<![CDATA[The Earth & I]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/libraryRSS for NodeTue, 18 Jun 2024 11:15:16 GMT<![CDATA[Nature Takes the High Road ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/nature-takes-the-high-road666703247b9900bbf771698aTue, 11 Jun 2024 13:36:37 GMTAlina BradfordHow Wildlife Crossings Save Animals and People 

By Alina Bradford

Most streets, roads, and highways offer no protection for crossing animals.  ©kavran/istock

Most people have seen a hapless turtle, deer, or skunk trying to scuttle to the other side of a road or highway. As urbanization and infrastructure expansion continue to encroach on natural habitats, man-made wildlife crossings [see video] or “green bridges” have emerged as a vital solution for wildlife.  

These innovative structures help ensure safe passage, thus reducing roadkill and preventing fatal or crippling collisions between animals and vehicles. 

Green bridges also help animals move freely, ensuring they can find food, mates, and new territories. This movement is crucial for keeping wildlife populations healthy and diverse. 

Hedgehog in danger.  ©Leoba/istock

What Are Wildlife Crossings?

Wildlife crossings are special structures designed to help animals safely cross busy roads, highways, and railways. The main goal of wildlife crossings is to reduce the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions, which can be dangerous for both animals and humans.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (US), an estimated 1 million to 2 million motorists collide with large wildlife each year. These collisions cause around 200 human deaths, 26,000 injuries, and $8 billion in property damage.

Aerial view of wildlife crossing over superhighway in Israel.  ©Wikimedia

Wildlife crossings can take the form of overpasses, underpasses, bridges, or tunnels. Overpasses often look like natural bridges covered with soil and plants, giving animals a safe path over the road. Underpasses and tunnels that run beneath the road are perfect for smaller animals or those that prefer enclosed spaces. These crossings are often paired with fences to guide animals to the safest routes and keep them off the roads.

Deer using wildlife underpass beneath US 85 near Sedalia, CO. (Another highway underpass can be seen in the background.)  ©CO Dept of Transportation

Animal bridges aren’t just government initiatives. Conservation groups and organizations work with local governments to devise the best plans for local wildlife. One organization that is a driving force in wildlife crossings in North America is the Pacific Forest Trust. It has been preserving, restoring, and managing forests in the Cascade-Siskiyou region in Oregon for more than two decades.

“Our belief in the importance of wildlife crossings has only grown stronger, especially as climate change pushes species to adapt and find cooler spots to call home,” said Laurie Wayburn, co-founder and president of Pacific Forest Trust. “Take our projects, like additions to the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument, Mountcrest Working Forest, and Mount Ashland Demonstration Forest. They're not just forests, they're lifelines for wildlife, connecting them to other protected areas and giving them safe pathways to migrate.”

How Common Are Wildlife Crossings?

Wildlife bridges started as just an idea in the 1950s in France and have since become increasingly common as countries recognize their benefits for both wildlife conservation and public safety. While exact numbers are hard to determine, there are thousands of wildlife crossings globally, including over 600 green bridges in the Netherlands and over 1,000 in the United States.

Wildlife crossing at Bloemendaal, the Netherlands.  ©Thankful Photography/istock

One of the most iconic wildlife crossings is the Banff National Park's series of overpasses and underpasses in Alberta, Canada. These vegetation-covered structures blend into the natural landscape and provide safe passage for wolves, grizzly bears, elk, and other species. According to a 2007 research article, the crossings reduced large animal wildlife-vehicle collisions in the area by over 80%.

Banff National Park Wildlife Overpass in Alberta, Canada.  ©Wikimedia  CC BY 2.5

Another impressive example is Utah's $5 million Parleys Canyon wildlife overpass. Spanning six lanes of Interstate 80, this overpass is specifically designed for large animals like deer and elk. In 2021 alone, the bridge had over 1,200 animal crossings.

In Australia, the Christmas Island crab bridges protect millions of red crabs during their annual migrations. These unique, mesh-like crossings, which allow crabs to easily climb and walk over roads, have become an essential part of the island’s ecosystem management.

Christmas Island, Australia, crab bridge.  ©Neil Bowman/istock

Crabs on Christmas Island bridge.  ©Leah Noble (left) Sarah Coote (right). Parks Australia

The Cost of Wildlife Crossings 

While wildlife crossings save lives, they can be quite expensive. Successful wildlife crossings include fencing to funnel animals toward the crossings, signage to alert drivers, and landscaping to make the structures more attractive to wildlife.  

Wildlife crossings vary in size depending on the species they are designed to accommodate. Overpasses are typically 165 to 230 feet wide, providing enough space for animals to feel safe. Underpasses come in various dimensions, but they are generally designed to mimic natural conditions to encourage wildlife use. Generally, overpasses can cost between $1 million and $7 million to construct, while underpasses range from $250,000 to $600,000. 

Research has shown that building these crossings is actually less expensive than the animal and car collisions that happen without them. For example, before the construction of the wildlife crossings, the Wyoming Department of Transportation estimated that wildlife-vehicle collisions at Trapper’s Point, Wyoming, were costing over $500,000 each year. The state estimates that the wildlife crossings—which, for example, cost $2.5 million to $7 million for a double span overpass—will pay for themselves in about 17 years, according to The Center for Large Landscape Conservation in Bozeman, Montana.

Effectiveness of Wildlife Crossings

Wildlife crossings have proven highly effective in reducing animal-vehicle collisions. Studies show an average reduction of 80% to 90% in collisions in areas where these crossings are installed.

The Interstate 5 wildlife crossing in Oregon is a prime example of a successful project from start to finish. “Since 2020, we've been working as part of the Southern Oregon Wildlife Crossing Coalition to champion safe passage for animals across Interstate 5 in the Siskiyou Crest, one of the most heavily traveled roads in the nation and a major ‘kill zone’ for wildlife in both Oregon and California,” said Wayburn. “Wildlife deaths have fallen by nearly 86% in other parts of Oregon where wildlife corridors have been built. That's why we're excited about the Interstate 5 wildlife crossing, as it will foster habitat connectivity and protect elk, deer, mountain lions and many other species, large and small.”

New Developments in Wildlife Crossings

Exciting developments continue in this field. For example, the Pacific Forest Trust is working on creating "wildways," natural corridors that bridge public and private lands. "While man-made wildlife crossings over roads like bridges and tunnels under highways have garnered significant attention, Pacific Forest Trust is at the forefront of a growing movement toward creating natural corridors—we like to call them ‘wildways’—that bridge public and private lands to ensure safe passage for wildlife across property ownerships,” said Wayburn. “This is especially important as wildlife are increasingly on the move due to challenges posed by climate change, such as extreme heat, wildfires, and increased fragmentation from development pressure.”

An example of this approach is a project to conserve  7,500 acres of private forest on Mount Shasta's slopes that involves the landowner, forest management group, the Pacific Forest Trust, and the State of California. This project aims to protect forest health, create a climate-resilient habitat connecting public lands, and support around 250 species, including the gray wolf and Pacific fisher.

“With nearly 60% of US forests being privately owned, replicating such 'super wildway' projects nationwide becomes crucial for reducing fragmentation and facilitating secure wildlife migration amid climate and environmental challenges,” said Wayburn.

Going Beyond Traditional Boundaries

Wildlife crossings are a crucial innovation in preserving biodiversity and enhancing road safety. As more countries and states recognize the value of these lifesaving structures, it is expected that there will be an increase in their number worldwide.

“Our ideas about habitat protection need to evolve from a ‘fixed boundary’ or zoo-like approach that expects animals and plants to remain within designated places,” said Wayburn. “Public lands alone cannot protect these species,” she added. “To ensure we have this amazing diversity of plants and wildlife, we need to embrace private lands, including those managed for financial return, as part of the solution. Since biodiversity loss is closely linked with climate change and forest loss, we must integrate more active, private lands conservation into our strategies.”

*Alina Bradford is a safety and security expert who has contributed to CBS, MTV, USA Today, Reader’s Digest, and more. She is currently the editorial lead at SafeWise.com.

<![CDATA[An Environmental Marvel in Education: Discovery Elementary School ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/an-environmental-marvel-in-education-discovery-elementary-school6622e639190ceeea076b8f32Mon, 22 Apr 2024 21:46:47 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamStudents Attend Classes in a Net-Zero Energy Building with a Hydroponics Unit 

Discovery Elementary School is a public K-5 school in Arlington, VA, named for astronaut and Sen. John Glenn, who once lived near the park where the school now stands. Opened in 2015, Discovery was the largest net-zero energy elementary school ever built in the United States and the first net-zero energy school of any kind in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The 97,588-square-foot school, which has around 700 students, is a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School and a National Wildlife Federation Eco-Schools USA Green Flag School. 

Recently, The Earth & I conducted an interview with Discovery Principal Dr. Erin Healy. 

Discovery Principal Dr. Erin Healy explaining the physical school layout.  ©E&I

E&I: Dr. Healy, you were hired as the principal one year before the opening of the Discovery Elementary School. Could you please tell us what steps you took to prepare the teachers, staff, and PTA to create a green sustainability-centered school. 

Dr. Healy: When we first opened, we had to build community. We were pulling students from three overcrowded elementary schools …  We had to come together and decide: “What do we want Discovery to be?”  

We screened a movie about some outdoor school in Europe (School’s Out: Lessons from a Forest Kindergarten.) They have kids go outside—in the sunshine, rain, and snow—from ages two to seven. Every day, they're just outside. They're using knives, building fires, and doing all of the things that American schools are not doing. Those kids don't come inside and learn letters and how to read and write until age seven. And we're kind of forcing it on our students at age five. And it all meters out, right? It inspired the parents to think outside the box and know that active, outside play is important.  

We also screened another movie that was about all the plastics in the ocean. The marine biologists who created that documentary were able to interact with our students, and our students were able to ask them questions. Again, any normal elementary school might not watch a movie about plastics in the ocean, but because this is central to what we doit becomes part of our community. 

E&I: Yes, education should prepare students to solve these critical problems. If they know about such issues, they can think about solutions

Dr. Healy: Yes. Our students also do research projects. Second graders, for example, are located in the “ocean” wing of our school, so everything that they see is about the ocean. When the teachers said, “Let's do a research project. What do we want to educate people about?” They decided they wanted students to learn about the importance of rainwater. So, on the caps of the public rainwater sewer system [in the school’s driveway and parking areas], they drew animals, like fish and frogs, with a paint that only shows up when it rains. When it rains, the paint shows up and you can see a frog or a fish. They were just raising awareness about the rain, what the water does, and who it affects.

E&I: You mentioned the fifth-grade research project and how they created a trap for the sewers?

Dr. Healy: Yes. We did a “design thinking challenge” and had every grade level do something related to the hallway that they were in. Fifth grade is in the “galaxy” hallway, so it's all about energy, but they were struggling to figure out what they should do and they came up with an idea not related to energy. They were concerned about the amount of trash that was in the school parents’ car loop and falling into the local water system because there's a huge gap where all the rainwater flows.

They said we should put a net or something there to stop that, and so they designed it, built it, and set it up. It was wonderful. Then they graduated, and we were like, “Okay, goodbye fifth graders.” Four days or so later, summer school started.

And then this happened on the first day of summer school: We in Arlington, Virginia, had never seen the amount of rain that fell. The first forty-five minutes were crazy. It was an absolute deluge. Well, the turf field that has the crumb rubber covering, it all lifted, came down the hill into that school parking loop, and was about to be swept away into the local sewer, but the net was there that the kids had built, and it stopped all that crumb.

After the sun came out, the crumb dried up, and there was a layer of it several inches deep. The Arlington County public service system came out and was able to vacuum it up and put it back in the field. It never got into the sewer system. I was thinking, “I need to go find those fifth graders and thank them each individually” because all of it could have just polluted our sewer system. But their net system stopped it—it was just spectacular.

This indoor slide is always accessible to all children (and adults)—a very popular alternative to taking the nearby stairs.  ©E&I

E&I: What would you recommend to other schools who would like to develop their environmental education?

Dr. Healy: I think for another school or school system to replicate this, it's really important that people have time together to plan. None of this happens without planning, but it’s all extra for our teachers on their own time—like what the art teacher and the advanced academic teacher do … running the eco-action team.

There's no time in the day for them to formally plan for that, so they're doing it on their own time. We’re the only school in the county that's so focused on sustainability. Any time that we use for this is done on our own time. We don't have the time, so we make time. …  I am so grateful for all the people that do it on their own time, but it would be lovely and better for students if it could be planned and purposeful.

E&I: By planned and purposeful, do you mean it would be part of the curriculum?

Dr. Healy: Yes. As if the county could say, “You have this one day; how much could we actually get done in planning the different types of activities that are already happening for our students?” 

It's on the backs of teachers who care and love it, and it's their passion. And, if you think about the busy work week, it would be great if there was support in that area.

E&I: In your networking with other schools do you see the same issues? 

Dr. Healy: Yes, I do. I am in communication with the principal of a school in Fairfax. They have a lovely garden system and all sorts of things, but they also struggle with finding the time for their teachers to prepare for the activities, for the students, and for outside learning—it's just hard. 

E&I: So, in a sense, education is backward. It has not caught up with today's needs. On another topic, are there different things in the kitchen that can save energy

Dr. Healy: Yes. Our kitchen doesn't have a deep fat fryer, which most elementary schools have. It's all electric and modular, so that every piece in the kitchen can be taken out if it doesn't work and a new element put in.

I think that was new when they were building this school. One other thing I'll say is that we can feed the students with everything that we grow and produce, which is awesome. I don't know if all schools do that. 

E&I: You harvest enough to be able to use it in the kitchen?

