The Largest Urban Rooftop Farm in the World is Now Bearing Fruit (and More) in Paris

Getting fresh produce into the heart of a major city used to be done by a fleet of rumbling, polluting trucks—now it’s a matter of bringing it down from the roof.

The largest urban rooftop farm in the world uses vertical growing techniques to create fruits and vegetables right in the center of Paris without the use of pesticides, refrigerated trucks, chemical fertilizer, or even soil.

Nature Urbaine uses aeroponic techniques that are now supplying produce to local residents, including nearby hotels, catering halls, and more. For a price of 15 euro, residents can order a basket of produce online containing a large bouquet of mint or sage, a head of lettuce, various young sprouts, two bunches of radishes and one of chard, as well as a jar of jam or puree.

“The composition may change slightly depending on the harvest,” Sophie Hardy, director of Nature Urbaine, tells French publication Agri City. Growing on 3.4 acres, about the size of two soccer pitches, atop the Paris Exhibition Center, they are also producing about 150 baskets of strawberries, as well as aubergines, tomatoes, and more.

Speaking to the Guardian, Pascal Hardy, a sustainable development consultant and member of Agripolis, an urban farming firm, called the Nature Urbaine project in Paris “a clean, productive and sustainable model of agriculture that can in time make a real contribution to the resilience—social, economic and also environmental—of the kind of big cities where most of humanity now lives.”

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Sci-Fi Farming

Currently only a third of the total space on hall 6 of the expo center is utilized for Pascal’s alien-looking garden, and when the project is finished, 20 staff will be able to harvest up to 2,200 lbs (1,000 kg) of perhaps 35 different kinds of fruits and vegetables every day.

Photos by Agripolis

In plastic towers honeycombed with little holes, small amounts of water carrying nutrients, bacteria, and minerals, aerate roots which hang in midair.

As strange as the pipes and towers out of which grow everything other than root vegetables might seem, Hardy says the science-fiction farming has major benefits over traditional agriculture.

“I don’t know about you,” he begins, “but I don’t much like the fact that most of the fruit and vegetables we eat have been treated with something like 17 different pesticides, or that the intensive farming techniques that produced them are such huge generators of greenhouse gases.”

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“It uses less space. An ordinary intensive farm can grow nine salads per square meter of soil; I can grow 50 in a single tower. You can select crop varieties for their flavor, not their resistance to the transport and storage chain, and you can pick them when they’re really at their best, and not before.”

Agripolis

Breaking the chain

Agripolis is currently discussing projects in the U.S., the UK, and Germany, and they have finished several other rooftop farms in France including one on the roof of the Mercure hotel in 2016, which cultivates eggplant, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, salads, watercress, strawberries, nasturtiums and aromatics all directly serving the hotel restaurant.

Growing on the roof and selling on the floor can play a big part in the production of carbon-neutral food because, according to Agripolis, fruit and veg on average travel by refrigerated air and land transport between 2,400 and 4,800 kilometers from farm to market.

The global transportation force is the largest of humanity’s carbon-emitting activities, and reducing the number of flights and truckloads of produce is a great place to start cutting the amount of CO2 entering the atmosphere.

For a culinary city like Paris, the Parisian mayor’s proposal to install an additional 320 acres (130 ha) of rooftop and wall-mounted urban farming space could significantly reduce the number of trucks entering the city, easing traffic and reducing pollution.

With rooftop farming being embraced from Detroit to Shanghai, the future is looking up.

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Downtown Sydney is Now Powered By 100% Renewable Energy Thanks to Historic Deal

In the middle of Australia’s largest city the downtown business borough is now officially powered by 100% green energy thanks to the “largest standalone renewables agreement for an Australian council to date.”

The City of Sydney, which is home to a quarter-million people, has begun sourcing all of its energy from two solar farms and the largest wind farm in all of New South Wales.

The transition was facilitated through a power purchase agreement (PPA) with electricity retailer Flow Power. Although the historic deal costs AU$60 million, the initiative is expected to save AU$500,000 every year, according to Euronews.

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The initiative is also expected to purge roughly 20,000 tons of CO2 from the city’s carbon footprint—roughly 70% of its total output—before 2024, which is several years earlier than its original goal.

“Cities are responsible for 70% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, so it is critical that we take effective and evidence-based climate actions,” said Sydney Mayor Clover Moore.

“The City of Sydney became carbon neutral in 2007, and were the first government in Australia to be certified carbon neutral in 2011,” she added. “This ground-breaking $60 million renewable electricity deal will also save our ratepayers money and support regional jobs in wind and solar farms in Glen Innes, Wagga Wagga, and the Shoalhaven.”

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Tiny Forests Are Springing Up All Around Europe, Inspired By Japan, to Help Restore Biodiversity

Using the methods of Japan’s most famous botanist, European countries are beginning to dot their urban landscapes with tiny forests, as productive and biodiverse as any in wilderness areas, yet sometimes only as big as a tennis court.

The idea is that volunteers can plant densely-packed clusters of seedlings from indigenous plants to create a small functional ecosystem that can restore soil, protect resources like water and air quality, and act as a biodiversity hotspot that can have a measurable effect on both the local and regional environment.

Akira Miyawaki was the botanist who in 1970 observed that trees around Japan’s Shinto and Buddhist shrines tended to be native species, well-adapted to the soil and climate of the islands of Japan.

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He later found that only 0.06% of contemporary Japanese forests were indigenous forests, with the sizable remainder populated by non-native tree species, or planted in unnatural ways.

He pioneered a method of restoring indigenous forests on degraded or deforested land which had been devoid of humus. It came to be known as the Miyawaki method. Using this formula he created over 1,700 forests throughout Asia, 96.7% of which developed into a resilient ecosystem within ten years.

Miyawaki in Europe

Growing more than 10x faster, and possessing up to 20x more biodiversity potential than contemporary forests, the Miyawaki method is perfect for organizations like Urban Forests in France and Belgium, and the Tiny Forest initiative in Holland, with their strong desire to prevent the worst of climate change upon their nations’ relatively small landmass.

