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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.

Evolution of Permaculture

This regenerative movement was born out of Australia in the early 1970’s, pioneered by Bill Mollison and his student David Holmgren. Both men are considered as the co-originators of the permaculture concept. Based on three ethics – care of the earth, care of people, and fair share – and a set of twelve principles, Permaculture is a mentality, a way of thinking, a design practice and most importantly is non-prescriptive. Nature is dynamic, changing, and incredibly varied between biomes. Thus, permaculturists solve problems with the guides of ethics and principles rather than specific techniques or technologies, making this way of thinking applicable to any land or community, anywhere in the world. Other natural farming concepts, like Zero Budget Natural Farming, Korean Natural Farming, Rudolf Steiner’s Biodynamic Farming and No-Till Agriculture offer effective techniques to restore land and grow crops, but lack in a whole systems thinking approach that is characteristic of Permaculture. So, let’s dive right in and explore these principles that shepherd this movement. All of these apply to land assessment and decision making as much as they apply to day to day behaviours within our homes and our families.

Guiding principles of Permaculture

  • Principle #1: Observe and Interact.

All too often, humans have worked to control nature. To make her yield under our hoes and ploughs while we manicure and manipulate what comes from the ground. Permaculture takes a radical step in the other direction, on the side of nature, where we feel a deep trust for her perfect efficiencies, processes and decisions. From that place, the most effective way to approach your land is from a place of humble observation. Nature herself will tell you what she needs, what is working for her, and what is stopping her flow. Our job as the farmer is to step back and let her tell us, and keep our eyes, ears and hearts open enough to understand what she is sharing. As a practice of design, we first observe all of the wild energies that are on our land – how the sun and shadows play, where the wind blows, how the water flows, where it percolates and where it pools. Working with nature will always lead us to the most efficient system. Working against her is asking for future problems.

How can use observe and interact in our home life? For example you can conduct a lifecycle analysis of a common household product you use (ie toothpaste, deodorant, dish soap) and observe: what are the ingredients, are they harmful to my health or the planet’s health? Who is the parent company of this product and what other activities are they involved in? Are they ethical? What is this packaging made of? Is it recyclable? Only after observation are we equipped to ‘interact’ by deciding whether or not we want to keep using that product or find a natural or homemade replacement.

  • Principle #2: Catch and Store Energy.

Nature is abundant in resources, it is our job to know how to harness and utilize those resources. For example: harvest your rain water, use solar and wind energy, extend a bumper harvest of cucumbers by pickling them, transform old milk into cheese and yogurt, capture the sun’s warmth in mudbricks to keep a home warm in cool climates. This principle speaks to capturing resources when they are abundant to use them in times of need. This also speaks to working with the natural flows of energy, like placing progressive bays of compost piles running downhill using gravity to move the piles through the stages. Dig yourself a cellar directly in the earth, on the shady side, to store a harvest of potatoes and pumpkins and pickles for months to come.

  • Principle #3: Obtain a Yield.

Whether we admire this trait of human nature or not, it’s real and ever present. When we don’t receive anything tangible back for ourselves from our work, we lose steam. Obtaining a yield is important to keep up the momentum of our good work. We could be building habitat, restoring soil, and cleaning up waterways, but if we aren’t also luxuriating in fresh veggies, milk, eggs or honey from our land, it won’t be long before we return to the supermarket and retire the shovel! Obtaining a yield could also mean you construct a small tepee and earn some extra money renting it on Airbnb, or it could mean you make a value-add jam from wild foraged berries to sell, whatever it is we must be sure that there is a tangible reward for our work. “You can’t work on an empty stomach!”

  • Principle #4: Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback.

Permaculture principles guide us to be more ecological stewards of the earth and be better community members. Neither is possible without this principle. Rethinking community and leadership to be more just and equitable starts with being able to look inward, accept feedback and have humility. Being a responsible citizen of the earth requires self-regulation. For example, is that instant craving for a packet of biscuits really worth the single use plastic? Could you instead bring your reusable bag to the bakery and in doing that small extra effort support a local business and skip the rubbish? Do you really need to drive to the market when you could walk the ½ kilometre instead? Must you buy that plastic water bottle in your moment of thirst or do you think you could just wait the 1 hour until you arrive at your destination and will be surely offered a glass of water? All of this is self regulation. Be conscious of your actions, for they all have a ripple. Be conscious of your mentality, it shapes who you are in the community.

  • Principle #5: Use & Value Renewable Resources & Services.

Peak oil is upon us and an ‘energy descent’ future is near. Our current lifestyle (and economy! and politics!) is built on the assumption of limitless energy from fossil fuels. This energy, in the form of gas for cooking, electricity, petrol for cars, etc, is not limitless and not renewable. Now, while we still have a choice, we must shift our mentality towards renewable resources and services. This is as simple as building a rocket oven to efficiently and cleanly cook with wood or creating a habitat for ducks to keep your snail and slug population in check. This gets as complex as constructing large buildings only using natural materials like cob and thatch or upskilling yourself to understand how to utilize the whole animal – from meat for eating to tanning the hide. We can cook using the sun and wood, we can move around using our legs to push bicycles, we can garden using our pigs to dig and our chickens to scratch, and we can collect things from nature for our kids to play with. Think creatively and think beyond fossil fuels! Soon we won’t have a choice.

  • Principle #6: Produce No Waste.

Nature does not have waste; everything gets transformed, transmuted, recycled and consumed. Our modern consumer world is full of waste; waste is the other side of the coin to cheap goods and instant gratification. Learn to care and repair, upskill to upcycle, make things yourself, and detach your mind from the consumer rat race of buying more stuff. Waste is a resource; in nature the waste from one systems is the fuel for another. Even our own human waste is valuable rich nutrients for our farm! Build a dry composting toilet; start a compost pile; wash and reuse all your plastic bags; commit to gifting homemade goods. Check out one of my all time favorite books, The Art of Frugal Hedonism, for all the reasons and ways to get this principle working for you!

  • Principle #7: Design from Patterns to Detail.

Patterns are all around us – the spiral of a snail shell is the spiral of the galaxies, the dendritic pattern of a tree’s branches is the flow of modern freeways. When we zoom out and observe the patterns in nature, we are able to understand their function and apply those patterns to our permaculture designs for maximized efficiency. This principle goes hand in hand with the 1st – observe and interact. The only way to notice patterns, on any scale, is to take the time to observe. Permaculture learning has a big emphasis on learning the patterns of nature and applying them on every scale. Nature is our best teacher.

  • Principle #8: Integrate don’t Segregate.

Permaculture design is all about seeing the connections between the different elements of our land, our home, our workplace etc. Each element will have different inputs, outputs and behaviours. By analysing those three things, we can pair together various elements so the inputs of one are supported by the outputs of another. The more we can connect our systems, the more resource efficient we become. Waste becomes resource. Find the connections, think about how things can work together, and create relationships that support each other. In community, we can collaborate instead of working alone. In families, we can get our kids involved in the garden and teach them real life skills by making roles that are suited for little ones. In the garden, instead of trying to eliminate all pests with chemicals, invite in pollinators, bug and reptiles higher up the food chain to keep pest populations in check. Monocultures are segregated systems that are weak and vulnerable to disease and crop failure, leaving a multitude of dead biodiversity in their wake. Polycultures are diverse integrated systems that are balanced, productive and sustained. Nourish connections. Nature does not flourish in a vacuum; abundant life is always integrated!

  • Principle #9: Use Small & Slow Solutions.

