Europe’s wood pellet market is worsening environmental racism in the American South

October 21, 2020 by  
Filed under Business, Eco, Green

Europe’s wood pellet market is worsening environmental racism in the American South Danielle Purifoy Wed, 10/21/2020 – 00:45 This story was originally published by Southerly , in partnership with Scalawag and Environmental Health News for its Powerlines series, which looks at climate change, justice, and infrastructure in the American South. The series is supported by the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture at Columbia University, and is part of their  POWER project .  In 2013, when Enviva Biomass opened a new plant near Belinda Joyner’s community in Northampton County, North Carolina, she already knew what to expect. As the Northeast Organizer for  Clean Water for North Carolina , she’d met with residents of a small, majority Black town called Ahoskie, 40 miles from her home. Enviva had built its  first North Carolina plant  there two years before.  The corporation, which manufactures wood pellets as a purportedly renewable alternative to coal, did what most industries do in prospective communities — they promised jobs, economic development, and minimal impacts. What Ahoskie got was approximately 50 direct jobs, local tree loss,  noise ,  heavy traffic, air pollution, and combustible dust  from wood drying and processing that threatens their health and enjoyment of their homes. On top of those impacts, as many scientists and environmental groups now say, wood pellets are not the hoped-for transition fuel championed just 11 years ago.  However, like Ahoskie, Joyner’s community wasn’t quick to organize against the plant.  “I made an announcement in my church that this plant was coming and I kind of gave them a gist of what it would entail and at first, you know how people just don’t kinda pay you any attention?” she said. “And then once [Enviva] start building it, then they were saying ‘oh this is coming,’ and I told them ‘this is what I tried to tell you all about.’”  In June, I interviewed Joyner and other members of her community in Northampton County, which is located in the Northeast corner of the state, close to the Virginia state line. The area is rural, and peppered with industries — including Westrock Paper Mill, a warehouse and distribution center for Lowe’s Hardware, an industrial hog farm, and Enviva. Until it was canceled in late July, the  Atlantic Coast Pipeline  was slated to run through the county, connecting to a newly constructed compressor station.  The county is also majority Black (57 percent), with 21 percent of residents living in poverty compared to 14 percent statewide,  according to the most recent data  from the U.S. Census. The county’s median household income is 38 percent lower than the state as a whole; it is classified by North Carolina as a  “Tier 1” county , meaning that it is among the 40 most economically distressed of the state’s 100 counties. From Northampton County to Alabama’s Black Belt, residents and activists say companies like Enviva exploit mostly communities of color with promises to build up busted local economies with a “green energy” industry. Joyner’s home sits in a cozy loop of houses in a small Northampton County town. As I pull up to her house, she’s sitting on her porch with her sister and neighbors, chatting with masks on. The community is tight; they’ve shared a lot of their lives in this place.  For seven years, they’ve also had to share the burdens and losses from Enviva. “I call Northampton County the dumping ground,” Joyner said. “Being that we live right here off I-95, and it’s easy access, they just feel like more or less they can just come in here and give us anything, and we’re supposed to be happy after we get it.”  Enviva is the world’s largest producer of industrial wood pellets and is part of a rapidly growing industry in the U.S. South, where companies find ample forests, lax business regulations, and ports along the Atlantic coast. Though there is some domestic demand for wood pellets for electric utilities — particularly in the Northeast — the majority of wood pellets manufactured in the region are  exported to the European Union  (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK), to fulfill global commitments to mitigate climate change by reducing reliance on fossil fuels.  Other wood pellet companies have flocked to the region, including  Drax , a major energy utility in the UK that now manufactures wood pellets in the U.S. South to burn them overseas in its power plants. Collectively, the region’s wood pellet industry exports more than 7.4 million tons of pellets per year. With facility expansions and several prospective plants on the horizon, that number is expected to climb in coming years. From Northampton County to Alabama’s Black Belt, residents and activists say companies like Enviva exploit mostly communities of color with promises to build up busted local economies with a “green energy” industry. Instead, communities hosting wood pellet facilities are not only further burdened by pollution and other local dangers, they are also entangled in yet another climate damaging trend — the destruction of biodiverse hardwood forests and the rise of monoculture tree plantations to produce energy that appears to pose climate threats similar to coal.  The rise of the wood pellet industry in the U.S. South can be traced back to 2009, when wood pellets were touted as a “transition fuel” that could be used to advance the  EU’s climate goals  — a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels, and a 20 percent increase in renewable energy by 2020. Wood pellets were considered to be renewable energy because replanted forests could recapture carbon lost in the clear cutting and burning process. They were also coveted because unlike solar, wind, or water energy, wood pellets can be burned in the same incinerators as coal with some retrofits, thus eliminating the expense of new infrastructure. The U.S. South was targeted for sourcing wood pellets because of its status as the world’s “wood basket” — it is the largest producer of wood products, according to Emily Zucchino, Director of Community Engagement for the Dogwood Alliance, an environmental nonprofit committed to protect[ing] Southern forests across 14 [U.S.] states.  Enviva Biomass, headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, has a large foothold in the region, with nine wood pellet manufacturing plants across six states — North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Virginia and Mississippi — and two more facilities pending. A sign outside of the Ahoskie facility reads, “This is Enviva Country.” A spokesperson wrote that the company has a production capacity of 4.9 million metric tons of pellets per year.  Several other wood pellet production companies also operate in the region — Pinnacle Renewable Energy Inc in Alabama, Highland Pellets in Arkansas, Mohegan Renewable Energy in Tennessee, and Drax, which manufactures wood pellets mostly near the Gulf Coast.  But even if the EU has met its 2020 climate goals — the region claims to have already  reduced emissions by 23.2   percent  in 2018  — the use of wood pellets raises important questions about the EU’s carbon accounting, [PDM1] and even more questions about public health and climate consequences for the U.S. South, which is already bearing the brunt of climate change effects.  “As more and more science came out about the industry… it became clear that this is not the green and carbon neutral energy it was made out to be,” Zucchino said. According to  a 2009 study  on climate accounting published in  Science Magazine , at the point of combustion, wood pellets put more carbon into the atmosphere than coal, despite generating less energy per unit than coal. Other studies, like one published in 2012 in  GBC Bioenergy , directly challenge the idea that wood pellets are renewable energy because forests can be replanted. The “carbon debt” generated when forests are cut and their stored carbon is burned into the atmosphere can take decades, if not more than a century, to “repay” through forest regrowth. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says humans must reduce carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030 to avoid the most catastrophic climate change impacts.  As more and more science came out about the industry… it became clear that this is not the green and carbon neutral energy it was made out to be. What makes the wood pellet strategy even more complicated is that,  due to loopholes in the EU climate policy , carbon emissions from burning wood pellets are often never counted.  Kenneth Richter, a Germany-based environmental policy consultant for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that the loophole is due to the disconnect in carbon accounting between the EU’s land use change policies and its energy policies. Carbon loss is measured only when trees are cut, and not when they’re burned for power. Another problem is that when pellets are imported, the EU counts no emissions at all. Though the theory is that the exporting nations would account for those emissions from clear cutting forests, the U.S. does not account for carbon loss from the wood pellet industry because it is no longer part of the Paris Agreement on climate change.  “You have massive amounts of carbon going into the atmosphere but everyone pretends they’re not there,” Richter said. “Everyone else says it’s someone else’s responsibility.”  The EU and UK also provide heavy subsidies to the industry because of the expense of importing wood pellets. Their reliance on the energy source to meet stringent emissions targets is now heavily political — and hard to correct — despite the growing scientific evidence against it.  “Energy companies in many European countries have obligations to produce a certain percentage from renewable sources,” Richter said. “It’s easiest to burn wood with coal, much cheaper than solar panels. They’re pushing the governments — if you don’t allow us to do this [burn wood pellets] and don’t subsidize us we’re going to fail. Drax is a prime example. It produces a large percentage of the UK’s electricity. If [the UK] took subsidies away from Drax, it would fail and cause difficulties in producing enough electricity in the short term.”  Northampton County residents like Joyner are more immediately concerned about the acute impacts of wood pellet manufacturing, from local clear cutting of privately-owned forests to the 24/7 production process.  “The noise… banging and during all hours of the night,” Silverleen Alston, who lives about a mile from Enviva’s plant in Northampton County, said in our interview at Joyner’s home. “I used to call up there [to Enviva] and tell them, why don’t they stop, lower the noise or whatever, till I stopped. I don’t even do it no more.”  In addition to the noise from grinding trees and truck traffic, Alston and others complain about a constant cloud of dust flowing from the plant onto their homes, cars, gardens, and into their lungs.  “The stuff is in the air, coming [in] all directions. I keep my car in a carport, and you can see the stuff on the car. So you know it’s not just coming down from above,” Alston said.  A  2018 report  by the Environmental Integrity Project found that 21 wood pellet mills exporting to the EU emit thousands of tons of particulate matter (fine dust), carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides (smog), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) per year, each of which are  associated with a range of illnesses , from respiratory and heart disease to cancer. These wood pellet mills also emit 3.1 million tons of greenhouse gases per year. The report also found that at least a third of wood pellet facilities violated their air permit limits in 2017. Fires and explosions have erupted in plants in five states largely from wood dust, which is combustible. In 2017, a wood pellet storage silo owned by German Pellets in Port Arthur, Texas,  caught fire  and burned unchecked for two months, sending many local residents to the hospital. Later that year, a  worker at the silo died  when pellets fell on the Bobcat machine he was operating. Many of Alston’s family members, who live together on a large plot of land they own, suffer from respiratory illnesses that have been exacerbated since Enviva’s arrival. Her father had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)   and died two years ago. Her aunt also has COPD, and her sister has to sleep on a breathing machine. Alston, her mother, and another sister all have breathing problems, though not as severe.  These wood pellet mills also emit 3.1 million tons of greenhouse gases per year. … Fires and explosions have erupted in plants in five states largely from wood dust, which is combustible. Other community members complain about not being able to spend as much time outdoors anymore.  “We have a gentleman that lives in the area, he said that he has to wash his car every three days and power wash his house every three months, and that’s the stuff that comes from Enviva,” Joyner said. “There’s a young man that lives out there that says he doesn’t cook out anymore because he can see the residue falling from the sky.” Richie Harding, a pastor of a local church in Northampton County, doesn’t live close enough to Enviva to experience the dust, but the private forest where Enviva sources its trees is near his house. When I interviewed him by phone, he told me that large swaths of the forest are now gone and listed the wildlife he’s observed in the area since the clear cutting.  “There’s been a high increase in the amount of animals,” Harding said. “Bobcats, black bears… coyotes… sightings more frequent in the Gaston area.”  In an email response Enviva’s director of communications and public affairs María Moreno wrote that Enviva follows all applicable environmental laws, including the U.S. Clean Air Act, and even exceeds regulation standards in controlling air pollution at its facilities.  “We use state-of-the-art, industry-proven air emission controls to reduce emissions from our manufacturing process with at least 95% destruction efficiency,” Moreno wrote. “We are going above and beyond what is required by the law as an industry leader to show our commitment to environmental stewardship in the communities where we live and operate.”  Despite installing additional pollution controls and obtaining an environmental justice (EJ) analysis approved by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) last year, Enviva’s claims do not reflect the daily experiences of residents living near the facility. In my interview with Alston, she told me that her husband still has to wash the dust from the plant off their car every other day. Further,  a 2018 study  of wood pellet mills in the U.S. South found that all wood pellet mills in North Carolina and South Carolina are located in low income communities of color typically overburdened by toxic industry. Across the region, the authors found that they are 50 percent more likely to be located in low income communities of color. Pine pellets in front a wall of fire wood. Photo by  tchara  on Shutterstock. As for the forest impacts, Moreno wrote that Enviva only takes “low grade wood,” which is a “by-product of a traditional timber harvest,” and that the higher demand for forest products like wood pellets leads to  more  forest growth.  But Richter, the EU-based environmental policy consultant, says the term “low-grade wood” is business jargon for otherwise healthy trees that are not valuable for the industry, but are very valuable for the planet. He says the increased forest growth that Enviva claims comes from higher demand for wood products is not the same kind of naturally occurring forests that people recognize.  “[O]ften these naturally grown forests are cut down and replaced with something that’s essentially a plantation,” Richter said. “Trees in rows, monoculture. One species, fairly fast growing, hardly any space between them. Sprayed with fertilizers [and] pesticides. It’s an agricultural crop. You lose the wildlife and biodiversity of what you previously had in a natural forest. Companies still call that a forest but it’s nowhere near what’s contained in an actual natural forest.” According to a 2018  Dogwood Alliance report , since 1953, the U.S. South has lost over 33 million acres of natural forest, and gained 40 million acres of pine plantations.  Black families like Alston’s and Joyner’s have owned land in Northampton County for generations, and experienced the closeness and safety of the communities, the freedom of living on the land. Joyner says the noise and pollution made some people in her community want to move away. She called one of her friends who moved an hour south to Zebulon, NC, “one of the fortunate ones.” According to a 2018 Dogwood Alliance report, since 1953, the U.S. South has lost over 33 million acres of natural forest, and gained 40 million acres of pine plantations. But many others can’t afford to move — and some don’t want to. “[Enviva] had mentioned to us, you know, had we thought about moving?” Alston said. “I’m on family earned land, that my grandaddy was invested in. To me, I really can say they couldn’t pay me enough to move.” Enviva got  support from Northampton County Commissioners  before opening the plant in 2013. They made the same promises that they made to Ahoskie — economic development and jobs. But according to Joyner, the public hearings for Enviva’s permit, organized by NCDEQ, were mostly publicized in newspapers and on posters tacked along the road. Not many knew they were happening, or understood what was at stake, so there was low attendance.  “If you really wanted to know what [the poster] was, you basically had to get out of your car and go and look at it,” Joyner said.  After the plant was built, and residents began experiencing the pollution and noise, they joined forces with Dogwood Alliance, which has been monitoring the growth of the wood pellet industry across the U.S. South, to advocate for improved environmental conditions at the plant. But after several meetings with the county commission, Enviva plant administrators and the company’s former public relations director, there were no improvements to the plant; the company has donated resources to local schools and meals to local residents.  Last year, NCDEQ granted Enviva a permit  to expand its Northampton plant , increasing its production capacity from 550,000 metric tons per year to 781,255 metric tons annually.  “We had a public hearing on the 20th of August last year,” Joyner said. “We had 40 or so people there opposed to the expansion and of course the only people who were for the expansion were people who worked for Enviva.”  Even if Enviva exceeds the requirements of its own air permit in its expanded facility, as Moreno wrote in our interview, there are still concerns about further deterioration of environmental quality in the community, and what it means for residents’ health.  “When I looked at the officer that was choking George Floyd, and he said I can’t breathe, this is the same thing that the industries are doing to our communities,” Joyner said. “It’s fine to have jobs, but give us some jobs that don’t kill us.”  As the wood pellet industry continues to grow across the South, Enviva has targeted Alabama and Mississippi for future expansion. The company is building facilities producing significantly larger quantities of wood pellets for export through a deep water  marine port and storage silo  currently under construction in Pasagoula, Mississippi. In each state, the company’s pitch remains the same: jobs and economic development.  “They go into these low wealth communities, promise opportunity, and a lot of residents bite on it,” said Rev. Michael Malcom, executive director of Alabama Interfaith Power and Light. “If we could get ahead of this, we could go in and tell them about the dangers of the wood pellet industry. But unfortunately, the way the system works in Alabama, ADEM keeps things under wraps until it’s time for the public hearing.”  Alabama has the third most timberland acreage in the contiguous 48 states, much of it in the form of pine plantations owned by  private absentee landowners  disconnected from local residents.  Enviva’s first Alabama facility  will be located in a small Black town called Epes, and is projected to open in 2021, with a production capacity of over one million metric tons of wood pellets per year. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) approved the permit last December, with additional  support from Alabama governor Kay Ivey .  Malcom said it is likely that Enviva spends as much as a full year making the case for a new manufacturing plant in a community, promising good jobs and low environmental impacts.  “When they announce [the facility], it’s already too late. [Enviva has] already gone in [to the community] and greased the wheel,” Malcom said.  Through mutual connections to the Dogwood Alliance, Malcom teamed up with Mississippi-based Katherine Egland, Chair of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Committee and Co-founder of the  Education, Economics, Environmental, Climate and Health Organization  to develop interventions for preventing the growth of the wood pellet industry in the Southeast. Their first chance was in Lucedale, Mississippi, a predominantly White rural community, where Enviva is now constructing a facility permitted last July. Malcom said Enviva had already convinced many people that the mill would be a good thing for the community, bringing much needed jobs.  “[ At the public hearing ] they were basically shooting our talking points back to us and saying, ’so what?’” Malcom said. “One guy literally said, ‘They [Enviva opponents] tell us we can get cancer. What’s wrong with that? Got to have something.” Industrial logging-dependent communities are some of the most poverty stricken places in the South … If industrial logging were the solution to these places, they’d be some of the wealthiest on earth. It’s just not true. After the hearing in Lucedale, Enviva  released a statement  saying that it was “proud to have the opportunity to create 90 direct jobs in Lucedale, 30 direct jobs in Pascagoula, and hundreds of additional indirect and construction jobs.” It also made a disclaimer that any ‘forward looking statements’ about its operations were estimated projections, and could not be assured. Regardless of the jobs projections, Zucchino said that the longer term impacts of the industry undermine other forms of economic growth.  “Industrial logging-dependent communities are some of the most poverty stricken places in the South,” Zucchino said. “If industrial logging were the solution to these places, they’d be some of the wealthiest on earth. It’s just not true.” Back in North Carolina, a predominantly Indigenous and Black community in Robeson County, were largely unswayed by the economic promise of the wood pellet industry. Already burdened with hog factory farms, coal ash waste sites, a landfill, a poultry litter burning plant, and increasing flood risk due to climate change, Robeson County residents mounted a long opposition campaign  against a new wood pellet facility  owned by London-based Active Energy Group (AEG),  including over 1000 public comments, substantial media coverage, and a public hearing  in which an overwhelming majority of speakers opposed the plant. Nevertheless, NCDEQ approved an  air permit for AEG in June . Construction is already in progress. Unlike the white wood pellets manufactured by companies like Enviva, which require energy utilities to retrofit their coal incinerators, AEG’s facility will manufacture  wood pellets called CoalSwitch , designed to be a direct substitute for coal, with no retrofits required.  “There’s a lot of moving pieces with this facility, and kind of a lot of confusion,” Zucchino said. “Not a lot of clarity [about whether] they have contracts for export, how big are they going to be. [AEG] is pioneering this [black wood pellet technology]; they’ve tried it in Utah without success… it hasn’t been done successfully anywhere as far as I know.”  Zaynab Nasif, public information officer for the Division of Air Quality at NCDEQ wrote via email that the agency provided additional avenues for community participation for the AEG site, and responded to concerns raised during that process by adding more stringent testing requirements for hazardous pollutants to the facility’s air permit.  But many residents of Robeson County, which is about 180 miles from Northampton County, are already suffering from high rates of respiratory illness, including COVID-19. Additionally, clear cutting more of the county’s forests for wood pellet production will likely exacerbate the region’s climate vulnerability.  “Enough is enough,” said Joyner, who travels frequently to Robeson County. “I’ve seen the damage that has been done there. It’s a shame to want to wreak havoc on a community in that way.”  In recent years, some new communities impacted by the wood pellet industry have begun organizing against it. Residents of the Netherlands,  who pay significant tariffs for the shipment of wood pellets from the U.S. , traveled to North Carolina and other parts of the South to understand the environmental impacts of the industry, and to fight for better climate policies in the EU.  “We have had people come here wondering, ‘why are you doing this to your land? We would not do this to our land,’” said Harding, who lives in Northampton County. “They see that America was destroying land just for a dollar, and that was really troublesome to them. They don’t understand pretty much like we don’t understand.” I am reminded with the wood pellet trade, if you look at the map of the wood pellet trade states and the former cotton trade states, they are the same. Since Egland started organizing with Malcom in Mississippi and Alabama a couple of years ago, she’s been struck by historic parallels of the wood pellet industry with other extractive legacies in the South and has been working locally and globally to motivate others to intervene.  “I am reminded with the wood pellet trade, if you look at the map of the wood pellet trade states and the former cotton trade states, they are the same,” she said. “The UK ignored the human rights abuses of the cotton trade, with slavery, now they are imperiling the descendants of that same population with the wood pellets. [The U.S. South] also happens to be the most climate vulnerable region in the nation.” There are some signs of progress, including European policies limiting wood pellet imports and decreased expansion of the industry in the U.S. South. Recently, North Carolina governor Roy Cooper and NCDEQ committed to  excluding wood pellets  from the state’s energy mix in its Clean Energy Plan.  Richter says an opening for change is on the horizon in the EU, as the government must revisit its existing climate legislation to prepare for new greenhouse gas reduction targets — a  55 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030  compared to 1990 levels. One piece of that legislation is the  Renewable Energy Directive (RED) , which he says is driving the demand for wood pellets as renewable energy. Kicking wood pellets out of the “renewables club” would kill existing subsidies for the industry, which he hopes can be diverted to pay for solar, wind, and water energy sources.  “[T]here’s also the  European Green Deal , the European road map for making economies sustainable. The person responsible for that is Franz Timmermans, the Vice President of the EU. He’s said that bioenergy needs to be reviewed. And we hope that he can become a bit of a champion for our demands.”  Zucchino also sees some momentum building against the wood pellet industry, from coalitions forming regionally, within states, and internationally.  “One of the things I’m proudest of in my time at Dogwood [Alliance] is the amount of movement building that we’ve accomplished around this issue,” she said. “We are seeing encouraging advances in the understanding of and policy around the wood pellet industry. But we need to see more and we need to see it happen quickly.”  Pull Quote From Northampton County to Alabama’s Black Belt, residents and activists say companies like Enviva exploit mostly communities of color with promises to build up busted local economies with a “green energy” industry. As more and more science came out about the industry… it became clear that this is not the green and carbon neutral energy it was made out to be. These wood pellet mills also emit 3.1 million tons of greenhouse gases per year. … Fires and explosions have erupted in plants in five states largely from wood dust, which is combustible. According to a 2018 Dogwood Alliance report, since 1953, the U.S. South has lost over 33 million acres of natural forest, and gained 40 million acres of pine plantations. Industrial logging-dependent communities are some of the most poverty stricken places in the South … If industrial logging were the solution to these places, they’d be some of the wealthiest on earth. It’s just not true. I am reminded with the wood pellet trade, if you look at the map of the wood pellet trade states and the former cotton trade states, they are the same. Topics Energy & Climate Pollution Prevention Human Rights Environmental Justice Racial Justice Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off A pellet factory, where pine wood shavings are moved on a conveyor belt. Photo by  Juan Enrique del Barrio  on Shutterstock.

