J500 Media and the Environment


My Environmental Awakening by micolea

Photo by paul david/Courtesy Flickr

When it comes to helping conserve the environment, my mom practices what she preaches. Long before I was even aware of our planet’s perils, my mom was doing her part and setting an admirable example for me to follow.   

Conserving water: It is a part of my mother’s daily routine to always turns off the faucet when she is brushing her teeth, and when showering she also turns off the water in between shampooing and conditioning her hair. Plus, when washing the dishes, instead of letting a constant stream of water run, she just fills the sink with the water needed. To understand why my mom is stringent about the issue of water is to acknowledge her childhood. My mom came from a country where water was often rationed. In some of the provinces in the Philippines water was only available for certain times during the day. After those hours, the water companies would simply turn the water off. This was a normal, everyday occurence.

Curtailing food waste: In my mom’s eyes the only thing worst than wasting water is wasting food. At dinner time, I was reminded regularly to only take the amount I could eat. Likewise, we would always eat leftovers. My mom was determined not to throw away any food that was “still perfectly fine,” as she would say. I recall one of the first and most astonishing cultural experiences I had regarding food waste. I was nine years old and my mom, aunt and myself were dining at a buffet in Manila, Philippines. Being young, and considering that my eyes were often bigger than my stomach, I was unable to finish all of the food on my plate. When the waiter came to collect our plates and he saw the remnants of uneaten food still left on mine, he sternly informed my mom that there would be an extra charge for the wasted food. At that age, I did not understand the gravity of wasted food, but now, in retrospect, I realize the relevance of that experience.   

My mom grew up in a country where water was scarce and access to food was, at times, limited. Her upbringing and her surroundings are what engrained in her an appreciation and respect for the environment and its natural resources. We all come from different walks of life and our cultures and the society’s we live in shape our experiences and attitudes about the environment.   

It was and still is my mom’s continuous example of being aware and caring about the world around her that inspired me to reevaluate my daily routines. I began to incorporate my mom’s environmental habits into my collegiate lifestyle. It wasn’t an overnight change, but a gradual adjustment in recognizing that in order to make tomorrow better, I have to start today. We are all in this together. Each action we make, no matter how big or small, affects us all. Each of us, as individuals, can take small steps to improve the health of our planet.   

Micole Aronowitz



Food Waste Doesn’t Have to be Wasted by beccan

Studying food and the environment lately makes mealtime a bit different than in my past 21 years of life. My thoughts have been consumed by where my food comes from and what it does for my body. I feel like a can’t even enjoy food anymore at times, because I have been so worried about the harmful pesticides and damage that the environment has been through just so I can eat my dinner- I feel guilty. After breakfast I poured the remains of my oatmeal in the drain, turned on the faucet and pushed the disposal button to make my leftovers disappear. I do this at least once daily without even thinking about it, but for some reason this morning I started to think about where that food was going; down the drain and into the sewer system- it was not just disappearing. Nothing about this process ever seemed wrong to me until today; why waste food that has enough nutrients to support even the human body?

Leftover oatmeal as I dump it down the drain to "disappear".

 

My mind wandered for a while, questioning the amount of waste my roommates and I, the University of Kansas campus, the Lawrence area, the U.S., the world produces. That is when I found an article explaining that food waste and other organic waste take up almost half of the landfill space in the U.S. and release an unruly amount of methane, which is 34 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. This article also explains a law that was passed in California in 2009 requiring businesses and residents to compost food scraps.

I looked further into composting to find out what exactly could be composted and what it takes to compost food waste, in residences and in businesses. This website walked me through the basics of composting. I was surprised to find that composting really is not that expensive or difficult, but for some reason I still cannot see myself composting- at least not at my own home. I think part of my reasoning is the fact that I don’t want a smelly bin or pile of waste in my yard. Yeah, I realize that my reasoning is shallow in some sense, but I’m kind of a “neat-freak”.

If I wasn’t going to compost on my own, maybe KU would. I looked at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Environmental Center to see what one of the most environmental-friendly universities is doing. CU hosts a “Scrape Your Plate Day” each year and in 2008 collected 1,760 pounds of food for compost from 5,887 people in the dining halls. That got me to thinking what KU could do to help and the answer to that is a lot. Individually, people like myself do not want to take the time and deal with the smells of composting, but a University could make a huge difference, like CU has done. 

