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How to conserve native plants and agrobiodiversity?

In this age of globalization, countries have added other cultural practices into their lifestyle. The introduction of non-native plant species into the local ecosystems has caused many issues. This particular global exchange is threatening traditional plants and agricultural practices. For example, modern practices like genetically modified seeds, excessive use of pesticides and tree monoculture in plantations damages thousands of native species. Urbanization has also reduced green cover where cities are encroaching on agricultural lands and forests. So, what is so special about native species and what can be done to conserve them?

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How is the Farm-to-Table movement promoting Sustainability?

Cleanliness is said to go hand-in-hand with godliness and this saying proves to be truer than ever at a time like this while the world battles a pandemic. But it does not end there. Over the past year people have started paying closer attention to the quality of hygiene in their surroundings, investing in more advanced technology to help them lead a cleaner, healthier lifestyle and most importantly paying attention to what they consume. Now more than ever, the Farm-to-Table movement, popularly known as the ‘ Farm-to-Fork ‘ movement, and certain aspects of it have started to become more popular because of a growing need to eat better, healthier, fresher produce. The key is to understand what this movement aims to achieve and how can one start small by imbibing from it the key factors and practicing them to lead a sustainable lifestyle.

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Can Mycelium be the new biomaterial?

Single-use plastics are taking over in supermarkets and almost everywhere else. Plastic is infamous for polluting the planet, as it can take up to 450 years to decompose. Other materials of today also come from energy-intensive manufacturing processes. They are formed by high-energy extraction methods. It is clear that the current industries are contributing to carbon emissions and non-biodegradable waste. As the world is being taken over by waste and pollution, we need alternative materials. Advancements in science and a keen interest in natural materials has started a chain of action. New materials like hemp, algae, seaweed, and mycelium are replacing plastics. These radical ideas challenge everything we know about the materials we are accustomed to. How can mycelium become part of the circular economy?

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What is the science behind Miyawaki forests?

Trees play a pivotal role in maintaining the health of the ecosystem, although, it seems like humans are ignorant of this fact. Trees have been mercilessly cut down in the name of ‘development’ which has repercussions like soil erosion, lowering of the water table, silting, desertification. This has led to deeper implications including food crises, water shortages, health crises, loss of livelihood, and climate change. Afforestation could help to reverse this damage. But are planting trees enough? Is all the green really ‘green’? While planting trees is a great practice, not all trees will give the same advantages. Some end up being ornamental pieces that don’t support local biodiversity. Some introduced foreign species tend to dominate and threaten the existence of native species. There is a solution to provide a shade of greenery that serves its purpose well. It is gaining much popularity and is called the Miyawaki forest method.

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Can agro-waste serve as construction material?

The amount of global agricultural produce is ever-increasing with the rising human population, and so is the amount of agricultural waste produced. Much of the solid waste produced by the agriculture industry ends up in landfills or gets incinerated as people are unaware of what can be done with agro-waste. A seemingly unrelated industry, the modern construction sector, is on a mission to source building materials sustainably due to dwindling natural resources and rapid urbanization. Can we find an opportunity in this situation and attempt at creating an arrangement that is beneficial for both sectors? Can agricultural waste be used to serve the construction industry, systematically?

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Can shipping containers help circular economy?

The shipping containers carry shipments all across the globe. They have been useful tools for manufacturing companies. A shipping container is considered an “intermodal freight container“, i.e., it can be moved from one mode of transport to another- it can be loaded on ships, on trains, and on trucks thereby allowing goods transport via water, rail and road. They are sturdy, reusable and can carry about 27,600 kg. They can serve for a life span of 15-20 years, although the average container will spend more than half its life sitting empty and unused. They often don’t return to their place of origin as it gets expensive to send them back. They end up piling up on ports or even construction sites. This is another example of the malfunction of international capitalism. They can be melted down but that requires over 8000kWh energy for each container! So, mostly they end up getting rusted or are left in landfills.

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Is circular economy same as zero waste economy?

The zero-waste concept, as well as the circular economy concept, criticize the present linear economy model to see how one can redefine the existing one-way process of design and development. The journey of a product from its manufacture to its consumption to its repudiation is closely examined. According to both models, all the materials and processes involved should have lesser impacts ecologically and economically. Both the systems, question and challenge the take-make-waste model and try to work out an alternative that performs better. While having a common aim of environmental conservation, there are differences in the approach that makes a distinctive impact in the implementation of these principles.

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Can agroforestry regenerate farm land?

