Tag Archives: waste

America throws away 40% of its food – under the supermarket model

One of my big ideas is to get away from the supermarket model in America. Not only has it made two-thirds of the country overweight or obese, but it also wastes an incredible amount of…well, everything.

From an NRDC report (pdf):

Getting food from the farm to our fork eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of all freshwater consumed in the United States. Yet, 40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten….That is more than 20 pounds of food per person every month. Not only does this mean that Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year, but also 25 percent of all freshwater and huge amounts of unnecessary chemicals, energy, and land. Moreover, almost all that uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills where it accounts for almost 25 percent of U.S. methane emissions. Nutrition is also lost in the mix—food saved by reducing losses by just 15 percent could feed more than 25 million Americans every year at a time when one in six Americans lack a secure supply of food to their tables.

 

I’m convinced the supermarket model isn’t working and suggest we replace it with a more sustainable model. I’m writing a book to explain my solution, but here it is in three parts. A food system made up of farmers markets, non-profit food cooperatives, and for-profit markets.

I’ve traveled across the country and seen this model in effect and successful in large and small communities. It favors both the rich and poor, is sustainable and, best of all, creates quality jobs.

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Stop wasting water in the shower! – Install a point-of-use tankless water heater

(image: Yahoo! Shopping)

A great technology for water conservation is available called the point-of-use tankless water heater. These small box-like devices can be installed underneath the sink in a kitchen or bathroom. They offer a simple way to avoid running cold water for minutes while you wait for hot water. For showers, the EPA says the average output is 2.5 gallons/minute and assuming a few showers a week that adds up 500+ gallons of water wasted every year.

In most houses this waste occurs because the water heater is located a significant distance from the faucet or shower. The hot water has to travel that distance to reach the user. The tankless technology shrinks the size of the water heater allowing you to place it right where it is needed.

One can imagine eco-friendly homes of the future skipping the central water heater altogether and placing point-of-use heaters wherever water is used. Not only would this save hundreds of gallons of water but also cut energy costs by 27-50%, according to the Dept. of Energy. For existing homes, like ours, we can place them in our heavy water use areas (i.e. bathrooms, where we use 50% of our water) as a supplement to traditional water heaters.

On a side note, replacing a traditional water heater with a tankless version can reap incredible energy savings, up to 30%. Traditional heaters keep 40+ gallons of water hot 24 hours a day, even though we only use it for minutes a day. A great waste of energy compared to tankless versions which heat water only when needed. However, if you want to conserve water then installing a tankless in the same place won’t work. You will need to put one at your point-of-use.

The heaters run $100-200 and are found at every major hardware store, including Amazon. They may need minimal electrical or plumbing work. I have not installed one myself but research shows it is not hard (depending on your skill level). I would recommend researching your situation before purchasing – intended water use, plumbing/electrical needs, reading reviews.

Point-of-use tankless water heaters are the ideal solution for water conservation. They cut out waste and don’t require a change in habits, allowing us to treat water like the precious resource it is and still enjoy our favorite comforts. Plus, as more people begin to install them the price should drop and make it easier for everyone to afford this eco-friendly upgrade.

 

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What does Zero Waste mean?

I’m the radical sitting next to you. I do things the American populace would consider crazy and yet nobody seems to notice. I slide by without a peep from the authorities. What am I talking about?

I live a completely Zero Waste lifestyle. It’s hard to believe and you should see the reactions I get from others. Everyone goes wide-eyed, then the judging starts, and the skepticism. I don’t look like a radical, I’m not tied to a tree or wearing hemp clothes. I’m just an average looking guy.

To explain all this let’s start with what Zero Waste means. The concept isn’t about throwing things away, like most think, it’s about sustainability and recycling. We are all consumers and will continue to be, and the goal isn’t to get rid of consumption but to modify it. To create a system where everything we use ends up someplace other than a landfill.

Largely, this means recycling the hell out of everything, and a lot can be recycled. In fact, one of the most powerful things you can do right now is go look up your trash company’s rules for recycling. I guarantee you will find new things to recycle. In the world of waste, the trash companies are, generally speaking, the most advanced green groups you will find.

