Happy #NationalRecyclingDay!

November 15, 2020 is National Recycling Day. Did you know Americans send 64 tons of waste to landfills during their lifetime? That’s 246 million tons of waste each year. National Recycling Day aims to encourage Americans to purchase recycled products and recycle more, and we are doing our part to educate consumers about how they can get involved. Check out our new infographic!

5 tips to make you a savvy recycler and sustainable shopper

Earlier this fall NCL released a report on the rampant confusion among consumers about food and beverage packaging recyclability, and is today calling for changes to sustainability in food and beverage packaging for brands, retailers, and policymakers. The report explores the recycling enterprise in the United States, marketing and labeling practices, and packaging options that contribute to sustainability—and finds that most consumers are in the dark when it comes to the reality of the state of recycling in the United States.

“Consumers have no idea what is recyclable and what isn’t,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of NCL. “More effective and transparent labeling is necessary to advance sustainability goals for the benefit of consumers and the environment.”

Read the report (PDF): Examining Sustainability, Consumer Choice, and Confusion in Food and Beverage Packaging

National Consumers League releases report examining sustainability, consumer choice, and confusion in food and beverage packaging

Oct. 1, 2020

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) has released a report on the rampant confusion among consumers about food and beverage packaging recyclability, and is today calling for changes to sustainability in food and beverage packaging for brands, retailers, and policymakers. The report explores the recycling enterprise in the United States, marketing and labeling practices, and packaging options that contribute to sustainability—and finds that most consumers are in the dark when it comes to the reality of the state of recycling in the United States.
“Consumers have no idea what is recyclable and what isn’t,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of NCL. “More effective and transparent labeling is necessary to advance sustainability goals for the benefit of consumers and the environment.”

The report finds that common symbols, especially the “Mobius Loop” triangle, misleads consumers about the recyclability of products—especially plastic—which is not, in fact, endlessly recyclable and usually ends up in a landfill or the natural environment. While some companies are leading the way on packaging sustainability, switching to endlessly recyclable glass bottles or metal cans, others are making short-term cost calculations without taking into account the long-term damage.

“Companies can, and should, employ packaging choices to promote sustainability,” said Greenberg. “Manufacturers and retailers, alike, should offer the most sustainable options wherever possible, whether it’s beverage containers or single-serving food packaging. We hope our report will help raise awareness about sustainability and ensure that consumers have better information and a greater selection of sustainably-packaged food and drinks.”

For more information about NCL and this report, please visit www.nclnet.org.

Read the report (PDF): Examining Sustainability, Consumer Choice, and Confusion in Food and Beverage Packaging

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

Reducing the mountain of waste on airplanes

On a flight to Idaho earlier this week, I brought my own coffee mug. My flight attendant was unexpectedly enthusiastic: “Anything that will help save the planet,” she said. I do not find this to be the case at Starbucks, where baristas insist on giving me a new plastic cup when I’m getting my iced tea, or at the Nespresso counter at Bloomingdales, which recently refused to serve me a coffee in my own cup. Reducing our personal footprint should be a big issue for all of us as we see the rapid pace of climate change and what it is doing to our beloved planet.  

At home, I can compost food scraps, choose to take public transportation, minimize food waste, and drive a hybrid car.  But it’s tough to do your part to conserve, reduce, reuse, and recycle and try to “save the planet,” as an airline passenger.  The New York Times reports that the average air passenger generates three pounds of waste in the form of plastic cups, the headphones, food left on plates, wrapping for snacks, and plastic cutlerymultiply that times 4 billion passengers a year, and it really adds up! 

Sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg opted to sail to New York from Europe to avoid being part of the problem: emissions from airplanes.  

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), a trade group representing the airlines, estimated that planes generated 6.7 million tons of cabin waste last year. Another group that studied the waste found that it broke down as 33 percent food waste, 28 percent cardboard and paper, and 12 percent plastic.   

