Posts Tagged ‘Waste’

Sep22

Innovation of the Week: A Low-Cost Composting Toilet

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By Sarah Alvarez

Across the Asia-Pacific region, millions of people have inadequate access to sustainable sanitation infrastructure—in other words, they don’t have a safe and sanitary place to go to the bathroom. In the Philippines alone, 28 million people do not have access to the sanitation services needed to prevent contamination and disease. As a result, millions of people suffer from preventable diseases like dysentery.

Low-cost composting toilets can improve sanitation in less developed areas. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

The Water, Agroforestry, Nutrition and Development Foundation (WAND), a Philippine-based organization focused on eco-based solutions to human development challenges, has developed a low-cost composting toilet called Ecosan (Ecological Sanitation) that uses local materials to minimize water contamination and create fertilizers from human waste.

The WAND Foundation has developed several dry composting toilet models, some of which were recognized at the 2011 Tech Awards at Santa Clara University. At the conference, Cora Zayas-Sayre, executive director of the WAND Foundation, explained that by using local materials, the organization has been able to build 275 toilets at a cost of US$30 per toilet. She added that this innovation has already impacted the lives of 3,000 people.

This innovation simultaneously addresses two challenges that prevail in developing countries: the unsustainable and costly use of water-sealed toilets, and the hygienic management of human waste. Water-sealed toilets require pumping mechanisms to transport water and sewage between 300 and 500 meters away from the home, a method that is economically and environmentally unsustainable. Inadequate management of human waste can lead to a host of health problems in developing areas, and dramatically impact quality of life.

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Dec11

Colorado Water Struggles Highlight Impact of Fracking on Farming

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By Carol Dreibelbis

Fracking—known more formally as hydraulic fracturing—produces roughly 25 percent of the U.S. natural gas supply. This increasingly common practice uses pressurized fluid to release trapped oil or natural gas from a well, and has been praised for lowering energy prices. But concerns about fracking’s impacts on human health and the environment have caused many to question its expansion. And now, according to a recent article by Jack Healy of the New York Times, the debate has become even more contentious in the state of Colorado.

Fracking in the United States generates an estimated 8.1 trillion gallons of wastewater daily. (Photo credit: zhuda/Shutterstock)

Fracking requires pumping enormous quantities of water underground to crack dense rock and release stored energy. To meet this demand—up to 5 million gallons per well—energy companies in Colorado have been tapping into municipal water supplies. As Healy explains, “To fill their storage tanks, [the companies] lease surplus water from cities or buy treated wastewater that would otherwise be dumped back into rivers. In some cases, they buy water rights directly from farmers or other users—a process that in Colorado requires court approval.”

In light of last summer’s drought and the long history of water struggle in the West, many Colorado farmers worry that energy companies will outcompete them for precious water supplies. Local farmers pay between $30 and $100 per acre foot of water; recently, oil and gas companies have paid up to $2,000 for the same quantities of water. Fracking currently accounts for less than 1 percent of Colorado’s water usage, but the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission estimates that the state will require 16 percent more water for fracking within three years.

Colorado farmers are not alone in questioning the impact of fracking on agriculture. According to Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of the consumer rights group Food & Water Watch, fracking in the United States generates an estimated 8.1 trillion gallons of wastewater daily. One study by Ithaca College identifies a long list of toxic chemicals that are present in this wastewater, including arsenic and heavy metals.

These chemicals can contaminate local pasturelands and croplands, harming livestock, stunting crop growth, and reducing livestock and crop fertility. In Pennsylvania, 28 cattle were quarantined in 2010 after coming in contact with fracking wastewater that had leaked from a nearby holding pond. In addition to affecting livestock, the wastewater killed grass in the surrounding area. In this case, cattle were quarantined to prevent people from eating chemical-laced beef. In other instances, such as at the Park Slope Food Cooperative in New York, consumers are taking action themselves by refusing to eat food produced near fracking wells.

Evidence of fracking’s damaging impact on food production is accumulating across the country, and concern is growing as the practice expands around the planet. In a world where both energy production and food production are priorities, fracking remains a widely disputed issue.

Can fracking coexist with a safe and sustainable food supply? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Carol Dreibelbis is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

Nov21

A Tale of Two Farms: Industrial vs. Sustainable Meat Production in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic

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By Carol Dreibelbis

Most food in the United States comes from industrialized, intensive farms. Meat and dairy are no exception: nationwide, 40 percent of all U.S. food animals are raised in the largest 2 percent of livestock facilities. And these large-scale facilities, commonly referred to as factory farms, continue to grow. Between 1997 and 2007, the U.S. factory farming industry added 4,600 hogs, 650 dairy cows, 139,200 broiler chickens, and 1,100 beef cattle each day. On a global scale, industrial animal production now accounts for 72 percent of all poultry production, 43 percent of egg production, and 55 percent of pork production.

Pastured broiler chickens feed on grass and grain at Virginia-based Polyface Farm. (Photo credit: Polyface, Inc.)

