Carbon emissions continue to drop due to the economic slowdown and are on track for an 8% reduction for 2020. This is good news for the planet as it gets a brief break from all the waste we’re dumping into the atmosphere. Still, it has revealed that individual actions alone won’t do enough to avert climate catastrophe, we need to work together and enforce the creation of a carbon-neutral economy. Individual transportation solutions (like cars) use is down substantially yet we’re still going to blow past the carbon output budget for 2020, where then can we cut back on emissions? Look to manufacturing and our sources of energy.
“I think the main issue is that people focus way, way too much on people’s personal footprints, and whether they fly or not, without really dealing with the structural things that really cause carbon dioxide levels to go up,” said Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist and the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City.
Transportation makes up a little over 20 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, according to the International Energy Agency. (In the United States, it makes up around 28 percent.) That’s a significant chunk, but it also means that even if all travel were completely carbon-free (imagine a renewable-powered, electrified train system, combined with personal EVs and battery-powered airplanes), there’d still be another 80 percent of fossil fuel emissions billowing into the skies.
Smart people have been following the advice from health officials to limit trips outside the home to slow the spread of COVID-19, which means bigger grocery trips. This sounds innocuous until you realize that since this is a time a lot of people are regularly cooking at home they don’t know how to manage their filled fridges. Produce goes bad faster than expected and people might by stuff with good intentions only to forget about it.
How do we deal with this increase of potential food waste? Make a list.
Keeping your fridge stocked without much of its contents ending up in your compost bin (note: this is also a great time to get a compost bin if you don’t already have one) isn’t hard, but it does take a modicum of effort. To that end, I made up a very basic, fly-by-night system to organize yourself, your groceries, and your cooking. You can basically modify it however works for you! The idea is just to keep track of what you buy and when it will go bad using lists, and keeping that information in plain sight on your refrigerator.
The system is extremely low-tech, and it’s based on a series of lists: picking out a few exciting things you want to try cooking before you go to the grocery store, putting ingredients for those meals on your grocery list, writing down when all the food items you’ve purchased will start to go bad, and then making a cooking schedule to accommodate all those (approximate — we’re all guessing) expiration dates. I suggest putting these lists in plain sight, like on your fridge, to keep your meal plan front-of-mind.
Toronto’s garbage trucks are being fuelled by the very thing they are picking up on their routes. The trucks pick up food waste (in a separate bin from recycling and trash) and transport them to a holding facility where the food further decomposes.
Since 2015, Toronto has been working to harness the biogas emitted from organic waste. After partnering with Enbridge to build a processing facility on the Dufferin site, biogas is now ready to fuel the majority of Toronto’s collection trucks. It’s one of the first cities in North America to do this.
The switch to biogas or renewable natural gas (RNG), will reduce the city’s carbon footprint, Khan says. The trucks that pick up your waste will drop it off at the plant and then go to a station where they will be fuelled with the biogas.
“It’s one of the most significant actions the city can take… because we’re not using resources to withdraw and clean fossil fuels, we’re using the waste that’s already produced,” said Khan.
Toronto just announced that the Seabin trial project was a success and now they are expanding the program. Seabins are floating garbage cans that use a solar power pump to collect debris in the water, currently the Toronto ones collect about two kilos of waste per day. It’s crazy to think how much waste ends up in local waters of a city, but at least this project is happening now in the hopes that we’ll eventually taking out more garbage than we’re currently putting in.
To ensure that the Seabins also serve a research and education function, PortsToronto has taken the added step of partnering with the University of Toronto Trash Team on a student-research project led by Dr. Chelsea Rochman, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. As part of this collaborative initiative, students from the Rochman Lab will collect and analyze the plastics and microplastics captured by the Seabins to determine the origination of some of these materials. This process will, in turn, better inform the Trash Team’s solutions-based research and community outreach program which ultimately seeks to increase waste literacy and prevent plastics and microplastics from entering waterways in the first place.
Zero waste living seems like an impossibility given the amount of packaging everything is put in. Ordering a small item can lead to 10x the packaging of the item itself. The use of packaging seem so out of control that we can’t avoid it. We can.
Back in 2010 a UK based family created only one bin of trash throughout the year. In 2012 we looked at a town in Japan that already practices zero waste living. In the years since it’s actually gotten easier to practice a zero waste lifestelyl. Stores are popping up that are reducing their waste to save costs and the environment by providing customers with alternatives to recent packaging trends.
For most zero-waste shops, the pitch is simple: Customers arrive with their own packaging materials — jars, tote bags, whatever, or buy one of the jars on sale at the store, weigh them, and then subtract the weight of the receptacle from the weight of the goods added to get the final price. That way, nothing ends up in a landfill, at least on the customer’s end.
For the business itself, however, things are more complicated. Owners, who are responsible for the shipment of all products, are tasked with finding ways to reduce the carbon footprint and waste of the complicated process of shipping goods, and some goods are more high-maintenance than others.