So, what are the airlines doing, and how can consumers be part of the solution? Well, airlines are under pressure to conserve precisely because consumers are demanding they do so, as the New York Times article reported.  Air France said it would eliminate 210 million singleuse plastic items like cups and coffee stirrers. Qantas has removed individually packaged servings of milk and Vegemite, and now serves meals in containers made from sugar cane, and utensils made from crop starch. Some United Airlines flights use “fully compostable or recyclable service ware.”  

Consumers can inquire about recycling products and demand changes in rigid rules on tossing out untouched food and drink, in place supposedly to protect agriculture. The trade group IATA estimates that these untouched items make up 20 percent of total airline waste. As reported by the New York Times, companies employed to help reduce airline waste are making dishes from pressed wheat bran and “sporks” from coconut palm wood. 

Asking the airlines what they are doing to reduce waste is a good start. Let’s press the airlines for answers andwhile we are it: what about hybrid or electric engines on planes? That is a topic we can explore another day. 

Trump’s fuel economy rollbacks: a loss for workers, consumers, the environment

headshot of NCL LifeSmarts intern Alexa

By NCL LifeSmarts intern Elaina Pevide

Cars are baked into American life – around 83 percent of households own one – so any change in the cost or availability of gasoline affects an enormous group of Americans.

Although most of us have grumbled about the cost of gas at some point—and memories of the Great Recession and its dramatic spikes in gas prices are enough to send shivers down the spine of many Americans—some Americans are affected more than others by increases. Did you know that low-income households spend twice as much of their income on gasoline as other Americans? For this group, fuel economy is an especially close-to-home issue.

The Obama Administration made significant headway in improving fuel economy standards and fostering American innovation when it announced the One National Program in 2010. That program unified the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) greenhouse gas emission standards with the fuel economy standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This initiative set long-term goals for fuel efficiency aiming at Model Year 2025, when vehicular CO2 emissions were slated to be reduced by half. The One National Program was a win-win for consumers and the environment. Obama’s initiative would have made the American automotive industry a world leader in environmentally-friendly innovation while also giving the U.S. a huge advantage in a turbulent global economy adapting to the threat of climate change.

Perhaps the greatest benefactor of Obama’s One National Program was the average consumer. Doubling fuel economy means that consumers get twice the bang for their buck at the pump. These benefits would eventually help the less affluent the most, many of whom own used vehicles. Low-income secondhand car owners would pay little of the front-end cost of innovation, but would still save hundreds of dollars on gas on later model used cars.

During the last 7 months of the Obama Administration, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy determined that, given the success of the program thus far, the program would maintain its initial goal of a 54.5 mpg fuel economy standard by 2025. Unfortunately, the Trump administration did not take long to backpedal on this dramatic win for consumers, workers, and the environment.

On March 15, 2017, then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao reopened the evaluations. Two weeks later, they provided their disappointing and controversial results: the Trump EPA did not believe in the efficacy of the One National Program. By August, NHTSA and the EPA announced a new rule, called the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule, the euphemistically-named rollback that handed the automotive industry a big win. The federal actions revoked the ability of California and 13 other states to enforce their own higher standards for environmentally-friendly vehicles.

The SAFE Vehicles Rule is misnamed. The Trump Administration is, in our view, mistaken in its assertions that the freeze and rollback of fuel economy standards will benefit anyone. An analysis by the Consumer Federation of America found that the program has already saved consumers $500 billion, with an extra $400 billion to be found in health, macroeconomic and environmental benefits. Trump’s plan will end these savings and cost the average American household $4,500. We know that fuel efficiency creates a healthy economy, environment, and, thus, a healthier society. Sadly, the current Administration has thrown that out the window.

Global warning and climate change are urgent problems. According to an article from Union of Concerned Scientists, cars and trucks account for nearly one-fifth of all U.S. emissions, emitting around 24 pounds of carbon dioxide and other global-warming gases for every gallon of gas. About five pounds comes from the extraction, production, and delivery of the fuel, while the great bulk of heat-trapping emissions–more than 19 pounds per gallon–comes right out of a car’s tailpipe.

