Sustainable America is an environmental non-profit organization with the mission to make the nation’s food and fuel systems more efficient and resilient. Through broad public education, hands-on technical assistance, and strategic support of emerging entrepreneurs and technologies, we work to increase food availability and reduce oil usage in the United States.
As kids, we were taught to clean our plates, but at today’s restaurants, that can be a monumental and unhealthy task. The average restaurant meal has ballooned over the last 50 years.
Bigger portions mean we end up eating more, but a hidden consequence is that we waste more, too. Each time a server scrapes our leftovers into the trash, we waste money, and that food will likely go to a landfill where it will produce methane, a harmful greenhouse gas.
The good news is that there are easy, actionable steps we can take to dine out with less waste. If you’re a restaurant regular, check out the tips in our infographic below. For more tips on wasting less food, visit ivaluefood.com.
Similar to fruit crops on the mainland, a sizable portion of the fruit grown in Hawaii never gets to the supermarket. A staggering 35% of the state’s multi-million-pound papaya harvest is culled from packinghouses due to reasons like disease and pest pressure or post-harvest damage.
Lisa Keith, a research plant pathologist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Hilo, Hawaii, sees potential in all that wasted papaya pulp. Keith is feeding the rejected fruit to a type of green algae called auxenochlorella protothecoides in the hopes that it will help move Hawaii closer to energy independence.
Instead of getting energy from sunlight, the algae are kept in the dark so they will consume sugars in the papaya instead. The algae grow and store 60% of their weight in lipids (or oils), which can be harvested to produce biodiesel.
Making biofuel from papaya-fed algae has a few advantages to other forms of alternative fuels. First, the feedstock — wasted food — is inexpensive and sustainable. Second, it doesn’t require much land. “The facilities to grow the algae could also be built up instead of over large expanses of land,” said Keith. “The current vision for papaya is to have the algae tanks and equipment at the packinghouses where the papaya culls are available.”
In Hawaii, an isolated state with high imported fuel prices, finding ways to be more energy independent is a necessity. Hawaii has the most aggressive renewable energy goals in the country, aiming for 100% of electricity coming from renewable sources by 2045, and there’s a push to extend that goal to ground transportation fuel by the same year.
Getting more Hawaii-made biofuel to market will help make that goal possible. The process Keith and her team is piloting needs fine-tuning in order to make papaya-fueled biodiesel production feasible, but they are working on making that happen. “Using papaya and algae as our model system, we are currently in the process of scaling up in terms of tank size and upstream and downstream processing capabilities,” said Keith. She hopes to have data that proves the concept is feasible within a couple of years.
Keith’s algae project has potential to work with other crops in Hawaii, like Okinawan sweet potato, cacao pulp and banana. “We are also looking into using additional oil-producing microorganisms,” said Keith.
Extracting the oil from the algae produces byproducts, but even those have uses, making the process truly zero-waste. The “algal meal” that’s leftover can be used for fish or livestock feed in Hawaii, which would provide a homegrown feed source and cut down on the costs of shipping feed in. A scaled-up papaya-to-fuel project could also provide papaya farmers with another source of revenue for fruit that now goes unsold.
Today, we bring you a guest post by Anne Marie Bonneau, otherwise known as The Zero-Waste Chef. Anne Marie blogs about living a zero-waste life, and she runs her kitchen following three simple rules: no packaging, nothing processed, no waste. Here, she writes about shopping for food by bike.
I enjoy shopping for most of my food on my bike. A few people over the years have asked me to write a blog post about how and why I do it. Here it is…
1. You save money
I can fit only so much food on my bike when I shop so I buy only what I need. The limited space on my bike makes impulse buys—always processed and almost always packaged in plastic—very difficult unless I eat them on the spot at the store or while riding home, risking my life for chocolate.
2. You eat fresher food
When you shop by bike, because you can bring only so much home, you make a few trips every week rather than one trip every week or two. You have very fresh food on hand, it tastes better and you waste less of it because it has less time to turn before you can eat it. This takes a bit more time than major shopping just once every week or two does, however, on these frequent trips, I can zip in and out with my smaller purchases and often go in the 10-items-or-less aisle. And I’m working some exercise into my shopping too, which I need to do anyway (see #4).
3. The healthiest food fits best on your bike
Guess what? The processed stuff with its excessive packaging gobbles up precious cargo space on your bike so you’ll want to opt for fresh produce and bulk items—food that you can also happen to buy with much less waste, if any. Don’t you just love how all these habits connect together?
