Big brands targeted for plastic reduction and refill commitments in 2022 proxy season

Read the full story at Waste Dive.

Plastics remain a potent issue for shareholder advocacy this year, with commitments already made by companies such as Coca-Cola and votes still pending at Amazon, McDonald’s and ExxonMobil.

Food and feed safety vulnerabilities in the circular economy

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Circular economy (CE) is an approach that decouples economic activity from the consumption of finite resources, designs out waste, and instead promotes an economic model based on sharing, leasing, reuse, repair, refurbishment and recycling, in an (almost) closed loop. This extensive literature review identified and categorised CE practices within all stages of the food and feed production chain in Europe to provide an overview of current and envisaged practices. Four broad macro areas were identified within which CE practices are envisaged or currently used in Europe: primary production of food and feed; reducing industrial/manufacturing/processing waste; reducing food and feed waste in wholesale, food retail, catering and households; and reducing food and feed packaging waste. In each macro area, there were a variety of practices of interest regarding emerging risk to plant, animal, human health and the environment.

Following consultation with European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and wider stakeholders, a focused literature search was carried out to identify emerging risks to plant, animal, human health and the environment from ‘novel foods and feeds within the framework of CE’. The literature showed a bias towards research investigating the suitability of novel feeds in terms of animal productivity parameters rather than on emerging risks of novel food/feed for animal, human, plant health and the environment. Those studies that investigated risk were almost entirely focused on the biological and chemical hazards, risks to health, and environmental impacts of insects as food or feed and the substrates that they are reared on. Emerging risks are characterised and recommendations made for future research. We recommend that future primary research in novel food and feed in the CE focuses on areas other than insect farming, and that there are further investigations into the potential risks associated with importation into the EU of livestock/goods that may have been subject to different restrictions/legislation.

Disease-causing parasites can hitch a ride on plastics and potentially spread through the sea, new research suggests

The sticky biofilms that form on microplastics can harbor disease-causing pathogens and help them spread. Tunatura/iStock via Getty Images Plus

by Karen Shapiro, University of California, Davis and Emma Zhang, University of California, Davis

Typically when people hear about plastic pollution, they might envision seabirds with bellies full of trash or sea turtles with plastic straws in their noses. However, plastic pollution poses another threat that’s invisible to the eye and has important consequences for both human and animal health.

Microplastics, tiny plastic particles present in many cosmetics, can form when larger materials, such as clothing or fishing nets, break down in water. Microplastics are now widespread in the ocean and have been found in fish and shellfish, including those that people eat.

As researchers studying how waterborne pathogens spread, we wanted to better understand what happens when microplastics and disease-causing pathogens end up in the same body of water. In our recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports, we found that pathogens from land can hitch a ride to the beach on microscopic pieces of plastic, providing a new way for germs to concentrate along coastlines and travel to the deep sea.

Aerial shot of boat floating through plastic pollution on water
Microplastic pollution has negative consequences for human, animal and environmental health. Yunaidi Joepoet/Moment via Getty Images

Investigating how plastics and pathogens interact

We focused on three parasites that are common contaminants in marine water and seafoods: the single-celled protozoans Toxoplasma gondii (Toxo), Cryptosporidium (Crypto) and Giardia. These parasites end up in waterways when feces from infected animals, and sometimes people, contaminate the environment.

Crypto and Giardia cause gastrointestinal disease that can be deadly in young children and immunocompromised individuals. Toxo can cause lifelong infections in people, and can prove fatal for those with weak immune systems. Infection in pregnant women can also cause miscarriage or blindness and neurological disease in the baby. Toxo also infects a wide range of marine wildlife and kills endangered species, including southern sea otters, Hector’s dolphins and Hawaiian monk seals.

To test whether these parasites can stick onto plastic surfaces, we first placed microplastic beads and fibers in beakers of seawater in our lab for two weeks. This step was important to induce the formation of a biofilm – a sticky layer of bacteria and gellike substances that coats plastics when they enter fresh or marine waters. Researchers also call this sticky layer an eco-corona. We then added the parasites to the test bottles and counted how many became stuck on the microplastics or remained freely floating in the seawater over a seven-day period.

