A sanitary solution in the bag, Target's sustainable seafood, and why McDonald's still goes for battery eggs.

Meeting basic needs

If you’re reading this, chances are you don’t have to worry about clean sanitation. But that’s not the case for 2.6 billion people across the globe. Out of every 100 people, 40 lack the most basic of needs, a toilet, leading to contamination of water with deadly viruses. As a result, a child dies every 15 seconds from contaminated water.

To help develop an immediate solution a Swedish aid organisation called Peepoople was established to create the Peepoo bag, a personal and portable toilet that is inexpensive to make, distribute, and is both economically and environmentally sustainable.

The product has somewhat unlikely origins. The group’s founder, Anders Wilhelmson, is a professor of architecture and practising architect. He was studying urban development and travelling with his students across the globe, visiting many of the world’s worst slums. While in India he sat down with a few local women to discuss their immediate needs. They weren’t interested in architects; what they really needed was sanitation. And so began four months of research, leading to the Peepoo project.

At three cents per bag, the Peepoo is a slim elongated bag measuring 14 by 38 centimetres. The inside is coated with a thin film of urea, which inactivates the pathogens and enables the waste to be used as fertiliser. The bag is biodegradable and made of 45% renewable materials. Peepoople is already looking to make a bag out of 100% renewable materials.

According to Camilla Wireson, a founder of the Peepoo project, they are still developing the high-speed production unit that, beginning in 2011, will produce 500,000 Peepoo bags a day. Until then Peepoople will use semi-manual production in Kenya to make the bags, with a daily output of several thousand.

The product has undergone several field tests across the globe. Oxfam, for example, is currently using the product in Haiti. The programme will officially launch in Kenya this August, and Peepoople is planning a similar launch project in Bangladesh.

Nalgene reports US less wasteful cities

The US is often perceived as a tad gluttonous. So which are the country’s least wasteful cities? That’s precisely what Nalgene, a leading BPA-free reusable bottle company, set to find out in its second annual Least Wasteful Cities Study.

The study asked 3,750 individuals from America’s 25 largest cities about their eco-friendly (or not-so-friendly) habits regarding waste, shopping, transportation and more. The results were weighted to allot more points to habits that had an “immediate and significant impact on the planet” (such as driving less and composting more) over smaller habits (such as reusing containers).

For the second consecutive year, San Francisco was ranked as the top city for responsible consumption and eco-friendly behaviour. Houston in Texas came in last as the least responsible city. Other top performing cities include Seattle (2), New York (3), Boston (5) and Washington (8). The laggards include Cleveland (24), Atlanta (23) and Miami (20).

The study also found that 72% of urban Americans are less than impressed with the country’s commitment to the environment, grading the country as C. The 2010 results also show that, with the exception of recycling, Americans are more likely to take on small, everyday habits to reduce their impact rather than larger gestures.

The aim of the study is to prompt Americans to adopt more sustainable practices to reduce overall consumption and waste. “This survey is a fun way to get individuals to think about environmental and financial impacts of everyday actions,” says Eric Hansen, product market director, Nalgene-Outdoor. “The results remind us all that simple steps can make a big difference over time.”

Sustainable target

This year it’s not the expected big-name food retailers that are getting high marks in sustainable seafood. The winner of Greenpeace’s fourth annual seafood sustainability scorecard is … get ready … Target, the giant US discount retailer.

You heard right. Greenpeace’s Carting the Oceans Away report shows that Target, which is not widely known for its food (let alone seafood), jumped from fourth to first place this year, beating big names in the natural and organic food market like Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s.

The report tracks the seafood policies of 20 major supermarkets, looking at their seafood sustainability initiatives, red list seafood sales, and quality of their labelling, with the aim to push all seafood retailers to enact robust sustainable seafood policies to help save endangered fish stocks.

It was Target’s new policy precluding the sale of any farmed salmon whatsoever that “sent shockwaves through the aquaculture industry”, and shot the mega discount retailer to first place. The company is also developing a sustainable way to source and sell shrimp and tuna.

Target does still have some progress to make, like making a publicly available sustainable seafood policy and discontinuing the sale of eight of the 22 Greenpeace red-listed species of seafood. Still, they’ve already made a splash.

