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Companies are jumping aboard the federal packaging and recycling policy train

By |2021-06-18T08:34:48+01:00June 18th, 2021|

Originally published on

by at Greenbiz

Companies are jumping aboard the federal packaging and recycling policy train
Arlene Karidis
Fri, 06/18/2021 – 00:10

With an aggressive national recycling target (50 percent by 2030); a renewed White House focus on climate change; and clamor for consistent state rules around cutting trash, the federal sustainability policy train is leaving the station. And increasingly, manufacturers and other companies are jumping on board. They are talking to decision makers about a subject that few had on their radar even a few years ago: product stewardship, which calls on producers to take responsibility for what they make at the end of life. Now they want to be in on shaping whatever rules lie ahead to set a level playing field. 

With new federal bills up for review and debate, and packaging being a bull’s eye, the status of packaging and recycling policy is in flux. With no cohesive approach in plain sight for now, there’s plenty to think about. 

“Our role today is to answer the questions: What is the current landscape for proposed packaging and recycling legislation, and what are the roles of business to advance recycling?” Dylan de Thomas, vice president of external affairs for The Recycling Partnership, told a virtual crowd Tuesday at Greenbiz Group’s Circularity 21.

Businesses’ role, whatever it may become, matters as many of them already have made commitments at some level.

“We talk about companies’ goals, and companies have big goals for recycled content. But all the work must be underpinned by strong, smart policy,” de Thomas said.

Mars, maker of candies and food, has diverse packaging needs.

“We have glass, paper, plastics, rigid and flexible formats. We do not want to see this packaging released into nature. We want to get it back in the market,” said Rachel Goldstein, North America policy director for Mars.

The corporation is aiming for 100 percent reusable, recyclable and/or compostable packaging by 2025.

[Missed Circularity 21? Catch up with our coverage. ]

“We look to redesign for circularity and are looking at extended producer responsibility (EPR),” Goldstein said.

EPR is product stewardship legislation charging producers with managing and paying for end-of-life consumer products. The topic, which often goes hand-in-hand with the concept of a circular economy, weighed heavy throughout the discussion. 

“Packaging EPR momentum keeps growing,” said Sydney Harris, senior associate, policy and programs at the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI), a nonprofit that convenes its government members and industry to work toward a common EPR vision. PSI developed a packaging policy model that Harris said has informed 12 state bills.

“We support EPR to level the playing field rather than have just a few good companies trying to pull the weight for everyone. We want to make sure everyone is pitching in,” Harris said.

PSI advocates for a national approach to EPR. While there are such bills in 33 states and Washington, D.C., none exist at the federal level in the United States. That could change, stakeholders figure, as new policies and regulations evolve; one getting a lot of play is the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, which builds on state laws and calls for EPR programs and product stewardship for packaging, among waste reduction efforts.

Companies have set aggressive recycled content goals, but some see the only way to get there is to invest in recycling infrastructure — better collection and sortation.

We support EPR to level the playing field rather than have just a few good companies trying to pull the weight for everyone. We want to make sure everyone is pitching in.

“This [infrastructure] enables markets to create a more circular economy. And we see producer responsibility as a lever to make it happen,” Goldstein said.

John Campbell, vice president of government relations for beverage can manufacturer Ball Corporation, echoed that thought, and paused for a moment on the collection piece of the puzzle. He sees this as important but made clear that collection is not synonymous with recycling because what is picked up is not necessarily recycled. This reality prompted Ball to release a report on recycling with environmental consultancy Eunomia.

“We did it because we saw a gap in information that’s available. Before we can figure out how to go forward, we had to figure out where we are. The Eunomia report looks at what is incorporated into new materials, and we consider that the real recycling rate [versus what is collected],” Campbell told Circularity 21 attendees. “There is a need for reporting. We hope this [study] becomes a tool to inform policy and serves as a baseline to build on what recycling rates are and how we can affect them.”

It’s complicated because there is no one efficient way to measure recycling. The system is too disaggregated, which is a problem that affects access as well.

“You see in homes, hotels, and businesses the different level of access and of support for recovering materials,” de Thomas said.

For a cohesive, working system, he added, “You have to have bins and trucks to pick up in the first place. You need transfer stations and the right MRFs [materials recovery facilities]. There are MRF deserts where there is not enough processing capacity,” de Thomas said, and brought the issues back to lacking policy.

Harris mentioned the newly released U.S. Plastics Pact Roadmap to 2025 whose signatories — stakeholders across the plastics value chain — have committed to reaching defined targets through specific actions, to advance a circular economy for plastic packaging.

“What I appreciate about the Pact Roadmap is it includes not just goals but detailed strategy on how we get there, and that includes EPR but also deposit return systems and recycled content mandates that I think will drive investments in infrastructure. We need those policy motivators,” she said.

Consumers are moving in the direction of wanting more investment in recycling and a circular economy.

There has to be a tie in between goals and policy, agreed some panelists.

Injecting performance goals in policy adds accountability. But policy must be thought out in relation to goals to avoid unintended consequences, or to not advance one material over another, de Thomas said, commenting that the idea is to get all materials back into a circular economy. 

For Ball, all the attention around packaging is an opportunity to join new conversations, and timing is everything.

“Consumers are moving in the direction of wanting more investment in recycling and a circular economy. Engaging and participating in those conversations early is important. It’s harder to fix [policy problems] later,” Campbell said.

Harris added that the current state of affairs is an invitation to chime in and to get it right: “There are places where programs are in place and succeeding. And where they are not succeeding, we have the opportunity to improve in the U.S. It really comes down to conversation.”

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Consumers are moving in the direction of wanting more investment in recycling and a circular economy.
We support EPR to level the playing field rather than have just a few good companies trying to pull the weight for everyone. We want to make sure everyone is pitching in.

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Packaging

Circularity 21

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Recycling bin in the City of Atlanta with tag that details items to leave out

While there are Extended Producer Responsibility bills in 33 states and Washington, D.C., none exist at the federal level in the United States.

The Recycling Partnership

How will you recognize Juneteenth?

By |2021-06-18T12:32:29+01:00June 18th, 2021|

Originally published on

by at Greenbiz

How will you recognize Juneteenth?
Susan Hunt Stevens
Fri, 06/18/2021 – 00:05

Editor’s Note: The GreenBiz Group team honors Juneteenth on Friday as a time of reflection about the broader imperative to support diversity, equity and inclusion and the more specific intersection between environmental justice and sustainability. This essay originally appeared on the WeSpire blog and is republished with permission.

Opal Lee’s first march to make Juneteenth a federal holiday was around her church in Fort Worth, Texas. As she described it to NPR, “I got together some people here. We had a rally, and so after the rally, the people walked with me, and we’ve been going ever since.”

Opal Lee ended up walking all the way to Washington, D.C., in 2016. Quite the undertaking but even more inspiring because she was 90. She has continued to push Congress since. At this writing, her petition on Change.org has 1.6 million signatures. Last year, she finally saw legislation introduced, on Juneteenth, to make it a holiday. It didn’t pass then but has been reintroduced this year. (Editor’s note: Since this article was first published, both chambers of the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly have voted to establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday. President Joe Biden signed the bill into law Thursday.) 

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth celebrations began in Texas 150 years ago to commemorate the day that news of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached Galveston, nearly 2.5 years after it was issued. Texas made it a state holiday in 1980. Since then, 47 states have added it as a state holiday or observance. A growing number of companies such as Quicken Loans, Nike, Citigroup, Target and, yes, WeSpire, observe it as a paid holiday. Major banks, including JPMorgan Chase, Capital One, PNC and Fifth Third, close early.

For many who celebrate Juneteenth, it’s an opportunity to teach African-American heritage and culture. Traditions include reading the Emancipation Proclamation, singing traditional gospel songs and reading works by noted writers such as Ralph Ellison and Maya Angelou. Barbecue and soul food anchor many a celebration and red food and drinks are served, a symbol of ingenuity and resilience in bondage.

We need to be aware that we can do so much more together than being apart.

For Lee, commemorating the holiday means more than recognizing a historical moment. It’s about embracing unity and equity more boldly as a nation. She points out in her petition that slaves didn’t free themselves and that they had help from allies — politicians, abolitionists, soldiers and others who gave their lives for freedom of the enslaved.

“We need to be aware that we can do so much more together than being apart,” Lee told CNN. “We can pull our resources (together), learn from each other, and make the world a better place to live.”

Continuing to strive for equity, unity and justice

It is that sentiment that ultimately drove our decision to celebrate Juneteenth at WeSpire. We need as leaders to acknowledge that the work of emancipation is still not done: not in our companies, our cities or our nation.

We must actively do more, every day, to bring about racial equity, unity and justice. It starts by increasing awareness and education, but ultimately it requires changing our behaviors. How we hire and promote. How we treat people in meetings. Who we choose to mentor and sponsor. Who we sit with at lunch and include in the casual, informal after-work events. And take it from someone who knows a lot about behavior change: This work is hard.

But it’s arguably the most important work we can be doing. Inclusive, equitable businesses are better, stronger businesses. Inclusive equitable communities are better, stronger communities. And inclusive, equitable nations are ultimately better, stronger nations.

By taking a day to honor and celebrate when we did the right thing as a nation, we also will have an opportunity to reflect, and recommit to fixing, all that we still haven’t gotten right. So if you haven’t asked your company or school to make Juneteenth a holiday, go ask. If you’ve never celebrated it, start. The promise of emancipation may have started in 1863, but it’s up to us to see it through.

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We need to be aware that we can do so much more together than being apart.

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Racial Justice

Diversity and Inclusion

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Juneteenth celebration and protest in 2020

A young protester and celebrant of Juneteenth holds a sign that reads “I am my ancestors’ wildest dream” at Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C.

Allison C. Bailey

ehsAI

By |2021-06-17T22:37:39+01:00June 17th, 2021|

Originally published on

by at Greenbiz

ehsAI
taylor flores
Thu, 06/17/2021 – 14:08

ehsAI offers a unique AI and Machine Learning-enabled solution on a multilingual platform to address compliance on a global scale. The technology deconstructs, analyzes, interprets, and converts complex EHS regulations, permits, and legal documents into actionable compliance requirements within minutes, rather than days or weeks as with traditional manual processes. ehsAI is based in Vancouver, British Columbia. We are a women-led organization, a member of Women in AI, and are aligned with the Global Goals for Sustainable Development to combat climate change and promote sustainable industrialization.

ehsai_logo

Breaking the cycle with upcycled food

By |2021-06-17T12:37:37+01:00June 16th, 2021|

Originally published on

by at Greenbiz

Breaking the cycle with upcycled food
Jesse Klein
Wed, 06/16/2021 – 03:45

Soon — just as the plastic milk gallon in the dairy aisle and the beer can in the alcohol section have the three arrows signaling the packaging is recyclable — food products at grocery stores will have a new label to indicate the product is made with upcycled ingredients. 

