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Posts Tagged ‘sustainable’

Photo: Heida Helgadottir for the Washington Post via the Independent.
Edda Aradottir is the chief executive of Carbfix, a company that captures CO2 byproduct from the largest geothermal plant in Iceland. Many Icelandic start-ups are tackling climate change.

File this one under Hope. And maybe book a trip to the innovation hub called Iceland.

Hannah Hall has a report at the Washington Post on Icelandic companies that are taking on global environmental challenges.

“The electric red and green glow of the production facility resembles the Icelandic aurora borealis. Algae in their growth stage flow through hundreds of glass tubes that travel from floor to ceiling, all part of a multistep process yielding nutrients for health supplements. Soon, all parts of each alga will be used.

“The facility, operated by Icelandic manufacturer Algalif, is a space of inspiration for Julie Encausse, a 34-year-old bioplastic entrepreneur. During a July summer storm, Svavar Halldorsson, an Algalif executive, was guiding her through a tour of the company’s newest facility on the Reykjanes Peninsula.

“By the end of 2023, this new facility aims to triple its production. After Algalif dries the microalgae and extracts oleoresin, a third of this output then goes toward health supplements. Algalif has traditionally used the rest as a fertilizer. Now Encausse, founder and chief executive of the bioplastic start-up Marea, hopes to use that leftover biomass to create a microalgae spray that can reduce the world’s reliance on plastic packaging.

“Her newest partnership with Algalif is part of a start-up network in Iceland that focuses on inventive and creative technologies to address the climate and sustainability crisis. The Sjavarklasinn (‘Iceland Ocean Cluster’) network includes environmental entrepreneurs working across several industries.

“Thor Sigfusson founded the network in 2012 after conducting research on how partnerships between companies in Iceland’s technology sector helped expand that industry. At the time, he found that the fishing industry was not experiencing the same collaboration or growth.

“ ‘Even though companies were in the same building together, fishing from the same quotas and facing similar challenges, they were closed off,’ said Alexandra Leeper, the Iceland Ocean Cluster’s head of research and innovation.

“Three cod hanging on the wall of the second-floor entryway are the first thing to greet any visitor to the Iceland Ocean Cluster. Lightbulbs shine from their centers, and the dried scales filter the light to fill the space with an amber glow. The precise design is one that underlines the group’s belief that using 100 percent of a fish or natural resource can give rise to innovative technologies. …

“Encausse and Marea co-founder Edda Bjork Bolladottir have partnered with the cluster for 2½ years. Encausse says that involvement was core to their company’s inception.

“ ‘There is a collaborative mind-set when being on an island,’ she said. ‘We need to work together to survive, and this was passed from generation to generation.’

“In a country about the size of Kentucky, the people of Iceland have had to learn how to guard their resources. Encausse has discovered that often means using 100 percent of any material — a lesson she’s now implementing in her work with Algalif. She created a food coating from Algalif’s leftover biomass, a product she’s named Iceborea — in a nod to theaurora borealis.

“ ‘We are repurposing it and making something with value that gives it another life to avoid using more plastic,’ Encausse said. Once Algalif’s factory expands over the next year, it will have 66 tons of microalgae leftovers that Encausse’s company can tap each year.

“When sprayed onto fresh produce, Iceborea becomes a natural thin film and a semipermeable barrier that can protect against microorganisms. Iceborea can either be eaten with produce or washed off, reducing the need for plastic packaging.

“[Edda Aradottir] is the chief executive of Carbfix, a company capturing CO2 byproduct from the largest geothermal plant in Iceland, Hellisheidi, and injecting it into stone to be buried underground.

“Carbfix’s successful trials have marked a global milestone for carbon sequestration. It also has received international recognition — and Aradottir’s leadership has already served as a model for growing start-ups and other founders in the cluster trying to tackle extensive environmental concerns. …

“Another Icelandic company, GeoSilica, harvests silica buildup from the Hellisheidi waste stream to make health supplements.GeoSilica reaches the Icelandic and European markets, and its chief executive, Fida Abu Libdeh, is also working with the Philippines to pilot her silica-removal technology to create similar sustainable factory processes.

