Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Banning the Bottle

Last night I attended the first meeting of a new landscape design group, and on my way I stopped at a supermarket to buy goodies to bring to the meeting. The woman at the checkout immediately put my one item in a plastic grocery bag, and I found myself cringing yet again over the plastic bag issue.
"I don't need a bag, thanks. I don't want to throw away the plastic." I say as nicely as I can muster.
She says to me, a little defensively, "I know what you mean. But they're great for lining small garbage cans. "
"Unfortunately, they're also great for lining the streets," I say, wishing that all cities everywhere would ban the plastic and follow San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome's lead.
I'm please to say that Newsome is at it again, and this time it's single serving bottled water.
I hear a lot lately about the folly of bottled water. I once drank Calistoga by the case, reassuring myself that I was doing the right thing by sticking with a California-based water company. Less transport, local, and staying away from a large soda manufacturing company, all the warm fuzzies. But then I read the label carefully and did a little research, and found that Calistoga is nothing more than tap water.
It turns out many of our bottled water is merely tap water with minerals and bubbles added. Did you know there is a serious water shortage in FIJI? Then where did that water come from? And San Pelligrino sparkling has the gas added.
There's all that plastic for the bottles, and questions about whether or not that PET plastic is safe for consumption. Now think of all that tap water being trucked all over the world, and the amount of energy that must take. Why not just drink water from the tap?
I know it's a hard sell for those of you who love the taste of your favorite brand, but the cons are stacking up.
Mayor Gavin Newsome has an interview in Newsweek from last week outlining his new plan to ban the bottle, and why. Love him!
And when you're finished reading that, check out another article I serendipitously received ten minutes ago from a friend on the dirty secrets of bottled water.
Newsweek and Newsome
Message in a Bottle with Fast Company .com

Monday, July 2, 2007

Waste Equals Food

In the Cradle to Cradle concept, where all of life operates on the basis of cyclical processes, we hear the phrase "waste equals food". Everything we create should in turn fuel the next cycle, and in this equation there is no end product, no grave.
Ecological engineer Bara Bihari Jana and his colleagues at the University of Kalyani, India, have discovered a new use for a waste we have in abundance- human urine. Commercial fisheries grow enormous amounts of Moina micrura, a zooplankton species commonly fed to hatchling fish in fisheries. The most common diet for these zooplankton is chemical fertilizers. But these fertilizers are expensive and not readily available in all countries. Jana initially tested poultry and cow dung for potential alternatives, and these showed promise. But when these microorganisms were fed a diet of human urine, they reproduced more quickly, lived longer and reproduced more offspring.
Because human urine starts out in solution and is stable in its original form, this makes it a very cheap alternative for the fish industry. This method could prove a viable means of treating our waste products without chemicals, and in turn return that product back into the food cycle.
Humans waste has so far not been readily used as an agricultural product, due to residual antibiotics and risk of disease transfer. "New and alternative uses for wastes and wastewater like this need to be identified," says Stephen Smith, an environmental biochemist at Imperial College London. "My only potential concern would be that the urine is from healthy individuals not taking medication or antibiotics as these could be excreted in the urine."
Jana and his colleagues are very aware of the risks of contamination by human waste, but so far have not encountered any of those problems with their zooplankton in their early lab tests.
For the original article in Nature