 

Becca N.



A Trashed Resource by mstinawood

The monthly food waste of a family of four.

    With grocery bills rising to unaffordable heights and food banks unable to provide for the growing demand, people are experiencing hunger at alarming rates. What’s more alarming is what can be found in landfills across America.

Studies have shown that Americans squander a quarter to a half of all the food we produce. Grocery stores throw out products with cosmetic flaws and minor damage. Restaurants discard what doesn’t get used or sold. In homes everything from wilted fruit to last weeks left over take-out find their way into the trash. Consider this: rotting food in landfills produces methane, a major contributor to greenhouse gases.

The Department of Agriculture estimates that in one year 96.4 billion pounds of the 356 billion pounds of edible food in the United States is never eaten. However, the problem doesn’t only belong to Americans. In England, the Brits toss out about a third of purchased food and in Sweden the average household throws away about a quarter of the food they buy. On the other hand, in parts of Africa a quarter or more of crops are lost or destroyed before harvest due to lack of technology and infrastructure, droughts, and insect infestation causing wide-spread starvation and food wars.

Everyone knows wasting food is a bad idea, but not much is done to address the issue. Food in America is cheap, relative to the rest of the world, and portions are increasingly over-sized. Of course, world hunger and global warming won’t be solved simply by eliminating food waste. But it could make a difference and wouldn’t take alot of effort or money. The Department of Agriculture estimated that recovering only 5 percent of wasted food could feed four million people a day; while recovering 25 percent could feed 20 million people. Now that’s food for thought.

Tina Wood

Photo Credit



The Worming Trend by Chardonnay

My kitchen trashcan stinks. Fruit and vegetable cores, the food that collects on my floor during haphazard meal prep, dinner leftovers too meager to warrant space in the fridge—they mix and mingle with their discarded packaging, together again. What stinks the most is that it all has energy and nutrients it’s ready to share. Instead of fulfilling any real purpose, however, it ends up in my little white wastebasket.

There is an alternative and it comes in the form of our wiggly, slimy worm friends. Vermicomposting, or worm composting, is a way to compost kitchen scraps quickly and effectively, and can be done inside of your home.

When worms get a hold of kitchen scraps, a highly complex chain of chemical, biochemical and biological interactions and reactions occur. The result is nutrient-rich excrement that is a valuable fertilizer. The worms provide an element that ordinary composting cannot. Worm mucous slows the release of nutrients so they won’t wash away when watering. Your Tylenol comes in time-release capsules, and your fertilizer can, too. The worms are also good little trash compactors, reducing waste volume as much as 60 percent.

While recycling nutrients may be as nature intended, I won’t tell you that inviting a pound of worms into your humble home will feel entirely natural. The set-up includes a worm composting bin of some kind. You can order one online or build your own.

I’m not one to trade one stinky problem for another, so the good news is that the worm bin is practically odor-free. The worms actually eat the odor-causing bacteria (not the food). After digesting the material, the worms produce the nutrient-packed end product, or castings. Although it is just a fancy word for poop, castings smell very much like soil or store-bought fertilizer. Little is known about just what makes worm digestion so fortifying.

Because the worms feast on the bacteria, fungi and protozoans that naturally decompose waste, the process is quicker than ordinary composting and the end product is more sterile. However, vermicomposting can be used in addition to, not as a replacement for backyard composting.

It’s kind of a heart-warming (-worming? Too much?) fairy tale: Rumplestilskin spins straw into gold, worms make trash into useful fertilizer. Even if your garden consists of a single houseplant, it beats sending the food scraps to a landfill, where they can’t breakdown and will live inorganically ever after. For more information on vermicomposting, including how-to’s and troubleshooting, visit BeSmart.org.

Sonya English

Can O WormsCheck out my Podcast featuring an interview with Recycling Specialist Cassandra Ford about her Can O Worms vermicomposter.

