Tour 5 national parks from home

March 19, 2020 by  
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As people social distance and shelter in place, they may feel the walls closing in on them. Fortunately, the National Park Service has partnered with Google Arts & Culture to offer free virtual tours of five beloved parks. Of course, the online experience isn’t quite like being there, but these tours are pretty cool and may inspire dreams of post-pandemic travels . The five tours feature Kenai Fjords in Alaska , Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, Hawaii Volcanoes, Bryce Canyon in Utah and Dry Tortugas in Florida. Each virtual tour is led by a National Park Service ranger. The varied terrains and activities help entertain viewers. Related: How National Parks benefit the environment The tour of Kenai Fjords lets you climb down a slippery, icy crevasse in Exit Glacier — much easier done virtually than in real life. In Carlsbad Caverns, viewers get a bat’s eye view to help them learn about echolocation. Hawaii Volcanoes features a walk through a lava tube and a trip up volcanic cliffs. Florida’s Dry Tortugas National Park consists of 1% Fort Jefferson and 99% underwater. Join a ranger for a virtual dive into this diverse ecosystem, including a swim through a coral reef and an exploration of the Windjammer shipwreck. As the Bryce Canyon tour points out, two-thirds of Americans can no longer see the Milky Way from their backyards. This tour highlights Bryce Canyon’s dark skies and allows viewers to tap around to check out constellations while listening to night sounds like owls and crickets. At press time, many National Park Service units are still open with reduced services and closed visitors centers. But this may change as the coronavirus situation progresses. “The NPS is working with federal, state and local authorities, while we as a nation respond to this public health challenge,” NPS deputy director David Vela said in a press release. “Park superintendents are assessing their operations now to determine how best to protect the people and their parks going forward.” So before setting out on that big drive to camp in a park, consider sitting tight on your couch and taking a virtual tour. + National Park Service and Google Arts & Culture Images via Wikimedia Commons

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Abandoned amusement park to gain new life as a nature park in Suzhou

February 13, 2020 by  
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In Suzhou, China, an abandoned amusement park is being transformed into a 74-hectare nature park that will include a decommissioned roller coaster transformed into a habitat for birds. The innovative, adaptive reuse project is the work of international firm Tom Leader Studio Landscape Architecture , who won a design competition for the park and brought on California-based Kuth Ranieri Architects for help with the design. Named ‘Shishan Park’ after its location at the foot of Shishan (Chinese for ‘Lion Mountain’), the urban park will provide a variety of family-oriented recreational amenities to cater to a rapidly growing, high-tech hub. Located west of Suzhou’s historic center, the dated amusement park received renewed attention from the government as the growth of high-density neighborhoods began overtaking the outskirts of town. Tom Leader Studio Landscape Architecture’s winning competition entry emphasizes a connection with nature and takes cues from Chinese culture and the UNESCO World Heritage-designated Classical Gardens of Suzhou. Traditional Chinese ink paintings, also known as shan shui, inspired the architecture and landscape design for the project, which includes a variety of pavilions placed along a 1.5-mile-long promenade that encircles the mountain and the newly enlarged Shishan Lake.  Related: Perkins+Will unveil plans for green-roofed Suzhou Science & Technology Museum In addition to repurposing a roller coaster into a 160,000-square-foot aviary that will house around 20 species of indigenous birds, Kuth Ranieri Architects also led the design of the pavilions . This includes the Flower Pavilion, a 4,000-square-foot tea house; the 1,000-square-foot Lake Pavilion; a 13,400-square-foot Sports Pavilion; and the series of 2,000-square-foot Restroom Pavilions. The pavilions will be strategically placed along the path to frame select views. The architectural elements pay homage to traditional Chinese architecture and include cruciform steel columns, local blue brick screen walls, tapered wood eaves and exposed wooden joints.  “The pavilions are as open as possible, framing views and allowing pedestrians to pass through as they explore the park,” according to the Shishan Park Pavilions project statement. “Through a shared language of construction, geometries and forms, this cohesive series of structures provides amenities to visitors while seamlessly integrating into the landscape.” Shishan Park will also be embedded with a stormwater runoff system to responsibly capture and manage rainfall. + Tom Leader Studio Landscape Architecture Images via Kuth Ranieri Architects

