Food Scraps as Fuel

In 1879 Sir Charles Chamberland invented the autoclave which was later used to develop a waste autoclave which was later used to develop today’s organic waste converter.  Here’s how an organic waste generator works: 1) Organic waste (food scraps, mulch, firewood, biosolids, etc.) is superheated then 2) moisture is released from the heating of these materials which acts like steam and the 3) steam is used for power generation.

Organic waste converter technology is a sustainable alternative to traditional methods of waste disposal such as incineration and landfill dumping which have destructive effects on our environment.  Not only do organic waste converters reduce our carbon footprint and avoid polluting emissions, but they also result in a usable end product known as biofuel, soil compost, or building material (if mixture contains wood/garden scraps).  Organic waste converters vary in size; they are used in households to fuel a car or they are used in large corporations such as hospitals, which generate huge amounts of food scraps and biosolids, who then use the steam to generate electricity for the facility.  There is a large push in the U.S. to construct on-site organic waste converters in supermarkets.  Supermarkets throughout Europe have already implemented this technology and results have shown that there are massive decreases in electricity costs, waste disposal costs and carbon dioxide emissions.  Green technology is the ability of modern converters to transfer mechanical energy and friction force on the waste mass into heat energy that is used in the pasteurization and sterilization processes.  In the future we should look forward to seeing more green technology integrated into our daily life.

American Isn’t the Biggest Problem

In this article, it is discussed how many different countries, other than America, are found to be incredible dangerous when it comes to littering and keep trash off of the streets and oceans. When people tend to think of Global Warming and littering issues, they tend to only think of what they can do in their own country, and for the most part, this seems to be talked about in America.

I think an important part of this process, if we as humans are really trying to make a difference on our environment, would be to educate other countries about the dangerous of littering as well. As shown in the chart taken from this article, other countries such as China and Indonesia are struggling immensely when it comes to trash issues.

I would argue that we are not actually making an impact on the environment as a whole if we do not take a step back and make sure we are educating the whole world, not just our country. 

Bottled Water at Union

I used to be a bottled water guy. It was always cold, and guaranteed to be clean.

It was simple. When I was thirsty, I got a bottle of water. Drink, dehydrate over the course of a few hours, repeat. Though it varied from day to day, I would estimate I used to drink about 5-6, 16.9 fl oz. bottles of water every day. For those of us who like to try to show our mathematical prowess by completing simple equations, that’s 84.5-101.4 fl oz. of water a day.

Which, in the grander scheme of things, is roughly the suggested intake of water on a daily basis (currently 91 fl oz.). Yet, I was wasting all the plastic that had to contain that water, one plastic bottle at a time. I stopped drinking bottled water when I started actively trying to reduce my carbon footprint. I bought a reusable bottle, and I fill it up periodically from a fountain.

But in the case of the broader Union community, I see people with bottled water all the time. As I sit here writing, I count 4 people around me with plastic bottled water in some form or another. And I didn’t even count a fifth, who has a cardboard box of water, which proclaims itself to be “better” because “Boxed Water is Better”.

Let’s assume the average Union student drinks the suggested daily value of water, and Union has roughly 2,200 undergrad students. Let’s say half (being generous) consume bottled water while the other half consumes water more responsibly.

(1/2) x (2,200)=(1,110)…(1,110) x (5.5)=(6,105)

Following this logic, Union’s student body on a daily basis consumes over 6,000 bottles of water. That’s a staggering number. Even more staggering: the sheer cost of producing so many bottles of water.

According to a February 2007 Pacific Institute Report: “Bottling water produced more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide…It took 3 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water.”

This is, of course, not to mention what happens to these 6,000+ bottles of water afterwards. Are any re-used? What percentage are even recycled?

Drinking water should begin follow the same tagline as their counterparts in the alcohol industry.

Drink Responsibly.


Water footprints

We have discussed the CO2 emissions of beef and naturally, the amount of water it takes to produce this beef by raising cattle is extraordinarily high. However, it is just just cows that contribute to our global water footprint, every product does, but especially animal products which require so much water to raise an animal. The Water Footprint Network provides an interactive model that shows how much water it takes to produce many of the foods and products we use daily, including chicken.

According to the article, the average water footprint of chicken is 4330 L/kg, or about 519 gal/lb. Although this quantity is less than other common animals such as cows (15,400 L/kg) or pigs (6000 L/kg). It is important to use tools like this to visualize how our food choices impact the global water footprint.

