June 20, 2013 10:30 am
Environmentally conscientious New Yorkers will soon be able to compost their organic food scraps without walking 20 minutes to the nearest Green Market or tending to a bucket of worms to create their own homegrown soil. Last week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he’s implementing a food composting program in the city. Like regular garbage and recyclables, the city will offer curbside pick-up of compostable food scraps such as banana peels, coffee grinds and wilted veggies.
Not everyone is on board, however. Some New Yorkers cite a fear of hypothetical vermin. The New York Post, for example, reports:
Skeptical city residents say Mayor Bloomberg’s new food-waste-recycling program is a great idea — if you’re a rat.
“Recycling, in general, takes a lot of effort,” said Geneva Jeanniton, 22, a hairstylist from East Flatbush, Brooklyn.
“People have to be willing to do it. We might not have room for compost inside. It’s difficult to make space for, and pests are definitely a concern.”
Of course, those organic scraps currently wind up in the garbage anyway. The New York Post doesn’t explain why they would be more likely to attract vermin stored on a separate container rather than in the trash bin. And while it’s true that following environmental regulations can be annoying, that’s not exactly a reason to discount them. Most would likely agree that the Clean Water and Air Acts, for example, were a good thing.
Space is another complaint that comes up, but compost advocates say it’s also a flimsy excuse. Even the most crowded New York apartment is garunteed to have space for a small bag of scraps, whether in the freezer, under a sink, in the back of a closet or on top of the shelves. Rebecca Louie, aka the Compostess, is a certified composter who helps New Yorkers deal with their greatest fears about composting (as in, producing their own compost rather than just putting their scraps out on the curb for the city to conveniently deal with). Most of people’s worries, she told Edible Magazine, are completely unfounded in reality:
“Whether you have a penthouse or a studio, I will find a space in your space where you can start doing this,” she says.
[She] calmly alleviates her clients’ fears about odors (save for the occasional “gentle onion breeze,” composting done right only produces perfumes of “beautiful earth”) and cockroaches (they can’t invade so long as the bin is properly sealed).
“Things can be done to prevent whatever people’s greatest fears are,” she says. “Like a personal trainer or accountant, I know that every client has his or her own schedule, set of needs, concerns and degree to which they want to engage with their compost system.”
Meanwhile, a research team raised eyebrows with results showing that a number of fungal species, including some that could be harmful to humans, turn up in compost made of rice, sugar cane and coffee, mixed with livestock poop. Of course, unless you’re mixing livestock poop in with your lunch, this study doesn’t really apply to NYC composters. That doesn’t stop some from worrying though. Here’s Inkfish:
Although the composts De Gannes studied weren’t quite what New Yorkers would be collecting in their kitchens—unless they’re keeping pet sheep too—some of the potentially dangerous fungi she found have also turned up in studies of all-plant compost.
Keeping a compost bucket in an enclosed space is “potentially risky,” Hickey and De Gannes wrote in an email. Fungal spores floating on the air can cause infections, especially in people with weakened immune systems. “Compost kept in an enclosed area like a small apartment would probably not have adequate ventilation.”
What Inkfish doesn’t mention is that these fungal samples were collected after the compost sat around for 82 days – a bit longer than the week or less that it will take the city to come collect your scraps.
So far, the thousands of people who already create their own compost in enclosed apartments do not seem to have fallen victim to a bout of eye and lung infections. And the residents of the cities of San Francisco and Portland, where compost pick up has long been offered by the city, haven’t complained much.
And if you’re really paranoid about fungus you’ve got some options. Simply freezing the scraps can alleviate any fears of fungal attack, and compost bins can also be installed alongside buildings’ garbage and recycling containers in the basement or on the curb, as they are on the West coast.
Plus, composting has some environmental benefits to consider: when organic matter decays in tightly packed, oxygen-poor landfills, it releases methane, a greenhouse gas around 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Every day, New York produces around 12,000 tons of organic waste. Is putting a bag of wilted lettuce into a compost pick-up bin next to your garbage really so much to ask?
More from Smithsonian.com:
June 14, 2013 12:00 pm
One in four adolescent girls living in the congested slums of Nairobi, Kenya, falls victim to rape each year. An organization called No Means No Worldwide is trying to improve that disturbing statistic. According to one study the non-profit conducted, a short course in both verbal and physical self-defense can significantly improve the girls’ odds of escaping their would-be rapists, Stanford School of Medicine reports.
Sexual assault usually is not openly discussed in Kenya, but in this trial more than 400 high school girls, aged 14 to 21, discussed the topic. In addition to learning self defense techniques, they also received information about what to do and how to get help if they ever suffered sexual assault.
In the 10 months after receiving self-defense training, more than half of these girls reported using what they had learned to fend off would-be attackers. The proportion of them who were raped fell from 24.6 percent in the year before training to 9.2 percent in the 10-month period after.
Another 120 girls served as a control group. During the trial, they took a life skills class that is administered by the Kenyan government. The proportion of these girls who went on to suffer rape remained about the same, or around 25 percent.
Next, No Means No Worldwide plans to move into trials with boys to see whether teaching them not to attack women has any effect on curbing sexual violence.
While the problem of rape in Kenya may seem remote to Western readers, a recent survey found that nearly 1 in 5 women in the U.S. say they have been raped or suffered an attempted rape at some point in their life.
