Monday, February 24, 2014

How the U.S. manages to waste $165 billion in food each year

With people dying of starvation around the world, the California drought, plus all that fresh water, land, fertilizer and energy wasted, AND yet we still have an obesity epidemic??
You have to say . . . . WTF

By Brad Plumer

Each year, about 40 percent of all food in the United States goes uneaten. It's just tossed out or left to rot. And that's a fairly large waste of resources. All that freshwater and land, all that fertilizer and energy — for nothing. By one recent estimate, Americans are squandering the equivalent of $165 billion each year by rubbishing so much food. 

But these statistics don't tell the full story. How does the food actually get wasted? For that, here's a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council that tries to track food waste up and down the system, from "farm to fork."

1) Farming: Roughly 7 percent of the produce that's grown in the United States simply gets stranded on fields each year. Some growers plant more crops than there's demand for, to hedge against disease and weather. Some produce goes unpicked because it doesn't meet standards for shape and color. At times, perfectly fine crops go unharvested after food-safety scares, such as the FDA's salmonella warning in 2008. Fluctuating immigration laws in states like Georgia can also create shortages of farmworkers, which can leave food unpicked.

2) Post-harvest and packing: After crops have been gathered from the fields, farmers tend to cull produce to make sure it meets minimum standards for size, color, and weight. "One large cucumber farmer," the NRDC report notes, "estimated that fewer than half the vegetables he grows actually leave his farm and that 75 percent of the cucumbers culled before sale are edible." If there's a culprit here, it's our high aesthetic standards for food.

3) Processing and distribution:
Plenty of food gets trimmed in the manufacturing stage, though much of it is inedible anyway. Still, there's also a fair bit of avoidable waste. Technical malfunctions in processing and refrigeration are one big factor. Food can sometimes sit too long at improper temperatures and spoil. Another issue is that stores often reject shipments — and it's often difficult for distributors to find a new taker. After all, it's not as if food banks can always find a home for a truckload of rejected beets.

4) Retail and grocery stores:
Grocery stores are another huge source of rubbished food — with the USDA estimating that supermarkets toss out $15 billion worth of unsold fruits and vegetables alone each year. But waste is also seen as the cost of doing business. Stores would rather overstock their shelves and throw out the remainder than look empty. Supermarkets will also winnow out produce that's in subpar condition, since few shoppers want to buy an apple that's all bruised up.

There's also the issue of "sell by" expiration dates. The report cites one industry estimate that each store throws out, on average, $2,300 worth of food each day because the products have neared their expiration date. Yet most of this food is still edible. In many states, it's still perfectly legal to sell food past its expiration date. Many stores would just prefer not to — it looks bad. "Most stores, in fact, pull items 2 to 3 days before the sell-by date," the NRDC report observes.

5) Food service and restaurants: In restaurants, a good chunk of food is lost in the kitchen. And, on average, diners leave about 17 percent of their food uneaten. The report notes that portion sizes are a big reason for this, as portions have ballooned in the past 30 years. Restaurants also try to keep more food than they need on hand to make sure that everything on the menu is available. What's more, chain restaurants have inflexible rules that require perfectly good food to be tossed. McDonald's, for instance, requires fries to be thrown out after seven minutes. About one-tenth of fast food gets junked this way.

6) Households:
This appears to be the big one. According to various estimates, American families throw out between 14 and 25 percent of the food and beverages they buy. This can cost the average family between $1,365 to $2,275 annually. A big factor here, the NRDC report notes, is that food has become so cheap and readily available. So, most people reason, what's the big deal if some of it gets tossed? The report also notes there's a great deal of confusion around expiration labels, which tend to be confusing and often prompt people to throw out food prematurely.

7) Disposal:
Not all discarded food is equal. The report estimates that only 3 percent of thrown-out food in the United States is composted. Most end up in landfills, where they decompose and release methane, a powerful heat-trapping greenhouse gas. In fact, about 23 percent of U.S. methane emissions comes from landfill food. Composting or even technologies to capture methane could reduce that.

The NRDC report argues that it is feasible to limit this food waste, if people were inclined (although it's not clear how big a reduction is possible). Granted, some waste is inevitable. If shoppers don't want to buy dented avocados or funny-looking carrots, there's not much a grocery store can do.