Dr. Healy: We harvest enough lettuce, if you can believe it, for use in the kitchen. We also donate extra [lettuce] to the local food bank because we have so much. When the hydroponics unit is full, it overflows with lettuce. There's just so much there, and the second graders get to harvest it, which they love, and we serve it to the staff and students.

The school’s hydroponics system after lettuce harvest. Students produce enough lettuce to feed the entire school population with lettuce.  ©E&I

And while talking about donating, every student is required to take a piece of fruit and a carton of milk at lunch. But many don’t consume them. So, we collect them and put them in a special refrigerator to be given to the food bank as well. Last year, we donated 600 pounds of food to local food banks.

E&I: The school was built as a green school, but it was still within the budget, right?

Dr. Healy: Yes, one of the main reasons that the county board gave VMDO Architects the bid to build the school was because they said that they could come in under budget and make the building sustainable. The architects said they could do it, and they did it. It was a win-win situation.

E&I: Where is your energy stored and how much does it cost to store it?

Dr. Healy: We don't have the exact information right now, but from what I heard from the county energy manager, we produce so much extra energy that the school is able to offset the cost of other schools’ electric bills. [As part of Discovery’s eco-friendly elements, the school has 1,706 rooftop photovoltaic (PV) solar panels generating 496 kW of power.]

Kathy Lin, who's the Arlington County Energy Manager, actually advocated at the state level to change a law to allow us to offset our energy. … [S]he advocated and helped pass a bill so that now we can offset the [electricity] cost for other schools.

Solar arrays designed for students to learn about solar power.  ©E&I

E&I: Another issue is character education. You said a lot about collaboration.

Dr. Healy: Collaboration is the backbone of the school. If you don't believe in collaboration, don't come here. Every staff member knows that. Regarding character education, we follow something called "The Responsive Classroom."

We send our teachers to a four-day training for level one and another four days for level two. It's about whole-school character education. Every classroom in Discovery starts with a morning meeting, with four components: the greeting, the sharing, the group activity, and the morning message. It’s about logical consequences, redirecting language, and it clarifies a lot of the expectations we have for students.

Together, we talk about CARES. That's cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, and self-control. We're teaching all those things daily in morning meetings and in “closing circles.”

E&I: One of our recent articles for the Earth & I was on Green School Bali. A couple times a day they ring a gong and have a minute or so of “mindfulness” or meditation.

Dr. Healy: It's so funny that you bring that up because I was hired a year before the school was opened. I was sitting in an office, and I was thinking, “How am I going to make this a sustainable school? How am I going to do this?”

I did research, and Green School Bali came up. I couldn't believe how cool it was, and I reached out to them and was in communication with their "sustainability director." I asked, "Hey, I'm in Virginia, we're opening a new school, and I've never done this before. I've never been a principal. How do we make it sustainable?" And we talked.

Discovery Elementary School principal Dr. Erin Healy in front of a display honoring the astronaut and Senator John Glenn who inspired students to name the school Discovery.  ©E&I

The PTA for our building actually formed before I was hired. … It turned out that the PTA president was a roommate in college with someone who worked at Green School Bali! I thought this is kismet, this is fate, because I reached out to them just from my research indicating they're a great school. I had no idea what I was doing, and then she was telling me this—all these connections, that's what it takes. It takes learning from others, learning how to do this.

I joke with my staff all the time. “We need to take a trip there. We need to do a vacation to Bali, Indonesia, because it's work related.” 

E&I: Thank you very much.

For The Earth & I, Marion Warin Miller spoke with Dr. Healy. She is a French bilingual researcher, writer, and editor now residing in Northern Virginia.

<![CDATA[Cherished Seabirds Threatened by Climate Change]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/cherished-seabirds-threatened-by-climate-change-kittiwakes-petrels-puffins-and-terns6621b1c3b8531d568d13a541Mon, 22 Apr 2024 17:35:32 GMTMal ColeBy Mal Cole*

A group of Artic terns flying over land and sea, Vatnsnes peninsula, Iceland.  ©The world Traveller/iStock

To imagine the coastline without the calls of seabirds ringing out above the waves as they search for prey and protect their young would be to imagine a true climate disaster. Though this extinction scenario seems far-fetched, seabirds face more threats than any other group of birds. Dangers include competition from invasive species, commercial fishing, and especially climate change because they rely both on delicate coastal habitat (for breeding) and the open ocean (for food). Changes in either habitat can threaten their survival.  


Many seabird species also rely on arctic habitats, which are some of the most threatened by climate change. Some birds have long migrations that can be made more difficult by unpredictable weather events. The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) now lists 31% of seabirds as vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered. Several seabird species—including kittiwakes, petrels, puffins, and terns—face particular threats from climate change.  



The black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla), known in the United Kingdom simply as "kittiwakes," are a species of gull reminiscent of the more common ring-billed gull, except it is smaller, with a large head in proportion to its body and black legs and feet.  Its name comes from its characteristic call that sounds like “kitti-weeeik. 

Kittiwake pair guarding their cliff-built nest and egg.  ©Bousfield/iStock

Kittiwakes use several cliffside sites in the UK, such as the Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire, as their breeding grounds. They typically rear one to three fluffy, grey chicks each year. Since a 2018 assessment by BirdLife, the kittiwake has been listed as “vulnerable to extinction” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, which was a stark change from their 2016 assessment that placed them at “least concern.” According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RBSP), overfishing and changes in ocean temperatures have eroded the populations of sand eels, which form a large part of these nesting birds’ diets.    


Kittiwakes also face threats to their breeding grounds. In February 2024, the kittiwakes suffered a crushing blow to their habitat when a cliff face holding 383 kittiwake nests fell into the sea in Sussex, England. The Sussex Ornithological Society had already observed a decline in kittiwake nests on the cliff face, with numbers at their lowest since 2011. This cliff face was the only known nesting site for the kittiwakes in Sussex, and it’s unclear if they will be able to adapt and return to the area.  




The decline of the kittiwake population is part of a larger trend in the population decline of seabirds. A long-term study that followed Wilson’s Storm Petrels in Antarctica showed a massive 90% decline in population over a forty-year period for two colonies. 

Storm petrel flying at sea.  ©birdsonline

Like the kittiwakes, petrels are pelagic seabirds and spend most of their lives in the open ocean. They only return to land for breeding and rely on specific nesting sites for nesting.  Petrels are also facing loss of food due to warming oceans. The melting of sea ice reduces the number of Antarctic krill that the birds rely on. (To learn more about krill, see the E&I article “Antarctic Krill: An Ecosystem Powerhouse Caught Between Humans and Nature.”) 

Cloudier seas may also make it difficult for pelagic seabirds to find food. Researchers at University College Cork (UCC) in Ireland observed Manx shearwaters, a seabird in the petrel family with gray color and white bellies, to understand how the cloudy ocean waters affected hunting conditions. The UCC researchers found that when sunlight penetrated the water, the shearwaters were able to dive deeper and collect more prey. The study suggests that as the oceans get cloudier due to climate change, it will be more difficult for pelagic seabirds to find food. 



In 2016 and 2017, researchers estimated that thousands of birds, many of them tufted puffins, died of starvation in the Bering Sea. The research team suggested that warming seas impacted the availability of the birds’ traditional food sources in the molting season, a stressful season during which the birds need extra energy and lose some of their ability to fly and dive. The puffins, which are colorful seabirds with upright penguin-like postures, were not able to find enough fish to sustain themselves, and the bodies of emaciated puffins washed up on the northwestern coast of North America, including St. Paul’s Island in Alaska.  

Puffins on Farne Islands, Northumberland, England.  ©Wellwoods/iStock

More recently, the tufted puffin’s cousin, the Atlantic puffin, suffered from the effects of warming seas and heavy rains in the Gulf of Maine. A study noted that the sea surface in the gulf was warming 99% faster than the global ocean. This has led to changes in available fish for the puffins to feed their chicks. This, plus heavy rainfalls, contributed to a disastrous 2021 for the puffin population—90% of the nesting puffins on the Island of Petit Manan, a ten-acre island refuge for nesting seabirds, failed to raise chicks to adulthood. Fortunately, by 2023, these puffins saw a second year of population rebound, Popular Science reported. 




Even subtle changes in weather and climate can have negative impacts on seabirds with long migratory routes. Arctic terns fly to both the North Pole and South Pole, the longest migration of any animal at 100,000 kilometers (over 62,100 miles). Terns rely on wind support to help with their migration, but changes in windspeeds due to climate change could negatively impact their journey. A 2023 study found that climate change could affect prevailing winds along the terns’ migration route, which may require them to change course. Due to the length of the journey, even minor wind pattern changes can have negative impacts for these long-distance avian athletes. 

Tern feeding juvenile.  ©Zhaohua Yang/iStock

In addition to changes in weather, disappearing sea ice may influence the arctic tern’s breeding and foraging grounds. The terns rely on Antarctic sea ice for raising their chicks, and the loss of sea ice has likely led to devastating effects on other arctic seabirds such as the Ivory gull, which has lost 70% of its Canadian population since 1980. “[C]ontaminants and illegal harvesting in Greenland during migration” are likely contributing factors. 

Beacuse of their sensitivity to the effects of climate change, seabirds can indicate the general health and well-being of the ecosystems they inhabit. For that reason, it’s important to protect seabirds, not just for their own sake but for the sake of marine ecosystems. 


 A 2019 study found that 380 million seabirds would benefit if the top three threats to seabirds could be controlled: the proliferation of invasive species, bycatch (unintentional trapping as a result of commercial fishing), and climate change.  


Countering these threats is an intimidating, long-term task, but researchers are also working to save several individual seabird species. In 2023, conservationists made an international effort to create a new colony of threatened black-footed albatrosses on the Mexican island of Guadalupe. And Audubon’s Seabird Institute is working to restore seabird populations worldwide, including seven in the Gulf of Maine. There is hope for seabirds as long as commitment to their conservation continues. 

*Mal Cole is a freelance science and nature writer based in Massachusetts.  

<![CDATA[UN Seeks Legally Binding Global Plastics Treaty by End of 2024 ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/un-seeks-legally-binding-global-plastics-treaty-by-end-of-20246622c5a065c8f1ddbfc619e1Mon, 22 Apr 2024 04:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamMember States Urged to “Begin the End” of Plastics Pollution 

Whether by consensus or by two-thirds majority vote, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) is urging UN member states to sign the first-ever legally binding global treaty to end plastics pollution by the end of 2024.   

World Leaders Summit at COP 28 in Dubai.    ©The President's Office of the Republic of Maldives CC BY 4.0

The resolution to develop the treaty (“the instrument”), which will also cover plastics in the marine environment, was introduced at the resumed fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2), in March 2022. The UN’s International Governmental Committee (INC) was tasked with creating an agreement that addresses the full life cycle of plastic, from production to disposal. 


Work on the treaty began with the INC-1 session in Punta del Este, Uruguay, in December 2022, followed by INC-2 in Paris (May 29June 2, 2023) and INC-3 in Nairobi, Kenya, in November 2023. The fourth session, INC-4, is scheduled from April 23-29, 2024, in Ottawa, Canada, with a final session, INC-5, scheduled from November 25-December 1, 2024, in Busan, South Korea. 


The two 2024 INC treaty gatherings follow the November 2023 Conference of the Parties (COP 28) in Dubai, where delegates agreed to transition away from fossil fuels to achieve net zero by 2050. However, since plastics are produced from fossil fuels, some observers speculate that increases in plastics production are “the ‘Plan B’ for the fossil fuel industry.” The UNEP has raised concerns over an International Energy Agency prediction that plastic production will account for almost half of oil demand growth by 2050. 


UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen told stakeholders at COP 28 that “plastics are not a lifeboat for you as energy systems decarbonize. The world can’t afford the emissions.” 


Though negotiators are committed to producing a treaty by the end of 2024, finding agreement among member states will not be easy. According to UNEP, an analysis has shown that fossil fuel and chemical industry lobbyist participation in the negotiations is on the rise. Some member states have included fossil fuel company lobbyists in their delegations at a time when UNEP is warning that “producers’ responsibilities schemes” are expected to be established to “tackle plastic pollution at its source.” 

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), plastic production is predicted to triple by 2060, while recycling rates currently linger below 10%. The World Wildlife Fund estimates the “societal cost” of plastic pollution, emissions, and clean-up may be nearly $3.7 trillion just from plastic produced in 2019 alone.  

The situation, says UNEP, is “a call to action to everyone—governments, businesses, schools, and communities—to join forces and address one of the most urgent challenges we face.” 



<![CDATA[‘Barefoot Architect’ Brings Sustainable Housing to Pakistan’s Poor ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/barefoot-architect-brings-sustainable-housing-to-pakistan-s-poor6622e12477d93b27f06413ffMon, 22 Apr 2024 04:00:00 GMTNatasha Spencer-JolliffeOver One Million Homes Were Lost After Catastrophic Flooding 

*By Natasha Spencer-Jolliffe

Architect Yasmeen Lari sits in front of dwellings designed by her foundation.  ©Wikimedia/BBC Urdu  (CC BY 3.0)

Designing safe, sustainable dwellings for those without means or access is beginning to have its day. One determined Pakistani architect is at the forefront of this response.

The 'Barefoot Architect'

After a storied career as a pioneering Pakistani architect, Yasmeen Lari pivoted away from designing glitzy modern architecture—with its high carbon footprint and other drawbacks—to address the plight of Pakistan’s disaster-plagued poor.


Lari has turned her focus to designing environmentally friendly disaster-relief dwellings for a populace that faces periodic earthquakes and flooding. 


