Own the conversation this weekend with The WTF, a top-6 collection of the current and topical environmental news briefs, delivered with a side of humour.

The WTF: The Week This Friday Vol. 40

This is the Week This Friday! 6 quick-and-smart briefs about happenings in the environmental space.

Antarctic Seafloor Exposed After 50 Years of Ice Cover 

Source: BBC News

German scientists examined an area of the newly opened Antarctic seafloor by the slipping of the large iceberg A74 and found it to be full of life, of animals. The A74 breaks out of the Brunt Ice Shelf, a protruding part of the glacier that flows out of land into the Weddell Sea. On the map of the Sea, Weddell is that area of Antarctica, in the south of the Atlantic Ocean, Brunt on the eastern side of the sea. In the photo above, it is the piece of disjointed ice. Satellite measurements were made at approximately 1,290 sq km. 

Researchers often try to examine the calm waters beneath the sea ice to better understand how these unique ecosystems work. However, success is few and far between. You have to be in the right place in Antarctica at the right time, and often sea ice conditions will not allow the research ship to take a position above the precisely targeted area. 

Polarstern, run by the Alfred Wegener Institute, got lucky. The vessel widened the still narrow gap between the A74 and the Brunt Ice Shelf, which produced the giant iceberg. When the weather calmed down last weekend, the ship slipped behind the berg to peek over an area of ​​the seabed that is now free of ice cover for the first time in five decades (the red circle on the image above indicates where Polarstern sailed through), the vessel sailed the path between the Berg and the pack ice. Polarstern uses an Ocean Floor Observation and Bathymetry System (OFOBS). It is a sophisticated instrumentation package that is towed deep behind the vessel. In five hours, the system collected almost 1,000 high-resolution images and long video footage of the Antarctic seafloor. “Finding this kind of community this far below the sea ice is not surprising, but it is a good indication that there is a rich supply of food reaching at least 30 km below the sea ice,” explains Dr. Huw Griffiths of the British Antarctic Survey. 

Powering Planes with Food Waste

Source: Unsplash

The transportation sector is a huge emitter of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, especially planes, which is a bummer if you’re an environmentally-conscious person and love to travel the world, need to travel for work, or travel to see family. But I have good news: innovation is alive and well! Researchers in the U.S. have found a way of turning food waste into jet fuel.

Using food waste to power planes could greatly reduce carbon emissions from flying. The authors of the study even say that this new method could cut GHG emissions by 165% compared to fossil fuels, which includes the GHG emissions saved from diverting the food waste from landfills. 

The transportation industry has faced the challenge of balancing the need to travel and the need to cut emissions. Airlines in the U.S. use around 21 billion gallons of jet fuel every year, and that is expected to double by 2050. But wait – they have also committed to cutting their carbon emissions by 50%! Sounds a little contradictory… That’s why we need to see these new, sustainable alternatives to jet fuel being researched and tested. And what better substance to use for fuel than stuff we already throw away – food scraps!

“Being able to show that you can take these volatile fatty acids [from food waste], and that there’s a really elegant, simple way to turn it into jet fuel – that’s where I see the broader applicability of this one, and folks can continue to develop and refine it,” said Derek Vardon, the lead author of the study. 

There is some skepticism coming from environmental groups about sustainable aviation, believing that these new technologies may end up being another greenwashing facade. These groups argue that people should just reduce their carbon footprint by flying less. And Derek Vardon agrees! He states that reduction is the most important factor, but more sustainable solutions are still needed nonetheless. 

Endangered Honeyeater Forgets its Song

Source: Shutterstock

Due to the regent honeyeaters status of being critically endangered – they have now begun to lose their rare songs. They are native and were once widely present in south-eastern Australia, but this is not the case anymore. There are just 300 of the species remaining in the world. This does not allow them to properly interact with other honeyeaters and learn their sound and song.

Dr. Ross Crates, a member of the Difficult Bird Research Group located at the Australian National University, is attempting to teach captive honeyeaters their song. Dr. Crates states that they are searching for the birds, and they are considered so rare that they are looking for a ‘needle in a haystack’.

This is critically important, as the songs allow them to find each other in order to learn the song, and to mate. While they lost over 90% of their habitat, and are now learning the songs of other species. It is the same as humans learning to speak by listening to adults converse. We have to take in consideration that these behavioural habits also make up the vitality of many species surviving and incorporating this into conservation efforts.

Environmental Groups Pushes a File Opposing Chevron’s Green Policies

Source: Shutterstock

Chevron is in hot water after three environmental groups have filed a complaint against them that they have put out misleading environmental policy claims. Greenpeace, Global Witness, and Earthworks are amongst the organizations that complained. Within it, it stated, “Chevron is consistently misrepresenting its image to appear climate-friendly and racial justice-oriented while its business operations overwhelmingly rely on climate-polluting fossil fuels, which disproportionately harm communities of colour.”

This goes against the “Green Guides” and is considered “greenwashing” as the company claims to be a cleaner petroleum company. The environmental organizations are asking for their green marketing claims to be removed as they are considered one of the most polluting companies in the world, but only spend 0.2% of their capital expenditures on renewable energy.