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Abandoned amusement park to gain new life as a nature park in Suzhou

Off-grid geodesic cabins by FUGU can handle harsh climates

February 13, 2020 by  
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From remote snow-covered mountains to idyllic beaches in far-flung corners of the earth, Parisian studio  FUGU  has you covered with its new line of geodesic cabins. The solar-powered cabins, which come in various sizes and can be customized, are made with durable,  eco-friendly materials  and designed to be resilient in almost any harsh climate. While the structures are apt for any number of uses, FUGU’s  geodesic cabins  are primarily geared towards the hospitality sector. The domed cabins are the perfect solution for quiet retreats in remote areas, or even complimentary structures such as spas, gyms or office spaces. Related: Create your own backyard geodesic dome with these super affordable DIY kits With the smallest size coming in at just over 300-square-feet, the domes can be made to order at almost any size, but always put the environment first in their design. The modular cabins are also made out of  environmentally-friendly materials  that have proven resilient to almost any climate. Designed to run on solar power, the domes are equipped to go off-grid almost anywhere in the world. The dome’s eco-friendly manufacturing consists of frames made out of  engineered wood  (CLT, LVL or glued laminated timber), meaning less CO2 emissions than a conventional building. Additionally, the structures are designed to be built off the landscape, on piles or elevated terraces, to limit their impact on the environment. Due to their geodesic shape, which allows for optimal heat distribution and a significant heat flow exchange, the domes are inherently  energy efficient . To provide a tight thermal envelop, the structures use reinforced insulation that not only avoids energy loss, but keeps the structures warm and toasty in the winter months and nice and cool during the summer. + FUGU Geodesic Cabins Via Uncrate Images via FUGU

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Off-grid geodesic cabins by FUGU can handle harsh climates

Climate-adaptive park in Copenhagen wins Arne of the Year Award

February 10, 2020 by  
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One of Copenhagen’s newest green parks, the Sankt Kjelds Square and Bryggervangen, has just received Copenhagen’s most prestigious architecture prize — the Arne of the Year Award. Designed by Danish design studio  SLA , the nearly 35,000-square-meter urban park is most notable for its effective solutions to cloudbursts, a term describing sudden heavy rainfall that can trigger violent flash floods. Using blue-green space as a sponge for rainwater, the cloudburst adaptation project not only mitigates the effects of cloudbursts, but also increases biodiversity, improves health and quality of life for local citizens and reduces air pollution and the urban heat island effect. Completed in 2019, Sankt Kjelds Square and Bryggervangen comprises a large public space with a seamlessly integrated ecosystem of services for absorbing stormwater runoff and enhancing  biodiversity . The project, which was created by SLA in collaboration with NIRAS, Viatrafik, Jens Rørbech and contractor Ebbe Dalsgaard, replaced 9,000 square meters of asphalt with new green space. Nearly 600 trees — living and dead — as well as a lush planting palette have transformed the area into a green oasis.  In addition to strengthening biodiversity and providing cloudburst protection, the  green spaces  help slow traffic in the area. Urban recreational areas have also been built into the park as have dedicated bike lanes, wheelchair-accessible walkways, and stepping stone paths that wind through the dense forest-like environment.  Related: C.F. Møller’s Storkeengen tackles climate challenges in a Danish town “In the design of the project’s new nature, we use ecosystem services to not only protect the city from flooding after cloudbursts, purify polluted air, improve  microclimate  and provide a social foundation for the neighborhood,” Stig L. Andersson, founding partner and design director of SLA, said. “We also create a whole new experience of what it means to live in a city. In Sankt Kjelds and Bryggervangen, there is a new aesthetic connection between man and nature. A connection that too many people have lost in the city today, and which more and more people are requesting.” + SLA Images via SLA

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Climate-adaptive park in Copenhagen wins Arne of the Year Award

