock market volatile also increased price volatility in agricultural markets. Speculators have only been allowed to freely trade in food futures since 2000. Farmers used to trade in futures to guarantee a stable price for their future harvests; now agricultural commodities are just one more investment vehicle for speculators looking to squeeze out short-term profits, putting downward pressure on wages and pushing up prices.

When Occupy Wall Street protestors talks about the 1% and the other 99%, the gap between rich and poor is seen in starkest relief in terms of hunger and deprivation. 17 million school-aged children are underfed, nearly 1 in 5 Americans relies on food stamps, and half of all babies are born into households receiving government food subsidies.

Next Saturday’s demonstration is not just for food activists, or even activists who care about food. It’s for all of us who understand that to change the food system, we need systemic change in the institutions, regulations, and corporate influence that stand in the way of a healthy and just food system.

 

 

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The 5 W’s of Food Day

The Who
It might be easier to list the who isn’t.
Food Day was created by the consumer-advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Food Day’s advisory board is stacked with city mayors and university heads, Senators and members of Congress, two former Surgeons General, chefs, scientists, public health leaders, and many of the most prominent voices for change in the food policy world (Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, Jim Hightower, and many more).
Food Day’s hundreds of partner organizations run the gamut from the Sierra Club to the Episcopal Church, and corporate partners include Whole Foods, Dole, and The Cooking Channel.

The What
It’s a day dedicated to raising awareness and raising funds to promote healthy eating and affordable, sustainable foods.
Food Day is based on Earth Day in that any individual or group, formal or informal, can plan an event. There are thousands scheduled, including policy campaign kick-offs, food festivals, cooking lessons, farm tours, film screenings, school curricula, protests, and themed dinners in restaurants, private homes, and public spaces.

The When
Food Day is Monday, October 24.
We’re in the home stretch.

The Where
Food Day events large and small are being planned all around the country.
There will be high-profile gatherings like the massive, celebrity-packed Eat Real Eat-In being held in New York’s Times Square, and others as low key as a home cook’s pie-making class being held in a Brookline kitchen.
Visit the Food Day website to find events near you, or consider hosting your own Food Day dinner with help from Epicurious’ Food Day event planning kit.

Why
Because it’s time to fix our broken food system.

FOODDAY.org

 

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How Green is Your Coffee?

Actually, it’s pretty hard to tell.
There’s fair trade and organic coffee, shade-grown, and even bird-friendly.
You can drink it in a recycled cup with organic soy milk and sugar from plants that haven’t been genetically altered.
And there’s the carbon impact.

By the time the beans have been grown, harvested, processed, roasted, shipped, ground, and brewed, your morning cup of coffee has left a pretty big footprint on the planet. About 3 pounds of CO2 are released into the atmosphere for every pound of coffee that is produced using environmentally responsible practices. More when it has been factory-farmed.

You can buy carbon neutral coffee.
Carbon-neutral means that the sum of the world-wide activities that produced your coffee did not contribute to the carbon in the environment. To accomplish this, a grower or roaster conducts an audit of their energy usage and emissions, and then plants trees (which are naturally carbon-sequestering) to mitigate the impact. Carbon offsets are purchased in an amount to make up the difference.

We know what ‘carbon neutral’ means, and there are private companies that provide audits and certifications, but there’s no national standard or official certification, and no regulations or protocol for the FTC to enforce. Until we get some standardization and clarity, here are a few things you can do to green your coffee-drinking habit:

  • Minimize your footprint by shopping locally. Unless you live in the tropical band around the equator, you can’t buy locally grown coffee, but you can reduce the number of miles that your coffee has to travel to reach you by finding a roaster close to you to cut down on the trip and the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by your coffee delivery. Coffee Habitat will tell you where you can find roasters in your area that have demonstrated social responsibility in both their bean imports and their own business practices.
  • Consider the source. Shade-grown, bird-friendly, and fair trade are not mere marketing ploys to ease a guilty conscience. They are all designations and certifications that have real, enforceable teeth that guarantee ethical and environmentally sound growing practices.
  • Use a permanent filter in your coffee maker. The little paper filter might seem like a small thing, but disposable coffee filters are a strain on the environment both at the start of their life and at the end. They use paper, which is made from a consumable resource that is slow to be replaced. Toxic chemicals are employed when the paper is processed, and after they’re used, they end up in a land fill for decades. Worst of all are the snowy white filters that were bleached to get that way.