Biofilms are vast communities of microbes that can form on almost any surface, including your teeth.

We found that significant numbers of parasites were clinging to the microplastic, and these numbers were increasing over time. So many parasites were binding to the sticky biofilms that, gram for gram, plastic had two to three times more parasites than did seawater.

Surprisingly, we found that microfibers (commonly from clothes and fishing nets) harbored a greater number of parasites than did microbeads (commonly found in cosmetics). This result is important, because microfibers are the most common type of microplastic found in marine waters, on coastal beaches and even in seafood.

Plastics could change ocean disease transmission

Unlike other pathogens that are commonly found in seawater, the pathogens we focused on are derived from terrestrial animal and human hosts. Their presence in marine environments is entirely due to fecal waste contamination that ends up in the sea. Our study shows that microplastics could also serve as transport systems for these parasites.

These pathogens cannot replicate in the sea. Hitching a ride on plastics into marine environments, however, could fundamentally alter how these pathogens move around in marine waters. We believe that microplastics that float along the surface could potentially travel long distances, spreading pathogens far from their original sources on land and bringing them to regions they would not otherwise be able to reach.

On the other hand, plastics that sink will concentrate pathogens on the sea bottom, where filter-feeding animals like clams, mussels, oysters, abalone and other shellfish live. A sticky biofilm layer can camouflage synthetic plastics in seawater, and animals that typically eat dead organic material may unintentionally ingest them. Future experiments will test whether live oysters placed in tanks with and without plastics end up ingesting more pathogens.

Diagram illustrating how pathogens can associate with biofilms on microplastics and spread through the sea.
The biofilms that form on microplastics can help pathogens spread through the sea. Emma Zhang, CC BY-NC-ND

A One Health problem

One Health is an approach to research, policy and veterinary and human medicine that emphasizes the close connection of animal, human and environmental health. While it may seem that plastic pollution affects only animals in the ocean, it can ultimately have consequences on human health.

Our project was conducted by a multidisciplinary team of experts, ranging from microplastics researchers and parasitologists to shellfish biologists and epidemiologists. This study highlights the importance of collaboration across human, animal and environmental disciplines to address a challenging problem affecting our shared marine environment.

Our hope is that better understanding how microplastics can move disease-causing pathogens in new ways will encourage others to think twice before reaching for that plastic straw or polyester T-shirt.

Karen Shapiro, Associate Professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, University of California, Davis and Emma Zhang, Veterinary researcher, University of California, Davis

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Japanese rail operator now entirely powered by renewable energy

Read the full story from PBS NewsHour.

Tokyo’s Shibuya is famed for its Scramble Crossing, where crowds of people crisscross the intersection in a scene symbolizing urban Japan’s congestion and anonymity. It may have added another boasting right.

Tokyu Railways’ trains running through Shibuya and other stations were switched to power generated only by solar and other renewable sources starting April 1.

Political and Socioeconomic Factors That Determine the Financial Outcome of Successful Green Innovation

Riehl, K., Kiesel, F., & Schiereck, D. (2022). “Political and Socioeconomic Factors That Determine the Financial Outcome of Successful Green Innovation.” Sustainability 14(6), 3651.

Abstract: Green innovation and technology diffusion must be financially and commercially attractive to convince corporate decision makers. This paper focuses on the factors that determine the financial outcome of successful green innovation activities conducted by large, listed companies. We employ a cross-industry dataset including more than 97,954 reports on corporate environmentalism from 286 international listed companies. Our results indicate that economic, political, cultural, firm-specific, investor-related, and governance factors significantly determine the financial performance of green innovation, measured by abnormal returns. Moreover, we can show that factors that reduce the competition in green innovation markets benefit the financial success of firms operating via them. Finally, we find an opposing influence for several factors that benefit earlier stages of innovation (e.g., research output) while harming the later stages (e.g., market introduction and financial performance). These findings imply that a spatial separation strategy for different stages of innovation supports corporate environmentalism activities. Moreover, physical property rights, the governments’ willingness to support green technologies, and economic framework conditions such as oil price, GDP, or public R&D budget need to be balanced by policymakers to address and stimulate green innovation.

