Behavioral Drivers Behind Food Wastes

food-waste-behaviorBy 2075, the United Nations estimates the global population will peak at 9.5 billion, an extra 3 billion mouths to feed by the end of the century. Meanwhile, while we produce about four billion tonnes of food annually, it is estimated that 30-50% of this never reaches our plates. Of the food that does reach us, some western societies throw away up to a third of all food purchased. This has enormous implications for the global environment, from wasting the water used to grow the food to adverse effects on climate, land and biodiversity.

The drivers behind these phenomenal levels of food waste are complex and include food pricing, logistical and storage issues. However, given the significant level of waste that happens within the households of societies like the UK and US, it is useful and informative to consider those behaviours that drive this level of waste.

The quality of data around food waste, as with much of waste data, has historically been poor. To this end, WRAP commissioned groundbreaking research in the UK in 2006/7 to act as a baseline to their Love Food Hate Waste campaign. This came up with the alarming statistic that 1/3 of food bought by a UK household was thrown away. Until this time, there had been no comprehensive research, either by food manufacturers, retailers or interest groups, suggesting the importance of government, or some other dis-interested party, taking a lead on the issue.

Back to Basics

There may be a link between the amount of time spent preparing food, and the skill and effort that goes into this, and the amount of food waste produced. This has led to a loss of confidence in the kitchen, with individuals losing basic skills that allow them to cook with leftovers, understand food labeling, including Best Before and Use By, even basic storing. WRAP had found little evidence of best practice storage advice so carried out the research themselves – leading the (surprising for many) conclusion that fruit such as apples and pears are best stored in the fridge wrapped in a plastic cover. However, this has masked a larger trend of less time spent in the kitchen, due to demographic changes. This of course begs the question – how should we use this when trying to reduce food waste? Should we encourage people to cook from scratch as a principle?

Although waste prevention and recycling are clearly separated within the waste hierarchy, there are apparent links between the two when considering food waste. There is an urgent need for legislation to enforce separate food waste collections, not only to ensure it was diverted to anaerobic digestion or composting, but also as it led to greater self awareness around food waste. WRAP research has clearly showed a fall in food waste when separate food waste collections were introduced.

Role of Packaging

Historically, packaging has always been a high priority to the public when asked about priorities for reducing waste. However, as awareness of food waste has grown, a more nuanced position has developed among waste managers. While excess packaging is clearly undesirable, and, within the UK for instance, the Courtauld Commitment  has helped reduced grocery packaging by 2.9 million tonnes of waste so far, there is a realization of the importance of food packaging in preserving food and hence reducing food waste.

Making food easily accessible and affordable by many, it could be argued, is one of the crowning achievements of our age. Over the last century, the proportion of household income that is spent on food has plummeted, and there is a direct link to malnutrition and food prices, particularly for children. But does cheap food mean that it is less valued and hence greater wastage? Is the answer expensive food? The evidence from WRAP in the UK is that food waste is still a serious economic issue for households, and underlining the economic case for reducing food waste a major incentive for households, especially as food prices are not entering an era of increase and instability, providing added economic urgency

Political Persuasions

Different political persuasions often differ in the approaches they take to changing behaviours and food waste is no different. In the UK, the Courtauld Commitment is a voluntary agreement aimed at encouraging major retailers to take responsibility mainly for packaging, later growing to encompass food waste, voluntary and so far has seen a 21% reduction in food waste post-consumer.

Meanwhile Wales (in the UK) effectively banned food waste from landfill. Scotland has ensured that businesses make food waste available for separate collection – again it’s only once you see it, you can manage it. Campaigns like the UK’s Love Food Hate Waste have been successful but measuring food waste prevention, as with all waste prevention, is notoriously difficult. But, people are now widely aware of food waste as an issue – we even see celebrity chefs actively talking about food waste reduction and recipes involving leftovers or food that is about to go off.

There is clearly a balance between food waste and food safety, with a commitment to reducing food waste throughout the retail and catering world, not just at home. By engaging environmental health officers to help deliver this, a potentially conflicting message can be delivered in a nuanced and balanced way. Indeed, environmental health officers in Scotland will be responsible for ensuring that Scottish food businesses present their food waste for separate collection.

Role of Communication

It is worth considering how the message should be communicated, and by whom. The community sector are more trusted by the public than government and the private sector are more effective at imparting personal, deeply held beliefs – the sort of beliefs that need to change if we are to see long term changes in attitudes towards consumption and hence waste production.

Furthermore, communications can engage wider audiences that hold an interest in reducing food waste that is perhaps not primarily environmental. The health and economic benefits of issues and behaviours that also result in food waste prevention may be the prevalent message that fits with a particular audience. So whilst the main aim of a training session might be food waste prevention, this is may not be the external message. And this has wider implications for waste prevention, and how we engage audiences around it.

Municipal authorities tasked with waste prevention will need to engage with new groups, in new ways. They will have to consider approaches previously considered to be beyond their powers to engage new audiences – should they be partnering with public health authorities with an interest in nutrition, or social housing providers that are focused on financial inclusion.