 

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The Ethical Carnivore: Pleased to Meat You

It’s not like you’re suddenly going to go cold turkey, if you’ll pardon the pun. We humans didn’t claw our way up the food chain so we could eat quinoa.

Meat-eating and ethical eating don’t have to be mutually exclusive. There are ways to eat meat that are sensitive to the environment, to our health, and to the animals involved.

All meat is not created equal.
We all know that factory farming is a grotesquery. It’s basically institutionalized animal cruelty and it creates a product that is unfit and unhealthy for human consumption. It depletes resources and is destructive to the environment.

Then there’s grass-fed or pasture-raised beef.
These animals are raised in open, humane, sanitary conditions. They conserve resources by passing on a diet of grains grown with petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides. Better for your health, grass-fed beef contains fewer antibiotics and hormones, is leaner than grain-fed and grain-finished beef, and has a more favorable ratio of omega fatty acids.

The well-managed pasture system sustains natural resources by reducing erosion and water pollution, conserving carbon, and preserving biodiversity and wildlife. Their sales methods—either operating as an independent, selling directly from their own property, or selling through small, locally focused producer groups—help support local communities, promote local foodsheds, and earn a fair price for the producers.

The industrialization of the calf.
We took an earth-friendly, solar-powered ruminant and turned it into a fossil-fuel powered machine.
The problem with banishing all meat from the dinner table is that ranchers of conscience are caught in the sweep, demonized along with factory farmers. These ethical producers should be celebrated as the vanguard of a growing revolt against industrial agriculture, not penalized by association.

Let’s face it, we are not heading toward a meatless society.
But we can be a society of ethical carnivores. We need to eat meat in moderation and avoid animals raised in confined spaces and fed an unnatural diet. Choosing grass-fed beef can have a lasting impact on our health and the health of the planet.

 

 

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A Global Warming Amuse Bouche.

image via World Magazine

How’s that climate change thing working for you?
Not everyone is in agreement on the causes, but the effects are undeniable.
Popsicles and iced drinks can only take you so far. What will you be eating as the planet heats up?

2010 was the world’s hottest year on record; that is, until 2011. The National Weather Service reports that 1,400 records for a high temperature have been broken around the country this summer, and we’re not even through July. The current heat wave is exceptional for its duration, strength, and even breadth, and climatologists are telling us it’s just a taste of things to come.

Atmospheric scientists at the University of Washington and at Stanford University’s Program for Food Security and the Environment analyzed data from 23 climate models. They predict, with 90%  certainty, that by the end of the 21st century, average growing-season temperatures will be hotter than the most extreme levels recorded in the past. Barring a swift and sudden reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions, here’s what will happen to our food:

  • Fruit trees will blossom weeks early in the warmer spring weather, before insects arrive to pollinate them. Without successful pollination, small fruit will form and quickly drop off the trees before it can mature.
  • Grapes will wither into raisins before they can be pressed for wine.
  • Dairy cows will experience reproductive failure and produce less milk.
  • Hogs and cattle will go off their feed and take longer to get to market.
  • Chickens will lay fewer eggs.
  • Coffee-growing regions will fade away as growers are forced to either move to higher ground or pack it in.
  • We’ll drink  summer ales year-round—the only palatable brew from weaker, low-acid, warm-weather hops.
  • Fish will flee the southern hemisphere, vegetables will wither in the fields, maple syrup will be just a memory.

We’ve seen food prices rise by 20% as the hot weather torpedoes production, but what if dinner costs 20 times what it did?

The midwestern breadbasket will be redubbed the tropical fruit bowl.
Mashed cassava will stand in for potatoes, we’ll eat french-fried yucca, and scramble the eggy akee fruit for breakfast. It’s already happening across Europe, where England has begun producing bananas, olives, and oranges, and central Russia is planted with fig trees and lemons.

The evidence continues to pile up.
This is not just another summer heatwave but part of a larger trend that is indisputably based on measured concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Global warming as a result of human activity is recognized by the national science academies of  every major industrialized country.

Learn how your personal choices  impact the environment. Read Ten Personal Solutions to Global Warming from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Join 350.com, a global, grassroots movement to solve the crisis.