Survey shows most adults prefer volunteering at local parks and recreation areas

November 4, 2019 by  
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A recent National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) poll revealed that four in five adults (80 percent) look to their local parks and recreation areas for family-friendly, community-focused volunteer opportunities. This is welcomed news, because parks and recreational areas are vital to the health, resilience and vibrancy of communities. Communities deserve wonderful parks, and individuals can make that a reality through volunteer work. The poll was part of the NRPA’s Park Pulse series that gauges the public’s opinion on parks and recreation. Findings showed that the top three volunteer activities include collecting litter along park trails, planting trees within parks and raking leaves for composting. The survey found millennials were the most likely to volunteer, followed by Gen Xers then baby boomers. Related: Trailhead Ambassador Program enhances hiking in Oregon “Park and recreation agencies are a great place to volunteer and give back to the community,” said Kevin Roth, NRPA vice president of professional development, research and technology. “Volunteering at your local park is a win-win occasion. Not only are you giving your parks a much-needed hand, you are able to reap the many benefits of parks, including a connection to nature and physical activity.” To enhance communities, there are two main volunteer-driven NRPA initiatives on volunteering and donating to parks: the Parks Build Community (PBC) and the Heart Your Park Day Service programs. The Parks Build Community (PBC) initiative emphasizes the transformative value of parks. A couple of ways PBC does this is by restoring existing parks or building new ones from scratch with the help of volunteers. Meanwhile, the Heart Your Park Day Service provides a hands-on, corporate volunteering program that brings volunteers outdoors, away from the walls of the office, to boost company morale and employee engagement. The NRPA is a leading nonprofit devoted to advancing public parks and recreation with the help of local volunteers. The NRPA focuses on conservation , health and wellness. + NRPA Image via Virginia State Parks

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Survey shows most adults prefer volunteering at local parks and recreation areas

Clean your plants and reap the reward of clean air

November 4, 2019 by  
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Although cleaning house plants probably ranks somewhere between wiping down the blades on the ceiling fan and cleaning out the gutters on your to-do list, it’s a chore that’s critical to the plant and, one could argue, to humanity. Let’s go back to science class for a minute in order to understand why a clean plant is a productive plant. Remember that little thing called photosynthesis? Leaves are a central organ in the process. Technically, the stomata, which are small openings all over the surface of the leaves, absorbs carbon dioxide. At the same time, the chlorophyll in the leaves absorb sunlight. The process of photosynthesis then converts the water and CO2 into sugar plants need to grow and oxygen we need to breathe. That’s a long way of saying that dusty, dirty, grimy leaves on your house plants can result in dusty, dirty, grimy air in your home. So bump that chore up your list a bit. Here are a few ideas of how to accomplish the task with spending endless hours wiping down every individual leaf.  Take a shower Your morning shower is likely a rejuvenating ritual and your plants share your affinity. After all, it’s natural for plants to storm the rain, absorb the water and experience a cleansing. Take that concept inside by moving your plants to the shower. You can join them or place plants into the bathtub and use a detachable shower head to do the job. Give each plant a thorough soaking with cool to lukewarm water, allowing the water to both wash the leaves and provide moisture to the soil. Do not use hot or cold water that can be too shocking for the plant. Once saturated, give each plant a gentle shake to remove standing water on the leaves. Allow plants to drain into the empty tub and wipe off any excess water from the pot before placing it back on furniture. If you do not have drain holes in your planter, strain off excess water from the soil to avoid root rot. Related: This self-sustaining planter doesn’t require sunlight for plants to thrive Grab a feather duster Like every other surface in your home, the leaves on your plants will collect dust. It’s best to provide regular dustings rather than trying to deal with a thick layer of dust down the road. When feather dusting, lightly move over the surfaces of the plant , weaving between branches to touch the top and bottom of leaves. Use caution so you don’t disrupt blooms or knock healthy leaves off the plant.  Take them outside Another mess-free way to clean your plants is to take the task outside. Put your plants in a shady spot in the lawn, on your deck or patio. Use a shower setting on your garden hose to wash the plants, give them a gentle shake, and allow them to dry before bringing them back indoors. Often the water pressure from any of these showering techniques causes some of the soil to slop out. By completing the chore outdoors, clean up is a breeze. Just bring your plants indoors and hose the area down.  Use the sink The kitchen sink may or may not be an easier option than the shower, but the concept is the same. Use your faucet nozzle set to spray for a shower effect on each plant. You will likely have to wash plants in a rotation if you have more than two or three. Allow plants to drain and dry off pots before removing them from the sink and then start on a new batch until they are all cleaned.  Use a mister Not all plants can easily be moved to the bathroom or outdoors due to size and other factors. The deep soak isn’t necessary on a regular basis either, so in between showers, give your plants a spit bath with a mister. Any spray bottle set to a mist can provide the moisture, humidity and cleaning your plants need. Keep a spray bottle filled for this purpose. Some plants won’t respond well to showers, like those with spiky or furry leaves. For these plants, use a mixture of dish soap and water on a regular basis to keep the leaves dust free. Cleaning is more than removing dust Once you’ve set aside the time to give your plants the TLC they deserve, make sure to check in on their general health and not just their personal hygiene. Remove any dead leaves from the plant and the soil below it. Dead leaves can contain bacteria and contaminate otherwise healthy soil. Also check the leaves of your houseplants for bugs and insects. Similarly, watch for bugs being flushed away while you wash your plants. If you see insects on your houseplants it might be time to treat them. Sometimes you can only see evidence of very small pests or disease so look for symptoms like black spots, webbing and sticky or curling leaves. Healthy plants provide healthy air, so make the commitment to care for your plants with regular dusting and a cleansing shower every now and then. Breathe in the victory of your efforts.  Via Apartment Therapy Images via Adobe Stock

