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Can Growth in Sustainable Energy Reduce Natural Resources Overspend?

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Globally, we are consuming resources faster than the Earth can replenish them. If we think of these resources — such as timber, water, and clean air — like an allowance, then we spent our allotment for 2019 on July 29. We are over-fishing, extracting, mining, polluting, depleting, and harvesting resources across the globe.

We reach Earth Overshoot Day, the day when annual consumption exceeds the Earth’s capacity to renew itself, earlier and earlier each year. This means that we are consuming more resources than ever before — and at an increasing rate. For example, Earth Overshoot Day occurred in September in 2000, while in 1980 society overshot in November.

“It’s a pyramid scheme,” said Mathis Wackernagel, CEO and founder of Global Footprint Network. “It depends on using more and more from the future to pay for the present.”

Another daunting thought is that many people throughout the world consume far fewer resources than people in developed countries. Thus, one person in the United States will consume as many resources as 35 people in India. We would need 5 Earths to sustain us if the whole world lived like Americans. For comparison, we would need 3 Earths if we all lived like Germans, or 2.2 Earths if we all lived like Chinese. If the whole world lived like Indians, we would need 0.7 Earths to sustain us — in other words, we wouldn’t consume resources faster than our planet can replenish them.

Per capita carbon emissions in the United States are nearly double that of other wealthy nations, and roughly twice as many Americans are obese as our European counterparts. In other words, Americans could live a very comfortable life but consume far fewer resources.

What can be done to reverse this trend? It will take a political and cultural shift. Thankfully, there are many actions that we can all take to move in the right direction.

Calculate Your Ecological Footprint

A great way to get started is to calculate your personal ecological footprint. This can help pinpoint areas for improvement. Some of the easiest ways to reduce your impact are to use renewable energy, to reduce overall energy consumption, eat fewer animal products, buy less new stuff, live in a smaller home, drive less, and waste less food.

Celebrate Clean Energy Production Gains

Although the concept of Earth Overshoot Day is quite daunting, there is also good news about conserving resources. U.S. power generation from renewables  (that is, biomass, wind, geothermal, solar, and hydropower) surpassed coal in April 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Wind and hydropower comprise the lion’s share of renewable energy production, but solar energy production is increasing. Renewables now comprise 23 percent of U.S. power generation compared to 20 percent from coal. This trend is helpful for reducing carbon emissions and resource consumption.

Power production from coal has decreased from its peak a decade ago, and another 4.1 gigawatts of capacity is expected to be retired this year. Meanwhile, much of the growth in renewable energy is attributed to growth in wind and solar energy capacity. In 2018, 15 gigawatts of capacity came online. To put this big number in context, 1 gigawatt of power is equal to the energy production from 3.125 million photovoltaic (PV) panels or 412 utility-scale wind turbines. It is enough energy to power 110 million LED lights.

This happened for a variety of reasons. The price of renewable energy is decreasing, people and companies have been demanding cleaner power.

Determine Your Electricity Mix

There are many simple items we can do to cut our personal ecological footprints, which can make a big difference collectively.

A great place to start is by examining where your power comes from and finding greener sources of energy. The power mix varies largely by subregions of the country. Some areas use more wind and hydropower, while some areas still use a lot of coal — and this has a big impact on our ecological footprint. The Environmental Protection Agency provides this information by subregions.

If your area uses more fossil fuels for power generation, then you will generate more emissions when consuming electricity. Look into how to offset your dirty-energy emissions.

Switch to Clean Power

Many utility companies offer optional programs to source more renewable energy. This is a great way to support clean energy without installing solar panels. CleanChoice Energy has a website to find out more about programs offered in your area.

Consider Going Solar

Installing solar panels on your roof is a great way to go green. In many states, homeowners can save money by going solar rather than purchasing power from the local utility company. As utility rates increase, going solar becomes more lucrative. Installing a solar system is also a great way to increase your property value.

Visit the EnergySage website for free solar quotes from local solar energy contractors.

Join a Community Solar Project

Unfortunately, many homes aren’t ideal for solar panels. Renters, condo dwellers, low-income households, and people with shaded roofs might not be good candidates for solar. In some cases, community solar farms or solar gardens are a great option.