Still, the report notes that Americans today waste 50 percent more food than they did in the 1970s, which suggests that there's a fair bit of room to improve. What's more, Britain has managed to reduce the amount of household food tossed out by 18 percent over the past five years through a combination of public-awareness campaigns and resolutions by leading retailers to eliminate their downstream waste.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Who Really Benefits from the Keystone Pipeline project?

Though President Obama has not made a final decision on whether he will green light the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline, it will no doubt create a firestorm, especially with the environmentalists, if he does.

Labeled the Dirtiest Pit on the Planet, the Alberta tar sands
During a recent survey, when asked about the Keystone Pipline project, most people didn't know much about it except that it will generate a lot of jobs and reduce US reliance on Mideast and Venezuelan imports.  They knew less about the kind of crude oil it would transport, or the environmental consequences, and none realized it was a mining procedure and not conventionally drilled.  And proponents want to keep it that way. The dumbing down process at its best.

Back in 2010, in our November edition, and before it became politically newsworthy, we published an article, "The Dirtiest Pit on the Planet." It discribed the Alberta tar sands oil field as one giant nightmare. This is the oil the Keystone Pipeline will be transporting.

The project will affect every living being, human or non-human on the planet. The carbon footprint is enormous, possibly bigger than anything we've seen before. It releases at least three times the CO2 emissions as regular oil production procedures and will likely become North America's single largest industrial contributor to climate change.
This photo was taken at least 6 years ago. It's about the size of Florida now. Stripped of vegetation, ground water and nearby rivers are completely contaminated.
The Keystone XL project would expand an existing pipeline from the huge tar sands of Alberta to refineries in the US Midwest, nearly doubling the initial capacity and transporting crude oil deeper into America to refineries on the Gulf coast of Texas. Its proposed route would stretch about 1,660 miles, connecting Hardisty, Alberta to Port Arthur, Texas. It was first proposed in 2008.

The southern leg of the pipeline, from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast, was completed last year, and began shipping oil on 21 January.  And so far it's had 14 accidents in its first year of operation.

TransCanada, the company behind the project, and other energy companies, as well as some major trades unions, argued that the pipeline project would create as many as 50,000 construction jobs.  The State Department estimates the project would create 5,000-6000 construction jobs. Obama last July put the figure even lower: just 2,000 construction jobs, and then 50-100 jobs a year. 

Does the US economy really need all that oil?
No. America is in the midst of an oil and gas boom, and on track to becoming an energy superpower. Most of the tar sands oil would eventually be exported, though there are plans to develop new markets for tar sands crude in the north-east. If half amount of money and technology was put into clean energy as in the fossil fuels we could be weaned off oil completely as an energy source by 2050.

So, Who Really Benefits from the Keystone and Tar Sands oil?

You don't have to look very far to see the usual suspects. Big oil naturally is at the top of the list and they can't dig fast enough, followed closely by many of our elected representatives, Republicans and Democrates, handing them the shovels.

However, if you want to know the real beneficiaries, you might start with the Koch brothers. They are positioned to be the big winners if the Keystone XL Pipeline is approved. The two brothers together own virtually all of Koch Industries Inc. — a giant oil conglomerate headquartered in Wichita, Kan., with annual revenues estimated to be $100 billion.

A Solve Climate News analysis, based on publicly available records, shows that Koch Industries is already responsible for close to 25 percent of the oil sands crude that is imported into the United States, and is well-positioned to benefit from increasing Canadian oil imports.

A Koch Industries operation in Calgary, Alberta, called Flint Hills Resources Canada LP, supplies about 250,000 barrels of tar sands oil a day to a heavy oil refinery in Minnesota, also owned by the Koch brothers. More

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

We're Starting to Get It . . . .

A record-high 71 percent of Americans consider the environment as one of their top priorities when they shop. 

That's up from 66 percent in 2008. However, almost three-quarters of them wish companies would do a better job helping them understand environmental terms and issues.

In reality, while we all would prefer to buy green products and buy them from greener companies, all things equal, it's hard to know which "purposeful brands" are really getting the job done. As consumers, we don't have enough knowledge readily available to help make meaningful choices. So, we're skeptical and, at times, confused.

