Research finds heart attacks and strokes surge on high pollution days in England

October 25, 2019 by  
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A new study published by King’s College London (KCL) reports that elevated levels of air pollution contribute to increased spikes in cardiac arrests, stroke admissions and asthma hospitalizations. The sobering news has been described as a health emergency, prompting calls for the British government to commit to more enforceable sustainability targets and improved air quality standards. The research team surveyed data across nine cities: London, Birmingham, Bristol, Derby, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford and Southampton. London had the largest uptick of health incidents because it experienced more high pollution days. For the English capital city, an additional 124 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests, 231 stroke admissions and 193 asthma hospitalizations occurred on days registering higher pollution levels. The collated data clearly revealed a cause-and-effect correlation. Thus, increased air pollution from wind direction and wind strength conclusively affected people’s health in just a short period of time while similarly having implications on life expectancy. Related: For 2019, the 10 worst cities for air quality are in California and Arizona Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said, “London’s lethal air is a public health crisis — it leads to thousands of premature deaths in the capital every year, as well as stunting the development of young lungs and increasing cases of respiratory illness.” The research results were published ahead of the British National Clean Air Summit , which was hosted by UK100 , a British network of local government leaders. In response to the study findings, the British National Health Service (NHS) tweeted that almost a third of preventable deaths in England “are due to non-communicable diseases specifically attributed to air pollution .” Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS, further explained, “Since these avoidable deaths are happening now — not in 2025 or 2050 — together we need to act now. For the NHS, that is going to mean further comprehensive action building on the reduction of our carbon footprint of one-fifth in the past decade. So our NHS energy use, supply chain, building adaptations and our transport will all need to change substantially.” + King’s College London Via EcoWatch Image via Matt Buck

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Research finds heart attacks and strokes surge on high pollution days in England

Amazon rainforest might reach irreversible tipping point as early as 2021

October 25, 2019 by  
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Relentless Amazon deforestation and gross mishandling of the region by Brazilian authorities and agricultural advocates are pushing the world’s largest tropical rainforest closer to the brink of catastrophic ecological collapse. Even more alarming, once that tipping point is reached, there will be no way to reverse it. Estimates reveal that if mass environmental mismanagement persists, within two years’ time, the forest will collapse and will be unable to generate enough rain to sustain itself. The news was shared in a policy brief put forth by Monica de Bolle, a Peterson Institute for International Economics senior fellow in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, the report only sparked controversy, with some climatologists and researchers arguing that the tipping point is still 15 to 25 years away. Related: IPCC landmark report warns about the state of the oceans, polar ice content and the climate crisis The Amazon is currently experiencing excessive deforestation, 75 percent of which is attributed to two ‘forest-risk commodities’: soybeans and beef — Brazil’s main exports. Widespread deforestation and land clearing diminish regional rainfall, exacerbating the risks of fire, drought and heat stress. These environmental stressors leave the trees and ecosystem vulnerable to parasites and pathogens, further predisposing the flora to far-reaching forest dry-up and ecological decline. Sadly, an unhealthy Amazon rainforest can no longer produce enough rain to sustain itself. The mortality of the rainforest’s trees would release billions of tons of carbon, intensifying greenhouse gas emissions and global warming . Dire consequences include biodiversity loss, rampant ecosystem failure and climate repercussions. Carlos Nobre, a leading climate scientist in Brazil, is one of de Bolle’s detractors. “The Amazon is already 17 percent deforested, so when you calculate at the current rate of deforestation, this 20 percent to 25 percent is reached in 15 to 20 years,” Nobre said. “I hope she is wrong. If she is right, it is the end of the world.” No matter whether the tipping point is reached by 2021 or later, what’s clear is that if things continue unabated in the Amazon, the once-treasured World Heritage site will collapse, and the entire world will suffer. Via The Guardian Image via NASA

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Halloween generates frightening amounts of plastic waste each year