Solar gardens are solar energy plants that are owned by a community of people or a third party. These projects allow a group of people to use the solar power that is generated nearby without having solar panels on their property. In many cases, the energy from community solar farms costs less than what people otherwise pay the local utility company. It often works like a subscription where you pay more to the solar farm but have a lower electric bill.

The prevalence of community solar farms varies a lot by state because some states have policies that make it difficult to develop such projects.

Launch a Clean Energy Campaign

If your utility company generates a lot of power from fossil fuels, consider launching a campaign to get your utility to use more clean power. Change.org is a great platform to utilize to gain momentum behind this project. You can also urge your state politicians to create stringent renewable portfolio standards. These state-wide regulations vary greatly by state and require utilities to increase their use of renewable power sources. If you live in an area with a weak standard, consider launching a campaign for stronger standards.

When will Earth Overshoot Day occur next year? Ultimately, it depends on our collective actions. Let’s get started to reduce our impact in 2020.

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Can Growth in Sustainable Energy Reduce Natural Resources Overspend?

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Climate change drives collapse of baby corals in Great Barrier Reef

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This story was originally published by HuffPost and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The deadly back-to-back bleaching events that hammered Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in 2016 and 2017 led to a collapse in the recruitment of new corals, severely affecting the ecosystem’s ability to recover from the devastation.

That’s according to a new study published Wednesday in the journal Nature, which found that the number of juvenile corals that settled across the entire Great Barrier Reef in 2018 was 89 percent lower than historical averages before major bleaching events. The loss of so many mature adults during the climate-change-driven ocean heat waves left the ecosystem — the largest living structure on the planet — largely unable to replenish itself.

The report highlights the plight of corals in a warming world.

Along with an overall shortage of offspring, the study documents an alarming shift in the makeup of coral larvae. Dominant branching staghorn corals and table corals, the species that provide most of the habitat on the reef, produced fewer offspring than less-common stony corals. It’s a change that is likely to reduce the diversity of the reef, leaving it less resilient to future warming.

“The whole way that the Great Barrier Reef is behaving has changed,” Terry Hughes, the study’s lead author and the director of the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, said by phone. “The mix of adult species is different. The mix of baby species is radically different. And the way it’s interconnected has shifted.”

The Great Barrier Reef has been hit by four mass bleaching events since 1998. Nearly 30 percent of the reef died off in 2016 alone. Scientists at the time described the damage at places like Lizard Island, in the northern part of the reef, as “so, so sobering” and warned that “something akin to a train crash” was about to occur.

Hughes said that under normal conditions, it would take about 10 years for coral recruitment to bounce back.

“The adult population will need to reassemble,” he said. “There’s a dearth of large, highly productive corals in the system. It will take some time to regroup so the production of larvae gets back up to normal levels.”

But with climate change forecast to drive more frequent extreme heat waves, Hughes said, “the big question is whether we’ve got the luxury of a decade for that recovery to fully unfold.”

Coral bleaching is a phenomenon in which heat-stressed corals turn white after expelling their algae, which provide most of the coral polyps’ energy. If not allowed to recover free of stressors, the corals can perish. The most recent bleaching event, which lasted from June 2014 to May 2017, was the “longest, most widespread, and possibly the most damaging coral bleaching event on record,” Coral Reef Watch said.

Scientists say failing to cut global greenhouse gas emissions would spell doom for reefs around the globe. A U.N.-backed study published in 2017 predicted that “annual severe bleaching” will affect 99 percent of the world’s reefs within the century. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in a dire report late last year that the world’s tropical reefs could decline by 70 to 90 percent with an average global rise of 1.5 degrees C from preindustrial temperatures ― the upper limit that is the goal of the Paris Climate Accord. At 2 degrees C warming, 99 percent of reefs could be lost. And the latest federal climate assessment, released by the Trump administration in November, concluded that the loss of unique coral reef ecosystems “can only be avoided by reducing carbon dioxide emissions.”

Hughes said that the Great Barrier Reef is undergoing rapid change and is in serious trouble but that it’s not too late to save it from total destruction.

“It still has a pulse,” he said. “I think if we can hold global warming to 1.5 degrees C, we will certainly still have a Great Barrier Reef, but the mix of species will be quite different from today.”