Agroforestry integrates agriculture and forestry, with a focus on using a variety of plant species to help one another. The system uses woody perennials as a support for growing herbaceous plants and it can be implemented from the scale of a home garden to a large estate. Woody perennials are evergreen trees that have hard stems and grow continuously with each passing year, surviving even through winters. Herbaceous plants, on the other hand, have soft stems and a periodic life cycle. In general, these are the plants we cultivate for our consumption. In effect, the system of agroforestry utilizes the circular process of the natural ecosystem, rather than breaking the flow of the biosphere through monocropping.

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Which soil-less farming technique is the best?

For over ten millennia, man used the earth to produce his bread and butter. So, why soil-less farming, now? Why not use soil for farming, like it has been done for centuries? Research indicates that with the current rate of soil degradation due to chemically intensive farming and rising populations, only sixty years are left for us to use the earth for food generation. This is because it takes a thousand years to generate just three centimeters of topsoil. Soil-less plant growth also helps in water conservation. Therefore, it is very crucial right now to make a switch to more self-sustaining farming methods that depend less on external resources.

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Can Hemp bring a Plastic Revolution?

With growing concerns around the globe due to rapidly increasing plastic pollution, governments and global companies are quickly finding solutions to this growing problem. Every hour almost 55 million plastic bottles are sold. Plastics found in these bottles are petroleum based and are made of our limited fossil fuels. However being cheap, lightweight, and, easily manufactured makes most companies turn a blind eye to the fact that most of these plastics are neither recycled nor reused. As of right now, only a mere 9% of all the plastic every made has been recycled, with a slightly larger portion incarnated and the rest dumped in landfills ultimately finding their way to our oceans. Global companies such as PepsiCo, the world’s second largest plastic polluter, are finding ways to reinvent their packaging by utilising recycled plastic instead of virgin plastic. However what if we can replace plastic all together and introduce environmental friendly options like Hemp.

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What is E-Waste recycling and its importance?

The rapid global rise in technology has generated advanced electrical and electronic equipment with short lifespans. For example, in 2018, Apple sold more than 217 million iPhones. A consequence of such high demand and supply of electronic products is electronic waste (e-waste) which, in 2018 amounted to 50 million tonnes. E-waste is projected to grow annually 3-5% which is three times more than other waste streams. Reports on recycling rates vary, with estimates of around 20–30%. It is estimated that more than 70% of globally produced waste electronics and electrical equipment (WEEE) enter China, Africa and India for reprocessing, much of it illegally, and often using crude, hazardous and inefficient processes. Dumping and incinerating large amounts of WEEE has a severe impact on human life and the environment, as it leads to the release of toxic heavy elements such as lead, mercury, chromium, nickel, beryllium, arsenic and antimony into the air, soil and water cycles.

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What is Carbon Capture Usage and Storage and its role in circular economy?

In November 2020, the U.K. announced its 10 point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution where one aspect was Carbon Capture, Usage, and, Storage (CCUS). Since April 2020, the USA has announced more than 9 new CCUS plants. Globally, CCUS has been gaining popularity when it comes to climate change mitigation measures. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has used CCUS in their future scenarios multiple times as it is only of the few technologies that have negative emissions. Understandably, governments have started to consider the technology in their journey to net-zero emissions. But what is CCUS and its contribution towards a circular economy? Let’s find out.

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Why Upcycled Products Cost More?

Waste has become a major environmental challenge in cities as the population increases and people consume more goods. It is estimated that the European Union (EU) alone generates 2.5 billion tonnes of waste every year. In our linear economies, such waste generation is common in every sector. In the fashion industry, for example, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles ends up in the landfill or gets incinerated. However, people are coming up with innovation and initiatives to tackle these problems and propose ways of avoiding the accumulation of waste. One such concept is called “upcycling”. “Upcycling is the reuse of otherwise discarded objects or materials in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original”. The product created can have more artistic or environmental value. The main motive of upcycling is to continue the life of the product.

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How are the COVID lockdowns affecting food waste?

With the onset of December, throughout Europe, the second wave of coronavirus has initiated a second lockdown. Countries like France, United Kingdom, Austria, Germany, Portugal and Sweden have closed their bars and shops again like the previous lockdown. These measures become challenging for the food industry as it is still trying to cope with the losses of the first lockdown. The food industry is one of the most affected industries by the pandemic. The supply chain blockages, lack of labour and the closure of restaurants and bars are some of the ways in which the industry was affected. It resulted in large amounts of waste generation from all levels due to a change in consumer behaviour. Understanding the challenges posed by the first lockdown, such as the large amount of food waste generated, is crucial to effectively prepare for them in the coming months. In what follows, we analyze the food waste stemming from various levels of the supply chain.