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Europe’s wood pellet market is worsening environmental racism in the American South

12 sustainable gifts to give Dad for Father’s Day

June 15, 2020 by  
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Father’s Day is just around the corner, so as you celebrate graduations, June birthdays and virtual weddings, keep an eye out for the perfect gift for Dad. While his favorite treat is always welcome, finding something more personal can be a challenge. We’ve come up with some ideas that not only express your love and gratitude for your father, but for the planet, too. Tools If your dad spends his spare time woodworking or tinkering on cars, there are many new gadgets on the market he would like to experiment with. He might also want to upgrade older tools. While shopping, avoid tools made with plastic and look for high-quality wood or stainless steel options that will last a lifetime. Many brands even include a lifetime warranty with your purchase. This will keep low-quality tools out of the landfill and keep Dad from having to shop for wrenches or hammers ever again.  Related: 15 essential woodworking tools Travel mugs and bottles Whether your dad must have his morning cup of Joe or always carries a water bottle with him, provide him with a long-lasting stainless steel option that will keep him from needing single-serve water bottles or to-go coffee cups. Watches Watches are a timeless gift. But, when choosing a design, seek out an eco-friendly model. Many watch manufacturers are now offering sustainable wood designs, like WeWOOD . Also check out the Veldt LUXTURE AARDE watch with a built-in Climate Action Reminder. Wallet By the time a good wallet gets broken in, it starts to break down and needs replaced, so Dad might appreciate something a little different. This year, go for a vegan leather wallet. Some unique options include these apple waste and wood leather wallets , or these wallets made from recycled banana trees . Plants Whether dad is the clear winner in the green thumb category or simply could use some bamboo luck in his office, both indoor and outdoor plants are great options this Father’s Day. Perhaps select a succulent or cactus, or if Dad is into novel gifts, pick up a Venus flytrap, tropical pitcher plants or sundews. Beer-making kit If your father enjoys a good brew at the end of the day, he may also enjoy making his own beer . Complete kits run around $200 and include all of the tools he’ll need, from a glass carboy to the instruction book. He can then add hops and yeast to perfect a recipe of his choice. Hobby class What does your dad love to do in his spare time? Has he shown an interest in gardening, pottery, knife-making, welding, golf, photography, playing guitar or learning another language? Whatever the hobby, get him a certificate for a local or online class to boost his learning on the topic. You could even take the class with him for a special, shared experience. Time outdoors Sometimes all Dad wants is to spend time with you, so set a date for some outdoor fun. Hike somewhere he’s never been, plan a camping trip or go fishing. Meet up for a road or mountain bike ride. Go for a round of golf or introduce him to disc golf at a nearby park. Whatever activity you choose, make sure to get a picture to memorialize the event. Backyard games If your father is the perpetual entertainer with the grill always ready for action, add some backyard games to the mix. Find or make a solid wood cornhole game for hours of family fun that won’t damage the planet. Horseshoes is another classic that requires little more than two metal poles and four metal horseshoes. Gardening supplies Whether he’s just recently shown an interest or taught you all you know about gardening while growing up, your dad might appreciate some new gardening supplies to add to his tool shed. If space is tight, get him one of the many new indoor gardening systems where he can grow veggies in the kitchen. For the outdoor gardener, invest in quality and sustainable gloves, organic skin protection and seeds. For yard decor, get solar path lights, a bird bath, bird feeder, bat house, butterfly house, bird house or beehive .  Park pass For the dad who enjoys spending time in nature, make sure he has the access he needs with a park pass. Most passes expire annually, so it could even be a tradition in the making to buy Dad an access pass. For the road-tripper, a national park pass will provide access to parks and monuments across the country.  Check out pass options here . Solar products The sun is a powerful tool for providing energy. Mount a solar panel to the RV or van for continual power on the road. On a smaller scale, get Dad a solar-powered lantern for nights under the stars. For cooking, invest in a solar oven and leave the propane and charcoal at home. Images via Aleksandra , Deborah Breen Whiting , Nicolas J. Leclercq , Gyae Min and Akiragiulia

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Why are toothbrushes so hard to recycle?

