August 19th, 2021

Turning Food Waste into Profits

By Da Beattie

According to a 2011 report by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), one-third of food produced for human consumption is wasted; and this percentage is expected to increase by 2030. However, the definition of food waste is disputable due to cultural differences in what is considered edible.

As of 2016, 40% of food waste occurs during harvest and processing in developing countries due to a lack of sufficient technology to efficiently harvest crops.

In 2012, developed countries wasted over 222 million tonnes of food which is the equivalent to the net food production of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Generally, the most common foods thrown away are fruits and vegetables, which make up 42% of total food waste, with fish and seafood being the least common to waste at 1%. In terms of how much food is wasted compared to production levels, fruits and vegetables are once again at the top of the list. The graph below provides insight on food waste, organized by food category.

FAO and National Geographic 2016 (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/article/global-food-waste-statistics)

Despite the increasing amounts of food waste, the issues surrounding it continues to be left unaddressed. Many individuals suffer from chronic food deprivation, and as of 2017, this number was estimated at over 821 million people. Although the number of individuals malnourished occupies a larger percentage of the total population in developing nations, hunger and food insecurity are global issues that occur all over the world.

Not only is world hunger an issue, but food waste also wastes global resources like water and money spent on food production. As more food is wasted at a rate faster than degradation, landfills are becoming increasingly full. This can leach toxic byproducts and chemicals into the soil and wastewater. As well, some studies show that there are many short and long-term health effects due to living nearby a landfill such as cancers, allergies, and issues regarding birth and fetus development.

Methane emissions from decomposing food also contribute to the greenhouse gas effect, thus, exacerbating climate change and increasing the global temperature, which causes many undesirable effects, including making agriculture more unpredictable.

The biggest problem with food waste is that it is largely preventable. With proper legislation, organization, and technology, the amount of food waste can be reduced, and Too Good To Go, also known as toogoodtogo is just one of many companies whose mission focuses on doing so.

Toogoodtogo is a company that uses its app to reduce food waste by connecting businesses such as grocery stores, bakeries, and restaurants to consumers who can buy nearly expiring food that is still edible at 1/3 the cost of the original retail price. Although initially implemented in various European cities, toogoodtogo has recently come to Toronto with participating stores like SummerHill Market, the Pantry, and many others. Depending on the participating store, consumers can choose between bakery, produce, or prepared foods through the toogoodtogo app. Although the consumer must go in person to pick up their mystery bag, payment and confirmation of pick up are all done contact-free through the app, making the process easy and COVID safe. This is a great way to save money and reduce food waste!

By supporting companies like toogoodtogo and by encouraging the development of food waste prevention businesses, many elements surrounding the issue can be resolved. Companies can profit by helping the planet and make food affordable and accessible to those who need it, reducing the build-up of food waste in landfills.

Check out toogoodtogo and keep an eye out for other companies with similar goals. Remember to think twice before wasting food and find alternative ways to prevent doing so!

Sources:

http://www.fao.org/3/i2697e/i2697e.pdf

http://www.fao.org/3/c0088e/c0088e.pdf

http://www.fao.org/3/mb060e/mb060e.pdf

https://www.bcg.com/publications/2018/tackling-1.6-billion-ton-food-loss-and-waste-crisis

https://www.cbc.ca/news/science/un-hunger-climate-change-1.4818400

https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Impact-of-Landfill-Waste-on-Health-%3A-An-Overview-Swaroopanand-Mahavidyalya/7b702ed22a7eeb6e465dbda1e905b6e1d9f4a680?p2df

July 11th, 2021

The Future of LEGO

By Da Beattie

LEGO is an iconic childhood toy. The colourful plastic bricks that come in many sizes and themes are notorious for being painful to step on when the inevitable piece does not find its way back to where it belongs.