Right now, the confusion is preventing progress because everybody can talk about "going green" but no one really knows what anyone is doing specifically. That makes it easy for some companies to not do much. When companies are more transparent, and that information becomes easily available and in one consistent format, consumers can make smarter decisions about which brands and products to support. And, subsequently, that puts a lot of pressure on environmentally inactive corporations and businesses to make a change. It makes going green competitive.

A company's honesty on green issues is also an important factor for consumers: some 69 percent say it's OK if a company is not environmentally perfect as long as it is honest, but 78 percent say they will boycott a product if they discover an environmental claim to be misleading.

This is what Alternatives Magazine is all about. Highlight businesses that actively promote a green, sustainable environment and healthy lifestyle choices -- AND then we take that message to the street -- literally -- through face-to-face business networking, attending festivals and other related LIVE events, as well as using all sources of the electronic media.

We invite you to check out our advertising and marketing plans to see how you can benefit by exposing your 'green side'. Click HERE >

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Cities May be the New Environmental Hubs

Over 38% of DC residents own no cars, while in many neighborhoods “people own more bikes than cars."
January 17, 2014 | Ethan Goffman

Chicago and New York have been vying for the title of greenest city in America, and for 2013 Washington, DC has joined them, with a new plan, Sustainable DC. The idea, according to Mayor Vincent Gray, is to “make the District of Columbia the healthiest, greenest, and most livable city in the United States.”

To do so, Washington, DC is focusing on seven areas: the built environment, energy, food, nature, transportation, waste, and water. Of these, transportation has been drawing attention, particularly the goal of getting automobile use down to 25% of local trips. This has led critics to charge that DC is waging a “war on cars,” but city officials describe the plan as putting other means of transportation on an equal footing with automobiles.

Everything Is Connected

Transportation is part of the Sustainable, DC plan because it’s integral to so many aspects of the environment: land development, parks, energy use, climate change, air pollution, water quality, habitat fragmentation, and human well being. “Cars make up about a third of greenhouse gas emissions,” explained Chris McCahill, Project Manager at the Congress for New Urbanism. “They’re also tied to a great deal of our energy use, most of which is due to fossil fuels.”

Public transit is also socially sustainable. “We see providing sustainable, multi-modal transportation as central to equity,” said Sam Zimbabwe, Associate Director for Policy Planning and Sustainability in DC’s Department of Transportation. “It lowers the cost of living when people don’t need a car.” He also pointed to the high rate of asthma in DC, due in part to automobile emissions.

Reducing car use in cities even seems to help the economy, according to a recent study co-authored by McCahill. “Cities that have tried to copy the suburbs by becoming friendlier to cars have not done nearly as well as cities that have embraced the advantages that urban places have,” he said. Introducing automobiles makes it “very difficult to achieve the right density,” McCahill added.

Lon Anderson, Managing Director, Public and Government Affairs, AAA MidAtlantic, however, believes that cars have a crucial place in American cities. He argues that “cars and automobility will continue to be an important part of the fabric of a vibrant downtown.”

Contrarily, David Alpert, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the popular blog Greater Greater Washington, views an excessive dependence on cars as harmful to both city and suburb. Car-oriented development “gobbles up hundreds of acres, thousands of acres,” leading to “the gray field type of sprawl,” he said.

By contrast, dense development that encourages transit, walking, and biking means “access to parks nearby, reducing air quality alert days, access to local food, more urban agriculture, reducing asthma rates, and more local jobs,” said Alpert. Cars mean less green space, less walking and interacting, and, often, a less business-friendly environment.

Putting Car Use on a Diet

Sustainable DC builds on the city’s earlier success in transit and walkability, beginning with the construction of a Metro Rail system in the 1970s. This provided the core infrastructure, but more was needed. In the past decade the city has added dense, walkable areas mixing shops and residential to take advantage of public transit. Five years ago, DC launched the United States’ premier bike sharing system, which was greatly expanded in 2010 and has since been widely copied. DC is also working on a streetcar network, set to launch by the end of this year and eventually planned to cover 37 miles.

All of this means slightly less space for cars. “We are in certain places reallocating space,” said Zimbabwe, “taking away some car lanes in some key arteries to provide space for bikes” and streetcars. However, “traffic counts are fairly flat, in some places even declining over the past five years,” largely due to limited access from nearby suburbs. In a city that’s been growing by 1,100 people a month for the past two years, ways must be found other than cars to move them. “Now, we have close-in neighborhoods where people do have choices,” said Zimbabwe. Pedestrian comfort and accessibility is also being improved.