Urban Forest in Belgium – Instagram @urbanforestsbelgium

On March 2nd Urban Forests finished a 22-species, 1,200-tree Miyawaki forest in Toulouse, France, planted on 400 square meters—the first such forest in Toulouse.

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“The plantations are made in a very dense way, in order to favor the cooperation between the species,” Audrey, one of Urban Forests’ volunteers explained to Actu Toulouse. “It captures more CO2 and trees grow up to ten times faster than in a conventional forest.”

It’s just one of many Urban Forests’ projects, and the fifth that the nonprofit has completed this year. In total their Miyawaki forests across Belgium and France consist of 21,000 trees over 7,000 square meters.

The Tiny Forest Initiative started in 2015 in the Dutch city of Zaandam by the Institute for Nature Education and Sustainability (IVN), has created 100 Miyawaki forests across the country, and had planned an additional 30 for the first three months of 2020.

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In 2017, ecologists at Wageningen University in Holland examined the newly planted mini-forests and concluded that tiny forests “increase the biodiversity compared to the nearby forest. Both the number of species groups and the number of individuals is generally higher than in the reference forests.”

They also found that biodiversity was improved because sunlight was able to reach more species of local plants known to local pollinators. The forests also provided “more variety in food and shelter for a higher diversity of animals like insects, snails, butterflies, amphibians, bugs, grasshoppers.”

“This is a great thing to do,” said wildlife researcher Eric Dinerstein in a recent scientific publication. “So this could be another aspect for suburban and urban areas, to create wildlife corridors through contiguous ribbons of mini-forest.”

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29-Nation Poll Shows a Huge Majority Are As Concerned About the Climate Crisis As They Are About COVID-19

Would you agree or disagree with this statement: Climate change in the long term is as serious a crisis as the current COVID-19 pandemic? If you agreed, you answered the same as 71% of participants in a recent 29-nation survey from public opinion research firm Ipsos.

The Earth Day 2020 survey measured public opinion from many of the world’s principle producers, buyers, and populations, and almost all metrics suggest that a large majority of the world’s citizens consider climate change an important aspect of moving forward after the coronavirus pandemic.

Chinese participants registered 87% agreement with the above statement—the most of any country—while 59% of Americans and Australians agreed, tallying the smallest majority, with only 38% disagreeing.

65% of those surveyed worldwide want governments to prioritize a green economic recovery, as their lockdown measures from coronavirus are lifted. Respondents from India, China, and Mexico were emphatic about this directive, with 80% insisting on sustainable, clean measures.

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Slightly more people, 48% to 44%, said that economic recovery from the pandemic should not supersede environmental regulations, and any recovery should be environmentally responsible.

The survey didn’t include only COVID-19-related questions, but a variety of others involving what people’s habits might be in the face of climate change and whether theywould be willing to alter them. Overall, consumer or lifestyle behavior did not change from the last Ipsos survey in 2014, but in certain categories there were major fluctuations.

In Great Britain for example, 70% of those surveyed said the government would be failing them if it didn’t take action now to try and prevent the worst effects of climate change— with 59% saying they would consider not voting for a political candidate who didn’t pledge to take sufficient action to mitigate climate change.

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57% of total participants surveyed would avoid buying a product with too much plastic packaging, with a whopping 80% of the hyper-techno denizens of South Korea strongly agreeing, and 71% of Chinese.

South Korea came in first in another category, with 70% of the East Asians agreeing to the idea of avoiding buying new goods by mending what you have, or buying used products instead, as a way to prevent excess waste.

Even as COVID-19 news saturates the media, occupies every headline, and is the first topic on the lips of every journalist, this survey suggests people aren’t short sighted, and a large portion of the world’s population are keen to prevent irreversible damage to the environment both with their dollar, their ballot, and their conscience.

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Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Estimated to Fall by 8% in 2020—the Largest Recorded Drop in History

The COVID-19 pandemic represents the biggest shock to the global economy in more than seven decades, but new research says that the outbreaks are likely to result in a record-breaking 8% annual decline in carbon emissions—the largest decrease in history.

A new report released this week by the International Energy Agency (IEA) provides an almost real-time view of the COVID-19 pandemic’s extraordinary impact across all major fuels. Based on an analysis of more than 100 days of real data so far this year, the IEA’s Global Energy Review includes estimates for how energy consumption and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions trends are likely to evolve over the rest of 2020.

“Only renewables are holding up during the previously unheard-of slump in electricity use,” said Dr. Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director. “It is still too early to determine the longer-term impacts, but the energy industry that emerges from this crisis will be significantly different from the one that came before.”

The Global Energy Review’s projections of energy demand and energy-related emissions for 2020 are based on assumptions that the lockdowns implemented around the world in response to the pandemic are progressively eased in most countries in the coming months, accompanied by a gradual economic recovery.

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The report projects that energy demand will fall 6% in 2020—seven times the decline after the 2008 global financial crisis. In absolute terms, the decline is unprecedented—the equivalent of losing the entire energy demand of India, the world’s third largest energy consumer.

Advanced economies are expected to see the biggest declines, with demand set to fall by 9% in the United States and by 11% in the European Union. The impact of the crisis on energy demand is heavily dependent on the duration and stringency of measures to curb the spread of the virus. For instance, the IEA found that each month of worldwide lockdown at the levels seen in early April reduces annual global energy demand by about 1.5%.

Changes to electricity use during lockdowns have resulted in significant declines in overall electricity demand, with consumption levels and patterns on weekdays looking like those of a pre-crisis Sunday. Full lockdowns have pushed down electricity demand by 20% or more, with lesser impacts from partial lockdowns. Electricity demand is set to decline by 5% in 2020, the largest drop since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

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At the same time, lockdown measures are driving a major shift towards low-carbon sources of electricity including wind, solar PV, hydropower and nuclear. After overtaking coal for the first time ever in 2019, low-carbon sources are set to extend their lead this year to reach 40% of global electricity generation—6 percentage points ahead of coal.

Electricity generation from wind and solar PV continues to increase in 2020, lifted by new projects that were completed in 2019 and early 2020. An additional report from energy research group BloombergNEF says that wind and solar power are now the cheapest sources of new energy development for two-thirds of the world’s population.

