Nía Ní Gréine of Heartstone Veganic Sanctuary talks about her new funding appeal and the importance of providing the best quality of life possible for rescued animals Rewilding will be a term familiar to most of you, not least since controversial writer and environmental campaigner George Monbiot made it the focus of his work, and our very own environmentalist and vegan visionary Randal Plunkett handed a whopping 750 acres back to nature and made them Dunsany Nature Reserve, facilitating the restoration of natural ecosystems, nurturing biodiversity, sequestering huge amounts of carbon, and allowing native wildlife populations to rebound, while actively – and with a lot of effort – protecting them from hunters. Marc Bekoff, another name most of you will have heard of, a well-known biologist, ecologist, animal expert and activist, extended the concept of rewilding in his book “Rewilding Our Hearts” to include human emotional life and interactions with nature, ourselves, and each other, proposing the idea of “becoming re-enchanted with the world, acting from the inside out, and dissolving false boundaries” in order to truly connect with both nature and ourselves. Continuing this line of thought, I would like to suggest extending and applying the term to an area held most dear by most of us – namely, Animal Rights – especially in the context of sanctuaries. It occurs to me that many sanctuaries – even vegan-run ones and those calling themselves vegan – operate along principles that (in my humble opinion) would qualify as animal welfare, rather than animal rights. There can be an assumption that it is sufficient for rescued animals to be alive, safe, fed, and cared for, with perhaps some enrichment, exercise and (ideally) company. A life between a warm stable at night and usually rectangular, uniform fields for grazing, or paddocks where no grazing is available, during the day. While this situation probably seems fine at first glance, to my way of thinking it is not in accordance with the concept of animal rights. If we acknowledge and respect animals’ individual rights, we need, I feel, to provide them with as much physical freedom, freedom of choice, and freedom to entertain and express themselves as possible – as well as safety. Of course, we cannot just set them free. I wish we could! They could potentially become a danger to themselves or others, especially since many so-called ‘farm’ animals have been selectively bred for human profit to the extent they are not only suffering by their physical nature, but have also become incapable of surviving without human assistance. But, in my understanding, we need to make sure they are able to exercise their natural behaviours like roaming, choosing their friends as freely as possible, deciding for themselves how to spend their days, where and with whom; and entertain themselves in a way that is appropriate to their species and individual preferences. In short, to ensure a life to their personal liking, a life truly worth living – whatever that means to them personally. This idea, of course, first of all requires companions of the same species. In the case of herd animals, this would ideally be a large number of individuals. Cows are decidedly unhappy in groups smaller than three, at the very least, so they can choose their friends and keep their distance from those they don’t resonate with. It also requires an extensive amount of land – diverse and ideally biodiverse land – in order to increase variety in the animals’ diet, the intake of phytonutrients, and to allow for self-medication. If at all possible, the land should also offer different kinds of habitat like forests and meadows, hedgerows, water bodies, and elevations and depressions, to allow for the patterns that form so easily whenever a herd of horses or cows, or a flock of sheep or goats, are allowed to choose their whereabouts freely. Large areas of land – and I am talking hundreds, if not thousands of acres – would offer individuals of the respective species the opportunity to form herds and flocks to their liking, and to build those precious relationships that flourish only when individuals can choose for themselves whom they spend their time with. In comparison with this understanding, the situation in many sanctuaries is like a golden cage, or, to take a slightly more elaborate comparison, a human prison. The inmates are alive, safe, fed and provided with medical care. They can exercise in a usually rectangular yard. They share their lives and even their bedroom with a person they are not able to choose, and more. The analogy of course does not apply in all respects, and some prisons don’t provide all of the above either, but you get the idea. What we need, is, in my opinion, to rewild our understanding of what animal rights means, and to apply this new, widened understanding to the practical care of rescued animals, metaphorically, and to some extent literally, rewilding the situation these animals find themselves in after they have been saved from abuse, suffering or death. We need to rewild our own concept of what they need and want to live a fulfilled life – even having found themselves in captivity at a sanctuary, rescue, or private home. Of course, the purpose of this article is not to blame or even shame those who are doing their very best for rescued animals, and who naturally have to work with whatever land and finances are available to them. Many of you will be aware that even my own little vegan (and organic) sanctuary, Heartstone, is far from offering what I am asking for. Heartstone, too, needs much more land, not only to be able to offer a lifeline to more animals, especially large ones like cows, but just as importantly, to improve the quality of life of the current residents. Instead, the purpose of this article is to encourage you all – and especially those rescuing and caring for rescued animals – to check in Read more