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Climate change drives collapse of baby corals in Great Barrier Reef

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5 Easy Sustainability Tips, Just in Time for Earth Month

Earth Month starts tomorrow, and there’s never been a better time to?kick your green living into gear. These easy sustainability will help you get started.

Climate change is looking pretty grim?we no longer have the luxury of considering sustainability an “option”. Each and every one of us needs to start pulling our weight and pressuring businesses and governments to make rapid, significant?shifts if we care about?rescuing our planet.

To get you started on the road to personal sustainability, here are a few straightforward ways you can have a major impact on the planet (without much effort)?just in time for Earth Month!

1. Buy less stuff.

Fast fashion is a sustainability nightmare.?Buying new clothes every season? Guess what happens when you?toss your old clothes out?they get thrown in the landfill. And since?many clothes are made with manmade materials like polyester, they likely aren?t biodegradable. Let?s not forget that manufacturing clothing requires a tremendous amount of water resources and chemicals pollutants.

To lessen your impact, shop second hand when you have a craving to go shopping.?If you must buy new, invest in high-quality pieces that will last for years to come. It?s time to ditch fast fashion for good.

2. Take it easy on the new smartphones.

It can be tantalizing to go out and buy the latest and greatest tech device as soon as it hits the market, but if you care about sustainability you?re going to want to think twice.

According to the New York Times, ?The production of an iPhone 6, for example, released the equivalent of 178 pounds of carbon dioxide, or about as much as burning nine gallons of gas, according to a 2015 study.?

Sure, Apple and other tech companies have become more environmentally conscious since the iPhone 6 launched way back in 2014 (Apple has some particularly cool green initiatives going on), but the most sustainable option is still to keep your current phone for as long as possible.

You don’t?really need the latest,?shiniest phone, if you have a perfectly fine functioning one. And when it is time to replace your old phone, definitely make sure to recycle it with the manufacturer, so that it doesn’t leach chemicals in a landfill somewhere.

3. Divest from fossil fuels.

Take a peek at your retirement funds or other investments. Are you supporting the fossil fuel industry (and climate change alongside it)? Divesting is becoming a popular (and effective) way to take a stand.

According to a 2018 report, ?Today, nearly 1,000 institutional investors with $6.24 trillion in assets have committed to divest from fossil fuels, up from $52 billion four years ago?an increase of 11,900 percent.?

It’s not a fringe idea anymore?and it’s sure to make a direct impact on fossil fuel companies. Don?t be afraid to?take a real stand.

4. Reduce your use of plastics.

If you’ve been avoiding it, it’s finally time. No more single-use plastics. That means cutting back on plastic straws, single-use flatware, cups and bottles, grocery and produce bags, food wrap and even garbage bags.

It?s relatively?easy to find more sustainable alternatives?for all these plastic products?whether they?re compostable bio plastics or 100 percent plastic-free. All it requires is a small amount of effort.

5. Support businesses who care about sustainability.

When you buy things, put your money where your mouth is.?Find sustainable alternatives for the products you use most, and support the businesses that make them. For instance, instead of buying plastic food wrap a couple times a year, why not invest in parchment paper or reusable (and incredible) Bee?s Wrap?

The more we support green businesses, the more power we gain as consumers to encourage greater sustainability efforts across the board.

Do you have any other easily-adoptable tips for living a sustainable lifestyle? Share them with the community in the comments section below!

Related on Care2:

Unlock Your Creativity by Napping Like Einstein
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The Surprising Recycling Mistake You’re Probably Making

Images via Getty

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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5 Easy Sustainability Tips, Just in Time for Earth Month

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Dear white people: We need to talk about your diet’s carbon footprint

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When it comes to emissions, our food choices carry some serious weight. And according to a new study, white individuals’ eating habits contribute more on average to climate change-related emissions than other demographic groups.

The study, published Monday in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, examined the “food pipeline” — the production, distribution, and waste associated with the products we eat — to assess the environmental impacts of three different demographic groups, “Blacks, Latinx, and Whites.” Using data from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, researchers found that the typical diet of a white American includes more foods that require more land and water — and emit more greenhouse gases — than the typical diets of black and Latinx communities.