Known today as the “barefoot architect” for the “poorest of the poor,” Lari repurposed her professional career—she calls her former self a “starchitect”—and set up Barefoot Social Architecture (BASA), which, according to Dezeen magazine, works to “uplift impoverished communities without impacting the planet.” 


Descended from a compassionate, public-minded father who sheltered Muslim refugees at the time of Partition, Lari has long been committed to the preservation of her heritage, having set up the Heritage Foundation of Pakistan in 1980 with her historian husband.


With the same determination that led young Lari to study architecture and succeed as the first woman to register as an architect in Pakistan, Lari’s foundation set about preserving historically important architectural treasures, such as those of the once-prosperous Sethi family in Peshawar, among many others.

A view of the Sethi Mohalla, preserved by Lari’s Heritage Foundation.  ©Wikimedia/Teseum (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The foundation’s urgent work to address disaster relief housing for the poor followed later—with a particular concern for women and children whose lives in Pakistan have traditionally revolved around the home. 


Empowering people to create their own safe, affordable, nature-based housing and communal structures—carrying “the sweat and pride” of the community—eventually became more important to Lari than designing prestigious commercial structures.


Since her career pivot, considerable attention has been paid to her work. In 2023, at the age of 82, she was awarded the Royal Gold Medal, considered one of the world’s most prestigious architectural accolades.

Sustainability In Service to Women and Children

Yasmeen Lari’s designs prioritize using locally sourced, renewable materials and incorporating traditional techniques and vernacular architectural styles. In an interview with BBC Urdu in 2020, she described her design motto as “low-to-no cost, zero carbon, and zero waste.” (See video)

Houses built with support from Lari’s foundation (2020).  ©BBC Urdu/Wikimedia

Her approach is highly regarded by architects, environmentalists, and humanitarian organizations.

With many women and children in Pakistan spending much of their lives near the home, designing disaster-resistant homes with natural, nontoxic materials is a necessity. Disaster mortality rates are generally higher for women and children. [See The Earth & I, April, 2021]. 

The women and children of Sindh Province.  ©DFID/Wikimedia

Feminist architect Nourhan Bassam, founder of the think-tank GamingX, spoke with The Earth & I about the importance of Lari’s work in addressing this need. “By acknowledging the distinct impact of these disasters on women, we understand that ‘disasters are a feminist issue’,” Bassam said.


“Through her foundation, Lari has not only influenced architectural practice but also inspired a broader conversation on intersectionality and cross-cutting topics of sustainability, feminism, and disaster resilience in the field of architecture,” said Bassam.

Strong Collaboration Required 


Providing adequate safe housing for a population as large as Pakistan’s is not easy. “Designing disaster-resistant, affordable housing from local and sustainable materials is a complex process that requires a holistic approach,” Maulik Patel, managing partner at UniquesCadd, an architecture firm focusing on disaster-resilient architecture, told The Earth & I.


Various stakeholders need to be involved. “Addressing these challenges requires interdisciplinary collaboration, community engagement, and innovative approaches to design and construction,” Patel added.



Lari’s track record suggests that her foundation is uniquely qualified to help address the disaster housing challenges of Pakistan’s poorest populations. Dezeen reported that from 2012 to 2014, her foundation provided 40,000 new shelters that housed about 300,000 people following severe flooding in Sindh Province.

Addressing Pakistan’s Floods

 Catastrophic flooding in Pakistan (2022).  ©zms/iStock

Lari’s foundation was severely tested when heavy rains led to catastrophic floods in Pakistan in 2022. A third of the country was submerged and 33 million people were forced from their homes or otherwise impacted. (See video here). According to UNICEF, half of those affected were children. A total of 1.4 million homes were destroyed in what the World Economic Forum (WEF) described as a “climate-fuelled catastrophe” that claimed at least 1,700 lives.   


In the aftermath of the devastating floods, Yasmeen Lari and the Heritage Foundation of Pakistan launched a plan to build a million flood-resistant homes throughout the country by 2024. The initiative also aims to ensure that every affected household has essential resources.


While Lari’s plan addresses the urgent need to focus on disaster relief, it also emphasizes the need for disaster preparedness—such as safety shelters for communities.

Video on shelter assembly. ©2024 Heritage Foundation of Pakistan

The shelter project draws heavily on Lari’s expertise and experience working closely with local communities and utilizing indigenous, renewable materials—such as lime, mud, and bamboo—to create durable, yet easily replaceable structures.


In a 2023 interview with RIBAJ, Lari said the know-how to complete one of her shelters was already freely available through a YouTube channel that had over 5,000 subscribers at the time. Through the channel, anyone can learn to build one of the foundation’s houses via detailed step-by-step instructions. Lari envisions positioning shelters on elevated roads that normally are not submerged during flooding. These structures can be relocated to permanent foundations for long-term use. 

Durable, sustainable, personalized—Heritage Foundation shelters.  

©2024 Heritage Foundation of Pakistan

In the RIBAJ interview, Lari said it is possible to construct 25 shelters a day wherever the foundation has people “on the ground” to facilitate skill-sharing among villages. The WEF reported that about 1,000 homes had been completed in heavily stricken Sindh province as of September 2023.

In addition to providing basic shelter, Lari also aims to provide water, toilets, and Lari’s “eco-alternative” Pakistan Chulah Cookstoves, which are self-built from local mud and CO2-absorbing lime plaster.  

Lari-designed chulahs can be self-made from local natural materials.  ©2024 Heritage Foundation of Pakistan

The stoves, which are fueled by agricultural waste, cut wood use by 50% to 70%, Lari told Dezeen magazine. The result was a healthier cooking environment compared with the traditional Pakistani wood-burning chulah.

According to Dezeen, the health benefits of replacing open fires with Lari’s cookstoves include reduced air pollution, skin burns, and likely lowered rates of respiratory or heart diseases. The reduced need for firewood also impacts deforestation rates and time spent searching for firewood. Resting on a solid raised platform, they are also less likely to be swept away during a flood. 

Traditional indoor (left) and outdoor (right) wood-burning chulah cookstoves.

Progress and Frustration

The WEF reported that Lari’s foundation had, as of November 2023, helped 2022 flood victims build approximately 4,500 homes with the goal of doing so for “at least 350,000 households.”

According to the WEF report, Lari has been frustrated by the UN’s humanitarian system “and institutions like the World Bank” for handing out aid “without building the capacity of the people,” and for constructing concrete structures in Pakistan following disasters. 

The WEF report included responses from a World Bank representative and the Sindh People’s Housing Foundation (SPHF), set up by the Sindh government to address the province’s flood disaster housing needs.

Mariam Altaf of the World Bank of Pakistan told WEF the bank preferred permanent “brick and mortar” houses, which she said “are more resilient housing options than mud-based ones.” 

The SPHF told WEF they were aware of Lari’s work, but preferred “burnt brick and cement” structures over mud-based, which they said had been the majority of those washed away during prior flooding.

*Natasha Spencer-Jolliffe is a freelance journalist and editor. Over the past 10 years, Natasha has reported for a host of publications, exploring the wider world and industries from environmental, scientific, business, legal, and sociological perspectives. Natasha has also been interviewed as an insight provider for research institutes and conferences. 


Editorial notes



Interview with Nourhan Bassam, architect, feminist urbanist and founder of GamingX, a think-tank focusing on community development and empowerment.

Interview with Maulik Patel, managing partner at UniquesCadd.

<![CDATA[State of the Science on Plastic Chemicals 2024 ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/state-of-the-science-on-plastic-chemicals-202466204743ea821da7f262b7beMon, 22 Apr 2024 04:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamNew Report Tracks Plastic Chemicals and Their Potential Hazards 

The PlastChem project, funded by the Norwegian Research Council, is a collaboration of researchers from Norwegian and Swiss institutions. Project objectives include compiling data on all known plastic chemicals, linking plastic chemicals to polymers of concern, and providing scientific evidence to guide policy development. In March 2024, researchers released the first version of their State of the Science on Plastic Chemicals report. 

Plastic Chemicals and Their Potential Hazards 
  1. Over 9 billion tons of plastic chemicals are produced per year. 

  2. More than 25% of plastic chemicals lack basic information on their chemical identity. 

  3. The report found 16,325 plastic chemicals with a chemical abstract service registry number (CASRN). Of these, 11,950 (73%) are organic chemicals, 3,449 (21%) are chemicals without information, and 926 (6%) are inorganic chemicals. 

  4. Only 47% of all plastic chemicals with CASRNs, or 7,585 chemicals, have data on their functionalities. 

  5. The five functions associated with the greatest number of plastic chemicals are colorants (3,674), processing aids (3,028), fillers (1,836), intermediates (1,741), and lubricants (1,684). 

  6. More than 4,219 plastic chemicals are viewed as hazardous because they are persistent, bioaccumulative, mobile, and/or toxic (PBMT). Out of the 16,325 chemicals, 10,726 chemicals (66%) do not have hazard data at this time, and 1,191 chemicals (7%) are considered less hazardous. 

  7. Some 1,875 chemicals classified as hazardous are still marketed for their use in plastics, which means chemicals of concern can be present in all plastics types.  

  8. At least 6,300 plastic chemicals have a high exposure potential, including over 1,500 compounds known to be released from plastic materials and products. 

  9. Over 9,000 plastic chemicals do not have publicly available information on their origins or uses in plastic. 



  • Wagner, M., Monclús, L., Arp, H. P. H., Groh, K. J., Løseth, M. E., Muncke, J., Wang, Z., Wolf, R., & Zimmermann, L. (2024). “State of the science on plastic chemicals - Identifying and addressing chemicals and polymers of concern.” Zenodo. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.10701706  

<![CDATA[U.S. Teams Gear Up to Stop Tasty Red Invader ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/u-s-teams-gear-up-to-stop-tasty-red-invader6621c05777d93b27f0630b51Sun, 21 Apr 2024 17:39:05 GMTMark SmithLouisiana Red Swamp Crayfish Unwanted in Great Lakes Waters  

*By Mark Smith

Crayfish.  ©giocalde/iStock

Not all alien invaders are found in sci-fi books and movies. Some of them, like the red swamp crayfish, are very real and can be very local. 

Nature is filled with ecosystems, many of them delicate, where fauna and wildlife have evolved over time to form a balance. And when something disturbs that balance, the effects can be devastating.  

For instance, when non-native organisms are introduced into an environment, they may cause significant harm to existing wildlife populations, damage infrastructure, and even decimate food chains. Such harmful newly resident organisms are called invasive species.  

All around the world, conservationists, scientists, farmers, and many others are trying to deal with the impact of invasive species, and debate is raging about how best to handle them. Should they be removed or culled? And, if so, how? Or, is it more feasible to adopt a live-and-let-live philosophy and permit the invasives to integrate into the ecosystem as nature finds a way to establish a "new normal" balance within the ecosystem? 

Non-native or Invasive 

Terminology is vital in this debate because not all species introduced into a habitat are invasive. 

The term “non-native species” refers to organisms that are not originally from a particular area but are introduced accidentally or purposely by human activity, or by natural events. 

Many non-native species are harmless or even beneficial to their new home. The humble tomato, for example, is non-native to the United States but grows innocuously in many people’s gardens and makes a delicious addition to many dinner plates. 

But other non-native species are, as the US National Parks Service defines them, ones that cause “harm to the environment, economy, or human, animal, or plant health.”  

“Most non-native species are not harmful and may provide economic benefits,” said Joanne Foreman of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MI DNR), which is currently engaged in programs to control invasive species.  

“Invasive species cause harm when they out-compete native species by reproducing and spreading rapidly in areas where they have no natural predators and change the balance of the ecosystems we rely on.” 

Dr. Douglas Tallamy.  Courtesy of D. Tallamy/©Rob Cadillo

Invasive organisms can also impact the food chain.

Dr. Douglas Tallamy is Professor of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware. He says the introduction of certain plants—especially ones that offer little food for insects themselves but crowd out native plants that do—impact native US insect populations to the degree that there are fewer insects and reduced bird populations.

“In North America, 96% of our terrestrial birds rear their young on insects,” Dr. Tallamy told The Earth & I. “This is the problem when you reduce that number of insects. By and large, when you flood the environment with a plant from someplace else, it devastates the food web.”  

A Red Menace

One invasive species that has found increasing fame—or infamy depending on one’s point of view—is the red swamp crayfish.

Native to the south-central US and northern Mexico, it is known as the Louisiana crayfish. But this edible species has established unwanted populations far from home—throughout Europe, Asia, and elsewhere in the US, including on the southern shores of the Great Lakes in Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. 

Red swamp crayfish are large and aggressive compared with many other crayfish species, and are capable of adapting to a broad range of conditions. One 120 mm (4.7 in) long female can carry over 600 eggs. 

A “crawfish boil.”  ©Lainey Stelly/istock

In the US, one reason they have spread so far is because they are the species most used in the food industry and eaten at crawfish boils. They are also popular as aquarium pets and may be released into waterways by aquarium owners who no longer want them.

But despite the red swamp crayfishes’ harmless appearance, they can have a devastating impact if released into new environments.

According to the Invasive Species Center, the crayfish can cause the accumulation of toxic cyanobacteria by overfeeding on aquatic plants. The cyanobacteria can release toxins and take up more of the water’s oxygen—suffocating other organisms. The crayfish also negatively impact native fish populations by consuming fish eggs, larvae, and aquatic vegetation.

Red swamp crayfish also tend to burrow near the water’s edge, decreasing bank and soil stability, which can lead to increased erosion around water infrastructure, bank slumps, and problems with drainage. This has been observed in Europe and Asia, where there have been cases of catastrophic drainage of wetlands and rice paddies.