It’s such a simple move and yet so powerful, which helps because the next step is the hardest thing you will have to do. Eat better. I’m serious. As a man obsessed with trash I can tell you that the majority of our waste comes from our food. It’s also true that the more waste you create the worse you are eating.

After all, a McDonald’s happy meal comes with like 16 things to throw away, while a homemade sandwich with an apple create very little waste. An obvious comparison but you will find that as you dig into this, eating healthier and healthier, it just gets better…and tastier, cheaper, greener, more social, and more interesting.

Don’t take my word for it, just go out and try it. It will be one of the greatest things you ever do and also get you nearly to Zero Waste. Give it some time and you will reduce your waste by 90% or more. After that, all that is left is a lot of minor things. Like finding a restaurant that serves healthy food in recyclable containers or where can buy a recyclable toothpaste tube.

That’s it, pretty simple and yet so radical. Like I said in the beginning, I don’t look weird but I am possibly the weirdest person you know. I’ve been trying this stuff for three years now and I’m not living in a treehouse yet. I blend in completely with the normal folk and yet I’m a citizen of the future. I live in a sustainable way in a normal American household. Now if we can only get 300 million people to try this…

 

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National Geographic: thousands fish (and eat) from the extremely toxic Anacostia River

In case you thought no one fished (and ate the fish) in the Anacostia River, here is an article from National Geographic:

Fishermen were casting their lines into the urban waters of Washington, D.C., into a river notorious as one of the dirtiest in the nation. What’s more, according to a recent study, they represented a small fraction of the 17,000 or more residents of this metropolitan area who are consuming fish from a river that has all the markings of a Superfund site.

Sometimes you just can’t believe it, the article even says that a sewer line directly dumps a billion gallons of human waste every year.

Yeah, the river really needs help.

 

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How zero waste, local food, and sustainable transport are a part of the London 2012 Olympics

Pulled from the London 2012 Olympics Sustainability report (pdf):

 

If everyone lived as we do in the UK we would need three planets.

Our unsustainable lifestyles have meant that for the last 30 years we have been ‘eating into the Earth’s capital’ rather than ‘living off its interest’.

The promotion of sustainable development has become one of the fundamental objectives of the Olympic Movement…through its Agenda 21– Sport for Sustainable Development.

London 2012, WWF and BioRegional have developed the concept of a One Planet Olympics.

Staging a One Planet Olympics in London would help achieve the first sustainable Games. Sustainability has been at the heart of the London 2012 Bid and Masterplan.

 

The principles, goals, and legacy of the One Planet Olympics:

 

Zero Waste

Developing closed resource loops. Reducing the amounts of waste produced, then reclaiming, recycling and recovering

Goals

  • No Games waste direct to landfill – all treated as a resource
  • Zero waste target a pivotal procurement driver
  • Closed-loop waste management at all venues
  • Public information campaign to promote high quality front-of-house waste separation

Legacy

  • Zero waste policies extend across East London based on high recycling rates and residual waste converted to compost and renewable energy
  • Increased market for recycled products
  • Closed-loop waste management to be standard practice for major sports events

 

Local and Sustainable Food

Supporting consumption of local, seasonal and organic produce, with reduced amount of animal protein and packaging

Goals

  • Promotion of local, seasonal, healthy and organic produce
  • Promotion of links between healthy eating, sport and wellbeing
  • Partnerships established with key caterers, suppliers and sponsors
  • Composting of food waste as part of Zero Waste plan

Legacy

  • Increased markets for farmers in the region
  • Markets, catering and retail outlets supplying local and seasonal food
  • Composting facilities integrated into closed-loop food strategy

 

Sustainable Transport

Reducing the need to travel and providing sustainable alternatives to private car use

Goals

  • All spectators travelling by public transport, walking or cycling to venues
  • Low/no emission Olympic vehicle fleet
  • Olympic Park Low Emission Zone
  • Carbon offset programme for international travel
  • Individualised travel plans as part of integrated ticketing process

Legacy

  • Increased connectivity across and between legacy developments and neighbouring communities
  • Reduced car dependency
  • Car free events policy adopted for other major events
  • Greater market for zero carbon transport

 

 

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Students create their own composting program in the dorms

Hauling trash-bags full of coffee grounds and kitchen scraps, two three-wheeled rickshaw bicycles raced past campus foot traffic.