This trend is affecting demand for electricity from coal and natural gas, which are finding themselves increasingly squeezed between low overall power demand and increasing output from renewables. As a result, the combined share of gas and coal in the global power mix is set to drop by 3 percentage points in 2020 to a level not seen since 2001.

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Coal is particularly hard hit, with global demand projected to fall by 8% in 2020, the largest decline since the Second World War. Following its 2018 peak, coal-fired power generation is set to fall by more than 10% this year.

After 10 years of uninterrupted growth, natural gas demand is on track to decline 5% in 2020. This would be the largest recorded year-on-year drop in consumption since natural gas demand developed at scale during the second half of the 20th century.

Renewables are set to be the only energy source that will grow in 2020, with their share of global electricity generation projected to jump thanks to their priority access to grids and low operating costs. Despite supply chain disruptions that have paused or delayed deployment in several key regions this year, solar PV and wind are on track to help lift renewable electricity generation by 5% in 2020, aided by higher output from hydropower.

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“This crisis has underlined the deep reliance of modern societies on reliable electricity supplies for supporting healthcare systems, businesses and the basic amenities of daily life,” said Dr. Birol. “But nobody should take any of this for granted—greater investments and smarter policies are needed to keep electricity supplies secure.”

As a result of these trends—mainly the declines in coal and oil use—global energy-related CO2 emissions are set to fall by almost 8% in 2020, reaching their lowest level since 2010. This would be the largest decrease in emissions ever recorded—nearly six times larger than the previous record drop of 400 million tonnes in 2009 that resulted from the global financial crisis.

“Resulting from … economic trauma around the world, the historic decline in global emissions is absolutely nothing to cheer,” said Dr Birol. “But governments can learn from [the 2008 crisis] by putting clean energy technologies—renewables, efficiency, batteries, hydrogen and carbon capture—at the heart of their plans for economic recovery. Investing in those areas can create jobs, make economies more competitive and steer the world towards a more resilient and cleaner energy future.”

Reprinted from the International Energy Agency

This is just one of many positive stories and updates that are coming out of the COVID-19 news coverage this week. For more uplifting coverage on the outbreaks, click here.

File photo by rabiem22, CC

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Record-Breaking Amounts of Solar Electricity Generated in Germany After String of Sunny Days

Good News Network recently explained how traditional consumer-driven supply and demand market forces are pushing coal further and further to the edge of the bed (and economic ruin), like a sprawling spouse kicking the blankets toward the cold tile floor.

A recent string of cloudless days in Germany saw the country’s solar energy production climb above 32,000 megawatts in a single day last week—smashing the previous record set on March 23rd, according to a report from Bloomberg News.

The sunny days are slated to continue, according to the German weather service DWD.

These sunny days mean that solar power is generating around 40% of the total baseline in Germany, with all their renewables together accounted for 78%, while coal and nuclear power trailed behind with only 22%.

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By 2038, renewables are predicted by the German government to make up 80% of total grid production. And owners of coal plants understand that it could become completely unsustainable to continue financing operations many years before that milestone is achieved.

A Death Rattle for Coal

In Europe, it’s already 100% more expensive to finance, supply, staff, and operate a coal-fired power plant compared to a renewable facility, while in historically coal-glutted nations like the U.S., India, and China, it’s already 50-60% more costly.

The recent lockdown orders for COVID-19 in Germany could have had a measurable effect on the sunny days as well, as the reduction in air pollution from things like car exhaust has already been recorded as significant in countries like India, where residents have been able able to see the Himalayas on the horizon for the first time in 30 years.

File photo by Nathan Dumlao, CC

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Not only are the shutdowns rewarding the solar market with clearer skies, but the already lagging coal market is taking further body blows as demand plummets from the shutdown of stores and office buildings. In Germany, renewable sources are the first to enter grid circulation, and since the decrease in energy demand, consumers are actually using less power than is available, meaning the electricity generated from a coal plant might be not only unutilized—but unpaid for.

The services desired by consumers are simply being fulfilled by those most readily capable of fulfilling them.

This not only applies to Jane and John Smith turning on the lights in their house, but buyers and sellers in the energy sector. The simple explanation is as follows. Johan runs an energy investment firm, and when looking to buy shares of a power producer, his maximum price for carbon-based power is 5,000 euro per share, and for renewable power, 8,000 euro per share. He can afford to pay more for renewables because he stands to make more money from those shares.

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Jurgen, who runs a carbon-based power source, can only afford to sell at 10,000 euro per share, because of current market demands for renewables. This difference of valuation of 5,000 euro between Jurgen and Johan prevent a sale from being made, and so Jurgen must either find a willing buyer, a way to reduce operating costs, or another energy project.

Whether catalyzed from climate activism, science, or whichever technology costs the least to operate, these simple supply and demand forces are causing people to put their money in renewables—and money-talks.

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Exciting New Data Says Renewables Accounted for Almost Three Quarters of New Energy Capacity in 2019

In an exciting reported victory for sustainability, new renewable power accounted for a whopping 72% of all global power expansion in 2019.

According to new data released last week by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the renewable energy sector added 176 gigawatts (GW) of generating capacity globally in 2019, although this was notably lower than the (revised) 179 GW added in 2018.

However, IRENA’s annual Renewable Capacity Statistics 2020 shows that renewables expanded by 7.6% last year with Asia dominating growth and accounting for 54% of total additions. While expansion of renewables slowed last year, total renewable power growth outpaced fossil fuel growth by a factor of 2.6, continuing the dominance of renewables in power expansion first established in 2012. Solar and wind contributed 90% of total renewable capacity added in 2019.

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“Renewable energy is a cost-effective source of new power that insulates power markets and consumers from volatility, supports economic stability and stimulates sustainable growth,” said IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera. “With renewable additions providing the majority of new capacity last year, it is clear that many countries and regions recognize the degree to which the energy transition can deliver positive outcomes.

“While the trajectory is positive, more is required to put global energy on a path with sustainable development and climate mitigation—both of which offer significant economic benefits,” continued Mr. La Camera. “At this challenging time, we are reminded of the importance of building resilience into our economies. In what must be the decade of action, enabling policies are needed to increase investments and accelerate renewables adoption.”