May 28, 2020 by  
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Even the remotest islands have no lack of used toothbrushes. Researchers studying  Cocos Keeling Islands  — 6 square miles of uninhabited land 1,300 miles off  Australia’s  northwest coast — found 373,000 toothbrushes among the mountains of plastic debris. Reading studies like this makes almost any thinking person wonder why we can’t recycle toothbrushes. Toothbrushes pose a problem, as no matter how much we care about the planet, most of us aren’t going to sacrifice our dental hygiene. So why is it so hard to recycle toothbrushes? Dental professionals and the American Dental Association recommend getting a new toothbrush every three to four months, or when the bristles fray. This means the average American — or at least one that follows dental advice — goes through three to four toothbrushes per year. Even if each American used only two toothbrushes annually, that’s roughly 660 million toothbrushes headed for the  landfill . Why? “Regular toothbrushes are hard to recycle because they are made from many components, including plastics derived from crude  oil , rubber and a mix of plastic and other agents,” explained Dr. Nammy Patel , DDS and author of  Age With Style: Your Guide To A Youthful Smile & Healthy Living.  “It takes the plastic toothbrush over 400 years to decompose.” Usually, the plastic handle would be the most desirable part for recycling. Nobody wants those grotty nylon bristles that spent the last several months poking between your teeth. And it takes a lot of effort to separate the bristles and the metal that keeps them in place from the  plastic handle. The  Colgate Oral Care Recycling Project  is one rare effort to recycle used dental gear. The project accepts toothpaste tubes and caps, toothbrushes, toothpaste cartons, toothbrush outer  packaging  and floss containers. Reusing your old toothbrushes Instead of recycling your toothbrush, it’s easier to find ways to reuse it. Patel suggests using your old toothbrush for coloring hair, cleaning car parts, or anything that can be accessed by the small bristles. “It can be used for cleaning mud under shoes,” she suggested. Toothbrushes are the best tools for cleaning grout on your kitchen counter or between your bathroom tiles. Just add baking soda or bleach. You can also use a dry or just slightly damp toothbrush to clean the sides of your computer  keys. It’s amazingly gross, the stuff that accumulates in a keyboard. Other places to use those tiny bristles to your advantage include cleaning grunge out of your hairbrush, scrubbing around faucets and reviving Velcro by removing the lint. Old toothbrushes even have  artistic  uses. Painters can use them for splattering paint on a canvas, or for adding texture. In another artistic application, toothbrushes are great for scrubbing crayon marks off walls. Sustainable alternatives Of course, the best way to avoid disposing of a non-recyclable item is by not buying it in the first place. “Toothbrushes made from more sustainable products are great,” said Patel. “They offer the same or better clean and are better for the environment.” Bamboo  is the most popular alternative toothbrush handle material. However, most still have nylon bristles. Some companies use compostable pig hair bristles, but this won’t be a happy solution for vegetarians. Still, the handle is the biggest part of the toothbrush, so using a bamboo toothbrush with nylon bristles is still a step in the right direction. Some companies even offer replaceable heads so you can use the same bamboo handle for years. If style is of paramount importance, check out  Bootrybe’s  pretty laser-engraved designs. You could also opt for a toothbrush that’s already been recycled. Since 2007,  Preserve  has recycled more than 80 million yogurt cups into toothbrushes. They partner with Whole Foods to get people to recycle #5 plastics, which is one of the safer yet least recycled types of plastic . And when your Preserve toothbrush gets old, you can mail it back to the company for recycling. Or ditch the plastic and go electric. “Electric toothbrushes are a better alternative than regular toothbrushes,” said Patel. “They give a great clean and they minimize the amount of waste.” She recommends eco-friendly brands like Foreo Issa and Georganics. “There are some brands like Boka brush which have activated  charcoal in its bristles to help reduce bacteria growth. Many companies also have a recycling program where you can send your toothbrush head and they will recycle it for you.” Better yet, she said, get the electric rechargeable brushes so there is no battery waste. “If you have to purchase a battery-operated one, make sure to use rechargeable batteries to decrease waste.” Some people like to further reduce waste by making their own toothpaste and mouthwash. While homemade toothpaste lacks the cavity-fighting power of fluoride, you might want to occasionally use homemade products to decrease packaging waste and save money, or just to tide you over until your next trip to the store. For a very simple and inexpensive paste, combine one teaspoon of baking soda with a little  water . + Dr. Nammy Patel Via Toothbrush Life Images via Teresa Bergen

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Why are toothbrushes so hard to recycle?

UK residents enjoying record low emissions

May 28, 2020 by  
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By now, almost everybody has heard about record low CO2 emissions brought on by  coronavirus  lockdowns. But new data shows not only that the U.K.’s emissions are the lowest they’ve been since the 1920s, but there’s reason to hope they might not shoot back up to pre-pandemic rates as soon as life returns to quasi-normal. A recent paper published in the scientific journal  Nature Climate Change examined six sectors known for their climate change contributions: electricity  and heat; surface transport; industry; home use; aviation; and public buildings and commerce. They found that surface transport was notably down, partially accounting for why the U.K. cut emissions by 31% during lockdown, compared to a global average of 17%.  “A lot of emissions in the UK come from surface transport – around 30% on average of the country’s total  emissions ,” said Professor Corinne Le Quéré, the paper’s lead author. “It makes up a bigger contribution to total emissions than the average worldwide.” Since the U.K. reached full lockdown, Quéré said, people were forced to stay home and not to drive to work. Mike Childs, Friends of the Earth’s head of policy, reminds us that our problems are far from over. “A 31% emissions drop in April is dramatic, but in the long run it won’t mean anything unless some reductions are made permanent,” Childs told HuffPost UK. “This lockdown moment is a chance to reset our carbon-guzzling economy and rebuild in a way that leaves pollution in the past, to stop climate-wrecking emissions spiking right back up to where they were before, or even higher.” Fortunately, British drivers appreciate the cleaner air and plan to permanently alter their driving style, according to a survey. In the Automobile Association’s poll of 20,000 motorists, half plan to walk more post- pandemic , and 40% aim to drive less. Twenty-five percent of respondents said they planned to work from home more, 25% intend to fly less and 20% to cycle more. The U.K. government plans to spend £250 million on improved infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists. “We have all enjoyed the benefits of cleaner air during lockdown and it is gratifying that the vast majority of drivers want to do their bit to maintain the cleaner air,” said Edmund King, Automobile Association president. “ Walking  and cycling more, coupled with less driving and more working from home, could have a significant effect on both reducing congestion and maintaining cleaner air.” + Nature Climate Change Via HuffPost and BBC

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New map exposes secrets of Antarctica’s green snow

May 28, 2020 by  
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Antarctica’s peculiar green snow is spreading, according to researchers who have created the first large-scale map of microscopic algae growing on the chilly, southernmost continent. As the climate warms, snow algae is becoming a more and more important terrestrial carbon sink. “This is a significant advance in our understanding of land-based life on Antarctica, and how it might change in the coming years as the climate warms,” study leader Matt Davey, faculty member of the University of Cambridge’s Department of Plant Sciences, said. “Snow algae are a key component of the continent’s ability to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis.” Related: Antarctica reaches record high temperature The study’s researchers, from University of Cambridge and the British Antarctic Survey, explained the lay of the Antarctic land. “In the limited terrestrial ecosystems of Antarctica , all photosynthetic organisms will make a significant contribution to the ecology of their habitat,” the scientists wrote in their paper, which is published in Nature Communications . With only about 0.18% of Antarctica’s continental area ice-free, there’s very little exposed ground for traditional vegetation. Thus, evolution got creative and developed snow algae. Expeditions in the 1950s and 1960s first described the green and red patches on and below the snow surface. Since then, researchers have learned that Antarctica’s diverse algal species are important for nutrient and carbon cycling. “Considering that a single snow algal bloom can cover hundreds of square meters, snow algae are potentially one of the region’s most significant photosynthetic primary producers, as well as influencing nutrient provision to downstream terrestrial and marine ecosystems ,” the researchers wrote. Researchers combined their own measurements on the ground with satellite images taken between 2017 and 2019 to map the algae. They found that algae grows in “warmer” areas along the Antarctica coastlines and west coast islands, where temperatures in the continent’s summer months rise just a hair over 0 degrees Celsius. Marine birds and mammals also influence the algal distribution, as their excrement is a natural fertilizer. More than 60% of algal blooms were within 5 kilometers of penguin colonies. Lead author Andrew Gray explained, “As Antarctica warms, we predict the overall mass of snow algae will increase, as the spread to higher ground will significantly outweigh the loss of small island patches of algae.” + Nature Communications Via University of Cambridge Images via Gray, A., Krolikowski, M., Fretwell, P. et al. / Nature Communications (Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License)

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New map exposes secrets of Antarctica’s green snow