 

 

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Your 12-pack Toting Days are Numbered

[image via the Purple Sprout]

 

Why are we buying all those bottles and cans of soda?
Oceans of corn syrup, mountains of glass and plastic waste, money, fossil fuels; this is wrong on so many levels I don’t know where to begin.

Americans consume about 50 billion liters of soda a year. That comes to 216 liters for every man, woman, and child, most of it sealed in plastic or aluminum. It’s labeled and packaged and packed into cartons. It’s shipped around the country, passes through distributors and wholesalers and retailers, before it’s toted home in 12-packs loaded into the trunk of a car.

All that for water and flavoring and some CO2 for carbonation. The stuff could come from anywhere, and we’re importing it like it’s lobsters from Maine.

You can (and should) make soda at home.
It’s economical and green and better for your health. The easiest way to go about making soda and sparkling water is with a home system. The newest versions are light years away from the old-fashioned, cumbersome seltzer siphons. All you do is fill a bottle with tap water, pop it into a soda maker, and in 3 seconds you have seltzer. You can make sparkling fruit juice, adjust the bubble size to your preference, or add extracts and syrups to make soda.

The initial investment (machine, carbonation, bottles, a few syrups) starts at around $100, but quickly pays for itself. You only have to give up a few inches of counter space, and it works without electricity.

Slate’s Get Busy with the Fizzy marvels at the home carbonation phenomenon, and details the perfect storm of economics, health concerns, environmental awareness, and nostalgia that shaped it.

You can make classics like homemade ginger ale, root beer, and cream soda, or experiment with herbs and seasonal ingredients like strawberry-rhubarb, chai tea, and orange-lemongrass. The Homemade Soda Expert has tips and links to suppliers and recipes.

 

 

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Tired of fumbling with round fruit? Try a Square Watermelon.

http://www.crown-melon.com/The%20square%20watermelon.files/kaku-mae-big-shiro1.gifOur first glimpse of a square watermelon was in a cartoon. In Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo, our favorite television family was vacationing in Japan when Homer Simpson squandered so much of their vacation money on Japanese novelties, including a square watermelon, they were nearly stranded there forever.

It took a few more years for Japan’s farmers to catch up with Homer’s prescience.

Leave it to the Japanese to come up with this one. From bonsai trees, to compact cars, to miniaturized electronics, they have demonstrated their mastery of making things work in small spaces, and population-dense Japan is full of them. Homes are compact, the kitchens within them are tiny, and the refrigerators are positively Lilliputian.

Watermelons are big, roundish space hogs that have never fit well in Japanese refrigerators. This has been a particular concern in Japan, where melons hold a special place in society. The rarest and most exotic are sold as high-end gifts in luxury fruit shops. The nation tracks the springtime fruit harvest like baseball stats, when first-of-the season melons sell for astronomical sums—this year, a pair of Yubari cantaloupe fetched the top price of one million yen (about $12,400).

Square watermelons were created to accommodate Japanese refrigerators. While still growing on the vine, a farmer puts each immature melon into a square, tempered glass box that exactly matches refrigerator dimensions. The full-grown watermelon, once it’s removed from the box, fits precisely on refrigerator shelves.

Growers in California and Panama plan to introduce square watermelons into the American market. Even with our big, American-style refrigerators, we can appreciate the space savings—square melons take up less room, and therefore less energy, to cool, transport and display in stores. Less space means a smaller carbon footprint.
If you want round, you can always pull out the melon-baller.

Not just square: one Japanese grower has been fooling around with other shapes. See the watermelon heart, the pyramid, and more at Crown Melon.

Instructables has step-by-step instructions that show you how to grow your own square watermelon.

 

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A Different Kind of Food TV.

We’ve been gorging on food shows.
Let’s be honest—what we watch is like so much junk food.

This is something new.
Food Forward has no celebrity chefs or anyone of the spokesmodel-pseudo-semi-chef ilk. There are no roguish bad boy types or cheeky Brits. We won’t be making over kitchens, egging on competitors, engaging in reality voyeurism, or bearing witness to stomach-churning displays of the gastronomically bizarre.

Food Forward follows Bay Area-based food writer Stett Holbrook as he circles the country in a vintage Airstream trailer, introducing viewers to constituents of America’s good food movement. Starting out in northern California, he’s hitting the road for the summer, film crew, wife, and two small children in tow. He will be introducing us to the new vanguard of food innovators; the producers, growers, chefs, farmers, scientists, community leaders, and teachers who are changing the way we eat.