This principle also goes hand in hand with ‘observe & interact’. We can be more economical and frugal with our time, resources and effort by making slow and progressive changes and then observing to make sure our solution is the right fit. Arriving on a new piece of land and immediately cutting all the native trees to make room for your mango orchard can have many unintended consequences! You might experience land erosion or loss of fertility or infestation of a new pest or a loss of bird life. Swift and big changes are much harder to recover from. Taking things slow and steady allows room for feedback and for changes and pivots. It allows you to stay nimble and flexible, dynamic and flowing, just like nature.

  • Principle #10: Use & Value Diversity.

In diversity, we have strength and resilience. The strength of a forest is measured in its biodiversity, in its ability to support life. Diversity is also our strength in community – different perspectives, backgrounds, skills, knowledge and interest is what makes a community flourish. Diversity is the spice of life! Apply this to your daily life by learning the wild foods that flourish around you; how can you harvest and prepare them? What are the native seeds that grow where you live? Diversify your diet to include ancient grains, millets and forgotten varietals. To not value and find the beauty of diversity is to live in fear; expand yourself to embrace the multitude of shades, colors, shapes and flavors of nature’s abundance – in people, in crops, in animals, in ideas.

  • Principle 11: Uses Edges & Value the Marginal.

Like all of the principles, this one is both literal and figurative. The ‘edge’ is the place where two systems come together. In nature, the interaction between two ecosystems is often the most productive with the highest biodiversity – think about the river bank – the intersection of water and land that flourishes with unique flora and fauna. Permaculture designers try to create more edge in designs by having garden beds and paths that are non-linear. The edge where a garden bed meets the path is the perfect place to grow some lettuces or salad greens that are small and easily clipped as you walk back into the house. Valuing the marginal reminds us not to overlook less-valued systems; we can harvest seaweed from the rocky shores or mushrooms from patches of forest. Underutilized spaces provide us the creative opportunity to create abundance where it was previously overlooked.

  • Principle 12: Creatively Use & Respond to Change.

The only constant is change. Nature knows this and moves with ease through changes in the seasons and the cycles of life. We human folk have a tendency to hold tight with an iron grip to our expectations and plans. Permaculture encourages us to embrace change and use all changes as opportunity to think creatively and live positively. Change your diet with the seasons, plant trees for the future, learn lean technologies like ferro-cement water tanks, and design for disaster so you’re prepared for destructive weather events. Value the knowledge and insights of both our elders and our children. Change is part of life, with proper design and the right attitude, we can weather anything that come our way.

Permaculture principles keep us on a path not of ‘sustainability’ but on a path of regeneration, where we are active participants in making a more thriving planet tomorrow, next year and the next 100 years. In these challenging climatic changes, we must stay positive, stay creative and stay humble. Let nature be our teacher, let us listen to her and let us use the ethics and principles of permaculture as clues along this all-important quest.

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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?

As an initiative to this wake-up call, Evlogia Eco Care Pvt. Ltd. has resorted to making straws from the bountiful palm leaves. Afterall, if the leaves are simply piling up, people would be tempted to burn them which can create a whole bunch of problems. So why not use them effectively to come up with organic straws for guilt-free sipping of your beverages?

Why organic straws?

Kokos Leafy straws as they are being called are 100% biodegradable, and made from fallen and dried palm leaves thereby helping to transform agricultural waste into wealth. With a shelf life of 1 year, they are available in different sizes and remain intact in liquids for more than 6 hours. What more? No two straws will ever be the same and its natural aesthetics means that you can do away with any external coating making it naturally biodegradable. Moreover, made at the hands of women of rural India, thereby generating employment opportunities, these straws are SGS Lab certified. They also comply with US FDA and European Union direct food contact norms.

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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.

Despite their significant role in the future of environmental sustainability, GM plants can be controversial, and not everyone acknowledges their benefits. The internet and social media are filled with misinformation and misconceptions about the safety and utility of such genetic modifications (GMOs). Folks at Believe in GMO (BIG) are on a mission to ease the skepticism revolving GMOs by providing positive and honest information on the benefits in an aesthetically pleasing and accessible manner.

The importance of carbon mitigation

Global warming is caused by multiple contributors, including air pollution and excess CO2. Air pollution is not only an environmental issue but also a healthcare issue. 3.6 million people are killed with direct air pollution from fossil fuels. Research has shown that man creates 37 gigatons of CO2, of which, the majority is absorbed back into nature, but it is estimated that there is a net remaining excess CO2 of 18 gigatons per year. If this critical situation is left alone and unresolved, environmental disasters such as hurricanes, wildfires, droughts, and floods will occur more often in the next decade.

The world is aware of the impact COVID-19 had on the environment (both positive and negative). With less human activity, the air was cleaner, skies were visible, and the water became more transparent, just as the environment ought to be. The bad news is that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently issued a suspension on the environmental laws. Now, companies across the United States will not face requirements with unlawful emission of air and water pollution if they can prove that the epidemic impacted their business. This change is alarming. Once the quarantine period is over, countries around the world will be driven to recover the economic recline, which may cause a dramatic increase in air, water, and soil pollution in the near future.

In response to this change in policy, cities in wealthy countries need to actively plan and choose eco-friendly companies that promise less carbon emission and decide to invest in research and projects such as GM plants that promise carbon sequestration.

How GM crops contribute to the environment?

Numerous scientists across the globe are fighting for carbon drawdown in different ways, and here are some of the ways in which GM crops can contribute:

  1. When plants absorb CO2 from the air, they eventually release it back into the atmosphere. It is crucial not only to collect CO2 but also to maintain storage for a successful carbon drawdown. To do this, the Harnessing Plants Initiative at Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, is researching ways to apply specific gene traits to produce crops that will grow a deeper, bigger, and more robust root system. Enhancing the production of suberin found in the root of plants was found to be a potential factor that will absorb and store a larger amount of CO2. These GM crops will not only contribute to carbon mitigation but also enrich the soil and increase crop yields.
  2. In addition to the importance of a deeper root system for the environment, the Land Institute is finding ways to convert annual crops into perennials. Founded in 1976, they are committed to developing food products that sustain the land and soil. The perennial plant benefits the environment because they reduce soil erosion, prevent annual cultivation, and reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides. Traditional breeding methods work occasionally, but sometimes the process is so unpredictable that it takes many decades to develop a plant with the desired traits. Biotechnology can save time and money by providing fast and accurate methods to identify the genes of interest and replicate that in plants.
  3. Although not considered as plants, but categorized under the plant kingdom, Algae are known for their efficient photosynthesis, where CO2 is absorbed, and oxygen released. Currently, companies are developing ways to utilize these organisms for carbon mitigation called Photobioreactor (PBR). Carbon capture and storage (CCS) refers to the collection of CO2 that would otherwise release into the atmosphere. A science article published by Astri Rinanti, states that GM microalgae are needed for CCS so that the organism can tolerate high CO2 concentration and efficiently mitigate through photosynthesis. The PBR system requires high maintenance, but because of its enclosed models, it can be installed in urban areas. The enclosed model also prevents the GM organism from disseminating into the environment.
  4. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) crops are a transgenic plant that generates proteins called as “cry proteins” which is toxic to pests but has no detrimental effect on humans or environment.

How GM crops contribute to humankind?