4. You get some exercise
I am no hardcore cyclist. I don’t don the Lycra garb that so many people wear where I live. They all pass me and that’s just fine. It takes me about 15 minutes to ride to the farmer’s market each way and about 8 minutes or so each way to ride to Whole Foods. I pass a local store, Piazza’s Fine Foods, on my way home from my favorite cafe—about a 15-minute ride each way—and shop there regularly (I try to shop small and am determined to do so even more now that Amazon bought Whole Foods). So every week, just for food shopping—I squeeze in at least an hour of riding.
5. You don’t burn fossil fuel
Not only do I fill up less, I also put fewer miles on my car and my tires last longer. One day after my younger daughter goes off to university in Canada, I’d like to ditch my car altogether.
6. You zip through traffic and find better parking
Rush hour here in Silicon Valley lasts from about 8am to 7pm. High tech companies hire like crazy, developers build like crazy and public transit barely exists, which is completely crazy. The resulting gridlock can drive you over the edge. And once you arrive at your destination, you often can’t find parking. Riding often takes less time than driving. My farmer’s market runs on Sunday mornings, so although I wouldn’t fight traffic driving there, I would struggle to find parking. A couple of years ago, the City of Palo Alto installed several additional bike racks on the street where the market operates so I can always find a spot to lock up my bike. The grocery stores near me also provide at least a few bike racks.
7. You take in your surroundings more
Riding my bike to the farmer’s market, I regularly run into my neighbors (not literally…), I’ve scored books sitting by the side of the road, I’ve stopped at yard sales where I’ve found jars and inexpensive kitchen tools, I hear the birds sing, I feel the wind blowing on my face (but not through my hair because I ALWAYS wear a helmet)… It’s just so much more pleasant than driving.
For Anne Marie’s seven tips for shopping by bike, head over to her blog to read the second half of this article. Anne Marie lives in the San Francisco Bay area, where she teaches fermentation workshops and speaks on zero-waste and plastic-free living. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
As kids head back to school around the country, here’s one school rule every parent needs to follow: turn off your car when you’re waiting near a school.
Air monitoring at schools typically finds “hot spots” of air pollution during pick-up times, which is a direct result of idling vehicles. We just launched a new infographic (below) explaining more about this problem.
Please take our back-to-school pledge to stop idling at iturnitoff.com/schools. For an even bigger impact, challenge your school community to take the pledge too. Spread the message with the infographic below or the video we created. They can be posted on school Facebook pages, newsletters and websites.
Reducing vehicle idling is one easy way to green your school community. Parents who limit idling will also enjoy fuel savings, help cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the air pollution they’re breathing as well. Join thousands of parents who’ve already decided to stop idling and take the pledge today.
There are few things better than eating a peach at peak ripeness while it’s still warm from sitting on a farmers market table. But where I live, the local peach season is blink-and-you’ll-miss-it short — and I often miss it. With a new app and website from GRACE Communications Foundation, I’ll never miss another peach season.
GRACE’s new Seasonal Food Guide puts seasonal food at your fingertips. You simply enter your state and time of year, and it shows you what foods are in season. You can even set calendar reminders to alert you when your favorite foods are in season. Hosting a party in a month? You can check what foods will be at their peak then start planning a menu.
But the app, which is free and available for iOS and Android, is far more than just a calendar for local food lovers. Click on any of the more than 140 types of fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts and herbs and you’ll be taken to an entry in GRACE’s Real Food Right Now series, which includes everything you’d ever want to know — cooking tips, recipes and facts — as well as revealing information about the environmental impacts and any labor issues with certain crops.
One of the reasons we love this app, is that it’s also a valuable tool for helping home cooks reduce food waste. You can use it to plan meals and create shopping lists around seasonal produce. Then it tells you how long you have to eat it, how to store it so it lasts as long as possible, and even how to preserve it if you buy too much. These are all strategies we teach and encourage through our I Value Food Challenge, a four-week food waste reduction program (also free!).
We also love this app because it makes it easier to eat locally. Local produce is arguably fresher than supermarket produce, and it doesn’t have to travel as far to get to your plate, which reduces fuel use and harmful emissions. Buying local foods also supports local farmers and their families and keeps more of your food dollars in your own community.
Last but not least, local food is also likely to be more delicious since it can be picked when it’s at peak flavor, not early to accommodate packing and shipping time. Food ripened on the plant is more nutritious, too, according to studies.