By James O’Donovan In Ireland grass fed beef and dairy are the dominant forms of agriculture and farmers have practiced rotational grazing for decades. The result is that Ireland has one of the lowest overall indicators for biological diversity in the world as shown below: Agricultural GHG emissions in Ireland are now over 35% of our total emissions (the highest in the EU) with 85% of habitats assessed in 2019 found to be unfavourable. Many species have gone extinct and many populations of grassland species of birds have crashed. Agriculture is the leading cause of water pollution. The below picture shows the effect of grass fed beef and dairy on the Irish landscape: At the same time, thousands of small farms continue to close down and 45% of farmers earn under €10,000 a year. EU farm subsidies make up over 110% of beef and sheep family farm income. Ireland exports 90% of its production (worth €13 Billion) but is dependent on €9 Billion of food imports and over €2 Billion in direct and indirect farm subsidies. Current stocking density is about 1.2 livestock units per hectare producing 300-400 kg of beef per hectare per year as compared to 10,000 kg of wheat per hectare. Globally, nearly 60% of the world’s agricultural land is used for beef production but this produces less than 2% of humanity’s calories. In this context, the idea that regenerative beef is going to restore farmers incomes, reverse climate change and feed the world just seems like a bad joke. Regenerative agriculture is the new name for conventional tillage and has several key practices including no till/ploughing, cover crops, rotating crops, and eliminating most fertilisers and pesticides. These are important practices that will usually increase soil health and soil organic carbon as compared to conventional tillage. Veganic regenerative agriculture follows similar practices but is fully organic, and, by harvesting plants for human consumption, spares huge areas of agricultural land for other species which they need simply to survive. Kiss the Ground is a popular documentary that mixes some truths with some untruths. It highlights agro-forestry, composting, the benefits of no till and the harmful impacts of agricultural poisons. But then it strongly endorses a grass fed beef movement that continues to drive animal suffering, climate change and biodiversity loss. This article does a great job highlighting the inaccuracies in the documentary. The key to healthy ecosystems is biodiversity. Ecosystems converted to agricultural use lose most of their biodiversity, so the most important issue is to return agricultural land to other species. One farmer in the film Kiss the Ground talked about how he was using 19 plants in his field. But native prairies in the US supported 200-500 species of plants and enormous numbers of other wildlife. You can get a sense of the scale of the destruction of biodiversity in the US prairie in this article and the wildlife in a healthy grassland in South Sudan in this three minute video. We need to reduce human presence in the world’s ecosystems. If we move to a plant based food system and return the land used for grazing to native ecosystems (forests, grasslands and wetlands) we can help biodiversity to recover, contribute significantly to reversing climate change and feed a lot more people. The Land-Sparing and Climate Benefits of Switching from Beef to Beans in the US A switch from beef to beans in the diets of the entire US population could free up 692,918 sq. km – equivalent to 42% of US cropland – for other uses such as ecosystem restoration or more nature-friendly farming. Harwatt, H., Sabaté, J., Eshel, G., Soret, S. and Ripple, W. (2017). Such a shift (ie. from beef to beans) would also contribute substantially to climate goals, meeting between 42 and 74 per cent of the US GHG reduction goal for 2020. (Source: ‘Substituting beans for beef as a contribution toward US climate change targets’ – Climatic Change, 143(1–2), doi: 10.1007/s10584-017-1969-1) There are many ways we can use land to capture carbon far more effectively than rotational grazing like the eight solutions in this article. There are many articles written critiquing the myth of grass fed beef, and you can find a selection here. For an exploration of Regenerative Vegan Agriculture check out Rethinking Food and Agriculture and the stupendous Vegan Organic Network Why and how is grass fed beef so harmful? If you want to look at some more data on this take