Plastic-Eating Fungi Found in the Amazon May Solve World’s Waste Problem

Degradation of polyurethane by fungi? Paul Stamets (Mycelium Running) will be glad to hear this. Lets hope this initial finding pans out after further investigation and field trials.

The Yoga Hub

Plastic-Eating Fungi Found In The Amazon

A group of students and professors from Yale University have found a fungi in the Amazon rainforest that can degrade and utilize the common plastic polyurethane (PUR). As part of the university’s Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory educational program, designed to engage undergraduate students in discovery-based research, the group searched for plants and cultured the micro-organisms within their tissue.

Several active organisms were identified, including two distinct isolates of Pestalotiopsis microspora with the ability to efficiently degrade and utilize PUR as the sole carbon source when grown anaerobically, a unique observation among reported PUR biodegradation activities.

Polyurethane is a big part of our mounting waste problem and this is a new possible solution for managing it. The fungi can survive on polyurethane alone and is uniquely able to do so in an oxygen-free environment. The Yale University team has published its findings in the article ‘Biodegradation of Polyester Polyurethane by Endophytic…

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Riot for Austerity – The Calculator is Back!

A very quick post (which turned into a much longer one than expected).

Riot for Austerity Year 2 Outcomes from MamaStories

The riot for austerity calculator that I talked about in this earlier post is back on line.  See link to the calculator here.  Brooklinemama’s current success (through February 2012)  in her quest to cut her family’s energy usage to 10% that of the average American family is chronicled  here.

Sharon Astyk (and friends) are the originators of the calculator. More information about the background on the calculator and references for source data about  current energy, water and resource use by American families appears in Sharon’s post Time to Riot here.

I’m planning to try this for March. It should be pretty easy to track.

  • Transportation mileage: I already pay for gas by debit card and keep receipts. Per Sharon, the average American uses 500 gallons of gas per person, per year.
  • Public transportation mileage: I keep receipts of when I travel by public transportation.  For MARTA, I’ll need to estimate the mileage of my average trip.
  • At home electricity: easily available from monthly bill. The average American uses 2,000 kwh per person (“at home” as opposed to “at work and other places you go”) per year.
  • Heating and Cooking Fuel: easily available from monthly bill.
  • Garbage: I’ll need to weigh my trash. I don’t have much  I do a lot of recycling and composting. Per Sharon, the average American household produces 40 lbs of garbage per week.
  • Water: easily available from monthly bill. I found Sharon’s figures confusing so I found some statistics from the American Water Works Association. They cited indoor per person use at 69.3 gallon per day and total household use at 350 gallons per day (at 2.6 person/household, this is equivalent to 135 gallons per person per day)
  • Consumer Goods. Easily available. I keep monthly receipts. Per Sharon, the average American spend $11,000 per year on items that don’t include food, insurance, energy, housing and other necessities.
  • Food: percent locally grown, dry and bulk goods, wet and conventional goods. The trickiest of the lot.  Initially I’ll estimate.  Probably I should weigh these for accurate figures.

Also, see here for link to “when to start what” planting date calculator from Johnny’s selected seeds.

I’m already way behind.  Trying to catch up with garden planning and garden work this week.

This is the power you have

This is a really great post from Jacqueline Windh from her blog Connections. The picture shows a week’s worth of her garbage. I thought I was an expert in reducing waste but this shows me I still have a way to go.  Jacqueline highlights an area I really need to work on, that of  rejecting–refusing to buy items that contain non-recyclable and excess packaging. Read part of her post below.

This past Monday, I forgot about garbage day (again). When I heard the truck rumbling down the street, I ran into the kitchen, grabbed my garbage bag, and prepared to run down to the street in my bathrobe (again).

But I looked at the garbage bag. There was little over a fistful of garbage in it.

This is how much garbage I produced this week! I have been putting a lot of effort into reducing the amount of garbage I produce – but even so, I actually surprised myself!

Yes, it definitely takes extra time to not produce garbage. Just like it takes time to undertake other initiatives that are good for our environment, such as walking or riding a bike rather than driving. I am not saying that it doesn’t take time. It takes time.

But honestly, I am tired of hearing people tell me how busy their lives are, and how they just don’t have the time in their busy days to cook real food rather than heating up something from a package, or walk (or make their kids walk) instead of zipping around in their cars. Many of those people can talk about TV shows that I have never heard of, and keep up a pretty active social life online. It’s not only a matter of time – it’s a matter of priorities.

The garbage thing, the consumerism, the waste… to me, these are important. They are important to our future and, especially, if you care at all for kids, even more important for their future. So I make the time for it. It’s a priority…….

So I am going to share some of the strategies that have worked for me:

Read more at: This is the power you have « Connections.

Moving from Pattern to Details

Well I’ve been on this permaculture home study journey for about 2 months and am about to start my overall design.  I’ve got tons of ideas from my various readings which so far have included:

  • Earth Users Guide to Permaculture, Rosemary Morrow
  • Edible Front Yard, Ivette Solier (from local library) – reviewed in earlier post
  • Perennial Vegetables, Eric Toensmeir (from local library)
  • The Resilient Garden, Carol Deppe
  • about half of Little House on a Small Planet, Shay Salomon & Nigel Valdez
  • and the echo follows – reviewed in earlier post
  • Polyculture Handouts – reviewed in earlier post
  • Gaia’s Garden, Toby Hemenway (from local library)
  • A Forest Garden Pattern Language – excellent resource available from Regenerative Designs.
  • Re localizing Your Urban Lifestyle – excellent resource available here from Joanne Poyourow. I hope to talk more about zones in a later post.
  • How not to play the game – another interesting online article from John Micheal Greer, the author of The Long Descent
  • Online PDC Course – Right now I’m up to the lesson on Soil Ecology

I’ve got a pretty good idea of the various parts of my site analysis, I just haven’t drawn it up yet.