Road to Next: Food Tech

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Foodtech investment sees a record surge, at well over $13 billion in deal value. Growing concerns around the environmental impact of food production—in addition to health concerns—are powering a surge of investment in innovation across traditional food categories. Key hurdles remain, including competition from incumbents, as well as establishing a strong brand and sufficient market penetration.

Here’s how food waste can generate clean energy

In an effort to reduce the growing problem of food waste disposal, researchers are focusing on developing new green technologies that use food waste to generate clean energy. (Shutterstock)

by Salvador Escobedo Salas, Western University

Food waste is a growing problem in Canada and many other parts of the world — and it is only expected to get worse in the coming years. The world population is expected to grow to 9.7 billion by 2050, alongside global food demand.

Not only will this create large amounts of food and municipal organic waste, but there will also be increasing amounts of agricultural waste as the global demand of vegetables, fruits and grains increases. An estimated 60 per cent of food produced in Canada — over 35 million tonnes per year — ends up in landfills. However, Canadian cities have also run out of land to dispose this accumulating waste.

Food waste comes with its own set of issues, including greenhouse gas emissions, unpleasant odours, pests and toxic fluids that can infiltrate water sources. In addition, every year, municipal dumps take over more land, reaching the edges of communities, which can lead to health issues for those who are living nearby.

In an effort to reduce the growing problem of food waste disposal, researchers like myself are focusing on developing new technologies that use food waste to generate clean energy. My team and I are studying a process known as biomass gasification.

Biomass gasification

Biomass gasification uses heat, oxygen, steam, or a mixture of those, to convert biomass — food and agricultural waste or other biological materials — into a mixture of gases that can be used as fuel.

A diagram of the process of biomass gasification where food waste is mixed with heat, steam and oxygen to produce synthetic fuel or gasses called Syngas.
Biomass gasification uses heat, oxygen, steam, or a mixture of those, to convert biomass — food or agricultural waste, or other biological materials — into a mixture of fuel gases. (Salvador Escobedo Salas), Author provided

Biomass gasification works by feeding semi-dry food waste into a unit that looks a bit like a cooking pot, where it passes through a hot, bubbling substance that converts it to fuel gas. This process, known as fluidization is very efficient at converting food waste into high-valuable sources of energy-rich synthesis gas, a mixture of hydrogen, methane, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, also called syngas. Syngas can be used to generate heat and power. This process is sustainable because is considered to be carbon-neutral.

Farms, cities and municipalities could implement this sustainable technology to cut utility expenses for heating or electricity. They could also significantly reduce dependency on landfills and lower the operating budget for solid waste management services which can reach near $380 million per year for a city the size of Toronto.

Replacing fossil fuels

The consumption of fossil fuels and their derivatives has created an environmental crisis, mainly due to greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, which has led to climate change. As governments around the world implement climate policies that restrict greenhouse gas emissions or tax them, it is important to replace fossil fuels with alternative renewable sources of energy such as agricultural and food waste.

Although syngas can be used like a conventional natural gas, which is a methane-based fossil fuel, it is different from it because of its higher composition of carbon monoxide and hydrogen.

These gases can be further converted into high-value bio-based chemicals such as methanol and ammonia. Biomass gasification also generates biochar, which can be used to improve soil fertility.

The gasification process turns trash into gas in an economical and eco-friendly way.

While the production of syngas depends on the type of biomass and technology used. The Canadian Atikokan Generating Station, for instance, produced 205 megawatts of clean electricity. This is enough energy to power about 70, 000 residential and commercial buildings.

