Tag Archives: waste

water an chocolate

Do you know how much water goes to make your food?

Approximately 3.8tn cubic metres of water is used by humans annually with 70% being consumed by the global agriculture sector, according to a report issued by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME). Strikingly, up to 50% of all food is thrown away before it gets the chance to reach consumers, often out of frivolous reasons. In terms of water that’s  550bn cubic metres that go to waste each year. At the same time, approximately 795 million people in the world are chronically malnourished and 1 in 10 lack access to clean water. While policy makers should take more notice and take measures to curb waste, there’s much you can do yourself to cut on waste. Eglė Plytnikaitė, an illustrator from Vilnius, Lithuania made an insightful infographic showing how much water goes into some of the most popular foodstuff.

water an chocolate

“The “click” happened when I was reading about the advantages of the vegan diet. I’m a vegetarian for a long time but I never really understood why people go vegan before I read a bunch of articles about the dairy industry. One of the most shocking facts that I found was the data of an enormous amount of water that’s wasted in the meat and dairy industry. I searched for all the possible information about this issue and decided that I have to make it more visible. That’s how the illustration project “How much water do you eat” was born,” said Plytnikaitė for ZME Science.

meat water

“As the GRACE Communication Foundation has reported “the food we eat makes up more than 2/3 of our total water footprint” so I’m choosing the local plant based food what naturally helps me to safe a lot of water. I also ride a bike instead of driving a car, try to buy as less as possible and if I need something I aways check the second hand stuff first. However, I understand that I won’t change the world alone so I try to spread these ideas with my illustration projects such as “How much water do you eat” and “Environmental Issues,” she said when asked how she reduces her carbon and water footprint.

pork water

egg water


crop water

banana water

Potato water

“I know that it’s really hard to change your comfortable routine and habits, especially when we are talking about food, but I’m sure that it’s really worth it. Choosing a little bit more local plant based food every day will dramatically change your water footprint, help the planet and also make you healthier, so why not to start today?” said Plytnikaitė for the ZME science readers.

what are you going to cook today

Follow Eglė Plytnikaitė on Facebook/Twitter

golden toilet paper

You’re flushing a goldmine down the toilet, literally

At a recent meeting of the of the American Chemical Society, researchers proposed a novel source of valuable metals: waste water. They proposed a method that could be used to extract valuable metals like gold, silver or titanium which end up in waste water plants via the city’s sewage.

golden toilet paper

Who the heck throws gold down the toilet, you might ask. Well, you’ve done it plenty of times without knowing it, most likely.

“There are metals everywhere,” Kathleen Smith of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) says, noting they are “in your hair care products, detergents, even nanoparticles that are put in socks to prevent bad odors.” Whatever their origin, the wastes containing these metals all end up being funneled through wastewater treatment plants, where she says many metals end up in the leftover solid waste.

According to Smith, more than 7 million tons of biosolids come out of U.S. wastewater facilities each year. Half of that is used as fertilizer, while the rest is sent to landfills or is incinerated. One man’s trash, is another’s treasure, and with this in mind Smith and colleagues are currently working on ways to value solid waste, particularly rare metals. At first glance, you might think this isn’t worth it, considering the energy (money) you need to pump in the system to extract, but the waste from 1 million Americans might contain metal worth $13 million. In some places, the concentration of gold is about the same or more than that found in natural mine deposits currently being exploited.

This image shows microscopic gold-rich and lead-rich particles in a municipal biosolids sample. Image credit: Heather Lowers, USGS Denver Microbeam Laboratory

This image shows microscopic gold-rich and lead-rich particles in a municipal biosolids sample. Image credit: Heather Lowers, USGS Denver Microbeam Laboratory

To extract metals, the researchers propose methods commonly in use by the mining industry. This involves using chemicals called leachates, which this industry uses to pull metals out of rock. Typically, these are very harmful to the environment, but at the American Chemical Society meeting, the researchers claim that these can be contained to waste water plants only, with no adverse effects to the environment or the population.

So far, Smith’s group has collected samples from small towns in the Rocky Mountains, rural communities and big cities. They found traces of platinum, silver and gold, and on a case by case basis, these could be found in a high enough concentration for extraction to become economically feasible.

Elsewhere, the city of Suwa in Japan is already working on extracting the gold from its sewers. They installed a treatment plant near a large number of precision equipment manufacturers reportedly collected nearly 2 kilograms of gold in every metric ton of ash left from burning sludge, making it more gold-rich than the ore in many mines.


The solar char toilet developed at University of Boulder Colorado.

Solar powered toilet locks greenhouse gases and increases crop yields

One of the 16 teams involved in a collaborative project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that aims to help some of the 2.5 billion people around the world lacking safe and sustainable sanitation recently unveiled their innovative design: a solar-powered toilet that treats solid waste by effectively carbonizing it. The concentrated solar power delivers high energy in the waste chamber, sterilizing it and transforming it into biochar – a highly porous charcoal used to both increase crop yields and sequester carbon dioxide.