Now is a great time to give the Seasonal Food Guide a spin — farmers markets are bursting with summer produce. Here’s a guide to markets around the country.
Ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft have gotten their fair share of attention lately, and their popularity and controversies have overshadowed other car-sharing models in the emerging sharing space. A variety of app-driven companies are working to use technology to meet our personal transportation needs. When used in conjunction with a ride-hailing service and local public transportation and bike-sharing services, it’s becoming possible for more and more people to go car-free. Here’s a look at the options, including a few you might not have heard of yet:
Fleet-Based Car Sharing
A group of car-sharing companies offer access to a shared fleet of vehicles, similar to traditional rental car companies, but they are designed to better service car-less urban dwellers’ day-to-day driving needs and weekend trips. This means they are more conveniently located and can be rented by the hour, and in a few cases, even by the minute. Here’s a comparison of the main players:
ZipCar: Serves the most geographic areas; wide range of vehicle types; one-hour minimum; must return car where you picked it up. Subsidiary of Avis Budget Group.
Car2Go: Offered in 11 North American cities; three Mercedes-Benz vehicle options; rent by the minute, hour or day; can leave it in any legal street spot in your city’s “home” zone. Owned by Mercedes-Benz.
Enterprise CarShare: Offered in 23 North American cities and at more than 130 U.S. college campuses, wide range of vehicle types, rent hourly or daily, must return car where you picked it up.
ReachNow: Offered in Seattle, Portland and Brooklyn; BMW and MINI vehicles only; rent by the minute, hour or day; can leave it in any legal street spot in your city’s “home” zone. Owned by BMW.
Maven: Offered in 17 U.S. cities; GM vehicles only; rent by 30-minute increments; app-based key system; return car where you picked it up; one-way trips in select cities. Owned by GM.
Coming soon:BlueLA will offer a network of shared electric vehicles at self-service locations in low-income areas of Los Angeles.
Peer-to-Peer Car Sharing
Often compared to Airbnb, these companies make it possible for car owners to rent their vehicles to nearby customers when they’re not using them. It’s a way for car owners to make a little money on a depreciating asset and drivers to find wheels right in their neighborhoods, or even at an airport they’re flying into. (Like Airbnb, however, renting personal property can come with some issues.)
Turo: Available in 4,500 U.S. cities and at more than 300 airports; rent by the day or week; doorstep pick-up and drop-off, owners earn 75% of rental fee.
Getaround: Offered in 8 cities, rent by the hour or day; remote unlocking and tracking system, owners earn 60% of rental fee.
TravelCar: This five-year-old French airport car-sharing company just launched services at Los Angeles International Airport and San Francisco International. Fliers park for free and offer their cars for rent while they travel. If the car is rented, the owner gets a small cut of the rental price.
Services like these are one piece in the evolving transportation puzzle, and could help lower emissions by helping eliminate the need for ownership for some or make going to from a 2-car family to a 1-car family possible. A study of Car2Go users by the University of California, Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center (TRSC) found that users decreased their greenhouse gas emission by 10% on average, and each car2go vehicle removed between 7 to 11 vehicles from the road.
Are you ready to tackle food waste in your kitchen? Now, you can do it the way professional chefs do it.
When restaurants want to cut waste, they start by measuring how much they’re wasting. This process, called a food waste audit, provides a snapshot of what’s going to waste and how much. Then it’s easier to zero in on strategies that will make the biggest difference.
Measure preventable food waste for 1 week using a quart container.
Try out proven waste-reduction strategies while continuing to track waste for 3 weeks.
Discover how small shifts can yield big savings!
Here’s a video that explains how it works:
I Value Food: Too Good to Waste Challenge - YouTube
In the first week, you’ll discover what you’re wasting by logging waste in our online app. Then, we’ll send you weekly tools and tips to try as you continue to track your waste. At the end of the month, our log will calculate how much food you saved. People have been able to reduce waste by 25% using the tools in the program!
We can’t stress enough how valuable the measurement piece is to making lasting change around food waste. When you throw out a cup of rice here, a rotten banana there, it may not seem like much, but it all adds up. By measuring it, you’ll not only get a better sense of the scope of the waste, you’ll able be able to spot trends and find solutions.
Chefs are focusing on food waste because it makes sense for their bottom line. It can make a real difference your pocketbook, as well. A family of four spends up to $1,500 on food that ends up in the trash every year!