a look at the website Our World in Data in the ‘environmental impacts of food’ section. I have selected four charts below to give you a sense of the impact of agriculture and in particular how beef uses far more land and water and produces more emissions. The first graphic shows the following; Food accounts for over a quarter (26%) of global greenhouse gas emissions;Half of the world’s habitable (ice- and desert-free) land is used for agriculture;70% of global freshwater withdrawals are used for agriculture;78% of global ocean and freshwater eutrophication (the pollution of waterways with nutrient-rich pollutants) is caused by agriculture;94% of mammal biomass (excluding humans) is livestock. This means livestock outweigh wild mammals by a factor of 15-to-1. Of the 28,000 species threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List, agriculture and aquaculture is listed as a threat for 24,000 of them. That what you eat matters is clear from the below charts. It is helpful to look at the three charts and compare beef to legumes which can also eliminate the need for artificial fertilisers when part of a regenerative veganic agricultural system. 83% of all agriculture land is used for animal agriculture, producing just 18% of food calories. Eating local beef or lamb has many times the carbon footprint of most other foods. Whether they are grown locally or shipped from the other side of the world matters very little for total emissions. Meat consumption lies at the heart of trying to tackle climate change, reducing water stress, pollution, restoring lands back Read more
Three Levers for Food System Transformation in Support of Nature by James O’Donovan This Report highlights how the global food system is the biggest driver of destruction of the natural world, stating that a shift to predominantly plant-based diets is crucial in halting the damage. The report highlights recent studies showing that the destruction of biodiversity is accelerating around the world. “The global rate of species extinction today is orders of magnitude higher than the average rate over the past 10 million years. Over the past 50 years, the conversion of natural ecosystems for crop production or pasture has been the principal cause of habitat loss, in turn reducing biodiversity.” It’s worth remembering that 77-83% of agricultural land use is for animal agriculture while producing only 18% of food calories consumed. Just a 1000 years ago, only 4 million square kilometers – less than 4% was used compared to today’s 51%. The report gives a thorough explanation of how farming destroys ecosystems and biodiversity. It notes that: “Current food production depends heavily on the use of inputs such as fertilizer, pesticides, energy, land and water, and on unsustainable practices such as monocropping and heavy tilling. This has reduced the variety of landscapes and habitats, threatening or destroying the breeding, feeding and/or nesting of birds, mammals, insects and microbial organisms, and crowding out many native plant species.” We know that food systems are also major contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions, driving climate change, which further degrades habitats and causes species to disperse to new locations. “In turn, this brings new species into contact and competition with each other, and creates new opportunities for the emergence of infectious disease.” In its analysis of the underlying paradigm driving our food system the report states that: “Our food system has been shaped over past decades by the ‘cheaper food’ paradigm. Policies and economic structures have aimed to produce ever more food at ever lower cost. Intensified agricultural production degrades soils and ecosystems, driving down the productive capacity of land and necessitating even more intensive food production to keep pace with demand. Growing global consumption of cheaper calories and resource-intensive foods aggravates these pressures.” While this is true, multiple other factors contributed including fossil fuel use, inappropriate technology (ploughing, pesticides, etc.), population growth, marketing of meat and processed food, etc. A deeper understanding of our dysfunctional attitudes is presented in the wonderful ‘Rethinking Food and Agriculture’, which states that we need “radical and fundamental changes in our anthropocentric, speciesist and human supremacist worldview and our attitudes and relationship toward the living world, including our relationships with other animals.” By changing the food system we create a supportive environment for these attitudes to change. The report states the simple truth that: “Without reform of our food system, biodiversity loss will continue to accelerate. Further destruction of ecosystems and habitats will threaten our ability to sustain human populations.” And identifies three principal levers: Firstly, global dietary patterns need to converge around diets based more on plants. Such a shift would also benefit the dietary health of populations around the world, and help reduce the risk of pandemics. Global food waste must be reduced significantly. Together, these measures would reduce pressure on resources including land, through