Just like any other life-threatening condition, food allergies are also on the rise. Be it peanut allergies or lactose intolerance, the severity of the symptoms varies but its not just the patient but also their loved ones that have to deal with the aftermath and adapt to lifestyle changes. GM crops however, can come to rescue and can be modified whilst targeting the micronutrients to full-fill the deficiencies in our diets. Here are some such use-cases:

  • In a recent interview, Jennie Schmidt, a registered Dietician explained that GM crops are not the source of this surge. In fact, they can in turn be modified in such a way that the protein strains causing the allergies are turned-off.
  • According to Medical News Today, Bok Choy a.k.a. Pak Choy is known to have many health benefits such as anti-cancer properties, antioxidants, and rich vitamin C and magnesium levels. Genes responsible for these factors are being studied to apply to other crops such as tomatoes.
  • Golden rice is a variety of rice (Oryza Sativa) produced through GM to biosynthesize beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, in the edible parts of rice. Golden rice helps people who suffer from vitamin A deficiency, 85% of children with this deficiency consume this rice. 
  • GM cassava could provide up to 50% of the dietary requirement for iron and up to 70% for zinc in children, as well as lactating pregnant women. This product is saving lives in Africa

Food safety standards for GM crops

According to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), three regulatory agencies are regulating GMO crops under different perspectives in the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates biopesticides used in the crops and verifies if it is non-toxic to the environment. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates GMOs for the safety of human or animal consumption. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates GM plants through the Plant Protection Act of 2000, which provides regulations to prevent the introduction of plant pests into the United States.

In the past, there have been attempts, but not significant regulations have been made for GMO labeling. But in 2018, USDA passed a final rule to establish the new national mandatory Bioengineered (BE) food disclosure standard. The word bioengineered is used to describe GMOs. This will require food manufacturers, importers and others that label foods for retail sale to disclose information about BE food and BE food ingredients. This ruling was implemented on January 1st, 2020 and will require mandatory compliance by January 1st, 2022. Similarly, there are other similar organizations around the world working diligently to enforce strict food safety measures to safeguard the humans and environment by introducing a safety assessment of the highest possible standards.

Now, time will tell, whether the GM crops are the solution for a sustainable future or natural farming practices like organic farming would be the need of the hour. 

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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.

The Sustainability Spectrum

  • Ignorant: Someone who claims that they do not bother about sustainability as they either lack the time or money and choose to ignore the issue instead. This is the lowest end of the spectrum yielding unsustainable consumerism and destruction of ecosystem.
  • Aspirant: Someone who acknowledges the problem of unsustainable practices leading to environmental disbalance, wants to do something about it but does not know where to start.
  • Clicktivist: Someone who acknowledges the environmental problems, is aware of the of the unsustainable practices and is willing to curate or sign petitions to rally people for it. There are several social petitions on websites such as Change.orgipetitions.com and Avaaz.org although they are often seen to yield mixed responses (some say the petitions result in actions whilst others claim this to be a meager waste of their time).
  • Activist: Just like a clicktivist, an activist is a person who raises their voice and prefers to raise their concerns in person as opposed to doing so on the internet. Such people also work to spread awareness amongst masses especially trying to reach out to the lowest strata of society that remain aloof from the digital world even in today’s era.
  • Doer: Someone who has already undertaken adaptive measures to change their own lifestyle. The impact is localized to ones own family and household but such real personal changes are already underway at this stage. Consider this as a pilot project that yields proof for the concepts you have in mind to attain sustainability and tells you more about how to enhance them and their expected results. This could include practices like rain-water harvesting, kitchen waste composting, etc.
  • Trendsetter: Someone who has put on the cap of an eco-warrior, has decoded the sustainable way of life, has implemented the changes within their own household and are now set out to educate others and expand the outreach. Someone who wants to attain total paradigm shift towards a completely sustainable way of life and wants to help others in doing the same through workshops, seminars, social media and other similar platforms and forums.

The knowledge of sustainable practices is not something worth guarding as a secret but is something to be imparted amongst masses (not necessarily for monetary gains) for the greater good of the ecosystem. Hopefully, you are making efforts to move towards the right side of the spectrum i.e., either as a Doer or as a Trendsetter.

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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.

Composting essentials

There are primarily 3 components to making nutrient rich compost. They are:

  • Browns: dry leaves, fallen branches, twigs, coffee grounds etc. These components provide carbon.
  • Greens: grass clippings, vegetable waste, fruit scraps, etc. These components provide nitrogen
  • Blue: water to encourage the growth of friendly bacteria and fungi that consume all the browns and greens and converts them into humus.

A common practice is to use the browns and greens in equal proportions with layers varying as per size of the components.

Composting techniques

Composting is easy, and with several options available. You’ll want to pick a method based on your needs and the space available. Below we describe each approach in detail along with its pros and cons to help pick the one which is best for you.

  • Cold composting: The method is best for people who have patience and have very limited space for composting. This approach requires a bin (as shown on the right) which can be covered with a lid to let the compost form in its own time. Often the bins are made from recycled plastic and come in various shapes and sizes to suit the varying space limitations. The table below summarizes the pros and cons of this approach:
ProsConsInstallation Cost
Covered lid means no foul odorContainers only hold fixed volume of materialModerate
Bottom less design so compost directly falls on the groundExtracting compost and turning it is hard. Usually the compost falls off the bottom but the ground clearance is about a foot from soil.
Compact size suitable for space constrained farmsCompost output very slow- six months to one year duration
Overview of cold composting

One potential solution to ease the challenge of being able to turn the compost material is to use a tumbler. This could either be made in-house or purchased from the commercial suppliers who use recycled plastic barrels to better house the material. This is a cheap fix for the problem but still comes with a fixed volume constraint.

If the foul odor is your biggest nemesis and you are not in a rush to get the compost just yet, you can always try pit composting wherein you simply dig a pit in your backyard, throw in the material you like to compost and just sit back and relax. No odor and no fuss. It costs you literally nothing (except for a few drops of sweat while digging the pit once) but it can very well take between six months- one year to yield the compost as it is a cold composting method after all.

  • Hot composting: For the farmers who like to churn out compost batch after batch at fast pace, this method is optimal. The key aspect here is to control microbial activity such that they churn out compost in much shorter time frames. The “hot” refers to the fact that you would like to heat up the compost pile to facilitate the process which means you need to keep an eye out for the soil temperature and moisture content. Too hot and it may simply kill the microbes. Additionally, the size of the compost pile also makes a difference whether or not you will succeed with this approach. A general rule of thumb, is to make a four feet wide by four feet high pit or wooden frame. Usually, it is advisable to align a few of such bins next to each other such that one bin can be used for fresh raw material to begin composting, the intermediate bin(s) can be used to keep the cycle run and the last of the bins can be used to store the fresh compost ready to be utilized. The table below summarizes the pros and cons of this approach:
ProsConsInstallation Cost
Easy to constructOpen composting approach might attract flies or release foul odorVaries per setup size
Large capacityCost increases depending on scale of setup
Easy to turn and harvest compost
Scalable depending on space constraints
Overview of hot composting

  • Vermicomposting: This method yields compost faster than hot composting and harness the power of red worms. These worms can eat about half their body weight per day speeding up the composting process. The process is simply worms eating the food and excreting humus which is essentially the nutrient-rich compost. The infrastructure is quite simple- some people use moistened bedding material to bury the material for worms to feed on while others use composting beds. The table below summarizes the pros and cons of this approach:
ProsConsInstallation Cost
Less manual labor to setupMoist bedding can attract fliesLow
Works in all weather conditionsNeed to prevent overfeeding. If this happens, there will be foul odor, the compost will become acidic, and possibly kills the worms
Works indoors/ small spaces / covered outdoorsUnlike hot composting, the temperatures here are moderate so pathogens can bloom easily with the moisture
No need to turn the pile. Worms naturally aerate the compost stack
Overview of vermicomposting

  • Bokashi composting: Unlike the aforementioned composting methods, this Japanese methodology ferments the organic matter. To achieve optimal results, the raw materials are inoculated with a microbial starter culture, and placed inside a sealed container. These starter cultures consist of several different species of microorganisms, all of which thrive in anaerobic conditions and churn out compost in as little as eight weeks. The table below summarizes the pros and cons of this approach:
ProsConsInstallation Cost
Takes very little space so can even be done inside an apartmentOnce fully fermented, the material needs to be buried in the soil. Not always accessible, e.g., for apartment dwellers or during winters when it snowsLow
Considerably shorter process timeFermented material has high acidity so cannot be used for plants directly. The acidity gets neutralized quickly once buried in the soil but burial is a must.
Odor less composting methodBokashi Bran required to start the process is hard to be made at home and is going to be a recurring cost for the process
Overview of bokashi composting

Word of caution

Not everything that glitters is gold and not everything organic is compostable. Below you will find a list of few of the items that you should not mix in the compost with reasoning.

