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Posts Tagged ‘sustainable’

Photo: Angel Valentin/The Guardian.
“Puerto Rico imports 85% of its food,” the Guardian reports. The three farms of Güakiá Colectivo Agroecológico in Dorado “seek food sovereignty and climate solutions.”

The UK-based Guardian has some of the best coverage of North America to be found anywhere, and it’s free. Readers are asked to contribute, and I recommend doing so if you want to support good journalism.

A few days ago, the Guardian posted this update on an agricultural movement in Puerto Rico that, if taken up elsewhere, could make a big difference to the planet.

Nina Lakhani wrote, “Puerto Rico was once a thriving agricultural hub thanks to its tropical climate, rich biodiversity, and sustainable farming traditions. Today, less than 2% of the workforce is employed in agriculture and tens of thousands of acres of arable land sit idle. Meanwhile 85% of the food eaten in Puerto Rico is imported, grocery prices are among the highest in the US and last year two in five people experienced food insecurity.

“ ‘Unemployment is brutal, prices are brutal, migration from the island is brutal,’ said Denise Santos, who runs Puerto Rico’s food bank.

“Puerto Rico, a mountainous Caribbean archipelago, is also one of the places in the world most affected by extreme weather such as storms, floods and droughts. In 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated the islands and people went hungry as ships were unable to dock at the damaged ports.

“In the face of so many challenges, a new wave of interest in food and farming among younger Puerto Ricans is flourishing, as part of a wider movement demanding political, environmental and social justice. Small scale sustainable farming known as agroecology is driving a resurgence in locally grown produce that chefs, farmers, entrepreneurs and researchers argue can help revitalize the local economy, improve food sovereignty and both mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis.

“Agroecology is low impact agriculture that works with nature and local conditions to produce food sustainably so as to protect biodiversity and soil quality while drawing carbon out of the atmosphere.

  • “It involves a set of farming principles and practices that can be adapted to any ecosystem, microclimate and culture – a way of life practiced for thousands of years by indigenous people and peasant farmers. Farmers often integrate crops, livestock and trees (agroforestry) in order to maximize ecological conditions, such as a fruit orchard that aids water retention and provides shade for crops and grazing animals who in turn fertilize the earth to improve the yield.
  • “Crop rotation and crop cover are fundamental to this holistic approach, that takes into consideration the well-being of the Earth, those who produce the food as well as the local communities who eat it. …
  • “Advocates say agroecology offers locally driven solutions to a myriad of interconnected crises including food insecurity, biodiversity loss, environmental degradation and global heating.
  • “Agroecology is a social and political movement seeking to influence public policies so that sustainable farming benefits from government support (tax breaks, subsidies, and bailouts) currently propping up the dominant industrial agriculture system which is a major cause of biodiversity loss and accounts for more than a quarter of global greenhouse gases.”

The Guardian goes on to profile “three agroecology farms striving to change what and how Puerto Ricans eat by challenging the political, economic and agricultural status quo.” Here is one.

Güakiá Colectivo Agroecológico “is the collective brainchild of four graduates from [the Josco Bravo project] whose main objective is to improve access to healthy affordable food for vulnerable local communities. The farm is located off a highway in Dorado, an economically divided municipality with both multimillion dollar beach homes and families living hand-to-mouth in houses without indoor plumbing.

“The land belongs to a New York-based order of nuns who agreed to rent them 11 acres in 2017 for a symbolic amount ($1 per acre per year) after they’d almost given up hope of finding somewhere affordable. Back then it was a mess, having been used for years as an unauthorized rubbish dump, and they were still cleaning up when Maria struck, leaving many without work, shelter, food or clean water.

By the beginning of 2018, they were able to share the first crop – plantain, beans, yuca and papaya – with families going hungry.

” ‘Agroecology has always been a form of resistance against colonial capitalism, and here we are trying to rescue collective working and reject individualism by reconnecting people to the land and food, and building trust and solidarity,’ said Marissa Reyes-Diaz, 32, a biology graduate who also works for the nonprofit El Puente: Latino Climate Action Network. (All four members of the collective have second jobs.)

“Agroforestry is a big focus here, and there are fragrant fruit trees growing alongside a variety of crops, which has created multiple small ecosystems that help keep precious nutrients and rainwater in the ground. (Diversity enhances a farm’s resilience, as different crops are vulnerable and resistant to different pests, climate extremes and soil deficiencies.)

“So far the orchards have helped them survive two very dry spells, but it’s not enough to sustain and grow the farm, even with rainwater tanks and water from a neighbouring farmer. They’re trying to raise $40,000 to build a well connecting to the underground aquifer as water remains the biggest obstacle to long term success.

“But Güakiá is not just a farm, it’s also a community hub where neighbors come to enjoy the green spaces and try unfamiliar produce such as beets, turmeric roots and wild basil, as well as taste tomatoes fresh from the vine.

“Some locals volunteer, others exchange their food waste (needed to make compost) for vegetables, and prices remain accessible. They’ve hosted festivals with live music, art exhibitions, self defence classes, yoga and dominos — a very popular Caribbean pastime — and have built an emergency shelter fitted with solar panels ready for the next climate catastrophe. Reyes-Diaz said: ‘Agroecology has never been just about producing food, it’s also about sustaining our physical and mental health and spiritual well-being.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Acciona.
Toronto uses deep lake water to cool buildings.

Although the building-cooling technology in today’s post has been online since 2004, it was new — and delightful — to me. I do love hearing about advances in energy sustainability.

Tik Root at the Washington Post has the story.

“With just minutes left in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA finals, the Toronto Raptors drained a 16-foot jumper to pull ahead by six points. Hardly a soul was sitting down or silent as fans cheered the team toward Canada’s first basketball championship.

“But the sellout crowd also posed a challenge. The National Basketball Association requires arenas to be chilled to between 65 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. And, left unchecked, the arena’s 20,144 attendees were likely to produce a sweltering mess that would set off alarms at league headquarters.

“ ‘People bring with them a lot of body heat,’ said Kyle Lamkey, director of engineering for the arena. ‘Cooling is probably one of the most critical parts of our building.’