Karl Linden, professor of environmental engineering at University of Colorado Boulder, and colleagues developed a next-generation toilet destined for poor and unaccessible areas where waste disposal isn’t effectively disposed of in a centralized manner.

The solar char  toilet developed at University of Boulder Colorado.

The solar char toilet developed at University of Boulder Colorado.

The high tech latrine consists of eight parabolic mirrors that focus concentrated sunlight to a spot no larger than a postage stamp on a quartz-glass rod connected to eight bundles of fiber-optic cables, each consisting of thousands of intertwined, fused fibers, said Linden. The energy generated by the sun and transferred to the fiber-optic cable system — similar in some ways to a data transmission line — can heat up the reaction chamber to over 600 degrees Fahrenheit to treat the waste material, disinfect pathogens in both feces and urine, and produce char.
Char is a very useful material because of its high water retaining properties. A soil mixture containing 10 percent biochar can hold up to 50 percent more water and increase the availability of plant nutrients, thus helping improve crop yields. Additionally the charcol has carbon mitigating properties, helping reduce greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. Alternatively, you can release the trapped carbon back into the atmosphere by burning it to extract energy comparable to that of commercial charcoal.

“We are doing something that has never been done before,” said Linden. “While the idea of concentrating solar energy is not new, transmitting it flexibly to a customizable location via fiber-optic cables is the really unique aspect of this project.”

Tests have shown that each of the eight fiber-optic cables can produce between 80 and 90 watts of energy, meaning the whole system can deliver up to 700 watts of energy into the reaction chamber, said Linden. In its current form, the toilet was designed to meet the needs of six people a day, however larger facility that could serve several households simultaneously are currently being considered. The key here is cost, especially considering the toilet’s target group. The researchers claim a cost level of five cents a day per user can be reached.

The team of researchers involved in the project will travel to Delhi, where their invention along with 15 other produced by researchers from other University will be on display March 22. Other institutional winners of the Gates Foundation’s “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge” range from Caltech to Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and the National University of Singapore.

“We have a lot of excitement and energy on our team, and the Gates Foundation values that,” Linden said.  “It is one thing to do research, another to screw on nuts and bolts and make something that can make a difference. To me, that’s the fun part, and the project is a nice fit for CU-Boulder because we have a high interest in developing countries and expertise in all of the renewable energy technologies as well as sanitation.”

Don’t blame Tesco for mass food wastage, get creative and make your weekly shop go further


Courtesy of gopure.com

Tesco recently hit the news once again in a whirlwind of controversy as it was revealed that the UK supermarket giant wasted 28,000 tonnes of food in the first half of 2013.

As most of us would guess, the common wastage culprits were the typical items we’re all guilty of forgetting about, failing to use or allowing to go pass their sell-by dates, such as bagged salad and bakery goods.

Understandably the news has sparked argument amongst the general public, with some vehemently blaming the supermarkets and others stating that we should all start taking more responsibility for our meal planning and purchasing.

Because while Tesco could certainly make more effort to implement ‘food saving’ measures, a substantial amount of wastage occurs within the home. According to Tesco, 35% of bagged salad is thrown out by consumers at home, 17% is lost in the field and 15% is lost through processing.

Tesco have since acknowledged their role in helping to stem food wastage and have pledged to reduce the amount of frivolous offers held as well as changing salad packaging to re-sealable bags. So supermarket blame aside, what can we do within our own homes to ensure we’re utilising our food in the most efficient way possible?

Get Storage Savvy

Separating packs of meat into portions for freezing can seem annoying when you’ve just dragged in 5 grocery bags, but it not only saves you money through reduced wastage, but also helps you to control your portion sizes. We all know that cooking and attempting to eat a full pack of sausages is tempting when they’re about to go out of date (before failing and binning them!), so by separating your meat you’ll be able to defrost and eat only what you need to use.

You can also use separating your meat as a quick way to create tasty meals – simply pop some chicken into a food storage bag and pour in some of your favourite marinade (or make your own with lemon, garlic, rosemary and olive oil), give it a shake, allow to marinade for 4-12 hours before popping in the freezer. You’ll have a tasty piece of meat to simply defrost and pop in the oven.

Get Creative With Your Leftovers

Trust us, getting creative with your leftovers is seriously ‘chef-like’, you can create really sophisticated flavours by using odd and ends you’d usually throw away. A little almost-ready-to-throw-out cured meat such as bacon or chorizo is beautiful when added to stews, pasta sauces and pizzas and meagre lumps of cheese make a fantastic topping when grated and mixed with breadcrumbs.


