Each week we share the top sustainability news stories from around the world. Here’s this week’s round up:
This week, we explore a revolutionary way to improve plant growth, new information about wildfires and how data driven technology is helping food retailers become more sustainable through efficiency.
LED Lights Used to Help Plants Grow in The Netherlands:
A two year collaboration between Dutch artists and designer Daan Roosegaarde, and plant biologists has produced a leek field in the Netherlands that uses LED lights when it’s dark to help crops grow better. The project called Grow, uses blue and red light, mixed with invisible ultraviolet (UV) radiation effectively lengthening sunlight hours for a field of over 20,000 sq metres worth of crops.
For decades, red and blue light has been used in greenhouses and recently has seen an uptake in vertical farming to improve plant growth and maximise yields, but this project in Lelystad, Netherlands is the first to apply the technology in an outdoor setting.
With an estimated global population of 9 Billion to feed by 2050, the pressure to increase agricultural productivity is intense. However, the use of pesticides and fertilisers, which has seen an uptick, can result in soil and waterway pollution. “Farmers need a diverse set of tools now to increase yields. This clean alternative could help reduce the need for agricultural chemicals which themselves are costly and time-consuming to develop and can pollute the environment once applied,” says Professor Jason Wargent, a plant photobiologist working on the project.
The precision lighting design directs the red and blue beams horizontally across the field and is generated by 4 solar powered units and is only used for a short time at night so as not to disrupt the wildlife while also producing no emissions. Roosegaarde hopes to scale up his project globally and push light science in farming to develop even further.
Wildfire Smoke More Dangerous Than Vehicle Emissions:
Each year, thick grey wildfire smoke covers California. A recent study has shown that the toxic particles spewed in wildfires have resulted in 10 times as many respiratory-illness related hospitalisations as other types of pollution, most notably vehicle emissions. This information comes at the heels of the state’s worst wildfire season on record, on top of findings that add to the growing evidence that the extreme fires fueled by the climate crisis will worsen the health of residents in the western US which could affect over 40 million people. Rosana Aguilera, a postdoctoral scholar who co-authored the research, looked at hospital admissions over a 14 year period from 1999 through 2021 and found that spikes in air pollution during peak fire season in southern California correlated with a 10% increase in hospitalisations for respiratory issues.
What is concerning is that wildfires in the state have gotten much worse just in the past decade. Six of the largest wildfires on record burned in 2020 and while particle pollution has seen a decrease due to environmental regulation, pollution in this region and the north-west has seen an increase because of the severity of the wildfires.
Part of the problem is what’s being burned. Due to the development in the wildlands, the fires are increasingly likely to burn through homes and other infrastructure, spewing up a poisonous mix of plastics, metals and other chemicals into the air. Megafires are also massive enough to create their own microclimate and pump more smoke into the atmosphere where it oxidizes and damages the atmosphere. More research is needed to understand the long term effects of exposure to smoke, but action is needed now.
Data Driving Sustainability in Food Retail:
Several governments around the world are beginning to invest in green energy packages to help rebuild their economies after the global pandemic. At the same time, the world is generally becoming more data driven to increase efficiency in our everyday lives. Food retailers are looking to increase efficiency through data driven investment and better sustainable practices. IoT (Internet of Things) technology is beginning to be implemented into the food retail industry, and has potential to reduce food loss and energy waste. IoT technology connects devices that collect data and communicate to the cloud without human intervention. It is already being used to track energy use and identify ways to increase efficiency.
The grocery retail sector accounts for 2% of electricity consumption globally, which means that implementing energy and asset-monitoring solutions across stores can make a significant positive difference when scaled globally. The food sector as a whole is lacking in efficiency as one-third of all food produced today is wasted or lost, even as world hunger continues to increase. Refrigeration costs energy but it is crucial for preserving foods we rely on.
IoT technology ensures that the right temperatures are maintained in food retail to keep food safe and reduce losses, while maximising energy efficiencies for the heating, ventilation, air conditioning, lighting, appliances and more. The past 5 years have seen food retailers save more than $37 million and 2 million tonnes of CO2, all with the help of IoT technology. Businesses, organisations and decision makers must work together to create a framework that will scale IoT implementation and maximise sustainability opportunities.