In the developed world, food waste is an enormous problem, and one that we’re doing too little to address and correct, even though that waste has wide-reaching ramifications. Many in impoverished, famine or drought-stricken nations are going hungry, wasted food piles up in landfills, and the water and oil that go into producing and transporting food are a drain on our global resources.
When individuals and organizations do move to address food waste, very often, the proposed solutions include recommendations like planning your meals and buying less, reorganizing your refrigerator, or making cooking with what you have a priority. These are all good ideas, but they do little to address food waste on a larger scale, and they leave out an important recommendation: home gardening.
How can home gardening help reduce food waste? It all comes down to relating more closely to our food, becoming more reliant on local resources rather than shipping-dependant producers, and learning the skills to be good stewards of our resources.
The Scope of the Problem
Many people know that they throw out food, but as individuals, it can be hard to understand the scope of the food waste problem. Just how much do we waste? One recent study out of Scotland determined that the small country threw out 1.35 million metric tons of food in 2013 alone. In the United States, it’s estimated that we lose as much as 40% of our food supply to waste – an unconscionable amount.
Why should we grow our own food if so much is already going to waste? Won’t that further contribute to a situation of oversupply?
The reality is that when we grow our own food, we’re better able to determine how much our individual families need, we can redistribute excess to friends, neighbors, and food banks, and we’re able to enjoy our food at peak ripeness. We also diminish the carbon footprint of our food.
And of course, you don’t have to start a full-scale farm to change your relationship with food. We can transform our food system by taking simple steps, such as investing in gardening tools like raised beds that allow us to use our space effectively or learning to grow kitchen scraps like onions, garlic, and potatoes, starting a garden with the leftovers of what we already have.
Almost anyone can grow a few tomatoes in their backyard or even turn the end of an onion into a new onion by sticking it in some water, but other aspects of solving our food waste problem require mastering some new skills. For example, if you choose to start a garden, you have a few options, but there’s a fair chance you’ll grow too much of something – leaving you with an overabundance of tomatoes or cabbage. What can you do?
While you could donate the extras, another way to reduce food waste is by learning to can and preserve what we grow, giving it a longer shelf life. Those tomatoes will only last so long on your counter, but they’ll stick around for a while as tomato sauce. The same goes for fermenting; you can only use so much cabbage during the growing season, but it’s easy to turn cabbage into kimchi.
Part of what makes learning skills like canning so remarkable is that they’re rooted in a time when people couldn’t afford to waste things. When people relied more heavily on gardening and farming and lacked refrigeration, they had no choice but to can fresh foods for later use – and use them they did. Then it was about sustenance, but now it’s about sustainability.
When you grow your own food, you stop contributing to the massive ecological harms of big farming and become more self-reliant, but you also recognize the hard work that goes into every bite. When that labor is front and center, it becomes harder to allow for waste, and that’s something we should aspire to as environmentally conscious citizens.
Build, Buy, Or Retrofit? 3 Green Housing Considerations
Green housing is in high demand, but it’s not yet widely available, posing a serious problem: if you want to live an eco-friendly lifestyle, do you invest in building something new and optimize it for sustainability, or do you retrofit a preexisting building?
The big problem when it comes to choosing between these two options is that building a new home creates more waste than retrofitting specific features of an existing home, but it may be more efficient in the long-run. For those concerned with waste and their environmental footprint, the short term and long term impacts of housing are in close competition with each other.
New Construction Options
One reason that new construction is so desired among green living enthusiasts is that it can be built to reflect our highest priorities. Worried about the environmental costs of heating your home? New construction can be built using passive solar design, a strategy that uses natural light and shade to heat or cool the home. Builders can add optimal insulation, build with all sustainable materials, and build exactly to the scale you need.
In fact, scale is a serious concern for new home buyers and builders alike. Individuals interested in green housing will actively avoid building more home than they need – scaling to the square foot matter because that’s more space you need to heat or cool – and this is harder to do when buying. You’re stuck with someone else’s design. In this vein, Missouri S&T’s Nest Home design, which uses recycled shipping containers, combines the tiny home trend with reuse and sustainability.