Upcycling takes byproducts of a process — in this case, food production — that normally would be considered trash and incorporates them into new products for consumption. On the eve of the Upcycled Food Association’s (UFA) launch of a certification and packaging label for upcycled products, Alesha Hartley, certification manager of the Upcycled Food Association, and four member companies talked about the challenges facing the upcycled food world at GreenBiz Group’s Circularity 21 conference. 

Matriark Foods takes remnants of fresh fruits and vegetables from farms, and creates vegetable broths and purees for schools, hospitals and food banks. But the hardest part for the company wasn’t the food, it was the paperwork. 

“I think if we knew how complicated that would have been before we started, maybe we would have given up before we even started,” said Anna Hammond, founder and CEO of Matriark. “But compliance is huge.”

Food safety is an essential part of any food business, but with upcycled food, it’s even more of a hurdle. According to Hammond, her company had to invent some processes to become compliant because upcycling is such a new sector of the food industry. 

“It’s just part of the process of starting a new movement in food and changing the food system at any kind of impactful scale also [requires] figuring out that level of detail,” she said.

Interested in more on the Circular Economy? Subscribe to our Circularity Weekly newsletter, sent Fridays.

The new certification from UFA is a step toward making the process easier and more streamlined for future businesses. 

“Having the standard that was defined and is now being certified against adds a whole other layer of trust and transparency,” said Dan Kurzrock, co-founder and chief grain officer at Regrained, a platform that connects grain and malt byproducts from brewers to bakeries that use it in bread loaves, nutritional bars and other food products. “You can create a more unified voice for the upcycled food companies to ultimately convey the message of upcycle food and why it’s important.”

For Sheetal Bahirat, founder and CEO of Hidden Gems Beverage Company, the COVID-19 pandemic created upheaval in her upcycling business. The company creates an antioxidant-rich drink, Reveal, from avocado seeds it rescues from five Mexican restaurants. She and her team collect 400 pounds of avocado seeds a week by physically going to the restaurants every other day to pick them up. Bahirat and her company take the avocado seeds that would have cost the restaurants 8 cents per pound to remove and creates a beverage for them then sell on their menus.

“It’s literally putting money back into their pockets,” she said.

Over the next couple years, it’s going to be interesting to see how those plans and layouts are going to change as they have sustainability in mind.

Pre-pandemic, her team previously could have gone into facilities to adjust operations where avocados ended up in the trash to ones where restaurant employees save, wash and freeze the pits and create a process tailored to each store. But now that education had to be conducted without ever being in the same physical space and without seeing the kitchen set up or trash operation. 

According to Bahirat, most food facilities and manufacturers are set up for maximum efficiency without caring about how much gets wasted. How Hidden Gems works with restaurants is a small step towards shifting the focus of those ingrained systems.

“Over the next couple years, it’s going to be interesting to see how those plans and layouts are going to change as they have sustainability in mind,” she said.

Alex Waite is looking towards educating consumers to take her upcycled pet food business to the next level. Her company, Shameless Pets, creates dog treats from leftover veggies, fruits and even some products inedible or undesirable to humans such as salmon skin and eggshells. 

“One of our bigger challenges is really helping people understand what upcycling is,” she said. “I think the perception around upcycling can sometimes be gross. And we’re fighting that battle to really help people understand what it actually means and how that translates into food safety.” 

“We don’t want to yuck the yum,” Kurzrock added. 

[Missed Circularity 21? Catch up with our coverage. ]

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Over the next couple years, it’s going to be interesting to see how those plans and layouts are going to change as they have sustainability in mind.

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Food Waste

Circularity 21

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Grain from a brewery

ReGrained upcycles leftover grain from breweries to cooks creating baked goods. 

Can Bumble Bee and Nestlé hook the world on fishless fish?

By |2021-06-18T11:31:20+01:00June 8th, 2021|

Originally published on

by at Greenbiz

Can Bumble Bee and Nestlé hook the world on fishless fish?
Elsa Wenzel
Tue, 06/08/2021 – 02:12

Put down that beet-juice burger. The next big wave in plant-based protein is fake fish.

Buoyed by the success of red-meat mimics from the likes of Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, a growing number of companies is angling to capture their share of the early market for animal-free seafood.

Large companies including Bumble Bee, Nestlé, Tyson, General Mills and Thai Union are making various plays, whether by investing in upstarts or flexing their research and development muscles to formulate new products.

The startup space is buoyant with cash and targeting a blend of retail, direct-to-consumer and food service channels, playing with ingredients such as kelp, koji and mung beans. Plant-based and cultivated seafood companies raised $80 million in 2020, according to the nonprofit Good Food Institute (GFI), which counts 800 companies involved in the space. Overall, businesses creating all sorts of meat alternatives raised $3.1 billion last year, more than three times the level of 2019. Alternative meat, dairy and egg products make up more than half of that, at $2.1 billion.

Plant-based seafood only accounts for 1 percent of alt-meat sales, compared with 60 percent for beef, poultry and pork analogs, according to data from GFI and retail insights firm SPINS. Yet GFI has positioned the market for fake fish to become bigger, or at least more diverse, than those for beef and poultry alternatives.

The nonprofit has named the threatened collapse of fisheries and unmet demand for seafood alternatives as important factors. By 2030, it expects demand for seafood to be 30 percent higher than 2010 levels. Plus, the tens of thousands of edible creatures in the oceans offer a broader palette of flavors and textures to imitate compared with land mammals or fowl.

This is not lab grown meat; we actually use ancient techniques to make modern foods.

Plant-based seafoods are spawning in the freezers and aisles of mainstream stores. Gathered Foods’ Good Catch “tuna” is in a number of outlets, including Publix and Whole Foods. Trader Joe’s plans to stock alt-seafood, too.

The pitch

Acceptance of plant-based proteins has grown quickly in recent years as consumer sentiment has been shifting away from meat. Unlike the early days of tofu and tempeh, today’s alt-proteins are designed to please flexitarians and omnivores, not just to fill a gap for vegetarians or vegans.

Plus, the touted sustainability benefits to deriving seafood-like ingredients from plants include reducing the reliance on open-sea fishing and fish farming, not to mention sidestepping the labor abuses found in seafood supply chains.

Seafood stand-ins not only promise a low carbon footprint, but they also seek to serve people with dietary restrictions. For example, kelp-based “shrimp” is kosher and won’t trigger a life-threatening shellfish allergy. If the sourcing is done carefully, fake fish also should be devoid of the mercury and microplastics that can stem from ocean plastic pollution.

Here in random order are several key companies making waves in alt-seafood:

Nestlé

Nestlé has the advantage of already employing 300 scientists, engineers and product developers spread across eight research and development centers. The food juggernaut’s alt-seafood explorations are being made by Nestlé Research in Switzerland and in Germany and the United States under the leadership of CEO Mark Schneider, a vocal proponent of the sustainability potential of plant-based nutrition.

Nestle plant-based tuna, released in 2020 in Switzerland.

Nestlé often describes plant-based food as part of its DNA; in 1886 founder Julius Maggi developed soups with a “meaty,” plant-based seasoning. The company’s Coffeemate non-dairy creamer, born in 1961, is complemented today by non-dairy almond, oat, coconut, soy and rice milk. Nestlé’s Garden Gourmet veggie burgers are well established in supermarkets, as are its vegetable-based sausages, chicken nuggets and lunch meats. The company’s sales of vegetarian and plant-based items grew by more than $222 million in 2019 and leaped by 40 percent in the first half of 2020.

“In general, there is a lot of dynamism and innovation in this sector, and that is a good thing,” said Torsten Pohl, head of the Nestlé Product Technology Center in Singen, Germany, via email.

He credited Nestlé’s scale, size and proprietary technologies with accelerating the development of plant-based, jarred tuna in a matter of nine months, leading to the release of the six-ingredient, pea-protein-centered “fish” last year in Switzerland. Nestlé scientists, chefs and technologists prototyped and tested the new products in retail outlets, producing early commercial batches in its R&D centers.

Defining success for me is when I can sit down in a restaurant and order our product off the menu.

“We want to offer people the best plant-based meat alternatives in terms of taste, texture, flavor and nutrition,” Pohl said. “To complement our internal capabilities, we also strategically collaborate with researchers, suppliers, startups and various other innovation partners.”

Nestlé cites the sustainability benefits of reducing overfishing and protecting ocean biodiversity as motivators of these projects. Following its tuna substitute, the company plans to release imitation shellfish and other fish next.

New Wave Foods

Shellfish are the specialty of New Wave Foods, which Tyson Ventures, chicken giant Tyson’s VC arm, backed in 2019. The startup completed a Series A $18 million funding round late last year.

The San Francisco-based startup is making mungbean and seaweed-based shrimp that’s supposed to have the “snap” and succulence of the real thing and can be dropped into any hot or cold shrimp recipe.

“2021 is the year of the shrimp,” said Michelle Wolf, co-founder of New Wave Foods, which is doubling its staff of 15 people by the end of the year and moving its Connecticut R&D kitchen to New York. “And that’s what we’re really focused on is just blowing out our shrimp product over the next year and delivering that movement.”

A main New Wave Foods ingredient is moisture-absorbent alginate, derived from brown kelp and used in biomedical applications including hydrogel for wounds. New Wave blends it with mungbeans. To recreate the colors and textures of shrimp, the team consulted with Brad Barnes, a certified master chef and director of consulting at the Culinary Institute of America. The product is kosher and doesn’t trigger problems for people who can’t eat soy or gluten either, according to New Wave.

In March, the company inked a deal with Dot Foods, one of the nation’s largest food distributors, aimed toward rolling out New Wave-branded shrimp on the menus of foodservice institutions and restaurants, which make up the vast majority of the market for shrimp. Wolf believes the disruption of the pandemic has caused consumers to embrace plant-based foods partly as a way to address climate change on a personal level. To reach young adult flexitarians, college campus dining is a special target for New Wave, in addition to corporate dining and independent chains that have weathered COVID well.

Market research in April by Fact.MR projected “shrimp” to be the most popular product in alternative seafood.

“We saw a huge opportunity with shrimp because it is by and far the most consumed seafood in the United States, but it is also the poster child for a lot of issues in our seafood supply chain,” said Wolf, who moved to San Francisco from Pittsburgh following a master’s in biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon, seeking to join a plant-based meat startup. Instead, she co-founded her own venture. 

Depending on who’s counting, about half of shrimp is farmed, which in Southeast Asia has been wiping out coast-protecting mangrove trees. Shrimp is responsible for four times as many greenhouse gas emissions as the same amount of steak by weight, according to a study by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in 2017. (It described the carbon footprint of a steak and shrimp cocktail dinner as equivalent to driving from Los Angeles to New York City.)

In general, there is a lot of dynamism and innovation in this sector, and that is a good thing.

Seaweed, on the other hand, which makes up New Wave’s shrimp-mimic, sequesters carbon and reduces ocean acidification. Wolf hopes that spurring demand for plant-derived shrimp will have upstream effects, such as boosting beneficial ocean-based agriculture while reducing demand for farmed shrimp.