In the study, white Americans’ eating patterns had the highest per capita greenhouse gas and water impacts of any demographic group due to their consumption of “environmentally intense food items” such as potatoes, beef, apples, and milk. Black Americans’ diets had the highest per capita land impact “due to their consumption of land‐intense food items in the fruit and ‘protein foods’ food groups,” but had the lowest per capita greenhouse gas emissions of the three groups examined.

“If we are to draft policies related to food, they can’t be one-size-fits-all policies because different populations have different eating patterns which have their own unique impacts on the environment,” Joe Bozeman, a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago and first author on the paper, said in a statement.

Of course, how you eat depends on more than just your race. Individuals’ food habits vary depending on geographic location, socioeconomic status, age, gender, culture, religion, and personal preference, to say the least. But the study is just the latest piece of evidence that, on a population level, disparities exist between which demographic groups contribute to — and bear the burdens of — climate change.

According to research published earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, people of color are exposed to higher levels of air pollution than what would be expected based on their own rates of consumption (a contributor to emissions). The PNAS study found that non-white Hispanics breathe in 63 percent more air pollution than caused by their own consumption, while black people are exposed to about 56 percent more than they cause. As for white Americans, the study found they breathe in 17 percent less air pollution than they cause.

“The approach we establish in this study could be extended to other pollutants, locations, and groupings of people,” said study co-author Julian Marshall in an interview with USA Today. “When it comes to determining who causes air pollution — and who breathes that pollution — this research is just the beginning.”

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Dear white people: We need to talk about your diet’s carbon footprint

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Micro-Organisms and Biotechnology – Birchfield Interactive


Micro-Organisms and Biotechnology

High School Edition

Birchfield Interactive

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $0.99

Publish Date: July 17, 2012

Publisher: Birchfield Interactive


This textbook uses stunning 3D animation with voice-over, video, imagery and interactive activities to ensure effective learning for this topic. Superb for independent learning, covering the following topics areas: Classes of Microbes; Microbes and Disease; Defense Against Microbes; Microbes and Food Production; Other Applications of Biotechnology, and Famous Microbial Discoveries.


Micro-Organisms and Biotechnology – Birchfield Interactive

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How a Minimalist Lifestyle Can Add to Your Green Efforts


You may have seen the term “minimalism” being thrown around a lot lately, especially in the eco-friendly sphere. As more and more people have adopted minimalist lifestyles, the concept has begun to slowly creep to the forefront of our collective consciousness. But what exactly is minimalism? To be honest, it can be a little hard to pinpoint.

Minimalism means different things to different people — it’s unique to the person living it. The truth is, there’s no “one size fits all” to this approach. However, one thing that can be agreed upon is that living as a minimalist is far more earth-friendly than how the majority of Americans are currently getting by. Let’s take a closer look:

What Is Minimalism?

Ranging from apartment-dwelling urbanites to country homesteaders, minimalists come from vast walks of life. They might be single or have a large family, have a house full of treasured items or live out of a backpack. The common ground lies in the opposition to the American ideal of working more to make more, and spending more to have more.

The true essence of minimalism is determining what provides you the most value in life and removing everything that is simply excess. It’s a very intentional way of living that gives rise to positive changes in almost all aspects of life. Being a minimalist means choosing to live your life with great purpose.

Curbing the Consumer Mind-Set

Society’s greatest lie is that a good life is based on the accumulation and possession of as many material items as possible. Massive houses, expensive cars, grand yachts, glittering diamonds — you know, the Instagram-worthy, Kardashian-inspired lifestyle. When we believe that more is better, we fall prey to the notion that money can buy happiness. That’s where minimalism comes in. Minimalism frees us from the all-consuming desire to possess. It sidesteps consumerism and compels us to seek happiness in experiences and relationships. It encourages us to actually live a life instead of buying one.

Now, all this isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with owning material possessions. It’s more about throwing off the meaning we attribute to said possessions. To put it more plainly, acquiring more stuff shouldn’t come before our health, relationships or personal growth. If owning a house or a car is important to you, that’s perfectly fine. Minimalism is merely a method that supports you in making these decisions more thoughtfully.

When it comes to your possessions, adopting a minimalist lifestyle means being very intentional about what you own and not being distracted by material belongings. While you may want to start your minimalist journey by getting rid of a bunch of stuff, the focus of minimalism shouldn’t be on what you are throwing out, it should instead be on the benefit of removing what doesn’t bring value to your life. Though minimalism sounds like it’s all about having less, there’s actually a lot of “more” that comes along with it. You’ll have more time, more space, more peace and more freedom.