Should waste prevention even be a discipline in itself? After all, across material streams it is a motley assortment of behaviours with different drivers. Furthermore, with the knots that one can tie oneself in trying to measure waste that doesn’t get generated, – therefore doesn’t exist – should we integrate waste prevention in to other socio-economic programmes and position it as an “added benefit” to them?

Note: The article is being republished with the permission of our collaborative partner be Waste Wise. The unabridged version can be found at this link. Special thanks to the author Mike Webster.

11 Ways College Students Can Save Paper

Paper, in all of its forms, is one of the most useful and versatile products. It is also one of the most widely used item for college students. The bad news is that our use of paper has some pretty intense impacts on the environment. These include water and air pollution, deforestation, and the accumulation of paper waste in landfills.

The good news is that every individual can play a role in helping to eliminate the damage done by the use of and production of paper products. Now, this is the point where many readers will think of themselves, “I recycle. Isn’t that enough?”

The truth is, while recycling certainly helps, it doesn’t eliminate the problems our use of paper creates. In fact, the recycling process itself has an environmental cost.  Keep recycling for sure, but also consider ways in which you can reduce the amount of paper you use. Here are eleven ways you can get started.

1. Make your subscriptions digital

Whether your interests are in technology, fashion, current events, music or something else, magazines are full of useful information. The problem is that once you’re done with them, your choices are to recycle them, throw them out, or let them collect dust. None of these things are good for the environment.

Instead, convert your paper subscriptions to digital. Not only will you help the environment, you’ll save space as well. Even better, digital copies of magazines are searchable. This means you can find the articles you want with ease.

2. Donate old newspapers and magazines

If you do have hard copies of newspapers and magazines at home, don’t throw them out or recycle them. There may be places that are happy to take them off your hands. Your local community center, retirement homes, hospitals and homeless shelters are often in search of reading materials for their clients.

3. Use double-sided printing

There is no way to avoid printing altogether, but you may be able to reduce the paper you use when you do print. Whenever possible use double-sided printing. You can even print more than one page per side. Also, experiment line spacing and font size. With a few adjustments, you can significantly reduce the amount of paper you print over time. Encourage your friends, even your University and College, and your community to do the same.

4. Get your statements online

If you are still receiving your bank statements and billing notices via snail mail that’s a problem. Not only are you getting your paper bills and statements, chances are you’re receiving inserts, coupons, and other junk. Convert to paperless mode and eliminate all of this.

5. Use a blackboard or whiteboard

Shopping lists, reminders, and notes to your roommates represent just a few of the things you likely jot down and have scattered about your place. You aren’t alone. Those bits and pieces of paper add up. You can replace these by simply hanging up a whiteboard or blackboard in a convenient spot.

If somebody needs to jot something down, they can use that instead of wasting paper. If you need something a bit more portable, simply snap a picture with your phone.

6. Get a digital calendar

You also don’t need paper to stay on top of your schedule or to coordinate with friends and family members. Instead, choose a digital calendar that works for you. Then arrange to share calendars with those friends and family members. With most online calendars you can create to-do lists, set alarms, and send out reminders.

7. Give old newspapers to animal shelter

Your local animal shelter or rescue might be thrilled to get your old newspapers. They use these for bedding and as cage liners.  Newspapers can also be used to help insulate winter shelters for feral cat colonies.

8. Use washcloths and hand towels

There is no doubt that paper towels and napkins are useful. Many of us use them while we’re eating, to wipe up spills, for cleaning, even for covering food in the microwave. The problem is that once we’re done all of those paper products go directly into the trash. That’s wasteful and bad for the environment. Instead, invest in cloth alternatives.

Washcloths and hand towels are exceptionally cheap. Cloth diapers last forever and are amazing for cleaning. Even old worn-out clothing can be cut up and used as dust rags.

9. Take notes digitally

At this point, there should be little or no occasions where you need to take notes on paper. There are simply too many options for taking notes digitally, not to take advantage of this. Save paper by using an app, such as Evernote, to take and organize your notes.

Use voice to text, or simply type up your notes in your favorite word processor. Not only will your digital notes save paper, you’ll be better able to create quality essays and research papers. If you need help to turn these notes into better papers, check out essay editing reviews. Save the planet, and improve your grades.

In some cases, you don’t need to take notes at all. See if your instructors save handouts and lecture notes online. Then, simply use these as reference materials.

10. Reduce paper use at the grocery store

Hopefully, you have ditched single-use plastic and paper bags for reusable ones. If not, this is a great place to start. However, that’s just the beginning. There are other ways to reduce paper use while you shop.

First, hit the bulk bins for your dried goods. Instead of using the plastic or paper bags provided, bring your own reusable containers. Next, pay attention to packaging as you shop. You’ll be amazed at the amount of paper and plastic that is wasted through extra packaging. Be a conscientious shopper, and buy products that use the least amount of paper material.

11. Praise brands that use less paper

While you shop, pay attention to which brands are responsible in their use of paper and which brands are not. Then, let your thoughts be known. If a brand is behaving responsibly in this area, contact them and let you know you appreciate it and will be buying their products.