“Defining success for me … it’s when I can sit down in a restaurant — which is going to be sooner rather than later — and order our product off the menu and text my family back in Pittsburgh and say, ‘Hey, you know, go to so-and-so and get the shrimp,'” she said. “That’s going to be the moment for me where like, wow, we’ve really done something here.”

Prime Roots

The mission-driven, direct-to-consumer brand Prime Roots is seeking to open the hearts and minds of consumers while helping to reduce the market for animal-based products. “Bacon” was an early offering, and “lobster” ravioli is its latest. Its fermented “superprotein” koji is the key ingredient. Koji mold, the fungus Aspergillus oryzae, has been core to savory foods for millennia throughout Asia.

Koji can be tinkered with fairly easily to replicate the texture of muscle fibers of various creatures. Additional ingredients are added to bump up nutrition and finetune the mouthfeel. From Prime Roots’ R&D kitchen in west Berkeley, California, the five-year-old company grows koji in a nutrient-rich broth in a process similar to brewing beer.

Prime Roots' koji-based ravioli. A gluten-free version is being formulated.

“This is not lab-grown meat; we actually use ancient techniques to make modern foods,” said Kimberlie Le, the company’s co-founder and CEO. “I wouldn’t have even thought to look at koji as a source of protein if I hadn’t started to learn about fermentation when I was like 4 or 5 years old with my mom.” Her mother, Chi Le, is a well-known chef who appeared on the show MasterChef Vietnam.

With a staff of 25, Prime Roots is small but Kimberlie Le believes its proprietary koji brewing can scale up fairly easily. Pound per pound of protein, its processes are far more resource-efficient than harvesting meat from animals, the company estimated.

“We really hope that people will support that and see that there’s a better way of eating and making protein and that we’re fundamentally rethinking our system,” Le said. “We’re really excited to be able to be there for our community online and really get to go from farm to table, essentially, which is something that’s important, to connect people to their food and where it comes from.”

Gathered Foods’ Good Catch

Good Catch is becoming the most visible fish-free consumer brand in the frozen aisles, where its bags of shelf-stable “tuna” already appear. The company uses a “six-legume” blend of peas, chickpeas, lentils, soy, fava beans and navy beans.

In May, its maker, central Ohio-based Gathered Foods, released a line of $6 frozen fish sticks to be sold in Safeway and other supermarkets, following an April Series B funding round of $26.4 million. Good Catch is in 5,000 U.S. and Canadian stores, and its plant-based tuna salad is bound for 200 Whole Foods prepared food counters.

The irreverent Gathered Foods co-founders, brothers Derek and Chad Sarno, have corporate roots at Whole Foods. The self-described “culinary ninjas” also launched the Wicked Healthy plant-based community, and Chad continues to lead plant-based developments as an executive at Tesco.

Gathered Foods has attracted funding from celebrities Woody Harrelson and Paris Hilton, and early in 2020 pulled in an investment from General Mills’ venture branch, 301 Inc, an early backer of Impossible Foods. 301 Inc’s founder and managing director John Haugen told GreenBiz that seafood is “another compelling proposition that meets the needs of consumers today.”

Among its other big-name supporters, Gathered Foods has a distribution partnership with tuna titan Bumble Bee. 

Bumble Bee

Founded in 1899, Bumble Bee claims 28 percent of the market for shelf-stable seafood including tuna, salmon and sardines. It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2019, a move industry observers blamed not just on a price-fixing scandal but on a lack of innovation. Taiwan-based seafood trader FCF now owns Bumble Bee.

At the same time, consumers had been turning away from canned tuna, especially the millennials and members of Generation Z, known to circle the fresh and chilled items that tend to ring the perimeter of a grocery store. Packaged tuna sales in general, lackluster for years, enjoyed a temporary lift during the early months of the pandemic.

I honestly thought I was eating conventional shrimp when I took a bite of it.

Those events and trends sent Bumble Bee on a process of soul searching, which led to redefining its purpose as “feeding people’s lives through the power of the ocean.” Beyond fish, the San Diego-based company is casting a wide net by considering ingredients derived from plants and algae, from fermentation and from cell-based or cultivated methods, too.

Bumble Bee points out that it’s the first shelf-stable seafood name to support regenerative practices for the ocean, as well as the first to offer a tuna traceability tool to its customers and to use blockchain technology to trace its frozen seafood’s origins.

“With all of that, it became very natural to start talking to a company like Good Catch,” said Renee Junge, Bumble Bee’s communications vice president. The tuna giant and the alt-food startup signed a distribution agreement in March 2020, the first relationship of its kind between a major national seafood brand and a plant-based one.

Bumble Bee sells some tuna in pouches rather than cans.

The two CEOs — Jan Tharp of Bumble Bee and Christine Mei of Gathered Foods — speak on a weekly basis. Bumble Bee brings its expertise in sales, orders, logistics and warehousing together with Good Catch’s expertise in innovation and production. Through investing in systems and resources, the tuna maker gets a cut of Good Catch’s sales. Bumble Bee describes this joint alignment as reflecting the companies’ shared values of protecting the ocean via alternative food sources.

“That said, our two companies do have different histories, origin stories, business approaches and cultures,” said Tharp, who also serves on Gathered Foods’ board, via email. “There is a great deal that we can learn from Good Catch; their entrepreneurial and culinary approaches are something we are trying to incorporate into our practices. On the other side, we have systems and processes that are tried and true, which can help Good Catch with efficiencies and scalability. These types of partnerships are not easy, but they are fruitful and essential.”

Other alt-fish players

Alternative proteins are a big focus for the future of another tuna giant. Thai Union in March began selling its OMG Meat products in Thailand, including meat-free crab meat, fish nuggets and dim sum. The Chicken of the Sea seller is working on “shrimp” as well.

The tiny Van Cleve Seafood Co. in October began marketing crunchy coconut “shrimp” in Publix’s GreenWise grocery stores. From the Netherlands, Schouten is exploring alt-tuna with its wheat and soy-based TuNo, and it plans to follow with salmon-like and cod-like products. The private company has been producing plant-based proteins since the 1990s.

An ad for Thai Union's new OMG Meat.

Meanwhile, lab-grown fish is taking off. Out of San Diego, startup Blue Nalu hopes to bring its cultured mahi-mahi to U.S. plates this year. It reeled in $60 million in debt financing in January. Its partnerships with larger companies include Nutreco, Griffith Foods, Pulmuone, Rich Products and Thai Union Group. Blue Nalu is building a demonstration kitchen with a microbrewery-style restaurant, reportedly able to grow analogs to red snapper, yellowtail amberjack and bluefin tuna.

What’s next?

This is just a sampling of the organizations exploring the seafood-analog realm. It’s possible that pioneers in alternative proteins, such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, will break their silence with offerings in this area as well.

Jen Lamy, senior manager of GFI’s Sustainable Seafood Initiative, is excited to see big-name companies getting involved here and hopes others will dive in. What’s the business benefit?

“There’s a lot to be gained from companies in this space that pertains also to the efficiency and the ease of the production system compared to relying on a supply of, for example, wild capture fish from the ocean,” she said. “There are all of these reasons coming together at the same time that will, hopefully drive a lot of the companies into the space.”

I’m hoping we’ll see a lot of other companies really focused on taste above everything else because that’s what consumers need to need to experience before anything else.

Business-to-business activities could accelerate innovations, she added. For instance, companies could open-source their technologies for seafood textures or flavor profiles, she noted. “There’s not sort of one code that everyone is trying to crack,” Lamy said. “Because there are so many differences between the companies, they’re all using either certain ingredients or going for different products or going for different markets.”

Consumers have been interested in supporting ocean sustainability for a long time, buying Marine Stewardship Council-certified fish or buying from local fishmongers, but the options for acting on those values haven’t been clear in the past, Lamy said. Not only do plant-based options provide a clearer sustainability story, but the rise of sustainability labeling for them will help to boost consumer confidence.

An additional selling point for seafood stand-ins is their nutritional benefits, as chefs seek to right the wrongs of their predecessor, the low-protein, additive-packed crabstick, industrialized since the 1970s. (Its main ingredient is blended-up fish product called surimi, which has been used in Japan for about 800 years.)

A key challenge to winning over consumers is in delivering a seafood aroma that’s not intensely fishy, Lamy noted. Among the early offerings she has tasted, the coconut “shrimp” from family-owned Van Cleve Seafood stood out.

“It was pretty impressive to me; I honestly thought I was eating conventional shrimp when I took a bite of it,” she said. “I’m hoping we’ll see a lot of other companies really focused on taste above everything else, because that’s what consumers need to experience before anything else.”

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This is not lab grown meat; we actually use ancient techniques to make modern foods.
Defining success for me is when I can sit down in a restaurant and order our product off the menu.
In general, there is a lot of dynamism and innovation in this sector, and that is a good thing.
I honestly thought I was eating conventional shrimp when I took a bite of it.
I’m hoping we’ll see a lot of other companies really focused on taste above everything else because that’s what consumers need to need to experience before anything else.
There’s a lot to be gained from companies in this space that pertains also to the efficiency and the ease of the production system.

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7 days in May: The climate finance week when everything changed

By |2021-06-18T10:33:21+01:00May 25th, 2021|

Originally published on

by at Greenbiz

7 days in May: The climate finance week when everything changed
Joel Makower
Tue, 05/25/2021 – 02:11

Last week may be seen as the pivotal moment when climate change finally got serious.

I’m not talking about the anticipated rise of wildfires, droughts, floods and other natural disasters, although we’re bracing for the worst of what Mother Nature will throw at us this year. I’m not necessarily talking about any breakthroughs in the U.N. process, although those may be forthcoming in the run-up to COP26 in November. And I’m not even talking about the onrush of net-zero commitments by companies, government and others, although they seem to be happening at an almost-daily clip — so much so that they are no longer news.

I’m talking about markets, plain and simple.

Consider these stories from the past week:

“Carbon is now a buzzword on corporate earnings calls,” reported the Financial Times. Corporate execs are uttering the word “carbon” on earnings calls at a “rapidly rising rate, triple over the past three years, to about 1,600 per quarter,” the FT said. It cited data from global finance firm UBS that investing in a portfolio of companies with lower emissions intensity — the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of revenue — led to annual returns 1 percentage point higher than the MSCI World index of developed market stocks.

It’s important to recognize key moments and milestones that foretell a potentially positive outcome. Last week was one of those moments.

“Green finance goes mainstream, lining up trillions behind global energy transition,” read a headline this weekend in the Wall Street Journal. Assets in investment funds focused partly on the environment reached almost $2 trillion globally in the first quarter of 2021, it said, more than tripling in three years. Investors are putting $3 billion a day into these funds, and more than $5 billion worth of bonds and loans designed to fund green initiatives are issued — every day.