  1. Dairy products should not be added to compost material as this will release foul odor and attract pests
  2. Disease or insect infested plants must not be added in the composting material. The insects might survive or the disease might get transferred via compost to the plants where the compost will be used later.
  3. Fats, greases and other similar oils should not be mixed
  4. Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides should also be kept away and treated separately

With this we hope you have a deeper and intuitive insight into various composting practices and will be able to pick the method or a combination thereof that best suits your needs. Happy gardening!!

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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?

Why should we care about food waste?

Wasting food feels wrong morally when so many people go without. All the world’s nearly one billion hungry people could be fed on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the US, UK and Europe. According to the European Commission, around 88 million tonnes of food waste are generated annually with associated costs estimated at 143 billion euros. Compared to this, India wastes $14 billion worth of food in a year and the United Kingdom wastes £9.7 billion of food each year.

As Solveiga Pakštaitė, Founder & Director of Mimica puts it, “If food waste were a country it would be the 3rd largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the US.” And with 820 million people going hungry every day, one should think twice and think hard before wasting the food. When the food is thrown in the bin, it is not food itself that was wasted. What it also entails is the toil the farmer put in to grow the raw material, the energy that was used to process and transport the raw material and also the finished goods to the grocery stores, the energy then consumed by these stores for refrigeration and other fixtures and the list goes on. So, believe it or not you are inherently contributing to global warming as rotting food also releases methane which is a greenhouse gas.

What is the solution?

Mimica Touch- Bio responsive gel to measure food freshness

What if the food packaging label could still tell us whether or not the food is still fresh? Like this, the manufacturer need not “guess” the expiry date based on assumptions but the food can tell us the truth. This is exactly what Mimica Lab, a UK based firm is all about. They have come up with a patented smart label called Mimica Touch. The label contains a material that is mapped and matched to the specific food product so that it actually experiences decay at the rate as the specific food it is labeling. It adjusts to conditions along the way, so if you’ve kept it well, it will stay smooth for longer, but if you’ve left it out a bit too long on a warm day, it will warn you when the food is no longer good to consume. This label can be used for juices, red meat and dairy products.

Mimica Touch- Smart Label by Mimia Labs

Such innovations coupled with lifestyle changes can help reduce food waste significantly. For instance, one can adopt apps like Olio or ResQ that help share leftovers with those who need it. Sometimes for free, other times for a fraction of the cost. Next time when you go to a buffet restaurant and are about to stock up your plate with a mountain of food, consider this- how about making multiple trips to the buffet counter taking smaller portions each time? Like this, you get your daily dose of cardio that will also help you digest and make space for the scrumptious dessert that you may be longing to have and also will stop you from over-estimating your capacity that would have eventually lead to food waste. It is just the basic things in life that make a difference.

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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?

Simply preventing people from burning dry leaves was not the solution. Soon enough, there will be piles of dry leaving racked up and then what? What if, there was more that one could do with the dry leaves? As in was there a consumer friendly product that this can be transformed into such that a marketplace is created for brown leaves?

The Eureka Moment!

In places like Pune and Bangalore where there is a space crunch, owning a house with a garden is considered a luxury. So, people are looking towards terrace and balcony gardens to make the best use of the space that they have. The challenge then is to acquire soil for such practices. As has been the practice conventionally, plants are grown in soil usually acquired from third parties like nurseries. In doing so, not only is the source region being deprived of soil, this adds to the plantation cost. So, what can such small-scale gardeners do? The solution was then found in compost made of dry leaves and kitchen waste. Sometimes along with soil, if it is available and sometimes completely without soil. Like this, these gardeners are in constant need of dry leaves and there are people with dry leaves to offer. So, there was the answer- a demand-supply ecosystem for dry leaves. This may sound like fantasy but to Aditi, the Founder of Brown Leaf Forum, the pilot project yielded phenomenal response.

How does nature do it?

First things first, why do plant shed leaves? Water absorbed by the roots of the plant is distributed to all parts of the plant and gets evaporated through leaves and this is called transpiration. Leaves have pores on them called stomata that open and water is let out. At the same time, stomata allows Carbon dioxide (CO2) which is essential for plant for performing photosynthesis allowing them to prepare their food through this process. Also, letting out water helps trees to cool off. After winter, there is summer- the dry season. This is the time when it is necessary to save water, for us and for plants as well. Nature has an ingenious solution for this- get rid of the leaves!! Deciduous trees shed all the leaves. For some duration, there is not a single leaf present on these trees. Shedding leaves not only helps trees, but also helps the soil. Leaves that fall off from the tree, cover the soil around the tree forming a layer over the soil blocking the sun light from reaching the soil thereby allowing soil to retain moisture. In forests, or any natural landscape, when rains come, leaves decompose and nutrients from them are returned to the soil. That is the circular system of nature. Output of one system goes as input to some other system. Hence there is no waste. Dry leaves is never a problem in the natural landscape.

How humans should NOT do it?

In our cities and towns there is no space as most of the surfaces are covered with roads, building, tiles, paver blocks, etc. Of the minuscule amount of space left for this natural decomposition to work, we do not like seeing heaps of leaves. We see them as trash that need to be removed. Our current solution- set the dry leaves on fire.

But this does not solve the problem, in fact, gives rise to many more. People need to understand that burning leaves using open fire means smoke is inhaled by people around and is carried by winds and reaches even people quite far from the place. Burning leaves releases particulates that can give rise to respiratory ailments ranging from minor coughing to major long-term respiratory problems and it is even worse from people who already suffer from asthma or other breathing disorders. Just like any other organic matter, leaves are also made up of carbon and upon smothering releases carbon monoxide (CO) which poses significant health risks like reduction in the oxygen-carrying capacity of the Red Blood Cells (RBCs) aside from contributing to the global warming. One thing that humans should learn from forest fires across the globe, especially the recent Australian bush fires is that the fire spreads with wind and can easily spread to surrounding areas causing significant damage to property and livestock. Also, burning the dry leaves disturbs the environmental balance. Trees absorb various nutrients from the soil of which some percentage is also present in these dry leaves. When leaves are burnt, we lose those nutrients. The nutrients that would have nourished the soil, get destroyed. In all, burning off dry leaves is entirely lose-lose situation. We lose clean air & beneficial nutrients for our soils.

How humans should do it?