If not, contact them with your concerns. Believe it or not, companies do care what you think, and if they hear from enough people they might change their behaviors.

Final thoughts 

Paper waste is a huge problem at colleges and universities. In fact, the issue can seem overwhelming. However, if every individual would change a few of their habits with regard to paper consumption, there would be a great impact. You can get started with these steps.

Plastic Wastes and Role of EPR

In just a few decades plastics have become omnipresent in our society. But, unfortunately, the consequences of their use last far beyond their useful lifetime. Everyone is aware of their overwhelming dispersion in our landscapes. The situation in the oceans is not better [1]. As a reaction, a few thoughts spring to my mind.

First of all, it is clear that the industry is assuming very little responsibility, and that Public Administrations are complicit with this. Extended producer responsibility (abbreviated as EPR) only affects –and only partially– those plastics used as light packaging, in vehicles, in tyres or as part of electric and electronic equipment, not any of the others. Also, recycling levels are not sufficiently high, as a result of poor separate collection systems and inefficient treatment facilities. As a consequence, society has to face not only the problems created by those materials which are not recycled, but also has to assume a high share of the costs of managing them as waste.

Secondly, it illustrates the importance of the quality of the materials that we aim to recycle, and thus the importance of separate waste collection; for all materials, but particularly for biowaste. Although most composting and anaerobic digestion facilities have the capacity to separate some of the impurities (of which around 40% can be plastics), this separation is far from perfect. Two recent studies confirm that the quality of compost is influenced by the presence of impurities in biowaste [2] and that, in turn, the presence of impurities is influenced by several factors [3], among which particularly the type of separate collection scheme, door to door separate collection models being those presenting better results.

Thirdly, it makes clear the urgency to adopt measures that address the root of the problem. High quality separate collection and sound waste treatment are necessary, and allow enormous room for improvement, but they are end-of-pipe solutions. It is also important to promote greener consumption patterns through environmental awareness campaigns, but this is not enough either. We have to address the problem where it is created. And this requires measures of higher impact, such as taxes on certain products (e.g. disposable ones) or on certain materials, compulsory consideration of eco-design criteria, generalisation of the extended producer responsibility or prohibition of certain plastics (e.g. oxo-degradable ones) or of certain uses (e.g. microplastic beads in cosmetics). One can think that these measures are a bit too hard, but honestly, after wandering around beaches and mountains, and finding plastics absolutely everywhere, I am bit disappointed with the outcome of soft solutions.

On 16th January 2018 the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy was adopted [4]. A number of measures will need to be applied by the European Union (listed in Annex I of the Strategy), by Member States and by the industry (Annex II), but also by Regional Governments and Local Authorities. No doubt that implementing the Strategy will bring about significant advances, but only time will say if it is sufficient to address the huge challenge we face.

The European Union has also recently adopted the much-awaited Directive 2019/904 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 June 2019 on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment [5], which introduces several bans and restrictions on different uses and materials. This is indeed a huge step, which needs to be followed by others, both in Europe, but also elsewhere, as this is truly a global challenge.

Note: An earlier version of this article was published in February 2018: https://mailchi.mp/db1fd794d528/sent-11-april-2018

References

[1] See for example: https://tinyurl.com/yxra3cod

[2] Campos Rodrigues, L., Puig Ventosa, I., López, M., Martínez, X. (2016) Anàlisi de la incidència dels impropis de la FORM sobre la qualitat del compost de les plantes de compostatge de Catalunya https://tinyurl.com/y37ncton

[3] Puig-Ventosa, I., Freire-González, J., Jofra-Sora, M. (2013) Determining factors for the presence of impurities in selectively collected biowaste, Waste Management and Research, 31: 510-517.

[4] The strategy and several accompanying documents can be found in this portal: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/plastic_waste.htm

[5] Directive 2019/904 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 June 2019 on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment.

Product Life-Cycle Assessment: Closing the Loop

product-life-cycle-assessmentIf you’re interested in green and environmental issues you may have heard the phrase ‘life-cycle assessment’ in relation to a particular product. It can be difficult to ascertain exactly what this life-cycle assessment involves – so we’re hoping to shed some light on the process, the different types of assessment that take place and explain what’s involved with each step.

A look at the bigger picture

Essentially, a product life-cycle assessment takes an overall view of that item’s impact on the environment – and in doing so, offers a true picture of how green that product really is. The aim is for consumers, manufacturers and policy makers to be given a true environmental picture of any product.

Although it’s an example that divides the opinion of environmentalists around the world, the Toyota Prius provides an interesting picture of why the product life-cycle assessment is required in a world driven by a company’s desire to be seen as green. The Prius is an electric-hybrid car which Toyota claims delivers an impressive 60 miles per gallon of fuel – a statistic that puts it as a firm environmental favourite.

However, there are claims that the construction methods used to create the batteries that power the Prius are hugely detrimental to the environment – with some sources saying the manufacturing plant impacts the environment so greatly that by the time a Prius is driven from the showroom – it’s already had the environmental impact it would take any other car 1,000 gallons of fuel to match.

What’s the verdict?