UNStudio to transform Gyeongdo Island into a sustainable tourism destination

May 28, 2020 by  
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UNStudio has unveiled a masterplan to transform South Korea’s Gyeongdo Island into a new, 470,000-square-meter leisure destination that puts the spotlight on nature. The design celebrates the island’s natural beauty by orienting development around carefully framed landscape views — a design approach borrowed from ancient Korean garden design. The high-density development, which ranges from an affordable family resort to private villas, will follow passive solar and bio-design principles to minimize energy use. Commissioned by client YKDevelopment, the redevelopment of Gyeongdo is part of a plan to turn the island into “Asia’s number one marine and coastal tourism destination”. Located in the southern part of the Korean Peninsula, Gyeongdo sits 2 kilometers southeast of the city of Yeosu, the main tourist hub in the Namhae region that is renowned for beautiful, green islands and ocean views. UNStudio’s masterplan aims to highlight the island’s rich biodiversity by creating three developments along the island, each informed by a distinct garden concept with different trees, flowers and other vegetation. Related: UNStudio installs new energy-generating facade for solar producer Hanwha’s HQ Built on either side of a “green backbone” for conservation, the three developments will be nestled within areas of reconstructed forest. The three neighborhoods include the Gyeongdo Gateway at the island’s main entrance; the Sunrise Waterfront on the east side of the island; and Sea Breeze Coast at the island’s southern point. Gyeongdo Gateway will house the main port, a cable car station, marina and bridge, an entertainment center, shopping mall and a waterside boardwalk. The quieter Sunrise Waterfront will serve as the island’s “leisure heart” and will include a four-star hotel and condos. The Sea Breeze Coast neighborhood is located in the most secluded part of the island and will offer a five-star hotel and a series of private villas. All of the buildings will be thoughtfully embedded into the landscape to follow the natural terrain and passive solar principles. Visitors and residents will have access to a seamless public transportation system to easily and sustainably move about the island. + UNStudio Images by Plomp (NL) and Flying Architecture (CZ) via UNStudio

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UNStudio to transform Gyeongdo Island into a sustainable tourism destination

Planning a low-water garden with expert Guy Banner

April 28, 2020 by  
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For those fortunate enough to have some outdoor space, gardening has become a top  pandemic  activity. It gets people outdoors doing something constructive while maintaining social distancing. You might even grow something to eat. But as all eco-conscious people know, gardening requires water. Sometimes a lot of water. For low-water gardening tips, we asked horticulturalist Guy Banner of  Red Butte Garden  in Salt Lake City for some tips. Banner worked as a field botanist for federal agencies like the U.S. Geological Service and the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon before going back home to Utah. He now co-owns  Grand Prismatic Seed , which specializes in hardy organic seeds, and works as the assistant horticulturalist in Red Butte’s Water Conservation Garden. Red Butte is a gorgeous 100-acre botanical garden with display gardens, hiking  trails , walking paths, talks, outdoor concerts, flower shows and lots of educational displays for home gardeners. It’s definitely worth a trip once we can leave our houses again. Inhabitat: Could you tell us a little bit about the history and inspiration behind Red Butte’s Water Conservation Garden? Banner: The  Water Conservation Garden (WCG) had been a long-term goal for the garden as a response to our arid climate and regional projected population growth as well as an opportunity to create a garden space with a different feel and plant palette. Ten years of planning and preparation came before the grand opening in the spring of 2017. The hope was to create a water conservation garden that demonstrated low to no water use through design,  plant selection and gardening techniques without sacrificing high aesthetic value. I believe it has been a success. The WCG hosts plants from similar climates across the globe but there is a special emphasis on housing many examples of the beautiful and well-adapted native flora of the western U.S. Inhabitat: Any tips for people planning a low-water garden at home? Banner: There are many lovely dry shade plants, but the majority of the most colorful and structural low-water plants need full sun and warmth. They are great for sunny south and west facing garden beds.  Rocks , slopes, windbreaks, evergreens and structures can be used to create warmer sheltered spaces for more cold-sensitive plants. Low-water plants tend to need good drainage in the  soil , especially in non-arid climates. You can find out your soil’s drainage by doing a simple DIY soil percolation test, like this one from Tennessee State University Cooperative Extension:  Soil Perc. Test. To improve drainage, plant on a slope, use rock, gravel, sharp sand and coarse organic material to amend heavy clay soils and/or use plants adapted to those conditions. You can also build mounded beds with large rocks, cobble, cinder blocks, etc. inside to give height and good drainage. If you are lucky enough to have a naturally moist and/or cool garden site, ‘low-water’ plants for you can have higher water needs. Draw inspiration from your native upland flora . Those plants will indicate plant types that can thrive in your area without extra water. Newly planted and transplanted plants will have to be watered regularly until their roots can establish. Establishment can take between one and three years, depending on how slow-growing the plant is. Only the most low-water plants can establish with little to no water after initial planting. Rainfall should be considered. Plants that grow from seed or seedlings in your beds will create the best root systems most quickly, because the roots are free to grow to their fullest potential while seeking out the nutrients and moisture in your garden soil. Mulch is a great way to improve soil texture, moderate temperature, reduce weeds and retain moisture. Use well-draining inorganic rock or gravel mulches around very xeric plants that are prone to rot if their stems and crowns are surrounded by excess moisture. The spongy organic material, beneficial bacteria and fungi of healthy living soils help plants to better utilize available water and nutrients. The natural symbiosis of roots with beneficial fungi (mycorrhiza) in upwards of 90% of studied plant families help plant roots access much more of the soil’s water and nutrients than they can on their own. To improve sterile and impoverished soils use healthy compost or beneficial soil life inoculants. Be minimal and cautious with pesticides, toxic materials and repeated heavy tillage. Visit and support your local nurseries, botanical gardens, university extension programs and gardening clubs. They can be excellent resources. Inhabitat: What are the biggest water-related mistakes people make when planting a garden? Banner: One of the biggest mistakes in low-water gardening is to mix plants with high and low water needs in the same irrigation zones. This creates a lot of hand watering or drowned low-water plants. The key is to create ‘hydrozones’ of plants with similar water needs that receive the same irrigation. Another water-related mistake is to not maximize the water that naturally falls on your garden area. Unless you live in a heavy rainfall area, slow, spread and sink the water you receive by integrating passive rainwater harvesting into your landscaping . It can be particularly useful to integrate your rain gutter downspouts, create swales and basins and then hydrozone the plantings based on how much water is retained. Be mindful of rainfall patterns, leaks and potential flooding in your designs. Inhabitat: What have you learned from working at the Water Conservation Garden? Banner: It’s always teaching me new things of course but here are some of the most poignant lessons that I have learned. The amount of water used to establish many of our garden’s low-water plants is more than some of the most xeric or sandy soil adapted plants can handle; they establish better now with the lower water scheduling. The natural slopes of our foothill garden have helped significantly with drainage of our rocky, clay soils. The use of native annuals and summer drought-adapted bulbs in the garden can create a wonderfully lush landscape by taking advantage of natural seasonal moisture. People are very excited and often surprised to see the wide range of possibilities in low water gardening that we display, and it inspires me to continue to make the garden botanically interesting, aesthetic and approachable. Inhabitat: Can you recommend some low-water plants? Banner:  My current favorite low-water plants are Northern Blazing Star (Liatris scariosa var. nieuwlandii), Shasta Sulphur Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum var. polyanthum), Long trunked Spanish Dagger (Yucca gloriosa), Palmer’s penstemon (Penstemon palmeri), Smoothstem blazingstar (Mentzelia laevicaulis), Pale stonecrop (Sedum sediforme), Silverleaf Oak (Quercus hypoleucoides), Yellowhorn (Xanthoceras sorbifolium), Texas beargrass (Nolina texana),  Arizona fescue (Festuca arizonica), New Mexico Agave (Agave parryii var. neomexicana), ‘Frazier Park’ Big Berry Manzanita (Arctostaphylos glauca ‘Frazier Park’), Canyon Liveforever (Dudleya cymosa), Saint John’s Chamomile (Anthemis sancti-johannis) Inhabitat: Anything else our readers should know about water conservation and gardening? Banner: There is a lot to explore in finding the best water- conserving garden for your unique situation. While there are many general guidelines and recommendations you will find special opportunities as you dig deeper in your gardening practice (pun intended). Don’t be afraid to experiment and make some mistakes. Have fun with it! For more information on what to plant for your climate zone, check out this EPA site . + Guy Banner, Red Butte Garden Images via Teresa Bergen

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Planning a low-water garden with expert Guy Banner

Your eco-friendly travel guide for New York City

January 9, 2020 by  
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It’s easy to get caught up in New York’s frenetic energy. If you’re there as a tourist, the checklist of must-see attractions is exciting, but long and tiring: Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Broadway shows, amazing museums. If you’re there for business, it’s easy to go from hotel to conference room to bar, repeat. But there are plenty of opportunities to find some beauty and tranquility within NYC’s nonstop style. Take some time to get outside, do something healthy, and take a few deep breaths. NYC outdoors Yes, there is nature within New York City’s urban jungle. The most obvious place to get outside is Manhattan’s massive, iconic Central Park. Within this 843-acre green space, you can visit the formal Conservatory Garden, pay your respects at the Strawberry Fields John Lennon memorial, rent a boat and paddle around the lake, and check out the Literary Walk, which is lined by statues of authors. For a very New York walk, stroll the 1.45-mile High Line. Manhattan’s elevated linear park, created from an old New York Central Railroad spur, has attracted a constant stream of locals and tourists since opening in 2009. Come as you are; you’ll see jogging shorts, haute couture, and everything in between. The 250-acre New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx is gorgeous in every season. Peacefully wander through water lilies, lilacs and roses, or take advantage of the ambitious schedule of programming. The NYBG is on a serious sustainability mission, providing research to support government policy and protecting the world’s flora and biodiversity . Manhattan Kayak Company offers guided expeditions on the Hudson River, including its popular Skyline and NY After Dark tours. They also have many excursions for more experienced paddlers. The Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse has a free kayaking program during the summer. You’ll need to stay within a supervised area to participate. On Sundays, you can join them for kayak polo. Only the bravest visiting cyclists will want to take on Manhattan. But NYC has 300 miles of bike trails. Study this map and see if a bike rental might fit into your New York City plans. Wellness in NYC You can find any type of yoga you like in New York. But if you want to try something new and different, you’re in luck. Are cats your cup of tea ? You can enjoy both cats and tea during a Yoga & Kitties session at Meow Parlour . Like to let it all hang out? Bold & Naked might be the yoga class for you. If you want to get even bolder, one-on-one tantric yogassage is also available. During summer, consider joining a yoga class in a park or on a rooftop farm at sunset in the Brooklyn Navy Yard . Two of NYC’s most popular water therapy options are the old-fashioned Russian & Turkish Baths , serving New Yorkers since 1892, and the modern Great Jones Spa . At the Russian & Turkish Baths, you can get a platza oak leaf treatment, which involves being beaten with a broom made from fresh oak leaves dripping with olive oil soap. At Great Jones, the water circuit atmosphere is peaceful if a bit sterile. NYC appeals to spiritual seekers across the spectrum. Stop into Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, opened in 1879, for a few minutes of quiet or prayer. Visit the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art on Staten Island for tai chi, meditation, and a look at one of the biggest collections of Himalayan artifacts in the US. Join devotees of The Path for a nondenominational meditation, followed by relaxing in the Montauk Salt Cave. Or experience the power of spending time with ancient art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Dining out in NYC Just as you might want to try an unusual yoga class while visiting NYC, this is a chance to eat vegan food that’s hard to find elsewhere. For example, vegans are out of luck in your average dim sum restaurant. But at Bodhi Kosher Vegetarian Restaurant in Chinatown, vegans can safely grab anything off the dim sum cart. When’s the last time you had gluten-free veg shark fin congee? Vegan star Beyond Sushi has six locations, including in the Chelsea Market food hall, ironically situated in the Meatpacking District. Their sushi rolls are creative and ambitious. For example, the smoky jack contains black rice, pickled cabbage, mango, hickory-smoked jackfruit , watercress, mint, dehydrated olives and tomato guajillo sauce. Cinnamon Snail , in Pennsy Food Hall right by Madison Square Garden, specializes in “vegan kosher food made by a gaggle of wild ponies who live in a magical tree.” Start the day here by raiding their case of vegan donuts and baked goods, or get a hearty serving of mac ‘n’ cheese at lunch or dinner. For dessert, try some matcha cream crunch or lemon ginger cream pie at Rawsome Treats . Founder, head chef and Muay Thai fighter Watt Sriboonruang makes everything raw, vegan and gluten-free . Public transit While a Pew Research Center survey found that about 88 percent of Americans own cars, only about 22 percent of Manhattan households are auto owners. This is good news for tourists, as it means lots of public transportation. Trains serve all three of NYC’s airports , connecting to buses and the subway system to get you wherever you want to go. That said, NY public transit can be overwhelming, and New Yorkers tend to move fast. If you’re unfamiliar with public transit, New Yorker Minh Nguyen kindly put together this website for newbies. Commuter rail lines serve outlying areas. You can also ferry around town. NYC Ferry operates six routes spanning more than 60 nautical miles of waterways, and service is still growing. You can even charge your phone and get a snack while cruising. CitiBike offers a bike share program if you’re planning on short rides. Or hire a pedicab and take a rest while somebody else does the work . Eco-hotels The Benjamin Hotel was one of New York’s first hotel to focus on both sustainability and luxury, partnering with students from the New York Institute of Technology to help them revamp and earn a Green Key Eco-Rating. The hotel’s wellness offerings include the Rest & Renew program that helps guests improve their sleep . The Element New York Times Square West incorporated recycled material into its furnishings, such as carpets made from recycled plastic bottles. This Marriott hotel features loaner bikes for guests and a free breakfast bar with fresh fruit. For budget travelers who value a hotel’s gym over in-room amenities, consider staying at one of NYC’s YMCAs . Your room will resemble a monk’s cell, but you’ll wake up in a huge gym with spin class, weights and a pool. Images via Teresa Bergen / Inhabitat and New York Botanical Garden

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Your eco-friendly travel guide for New York City