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Food for thought by denzylj
March 25, 2008, 7:50 pm
Filed under: Food + Health, Waste + Recycling | Tags: , , , ,

A man at an Easter dinner table, no doubt emboldened by quaffing copious amounts of Napa Valley cabernet, proceeded to start a food fight. He must have had his fill and thought what better way to cap celebrations than by tossing his leftovers at someone sitting opposite him. I can’t say I blame him. After being fed a Hollywood diet of warped humor where food fight scenes have become the staple in slapstick comedy routines, it’s no wonder he thought a bit of flying celery and carrots would go down well. It would be spoken of for months to come, the pièce de résistance that outshone the au gratin potato bake. It was just like going to the movies and clutching our popcorn-filled bellies in the aisles as we laugh at new meanings given to having spaghetti braids.


Thankfully this kind of scene wasn’t played out. But what it did bring into sharp focus how wasteful people have become – that images of a family in Chad living off $1.23 a week are a far cry from the relative comforts of families here in the United States and elsewhere where more leads to excesses like food fights and obesity. So the study of families around the planet and their one week dietary habits made for some interesting visual comparisons and reaffirmed the gap between rich and poor nations. Reading some of the comments that followed, it seems that some people are uncomfortable addressing such global inequalities and in shouldering guilt, and responsibility even for helping to raise the standard of living of the indigent. How and what people to choose to eat is their concern, just so long as it’s sustainable. But the next time they toss a half empty plate of food away or think it funny watching or having a food fight, I hope they at least spare a thought for poverty-stricken kids so desperate they’d happily be rolling alongside on the floor, not in fits of mirth, but grasping at every precious morsel thrown about with reckless abandon.

-Denzyl



This post is trashy by Chardonnay

So how about some good trash talk on one of my roommates for a change?

The other day, she asks me if I would tell her the next time I’m going to take the recycling, because– get ready, read slowly, you’re not seeing things– “my recycling is full”
She opens the cabinet under the sink (I thought we only kept cleaning supplies down there) and I see this:
My roommate recycles cans!

Stifling a gasp, I look up and see a little green-arrow recycling-logo-halo form just above her head. Last semester, I gave a speech on recycling. I guess at least one of the three practice speeches I delivered to her carried influence. Maybe it was my sweet pie-chart on waste disposal, I just can’t be sure.

I’ll tell you now what I told my coms class: Each year, Americans generate enough waste to fill a convoy of garbage trucks halfway to the moon. Whoa! (My classmates, unfortunately, were less captivated by this factoid than I’d hoped). However, if my recyclables are recycled correctly, my personal contribution isn’t grotesque. I live in a scale-free apartment (with two other girls, who knew?) but I’ll call it a fair estimate that my trash falls far below the average American’s 7.5 pounds per week.
dscn2993.jpg(This has been a nomadic weekend for me so I’m missing some plastic wrap from leftovers I had for dinner, a styrofoam cup from OJ at work and a salad bar container).

I’d say 95% of my trash is related to food. My daily granola bar wrapper, snack size m+m’s, salad bar plastic containers, anything messy, paper towels for covering microwaveables– they all end up in the trash can. I’m never home, but snacking continuously, which results in lots of little, single-serving and individually wrapped throw-aways.
I can think of two possible solutions: 1. Go on a diet (“possible” in no way represents “likely,” mind you)
2.Buy in bulk and use reusable tiny tupperware to transport

I used to think that recycling yielded zero-waste. Thinking back, it was my speeches implicit thesis. I’m learning now that the process of recycling is sometimes inefficient, uses plenty of energy (though less than producing virgin materials) and can require lots of transport, which wastes fuel. Reduce, reuse, recycle seems be in descending order of which deserves the most focus.

Where you can’t reduce, however, I still think recycling’s the answer, but not even necessarily from an environmentalist standpoint. I used to take my sandwich/chip lunch in two new Ziplock bags each day. When down to my last two, my stinginess led me to the more ecologically sound practice I use today: Reuse the same two bags forever and ever. Recycling also helps me with stress management. I enjoy few things more than hurling my empty glass bottles into the recycle bin in mock rage. That intentional shattering isn’t welcome just anywhere, you know.

-Sonya English




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