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Renewables accounted for at least 70% of total capacity expansion in almost all regions in 2019, other than in Africa and the Middle East, where they represented 52% and 26% of net additions respectively.

The additions took the renewable share of all global power capacity to 34.7%, up from 33.3% at the end of 2018. Non-renewable capacity expansion globally followed long-term trends in 2019, with net growth in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, and net decommissioning in Europe and North America.

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Solar added 98 GW in 2019, 60% of which was in Asia. Wind energy expanded by close to 60 GW led by growth in China (26 GW) and the United States (9 GW). The two technologies now generate 623 GW and 586 GW respectively—close to half of global renewable capacity. Hydropower, bioenergy, geothermal and marine energy displayed modest year on year expansion of 12 GW, 6 GW, 700 MW, and 500 MW respectively.

Asia was responsible for over half of new installations despite expanding at a slightly slower pace than in 2018. Growth in Europe and North America increased year on year. Africa added 2 GW of renewable capacity in 2019, half of the 4 GW it installed in 2018.

Want to learn more? Read the “Highlights of the key findings” or the full IRENA report.

Reprinted from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)

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In Groundbreaking Vote for Sustainability, EU Moves to Approve Insects for Human Consumption

As famed adventure television host, world record holder, former British Special Forces operator, and all around feel-good motivational guy Bear Grylls repeatedly reminded us on his television programs Man vs Wild and Running Wild, insects have more protein than beef or fish—sometimes as much as 8x more, if measured pound for pound.

After a long television career of pounding back worms, grubs, spiders, crickets, and ants for our amusement, Grylls would certainly be applauding the new proposed European Union legislation that would allow for mealworms, lesser mealworms, crickets, and locusts to be sold as “novel food sources,” pumping life into an industry that, while small, produces 500 tons of food annually according to The Guardian.

The products include things like cricket protein bars, locust aperitif, or mealworm burgers, and the new regulations from the European Food Safety Authority are likely to open the floodgates for insect food to flow from countries where they are made like Holland, the UK, Denmark, Belgium, and Finland, into countries where they are banned, such as Italy, France, and Spain.

“We reckon these authorizations will be a breakthrough for the sector,” Christophe Derrien, secretary general of the International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed, added.

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“They are taking the necessary time, they are very demanding on information, which is not bad. But we believe that once we have the first novel food given a green light from EFSA that will have a snowball effect.”

Companies in the Netherlands, France, Switzerland and Spain are all preparing to ramp up operations to prepare for the demand, perceiving through market signals that people actually want insect food.

Chirps Chips submitted

An Obvious Solution

Insects have been part of the staple diet of many world cultures, even now in modern times. They represent a rich source of animal protein that is practically immune to extinction, and just like traditionally harvested animals are perfectly safe to eat if you can control the conditions in which they live.

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With some of the most basic brain functions of anything in kingdom Animalia, insects are also less-likely to offend the sensibilities of vegetarians who, being more likely to be vitamin B12 deficient than omnivores, might be able to utilize the occasional cricket bar as a means of supplementing their plant based diet with bioavailable and dietary sources of B12 which can’t be made by plants, coming only from bacteria which live on plants.

Furthermore, unlike hoofed mammals, the process of enteric fermentation which, using the United States as an example, accounts for a small percentage of total greenhouse gas emissions (about 2.5% in the U.S.) is absent in insect agriculture, and so there’s a small potential reduction in GHG emissions to be gained from a switch.

Lastly trillions of insects are killed every year both by combine-harvesters and pesticides to protect major crops like wheat, rice, soya, corn, and cotton, representing millions of tons of lost nutrients. And, in a world where many communities are protein-deficient, insect products might never be more needed.

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Newly-Developed Enzyme That Breaks Down Plastic Bottles in Hours is On Track to Change the Recycling Game

Utilizing an enzyme found within composted leaves, scientists are now breaking down plastic all the way into a recyclable form in a matter of hours.

Carbios, the French company responsible for the breakthrough, is already collaborating with Pepsi and L’Oréal to unleash industrial market-scale production of the new substance within five years.

“We are the first company to bring this technology on the market,” the deputy chief executive at Carbios, Martin Stephan, told The Guardian. “Our goal is to be up and running by 2024–2025, at large industrial scale.”

Their discovery, which sources described as a major advance, joins an arsenal of solutions for plastic pollution control that have appeared over the last decade.

Just like Boyan Slat who took on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or the bracelet folks at 4Ocean who took on the problem of ocean pollution in rivers, the scientists from the University of Toulouse are applying their breakthrough to another part of the problem—the recycling of plastic.

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Plastic isn’t straightforward to recycle. There are common varieties of plastic made from multiple layers of different esters, each one requiring different equipment or temperature to breakdown. And, there are a lot of plastic esters that could be recycled but aren’t because the market value for the recycled material is so low it can’t financially sustain the operation.

In the scientist’s paper published in Nature, they detail how poly(ethylene terephthalate) PET, the most common polyester plastic, loses much of its mechanical utility when heated for recycling. Therefore, creating new material is preferred, and PET waste continues to accumulate.

Their new enzyme achieves a minimum of 90% de-polymerization in just 10 hours, meaning that the polymers—large complex particles, become monomers—small single particles in less than a day, and perhaps even more amazing, end up as biologically depolymerized plastic that can actually be reused to create things like plastic bottles.

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While manufacturing plastic bottles from recycled PET made by this enzyme would cost about 4% of the amount needed to make new bottles from fresh petroleum, the recycling infrastructure, including the grounding up and heating of the plastic bottles before the enzyme is added would still make it more expensive in the end.

Nevertheless, the future is bright for this technology. Co-enzymes could be synthesized, companies could produce more inexpensive recycling infrastructure—both of which could finally bring down the cost of producing recycled plastic goods.

Carbios has also begun tackling the normally unrecyclable plastic film problem. In an alliance with several other European companies under the name Carbiolice, they demonstrated a plastic film last year that can be compostable in home or municipal compost piles. Their objective will be to address the markets of plastic films and single-use bags—and later on, rigid packaging and disposable tableware.