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[Guest feature] Can pyrolysis help to tackle the plastic pollution?

In 2017, BBC premiered “Blue Planet II”, a nature documentary series on marine life. The documentary had a significant impact on the public and it highlighted the issue of plastic pollution as shown in Figure 1. The “blue planet effect” is the term described by many researchers as the change in the plastic consumption behavior of the public after watching the documentary. The plastic pollution has ever since become a major concern for many organizations and institutions. Some key facts about the issue are:

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What is Circular Economy?

In 1684, the steam engine was invented by Thomas Savery which has arguably kick-started the industrial revolution. Since then, human civilization has produced large amounts of goods. Humans have invented fast fashion, industrialized agriculture, processed foods and other forms of mass-produced goods. Despite the job generation, improvement in human life and technological advancements that have come along with the industrial revolution, we have also generated tremendous amounts of waste. Wrapping our heads around the enormous amount of food and goods that are thrown away every year is not an easy task. For example, every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles ends up in the landfill or gets incinerated. This amounts to upwards of 31.5 billion garbage trucks of textiles every year. It is estimated that every year, 2.5 billion tonnes of waste is generated in the EU. These issues have been caused due to the linear nature of our economies. Manufacturers use raw materials and make products which are non-recyclable and perish easily. They do not consider what happens when the products reach the end their life and therefore, the products are thrown in landfills.

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How sustainable is the aviation industry?

­The aviation industry is responsible for 5% of all the global greenhouse gas emissions. While this may not seem like a major issue, the problem with the industry is emission reductions. The industry, pre-COVID, was predicted to double by 2037 which also presents a challenge. Currently, it is very hard in the aviation industry to reduce emissions without taking significant financial losses. But reducing these emissions is very crucial in order to meet the Paris Agreement targets.

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­How can circular economy help the food system?

On 8th March 1968, William S. Gaud coined the term “Green Revolution” in his speech. Later Norman Borlaug received a Nobel Peace prize for pushing the concept and lifting countless farmers out of subsistence lifestyles and saving hundreds of millions of people from starvation. Currently, the food industry is the world’s largest industry, with over 1 billion people working each day to grow, process, transport, market, cook, pack, sell or deliver food. But the drive for high yields and lower costs has led to numerous unwanted issues.

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Do you know the dark side of renewable energy?

On 4th March 2020, the European Commission announced that Europe will plan to be climate neutral (net-zero greenhouse gas emissions) by 2050. Europe’s energy market will decarbonize into a renewable energy market where solar, hydro and wind energy provide most of Europe’s energy demands. Similar efforts are being made in London, where the Mayor has committed for London to be a zero carbon city by 2050. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has also forecasted that solar energy will be the main driver of growth in global electricity over the next decade with the onshore and offshore wind taking second and third place, respectively. All of these are good news but since solar and wind power are relatively young technologies, there exists a real concern of waste- often overlooked. What happens when the renewable energy generators reach the end of their lifetime and is there a way to recycle solar photo-voltaic (PV) modules and wind turbines?

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How to attain circular economy in fashion industry?

The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry (after the oil industry). This is due to the high water footprint, land footprint, high use of fertilizers and pesticides. The industry is also responsible for 10% of the global greenhouse gas emissions worldwide due to its long supply chains and energy-intensive production. As the population grew consumerism has created a mass market for cheap apparel where products are perceived and treated as disposable. This has given birth to the notion of ‘fast fashion’, which represents low-quality products that are mass-produced for easy consumption. A staggering 80 billion pieces of clothing are consumed each year which represents an increase of 400% from the 1990s.

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­­­­­How to tackle religious waste in India?

There are more than 400 rivers in India, which provide 90% of the country’s water. But according to the Central Pollution Control Board, the water in half the nation’s rivers in unsafe to drink and at least a quarter of the rivers cannot be used for bathing. Apart from industrial and domestic waste, a high level of pollution in the rivers come from religious activities. The waste from these religious activities include statues of deities, flowers, pots, ashes and incense sticks.

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Why you should harvest rainwater?

With the onset of climate change, water scarcity is quickly becoming a major concern for many countries. World Wildlife Fund estimated about 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to water, and by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population is expected to suffer from water shortages. Climate change is altering the local weather patterns leading to droughts in drier areas and flooding in other areas. In 2018, Cape Town (South Africa) introduced the concept of “Day Zero” whereby most of city’s tap water supply was shut down to curtail water usage. In July of 2019, signs of a similar “Day Zero” surfaced in parts of India. On the other hand, the annual rainfall in India for that year was above normal compared to the previous years as reported by the India Meteorological Department. Therefore, the water scarcity during the year can be attributed to mismanagement of the rainwater. Proper planning and rainwater harvesting systems can help in not only recharging the groundwater but also reducing the municipal water consumption of the households.