Increased Carbon Dioxide Emission Leads to Decreased Nutrients in Crops

Although carbon dioxide emissions can, and are needed to increase plant and crop growth, emissions that are too high can decrease the nutritional value of crops. According to, PLOS Medicine, CO2 decreases the nutritional value of key staple crops, particularly rice and wheat, by lowering concentrations of protein, micronutrients, and B vitamins. Therefore, decreasing greenhouse gases could decrease 48.2% of negative health effects. Additionally, CO2 induced changes in plant chemistry will also have global consequences for all living things who consume plants, including us humans. Rising temperatures of 1 degree Celcius above pre-industrial levels are also expected to have a detrimental effect on crop growth due to increased intensity, duration, and frequency of heat waves.

This lack of nutrients from rising CO2 emission can lead to both malnutrition and can increase toxins in food. This is especially difficult because climate change and severe weather as a result can decrease food production to up to 21 to 35% of staple foods such as rice, soybeans, and wheat. In a study conducted in Japan, Australia, and the US, crops were grown in normal conditions and in experimental plots with CO2 enriched air. The current atmospheric CO2 level wis 400 parts per million. In the enriched plots, it was between 546 and 586 parts per million, “a level scientists expect the atmosphere to reach in four to six decades” (National Geographic). Results found a 9.3% drop in zinc level in wheat which led them to conclude that as CO2 increases, crop nutrients decrease. This result touches upon what is occurring now, and what can occur in the future. The article also touches upon how CO2 emissions peak in May every year, which is the a prime crop growing month. Even if we somehow figured out a way to stop carbon dioxide emission today, the damage already put into the atmosphere will affect us for years.

How Do We Know CO2 is Affecting Our Planet?

In the article, “Climate change: How do we know?”, the author discusses just how prominent of the effects of global warming are today, specifically the effects that CO2 has played in getting us to where we are. The overall warming trend of the planet has been due to the result of human activity over the past years, specifically the increase in the levels of greenhouse gases being released into the environment.

Greenhouse gases are those that are released into the environment and trap the heat radiated by the sun, causing the warming effect that has led to the intense climate change we are experiencing. One of these very effective greenhouse gases is Carbon Dioxide. As shown in the chart attached to this article, CO2 levels, in units of parts per million, have reached new and astonishing levels where our planet is currently. Prior to 1950, the highest the CO2 levels ever reached was around 300 parts/million. However, today levels have reached numbers as high as 400 parts/million.

Everyday effects of global warming have been seen in the global temperature rise, of approximately 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit since the 19th century. In addition, there is the warming oceans, the shrinking ice sheets, the glacial retreat, the decreased snow cover, the rise in sea level, and many others.

Overall, this increase in CO2 levels, along with other greenhouse gases, proves to be resulting in a number of detrimental effects to our planet.

Carbon Dioxide and developing countries

Climate change caused by elevated carbon dioxide emissions takes its toll everywhere around the globe. However, not every country contributes to carbon dioxide emissions as much as others do, and not all countries are affected by climate change equally. Articles posted by the Center for Global Development look at how developed and developing countries differ responsibility for climate change. Historically, developed countries have been responsible for well over 50% of carbon dioxide emissions globally. There is, of course, a relationship between growing infrastructure and industry and  carbon dioxide emissions. However, there are exceptions. In 2014 England’s economy grew by 2.6% and their carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by 8.4%. Although some developed countries now are seeing economic growth and decreases in carbon emissions simultaneously, this is rarely the case for developing countries.  There is also a greater cost for climate change on developing countries than on developed countries. More tropical storms and less access to resources take a financial toll on developed countries. While the increase in industry and infrastructure in developing countries may be a good sign for economic growth, it is not beneficial to the amount of carbon dioxide emissions. One huge contributor to carbon dioxide emissions is deforestation, which was responsible for one-third of sub-Sahara Africa’s carbon emissions. Finding a balance between economic growth and reducing our carbon footprint is difficult to achieve, but is important in working towards the advancement of developing countries while being ecologically thoughtful.