© Copyright Oast House Archive and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License.

Before moving forward though, I needed to synthesize all of these learning to better find my process of design. To do this, I looked permaculture design using a systems approach. A simple way of looking at a single natural population would be as a renewable stock (the population of say ducks–since I’m reading the Resilient Gardener) constrained by a renewable stock (food, i.e. corn).  On a given amount of land with the goals of raising ducks and growing corn,the main system components I notice are :

  • the amounts of ducks on the land,
  • the number of  corn plants you have,
  • the rate that the duck population increases and decreases over time,
  • the rate that food supply grows  and is harvested over time,
  • the way that the amount of corn available for harvest constrains the duck population,
  • the way that the carrying capacity of the land constrains the amount of corn available,
  • the way that the corn travels to the population i.e. the place where the transfer between ducks and food takes place.

In permaculture terms we call the amount of food harvested (per amount of land),  the yield.  while we call the place where the transfer of nutrients between the ducks and food occurs, the edge.

I can restate the permaculture principles this way:

  • Produce a yield – Be able to generate a harvest of food for the ducks.
  • Store energy – Since energy is stored in biomass, create a stock or storage of both ducks and available corn.
  • Leverage feedback – A person managing this system would not increase the duck reproduction rate, or number of ducks too sharply, they would eat more corn than could be grown over time  and slowly (or quickly)  both populations would collapse. They would need to watch this carefully.
  • Use renewable resources – If  I fed the ducks from a 50 gallon drum (or whatever volume drum) of store-bought dried corn, the duck population would crash when I ran out of food.  If I grow the food, I can support some level of a  sustainable duck population  based on the amount of corn harvested basically forever.
  • No waste – If you consider the duck poop as an ingredient of the compost pile, the poop would make the land more fertile and increase the corn yield.  The system that  consisted of 2 stocks before, would grow to three stocks: ducks, corn plants and compost.
  • Patterns – for this analysis I’m analyzing this duck/food system  using the pattern of a renewable stock constrained by a separate renewable stock.
  • Reciprocity /integration – As this simple 2  function/2 stock system becomes more complex  and integrated (by adding the composting function), it becomes more productive.
  • Diversity – If  I add different types of ducks (or even chickens) or  different types of duck foods,( corn, duck chow, and squash)  to the system, it becomes more stable. If insects destroy one type of food , the others would still remain and be able to feed the ducks.
  • Small and slow – Sharp changes to the growth rate of the ducks or decreases to the harvest rate  for the corn will cause the system to crash. Small and slow changes are preferable. Systems especially living systems can produce some unintended consequences particularly when time delays hide consequences.
  • Embrace change – Over time, natural systems change, growing more and more complex. As more integration occurs, more populations can be added to the overall system increasing the overall yield.

Knowing all of this, how do you grow  a more stable population over time? Well, it follows you can (not in any particular order):

  1. Make changes to the system to increase the production rate (of the food).
  2. Make changes to the system to reduce decreases in yield due to losses (like the loss of corn due to spoilage).
  3. Increase the number of functions provided (from raising food and raising ducks to doing these two things plus creating compost)
  4. Increase the number of elements you have in the system producing a yield (from just corn to corn, slugs and rainwater from the roof– all of these would support  the food/duck system)
  5. Substitute local producers for non local ones (to conserve energy)
  6. Substitute renewable producers for non-renewable ones
  7. Increase the  diversity of elements included and products (stocks) created
  8. Introduce small and slow changes to reduce oscillations
  9. Increase stocks over time through succession
  10. Re-consider wastes as “foods” for  other  system elements (View problems as unfilled niches.)
  11. Monitor and reconfigure  edges so that transfers can happen more easily and efficiently
  12. Create and check new feedback loops.

I can use all of these methods to change my suburban property to one based on permaculture principles.  On a given amount of land (my property) with the primary functions of heating, cooling, creating electricity, raising food, recycling and capturing water, for my property I’ll look at:

  • my desired stocks of money, energy, skills, biodiversity and recyclable materials and the yields of these stocks
  • the  elements I’ll use to generate these yields , (like the number of ducks and corn plants)
  • the rates that these stocks are created and degraded
  • the factors that constrain my use  of these stocks (like  the amount of corn available for harvest constrains the duck population).
  • the key locations of the transfers

More about this in Moving from Patterns to Details part 2.

Finally: Simplified Recycling Labels Are on Their Way

plastic bottles

photo courtesy: Shafiu Hussain

This is fantastic!

Good Magazine writes:

So you bought a coffee in a disposable cup (it happens) and you want to recycle it. What do you do? Who the hell knows. The fact that the plastic lid has a recycling symbol on it doesn’t necessarily mean you can, in fact, recycle it. It depends on what kind of plastic it is, indicated by that tiny, mysterious number printed inside the recycling logo, and where you live. Some kinds of plastic are recycled almost everywhere; some, like Styrofoam, are rarely ever recycled. Plastics without a number, like utensils, can’t be recycled at all. It’s confusing.

To address that problem, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, a project of the nonprofit group GreenBlue, is working to redesign recycling labels. The group’s current proposal features four labels: “widely recycled,” “limited recycling,” “not recycled,” and “store drop-off.” Unlike the current system, this gives consumers clear, general guidelines, in words. For materials that can only be recycled in certain places, the “limited recycling” label can carry an additional note that might, for example, advice consumers to “check locally.”

continued here