“A Palestinian from Jerusalem, Abu Libdeh moved to Iceland in 1995 at age 16, a transition she described as difficult because of the language barrier and the country’s small immigrant population. In 2012, she graduated from the University of Iceland after studying sustainable energy engineering and researching the health benefits of silica. That same year, she and Burkni Palsson co-founded GeoSilica.

“Ever since moving to Iceland, she was impressed with how the country produced electricity through geothermal sources. …

“GeoSilica is not formally part of the Iceland Ocean Cluster, but the network it has fostered reflects the same collaborative approach. Abu Libdeh has worked with cluster companies and held investor meetings at its headquarters. It’s a place that founders want to be, she said, where they want to learn from each other even if they are competitors in their fields.

“While there has been progress over the years, Abu Libdeh said, it’s still a challenge for women to enter this entrepreneurial space. In 2020, less than 1 percent of investment went to women-founded start-ups, according to a recent European Women in Venture Capital report. …

“What began as a dozen start-ups in 2012 has now grown to more than 70 members and associated firms connected to the Iceland Ocean Cluster. … There are now four sister clusters in the United States, as well as one in Denmark and one in the Faroe Islands.

“The Alaska Ocean Cluster, which was the first to follow the Icelandic model, has already accelerated policy change in the United States. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) proposed legislation last year to create ‘Ocean Innovation Clusters in major U.S. port cities, which would provide grants along the U.S. coastline and the Great Lakes.

“ ‘I’ve learned a great deal from our friends in Iceland who created a roadmap of innovation and public/private partnership when they established the first Oceans Cluster in Reykjavik,’ Murkowski said in an email.”

More at the Post, here.

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Oh, the ingenuity of our species when we put our minds to a problem! Lack of water in the Canary Islands seems to have inspired problem solvers to pull water from thin air.

Colette Davidson at the Christian Science Monitor writes, “On a clear day, the tiny hamlet of La Vega, stacked up high on the hillsides of northern Tenerife, offers spectacular views of the rugged Atlantic coast. But this afternoon, the thick mist spiraling through Jonay González Pérez and Sara Rodríguez Dorta’s farmland sets an eerie Alfred Hitchcock filmlike scene. Nearly ripe for fog harvesting.

“ ‘There’s almost enough fog to start collecting it,’ says Mr. González Pérez, trudging through ankle-high grass in rubber galoshes as he snaps dead leaves off an artichoke plant. ‘But we need to wait a little longer, until the fog is at the same level as the catcher.’

“Since 2018, Mr. González Pérez and his wife have relied solely on fog collecting to water their 3.7 acres of farmland – which includes lemon and plum trees, artichoke plants, and 50 chickens – when rain is in short supply in the summer months.

“On a good day, the couple’s 435-yard-long wall of collectors – vertical U-shaped nets cemented into the ground by metal poles – can harvest 475 gallons of water. The suspended fog droplets fall from the nets and flow through 220 yards of black tubing, which snake down the back of their property into a 95,000-gallon storage tank that resembles a giant waterbed.

“Their system – which the couple built with their bare hands over the course of a year – was entirely paid for through government subsidies, after they won a local award for the best initiative in rural farming.

“But this isn’t just a pet project for small-scale farmers. In 2020, the European Commission partnered with the local government in neighboring Gran Canaria to fund the Life Nieblas fog-collecting project, which aims to reforest areas decimated by drought or forest fire. Harvested fog water meets the World Health Organization’s standards on drinking water safety and has provided isolated communities with a much needed resource for decades.

“As the Canary Islands and regions around the world look to combat the effects of climate change, fog collecting is becoming an increasingly viable technology for communities facing soil erosion and water supply challenges.

“ ‘Fundamentally, we depend on our groundwater in the Canary Islands and water is always scarce,’ says María Victoria Marzol Jaén, a retired climate scientist at the University of La Laguna on Tenerife and one of the pioneering researchers into fog collecting in the Canary Islands in the 1990s.

“ ‘Fog water alone can’t supply this, but it can be useful for reforestation purposes, like in the case of forest fires. But for rural zones, where water consumption is much lower, [fog collecting] is more than just helpful. It can be the solution to water problems.’