Food Forward doesn’t dwell on the legion of ills associated with the industrial model of food production, leaving that to documentaries like Food, Inc. and King Corn. Instead, it explores themes like school lunches, urban agriculture, sustainable fishing, and pastured meats by celebrating the people who have succeeded in the creation of sustainable solutions. Each episode will showcase rural farmers, urban homesteaders, food festivals, and heroes of the DIY movement.

Food Forward is ‘penciled in’ to be broadcast on PBS stations this fall. In the meantime, you can follow the blog of the edible journey, currently traveling south through the Sierra foothills. There are key stops planned for Los Angeles, Santa Fe, Boulder, Austin, New Orleans, Memphis, Atlanta, Washington, D.C, New York City, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Seattle, and Portland; and plenty in between.

 

 

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Where’s Our Tickle-Me Loris?

We sure could use a loris.
Cute-as-a-button with beseeching, animé eyes, a homemade video of a slow loris luxuriating in a good tickle session has been viewed nearly 10 million times, bringing loads of attention (and donations) to the plight of this endangered species.
Where’s the poster child for endangered food?

We’re not talking about endangered foods like lobster thermador and cube steaks, though sightings are rare.
Or the truly extinct, like Kellogg’s Banana Frosted Flakes, the McDonald’s McDLT, with its hot-cold styrofoam overkill, and the products that suddenly disappear from Trader Joe’s shelves.
We’re concerned with foods that are on track to disappear from the face of the planet—irretrievably, irrevocably, and completely.

A century ago, we were growing and eating 14,000 apple varieties—nearly every state and region, town, and even neighborhood had its favored, distinct varieties. They came in all sizes, shapes, and colors, with different flavors and textures to suit each community’s taste and cooking style. Today, we’re down to 100 commercially-grown varieties- nearly all of them red, round, and sweet- but you’ll only find around 5 or 6 in your neighborhood supermarket; the same 5 or 6 varieties you’ll find in any neighborhood’s supermarket in any part of the country.

And we call ourselves foodies.
95% of the U.S. cabbage diversity, 91% of corn, 94% of peas, and 81% of tomato varieties have been lost. All in all, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates  that 75% of the world’s agricultural diversity has been lost in the past 100 years. There were those we liked too much and over-harvested, those we didn’t like enough and abandoned, and those that succombed to blight, pests, or climate change; but most were merely poorly suited to today’s large-scale, mechanized farming and long-distance shipping.

Of course quality of life suffers when choices and pleasures are limited, but more importantly, it puts our food supply at risk. There is always the possibility of crop damage  from factors like weather, pests, and blight, plus modern dangers posed by the still-unknown consequences of unleashing genetically modified organisms into the environment. The lack of diversity means that an entire plant species will be susceptible to the same threat—we could see global crop devastation from the spread of a single risk factor.

The solution is unthinkable for the World Wildlife Fund, but when charbono grapes are endangered instead of giant pandas or slow lorises, it helps to eat the species. We can encourage farmers to grow heirloom varieties by creating demand for them at farmers markets, produce markets, and supermarkets.

The genetic diversity of heritage varieties is well worth preserving. Their variations might prove to be the only answer to the crop tolerances and adaptations needed to weather the unknown and unforseeable conditions of farming’s future, and they restore forgotten flavors and pleasures to our tables.

We need to shop for selection and variety beyond the standard, hybridized strains and say no (very loudly) to genetically modified foods.

The US Ark of Taste is a catalog of endangered and threatened foods maintained by Slow Food USA. The website can help you locate growers, producers, and seed exchanges.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is nature’s backup plan, buried deep in an Arctic mountain 700 miles from the North Pole.

 

 

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The Fish of the Sea

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Genesis 1:28

So how’s that dominion thing working out for you?

There’s nothing like a perch at the top of the food chain.
We’ve got the handy opposable thumbs and complex forebrains, and when it comes to a fish dinner, we’ve made the most of them. We’ve developed a taste for predators—tuna, salmon, swordfish, cod—all the high-protein, high-fat fish that are enriched by their own diets of feeder fish.