The answer to this as explained by Aditi, is a simple 3 fold-strategy of managing dry leaves in eco-friendly manner giving rise to a circular ecosystem. First option is to adopt mulching that is the process of mimicking what happens in natural landscape. We cover the soil surface, in garden, in plant beds, in pots and planters with crushed dry leaves. Layer of dry leaves helps soil retain moisture. Second option is composting– In natural landscape, with monsoon, dry leaves decompose, and nutrients are returned to the soil. In our case, it is not possible to let dry leaves remain where they have fallen and let rains take care of it. Hence, we should collect the leaves, and proactively do the process which nature would have done at its pace. Lastly, the option could to consider leaf donation– At times, quantity of dry leaves is so much, that even after mulching and composting, there are surplus leaves. Or sometimes it is not possible for somebody to practice these options, then this is the 3rd option, leaf donation which is the exchange of dry leaves from people who have dry leaves to the people who want dry leaves. As setup by the Brown Leaf Forum, no financial transaction takes place, that is the beauty of the system. Nobody pays any money to each other. It all happens in the spirit of collaboration. Both of them are simply helping each other. Leaf-donor has surplus leaves, which (s)he donates to leaf-taker who needs them for mulching and composting.

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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 millenials?

Why choose bamboo over wood?

This question is best answered by pitting bamboo against wood and comparing them over a variety of factors as shown below.

Evaluation CriteriaBambooWood
Tensile strengthOwing to longer fibres, bamboo is usually more tensileShorter fibres reduce the tensile strength
Seismic resistant constructionHigher capability to absorb seismic vibration and better bendability makes it ideal for seismic-resistant constructionWood is generally less flexible compared to bamboo and hence less suitable for such constructions
ReplenishmentBeing a species of grass that grows rapidly, can be harvested annually. Some bamboo species can grow over 35 inches in a single day.Much slower growth (a tree might grow that amount in a year)
SustainabilityNeeds no replanting post harvestingOnce a tree is cut down, usually a new sapling needs to be planted for continued harvest
GeometryIts circular and hollow nature makes it easier to manipulate and form into shapes suitable for a variety of construction needsIts considerably rigid form makes it harder to manipulate and the end product is usually heavier
MaintenanceLow maintenance grass and owing to its natural surface color, most end-products do not require painting, scraping and polishing. Requires less capital as initial investment. Considerably high maintenance and is capital intensive
Benefits for naturePrevents surface run-off owing to extensive root network and protects surroundings during typhoons owing to large canopy. Also, reduces water contamination owing to high Nitrogen consumption.Provides shade and habitat for wildlife
Ease of useOwing to its high flexibility, it is very easy to make a variety of structural shapes out of bamboo. Often, to merge them together, only joints and terminals are needed as opposed to nails and glue.Often sub-sections of the structure are fused together with nails and glue make it hard to recycle
Bamboo vs Wood

While the comparison above looks into bamboo vs wood for building material, a better part of it also extends to concrete and reinforced concrete primarily used for modern construction.

Is bamboo the undisputed answer to all our troubles for building materials?

Just like every coin has a flip side, even bamboo has certain misconceptions associated with it. Unless handled with due care, bamboo can very well be spoiled by bugs and insects and it is easy to conclude that wood have been a better choice. But nothing can be far from the truth.

Just like wood, once cut, bamboo can attract insects and bugs and hence, it must immediately be dried and immunized. Also, it is inflammable so, a fire resistant coating should be applied post treatment. Bamboo fibers shrink upon drying which impacts not only the diameter across various cross-sections along the length but also can have impact on construction. Thus, master artisans take such factors into account when designing structures made from bamboo.

In conclusion, if used properly, bamboo does come far ahead of wood and can be used for a variety of purposes be it flooring, walls, furniture, buildings or decor at a much cheaper cost and lower maintenance.

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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..

What does bio-degradable mean?

Bio-degradable products are those that can be broken down into simpler, innocuous products like carbon dioxide (CO2), water, etc., by the actions of microbes in a reasonable time span. Unfortunately, there is no ticking clock that officially states what is a “reasonable” time span so one could argue that even plastic is bio-degradable as one fine day it will be broken down. But given that some of the plastics take up to 1000 years to break down, a “reasonable” time span would be anything less than that for a product to be considered as bio-degradable. So, next time you hear about bio-degradable plastic, you should take it with a grain of salt.

What does compostable mean?

Compostable products are those that can be broken down into simpler, innocuous in a much smaller time span (something of the order of 2-3 months). Thus, the major difference between “compostable” and “bio-degradable” products is the rate of degradation. This is similar to the rate of kitchen food waste composting that people do in their backyards. So, your kitchen waste is compostable and amidst that pile reside several millions of microbes that act upon the waste and convert it into compost which one could use as an organic fertilizer.

What does recyclable mean?

In most developed countries, there are several categories in which the local authorities urge their residents to segregate waste. One such example is the city of Kamikatsu in Japan which has followed this process to go near zero waste. Materials like metals, glass, paper, cardboard, electronics can all be recycled i.e., treated and processed to be reused. In an ideal world, all materials could be used, reused and/or recycled before being composted eventually thereby generating zero waste. But, there are some items that cannot be recycled like the single-use plastic. For such items, the best bet is to convert waste-to-energy which provides clean energy by incineration of the waste that can then be used to power the households.

So, the next time you grab a meal to-go and are faced with the box that says compostable, the sauce container that says recyclable and the cutlery that says it’s biodegradable, you know how to act.

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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.

Let’s start with the effect of chemical cleaners on our homes, and families. Most cleaners in the market today contain toxic chemicals. Go ahead and read the ingredients of some of the cleaners you use at home. To name a few of them- hydrochloric acid, butyl oleylamine, hydroxyethyl. These tough to pronounce chemicals are pretty tough on our health. 

It is these chemical cleaners that are the biggest contributors to indoor air pollution. They release toxic fumes that can prove to be as bad to our lungs as smoking 10-20 cigarettes every day for 10-20 years. Harsh as it may sound, this is the result of a scientific study published by the American Thoracic Society’s Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. And not just our lungs, these toxic chemicals also harm our skin, cause irritability, headaches, and eye tearing. Over time, these side effects become unnoticeable to us as we find other solutions such as pills and drops. 

Things get worse when these chemicals go down the drains at our homes. Let’s take a step back and look at the condition of sewage treatment in India. A huge 78 percent of sewage generated in India remains untreated. Seventy-eight percent. There aren’t sufficient sewage treatment plants (STPs). The ones that are, are heavily loaded or dysfunctional.

Coming back to the toxic chemicals in our cleaners. How do they worsen the sewage treatment problem? When these cleaners are flushed out of our homes, they combine with the rest of the sewage. The chemicals in these cleaners make the degradation of sewage even more difficult. They increase the scale build-up. Chemical degradation is even tougher than sewage degradation itself. 

So where does all this untreated sewage go? In our precious water bodies. The same waterbodies we source the water we use from. In fact, the damage to rivers is now tangible, looking at the foam in lakes and rivers. It also brings significant damage to marine life. In India, 50 species of fish fauna are under the threatened, and 45 under the near-threatened category.

We understand the impact of the toxic chemicals in our cleaners now. On our homes, family, and our cities. Is there anything we can do to make this better? The answer lies in nature. 

Looking back at 20-30 years from now, were these toxic chemical cleaners so prominent? Not really. Families used natural cleaning solutions made of ingredients like reetha, amla, shikakai, lemon, orange peels, so on. These kept toxic chemicals away from our homes and didn’t make sewage degradation difficult. 

The reality today is that we do not have the time to make these different cleaners for all the different reasons we need them for. And we need something more powerful too, given the extent of pollution. We need something that reduces the scale build up in our Sewage Treatment Plants. This is the problem my team and I set out to solve.

The answer was found in bio enzymes. Cleaners made of active bio enzymes, bacteria, fruit extracts, and vinegar can solve the problems we face with toxic chemical cleaners. Fruit peels and extracts offer an excellent culture to help produce more cleaning enzymes as time goes on. Naturally-produced enzymes from food sources break down molecules into smaller pieces. This becomes food for a surrounding bacterial culture that in turn produces more enzymes. 