October 21, 2019 by  
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Two eco-minded British charities, Hubbub and the Fairyland Trust, have revealed that Halloween generates mounds of plastic waste equal in weight to millions of plastic bottles. Besides food and costume packaging and masks and accessories, plastic lurks in the costumes, which are often made from fabrics like polyester, nylon, acrylic and other synthetic fibers. After polling 19 prominent British retailers, Hubbub and the Fairyland Trust found that more than 2,000 metric tons of plastic waste are generated from Halloween clothing and costumes alone. That’s because 83 percent of the materials in costume pieces were made from non-biodegradable, oil-based plastic — the same trash accumulating in both landfills and oceans and equivalent to the weight of 83 million plastic bottles.  Related: How to have a plastic-free Halloween Hubbub Chief Executive Trewin Restorick warned, “These findings are horrifying. However, the total plastic waste footprint of Halloween will be even higher once you take into account other Halloween plastic such as party kits and decorations, much of which are also plastic, or food packaging .” Synthetic plastic fibers are cheap and extremely versatile — able to stretch and breathe while providing warmth and durability — thus making them highly desirable as costume materials. Unfortunately, these plastic-based fabrics and their consequential microfibers leach into the environment, whether through laundry water or refuse disposal, further exacerbating the plastic pollution crisis. Additionally, the study found that about 7 million costumes are tossed annually in Britain. This pales in comparison to the National Retail Federation ’s findings that in the United States, more than 175 million people celebrate the spooky holiday each year, with 68 percent of those people purchasing Halloween costumes. Many of these costumes will quickly find their way in the garbage can before the next Halloween. Both Hubbub and the Fairyland Trust are calling for manufacturers and retailers to rethink Halloween product ranges to go beyond single-use , synthetic garments. Similarly, the charities want industry-wide labels to indicate that textiles like polyester are plastic. Doing so would educate the public on these plastic-based fabrics, informing them that these clothing materials are a significant part of the plastic pollution ravaging our planet. The charities hope that manufacturers, retailers and consumers seek non-plastic alternatives . Both Hubbub and the Fairyland Trust encourage Halloween celebrants to go plastic-free and shift toward a more environmentally sustainable and circular model for the holiday industry. Via The Guardian Image via Shutterstock

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Eco-resort in Finland charges guests based on their carbon emissions

October 21, 2019 by  
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A Finnish hotel is changing the tourism industry by showing that sustainability can really pay off. When guests consume less energy, attend ecological activities and make sustainable dietary choices during their visit, the price tag of their stay can be discounted by up to 50 percent. Benefiting the environment means guests can save more at Arctic Blue Resort. Set to open in 2022, Arctic Blue Resort will raise customers’ awareness of their environmental impact by encouraging guests to follow more sustainable lifestyles . It helps that the hotel will be located in the rural town of Kontiolahti, famous for its natural landscape and rich ecosystem of forests and estuaries. Related: Disney’s American parks will now offer hundreds of vegan menu items Some of the green gestures guests can take to reduce their bills include mindfully observing electricity usage, food choices and water consumption. Even planting a tree in the resort’s nearby forest garners another 5 percent off the hotel tab. Designed to be self-sustaining, Arctic Blue Resort will be constructed from natural materials, installed with its own water treatment system and powered by renewable energy sources. Guests can expect accommodations close to nature, with a choice of either enjoying a 360-degree view of the forest or sleeping beneath a star-filled night sky or the Northern Lights. Transportation throughout the resort’s region will be via electric vehicles to assist with the curbing of emissions . “We want to offer people a world-class eco-vacation and encourage them to make sustainable choices by having emission-based pricing for their stay,” explained Mikko Spoof, the vice president and founder of Arctic Brands Group. “We want the resort to be a place of true tranquility and thus encourage our guests to be more present in the moment and embrace digital detox.” Arctic Blue Resort will partner with local farmers to supply its food . The hotel menu will understandably reflect the wonders of the Finnish countryside’s seasons. The hotel will also plan plenty of nature-inspired excursions. Visitors can expect to grow their appreciation of nature with activities such as ice-swimming and snowshoeing in winter, or berry-picking and rowing in high summer. Tourism that centers around eco-friendly awareness and green living responsibility is likewise the goal of Kontiolahti Mayor Jere Penttilä, who said in a statement, “With Arctic Blue Resort, we want to lead an example by putting emphasis on environmental responsibility and by creating solutions to minimize the negative impact of tourism.” + Arctic Blue Resort Image via Arctic Blue Resort