Dawn helps clean up

As one of the US’s worst oil disasters continues to wreck havoc across the Gulf Coast, Procter & Gamble’s Dawn dishwashing liquid is helping the clean up, one bird at a time.

The BP oil drilling rig explosion in April has had drastic affects on the region, including its wildlife, and rescue crews have been using Dawn dish soap to clean recovered animals. The product has been used in wildlife rescue operations for over 30 years, with over 46,000 bottles donated for such relief efforts. The product has been recognised as strong enough to cut through the crude oil but gentle enough for animals.

For this current crisis P&G has provided the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC), a California-based nonprofit group, with 2,000 bottles of Dawn, and is “committed to supplying as much product as needed for this effort”. The company has also been very active on the social media front, sharing updates and information about the Gulf rescue efforts on its Twitter and Facebook pages.

McDonald’s USA happy egg veto

If you live in the US, don’t expect your McMuffin to use cage-free eggs anytime soon. McDonald’s board of directors recently advised their shareholders to vote against the Humane Society’s proposal for the company to switch 5% of the 3bn eggs it buys annually for its US outlets to be cage-free.

In its proposal, the Humane Society points to the cruelty of caging and says it’s also bad for food safety and the environment. Other US fast food chains Burger King, Wendy’s, and Hardee’s all use cage-free eggs. What’s more, McDonald’s UK uses 100% cage-free eggs, and McDonald’s Europe has committed to going entirely cage free by the end of 2010.

But that argument hasn’t seemed to sway the company’s US board. “As we have examined this issue over the years, we have determined that there is no agreement in the global scientific community about how to balance the advancements and disadvantages of laying hen housing systems,” the board says.

McDonald’s also says that the environmental impacts of caged hen housing is, as of yet, unclear. This has prompted the company to join the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply,, which is comprised of welfare scientists, academics and non-governmental organisations, to study housing alternatives for hens and their associated sustainability impacts. It is only once the study is completed in 2011 that McDonald’s USA will start to incorporate other housing alternatives, including cage-free housing.

The Humane Society is far from convinced. “McDonald’s is lagging behind its competitors and consumer opposition to battery cage cruelty,” says Paul Shapiro, senior director of the Humane Society’s factory farming campaign. “The science is already clear that cage-free egg production systems generally offer higher welfare than do cage confinement systems. The company need not continue to investigate this for years on end.”

Perhaps, until the results are in, make your egg sandwich at home.

Milan Design Fair shows its sustainable side

If the thought of the latest innovations in design makes you swoon, then you’re well aware of the Milan Design Fair, one of the biggest and most prestigious design events of the year. But those who aren’t design-inclined might like to know that this year’s fair showcased an impressive array of novel ideas in green design. From lighting to furniture to bath fixtures, designers showcased their latest creations with a sustainable twist.

For example, in the lighting category furniture designer Tom Dixon partnered with electronics company Philips Lumiblade to create a simple yet chic line of efficient Oled Lamps. Oleds, or organic light emitting diodes, are extremely energy efficient and super thin, saving both materials and energy during production. In furniture design, UK-based Lazerian Studio fashioned sheets of plain, recycled cardboard into complex and unique usable pieces like chairs and sofas.

And, even better, there are table lamps powered completely by tomatoes. These juicy red creations were made by Israeli design graduate interns participating in the industrial design scheme D-Vision, an internship programme for product development and industrial design in Israel.

LG commits $18bn to sustainability

LG, South Korea’s fifth largest business conglomerate and well-known maker of electronics, chemicals and telecoms products, has set aside a whopping $18bn to invest in developing more environmentally friendly businesses. The company has also set an internal target to reduce its emissions by 40% against 2009 levels by 2020.

The group, which has three large subsidiaries in LG Electronics, LG Display and LG Chem, will use the money for research and development to create more energy-efficient products. It will develop new renewable energy products such as fuel cells and rechargeable batteries for electric cars. The money will also go towards revamping and upgrading the group’s facilities. If all goes according to plan, LG believes these improvements will reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by roughly 50m tonnes by 2020.

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