All of this with no compromise in cleaning capacity. Yes! To our pleasant surprise, we realized that biological cleaners clean just as well as the cleaners that we’ve been using all this while. More importantly, when flushed down the drain, biological cleaners continue to act on sewage they find in the drain lines. This reduces the scale build-up and makes the degradation of sewage easier, helping the rivers and lakes of our cities.

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India's rivers and lakes are its lifelines. A city like New Delhi gets 86% of its total water supply from the #Yamuna River. But we are slowly killing our water bodies. By adding unnecessary #chemicals every day to these #rivers and #lakes, non-stop, in very large quantities. On this #InternationWaterDay, we want to talk to you you about the "Chemicals" in our "Household Cleaners". More than 80% of household wastewater in India goes directly into a water body. Without any treatment. Unfortunately, 20% of the wastewater, that we ARE able to clean – isn't great news either. The wastewater treatment plants are not designed to get rid of the chemicals that are present in our household cleaners. Who knew that we will end up using harsh chemicals in our own #homes. Chemicals that go into the water and eventually enter back in our bodies as food. After all, the water we use to drink or grow our food comes from a river or a lake, in all probabilities. The day I learned that, here's how I saw this. No matter how careful you are, if your household cleaners have chemicals, and they are harmful to everything they are near to.After all, the chemicals are harming not just us as people, but also the planet. Water is a collective resource. At Ekam Eco Solutions, we've created products over the years that help you do exactly that – become more mindful of how you use water.I'm super proud to announce today, CARE Cleaners – an All Natural Range of Household Cleaners – in a refreshing new pack. Check them out 👉 The link is in the bio! CARE cleaners come from fruit extracts, active enzymes, and non-toxic micro-organisms. These are extremely effective ingredients to deep clean surfaces and put away bad odor by working on the source itself. These cleaners include a Floor Cleaner. A Toilet Cleaner. A Multipurpose Cleaner for Countertops, fabrics, and appliances. And an Air Freshener for your living room and cars. These natural cleaners CARE about your health and the planet. They are completely non-toxic and biodegradable; which means that it is safe to use it in any area of your home.But, honestly, I think you and I can CHOOSE to CARE for water on this #WorldWaterDay2019.

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We named these cleaners, CARE cleaners. Cleaners that CARE for your home, family, and the planet. More than 3000 families have adopted CARE for their homes as I write this. The amount of good that it does for the city’s waste management systems –  I can almost feel it in my bones. Customers wrote back to us about how they feel being able to clean their homes naturally, and helping save the rivers and lakes. 

To further our cause of helping clean our cities, we launched a ‘Clean Your City’ subscription of all-natural cleaners. If subscribed, a customer essentially commits to keep her city clean for the course of six to eight months. For an amount of Rs. 6000, the customer gets 6 kits of 6 cleaners each. We send them the first one ourselves. Next kit onwards, customers can make their own kits with the products they need. And all this while, we offer a money-back guarantee on the remaining kits. 

Clean Your City subscription is a for the conscious citizens among us. Citizens who choose to CARE for their homes, family, and the planet- all at the same time. We anyway spend ~Rs. 6000 on cleaners in a year anyway. The Clean Your City subscription is a smarter choice if this money can help improve the city’s waste management systems as well.

In fact, you can actually say that you’re cleaning your city and the city’s water bodies when you use CARE cleaners.

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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?

Potential eco-friendly solution

One alternative to burning the paddy stubble could be the use of alternative technologies like the Happy seeder, a tractor-mounted machine that sows seeds without the need to till the field or remove existing paddy straw. Whilst this does away with the need to till the field altogether, people in other parts of the world are looking into ancient technologies of converting cellulosic fibers into paper.

Mrs. Jaruwan Khammuang, Co-founder and CEO of the Fang Thai Factory in Thailand, has come up with a unique eco-friendly solution to recycle the left over straw whilst giving monetary incentives to farmers. They purchase the residual straw from farmers at the rate of few cents per Kilogram. At the processing site, the accrued straw is first chopped and then mixed with water and brought to a boil for about 4 hours. This leaves behind a pulpy mass which is then dried without any chemicals. The dried powdery raw material can then be processed to obtain rice paper, dinnerware and leak-proof take-away food packaging. The technique itself of converting any Lignocellulosic biomass be it rice straw or wheat straw etc. into paper is not novel and has existed since the 1st century AD as reported by the Chinese history. But in recent days, startups around the world are showing renewed interest in developing this into a widely acceptable farming practice.

All that remains now is to perfect the technique to make it economically feasible for the end-products to be produced locally, thereby doing away with the need to outsource the raw material for processing into end-products for consumer use.

Environmental and social benefits

Aside from its apparent eco-friendly strengths, this solution also serves as an additional livelihood for the farmers. Usually, upon harvest the farmers face low season until the next harvest season but like this, the farmers can be employed for post-processing of the straw giving them a sustained and perhaps an additional source of income until the next harvest. This might just be what the rice farmers need from across the globe as an adaptation to their post harvest practices to minimize their carbon footprint.

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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.

What are the types of biomedical waste?

Biomedical waste can be generated from hospitals, pathological laboratories, mortuaries, autopsy centers, blood banks, animal research facilities, nursing homes for the elderly etc. Based on the nature of the waste, it can be primarily classified into following major categories:

  • Infectious waste: waste contaminated with blood and other bodily fluids (e.g. from discarded diagnostic samples), cultures and stocks of infectious agents from laboratory work (e.g. waste from autopsies and infected animals from laboratories), or waste from patients with infections (e.g. swabs, bandages and disposable medical devices).
  • Pathological waste: human.animal tissues, organs or fluids, body parts and contaminated animal carcasses
  • Sharp waste: syringes, needles, disposable scalpels and blades
  • Chemical waste: for example solvents and reagents used for laboratory preparations, disinfectants, sterilants and heavy metals contained in medical devices (e.g. mercury in broken thermometers) and batteries
  • Pharmaceutical waste: expired, unused and contaminated drugs and vaccines
  • Cyctotoxic waste: waste containing substances with genotoxic properties (i.e. highly hazardous substances that are, mutagenic, teratogenic or carcinogenic), such as cytotoxic drugs used in cancer treatment and their metabolites
  • Radioactive waste: products contaminated by radionuclides including radioactive diagnostic material or radiotherapeutic materials
  • Solid waste: includes non-sharp items contaminated with any bodily fluids or biological material. For example: gloves, pipettes, towels, or culture.
  • Liquid waste: includes bulk quantities of blood or bodily fluids.
  • Sharp waste: includes any materials that can puncture or pierce through skin and is contaminated with biological material that can risk transmission or release to the environment. For example: needles, syringes, scalpels, microscopic slides, small broken glass or tubes.
  • Pathological waste: includes human organs, tissues and body parts with the exception of teeth.

Does it pose a risk?

It is crucial to treat biomedical waste because improper management of waste generated in health care facilities poses a direct health hazard to the community, the health care workers and on the environment. It is important for healthcare facilities to take caution while handling biohazardous material and that only trained personnel handle and transcript this type of waste for disposal.

While about 85% of the net biomedical waste generated is non-hazardous waste, the residual 15% is indeed hazardous material that may be infectious, chemical or radioactive. There are extensive regulatory guidelines laid out by the World Health Organization (WHO) that strictly govern how the particular type of biomedical waste is to be treated and must be strictly adhered to. This includes aspects like regulatory framework, planning issues, waste minimization and recycling, handling, storage and transportation, treatment and disposal options.

However, biomedical waste is often not separated into hazardous or non-hazardous wastes in low-income countries making the real quantity of hazardous waste much higher.