reducing demand.Secondly, more land needs to be protected and set aside for nature. The protection of land from conversion or exploitation is the most effective way of preserving biodiversity, so we need to avoid converting land for agriculture. Restoring native ecosystems on spared agricultural land offers the opportunity to increase biodiversity.Thirdly, we need to farm in a more nature-friendly, biodiversity-supporting way, limiting the use of inputs and replacing monoculture with polyculture farming practices. The most important point in the report is that: “These three levers are in part interdependent. Most notably, the protection and setting aside of land for nature and the shift to nature-friendly farming both depend on dietary change, and will become increasingly difficult to achieve if continued growth in food demand exerts ever-growing pressure on land resources.” The report also outlines different outcomes for ecosystems and climate and how business-as-usual will leave no space for other species and no allowable emissions for any other sector, while a plant based food system and tackling food waste would provide huge benefits. The report’s authors believe that this year is a unique opportunity to reboot our food system. The UN Global Biodiversity Conference takes place in Kunming, China from May 17 – 30 (COP15). The first UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) takes place in New York in September. The next UN Climate Change Conference takes place in Glasgow from Nov 1 – 12 (COP26). There will also be huge post COVID-19 pandemic investment to support an economic recovery. Will these investments focus on an equitable, sustainable and compassionate future? Finally, the report outlines three steps, which can be taken this year to bring about a healthy food system. The report’s suggestions on how to establish a biodiversity-supporting food system? A plant based food system and a reduction in food waste are critical to breaking the system lock-ins that have driven the intensification of agriculture and the continued conversion of native ecosystems to crop production and pasture. Embed a ‘food systems approach’ across other key international processes, recognizing that the health and prosperity of people, nature and other species are inter-related.Think Global and act local….”Global guidelines in policy areas such as responsible investment, dietary change and nature-based climate change mitigation solutions will be needed to guide national-level action plans that can collectively deliver transformative change to the global food system.” The report is very worthwhile and an important addition to increasing our understanding of how a plant based food system can deliver our global and local health, climate and biodiversity goals and the actions we can take now to bring it about. In Ireland we are advocating for this transition so vital to all species on our Nature Rising website.
By James O’Donovan Day by day, the biological diversity that underpins our food systems is disappearing – putting the future of our food, livelihoods, health and climate under increasing strain. Disastrous effects of pesticide use The Save Bees and Farmers campaign states that: “the consequences for nature of pesticide use are disastrous: bees, butterflies and other insects are vanishing from our landscapes and previously widespread birds have stopped singing in our fields. Our streams and rivers are being polluted and we are exposed to a daily cocktail of synthetic pesticides through our food”. The very survival of farming communities in Europe is equally threatened by industrial agriculture. Over the past ten years, on average, one farm goes out of business every three minutes! True to the motto “Grow or Die”, more and more land is being managed by an ever-smaller number of businesses, focussing on yields and sales rather than on food quality and maintaining the environment for future generations. With the disappearance of small farms, Europe’s rural areas lose their people and their cultural heritage. A different agricultural model is possible ‘Save Bees and Farmers’ is a European Citizens’ Initiative which aims to become a catalyst for the transformation of agriculture, towards a model that is based on agro-ecological principles that promote biodiversity. This includes a broad range of approaches including conservation agriculture, ecological farming, and the emerging veganic agriculture movement. The solution is an agriculture that is able to thrive without toxic chemicals; an agriculture that relies on biodiversity and climate-friendly farming methods that will ensure the adequate and healthy nutrition of people; an agriculture that preserves the invaluable diversity of natural environments in Europe while transitioning towards a predominantly organic plant based food system as advocated by the EAT-Lancet Report and the dietary recommendations of the WHO. Current agricultural reforms The EU itself recognizes that the need for pesticides can be decreased through sustainable agricultural practices. The European Commission’s 2020 Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies both call for a “50% reduction in the