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May 23, 2013 12:26 pm
Next month, China will begin its first carbon-trading pilot program in Shenzhen, a major Chinese city just north of Hong Kong, the Guardian reports. The program will begin modestly, targeting only certain Shenzhen companies, but will soon expand to other sectors and cities. Environmentalists hope these initial trials will help the country determine how to best go about setting caps on emissions, the Guardian writes.
China ranks as the world’s number one carbon dioxide emitter, thanks in part to the massive amounts of coal the country burns. China currently builds a new coal-fired power plant at a rate of about one every week to ten days. The country’s coal burning levels are nearly on par with the rest of the world combined.
Politicians around the world have focused on carbon trading as the market-based strategy of choice for regulating greenhouse gas emissions. HowStuffWorks explains the basic concept:
Cap-and-trade schemes are the most popular way to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) and other emissions. The scheme’s governing body begins by setting a cap on allowable emissions. It then distributes or auctions off emissions allowances that total the cap. Member firms that do not have enough allowances to cover their emissions must either make reductions or buy another firm’s spare credits. Members with extra allowances can sell them or bank them for future use. Cap-and-trade schemes can be either mandatory or voluntary.
But in the European Union, this system has not worked so well. The Royal Society of Chemistry explains the problem:
In theory, the cost of buying the allowances, either directly from other companies or on the open market, is supposed to provide financial incentives for companies to invest in carbon reducing technology or shift to less carbon intensive energy sources. But after reaching a peak of nearly €30 (£25) per tonne in the summer of 2008, prices have steadily fallen. By January they had crashed to under €5, providing little, if any, financial incentive for companies to reduce emissions.
This initial effort in China will extent to just 638 companies, the Guardian reports, though those businesses are responsible for 68 percent of Shenzhen’s total greenhouse gas emissions. While any efforts China undertakes to reduce its emissions will help ward off global climate change and reduce greenhouse gas build up in the planet’s atmosphere, China’s leaders say the decision primarily stems from it’s escalating in-country problems with air pollution, the Guardian reports.
If things go well, the scheme will further incorporate transportation, manufacturing and construction companies as well. China plans to enroll seven cities in the experiment by 2014. By 2020, China hopes to have implemented a nation-wide carbon control program—just in time for the country’s estimated emissions peak in 2025.
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May 6, 2013 3:22 pm
Having a child fall out of a roller coaster or flung out of the Tilt-A-Whirl ranks pretty high on the list of “parents’ worst nightmares.” So it’s a bit surprising that there’s not a huge body of a research on the risks of these rides. The first study to look at national rates of amusement park ride injuries to children just came out and reported that a total of 92,885 kids in the U.S. under the age of 18 wound up at the emergency room between 1990 to 2010 after an unfortunate encounter with a ferris wheel, merry-go-round or other ride. That’s around 4,400 kids, on average, each year.
In the context of total amusement park attendance, that’s not such a high number of injuries. An estimated 300 million people visit amusement parks each year in the U.S., according to a report published by CQPress. With that context, the rate of injuries children suffer at amusement parks seems much less alarming. The authors write:
In the case of amusement park rides, according to a study by the National Safety Council, nearly 280 million visitors rode 1.7 billion rides in 2009 and reported 1,181 injuries—or less than one injury for every million rides. The vast majority of these injuries are not considered to be serious; in fact, only about 6 percent of them required an overnight stay in a hospital.
Similarly, a 2005 report issued by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission did not find any statistically significant trends for mobile amusement park rides between 1994 to 2004. (This excludes rides at permanent amusement parks, however.)
But if that’s your kid in the hospital, even a relatively low rate of injury probably seems too high. Kids most often suffered injuries to their head or neck, followed by the arms. Soft tissue injuries were most common, followed by strains or sprains. (Only 10 percent of the incidences involved broken bones.) Children usually received these injuries by falling or else by banging into something or being hit by something while on a ride. Most of the injuries took place at permanent parks (as opposed to traveling fairs or mall rides).
The majority of the injuries weren’t serious enough to warrant overnight hospitalization. But the mom or dad whose kid just came crying off a roller coaster probably isn’t going to be reassured by that statistic, either.
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April 30, 2013 3:26 pm
It took a while for Americans to get comfortable with the idea of shopping for groceries online. The first ventures into online groceries through sites—like Webvan, founded in the 1990s, closed in 2001—flopped. But as consumers bought more books, movies, shoes, clothes, toys and everything else online, companies like New York-centric FreshDirect made web grocery shopping and delivery work.
Services like FreshDirect don’t just cut down on hassle of having to drive to the grocery store. New research shows that they can also be good for the environment. Ordering online cuts carbon emissions on average by half when compared with traveling to the store by car, the researchers found, especially when delivery trucks were filled to capacity.
In their analysis, the researchers randomly sampled Seattle households. To calculate emissions, they included data such as the type of car families owned, the roadway type, the distance to the grocery store and the speed limit.
They found that grocery delivery trucks produced 20 to 75 percent less CO2 emissions than the corresponding number of personal vehicles would have. If households were targeted based upon established routes rather than individual delivery time requests, that figure jumped to 80 to 90 percent fewer emissions. This finding held true in both Seattle’s dense downtown and in the suburbs.
Nothing beats walking or riding a bike, however, for those shoppers living close enough to the grocery store to enjoy that option.
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