Minimalism Is Eco-Friendly

The basic tenets of minimalism are surprisingly in tune with the eco-friendly way of living. For instance, by making a conscious choice to only purchase what is absolutely needed, you’ll naturally consume less. The less gas, plastic and nonrecyclable materials you use on a regular basis, the fewer nonrenewable resources are used up in their production. Reuse allows you to take this even further, say by borrowing a book from the library instead of buying a new one.

Minimalism makes you more aware of how much waste you generate. Buying less means wasting less; the fewer purchases you make, the fewer boxes, bags and packing materials end up dumped in landfills. What’s more, when you produce less waste, sorting through it for recycling and composting purposes is far easier and more efficient.

Minimalism is helpful in overcoming perceived obsolescence. Perceived obsolescence is when an object is completely functional but is no longer perceived to be stylish or appropriate. It’s rendered obsolete by perception, rather than by function. Minimalism encourages you to purchase goods designed to last for a long period of time, and use them for their entire life span.

Though eighty-sixing excess possessions is a big part of minimalism, the concept goes far beyond what you own. Minimalism should be practiced in all areas of your life — determine what you value most and remove what stands in the way. Apply this to how you spend your time, who you have relationships with, what you eat and so on.

Minimalism, like so many things in life, comes in many forms — it’s a flexible concept. You can choose to adopt the aspects of minimalism that appeal to you most and adapt others to fit your lifestyle. And since it all depends on what adds value to your life in the moment, it’s bound to change over time. After all, what’s meaningful to you in your 20s is not always the same as what’s meaningful to you in your 50s. Just remember, the true aim of minimalism isn’t to deprive yourself of anything, it’s to focus on the things that bring you the most value, cultivate your relationships and live the best life you can.

To learn more about embracing minimalism, check out these fantastic minimalist blogs.

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock

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How a Minimalist Lifestyle Can Add to Your Green Efforts

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6 Ways to Make Your Fridge Plastic Free

In 2010,Scientific Americanconcluded The amount of plastic manufactured in the first 10 years of this century will approach the total produced in the entire last century. The data came from areportthat pointed out the many dangers this material poses to the planet and humans alike.

By cutting down and eventually eliminating the use of throw-away plastics from our food routines, we can help reduce these dangers. It will also help reduce our dependence on pre-packaged, processed foods, and make us more in tune with what we have in our refrigerators. That way, we can cut down on wasted food, which is a huge problem in a country where its estimated that as much as40 percent of the food supply is thrown away.

America has fallen in love with our refrigerators. Weve become so dependent on them that we put everything in there, and this leads to over-crowding, resulting in a less efficient refrigerator and food waste. (If you cant see it, youll forget to eat it.) Modern refrigerators are well-engineered and packed with features that not only keep your food fresh, but prolong its life without the need for excess packaging. These include temperature-controlled doors, airtight crispers and herb storage systems. To get the most out of these fridges, its important to use the features correctly.

Food waste and over-dependence on plastic go hand-in-hand, and to help cut down on both you need to shop thoughtfully, store correctly and understand the needs of the food you eat. Here are six simple steps to take to help achieve a zero-waste and plastic free fridge.

Read more about the dangers of plastic

1. Dont keep produce in plastic bags

Those humidity-controlled drawers in your fridge, known as crispers, work very well when youuse them properly. As a bonus, they mean you dont need to store your produce in plastic bags to keep it fresh. Plastic can actually be the enemy of freshness in these finely-tuned climate-controlled areas of our fridges, as encasing certain produce in plastic encourages the production of ethylene gas that will cause food to spoil more quickly. Consider taking reusable produce bags with you to put your produce in when you shop. You can evenmake your own.

2. Use cloth instead of plastic wrap

Wrap leafy greens and other produce that needs to be contained while in the crisper in a clean kitchen towel or muslin cloth, lightly dampened for produce that needs to be kept moist. You can also buy drawstring muslinproduce bagsfor convenience.