In 2019, LEGO introduced a treehouse kit made of bioplastic sourced from sugar cane, which is not durable enough to make regular LEGO blocks. However, the new process, still in development, allows every one-litre polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottle to be converted into ten 2×4 LEGO bricks.

LEGO’s 2015 pledge to improve sustainability has been witnessed in the past few years. As of 2014, LEGO is a part of the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Climate Savers Programme, where the company has set goals to become more carbon neutral. In 2019, three years ahead of schedule, the company was announced to be using 100% renewable energy.

Currently, turning plastic bottles into LEGO bricks is a multi-step process, more complex than re-shaping PET. Firstly, plastic bottles made of PET are ground into flakes. The flakes get cleaned to ensure quality control and then are granulated. The granules then undergo other processes to become a durable material that passes the quality of LEGO that has not yet been finalized or announced. Before being moulded, further quality control testing is completed, after which more testing for quality is done. If the material passes all the tests, the granules of plastic are tested for mechanical properties. Only after all this testing is successfully completed do the bricks and pieces undergo colouring. If all goes well, the machinery to manufacture the new product gets evaluated.

The Process of PET to LEGO: Image from the LEGO group

Although there are other toy companies that manufacture their products from recycled plastic, such as Green Toys, LEGO would be the first mainstream brand to bring recycled plastic toys to the children’s market. By taking the initiative to become more environmentally aware in both education and production, LEGO can inspire other mainstream brands in toy making to do the same. We can only hope that more brands will turn to recycled plastic and other sustainable manufacturing in the future!

Sources:

https://www.lego.com/en-us/aboutus/news/2021/june/prototype-lego-brick-recycled-plastic

June 4th, 2021

Recycled Alternatives to Driving a Car

By Da Beattie

Everyone knows that driving a car pollutes the environment. But in the middle of a pandemic, convincing yourself that the subway is safe may be more difficult than usual. Also, an anomaly associated with the pandemic is that many Starbucks locations have been closing, but instant coffee machines such as Nespresso and Keurig are simple alternatives. Inserting a pod and pressing a button is faster, cheaper, and saves a disposable coffee cup. But where do all these disposable pods go?

Keurig cups are made of plastic, foil, and coffee grounds and so, they cannot be dumped into your home recycling or your compost bin. According to the Keurig Canada website, you can easily peel off the foil lid, which is not recyclable in Toronto, scrape out the coffee grounds and add them to compost. The remaining plastic #5 cup is recycled. Keep in mind that in Toronto, black plastic is not recycled, and not all Keurig cups may be fully recyclable.

The recycling process for Nespresso pods is much easier from a user’s point of view. Collect your used capsules in a Nespresso recycle bag and drop it off at a Canada Post or a Nespresso store. The pods will then relocate to a facility that separates the coffee grounds from the aluminum. The isolated coffee goes to compost, and the aluminum gets recycled. The aluminum from Nespresso pods is recycled into bikes. Although bicycling is good exercise and can be a low carbon source of transportation, Trek Bikes states that the average bike made by Trek requires travel of 430 miles to offset carbon emissions during the production of the bike. On the other hand, Nespresso and the European company, Velosophy, are amongst the first companies to produce a bike whose frame is made out of recycled aluminum. Velosophy is also the first bike company that has made a one-for-one promise to help girls in developing countries attend school. Even though there is minimal reduction in the production costs, said companies are taking environmental initiatives to recycle material like aluminum, minimize waste, and encourage healthy living – for ourselves and the planet.

Recycling plastic is also a great alternative. Bureo Skateboards collects abandoned and polluted fishing nets, which overwhelm the oceans and shores. Their facility processes them into pellets that get remoulded into skateboards. Although skateboards are not as easy to ride as bikes, Bureo has also partnered with many companies, including Trek Bikes, to make a water bottle holder out of recycled plastic.

These are just a few initiatives taken by small and big corporations to reduce, reuse, and recycle (our favourite Rs), where plastic and metal have been repurposed to make alternatives to driving a car. No effort is too little.