“These milestones reinforce our ambition to offer the market circular economy solutions that are both competitive and eco-friendly, and which will revolutionize the end of life for plastics and textiles.”

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These New Solar-Pavement Driveways Made of Plastic Bottles Can Power the Average Household

Photo by Platio Solar

Solar panel driveways may soon be powering all our households with clean electricity thanks to this Budapest-based startup.

For the last five years, Platio Solar has been developing new ways of implementing solar technology into urban spaces—and one of their latest developments is a residential solar paneled driveway made out of recycled plastic bottles.

According to a video that was published by the company last week, the solar system is the first to generate power from the pavement of a residential household.

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Each “Platio Solar Paver” is made from 400 polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles—one of the most common forms of consumer plastic. Compressed into pavers, the material becomes more durable than concrete while still being non-slip and sustainable.

The system can either be used to generate electricity for a residential household or power an electric car. According to the company’s website, a 20-square-meter (215-square-foot) Platio driveway system has the capacity to cover the yearly energy consumption of an average household.

The company is now offering resell opportunities and installation quotes for their driveway systems available in brown, blue, red, and green designs.

(WATCH the demonstration video below)

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Free Market Forces Will Obliterate Global Coal Reliance Within 10 Years, Says Study

Contrary to the image of greedy fossil fuel billionaires lobbying politicians for favors, it is now the free market, not world governments, that are doing the most to advance the use of clean renewable energy.

In the most basic sense, it is no longer a lucrative business path to invest in carbon emission-heavy sources. Today, investing in coal projects is more expensive—across all world energy markets—than renewables. In as little as 10 years, it will be cheaper to build renewables than to run coal power resources, much less build new ones.

How much more expensive? Right now, the report estimates that the cost of operating and investing in coal—not in Europe, but in the U.S., India, and China—is about 50% more expensive than renewables. By 2030, that number doubles to 100% assuming market forces remain constant rather than intensify, which they are likely to do.

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“The market is driving the low-carbon energy transition, but governments aren’t listening,” writes Matt Gray, co-head of power and utilities for Carbon Tracker, and co-author of a new global economic report about coal investments entitled “How to Waste Half a Trillion Dollars.”

“Renewables are outcompeting coal around the world and proposed coal investments risk becoming stranded assets which could lock in high-cost coal power for decades.”

Indeed, the number of countries in which it is cheaper in invest and operate renewable energy assets could make someone optimistic about the future since most underdeveloped Asian energy markets, as well as the three biggest coal consumers on earth, would all save money switching to renewables, according to this helpful infographic from the report.

However, many of these countries still have nationally-planned coal power projects either in early investment stages, or already in production.

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As repeatedly demonstrated by the national debt of the US government, a stranded asset is manageable for most nations, but insufferable for a private firm that is unable to borrow more dollars every year than they invest.

It is an economic term for an asset—like a coal plant—which will cease to generate returns even before the end of its economic life. These carbon-heavy facilities not only have a slow rate of return and open the door for market competition from renewables, they also are becoming more expensive to invest in, build, and operate, than they are to make returns for those investors.

That is partially why free market economic forces are working where many governments are failing; it costs a lot of money to build electricity-generating resources, and since banks and financial institutions are the largest funders of energy projects, they simply aren’t willing to finance coal power projects, choosing instead to invest in solar and wind resources.

Vietnam: a Greenhouse Government

The government of Vietnam is currently considering backing away from 15 gigawatts of proposed coal power as financial constraints make it a harder to build new plants, which it wants to do in order to increase economic development.

The proposed projects would allocate 50% of energy production to coal-fired plants, but an end to the deal would see it drop to 37%, with others like hydroelectric and gas remaining stable, and renewable energy swooping in to cheaply meet the demand and fill the gap in supply.

Much of the nation’s energy projects are funded by investors in other coal-fired East Asian nations like Japan and South Korea, as well as powerhouse lender Singapore. After a recent aligning of principles with EU nations to restrict coal financing, however, many coal projects in Vietnam will be left stagnating with the government’s only options being to either finish the projects with taxpayer money or listen to market forces and move into cleaner energy production.

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On the other hand, private sector giants like Sir Christopher Hohn, who is the billionaire hedge fund manager and co-founder of the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), threatened to sue British banks Barclays, Standard Chartered, and HSBC over the financing of new coal projects.

“Coal is the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions globally and the risks of its continued use in the power sector are not being adequately addressed by regulators and the financial system,” he said in a statement on the CIFF website.

Irresistible Market Forces

A high price of carbon and significant investment in renewable energy has created a very unfriendly market for coal in the EU, while “How to Waste Half a Trillion Dollars” finds that today, even big coal consumers like China, India, and the U.S. are on the right path and “not far behind” the EU in terms of renewable energy investments.

“The report finds that market forces will drive coal power out of existence in deregulated markets, where renewable energy developers will take advantage of the growing price gap,” reads the report summary on Carbon Tracker’s website. Across the world, 6,700 coal plants produce 2,045 gigawatts of energy, and another 1,000 or so accounting for another 500gw are in early stages of production or investment.

As the cost of investment, production, and operation of coal plants continues to increase as market forces push investors further and further towards renewables, hundreds of billions of dollars in energy markets the world over will become available at a lower cost, and coal could become twice as expensive, and begin to rapidly vanish—even in large coal-consuming countries like China and India, within just 20 years.

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A report from Reuters found that coal power generation fell worldwide by 3% in 2019, while wind and solar power contributed 270 more terawatts, or an additional 15%, to grids. The research went on to illustrate how this growth would be needed every year for 15 years in order to meet the Paris Agreement targets. The power generation would have to continue to fall from 3% to 11% to prevent 1.5 degrees celsius of warming—the rough estimate of wiggle room needed to avoid the worst effects of global climate change.

Money talks—and if coal production will rise from from 50% to 100% in the U.S., India, and 60% to 100% in China, in just ten years, it means that far from unlimited growth targets being met for investors, coal barons will have to cope with a 5% yearly rise in capital requirements, as well as any future blows coal might be forced to absorb such as carbon taxes, coal embargoes, and other brutish legislative measures.

