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Google Seeks Sustainable Packaging Options to Eliminate Single-Use Plastics

Google recently launched the Single-Use Plastics Challenge to help the company reduce plastic waste.

The Challenge calls on “visionary companies” with reusable and sustainable packaging options that will replace single-use plastics, according to a video from Google.

Finalists will have the chance to pitch their products to Google and leading global food operators. The goal is to bring innovative solutions to Google U.S.-based kitchens and cafes to help the company reduce, and ultimately eliminate, single-use plastics from on-site food operations.

Google prefers candidates working with reusable serviceware or packaging, but will also consider bulk packaging or dispensing options, edible packaging, post-consumer recycled materials, or unlined serviceware and packaging. While glass and aluminum are acceptable, the company will not consider single-use plastics, or packaging that is bio-based, compostable, multi-layer, or PFAS-lined.

The deadline for applications is May 30, 2023. To learn more about the Challenge and for additional details on how to apply, click here.

In 2021 alone, the world generated 139 million metric tons of single-use plastic waste, according to the Plastic Waste Makers Index. And research published in Science Advances estimates that more than 90 percent of discarded plastic is never recycled.

“To realize a more sustainable world, we must accelerate the transition to a circular economy — one that keeps materials, products and services in circulation for as long as possible,” write Mike Werner, Head of Circular Economy for Google’s Global Sustainability Team, and Matt Hood, Senior Director of the Google Food Program. “The progress we’ve seen continues to motivate us to do our part and build a more sustainable future for all, and we hope others will join us to take on this challenge.”

Articles like the one you just read are made possible through the generosity of Food Tank members. Can we please count on you to be part of our growing movement? Become a member today by clicking here.

Photo Courtesy of Nick Fewings, Unsplash

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Why The Right To Repair Agricultural Equipment is Crucial To Food Security

A version of this piece was featured in Food Tank’s newsletter, released weekly on Thursdays. To make sure it lands straight in your inbox and to be among the first to receive it, subscribe now by clicking here.

If your tractor breaks, it seems like a no-brainer that you should be allowed to fix it—right?

Not always. In fact, agriculture machinery manufacturers are making it difficult for farmers or independent repair shops to address issues with equipment. From proprietary tools and parts to specific software, corporations create these barriers in order to retain the exclusive ability to service equipment—and to make more money.

The right to repair movement is fighting to give consumers control over the products they own.

Despite having vast know-how, farmers may be physically barred from making repairs and improvements to their equipment. If a tractor breaks, a farmer might have to wait weeks or months to pay someone else to fix it—and all the while, they’re losing crops and losing money.

“We’re trying to maintain our consumer rights, which means we still have to be able to repair and modify our tractors just like dad, grandpa, and great-grandpa did years ago,” Kevin Kenney, a Nebraska right-to-repair advocate, told Food Tank.

And thanks to advocate groups including The Repair Association, the topic is gaining momentum. A recent op-ed in the Washington Post says the right to repair could be “the next big political movement.” Currently, right to repair legislation is being proposed or enacted in more than half of all U.S. state governments—in ways that have the potential to be widely bipartisan.

Most of the progress toward right-to-repair has involved consumer devices, but luckily, some states are expanding right-to-repair to farm equipment, too. Proposals in 28 states will require electronics companies to make tools, parts, and vital information available for either individuals or independent repair shops. In April, Colorado became the first state to pass legislation ensuring consumers can fix their own tractors, and a similar bill is moving through Vermont’s state government, too.

Opponents of right-to-repair legislation say it would jeopardize consumer safety if repairs weren’t limited to corporate-authorized service providers—and they argue that the bills would also violate intellectual property protections and expose trade secrets if companies shared information.

But this simply is not true. A 2021 report from the Federal Trade Commission analyzed both corporations’ and advocates’ claims and found “scant evidence to support manufacturers’ justifications for repair restrictions.”

“We are a whole generation away from when everything was capable of being modified, improved upon—‘on-farm ingenuity,’ we used to call it,” Kevin Kenney told Food Tank from Nebraska. “We’re trying to bring that back through the same way we lost it, and that’s through open-source software. That’s the only way that’s going to work.”

When companies block farmers from making immediate fixes to their own equipment that might be necessary to harvest crops, they’re not only putting farmers’ livelihoods at risk—they’re putting food security at risk.

And they may be jeopardizing the environment, too. From Kenney’s perspective, right-to-repair is a way for farmers to embrace urgent regenerative practices without having to wait for major industries to catch up.