The fleet had just finished their first compost pickup.

The owner of the cafe, Devon Jackson-Kali, met the students near the cafe to give them leftover coffee grounds…he also gave them pounds of cabbage heads, carrot peelings, celery and other scraps leftover from his kitchen operations.

Leaders of an undergraduate environmental research team known as Waste Watchers drove the custom-built, electric and pedal-operated bikes – or rickshaws – on an extended campus route for the first time. Using the rickshaws for transport, the team collects and recycles leftover scraps at their own compost site located in Sunset Canyon Recreation Center.

Chloe Green, the Weyburn project coordinator and a graduate student in urban planning, excitedly greeted the team on the street outside her apartment Wednesday.

Green said it felt “unnatural” not to compost at her Weyburn apartment. She grew up composting and said she has since learned the technique through trial and error.

 

More on this – Daily Bruin: Compost crew: Waste Watchers turn trash into fertilizer by properly disposing organic waste

 

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Learn more about the Affordable Care Act – summary of Medicare reforms

A summary from the White House:

 

*Note: Medicare is for the elderly and Medicaid is for the poor. Most of the controversy and supreme court discussion is around Medicaid, not the below Medicare.

 

Strengthening Medicare

Nearly 50 million older Americans and Americans with disabilities rely on Medicare each year, and the new health care law makes Medicare stronger by adding new benefits, fighting fraud, and improving care for patients. The life of the Medicare Trust Fund will be extended to at least 2024 as a result of reducing waste, fraud, and abuse, and slowing cost growth in Medicare. And, over the next ten years, the law will save the average person in Medicare $4,200. People with Medicare who have the prescription drug costs that hit the so-called donut hole will save an average of over $16,000.

Lower Cost Prescription Drugs: In the past, as many as one in four seniors went without a prescription every year because they couldn’t afford it. To help these seniors, the law provides relief for people in the donut hole – the ones with the highest prescription drug costs. As a first step, in 2010, nearly four million people in the donut hole received a $250 check to help with their costs. In 2011, 3.6 million people with Medicare received a 50 percent discount worth a total of $2.1 billion, or an average of $604 per person, on their brand name prescription drugs when they hit the donut hole. Seniors will see additional savings on covered brand-name and generic drugs while in the coverage gap until the gap is closed in 2020.

Free Preventive Services: Under the new law, seniors can receive recommended preventive services such as flu shots, diabetes screenings, as well as a new Annual Wellness Visit, free of charge. So far, more than 32.5 million seniors have already received one or more free preventive services, including the new Annual Wellness Visit.

Fighting Fraud: The health care law helps stop fraud with tougher screening procedures, stronger penalties, and new technology. Thanks in part to these efforts, we recovered $4.1 billion in taxpayer dollars in 2011, the second year recoveries hit this record-breaking level. Total recoveries over the last three years were $10.7 billion. Prosecutions are way up, too: the number of individuals charged with fraud increased from 821 in fiscal year 2008 to 1,430 in fiscal year 2011 – nearly a 75 percent increase.

Improving Care Coordination and Quality: Through the newly established Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, this Administration is testing and supporting innovative new health care models that can reduce costs and strengthen the quality of health care. So far, it has introduced 16 initiatives involving over 50,000 health care providers that will touch the lives of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries in all 50 states.

Providing Choices while Lowering Costs: The number of seniors who joined Medicare Advantage plans increased by 17 percent between 2010 and 2012 while the premiums for such plans dropped by 16 percent – and seniors across the nation have a choice of health plans.

 

More from this series:

REI pursuing sustainability – getting rid of the polybags

When thinking about the sustainability of REI’s operations, the complexity of the task quickly becomes apparent. Where does a person start?

Our annual stewardship report details one such area: our efforts to reduce REI’s waste-to-landfill.