overall use of – and risk from – chemical pesticides by 2030”. But the goals of both of these strategies are not reflected in the recently approved Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) which fails to make the reduction of pesticide use a condition of payment of subsidies. In Ireland 2,651.4 tonnes of synthetic pesticides were used in 2018, and Ireland has only 2.6% of its agricultural land devoted to organic agriculture compared to an EU average of 7.5%. Over 30 water supplies in multiple Irish counties had pesticide levels that exceeded health guidelines in 2020. Save Bees and Farmers Campaign The Save Bees and Farmers Campaign believes that phasing-out synthetic pesticides is the strongest lever for the transition from the current input-intensive agricultural model to a biodiversity-enhancing model based on natural cycles. Phasing out pesticides in 15 years represents an ambitious challenge. The transition of our agricultural model towards an agro-ecological approach represents a challenge to all stakeholders, especially farmers, but with strong political will the transition is possible. How can EU citizens influence the Common Agricultural Policy? The ECI (European Citizens’ Initiative) is a 2007 EU mechanism aimed at increasing direct democracy by enabling “EU citizens to participate directly in the development of EU policies”. The initiative enables one million people from the EU from at least one quarter (seven) of the member states, to call directly on the EU Commission to propose new legislation (for example a new Directive or Regulation). The “Save Bees and Farmers!” ECI This ECI demands an agricultural policy that saves bees and farmers with the following demands: The phasing-out of the use of synthetic pesticides by 2035.The restoration of habitats, and for agricultural areas to support biodiversity recovery.The provision of supports for farmers to make a transition to small, diverse and sustainable farms. This ECI is supported by a growing network of over 140 environmental NGOs, farmer and beekeeper organisations, charitable foundations and scientific institutions working together to reduce the health and biodiversity impacts of agriculture. If you are an EU Citizen please consider siging this petition. Please help us to reach the goal of one million signatures by June 30, 2021. Every signature counts. You can find further information and sign the ECI on this page. If you are a member of an organisation that would like to encourage others to join this campaign please email firstname.lastname@example.org
By Bronwyn Slater Are you one of those people who brings your own resusable cup with you to coffee shops, or have you ever rented an outfit for a wedding? If so, then you’re participating in the circular economy. I’m old enough to remember bringing empty glass bottles back to my local shop and getting a few pennies in return for them. In those days lemonade and soda only came in glass bottles less than a litre in size – not the super-sized plastic PET bottles we have nowadays. But that’s another story! The term ‘circular economy’ has been bandied about a lot in recent years. It’s a term coined by round-the-world yachtswoman Ellen McArthur. Her charity, the Ellen McArthur Foundation, seeks to promote and support the circular economy – a system in which everything that is manufactured and sold is either returnable, recyclable, resusable or repairable, and waste is eliminated. At present we have a linear economy where raw materials are taken from nature, products are created and used for a limited time, then thrown away. In a circular economy products are designed with circularity in mind so that every component can be recovered and reused in some form. Circular principles can be applied to almost everything – from fashion to cars, buildings, electronics, furniture, food and much more. Fashion Many of today’s big fashion brands are starting to take recycling and reusability seriously, and many clothing rental companies have come onto the scene. Stella McCartney is taking part in the Make Fashion Circular initiative and is now Cradle to Cradle certified (a system of scoring brands for their commitment to the circular economy). High street shoe chain Schuh allows customers to bring back their old shoes, and John Lewis is trialling a system that allows people to sell back their old clothes. Mud Jeans customers can buy or rent jeans, and eventually return them to MUD to be recycled. Some retailers are providing clothing repair services. Electronics and Computers Dell is one computer manufacturer where products are designed with the environment and recyclability in mind. The company tries to design out waste through a product’s entire life cycle, and products are built with disassembly in mind. Labelling parts also helps recyclers handle them efficiently when a product reaches the end of life. Modular design allows parts to be swapped out and upgraded easily, increasing the useful life of products. Some products can be refurbished and resold, while others can be broken down to separate useful components out, and the rest is recycled. If all computers were to use industry-standard plugs, sockets and sizes for various