In a recent column, I talked about the evolving state of recycling in this country, due in no small part to the depressing reality that China is no longer able to take any more of America’s garbage. In today’s column, I will share two uplifting ideas that offer great hope for saving the Earth from ourselves.
In an opinion piece for CNN, actor and activist Alec Baldwin writes that humans are driving bio-diversity loss and unraveling the ecosystems that keep Earth habitable for humans in “what scientists call the ‘sixth great extinction,’ erasing countless species from the face of the planet.” He goes on to explain that the “single largest driver of land conversion that is putting pressure on the planet is…food.” Mr. Baldwin cites research that says nearly half of the planet’s vegetated land area is now developed, and most of it has been for agriculture.
He also cites a new report by the EAT Foundation, a nonprofit working to transform our global food system, and the EAT-Lancet Commission that half the vegetated land on Earth is enough to feed all the humans expected to exist in the coming decades, without having to develop, expand, deforest or destroy any more land to grow food. Instead, he says, we need more efficient farming practices and higher crop and livestock productivity and we need to address the huge amount of food that is wasted or lost.
And, here’s where we can all help, since we live in a wealthy country with rampant overconsumption, notably of meat. According to Mr. Baldwin’s article, more than three-quarters of the world’s agricultural land is pasture lands, or used to produce animal-based foods, or cropland used to grow livestock feed, instead of being used to grow fruit, nuts, vegetables and whole grains for people. He goes on to say that, per gram of protein, producing beef requires 20 times more land than producing beans.
To contribute to the solution, meat lovers don’t need to become vegetarians but they might consider adjusting proportions a bit in favor of a plant-based diet. Or, as food guru and author Michael Pollan advised: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
But, even if everyone followed the advice of Mr. Pollan and Mr. Baldwin, we’d still be left with the plastic, and that brings up the second Big Idea.
Plastics are expected to outweigh fish in the ocean by 2050, according to Danielle Wiener-Bronner in a CNN Business article. Ms. Wiener-Bronner continued, “Marine life is choking on the debris. Microplastics are in our soil, our water, our air, getting into our bodies with potential consequences that we don’t fully understand yet. Massive amounts of plastic have piled up in landfills, some emitting greenhouse gases.”
But now, as Ms. Wiener-Bronner reports, Proctor & Gamble, PepsiCo, Nestlé, Unilever and more are partnering on a new service called Loop that is reminiscent of the milkman of the 1960s and 70s. With Loop, customers buy household items in innovative reusable containers and return them when they’re done.
In her article, Ms. Wiener-Bronner explained that Loop is in the experimental stages, being rolled out to several thousand consumers in New York and Paris this spring. London, Toronto, Tokyo and San Francisco are expected to become part of the test later this year and next.
In the test phase, Loop will offer about 300 items including brand-name detergent, shampoo, ice cream, mouthwash etc. in reusable packaging. Just as Americans used to do with their milkman, Loop customers place their empty containers in a Loop tote on their doorstep, where a delivery service picks them up. Loop then cleans and refills the containers and ships them out to consumers again, thus eliminating single-use plastics.
Read that last part again: Eliminating single-use plastics. Sign me up.