So, is the Prius good or bad? That’s not for us to decide – and we’re not suggesting one way or another, we’re simply using this as an illustration of how complex any environmental consideration can be in a product with such an intensive manufacturing process and prolonged lifespan. At the other end of the calculation you’d have to consider how long the Prius will run for – and whether that balances a supposedly negative building method.

Ingredients of product life-cycle assessment

The assessment is ordinarily broken down into different stages:

Extraction and processing of raw materials

This is a full understanding of the journey from source to point of manufacture that the building blocks of any product take. For example, in the manufacture of a table you would begin by looking at the trees that provide the wood, the logging process that takes them from forest to timber yard and the impact of the machinery used throughout that process.

You would repeat this process for every raw material that goes into the table’s manufacture.

Manufacturing

Next comes the manufacturing itself – if machinery or any industrial process is used to piece our table together then resources used in that process must be considered when we look at the overall impact of the product on the environment.

Packaging

The packaging that a product is delivered in is effectively another product in itself. Although unlikely in our table example, it’s not uncommon for extravagant packaging to represent 10-20% of a product’s recommended retail price. Curtis Packaging, an award-winning UK based sustainable packaging company suggest manufacturers pay careful consideration to the impact of packaging on a product’s overall green credentials – from raw materials to the point of disposal, the packing that adorns your product can have serious environmental considerations.

Marketing

At first glance you could be forgiven for thinking marketing a product comes with no environmental impact – but you’d be wrong. From the printing of advertising materials – to the sales team’s 20,000 annual miles in company vehicles – there can be a lot of resource put into any marketing process. However, measurement is no mean feat – companies can find it difficult to differentiate between their overall carbon footprint and that associated with any one product.

Product use, re-use and maintenance

This is where the impact of a product moves from the manufacturer and into the hands of the consumer. What does typical use look like? How long is a product being used for? Does one person’s use vary compared to another’s? For our example table, the answers could be fairly simple – on the other hand, there’s a huge amount of variation when you look at a broad range of car drivers.

Packaging that adorns your product can have serious environmental impact.

Packaging that adorns your product can have serious environmental impact.

For any product that requires maintenance, the LCA just became much more complex (again!) – just as packaging represented an entirely separate product that requires its own assessment – a similar process is required when a car receives a tank of fuel, a top up of coolant, brake fluid, spark plugs, brake pads… hopefully you get the picture (hint – it’s complex and sprawling!)

However difficult it might be to anticipate, it’s an environmental imperative that big industry is aware of the impact they have – even when their product has left their hands.

Recycling, disposal and waste at the end of the product’s life

From pizza boxes to old cars, it’s easy to think of their job as being done when they’re waved off to a recycling bin or breaker’s yard – but environmentally this could just be the beginning of their impact.

In terms of recycling – the effort and impact of the process must be outweighed by the benefit of the salvaged material, it’s often in life-cycle assessments that decisions are made around what is worth recycling – and what should be destined for landfill. If landfill is the ultimate resting place for any product, what does the deterioration process look like and what does that mean to the environment in the short, medium and long-term?

Then, to bring the assessment cycle full circle – any product that can be processed and re-used re-enters the assessment cycle back at the extraction and processing of raw materials stage…

Ultimately, what is the life-cycle assessment done for?

There’s no one reason that a life-cycle assessment is done. For some companies, they’re keen to explain the full back-story of the product. For others, it can be an exercise in understanding the full process and highlighting any areas that can be financially streamlined – it certainly provides a solid baseline from which improvements can be made.

For the most environmentally ethical companies, the life-cycle assessment gives a true picture of the impact they have on the well-being of the planet – and offers a chance to get a full and honest picture of the moves they and their partners can make in creating a product that fulfils the requirements of the environment – as well as those of the customer and shareholders.

Barcode as a Tool to Reduce Plastic Pollution

plastic-worldThe measures implemented by the current recycling model, which are focused on producer responsibility and final consumer awareness, are not enough to prevent the continued accumulation of plastic waste in the oceans. For example, the Mediterranean Sea currently experience high levels of plastic pollution even if its coastline meets advanced countries.

“Barcode v/s Plastic Waste” continues forward the argument, including and controlling a crucial and forgotten player in the current model of consumption: retail or supermarkets. “Barcode vs Plastic Waste” offers an efficient, win-win-win model: a sustainable and dynamic circle, a cradle to cradle controlled process for this currently destructive material.

Consumers must continue recycling, but reality shows clear that the potential to decrease plastic waste could not depend only upon consumer awareness. A high percentage of plastic waste passes through supermarkets and, subsequently, the entire distribution channel.

While supermarkets do hold responsibility for ENCOURAGING THE USE of plastic and packaging, they also have the potential, although never considered before, to encourage and provide incentives to producers and consumers to reduce their plastic quantities or eliminate it all together.

Following “Barcode v/s Plastic Waste”, Governments should request supermarkets to be responsible for all plastic recollection associated with products they sell, while Public Administration would maintain the duty of control: the barcode which identifies any item sold, offers the possibility to track and account all plastics, containers or packaging by simply adding these information into the barcode.