“We certainly think we should have the ability to make our equipment better and more economical and more ecologically sound on the farm,” he told Food Tank. “And take advantage of more renewable energy sources on the farm.”

At its core, the right to repair is about who really holds the power in our agricultural system. Farmers are some of the smartest people I know, and the right to repair is critical to building a food system that honors the time-honored skills of producers.

Let’s talk about the right to repair in your community. If your state, province, city, or local government is considering legislation on the subject, you can make a difference by speaking up. Email me at [email protected], and let’s talk about how Food Tank can help amplify your voice.

Articles like the one you just read are made possible through the generosity of Food Tank members. Can we please count on you to be part of our growing movement? Become a member today by clicking here.

Photo courtesy of Dietmar Reichle, Unsplash

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How Sustainable Agriculture Can Combat Drought and Creates Resilient Food Systems

This is the second piece in a series on the potential of cover crops

Droughts have increased globally by nearly 30 percent since the year 2000, posing one of the most significant threats to agricultural systems and costing billions in global economic losses, according to a report by the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). But the use of sustainable land management practices, such as cover cropping as well as reduced tillage and improved irrigation techniques can help farmers regain control over their land, revitalize the soil, and mitigate the effects of drought. 

The underlying cause of drought is rarely acknowledged, Roland Bunch, Founder and CEO of Better Soils, Better Lives, tells Food Tank. “People don’t understand that it’s not because of a decrease in total rainfall.”

While the climate crisis is making rain patterns more erratic and unpredictable, Bunch encourages people to look not up to the sky, but down at the ground. “The organic matter content of the soil has dropped from the normal 4 percent before the 1980s, to less than 1 percent today,” he writes.

Organic matter is a critical component of water storage, he says. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) estimates that for every 1 percent increase in organic matter, the amount of water available to plants increases by 25,000 gallons per acre. And just one pound of soil organic matter (SOM) can hold 20 pounds of water, according to the agency.

Dead vegetation and living roots, in combination with active worms and microbes, add carbon to the soil. These carbon compounds eventually bind together and form stable soil aggregates, which contain pore spaces that act like a sponge. Water can then trickle down and settle in this network of pores. 

To build SOM in soils, cover cropping is key. Bunch defines green manure/cover crops (gm/ccs) as “plants, including trees, bushes, crawlers, and creepers,” that, when planted with cash crops, dramatically increase the soil moisture. “According to scientific research carried out here in Malawi, just using gm/ccs well on degraded soils will allow the rainwater infiltration rate to increase from about 15 percent to 60 percent,” he tells Food Tank. 

Across the world over 15 million farmers are using cover crops, “and many more are looking into them,” Bunch says.

Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD, affirms the upward trend for such practices. There is a “growing interest in applying sustainable land management techniques to increase ground cover, recognizing its important role in improving the health of the land,” he tells Food Tank. “Particularly its ability to absorb and hold water is vital.”

Modern industrial farming systems “are not only expensive and inefficient, but they also harm the land,” says Thiaw. “They are responsible for 80 percent of deforestation and 70 percent of all freshwater use, and they are the leading cause of the loss of diversity of species on the land.”

Another consequence of intensive agriculture, drought, and the soil degradation that follows, is a worsening hunger crisis. “Before the year 2010, famines in Africa rarely affected more than 10 million people,” Bunch writes. “By 2020, that number had risen to 40 million…this last year, it rose to 60 million people.”

Food systems bolstered by sustainable practices like cover cropping will “produce more food with less land” and increase global gross domestic product (GDP) by 50 percent, Thiaw points out.

“The potential impact land restoration could have on future food systems is huge,” he tells Food Tank. “The good news is that there is a political will to change.” Thiaw highlights several examples of this change taking root, including Africa’s Green Great Wall, an integrated landscape effort aimed at regenerating degraded land across 11 African countries; Vietnam’s agroforestry methods in its northwestern mountains; or pledges to restore more than 450 million hectares of land under the UNCCD.

Ultimately, government policies and investments “must encourage land stewardship that is sustainable and has multiple benefits,” Thiaw says. “Especially providing food for everyone, minimizing waste and carbon emissions, creating jobs, bringing back declining species, and making people resilient to drought.”

Articles like the one you just read are made possible through the generosity of Food Tank members. Can we please count on you to be part of our growing movement? Become a member today by clicking here.

Photo courtesy of Ethan Stuckey, Wikimedia Commons

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