The Simple Retrofit
From an environmental perspective, there’s an obvious problem with building a new home: it’s an activity of mass consumption. There are already 120 million single-family homes and duplexes in the United States; do we really need more?
Extensive development alone is a good enough reason to intelligently retrofit an existing home rather than building new green structures, but the key is to do so with as little waste as possible. One option for retrofitting older homes is to install new smart home technology that can automate home regulation to reduce energy use.
Real estate agent Roxanne DeBerry sees clients struggle with issues of efficiency on a regular basis. That’s why she recommends tools like the Nest Thermostat, which develops a responsive heating and cooling schedule for the home and can be remotely adjusted via smartphone. Other smart tools for home efficiency include choosing Energy Star appliances and installing water-saving faucets and low-pressure toilets. These small changes add up.
Ultimately, the most effective approach to green housing is likely to be aggressive retrofitting of everything from period homes to more recent construction. This will reduce material use where possible and prevent further aggressive land use. And finally, designers, activists, and engineers are coming together to develop such structures.
In the UK, for example, designers are interested in finding ways to adapt period houses for greater sustainability without compromising their aesthetics. Many have added solar panels, increased their insulation levels, and recently they even developed imitation sash triple glazed windows. As some have pointed out, the high cost of heating these homes without such changes will push these homes out of relevance without these changes. This is a way of saving existing structures.
Harvard is also working on retrofitting homes for sustainability. Their HouseZero project is designed for near-zero energy use and zero carbon emissions using geothermal heating and temperature radiant surfaces. The buildings bridge the gap between starting over and putting up with unmanageable heating and cooling bills.
It will take a long time to transition the majority of individuals to energy efficient, green housing but we’re headed in the right direction. What will your next home be like? As long as the answer is sustainable, you’re part of the solution to our chronic overuse – of land, energy, water, and more.
How the Auto Industry is Lowering Emissions
Currently, the automotive industry is undergoing an enormous change in a bid to lower carbon emissions. This has been pushed by the Government and their clean air plans, where they have outlined a plan to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040.
Public Health Crisis
It is said that the levels of air pollution lead to 40,000 early deaths in the UK, with London being somewhere that is particularly bad. This has led to the new T-Charge, where heavy polluting cars will pay a new charge on top of the existing congestion charge. Other cities have taken action too, with Oxford recently announcing that they will be banning petrol and diesel cars from the city centre by 2020.
It is clear that the Government is taking action, but what about the auto industry? With the sale of petrol and diesel plummeting and a sharp rise in alternatively fuelled vehicles, it is clear that the industry is taking note and switching focus to green cars. There are now all kinds of fantastic eco-friendly cars available and a type to suit every motorist whether it is a small city car or an SUV.
Of course, it is the cars that are currently on the road that are causing the problem. The used car market is enormous and filled with polluting automobiles, but there are steps that you can take to avoid dangerous automobiles. It is now more important than ever to get vehicle checks carried out through HPI, as these can reveal important information about the automobile’s past and they find that 1 in 3 cars has a hidden secret of some kind. Additionally, they can now perform recall checks to see if the manufacturer has recalled that particular automobile. This allows people to shop confidently and find vehicles that are not doing as much damage to the environment as others.
With the rise in sales of alternatively fuelled vehicles, it is now becoming increasingly more common to see them on UK roads. Public perception has changed drastically in the last few years and this is because of the air pollution crisis, as well as the fact that there are now so many different reasons to switch to electric cars, such as Government grants and no road tax. A similar change in public opinion has happened in the United States, with electric car sales up by 47% in 2017.
The US is leading the way for lowering emissions as they have declined by 758 million metric tons since 2005, which is the largest amount by far with the UK in second with a decline of 170 million metric tons. Whilst it is clear that these two nations are doing a good job, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in order to improve the air quality and stop so many premature deaths as a result of pollution.
With the Government’s plans, incentives to make the change and a change in public perception, it seems that the electric car revolution is fully underway.