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Eco-resort in Finland charges guests based on their carbon emissions

EEA reports poor air quality caused premature deaths of 400,000 Europeans in 2016

October 17, 2019 by  
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Coal-fired power plants, vehicle-clogged highways and fossil-fuel spewing factories have contributed to the growing European air pollution dilemma. Industries, households and vehicles all emit dangerous pollutants that are harmful to human health. Indeed, the European Environment Agency (EEA) highlighted the issue when reporting that over 400,000 Europeans met their untimely demise in 2016 due to poor air quality. Air pollution is detrimental to society, harms human health and ultimately increases health care costs. An air quality expert at the EEA and author of the study, Alberto Gonzales Ortiz, warned that air pollution is “currently the most important environmental risk to human health.” Related: Climate change is a public health issue amounting to billions in medical costs According to the World Health Organization (WHO) , “Pollutants with the strongest evidence for public health concerns include particulate matter (PM), ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulphur dioxide (SO2).” The presence of air pollutants produced by fuel combustion – whether from mobile sources like vehicles or from stationery sources such as power plants, biomass use, industry or households – above European skies means the continent is in serious need of more effective air quality plans. Current European Union (EU) legislation requires air quality evaluations to assess whether dangerous particulates have exceeded certain thresholds.  As early as 2017, the EU set limits on certain air pollutants to tackle the scourge that is prematurely claiming hundreds of thousands of European lives each year. In fact, this past July, the European Commission asked the EU’s Court of Justice to reprimand Spain and Portugal for their poor air quality practices. More recently, the British government proposed a new environment bill that legally targets the reduction of fine particulate pollution by requiring automakers to recall vehicles with sub-par emission standards. The WHO has repeatedly said that air pollution is to blame for high percentages of global mortality linked to lung cancer (29%), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (43%), acute respiratory infection (17%), ischemic heart disease (25%), stroke (24%) and other cardiovascular ailments. Low-and middle-income countries are disproportionately more vulnerable to the particulate pollution burden, especially poor and marginalized populations. Interestingly, air pollution is also the main driver of climate change . Emissions have been among the largest contributors to global warming , accelerating glacial snow melt as well as causing extreme weather conditions that affect agriculture and food security. Ortiz added, “When we fight pollution, we also fight climate change as well as promote more healthy behavior. It’s a win-win.” Via Reuters Image via dan19878

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EEA reports poor air quality caused premature deaths of 400,000 Europeans in 2016

A striking new gateway to Copenhagen celebrates green transit and Danish design

October 14, 2019 by  
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Earlier this summer, Copenhagen officially opened Køge Nord Station, a stunning new transportation landmark that raises the bar for beautiful urban infrastructure. Designed by COBE and DISSING+WEITLING architecture , the transit hub features a futuristic 225-meter-long covered footbridge that connects the new double-track high-speed rail line between Copenhagen and the city of Ringsted with the existing commuter urban-suburban S-train line. The 9-meter-wide footbridge spans the width of the Køge Bugt Highway and is punctuated with multiple windows to provide 180-degree panoramic views of the highway and the cultural landscape. Completed in less than three years after its groundbreaking, the Køge Nord Station is the result of an international competition that drew 38 submissions from around the world. Described by COBE and DISSING+WEITLING architecture as a “unique example of Danish architecture and engineering,” the firms’ winning design includes a vision plan, a train station, parking and transit facilities and the project’s crown jewel — the eye-catching covered footbridge . Installed in six sections, the footbridge is clad in 48,000 square meters of anodized aluminum panels and can carry up to 1,800 people. Related: Curvaceous bicycle bridge brings new life to Copenhagen’s harbor To provide a comfortable and attractive commuter experience for the 8,000 passengers expected to use the station daily, the interior of the covered bridge is lined with cozy timber and emphasizes a sense of continuous flow with curvaceous lines and open views to the north as well as with smaller south-facing apertures in the interior wood panels.  ”People spend many hours of their life in transit ,” said Jesper B. Henriksen, architect and partner at DISSING+WEITLING architecture. “That’s why we sought to give the footbridge a quality that goes beyond the purely functional and practical. The interior space is covered with wooden slats that provide a warm, tactile experience in transit and waiting situations. It is, quite simply, a welcoming and inviting space, unlike what you often see in stations and transport facilities. The interior space is contrasted by the smooth, cool aluminum exterior that enters into a dialogue with the infrastructural expression of the place.” + COBE + DISSING+WEITLING architecture Photography by Rasmus Hjortshøj – COAST via COBE