‘Bad Things Will Happen’                                                         

The state of Michigan has been trying to control booming populations of invasive red swamp crayfish for six years. In 2017, the species initially found its first Michigan home in a hotel retention pond. The MI DNR spent three years trapping and removing more than 100,000 of them from the pond without ever reaching eradication. But efforts are continuing with new ways being tested in the hopes of making a significant dent in their numbers.

Associate Professor Brian Roth.  ©Courtesy of B. Roth

Dr. Brian Roth is Associate Professor at the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State University. He is working with the MI DNR, US Geological Survey, Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas, Gun Lake Tribe, and Auburn University to determine the best way of eradicating or controlling the species.

“The Michigan DNR is really keen on maintaining our native ecosystems,” he told The Earth & I

“We really just don’t want to find out what happens if red swamp [crayfish] become widespread and abundant. Almost all signs point to ‘bad things will happen’.”


He said the overall aim of the current strategy was to cull the crayfish and control the populations they cannot eradicate.

“We do not want these crayfish here,” he said. “We value our native animals more than invasive ones.”

His team’s research is looking at novel ways to mitigate or resolve the problem. “We have tried sound to attract crayfish. It works but is too cumbersome and not cost effective. Carbon dioxide didn’t work and was pretty expensive.”

DNR technicians Brennan Wright and Katrina Bauermeister collect crayfish specimens.  ©MI DNR

The team even made traps for juvenile crayfish made from modified shower loofahs, but that too was unsuccessful. He said it was too difficult to implement on a large scale. Currently, biological controls using fish and different types of traps are being explored.

“We always implement these strategies in a scientific framework that helps us to learn what works and what doesn’t, and we always keep in mind that we want a strategy that is easy to implement and not cost-prohibitive,” said Dr. Roth.


The team is currently using a pyrethrin-based chemical that binds quickly to sediment and is non-toxic to mammals and birds but highly toxic to crayfish. 

“We use this chemical in combination with a bentonite clay product to fill existing crayfish burrows and hopefully trapping crayfish inside. These treatments appear to be the most effective and cost-effective means to reduce crayfish abundances,” he said.

A Different Way of Thinking?

But there are some observers in the invasive crayfish debate who argue that the crayfish should be allowed to co-exist with native species or be dealt with in ways that are less aggressive.

“We need to take a humane, long-term view and learn to co-exist, as some species considered invasive are here to stay,” said Cebuan Bliss, an environmental researcher at Radboud University in the Netherlands.

She is one of the contributors to a report on invasive species published by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

Two coypus.  ©JMrocek/iStock

She pointed to a controversial policy in the Netherlands to use underwater traps to kill animals, like coypu (nutria) and muskrat, that are considered invasive. The traps hold the animal under water until they drown, causing the creature distress and pain. Now, she said, the traps are being phased out in the Netherlands but are still being used in other countries.

Coypu can damage infrastructure. A coypu burrow on bank.  ©Wikimedia

“Slowly but surely, we're seeing more humane methods of managing these species,” she said. “In the United Kingdom, researchers are experimenting with contraception for squirrels. Non-lethal methods of managing invasive animals also include using sound, scent, or physical deterrents.”

While debate is ongoing about the best way to deal with invasive species, there is urgency around the need to get something done. Time will tell if such methods are effective.

*Mark Smith is a journalist and author from the UK. He has written on subjects ranging from business and technology to world affairs, history, and popular culture for the Guardian, BBC, Telegraph, and magazines in the United States, Europe, and Southeast Asia.

<![CDATA[‘Plastic Free Lunch Day’ Coming to NYC Schools in April 2024 ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/plastic-free-lunch-day-coming-to-nyc-schools-in-april-20246622c72c85f0d8ec9036aebbSun, 21 Apr 2024 04:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamChildren Urged to Reduce Plastic Use in School Cafeterias 

Cafeteria Culture hopes to help eliminate plastic eating utensils in schools.  ©USDA/Wikimedia

During the week of April 1724, 2024, non-profit Cafeteria Culture(CafCu), in partnership with Fund for the City of New York, is raising awareness among school children and the public about the billions of plastic utensils, wrappers, and other packaging items that are discarded annually from school lunch programs across the globe. CafCu’s signature event, Plastic Free Lunch Day (PFLD), takes place the week of Earth Day 2024 in New York City’s 1,700 K-12 public schools but also invites partnerships with schools as far away as Japan.

What kind of impact could a program like PFLD have? According to CafCu’s website, “If every school in the US reduces just two pieces of plastic per school lunch each day, we can eliminate 10 billion pieces of plastic per school year.” 


The non-profit began in 2009 as Styrofoam Out of Schools. It was successful in catalyzing the elimination of Styrofoam lunch trays in every NYC public school and nine other large US school districts. This change alone is estimated to have stopped 4.2 million Styrofoam trays from entering the waste stream per week. 


This led to the formation of CafCu and its first PFLD event, held in 2022. School children are encouraged to bring reusable utensils from home and buy or bring lunches that don’t require utensils. Students are also asked to avoid plastic plates, condiments in plastic packaging, and any other plastic-packaged item, such as snacks or drinks during the PFLD events. 


CafCu says the kids in its programs discuss environmental issues, collect and analyze local data, and talk with decision makers about solutions, including ones the students have designed. 

The organization is also behind the production of the student-led documentary,Microplastic Madness(2019), already screened in at least 45 countries. CafCu invites under-resourced schools to host a free screening of Microplastic Madness (View official documentary trailer here). 

What’s next for the organization? Having helped to eliminate Styrofoam from all NYC public schools, it expects PFLD to play a major role in the non-profit’s biggest goal yet, to eliminate the remaining single-use plastics from NYC and US public school cafeterias. 


<![CDATA[Global Initiative to Restore Peatlands Makes Strides in the UK—How These Crucial Carbon Sinks Are Making a Comeback ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/restore-peatlands-with-carbon-sinks6622a0cb190ceeea076b50f1Sun, 21 Apr 2024 04:00:00 GMTYasmin PrabhudasBy Yasmin Prabhudas*

Airds Moss, East Ayrshire, Scotland.  ©Emma Hinchliffe (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED)

Peatlands are unique ecosystems formed of plant material that has partially decomposed, forming peat when soil becomes saturated with water. Also known as bogs, mire, moors and marshlands, and even featuring in some tropical forests and swamps, peatlands store up to a third of the world’s soil carbon. This is double the amount captured in the whole of the earth’s forest biomass, as they absorb the carbon dioxide that plants use during photosynthesis.  


The Global Peatlands Initiative, led by the UN Environment Programme, aims to save peatlands to prevent carbon from being emitted into the atmosphere. Its Global Peatlands Assessment outlines how some 50% to 60% of peatlands consist of carbon, more per hectare on average than all other ecosystems. They are the largest carbon stock in the biosphere, globally storing between 450,000 million and 650,000 million tons. 


A Global Feature 


Peatlands are estimated to cover about 500 million hectares (1.2 billion acres) in at least 177 out of 193 countries, where conditions, such as the climate, substrate (surface on which organisms grow) and hydrology (how water moves in relation to the land) keep the soil permanently wet. Some 33% of peatlands are in Asia, with 32% in North America, 13% in Latin America and the Caribbean, 12% in Europe, 8% in Africa, and 2% spread between Oceania and Sub-Antarctic Islands.  


The Katingan Project in Indonesia, for example, protects 149,800 hectares (about 370,000 acres) of peatland in central Kalimantan, home to one of the largest remaining peat swamp forests in the country.  


Human activity destroys 500,000 hectares (1.2 million acres) annually, and global estimates show that a total volume of about 2 billion tons of CO2 are emitted every year through degraded peatlands, excluding fires. 





Given their varied wetland systems, peatlands are home to species such as orangutans in Southeast Asia, bonobos and gorillas in Central Africa, and the aquatic warbler in Europe. They also support other species during migrations. 

Emma Hinchliffe, director of the IUCN UK Peatland Programme.  ©Emma Hinchliffe

Among the members of the Global Peatland Initiative is the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Emma Hinchliffe, director of the IUCN UK Peatland Programme, offers a UK perspective: “Peatlands are the UK’s largest semi-natural habitat.[…] We have three broad different types of peatland—we’ve got blanket bog, we’ve got lowland raised bog, and we have fens as well.”

Species that are attracted to peatlands are those that depend on their waterlogged nature. “We’ve got this really beautiful diversity of algae that lives within the peatlands, within the film of water that exists around plants,” explains Hinchliffe. “And then you’ve got this whole host of microscopic animals that feed on the algae, [..] all the different species of sphagnum moss. […]. It’s that kind of microscopic landscape that they form and all the roughness and complexity and texture that they create over the surface that gives us, for example, some of our water quality. Roughness helps us slow the flow of water over the surface to help delay flood peaks.” UK peatlands are also teeming with insects, wading birds, reptiles, and mammals.

Sphagnum Lindbergii.  ©Emma Hinchliffe (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED)



The biggest risk to peatlands is drainage. Hinchliffe claims that in post-war UK, “there was this agricultural incentive to improve the land. And part of that improvement was really through large-scale drainage incentives.”



“The drainage doesn’t really tend to repair itself. Once those tunnels are open within the peat, water moves through them, and they keep eroding and that, in itself, leads to habitat loss because a lot of the species are dependent on a wetland environment.” Drainage also puts at risk peatland’s carbon stores.


Overgrazing and burning are two other cross-boundary problems related to the use of peatland for agriculture. And peat is widely extracted and added to compost for horticulture.


Atmospheric pollution


Temperate and boreal peatlands (found in northern regions) and blanket bogs are particularly sensitive to the atmospheric deposition of nutrients from agriculture, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus, often deposited through rainfall, which can change the vegetation.




In the UK, conifer plantations have been planted on expanses of blanket bog. Not only is the land drained, which risks the release of the stored carbon, but there are also implications for biodiversity. Hinchliffe claims: “A lot of the scientific evidence is starting to point towards the benefits of removing forestry and restoring peatlands in terms of carbon balance.


“Trees and peatlands are two of our biggest natural climate heroes […] and you shouldn’t really be compromising one for the other by putting trees on peat.”



A peatland restoration demonstration day at Flanders Moss National Nature Reserve in Britain.  ©Lorne Gill

But it’s not all bad news—peatland restoration is gaining momentum. The IUCN UK Peatland Programme, a networking and partnership-building organization comprised of practitioners and land managers, is among those leading efforts. It carried out an assessment of peatlands through the Commission of Inquiry on Peatlands back in 2011. And the development of a UK strategy has for the first time set a target of restoring 2 million hectares (4.9 million acres) by 2040. 




The main restoration technique involves rewetting the land. Hinchliffe states: “Once you rework the area and that water level stops coming back up in the drainage ditches, everything else starts to respond and repair.” Others involve changing the vegetation, by, for example, planting sphagnum moss.


Restoration Projects


Black Hill, central England

Black Hill before restoration.  ©IUCN UK Peatland Programme
Black Hill after restoration.  ©IUCN UK Peatland Programme

Over the last 150 years, Black Hill has faced atmospheric pollution from nearby industrial towns and cities. Wildfires created expanses of bare black peat. But through a partnership program involving a range of stakeholders, such as the Environment Agency, Natural England and the National Trust, 50 million sphagnum fragments were spread to promote peat building.

Langlands Moss Local Nature Reserve, Scotland

Work at Langlands Moss Local Nature Reserve had initially focused on protecting and conserving 20 hectares (49 acres) of raised bog, but, in 2018, a feasibility survey found an estimated 298,199.6 cubic meters (about 10.5 million cubic feet) of peat underneath an adjacent forest. As a result, the boundary of the nature reserve was extended, doubling its size. Over 21 hectares (51 acres) of conifer trees were felled, and 21 dams and five “bunds” (low level banks of peat, which slow the loss of water and promote the growth of sphagnum) installed. The project will restore all the peatland to improve the hydrology and expand the natural lagg zone (fen vegetation).

Cors Fochno, Wales

Bunding work on Cors Fochno.  ©IUCN UK Peatland Programme

Cors Fochno is the largest actively growing raised bog in the lowlands of the UK. It has peat up to 26 feet deep but has in the past been drained and subject to peat cutting. The restoration, carried out in partnership with the local community, landowners and contractors, has been ongoing since September 2020 as part of the New LIFE for Welsh Raised Bogs project. It involves removing invasive species and scrub and introducing light grazing, as well as restoring water levels through peat bunds, so wildlife and rare plants can thrive, carbon can be stored, and water purified. More than 8 miles of peat bunds have been created.

How People Can Help


There are several ways of helping—from raising awareness of this little-known ecosystem to avoiding products containing peat such as certain composts for the garden, or produce grown unsustainably on peat soils, such as dairy goods from the Netherlands.

Volunteering is also an option: “There are a lot of communities out there […] where there’s the opportunity to go and volunteer and physically help,” says Hinchliffe.

*Yasmin Prabhudas is a freelance journalist working mainly for non-profit organizations, labor unions, the education sector, and government agencies.

<![CDATA[Bioplastics Market Development Update 2023 ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/bioplastics-market-development-update-2023662047c755f2a5d27586ff99Sun, 21 Apr 2024 04:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamReport Projects Large Increases of Global Bioplastics Production by 2028 

European Bioplastics is an association that represents the interests of over 80 member companies mostly in bioplastics, research, and consulting, from Europe, US, and Asia (China, Japan, and Thailand). Bioplastics differ from conventional, petroleum-based plastics in that many bioplastics are biodegradable depending on their method of production and biopolymer. In December 2023, the association released its Bioplastics Market Development Update 2023, which has global bioplastics production projections into 2028. 

Large Increases of Global Bioplastics Production 
  1. A forecasted 2.182 million tons of bioplastics were produced in 2023, of which 1.136 million tons (52%) were biodegradable and 1.047 million tons (48%) were not. 