Sources Used:

https://www.keurig.ca/recyclable-kcup-pods

https://www.nespresso.com/ca/en/irecycle

Trek Bikes 2021 E-bike Catalog

One for One

https://bureo.co

May 7th, 2021

Fermentation

By Da Beattie

Fermentation is a widely used process that creates the air in yeasted breads and the carbonation in alcoholic beverages. The source is yeast.

Yeast is a microorganism that is is eukaryotic and single celled. Humans are also eukaryotic meaning that their cells, or in the case of yeast, singular cell, has a nucleus that holds DNA and other membrane bound organelles such as the mitochondria. Prokaryotes on the other hand, store their DNA in a nucleoid which ice not membrane bound and they do not have mitochondria. Although they are also eukaryotic in domain, at the kingdom level (the second highest taxonomic rank) yeast diverse from humans which are animals and yeast is fungus.

Yeast fermentation is the process in which sugars are metabolized to carbon dioxide and alcohol in the absence of oxygen. In the presence of oxygen, yeast convert sugars to carbon dioxide and water.

Fermentation was discovered in 1815 when French chemist Joseph Louis Gay Lussac discovered that in the absence of yeast, grape juice wort remained unfermented. However, it was another French chemist Louis Pasteur who solidified the role of yeast in fermentation.

The first step of fermentation is glycolysis which converts glucose to pyruvate, a process all living cells can do. With oxygen present, pyruvate can go on to many more cycles of metabolism like the tricarboxylic acid cycle and eventually the electron transport chain. In the absence of oxygen, pyruvate can be converted to ethanol or lactate.

The process of fermentation has been used and exploited in many diverse ways. Different strains of yeast can survive higher alcohol contents before cell death and this can be used to create the array of alcoholic beverages on the market today. Beer is made from fermenting malted barley. Wine is from fermenting fruits which are most commonly but not exclusively grapes. Mead is created by fermenting honey. Sake is from fermented rice. Gin is distilled and flavoured with Juniper berries. Brandy is distilled wine from grapes. Whiskey is from grain which can be barley, rye, wheat, or corn. Rum is from sugarcane and vodka is distilled from potatoes, grains or fruit.

Sources:

https://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/yeast-fermentation-and-the-making-of-beer-14372813/

April 30th, 2021

Wool versus Cashmere

By Da Beattie

Athleisure and synthetic fabrics are now one of the most popular industries. But it wasn’t always this way.

Back in the 1950s, wool was very valuable. Wool, which comes from sheep’s peaked in value in 1988 with wool exports in New Zealand valued at 1.9 billion dollars. There are many different kinds of sheep that produce different kinds of wool. Romney sheep produce coarse wool and they need to be sheared twice a year to avoid parasites flies. Female sheep produce 36 micron wool that is used for carpets and rugs due to it is hardness compared to male wool. Male wool 29 micron, finer, and best used for clothes and blankets that are softer (Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eo9T781wVh0).

Other types of wool, you may have heard of are merino and shetland although there are many other kinds of wool and breeds of sheep.

On the other hand, cashmere comes from goats. There are also many breeds of goats and wool can also come from goats. For example, Pashmina wool comes from Pashmina goats and mohair comes from Angora goats. In 2016, the majority of cashmere was produced in China and Mongolia (Source: https://www.peta.org/living/personal-care-fashion/cashmere-mohair-goat-facts/).

While there are many ethical issues around farming animals for their skin like cows, or their hair there are also ethical issues surrounding popular synthetic fabrics. Synthetic fabrics are good at sweat wicking and are normally stretchy but because they are made of plastics and similar derivatives, they release microplastics into the oceans which are harmful to the coral and wildlife.

Overall, it is very important to be aware of other impacts the fashion industry may have such as fast fashion and the water and carbon costs of producing clothing. As always, reduce, reuse, and recycle. Another person’s trash could be your treasure.