3. Know what should and shouldnt be in the crisper

Some veggies dont like the crisper, unless you have an airtight one. Use a glass container with a lid for carrots, zucchini and cucumbers, which can suffer from limpness in a regular crisper. Celery and other leafy greens do best standing upright in a glass of water. Use your fridges adjustable shelving to create a space for storing your produce in this way when you can. Not only does it preserve it longer, but having it front and center in the fridge means youre more likely to reach for it when you need a snack.Heresa handy guide that goes through the best ways to store all fruits and vegetables, courtesy of the Ecology Center in Berkley, CA.

4. Dont store everything in the fridge

A crowded fridge results in food getting overlooked and eventually spoiling. Below are some other foods you dont need to store in the fridge.

Bread, butter and most root vegetables:Store these in cool, dark places, such as the bottom of a pantry. Bread does best wrapped in a cloth bag and stored on the counter in a bread bin. If you arent going to use it right away, store it in the freezer, not the fridge. Butter keeps well on the counter too when stored in a ceramic butter keeper.
Firm fruit:Fruit stores best in a bowl on the counter. Plus, because its visible and accessible, youre more likely to eat it.
Leafy veg:Vegetables like chard and beet leaves do well in a glass jar with a bit of water out on the counter. Plus, they look nice! The same applies to herbs such as parsley and basil.

5. Use glass containers

Store leftover and pre-prepared or chopped food in glass containers, such as those made by Pyrex. Stainless steel is an option, but glass means you can see whats in it, meaning youre more likely to eat it and its less likely to be wasted. Plus, you can put a glass container right into the oven ormicrowave. You can also just put another plate over the top of a half-eaten meal and put it straight in the fridge, pretty much eliminating the need for plastic wrap in your home. Alternatively, you can use reusable silicon lids that mold themselves to a multitude of containers.

6. Dont forget the freezer

Not just for TV dinners packed in too much plastic, the freezer is your best friend when it comes to prolonging the life of fresh foods, including produce, bread or cooked grains such as pasta and rice. Dont even think about stocking up on gallon freezer bags! Glass containers are excellent in the freezer. Just be sure to choose thick glass, such as Pyrex or Mason jars, and allow a little extra room in the container for food to expand, which it will do when frozen. (You dont want to end up with broken glass in your freezer!)

Read about 5 places plastic is hiding in your home

Start collecting glass jars, the type pasta sauce and jelly come in, and use them for leftovers or chopped-up produce. Just fill them up and pop them in the freezer until youre ready to use them, when they can go straight in themicrowaveto defrost. If youre not convinced about glass, reusable heavy-duty plastic containers, such as those made by Rubbermaid and Tupperware, will last a long time and generally avoid staining and cracking that occur in more flimsy plastic containers.

Next time youre shopping at the grocery store, keep these concepts in mind. Steer clear of food in plastic containers. Instead, look for food in glass jars and cloth bags that you can reuse. Take reusable bags to the store, not only for the checkout counter, but also for the produce department, where you should avoid pre-packed produce. Also, dont walk past the bulk item section. Buying goods in bulk not only saves money, but significantly reduces packaging waste, especially if you bring along reusable cloth bags.

Written by Jennifer Tuohy. Reposted with permission fromNaturally Savvy.

Photo Credit: Sarnil Prasad/Flickr

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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6 Ways to Make Your Fridge Plastic Free

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We Have Terrible News For Anyone Who Eats Chicken

Mother Jones

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One of the US Department of Agriculture’s main tasks is to ensure that the nation’s meat supply is safe. But according to a new peer-reviewed study from the department’s own researchers, the USDA’s process for monitoring salmonella contamination on chicken—by far the most-consumed US meat—may be flawed.

The process works like this: After birds are slaughtered, plucked, and eviscerated, the carcasses are sprayed with a variety of antimicrobial chemicals designed to kill pathogens like salmonella and campylobacter, and then plunged into a cold bath (which also includes antimicrobial chemicals) to lower their temperature. At that point, a few of the birds are randomly selected, rinsed, removed from the line, and put into plastic bags filled with a liquid that collects any remaining pathogens. The liquid is then sent to a lab for testing within 24 hours. (The test birds go back into the production line.) If a large number of them test positive for salmonella, the USDA knows there’s a problem and takes steps to address it.