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Clean your plants and reap the reward of clean air

BREEAM Excellent office building keeps London’s carbon reduction targets in sight

November 4, 2019 by  
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The site of a former petrol station has been given a new lease on life as 1 Valentine Place, an award-winning sustainable office building certified BREEAM Excellent . Completed in March 2013, the seven-story office building was designed by West London architectural practice Stiff + Trevillion , who clad the contemporary structure in anodized aluminum and high-performance, solar-control glazing for a sleek and minimalist appearance. The energy-efficient building was a 2013 NLAwards winner and was shortlisted in the 2014 RIBA London Awards. Located on the corner of Blackfriars Road and Valentine Place, 1 Valentine Place provides grade-A office accommodation across 3,000 square meters within close proximity to the Southwark station. Though undeniably contemporary in design, the building is sensitively scaled and oriented to relate to its more traditional neighbors. For instance, the seven-story office building steps down in mass to match the rooflines of the smaller buildings next door, thus creating space for a large outdoor terrace that overlooks views of the City of London . Related: Railway heat to be repurposed to warm London homes this winter The architects constructed the building with an in situ reinforced concrete frame structure that’s internally exposed to take advantage of passive thermal mass . The exterior is clad in anodized aluminum and energy-efficient glazing as well as solar fins to mitigate unwanted solar heat gain. The glazed, double-height ground floor is protected by an overhang and is designed to engage the pedestrian realm. The reception is lined with wood paneling inspired by the area’s heritage. “Sustainability features such as exposed thermal mass, air-source heat-pump technology and a photovoltaic array far exceed Southwark’s stringent carbon reduction targets,” the architects noted in a project statement. The use of renewable energy and energy-efficient strategies are estimated to provide energy savings of approximately 40 percent. + Stiff + Trevillion Photography by Kilian O’Sullivan via Stiff + Trevillion

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BREEAM Excellent office building keeps London’s carbon reduction targets in sight

