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.

[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.

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.

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.

[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.

A post shared by Natural Household Cleaners (@ekameco) on

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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