According to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which oversees safety protocols in the nation’s slaughterhouses, the salmonella system works great. The agency’s latest numbers show a steadily falling incidence of positive tests for salmonella on chicken carcasses: just 3.9 percent in 2013, down from 7.2 percent in 2009.

But a new study by scientists at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) paints a less rosy picture. The researchers simulated the FSIS’s method for testing collecting pathogens from chicken carcasses, and found it can turn up negative results even when salmonella is present.

Here’s why: When those birds are plucked off the line for testing, they’ve just been bombarded with antimicrobial chemicals, and traces of those chemicals can collect in the testing bags along with remaining microbes. In order for tests to be accurate, the germ-killing chemicals have to be quickly neutralized by the testing liquid. If they’re not, they can keep killing bacteria and, as the study puts it, “lead to false-negative results due to sanitizer carryover into the carcass.” And that’s exactly what happened in the simulation the researchers conducted. The authors concluded that their study “suggests that current procedures for the isolation and identification of Salmonella on poultry carcasses may need modification.”

But the FSIS disagrees with this conclusion. “FSIS is confident that our testing results yield accurate outcomes,” an agency spokesman wrote in an email. He emphasized that the ARS study was a simulation, and “did not evaluate the same practices as our in-plant personnel utilize.”

Salmonella poisoning remains a huge problem. Starting in March 2013, a salmonella outbreak traced back to chicken sickened more than 600 people in 29 states, 38 percent of whom had to be hospitalized. And—unlike the FSIS’s tests for salmonella on chicken carcasses—salmonella poisoning rates have not shown any steady decline pattern over the past 15 years. Here’s a chart from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Chart: Centers for Disease Control

Not all of those infections come from contaminated chicken, of course. The CDC doesn’t break down salmonella poisoning by food source, and doing so is tricky, said Mansour Samadpour, a food safety expert and chief executive of IEH Laboratories and Consulting Group. Most chicken-related salmonella infections come from not from eating undercooked meat, but rather from cross-contamination, he said—like cutting vegetables for a salad with the same knife used to slice raw chicken. As a result, the source of a given salmonella-triggered food poisoning is hard to trace. But chicken is the “item in the supermarket most likely to be contaminated with salmonella,” he said.

And also, while the FSIS’s numbers show impressively low rates of salmonella on chicken carcasses from its carcass testing—3.9 percent in 2013, 4.3 percent in 2012—other numbers from the agency suggest the problem may be worse. In another report, based on tests conducted in 2012, the FSIS gathered chicken samples from the very end of production lines, after they’d been cut into parts, the way consumers typically buy them. They found a positive rate for salmonella of 26.2 percent—about six times the rate found the same year on the FSIS’s testing of carcasses.

For Samadpour, that huge discrepancy suggests that the carcass testing may indeed be generating lots of false negatives. That means consumers could be being exposed to salmonella-contaminated chicken at much higher rates than the FSIS’s carcass numbers suggest.

The solution is pretty clear, Samadpour told me. Instead of testing whole carcasses just after they’ve been bathed in antimicrobials, while they’re still in the middle of the processing line, the tests should happen at the end of the processing line, when the carcasses have been cut up and are ready for packaging. He said Big Chicken could learn something from the beef industry, which began testing its finished products in that manner for a virulent E. coli strain called O157:H7 in the 1990s: Rates of poisoning from that often-deadly bacteria have plunged since.

In the meantime, I’m taking extra care when prepping chicken. Here‘s how the CDC says consumers should handle it.

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We Have Terrible News For Anyone Who Eats Chicken

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In Secrets of Coral Spawning, Hope for Endangered Reefs

Scientists are racing to understand the bizarre reproduction rites of coral as declining water quality and climate change devastate reefs worldwide. Link: In Secrets of Coral Spawning, Hope for Endangered Reefs ; ; ;

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In Secrets of Coral Spawning, Hope for Endangered Reefs

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How the Fight Against Zika Is Playing Out Across Brazil Right Now

Mother Jones

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Brazil is in crisis. Earlier this month, President Dilma Rousseff was ousted from office after a series of scandals led to impeachment proceedings. Newly installed opposition leaders are facing a series of corruption charges of their own. And the Zika virus, first detected in Brazil in April 2015, continues to stymie public health officials concerned about the upcoming Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

So far, the new government’s approach toward Zika has been questionable, at best: The new health minister, Ricardo Barros, is an engineer with no previous experience in health administration. And while Barros listed the fight to eradicate the Aedes aegypti mosquito as one of his top priorities when he took over, he’s got his work cut out for himself: Zika has infected 120,161 Brazilians in 2016, with another 1,434 confirmed cases of microcephaly since October (up from around 150 per year).