“The first documented experiments into fog as an alternative water resource can be traced to South Africa in the early 1900s. In 1963, Chilean physicist Carlos Espinosa’s invention of ‘mist traps’ were patented and offered to UNESCO for free use around the world. Since then, researchers have made significant developments into the green technology, and research sites can be found in Chile, Peru, South Africa, Morocco, China, the United States, and the Canary Islands. …

“Apart from the initial materials and building costs, fog collection is a low-energy operation, whose structures, like netting, can blend more seamlessly into natural environments than wind turbines or solar panels. Upkeep involves merely clearing away overgrown plants and cleaning the filters.

“ ‘Fog collecting doesn’t consume any energy and doesn’t affect any other natural resources,’ says Ricardo Gil, a technical architect in Tenerife who runs the Nieblagua company. He has installed around 100 fog collectors across the Canary Islands, mainland Spain, and Portugal. ‘It also takes the pressure off extracting water from aquifers or desalinating ocean water.’

“Each of Nieblagua’s catchers can withstand winds of up to 62 mph, and use four sheets of netting to collect up to 8,000 gallons of water per year in optimum conditions. In several of the Canary Islands, which benefit from around five hours of fog per day, this translates to almost one person’s entire water needs. …

“For thirsty, drought-stricken regions, that can mean the difference between survival and desertification – especially when multiple catchers are set up in one area. In Arafo on Tenerife, 12 of Nieblagua catchers provide an estimated 26,000 gallons annually to new almond tree plantations.

“ ‘It’s not a fantasy. We’re using up our natural resources all around the world,’ says Mr. Gil. … ‘Here we have a natural resource right in front of us. We need to take advantage of it.’ ”

More at the Monitor, here. No firewall.

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Emily’s Oysters in Maine, Sun Farm Oysters in Rhode Island, and Cuttyhunk Shellfish Farms in Massachusetts are a few of the hardy crews eager to supply oysters for your Thanksgiving stuffing.

One of Suzanne’s oldest friends runs an oyster business on Cuttyhunk Island, Massachusetts, and Thanksgiving is a big time for her. That’s because, in New England at least, many people see oysters as traditional for Thanksgiving.

The radio show Living on Earth recently did a show on the topic.

“STEVE CURWOOD: In the 19th century, oysters were a popular food item in the US, especially with the advent of commercial food canning, and by 1900, Americans were gobbling down some 160 million pounds of oysters a year. But overconsumption, sanitation concerns about raw oysters and the huge expansion of the beef and pork business that the railroads made possible, led to the oyster’s decline.

“Farmed correctly, oysters can be sustainable and their reefs protect coastal areas, so in recent years the popularity of local foods has spawned new oyster farmers — farmers that were hit hard this year with a drop in demand during the Covid crisis. Not everybody loves them of course, but oysters can be eaten in many ways beyond the half-shell. Celebrity chef Barton Seaver joins us from his kitchen near the harbor of South Freeport, Maine, to show how oysters can even lend flavor to Thanksgiving stuffing. … So tell me, why have the oyster farmers and fishermen been hit so hard by COVID-19?

“BARTON SEAVER: Oysters are, well, they’re so important to the restaurant industry. And that’s where so many of us go to get them. By some anecdotal accounts, in March, April, May, large oyster dealers around the country I’ve talked to lost 98% of their business, who were selling into restaurants; some of that has come back. Massachusetts has some hard data, around about 60 to 70% of their oysters landed, that business was lost. …

“CURWOOD: Where I live in southern New Hampshire near the Great Bay … I noticed that there were folks who actually had set up stands along the side of the road to sell oysters individually to people.

“SEAVER: Yeah! Well, that’s been one of the great success stories. And that’s sort of the inherent nature of oyster farming is that these are small businessmen and -women who are running a farm, and they are entrepreneurs, and they were able to pivot quite quickly. And as, in COVID, we turned our attentions anew to local food systems, oysters are a prominent part of that for those of us on the coasts. There is no food that is of place as much as are oysters, clams, mussels. …

“CURWOOD: Now, we know from history that Native Americans brought shellfish to the pilgrims that came here to the New England area in the 1600s. To what extent do you think oysters and shellfish should regain a place at the Thanksgiving table?