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Amsterdam is Enjoying Quieter Canals as Boats Go Electric Years Ahead of Diesel Ban

The buzz and rumble of boats passing through Amsterdam’s famous canal system is one of the most iconic traits of the Dutch city.

However, a newly-elected Green Party mayor is pushing to transform the second-most popular form of transportation in the city into an all-electric powered force for a cleaner Amsterdam.

Soon, the sound of diesel-powered boat engines could be consigned to history since the city is now planning to ban the diesel engine before 2025.

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The city’s commercial fleet is already close to achieving that goal since 75% of the city’s 550 commercial vessels are already meeting the planned emissions-free regulation, according to Reuters.

The news outlet goes on to say that contractors are expected to install 100 more boat charging stations by the end of 2021. Furthermore, startup Skoon Energy will be launching a floating charging station this week to help with grid balancing.

Although there are still several thousand recreational vessels that are still in need of emission-free upgrades, the canal’s new infrastructure is expected to quicken the city’s transition to cleaner waterways.

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Fashion Industry Eyes Alternative Leather Made Out of Cactus–And it’s Sustainable and Eco-Friendly

Photo by Adriano Di Marti

Two men have succeeded in developing an alternative to animal leather made out of Mexican cactus—and it could save millions of animals worldwide.

Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez created their vegan fabric out of the nopal cactus and spent two years researching and developing their design. They then perfected the manufacturing process in July and unveiled the fabric to the fashion world in Milan, Italy in October.

The entrepreneurs realized the environmental impact of animal leather spending years working in the furniture, automotive, and fashion industries. Upon quitting their jobs, they co-founded Adriano Di Marti to find an innovative leather replacement.

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Their patented “Desserto” fabric is made out of cactus leaves that are sustainably harvested every 6 to 8 months. The material is designed to breathe easily while still being durable and partially biodegradable. In addition to the cactus-based material requiring a minimal amount of water to develop, it is grown organically in the Mexican state of Zacatecas.

The material, which is available in a variety of colors produced using natural dyes, has now been used to make everything from bags and automotive seating to shoes and jackets.

(WATCH the video below)

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Swedish Oat Milk Pioneers Offer a Successful Win-Win Path to Struggling U.S Dairy Farmers

Self-proclaimed as the manufacturer of the world’s only true 100% environmentally-friendly dairy-free yogurt, Hälsa Foods is sharing their secret of success with struggling American dairy farmers.

Scandinavians Helena Lumme and Mika Manninen, the co-founders of Hälsa—which is Swedish for health—use oats to make their ‘oatgurt’ and milk drink substitutes.

Research has shown that oats crops are far more sustainable than the production of coconut, almond, or rice milk which create a more negative impact on both the ecosystems and the workers.

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“We are currently importing our organic oats from Scandinavia because we cannot find the quality that meets our standard in the United States,” Lumme and Manninen explain.  “At the same time, U.S. dairy farms are struggling due to slumping milk sales. So we thought, why not come up with a solution that benefits both of us—and our planet?”

Hälsa, which is headquartered in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, did just that by advancing their oat outreach with a structured program to help small U.S. dairy farms—stung by recent trade wars—to stay in business by converting their pasturage to oat crops.

A dairy farming business in the New York town of Hoosick was the first to jump onboard with Hälsa’s conversion process. The farm, with 200 dairy cows, consists of 300 acres of certified-organic land overlooking the Vermont border.

Helena Lumme and Mika Manninen

“We’re excited to get started,” said Eric and Jamie Ziehm, co-owners of the High Meadows of Hoosick farm. “Our goal is to build a biodiverse and biodynamic ecosystem that has the ability to regenerate its resources. We hope this will have a positive impact and also inspire our fellow farmers who are facing many challenges today.”

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Hälsa is not the only business with Scandinavian roots now catering to America’s exploding desire for oats as a dairy substitute. Swedish manufacturers Oatly opened a $15 million production facility for their oat beverage in New Jersey, and their products are now available in 7,000 stores nationwide.

But, Bloomberg Business News reports there is plenty of demand, with sales up nearly 700% since 2017—from $4.4 million a year to $29 million.

Hälsa sources their ingredients with organic, non-GMO oats that haven’t been exposed to any glyphosate-containing pesticides. Their products contain no artificial ingredients and are sold throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states at ShopRite, Fairway Market, Fresh Direct, all NYC airports, and at select New York metro area stores.

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Old Electric Vehicle Batteries Can Be Recycled into New Sources of Energy –Even Used to Power 7-11 Stores

An increase in the sale and use of electric vehicles (EVs) is vital for many governments to reach their stated CO2 reduction targets, however if special regard is not quickly given to advancing the technology in recycling the battery packs of these EVs, our landfills could be overrun.

Looking for a solution to the battery waste problem, a study published in Nature by University of Birmingham researchers presents this sticky situation alongside some innovative ways to help combat it. For example, stations of retired EV batteries can be used to reinforce unstable grid networks in developing countries, or used to power things at home.

The study explains that, like the batteries in older mobile phones, an EV battery at the end of its automobile life could still maintain 80% operating capacity and could be easily repurposed for jobs elsewhere in society.

Even now, Toyota, producer of the Prius—one of the most, if not the most, successful hybrid cars in history—has joined forces with 7-11 stores in Japan to expand the integration of the electric vehicle byproducts into Japanese society.

Their project, in line with the latest recommendations from the Birmingham researchers, aims to utilize banks of expended EV batteries from Toyota cars in conjunction with solar panels to power 7-11 stores, while new fuel-cell EVs powered by hydrogen will be serving as the distribution fleet for the legendary convenience store chain.

RELATED: Scientists Develop New Material to Make Lithium Ion Batteries Self-Healing and Easily Recyclable

Meanwhile, we can extract minerals from batteries, while at the same time avoiding the environmentally-damaging mining practices that use a lot of water.