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A striking new gateway to Copenhagen celebrates green transit and Danish design

High levels of plastic byproducts discovered in children, study finds

September 18, 2019 by  
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A “human biomonitoring” study, jointly conducted by the German Environment Ministry and the Robert Koch Institute, is sounding the clarion warning that plastic pollution is present — and not just in our oceans, estuaries and the fish we eat. Rather alarmingly, the study found toxic levels of plastic byproducts in 97 percent of the blood and urine samples gathered from 2,500 children tested. The children in the research study ranged from 3 to 17 years of age. Of the 15 plastics under scrutiny, researchers detected 11 in the children’s test samples. Presence of these plastic byproducts in the children’s bodies increases their risk of hormonal dysfunction. That’s because plastics , at the micro level, can mimic the action of particular hormones, thus confusing the human endocrine system. The disruption, in turn, can manifest as obesity, metabolic disease, cancers, reproductive disorders, behavioral aberrations or developmental delays. Related: How to teach children about climate change What’s disquieting is that exposure to these plastic substances can arise from the most mundane things — storage containers, DVD cases, receipts, package linings, PVC piping, imitation leather, treated furniture, carpeting, even toys and medical devices. Plastics and microplastics surround us; consequently, we cannot avoid being exposed. One of the scientific authors, Marike Kolossa-Gehring, stated, “Our study clearly shows that plastic ingredients, which are rising in production, are showing up more and more in the body.” The study also revealed that the most susceptible subjects were younger children and children from poorer families. Both at-risk groups registered more plastic residue than their counterparts. Similarly, the study addressed the issue of replacements, citing that substances classified as perilous to humans should not be replaced by similar chemicals. After all, the substitutes might be just as toxic and detrimental. Hence, replacing with similar chemicals does not mitigate the chances of being exposed to harm. Researchers expressed uneasiness about the high levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in the young subjects. The apprehension surfaces from the fact that PFOA is extremely persistent, bioaccumulative and rather toxic. PFOA is typically used in the process for making Teflon, which explains why it is usually found coating non-stick cookware and waterproof clothing. PFOA is a threat because it is toxic to both the reproductive system and the liver. The European Union is expected to ban PFOA in 2020. The scientists concluded that more research is needed to discover the pathways that plastics take to enter the human body. A solution is likewise needed to minimize the risks of children accumulating plastic byproducts at unsafe levels. Via Spiegel Online and TreeHugger Image via Ruben Rubio

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Spiders are becoming aggressive thanks to climate change

August 22, 2019 by  
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Can climate change influence a spider’s aggressive behavior? According to a recent study, yes! A team of researchers from Canada and the U.S., who were led by Alexander Little at the University of California, Santa Barbara, concluded that colonies of communal spiders ( Anelosimus studiosus ), who typically reside over rivers or streams, can be impacted by climate change and hurricanes in what they call a “cyclone-induced disturbance.” Related: The ‘tipping point’ has arrived as temperatures rise in 70 US counties The research group conducted its study in North America’s Atlantic coast and observed 211 spider sites before and after a hurricane struck. This was accomplished by traveling to the areas at various times, before and after a hurricane, and measuring the spiders aggression to web vibration caused with an electric toothbrush and piece of paper. Little and his colleagues study is “a remarkable example that addresses this knowledge gap; by studying the impacts of tropical cyclones with spatiotemporal replications and control sites, they show that selectivity for more aggressive colonies of Anelosimus studiosus  is a robust evolutionary response to cyclone-induced disturbance,” wrote Eric Ameca, a researcher at Beijing Normal University, in a Nature commentary . While aggression ranges in communal spiders, the group’s overall observations revealed that after a hurricane, the more aggressive colonies produced extra egg sacs and had more babies survive. Researchers also believe that spiders might become more aggressive due to less food availability after a cyclone or if a storm killed a mother spider. If so, it  forced the babies to survive on their own. In addition to this study, others have surmised that some weather patterns can be attached to animal behavior, however, those have centered on observations solely after an extreme weather event. Ameca said this study showed the importance into how some species like the Anelosimus studiosus can conform and survive in extreme weather. Via Gizmodo Image via Flickr