“SEAVER: Well, oysters were one of the foundational foods of this country and long before the white man set foot on this continent, oysters were serving and sustaining native populations for aeons. … But through decimation of local oyster populations in the wild, throughout the United States and our coastlines, we lost access to oysters. …

“CURWOOD: Tell me why you think they’re so important ecologically.

“SEAVER: Oysters, amongst other shellfish, are you know, what was known as a keystone species. They’re fundamental to the health of the ecosystems in which they are prevalent. They provide water quality, they provide habitat for countless other species. They are the bedrock upon which ecosystems’ health and resiliency relies. And in the absence of wild oysters, because we’ve decimated them through overfishing, through disease, etc., habitat loss, oyster farming has stepped into the role of providing those ecosystem services, those vital services.

Every oyster you eat encourages an oyster farmer, a small businessman or -woman, to plant many more, to augment and expand upon those ecosystem services provided by them.

“And in that way, I think it’s our patriotic duty to eat as many farm-raised shellfish as we can.

“CURWOOD: Yeah, in fact, you know, as the storms pick up with climate disruption, oyster reefs are a great way to slow down the storm surge, huh?

“SEAVER: Absolutely. We’ve seen this with Katrina, we saw this with Superstorm Sandy, that these vulnerable civic centers are made more vulnerable by the lack of those natural oyster reefs that naturally stopped those storm surges. …

“CURWOOD: There’s a project going on that the Nature Conservancy is a big part of. They’re [buying up] oysters that are otherwise going unsold to the restaurants during this pandemic, to help farmers who need to have a source of cash, and they’re using those oysters to restore more shellfish reefs. Why is it important to have oysters in local communities? …

“SEAVER: [Sustainable small business.] In my village, there’s a young woman named Emily — ‘Emily’s Oysters.’ She grew up here, and she went to school out in Puget Sound, and she was looking for something to do. [You know there’s a] brain drain in small, rural communities. But oyster farming caught her heart … and now she’s farming 50, 60, 70,000 oysters out in the waters that I can see from my house, pretty much. And she’s selling at local farmers’ markets. [To me, that’s] the quintessential story of success and of human sustainability acting in concert with our ecosystems. …

“CURWOOD: You have some delicious recipes, Barton, on your website. There’s — oh, the oyster risotto, the broiled oysters Rockefeller. And I believe you’re going to show us how to make an oyster stuffing, being that we’re close to Thanksgiving, huh? Now, I must say I never knew the stuffing on my Thanksgiving table could feature shellfish.”

More at Living on Earth, here, where you also can get the recipe for stuffing. Barton Seaver’s book is The Joy of Seafood: The All-Purpose Seafood Cookbook, with almost 1000 recipes.

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Photo: Anne Pinto-Rodrigues.
According to the Christian Science Monitor, this double-decker bridge in India’s Nongriat village is among the most famous of the region’s many living-root bridges. Locals say it’s about 250 years old.

I’m reading a quirky, amusing novel about India right now, Tomb of Sand, in which at times the author reminds one that many of the things Westerners think they invented already have a long history in South Asia.

Today’s post shows that at least some Westerners are garnering architecture ideas from Indian villagers.

Anne Pinto-Rodrigues reports at the Christian Science Monitor, “Covered with thick subtropical forests and streaked with streams and rivers, the hilly state of Meghalaya in India’s northeastern corner is one of the wettest places on the planet. During the monsoon season, torrential rains turn docile rivers into raging waterways, and people rely on centuries-old bridges to access farms, schools, and markets. 

“But these aren’t typical overpasses made of wood or steel – the bridges are alive. 

“For hundreds of years, the Khasis of Meghalaya have manipulated the aerial roots of the rubber fig tree (Ficus elastica) to build sturdy bridges, known in the Khasi language as jingkieng jri. There are at least 150 such bridges in Meghalaya, according to Morningstar Khongthaw, who works to preserve and educate the public about the community’s architectural traditions. The figure includes the famous double-decker living root bridge of Nongriat village, which locals estimate is about 250 years old. Mr. Khongthaw’s village, Rangthylliang, has 20 living root bridges. ‘The oldest one is about 700 years old,’ he says, with great pride.