Nissan NV200 by Kārlis-Dambrāns, CC license

“Electric vehicles may prove to be a valuable secondary resource for critical materials, and it has been argued that high cobalt-content batteries should be recycled immediately to bolster cobalt supplies”, the study says.

Another mineral present in EV batteries, lithium, is one of the most critical minerals for building batteries for our portable devices and key electronic components in society like video processors and microchips.

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To gather merely one ton of lithium requires the mining of 250 tons of the mineral ore spodumene, or 750 tons of mineral-rich brine. Therefore extracting lithium from car batteries (since estimates suggest that we only need 256 used EV batteries to produce 1 ton of lithium) can avoid this water-intensive carbon-intensive method of production.

In 2017, the worldwide sales of electric cars exceeded 1 million units for the first time. Market research group Deloitte reported that this figure doubled during 2018, and is close to doubling again, from 2 million to 4 million by the end of 2020.

Those are big secondary resources for minerals, which could negate the need for mining many additional tons in order to power the world we love.

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Scorched Australia is Getting Power Back Thanks to New Solar Grids Funded by Philanthropist Couple

Since the bushfires and flooding across southern Australia have left dozens of communities without power, several tech companies have begun installing solar panels and electrical grids with astonishing speed thanks to a philanthropist couple.

Mike and Annie Cannon-Brookes have donated $12 million towards the creation of the Resilient Energy Collective—a coalition dedicated to setting up sustainable microgrids across Australia.

The collective, which utilizes electrical batteries from Tesla and solar systems from 5B, has already deployed two clean energy grids for rural sites in New South Wales and Victoria. Prior to their installation, firefighters and locals had been depending on diesel generators for electricity during the bushfire season. In addition to these generators being particularly costly and high-maintenance, they also emit large amounts of pollutants.

The collective is now working with energy providers across the country to prioritize 100 more sites for microgrid installation.

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The initiative is similar to how Tesla used solar-powered grids to restore electricity across Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017. Now, Mr. Cannon-Brookes—who is also the co-founder and CEO of the Atlassian tech company—says that the coalition has been installing their own microgrids in as little as two days.

“In three weeks we’ve come together, found the technology, adapted it, put it on trucks and right now, it’s operating, generating electricity,” Cannon-Brookes told Eco Generation in a statement.

“That’s what this collective is all about; getting the best tech and the best ingenuity together to solve a massive problem, in days, not months or years.”

Photos by Resilient Energy Collective

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Designer Works to Erect First Modern Village to Generate its Own Electricity–and Food–in 100% Sustainable Loop

An American architect has put his own money and years of struggle on the line to begin building a modern neighborhood that would generate its own power using a closed loop system that would also recycle all the waste and generate all the food.

Officials in the Netherlands have given James Ehrlich an initial green light to construct at least one eco-village 30 minutes outside of Amsterdam, and he hopes to break ground on the project sometime this year.

Ehrlich founded ReGen Villages in 2016 as a startup company intending to disrupt the way the world thinks about housing, development and transportation, and how these CO2-heavy sectors can be overhauled to create a green, self-sustaining lifestyle.

The master plan is for 200-300 homes in the town of Almere where infrastructure permits were approved in 2018.

The vision is a grand one: While incorporating entirely self-sustainable systems for waste management, water treatment, and food production, electricity would be generated through solar, biogas from food and animal waste, and geothermal sources.

Special aquaponic gardens would combine fish farming with aquatic agriculture that allow residents to cultivate a sustainable micro-ecosystem to produce fish and produce.

Rendering by ReGen Villages

Human waste would be composted to feed the ecosystems, with the fish waste providing a critical source of fertilizer for the gardens.

But there are two bigger issues for ReGen Villages: “The two greatest challenges we face are financial support and political will,” the founder told the New York Times.

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Design rendering by ReGen Villages

The company is trying to wrap up a funding round of €16 million in private equity investment for operating expenses needed for the first village and for “master planning the next couple of concurrent developments.”

The homes, to be situated on at least 61 acres of land in the Oosterwold District, would cost according to DutchReview magazine between €200,000 to €850,000 ($216,000–$918,000) depending on the size and luxury of the house.

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Continuing the closed-loop ecosystem model, each family home will have a greenhouse attached to it for growing personal crops, and rainwater catch-and-filter systems. The energy and food systems would be managed by ReGen’s staff, but residents could also work in the communal farming systems to reduce the monthly cost of their food and energy fees, which would be charged along with their mortgages.

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Revolutionary New Recycling Method for Plastic and Waste is Killing Two Birds With One Stone

Carbon capturing and carbon sequestering, meaning the uptake and storage of CO2 molecules in a solid object, like a building or a tree which it can’t escape from, is one of the many tools for entrepreneurs, manufacturers, and businessmen, who want to do their part to combat the climate crisis.

Similarly, a startup working in Israel is eradicating one environmental toxin by placing it inside of another. UBQ Materials is taking household waste that would normally end up in landfills, and embedding it in liquefied recycled plastic to create “a thermoplastic, composite, bio-based, sustainable, climate-positive material”.

The trash is sorted, passed over a magnet to remove metals, before being dried and shredded into a kind of trash-confetti. It’s then added to plastic that’s ready for recycling and melted together before finally being dried and chopped into little pellets.

The resulting pellets can be easily shipped out and used in various manufacturing processes like injection molding and composite brick-making. Dye can be added at any point along the way to ensure the customer can have plastic of any color he desires.

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The company’s founders were so confidant that the science behind their revolutionary recycling process would prove successful they commissioned Swiss environmental consulting firm Quantis to perform an analysis on just how green their operation was.

Quantis found that substituting a ton of UBQ’s pellets for the same amount of polypropylene saves the equivalent of about 15 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, making it the most sustainable thermoplastic material on earth.

The concept of taking landfill-bound trash, which would generate harmful greenhouse-methane gas, and encasing it inside recycled plastic can be traced back, according to The Post, to an Israeli military man who thought that by mixing mud from the polluted Kishon River with plastic he might help the river recover. This idea never worked, but encasing environmentally-damaging substances in plastic that would then be used to make other materials and products and thereby ensuring it doesn’t have a chance to pollute (or further complicate the climate of) our planet, was a core concept which wasn’t abandoned.