“Banks always backed fossil fuels over green projects — until this year,” reported Bloomberg. It noted that banks have poured more than $3.6 trillion into fossil fuel projects — almost three times more than total bonds and loans backing green projects since COP21 in 2015. However, data covering nearly 140 financial-service institutions worldwide found at least $203 billion in bonds and loans going to renewable energy projects and other climate-friendly ventures through mid-May, compared with $189 billion for fossil-fuel projects.

Carrots and sticks

So, why is the financial world going gaga over green? Simply put, it boils down to carrots and sticks.

First, the sticks. Obviously, climate. Last week, the International Energy Agency (IEA) made official what even casual students of the climate crisis have long known: To have any chance of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, investors must stop funding new oil, gas and coal projects — immediately. Those investors already are well aware that as the impacts of a changing climate grow, the increased volatility and uncertainty will roil markets. They’re aligning a sizable chunk of their investments with that reality.

Within 48 hours of the IEA report, the G7 countries vowed to stop new financing for overseas coal projects and to make “accelerated efforts” to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C relative to pre-industrial times, the first time the seven powerful nations have come together with a public statement about 1.5 degrees.

A day later, President Joe Biden issued an executive order that, among other things, “encourages” the Treasury Secretary to assess climate-related financial risk to the stability of the federal government and the stability of the U.S. financial system. It also directed the Labor Secretary to “consider suspending, revising or rescinding any rules from the prior administration that would have barred investment firms from considering environmental, social and governance factors, including climate-related risks, in their investment decisions related to workers’ pensions.”

The fossil-fuel industry just may be seeing the writing on the wall. “The eventual death of oil and thermal coal won’t come from environmentalists or even directly from renewable energy — it will come when big banks decide to stop financing it, rendering it ‘unbankable,'” wrote the influential petroleum industry website OilPrice.com, in response to the report.

The carrots? Simply put, the economics, viability and risk profile of renewables keep getting better and better. A report released last month by the U.K. think tank Carbon Tracker found that with current technology and in a subset of available locations, we can capture at least 6,700 petawatt-hours annually from solar and wind, more than 100 times global energy demand. (For reference, a petawatt-hour is equal to 1 million megawatt-hours.)

As Forbes noted in its coverage of the report: “Renewables could kill off fossil fuel electricity by 2035.”

Wow. Just wow.

Add to all that the seemingly rapid transition to electric vehicles; the growing push to electrify buildings, homes and factories; the increasing viability of alternatives to energy-intensive concrete and steel; and the rise of the circular economy. What a remarkable moment we’re in.

Of course, there’s no end of work to be done. The rise of deforestation, the health of the oceans, the quickening loss of biodiversity, the potentially game-changing climate feedback loops — any one of them could be devastating to human well-being.

All of these have significant business implications. And companies — both customers and suppliers of the products and services connected to these issues — will find themselves in the crosshairs of investors, activists, regulators and other influencers and changemakers. Expect a new wave of campaigns, demonstrations, boycotts, investor pressure and other tools of the trade.

A thought experiment: As the fossil fuel companies turn tail, who will become the next villains?

For now, let’s stop and appreciate where we are and how far we’ve come. Progress all too often feels slow and incremental, largely because it is. But it’s important to recognize key moments and milestones that foretell a potentially positive outcome.

Last week was one of those moments. And from here, there’s simply no turning back.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter, subscribe to my Monday morning newsletter, GreenBuzz, from which this was reprinted, and listen to GreenBiz 350, my weekly podcast, co-hosted with Heather Clancy.

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It’s important to recognize key moments and milestones that foretell a potentially positive outcome. Last week was one of those moments.

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Celebrating Earth Day 2021 !

By |2021-04-23T14:27:06+01:00April 21st, 2021|

The theme for Earth Day 2021 is ‘Restore Our Earth’, urging everyone to focus on how we can both reduce our impact on the planet and actively repair ecosystems.

EARTHDAY.ORG™ works in countries around the world to drive meaningful action for our planet across:

  • Food & Environment: Simply put, the event’s organisers want you to combat climate change by changing your diet – better known as reducing your “foodprint.” While we should all be working to reduce our foodprints, there are several factors to consider, such as access, availability, health, and sustainability.

  • Climate Literacy: Climate and environmental awareness, when combined with civic education, is expected to create jobs, develop a green consumer market, and enable people to meaningfully engage with their governments in the fight against climate change, according to Earth Day organisers. They believe that climate and environmental education should be mandatory, measured, and include a strong civic participation aspect in every school around the world.
  • The Canopy Project: By planting trees all over the world, this initiative aims to enhance our common climate. Since 2010, Earth Day organisers have worked with global partners to plant tens of millions of trees with The Canopy Project, reforesting areas in desperate need of rehabilitation.

  • The Great Global Clean Up: Did you know that unregulated burning of household waste causes 270,000 premature deaths per year, and that 2 billion people lack access to waste collection services? It’s also reported that 79 percent of all plastics ever made have ended up in landfills or the natural environment.

  • Global Earth Challenge: Begun in April 2020 and aims to involve millions of people by incorporating billions of data points from new and ongoing citizen science initiatives. Essentially, the Global Earth Challenge aims to become the world’s largest organised citizen science initiative by creating a new mobile app that allows public volunteers to contribute to scientific research.

This year’s focus is on assisting local communities, with a particular emphasis on areas that are disproportionately impacted by environmental concerns. Many who live on the front lines of environmental disasters don’t always have the money to repair the damage.

DONATE TO EARTHDAY.ORG™ HERE ! DONATE

 

Nine-year-old is first UK person to have air pollution listed on death certificate

By |2021-04-21T21:41:01+01:00April 21st, 2021|

The Government has been urged to set much tougher legally binding pollution targets by the coroner in an inquest into a nine-year-old girl who died of a fatal asthma attack after being exposed to toxic air.

Philip Barlow, assistant coroner for Inner South London, ruled in a landmark second inquest last year that air pollution contributed to the death of nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah from an asthma attack.

In a report to prevent future deaths, he said legally binding targets for particulate matter in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines would reduce the number of deaths from air pollution in the UK and the Government should take action to address the issue.

The WHO limit is 10 micrograms of tiny “particulate” matter per cubic metre – and if the UK were to introduce such a limit about 15 million people would be living in areas with illegally high levels of pollution.The current UK – and EU – limit is 25 micrograms per cubic metre, which far exceeds the level of air pollution any part of the country, yet air pollution is responsible for an estimated 36,000 early deaths a year.

Mr Barlow also said greater public awareness of air pollution information would help individuals reduce their personal exposure.

And he warned the adverse effects of pollutants were not being sufficiently communicated to patients and their carers by medical staff

Responding to the report, Ella’s mother Rosamund Kissi-Debrah called on the Government to act on the recommendations in the coroner’s report, warning “children are dying unnecessarily because the Government is not doing enough to combat air pollution”.

Ella was the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as the cause of death on their death certificate, following the inquest ruling by Mr Barlow last December.

She lived 25 metres from the South Circular Road in Lewisham, south-east London – one of the capital’s busiest roads.

Ella Kissi-Debra named as the first person to die of air pollution in the UK

Ella Kissi-Debrah

She died in February 2013, having endured numerous seizures and made almost 30 hospital visits over the previous three years.

A previous inquest ruling from 2014, which concluded Ella died of acute respiratory failure, was quashed by the High Court following new evidence about the dangerous levels of air pollution close to her home.

In his report following the second inquest, published this morning, Mr Barlow said national limits for particulate matter – a dangerous form of air pollutant – were set far higher than WHO guidelines.

“The evidence at the inquest was that there is no safe level for particulate matter and that the WHO guidelines should be seen as minimum requirements.

“Legally binding targets based on WHO guidelines would reduce the number of deaths from air pollution in the UK,” the report said.

He said Government departments for environment, health and transport should address the issue, while local and national governments should address the lack of public awareness about pollution information.

Health bodies and professional organisations needed to tackle the failure by doctors and nurses to communicate the adverse effects of air pollution on health to patients, he said.

Ms Kissi-Debrah said she would be contacting Environment Secretary George Eustice to urge him to put the WHO pollution guidelines into law in the Environment Bill and achieve them in the shortest possible time.

She also said there needed to be improved public information about the levels of pollution that people are exposed to and the health risks.

“As the parent of a child suffering from severe asthma, I should have been given this information but this did not happen.

“Because of a lack of information I did not take the steps to reduce Ella’s exposure to air pollution that might have saved her life. I will always live with this regret.

“But it is not too late for other children.”

And she said: “I invite the Government to act now to reduce air pollution. Immediately. Not in eighteen months, not in five years – that’s not fast enough.

“People are dying from air pollution each year. Action needs to be taken now or more people will simply continue to die.”

A Government spokesman said: “Our thoughts continue to be with Ella’s family and friends.”

The spokesman added that the Government is delivering a £3.8bn plan to clean up transport and tackle nitrogen pollution, and going further in protecting communities from air pollution, particularly particulate matter known as PM2.5.

“Through our landmark Environment Bill, we are also setting ambitious new air quality targets, with a focus on reducing public health impacts.

“We will carefully consider the recommendations in the report and respond in due course.”

As reported by By Tom Bawden, Science & Environment Correspondent, inews.co.uk

April 21, 2021 11:24 am

Collaborating with the ocean is essential to addressing climate change and environmental justice

By |2021-06-21T00:29:18+01:00November 10th, 2020|

Originally published on

by at Greenbiz

Collaborating with the ocean is essential to addressing climate change and environmental justice

“The potential for the “blue economy” — one that combines more thoughtful stewardship of the ocean’s resources and economic opportunity with a more pragmatic, respectful approach to protecting coastal ecosystems — is vast. But with more than $1.5 trillion in annual economic value linked to ocean-based activities, the time is right to place the world’s seas at the center of a climate-centric post-pandemic recovery. This discussion will center on the role ocean solutions can play in addressing both climate change and systemic environmental justice issues.

This session was held at GreenBiz Group’s VERGE 20, October 26-30, 2020. Learn more about the event here: https://events.greenbiz.com/events/ve…

 

Watch our other must-see talks here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwW3…

 

OUR LINKS Website: https://www.greenbiz.com/

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LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/gree…

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YanniGuo
Mon, 11/09/2020 – 17:01

Super-enzyme breaks down plastic bottles in ‘a matter of days’

By |2021-04-23T14:32:49+01:00September 29th, 2020|

From BBC Science Focus Magazine:

Professor John McGeehan, director of the Centre for Enzyme Innovation (CEI) at the University of Portsmouth

Professor John McGeehan at work

The enhanced protein is made up of two enzymes produced by a type of bacteria that feeds on plastic bottles.

A so-called “super-enzyme” that eats plastic could be “a significant leap forward” in finding solutions to tackle the pollution crisis, scientists hope.

The enhanced protein is made up of two enzymes produced by a type of bacteria that feeds on plastic bottles, known as Ideonella sakaiensis.

Professor John McGeehan, director of the Centre for Enzyme Innovation (CEI) at the University of Portsmouth, said that unlike natural degradation, which can take hundreds of years, the super-enzyme is able to convert the plastic back to its original materials, or building blocks, in just a few days.