Touring restored wetlands at a Wisconsin nature conservancy

November 1, 2019 by  
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The village of Williams Bay, Wisconsin hasn’t changed much since Harold Friestad was a kid, he told me as we walked through Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy (KNC). Now almost 80 and the conservancy’s chairman, Friestad is proud of being a factor in stunting the small town’s growth. He was president when the village board bought 231 acres of lakefront property in 1989 to create KNC. “What I want on my tombstone,” he said as our sneakers sank into the wetlands , “is, ‘Because of Harold, there will never be a stoplight in Williams Bay.’” Nature conservancy history The nature conservancy sits against Geneva Lake , long a summer playground for rich Chicagoans . Before that, it was home of the Potawatomi people. The name Kishwauketoe comes from a Potawatomi word meaning “lake of the sparkling water.” The current conservancy land was once a rail yard. But when the train was decommissioned, developers swooped in, wanting to build hotels, golf courses and shopping centers. Area residents wished to stop the developers and keep Williams Bay small and quiet. The Williams Bay Village Board, led by Friestad, negotiated a price of $1.575 million for the 231-acre parcel. “People knew I was a businessman,” said Friestad, who worked for Lake Geneva Cruise Line for 50 years, retiring as general manager in 2015. “They didn’t know I love nature so much.” Even though he got an excellent price — a 10-acre estate could now cost $15 million — Friestad said, “A lot of people didn’t like the idea of me spending all that money to buy it.” But now people value the conservancy, and some of Williams Bay’s 2,500 residents even bought their homes in the village so they could walk the wetland trails every day. “It’s almost sacred now,” Friestad said. “I don’t know how you put a value on it. But it’s priceless to me, and it’s priceless to many, many people.” Donations, volunteer hours, summer interns and a few part-time workers power the conservancy, which has never received tax dollars. During my weekday visit, one woman was chainsawing dead branches, a couple of folks were repairing a boardwalk and a controlled burn was going on in the distance. In the conservancy’s nearly 30-year run, the crew has restored more than 65 acres of prairie, planted a 15-acre arboretum, created a spawning area for lake trout, installed boardwalks over the wettest wetlands, cleared invasive species and constructed a four-story viewing tower. They’ve also built and continue to maintain more than 4 miles of trails. Visiting the Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy On the October day I visited, the conservancy was quiet. I saw only a half-dozen other walkers during the hour or two I was there. Things are busier in summer, Friestad said, when up to 500 people may visit in a day. Non-human residents include deer, coyotes, foxes and raccoons. Some years, beavers move in. The conservancy has a public education campaign about the benefits of beavers, not the most-loved local animal. Reptile-wise, the conservancy is home to garter snakes and the rare Blanding’s turtle, which has a striking yellow throat. People can walk through the area on their own 365 days a year. The conservancy also offers many guided walks, some focusing on particular aspects, such as history, geology, botany or trees . Those who want to get dirt under their nails can join volunteer workdays and autumn seed harvesting. Every summer, the conservancy hosts a 5K run/walk. I’d recommend the Friday morning walk, which Friestad usually leads. Trail cams Kishwauketoe participates in the statewide Snapshot Wisconsin program, a network of trail cameras. The project provides information for wildlife managers and lets citizen scientists get involved in monitoring Wisconsin’s natural resources. Jim Killian, KNC board member, Wisconsin master naturalist program instructor and coauthor of an upcoming book on the conservancy , learned about Snapshot Wisconsin while attending a master naturalist conference in March 2018. “I immediately sought permission from the Wisconsin DNR [Department of Natural Resources] to host a wildlife trail camera for the Wisconsin Snapshot Wisconsin in KNC,” Killian said. “Because of the location and size of KNC, I learned that I qualified to host two trail cameras in our conservancy. While the program participation requirements are quite stringent, I thoroughly enjoy this volunteer work.” The cameras work with a motion sensor. “At night and in low light, the cameras utilize an infrared flash to capture images,” Killian said. “That is why they appear as black and white. One camera is located on the edge of a small open field/prairie area, while the other is located on the edge of a very dense, wooded area and on the bank of a small stream, which is a popular watering spot for wildlife of many varieties. This stream remains as a source of open water all year, including in the midst of a very cold winter.” Killian services each trail camera at least once every three months to replace the memory card and batteries and to upload the captured images to the Wisconsin DNR. The DNR places the images on a website and invites the public to help classify them. Of the thousands of images captured at KNC so far, Killian said deer are No. 1, followed by squirrels, turkeys , coyotes, raccoons, opossums, cottontail rabbits, redtail foxes, woodchucks, blue jays, cardinals, sandhill crane, northern flickers and mink. Do the trail cams reveal any surprises? “The humor of wildlife,” he said. “I would have never suspected that animals do the funniest things, including selfies, when they know or sense that their image is being captured by a camera. This is particularly true for deer.” KNC is open year-round. If you’re looking for immense peace and quiet, visit in winter … and bring your cross-country skis . + Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy Images via Harold Friestad / Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy, Wisconsin DNR Snapshot Wisconsin (trail cam imagery) and Teresa Bergen / Inhabitat