The traditional food chain concept taught us that the sun makes plankton that’s eaten by the crustaceans that are eaten by small forager fish; those are eaten by small predator fish, which in turn are eaten by larger predators and mammals.

We’ve since learned that the food chain concept is too simplistic. The oceans are full of picky herbivores, cross-over omnivores, and predators that double as prey. The new terminology is ‘food web,’ a more holistic approach that explains the complex interconnectedness of ocean species. Mess with one marine relationship and you’re messing with them all, plus a whole host of habitats and ecosystems. But you know us and our dominion—of course we’ve been messing.

Here’s what our taste for striped bass and red snapper has done:
The large predator fish we’re so fond of are in steep decline from overfishing. Popular species like cod, swordfish, and tuna have dropped by 90% in the past 50 years, their very existence threatened with extinction. With their natural predators disappearing, wild forage fish populations have exploded, and with too many foragers gobbling up the krill, there’s nothing to feed on the plankton. Now we’re seeing vast and unseasonable plankton ‘blooms’ turning swaths of the oceans into a plant-laden green soup that sucks out all the oxygen and wreaks havoc on ecosystems.

Hang on to those fish forks.
The best way to rebalance the oceans is to eat around the food web—fewer of the top predators and more from the burgeoning population of forager fish like sardines, herring, and anchovies.
Eat prey, not predators.

Seafood Watch at the Monterey Bay Aquarium has recommendations and recipes for ocean-friendly fish, available online and as a mobile app.

 

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Clicks or Bricks: Is it greener to buy groceries online?

Who wouldn’t want to cut out all those trips to the supermarket?
Hopefully you’ve already cut way back, with a larger portion of your food coming from farmers markets and other local sources, but you just can’t get everything. There will always be a need for the cans and bottle, cleaning supplies and paper goods that large chain stores offer cheaper and with better selection. We are still left with that most detestable of all household errands—the trip to the supermarket.

It’s misery from start to finish: the parking space in the next county, the shopping cart with a cranky wheel, the checkout line that inches along, and finally the multiple trips from car to kitchen hauling all those grocery bags. What if you could eliminate that dreaded chore AND reduce your environmental impact?

A study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University’s Green Design Institute concluded that online purchases with home delivery can result in 35 percent less energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions than traditional shopping. Approximately 65 percent of total emissions generated by the traditional retail model comes from driving your own car to and from the store. Even though a huge, fuel-burning truck will be bringing the groceries to you, the incremental energy consumption and emissions created by one more shopping order and one more delivery stop added to the truck’s route is less significant than if you make the drive yourself.

There are also logistical differences in the supply chain that can lessen the environmental impact of online shopping. Traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers generally have items shipped from manufacturers to distributors to regional warehouses, where they are then redistributed to individual store locations. Online sellers can streamline the process. They usually eliminate at least one tier of regional warehousing, and some can even skip a few steps by relying on distribution partners to ship directly shipping to customer homes. This cuts back not just on the transportation of products, but also the bundled packaging and packing materials needed along the way.

Online grocery shopping is making a comeback.
The retail model was full of promise in the 1980’s, flamed out notably in the dot-com bust of the 1990’s (CNET named the failed online grocer Webvan the top flop of the era), and has gradually found its footing  in the aftermath. But online grocery purchases have never grown beyond a miniscule 1-2 percent portion of overall sales, thriving in just a few urban niche markets.

Here come the game-changers.
And this time around it’s a new ballgame—we’ve grown comfortable with online shopping, the modems are a lot faster, and gas prices have passed $4.00  a gallon. Walmart, already the nation’s biggest grocer, is experimenting with a new online service called Walmart To Go, while Amazon, the king of online retailers, has big plans for a national roll-out of its own service, AmazonFresh.

There are plenty of alternatives for the Walmart averse. SOS eMarketing compiled a list of 50 online grocers including ethnic, regional, and specialty retailers, and plenty of sources for organic and environmentally-friendly products.

You can read the full Carnegie Mellon study, Life Cycle Comparison of Traditional Retail and E-Commerce Logistics for Electronic Products: A Case Study of Buy.com, at the publications page of the university’s Green Design Institute.

 

 

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Can You be Green and Eat Fast Food?

That’s the question that went through my mind when this year’s Greenopia fast food ratings crossed my desk.