Having the package information -weight and material composition- inside the barcode will offer an extremely easy way to obtain the necessary data to apply follow-up control over its recollection. We would be able to monitor the recyclable materials per gram through the entire transaction system in real-time, allowing us to review any cash register day by day. Having the package information (weight and material composition) inside the same barcode will offer an extremely easy way to obtain the necessary data to apply follow-up control over its recollection. (i.e. PET 2/45gr. – PET5/75gr. – etc.)

Supermarkets should be responsible for all plastic recollection associated with products they sell

Supermarkets should be responsible for all plastic recollection associated with products they sell

This new recycling process could reach the full capacity in three years, requesting 30% of plastic recollection quantity the first year, 60% the second 90-100% the third.

Considering that from the very first year, supermarkets would very likely push producers to introduce dispensers with refilling containers wherever possible, we would have a considerable reduction of single use plastic at the very beginning.

Along with a necessary law, just new software and a new logistic inside supermarkets will be enough to produce the change. By simply adding future trash into the same barcode already used on any item sold, we would transform millions of negative actions into positive, preventing the loss of tons of raw material with a final reduction of petrol demand. This information would be provided just as the cash register’s account balance appears at the end of the day. Supermarket cash registers are the last control in the commercial process.

Full length proposal is available here

Zero Waste Trends to Watch

Most people have heard about concepts such as single-stream recycling, but there’s another approach known as zero waste. People who support the concept of zero waste agree that, in a broader sense, it means reducing dependence on landfills and increasing reliance on material recovery facilities. But, after that, the definition varies primarily based on industries, manufacturers and even entire countries.

Even so, there are inspiring trends that show how people and companies are working hard to reduce the amount of waste produced, thereby getting ever closer to that desirable zero benchmark. Below are some of the major trends taking place across the world in the field of zero waste:

More Reusable Packaging

We live in a world where it’s possible to order almost anything online and have it quickly arrive on a doorstep — sometimes the same day a person placed the order. And, society loves the convenience, but the dependence on delivered products causes an increase in packaging materials.

It is often astounding how many packing peanuts, layers of bubble wrap and cardboard cartons come with the things we buy. And, the manufacturers and shipping companies consistently bring up how boxes get dropped or otherwise mishandled during transit, making the extraordinary amounts of protective packaging products necessary.

On a positive note, a company called Limeloop makes a shipping envelope designed from recycled billboard wrapping people can reuse thousands of times. Another company called Returnity communicates with distributors to urge them to use the establishment’s boxes and envelopes, both of which people can rely on dozens of times instead of throwing them away after single uses.

If you are a business looking to adopt eco-friendly practices, you should read this article on green packaging methods.

Ceramic Mugs in British Coffee Shops

In some regions of the world, customers who visit coffee shops don’t get asked whether they’ll be drinking their coffee on site or taking it with them to go. However, many leading coffee shops in the United Kingdom find out that detail from customers who order drinks, then serve the beverages in non-disposable mugs to people who’ll enjoy their purchases on the spot.

Also, all 950 Starbucks locations in Great Britain recently began charging customers five cents for getting their drinks in disposable cups. Conversely, it rewards them by taking 25 cents off the costs of their orders when they bring reusable cups into the stores.

Creative Ways to Cut Down on Farm Waste

Manure (or fertilizer) is a reality on farms around the world. And, the commercially bought versions of it contribute to excessive waste and inflated costs. Some even harm future growth when farmers apply manure too heavily and negatively affect the soil’s balance.

But, besides avoiding commercially-sold manure and not applying it excessively if used, what else can people in the agriculture sector do to make farm waste more manageable? They can look for unique outlets that may want to buy it.

One startup uses a detailed manure-refining process to extract the cellulose from cow dung. Business representatives then use the cellulose — a byproduct from the grass and corn cows eat — for a new kind of fabric.

What about using animal waste for energy? A forward-thinking farmer did that with his manure lagoons, making them produce biogas that powers homes.

These unusual solutions highlight unconventional use cases for animal droppings, such as poultry litter, that support zero-waste goals, provided farmers want to explore them.

An Uptick in Reusable Food Containers

People often pack their lunches in plastic containers before heading off to work, but when they get food delivered or pick it up from a provider to eat at home later, the associated containers usually fill up garbage cans after people chow down.

Some facilities are trying to change that. At The University of California Merced campus, a pilot program occurred where students who stopped by dining halls for meals to take away brought reusable containers with them. After people ate the food from them, they could return them to get washed and ready for future meals.

Moreover, a pizza restaurant in Wales provides an aluminum box for people to use again and again when taking their pies home. One of the problems with cardboard pizza containers is they can’t be recycled when contaminated with grease. However, people can buy the metal ones for a small, one-time fee.

Opt for reusable containers for food and beverages

Then, by using them, they get 50-cent discounts on their pizza. The restaurant also backs the boxes with a lifetime guarantee and will replace them for no charge if necessary due to breakage or damage. Also, because metal conducts heat, the material helps pizza stay hotter for longer than it would in cardboard boxes.