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Touring restored wetlands at a Wisconsin nature conservancy

American trophy hunter may get permit to bring slain rhino home

September 10, 2019 by  
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An American trophy hunter donates $400,000 to an anti-poaching organization in Namibia in exchange for the privilege of killing an endangered rhinoceros. President Trump may issue the permit for Chris Peyerk to bring his kill home with him, despite the Endangered Species Act specifying that it’s illegal to import endangered animals — whole or in part — unless it will enhance the species’ survival. Peyerk, owner of the Michigan business Dan’s Excavating, Inc., shot one of the last 5,500 rhinos in the world last May. The trophy hunter now plans to import the 29 year-old rhino’s skin, skull and horns as mementos. Related: Trail use by outdoor enthusiasts is driving out an elk herd in Colorado If approved, this would be the sixth such permit the US Fish and Wildlife has allowed since 2013, and Trump’s third. Fish and Wildlife also issued three under former President Barack Obama ’s final term. “Legal, well-regulated hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation,” said a Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman, according to the Huffington Post. But major conservation groups don’t think that killing animals to save them makes much sense. “We urge our federal government to end this pay-to-slay scheme that delivers critically endangered rhino trophies to wealthy Americans while dealing a devastating blow to rhino conservation,” Kitty Block, president of the Humane Society of the United States , said in a statement. “With fewer than 2,000 black rhinos left in Namibia — and with rhino poaching on the rise — now is the time to ensure that every living black rhino remains safe in the wild. … Black rhinos must be off limits to trophy hunters.” Nearly half of the world’s surviving black rhinos live in Namibia and are listed as critically endangered. Peyerk noted in his permit application that he had killed a member of the southwestern black rhinoceros subspecies, which is listed as “vulnerable” rather than endangered. International law allows Namibia to issue five permits annually for trophy hunters to kill a male rhinoceros. Via Huffington Post Image via Yathin S Krishnappa

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Supermarket happy hour reduces food waste

September 10, 2019 by  
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A Finnish supermarket chain is fighting food waste by offering steep discounts during a “happy hour.” Every night at 9, food with a midnight expiration date is discounted 60 percent off already reduced prices. Shoppers are flocking to S-market’s 900 stores to avail themselves of bargains on meat and other food that has reached its sell-by date. S-market’s initiative is part of a much larger movement to decrease food waste. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations , nearly one-third of food made for humans winds up lost or wasted. This unused food weighs in at 1.3 billion tons annually, with a value of almost $680 billion. Related: New York is curbing food waste and helping people in need with a new initiative Not only is this a terrible waste, given that 10 percent of the world’s population is undernourished, but all that food rotting in landfills worsens climate change. As food decomposes, it releases methane . This gas is about 25 times as dangerous to the environment as carbon dioxide. Wasted food also requires a ridiculous amount of unnecessary transportation. Food is transported from where it is grown to stores all over the world. Then, after its expiration date, unsold food gets a final ride to the landfill . That’s a huge waste of water and fossil fuels. But S-market wants to help reduce food waste while also minimizing its own losses from thrown-out, expired foods. The chain will sell hundreds of items that are already reduced in price by 30 percent for an additional 60 percent off after 9 p.m. until closing time at 10 p.m., and many customers are enjoying the happy hour. “I’ve gotten quite hooked on this,” shopper Kasimir Karkkainen told the New York Times . Karkkainen scored pork mini-ribs and two pounds of pork tenderloin for US$4.63. While this is happening in Finland, U.S. grocers could benefit from adopting a similar initiative as Americans can be especially wasteful. “Food waste might be a uniquely American challenge because many people in this country equate quantity with a bargain,” said Meredith Niles, an assistant professor in food systems and policy at the University of Vermont. “Look at the number of restaurants  that advertise their supersized portions.” Via New York Times Image via Nina Friends / S-Market

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