Although factory farms provide large quantities of relatively inexpensive meat, the associated environmental, social, and human health costs are high. Factory farms rely on massive inputs of water, fossil fuel energy, grain-based feed, and other limited resources. Feed production alone accounts for an estimated 75 percent of the energy use associated with factory farming; growing animal feed also requires the input of water, fertilizers, and pesticides, and it occupies arable land that could be used directly to grow food. An estimated 23 percent of all water used in agriculture goes to livestock production.

Industrialized meat production also creates huge amounts of waste, contaminating nearby air and water and threatening the health of humans and wildlife. Some large factory farms produce more waste than large U.S. cities. The livestock industry is also responsible for approximately 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions—more than the entire global transportation sector. By contributing to climate change, factory farms affect people both locally and around the world.

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Sep20

Innovation of the Week: Gathering Waste and Making Good of It

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By Jeffrey Lamoureux

In most of the world’s slums, sanitation is a daily challenge. In the absence of sewage systems, people living in slums in Nairobi, Kolkata and São Paulo rely on rows of pit latrines shared by hundreds of other people, while others use “flying toilets” to dispose of waste. Disease and infection spreads easily in such environments.

Sanergy units can be built quickly and easily with affordable materials (Photo Credit: Sanergy)

But some social entrepreneurs in Nairobi are picking up where the government has left off and attempting to provide sanitary options to the slums. Sanergy, for example, is a company launched by a group of students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Sloan School of Management. The group has designed low-profile sanitation centers that can be constructed anywhere to provide hot showers and clean toilets. These facilities can be built quickly and easily with affordable materials. Waste from the centers is deposited into airtight containers that are collected daily. Then it’s brought to processing facilities that can convert it into biogas. The biogas generates electricity, while the leftover material is made into fertilizer.

The company won a USD $100,000 grant from MIT and has been building its first units in Nairobi. It charges a low pay-per-use fee and hopes to grow by franchising the operation of its units, creating an income opportunity for enterprising residents. As the number of toilets proliferates, so too will the amount of energy the company is able to generate from its processing facilities. It hopes to eventually generate enough energy that it can sell its power to the national grid.

The company’s unique and innovative approach is notable for the way it combines the decentralization of waste collection with the centralization of waste processing. Retrofitting the slums with proper sewage drains is a near impossibility and can be an expensive and potentially politically volatile effort in areas where landownership is at best ambiguous. The self-contained units grant access to sanitary facilities to even those far off the grid. But by centralizing the processing of waste, Sanergy’s facilities will take advantage of the economies of scale present in the waste conversion process.

By creating products of value out of the waste, the company creates an incentive for others to set up their own facilities in partnership with Sanergy. The company hopes that there may eventually be facilities on every neighborhood block, significantly increasing the number of people with access to clean sanitation. The energy generated through the waste production will be a clean option to power a growing economy, and the fertilizer is a nutrient-rich alternative to expensive petroleum based fertilizers.

Do you have any other examples of innovations that are addressing the problems of sanitation within urban slums? Share them with us in the comments below!

Jeffrey Lamoureux is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE.

Jun19

People’s Summit: Food Waste and Post Harvest Losses

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By Keshia Pendigrast

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), reports that an estimated one-third of all food produced is wasted every year. In the United States alone, retailers and households throw away about 40 percent of all edible food.

The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance will co-host a panel on food waste. (Image credit: People's Summit)

In addition, rising global food prices and increasing income inequality are endangering the poor’s ability to feed themselves. But according to Tristram Stuart, a food waste expert and Sophie Prize Winner, salvaging 25 percent of the food waste from the U.S., the U.K., and Europe could rid the world of malnutrition.

In recent years, information on food waste and prevention methods have become more readily available and are beginning to spur responsible consumerism. For example, in the U.K., the Love Food, Hate Waste initiative reaches out to consumers with a user-friendly website with waste-prevention shopping tips, recipes for leftovers, and facts on global food waste.

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Mar30

Designing a Plan to Reduce Food Waste

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Nourishing the Planet is collaborating with a team of graduate students at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Institute of Design (ID) to research the problem of global food waste. In February, the ID research team hosted a workshop in which participants shared photos and talked about their experiences implementing bottom of the pyramid projects in India, Thailand, and Africa.

An ID team member takes notes on a projected photograph of a Botswana farmer as Danielle Nierenberg shares her story. (Photo credit: ID)

This workshop, along with other design research and analysis methods, will be used to identify opportunities for addressing food waste in developing countries. Patrick Whitney, Dean of the Institute of Design, is the faculty adviser to the project. Whitney has published and lectured around the world on ways of making technological innovations more humane, the link between design and business strategy, and design for the bottom of the pyramid.

The result of the students’ work will be included in an upcoming e-book on food waste co-authored by Nourishing the Planet Director Danielle Nierenberg and journalist Jonathan Bloom. The report will highlight agricultural practices that aim to reduce post-harvest losses obtained through NtP’s existing research on food waste and insights from field experts.

Stay tuned for more updates on the report.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

Mar14

American Wasteland: Jonathan Bloom on Why Food Waste Deserves our Attention

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by Marlena White

Jonathan Bloom recently discussed his book, American Wasteland at the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore, MD. The book highlights the economic and environmental costs of food waste, and how consumers and policymakers can play their part in reducing waste to protect the environment, fight hunger, and save money.

Jonathan Bloom discusses why food waste is a problem, and what we can do about it. (Image credit: Wastedfood.com)

Why We Waste

Bloom estimates that as much as 25 percent of all the food Americans bring into their homes goes to waste. Why? In the United States food is inexpensive—thanks largely to government subsidies—and abundant for most consumers. And it is often served in large portion sizes that can’t (or at least shouldn’t) be consumed in one sitting. As a result, Americans tend to value food less than they did before food was so readily available and inexpensive, and throw it away more frequently. In addition, they judge the quality of their food based on aesthetics. “Appearance trumps taste,” according to Bloom, so many perfectly edible foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, are discarded because they aren’t the right size, shape, or color.

Bloom also cites the loss of food knowledge as a primary contributor to food waste. “People don’t know when something’s good or not,” he says, explaining why people throw away food at home. Expiration and sell-by dates are used to fill this knowledge gap, but tend to be loose and often inaccurate indicators of how quickly a food should be eaten. Consequently, Americans discard a large amount of food that is completely fine for consumption.

Why Should We Care?                                      

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Feb22

Food Fasting for a Cause: Ash Wednesday

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By Ronica Lu

According to a study by the United Nations World Food Program, over one third of the food produced for human consumption is wasted, mostly in developed countries. The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA) is leading an Ash Wednesday food fast campaign to end the cycle of food waste. They are inviting all to participate in its “Fast for Life” campaign to reflect on consumption patterns and global food waste.

The 1.3 billion tons of food thrown away each year by wealthy nations would be enough to feed the 1 billion who go hungry. (Photo credit: Couponshoebox.com)

The Lenten season this year starts with Ash Wednesday on February 22nd. On Ash Wednesday and during Lent, the EAA is encouraging consumers to find ways to increase their awareness and take action in changing the ways they buy and consume food.

One way to avoid wasted food is to be aware of the different food labels and what they mean: Sell By,” for example, is more of a guide for the store or seller than consumers, letting stores know how long they can display products for sale; “Best Before” or “Best if Used By,” refers to how the quality or flavor of the food is affected the longer it sits on store shelves; and “Use By” or “Expiration Date”  indicates that eating or consuming the food after the date is not recommended

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Jan16

Going Green in 2012: 12 Steps for the Developing World

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Many of us are thinking about the changes we want to make this year. For some, these changes will be financial; for others, physical or spiritual. But for all of us, there are important resolutions we can make to “green” our lives. Although this is often a subject focused on by industrialized nations, people in developing countries can also take important steps to reduce their growing environmental impact.

By using biogas collection tanks, farmers in Rwanda are already helping to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

“We in the developing world must embark on a more vigorous ‘going green’ program,” says Sue Edwards, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Development (ISD). “As incomes rise and urbanization increases, a growing middle class must work with city planners to ensure our communities are sustainable.”

ISD’s Tigray Project recently received the Gothenburg Award for Sustainable Development 2011, shared with Kofi Annan, Chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Since 1996, Tigray has worked to help Ethiopian farmers rehabilitate ecosystems, raise land productivity, and increase incomes through such practices as composting, biodiversity enhancement, the conservation of water and soil, and the empowerment of local communities to manage their own development.

Broadening sustainability efforts is essential to solving many of the world’s challenges, including food production, security, and poverty. The United Nations has designated 2012 as the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All.

Hunger, poverty, and climate change are issues that we in the developing world can help address. Here are 12 simple steps to go green in 2012:

1.      Recycle:

Urbanization is on the rise throughout the developing world. According to the United Nations, the highest urban-area growth is 3.5 percent per year in Africa. But waste management is not keeping up with population growth. It is inefficient in urban areas and virtually nonexistent in rural areas, resulting in the pervasive unloading of waste in unmanaged dump sites and bodies of water and endangering public health. 

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Jan10

Five Simple Things Consumers Can Do to Prevent Food Waste

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By Graham Salinger

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), reports that an estimated one-third of the food produced worldwide for human consumption is wasted annually. In the United States, an estimated 40 percent of edible food is thrown away by retailers and households. In the United Kingdom, 8.3 million tons of food is wasted by households each year. To make the world more food secure consumers need to make better use of the food that is produced by wasting less.

Food waste remains a large factor contributing to food insecurity around the world, but consumers can help reduce the amount of food that is wasted each year. (Photo credit: Back to the Garden Inc)

Today, Nourishing the Planet presents five ways that consumers can help prevent food waste.

1. Compost: In addition to contributing to food insecurity, food waste is harmful to the environment. Rotting food that ends up in landfills releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas, that is a major contributor to global climate change and can negatively affect crop yields. Composting is a process that allows food waste to be converted into nutrient rich organic fertilizer for gardening.

Compost in Action: In Denver, the city contracts with A1 Organics, a local organic recycling business, to take people’s waste and turn it into compost for local farmers. Similarly, a new pilot program in New York City allows patrons to donate food scraps to a composting company that gives the compost to local farmers.

2. Donate to food banks: Donating food that you don’t plan to use is a great way to save food while helping to feed the needy in your community.

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