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Generating a $50 million dollar fortune as a hummus food mogul, Rabbi Yehuda Pearl has helped the company go from a bankrupt idea to the brink of international acclaim and wealth through $3.5 million in slow savvy investing and R&D. UBQ, short for Ubiquitous. is already selling its thermoplastic composite plastic granule to Plasgad, an Israeli company that manufactures pallets, crates, and recycling bins—2,000 of which are on their way to the Central Virginia Waste Management Authority.

The UBQ facility on the Tze’elim Kibbutz can produce about one ton of their special material in an hour, resulting in between 5,000 and 7,000 tons produced annually. The company’s success is leading to a new facility that will produce 100,000 tons annually.

Share The Exciting News With Your Friends On Social Media – File photo by Michael Manas, CC license

Revised Farm Payments Will Let UK Farmers Serve the Environment and Public Good

As the UK prepares to leave the European Union, an ambitious new piece of agricultural legislation presented in Parliament last week is set to unleash an “agricultural revolution” that aims to restore forests and peatlands, wildlife and pollinator habit.

The lawmakers view the focus on ‘environmental and public goods’ as the best way to reform farm subsidies in the UK and Europe—giving 21st century goals a new seat at the table to replace the outdated EU ones that focus almost entirely on incentivizing production.

Much of this £3 billion ($3.9 billion) in annual UK agriculture spending will be refocused to help farmers take a little time away from food production to pause and focus on improving their ecosystems and the environment at large.

After the destruction Europe endured during World War II, farm subsidies were simple and direct. “It was just about production, it didn’t matter what you did to the environment,” Ian Bateman, an environmental economist at the University of Exeter tells Science Magazine.

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Erik Stokstad writing for Science details how land was being torn up by the plow all over the continent which led to massive soil erosion, and excessive use of chemical fertilizer and pesticides polluted rivers and coastlines.

While that post-WWII model still forms the basis for European farm legislation, the UK’s ambitious new plan aims to financially incentivize farms to provide “public goods” such as the tried and tested “payment for environmental service” (PES) model that has been so successful in countries like Costa Rica.

The new subsidies will be tested in England first, as the UK allows Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales to determine their own farm policy.

File photo by Robert Graham, CC

Getting Paid for Being Stewards of the Environment

The Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in England plans to prioritize public goods with the new legislation while phasing out existing EU payment programs over 7 years.

The public goods that DEFRA has in mind would include payments for sequestering carbon, replanting forests, and aiding the recovery of pollinator species, likely by utilizing marginal land for planting pollinator-preferred species of flowers. Marginal land, the acreage around the perimeter of a field or paddock, is a prime place for this activity as it doesn’t impact yields, and adds beneficial microbial diversity to the soil while reducing erosion.

According to Stokstad, 33% of the current UK farm subsidies are diverted to activities that benefit local environments and the nation’s climate change goals. As things stand now these include activities like maintaining hedgerows and other habitat which Stokstad writes will be expanded upon.

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Taking the example from certain UK water companies, DEFRA plans to use public auctions where farmers and land managers can bid for government contracts for PES opportunities. The water companies have been auctioning off PES contracts to farmers living and working around their major water sources to develop and manage land in ways that protect them, such as using less-harmful fertilizers and reducing runoff and soil erosion. “The impact has been amazing,” said Bateman.

In parts of England where farming is more difficult, certain producers like cattle and sheep herders rely more on the current form of direct payment subsidies than other farmers, and without them they may choose to move to other forms of production. Keeping this in mind, DEFRA has been looking at all manner of different PES opportunities for areas where ranching and herding are common, such as on moors and peatlands.

On peatlands, the potential for carbon sequestering in the soil is far greater than in forests, and so restoring and growing them, along with enhancing other landscapes and even restoring heritage buildings to help increase tourism, have all been hypothesized for utilization in some of the northern parts of the country.

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The National Farmers Union, the United Kingdom’s biggest agricultural trade group, was concerned about the lack of emphasis placed on farmers to produce. Agreeing with the union, DEFRA will “take regard to the need to encourage the production of food by producers in England,” reads a clause in the final bill.

Satisfied, the trade union described the clause as a “robust starting point” to ensure the well-being of farmers who don’t have as many opportunities for PES on their land.

The rest of the UK, and—according to Alan Mathews, an agricultural economist at Trinity College Dublin—the rest of Europe will be watching closely.

“If it’s successful, that will be a very powerful argument for the Europeans to follow,” said Mathews.

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Disaster Breeds Invention: Philippine Residents Use Volcanic Ash to Repair Damaged Buildings

While a volcanic eruption doesn’t conjure many reasons for celebration, residents of Binan, Philippines have utilized the immense destructive power of nature and turned it into an unorthodox opportunity.

Tens of thousands of grey bricks, produced with the very ash from the recent eruption as well as cement and discarded plastic have been made for the purpose of repairing the parts of the city damaged by the eruption on January 12th, providing a short economic stimulus, and even reducing amounts of plastic in the city’s landfills.

After the Taal volcano erupted last week on the island of Luzon, the mayor of the city of Binan asked residents to collect the fine grey ash deposited all around the city by Taal and place it in sacks to be sent to a state-owned factory.

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“Instead of just piling up the ashfall somewhere, we are able to turn it into something useful. And it includes plastics, too,” said city environmental officer Rodelio Lee, according to DW.

So far, 5,000 bricks are being produced per day, all of which contain some plastic waste in addition to the ash. In the midst of a natural disaster, Binan has essentially created a massive recycling opportunity.

“When the ash came, we thought we’d exchange the white sand which we mix with plastics to be converted into bricks with ash. We did it and they came out sturdy,” city Mayor Walfredo Dimaguila told Reuters.

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“What we plan is to turn them into hollow blocks and bricks and sell them to interested companies,” he said, adding that the proceeds would be donated to residents affected by the volcano.

Positioned on the Pacific Ring of Fire, communities in the Philippines are often under threat from erupting volcanoes, with Taal being one of the most formidable in the region.

(WATCH the news coverage below) – Photo by Reuters

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