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Business Series

Wasted Food

It is estimated that in the USA between 40 and 50% of all food produced is wasted. There are about 320 million people in the US, so we could safely say that this wasted food could feed at least 100 million people.

The European Union fares little better. According to the European Commission about 90 million tonnes of food is wasted annually in Europe alone, with global waste at about 1.3 billion tonnes. In developing countries, over 40% of food losses happen after harvest and during processing, while in industrialized countries, over 40% occurs at retail and consumer level. According to the US Food and Agricultural Organization food waste in Europe alone could feed 200 million people, and that if global waste could be cut down by 25% it would give enough food to feed 870 million hungry people.

Obviously the so-called developed nations are the worst offenders. Per capita waste by consumers is between 95-115 kg a year in Europe and North America, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa, south and south-eastern Asia, each throw away only 6-11 kg a year.

The main causes of waste are:

  • Lack of awareness, lack of shopping planning, confusion about “best before” and “use by” date labels, lack of knowledge on how to cook with leftovers (households).
  • Standard portion sizes, difficulty to anticipate the number of clients (catering);
  • Stock management inefficiencies, marketing strategies (2 for 1, buy 1 get 1 free), aesthetic issues (retail);
  • Overproduction, product & packaging damage (farmers and food manufacturing);
  • Inadequate storage (whole food chain);
  • Inadequate packaging.

Fortunately the EU offers a free downloadable brochure explaining how as an individual you can cut down on waste, get it here.

But most of the waste comes from industry, with millions of tonnes of food thrown into skips at the back of supermarkets every day. Systematic waste we might call it, but what can be done about it?

Plenty of bread products
Plenty of bread products

Well let me tell you a story, I have a friend who describes himself as a freegan, he only eats free food, and he eats well. He lives in a large housing cooperative in Massachusetts, and he does the shopping for the entire group. He has his rounds, every Wednesday he goes to the orange juice processing plant and gets a few gallons of discarded juice. On Thursday a supermarket, on Friday after the farmer’s market there are boxes of discarded vegetables, if he didn’t have a trailer he would need a truck!

I must warn you though that climbing into the skip outside your local supermarket might be dangerous or illegal. In Germany, England and Wales for example it is theft, although rarely prosecuted. In Italy it is legal, but in the US you may be charged with trespass.

And plenty to drink
And plenty to drink

Here is a great article about what they call in the US dumpster diving, with an interesting shopping list of what was found, and the pictures in this post are taken from the event.

And it is not just rotten old tomatoes here we are talking about. Many things that are close to their sell by date are thrown out. In Cambridge Mass where I live there is what I refer to when speaking to my kids as ‘the expensive coffee shop’. It is good coffee, and the cakes are fantastic, but it is a little on the pricey side. But if you go 10 minutes before closing and buy a coffee they offer you a free cake, and as they are pushing you through the door at closing time you are expected to take scones, cakes and left over bread home, for free. Better than throwing it out they say, and they are right. It does however pose a problem for the economy, with people like me giving their secret away and the place filling up 5 minutes before closing time, although you have to be shameless to go every day (get your friends involved).

One thing that we have lost is the skill of home preserving foods. When we have all of these extra ripe vegetables we eat what we can, but when there are just too many they end up in the bin. Well if we learned to pickle food we could preserve it and avoid all of these problems, there are plenty of pickling lessons on YouTube, you can also freeze almost anything if you know how to do it correctly.

If you are not up for climbing into a skip and you are ever in Copenhagen, why not try the restaurant that serves only waste food? See this report on the BBC, it looks good, and I am glad to see someone is doing something with all of this good valuable nutritious stuff.

And the moral of this weeks story is that people are hungry because of economics, politics and logistics, not because there isn’t enough food to go round. You might like to think about that when the industrial agricultural food companies are touting GM as the answer to global hunger.

Categories
Environment News Science

Carbon Emissions and Aviation

On Sunday I will be lifting off into the wild blue yonder once more for a quick scoot across the Atlantic from Boston to Dublin and on to Milan. This is a rather regular occurrence nowadays. Flying is part of my life and for the kids, who have been on more aircraft than trains.

The environmental impact of all of this folly though is tied up in a rather controversial debate. On the one hand we have those who say that airline carbon and pollution emissions is minimal, others disagree. It seems that between 2 and 5% of possible global warming type emissions come from aviation. Not a lot we might think, when we bear in mind that 10% comes from car use, and about 17% from agricultural food production, but we all eat, we do not all fly.

This year the European Union was to start taxing airlines on their carbon emissions, in line with the way they tax other industry on theirs. This might seem fair to some, not to others, particularly large airlines and countries. Here in the USA a law was passed to state that US airlines could not participate in the scheme, and so could not pay the tax. China, India and others followed, and so the scheme has been postponed.

A Modern Jet Engine
A Modern Jet Engine

So back to my flight on Sunday. Between us, I and my family will produce about 12 metric tons of carbon dioxide in our time in the air. The average European produces about 10 a year, Americans more like 19 0r 20 and the average African about 0.3 tons per year.

Oh to put things in perspective the global average is 1.3 metric tons per year per person, and the 1.1 billion people who live on the continent of Africa produces about 7% of the emissions that the 0.6 billion population of North America produce.

So taken in terms of people and not percentages, flying is extremely polluting. But people are not going to stop flying. The aviation industry is ever expanding, even vegetables fly nowadays.