April 16th, 2021

All About SPF

By Da Beattie

Beauty might be subjective. But sun safety is not. From long-sleeved clothing to hats and sunblock, it is a lot easier said than done. While battling summer heat and style, long-sleeved clothing is not something everyone is willing to put up with. Most people turn to sunblock. From tinted, to scented, to natural, sunblocks can have huge variations. 

While UVA rays do not cause sunburns like UVB, UVA causes deep skin damage and results in earlier ageing and can lead to skin issues such as melanoma.

Natural sunblock refers to sunblocks whose active ingredients are titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide that sits on top of the skin and deflect ultraviolet rays. Typically, these sunblocks will leave a white sheen. 

Common ingredients in other sunblocks include oxybenzone, a derivative of benzophenone that absorbed UVA (https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Oxybenzone). It is associated with coral reef toxicity and has been shown to increase coral’s susceptibility to bleaching, damage coral DNA, disrupt coral hormone processes and lead to deformities (https://coral.org/blog/sunscreen-and-corals/). Studies also show that oxybenzone can disrupt hormone regulation thus leading to toxicity. 

Avobenzone also filters UVA, and octinoxate and homosalate filter UVB (information from safecosmetics.org). Like oxybenzone, octocrylene has been shown to accumulate in wildlife and cause DNA damage (Ruszkiewicz JA, Pinkas A, Ferrer B, Peres TV, Tsatsakis A, Aschner M. Neurotoxic effect of active ingredients in sunscreen products, a contemporary review. Toxicol Rep. 2017 May 27;4:245-259. DOI: 10.1016/j.toxrep.2017.05.006. PMID: 28959646; PMCID: PMC5615097). 

Along with the active ingredients, sunblocks have many inactive ingredients contributing to stability, texture and water resistance. To further understand the various products on the market the EWG Skin Deep Database ranks the safety of products by the safety of every ingredient in that product and by price range. 

In general, zinc oxide and cream/lotion overspray are generally the least toxic. But the complexity doesn’t end there. Many European countries have sunblocks that block more than double the UVA rays that even the highest American sunblock can block. Examples include Tinosorb S and Tinosorb M which block UVA. Another chemical is called Mexorxyl, which is now also in Canada and is able to turn UV into heat. (https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/cancer-controversial-science-cosmetics-environment-health-news/safe-sunscreens-no-safe-tans). 

Despite the differences, all sunblocks are ranked by the SPF system. Whereas UPF measures the UV protection of clothing fabrics, SPF measures the UV protection of sunblocks. The SPF number tells you how long it will take for the sun to cause sunburn when using the product as directed compared to the amount of time to sunburn bare skin. The SPF system is a logarithmic trend and reaches a plateau. Thus 60 SPF is not double the protection of 30 SPF. SPF 30 will block 97% of rays, and SPF 50 will block 98% of rays, however, this means that SPF 30 is allowing 50% more rays into your skin compared to SPF50 (https://www.skincancer.org/blog/ask-the-expert-does-a-high-spf-protect-m…). That being said, the general recommended minimum SPF for sunblock is 30. 

With summer coming up soon, no matter what you do, always remember to reapply every two hour, after a towel dry, and after sweating. Combining these sun safety measures will help you enjoy a bright, lovely summer day with minimal risk to your health! 

March 19th, 2021

Natural Food Dye

By Da Beattie

Everybody loves a beautiful piece of food. From firetruck red peppers, bright orange oranges to purple carrots and purple cauliflower, colour is just one of the many way’s nature is beautiful.

If you have consumed a coloured baked good, it was likely dyed with food dye. Food dye names are coloured and numbered and some of the ones on the market approved by the FDA are blue 1, blue 2, yellow 5, red 3, red 40 and titanium dioxide.

While some studies show that food dyes can cause cancer and hyperactivity in children, at low doses, food dye’s seem to be considered safe.