Each year, the green-living website rates the environmental impact and healthy dining characteristics of popular fast food chains. The rankings are based on factors like sustainable building design, integrity of the supply chain, and participation in recycling and composting programs. We learn that McDonald’s is greener than Burger King, and Subway is doing a better job than Taco Bell. Good to know, yes, but doesn’t this beg the question? Can you be green and still eat fast food?

Can fast food ever be green?
Fast food chains generate tremendous amounts of waste. Recycled or not, no other dining format can touch its levels. And once you peel back the wrappers and packaging, you have the food miles and greenhouse gases, and the salt, fat, and high-fructose corn syrup of factory farmed, heavily processed foods.

Fast food will ultimately hit the wall when it tries to go green.
We, the customers, are hooked on fast, cheap, and convenient. The fast food giants can improve their use and disposal of packaging materials. They have the clout to push food producers toward more sustainable options that are organic, fairly traded, and additive-free. But the high volume, low cost model will always dictate the terms and impose its own limitations. Processed travels better than fresh, fruit-flavored is cheaper than fruit, and a Big Mac is still going to cost less than a salad. Getting it ‘to go’ will always mean wasteful packaging, and cars will continue to idle in drive-through lanes.

Let’s go back to the original question: Can you be green and eat fast food?
There are plenty of anti-waste crusaders and Slow Food advocates who would answer with an emphatic, unequivocal ‘no;’ that even the greenest of fast food options run counter to their missions, producing more waste and carbon emissions than home cooking served on real dishes. But isn’t that like telling the owner of a Prius that hybrids are pointless, or even counterproductive, because they still burn fossil fuels?

While it’s true that a bicycle is a greener, more ethical option than any car, it obviously doesn’t work for everyone and in all circumstances. As an alternative, a hybrid car is a laudable, pragmatic solution, and even a catalyst for change—the presence of each one on our roads helps promote a worthy message in the public sphere.

Unfortunately, most of us won’t be giving up our quick, inexpensive meals eaten on the fly any more than we will quit driving. So when we opt for fast food, we need to patronize those chains that are making a true effort to minimize their impact on the environment, the ones given a 3- or 4-leaf rating by Greenopia.

Choosing to eat even the most ethical, sustainable fast food is an imperfect option in the same way that a Prius is an imperfect vehicle, and the self-righteous among us might challenge the ‘greenness’ of the choice. But it represents distinct, incremental progress and creates public awareness that just might be the catalyst for further change on our way to a greener future.

Just how bad is fast food’s impact on the environment? Jamais Cascio breaks it all down for you in the Cheeseburger Footprint.

 

Posted in fast food, sustainability | Tagged , | 3 Comments

The Reasons for Rabbit

Always a bridesmaid.
It never seems to be rabbit’s turn. Chicken and pork have seats at the table, while rabbit, the other other white meat is a perennial third wheel.
Could this be the year that we fall in love? […]

Posted in food trends, sustainability | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Brace Yourself: Your Man Might Be a Vegan

image via Vegan Soapbox

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The tell-tale signs:

Does the man in your life know the proper pronunciation of quinoa?
Has he ever come home with a guilty look and the smell of wheat grass on his breath?
Does he think it’s cute when you refer to lentils as legumes (Silly girl, they’re pulses!) and get hot and bothered when you wear your organic cotton t shirt?
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but your man is a vegan. […]

Posted in health + diet, sustainability | Tagged , | 1 Comment

The Real Congressional Bloat: $860,000 tab for bottled water.

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$860,000.

This is the amount spent on bottled water in one year by the members of the House of Representatives.
No campaign funds; it’s all taxpayer money.

We recently learned quite a bit about the Congressional food and beverage tab.
In 2009, Speaker Nancy Pelosi initiated the online publication of the Statement of Disbursements, a report of all receipts and expenditures for Members of Congress, including individual budgets and the allowances they are given to run their D.C. and district offices.

The Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that’s all about governmental accountability and transparency, slogged through the disbursements database to create spending portraits for every member of the House of Representatives (the Senate has said it will begin reporting later this year). This first data dump covered a 9-month period, from July 2009 through March 2010.