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See the forest for more than the trees why reforestation isn’t working

August 6, 2019 by  
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We can all agree planting a tree is good for the environment — right? According to a recent study in Nature , the global crusade for reforestation as a remedy for climate change is largely missing the mark. So where did it go wrong? The new evidence reveals that most of the countries with large-scale tree-planting programs are actually developing tree plantations, which might help the economy but fail to sequester the carbon that the countries originally pledged to. The Bonn Challenge promises 350 million hectares of trees In 2011, the international Bonn Challenge was announced as an ambitious plan to plant 150 million hectares of trees by 2020. In 2014, more than 100 nations signed on under the New York Declaration of Forests, increasing the target to 350 million hectares by 2030. Unlike many lofty development goals, most countries are actually on track to exceed their promises, at least at first glance. In fact, the world actually has more forest cover now than it did in 1982. So, what’s the problem? Related: The ‘Billion Tree Tsunami’ is transforming northwestern Pakistan Well, the majority of countries have been using the incentives and global momentum to back monoculture farms and counting trees that will be logged within years in their Bonn Challenge totals. According to the assessment, 45 percent of trees planted were species that will be quickly harvested for paper production. Another 21 percent were tree farm species, like fruits, nuts and cocoa . Only 34 percent of trees planted were part of so-called “natural forest,” even though the original intention of the Bonn Challenge was that all hectares planted should be natural forest. “Policymakers are misinterpreting the term forest restoration [and] misleading the public,” argued the study authors, Simon Lewis of Leeds University and Charlotte Wheeler from Edinburgh University. While agroforestry trees do provide important benefits to the environment and economy, monoculture plantations (especially when farmers clear natural forests for crops) fail to provide anywhere close to the same benefit in terms of sequestration and biodiversity . The value of natural forest A general definition of a natural forest is a “multilayered vegetation unit dominated by trees, whose combined strata have overlapping crowns, and where grasses are generally rare.” In general, a natural forest will store up to 40 times more carbon than a plantation that is harvested every decade. Related: How forest bathing can profoundly improve your health and well-being More than just trees , forests are important and intricate ecosystems. They are home to incredible biodiversity and provide sanctuary and habitat for thousands of species. They are also critical to the climate, because forests maintain rainfall and prevent desertification. Because clouds accumulate over forests, places that have destroyed all of their major forests often experience low rainfall, drought, desertification and other climate-related issues. Reforestation pledges around the world Even before the Bonn Challenge, China launched a massive reforestation program in response to flooding along the Yangtze River. Despite over two decades of reforestation, the report claims that 99 percent of all trees planted have been within monoculture plantations. Related: Philippine students must plant 10 trees to graduate, new law says In Niger, after years of complying with foreign and government extension officers who advised farmers to remove trees, farmers have finally argued that native trees serve an important purpose right where they are. Trees stabilize soil, produce nitrogen, buffer strong wind and improve organic matter in the soil. As a result of the farmers’ knowledge, deforestation has decreased, although the majority of farmers now wisely plant trees that will supplement their incomes rather than simply sequester seemingly abstract carbon. Yale Environment 360 reported that in Brazil, up to 82 percent of the forest restoration work is developing monoculture plantations and not natural forests. How to plant a forest? “Get out of the way.” According to National Geographic’s investigative article, “ How to regrow a forest: Get out of the way ,” even specific efforts by the U.S. Forest Department to plant natural forests have not worked the way they were intended to. For ease of planting and eventual use as lumber, the Forestry Department had a long-term tradition of planting native trees in neat rows at 12-foot gaps. Though the majority of trees were then left to develop into natural forests, the meticulous spacing has since exacerbated fire risk. The Department now opts for more irregular spacing and species biodiversity. Although it is more time- and cost-intensive, it ends up saving the department in firefighting costs later. Similarly, in Canada, a study found that a government campaign to drain wetlands thought to be smothering spruce trees caused a fire that destroyed 2,400 homes in 2016. Under the pretense of growing larger trees to store more carbon, peatlands were systematically destroyed. However, it is now recognized that peatlands ultimately store enormous amounts of carbon naturally and were more resilient to fires. “If you take the perspective that no matter what, more trees are better, that’s going to have unintended consequences,” said Sofia Faruqi from the World Resource Institute. “In the case of the West Coast, restoration may mean removing trees from the landscape.” Turning over a new leaf on reforestation pledges According to Faruqi, policies must acknowledge both what kind of tree is planted and how the tree “jibes with the larger health of the forest, the amount of water available or the needs of local people.” As we approach the start of the United Nation’s declared Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, many forestry experts agree that reforestation solutions must be localized — both at a national level and at the individual forest level. While the need for income, especially sustainably sourced income, is paramount, cash crop trees should be planted in addition to the 350 million acres of natural forest. Tropical forests are particularly important, because they have the potential to capture more carbon than any other forest type in the world. In many equatorial regions, where there are large amounts of land available and a high need for economic stimulation, healthy tropical forests can provide jobs, support indigenous traditions and capture an estimated 3 billion tons of carbon annually. That’s the equivalent of taking 2 billion cars off the road every year. Blanket pledges of specific tree planting targets have not worked and leave the door open for damaging misinterpretation. More research and awareness is needed to understand the importance of different ecosystems and more priority given to protecting and keeping natural ecosystems intact. The idea that any tree planted helps is simply outdated and misleading. A quote by American poet, environmentalist and farmer Wendell Berry sums it up nicely: “Say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant, that you will not live to harvest.” + Nature Via Yale Environment 360 and National Geographic Images via Michael Benz , Marc Pell , Jesse Gardner , Janusz Maniak , Steven Kamenar and Zoer Ng

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See the forest for more than the trees why reforestation isn’t working

Indian cafe offers food for trash, then turns the waste into roads

July 29, 2019 by  
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The city of Ambikapur in India’s Chhattisgarh state is launching a “garbage cafe” where anyone can eat healthy meals in exchange for collecting trash. The cafe will be centrally located in the city’s busiest bus terminal and is owned by the Municipal Corporation. Although such cafes exist in other cities around the world, the plastic trash collected for Ambikapur’s cafe is unique, because it will go directly into asphalt to pave the city’s roads. The practice of melting plastic and incorporating it into paving materials is not new in India. In fact, the government mandated that all urban areas utilize plastic waste in their roads in 2015, but most have yet to follow orders. The city of Ambikapur has one such road so far, and there are an estimated 100,000 kilometers of plastic roads throughout India . The innovative chemical process is led by professor Rajagopalan Vasudevan, but it has also been replicated and modified by engineers around the world, including the plastic-producing giant Dow Chemical . “At the end of the day, plastic is a great product. It lasts for long, which is a problem if it’s a waste product, but not a problem if we want it to last,” said engineer Toby McCartney, whose company produces recycled plastic pellets that are mixed into roads. According to McCartney, plastic roads last three times longer than conventional roads and need less maintenance. They are more resistant to flooding and less likely to get potholes. McCartney also promises his prototype does not break down into microplastics or enter ecosystems. With an initial budget of just about $7,000 USD, the cafe is a triple-win for the government’s goals to address food insecurity , clean up the roads and improve infrastructure. Via Vice Image via Rajesh Balouria

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