“Currently, we get those building blocks from fossil resources such as oil and gas, which is really unsustainable,” he said. “But if we can add enzymes to the waste plastic, we can start to break it down in a matter of days.”

He said the process would also allow plastics to be “made and reused endlessly, reducing our reliance on fossil resources”.

In 2018, Prof McGeehan and his team accidentally discovered that an engineered version of one of the enzymes, known as PETase, was able to break down plastic in a matter of days.

As part of their current study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team mixed PETase with the second enzyme, called MHETase, and found “the digestion of the plastic bottles literally doubled”. The researchers then connected the two enzymes together in the lab, like “two Pac-men joined by a piece of string”, using genetic engineering.

The super enzyme, which is two proteins joined together © Aaron McGeehan/Knott et al

“This allowed us to create a super-enzyme six times faster than the original PETase enzyme alone. This is quite a significant leap forward because the plastic that ends up in our oceans today is going to take hundreds of years to break down naturally,” Prof McGeehan said.

“[Eventually] through sunlight and wave action, it will start to break down into smaller and smaller pieces – and we will end up with microplastics, which is a serious problem for the organisms that live in the environment.”

Tests showed that this super-enzyme was able to break down a type of plastic used in soft drinks and fruit juice packaging, known as PET (polyethylene terephthalate). Although it is said to be highly recyclable, discarded PET persists for hundreds of years in the environment before it degrades.

Aside from PET, the super-enzyme also works on PEF (polyethylene furanoate), a sugar-based bioplastic used in beer bottles. However, Prof McGeehan said it is unable to break down other types of plastic.

Working with US colleagues, Prof McGeehan used intense X-ray beams at the Diamond Light Source synchrotron facility in Harwell, Oxfordshire, to map 3D structures of the enzymes. These molecular blueprints allowed the researchers to create the super-enzyme with an enhanced ability to attack plastic.

As part of the next steps, the researchers are looking at ways to even further speed up the break-down process, so the technology can be used for commercial purposes.

“The faster we can make the enzymes, the quicker we can break down the plastic, and the more commercially viable it will be,” Prof McGeehan said. “Oil is very cheap so we need to compete with that by having a very cheap recycling process.”

Reader Q&A: Why are some plastics recyclable and others are not?

Most of the plastics we use are either thermoplastic or thermosetting.

Thermoplastics include acrylics, nylon and polyethylene (polythene). As you heat them up they get soft, so they can be shaped into any form you like, which also makes them easy to recycle. Milk containers can be melted and reformed into furniture, plastic water bottles become fleece jackets, and hard bottle tops can get a new lease of life as storage boxes.

Thermosetting plastics, like Bakelite or polyurethane, are different because they harden as you heat them. Once they have set, you can’t melt them. This makes thermosetting plastics almost impossible to recycle.

Global climate goals ‘virtually impossible’ without carbon capture – IEA

By |2021-04-23T14:39:07+01:00September 28th, 2020|

capturing CO2 cartoon

Up to $160 billion needs to be invested in the technology by 2030, a ten-fold increase from the previous decade, it added. “Without it, our energy and climate goals will become virtually impossible to reach,” the IEA head Fatih Birol said in a statement.

A sharp rise in the deployment of carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) technology is needed globally if countries are to meet net-zero emissions targets designed to slow climate change, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Thursday.A growing number of countries and companies are targeting net zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by around the middle of the century in the wake of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

To reach that, the amount of CO2 captured must rocket to 800 million tonnes in 2030 from around 40 million tonnes today, the IEA, which advises industrialised nations on energy policies, said in a report.

Up to $160 billion needs to be invested in the technology by 2030, a ten-fold increase from the previous decade, it added.

“Without it, our energy and climate goals will become virtually impossible to reach,” the IEA head Fatih Birol said in a statement.

The global economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic risks delaying or cancelling projects dependent on public support, the IEA said.

An oil price slide had also reduced revenues for existing CCUS facilities selling CO2 for so-called enhanced oil recovery (EOR). However, the IEA added: “Economic recovery packages are a unique window of opportunity for governments to support CCUS alongside other clean energy technologies.”

Referring to a major investment to build two carbon capture plants and an offshore CO2 storage facility, Birol said: “Norway showed its leadership in Europe by making a major funding commitment to the Longship project.” Nonetheless, the story of CCUS has largely been “one of unmet expectations”, marred by lack of commercial incentives, large capital costs and public opposition to storage, especially onshore, the IEA said.

In 2009, the IEA called for 100 large-scale CCUS projects to be built by 2020 to store around 300 million tonnes of CO2 per year. To date, just 20 commercial projects are in operation, capturing around 40 million tonnes per year.

How to Design for the Future

By |2021-06-21T00:29:22+01:00September 9th, 2020|

Originally published on

by at Greenbiz

How to Design for the Future

How do we design for the future amid the disruptive present?

In this closing plenary session, Lauren Phipps, director and senior analyst for the circular economy at GreenBiz, speaks with Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, about how to design for the future.

For example, how do you reconcile incremental change and the need to change more quickly to meet needs and goals? The COVID-19 pandemic has showed how quick change can happen. Now and in the future, organizations need to continue working together to develop better systems.  

“We need to move toward the future with energy and enthusiasm and not just fear,” Brown says during the discussion.

Holly Secon
Wed, 09/09/2020 – 13:17

Circularity 20 Closing: Where do we go from here?

By |2021-06-21T00:29:25+01:00September 7th, 2020|

Originally published on

by at Greenbiz

Circularity 20 Closing: Where do we go from here?

 

Lauren Phipps, Director & Senior Analyst of the Circular Economy at GreenBiz Group, discusses what’s next in her closing thoughts.

Holly Secon
Mon, 09/07/2020 – 11:42

Greenpeace petitions UK Government to ban supertrawlers catching 7,000 tons of fish

By |2020-08-28T15:37:27+01:00August 28th, 2020|

A YouGov poll, commissioned by Greenpeace, has shown that more than 4 in 5 members of the British public believe supertrawlers, factory trawlers over 100m long, should be banned from fishing in the UK’s Marine Protected Areas. 81% said supertrawlers should be banned from fishing in protected areas, with just 4% saying they should be permitted to fish in them.

This comes after an investigation revealed that supertrawlers spent almost 3000 hours fishing in UK Marine Protected Areas in 2019, more than double the number of hours they spent fishing in UK protected areas in 2018. Marine Protected Areas exist to protect vulnerable ecosystems and marine life, like porpoises and reefs.

The Dutch-owned Annelies Ilena supertrawler in UK waters

The Dutch-owned Annelies Ilena supertrawler in UK waters

A Greenpeace petition calls on the government to ban supertrawlers from protected areas, and has already gathered 125,000 signatures, including those of Sir Michael Palin, Joanna Lumley, Gillian Anderson Green MP Caroline Lucas, Alison Steadman and the explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

Philip Evans, an oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said “This polling makes absolutely clear that the public is united behind our call for a ban on supertrawlers fishing in protected areas. After a decade of political division, our call cutting across the political divide should send a firm message to the government that enough is enough. Supertrawlers must be banned from our protected areas.

“Britain’s departure from the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy is the perfect opportunity to do this. Our government should listen to its constituents, and commit to banning supertrawlers from protected areas as a first step towards designating a network of fully or highly protected MPAs off-limits to all destructive activity across 30% of the UK’s waters.”Britain’s departure from the Common Fisheries Policy will allow the UK government to implement stronger fishing regulations in offshore waters, those beyond 12 nautical miles from the coast. Currently few restrictions are in place in offshore MPAs, which is why supertrawler operations in offshore protected areas are currently legal.

Supertrawler activity in UK waters has increased since 2017. Greenpeace data shows that the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone was the worst affected by EU supertrawler activity of any on earth in 2018 and 2019, and that the time supertrawlers spent fishing in UK Marine Protected Areas had more than doubled from 1388 hours in 2018 to 2963 hours in 2019.

A Defra spokesman said the UK is a global leader in the fight to protect British seas with the Blue Belt of protected waters that are nearly twice the size of England.

The drive to plant one trillion trees by 2030

By |2020-08-27T17:17:15+01:00August 27th, 2020|

From TIME Magazine, an announcement by Jane Goodall and Howard Benioff (excerpt):

“By far the most cost-effective of all the big solutions to climate change is to protect and restore forests. Forests extract and store CO2 from the atmosphere and produce the oxygen we breathe. But these complex ecosystems have been systematically destroyed. We have already lost nearly half the world’s trees, most within the last 100 years. And most of the remaining trees—about 3 trillion—are still under threat, even though they are a critical tool in the fight against climate change.

At this moment in time, massive fires have yet again erupted around the world, from California to the Congo Basin to the Amazon. Far too many of these fires are intentionally set because agricultural profits have been prioritized over the health of our planet. A call to stop deforestation is more important than ever before.”

View of the Congo river, Odzala national park

View of the Congo river, Odzala National Park Republic of Congo

A new World Economic Forum (WEF) initiative, the Trillion Tree challenge (1T.org), has been launched in an effort to bring together old and new partners to add momentum to the regreening of our planet and plant 1 trillion trees around the world by 2030. Companies joined by NGOs and youth movements as well as a number of governments, such as the U.S., have pledged their support for this solution. Those involved will be able to share best practices, with a major goal of maintaining biodiversity standards.

“This effort could capture an estimated 200 gigatonnes of carbon over the coming decades, an amount equal to two-thirds of the pollution produced since the Industrial Revolution. But it will take time for young trees to capture the same amount of CO2 as mature forests.

Planting 1 trillion trees won’t be easy, but each one of us can make a difference in this fight. We can plant trees in backyards and neighborhoods, or donate to one of the many responsible programs that have long been restoring and protecting forests and woodlands in almost every country around the world.

Our challenge is clear. We can protect and restore our forests while also investing in jobs and global economies. But our success will depend on one another; together we can create the kind of change needed to heal our planet.”

Scottish officials raised concerns that Shell’s £5m tree-planting scheme would be seen as “greenwashing”

By |2020-07-31T15:26:12+01:00July 31st, 2020|

Glen-Garry-in-Lochaber-ScotlandAs a result of UK Freedom of Information requests, internal emails seen by The Ferret investigative blog have revealed that, in the run-up to an announcement by Shell last October that it was funding a new £5m tree-planting initiative, Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) officials raised a number of concerns.

In August 2019, Jo Ellis, FLS head of planning and environment, noted “I do think we need to be cautious about how we communicate this…I don’t want us to come across as falling for the greenwashing. The fact remains that mitigation work such as tree planting will not be sufficient to offset carbon emissions for the long term (we need to be reducing the use of fossil fuels).”

“The tiny amount Shell is putting into green initiatives is dwarfed by what it is still spending on investigating new oil and gas reserves, and in blocking initiatives to set legally binding emissions reductions targets.” she added.