Innovations to Complement Commitment

Adhering to a zero waste lifestyle undoubtedly requires dedication and a willingness to look beyond old habits. However, for people who show those characteristics, numerous inventions and improvements make it easier to do away with the throw-away culture.

Zero-Waste Trends in the United States

Most people don’t see what happens to their trash. They throw it in a black plastic bag, toss the bag into a dumpster and the trash man collects it once a week and makes it disappear. Magic, right?

Wrong.

Most of our trash ends up in a landfill where it is buried and mixed in with decades-worth of junk. Certain items will break down over time while others are essentially just stored there, in a graveyard of forgotten items and a mountain of garbage.

In the year since China banned the import of other countries’ plastic recyclables, the global recycling industry has been in flux, resulting in plastics ending up in landfills, incinerators and littering the environment. This is causing countries and citizens across the globe to reexamine their recycling systems and highlights the need for zero waste practices.

Zero waste is the concept of eliminating the amount of trash thrown away by only purchasing reusable items. That’s a significant shift from the 4.4 pounds of trash that the average American tosses every day. But certain trends are helping make the idea of zero waste a reality in the United States. Let us have a look:

Replace Single-Use Packaging With Reusable Materials

Way too many plastic items that we use every day are meant to be used only once. And the amount of packaging that goes into shipping one box, that will simply get tossed in the garbage after the parcel is unwrapped, is astounding. In fact, 40 percent of plastic produced is packaging, which is thrown away after it arrives at your doorstep.

Plastic bag and straw bans are on the rise across the globe. Consumers are becoming more conscious of how their use of these items contributes to the trash crisis. Recent data shows that customers are more likely to buy products from brands that promote sustainable business practices.

Reduce Energy Waste By Choosing Renewable Options

Many industries are opting to reduce energy waste by pursuing renewable energy sources. U.S. manufacturers account for 30 percent of the nation’s energy consumption, which means manufacturers must take the lead in reducing fossil fuel consumption and energy waste.

The U.S. is the leader in energy waste. Americans spend $350 billion on energy costs each year, yet three-quarters of that energy goes to waste. One way to reduce the burden on our power grid — and our wallets — from all that lost energy is by switching to renewable sources.

Air compressors are vital to the upkeep of a successful farm, and many producers in the agricultural sector are also reducing waste by switching to high-powered air compressors that, when properly maintained, can reduce energy usage and cut costs.

Eliminate Food Waste

About 94 percent of food waste ends up in landfills, which contribute to methane gas emissions. Reducing food waste not only helps the environment, but it also decreases the amount you have to spend at the grocery store. It also helps to conserve energy, as less power is needed to grow and produce food if less is wasted.

Individual consumers can help eliminate food waste by freezing leftovers to preserve them and composting uneaten food, as opposed to tossing in the trash.

Restaurants can use these tactics and others to cut down on food waste, such as donating leftovers and properly training staff to get on board with waste reduction. They can also hire auditors to help them identify ways to reduce waste and streamline business practices.

Never Too Late to Make a Change

Though the statistics may seem disheartening, the reality is that it’s never too late to make a change in your individual or business habits to help cut down on waste and work toward the goal of accomplishing zero waste. Following these trends and implementing others is just one way to do your part to eliminate waste and protect the environment.

Plastic Wastes and its Management

Plastic seems all pervasive and unavoidable. Since the 1960s our use of plastic has increased dramatically, and subsequently, the portion of our garbage that is made up of plastic has also increased from 1% of the total municipal solid waste stream (household garbage) to approximately 13% (US Environmental Protection Agency). Plastic products range from things like containers and packaging (soft drink bottles, lids, shampoo bottles) to durable goods (think appliances, furniture and cars) and non-durable goods including things from a plastic party tray to medical devices. Sometimes marked with a number and a chasing arrow, there is an illusion that all plastics are recyclable, and therefore recycled. But there are a number of problems with this assumption.

While use and consumption of plastic is increasingly high, doubts about viable options for reuse, recycling and disposal are also on the rise. Complications such as the increasing number of additives used alter the strength, texture, flexibility, colour, resistance to microbes, and other characteristics of plastics, make plastics less recyclable. Additionally, there is very little market value in some plastics, leading municipalities to landfill or incinerate plastics as waste. Based on figures from the EPA (2011 data) only 8% of plastic materials are recovered through recycling.

Another major concern about plastics in the waste stream is their longevity and whether or not they are truly biodegrade. It is estimated that most plastics would take 500-1000 years to break down into organic components. Because of this longevity and the low rate of recycling, much of our plastic waste ends up in landfills or as litter. Some of this plastic waste makes its way via rivers and wind to the ocean. Garbage barges, and the trans-continental transport of recyclable materials also lead to an increasing amount of plastics in our oceans and waterways.

Plastic waste directly and indirectly affects living organisms throughout the ecosystem, including an increasingly high impact on marine life at a macro and micro scale. According to United Nations, almost 80% of marine debris is plastic. Policy enforcement remains weak, global manufacture of plastics continues to increase, and the quantity of plastic debris in the oceans, as well as on land, is likely to increase.