The most common areas where I personally see the use of food dye is in candy, cookie decorations, macarons, fondant, cake decorations, popsicles and many more. While many companies are switching to natural food dyes such as Chapman’s Lolly popsicles, which as a consumer I have noticed have gone from bright neon colours to duller matte’s, the use of food dyes is still broad.

Here, I will be listing some ways, you as an individual can use fruits and vegetables to make your own food dye.

Powdered freeze dried fruit is an amazing way to add colour and flavour into various baked goods as cookies. Although freeze dried fruit is quite expensive, the natural colour and real fruit taste comes through in baked goods and this can be an amazing way to jazz up basic recipes like sugar cookies or make strawberry frosting for cakes.

Pink colour can also come from regular strawberries, cherries and even raspberries, although they may also impart their flavour. Red can come from beet juice. Yellow and orange can come from turmeric. Green from matcha. Blue from red cabbage with baking soda and Spirulina. Brown can come from cocoa, which unless used in excess will not impart a chocolate flavour. And black can come from charcoal and Squid Ink. (McDowell 2020)

While the colours may not be as you might be used to, to obtain deep colouring without comprising the texture and structure of a baked good, powders and gels are preferred and always remember, liquids must be reduced.

Although I have not personally tried this myself, check out the inspiration for this post at Food52 https://food52.com/blog/16265-how-to-make-all-natural-food-dyes-from-ingredients-in-your-kitchen

And check out Erin McDowell’s personal site at https://www.erinjeannemcdowell.com/recipes-home

Sources I used

McDowell, Erin. 2020. How to Make Natural Food Coloring From Ingredients in Your Kitchen.

https://food52.com/blog/16265-how-to-make-all-natural-food-dyes-from-ingredients-in-your-kitchen

March 5th, 2021

The Importance of Insects

By Amna Abu Askar

As we welcome warmer days and blooming flowers, we unfortunately welcome uninvited visitors home. BUGS!! With the approach of Spring, many hidden insects come out of their slumber in search of food. Insects typically enter our houses through cracks attempting to escape the cold wintery weather. They remain dormant inside walls and windowsills and when temperatures warm up again they become active in our homes as they try to make their way out. Swarming bugs in houses can be very annoying and unbearable for many of us. You might find yourself thinking, why do bugs exist, and why are there so many of them? 

Insects are amongst the most dominant and diverse life forms on the planet with a vast range of functional roles. It’s estimated that there are about 50 million species of insects, of which only 20% are described and named.1 Insects make up the majority of the terrestrial ecosystem and are arguably the most important group of terrestrial animals; so crucial that if they were all wiped out of the planet, humanity probably would not last for more than a few months. Our arthropod friends create the biological foundation for all terrestrial ecosystems; tundra, tropical rainforests, grasslands…etc. They cycle nutrients by consuming and recycling live plant material, and decomposing dead organisms. They also play a vital role in maintaining soil composition and fertility, seed dispersion, and plant pollination, with bees, moths and wasps being the top pollinators. 1  Soil insects are essential for litter breakdown and  returning nutrients to primary producers.

Although we have heard of pest infestations that have resulted in several agricultural losses, most of these insect pests are non-native species introduced into a new ecosystem without their natural biological control agents.1 Otherwise, ecological services by insect pollination are of great economic value in the fruit-growing and greenhouse industries, and in the growing of forage crops. In fact, 85% of flowering plants are pollinated by insects. Not only are insects great in agriculture, but they are also of great interest to biomechanical and bioengineering researchers, due to the unique features they possess. For example, insect cuticles known for strength and stiffness have inspired scientists to develop material with similar composition and strength.1  The manufactured material is called Shrilk, which is composed of fibroin protein and chitin extracted from exoskeletons.  