“What we should actually be doing is reducing emissions – e.g. stop using petrol, which Shell is not planning to do. But until such time as technology moves us to a low emissions, projects that sequester carbon such as this one will buy us time.”

Ellis continued: “Personally I would have a problem with them saying anything that implies that this is going to make what they do environmentally friendly. This is all about reducing the harm that they do, not about them doing good.”

FLS director of land management, Trefor Owen, supported her concerns: “What Shell are offering us is relatively small beer for them, but it gets a shiny new organisation (us) to add to the list of green organisations supporting their offsetting ambitions.”

Over the next five years, as the first phase of this initiative, Shell UK is funding the co-operation to preserve and extend native woodland at Glen Garry in Lochaber, including a scheme to plant more than 200,000 trees in the first two years. As reported in the Guardian, “the fund sounds big, and it is – until you compare it with Shell’s annual income of $24bn”.

Why does earth smell so wonderful after rain ?

By |2020-07-22T16:07:06+01:00July 22nd, 2020|

rain falling on grass in sunlightThat wonderful smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather is called Petrichor – a heady mixture of plant oils, bacterial spores and ozone.

In 1964, two Australian scientists, Isabel Joy Bear and R. G. Thomas, determined that one of the main causes of this distinctive smell is a blend of oils secreted by some plants during arid periods. When a rainstorm comes after a drought, compounds from the oils—which accumulate over time in dry rocks and soil—are mixed and released into the air.

In moist, forested areas in particular, a common substance is geosmin, a chemical produced by a soil-dwelling bacteria known as actinomycetes. The bacteria secrete the compound when they produce spores, then the force of rain landing on the ground sends these spores up into the air and the moist air conveys the chemical into our noses.

Actinomycetes image showing their beautiful filaments

Actinomycetes can be found almost everywhere and are often called “Nature’s pharmacists”. They are remarkable filamentous organisms responsible for producing an estimated 70% of the antibiotics used in human therapy (making them the most robust natural source of antibiotics). They have key role in composting, in that their filaments stretch through the soil and work together to control harmful or unwanted soil bacteria.
 
And the final, important ingredient in our heady Petrichor fragrance is Ozone. Ozone – the molecule made up of three oxygen atoms bonded together—also plays a role in the smell, especially after thunderstorms. A lightning bolt’s electrical charge can split oxygen and nitrogen molecules in the atmosphere, and they often recombine into nitric oxide (NO), which then interacts with other chemicals in the atmosphere to produce ozone. Sometimes, you can even smell ozone in the air (it has a sharp scent reminiscent of chlorine) before a storm arrives because it can be carried over long distances from high altitudes.

Who knew that something so complex lay behind our enjoyment of a freshly cut lawn after a downpour ? There is a deeper question of why we enjoy it so much and scientists have speculated that it’s a product of our evolution.

Pulling carbon dioxide from the air by farming

By |2020-07-20T16:18:26+01:00July 20th, 2020|

Basalt columns along the Snake River Gorge, Twin Falls, Idaho, USAExciting news as ‘rock weathering’ experiment pulls carbon dioxide from the air and boosts crop production by 12%.

The Working Lands Innovation Center (WLIC) has been partnering with farmers, ranchers, government, the mining industry and Native American tribes in California on some 50 acres of cropland soil amendment trials and their experiments have yielded results that may be another important step in fighting climate change.

Rock chemistry

Many processes weather rocks on Earth’s surface, influenced by chemistry, biology, climate, and plate tectonics. The dominant form of chemical weathering occurs when carbon dioxide combines with water in the soil and the ocean to make carbonic acid.

About 95% of Earth’s crust and mantle – the thick layer between the planet’s crust and its core – is made of silicate minerals, which are compounds of silicon and oxygen.

When carbonic acid comes in contact with certain silicate minerals, it triggers a chemical process known as the ‘Urey reaction’. This reaction pulls gaseous carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and combines it with water and calcium or magnesium silicates, producing two bicarbonate ions. Once the carbon dioxide is trapped in these soil carbonates, or ultimately washed into the ocean, it no longer warms the climate

Now, emerging science – including at the California Collaborative for Climate Change Solutions’ (C4) WLIC – shows that it is possible to accelerate rock weathering rates.

Enhanced rock weathering could both slow global warming and improve soil health, making it possible to grow crops more efficiently and bolster food security.

Farming with rocks

One compelling aspect of enhanced weathering is that, in controlled-environment studies involving basalt amendments of soil, cereal grain yields are improved by roughly 12%.

As basalt weathers, it increases vital plant nutrients that can boost production and increase crops yields. Mineral nutrients such as calcium, potassium and magnesium create healthier soils. Farmers have been amending soil with rock minerals for centuries, so the concept is nothing new.

Why negative emissions matter

Under the 2015 Paris climate agreement, nations have pledged to limit global warming to less then 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. This will require massive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Pulling carbon dioxide from the air – also known as negative emissions – is also necessary to avoid the worst climate change outcomes, because atmospheric carbon dioxide has an average lifespan of more than 100 years. Every molecule of carbon dioxide that is released to the atmosphere through fossil fuel combustion or land clearing will remain there for many decades trapping heat and warming Earth’s surface.

When the taps run dry in England

By |2020-07-10T13:37:47+01:00July 10th, 2020|

Photo of a disused tap with a solitary drip of waterThere is a serious risk that some parts of England will run out of water within the next 20 years. 

The UK Commons Select Committee published a damning report today continuing “Some areas are facing shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic. The responsible bodies – the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (the Department), the Environment Agency and Ofwat – have collectively taken their “eye off the ball” and urgent action is now required if we are to have a reliable water supply in the years ahead.”

“Over 3 billion litres, a fifth of the volume used, is lost to leakage every day. Despite this, no progress has been made in reducing leakage over the last 20 years. The government’s weak efforts to encourage reductions in water consumption have achieved very little. Water companies have at least now been given tougher targets to make improvements, but we are calling for the responsible bodies to go further, and annually publish clear performance tables so that the government and the water companies can be properly held to account.”

“Government has been too slow to implement policies that could improve water efficiency such as product labelling and changes to building regulations. Nor has it done enough to resolve the tension that water companies face between needing to invest in infrastructure to improve water supply and the pressure to keep water bills affordable for consumers, particularly where consumers say they are prepared to pay more.”

“We are sceptical about the effectiveness of water companies’ efforts to mitigate environmental damage and are not convinced the UK’s net zero emissions target has been sufficiently embedded in the oversight and regulation of the industry. The Department has shown a lack of leadership in getting to grips with these issues. We look now to the Department to step up, make up for lost time and ensure all parties act with the urgency required.”

Save the Planet .Org says that it is time that UK water authorities stopped sending begging letters to their consumers asking them to conserve water when they have failed to take action to stop leaks that are wasting millions of gallons of water across the country, every day.

The irony of this will not be lost on householders who witnessed the abundance of water (inside their own homes) as a result of severe flooding earlier this year. Living in one of the wettest countries in Western Europe appears to be no guarantee of a water supply in the future, it seems.

Perhaps it is time that the water companies ceased maximising profits and paying dividends to shareholders until they achieve meaningful leakage targets, renumerating their board members for failure and instead, used their “profits” to invest in our national water infrastructure as they are paid to do.

Then, if they cannot achieve a very significant turnaround, it will be time to renationalise our water industry – before the nation’s taps run dry.

Beautiful pink snow in the Italian Alps heralds another environmental catastrophe

By |2020-07-09T21:15:31+01:00July 9th, 2020|

Researcher-Biagio-di-Maio-sampling-the-pink-snow-on-Presena-glacierAn alarming, yet beautiful new phenomena, has gripped both Alpine tourists and scientists alike – the appearance of pink snow on the Presena glacier in Italy. 

Known as the “giant of the alps”, Presena sits 3,069 metres above sea level and is described as a paradise for all those who love nature, history and mountain sports. Situated on the border between Val di Sole and Valle Camonica, between Trentino and Lombardy, the glacier is part of the Presanella mountain group.

A type of algae usually found in Greenland has started to grow there – and it’s turning the glacier pink. The plant, known as Ancylonema nordenskioeldii, is present in Greenland’s so-called Dark Zone, where the ice is also melting.

Despite its rosy appearance, pink snow is not good news on the climate change front. Usually, ice reflects over 80 per cent of the sun’s radiation back into the atmosphere. As the ice changes colour, it loses the ability to reflect heat, meaning the glaciers are starting to melt faster.

The pace of melting ice in the mountains was already sufficient cause for concern that a local ski resort, Pontedilegno-Tonale, initiated a conservation project in 2008 using enormous pieces of geotextile fabric to cover up the glaciers all summer, keeping them cold and protecting them from melting.

Biagio Di Mauro of Italy’s National Research Council has been investigating the mysterious  appearance of the pink glacial ice and stated “The alga is not dangerous, it is a natural phenomenon that occurs during the spring and summer periods in the middle latitudes but also at the Poles” and has previously studied the algae at the Morteratsch glacier in Switzerland.

More algae appear as the ice melts more rapidly, giving them vital water and air and adding red hues to the white ice.

“Everything that darkens the snow causes it to melt because it accelerates the absorption of radiation,” said Di Mauro.

“We are trying to quantify the effect of other phenomena besides the human one on the overheating of the Earth,” said Di Mauro, noting that the presence of hikers and ski lifts could also have an impact on the algae.

Tourists at the glacier lamented the impact of climate change. “Overheating of the planet is a problem, the last thing we needed was algae,” said tourist Marta Durante. 

“Unfortunately we are doing irreversible damage. We are already at the point of no return, I think.”

Ellie Goulding loses 1,000 followers every time she posts about climate change

By |2020-07-03T15:58:58+01:00July 3rd, 2020|

 

Ellie-Goulding-UN-global-goodwill-ambassadorLong-time climate advocate and activist Ellie Goulding joined Tom Mustell and Lucy Siegle for the So Hot Right Now podcast this week and spoke openly about the fears and real impact to artists speaking out on environmental issues.

Despite her tremendous personal reach, with 22 billion social media streamings and 33 million followers overall, across combined social platforms, it’s clear that she has felt obliged to tread carefully in the past.

“Protesting wasn’t seen as cool…. I was really conscious to begin with, not to merge the two and keep my activism really separate. I genuinely thought that activism could jeopardise my job and I believe it has.”

“I lose followers every time I post anything about climate change. I lose at least a thousand followers.”

“Because people are following me for a very specific reason and it’s not the environment.”

“People say ”F**k you for posting this, we don’t want to hear this, it’s not what we’re interested in. Stop preaching. Climate change isn’t real.”

“That’s why there is a lack of artists speaking out about it because they’re just terrified for their job. I get that. I understand that. We can all be honest and say that it has affected some artists’ careers.”

Let’s hope that principled and brave artists like Ellie feel able to continue speaking out despite the cost and use their platforms to provoke thought and debate, on the most important issue of our time.

 

COVID-19 leaves Venetian canals pristine: A beautiful illusion ?