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[Guest feature] Can regenerative permaculture trump sustainability?

There is overwhelming evidence to tell us that we, this funny human race, must change our ways or be kicked off the earth as we know it. This is the Anthropocene – the current geological age where human activity is the dominant force affecting the climate, atmosphere and environment. The ‘sustainability movement’ is now rich with players, concepts and strategies, but is it effective or is it inherently flawed? ‘Sustainable’ practices, by definition, seek to maintain the status quo and keep the situation from getting worse. We’ve seen the sustainability agenda pushed for the last twenty five years and yet our planet has reach unprecedented levels of pollution, high temperatures, melted permafrost, extreme weather events, topsoil loss and biodiversity death. Clearly, ‘sustaining’ is not good enough. We need to look at restoration. We need to embrace solutions focused not on ‘sustainability’ but on regeneration. This is where the permaculture movement comes in. While many certified organic agriculture practices qualify as sustainable, they are, at the end of the day, extractive and depleting natural resources. Permaculture systems get stronger, more resilient, more diverse and more self-supporting over time. This article, curated by active permaculture practitioners from the Odd Gumnut farms, will shed light on the permaculture movement by diving into each of the twelve guiding principles of permaculture.

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[Guest feature] How to save the world with every sip?

‘It’s just a straw’, one might say, but hold on! Have you really given it a thought? Ever wondered how the use of one straw, by one human, for one year straight, itself can yield such a huge pile of unwanted stash? Do you have any idea of what harm it causes to the marine ecosystem? If that didn’t put things in perspective then think about it this way – do you really think that a few minutes of convenience justifies the ‘need’ for 21,000 straws to be used by 1 person across their lifetime? Statistics suggest that 7.5 million plastic straws pollute and line the shores of the United States annually. Of course, the figures for shores around the world is even more daunting. In the years since the alarming revelation, awareness has been raised and efforts have been taken to combat the crisis. Are there organic and eco-friendly alternatives to plastic straws that can help save the planet with every sip?

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[Guest feature] Do genetically modified crops deserve a second chance?

As the world’s population is growing, resources such as water, land, and energy will be required for food production. Acquiring these resources can put a burden on the environment. Fortunately, genetically modified (GM) crops offer many solutions to improve environmental sustainability and reduce greenhouse emissions. Biotechnology will give us more productive crops with higher yields while using fewer resources; they will be an essential tool for reducing greenhouse emissions and fighting climate change.

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How sustainable are you?

Have you ever wondered if there is a metric or a grade that defines how sustainable you truly are? Is it just black-and-white i.e., either you are sustainable or you are not? Turns out there is more to this story that what meets the eye. Meet the sustainability spectrum, a continuum that helps you progress up the degree of sustainability and adapt suitable lifestyle changes.

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Which is the best composting method?

Compost is organic material that is added to soil to help nurture the plants, enhance the moisture retention capability of the soil and assist with the plant growth. Food scraps and yard waste together currently make up more than 28% of what we throw away, and should be composted instead. Making compost keeps these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Thus, composting also forms an essential part of circular economy.

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Can smart labels reduce perishable food waste?

Perishable food wastage is very high for most countries and is becoming an issue of great public concern. Lack of studies that analyze the causal factors of food losses in this context also adds to the problem as one is unable to pinpoint the most wasteful stage in the supply chain- from harvesting stage till it reaches the consumer. As for the manufacturers, they often assume that something will go wrong in the supply chain or even in our homes and so they build in a shorter date to compensate for this. But most of us will keep food better than what the food manufacturer expects and so good food ends up being wasted. Is there something that can be done about this?

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[Guest feature] Why we should not burn dry leaves?

Come winter, and our streets, footpaths, building premises, rooftops, any horizontal surface in the sight is covered with dry leaves. From time to time, we sense acrid smoke coming from neighbor’s backyard, from the side of the street, where leaves are being burnt. But the leaves are bio-degradable and with time will eventually decompose to go back to soil. So, is there really a need to burn the dry leaves?

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Why choose bamboo as a building material?

Be it for flooring, furnishings, scaffolding, facade or decor, with the growing awareness about environmental conservation, people are looking into alternative choices for building materials. The closest and perhaps the strongest competitor is wood and given its slow rate of replenishment, people are looking towards eco-friendly alternatives. But, of all such choices, why bamboo? What is it that makes it so special that it is now gaining traction amongst the millennials?

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Are compostable, bio-degradable and recyclable labels identical?