critical components, it would create a vibrant second-hand market for parts. And such a market can capture significant value that would otherwise be wasted. The EU is working on harmonising the design of digital devices, and they have already standardised the design of mobile phone chargers. Buildings At present, houses and buildings are demolished and the waste ends up in landfill. In a circular economy, houses would be constructed in a way that allows recovery and reuse of various components such as windows, doors, flooring materials, kitchen and bathroom units and fittings. Cement and steel could be substituted for materials that are easier to recycle and reuse. In this way a lot of construction and demolition waste could be diverted from landfill and reused, reducing the need for virgin materials. In 2020 the EU produced a paper entitled ‘Circular Economy Principles for Building Design’. The paper aims to help reduce the environmental impacts and lifecycle costs of buildings. The target audience is the construction industry, policy makers and stakeholders along the construction industry supply chain. Furniture IKEA is one company that is taking circular principles to heart. Some of their furniture is made from 100% recycled wood and plastic, and some furniture is modular so that pieced can be added or taken away as needed. They encourage their customers to repair and reuse their furniture, or pass them onto other people or charities when they are no longer needed. The company also allows customers to return their furniture to their shops if they are no longer required. The company will then upcycle or reuse the products or components of the products – so these products are seen by the company as a useful resource. Cars A circular economy of sorts has always applied to the car industry, and about 75% of a car’s material at end of life can be recovered. The EU’s End-of-Life Vehicles Directive has now set a target of 95% recyclability per vehicle per year. Car parts such as engines, wheels, tyres, batteries, catalytic converters, electronic modules, alternators, starter motors, transmissions and infotainment systems are all removed, and can be resold if they are in good condition or refurbished. The remaining shell is then crushed flat and sent to an industrial shredder or hammer mill, and the metal is sold to steel mills for recycling. Food Terracyle has launched a project called ‘Loop’ which aims to revolutionise the way customers buy products. Packaging is owned by the seller and is collected after use. Some of the large supermarket chains such as Tesco have signed up to trial the new circular system. Rental Model Young people will find this hard to believe, but back in the early 70s most people rented their TVs. Renting items means that you are not responsible for the repair or disposal of an item, and if it breaks down the company will replace it with another. Car rental is another example, and it is predicted that in the future we will rent rather than own cars. Many things that people currently buy could be rented. For example, electrical products, DIY and gardening tools, computers and printers, toys, games and clothes. By renting the same product to several clients, manufacturers can increase revenues per unit. It also means that fewer items are produced, as each item is shared. So renting is another aspect of the circular economy because it Read more
By Bronwyn Slater Since the mass production of plastics began in the 1940s and 50s it’s volume has been rising steadily every year. In 1960 the world produced 8 million tonnes of plastic. By 2015 this had risen to 400 million tonnes, and it’s estimated that if the increase in production is not contained the world will have to deal with about 550 million tonnes every year by 2030. Around 20% of plastic is recycled, 55% ends up in landfill, 22% is incinerated and around 3% ends up in the oceans. (Source: Our World in Data). While there has been a surge in the numbers of people trying a zero-waste lifestyle, it has to be said that plastic, being a light-weight, easy to produce and cheap material, is ideal for the packaging and storage of food stuffs in particular, and it is unlikely that we can do away with it altogether. So, what’s to be done? Two recent developments give us some hope for the future – namely biodegradable plastics and plastic-eating enzymes. Biodegradable Plastic Biodegradable plastic (or bioplastic) is made from plant or other biological material. Its main advantage is that there is no reliance on fossil fuels. It can be made by extracting sugar from plants like corn and sugarcane to convert into polylactic acids (PLAs), or it can be made from polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) engineered from microorganisms. Another advantage of bioplastics is that they are less harmful to the environment because they can be decomposed by the action of living organisms, carbon dioxide, biomass or water. However, a lot of the biodegradable plastics in use today require intense heat to decompose, and can only be recycled in industrial compost facilities, rather than in home compost bins. At present, only a minority of bioplastics are home compostable, so