“Today, the jingkieng jri are not only a big tourist draw, but also an important proof of concept for engineers and designers interested in practicing living architecture. Integrating plants into architectural design lessens the need for harmful construction materials and promotes biodiversity, but it can also take generations to test and develop the right building methods. Bioengineers from around the world are studying the living root bridges in the hopes of applying aspects of the Khasi tradition to projects in their own countries.

“ ‘The Khasis have a brilliant understanding of architectural engineering, totally different from the western way,’ says Ferdinand Ludwig, professor of green technologies in landscape architecture at the Technical University of Munich. …

“ ‘There are different ways of designing, building, and growing a living root bridge,’ says Mr. Khongthaw. The most popular model of construction, and the fastest, involves the creation of a bamboo framework, over which the roots of a nearby rubber fig tree are pulled and intertwined, until the roots reach the opposite bank. The bamboo framework itself serves as a temporary bridge while the living root structure takes shape. Over time, the bamboo rots away while the roots grow and merge together, making the structure sturdier and more stable. 

“Mr. Khongthaw says a bridge crossing a stream would be about the length of a school bus, and take nearly 20 years to become functional, whereas a bridge across a river would take 70-80 years. In places where there are no rubber fig trees nearby, villagers must first plant a sapling on the river bank and wait 10-15 years for the aerial roots to appear before building the bamboo framework. 

The time required to reach the first functional stage – when the bridge is strong enough to hold about 500 pounds, or roughly three people with loaded baskets – depends on the required length of the bridge.

“In all stages of their development, the bridges require regular maintenance. This happens in monsoon season when the roots are more pliable. ‘Everyone in my village takes part in maintaining the bridges,’ says Mr. Khongthaw. ‘Whoever crosses the bridge, spends five or 10 minutes working on the roots to make the structure stronger.’ …

“In addition to bridges, the Khasis construct cliffside ladders, tree platforms, swings, and tunnels using traditional techniques passed down orally from one generation to the next. …

“In Germany, Professor Ludwig has been studying examples of living architecture from around the world for nearly two decades. He has designed and overseen the construction of several structures that integrate plants, including a footbridge that uses living willow plants as the sole supports.

“Professor Ludwig first learned of the living root bridges of Meghalaya in 2009, via a documentary, and was struck by the Khasi approach to building. ‘They do not prescribe the structure itself. They only prescribe the aim,’ he says. ‘They want to go from A to B in a safe and comfortable way.’ …

“One of his students at the Technical University of Munich, Wilfrid Middleton, is studying Meghalaya’s living root bridges as an example of regenerative design – an increasingly popular concept wherein structures are not just sustainable (built with minimal and efficient use of resources) but they also replenish the resources required for their functioning and enrich their surroundings, thus having a net-positive effect on the environment.

“In cities, living structures like the footbridge designed by Professor Ludwig can help sequester carbon, create a cooling effect, and provide a habitat to birds and other urban wildlife. …

“Mr. Middleton has visited 70 jingkieng jri so far, and with the consent of the village elders, he photographs the bridges to create precise 3D models. ‘Each year, as the bridge grows and changes, we are able to capture its incredibly complex structure,’ he says. ‘We are trying to learn from the Khasis.’

“While there is increasing international appreciation of the living root bridges, back in Meghalaya, Mr. Khongthaw says many villagers aspire for a modern lifestyle, complete with concrete houses and bridges. Worried that traditional Khasi knowledge may feel irrelevant to younger generations, Mr. Khongthaw founded the Living Bridge Initiative in 2016, with the objective of preserving, protecting, and increasing the number of living root bridges. He regularly visits educational institutions to speak about his work. …

“Mr. Khongthaw has also started a sapling center to address the shortage of rubber fig saplings, which are not easy to find in the forest. The biggest threat to these ancient bridges, however, are the development projects in their vicinity.”

More at the Monitor, here. No firewall. Additional pictures at the Better India, here, are also worth checking out.