There are health and environmental risks posed if one were to simply dump the medical waste at a landfill without any pre-treatment/decontamination. Treatment and disposal of medical waste may pose health risks indirectly through the release of pathogens and toxic pollutants into the environment. The main environmental problem is that the disposal of untreated medical wastes in landfills can lead to the contamination of drinking, surface, and ground waters.

What are the existing solutions?

Existing technologies like incineration or autoclaves for biomedical waste treatment on-site have existed for a while. But none of these technologies were innovative and eco-friendly. Indeed, incinerators reject CO2 emissions and furans whereas autoclaves consume a lot of water and rejects a contaminated water after treatment. To this end, AMB Ecosteryl has developed micro-wave technology which only requires an electric connection, there are no emissions, nor rejections of anything. They now have about 170 machines installed in 50+ countries all over the world.

DISCLAIMER: This guest feature was jointly co-authored with Justin Petit, Sales Representative at AMB Ecosteryl, that develops new equipment and machinery for recycling, recovery and processing of medical waste.

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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.

It is perplexing how the cigarette butts littered on the city streets make their way into the oceans (perhaps via the rain and river water), but knowing that they do, why should we care and why are they such a big problem?

The anatomy of cigarette butts

Cigarette butts are mainly made of cellulose acetate that biodegrades slowly and can take up to 10 years to break down under normal litter conditions. Cigarette butts were invented in 1950’s as a promotional feature by the cigarette manufacturers which was later made mandatory due to fear of contracting lung cancer. By the mid-1960’s, researchers realized that the substances being filtered, like nicotine, were what made cigarettes satisfying for smokers, so manufacturers made filters less effective. Today 98% of cigarette filters are made of plastic fibers- cellulose acetate.

The havoc unleashed

A single cigarette butt can contaminate over 500 ml of water and contains more than 20 toxic chemicals that can harm the marine and aquatic life, if leeched into the environment. A whooping 4.5 trillion cigarette butts end up as litter making cigarette butts the top most littered item worldwide. Also, one kilogram of cigarette waste contains above 3,000 cigarette butts.

The solution

Careful disposal and efficient recycling of the cigarette butt is possible and companies like the Code Effort Pvt. Ltd. and TerraCycle are doing their part in recycling the erstwhile hard to recycle waste like cigarette butt. The challenge was that most regions lacked specific guidelines or regulations for appropriate cigarette waste management and recycling. This meant that not many recycling organizations existed owing to lack of proper knowledge and government guidelines.

Code Effort Private Limited provides a complete system for collection of cigarette waste from PAN India through cigarette vendors, contracts, corporates, rag pickers, volunteers, etc. The collection of cigarette waste is one rigorous task our team successfully handles. As of today, 1,000 Kilograms (3,000,000+ cigarette butts) are collected for recycling from PAN India monthly from major cities like Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Kolhapur to name a few. Code Effort Private Limited offers customized cigarette waste receptacles sold under the brand name of VBINS (Value Bins) to cigarette vendors, commercial spaces and individual smokers to ensure appropriate cigarette waste disposal. The cigarette waste collected through various channels is exchanged with monetary as well as non- monetary returns to enhance employment and by- product sales across India on behalf of Code Effort Private Limited. The system of cigarette waste management provided by Code Effort Private Limited has improved the economic and living conditions of hundreds of rag pickers, unemployed people and volunteers across India.

The cigarette butts procured by Code are manually separated into three categories i.e. cellulose acetate, paper covering and leftover tobacco with necessary precautionary measures like gloves, masks and thread cutters in place for the workers. The cellulose acetate is shredded by industrial shredder, treated using a proprietary biodegradable chemical composition for 24- 36 hours and carded using a carding machine to enhance fiber softness. After thorough quality check, they are then transformed into various premium by-products sold under the brand name of VMAKE (Vision Make) like handicrafts, cushions, mattresses, soft toys, etc. The waste water that is generated after treatment of cellulose acetate is further recycled using certified chemicals for usage in further batches. The paper covering and the leftover tobacco are shredded into pulp by industrial shredder, formulated into A5 sheets and hand-cut into 25×30 mm mosquito repellents sold under the brand name of NMOSQ (No Mosquito) for domestic use. All the by-products of Code Effort Private Limited are prepared and packed by a team of 25 semi-skilled women to foster women empowerment and work- from- home opportunities. The treated materials adhere to all the safety and legal standards and have certified lab reports with respect to the same.

Code Effort Private Limited has upcoming by-products like air-purification systems and eye frames to name a few. Such by-products are under research and development phase and expected to be launched in the financial year 2020-2021. Due to no existing competitors in the field of cigarette waste management and recycling in India till date, Code Effort Private Limited is a leading initiative for CSR which has the potential to reach masses and make an impact globally.

Let us all take a step towards Conserving Our Depleting Environment!

DISCLAIMER: Co-authored with Naman Gupta from Code Effort Pvt. Ltd, India.

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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?

Single-use plastic in dairy product packaging

A lot of organic dairy farms are switching to glass bottles as opposed to previously used single-use plastic packaging. While this is a positive step towards promoting a circular economy and conserving the planet, this is just the tip of the iceberg. When shopping for dairy products, we often find cheese wrapped in plastic films, yogurt sold in plastic cups and butter packaged in plastic boxes too. It doesn’t stop there as even the non-dairy products like tofu get packaged in single-use plastic.

Single-use plastic in dairy input

It is not just the dairy products generated at the end of the production line that often find themselves packaged in single-use plastic to maximize their shelf lives. The dairy inputs like animal fodder also are packaged and transported with single-use plastic silage wraps.

Plastic-free packaging alternatives

By this time, it is becoming a common practice to either sell milk in biodegradable cardboard tetra packs or glass bottles. Just like milk, dairy cream can also be packaged in glass bottles. As for the yogurt, it can either be sold in clay pots or small glass jars. For cheese wraps, instead of cling-films, bio-degradable bee’s wax paper should be used. Care needs to be taken that the paper is coated with bees wax and not petroleum-based paraffin wax which would otherwise make it non-biodegradable. The same paper can potentially be used to transport the butter from the Deli to your home after which you can transfer it to a dish of your choice and keep refrigerated. For those who know the health benefits of clarified butter a.k.a. ghee, the challenge is easily addressed by storing ghee in glass jars. And just like that, most of the dairy products can be packaged without relying on single-use plastic.

Plastic-free alternatives for dairy input

It is possible to switch to bio-degradable silage wraps like bale wraps that is even edible. Alternatively, using innovative farming techniques like hydroponics, nutrient rich barley fodder can be grown on-site, all year around completely doing away with the need for silage wraps and hence are an economical solution to tackling harsh weather. Fodder Solutions is a global leader in this approach and is already reaping the benefits.

Now, it is a matter of time before the leaders in the Dairy industry take note of these challenges and invest in alternative solutions like those discussed here to actually make the dairy-industry plastic-free and truly “organic”.

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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.

Where we are, and where do we need to be?

The world is on a precipice. We have roughly a decade to avert catastrophic climate change, and our progress in cutting emissions right now is too slow. 

Here in the UK, around 40% of our electricity is already sourced from renewables, compared with just 7% in 2009. Great progress, but government forecasts estimate that this will rise to only 52% by 2025. This needs to be 100% and as fast as humanly possible. Can green tariffs help this happen?

What is a green tariff?

Firstly, let’s clarify what a green tariff is. When you’re on a green or renewable electricity tariff, your supplier promises that, however much electricity you use in your home, the same amount of renewable electricity will be put into the National Grid.

How do you know it’s green energy?