With limited sustainable recovery of plastics, there is a growing global movement to reduce the generation of plastic. Certain types of plastic may be ’safer‘ for the environment than others, however, there are troubling issues associated with all of them, leading to the conclusion that action is needed to remove plastic waste, and stricter controls are required to limit new sources of plastic pollution. Efforts such as light weighting of packaging and shifts to compostable plastics are options. Many people use eco-friendly bags for the sake of green living. Policies limiting the use of plastics such as bottle bills and bag bans are other ways to decrease the production and consumption of plastics.

Mining the debris fields in our oceans and turning plastic waste into usable materials, from socks made of fishing line to fuel made from a variety of plastic debris, is one way to mitigate the current situation.

Note: This excerpt is being published with the permission of our collaborative partner Be Waste Wise. The original excerpt and its video recording can be found at this link

Pet Waste Management in UK – Prospects and Challenges

pet-wastesPet waste is a growing public health and environmental risk. According to a report commissioned by the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, 13 million UK households (45%) keep pets of some kind.  Cats and dogs are each kept by 8.5 million households (these numbers are not additive, as some will of course keep both).

Can those of us who want both the joys of animal companionship and waste minimisation, find ways to cut down, or better manage, the huge amount of pet waste generated in the UK every year? With so many cats and dogs in the UK, pet waste must represent a significant mass of organic matter within the residual waste stream.

Does this waste represent a floater in the residual waste stream by necessity—due to inherently unpleasant and possibly dangerous characteristics of the waste—or is it only there out of convention and squeamishness?

I’ve written before about the relationship between waste management and squeamishness, and talking about faeces really brings the point home. There are some undoubtedly nasty pathogens present in pet faeces, notably the parasites Toxocariasis and Toxoplasmosis. But might these be safely killed off by the temperatures reached in anaerobic digestion (AD). If so, provided any litter and bags were made of organic matter, might pet waste be collected along with food waste?

I began by contacting a local authority waste officer, but was told that no one had asked this question before, and that I might be better off talking to AD plant operators. This I did, but most seemed similarly baffled by my query.  However, one mentioned that AD digestate goes through a pasteurisation process, where it is heated to a temperature of 70oC for one hour, in order to make it safe for land application. I also attempted to contact some technical specialists in the field, but to no avail.

There are some theoretical indications that this pasteurisation should be sufficient. Hanna Mizgajska-Wiktor and Shoji Uga’s  essay Exposure and Environmental Contamination states: “Anaerobic waste treatment kills Toxocara spp. eggs at temperatures in excess of 45oC”, well below the 70oC mentioned by my operator. The susceptibility of Toxoplasma to heat is less clear, although numerous internet sources suggest this can be killed in meat by cooking at 66oC. So far, then, I haven’t confirmed or falsified my initial inkling, and so the collection of pet waste in the municipal organic stream remains a theoretical possibility.

Motivated dog owners  can already turn their pet’s waste into a resource within their own home. The website London Worms explains how you can turn your dog’s poo into rich and useful vermicompost, although it warns that the results will only be suitable for use on non-edible plants.

Foul Pay

Household pet droppings may still be largely fated for disposal, but even when binned this waste is at least moving through proper waste management channels.  Unfortunately, not all pet poo is binned, and we have real data measuring public perceptions of the disamenity resulting from dog fouling. For most, the presence of this unwelcome waste in our streets, parks and footpaths is of much higher concern than its diversion from landfill.

A 2011 Defra-funded study on local residents’ willingness-to-pay — via an increase in council tax — for improvements across a range of environmental factors found that dog fouling was the third most important issue out of the presented range (with litter and fly-tipping taking first and second place). Surveys were conducted in inner-city, suburban and rural/semi-rural areas around London, Manchester and Coventry.

In order to move from the current level of dog fouling to the best possible scenario, it was found that inner-city residents would on average be willing to pay £8.87 per month, suburban residents £7.79 per month, and rural residents £2.72. Combining these figures with population statistics allows us to place a disamenity value on dog fouling. National statistics only allow for an urban-rural split, but based on a 2012 Defra rurality study which found that 18.9% of the population lives in rural areas, we can calculate that across England we would collectively be willing to pay £462m per year to achieve best case scenario improvements in dog fouling.

This somewhat crude calculation gives an indication of the perceived disamenity of dog fouling. Presenting the matter in terms such as these may allow economically minded policy makers a means of engaging with this important street scene issue and evaluating the costs and benefits of interventions.

Food for Thought

Let’s wash our hands of poo (with plenty of soap and warm water) and look to the other end of the pet waste problem. According to a report published by WRAP, the UK uses around 75,000 tonnes of primary packaging annually. This holds 1,263,000 tonnes of wet and dry cat and dog food, of which 9,000 uneaten tonnes are thrown away. Although this wasted food constitutes less than 1% of the total sold (if only we were as careful with food for human consumption) the estimated cost to the consumer is still £21m a year.

