January 24, 2008 | General

BioCycle World

BioCycle January 2008, Vol. 49, No. 1, p. 6

Postconsumer food waste is a major problem in the United Kingdom, reports Warmer Bulletin (November 2007), with consumers producing 6.7 million metric tons (mmt) each year – equivalent to a fifth of all domestic waste and approximately a third of all food bought. “Much of it could have been eaten,” writes Kit Strange. “If one considers the food wasted across the supply chain, this poses significant environmental and economic implications for manufacturers, retailers, consumers and local authorities.” A two-day conference on waste prevention and resource efficiency in the food sector was held in London early in November.
If Britain’s stopped wasting all this food, the action would prevent the equivalent to 15 mmt CO2 emissions each year – the same as taking one in five cars off the road.
Continues the report in Warmer Bulletin: Food impacts are significant but complex, because they arise from natural systems not manufacturing processes. Primary production generally accounts for most impacts – processing, transport and storage have lesser impacts.
Surveys show that food wastage is an almost universal behavior. However, families with school age children and young working people are more likely to waste food, while older people (those over 65 years) are less likely to waste their food.
Copies of presentations made by a score of experts from the food sector supply chain are available for download from the RRF (Resource Recovery Forum)
At its annual conference, the Composting Association of the United Kingdom launched “A Manifesto for Achieving Sustainable Biodegradable Waste Management.” The manifesto provides an overview of the key challenges facing the composting industry and offers recommendations for governmental support: Supporting the development of new infrastructure; Managing residual waste: compost-like outputs; and Supporting sustainable agriculture: the sector’s role as carbon managers.
The recommendation for developing a new infrastructure includes the creation of a governmental task force, which would review policies and practices currently in place. It also suggests the creation of a waste planning Education Program to increase knowledge about the benefits of composting for resource management.
For managing residual waste, it recommends more attention and support for compost-like outputs when aiming for landfill diversion targets. This would involve government-established criteria and a revision of guidelines for land spreading as part of the waste management licensing exemptions.
And finally, the Composting Association recommends that as part of its sustainable farming and food strategy, policies should reflect the link between quality compost and soil management practices. This would include specific references on biowaste management as means of mitigating the adverse effects of climate change. For more information, visit:
Portland, Oregon became the first city in the nation to adopt a formal policy to promote sustainable storm water management practices on public streets, reports Sustainable Industries in its December 2007 issue. Developed by Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services, the city’s Green Streets program was added to its Storm Water Management Manual. The policy mandates all city-funded projects are required to follow the manual by designing a Green Street or pay into a fund that would support Green Street projects, explains the Department’s Emily Hauth. A Green Street installed at one of the city’s New Seasons Markets has the potential to remove about one million gallons of storm water runoff from the combined sewer system annually.
In 2004, an experimental dog waste composting program began collecting waste from the Notre-Dame-de-Grace dog run in Montreal, Quebec. The project sought to prove that composting dog waste on a large scale is a reasonable solution to reducing the volume of solid waste being sent to the landfill. A study published in Compost Science & Utilization (“Design, Testing and Implementation of a Large-Scale Urban Dog Waste Composting Program,” 2007, Vol. 15, No. 4, 237-242) showed that the program was successful. It was estimated to divert over a ton of dog waste, 300 tons of sawdust and more than 7,000 plastic bags annually from just one Montreal park. Since the study, the program has been fully implemented in the Notre-Dame-de-Grace dog park, with nine compost bins. Finished compost is distributed to members of the dog run, and used in flowerpots at the dog run itself.
In her article “Campus Greening,” Ann Rappaport writes in the January/February 2008 issue of Environment about many features used to reduce student impact. They include: composting toilets in residences; locally grown organic food in the dining halls; biodiesel buses and solar thermal systems; electric vehicles for mail delivery. These are some ideas to reduce ecoimpacts from more than 17 million enrolled students. “Although campus greening has been going on for decades, recent initiatives fueled by concern for global warming have the potential to establish new thinking,” she writes.
Analyses of sustainability raise essential questions about how it is defined and becomes operational. Universities think about energy in terms of managing risks, especially since they spend an estimated $2 billion per year on energy. When reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, they take action on increased efficiency, increased green power use, fuel switching and reduced demand through changed behavior. She also stresses waste reduction:
“Recycling requires many decision makers to change the way they handle waste, and the capital costs of a great recycling program are low. A comprehensive program can be achieved with ‘sweat equity,’ the hard work of committed people who research markets, establish contracts with haulers, set out bins for different materials … Developing new technologies, creating new policies and analytical systems that will meet current needs … while producing graduates who act in favor of the environment are all underlying goals of campus greening.”
A farmer in Mali, Africa has found that a seemingly worthless weed can be used to run a generator – or even a car. The plant called jatropha is being hailed by scientists as an ideal source of biofuel – it can grow in marginal soil, between rows of food crops, does not require lots of fertilizer and has high yields. Poor farmers are planting it, spurred on by big oil companies like BP and Dl Oils. Countries like India, China, the Philippines and Malaysia are starting huge plantations.
In Mali, writes The New York Times, it’s too early to decide whether jatropha will be viable as a commercial biofuel, and farms in India are expressing frustration after finding no buyers for the seeds. But in Mali, many small-scale projects are blossoming using the fuel in specially modified generators. “We are focused on solving our own energy problems and reducing poverty,” says a project director. “If it helps the world, that is good too.”
A Singapore-based firm has announced plans to plant 4.9 million acres of jatropha in the Philippines. In Mali, a Dutch entrepreneur started a company with investors who seek to generate biodiesel from the seeds.
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection is hostings its 8th Massachusetts Organics Recycling Summit: “The Changing Climate of Composting,” March 4, 2008 in Marlborough, Massachusetts. A compost operator training workshop will take place the following day. Scheduled sessions include composting and climate change, current trends with biodegradable products use, and innovations in composting technologies. Roundtable discussions will cover the regulatory process for adding food waste to leaf and yard waste composting sites and funding opportunities for organics diversion projects. For more information, contact Morgan Harriman at
On April 1, 2008, the Composting Association of Vermont is holding its annual summit at the Vermont Technical College in the Randolph Center. A range of composting and organics recycling topics will be covered. More information is available from Katherine Sims, Composting Association of Vermont,
The annual 2007 issue of Wilderness – published by the Wilderness Society of Washington, DC – contains an article specifying what another century of global warming could do to our wilderness, and how wilderness can help us fight back. Here are excerpts:
At Washington State’s Mount Rainier Wilderness, Emmons Glacier – the largest in the continental U.S. – has receded by one mile. The Park has 27 glaciers, but U.S. Geological Survey scientist Dan Fagre says that by the year 2030 all of them probably will be gone.
Another Mount Rainier naturalist Rebecca Anderson notes that by 2040 the Northwest expects a five-degree temperature increase, which will force the alpine community to move up 1,500 feet. “Expect to see fewer goats, pika and ptarmigan,” speculates Biologist Tom Kogut. Wilderness Society ecologist Gregory Aplet cautions that transitions can be enormously complicated. “The soils necessary to support alpine vegetation likely take decades to centuries to develop, so even if the climate is appropriate for alpine species 1,500 feet higher, those species may not be able to occupy the site. More likely, we’ll see catastrophic mortality and slow assembly of perhaps novel communities where there are soils or an expansion of bare ground.”
In the Great Basin of Nevada and California, Erik Beever of the U.S. Geological Survey is concerned about his findings where he has been working in the Ruby Mountain, Arc Dome, Alta Toquina and other wilderness areas. Pika have inhabited the Great Basin for the past 40,000 years. In 1994, he found evidence of pikas at only 19 locations. The number dropped to 17 by 2006. “A hundred years from now? Pika will be gone from the Great Basin because they can’t tolerate higher temperatures.”
Warmer weather in New England is likely to change flora and fauna. Places such as the Presidential Range – Dry River Wilderness – now characterized by spruce and fir, will change over the next 100 years and be replaced by hardwoods.
The good news, according to Jerry Franklin, ecosystem science professor at the University of Washington, is that our wilderness areas could help forestall global warming. “The potential for the sequestration of carbon in old-growth forests is immense. No other ecosystem in the world can store as much carbon as do these forests, and it’s a capacity they have not yet begun to reach.” Other national lands that protect boreal forests, tundra, and wetlands are vital in diminishing greenhouse gases, but to be most effective they should be “big, varied and wild.”

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