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Photo: Yano via Wikimedia.
Kamikatsu, Japan, has worked for years to become a zero-waste town.

Here’s an update on an ambitious Japanese town I wrote about here a few years ago. It’s Kamikatsu, where the residents are still working hard at creating a completely sustainable way of life.

Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Julia Mio Inuma have a report at the Washington Post. “Tucked away in the mountains of Japan’s Shikoku island, a town of about 1,500 residents is on an ambitious path toward a zero-waste life.

“In 2003, Kamikatsu became the first municipality in Japan to make a zero-waste declaration. Since then, the town has transformed its open-air burning practices for waste disposal into a system of buying, consuming and discarding with the goal of reaching carbon neutrality. Now, the town estimates it is more than 80 percent of its way toward meeting that goal by 2030.

“But even for a town its size, carbon and waste neutrality is a high bar. And with more than half of its residents over 65 years old, the rural community is rapidly shrinking. The town is working with manufacturers to encourage them to use more recyclable materials, which would help reduce waste and burning. …

“The Zero Waste Center is the town’s recycling facility, where residents can sort their garbage into 45 categories — there are nine ways to sort paper products alone — before they toss the rest into a pile for the incinerators. …

“The town offers an incentive system in which people can collect recycling points in exchange for eco-friendly products. There are signs depicting what new items will be made out of those recycled items, and how much money the town is saving by working with recycling companies rather than burning the trash. …

“ ‘When residents cooperate, the money used for recycling is reduced at the same time, so you can see the merit to cooperating,’ said Momona Otsuka, the 24-year-old chief environmental officer of the center.

“Two things are key to creating a culture of widespread recycling, she said: policies, such as the 1997 Japanese law that gave towns and cities authority to recycle waste, and the cooperation of residents.

“Attached to the Zero Waste Center is a thrift shop where residents can drop off items they don’t want anymore, and others can take them free. All they need to do is weigh the item they take from the shop and log the weight in a ledger so the shop can keep track of the volume of reused items.

In January alone, about 985 pounds’ worth of items were rehomed — from unused batteries and sake glasses to furniture, maternity clothing and toys. The number is displayed inside the shop. …

“Rise and Win Brewing Co. brews two types of zero-waste craft beer, made of farm crops that would otherwise be thrown out because they are too misshapen to be sold publicly. … For years, the brewery tried to find an efficient way to donate leftover grain from brewing beer. Composting took a long time, and delivering fertilizer to farmers was a lot of work. So last year, they developed a way to convert used grain into liquid fertilizer, which is then used to grow barley for beer. …

“Hotel Why opened in 2020 as a part of the Zero Waste Center facility, which is constructed in the shape of a question mark to depict the question: Why do we create so much waste? The hotel feels like a secluded cabin in the woods, and at night, the stars resemble a planetarium.

“Each guest is given six bins to sort garbage during their stay. The sleek decorations are all reused materials, including a patchwork quilt made of denim scraps, and a wall display made of ropes. The furniture is salvaged from showroom models.

“The hotel emphasizes using just what you need. At check-in, guests cut individual bars of soap so they get just the amount they need for their stay. Coffee beans are ground based on the number of cups the guest wants, so that nothing goes to waste.

“Kamikatsu residents and businesses work to minimize as much food waste as possible. For example, at Cafe Polestar, there was one dish available for lunch to reduce waste: curry made with local vegetables.

“Even the leaf used to decorate their dishes was produced locally, from a company called Irodori, which has been selling products made from Kamikatsu’s lush forestry since 1986. There are 154 families in town involved with the project, mainly women aged 70 and older who can pick leaves to create intricate designs. The leaves are then sold to high-end spas, hotels and restaurants in Japan and other Asian countries, to create sustainable decorations.

“ ‘Our business helps people realize that there are valuable items even in mundane everyday things around them,’ said Tomoji Yokoishi, Irodori’s chief executive.”

More at the Post, here, where you can also read about the town’s ride-share system and its roughly 40 drivers, including the mayor, who use “a handful of cars so they can drive residents or visitors.”

I loved so many of the ideas and like to imagine towns everywhere coming up with their own unique ones.

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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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