Insects are of great importance as a source of food for a diverse range of predators. Insects provide the major food supply of many amphibians, fish, birds and mammals. Mammals such as black bears in North America feed on ants in the spring as a source of protein and essential amino acids unavailable in other spring foods.1 In many regions of the world, insects serve as a supplementary human protein source.  Besides serving as food, insects produce byproducts such as honeydew and frass that provide and sustain other species.1  

Insects are of great importance because of their vast diversity, ecological role, influence on agriculture and crop growth. So before you grab that vacuum cleaner to suck them up, maybe show them the way out to their natural environment where they can flourish and nourish our ecosystem.  

1. Scudder GGE. The Importance of Insects. In: Insect Biodiversity. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd; 2017:9-43. doi:10.1002/9781118945568.ch2

February 26th, 2021

Which Milk is Best?

By Da Beattie

You have probably heard about the impact cows, the meat, and the diary industry have on not only agriculture but many other industries. It is pretty common knowledge that cow’s milk is not sustainable.

While many sources also argue the health effects of cow’s milk, most cow milk consumers would argue the delicious smooth and refreshing taste that tastes just as good in the summer with cereal, as it does in the winter with cereal. With milk instead of water, hot chocolate powder can go from a solid seven to a ten.

So what are the other alternatives? Which one is best? And which one tastes the best?

In an article from the BBC Climate change: Which vegan milk is best, authors Clara Guibourg and Helen Briggs compile data and figures from Poore and Nemecek (2018) which show the environmental impact of different milks by carbon emissions, land use, and water use. Poore and Nemecek (2018) also share the carbon emissions for one glass of milk and how the impact varies by global location.

If you are now convinced to start drinking almond milk, take a moment to watch the Lawyers Guns and Honey episode of Rotten on Netflix. This episode goes over the honey industry, honey fraud, bee thefts, and the almond pollination business enlightening the viewers to the detrimental effects and politics of foods we view as healthy and natural.

If you are now thinking about oat milk, you might have to think twice. Despite being one of the least impactful, most neutral tasting alternative milks, the price is still quite high compared to almond milk which has a larger environmental impact.

If you are anything like me, you might have the next best video idea! A taste test! From original derivative, to brand, to flavour, you could spend all day making special concoctions and blind taste testing them. If you do this let me know! From cereal, to coffee to plain out of a mug, the possibilities are endless!

January 29th, 2021

The Future of Innovation: Fungi, Algae and Recycled Plastic

By Da Beattie

Just like food, sustainable vegan alternatives are on the rise. While most vegan leather is petroleum based, Bolt Threads, takes a different spin. Mycelium, the root-like part of fungus is their base for Mylo. Although best known for Microsilk, a spider free silk made by geoengineering yeast genes, Mylo is the natural network of mycelium cells harvested. Coming later in 2021, Bolt Threads has partnered with lululemon, Stella McCartney and Adidas to bring sustainable products to the fashion industry. 

While the future of fungi is looking bright, the future of algae is looking just as bright. WNDR Alpine uses Checkerspot’s trademarked algae based polyurethanes to make skis that are lighter and stronger than conventional downhill skis. 

While it is clear that biotechnology is on the rise, there is still never a wrong time to recycle. Using recycled plastic, companies like Nike have created Flyknit as well as Patagonia’s Better Sweaters. Girlfriend Collective, an athleisure company, also uses recycled polyester, nylon, and cupro, which is made from cotton waste. Allbirds, not only uses recycled plastic bottles in their products, their packaging is made from 90% recycled cardboard. 

If you felt entrepreneurial before, I hope that now you feel even more inspired for what the future holds. Always remember, reduce and reuse comes before recycle. 

Sources I used

https://www.fastcompany.com/90547857/wndr-alpine-innovation-by-design-2020

https://www.fastcompany.com/40562633/this-leather-is-made-from-mushrooms-not-cows

https://www.businessinsider.com/companies-using-recycled-plastic-in-products#buffy-5

https://www.girlfriend.com/pages/about

https://www.allbirds.com/pages/our-materials-wool

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