The Effects of Increasing levels of Carbon Dioxide

Kevin Loria’s article on the rise in Carbon Dioxide levels mentions that, for the first time in more than 800,000 years, the monthly average atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have topped 410 ppm. Providing a strong reason to believe this will have adverse effects on human health. This rise in CO2 levels will increase levels of pollution and the diseased related to it, as well as extreme weather patterns. These patterns would include heat waves, hurricanes, and spread the ranges of disease-carrying insects. Loria mentions that although the rise in Carbon Dioxide levels won’t have direct effects on our ability to breathe, but will “dramatically increase pollution and related diseases, potentially slow human cognition, cause extreme weather events (including deadly heat waves), and broaden the range of disease-carrying creatures like mosquitos and ticks.”

A study published in 2017 in the journal Nature Climate Change found that “30% of the world is already exposed to heat intense enough to kill twenty or more people each day.” This rise in atmospheric temperature may cause many more people to die every year and if temperatures continue to increase the numbers will multiply. This rise in temperature will also lead to a more intense hurricane season with rising water levels and warmer ocean temperatures. Along with extreme heatwaves, CO2 will destroy the ozone, which can lead to death through respiratory illness, asthma, and emphysema. Along with increasing rates of lung cancer, allergies, and cardiovascular disease. Insects along with their deadly diseases will spread to the warmer regions, who would typically die out during colder seasons would stay longer, and their habitats would expand further.

The effects of this rise in CO2 are already showing up, and without an answer, we will begin to see more and more severe consequences for our actions. The answers are more than just cutting back on CO2; this becomes a worldwide problem and not just a domestic issue.

CO2 Levels are Rising

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is a naturally occuring greenhouse gas that is a part of our atmosphere. The reliance on factories and various forms of transportation to burn fossil fuels have increased the amount of CO2 found in our atmosphere today. While, carbon dioxide only makes up 0.04% of the atmosphere this number has increased significantly overtime. Today CO2 levels consist of over 380 parts per million (ppm) but, prior to the Industrial Revolution carbon dioxide consisted of 270 ppm. Specifically, throughout this decade, CO2 levels have increased on average, 2.3ppm per year. Also, we emit 400 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. In metric units this is 362.874 Tonnes. Again, this number simply shows that while CO2 makes up less than 1% of our atmosphere, the unnatural increase of CO2 has shown negative effects.

It is important that we find a way to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere because it has serious effects on the environment such as making our oceans more acidic and increasing the temperature on earth.  A New York Times article discusses the fact that removing Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere is a potential way to stop global warming. The goal would be to keep the carbon dioxide below the two degree Celsius target estimated in 2015 by the Paris Agreement. However, this is an extremely difficult task. One suggestion would be to follow a process known as “direct air capture” to minimize its presence. All of the studies show that it is extremely hard to decrease the amount of CO2 currently in the atmosphere but it is crucial that we take conscious steps to reduce it for the future sake of our environment.

Thinking about Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide, among other green house gases are naturally occurring. The green house effect/trapping of heat in Earth’s atmosphere is also naturally occurring. Warmed by the sun, our planet’s land and ocean surfaces constantly produce infrared radiation (heat). However, since the Industrial Revolution, there has been a lot of talk surrounding the use of carbon dioxide hurting our environment. The human population has been heavily reliant on the use of fossil fuels which exacerbates this issue of climate change. According to the video, “Climate 101,” we now rely on carbon-based fossil fuels to produce 85% of our energy, and humans produce up to 35 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually. Only 55% of this CO2 is absorbed by the ocean, land, and vegetation, while the rest is trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere causing an exponential increase in Earth’s temperatures. The biggest culprits to these numbers are fossil fuels, power plant and factories, and transportation. According to, “Without this natural greenhouse effect, Earth’s average annual temperature would be below freezing instead of close to 60 degrees F.” Despite this seemingly positive process, the way society functions today is hugely detrimental to the condition of our planet. Not only will temperatures continue to increase, but an increase in CO2 in the atmosphere also means an excess of evaporation, leading to an excess of precipitation, which will have the potential to produce catastrophic storms.

Climate Central also raises an inconvenient truth about the climate reality the human population now faces. “The world has blown past the 400 million parts per million carbon dioxide milestone, and is unlikely to return below that threshold again in our lifetimes.” Now naturally growing plants in the northern hemisphere will decrease these parts per million slightly, but until humans no longer need to rely on carbon-based fuels, we will bring a “one-step forward” too many steps back.