Improving vehicular fuel efficiency is crucial to the future of the United States. High fuel economy standards reduce our need for foreign oil and encourage American companies to keep up with the green innovation around the world. As Europe, China, and other regions address global warming and reducing auto emissions, America is rolling back the clock. As a nation heavily reliant on cars for daily life, we call upon President Trump, his federal appointees, and the auto industry, to reverse these foolhardy decisions and demand improved fuel economy–to set us back on track towards the goals we were on course to meet just a few years ago.

Elaina Pevide is a student at Brandeis University where she majors in Public Policy and Psychology with a minor in Economics. She expects to graduate in May of 2020.

Three reasons scientists believe bugs are the next beef

Shaunice Wall is NCL’s Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

There’s a thin line between hunger and disgust when deep-fried tarantulas and smoked barbeque crickets are on the menu. Many scientists argue that animal protein is not environmentally sustainable, so alternatives–like bugs–may be the answer to the perils of global warming. Recent research supports eating bugs as a way to maintain a protein-rich diet while benefiting the environment.

Infographic comparing the water, feed, and land needs of cattle against the same needs for bugs farming

Why bugs are slowly crawling into our everyday diets

As the world population continues to grow, so will demand for animal protein. By 2050, we’ll be eating more than two-thirds the animal protein we do today, causing a strain to our planet’s resources. The surge in demand for animal protein has also contributed to an increase in greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide). These gases lead to extreme weather conditions, ozone depletion, increased danger of wildland fires, loss of biodiversity, stresses to food-producing systems and the global spread of infectious diseases. Even today, climate changes are estimated to cause over 150,000 deaths annually.

Most westerners prefer beef over bugs

While many of us westerners may gag at the thought of maggots in our sausage, more than 2 billion people throughout the world have been eating bugs as a regular part of their diets for millennia. But historically, for westerners, livestock not only yields meat, but also milk and milk products, their hides or skins provide warmth, they are suitable for plough traction, and act as a means of transport. Because of the use of these animals, the benefits of eating insects in many societies has failed to gain much interest. Also, certain insects are transmitters of disease and are virtually a nuisance.

So, why should we eat bugs?

In 2013, a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, urged global citizens to eat more bugs for three reasons:

  1. They’re healthier for you…and tasty too!
    • Bugs are a healthy, nutritious alternative to mainstream staples such as chicken, pork, beef, and fish (from ocean catch).
    • Many insects are rich in protein, good fats, and high in calcium, iron, and zinc.
    • Insects already form a traditional part of many regional and national diets.
    • Bugs can be used as an ingredient substitute for almost any recipe. Here’s a link with ideas on how to make some delicious bug treats!
  2. They’re safer for the environment
    • Bugs promoted as food emit 75 percent fewer greenhouse gases (GHGs) than most livestock.
    • Insect rearing is not necessarily a land-based activity and does not require as much land as livestock.
    • Because they are cold-blooded, insects are efficient at converting feed into protein (crickets, for example, need 12 times less feed than cattle, four times less feed than sheep, and half as much feed as pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein).
    • According to the Harvard Political Review, producing one pound of beef requires 10 pounds of feed, 1,000 gallons of water, and 200 square feet of pasture. In contrast, producing one pound of insects only requires two pounds of feed, one gallon of water, and two cubic feet of land space.
  3. They’re lower in cost
    • Bug harvesting/rearing is a low-tech, low-capital investment option that offers economic opportunities to all levels of society.
    • Insect rearing can be low-tech or very sophisticated, depending on the level of investment.

Recent advances in research and development show edible bugs to be a promising alternative to meat for both human consumption and as feedstock. But to make this a reality, regulatory frameworks for safety and nutrition will need to be developed and government, industry, and academia will need to work together.

In the meanwhile, knowing the benefits can help turn disgust to hunger when tarantulas or crickets appear on the menu… Something to think about!