this often causes confusion for consumers, and there is no clear definition or universal labelling system for bioplastics. Specialised waste management facilities for the decomposition of bioplastics do not exist in many countries, and they cannot be put in the same recycling bin as conventional petroleum-based plastics like PET (the most common type of plastic, used in the manufacture of soda bottles). If they end up on the same recycling stream they can contaminate the entire batch, causing it to end up in landfill. Biodegradable plastics need to last a long time on supermarket shelves and storage cupboards. For this reason most will only break down at very high temperatures – the type of heat used in industrial composters. They will not break down in the environment or in the sea, though there are some efforts underway to engineer plastics that will decompose relatively rapidly in seawater. So, while the world is not yet fully ready to handle bioplastics, their main advantage is the fact that they do not rely on fossil fuels like petroleum. Downcycling vs True Recycling Up until now plastic has not been truly recycled – it is down-cycled into a form of plastic that is typically used by the building or garden industry. However, a team of scientists at the University of Bath have developed a new way to break down bioplastic into its original building blocks, potentially allowing products to be recycled infinitely with no loss in quality. This is ‘true recycling’, as opposed to just downcycling. The researchers recycled PLA (polylactic acid) plastic, and have also started trialling a similar process for recycling PET. Plastic-eating enzymes Plastic-eating micro-organisms also herald a new way to recycle plastic into its original constituents. In 2016 Japanese scientists discovered an enzyme in a waste site that was breaking down plastic. In 2018 researchers in the UK came up with an engineered version of the enzyme which could break down plastic in a few days. They have now developed a ‘super-enzyme’ which breaks it down in a matter of hours. This new process could be rolled out within the next two years, offering the option of true plastic recycling into its basic constituents and eliminating the need for fossil fuels to create new plastics. A £1m testing centre is being built in Portsmouth in the UK, and French company Carbios is currently building a plant in Lyon. Currently the process only works on PET plastic. However, a team of German researchers have been successful in finding micro-organisms that eat other plastics such as polyurethane (PUR). The German team say the bacterium was found in the soil surrounding a heap of plastic waste. At Yale University in 2011 a fungus was discovered that could digest and break down polyurethane. Scientists believe that these types of processes could even allow some types of synthetic clothing to be recycled. If scientists could apply this process to all types of commonly used plastic packaging it would mean that plastic waste could be recycled to infinity, without the need for a complicated plastics sorting process. Consumers would be able to place all their plastic waste (without exception) into the same recycling bin, with all of it being fully recycled and none ending up in landfill. The Future Looking towards the future, there is a lot to be hopeful about in the field of plastics. However, it is important that we reduce our reliance on plastic in the first place. It can still end up in the sea or in the environment where it will not break down. Our behaviour as consumers is important because it lets producers know that they need to either look for alternatives to conventional plastic or ensure that the plastic they use can and will be recycled. Some companies now allow customers to return their plastic packaging to the store where it was purchased. A move towards a Circular Economy is also an important and necessary next step in terms of how goods are consumed. This would mean that all packaging is returned to the producer and used over and over again. Customers must be willing to pay more for recycled packaging. Plastic from petroleum is cheap to produce, so recycled plastic won’t Read more
A roundup of some of the headlines and news stories from the past 3 monthsby Bronwyn Slater Record breaking Veganuary sign-ups for 2021 A recording-breaking 582,538 people have signed up to Veganuary this year. The campaign challenges people to eat vegan during the month of January. This year’s participants came from 209 countries and territories around the world. Veganuary’s director of communications said the rise in this year’s numbers was partly driven by the COVID-19 pandemic. In conjunction with Veganuary, several vegan meat brands expanded their offerings and have seen sales spike. The managing director of the Meatless Farm company said sales were up 111%. Plant-based brand Squeaky Bean launched several meat alternatives during January which it says were a huge success, with total sales up 222% compared with January last year. EU urged to reject ‘dairy’ censorship on vegan products An online petition urging the EU to reject amendment 171, aka the dairy ban, has (at the time of