By |2020-06-18T15:48:53+01:00June 18th, 2020|

Venetian canals run clear for the first time in 60 years

Venetian canals run clear for the first time in 60 years

In April, the world was marvelling at the images of swans, dolphins, dense shoals of fish, jellyfish and even the occasional octopus, recolonising the Venetian canals, taking advantage of humankind retreating behind close doors. It seemed that there was a silver lining to the pandemic: As one observer noted, “What a marvel this Venice was. This virus brought something….beautiful.”

There were precious few reasons to be cheerful during the pandemic as the world went into lockdown, people fought for their lives in hospitals around the world and economies were paralysed but the sight of nature recolonising our empty cities was heart-warming. Wildlife needed only the smallest respite from humankind to re-establish itself.

Before the Coronavirus pandemic, Venice faced serious problems including flooding, unsustainable over-tourism, the sinking of historical buildings into the water and a dwindling population.

Now, this crisis is prompting authorities in the Italian port to reconsider its mass-tourism model.

Up to 30 million people visited in 2018. Now, like so many other places, the city is deserted.

“We’ve gone from one extreme to the other,” explained Matteo Secchi of the Venessia Association. “Here, a few months ago, we couldn’t even pass each other. Now the streets are empty.”

The clear water running through the canals teeming with wildlife and the empty monuments and plazas have a tranquil and intense beauty nowadays – but that comes at a very high cost for the city’s economy and especially, for those who make their money from tourism.

A golden opportunity for change:

With colossal numbers of tourists passing through Venice every year, there is a strong movement of Venetians wanting to claim back their city.

They have been long overwhelmed by visitors, many of whom arrived on vast cruise liners. Now, according to the city’s deputy mayor Simone Venturini, it could be time to consider a softer model, even if it means physically limiting the number of visitors.

A cruise ship overshadows a Venetian canal

A cruise ship overshadows a Venetian canal

“This will be an opportunity to move towards intelligent tourism. With tourists who take the time to understand and get away from the frenetic tours of other times.”

Perhaps the next move should be a complete ban on cruise liners within the the lagoon.

In 2019, the Italian government announced that it would consider rerouting cruise ships away from central parts of Venice and require them to dock at the Fusina and Lombardia terminals away from the city centre but still within the lagoon.

But the idea remained just that… a proposal tabled during a transport committee meeting and until now, has not been acted upon.

It was sparked by a terrifying incident earlier in the year, when a 13-deck cruise ship crashed into a wharf in the city, sending tourists running for their lives

“I’m still as worried as I ever was,” said Jane Da Mosto, founder and executive director of local conservation group We Are Here Venice.

“There’s a climate emergency. And yet, the Italian government and the cruise industry are talking only about moving these enormous, very environmentally challenging floating cities from one part of Venice to another.”

In recent days, tourists have begun returning from elsewhere in Italy and overseas, albeit in smaller numbers.

Before it returns to the days of mass tourism and cruise liners disgorging tens of thousands of passengers into the city every day (and their pollution into the lagoon), Venice has one last, golden opportunity to make a brave, principled change before it is too late.

For the moment, the streets belong to Venetians.

UK’s National Grid goes coal-free for the longest period since the Industrial Revolution

By |2020-06-09T17:45:45+01:00June 9th, 2020|

Coal has not been used to generate power for 60 days

Partly due to a collapse in demand during the Coranavirus lockdown and a greater emphasis on using solar power, the UK National Grid managed to take coal plants off the network on April 10th and to avoid bringing them back online in Britain since.

Britain continues to phase it out, with two of Britain’s oldest coal-fired power stations having closed at the end of March this year, leaving just three left on the mainland.

This is a major shift from 10 years ago when 40% of the nation’s energy came from coal and only 3% came from renewables such as wind and solar power.

In 2020, the UK has the biggest offshore wind industry in the world, with the 659MW Walney Extension the world’s biggest operational offshore wind farm to date. Located in the Irish Sea near Cumbria and covering an area equal to 20,000 football pitches, it is designed to operate for 25 years and supplies enough electricity to power 590,000 UK homes. Overall, Britain’s wind farms had a bumper quarter, with output up 40% on this time last year.

Walney windfarm in Cumbria UK

The Walney Extension offshore wind farm is the largest in the world.

In parallel, UK solar farms generated more than 9.6GW of electricity for the first time on April 20th, setting a new solar power record.

Whilst energy sector transitions are meant to be slow, Britain’s energy sector has transformed its electricity generation mix more in the 2010s than in the previous ninety years combined.

As the oil crises in the 1970s caused a switch from oil to coal, the miners’ strike that followed in the 1980s, coinciding with expanding gas production in the North Sea, encouraged a switch from coal to gas in the 1990s. Now renewables have sparked a revolution in the UK power generating industry.

 

DRAX Electric Insights reports that “if this pace of change can be maintained, renewable sources could be providing more than half of Britain’s electricity by the end of this decade and Britain’s power system could be practically carbon free.”

 
David Shepherd
Save the Planet .Org
9th June 2020

Seeing the wood for the trees in carbon offsetting

By |2020-06-04T17:15:41+01:00June 4th, 2020|

Operation Arch of Fire in Brazil

Operation Arch of Fire combatting illegal logging in Brazil

Companies are falling over themselves to offer their customers ways of contributing to cutting carbon emissions with good intent, offering them easy, “tick-box” options at the end of their on-line purchases to participate.

But are these schemes any good ? How can the consumer be assured of the benefits of the scheme they have implicitly signed up to ?

A major part of the problem is that the majority of carbon offsetting projects require a long-term investment which needs to be protected for its lifetime if it is to deliver all the benefits promised when first initiated.

Worldwide tree-planting schemes are an excellent example of how good intentions can go astray.

An endangered Mogno tree in Brazil will have to stand for 25 years, in good health, to sequester 275 Kg of carbon dioxide. It must be protected against illegal logging, disease and land clearing, often in remote sites where the indigenous people struggle to achieve even a rudimentary standard of living. At state level, the government may be committed to the success of a reforestation scheme but local officials, militia, tribal leaders and working populations may not – corruption and basic human needs will win (almost) every time. According to Haley Dixon, writing for the Daily Telegraph, “in eastern Madagascar, in the Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor, an area of ecological importance known as the CAZ, do not realise that the trees they cut down to clear space for mining and agriculture, or to build their homes and fuel their stoves, have already been turned into carbon credits.”

If a scheme offers clean-cook stoves to local people in India to replace the centuries-old practices of burning charcoal on open fires, how does anyone know if they use it or discard it ?

Illegal mining on protected land is often tolerated, bringing the twin perils of land clearing and pollution of local watercourses with heavy metals.

And the final nail is a lack of transparency and accountability. If a piece of land cannot be monitored continuously and the benefits of schemes measured continuously, can we assume that they are delivering ? One thing that we can be assured of – even if we did not hear the sound of a tree falling in a remote forest, it will have actually fallen.

Working in companies committed to saving the planet, or as consumers, we can make a real difference by supporting independent, verifiable carbon offsetting projects where that measurement is carried out by trusted independent accrediting bodies such as the QAS, the Climate Group or International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) promoting standards such as the Gold Standard, Clean Development Mechanism and the Voluntary Carbon Standard 2007 (VCS 2007).

Ignore the airlines and energy companies’ tick-boxes and do your own homework. Seek out worthy carbon-saving initiatives that you know are making a difference, who can prove that they will be delivering in the years to come and support those instead !

David Shepherd
Save the Planet .Org
https://www-save-the-planet.org/editorial

 

Destruction of habitat is creating the perfect conditions for diseases like COVID-19 to emerge

By |2021-04-24T15:11:40+01:00May 28th, 2020|

Republished from an article by John Vidal, the Environment Editor of Ensia with permission:

As habitat and biodiversity loss increase globally, the novel coronavirus outbreak may be just the beginning of mass pandemics.

Mayibout 2 is not a healthy place. The 150 or so people who live in the village, which sits on the south bank of the Ivindo River, deep in the great Minkebe forest in northern Gabon, are used to occasional bouts of diseases such as malaria, dengue, yellow fever and sleeping sickness.

Mostly they shrug them off.

But in January 1996, Ebola, a deadly virus then barely known to humans, unexpectedly spilled out of the forest in a wave of small epidemics. The disease killed 21 of 37 villagers who were reported to have been infected, including a number who had carried, skinned, chopped or eaten a chimpanzee from the nearby forest.

I traveled to Mayibout 2 in 2004 to investigate why deadly diseases new to humans were emerging from biodiversity “hot spots” like tropical rainforests and bushmeat markets in African and Asian cities.

It took a day by canoe and then many hours down degraded forest logging roads passing Baka villages and a small gold mine to reach the village. There, I found traumatized people still fearful that the deadly virus, which kills up to 90% of the people it infects, would return.

Villagers told me how children had gone into the forest with dogs that had killed a chimp. They said that everyone who cooked or ate it got a terrible fever within a few hours. Some died immediately, while others were taken down the river to hospital. A few, like Nesto Bematsick, recovered. “We used to love the forest, now we fear it,” he told me. Many of Bematsick’s family members died.

Only a decade or two ago it was widely thought that tropical forests and intact natural environments teeming with exotic wildlife threatened humans by harboring the viruses and pathogens that lead to new diseases in humans like Ebola, HIV and dengue.

But a number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases like COVID-19, the viral disease that emerged in China in December 2019, to arise — with profound health and economic impacts in rich and poor countries alike. In fact, a new discipline, planetary health, is emerging that focuses on the increasingly visible connections among the well-being of humans, other living things and entire ecosystems.

Is it possible, then, that it was human activity, such as road building, mining, hunting and logging, that triggered the Ebola epidemics in Mayibout 2 and elsewhere in the 1990s and that is unleashing new terrors today?

“We invade tropical forests and other wild landscapes, which harbor so many species of animals and plants — and within those creatures, so many unknown viruses,” David Quammen, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Pandemic, recently wrote in the New York Times. “We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.”

Increasing Threat

Research suggests that outbreaks of animal-borne and other infectious diseases like Ebola, SARS, bird flu and now COVID-19, caused by a novel coronavirus, are on the rise. Pathogens are crossing from animals to humans, and many are now able to spread quickly to new places. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that three-quarters of “new or emerging” diseases that infect humans originate in nonhuman animals.

Some, like rabies and plague, crossed from animals centuries ago. Others, like Marburg, which is thought to be transmitted by bats, are still rare. A few, like COVID-19, which emerged last year in Wuhan, China, and MERS, which is linked to camels in the Middle East, are new to humans and spreading globally.

Other diseases that have crossed into humans include Lassa fever, which was first identified in 1969 in Nigeria; Nipah from Malaysia; and SARS from China, which killed more than 700 people and traveled to 30 countries in 2002–03. Some, like Zika and West Nile virus, which emerged in Africa, have mutated and become established on other continents.

Kate Jones, chair of ecology and biodiversity at UCL, calls emerging animal-borne infectious diseases an “increasing and very significant threat to global health, security and economies.”