The challenge is a fun project to do as a family. It helps teach kids about the value of food and learn smart habits around how to use it. You could also set up a competition among a group of friends or family.
Are you planning to have a garden this year? Maybe a better question is, are you able to have a garden this year? Interest in growing food has exploded in the last decade, but getting your own plot of tomatoes or cukes going may seem impossible if you lack enough outdoor space or don’t know how to garden.
The answer is garden sharing — an arrangement where you garden on someone else’s land or offer your land up for someone else to garden. According to the National Gardening Association, at least 2 million people have caught onto this idea and are gardening at the home of a friend, neighbor or relative already. It’s a great way to get more people growing food, eating healthier and building connections in their community.
Shared Earth, our platform for matching up people who want to garden with people who have land, is an easy way to get started with garden sharing. The Shared Earth community is growing every day – there are currently more than 5,000 users around the country. Here’s how it works:
1. Find your matches.
Go to sharedearth.com and enter your address in order to find other gardeners or potential garden locations in your area. Filling out a profile will help generate better matches. If you see someone you’d like to connect with, you can send a private message through the app. (Shared Earth never shares your personal details with other members. You only share your full name, exact address or contact info yourself when you’re ready.)
If there aren’t any matches in your area, you’ll get a notification when new users join who are a good fit for you. You could also seek a garden share by posting in local gardening groups, posting a message on a coffee shop bulletin board or just asking around your neighborhood.
2. Get to know each other.
To make a garden share arrangement work for all parties, the relationship must be built on trust. Meet up at a coffee shop to talk through your goals and what you each bring to the partnership. If that goes well, arrange a time to meet again to see the land you’ll be sharing.
3. Put together a garden share plan.
A garden share plan outlines how the arrangement will work and how you’ll divide things like costs, labor and produce yield. “Having a clear understanding with the owner is really important, because while they own it, once you put work in, you’re invested, and they can make a decision that suddenly ruins everything,” said Cedric Rose, a Cincinnati gardener who helped his partner Jen Wendeln transform a friend’s abandoned lot into the beautiful urban garden (pictured here). Likewise, if it’s your land, you want to make sure you’re comfortable with all the plans.
Here are some questions you’ll want to discuss when making a garden share plan:
• Where will the garden be located?
• What will you grow in the garden? Any restrictions on how it will look?
• How is the condition of the soil? Does it need to be tested?
• When can the gardening be done?
• How will you share expenses (seeds, plants, tools, water, etc.) and labor?
• Will the garden be organic?
• Who can have access to the garden?
• How will you share the produce?
• Where will you keep supplies and tools?
• Will you sell any of the produce? If so, will proceeds be shared?
• What happens if someone gets injured? Does the homeowner have insurance?
• Will you be composting? How and where?
• How long will the arrangement last?
• How will you communicate about the garden? Text, phone calls? Email?
• What will you do if one of you wants to end the arrangement?
4. Get gardening.
Once you have a plan in place, it’s time to get to work in the garden. If you’re new to this type of arrangement, it may be a good idea to revisit the agreement at the end of the season to discuss how it went and make any adjustments. Hopefully, your garden share partnership will grow, along with your vegetables, into a win-win situation for everyone.
“One fun part of gardening on someone else’s land is that it’s like you have a whole new, lovely space to work and visit, and delight in,” said Wendeln. “It was great having another place that feels like your outdoor home.”
Bonus: Get creative!
Shared Earth is also set up to accommodate larger projects like hydroponic or aquaponic gardeners looking for warehouse space and landowners looking for professional farmers to tend their land. Need someone to take care of your backyard chicken flock? You might find the right fit on Shared Earth. Some urban farmers have even made arrangements with several homeowners to maintain plots in exchange for a share of the harvest, then sell the rest at markets or in a CSA. The sky is the limit.
Note: This month, we’re showing how much we #LoveFoodRescue in order to get more people engaged in reducing food waste and feeding the poor in their communities. Check out the Food Rescue Locator to get involved.
Today, the act of saving food from being wasted is often called “food rescue,” but for centuries it’s been known as “gleaning.” The word might conjure up biblical references or Jean-François Millet’s famous painting The Gleaners, but gleaning — the practice of letting people pick leftover food from farm fields after the main harvest is done — is still practiced today.
During a dreary 1999-2000 winter in France, filmmaker Agnès Varda explored modern-day gleaning in the documentary The Gleaners and I. The 17-year-old gem of a film, which can be streamed on Amazon or Netflix, is worth a watch for anyone interested in the interwoven threads of waste, poverty, and human ingenuity.