  2. However, the actual amount utilized in 2023 was 1.799 million tons (82%). This is similar to 2022 when 1.507 million tons (83%) out of 1.813 million tons were utilized.  

  3. Some 43% of bioplastics (about 0.934 million tons) went into rigid packaging (0.356 million tons) and flexible packaging (0.577 million tons) in 2023. 

  4. Global bioplastics production is projected to rise to 2.670 million tons in 2024, but then jump by about 81% to 4.839 million tons in 2025. This would be due to a more than doubling of biobased/non-biodegradable bioplastics production from 1.095 million tons to 2.241 million tons and about a 65% increase of biodegradable bioplastics production from 1.575 million tons to 2.598 million tons. 

  5. In 2028, global bioplastics production is projected to rise to 7.432 million tons, about 340% of the 2.182 million tons produced in 2023. 

  6. In 2023, the types of bioplastics with the highest global production capacities were polylactic acid (PLA) at 31.0% (biodegradable), then polyamides (PAs) at 13.5% and polyethylene (PE) at 12.3% (both biobased/non-biodegradable). 

  7. By 2028, the types of bioplastics with the highest global production capacities are projected to be PLA at 43.6%, followed by PA at 18.9%, and polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA, polyesters produced by microorganisms) at 13.5% (biodegradable). 



<![CDATA[Taste With No Waste—New York City’s New Haute Cuisine ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/how-nyc-restauranteurs-and-chefs-are-turning-the-tables-on-food-and-plastic-waste6622b4cc0a4cdf4ee40010ceSat, 20 Apr 2024 19:26:25 GMTJerry Chesnut and Selina MoonHow NYC Restauranteurs and Chefs Are Turning the Tables on Food and Plastic Waste 

*By Jerry Chesnut

Rethink Food opens new Manhattan facility giving the public access to their nutritious waste-free food movement. In attendance are co-founders, chef Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park (in green sweater, left) and Matt Jozwiak (grey vest, center), and several NYC government officials. ©Rethink Food

A decade ago, New York City was eager to do its part to help the environment by using its new regulations to reduce food and plastic waste generated by the city’s thousands of restaurants.


Then COVID-19 struck and eating out came to a halt. Virtually all restaurants closed, many temporarily and many forever. Takeout—or dining at home—became the norm. And all this in a city that experiences an 80% fail rate for newly opened eateries even in good times.


Today, things have turned around, not only for the NYC restaurant industry, but also for the city’s conscientious diners, chefs, and restaurant owners who care about reducing restaurant waste. Dining out is thriving again, and the city has unveiled plans to renew enforcement of older waste regulations while also introducing new (2023) regulations to curb plastic use in takeout food orders. For instance, plastic straws and beverage stirrers are now available to restaurant patrons but only upon request. Plastic carryout bags are still allowed, but restaurants that once bagged and piled up their trash overnight for sidewalk pickup must now use rat-resistant containers.

Curbside restaurant trash-bags are no longer allowed.  ©Mack Mate/Wikimedia   CC BY-SA 2.0

Meanwhile, diners who support efforts to curb both food and plastic waste are starting to frequent a small-but-growing number of “zero waste” establishments that claim to generate no food or plastic waste whatsoever.


Recovery Means More Trash


For some, these welcome changes could not have come too soon. An estimated 22 billion to 33 billion pounds of food are wasted annually by US restaurants, according to the FoodPrint project.



Moreover, those staggering numbers do not include plastic waste. According to NBC News, the NYC mayor’s office reported an estimated 18 million tons of single-use plastic eating utensils had been extracted in 2019 from the city’s residential waste stream.


Citing a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center reported in 2020 that 68% of all discarded food in New York and two other major US cities is still edible, and that in New York City alone, 20% of this edible waste was generated by restaurants and caterers.

What NYC Does About Food Waste

NYC currently requires restaurants to separate their organic food waste and to “arrange for collection by a private carter.” Alternatively, eateries can self-transport organic waste or process it on-site.

Enforcement, though relaxed during the pandemic, was re-established in mid-2022 to dole out a $250 to $1,000 fine to eateries that do not follow the separation rules.

There have been accounts by dedicated scavengers (so-called “dumpster divers”) that few restaurants follow these rules, but these same accounts noted that the waste-separation rules do not apply to smaller establishments. 

Takeout food discarded at home is also being impacted by a city initiative, introduced in 2023, to collect curbside residential food waste for composting. The city’s capacity to fully compost that waste is still in development.

Zero-Waste Dining on the Rise

From chef Mauro Colagreco’s renowned three-Michelin-star Mirazur in France to restaurants scattered throughout New York City and the world, zero-waste dining and waste reduction strategies are establishing themselves as potentially profitable trends in the restaurant industry.

Mirazur chef/founder Mauro Colagreco Wikimedia/Loope Garcia CC BY-SA 4.0

One review of 114 restaurants in twelve countries found that almost all establishments “achieved a positive return” on their waste reduction investment, and an average of 75% of the sites recouped that investment within a year. In addition, none of the places reviewed spent more than $20,000 on waste reduction efforts.

According to Barron’s, Mirazur became “the world’s first restaurant [Jan/2020] to receive “Plastic Free” certification,” inspiring over 500 inquiries from other restauranteurs interested in going “plastic free.” In London, chef Doug McMaster’s Silo claims to be the “world’s first zero-waste restaurant.” 

In January 2020, just prior to the pandemic-related restaurant lockdowns. Bon Appetit reported how west~bourne, an “LA-inspired all-day café” in New York’s Soho neighborhood, competed to be the city’s first “certified” zero-waste restaurant. The magazine noted that a restaurant manager would take pictures of the “compost, recycling, and trash accumulated” in a single day. The bags would then be weighed and documented on a spreadsheet as evidence of their zero-waste effort.

Blackbarn’s mushroom toast.  ©Blackburn Restaurant

By 2018, a few NYC restaurants were already featuring their versions of “zero [food] waste dishes.” These offerings included often discarded food parts, such as “broccoli, cauliflower and mushroom stems,” in the dishes. Other excess food parts were turned into vinegars or sent off to farmers for their pigs to eat.

Blackbarn Shines with Peat

Creativity and innovation continue to drive the city’s waste-reduction trend as restaurants, such as Blackbarn in Manhattan, find inventive, tasty ways to keep conscientious diners coming. CBS News reported in 2023 that Blackbarn's menu, co-created by executive chef Brian Fowler and chef/owner John Doherty, benefited from a relationship with Peat, a provider of “food waste upcycling” in the borough of Queens. Peat delivers Peat-grown mushrooms to Blackbarn (via low carbon e-bike) at a reduced price in exchange for Blackbarn’s compostable food waste (which Peat e-bikes haul away).

Manhattan’s Blackbarn restaurant in the city’s NOMAD district upcycles its food waste.  ©Blackbarn Restaurant

Today, even New York’s waste-averse home cooks can shop instore or online from Brooklyn-based Precycle for bulk food supplies with a zero-waste footprint.

Zero-Waste Exemplar

One of today’s leading examples of zero-waste dining in New York City—not to mention overall commitment to sustainability—is Rhodora Wine Bar in the borough of Brooklyn. Rhodora’s owner, Henry Rich, and director, Halley Chambers, have pledged to send “absolutely nothing” to landfills. According to Bon Appetit, their approach to outlawing plastic and food waste in their operations is comprehensive. Single-use plastics are forbidden on-site, and suppliers must meet the expectation that everything incoming is to be “recycled, upcycled, or composted.” This means that incoming packaging materials can be composted or recycled or delivery packaging can be returned and reused.

As a wine bar, Rhodora’s menu consists of conservas (tinned fish); hard, aged cheeses; and antipasti (pickled vegetables) meant to complement their wines. This menu helps minimize food waste and unnecessary cleaning products, and the foods’ tin and aluminum packages are easily recycled and of relatively high value.

The wine comes from “small-farm, natural winemakers” that share Rhodora’s commitment to the environment and aversion to what they describe as the often-harmful processes of “large-scale wine manufacturing,” according to Bon Appetit.

Rethinking Food Waste

The city’s growing zero-waste zeal is inspiring some restauranteurs and chefs to both reduce waste and deliver food to needy neighbors—and do so off the clock, for nothing.

Non-profit Rethink Food—founded by culinary veteran Matt Jozwiak and pioneering chef Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park—is passionate about upcycling nutrition that is normally lost through tossing out good food. They are creating meals for disadvantaged New Yorkers who have no access to healthy food, not to mention gourmet dining.

Serving haute cuisine to those “last” in the food line is probably unprecedented, but Rethink Food’s track record is impressive. Founded in 2017, the organization is on the threshold of serving over 24 million locally prepared gourmet meals and rescuing more than 2.4 million pounds of food.

Rethink Food wants more New Yorkers to get involved. Its newly opened facility (March 2024) in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan features a “street-facing space” for the public to learn about and engage in their work. Innovative “dinner series with chefs” and community events and programming are being designed and scheduled to teach ways of fostering food security and reducing waste.

Rethink Food’s new Greenwich Village facility.  ©Rethink Food

Rethink Food founder and CEO Matt Jozwiak says the new space “reflects our culture of centering community leaders, culinary professionals, and hospitality at the heart of our approach to creating a more sustainable and equitable food system.”

Six Years to Zero-Waste Dining

According to the Sustainable Restaurant Association, restaurant waste reduction involves five action points: to measure “how much and where food was wasted,” to get staff on board, to control portions (avoid “overproduction”), to review inventory and purchasing procedures, and to find ways to repurpose excess inventory and any food that could go to waste.

With growing support from the city and its diners and restauranteurs, New York City appears committed to keeping the zero-waste restaurant trend going and meeting its ambitious goal of sending no waste to landfills by 2030.

*Jerry Chesnut. Jerry Chesnut has pursued a lifelong interest in the role of diet in physical and mental well-being. Having lived more than half of his life in and near New York City, he maintains an avid interest in the city’s sustainable food scene.

<![CDATA[Report Highlights Trafficking of Refrigerants ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/report-highlights-trafficking-of-refrigerants6622c88cbcf26abeecfb3e45Sat, 20 Apr 2024 04:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamDiscontinued Gas Products Still Flowing into Europe 

Junked refrigerators.  ©Pam Walker68/istock

Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerant gases are being phased out in Europe and elsewhere, but in an April 8 report, London-based nonprofit Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) warned of a widespread, illegal HFC trade going on in Europe.  


HFCs are used for essential services such as refrigeration, air-conditioning, building insulation, fire extinguishing systems, and aerosols, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. But HFCs are implicated as a greenhouse gas, and their use is being reduced and discontinued. The Climate and Clean Air Coalition says there are many climate-friendly alternatives, so HFC emissions can be virtually eliminated by 2050. 


European Union emissions of fluorinated greenhouse gases (F-gas) peaked in 2014, the European Environment  Agency in 2023. These emissions have since fallen by about 25% in part because of an EU-wide HFC phase-down that started in 2019 under the Montreal Protocol, the EEA said. It added that the EU is currently “on track” to meet its targets and phase out HFC use by 2030. 


The EIA report said the illegal HFC gas trade it spotted five years ago is continuing. EIA said its investigators, acting partly undercover, found evidence that “significant levels of trafficking persist” despite the refrigerant phase-down. 

The EIA attributes the problem to organized crime cashing in on the highly lucrative trade by circumventing “weak” enforcement via sophisticated evasion tactics. The gases are sourced by smugglers from China and Turkey, and brought across the continent into Bulgaria and other countries just outside the EU bloc. Their final destinations are nations such as Greece, Germany, France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, according to the EIA.  

Smugglers avoid detection by “disguising” HFCs as less-regulated hydrofluoroolefins (HFO), which has a lower potential to react with ozone. 

According to EIA Senior Climate Campaigner Fin Walravens, HFC smuggling is not only driven by outsized profits for traffickers, but it is also “fueled by ongoing demand for the gases, primarily used in the cooling sector.” 

“Globally, HFCs are being phased down under the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer,” she said. In the meantime, she said, “There is an urgent need for coordinated proactive enforcement efforts across the EU to combat HFC climate crime.”   



<![CDATA[Is Edible Packaging Ready to Replace Plastics?]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/is-edible-packaging-ready-to-replace-plastics6622a54165c8f1ddbfc5faa3Sat, 20 Apr 2024 04:00:00 GMTGordon CairnsOoho Gel Packets and Casein Films Take a Bite Out of Plastic Pollution 

By Gordon Cairns*

Discarded plastic bottles during a London Marathon.  ©LifeInMegapixels/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED)

When American entrepreneur Nathaniel Wyeth patented the polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle in 1973, he couldn’t possibly have imagined how this handy, cheap, and disposable item would be part of the global environmental catastrophe facing nations today.  

Like other plastic packaging, the PET bottle was invented to replace heavier, more expensive containers such as those made from glass, wood, and paper. Ironically, this innovation became popular just as these other items started to get recycled: UK’s first recyclable glass bottle bank opened in 1977 in Barnsley, England.  

The success of plastic bottles changed people’s behavior in the West—from drinking safe, clean water from the tap to buying a plastic bottle of clean water—and created one of the fastest growing industries in the world. Sales of this product grew by 73% in the decade between 2010 and 2020. 

A Marathon Problem 

However, the problem of disposing plastic bottles grew too. For instance, after London’s 2018 Marathon, an estimated 750,000 bottles littered London’s streets; likely ended up in a landfill. Marathons encourage the public to lead healthier, fulfilling lives while raising millions of dollars for charity, but a downside emerged: These events typically supply hydration to runners with single-use plastic bottles, which are then immediately discarded. 

To target this environmental concern, in 2019, the London Marathon organizers cut that waste by over a third by supplying the runners with liquid in 30,000 edible packages called Ooho. The packages are made from seaweed and calcium chloride and created by regenerative packaging company Notpla.  

Rather than taking a sip and tossing the bottle away, runners could burst the bubble (Ooho) made from seaweed and swallow it or discard the skin, given that it is edible and biodegradable.  

This pollution reducing product has since been used at other major sporting events including the Zevenheuvelenloop marathon in the Netherlands and the Göteborgsvarvet half-marathon in Sweden. It also fills vending machines at the London Aquatics Centre.  

Limitations of Edible Packaging 

Chemical engineer Peggy Tomasula and chemist Phoebe Qi inspect casein films for food packaging, in 2018.  Paul Pierlot/USDA. Public Domain

While the idea of getting water from an edible package might seem to be a clever way to replace the ubiquitous plastic variety—a million bottles are sold every minute—the Ooho isn’t quite ready for that. The package is designed for a single gulp rather than the portability and volume that plastic allows. Its delicate membrane also isn’t great for storing in a grocery store without extra packaging, which defeats its original purpose. Yet despite its present limitations, there’s plenty of opportunity, as well as impetus, for further development and improvement. 

Edible packaging is generally made from edible biopolymers (proteins, lipids, and polysaccharides), plasticizers, or food-grade additives. Their materials include coatings, films, pouches, and sheets. The films should be a good barrier of oxygen (to slow decay), water, and aroma. Compared to PET/PS films, edible films tend to have disadvantages of lower tensile strength and higher water vapor permeability, while having the advantage of higher resistance to oxygen permeability. 

Other challenges include higher vulnerability to heat, requiring another layer (typically plastic) to protect it from contamination, and higher production costs. Meanwhile, lipid-based films can be made from fatty acids (monoglycerides, diglycerides, and triglycerides), waxes (such as paraffin), and other oils (such as palm and peanut), raising health concerns.   

Packaging Revisited in History 

Despite numerous public campaigns to raise awareness of plastic waste, it has continued to rise. A report from the Minderoo Foundation revealed that between 2019 and 2021 the amount of plastic waste rose by 6 million metric tons (6.6 million tons) with recycling unable to scale up quickly enough. With no clear sign that people will give up single-use plastics, science has been looking to the past to solve this 21st century problem.  

Bontan ame, a Japanese candy wrapped in edible rice paper. The candies come in a box.  ©毒島みるく/Wikimedia. Public Domain

While it might seem modern, edible packaging was being used to protect our food 600 years before plastic was ever invented. The first known example of edible film used for food preservation was made in the fifteenth century from soymilk (Yuba) in Japan. In the 1930s, emulsions and waxes were developed to coat fruits, with the purpose of improving their appearance, controlling the ripening process, and decreasing the loss of water. By the 1960s, however, comestible packaging had limited commercial appeal and was mainly used as wax coatings on fruit and vegetables.

A Review of Edible Packaging Methods

But as environmental crises have a way of re-focusing the mind, scientists across the world have returned to these old ideas, making incredible advances by using different edible foodstuffs for a variety of purposes as outlined in Edible Food Packaging, edited by Amrita Poonia and Tejpal Dhewa. These include a remarkable range of edible packaging products that can replace plastic varieties.

A multitude of products can be made from fruit residues alone, revealing the potential usefulness of unwanted food. Some of the methods being trialed include a film made from peach puree that can create an oxygen barrier to preserve nuts, confections and baked goods; peel from pomelos that delays oxidation and increases the shelf life of soybean oil; and a pulp formed from arrowroot starch and blackberry that promotes the stability of anthocyanins (a type of antioxidant) found in grapes, apples, and cabbage, making them easier to handle and more attractive to the consumer.

The beauty of using fruit and vegetable waste is that these products are plentiful, as they have the highest percentage of waste amongst all foodstuffs. However, thus far, many of these products are not as efficient as those created from plastic and also take longer to apply to the food being preserved.

For these and other reason, Poonia and Dhewa believe comestible packaging is not yet able to function alone in the market: “Edible films and coatings cannot entirely replace synthetic packaging. Usually, secondary packaging is necessary for handling and hygienic practices.”

They believe there is a need to combine synthetic and natural packaging: “In this sense, it is important to apply eco-friendly food preservatives to control the loss of the nutritional value of the perishable foods and to reduce the requirements and waste of conventional packaging, improving the economic efficiency of packaging materials.”

Making Edible Packaging Consumer-Friendly

Of course, as a marketable product, there would be no point in creating edible packaging options if consumers won’t buy them, but two recent studies on public perceptions have been positive.

One study published this year evaluated consumer attitude, acceptability and purchasing intentions of 100 participants in Portland, Oregon. The participants were asked to evaluate three types of edible food packaging: muffin liners, cranberry pomace fruit leather wraps, and powdered drink sachets. All were rated positively by the participants, with two-thirds saying they would buy all three products if they came to market.

A 2021 study of a similarly sized group of consumers in Indonesia were asked to try a chili powder that came in an edible gelatine package. It, too, received a positive response, with the consumers highly likely to replace their current unbiodegradable packaging with the new edible product.

If these innovative modern scientists and manufacturers can create edible, biodegradable packaging that is lightweight and easy to transport, then a path to dent the use of single-use plastics may be opened. Biodegradable or edible packaging has the potential to become as commonplace as banana skins.

Meanwhile, conscientious consumers can do their bit to prevent plastic waste by reusing, reducing, recycling the plastic containers used, or eliminating their use altogether.

*Gordon Cairns is a freelance journalist and teacher of English and Forest Schools based in Scotland.

<![CDATA[State of the World’s Birds 2024 Update ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/state-of-the-world-s-birds-2024-update662034b752e0206f0a15a936Sat, 20 Apr 2024 04:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamReport Highlights Hope in Conservation Efforts in Bird Populations 

BirdLife International is a charity that is the “official scientific source of information on birds” for the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species. In its 2024 annual update, BirdLife International reported improvement for a few species but greater pressure on 11 other species. 

Conservation Efforts in Bird Populations
  1. In the 2023 Red List, 11 species were uplisted to higher threat categories while 4 were downlisted to lower threat categories. 

  2. Overall, the number of species in the critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable, and near threatened categories declined, respectively, by 1 (to 232), 8 (to 405), 37 (to 717), and 51 (to 940), since the previous year’s assessment. However, many of these changes were reclassifications based on improved knowledge about the species rather than a change in status. 

  3. Out of 14 threats to birds, the top five are agriculture (73%), logging (51%), invasive species (42%), hunting and trapping (39%), and climate change and severe weather (37%). 

  4. The global outbreak of a H5N1 variant of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) resulted in the death or destruction of about 0.5 billion poultry and impacted more than 400 bird species in 2021 to 2023. Examples of species include the Peruvian Booby (over 47,500 deaths), Cape Cormorant (over 20,000 deaths), and Common Crane (over 5,000 deaths). 

  5. Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) are areas identified as homes to “critical populations of the world’s threatened species.” In 2023, over 43% of each KBA was covered by protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures compared with 11% in 1980. However, this figure is on a peaking trend from 2020. 

  6.  The four downlisted bird species include three Asian stork species (Greater Adjutant Leptoptilos dubius, Lesser Adjutant Leptoptilos javanicus and Painted Stork Mycteria leucocephala) whose local communities worked to preserve them. Also, in Hawaii, the Millerbird Acrocephalus familiaris was relocated to the island of Laysan a decade ago and now has a self-sustaining population; this allowed it to be downlisted from Critically Endangered to Endangered. 

  7. The 11 species uplisted included two of Hawaii’s honeycreepers, which were impacted by avian malaria carried by invasive mosquitoes, and the Juan Fernandez Tit-tyrant Anairetes fernandezianus, which lives in an island near Chile and is threatened by invasive plants and predators. Other species in South America and South-East Asian were uplisted due to forest loss. 



Individual case studies: 

<![CDATA[‘Planet vs. Plastics’—Prospects of Bioplastics, One Step at a Time for the Environment ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/planet-vs-plastics-prospects-of-bioplastics-one-step-at-a-time-for-the-environment6622ee39f9554c888bf8c463Fri, 19 Apr 2024 04:00:00 GMTRobin WhitlockBy Robin Whitlock*

An “eco plastic garbage bag” for composting organic trash.  ©iStock/Dmitriy Sidor

As concerns increase about plastic pollution—especially from single-use plastics—bioplastics are garnering interest for their potential role in the development of a circular economy for plastics. Bioplastics, which are made with organic, plant-based resources, are viewed as an important alternative to fossil-produced plastics as a significant means of reducing the influx of conventional plastics. Yet, bioplastics also face limitations in terms of functionality and cost compared to their conventional counterparts. 


Given the “bio” in its name, bioplastics can give the impression that they are always all-natural or biodegradable when this is not necessarily true. 


To learn more about the characteristics and properties of bioplastics, The Earth & I spoke with Tanya Hart, founder and CEO of Titan Bioplastics, a Seattle-based engineering company that focuses on recycled plastics and (plant-based) bioplastic composites suitable for industrial, energy, military, and commercial retail use.  


Bioplastics and ‘Augie Bones’ 

Augie Bones, which are biobased and biodegradable dog chew toys.   ©Titan Bioplastics.

Titan Bioplastics makes a product that millions of households can relate to—a biobased and biodegradable dog chew toy trademarked Augie Bones. On its website, the company explains that “Our dog Augie was chewing all sorts of [plastic] bones and chew toys, leaving chords of plastic everywhere.” None of those plastics could be recycled since many of the toys were blends of nylon and plastics; plus there were potential health risks for Augie and other dogs “from constantly swallowing the bits off the toys.”

Titan Bioplastics says it found “a better material that was both healthy for our dogs and the planet,” and launched Augie Bones chew toys that contain no nylon or traditional plastics. In fact, if dogs bury an Augie Bone, “it will compost,” the website says.


Background on Bioplastics


Plastics can be generated from either bio-based feedstock, such as plant starches and oils, or fossil-based feedstock, often referred to as “fossil fuels.” Additionally, plastics are classified as either biodegradable or non-biodegradable. It is these four criteria: bio-based, fossil-based, biodegradable, and non-biodegradable, by which plastics are categorized. Conventional plastics are always both fossil-based and non-biodegradable. Bioplastics, on the other hand, are more diverse: they are either bio-based, or biodegradable, or both. However, it’s important to note that some bioplastics can be bio-based but non-biodegradable, or conversely, fossil-based but bio-degradable. Hence, the “bio” in bioplastics refers to “bio-based” or “biodegradable.”


PE (Polyethylene) and PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) can be made from fossil-based and biobased plastics.   ©European Bioplastics

Defining bioplastics is further complicated by the term, “biodegradability,” which typically adheres to industrial standards with conditions not always present in residential or natural settings; exceptions would include specific products that are certified compostable in residential settings, such as those with TÜV Austria’s OK compost HOME certification.


Properties of Bioplastics


Like conventional plastics, bioplastics are manufactured and tailored to suit their specific applications.


“We provide customized composites with plant-based materials and recycled plastics,” Hart says. “Most companies we work with require the materials we develop be ‘fitted’ or customized to existing equipment for a commercial purpose or product. In other words, we don’t have a one-size-fits-all material or product.”


Bioplastics that are biobased and biodegradable include PLA (polylactic acid), PHAs (polyhydroxyalkanoates), and PBS (polybutylene succinate).

A biodegradable plastic cup made from corn starch.  ©Rebecca/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

PLA is made from lactic acid, which is typically derived from starch, cellulose, kitchen waste, and fish waste. It is considered more environmentally friendly given how it can degrade into carbon dioxide, water, and lactic acid chains. Other advantages include its transparency, biocompatibility, and thermoplasticity, but it also has low toughness and high production costs.

PHAs are notable for being derived from fermentation of renewable feedstocks like sugars or plant oils. Aside from having thermoplasticity and good insulation, they have various medical applications given their biocompatibility with human bones and tissues.


PBS is a polyester traditionally produced from petrochemicals but can also be made from renewable resources such as sugarcane, cassava, and corn with fermentation. It has good mechanical properties and thermal stability, with applications in textile filaments, injection molds, and film production, being comparable to LDPE, HDPE, and PP.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Bioplastics


Aside from their biodegradability, bioplastics can have a lower carbon footprint and advantageous properties over conventional plastics. They also can have lower greenhouse gas emissions; for example, a 2017 study indicated that replacing conventional plastic with corn-based PLA could see a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from plastic production in the US.


General disadvantages of bioplastics include their sensitivity to heat, humidity, and shear stress. They also face other challenges such as limited ability to replace conventional plastics, higher production costs, and supply chain restrictions over conventional plastic. Additional drawbacks include adverse agricultural impacts, competition with food production (such as corn), and unclear “end-of-life” (EOL) management.



In a 2010 study, seven conventional plastics were compared to four bioplastics and one plastic produced from a mixture of fossil fuels and recycled sources. The bioplastics generated pollutants due to the fertilizers and pesticides applied to the feedstocks and the chemical processing involved in converting organic material into plastic. The bioplastics also contributed to greater ozone depletion and required a larger area of land for production. A 2020 study assessed the in vitro toxicity of various bioplastics, including Bio-PE, Bio-PET, PBAT, PBS, PLA, PHA, and bamboo-based materials. Higher in vitro toxicity measurements were found in the bioplastics than in their respective original raw materials.


The lack of sufficient industrial composting facilities is another issue. Most bioplastics are disposed of in landfill sites because very few cities have the necessary high temperature industrial composting sites. Once in a landfill, PHA, for example, can decompose into methane, which absorbs more heat but lasts shorter than CO2 in the atmosphere. 


Research Underway in Bioplastics

Some researchers are investigating the use of microorganisms in bioplastic production. A 2020 study found that bioplastics can be produced using microalgae obtained from wastewater, and there is research on producing PHB from microalgal biomass.

The veins of a leaf contain lignin. ©Brocken Inaglory/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

There is also research into using organic chemicals in bioplastic production. Biome Bioplastics partnered with the University of Warwick’s Centre for Industrial Biotechnology and Biorefining to extract organic chemicals from lignin (from cell walls in plants) that potentially can be used for bioplastic manufacture. Initial trials on these chemicals have shown that they could be produced at an industrial scale. The company is also examining how bacteria can help increase the yields of the chemicals and how they can be scaled up.

In 2021, researchers at University of California, Berkeley, discovered a method of making biodegradable plastics break down more easily with heat and water over the course of a few weeks. With the addition of an enzyme, PLA plastic can biodegrade into simple molecules, thereby making it a potentially suitable replacement for non-degradable plastic. This process is also suitable for municipal composting over a period of 60 to 90 days. Degradation can also be achieved by soaking in lukewarm water.


Bioplastics in the Real World


A startup in Australia called Pak360 is focusing on compostable packaging, manufactured from renewable fibers. Bioplastic products include compostable garbage bags and produce bags made from PLA, corn starch, and PBAT.


A French startup, Lys Packaging, manufactures bioplastic bottles using plant-derived biopolymers and a 3D printing and injection stretch blow molding (ISBM) process. It adds organic or vegetable products into the bioplastic in order to vary the products’ technical and visual properties.


Steps Toward Replacing Virgin Plastics


Although bioplastics are not a complete solution, they can decrease the production of conventional, virgin plastics—including single-use products—that end up accumulating in the environment. Bioplastics may become more accessible once their production costs drop and an infrastructure is built to support industrial composting and recycling.



“When using bioplastics and recycled plastics, the goal is always to inhibit the need for more virgin plastics. Recycled plastics have a bad rap; however, if we are reusing a resource that will prevent the further production of virgin plastic, that will make a large environmental impact in the long run,” Hart says.

“Same for bioplastics,” she adds. “Biodegradable and recyclable bioplastics will evolve to become more prevalent once there is a greater infrastructure to support more industrial composting and recycling facilities. Science around sustainable materials is more prolific than the availability of these facilities. This, and a greater pipeline of biomaterials at a competitive price point.”

*Robin Whitlock is an England-based freelance journalist specializing in environmental issues, climate change, and renewable energy, with a variety of other professional interests, including green transportation.

<![CDATA[The ‘Seed Oils’ Debate: Are They Part of a Healthy Diet?]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/the-seed-oils-debate-are-they-part-of-a-healthy-diet6622f521190ceeea076b9b4aFri, 19 Apr 2024 04:00:00 GMTJulie PetersonMore Studies Needed to Quell a Hot Topic

*By Julie Peterson

Sunflower plant, seeds and oil. ©rezkrr/istock

Kitchens around the world use cooking oil for sautéing, baking, and drizzling. Home cooks often keep several types of oils on hand, due to flavor, smoke point, and cost.


But some cooks may not realize there is a boiling debate about some of these oils. Chefs, health coaches, and scientists are arguing about the possibility that seed oils—such as safflower, cottonseed, grapeseed, sunflower, and canola or rapeseed—might be unhealthy.


Studies are still underway, so clearer answers to the heated debate are likely to appear in the foreseeable future. In the meantime, here are some details to make the topic easier to swallow.


The Skinny on Fats

First, it is important to understand fat.


Human bodies require fat from food to survive. Fat provides energy, assists with absorption of vitamins and minerals, plays a role in building cell membranes and the sheaths around nerves, and is necessary for muscle function and blood clotting.


But some fats might also cause harm.


Italian strutto, or clarified pork fat, is a type of shortening.  ©Paoletta S./Wikimedia CC BY 2.0

Trans fats are created when oils are processed to prevent spoilage. The resulting products include some margarines, shortening, commercial baking oils, and fast-food frying oil.

Because trans fats were correlated with heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, the World Health Organization in 2018 called for their global elimination. As of 2023, 43 countries have agreed to minimize the use of trans fats.

Saturated fats come from animals (butter, lard, processed meats, and fatty meats) as well as some plants (coconut and palm). They are typically solid at room temperature. Saturated fats have been linked to increased cholesterol and arterial blockage. There is evidence that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats reduces the risk of heart disease.

Unsaturated fats are thought to be best for health. They fall into two categories: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.

Canola oil and flower. ©Viscsschka/istock

Monounsaturated fats were discovered to be healthful after the “Seven Countries Study” in the 1960s showed that people in the Mediterranean had low incidence of heart disease despite high-fat diets. The conclusion was that meals built around monounsaturated fats and low saturated fats help protect a person’s heart by maintaining levels of good (HDL) cholesterol while reducing levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol. Some of the plant oils with this profile come from olives, peanuts, rapeseed (canola), and safflower seeds.


Polyunsaturated fats can provide omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which human bodies cannot produce but need. Oils that provide ample omega-3 include canola, flaxseed, soy (commonly called vegetable oil), and walnut.

Omega-3 fatty acids may lower triglycerides and risk of cardiovascular disease. Omega-6 fatty acids are highest in corn, cottonseed, peanut, soybean, and sunflower oils. Omega-6 may lower bad cholesterol, increase good cholesterol, lower triglycerides, and help control blood sugar.


All oils are 100% fat, but each has a different fat profile.

Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, table adapted from Spruce Eats.

The Sizzling Debate Over Seed Oils


Critics today argue seed oils are implicated in unwanted weight gain, heart problems, infertility, cancer, and acne—and that they contain toxins that could increase the tendency for Alzheimer’s.



The list of additional complaints associated with seed oils is long. Oil seeds are often harvested from genetically modified crops. The lands on which the farms are growing the crops have sometimes been deforested. Most of the farms use pesticides, which are harmful to beneficial insects and birds. Even when organic, monoculture crops stunt biodiversity. 

Thailand. Oil palm plantation.  ©pigphoto/istock

Another argument against seed oils is that elevated levels of omega-6 fatty acids can cause chronic inflammation when not balanced by omega-3s. According to Cleveland Clinic registered dietitian Julia Zumpano, “If a certain food is high in oils that contain a lot of omega-6s, you really want to try to avoid them or eat them only in moderation.”

Bottling refined sunflower oil.  ©Salomonus/istock

Opponents are wary that seed oils are derived through a chemical oil extraction method to yield more oil (and more profit). The oils are heavily refined, heated, bleached, deodorized, and degummed to be usable. The concern is that extensive processing may cause the oils to be susceptible to oxidation and breakdown, which might result in disease-causing free radicals building up in the body.

In addition, various chemical solvents are used for extraction of the oil and residues of these may remain. The high temperature refining process also destroys any beneficial vitamins, phenols, and antioxidants.



Guy Crosby, Ph.D., an adjunct associate professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, has expressed concern about seed oils being heated many times. “When you bring unsaturated fats repeatedly to high temperatures, you’ll get a buildup of damaging chemicals,” he says, adding that this is likely only to be a problem in restaurants and factories that use deep fryers. “Cooking with seed oils at home isn’t an issue,” he says.

Deep fried chicken.  ©KPS/istock

Proponents of seed oils counter that, in small amounts, seed oils are part of a healthy diet and a necessary source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Seed oils also offer a range of flavor profiles and culinary uses.


Seed oil fans note that the studies linking seed oils to adverse health conditions, like heart disease, were conducted on small animals. To date, there are no clinical trials to substantiate that these claims hold true for humans. A 2021 study published in the MDPI journal Nutrients, even associated moderate intake of omega-6 linoleic acid to lower risk of cardiovascular disease.



Seed oil supporters also point out that the oil cannot be blamed when it is part of another product.


“When you cut seed oils from your diet, what you’re really doing is cutting out many processed foods,” Zumpano says. “I think that’s why we’re hearing about them as being so bad for your health. But it’s less about the seed oils themselves and more about the fact that they’re so often found in ultra-processed foods.”

Is seed oil to blame or is ultra-processing?  ©Tim Samuel/pexels.com

In addition, there’s even concern about “heating oils to high temperature.”


For instance, flax, hemp, and chia oils should never be heated as they have low smoke points.

Other oils, such as sunflower and safflower, can be heated to high temperatures without harm (and perhaps most importantly, without combusting).


It is worth doing research to find the right oil for the job by looking at the smoke point of each oil. Cold-pressed seed oils processed without heat or chemicals are on the market along with sustainably harvested, non-GMO oils.

Organic cold pressed (left to right) soy, peanut, and walnut oils.  ©Nazar Nazaruk/istock

Need an Oil Change?


First, check the oil. The optimal daily amount of oil is about 2 Tbsp in a 2,000-calorie diet. Read food ingredient labels and see how much oil is in packaged foods.


Then, make decisions. There are different oils for frying, baking, and dipping to avoid setting the kitchen on fire and to obtain desired flavor.


If chemical extraction and highly processed oils are worrisome, pay more for cold extracted, pressed, and unrefined oils.


The debate over seed oils will likely sizzle until clinical trials provide scientific evidence to inform people of the health effects of these oils.


If the lack of research on seed oils is daunting, there are fruit, nut, and animal oils that have been better researched and can round out a cooking repertoire. For even more information on shopping for and using oils, “The New World of Cooking Oils” published in Consumer Reports Magazine does a deep dive on how and when to get the best deals.


Homemade Oils 


There is no need for shopping tips for those who make their own oils at home! (Don’t make that face, people have been doing it for 8,000 years!) Fortunately, modern kitchen machines make it a breeze. Manual oil presses are less than $100. Electric expeller presses start at around $200.


No matter where anyone looks, there is conflicting information on oils, but dietary fats are essential for body functions. Spend some time in the oil aisle and try a healthy, new ingredient.


Fried Green Tomatoes

4-5 servings

This refreshing early season recipe is a delicious lunch or side dish. Substitute lemon-pepper for the chili powder for a less spicy, tangy flavor.

Fried green tomatoes.  ©10photos/istock

4 medium, firm green tomatoes


1 cup flour of choice

1 Tbsp chili powder

1 tsp paprika

½ cup milk of choice

1 egg

1/3 cup fine cornmeal

½ cup crushed crackers of choice

¼ cup peanut oil



Slice tomatoes into ½ inch slices and sprinkle each with salt. Set aside. Use 3 shallow bowls for dredging. In bowl 1, mix flour and seasoning. In bowl 2, whisk milk and egg. In bowl 3, combine cornmeal and crackers.

Heat the oil in a skillet on medium heat. Dip the tomato slices in the flour, then the egg, then the cornmeal. Place as many slices as will fit in one layer in the pan and fry for 3 to 5 minutes on each side or until brown and crispy. Drain on a towel. Enjoy.

Roasted Tri-Color Carrots

A flexible and tasty recipe. Make as much as will fit on your baking sheet. You won’t mind having leftovers. The sugar in the carrots caramelizes and will make a carrot lover out of anyone. Tri-color carrots aren’t necessary but the flavors are more interesting.

Roasted tri-color carrots.  ©sallyjshinstaffer/istock

Rinse carrots, cut in half, and then slice lengthwise into thin sticks.

Drizzle grapeseed oil on baking sheet.

Place carrots in one layer and drizzle oil on carrots.

Season lightly with salt, basil flakes, and garlic powder (or preferred seasoning).

Roast in oven at 425F for 20 minutes or until slightly browned.

Serve as a side dish or snack. Refrigerate leftovers (they are good cold, too).

*Julie Peterson is a freelance journalist based in the Midwest region of the US who has written hundreds of articles on natural approaches to health, environmental issues, and sustainable living.

<![CDATA[Global Oilseeds Market and Trade—USDA March 2024 Update ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/global-oilseeds-market-and-trade-usda-march-2024-update6620469aea821da7f262b6eaFri, 19 Apr 2024 04:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamMonthly Report Highlights Export and Import Trends for Soybean and Palm Oil  

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service provides monthly updates on the global trade, production, consumption, and stocks of key oilseeds. USDA’s March 2024 update to their “Oilseeds: World Markets and Trade” report highlights trends in soybean, palm, rapeseed, and other commodities. 

Export and Import Trends for Soybean and Palm Oil  
  1. Brazil had the highest soybean oilseed exports of 100 million metric tons in 2022/2023. This is projected to increase by 3 million to 103 million metric tons in 2023/2024. 

  2. Meanwhile, China had the highest soybean oilseed imports of 102 million metric tons in 2022/2023, mostly from Brazil and the United States. Imports are also projected to increase by 3 million to 105 million metric tons in 2023/2024. 

  3. The projected US season-average farm price for soybeans is $12.65 per bushel. A metric ton of soybean, soybean meal, and soybean oil requires 36.74 bushels, 42.08 bushels, and 206 bushels of soybeans, respectively.  

  4. Meanwhile, March 2024 export prices of US soybean, soybean meal, and soybean oil per metric ton have decreased to $449, $399, and $1,067, respectively. These are decreases of $18, $31, and $12, respectively, from February 2024. 

  5. The countries with the highest palm oil production and exports are Indonesia and Malaysia. They produced 47 million metric tons and 19 million metric tons, respectively, for February 2023/2024. Exports were 28.2 million metric tons and 16.2 million metric tons, respectively, in February 2023/2024. 

  6. Meanwhile, India and China have the highest imports of palm oil, at 9.3 million metric tons and 6.4 million tons, respectively, in February 2023/2024.  