We conducted a retail waste audit to better understand the details. To paint a picture, imagine this: Our teams literally went “dumpster diving” to get a real behind-the-scenes look at our trash.

We confirmed what our retail employees had long assumed—plastic garment bags (also called polybags) were a major issue.

A long-time retail industry standard—or, “the way it was always done”—has been to protect clothing in plastic bags during transport to stores. For example, a seemingly inexpensive bag that held a $100 sweater was removed and discarded when it reached our shelves for customers.

That’s where we parted ways with our standard practice.

While we started to reduce the number of bags for REI-brand products, that was only a small part of the challenge. Considering other brand products make up about 80% of what the co-op sells, we needed partners to make a big difference.

One great brand we work with is prAna, the California-based climbing and yoga apparel company. It turns out that people at prAna had been asking themselves the same question.

 

 

Read the full storyPursuing Sustainability at REI: Eliminating What Shoppers Don’t See Delivers a Big Win

Video games wasted about 1% of America’s electrical energy

A new study from Carnegie Mellon University found that in 2010, video games wasted about 1% of America’s electrical energy.

They found that up to 75% of energy consumed by video game consoles is during idle use, because the machines don’t have an auto-power-down feature (like every computer does).

The authors of the study say the cost of implementing this feature is marginal and would save more than $1 billion in utility costs.

More details:

- By the end of 2010, over 75 million current generation video game consoles (Microsoft Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, and Sony PlayStation 3) had been sold, meaning that many homes have two or more current generation game consoles

- We estimate that the total electricity consumption of video game consoles in the US was around 11 TWh in 2007 and 16 TWh in 2010 (approximately 1 % of US residential electricity consumption), an increase of almost 50 % in 3 years.

- The most effective energy-saving modification is incorporation of a default auto power down feature, which could reduce electricity consumption of game consoles by 75 % (10 TWh reduction of electricity in 2010).

- A simple improvement that could be implemented now via firmware updates to power the console down after 1 hour of inactivity. Though two of the three current generation consoles have this capability, it is not enabled by default, a modification that would be trivial for console manufacturers.

- Saving consumers over $1 billion annually in electricity bills.

 

Scott Lowe at The Verge points out that in May 2011, Microsoft did update Xbox 360′s firmware to enable auto-power-down by default. Now it’s up to the rest of industry to catch-up.

 

Full study available – Electricity consumption and energy savings potential of video game consoles in the United States

 

// Photo – Jami3.org

Green your stadium – behind-the-scenes tour of Air Canada Center

“…reduce our carbon footprint by 30%, utilities by 30%, and waste by 100%.”

 

More details from the Air Canada Center:

The Air Canada Center…has identified three areas where it can most affect its impact on the environment: Energy, Waste and Water.

Energy
Energy is the largest component of MLSE’s footprint. It is a required commodity, but we do not take its management lightly. We endeavour to minimize our environmental impact through:

  • Deep-lake water cooling which eliminates the need for air conditioning compressors
  • Using steam produced centrally instead of using many boilers
  • Lighting controls on office floors to reduce light levels
  • Overnight temperature set back
  • Variable speed drives on pumps and fans
  • Updating fridges to Energy Star
  • Aggressive plans to upgrade lighting throughout the venue and office tower
  • Proactive internal program aimed at reducing electricity usage and plug load in office tower


Waste

Over a one year period, Air Canada Centre holds on average 180 ticketed events with 2.75 million attendees coming through the building. This amount of traffic combined with the amenities of a sports and entertainment facility, produces a large volume of waste.  MLSE is cognizant of its waste and in 2009 alone will be diverting over 500 metric tonnes of organic material from landfills to farms where it is converted into clean soil (compost). We are also recycling 375 metric tonnes of material per year. Some of our successes are:

Water
MLSE is always looking at ways to reduce water usage and to ensure our business does not contaminate our water system. Some of the ways we have done this are:

  • Utilizing environmentally friendly cleaning supplies and chemicals
  • Installing faucet sensors in our washrooms
  • Installing aerators on taps
  • Filtering the water that makes our ice through reverse osmosis, instead of treating it chemically
  • Treating the water in our ice making plant with “”anode technology”” instead of with chemicals