Here’s where it gets more complicated. You can’t point at a wind farm and know that the electricity it produces will be supplied to your home. Most renewable electricity goes into the National Grid, where it’s jumbled up with electricity from other sources, just like streams feeding a big pond. When we take electricity out of the pond, it’s a mish mash of energy from lots of different generators – both clean and dirty. 

So, how can we prove that a renewable electricity tariff is actually sourced from renewable energy?

To solve that problem, the government gives renewable generators a certificate for every unit of clean electricity they put into the National Grid. These certificates are known as REGOs (which stands for ‘Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin’). 

Your energy supplier can buy REGOs from generators to prove that every unit of electricity you take out of the National Grid is matched by an equivalent unit of green electricity going into the grid. (They then have to ‘retire’ the REGO to make sure no-one can claim the same unit of green power twice.) 

Are there different types of green tariffs?

Not all green tariffs are the same. Green tariffs vary depending on how the supplier buys their green energy. Suppliers have three choices:

1.     Build your own

First, they can build their own renewables generation. Ecotricity and Good Energy have been pioneers in this area. This is arguably the greenest option as buying electricity from a supplier who purchases their energy directly from clean generators channels your spending directly to the renewables industry. However, in the UK this is not widespread and it’s often expensive to do this at scale.

2.     Buy direct

Alternatively, suppliers can enter into contracts directly with the generators of renewable electricity. This usually involves committing to buy a certain amount of electricity at a set price for a set number of years. When suppliers buy electricity in this way, the REGOs and the electricity are sold together. This is arguably the next greenest option, but can be relatively expensive due to the lack of flexibility and locked in prices.

3.     Wholesale

Most UK suppliers currently buy their electricity through wholesale markets. Wholesale markets aggregate demand, which gives access to lower prices. They also allow both suppliers and generators to sell surplus capacity, helping to balance the system. All of this improves efficiency and reduces costs for the end user. 

When you’re on a renewable tariff and your supplier buys their power through the wholesale markets, they have to buy their REGOs separately, directly from renewables generators. That way, they can demonstrate that the electricity they’re selling to you is matched by clean electricity that has been put into the grid. Most suppliers in the UK use this approach for buying green energy. This is mainly because it delivers green energy at lower cost to customers.

How can households and businesses switching to green tariffs help us get to 100% renewable energy?

There are many things outside of green tariffs that dictate the pace of renewable deployment in the UK. Government policy and the commercial attractiveness (and stability) for renewable generation companies to put up more wind and solar farms are big drivers.

Green tariffs are not the silver bullet to speed up our transition to renewables. However, here are a few ways that switching your energy tariff can make a difference:

1.     Demand can drive supply

Basic laws of supply and demand. If 100% of electricity consumers can be persuaded to buy renewable electricity, then it follows that 100% of supply will have to be from renewable sources. This is the fundamental principle that underpins everything we do at Big Clean Switch. Our goal is to get every home and business onto a renewable electricity tariff.

If every home and business in the UK was on a REGO-backed tariff, all of the electricity going into the pond would have to be clean. This makes REGOs a useful tool in transitioning the UK to a 100% renewable electricity mix. Although not outright the absolute greenest option, the REGO backed wholesale green tariffs that most suppliers in the UK offer, are making it possible for millions and millions of homes who would otherwise be unable to afford green tariffs to demonstrate their demand for clean electricity. This is important if we’re to achieve the speed and scale of change we need. 

2.     Divestment

Moving the money you pay for your energy bills from a supplier who is rooted in the fossil fuel industry (British Gas for example) to a renewable energy supplier can, and is, disrupting the finances of Britain’s biggest energy companies. The Big 6 suppliers in the UK have all been losing customers at a staggering rate. This has caused two of The Big 6, Scottish Power and Eon, to mover over to supplying 100% renewable electricity to all their customers in the last year. They ultimately see supplying green energy as a way to retain customers and make money. The decisions that these big energy companies make can definitely put us on track for a 100% renewable electricity system sooner.

3.     Signals it sends

Did you know that just under half (around 45%) of all households in the UK are on renewable electricity tariffs? This really does show that people want green energy. This can be used to send signals to politicians about the public’s desire for renewable energy and ultimately, influence the government and businesses regarding their decisions about where the UK’s energy comes from.

Given it only takes 5-10 minutes to switch, why wouldn’t you play your part in nudging us faster towards a 100% renewable electricity system?

DISCLAIMER: Featured image courtesy of LKABMinerals.

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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.

Recycling the husk

The coconut husk a.k.a., coir or coconut fibre is the outer “hairy” coating of the coconut especially visible in the mature (brown) coconut. The husk of the coconut consists of very strong fibres and hence, can be converted into value-added items like ropes, bio-degradable chairs and erosion control matting. Additionally, the by-product of the husk is the coco peat which is the light weight, corky material that holds together the coir fibre in coconut husk. Coco peat is being widely used for hydroponic agricultural practices.

Recycling the shell

Finally, people are starting to take note of the lack of proper infrastructure for recycling tender coconut, at least in Mumbai, India. The tender coconut shells have multiple reuse cases. For instance, they can be used to make low-cost, eco-friendly, DIY hutments or can be shredded and converted into mulch to protect the trees from erosion and harsh weather especially on hilly terrain.

The mature (brown) coconut shells can be recycled and converted to activated charcoal. Some companies like the ArSta Eco and the Sustainable Green Field Enterprise (SGFE) have come up with an innovative technique to convert coconut shell into charcoal to curb the environmental pollution caused by burning wood for fuel. Often in the backwards communities, the fire stove lit with wood sticks is a common source of heat for cooking. However, this fuel has a significant carbon footprint and is not eco-friendly. This combined with the need to recycle coconut shells can be solved jointly by converting the shells into eco-friendly charcoal. For this, the shells are dried, sifted and combined with other raw materials. Then, they are efficiently carbonized at 300-500°C for 3-5 hours, crushed, mixed and shaped into a convenient and efficient size, and finally dried to guarantee high performance. Aside from this, the coconut shell can also be used for making eco-friendly craft items or bowls.

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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.

Hydroponics is a precision farming technique that allows for absolutely no pesticide to be added for any plant being grown.

The facts are the growing with hydroponics comes with many advantages, the biggest of which is the amount of water that Hydroponics lets you save. Most hydroponic systems work on the principles of re-circulation – allowing for great savings and no wastage. Hydroponic systems use upto 95% less water than conventional growing methods. Another factor is a greatly increased rate of growth in your plants. With the proper setup, your plants will mature faster and produce more than the same plants grown in soil as they do not have to work as hard to obtain nutrients. Even a small root system will provide the plant exactly what it needs.

Think of it this way: plant will focus more on growing upstairs instead of expanding the root system downstairs.

At FutureFarmsTM, the  focus is on commercial application of this technology. With our population increasing at unprecedented levels – it is integral that new and improved methods of production are available. Their Hydroponic solutions allows plants to grow 4x faster than any soil Farm could, over each acre. It is a great choice because it gives you the ability to meticulously control the variables that affect how well your plants grow. A fine tuned hydroponic system can easily surpass a soil based system in plant quality, nutrition and amount of produce yielded.

All of this is possible through careful control of your nutrient solution and pH levels. Their hydroponic system will also use less water than soil based plants because the system is enclosed, which results in less evaporation. In fact, hydroponics is better for the environment because it reduces waste and pollution from soil runoff.

If you want to grow the most nutritious, juiciest, cleanest plants you can possibly imagine, then hydroponics is the right choice for you.

DISCLAIMER: This guest feature was submitted by FutureFarmsTM, a Hydroponics based precision agriculture firm established in Chennai, India.

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