With the growing awareness about the rapid environmental degradation and the need to take preventive action, sustainable practices are now the talk of the hour. Companies are becoming increasingly aware of their carbon footprint are are taking corrective measures. Several consultancies have also surfaced that helps businesses compute their carbon footprint and compare theirs to that of the peers in the similar market segment. Whilst the Corporates are doing their parts, individuals are also becoming socially responsible and pay heed to proper recycling of products to help with the environmental conservation. However, often times, terms like “bio-degradable”, “compostable” and “recyclable” are used interchangeably. But, are they really synonymous? In short, NO. To know the details, read on.

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[Guest feature] What goes down your drain?

We like to clean our homes daily. Toilets, floors, tables, kitchen tiles, the dishes we use, the clothes we wear. We use chemical cleaners, soaps, detergents, fresheners, whatnot to have our homes feel nicer and smell sweeter. After all, hygiene is important. These products keep away the dirt, grime, harmful germs and bacteria. And that’s all we expect the cleaners to do- CLEAN. But that’s really not all. There’s a lot more happening when we use and flush them out of our homes.

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Is there an eco-friendly alternative to stubble burning?

Rice: A staple food for a lot of Asian countries which requires a labor intensive cropping and harvest cycle. However, the challenge is not only to harvest the rice from the paddy fields but the stubble that is left behind. Once the rice is harvested from the paddy fields, the residual stubble (typically a Kilogram per Kilogram of rice harvest) needs to be cleared to prepare the field for the consecutive plantation cycle. For the moment, there are two apparent approaches for this: 1.) To let the stubble rot in the field which release Methane which is a greenhouse gas and contribute to global warming; or, 2.) burn the stubble which has contributed to record breaking levels of pollution especially in places like New Delhi and Punjab, India where such practices have prevailed for several generations. In today’s times, where the humanity is already struggling with the environmental imbalance and record high levels of pollution, is there an eco-friendly alternative that can be adopted by rice farmers globally?

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[Guest feature] Why should you care about biomedical waste?

When it comes to waste, the first picture that comes to mind is a garbage landfill site full of plastic waste and scavenger birds looming in the sky. One significant type of waste that is often overlooked is the biomedical waste. This is partly owing to lack of knowledge and with this article it is aimed to shed some light in the havoc that can be unleashed if the biomedical waste is not treated carefully.

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[Guest feature] What is in the cigarette butt?

It is a well-known fact that smoking kills. But the irony is, it is not just the smoker that it kills, its also the nature that suffers, especially the oceans. Studies suggest that about 4.5 Trillion cigarette butts (22-46% of visible litter) are littered each year that make their way to the oceans. When the trash gets washed ashore, its not just the plastic bottles, plastic bags, food wrappers but also the cigarette butts that are choking the marine life and are becoming a global epidemic.

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Is the dairy industry really single-use plastic free?

With the growing awareness about the ill-effects of single-use plastics, the consumer industries, governments and environmental conservation agencies are trying hard to ban the use of plastic, at least the single-use kind. Often in this movement, we get to hear about the organic dairy farms going plastic-free but should we just accept this fact at its face value? To what extent is the dairy industry really single-use plastic free?

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[Guest feature] Is switching to a green electricity tariff a good thing to do?

How do you know if the energy powering up your appliances is green energy? And, can green tariffs really help play their part in getting us to 100% renewable energy? It’s an issue we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, so here’s our thoughts.

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How to recycle tender and mature coconuts?

On a scorching hot summer day, what’s better to quench your thirst than with coconut water? Coconut water is known to have a lot of health benefits and some people even like to have it daily (in moderation). Not only this, a fully mature (brown) coconut is also used as offering to the Gods in temples, especially in the Hindu culture in India. So, what happens to the coconut shells and husk afterwards? For the tender coconuts, it is a common site for the coconut vendors to pile them nearby owing to lack of established infrastructure to recycle them despite them being clearly classified as dry waste. As for the mature coconuts, owing to the religious sentiments attached, sooner or later they end up in landfills as people refrain from throwing them in dedicated bins for dry waste recycling. This article discusses some of the efficient ways to recycle the shells and husks of coconuts to ensure they do not end up in landfills.

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[Guest feature] Hydroponics: Water-based farming that saves water?

Hydroponics, by definition, is a method of growing plants in a water based, nutrient rich solution. Hydroponics does not use soil, instead the root system is supported using an inert medium such as cocopeat, perlite or clay pellets. The basic premise behind hydroponics is to allow the plants roots to come in direct contact with water, containing the nutrient solution, while also having access to oxygen, which is essential for proper growth.

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