“But unlike other sports venues, Scotiabank Arena doesn’t keep its temperatures in check using air conditioners. Toronto is home to the world’s largest deep lake water cooling (DLWC) system.

Conceptually, the technology is relatively simple. Instead of relying on energy-intensive compressors and chillers to dissipate heat from buildings, DLWC uses water from nearby Lake Ontario to whisk away the warmth.

“The system launched in 2004 with only a handful of customers in the city, but it now cools over 100 downtown buildings, ranging from City Hall and Toronto General Hospital to hotels and even a brewery.

“Enwave, the company that owns and operates Toronto’s DLWC, says the system already saves 90,000 mega-watt hours of electricity use annually — roughly enough to power a town of 25,000. It is so popular that the city has nearly reached capacity and recently committed to an expansion. …

“Toronto’s cooling process begins about 3.5 miles south of the city and 280 feet underwater, in the depths of Lake Ontario where the water remains cool year-round. The water is first drawn into the city through three massive pipes, spaced about half a mile apart. In the planned expansion, a fourth pipe will be added to increase capacity by 60 percent.

“Once the lake water makes it to the city, the DLWC system operates via a series of water loops. There is a loop that moves the lake water; a loop that moves water within the downtown area; and loops in each building the system serves. The water moves itself through these pipes using relatively little energy.

“Traditional commercial water-cooling systems often involve towers that evaporate water as a means of expelling heat. DLWC avoids that evaporation, and Enwave estimates that the Toronto system saves roughly 220 million gallons of water annually.

“Another way the Toronto system saves is by using largely passive heat exchangers, rather than energy-intensive air conditioners and chillers. Heat exchangers transfer heat, or coolness, between water loops and are located where those water loops meet — at each customer site and where the lake water pipes meet the city pipes. The latter heat exchanger uses the coolness of the lake water to dissipate heat from the downtown buildings. DLWC ultimately allows buildings to consume less electricity. …

“Finding suitable conditions for a DLWC system isn’t always simple. Location is the first hurdle to making the technology feasible. Much of the East Coast of the United States, for example, has a shallow, sloped ocean shelf that makes it difficult to position a system at the depths necessary. There also must be enough cooling demand to justify a system.

“Then there are the enormous upfront costs. Cornell University’s lake water cooling system — the largest and oldest in the United States — cost $58.5 million. The investment, though, ‘has easily already paid for itself,’ said Todd Cowen, an engineer at the university, because operating and maintenance costs are so low.

“Toronto’s system costs (CAD) $170 million, and unlike Cornell, Enwave needed customers. Lou Di Gironimo, general manager for Toronto Water, says the question was, ‘Would this be a sustainable economic activity?’ But any fears of failure were short-lived. Starting with only a few customers in 2004, Enwave’s DLWC customer base has since expanded rapidly. …

“Said Hermann Kugeler, with Makai Ocean Engineering, Inc., a company that designs and installs piping for the systems … ‘I think the big thing is informing people that it exists.’ ”

Diagrams at the Post, here, can help you understand how it works.

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Photo: Jill Mead/The Guardian.
Fleur Britten with Simon Johnson at Pattern Project in south London. Covid got people going with sewing their own clothes. Sustainability concerns could make them continue.

Unlike me, not everyone is OK with wearing the same clothes for 30 years. But even fashionistas are starting to worry about how much clothing ends up in landfills or is sourced from factories paying slave wages.

Fleur Britten has an article at the Guardian about being mindful while having fun making her own clothes.

She writes, “My foot hovers nervously over the sewing machine pedal. I am cautiously working my way through a sew-it-yourself kit produced by Pattern Project, a ‘microfactory’ startup in south London. It has pioneered a laser-cutting machine that can cut patterns on demand, with minimal waste. The pieces for the dropped-sleeve dress that I am sewing have been snipped to my precise measurements by a zippy little laser, which whizzes over the crisp Irish linen, scorching faint seam guides into the fabric so I know exactly where to sew.

“Pattern Project’s founders, Shruti Grover, 34, and Simon Johnson, 35 – partners in life and in business – are seeking funding for their first shop. A ’22nd-century’ vision of fashion, says Grover, it will hold no stock, but will sell custom-fit clothing that is laser-cut in front of you within minutes, out of local, ethical and sustainable fabrics – and then sewn by you.

“They have already collaborated on a zero-waste pattern for the latest collection by the fashion designer Phoebe English, while last weekend they exhibited at the V&A in west London as part of the London Design festival. …

“The sew-it-yourself (SIY) movement has become something more modern, sustainably minded and social. For starters, sewers have been rebranded as ‘sewists’ – because who would want to be mistaken for a waste pipe? Plus, thanks to a new wave of independent pattern-makers, it is not hard to find on-trend designs, downloadable in pdf format anywhere in the world. …

“According to Jones, the new customers are ‘young and mostly female, against fast fashion and much more switched on about environmental issues.’ Many are motivated to sew because it enables them to avoid sweatshop production. …

“There is plenty of support available for newbie sewists, too. The Fashion District festival, a five-day celebration of sustainable fashion that took place last week in Stratford, east London, dedicated a third of this year’s programme to maker workshops, including a tutorial on upcycling scarves into kimonos, hosted by the community interest company Trashion Factory.

‘There’s a huge appetite for people to be involved in their own fashion,’ says Helen Lax, the festival’s founder. ‘This is a different incarnation of the good life. Rather than just following a pattern, the maker community is going off-grid and having a go. …

“For many sewists, the face mask was a gateway drug. After spotting a callout for 500 cloth masks from a homeless charity, Lydia Higginson, the founder of Made My Wardrobe sewing kits, rallied her followers to help. ‘It was a quick win – the perfect small challenge to get people back on their machines,’ she says. ‘And then they were like: “What else can I make?” ‘ …

“While you will find only British and European organic fabrics at Pattern Project (as well as an Italian polyamide that they claim will biodegrade about five years after disposal), the bigger fashion problem it wants to solve is overstock. It is estimated that 20% of the 100bn items of clothing produced each year are not sold; they are then usually buried, shredded or burned. ‘Brands always over-order,’ says Grover. ‘It’s cheaper to produce more and sell at mad discounts later than it is to produce less, but higher-quality, stuff.’ Pattern Project’s ultimate goal is to see its zero-waste laser in fashion stores and haberdasheries across the country, so clothes can be cut and sewn on demand, affordably and quickly.

“In the meantime, the sewists are playing what they call ‘pattern Tetris – making patterns fit into a smaller amount of fabric,’ says Atia Azmi, 38, a GP and a host of un:CUT: The Makers’ Podcast. According to the government’s 2019 report Fixing Fashion, ‘as much as 15% of fabric can end up on the cutting room floor … Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of fabric are wasted at the design and production stage before clothing reaches the customer.’ Within the sewing community, downloadable zero-waste patterns have blown up online.

“Reducing ‘fashion miles’ – the distance a garment and its component parts travel through the supply chain – is also on the sewists’ agenda. The starting point for the newly opened Mend Assembly in Totnes, Devon – a two‑storey centre offering a makers’ space, dressmaking workshops, repairs and upcycling – was ‘clothing localism,’ says its co-founder, Joss Whipple.

“As well as utilising ‘existing waste streams’ (upcycling old sweatshirts into kids’ leggings, say), Mend Assembly hopes to work with the regenerative ‘farm-to-clothing’ concept of the non-profit group Fibershed, whereby local demand for clothing is met by using local, natural fibres in a closed loop. ‘We believe that when clothing becomes aligned with local practice, so many of the problematic elements of the global commercial model fall away, from reduced carbon and transport to deeper connection, respect and care for the clothes that we own and wear,’ says Mend Assembly’s website.”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Mason & Greens
Store in Washington, DC, area aims for zero waste.

My friend Jeanne has been investigating more-sustainable living and has experimented with producing zero waste. I’m impressed. My small efforts have been almost completely undermined by the pandemic and all the plastic containers that come with takeout — takeout being both a break from cooking and support for our local restaurants.

Even the folks at Plastic Free Hackney, an inspiring effort in an English town, admit that it’s all harder during a pandemic. Still, idealists soldier on and will eventually triumph.

Jessica Wolfrom writes at the Washington Post, ” ‘It was kind of like a slow-moving coup on my part,’ said Anna [Marino], 32, a former seller on the website Etsy, who started researching the meat industry and the zero-waste movement. Even though they were only a family of four — [Anna and Justin] have two children, ages 6 and 3 — they knew they needed to change their lives.

“Paper towels and single-use napkins were the first to go. Then went the plastic. But as they traded traditional products for more eco-friendly items, they quickly realized that their reliance on online shopping was another problem.

“ ‘It almost defeats the purpose,’ said Justin, 43, who previously worked in cybersecurity. ‘I’m ordering something to save the planet, but in order for it to get here, it’s creating a pretty nasty carbon footprint. … And so, we were like, well, there needs to be a store around here.’

“Enter Mason & Greens, the Washington region’s first zero-waste store. … The airy shop is equal parts organic grocer and minimalist boutique, selling items such as package-free shampoo bars, organic produce and drip-irrigated olive oil. Hanging plants and shelves lined with stainless steel containers and books titled ‘All You Need Is Less’ offer shoppers a glimpse into the world of low-waste living. …

“ ‘You know it’s a movement when you don’t know everything that’s going on,’ said Gary Liss, vice president of Zero Waste USA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing waste, who described the growing interest in low-waste living as a sea change in the relationship between people and things.

“Americans throw away about five pounds of trash per person per day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency — 12 percent of which is plastics. … Scientists estimate that up to 91 percent of plastic is never recycled, leaving the rest to burn in incinerators, clog landfills or degrade in the oceans. Scientists have even found microplastics in air, water and food. …

“The coronavirus pandemic has only increased reliance on disposable plastics. Billions of masks and gloves made from plastics and used by health-care workers, first responders and essential workers are being discarded every month, studies show. …

“Mason & Greens, which is based in part on the bulk model, makes a point of avoiding plastics at nearly every turn. Beans and grains come in gravity dispensers. Produce is package-free. Pomberry Kombucha and pinot noir stream from a tap. The spices are self-serve.

“Customers aren’t required to bring their own bags or refillable containers, but the couple said many customers do. The shop employs a tare system that logs the weight of an empty container and then calculates the price of products by the ounce. …

“The couple welcomes newcomers into their waste-free world, but Anna routinely castigates vendors for their packaging practices — she is not above shaming suppliers who send items wrapped in plastic. … ‘I have to go through so much to get a product into the store that’s zero-waste or low-waste.’

“But living a waste-free life might soon become easier. As consumers demand more sustainable options, brands large and small are shifting to make sustainability central to their strategy. Major companies such as Unilever have pledged to halve the use of virgin plastics in packaging by 2025. Walmart, Target, CVS and other retailers are working to develop an environmentally friendly alternative to the plastic bag. And other companies are starting circular delivery services — an updated version of the 1950s milkman — where groceries and goods are packaged in reusable containers that are returned empty.”

Signing up for the guy who brings milk in reusable bottles is one way I’ve actually gotten better at controlling waste in the pandemic. Thanks to my daughter-in-law, I got in under the wire with the dairy farm as other people started lining up for deliveries, too.

Read about a variety of zero-waste shops and the blogger who fit all the waste she produced over four years into a 16-ounce Mason jar at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: Dyson
Lucy Hughes, 23, a recent graduate in product design from the University of Sussex, is a James Dyson award winner for her biodegradable plastic made of fish scales.

Today’s story is a good example of how inventions can flow from recognition of a problem. For example, most of us now recognize that plastics are a problem. A recent design graduate took things a step further and did something about it.

Rebecca Smithers writes at the Guardian, “A bio-plastic made of organic fish waste that would otherwise end up in landfill, with the potential to replace plastic in everyday packaging, has landed its UK graduate designer a James Dyson award.

“Lucy Hughes, 23, a recent graduate in product design from the University of Sussex, sought to tackle the dual problems of environmentally harmful single-use plastics and inefficient waste streams by harnessing fish offcuts to create an eco-friendly plastic alternative.

“Her solution, a biodegradable and compostable material called MarinaTex, can break down in a soil environment in four to six weeks and be disposed of through home food waste collections.

“Hughes, from Twickenham, in south-west London, used red algae to bind proteins extracted from fish skins and scales, creating strong overlapping bonds in a translucent and flexible sheet material. Although it looks and feels like plastic, initial testing suggests it is stronger, safer and much more sustainable than its oil-based counterpart. …

“An estimated 492,020 tonnes of fish waste are produced by the fish processing industry every year in the UK and it is considered a huge and inefficient waste stream with low commercial value. …

“Through research carried out on the Sussex coast, Hughes found fish skins and scales were the most promising sources for the plastic alternative, due to their flexibility and strength-enabling proteins. A single Atlantic cod could generate the organic waste needed for 1,400 bags of MarinaTex, she found. …

“Hughes said, ‘It makes no sense to me that we’re using plastic, an incredibly durable material, for products that have a life cycle of less than a day. …

‘As creators, we should not limit ourselves to designing to just form and function, but rather form, function and footprint.’ …

“The award operates in 27 countries, and is open to university students and recent graduates studying product design, industrial design and engineering. It recognises and rewards imaginative design solutions to global problems.

“This year’s runners-up are an AI-enabled wearable device to help monitor asthmatic symptoms and predict triggers, designed by Anna Bernbaum, of the Dyson School of Engineering, in London, and solar panels which can be draped over backpacks or tents, invented by Bradley Brister, of Brunel University London.”

More here.

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Photo: Clark Mischler
Hanging salmon at a fish camp near Kwethluk, Alaska, in the Yup’ik region, which has extensive coastline on the Bering Sea. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is tapping the traditional knowledge of indigenous communities as it works toward more-sustainable fishery management.

I was listening to the radio in the car when the United Nations’ dire warning about biodiversity came out. Called the “Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services,” it predicts one million species could be pushed to extinction in the next few years by such things as overbuilding and loss of habitat, global warming, and pesticides and herbicides. (The scientists who did the research provided their services for free. The naysayers are being paid. Ask yourself: Paid by whom?)

One commentator suggested that a road map for preventing loss of species is right under our noses in indigenous communities.

For a window on one way government agencies are starting to collaborate with indigenous communities, consider this Pew Trusts report on the salmon fishery in Alaska.

“The indigenous communities of the Bering Strait region have a vast knowledge of salmon runs, ocean currents, marine mammal behavior, and other ecosystem dynamics — information gathered over millennia and passed down from generation to generation. Now federal fishery managers will use that Traditional Knowledge to help guide management for the Bering Sea.

“The North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted at its December meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, to adopt a new Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan that lays the groundwork for meaningful incorporation of Traditional Knowledge into decision-making. Social scientists Julie and Brenden Raymond-Yakoubian, a married couple who have worked on the issue for years, say this is a groundbreaking action by the council.

“ ‘Indigenous communities have been living on — and with — the Bering Sea for generations,’ says Julie Raymond-Yakoubian, who is social science program director for Kawerak Inc., the Alaska Native nonprofit tribal consortium for the Bering Strait region. ‘They can see components of the ecosystem, including interconnections and relationships, that fishery managers might miss.’

“ ‘Incorporating indigenous perspectives is crucial for overcoming management challenges,’ adds Brenden Raymond-Yakoubian, who runs Sandhill.Culture.Craft, a social science consulting firm based in Girdwood, Alaska. …

Here are a couple of the nitty gritty matters addressed in the Pew interview.

“Q: What are the greatest challenges to ensuring that Traditional Knowledge informs decision-making?
“Brenden: One is getting recognition for Traditional Knowledge and ensuring there is a desire for it to inform policy and science. Another is getting natural scientists — those working in fisheries or oceanography, for example — to work with social scientists and Traditional Knowledge holders.

“Julie: There are five council meetings a year that each last about 10 days and are held in different places. Gaining a good understanding of how to work within the council’s process can be a full-time job. Most tribes don’t have the resources to do this. But if we want to include Traditional Knowledge and Traditional Knowledge holders in fisheries management, then these issues must be addressed.

“Q: How can Traditional Knowledge help address conflicts between federal fishery management and the subsistence way of life that Bering Sea communities have lived for millennia?
“Brenden: There are many ways. For example, management could include a broader understanding of the impact of commercial fishing on subsistence communities and of millennia-old practices and principles that have connected those communities to fish and the sea and sustained that relationship with the environment.

“Julie: Incorporating Traditional Knowledge will also help federal fishery managers better meet their existing obligations, such as the requirements to use the best scientific information available and consider social and ecological factors in management. It will also help them better implement ecosystem-based fishery management, which calls for managing fisheries at the ecosystem level rather than single-species level. Traditional Knowledge can also help federal fishery management become more adaptive, for example, by providing managers access to information about ecosystem changes they may not otherwise be aware of. This should help fishery managers adjust their policies to adapt to climate change, which would hopefully occur in a manner which ensured the sustainability of fishery resources for subsistence communities into a climate-uncertain future.”

More here.

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Photo: Margarita Talep/Dezeen.com
Chile-based designer Margarita Talep has created a sustainable, biodegradable alternative to single-use packaging, using raw material extracted from algae. Natural vegetable dyes such as cabbage, beetroot, and carrot produce different shades.

As scary as the photos of plastic-filled oceans, rivers — and whales — may be, I remind myself that many people are working to cut out plastic in their lives and others are inventing biodegradable plastic substitutes.

Consider this story by Natashah Hitti at Dezeen.com, “Chile-based designer Margarita Talep has created a sustainable, biodegradable alternative to single-use packaging, using raw material extracted from algae.

“Disappointed by the abundance of non-recyclable materials currently used to contain food products, Talep decided to develop her own eco-friendly packaging that would stand in for plastic. …

“According to the designer, the material only includes natural matter, including the dyes used to colour it, which are extracted from the skins of fruits and vegetable such as blueberries, purple cabbage, beetroot and carrot.

“The basic mixture is made up of a polymer, a plasticiser and an additive, with the amounts of each ingredient varying depending on the desired consistency of the final product. …

“To make a material that bears a close resemblance to thin plastic, Talep boils the agar mixture to around 80 degrees celsius, before transferring the molten liquid onto a mould.

“When the liquid drops to a temperature below 20 degrees celsius, it takes on a gel-like consistency. This is then left to dry in a well-ventilated environment with a constant temperature, until it becomes similar to paper or thin plastic.

“The bioplastic packaging is especially suited to containing dry food products. It is best sealed with heat rather than glue in a bid make the end result as natural as possible. …

“The material takes around two months to decompose in summer temperatures, depending on the thickness, and about three to four months to decompose completely in winter.

” ‘I believe that bio-fabrication will be an important part of future industries,’ said Talep. ‘As long as all the processes of extracting these raw materials and their manufacture are done with environmental awareness. But it is not enough just to create new materials. These different solutions to the huge environmental problem must work in parallel with other action.

” ‘Different nations should implement action plans for reducing the amount of plastic waste produced by introducing more circular economy projects, keeping plastic in a cyclical system to prevent it from ending up at landfill or in the sea,’ Talep suggests.”

Read more at Dezeen.com, here. The zine has lots of other great ideas for making a more sustainable world.

Also, to read about young people who are taking action, check out Kids Against Plastic, here.

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Photo: Steve Morgan/Alamy Stock Photo
Working on the Pelamis wave power converter in Orkney. The British island is leading the way on renewable energy generation.

This story about Orkney in the British Isles holds lessons for governments everywhere. If you are serious about generating the kind of energy that can save the planet, you have to invest. Orkney did so because energy from the mainland was costly and because the island had a wild amount of wind. But Orkney didn’t stop there, and now it’s leading the way for the rest of the world.

As Robin McKie reports at the Guardian, “It seems the stuff of fantasy. Giant ships sail the seas burning fuel that has been extracted from water using energy provided by the winds, waves and tides. A dramatic but implausible notion, surely. Yet this grand green vision could soon be realised thanks to a remarkable technological transformation that is now under way in Orkney.

“Perched 10 miles beyond the northern edge of the British mainland, this archipelago of around 20 populated islands – as well as a smattering of uninhabited reefs and islets – has become the centre of a revolution in the way electricity is generated. Orkney was once utterly dependent on power that was produced by burning coal and gas on the Scottish mainland and then transmitted through an undersea cable. Today the islands are so festooned with wind turbines, they cannot find enough uses for the emission-free power they create on their own.

“Community-owned wind turbines generate power for local villages; islanders drive nonpolluting cars that run on electricity; devices that can turn the energy of the waves and the tides into electricity are being tested in the islands’ waters and seabed; and – in the near future – car and passenger ferries here will be fuelled not by diesel but by hydrogen, created from water that has been electrolysed using power from Orkney’s wind, wave and tide generators.

“ ‘A low-carbon renewable future, which is much talked about elsewhere, is coming early to Orkney,’ says ethnographer Laura Watts in her book Energy at the End of the World: An Orkney Islands Saga. The book, published by [MIT Press], tells the intriguing tale of how Orcadians have begun to create their own low-carbon future against incredible odds and with only a little help from the mainland. …

“Orkney is leading Britain’s drive toward a carbon-free future. And the critical, vital ingredient in this revolution has been the manner in which islanders have turned the energy of the winds into a reliable source of power. Low-lying and exposed to both the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, Orkney is battered by winds and gales throughout the year. Rainstorms sweep the islands with unbridled savagery, tear down sheds, rip slates from roofs, and can take out metres of coastline in a night. You don’t need an umbrella here, you need a riot shield, one islander told Watts, who has been a regular visitor to Orkney for the past decade. …

“In the early 1980s, Britain began experiments aimed at developing turbines that could turn wind power into electricity – at a test site on Burgar Hill, on Orkney. ‘However, the UK pulled the plug on it and instead the Danes and Germans went ahead and developed wind turbine technology – because their governments invested in it,’ says Watts. ‘They put in millions. The British government did not. We could have had a UK wind energy industry but we just did not invest.’

“The impact of wind turbine technology in Orkney was nevertheless profound and islanders took to its generation in a big way. ‘Orkney used to import its power but now generates, on average over the year, electricity that fulfils 120% of its own needs,’ says Watts. ‘So you have all this energy. The question is: what are you going to do with it?’

“Watts outlines the three options open to islanders: build a new cable so it can export its excess renewable energy to the mainland; use more electricity on the islands; or turn its excess renewable power into another fuel – such as hydrogen – and then store it. Finding the right course is likely to have a profound impact on Britain as the nation looks to the example set by Orkney and embraces its low-carbon future. …

“Energy cannot be simply collected from a wind turbine and exploited later when conditions are calm and windless – because there is as yet no reliable way to store it. It is a basic drawback that Orcadians are now tackling. On the Orkney island of Eday, a device known as an electrolyser – powered by renewable energy sources – splits water into its two elemental components: hydrogen and oxygen. The former can be stored and later burnt to generate electricity when needed. Already a fuel cell – powered by locally derived hydrogen – is being used to generate electricity for berthed vessels on one Orkney pier.”

Pretty exciting stuff, don’t you think? More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Alfredo Sosa
The newest solar farm of Florida Power & Light Company [FPL] is equipped to generate 74.5 megawatts of power, enough for approximately 15,000 Florida homes.

Large numbers of Americans are not as concerned as I am about fossil fuels and how they hurt the planet and until recently have not supported sustainable energy. But as the cost of renewable power comes down, many of them are giving wind and solar a new, pragmatic look.

Eva Botkin-Kowacki writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “There’s a new crop sprouting in southern Florida. Amid fields of sweet corn, squash, and okra dotting the landscape outside Miami, rows and rows of solar panels now soak up the Florida sunshine. …

“Despite being the Sunshine State, Florida has long lagged when it comes to tapping into the abundant rays overhead. But now that is changing as utility companies in the state have begun to recognize solar power as a vital component of a diverse energy future. …

“As solar has become more economically viable, the state’s utility companies now see opportunity more than competition in the technology Florida utilities’ newfound embrace for solar power echoes trends seen across the country, as the renewable energy source has shifted from a fringe indulgence for wealthy environmentalists to becoming a conventional part of power production. …

“With abundant sunshine, Florida ranks ninth in the United States for solar potential. But as recently as 2015, just one-tenth of a percent of the state’s power came from the sun. …

“Solar is still a bit player in Florida. At the end of 2018, solar power made up just 1.07 percent of the state’s energy portfolio, according to the [Solar Energy Industries Association] reports. But the rapid acceleration reflects a broader shift happening nationally. …

“Some of the ways Florida stands out among states make it a particularly good indicator of the renewable energy’s newfound status as mainstream. Many leading solar energy states, such as Massachusetts, Vermont, and California, have installed solar as part of a legislative push to diversify the energy sector in pursuit of emissions reductions. Policymakers in Florida, however, have not set specific renewable energy requirements or even aspirational goals. …

“The utilities want to maintain their control over the market, says Professor Fenton of the University of Central Florida. In 2016, they fought to amend a law that required them to purchase the electricity generated by customers’ rooftop panels at the net retail rate. … The recent foray into solar is a testament to the increasing economic viability of solar power. …

“ ‘[In 2016], the price point was just becoming right for us to be able to have it make economic sense for our customers for us to go and begin building large solar energy centers,’ FPL spokeswoman Alys Daly says.” More here.

One thought: As my friend Jean, of the environmental-education nonprofit Meadowscaping for Biodiversity, reminds me, it’s important not to cut down trees for solar arrays. Trees help the environment even more than solar energy. We need to keep the big picture in mind.

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Photo: ABC Rural/ Jess Davis
To avoid using plastic, Allen Short has made more than 3,000 small berry baskets from recycled timber donated by makers of wood veneer.

Many of us have been trying to phase out our use of plastic, starting with single-use plastic, and smart companies are focused on meeting the demand.

Biofase in Mexico, for example, takes unwanted avocado pits and makes things like picnic cutlery and straws that biodegrade sustainably. I was especially glad to hear about Biofase after people complained they hated the paper straws our eco-conscious ice cream place started using — and caused the ice cream parlor to switch back to plastic. As visions of plastic-straw-choked sea turtles danced in my head, I thought I’d better let that shop know there was a better alternative than paper for getting rid of plastic straws.

Farmers, too, are working on ways to reduce their plastic footprint — and save money.

As Jess Davis reported at ABC Rural in Australia last summer, “Gippsland beef producer Paul Crock believes he can go plastic-free, despite being in an industry reliant on single-use plastics.

” ‘Without putting too fine a point on it, meat uses a lot of plastic,’ he said. … Mr Crock said it was needed for health and hygiene. Plus, vacuum packing increases shelf life by up to eight weeks.

“Mr Crock is in discussions with European companies that are looking at plastic alternatives, and he has even floated the idea of casings for meat, similar to what you would find on the outside of a sausage. …

” ‘We want to be remaining ahead of the curve and looking at ways we can minimise plastic.’

“But Melbourne butcher Tony Montesano said there was no easy solution.

” ‘Unfortunately you’ve got to use some [plastic]. You can’t exactly have just a flesh of meat. Where do you put it? You can’t exactly put it in your pockets.’

“Mr Montesano allows his customers to bring their own containers to the deli, but that is not something the two major supermarkets allow. …

“Fruit and vegetables also rely heavily on plastic packaging. Allen Short is doing his part to reduce plastic in the berry industry by making punnets [small berry baskets] out of offcuts from the timber industry.

“He started making the punnets for his neighbour, who grows strawberries near Daylesford in central Victoria, and had so far made more than 3,000. …

“Mr Short approached the Timber Veneer Association, which helped him out with scraps. Now, it deliberately sets aside the offcuts at no cost.

 ‘All these [veneer pieces] were just going into landfill, so now they’re being stacked up and given to us and we’re making full use of them,’ he said. …

“While he hoped more people would get on board with sustainable packaging, scaling up an operation like his for the industry at large would be more difficult.

” ‘We’re not going to change the industry but we’re going to do our little bit. And I can’t help but think that taking someone else’s waste product and turning it into a useful thing is a good thing.’ ” I will add that everyone doing their bit is also a good thing.

Read more at ABC, here.

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Photo: Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality
The new Istanbul subway machines add credit to your subway cards while crushing, shredding, and sorting your recyclables.

Creating a more sustainable world doesn’t have to be painful for the individual or expensive for government. In Turkey, a city government wanted people to recycle more, and so it got the idea of rewarding subway riders who help out. Ceylan Yeginsu has the story at the New York Times.

“Istanbul [has] rolled out an alternative currency for commuters who need to top up their subway cards but are short of cash: recyclables.

“The city is installing ‘reverse vending machines’ at metro stations that allow passengers to add credit to their subway cards simply by inserting a plastic bottle or aluminum can into the machine. Once a value has been assigned to the recyclables, the machine will crush, shred and sort the material. …

“This is how the vending machines [work]: A 0.33-liter plastic bottle, for example, roughly equivalent to 11 ounces, would add 2 Turkish cents to a subway card, while a 0.5-liter bottle would add 3 cents and a 1.5-liter bottle would add 6 cents. (A subway journey costs 2.60 Turkish lira, about 40 United States cents; 100 Turkish cents, or kurus, make up 1 Turkish lira.) …

“Istanbul’s mayor, Mevlut Uysal, said the machines would track the number of bottles recycled by each passenger and reward those recycling the largest number of containers with free or discounted events such as theater tickets.

“Turkey is Europe’s third-largest producer of household and commercial waste, after Germany and France, and it is the worst in the region at recycling, according to a 2017 report by the consultancy group Expert Market, which is based in Britain. …

“Elif Cengiz, a manager for the waste management project, called Zero Waste, said … that the municipality had made waste management a priority in recent years because of rising concern over the damage that waste is causing to the environment.

“The country’s recycling drive has started to produce results, saving 30 million trees in 15 months since last June, Mustafa Ozturk, the under secretary for the Environment and Urban Planning Ministry, said, [adding] ‘The use of recycled material in production contributes to productivity and separate storage for paper waste also saves storage space and decreases waste collecting costs for local administrations.” More at the New York Times, here.

I’d love to see the perennially cash-strapped Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) try the reverse-vending idea instead of constantly raising fares.

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Photo: Sophia Evans for the Observer
The Maidment family in England are focused on making their daily lives as free of plastic as possible and spreading the word at Plastic-Free Hackney.

It seems like only yesterday that a guy in the 1967 movie The Graduate told Dustin Hoffman’s character that his future lay in plastics.

McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?

Ah, yes. Plastics had a future, all right. In the blink of an eye, they have become a nightmare for the planet, refusing to disintegrate in landfills, clogging oceans, cluttering city streets.

There are many things made of plastic that we may always need. I’m thinking of certain medical uses. But what about all the things we use that really don’t need to be made of plastic. Can we make a dent in those? Here’s a family in England that’s trying.

Nosheen Iqbal reports at the Guardian, “Bettina Maidment … is the founder of Plastic Free Hackney, a campaign to rid the east London borough of single-use plastic and has been serious about committing her family to plastic-free, zero-waste living for two years now. First to go was milk cartons. ‘That was an easy switch, we got a milkman.’

“Then came bamboo toothbrushes, swapping out supermarket shopping for the local greengrocer, and making deodorant, cleanser, moisturiser and handsoap at home. She opens her fridge to reveal shelves of glass jars and reusable containers; her larder is stocked with lentils, pasta, porridge and the like, bought in bulk and stored in glass or canvas bags. …

“She is not alone. As public anger grows over the environmental impact of single-use plastic, trying to live plastic-free and more sustainably has become a mainstream concept.

“ ‘There was a huge uptick in the conversation after Blue Planet about how to reduce plastic use and it remains, by quite a margin, the single biggest topic area people call us for,’ says Julian Kirby, lead campaigner on plastics at Friends of the Earth. ‘In my experience, the amount of public concern for this environmental issue is unprecedented,’ he says. ‘It’s been phenomenal.’ …

“ ‘My interest was piqued online and I saw how other people were doing it and slowly started reducing my waste.’ She opened an Instagram account [@plasticfreehackney] to document the process of going plastic-free. …

“For Kiran Harrison, 43, who works as a massage therapist and storyteller in Worthing, West Sussex.the impetus to go plastic-free came around the time her son, now nine months, was born. She visited her local cloth nappy [diaper] library, where parents can loan reusable nappies, and gradually began swapping out the plastics in her home. …

“Support from a fast-growing zero-waste community in Sussex has also helped; a plastic-free, zero-waste food store has recently arrived in Worthing.

“ ‘Some people are cynical about how you can sustain a lifestyle like this,’ she admits, ‘or cynical about making a small contribution when big companies produce so much waste, but I’m not down with the “what’s the point of doing anything, we’re all doomed” brigade – it’s far too apathetic for my liking.’

Harrison’s top tip is to ‘do things gradually so they become a habit. Trying to do everything at once is overwhelming.’

“Friends of the Earth, which established a UK network in 1970, launched its #plasticfreefriday campaign [last] February. … According to a UN report published in June, the proportion of plastic waste that has never been recycled stands at 90.5% – a figure so alarming that it was declared the winning international statistic of 2018 by the Royal Statistical Society.

“Waleed Akhtar, an actor from London, … uses beeswax wraps rather than clingfilm for his sandwiches and carries a reusable water bottle, bamboo cutlery, Tupperware and a reusable bag everywhere he goes. … ‘I used to drink bottled water every day, but I did a play called Fracked!, and a monologue in it about the impact of water bottles on the environment kicked it all off for me.’ …

“THE STEPS YOU CAN TAKE …
“Use a reusable water bottle …
“Carry a reusable cup …
“Switch to solid soaps …
“Say no to disposable cutlery …
“Brush with bamboo.”

Some of these are super easy to do — like handing back plastic forks and spoons the takeout restaurant puts in your bag. More at the Guardian, here.

For past posts on this challenge, search SuzannesMomsBlog on the word plastic. A sample of articles: a bike path made of recycled plastic in the Netherlands, a plastic-eating microbe, a trash wheel that rounds up plastic on waterways.

This beeswax cling wrap is washable and reusable but quite expensive. I’ll let you know what I think after I’ve tried it.

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Photos: Lucy Sherriff/PRI
Neris Uriana, the Wayuu tribe’s first-ever female chieftain, stands in her garden. With her leadership and new water-saving techniques, the northern Colombia tribe is finally able to grow food year-round.

I’ve been reading articles by my friend Ann Tickner on Jane Addams, best known for founding Hull House in Chicago in the early 20th Century. Addams, an international peace activist who influenced the thinking of world leaders after WW I, was a more extraordinary woman than I realized in third grade, reading one of those little orange biographies in the school library. She was a model of all that women can be if they choose.

In South America, there’s another surprising example of female leadership that I just heard about. It’s in an indigenous tribe, where the women are making sure that the people achieve their potential while living in harmony with nature.

Global Post reporter Lucy Sherriff writes at Public Radio International (PRI), “For years, the Wayuu tribe in La Guajira, a remote area in northernmost Colombia, was run by a male chieftain. But 13 years ago, male elders decided to appoint a woman as its leader. After the success of being led by a female head, the community changed its governance traditions and now exclusively appoints women to lead.

“ ‘When I first started, I didn’t know anything,’ Neris Uriana, the tribe’s first-ever female chieftain, told PRI. ‘But over time, one learns how to lead, the required skills you need to be head of a community.’

“Neris Uriana was elected in 2005. She was already involved in providing support to the community’s mothers, and Jorge Uriana, along with other elders, believed she had the qualities needed to lead the tribe. It was a first for Wayuu communities in Albania, in La Guajira.

“ ‘We had had some problems with communicating with leaders of other tribes and in our own village,’ explained Jorge Uriana, who was the community leader until 2005 and is Neris Uriana’s husband.

“Jorge Uriana explained that traditionally, Wayuu men negotiate and resolve disputes but that some male leaders can come off as confrontational and even aggressive at times.