  7. Canada is the highest exporter of rapeseed products, most notably 7.954 million metric tons of rapeseed oilseed in 2022/2023. This is projected to decrease to 7.55 million metric tons in 2023/2024.  

  8. China and India have the highest production and consumption of peanut oil and cottonseed oil, while the European Union has the highest production and consumption of olive oil.  

  9. Meanwhile, the United States as a single country has the highest olive oil import and consumption, at 371,000 metric tons and 374,000 metric tons in 2022/2023, respectively. 


Note: 1 metric ton ≈ 1.10 tons (about 2,200 lbs) 


<![CDATA[UN World Water Development Report 2024 ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/un-world-water-development-report-2024662032fb313620e7c24a7a73Thu, 18 Apr 2024 04:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamMore People Have Electricity and Drinking Water, But More Progress is Needed 

In line with World Water Day 2024, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) released the UN World Water Development Report for 2024. The report explains how access to clean water, sanitation and other services are essential for security, peace and prosperity.  

UN World Water Development Report
  1. Freshwater use has been growing very slowly—by just under 1% per year—with industrial use (about 17%) and domestic use (about 12%) the main drivers of the increase. Energy production is included in industrial use and accounts for about 10% of the 17% usage. 

  2. Agriculture accounts for about 70% of global freshwater use.  

  3. A nation’s income predicts how water is used: Higher-income countries use more water for industry and domestic needs and a lower percentage for agriculture. But in low-income nations, almost 90% of freshwater is used for agriculture.  

  4. Between 2012 and 2019, the number of people without access to electricity dropped by about 500 million, but progress has since stagnated. In 2021, about 675 million people lacked access to electricity, including 567 million people who live in Sub-Saharan Africa.  

  5. As of 2022, 2.2 billion people (1.3 billion in rural areas and 0.9 billion in urban areas) were without access to safely managed drinking water. This is down from 2015, when 2.3 billion people (1.5 billion in rural areas and 0.8 billion in urban areas) lacked such access. 

  6. Also as of 2022, 3.5 billion people (1.9 billion in rural areas and 1.6 billion in urban areas) lacked access to safely managed sanitation services. This 0.3 billion decrease—from 3.8 billion people in 2015—is due to more people in rural areas getting access to such services. 

  7. “Natured-based solutions” are advocated to counter climate change. Without these interventions, the report said that by 2030, 150 million people a year could need humanitarian assistance due to floods, droughts, and storms. This could rise to 200 million people per year by 2050. 



<![CDATA[‘All the Way to Zero’—Maritime Shipping Charts a Course to Decarbonization ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/maritime-shipping-charts-a-course-to-decarbonization6623065fb8531d568d14d86bThu, 18 Apr 2024 04:00:00 GMTRick Laezman*By Rick Laezman 

Reducing carbon emissions from transportation has become one of the primary fronts in the battle against greenhouse gas emissions. The effort involves much more than just transitioning to electric vehicles.

Transportation is a vast sector of commerce that includes many industries, such as air travel, railroads, and vehicle fleets. All of them are undergoing changes to incorporate cleaner fuels and reduce carbon emissions.

The decarbonization effort has even reached the high seas, with many factors driving changes in cargo shipping. Adoption of new fuels is accelerating to reduce emissions and steer the industry onto a “greener” course.

Currents of Change

According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, the transportation sector is one of the world's biggest contributors of greenhouse emissions, at 15% of the total. That is second only to electricity and heat, which account for 31%.

Within the transportation sector, international shipping accounts for 2% to 3% of global energy-related CO2 emissions, and it is facing pressure on numerous fronts to reduce its output of greenhouse gases.

In addition to popular pressure and regulations from individual countries, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the UN agency that is responsible for the shipping industry, has adopted new strategies and standards that are regulating the industry.

Using 2008 emissions as a baseline, the new regulations call for a reduction of at least 20%, but striving for 30%, by the year 2030. Similarly, the regulations call for a reduction of at least 70%, but striving for 80%, by the year 2040.

Green Fuels and the Shipping Industry

Each industry within the travel sector, including cars, trains, and airplanes, must navigate a different path to become green. Each of these paths is defined by the unique characteristics and limitations of the industries themselves.

In the shipping industry, several factors including the size of the vessels, the power needed to propel them, and the paths they travel, make a transition to electric-powered ships impractical.

According to a white paper from the market research firm, DNV, the primary challenge facing the maritime industry is its inability to easily electrify propulsion. In deep-sea shipping, “batteries alone are not an adequate substitute for combustible energy sources.” In other words, there aren’t going to be fleets of electrified shipping vessels any time soon. To cut carbon emissions, a more practical option for the industry will be transitioning to alternative fuels.

DNV projects the shipping industry to meet the IMO’s target through a combination of measures. It will require a shift to low- and zero-carbon fuels. These include liquified natural gas (LNG), liquified petroleum gas (LPG), methanol, hydrogen, ammonia, and biofuel.

At the top of the list, LNG, consisting mainly of methane and some ethane, is considered a less polluting alternative to fossil fuels, and is gaining acceptance. Trailing behind but gaining traction, methane and ammonia are even less polluting alternatives, but they face their own challenges related to availability and safety.

CMA CGM Jacques Saadé, entered commercial service in September 2020 and was at the time of construction the world's largest (container) vessel powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG).  ©user.geni (CC-BY-SA 4.0)

New Builds Going Green

Transitioning to cleaner burning fuels will require a major change in the industry because most ships are not equipped to run on alternative fuels.

The World Resources Institute (WRI) notes that most commercial shipping vessels currently run on heavy fuel oil. It is well-suited to the industry because the fuel is inexpensive and its high energy density sustains ships for long distances across the ocean, but it raises concern of sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.

To decarbonize, the industry appears to be embracing the challenge of transitioning away from this polluting fuel. The number of orders for new ships to be built with alternative fuel burning technology is rising. DNV notes in its white paper that 50% of new ships ordered in 2023 included alternative fuel capacity, compared with only 7% of ships currently operating in the industry.

The types of vessels that are being built reveal which fuels are emerging as the most promising to help the industry’s transition to zero emissions.

For example, in January of this year, the global shipping giant, Maersk, announced it had built “the world's first large methanol-enabled container vessel.” The “Ane Maersk,” named after Ane Mærsk Mc-Kinney Uggla, a prominent member of the Maersk family, is the first in a series of 18 large methanol-enabled vessels that the company will deliver between 2024 and 2025.

Powered by methanol: Oil/chemical tanker Savonetta Sun is sailing under the flag of Panama. Her length overall (LOA) is 186.07 meters and her width is 32.24 meters.  ©Methanex

Methanol is not the only option. Last year, Finnish maritime technology developer Wartsila announced  commercial production of its Wartsila 25 Ammonia, that the company describes as the world's “first 4-stroke ammonia powered engine.”

While methanol and ammonia are still in the early stages of adoption, LNG remains the leading alternative to fossil fuels in the shipping industry. According to the maritime services company, Lloyd’s  Register, new orders in 2023 are projected to increase the fleet of LNG-fueled ships by 90% to 1,938 vessels.

The Undertow of Alternative Fuels

If shipping companies appear to be embracing a future with alternative fuels, it remains to be seen which of these fuels will emerge as the best choice.

Each has its own benefits and limitations.

At this stage, LNG appears to have the strongest competitive advantage. According to DNV, about 90% of ships in the current global fleet powered by alternative fuels are powered by LNG. Its share of new ships on order is slightly less, meaning that other fuels are gaining ground, but it still represents an overwhelmingly dominant share of the total, at about 78%.

The disadvantages for LNG are methane leakages during production, transportation, and storage, because the gas has an even greater warming effect than carbon dioxide (CO2). The WRI notes that when accounting for leakages from LNG burning engines, this can cancel out, and in some cases even exceed, the carbon reductions achieved by LNG that make it an attractive alternative in the first place.

Methanol faces a different set of challenges. According to Lloyd's Register, the biggest challenge facing the widespread adoption of this fuel in the shipping industry is the lack of sufficient storage space. Because it has a lower energy density than other fuels, it requires more fuel to generate the same amount of power. This necessitates larger space to store enough fuel to supply shipping vessels on their long journeys. Additionally, some methods of generating methanol, such as those using natural gas, are not considered green because they also can leak methane, a harmful heat-trapping gas.

Other green methods do exist. For example, methanol can be generated through a process that combines electricity from renewable power, electrolysis of water to create hydrogen, and a catalytic reaction with captured carbon dioxide. However, these greener methods are expensive and have not been developed to a scale that can fully power the shipping industry.

Finally, ammonia may emerge as the leading fuel source for the shipping industry. It produces no carbon emissions from combustion. When renewable energy is used to create the necessary elements for ammonia, hydrogen and nitrogen, the entire cycle is completely green, or carbon-free.

As is the case with all other fuels, there is a drawback. Ammonia's main disadvantage is its high toxicity. The chemical is dangerous to humans and to marine life, and spills, leaks, and exposure can be hazardous. For it to become a practical alternative fuel for shipping, the industry will need to develop the proper technology and protocols to address these safety concerns. NOx emissions from combustion are also a concern.

Sailing into Headwinds

Another challenge facing the use of clean fuel alternatives is the adaptability of the world's existing fleet of ships. According to DNV, “only a small part of the existing fleet is currently able to run on alternative fuels.”

Most ships are not equipped to burn alternative fuels, so they will have to be retrofitted or replaced by newly built ships with the proper technology. This will require major investments.

The good news, DNV reports, is that “a rapidly increasing proportion of new ships are being ordered with alternative fuels.”

As noted above, most of these are for LNG, but DNV says many shipowners are “keeping their options open” by ordering vessels ready to be retrofitted to alternative fuels, such as "methanol ready" or "ammonia ready."

Many considerations go into the design of new ships or the retrofit of existing ships to burn on alternative fuels. These considerations span the entire supply chain, beginning with the sourcing and production of the fuel; its transport; ground-based fuel storage in bunkers; storage in tanks on board the vessels; the type of engine that can run on a particular fuel; plus, emissions, leaks, spills, and other safety factors.

The shipping industry does have even more options. For example, carbon capture and storage (CCS) is an evolving technology that captures the CO2 emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels and stores it for other uses. CCS is being developed for various land-based applications and can be used on board maritime vessels. CCS will enable shipping to continue using fossil fuels while reducing its carbon emissions. It is being applied as a temporary “transitional technology” to help shipping reduce its carbon footprint while the industry makes the transition to long-term solutions involving alternative fuels.

However, like alternative fuels, CCS is a developing technology that involves a significant expense, it also competes for usable space on maritime vessels; an area dedicated to a CCS installation is an area that can’t be used for the cargo that generates revenue for the ship's operator.

The Slow Turning Gears of Decarbonization

International shipping is doing its part to reduce carbon emissions. The process is long, slow, and expensive. Ship owners are responding to expectations that they decarbonize by retrofitting existing ships and ordering new builds that can run on alternative fuels.

Many promising alternatives could help power the industry into a zero-carbon future. However, none of these is ready to transform the industry by itself or in the near term. For now, change will come incrementally and through a mixed bag of solutions working together to help shipping transition away from carbon-emitting fossil fuels.

*Rick Laezman is a freelance writer in Los Angeles, California, US. He has a passion for energy efficiency and innovation. He has covered renewable power and other related subjects for over ten years.

<![CDATA[2024 Global Waste Management Outlook ]]>https://www.theearthandi.org/post/2024-global-waste-management-outlook6620309b55f2a5d27586e17bWed, 17 Apr 2024 04:00:00 GMTThe Earth & I Editorial TeamReport Highlights Projected Increases of Uncontrolled Waste into 2050 

In February, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), with the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA), released the Global Waste Management Outlook 2024 report, which offers projections on global waste generation, costs, and management for municipal solid waste (MSW, excluding industrial waste). Here, “controlled waste” refers to waste that is collected and either properly disposed of or recycled. “Uncontrolled waste” refers to either uncollected waste that is dumped or burned in the open or collected waste that is dumped or burned at its final destination. 

Global Waste Management Outlook
  1. Some 2.7 billion people (700,000 from urban areas and 2 billion from rural areas) do not have their waste collected. 

  2. If no urgent actions are taken, global MSW generation per year is projected to steadily increase, from 2.126 billion tons in 2020 to 3.782 billion tons in 2050. 

  3. The total global cost of MSW in a “waste management as usual” scenario is projected to increase from $361.0 billion in 2020 to $640.3 billion in 2050  

  4. Out of the 2.126 billion tons in 2020, 38% (about 805 million tons) was uncontrolled and 62% (about 1.32 billion tons) was controlled. Among controlled waste, 48.5% (about 641.2 million tons) was landfilled, 30.6% (about 404.2 million tons) was recycled, and 20.8% (about 274.8 million tons) were converted to energy. 

  5. The global share of uncontrolled waste is projected to rise from 38% in 2020 to 41.5% in 2050. However, over three decades, the actual amount of uncontrolled waste is projected to almost double from about 805 million tons to 1.57 billion tons annually.  

  6. Globally, the average MSW collection rate is 75%. In Western countries, this rate is very high—93% to 99%—while rates are considerably lower in Sub-Saharan Africa (36%), Central and South Asia (37%), and Oceania (45%). 

  7. The three lowest regions of MSW collection also have the highest uncontrolled waste as percentage of total MSW. These are Sub-Saharan Africa (87%), Central and South Asia (79%), and Oceania (62%). 

  8. Europe leads the world in MSW recycling, thanks to Western Europe’s 56% rate. Northern and Southern Europe are third and fourth at 42% and 44%, respectively. However, Australia and New Zealand are second at 54% recycling rates. 

  9. Northern Europe also has the highest MSW waste-to-energy conversion rate of 42%.  



Full report:

Executive summary: