Nature and Mental Health

Holiday season, many are looking for moments to relax, get out of the routine, go to the beach, the pool, the mountains, the countryside… somehow, we are looking for a connection with something that brings us closer to nature.

For many, contact with nature is relaxing, invigorating, for others it is stressful. The benefits of this contact, however, were proven by a study organized by the NGO The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in partnership with the University of Virginia and the Stockholm Resilience Centre, which analysed the relationship between contact with nature and the quality of mental health.

Currently, most of us live in urban areas, as highlighted by the study published in the scientific journal Sustainable Earth, with 46% of people living in large cities already suffering from some problems related to mental health. It is estimated that currently only 13% of the world’s urban population lives close to nature.

Researchers analysed a series of studies on economics, health and the environment to suggest that the same potential for human interaction that makes cities attractive for productivity, creativity and innovation increasingly contributes to what they called the phenomenon of “urban psychological penalty” , represented by the increase in stress and mental disorders.

In response to such a penalty, past research has shown that even quick interactions with nature can have health benefits, alleviating the symptoms of mental disorders such as depression and anxiety.

In another complementary study, researchers from King’s College London created the Urban Mind app, which assesses the influence of green areas for those who live in urban spaces. Based on more than 2000 assessments, the study suggests that nature’s benefits on mental well-being are lasting and interact with an individual’s vulnerability to mental illness.

To analyse the momentary well-being, the participants had to answer for several days’ questions such as: “where are you can see the trees?”, “can you see the sky?”, “can you hear the birds singing?”, “can you see or hear the water?”.

According to one of the researchers, being outdoors, seeing trees, hearing birds singing, seeing the sky and feeling in touch with nature were associated with higher levels of momentary mental well-being. The study’s authors also point out that much is said about the formation of heat islands and the risk of flooding in cities, but the relationship between ecological imbalance and psychological illnesses is rarely made.

Research suggests that green spaces should be included in the development of urban centres, as the meaning of nature in people’s daily lives should also be understood as a matter of public health. The care and presence of parks, squares, gardens of all sizes in urban centres can provide these various physical and mental benefits.

Which is more sustainable: SMS, instant message or email

Worldwide, mobile messaging usage is growing at a higher rate than any other mobile app. WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in the world, with over 2 billion users. About 500 million people worldwide have a Telegram account. A survey by mobile data and analytics company App Annie, conducted this year, found that the average global time spent on mobile apps was 4.2 hours per day.

Worldwide, an estimated 294 billion emails were sent and received daily from 3.7 billion users last year alone.

All of these communications mean that there are a lot of data flows going on. Yes, data streams consume energy and therefore release CO2. So, from an environmental point of view, it is interesting to know which is the most sustainable option. Should we use SMS, an instant message through an app or send an email?

Different technologies, different impacts

You must be thinking that the impacts of messages have to do with the type of smartphone, right? So-so. The device needs electricity to work and send a message. But the energy required to manage, transport and store this data is what counts most.

An SMS, an IM or an email do not share the same environmental impact because they do not use the same technologies. While SMS uses conventional telephony frequencies, instant messages and emails use data streams from the Internet. These are different ways of processing data that use different amounts of energy.

A simple average email emits 4g of CO2. One SMS, 0.014g – these are some of the calculations that Mike Berners-Lee, one of the greatest sustainability researchers, wrote in his book How Bad Are Bananas? The work talks about the carbon footprint of various products. Among other variables, the author used data from cell towers, data transfers and data centers for his accounts.

Data provided by the multinational mobile operator Vodafone, an SMS with a maximum weight of 140 bytes emits 0.00215g of CO2 – less than an email.

Regarding instant messaging, there is still no concrete data to predict its carbon footprint. However, as these communications use internet networks, it is reasonable to think that their carbon footprint is closer to an email.

Yes, we can say that using SMS is more sustainable than using instant messages or emails. But a message with more than 160 characters would increase the energy spent and then that count changes as, by adding extra megabytes, we increase the carbon footprint. Remember that the more data to be processed, the more energy is needed?

It is estimated that the worldwide exchange of text messages emits 32,000 tons of CO2 a year, which is very little compared to humanity's total footprint: 40 billion tons in the same period. In other words, it is much more urgent to revisit other habits. Anyway, when we think about the environment, everything matters. In this case, if you want to act in the most sustainable way, it is best to go back to the good old SMS from years ago. Preferably without attachments.

Water scarcity affects 40% of the planet, and this is more than enough for us to realize the need to save it and use it wisely. Check now, the seven countries that most waste this valuable asset:

1. Canada

Starting the list of countries that most waste water, we have Canada. When adding the data of domestic water consumption with industrial and agricultural use, there is a waste of 2,333 m³ per capita, that is, the average Canadian uses enough water to fill 40 hot tubs, or 200 common bathtubs each year.

2. Armenia

The volume of water consumed in Armenia increased between 2009 and 2017 due to the expansion of the public water supply network to rural areas. This means that, while Armenia’s population decreased by 7% in this period, the amount of water supplied to households increased by 75%. Its combined total water use value is 1439 m³ per capita per year; a lower total compared to Canada, due to the lower consumption of green and gray water from Armenia.

Green water represents water that comes from rain and accumulates in the soil. This water is mainly related to plants and is removed via evaporation and transpiration. Gray water, on the other hand, is related to the amount of water needed to dilute the pollutant and which returns to the system in the form of effluents.

3. New Zealand

Water use is high due to demand in agriculture, power generation and tourism. Thanks to the low numbers of green, blue and gray water in industry, households and agriculture, New Zealand’;s total water consumption is 1,589 m³ per capita, per year. Blue water corresponds to water that is taken from rivers, groundwater reservoirs and bodies of water.

4. United States of America

Domestic consumption in the USA can be attributed to easy access to safe and treated water across the country. Although consumption rates are high, public domestic water use has declined since 1995, partly due to improvements in infrastructure, better leak detection and greater consumer awareness of the problems caused by water waste. The USA has a total water consumption of 2,842 m³ per capita per year, with its green water consumption being the highest of the 7 countries.

5. Costa Rica

Costa Rica has a good history of environmental conservation, however, with guaranteed clean water for all homes, it allows water to be more easily used. Its total water consumption is 1 490 m³, due to the low values ​​of blue water, lower values ​​of gray water, compared to the USA and Canada.

6. Panama

Panama is the largest consumer of water in Latin America. As its population and economy grow steadily, the country is likely to face more demand for new sources of water. The domestic use of water is also encouraged due to the low cost of water in the country. A significantly lower total consumption of blue water means that Panama’s total numbers are the lowest in this group of seven, at 1,364 m³.

7. United Arab Emirates

Concluding our list of countries that waste the most water, the UAE has the largest ecological footprint in the world, with water consumption growing significantly since 1960 (both due to population growth and high domestic water use). With the country’s water desalination plants burning large amounts of fossil fuels, its demand for water is also increasing its carbon footprint. The UAE has one of the highest total water consumptions in agriculture, household and industry with 3,136 m³, marking the highest score for all three types of water use compared to all seven countries on this list.

Tips to reduce water consumption

Check regularly for leaks in pipes and water connections, such as in dishwashers, toilets, washing machines, showers and taps.

  • Avoid using dishwashers, as water consumption ends up being greater than necessary;
  • Whether you are shaving, washing your face or brushing your teeth, do not leave the tap running.
  • Use the washing machine only when necessary, and if you are going to use it, remember to add more clothes at once to avoid waste.

The international highlight for plastic waste has resulted in new and stricter controls in relation to its export from the European Union and the United Kingdom.

The plastic reprocessing infrastructure in the UK has been growing a lot, and many companies have been specializing in recycling to meet the demand for waste generated in the European Union.

This follows the EU's decision to prevent member countries from exporting hazardous and difficult-to-recycle plastic waste (known as Y48) to nations that are not part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This includes all mixed polymers, except PP, PE and PET. As a result, EU exports to some of the largest plastic scrap importing countries in South and Southeast Asia are officially banned. This is a considerably tougher position than the one currently adopted by the UK government, which as of January 1, 2021, required operators to request prior consent to send certain plastics to non-OECD countries.

According to the new rules, only recyclable and “clean” plastic waste can be exported from European Union countries to non-OECD countries. There are also new and more stringent measures to be applied to exports of plastic waste from the EU to OECD countries and to movements within the EU itself.

Basically, based on these changes, the fate of recycled plastics in the countries of the European Union will be monitored to prevent waste accumulated in nature.

Only some types of plastic that do not enter into this agreement and that can be easily recycled at local plants.

Bureaucracy

Even with these measures, the increase in bureaucracy between the countries that receive the plastic, can already be noticed. On certain occasions, it takes up to three months to update notifications, delaying the process of recycling this material. This method is also undermining confidence and stability with the fear that new shipments may be reversed in transit or rejected by the authorities in the country of destination, with the cost of sharing the waste falling on the exporter.

Low-cost exports to Asia and Southeast Asia have historically meant that much of this material that could be recycled at UK facilities ended up being shipped worldwide.

Closing access to these markets and increasing regulation could, however, make the UK more attractive to EU recycling and waste management companies looking for sustainable markets for plastics from waste streams, including small appliances.

There are also fears that stocks of plastic waste are starting to build up. The surplus of this material can be harmful to the economy and the environment.

As an island nation, the United Kingdom has developed the most respected export and logistics capacity in the world. Companies like Enva can now take advantage of this experience to reduce the risk of material moving from the EU to the UK.

This fully managed service can include the production of all necessary notifications and export paperwork. In fact, Enva had already used its experience to establish a series of pre-notified export routes before the changes.

This has enabled customers to benefit from a stable and consistent material removal solution that realizes the commercial and environmental value of the waste they produce.

The new method is much simpler and cheaper than the previous technique, which used to extract lignin from wood

Researchers at the University of Maryland have developed a transparent wood that is a promising material for applications in buildings with high energy efficiency. The creation was disclosed in an article in Science Advances entitled “Solar-assisted manufacturing of standardized transparent wood on a large scale”.

Transparent wood is not new, but the technique used by these researchers is much simpler and still has energy efficiency.

The method

Wood is made of cellulose, which are tiny fibres, and lignin, which joins these fibres together. Lignin also contains molecules called chromophores, which make wood brown. Instead of trying to remove lignin – using dangerous chemicals – scientists at the University of Maryland found a much simpler and cheaper way, done as follows: scientists took wooden boards one meter long and one millimetre long thick and applied a hydrogen peroxide solution with a regular brush.

When left in the sun or under an ultraviolet lamp for about an hour, the peroxide bleached the brown chromophores, leaving the lignin intact, so that the wood turned white.

Then, they fused the wood with a transparent and resistant epoxy (designed for marine use), which filled the porous spaces of the wood, making it white and transparent. The wood epoxy allows 90% of the visible light to pass through. The result is a piece similar to glass, but with the strength and flexibility of wood.

As a result, this material can replace window glass, as it provides much better thermal insulation – bearing in mind that glass windows are the main source of heat loss or cooling. In addition, transparent wood is much more durable than glass.

In addition to being lighter, the team found that this wood is 50 times more resistant than old-fashioned transparent wood. Therefore, it could be used to cover large buildings. And the researchers say it can also be used for roofs, generating even more energy savings.

We know that recycling is extremely necessary, but there are some common misconceptions about it.

People often wonder if it is worth the time and energy spent on recycling, whether recycled products really work and when waste is actually recycled. Here are 4 myths about recycling that you need to know:

1. You cannot recycle crushed cans and bottles

This finding is false. In any case, these materials will be crushed in the recycling process, so there is no real problem in disposing of the materials already in this state.

2. Materials can only be recycled once

This is another popular misconception that has been around for a long time. Even if this carries a certain truth (as in the case of plastic), other materials such as aluminium and glass can be recycled as many times as necessary, without altering the quality of the product in any way.

Plastic is different because it does not have such a long service life in relation to other materials: water bottles, for example, do not return to being water bottles with recycling. Usually, this material is transformed into raw material to be used in the manufacture of other materials such as clothes, upholstery, carpets and other non-recyclable items.

In the case of paper, whenever it is recycled, it suffers some damage, however, the quality of recycled paper in recent years has evolved a lot. A conventional piece of paper can be recycled 5 to 7 times without losing quality. After that, they can still be used in egg cartons or in some other more rustic packaging.

3. Products made with recycled materials are of inferior quality

A few decades ago, products made from recycled materials were often considered below average in terms of quality. The recycled paper was grey and thick, and the plastic was considered not very resistant. However, manufacturers have made considerable advances in quality as the demand for recycled products has grown significantly over the years. Numerous studies show that paper with recyclable content has high quality performances. Currently, we can use recyclable paper, glass, metal and plastic packaging even for food.

4. Recycling uses more energy than doing something new

According to the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States, recycled aluminium cans save 95% of the energy needed for production, compared to when they are made with materials extracted from nature. The recycling of steel and brass saves from 60% to 74%; about 60% paper; plastic and glass save about a third.

These myths about recycling can bring many problems, as they prevent people from adopting sustainable and friendly practices in their daily lives. Creating a simple recycling schedule in our lives is already a good first step to become a planet saviours.

After milk without cows, egg proteins without chickens and collagen without animal raw material, now we will also have honey that does not come from bees.

With the sustainability crisis in cattle breeding for human consumption, many companies have been investing in the creation of plant-based proteins with the promise of meeting the increase in consumption of animal meat, which is expected to grow by 70% by 2050, according to with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

With the advent of these new technologies capable of substituting animal raw materials for more sustainable ones, the Californian company MelBio was able to recreate a honey – without the need for the work of bees. The company wants to arrive at the perfect formula of the product not only to be the pioneer in the market, but also to reduce the pressure on the species already committed to the current demand for honey in the world.

In an interview for the technology portal “Fast Company”, Darko Mandich, CEO of the startup, says that MelBio’s mission is also to solve the problem of the impact that bees have in maintaining biodiversity: “There are 20 thousand species of wild bees and native. And these species are committed to the current production of honey, which depends entirely on commercial beekeeping. We decided to use science to produce honey just like bees do, but removing them from the supply chain so that we can help them thrive.” In this way, the bees that are so important for the general development of the planet Earth, will not be exploited by purely capitalist methods that, many times, end up being destructive.

Honey undergoing testing

The company estimates that honey will be available to consumers by the end of 2021.

The honey production process is similar to the one that produces dairy cells by isolating the DNA from the milk protein, eliminating the need for cows in the process.

The first version of laboratory honey had satisfactory results: according to the CEO of MelBio, the texture, flavour and viscosity resembled the original bee honey. A blind test left the tasters in doubt about which product was made by science and which one came from the bees. According to him, 14 companies have already signed letters of intent to purchase the product to use it when it is finally ready.

Laboratory honey can be used in the food industry, and even for cosmetics – giving aroma or texture to soaps, shampoos and other beauty products. The next step is to achieve a round of investment that guarantees a lower cost for this product than natural bee honey. Thus, the use of the insect is discouraged, which can recover from the commercial demands of food consumption.

In addition to the appeal to be produced in an ecologically correct way and to protect the environment – a point of attraction for GenZ consumers (generation Z), those most concerned with the theme between generations – laboratory honey also has great potential for growth between vegans and vegetarians.

It is worth remembering that the animal protein-free food market is expected to grow by approximately 31 billion dollars by 2026. In other words, honey with a scientific stamp may have a beautiful way to go in a consumption behaviour that is booming.

Product is still in development and will be launched as test in Hungary

Coca-Cola has partnered with the Danish startup Paboco to develop a bottle made of 100% paper. “Our vision is to create a paper bottle that can be recycled like any other type of paper, and this prototype is the first step on the road to achieving this,” says Stijn Franssen, innovation manager for R&D packaging at Coca-Cola EMEA.

The product prototype consists of a paper wrapper with a 100% recycled plastic closure and internal lining. The next step, according to Franssen, is to create a paper bottle without the need for plastic coating.

Franssen’s team is conducting extensive laboratory tests to assess how the new bottle behaves, maintains and protects its contents while refrigerated and in other settings.

Tests in Hungary

The paper bottle project is already undergoing tests and the country chosen to receive the novelty was Hungary. A series of 2,000 bottles of a herbal drink will be offered through online sales.

The purpose of the action is to measure the overall performance of the packaging, also aiming to understand consumer acceptance of the new format.

Paboco’s technology allows to develop 100% recyclable bottles, made of wood of sustainable origin, with a bio-based material barrier capable of resisting liquids, CO2 and oxygen, therefore being suitable for drinks, beauty products and other products liquids. The ultimate goal is a bottle that can be recycled like paper.

A researcher at the University of Copenhagen studies in detail the mineral olivine, which is able to extract CO2 from the atmosphere.

Olivine is a mineral that has great possibilities to extract Carbon Dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, according to the researcher and assistant professor at the Department of Geosciences and Nature Management at the University of Copenhagen, Kristoffer Szilas.

This mineral contains nickel, which is currently used in steel production and in electric batteries, but research shows that olivine also has incredible potential to alleviate the climate crisis.

The Danish researcher has been working to recreate the natural process in the laboratory – work that could potentially contribute to solving our climate crisis in the future.

“When olivine is pushed to the Earth’s surface, through tectonic processes, the mineral becomes unstable and reacts with the wind and the climate. This causes the olivine to absorb CO2  from the atmosphere and be converted into a new mineral, a magnesium carbonate called magnesite. In this way, CO2  is stored in the mineral, ceasing to remain in the atmosphere as a gas”, says Szilas.

Scientists have known for some time the incredible properties of olivine, but now Szilas has been working to recreate the natural process, where carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere, in the laboratory. If the mission is successful, it can have a huge positive impact on the climate. “With 1,000 kg of olivine, 600 kg of CO2  can be extracted from the air. And as olivine is found in the peridotite of the rock, which represents 80% of the Earth’s volume, the use of this mineral has a great potential for effect on the climate”, says the researcher.

Africa is gaining a great green wall to contain desertification

Initiative aims to restore 100 million hectares of land by 2030

Desertification is a major problem worldwide, but in Africa it has been presenting worrying levels. In 2018, it was discovered that the Sahara, the largest desert in the world after Antarctica and the Arctic, had increased by 10% in the last century. This expansion is due to a combination of man-made climate change and natural climate cycles, with most changes occurring along the northern and southern edges of the desert.

The Sahel region (which runs from the southern Sahara belt to the Sudanese savannah), where some of the poorest communities in the world reside, is the one that has suffered the most from this desertification. The region has been experiencing persistent droughts and seeing its natural resources being depleted continuously.

This is where the Great Green Wall comes in, a project that could save an entire
region from ecological collapse.

What is the green wall?

Launched in 2007, this revolutionary initiative aims to restore Africa’s degraded landscapes and transform millions of lives into one of the poorest regions in the world, the Sahel. After being completed, the Green Wall will be the largest living structure on the planet – a natural wonder of the 8,000 km world that stretches across the continent.

The Great Green Wall is now being implemented in more than 20 countries in Africa, extending from east to west, with an investment of more than eight billion dollars. The initiative brings together African countries and international partners, under the leadership of the African Union Commission and the Pan African Agency of the Great Green Wall.

The project has adopted a range of tools to build a vegetation belt across the continent. Although trees are the main focus, other methods are being used to help restore the land, based on the specific biogeographic needs of each area
individually.

The Wall is still under construction, but it is already possible to measure the success of the project. Degraded land is being restored at an accelerated rate. This means greater food security for nearby communities.

Nigeria, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia have so far seen more significant gains in the Sahel region. More than 17 million trees have been planted in Burkina Faso, Nigeria has seen more than 48,000 square kilometres of degraded land restored, while Senegal and Ethiopia have also achieved similar levels of success.

With the fight against desertification in the area, the regions began to see increased rainfall, as well as more resilient and fertile agricultural spaces.

But the ecological impact is not the only focus of this project, as the scheme also aims to empower and develop the surrounding communities.

By 2030, the initiative aims to restore 100 million hectares of land that is currently degraded, as well as "sequester" 250 million tons of carbon and create 10 million green jobs. All of this will bring even more benefits to the communities that live around the Great Wall.