One way that aircraft engineers are trying to cut down on emissions is to design lighter and more fuel efficient engines. Weight is a big problem in flying, and it is our old friend 3D printing who might come to the rescue.

A company called CFM International, a joint venture between GE Aviation and the French company Snecma, has created the LEAP engine — an acronym for “leading edge aviation propulsion” that the company hopes reflects just how innovative the new aircraft component is. LEAP has many futuristic features, including a 3-D-printed nozzle, the part of the plane responsible for burning fuel.

3D printing allows engineers to produce objects in materials that either would be too expensive or impossible to make using conventional techniques, and they can use lightweight materials or ceramics as is the case with the new CFM engine to substitute heavy metal parts. Check out this article in CNN for details.

Over the last couple of weeks an aeroplane has made a trans America flight using solar power, and this is just part of its round the world trip. A whole new concept in low carbon emission flight, although currently a bit slow.

Another possibility is to use organic jet fuel. Although this may seem strange, as long ago as 2009 Air New Zealand conducted a test flight using an organic jet fuel mix that seemed to demonstrate a 60% cut in carbon emissions.

Here is a link to an article in the New York Times about aviation and carbon developments and some more data about carbon emissions in Africa if I have tickled your interest. And as always, I am all ears.

Categories
Environment News Science

We need to act on climate change for the sake of others

In the South Pacific ocean lies three tiny atolls that go by the name of Tokelau. These islands have a population of around 1,500 people, around the size of a big village.

The Tokelau islands
The three tiny atolls that make up Tokelau

However, bad news is on the way for the people of Tokelau, as climate change is threatening every single one of the residents lives. Droughts are a real problem in the area, as despite being surrounded by sea water, there is very little freshwater that locals can use. Climate change means that rains are decreasing in the area, and drought is increasing.

The second issue for this tiny group of islands is the sea itself. Sea levels around the world are rising for two main reasons: ice caps are melting, and thermal expansion (when water gets hotter, it expands) – these are both caused by climate change, i.e. global warming of the planet.


The final issue for these tiny atolls is that they are made out of coral. Coral is a very delicate substance, that requires very specific conditions to grow and survive.

Basically, these islands are stuck between a rock and a hard place, and it doesn’t look like their situation is getting any better.

It is rather unfair of one to say that the use of fossil fuels on these islands is what has sealed their fate, as compared with the likes of China, the USA and the EU, the islands have virtually no greenhouse gas emission – they probably are responsible for less than 0.0001% of global emissions, leaving the rest of the world responsible for the other 99.9999%.

Despite this, Tokelau has announced that by September 2012, there will be no greenhouse gasses produced there at all, they will run 100% on renewable energy! Photovoltaic solar panels will make up 97% of their energy, whilst the rest will come from local coconut oil made into biodiesel. What is really amazing is that its per-capita income is only about $1,000 per year, a fraction of that in many western countries.

Why is Tokelau bothering though? Their fate is sealed, sea levels will rise further, drought will increase and coral will decline. However, this tiny group of islands believes that if they make a stand now, maybe, just maybe the rest of the world will follow.

The people of Tokelau will most likely be taken in by nearby neighbours, however their home islands will be lost forever, along with their natural beauty and potential. But that’s not the point.

I believe that Tokelau is a warning for what is to come for the rest of the earth. Climate change is happening and it’s real. If we carry on the way we are, we will almost surely destroy the planet we call home.

I have read predictions that by 2050 most of the worlds megacities and centres of economic and political power will be underwater. That includes the likes of London, California, the Netherlands and Bangladesh. That’s a lot of people who will be affected.

We need to take a stand now, for the sake of the future of planet earth.


A Europe centred picture of the Earth

Why not install solar on your roof? It could heat your hot water or power your electricity, even creating extra which you could sell back to the national grid! Why not have a small wind turbine set up in your back garden, that could do wonders for your energy bills!

Think about it. It is our world, we need to look after it.

From the bottom of my heart I ask that you think green, save resources and our home. We really are so lucky that in the whole of space, the perfect conditions came about so that our planet were ever to exist, with it’s vital magnetism and ozone layer, which helped to create and now sustains life.

Earth suspended in spaceWhat’s your opinion on this?

Categories
Business Environment Science Technology

Can green technology help us get out of the red?

Most people know that the world has recently emerged from an economic recession. Many people also know that we are all dangerously close to slipping back in, and are replying on governments around the world to keep us in the black.

However, has anyone thought about green technology as a way of helping steer an economy back to growth and prosper?

Well it would appear that Scotland might be doing just that, as they are trying to encourage as many as 600 companies to move into the ‘green economy’ in order to boost profitability. The green economy consists mainly of renewable energy sources, and low-carbon technologies.

Scottish flag - offshore wind farm

Scotland seem to have recognised that there could soon be big money in this industry, hence the drive towards getting more firms into the industry.


In its attempts to become the industry leader in green technology, Scotland’s Finance Secretary, John Swinney has said that he wants to increase exports 50% by 2017 and encourage inward investment in green and low-carbon technologies.

Unemployment seems to be a problem everywhere at the moment, but Mr Swinney’s new ‘green growth’ plans are likely to create around 130,000 jobs by the year 2020.

What do you think, is Scotland taking a step in the right direction by investing in green technologies, or is is a risky option to take given the current global economic climate?