writing) obtained a staggering 303,450 signatures. If adopted, the amendment would prohibit descriptions such as ‘yogurt-style’ and ‘cheese-alternative’. It could also prevent companies from using packaging such as butter blocks and milk cartons. Companies could even be prevented from using photos of their own products on their packaging. EU politicians including Francisco Guerreiro and Sylwia Spurek have condemned the ban. Said Spurek: “Investing in a plant-based future is the only way forward. To tackle the climate crisis and safeguard animal rights and human health the EU must support this process, not impede. Consumers want more plant-based products. We can’t and shouldn’t delay necessary changes.” Proveg, who created the petition, said: “Altogether, it would be a huge reversal of the work done so far to meet the EU’s own goals on public health and sustainability, as agreed under the terms of the Paris Agreement. Given the urgency of the climate crisis, it’s a highly irresponsible move.” Number of slaughtered animals surpasses 80 billion The number of slaughtered animals has surpassed 80 billion for the first time. The figures, from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAOSTAT), are for land animals for the year 2019. This is an increase of more than 3.5 billion land animals compared with the previous year. The world’s population has increased by about 82 million people over the same period. Thus, on average, people are eating more meat per capita than ever, at around 10.5 animals per person per year on average. 2 million kangaroos slaughtered every year for football boots Nike have come under fire for their use of kangaroo leather in the making of football boots. 2 million kangaroos are slaughtered for leather in Australia each year. Using spotlights and night-vision rifle scopes, hired guns kill entire kangaroo families in the dead of night so they can sell the skins to the world’s best-known athletic shoe company. Adidas have recently stated that they will cut back on kangaroo leather use by 98%, and Puma have said they are exploring more non-animal material. There is mounting pressure from consumers to end the use of kangaroo skin, with many clothing manufacturers such as Versace, Prada and Gucci also committing to going K-leather free. 30% of the Entire Planet Supports Plant-Based Diet in UN Climate Poll The results of the UN People’s Climate Vote were published in January 2021. The initiative, which was begun in 2020 in partnership with various NGOs and Oxford University, had 1.2 million respondents across 50 countries. It is the largest ever survey of public opinion on climate change. Two-thirds of all respondents believe that climate change is a global emergency. The poll revealed that 30% of people support the promotion of plant-based diet as a climate policy. The figure is as much as 42% in developing states and 33% in high-income countries. Brits want ban on factory farms over pandemic threat According to a poll commissioned by animal charity Viva! almost 9 in 10 British people want the Government to introduce an immediate ban on intensive farming. The OnePoll survey of 2,000 UK adults revealed that 85% of people want to see the end of factory farms amid concerns over potential zoonotic diseases. Around two-thirds of farmed animals are factory farmed worldwide every year – totalling 50 billion. 3 in 4 of the world’s viruses and diseases originate in animals. Intensive farms are a perfect breeding ground for viruses as the animals are packed so closely together. Experts at the European Food Safety Agency agree that animals reared in high-stress environments such as factory farms are more likely to contract viral infections, some of which can be passed on to humans. Huge health benefits from climate action A report published in December, 2020 by the Lancet shows how millions of lives lost annually to air pollution and unhealthy diets could be saved if countries cut emissions in line with the Paris agreement. The report entitled ‘Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change’ assessed the health benefits of meeting climate targets in nine countries, including the UK, US and China. The report states that globally, diet and weight-related risk factors have barely changed since 1990, accounting for 8.8 million deaths in 2017. In the same time period, emissions from livestock grew by 16%. There were almost a million deaths globally from excess red meat consumption in 2017. If people moved to a plant-based diet it would be possible to radically reduce livestock numbers, and hence their associated GHG emissions. Across the nine nations studied, it was estimated that Paris-compliant policies could save 5.8 million lives due to better diet. Additionally, 1.2 million lives could be saved due to cleaner air resulting from lower CO2 emissions from sectors like transport, energy and industry. Lead author Ian Hamilton said: “The message is stark. Not only does delivering on Paris prevent millions dying prematurely each year, the quality of life for millions more will be improved through better health.” Russia confirms first case of H5N8 Bird Flu passed to Humans Russian officials say seven workers at a Read more