Don’t Be Seduced By Offers

‘Buy one get one half price’ toilet paper might be great, but the same principle doesn’t always apply to perishables such as yogurts. Do you really need extra items than you’d usually purchase? If no then don’t be drawn in by offers which will ultimately end up wasted.

Scale Back On ‘Refrigerator’ Only Products

If you’re guilty of throwing away fresh fruit and salad regularly, then consider opting for dried, canned or frozen varieties instead, they can be really useful for bulking out a meal and adding to cereals. There’s a great range of frozen vegetable choice out there and in many cases they’ll be advertised as picked then frozen quickly to retain maximum nutrients. You’ll also get much more out of 1 pack than if you purchased fresh, saving money too. Of course, fresh fruit and vegetables are important, but if you’re typically throwing them away then try to replace some of your regulars with frozen varieties.

Of course, we don’t need to tell you what you already know, if you’re well aware of the products that regularly end up in the bin, then consider changing your purchasing habits to something you can keep fresher for longer or opt for a freezer-friendly substitute. It’s also worth seeing if any shelters or charities near you could do some with help, that way if you’re faced with a ‘mass leftover’ generated stew then you can feed your family and offer support to the homeless too.

Victoria is writing on behalf of Resource and Environmental Consultants (REC) Ltd. REC specialise in a range of corporate environmental services and air quality assessments.

Significant breakthrough in biofuels

I was writing a while ago that major biofuel production is not really that far away and the good news is things seem to be moving in that direction. The importance of biofuels has been underlined as a possible solution to fight the crisis, but the big problem was that creating such alternative fuels required too big amounts of power, despite numerous options that were considered (sugar, waste materials and even algae).

biofuel_logo11However, an innovative device constructed by researchers from the University of Sheffield promises to give the necessary power lowering necessary to make this method viable. This invention was awarded with a prestigious international award (Moulton Medal from the Institution of Chemical Engineers) and it’s estimated that it will make biofuel production efficient.

The invention is basically a bioreactor that creates microbubbles using 18% less energy. Microbubbles are miniature gas bubbles (measuring less than 50 microns in diameter) which means they can transfer materials in a bioreactor much more faster than with regular bubbles, thus using less energy. This innovative approach has the whole scientific world excited and it’s currently being tested with a local water company, and it’s also estimated that the necessary electricity current will be 30% lower;we will post updates as they are released by the researchers.

Professor Will Zimmerman, from the Department of Chemical and Process Engineering at the University of Sheffield, said: “I am delighted that our team’s work in energy efficient microbubble generation is being recognized by the Institution of Chemical Engineers. The potential for large energy savings with our microbubble generation approach is huge. I hope the award draws more industry attention to our work, particularly in commodity chemicals production for gas dissolution and stripping, where energy savings could enhance profitability. There are many routes to becoming green, and reducing energy consumption with the same or better performance must be the most painless.”

Professor Martin Tillotson, from Yorkshire Water, added: “Many of our processes use forced air in order to treat water and wastewater streams and, given the huge volumes, it is very costly in electricity and carbon terms. This technology offers the potential to produce a step-change in energy performance. We are pleased to be working with Professor Zimmerman and his group in developing the microbubble technology, and delighted with the recognition they have received from the Moulton Medal award.”

‘Green Gasoline’ from sugar

biofuelThis month, two independent teams have announced that they have succesfully converted sugar-potentially derived waste from agriculture and non-food plants into gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other chemical substances of high importance.

Randy Cortright, a chemical engineer at Virent Energy Systems of Madison, Wisc. announced that carbohydrates and sugars can be processed into a number of substances used as petroleum, or in the pharmaceutical industry.

“NSF (National Science Foundation) and other federal funding agencies are advocating the new paradigm of next generation hydrocarbon biofuels,” said John Regalbuto, director of the Catalysis and Biocatalysis Program at NSF and chair of an interagency working group on biomass conversion. “Even when solar and wind, in addition to clean coal and nuclear, become highly developed, and cars become electric or plug-in hybrid, we will still need high energy-density gasoline, diesel and jet fuel for planes, trains, trucks, and boats. The processes that these teams developed are superb examples of pathways that will enable the sustainable production of these fuels.”

Also, a separate discovery of a very similar process was reported by Dumesic laboratory. The key to both these discoveries is a process called phase reforming. Basically, when you pass a water slurry from plant derived sugar over some catalysts that speed up reactions without self destroying, carbon-rich organic molecules split apart, and then recombine to form chemicals that are extracted from non-renewable petroleum. Dumasic explains that a key role in this was played by an intermediary stage of the sugars.

“The intermediate compounds retain 95 percent of the energy of the biomass but only about 40 percent of the mass, and can be upgraded into different types of transportation fuels, such as gasoline, jet and diesel fuels,” said Dumesic. “Importantly, the formation of this functional intermediate oil does not require the need for an external source of hydrogen,” he added, since hydrogen comes from the slurry itself.