Global projects

Countries such as Finland, Brazil, Italy, Denmark and the United States are leading the way in developing sustainable and cost-efficient biomass gasification projects and using food waste to support their domestic production of heat, power and bio-based chemicals. Canada has a few companies supplying energy and bio-based chemicals from municipal waste. In this case, Canada produces 1.4 per cent of its electricity with Biomass.

A man shoveling coffee beans and keeping them to dry in a farm in Costa Rica.
Coffee cultivations in Costa Rica generate high amounts of waste that is being used to produce heat and power using biomass gasification. (Shutterstock)

Costa Rica is another example. As one of the top 20 coffee producers in the world, Costa Rica generates a significant amount of agricultural waste from coffee production and its disposal presents serious environmental problems. Its present solution is biomass gasification technologies to convert coffee pulp into heat and power.

Small and marginal communities could also take full advantage of biomass gasification technologies by reducing the amount of food waste that accumulates in landfills, producing their own energy and power and significantly lowering their utilities expenses.

A sustainable and circular economy

Biomass gasification is a sustainable and technological strategy that turns food waste to a value-added product. It is a step along the path to a circular economy culture of zero waste.

Policy leaders and governments need to support sustainable programs by providing financial aid, subsidies and tax incentives. These programs may also encourage individuals and companies to invest in biomass gasification technologies and develop them on a commercial scale.

Biomass gasification brings cities and municipalities one step closer to putting an end to concerns about food waste. It also helps meet energy demands and displace fossil fuel use and will help us transition towards a sustainable and circular economy.

Salvador Escobedo Salas, Research Associate | Faculty of Engineering | Chemical and Biochemical Engineering Department, Western University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Complex models now gauge the impact of climate change on global food production. The results are ‘alarming’

Read the full story at Inside Climate News.

Climate change is a “threat multiplier,” making hunger emergencies worse. Advanced modeling shows that crop yields could plummet, faster than expected.

Agriculture and Pollinating Insects, No Longer a Choice but a Need: EU Agriculture’s Dependence on Pollinators in the 2007–2019 Period

Bugin, G., Lenzi, L., Ranzani, G., Barisan, L., Porrini, C., Zanella, A., & Bolzonella, C. (2022). “Agriculture and Pollinating Insects, No Longer a Choice but a Need: EU Agriculture’s Dependence on Pollinators in the 2007–2019 Period.” Sustainability 14(6), 3644.

Abstract: One of the new objectives laid out by the European Union’s Common Agriculture Policy is increasing environmental sustainability. In this paper we compare the degree of average dependence index for each member state (ADIMS) in EU28 from 2007 to 2019 in order to verify the following: (1) whether there was a difference in this index when comparing two CAP periods—(a) from 2007 to 2013 and (b) from 2014 to 2019—and (2) which crops had a larger effect on the ADIMS. The study showed no significant variation in the average ADIMS at EU level between the first (2007–2013) and second (2014–2019) CAP periods. The AIDMS index highlighted three types of EU agriculture: (1) agriculture in Eastern Europe, including Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, characterized by a high level of ADIMS (10.7–22) due to the widespread cultivation of oil crops as rapeseed and sunflower; (2) Mediterranean agriculture including Portugal, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Greece, Malta, Cyprus and France with lower AIDMS levels (5.3–10.3) given their heterogeneous crop portfolios with different degrees of dependence on animal pollination (almond, soy, rapeseed, sunflower and tomatoes) and (3) continental agriculture including Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Baltic countries, Benelux, Finland, Sweden and Ireland, which are characterized by the lowest ADIMS level (0.7–10.6) due to the widespread cultivation of cereals (anemophily and self-pollination) which increase the denominator of the index. The study suggests that a sustainable management of the agroecosystem will be possible in the future only if CAP considers pollinators’ requirements by quantifying the timing and spatial food availability from cultivated and uncultivated areas.

Leidos scientists break new ground in clean water technology

Read the company news release.

Heavy metals such as lead, mercury and arsenic have never been easy to remove from contaminated water.

However, Leidos and the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) have developed a new award-winning method based on a novel sorbent, an inexpensive sand-like material that absorbs toxins in the waterway.