But how has Zika affected the lives of average Brazilians? Here are some unexpected ways the virus is impacting people on the ground.

There’s no privacy when it comes to Zika: As part of the government’s Aedes aegypti eradication plan, federal health agents have been going door to door to inspect backyards and educate the public. Ever since Rousseff signed a new rule into law in January, these agents have been allowed to force their way into public and private buildings—including people’s homes—to search for mosquito breeding sites if no one answers the door after two separate visits. If necessary, the police can be called upon to help gain entrance.

There’s been a rush on bug repellent: Last November, right after the government announced that the increase of microcephaly cases in northeastern Brazil was probably related to Zika, many Brazilians—especially pregnant women—rushed to drugstores to buy mosquito repellent. But not just any repellent: Experts in the field started to recommend a specific brand, Exposis, which is the only one in Brazil made with Icaridin, an ingredient said to guarantee up to 10 hours of protection.

According to Paulo Castejón Guerra Vieira, general-director of Osler of Brazil—the lab that produces Exposis—the company had prepared for dengue and chikungunya epidemics but was surprised by the Zika explosion. The resulting shortage led to a repellent black market, with Exposis selling for more than double its already-expensive original price of $16 a bottle. Pregnant women started to stock it. Production increased 30-fold to meet demand. “I had people calling here saying that they were afraid their babies would be born with microcephaly and we should work it out,” Guerra says. “We did everything we could to increase production.” They were finally able to meet demand four months later, in March.

Introducing species-killing, multicolored GM mosquitoes: Millions of genetically modified mosquitoes have been released as part of research projects to reduce mosquito populations across the country. In the most recent test, transgenic mosquitoes helped cause an 82 percent reduction in larvae in a neighborhood in the city of Piracicaba, located the state of São Paulo. (The GM mosquito produced by the company Oxitec has an alteration that prevents offspring from developing.) Two cities in the state of Bahia have seen similar results with transgenic mosquitoes.

In the last few months, residents of Piracicaba have been surprised and a little frightened to find pink, blue, and yellow mosquitoes flying through their homes. These GM insects were actually dyed with powdered paint so the researchers could better control their survival in the wild.

Courtesy Oxitec

In vitro fertilization just got even more complicated: There have been countless reports of couples delaying pregnancy because of the risk of microcephaly. But what about those considering in vitro fertilization? According to new rules, they must first take Zika tests.

The exams started to be mandatory in April, following a resolution by the Brazilian equivalent of the US Food and Drug Administration, and it is now a requirement for the couple and for sperm and egg donors. According to geneticist Ciro Martinhago, who runs a São Paulo laboratory specializing in reproductive genetics, many couples who had gone through fertilization procedures at the end of last year decided to postpone the embryo transfer until the beginning of Brazil’s winter, when there are fewer mosquitoes.

Martinhago’s laboratory was the first in Brazil to offer a molecular test to detect Zika in semen, and he even got requests from men who weren’t going through in vitro but wanted to make sure they weren’t putting their sexual partners in risk. According to a preliminary data published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, the virus could be detected in semen up to 62 days after the first symptoms. On May 10, the Brazilian Ministry of Health recommended the use of condoms to prevent sexual transmission of Zika, especially among pregnant women.

Poor Brazilians are more affected by microcephaly, and officials aren’t sure why: Microcephaly, the most severe condition so far associated with Zika, seems to be impacting the poor more intensely. According to data released by the Secretary of Social Development, Children, and Youth of Pernambuco, one of the first states affected by the microcephaly outbreak, 69 percent of the 1,947 reported cases through the beginning of May came in families living in extreme poverty.

While low-income populations are more likely to be exposed to the mosquitoes, scientists are already looking at other factors that might be increasing their microcephaly risk—specifically, poor nutrition and exposure to previous infections.

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How the Fight Against Zika Is Playing Out Across Brazil Right Now

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