The petroleum company stated that these allegations are “frivolous” and stated that they are investing US $3 billion through 2028 in order to advance their energy transition. With many companies trying to keep up with the push for a more environmentally friendly demand – even in the petroleum industry.

If We Save The Oceans, We Save The World 

Source: Pixabay 

A pledge to protect at least 30% of the oceans by 2030 is gathering momentum ahead of this year’s key UN biodiversity summit. Currently, only 7% of the ocean is protected. A recent study published in the scientific journal Nature, sets a framework for prioritising areas of the ocean for protection. 

The researchers developed an algorithm to identify where in the world ocean protections i.e., marine protected areas and responsible fisheries management, could deliver the greatest benefits across three goals of biodiversity protection, seafood production and climate mitigation. 

Locations were mapped to create a “blueprint” that governments can use in planning and implementing commitments to protect the ocean from overfishing and habitat destruction. The researchers created a framework for countries to decide which areas to protect depending on their national priorities. The analysis suggests that 30% is the minimum amount of ocean that the world must protect in order to provide multiple benefits to humanity. This number fits with the pledge to protect at least 30% of water and land by 2030 to which a growing number of countries have signed up, including Canada. Jennifer McGowan of the Center for Biodiversity and Global Change, Yale University and The Nature Conservancy, explains that “Many of the priority places identified in the research fall under the jurisdiction of countries that can enact proactive and sustainable ocean policies.”

Additionally, the study revealed, for the first time, figures on the amount of carbon released into the ocean through trawling of the ocean floor. Trawling is a fishing method that drags heavy nets across the ocean floor, and is “pumping one gigatonne of carbon emissions into the ocean every year, equivalent to all emissions from global aviation,” the scientists said. The study found that eliminating 90% of the present risk of greenhouse gas release due to bottom trawling would require protecting only about 4% of the ocean, mostly within national waters. 

A Use for “Ugly” Produce 

Source: Portland Monthly

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, one third of all food produced in the world is going to waste. Not only is this a major environmental nightmare, but it’s also a social issue. Minimizing food waste is a huge solution to addressing world hunger and food insecurity. Plus, finding new purposes for food waste is creating jobs and improving overall sustainability.

Four innovative projects have recently come to the forefront that all have one thing in common: they are dedicated to turning food waste into something useful, whether it be clothing, cosmetics, or other materials. 

  • Turning “ugly” produce into skincare products.

Designer Julia Roca Vera launched her own start-up business that makes cosmetics and skincare products out of “ugly” produce, i.e. the imperfect produce that gets thrown away purely based on aesthetic reasons. The business is called Lleig, which means ugly in Catalan. Even from the already wasted produce that Julia uses, she tries to create as little waste herself as possible. With one single orange, she uses the flesh and essential oils for moisturizer and soap, uses the peel for potpourri, and the juice for drinking. The products are even sold in reusable, ceramic containers – what a win for sustainability!

  • Sustainable textiles from food waste

A Toronto-based start-up, Alt Tex, is turning food waste into textiles, creating a more sustainable alternative to polyester. They use polylactic acid (PLA) as a biodegradable plastic substitute. Some other companies use PLA, but they derive it from commercially grown PLA crops, like corn. Alt Tex is taking sustainability to the next level and working with the food and drink industry to collect and use food waste for PLA instead.

  • Food waste is the new plastic.

Genecis is another start-up based in Toronto that uses bacteria to convert food waste into a polymer. These polymers can be used in place of plastic to create products like packaging. Genecis CEO Luna Yu said that “food waste is pretty much a concentration of carbons, very similar to crude oil from the ground, that you can make a lot of products out of.” This alternative has potential to repurpose food waste AND tackle the plastic pollution crisis at the same time!

  • Eliminating waste by lengthening the lifespan of produce.

Agricycle is an East African start-up that originated out of the challenges that females farmers in Kenya and Uganda face in the food supply chain. Food waste accumulates at every stage in the supply chain due to a range of reasons from aesthetics to oversupply to inadequate storage. Agricycle started by using a solar dehydrator to enable farmers to turn perishable produce into dried snack foods that last much longer. Now, Agricycle has created a business to market these dried food products and sell them, which is taking a community approach by supporting livelihoods and paying workers 7 to 10 times the average daily wage.

Siobhan Mullally is studying in the School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability (SERS) at the University of Waterloo while also minoring in English. As both a budding ecologist and researcher, and aspiring writer, she is interested in exploring the intersections between environment and communication to inspire climate action. In her free time, she enjoys spending time in nature and getting lost in her favourite novels.

Greta Vaivadaite is a Journalist, Online Editorial and Social Media Coordinator at Alternatives Media. Greta has completed her undergraduate studies at York University in Environmental Management, and completed her Masters of Environment and Sustainability at Western University in 2020. Her professional interests lay in advocating for environmental education, sustainable fashion, and a greener travel industry. 

Teo Guzu is a Master’s in Environment and Sustainability student with a focus on policy and research. Her background is in the field of Sociology and Global Development Studies where she developed an interest in how climate change disproportionately affects different communities. Her interests lie in plastics and waste management, conservation, and clean technology. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family/friends and her dog Charlie, reading, writing, and watching docu-series on various topics.