Amplification Effect

In 2008, Jones and a team of researchers identified 335 diseases that emerged between 1960 and 2004, at least 60% of which came from non-human animals.

Increasingly, says Jones, these zoonotic diseases are linked to environmental change and human behavior. The disruption of pristine forests driven by logging, mining,road building through remote places, rapid urbanization and population growth is bringing people into closer contact with animal species they may never have been near before, she says.

The resulting transmission of disease from wildlife to humans, she says, is now “a hidden cost of human economic development. There are just so many more of us, in every environment. We are going into largely undisturbed places and being exposed more and more. We are creating habitats where viruses are transmitted more easily, and then we are surprised that we have new ones.”

Jones studies how land use change contributes to the risk. “We are researching how species in degraded habitats are likely to carry more viruses which can infect humans,” she says. “Simpler systems get an amplification effect. Destroy landscapes, and the species you are left with are the ones humans get the diseases from.”

“There are countless pathogens out there continuing to evolve which at some point could pose a threat to humans,” says Eric Fevre, chair of veterinary infectious diseases at the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Infection and Global Health. “The risk [of pathogens jumping from animals to humans] has always been there.”

The difference between now and a few decades ago, Fevre says, is that diseases are likely to spring up in both urban and natural environments. “We have created densely packed populations where alongside us are bats and rodents and birds, pets and other living things. That creates intense interaction and opportunities for things to move from species to species,” he says.

Tip of the Iceberg

“Pathogens do not respect species boundaries,” says disease ecologist Thomas Gillespie, an associate professor in Emory University’s Department of Environmental Sciences who studies how shrinking natural habitats and changing behavior add to the risks of diseases spilling over from animals to humans.

“I am not at all surprised about the coronavirus outbreak,” he says. “The majority of pathogens are still to be discovered. We are at the very tip of the iceberg.”

Humans, says Gillespie, are creating the conditions for the spread of diseases by reducing the natural barriers between virus host animals — in which the virus is naturally circulating — and themselves.

“We fully expect the arrival of pandemic influenza; we can expect large-scale human mortalities; we can expect other pathogens with other impacts. A disease like Ebola is not easily spread. But something with a mortality rate of Ebola spread by something like measles would be catastrophic,” Gillespie says.

Wildlife everywhere is being put under more stress, he says. “Major landscape changes are causing animals to lose habitats, which means species become crowded together and also come into greater contact with humans. Species that survive change are now moving and mixing with different animals and with humans.”

Gillespie sees this in the U.S., where suburbs fragmenting forests raise the risk of humans contracting Lyme disease. “Altering the ecosystem affects the complex cycle of the Lyme pathogen. People living close by are more likely to get bitten by a tick carrying Lyme bacteria,” he says.

Yet human health research seldom considers the surrounding natural ecosystems, says Richard Ostfeld, distinguished senior scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York. He and others are developing the emerging discipline of planetary health, which looks at the links between human and ecosystem health.

“There’s misapprehension among scientists and the public that natural ecosystems are the source of threats to ourselves. It’s a mistake. Nature poses threats, it is true, but it’s human activities that do the real damage. The health risks in a natural environment can be made much worse when we interfere with it,” he says.

Ostfeld points to rats and bats, which are strongly linked with the direct and indirect spread of zoonotic diseases. “Rodents and some bats thrive when we disrupt natural habitats. They are the most likely to promote transmissions [of pathogens]. The more we disturb the forests and habitats the more danger we are in,” he says.

Felicia Keesing, professor of biology at Bard College, New York, studies how environmental changes influence the probability that humans will be exposed to infectious diseases. “When we erode biodiversity, we see a proliferation of the species most likely to transmit new diseases to us, but there’s also good evidence that those same species are the best hosts for existing diseases,” she wrote in an email to Ensia.

The Market Connection

Disease ecologists argue that viruses and other pathogens are also likely to move from animals to humans in the many informal markets that have sprung up to provide fresh meat to fast-growing urban populations around the world. Here animals are slaughtered, cut up and sold on the spot.

The “wet market” (one that sells fresh produce and meat) in Wuhan, thought by the Chinese government to be the starting point of the current COVID-19 pandemic, was known to sell numerous wild animals, including live wolf pups, salamanders, crocodiles, scorpions, rats, squirrels, foxes, civets and turtles.

Equally, urban markets in west and central Africa see monkeys, bats, rats and dozens of species of bird, mammal, insect and rodent slaughtered and sold close to open refuse dumps and with no drainage.

“Wet markets make a perfect storm for cross-species transmission of pathogens,” says Gillespie. “Whenever you have novel interactions with a range of species in one place, whether that is in a natural environment like a forest or a wet market, you can have a spillover event.”

The Wuhan market, along with others that sell live animals, has been shut by the Chinese authorities, and the government in February outlawed trading and eating wild animals except for fish and seafood. But bans on live animals being sold in urban areas or informal markets are not the answer, say some scientists.

“The wet market in Lagos is notorious. It’s like a nuclear bomb waiting to happen. But it’s not fair to demonize places which do not have fridges. These traditional markets provide much of the food for Africa and Asia,” says Jones.

“These markets are essential sources of food for hundreds of millions of poor people, and getting rid of them is impossible,” says Delia Grace, a senior epidemiologist and veterinarian with the International Livestock Research Institute, which is based in Nairobi, Kenya. She argues that bans force traders underground, where they may pay less attention to hygiene.

Fevre and Cecilia Tacoli, principal researcher in the human settlements research group at the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED), argue in a blog post that “rather than pointing the finger at wet markets,” we should look at the burgeoning trade in wild animals.

“[I]t is wild animals rather than farmed animals that are the natural hosts of many viruses,” they write. “Wet markets are considered part of the informal food trade that is often blamed for contributing to spreading disease. But … evidence shows the link between informal markets and disease is not always so clear cut.”

Changing Behavior

So what, if anything, can we do about all of this?

Jones says that change must come from both rich and poor societies. Demand for wood, minerals and resources from the Global North leads to the degraded landscapes and ecological disruption that drives disease, she says. “We must think about global biosecurity, find the weak points and bolster the provision of health care in developing countries. Otherwise we can expect more of the same,” she says.

“The risks are greater now. They were always present and have been there for generations. It is our interactions with that risk which must be changed,” says Brian Bird, a research virologist at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine One Health Institute, where he leads Ebola-related surveillance activities in Sierra Leone and elsewhere.

“We are in an era now of chronic emergency,” Bird says. “Diseases are more likely to travel further and faster than before, which means we must be faster in our responses. It needs investments, change in human behavior, and it means we must listen to people at community levels.”

Getting the message about pathogens and disease to hunters, loggers, market traders and consumers is key, Bird says. “These spillovers start with one or two people. The solutions start with education and awareness. We must make people aware things are different now. I have learned from working in Sierra Leone with Ebola-affected people that local communities have the hunger and desire to have information,” he says. “They want to know what to do. They want to learn.”

Fevre and Tacoli advocate rethinking urban infrastructure, particularly within low-income and informal settlements. “Short-term efforts are focused on containing the spread of infection,” they write. “The longer term — given that new infectious diseases will likely continue to spread rapidly into and within cities — calls for an overhaul of current approaches to urban planning and development.”

The bottom line, Bird says, is to be prepared. “We can’t predict where the next pandemic will come from, so we need mitigation plans to take into account the worst possible scenarios,” he says. “The only certain thing is that the next one will certainly come.”

GEF says the Coronavirus was a collision between human systems and natural systems… and what we can do about it.

By |2020-05-28T15:12:50+01:00May 27th, 2020|

The Global Environment Facility’s new report published on May 16th, 2020 says “The coronavirus pandemic has forced us all to confront how environmental degradation bringing wildlife and people too close together endangers economies and societies alike.”

“The coronavirus pandemic that has shuttered most of the world in 2020 has its roots in the environmental degradation that the Global Environment Facility and its partners are working to stop. It is increasingly clear that to manage this crisis and avert future ones, we need to understand the root cause of zoonotic diseases – namely, a collision between human systems and natural systems.”

“Recognizing the urgency of this moment, and the high stakes for governments and businesses who are starting to think through economic recovery plans, the GEF Secretariat has outlined a set of steps for the immediate, medium, and longer term to help address the present situation and reduce the probability of new environmental crises emerging in the foreseeable future. The response spans measures to address wildlife trading, deforestation, urban sprawl, and other pressures on ecosystems that are bringing wild animals and humans in dangerous proximity.”

“The response also includes efforts to support a green economic recovery consistent with sustainable and nature-based development. These steps focus on the acceleration of needed transformations to economic and social systems to reduce their conflict with nature – building on efforts already underway by the GEF-funded Good Growth Partnershipand the GEF Impact Programs on Food Systems, Land Use and Restoration; Sustainable Cities; and Sustainable Forest Management.”

“The planned steps include:

Immediate actions:
  • Increased focus on efforts to deal with the wildlife trade and consumption challenges.
  • Conduct analysis on the future risks linked to emerging infectious diseases along with their root causes, including their connection with deforestation and ecosystem fragmentation.
  • Identify risks in projects and programs that may seriously compromise past gains and future outcomes.

Medium-term actions:

  • Develop an internal blueprint on how to deploy ongoing and upcoming projects that can help lay the foundation for a green recovery.

Longer-term actions:

  • Further promote systems change thinking in the strategies to guide GEF’s upcoming 8th Replenishment cycle.”

Read the Council document for more information.

Prince Charles urges a green recovery after lockdown ends

By |2020-05-28T15:14:10+01:00May 24th, 2020|

An opportunity to “Build Back Better” after the Coronavirus pandemic

HRH The Prince of Wales it to launch a “Great Reset“ project on June 1st with Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Form. 

A Sustainable Markets Initiative spokesman, speaking to the Daily Telegraph said “No-one could have anticipated this horrific pandemic but one unmistakable positive consequence of it is that the environmental pollution that has been so hard to slow in recent decades has virtually ground to a halt in some key areas almost overnight.”

“Before industries simply return to the old ways of doing things, this group, led by the Prince and Professor Schwab, is setting out to show we have a chance to recover by doing things differently and with a lot less negative impact on the world we live in.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Prince Charles has been working with global leaders and the WEF “to determine how Sustainable Markets can serve as a catalyst to ‘build back better’ and to create a more environmentally sustainable future”.

“The Prince believes that as countries and businesses around the world look to rebuild after this crisis, there is a unique but narrow window of opportunity to accelerate the sustainability agenda in a way that puts people and planet first,” he added.

“Today we see growing momentum around a ‘green recovery’.

Speaking at Davos, Prince Charles said “The world is in the midst of a crisis”, with “global warming, climate change, and the devastating loss of biodiversity, the greatest threats humanity has ever faced”.

“In order to secure our future and to prosper, we need to evolve our economic model.”

“We simply cannot waste any more time – the only limit is our willingness to act, and the time to act is now.”

David Shepherd

24 May 2020

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