Impossible Foods debuts plant-based pork at CES

January 9, 2020 by  
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Impossible Foods has unveiled its newest meatless product, Impossible Pork. The Silicon Valley-based company continues to break ground since launching the Impossible Burger in 2016 to help minimize the use of animals as a food source. The Impossible Pork debuted at the recent Las Vegas CES 2020 event, renowned as the largest digital technology show worldwide. The Impossible Pork is gluten-free with reduced fat and no cholesterol. Even better for eco-minded consumers is the Impossible Pork’s smaller carbon footprint . According to the Impossible Foods website, “Animal agriculture uses a tremendous amount of the world’s natural resources,” particularly land, water and energy. By comparison, creating a plant-based pork substitute is a more sustainable process. It reduces not only the deforestation associated with animal agriculture but also minimizes carbon emissions and water usage. Related: Impossible Burger is now available in grocery stores Venturing into pork was a natural decision for the company. As CEO Pat Brown explained on an Impossible Pork promotional video, “Beef is popular around the world. But in many cultures, the most popular and familiar and common dishes use pork as the main source of meat. So, for us to have an impact in those markets, pork was a necessity.” Brown elaborated further, “Our mission is to completely replace animals in the food system by 2035, and expanding our impact globally is a critical part of that. Impossible Pork is also an amazingly delicious product that consumers around the world, who love dishes that are traditionally made with pork, will finally be able to serve to their families without the catastrophic environmental impact.” The Impossible Pork aims to reach new consumers, particularly in China, according to the New York Times and Grist . The meatless product is also halal and kosher, meaning it can be enjoyed by many people worldwide. “Pork is delicious and ubiquitous — but problematic for billions of people and the planet at large,” said Laura Kliman , senior flavor scientist at Impossible Foods. “By contrast, everyone will be able to enjoy Impossible Pork, without compromise to deliciousness, ethics or Earth.” On the Impossible Pork’s heels will be the Impossible Sausage’s launch at Burger King in late January. The Impossible Sausage will be featured in the BK Croissan’wich. + Impossible Foods Image via Impossible Foods

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Impossible Foods debuts plant-based pork at CES

The best eco tourism spots in San Diego

January 8, 2020 by  
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With 70 miles of coastline and average high temperatures ranging from 66 degrees in January to 77 in August, San Diego is a city where people like to spend time outside. This city of over 1.42 million between Los Angeles and Mexico has endless beaches, parks and cultural opportunities to explore. Its history combines native Kumeyaay people, Mexicans and European explorers, who first landed in San Diego Bay in 1542. Nowadays it’s home to people from around the world and welcomes nearly 36 million visitors per year. San Diego outdoors San Diego’s mild temperatures and beautiful topography make it ideal for biking, hiking and, of course, water sports. La Jolla Sea Kayak will take you on a tour of this beach town’s seven sea caves, where you might see sea lions, leopard sharks and dolphins. If you prefer a more placid paddle, the SUP Connection at Liberty Station offers a sheltered area to practice your SUP and kayak maneuvers. Some of San Diego’s best views are from Cabrillo National Monument at the end of the Point Loma peninsula. An excellent historic lighthouse welcomes lighthouse lovers, the ocean views stun bicyclists and hikers, and this national park unit has some of the best tide pools in the area. In springtime, the wildflowers are awesome. If you’re visiting San Diego with your canine friend, don’t miss the dog-friendly beaches. Dog Beach is a spacious section of Ocean Beach where dogs can run off-leash 24/7. Most of Fiesta Island in Mission Bay is also open to dogs. The SUP Connection offers SUP Pups — private lessons for if you want help training your dog to join you paddle boarding. If you can tear yourself away from the ocean, Balboa Park is an enduring San Diego attraction for museums, gardens , a miniature railroad, the zoo and just walking around. Much of the park was built for the 1935-36 California-Pacific International Exposition. The botanical building and lily pond are much beloved photographic backdrops. On the park’s eastern edge, the less-trafficked historic cactus garden features succulents and African protea. The Spanish Village Art Center houses 35 working art studios for those who like to shop and meet makers. Some of the area’s best beaches are on Coronado Island. For a varied outing, take the ferry from downtown San Diego to Coronado, rent a bike and explore. Don’t miss the famous Hotel Del Coronado. Built in 1888, the wooden Victorian beach resort provided the setting for many movies, including Marilyn Monroe’s “Some Like it Hot.” The beach in front of the Hotel Del has calm water and family-friendly swimming. San Diego wellness Not only does San Diego have a bazillion yoga studios, but many classes are also held outside. Whether you want to do yin yoga in Ocean Beach or vinyasa at Bird Rock in La Jolla, yogis dot every major beach. Mission Bay Aquatic Center will help you take your practice onto a stand-up paddleboard. Or go a little inland and join a Hatha class beside a koi pond at the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park. Just a little bit up the coast in San Diego’s North County, you can visit the Self-Realization Fellowship in Encinitas. Founded by Paramahansa Yogananda, the SRF offers lectures, meditations, kirtans and other events. Or just stroll through the beautiful meditation gardens. Also in North County, the Chopra Center is part of Omni La Costa Resort in Carlsbad. It hosts varied multi-day meditation and wellness retreats from an Ayurvedic medicine perspective. Dining out in San Diego San Diego has a high veg IQ, with plenty of vegetarian and vegan restaurants. For old-school veg food, try Jyoti-Bihanga in Normal Heights. Run by devotees of spiritual master Sri Chinmoy, this vegetarian restaurant has been serving Neatloaf sandwiches and other hearty meals for more than thirty years. For modern fast-casual wraps, bowls, tacos and burgers, try one of Native Foods’ three vegan outlets in San Diego County. In Ocean Beach, Peace Pies has all your raw vegan needs covered, from mango curry wraps to coconut cream pie. Veganic Thai Café in Hillcrest and Plumeria in University Heights and Encinitas allow you to enjoy your pad thai without worries of fish sauce contamination. Heartwork Coffee Bar in Hillcrest offers a case full of delicious vegan croissants, scones and other treats. Public transit Southern California is known for its car-centered ways, but many San Diego neighborhoods are extremely walkable. Since the city is large and spread out, you might need to take a bus, trolley or Uber to get between neighborhoods. San Diego Metropolitan Transit System runs the county’s extensive bus and trolley system. If you’re visiting Tijuana , the easiest way is to take the trolley to the border and walk across. For those with limited time who are firmly on the tourist track, buying a day-pass on the Old Town Trolley will take you directly to San Diego’s most-visited spots. You can hop on and off as much as you like. Guides will clue you in on the city’s history and lore between stops. Amtrak is a good way to get to other southern California cities, such as Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, without braving the hectic highways. For those needing to cross water, ferries run to Coronado Island, or you can call a water taxi. Since San Diego’s airport is downtown, it’s one of the few American cities where you can easily walk to many hotels. A shared-use bike/pedestrian path connects the airport to Liberty Station and Point Loma to the west, and downtown San Diego to the east. Eco hotels Many San Diego hotels are getting greener, but the city has a few real standouts. Hotel Indigo is the city’s only LEED-certified and Platinum Level GreenLeader, featuring rooftop composting and an eco-roof. It’s also central to all kinds of public transit. The Lafayette Hotel , Sheraton Hotel & Marina , Bahia Resort Hotel , and La Jolla’s Estancia Hotel & Spa are Gold Level GreenLeaders. The Bahia’s long list of eco measures includes subsidizing public transit for employees, converting cooking oil to biodiesel , participating in beach cleanups, and composting 100 percent of food waste. The Lafayette combines eco-consciousness with 1940s Hollywood style glamour. One warning: Avoid the many hotels located in the area called Hotel Circle, as you’ll find yourself walled in by unsightly freeways and a total lack of charm. Images via Teresa Bergen / Inhabitat

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The best eco tourism spots in San Diego

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