“ ‘Whereas women, when they speak, they address the human side. They tend to be more peace-loving and more humanitarian in their outlook.’ ”

Excuse me, I have to stop here and marvel: that is exactly why Jane Addams and her contemporaries in the peace movement are considered the founders of what is known today as feminist diplomacy.

Back to my story.

” ‘We wanted to turn the way things were on its head. We wanted women to use their way of dialogue to resolve our conflicts, and we wanted to transform our culture,’ [said Jorge Uriana].

“ ‘I realized I had a commitment and an obligation to my people,’ said Neris Uriana, who will lead for as long as she likes (or until someone else steps up). ‘I really trained myself in leadership, and now, I feel like I am able to really achieve great things.’

“Marta Pushiana is one of the many women who have become more involved in the tribe’s community since Neris Uriana’s appointment.

“ ‘Now, we have a female leader; more women are taking more responsibility in the tribe. Before, we always had to stay at home and look after the children and cook and clean,’ said Pushiana. ‘Now, the men share those responsibilities with us, so that women have the opportunity to work, to help build, to be involved in leadership. The whole dynamic in the tribe has changed for the better.’ …

“Although Wayuu tribes have traditionally treated women as equals to men and have a more matriarchal culture than other nonindigenous Colombians, few tribes are led by women, and even less — if any — have permanently pledged to only appoint women. …

“Since Neris Uriana took up her position, she has introduced a long-term agricultural initiative to help sustain her community, rather than continually living hand to mouth. Neris Uriana sought the help of outsiders to teach her and other women in the tribe about irrigation, crop cycles and land use, so they could have ample produce throughout the year. The women also use their ancestral knowledge of lunar cycles to plant food and strongly believe the can use their connection with the Earth to sustain themselves.”

Oh, my, I am in love with these people! Read more about them at PRI, here.

A woman from the Wayuu tribe who is part of the female chieftain’s food initiative waters the saplings. The initiative has been such a success that the tribe now produces surplus food and sells it to other communities.

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Photo: http://www.a-r-e-d.com
The Mobile Solar Kiosk, invented by Rwanda’s Henri Nyakarundi, is one of 10 renewable energy startups highlighted by Africa.com.

Great ideas for renewable energy are blooming in Africa, where it’s important that energy be both accessible and affordable. Africa.com recently rounded up ten of the most promising technologies.

“Africa has an immense energy crisis,” says the website. “In a continent with a population of close to 1 billion, over 625 million people are without power. According to the International Energy Agency, that makes up 68% of the population. This is ironic considering the fact that Africa has an abundance of natural resources available.

“For instance, the continent has a large coastline where wind power and wave power resources are abundant and underutilized in the North and South. Africa has much greater solar resources available than any other continent because it is the sunniest continent on earth.

“Energy is an essential factor for the reduction of poverty and economic growth. Major sectors like agriculture, education, communication, and technology all require abundant, consistent, and cost effective energy to spur the much needed development of the continent.

“Currently, many African nations already have small scale solar, wind, and geothermal plants that provide energy in rural areas. These modes of energy production are becoming very useful in remote locations, because they bridge the gap created by the excessive cost of transporting electricity from large-scale power plants. …

“Here we look at ten startups that are utilizing the vast amount of the continent’s renewable energy potential. …

“Mobile Solar Cell Phone kiosk is an alternative solar-powered mobile kiosk that charges phones and connects communities in Rwanda. It was founded by Henri Nyakarundi — a Rwandese who lived in the United States — after struggling with charging his phone whenever he went back to Rwanda or Burundi for holidays.

“He also noticed that even though many people had cell phones, they faced a challenge with charging their devices. It is estimated that over 70% of the population in Rwanda own a cell phone; however, at the same time, World Bank estimates that less than 25% of the Rwandan population has access to electricity.

“Prompted by this need, Henri sketched his first design on a piece of paper. He devised a solar-powered kiosk that can be towed by a bicycle and provides concurrent charging for up to 80 phones. The Mobile Solar Cell Phone Kiosk uses a franchise model that is low income and motivated by entrepreneurial objectives.”

Others on the website’s list include M-Kopa, which “sells solar home systems to low-income earners by allowing them to pay in installments over the course of a year using mobile money”; Shakti, “a South African startup that provides an alternative energy solution to thousands of households that do not have access to electricity”; electric vehicles; LED lights; and “batteries in a bottle.” More at Africa.com.

(I need to mention that the website seemed to slow down my computer, but no real damage was done.)

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Liz Maw is the CEO of Net Impact, which has 300 chapters worldwide guiding students and professionals who aim to align their worklife with their values and make positive change.

A high school classmate of mine posted an article about her daughter’s nonprofit on Facebook recently, and since I’m interested in this sort of thing, I looked it up.

Net Impact is an organization of 100,000 members in 300 global chapters that “take on social challenges, protect the environment and orient businesses and products toward the greater good.” It provides students and professionals with guidance to align their jobs with their values.

From the website: “Liz Maw joined Net Impact as CEO in 2004. During her tenure, Net Impact has tripled its chapter network to more than 300, formed partnerships with over 50 global corporations, and developed multiple new programs that engage students and professionals in sustainability. …

“In 2011, Liz was named one of the 100 most influential people in business ethics by Ethisphere. Liz is also a Board Member of the World Environment Center.

“Prior to leading Net Impact, Liz’s professional experience included strategic consulting to nonprofits with the Bridgespan Group, as well as fundraising and direct marketing for nonprofit organizations.”

I liked this explanation of what the nonprofit is all about. Sounds good to me. “Net Impact mobilizes new generations to use their skills and careers to drive transformational social and environmental change.

“Many people want to make a difference, but turning good intentions into tangible impact can be hard.

“Net Impact is an accelerator. Our programs — delivered from our headquarters, as well as globally through our student and professional chapters — give our members the skills, experiences and connections that will allow them to have the greatest impact. …

“Our emerging leaders take on social challenges, protect the environment, invent new products and orient business toward the greater good. In short, we help our members turn their passions into a lifetime of world-changing action. …

“We believe that the business sector is a critical part of driving social and environmental change, and thus engage with a variety of big and small companies on our events and programs.”

Net Imapct’s next Path to Purpose conference is October 26-28 in Atlanta. More on that here.

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