WRAP examined a number of designs intended to cut to down on the amounts of both pet food and packaging thrown away. A major problem with packaging design is the need to account for portion sizes, which vary from animal to animal and change depending on age and level of activity. Single serve packaging may actually lead to regular food wastage if the portion provided is too big for a particular pet; indeed, this is a problem I am experiencing with my own cat, whose appetite seems to fluctuate wildly. Re-sealable packaging that allows owners to dish out meals in accordance with the changing appetites of their pets is therefore preferable.

The material that packaging is made of is also significant: for example, relatively heavy tins are recyclable, whereas lightweight plasticised plastic foil packets are not. Pet food and its packaging can be pushed up the waste hierarchy by simply choosing a recyclable and resealable container which will allow them to adequately provide for the appetite of their pet. However, these issues are likely to be given less weight compared with health, convenience and cost in the minds of most householders. The onus has to be on manufacturers to develop packaging which is both low cost and easily recyclable.

Love pets, hate waste?

People love animals, but are rather less keen to engage with pets as an environmental issue. Leaving aside questions of whether it is sustainable for so many of us to have pets at all, there are clearly ways in which we can reduce their impact. The convenience of single serving pouches of pet food seems to win out over more recyclable and waste-avoiding alternatives, although pet owners might be willing to change their choices if presented with a better option.

While worrying about recovery options for cat poo might seem somewhat academic, it may be easier to tackle than dog fouling. It might even help to tackle the common psycho-social root of both issues. Cultural distaste perhaps lies behind the lack of information available on dealing with household pet waste, and the persistence of dog fouling as a street scene issue. Things were very different in Victorian London when “pure finders” earned a living by seeking out doggie doo to supply the tanning trade. But for us this kind of waste is a disagreeable fact of life which we deal with as simply and with as little thought as possible. But as a nation of animal lovers, it’s our responsibility to engage with the waste management issues our pets present.

Note: The article is being republished with the kind permission of our collaborative partner Isonomia. The original article can be viewed at this link

Waste Management in Food Processing Industry

Food processing industry around the world is making serious efforts to minimize by-products, compost organic waste, recycle processing and packaging materials, and save energy and water. The three R’s of waste management – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – can help food manufacturers in reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill and reusing waste.

EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy

EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy is an excellent resource to follow for food processors and beverage producers as it provides the guidance to start a program that will provide the most benefits for the environment, society and the food manufacturer.

Notably, landfill is the least favored disposal option for waste generated in food and beverage producers worldwide. There are sustainable, effective and profitable waste management options including:

  • making animal feed,
  • composting to create nutrient-rich fertilizer,
  • anaerobic digestion to produce energy-rich biogas,
  • recycling/reusing waste for utilization by other industries,
  • feeding surplus food to needy people

Waste Management Options

Food manufacturers has a unique problem – excess product usually has a relatively short shelf life while most of the waste is organic in nature. Food waste created during the production process can be turned into animal feed and sold to goat farms, chicken farms etc. As far as WWTP sludge is concerned, top food manufacturers are recycling/reusing it through land application, anaerobic digestion and composting alternatives.

Organic waste at any food processing plant can be composted in a modern in-vessel composting and the resultant fertilizer can be used for in-house landscaping or sold as organic fertilizer as attractive prices.

Another plausible way of managing organic waste at the food manufacturing plant is to biologically degrade it in an anaerobic digester leading to the formation of energy-rich biogas and digestate. Biogas can be used as a heating fuel in the plant itself or converted into electricity by using a CHP unit while digestate can be used as a soil conditioner. Biogas can also be converted into biomethane or bio-CNG for its use as vehicle fuel.

Items such as cardboard, clean plastic, metal and paper are all commodities that can be sold to recyclers Lots of cardboard boxes are used by food manufacturers for supplies which can be broken down into flat pieces and sold to recyclers.

Cardboard boxes can also be reused to temporarily store chip packages before putting them into retail distribution boxes. Packaging can be separated in-house and recovered using “jet shredder” waste technologies which separate film, carton and foodstuffs, all of which can then be recycled separately.

Organizing a Zero-Landfill Program

How do you develop a plan to create a zero-landfill or zero waste program in food and beverage producing company? The best way to begin is to start at a small-level and doing what you can. Perfect those programs and set goals each year to improve. Creation of a core team is an essential step in order to explore different ways to reduce waste, energy and utilities.

Measuring different waste streams and setting a benchmark is the initial step in the zero-landfill program. Once the data has been collected, we should break these numbers down into categories, according to the EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge and identify the potential opportunities.

For example, inorganic materials can be categorized based on their end lives (reuse, recycle or landfill).  The food and beverage industry should perform a waste sort exercise (or dumpster dive) to identify its key streams.

Nestlé USA – A Case Study

In April 2015, Nestlé USA announced all 23 of its facilities were landfill free. As part of its sustainability effort, Nestlé USA is continually looking for new ways to reuse, recycle and recover energy, such as composting, recycling, energy production and the provision of safe products for animal feed, when disposing of manufacturing by-products.

Employees also work to minimize by-products and engage in recycling programs and partnerships with credible waste vendors that dispose of manufacturing by-products in line with Nestlé’s environmental sustainability guidelines and standards. All Nestlé facilities employ ISO 14001-certified environmental management systems to minimize their environmental impact.