Will Grocery Stores Go the Way of Video Stores?

Requiring shoppers to go to overstocked stores bakes waste into the U.S. food system. Could grocery stores migrate online the way video stores have?



Think about the last time you went into a grocery store and saw an empty table or shelf. Tough, right? That's because it virtually never happens in this country. American shoppers have become accustomed to finding whatever food item they want when they go to the grocery store—and plenty of it, too. That expectation, which U.S. shoppers have only really had for the last few decades, plays a big role in the country's growing food waste problem. According to a recent report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), 40 percent of fresh food produced in the United States is wasted every year. That's more than 20 pounds of food wasted per person per month, all year long. Even worse? The majority of that food ends up not in food banks but in landfills, where it contributes 25 percent of U.S. methane emissions.

Of course, that's not all to do with the fact that stores overstock shelves—and wind up throwing rotted food away—in order to meet shopper expectations. "It adds up in every part of the supply chain," says Elliott Grant, founder and CTO of Yottamark, the company behind food traceability platform HarvestMark. "Some product is left on the farm, some is rejected at receiving, some is wasted at the stores. At every part of the chain a little is added to that pile."

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The Year of the (Green) Dragon: China's Burgeoning Environmental Movement

China's environmental problems are being tackled not by international organizations but by local, effective grassroots groups.


The most important environmental story coming out of China this year is not the treatment of workers at the iPad plant, or whatever journalistic ethics were compromised in the reporting of it, but the meteoric rise of grassroots environmental groups in the country. Where larger U.S. organizations like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club have failed to gain much traction, local Chinese groups are beginning to affect meaningful change.

The best-known of these groups is the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE), run by former journalist Ma Jun. In 2008, the Chinese government passed a series of regulations granting public access to certain types of environmental information and ordering local environmental protection bureaus to release data about polluters in their regions. However, enforcement was weak and the disclosure was piecemeal, making it difficult for the public to access or make sense of the information available.

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The Best Last-Minute Gift: Your Time

Timebanking, created in the 1970s, may be an idea whose time has finally come.


At a time when Americans in particular are questioning what has gone wrong in our society, what has happened to our communities, where our humanity has gone, the notion of timebanking feels comforting and old-timey. It has taken many forms since its inception more than 25 years ago, but the gist of it is this: You deposit a certain number of hours doing whatever it is you can offer to do (childcare, design, home repairs, gardening, tutoring, you name it), and in exchange you get to benefit from hours of someone else's time.

Granted, in our grandparents' day, these sorts of exchanges may not have needed a bank. When my grandma left meals out on her front steps for hobos during the Depression she wasn't expecting them to pay her back by doing chores, nor was there a third-party broker negotiating pies for lawn mowing. Nonetheless, it feels like a tentative step away from some of the uglier trappings of modernity and toward using modern innovation to create a more traditional community.

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What You Won't Hear in the Presidential Debates: Conservative Solutions to Climate Change

Conservative groups are moving away from denying climate change and toward crafting practical solutions to the problem.



So far the environment has gotten short shrift in the debates, apart from both Obama and Romney sucking up to King Coal, and Ryan complaining about the green jobs money his state gladly took. Both candidates seem hesitant to delve into the issue—Obama for fear of being accused of spending or regulating too much, and Romney for fear of appearing not conservative enough.

The thing is, not all conservatives are global-warming-denying, gas-guzzling coal lovers. It's that climate science has a branding problem. Few other sciences are so politicized. Fewer still are referred to as something that people can choose to either believe in or not. As the topic of climate change has become more and more politicized, the practical issues surrounding it—everything from energy and water efficiency to cleantech innovation—have become colored by party politics. Oil and coal have become energy sources conservatives must love, while things like energy efficiency and renewable energy have become stand-ins for liberal politics, government intervention, taxes, take your pick.

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Life's Blueprints: Levi's Takes a Cue From Bees To Make Stronger Jeans

Levi's is seeking inspiration in the way bees build their hives to improve the durability and strength of its clothes.

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Waste Not, Want Not: Extended Producer Responsibility Would Require Manufacturers to Collect and Recycle Packaging

Recycling is stuck in the Seventies. EPR agreements would boost efficiency and bring recycling up to date.


Recycling has been around in the United States since the 1970s. It’s such an old and integral part of the environmental movement that activists today think of it as fusty and boring. Surely there are more exciting, innovative solutions to today’s problems!

It’s that sort of thinking that has caused recycling to stay trapped in a 1970s system that is expensive and inefficient. Recycling rates have increased steadily over time, but not as quickly as consumption has, and so the recycling rates today for even the most recyclable goods are well below 50%. Perhaps more importantly, we’re continuing to send $11.4 billion worth of valuable material—stuff like aluminum and PET plastic that there’s real market demand for—to landfills every year.

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