Thousands of years ago, low-growing turf grasses were helpful in fending off danger and in hunting for food. Through time, these grasses evolved for use in recreation and livestock grazing purposes. As a result, lawns became a status symbol. A grass lawn, as opposed to cropland, signified that you were wealthy enough to own land that you didn’t have to farm. Today, grass lawns are the status quo, although most of us may not stop to consider why. What is important to consider is how this change from prairie to a grassturf urban landscape affected the Minnesotan ecosystem.
In short, this change has resulted in extensive soil erosion, water pollution, and decreased biodiversity across the Midwest. There are, however, ways in which you can remedy these adverse effects. So, this spring, try something different with your lawn.
There are many ways to make your lawn more sustainable: planting a vegetable garden, recycling runoff rainwater, and even using solar lights. However, the healthiest lawn is the one that is restored to the way that nature intended it to be. In the Midwest, that means prairie. Prairie restoration, or reconstruction (depending on the area in which you live) is a conservation effort that includes the act of reintroducing native grassland species into an area where they were destroyed for urban or industrial development. Prairie restorations increase biodiversity, create habitat for native animals, and reduce water runoff and soil erosion. Once they’re established, prairies are cheaper to maintain than a traditional lawn. So, how exactly do you get started?
With practically the whole city under quarantine, many individuals and families have found themselves with more free time than they know what to do with. That makes it the perfect time to get outside: being active, spending time with family, and reconnecting with nature. The weather couldn’t be better either! Armed with reasons to take this unprecedented opportunity to reconnect with the natural world in the beautiful city of Minneapolis, today’s blog post will explore some outdoor adventures fun for the whole family, as well as ways to incorporate outdoor living into your life-under-quarantine.
As a reminder, if you or any of your family show any symptoms of sickness (even the common cold), please stay inside. When outside, remember to follow the rules of social distancing: maintain a six-foot radius between you and others, avoid touching shared surfaces, wash your hands frequently, and avoid touching your face.
As I’m sure you’ve heard, a citywide bag ordinance went into effect on January 1st of this year, which requires retailers to charge five cents for each bag used by the shopper. While enforcement by city officials is not scheduled to occur until June, most shoppers and retailers are already abiding by the change. That is not to say, however, that there haven’t been mixed feelings toward the new policy.
The ordinance was implemented with the goal of reducing single-use plastic consumption and making a push toward more environmentally-friendly city practices. Single-use plastics are polluting our waterways and contaminating the natural landscape as they leach chemicals for years on end. Reducing plastic bag waste will also increase recycling efficiency. Prior to the ordinance, plastic bag entangements could clog recycling facility machinery for upwards of four hours every day. The transition to the new bag ordinance has been done with “an emphasis on education, rather than punishment,” according to local paper The Star Tribune. There are some exceptions to the ordinance, including those for farmer’s markets and low-income shoppers using SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
Some shoppers are not happy about paying for something they used to receive for free.
“It’s another form of sucking people into becoming some type of an activist for the environment and trying to control the masses,” one shopper, Megan Bacigalupo, told CBS Minnesota. Others are concerned about the lack of privacy for low-income shoppers.
“When that [WIC or SNAP transaction] goes through, the cashiers don’t know what’s happening. It’s a seamless transaction,” said Jamie Pfuhl, president of the Minnesota Grocers Association. “So unfortunately now, a WIC or SNAP recipient is going to have to identify that that’s what the transaction is, and that’s against what we’re trying to achieve there.”
These criticisms point out that, like anything else, no policy is perfect. That’s not to say, however, there hasn’t been overwhelming positive feedback toward the bag fee as well.
“If we are truly concerned about the greater biodiversity on our planet right now at a time when so much is being threatened, it behooves us to do this,” commented Cathy Geist, a biology professor at MCTC. Reduction of biodiversity, or the variety of life in a particular ecosystem, is one of the major consequences of climate change. These reductions can have profound impacts and can lead to severe, even irreparable ecosystem damage.
“It’s hard to change patterns, right? But once you understand the reasoning behind it and we’ve come a few times, forgot a bag, pay extra for a bag, then you start to remember, right? And it becomes a culture,” shopper Charles Dennis said.
This bag ordinance is the perfect catalyst for a cultural shift, starting right here in Minneapolis. Little actions can become powerful when initiated by the masses. Sustainability isn’t just a buzzword. Rather, it’s about making lots of small changes, the results of while accumulate to create a bigger impact. When we pitch in, and encourage our neighbors to do the same, we can have a remarkable impact on the planet and the generations to come.
With the opening of its first full-size, cashierless grocery store in Seattle, Amazon made one thing abundantly clear: it has solidified its position as a multi-industry king. Dominating the online, home technology, and now grocery marketplaces, Amazon has been the center of it’s fair share of praise and criticism. Perhaps the focal point of Amazon’s online shopping success is their fast, free shipping for members. Amazon isn’t the only industry leader offering increasingly-rapid shipping options as a way to stay competitive. Because these trends are on the rise, with no end in the forseeable future, this week’s blog post will address the carbon footprint of such expedited shipping options.
A 2013 study published by MIT estimated and compared the carbon footprints of both in-person buying and online shopping purchases. The study included various factors, including packaging, transportation, energy consumption, and information flow. As a result, the study touted online-shopping as the surprising environmentally-friendly alternative to brick-and-mortar shopping, based on numerous scenarios and the idea that “the main component of the [emissions produced by the] Traditional shopper is the customer transportation, whereas Cybernaut‘s emissions are linked to a parcel carrier, who uses an optimized delivery process.” (Weideli, 2013). This was not the case with expedited shipping options (overnight, one-day, two-day). To learn more, read the study here.
However, this blanket statement should not end your days of in-store shopping, as there are significant drawbacks to consider as well. First, the carbon footprint of these corporate shipping practices is enormous regardless, especially when using vans that are smaller than traditional freight vehicles (which require more trips to and from the inventory distribution center). There are also labor implications to consider; the manpower needed to facilitate such expedited shipping often results in less-than ethical working conditions. Buzzfeed conducted an investigation into this trend, and this is what they found. Vox has also found that with increasing shipping convenience, there has been a rising trend toward single-item purchasing. This increases shipping demands, and thus, environmental impacts. When online purchases show up the next day, it is tempting to order five items independently, rather than bundling them into one consolidated (read: less environmentally-strenuous) order.
The best way to reduce your environmental impact when it comes to all purchases, be it in-store or online, is to reduce how much you are buying in the first place. Reducing and reusing are the first steps in reducing waste and carbon emissions. Do you need to order that reusable grocery bag from the internet and receive it by tomorrow, or can you repurpose fabric scraps from around the house into a new bag? Being an informed, critical consumer is an excellent way to take action and make waves in the climate conversation.
This blog post has focused primarily on the environmental impacts of corporate malpractices, but there are lots of other resources with great information surrounding other points of controversy regarding the online shopping industry. EcoWatch writes more on the carbon footprint of shipping practices. The New York Post and Business Insider detail what a day in the life of a factory worker really looks like: overworked and underpaid.