One controversial method of reducing car use is congestion charges, making individual drivers pay for the inconvenience they cause during peak driving hours. “Putting a price on driving gives people incentive for alternatives,” said Alpert. DC is only beginning to study this question, which must be approached in conjunction with nearby Maryland and Virginia suburbs. It’s a long process, with “many ways to do congestion charges,” said Zimbabwe. “It’s a political question as well as a policy question.”

A key element to reducing car use is reducing parking. Government has long required commercial and residential buildings to provide a certain amount of parking. “Historically zoning codes in the mid 20th century had the expectation that everyone would drive everywhere, so every building must have enough space,” said Alpert. In DC this has resulted in unused parking spaces, which can cost upwards of $50,000 each to build, a large cost to developers, which is passed on to city residents.

Exemptions on parking minimums have already occurred, and the Sustainable DC plan will accelerate this process. “District government proposed to remove parking minimums in transit rich areas downtown, to allow the market to decide how much parking,” said Zimbabwe.

Another way to reduce car use is simply to charge more for street parking, currently undervalued. Again, the market will decide, a change that Alpert described as “essentially congestion pricing for parking.” Currently, with artificially low prices, cars circle around looking for spaces, increasing congestion and hurting air quality.

Anderson, not surprisingly, disagrees. “Limiting parking further will ultimately damage the city, its businesses and quality of life in its neighborhoods as homeowners are unable to find parking near their homes, and visitors are unable to find convenient parking in the city,” he said.

The War on Cars?

DC’s effort to reduce automobile trips has led to charges, from the AAA mid-Atlantic, that DC is waging a “war on cars.” Explained Anderson, “Whether you call it a war on motorists or a campaign against cars, there no question that DC has developed a real hostility and abusive attitude towards drivers, seeking to take extreme advantage of them.”

To this charge, Zimbabwe replied that reallocating space “isn’t borne out of hostility but out of serving the diversity of demand in the district. Over half of the commute trips in the district are bike, walk, or transit today, but the space allocated on our streets isn’t consistent with this.”

Anderson further cited the proposal to eliminate parking minimums, aggressive ticketing and automated enforcement, and the arrest of motorists for driving on expired tags as parts of the campaign against cars. He also suggests that such actions are about “keeping the $100 million revenue stream flowing,” more than about safety.

Zimbabwe answered that “On enforcement, all of our activities are predicated on safety,” adding that “we had one of the safest years on record last year.” He also pointed out that two thirds of the cars on DC’s streets are not from the city. Most come from nearby suburbs in Maryland and Virginia.

Indeed, said Zimbabwe, over 38% of DC residents own no cars, while in many neighborhoods “people own more bikes than cars.” He added that “we can’t continue to grow and be successful as a city and have everyone’s only choice be to drive. We then would be choked.”

Still, it will be difficult to implement the Sustainable DC plan of adding transit and bike lanes while charging more for amenities car users have come to expect. A long, contentious struggle lies ahead. “Politically, yes it’s a challenge,” said Zimabwe. “A lot of people won’t like it. Parking is cheap, they don’t want it to change. Any change, you can talk all you want about options, somebody’s not going to like it.”

What the FDA Knew (and Hid) About Antibiotics in Animal Feed

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has known for more than 12 years that routine use of antibiotics in livestock is harmful to human health, yet it has taken no meaningful action.

Routine use of antibiotics in food animals has promoted a rapid rise in antibiotic-resistant disease, which now claims more lives than emphysema, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, and homicide combined.

Two million American adults and children become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, and at least 23,000 of them die as a direct result of those infections.

Virtually all animal feed additives containing penicillin and tetracycline antibiotics—both of which are used to treat human disease—pose a “high risk” to human health, according to a new report
Many bacteria are developing cross resistance; a situation where a bacteria becomes resistant to multiple drugs, making them virtually impossible to eradicate once they infect you.

Read full story: Dr. Mercola Newsletter, February 12, 2014 

The Basics of Life

  By Willard “Woody” Michels Guest Blogger A couple years ago a man named Gabriel Sherman wrote a book, “The Loudest Voice in the Room.” Th...