Evidence of the increasing effects of climate change is building, as are the investing opportunities and changes in consumer habits linked to environmental concerns and resource use.Here are select dispatches about the companies responding to customer demands and climate risk, the ESG investors, and the policy-makers and scientists preparing for tomorrow.
Not-so-smart sorting creates global recycling meltdown. There’s a recycling reflex gripping many well-intentioned consumers, reports Mother Jones. Labeled as “wishcycling” by the waste-management industry, most trash tossers are recycling too much, assuming their empty tube of toothpaste or glossy-coated gift box — really anything small that seems like it should be recyclable — will be sorted downstream at the materials recovery facilities, or MRF. But, ultimately, much of what is “recycled” doesn’t qualify and can burden these centers. According to Marian Chertow, director of the Solid Waste Policy program at Yale University and cited by Mother Jones, “a wishcycler wants to do the right thing and feels that the more that he or she can recycle, the better.”
In the early 2000s, to get more residents to recycle, many communities switched from a dual-stream system, where plastics and glass, and paper and cardboard, each had their own bins, to single-stream, in which all recyclables go into one bin and the sorting is done at the MRF, with soggy or spoiled recyclables tossed out, the article details. In defense of consumers, it’s not always clear what can and cannot be recycled, or recycled together. The mixed materials are overwhelming the system. And now China, which had been a huge U.S. plastic purchaser, has restricted what materials it will take; its policy change could displace an estimated 111 million metric tons of the world’s plastic waste by 2030, according to the report.
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There’s been a push for standardized federal recycling guidance. For now, rinsed plastic containers and glass bottles, cardboard, and beverage and food cans are almost always acceptable. Plastic bags, electronics and food-soiled paper generally are not. But for consumers, maybe the old mantra needs an update: Don’t just recycle — reduce and reuse.
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Compost has huge potential to change trash management, but it’s flawed. As companies struggle to deal with the challenge of single-use packaging, compostable options are becoming more common. The system, though, is beginning to change, including new innovations in materials, according to this Fast Company feature. “These are solvable problems, not inherent problems,” says Rhodes Yepsen, executive director of the nonprofit Biodegradable Products Institute, in the piece. If the system can be fixed — just like the broken recycling system needs to be fixed — it can be one piece of solving the bigger problem of growing trash. It’s not the only solution.
Yepsen says that it makes sense to start by reducing packaging and prioritizing reusable products, and then design whatever’s left to be recyclable or compostable depending on the application. But compostable packaging makes particular sense for food; if both food and food packaging can be composted together, it could also help keep more food out of landfills, where it’s a major source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
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This could be more bad news for bananas. In the coming decades, 10 countries where bananas are grown could be negatively impacted, including major suppliers India and Brazil, by climate change. Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama and the Philippines could also suffer, says a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Since the 1960s, shifts in the climate have in fact boosted the growth of bananas in some regions, but hindered it in others. But if the current trend of global warming continues, farms may struggle to grow the same amount of bananas in coming years, researchers Varun Varma and Daniel Bebber of the University of Exeter predict.
According to a separate study cited by the authors, the fruit is among the top 10 crops in the world when it comes to cultivation, yield, and calories produced. More work to explore the impact climate change on these crops is needed, Varma and Bebber wrote. Earlier this year, a separate study found climate change could help the spread of a fungus, known as Black Sigatoka, which affects bananas.
Yes, you use palm oil. Palm oil is used in everything from cosmetics to food to soap, but its production from biodiversity-sapping palm oil plantations in tropical rainforests is increasingly controversial. According to the largest player in the sustainable palm oil industry, Sime Darby Plantation, the companies that buy it often don’t then make its inclusion clear on product labels.
Still, more companies are signing up to comply with a standard known as “sustainable” palm oil, as BBC environment correspondent Claire Marshall explains. There is a generally-agreed global standard set by the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Environmentalists worry that compliance is too slow, but they also generally concede that strong demand for palm oil and less-than-perfect alternatives mean that even a slow route to sustainability is the better path. Alternatives are sunflower oil, or rapeseed, or coconut. But palm oil is far more productive, yielding up to ten times more oil from the same amount of land. Put it another way: ten times more land would be needed to grow these other crops to get the same amount of oil, Marshall writes.
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