Here are some of the more revealing expenditures:

The 435 Representatives spent a combined $2.6 million on food and beverages for themselves and their staff members. Only $152 at Quiznos.
The single biggest spender was a new guy, Gregorio Sablan, who was elected in 2008 as the first nonvoting delegate to the House of Representatives from the Northern Mariana Islands.
The top-spending office holds the purse strings for the Congressional Pages, the hungry teenagers who run errands and perform grunt work for House members. The Democratic Caucus held down second place mostly due to the food costs of a single $115,000 weekend getaway, when the legislators ate very well in Williamsburg, Va.
The hungriest House Committee was Foreign Affairs—with five times the food spending as number two Homeland Security.

Asleep at the wheel?
A surprisingly modest $84,794 went to coffee vendors—not even a pound a week for each Rep’s office.
The afternoon pick-me-up of choice is Coke, not Pepsi. For both parties.

About that water…
It irks because it’s such an out-sized expense—nearly one-fourth of all food and beverage spending.
And an unnecessary one; every office could be outfitted with refrigerated, filtered water coolers and fountains for a fraction of what’s being spent on single-use plastic bottles.
It sends the wrong message about our public water supply from the elected body that’s responsible for repairing and expanding our clean drinking water infrastructure. The area’s water utility, DC Water, has even offered to provide every Congressional office with tap water quality testing kits and reusable water bottles free of charge.
And of course it’s troubling because we all know that bottled water is an environmental disaster.

$860,000. That’s enough to fund a dozen or so elementary school teachers, or train 100 new associate nurses, or subsidize a year’s worth of free lunches for thousands of schoolchildren.

Tell the House how you feel. Sign the petition at Change.org asking Speaker Boehner and the Congressional Representatives to cut wasteful spending, keep plastic out of landfills, and eliminate bottled water purchases from the House budget.

You can peruse the complete House Expenditures Report Database on the Sunlight Foundation’s website.

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Posted in food policy, sustainability | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Ka-BLOOM!

seed bomber by Banksy

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Seed bombs of discontent.

It’s a crime to step on private property and plant a flower.
You can be arrested for trespassing, vandalism, or littering.
But it’s also criminal the way that some private property owners neglect unused land, allowing an empty lot to become a barren, inhospitable blight on a neighborhood. […]

Posted in sustainability | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Eco-Friendly Wine: It’s Not Easy Being Green

.image via Certified International

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You’ve heard of the French Paradox? You can call this the Napa Valley Paradox.

Organic tends to cost more than its conventional counterparts. It’s true for produce and dairy, meats and cleaning products. But when ‘organic’ appears on a wine label, it actually commands a lower price. […]

Posted in beer + wine + spirits, food business, sustainability | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Good Canned Beer: It’s not an oxymoron.

Watery swill. Tinny, metallic taste..
Cans have long been associated with mass-produced, cheap suds.
High quality beer in a can? Blasphemy!

Exploding the myth.
Cans are arguably better— kinder to both the beer and the planet.

Cans block out light, which accelerates the oxidation that degrades beer. Brewers use brown glass bottles to cut the light, but cans will block it completely.

Bottles are heavy and fragile. Cans are lighter and more space efficient than bottles. Cans require less fuel to manufacture, ship and store, and are more likely to be recycled than glass bottles.

Once you get the cans home, they chill quicker in your refrigerator, and they can go places that bottles can’t, like parks, stadiums, and beaches.

About that tinny taste
It’s a thing of the past. Cans today are lined with a thin, food-grade polymer coating, which means the beer never touches metal.

The big breakthrough came in 2001 when micro-canning equipment—a manual, two-at-a-time canning system designed specifically for small brewers—hit the market. Today, you’ll find bars with draft lists, bottle lists, and can lists, with the once lowly can selling at a premium. Younger drinkers, who had already embraced the retro-chic of old school canned beers like PBR, are an easy sell. One taste of a freshly hopped, craft-canned IPA helps older drinkers to quickly move past the stigma of beer in cans.

The Beer Can Hall of Fame, Beer Cans in Literature and Film, Great Moments in Beer Can History; you’ll find all this and more at the Beer Can Museum. The complete collection (nearly 5,000 cans!) is housed in East Taunton, Massachusetts, but the website features plenty of photographs and breweriana.

A gift membership to the Brewery Collectibles Club of America comes with a subscription to their bi-monthly publication Beer Cans and Brewery Collectibles.

You’ll find more gift ideas for the canned beer lover at This Next.

And don’t forget to recycle!



Posted in beer + wine + spirits, sustainability | Tagged , | 1 Comment
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