Varda, who has been called both the mother and grandmother of the French New Wave film movement, begins the film with a visit to see The Gleaners painting at Musee d’Orsay in Paris then travels throughout France exploring different types of gleaning and the people involved in it. What she finds is a complex web of motivations for gleaning, from tradition to necessity to moral, as well as a variety of laws and customs around gleaning.
In a potato-growing region, tons of “outsized” tubers are rejected for cosmetic reasons and dumped in the fields. She films locals filling up plastic bags until they bulge, and talks to other poor people who don’t even know about the mountains of food they could be gleaning.
The Gleaners by Jean-François Millet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
She visits a chef whose grandparents taught him to pick along roadsides; he’s continued the tradition and makes Michelin-star meals with his finds. She films a magistrate in a just-harvested cabbage field reading a 1554 law that gave people the right to glean “from sunup to sundown” after the harvest.
In an apple-growing region, Varda learns that gleaners must be registered in order to follow an orchard’s pickers, who leave 10 tons unpicked, according to an owner she talks to. In the Burgundy region she finds out that gleaning vintage grapes is illegal. Surplus grapes are picked and left on the ground purposely to protect “our profession and capital,” explains a vintner in this clip:
The Gleaners And I - Trailer - YouTube
Varda even finds dumpster diver who says he’s eaten completely out of the trash for 10 years, even though he has a job and could buy food. “Salvaging is a matter of ethics for me because I find it utterly unacceptable to see all this waste on the streets,” he says.
Varda points out that gleaning doesn’t just happen in fields and orchards, and in modern throwaway society, food isn’t the only thing that’s gleaned. She visits with several artists, both homespun and highly acclaimed, who make art from other people’s trash. She shows how people “harvest” valuable cooper from discarded televisions and fix up broken refrigerators to sell or give to a friend.
If Varda had a political agenda for making the film, it was gently stated, but one issue she covers has been addressed by French lawmakers in recent years. Late in the film, Varda presents different sides of a case about street youth who were arrested for scrounging and vandalizing supermarket dumpsters for leftover food. To deter dumpster diving, supermarkets started dousing food they were throwing out with bleach. In 2016, France took on this issue as it became the first country to make it mandatory for large supermarkets to donate unsold food to charity. Now, instead of tolerating people digging through their dumpsters, supermarkets must distribute leftover food with “dignity” — a win for all sides.
If you want to get involved with gleaning, you can search for gleaning groups in your area through our Food Rescue Locator. Vermont Law School’s National Gleaning Project has a collection of legal resources for gleaners and a directory of organizations. You can start your own group using this helpful toolkit from the USDA. You can even glean your own garden. Ample Harvest, an organization that helps gardeners find food pantries to donate excess produce to, estimates that 11 billion pounds of garden produce becomes food waste annually, enough to feed 28 million people.
A new study released this week shows that levels of air pollution that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deems safe may not be safe enough.
The study, conducted by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, found that long-term exposure to airborne fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) and ozone — even below current standards established by established by the EPA — increases the risk of premature death. Men, black people and low-income populations had higher risks than the national average.
The researchers estimated daily air pollution levels by ZIP code nationwide using a combination of methods. They then analyzed the impact of low levels of air pollution on 61 million seniors for years 2000 to 2012.
They found that increases of 10 micrograms per cubic meter of fine particulate matter and 10 parts per billion (PPB) in ozone increased premature deaths by 7.3% and 1.1% respectively. These results were consistent in areas that had levels of pollution below the EPA standards.
Cutting the level of fine particulate matter by 1 microgram per cubic meter below current standards could save 12,000 lives per year, according to the study.
Sources of fine particulate matter — which are particles of dust and soot 30 times smaller in diameter than a human hair — include vehicle exhaust and power plants. Particles from traffic were found to be more toxic.
“When you have a large study that shows that the current level of air pollution is toxic — I hope that’s something we can do something about,” Francesca Dominici, one of the study’s authors and a professor of biostatistics at Harvard, told the New York Times.
This study comes at a time when air pollution levels have been going down, but it shows that more needs to be done if we want to reduce deaths from pollution. In the current political climate, however, we can’t count on the EPA to make transformative changes in the near future. This is why now, more than ever, we need to make choices that support reducing fossil fuel consumption whenever possible. Here are some of the best ways to do that: