UK’s Better Nature Becomes World’s First Plastic-Neutral Meat-Alternative Company

Better Nature, a UK-based producer of tempeh, has partnered with rePurpose Global, a plastic credit platform, to become the world’s first plastic-neutral meat-alternative company.

“Due to the relatively complicated food safety aspect of tempeh production, it’s really difficult to remove plastic from its production and packaging,” said Amadeus Driando Ahnan-Winarno, co-founder and head of technology at Better Nature. “It’s something that really frustrates us as a team and we’re constantly working on. We’re particularly looking into how we could use recycled or renewable materials rather than virgin plastic. We’re making progress, but it will take a while to implement, so, in the meantime, offsetting the plastic we produce is a productive step.”

Related: Solving the single-use plastic problem with Emma Rose of FinalStraw

Until the company can reduce its own plastic usage, it’s working with rePurpose Global to contribute to the removal of the same amount of plastic from the environment that it uses. Better Nature makes monetary donations to rePurpose Global based on how much plastic it uses in packaging and shipping materials. That money is sent to rePurpose Global partner Waste4Change, a social enterprise in West Java, Indonesia. Waste4Change develops sustainable waste management systems to reduce the amount of trash going into landfills.

By supporting Waste4Change, Better Nature hopes to reduce the overall amount of plastic waste globally and ensure that it’s reused in an environmentally and socially responsible way.

Waste4Change also provides jobs for more than 140 waste management workers and their families in West Java.

Related: Oglethorpe University senior has simple solution to better protect Hawaii’s dolphins

Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian soy product made from fermented soybeans. It’s a staple protein and a major industry in Java, where it most likely originated centuries ago. Boosting the plastic recycling industry in Indonesia helps protect waste-management employees from inhumane conditions and low wages. The Better Nature initiative boosts these workers’ income by making hard-to-recycle plastics more valuable, the company says, while supporting an experienced recycling social enterprise.

“At Better Nature, our mission is to do things the better way—for people, the planet and animals,” said Elin Roberts, co-founder and head of marketing at Better Nature. “But the better way is not always the perfect way; it’s about making whatever changes we can to get closer to our greater goals. As a start-up, it can be tricky to implement all the changes we want to from the beginning, but we’re working hard to be as sustainable as possible. Going plastic-neutral is a step in the right direction for us, and one we want to encourage more businesses to take.”

Related: University of North Carolina research explains why sea turtles eat plastic

“We’re All Sea Creatures”: Dr. Sylvia Earle Explains Why the Oceans Are Crucial to Economic Prosperity

“We’re all sea creatures,” says marine biologist, explorer and author Dr. Sylvia Earle, president and chairman of Mission Blue/The Sylvia Earle Alliance, in this exclusive video chat with Real Leaders Magazine. And protecting the world’s oceans is about more than saving the whales and dolphins—it’s about economic prosperity and the overall health of humankind, too.

Earle is a National Geographic explorer-in-residence and was the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Time Magazine named her its first Hero for the Planet in 1998. Since her childhood, she has watched the oceans become a “dump site” for humankind’s garbage and has worked to protect special sections—dubbed “Hope Spots”—that are critical to the planet’s health.

Businesses can play a role in defending the oceans while creating jobs and promoting economic development, Earle believes. “The really durable and clever businesses are those that will figure out how best to use these assets,” she says. “Healthy oceans mean healthy people. An unhealthy ocean surely means that we’re in trouble.”

About Real Leaders Magazine: Located on the web at, Real Leaders Magazine is the world’s first sustainable business and leadership magazine. Real Leaders aims to inspire better leaders for a better world, a world of far-sighted, sustainable leadership that helps find solutions to the problems that 7.5 billion people have created on a small planet. Click here to subscribe to Real LeadersFor more Real Leaders video content, check out their Youtube page here.

Video: Solving the Single-Use Plastic Problem With Emma Rose of FinalStraw

The truth about single-use plastic and America’s recycling problem comes to light as Kevin Edwards of Real Leaders Magazine gets insights from Emma Rose, founder and CEO of FinalStraw in this exclusive interview. As a sustainable alternative to single-use plastics, Rose and her company design and create Foreverables, described as “responsibly made, badass products.” The FinalStraw itself is a sleek, smartly designed, highly portable and totally reusable straw (available in a wide range of appealing colors) that comes in a small case you could easily attach to your keychain.

Related: Why Mary Kay, Inc. is accelerating women entrepreneurs

In this far-ranging discussion of the zero-waste movement and the mission of FinalStraw, Rose explains why paper isn’t necessarily better than plastic, why recycling isn’t the be-all end-all solution to waste, and the problem of biodegradable plastics. “The problem is in single-use,” Rose explains. “Straws aren’t the problem, it’s the way we consume products and throw them away … What we’re trying to do is kind of retrain people to think not only about where does the product go when you throw it away but also what goes into making that product and how can we redesign things so that we’re not wasting all these materials and energy and fuel to make something that lasts 30 seconds and then we throw it away.”

About Real Leaders Magazine: Located on the web at, Real Leaders Magazine is the world’s first sustainable business and leadership magazine. Real Leaders aims to inspire better leaders for a better world, a world of far-sighted, sustainable leadership that helps find solutions to the problems that 7.5 billion people have created on a small planet. Click here to subscribe to Real LeadersFor more Real Leaders video content, check out their Youtube page here.

The Gap Unveils Teen Clothing Line Made With Sustainable Materials

Members of Generation Z say they will pay more for sustainable products, and Gap Inc. has heard them loud and clear. To appeal to teenage girls, the fashion brand has introduced a new line of denim clothing made with sustainable materials.

The new Gap Teen line includes jeans, shorts, skirts, jackets, hoodies and T-shirts. The company says all of the products are made using processes that save water and reduce waste.

Some of the pieces are made from organically grown cotton and Lenzing EcoVero, a fiber derived from renewable wood and pulp sources. Others are made in a factory under Gap’s Personal Advancement & Career Enhancement (PACE) program, which helps women in the apparel industry develop new skills that can lead to management positions as well as personal growth.

A study by First Insight found that the oldest members of Generation Z—those born roughly between 1995 and 2015—“are making more shopping decisions based on sustainable retail practices” than preceding generations, such as Gen X and Millennials.

a photo of a young woman modeling sustainable fashion from the Gap Teen line

The First Insight study, released in January 2020, was titled “The State of Consumer Spending: Gen Z Shoppers Demand Sustainable Retail.” It found that 62 percent of Gen Z survey participants prefer to buy from sustainable brands. Moreover, 73 percent of Gen Z members are willing to pay more for sustainable products, as compared to 68 percent of Millennials, 55 percent of Generation X and 42 percent of Baby Boomers.

“While Baby Boomers seem to be the holdouts when it comes to expecting more sustainable practices within retail overall, the research shows that with every generation, sustainability is becoming further embedded in purchase decisions,” said First Insight CEO Greg Petro. “It’s incredibly important that retailers and brands continue to follow the voices of their customers. With Generation Z on track to become the largest generation of consumers this year, retailers and brands must start supercharging sustainability practices now if they are to keep pace with expectations around sustainability for these next-generation consumers, whether it is through consignment, upcycling or even gifting around major holidays.”

But why denim? According to Sourcing Journal, teenagers prefer retailers with a denim component, such as American Eagle and Hollister, ranked this spring’s No. 2 and No. 4 top clothing brands for teens.

The Gap Teen collection comes in teen sizes 8-16 and prices ranging from $16.95 to $64.95.


UNC Research Explains Why Sea Turtles Eat Plastic

One week is all it takes for a piece of plastic floating in the ocean to begin to smell like turtle food.

New research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, shows that plastics floating in the ocean build a coating of algae and microorganisms that smells edible to turtles. The study, “Odors from marine plastic debris elicit foraging behavior in sea turtles,” was published March 9 in the journal Current Biology. The Carolina team worked on the study with lead author Joe Pfaller from the Caretta Research Project in Savannah, Georgia.

Related: This bioplastics entrepreneur is helping save the world from plastic waste

“This finding is important because it’s the first demonstration that the odor of ocean plastics causes animals to eat them,” said Kenneth J. Lohmann, Charles P. Postelle, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Biology at Carolina. “It’s common to find loggerhead turtles with their digestive systems fully or partially blocked because they’ve eaten plastic materials. There also are increasing reports of sea turtles that have become ill and stranded on the beach due to their ingestion of plastic.”

The most important thing people can do to help is to prevent plastics from going into the ocean in the first place. Some practical steps include recycling; properly disposing of trash and recyclables after a trip to the beach or after a boat trip; using reusable or paper shopping bags; and buying larger containers of drinks instead of numerous small drink containers held together with plastic rings.

Related: The Plastic Bank turns plastic waste into currency

To understand sea turtle behavior around ocean plastics, the research team compared how sea turtles in a lab setting reacted to smelling odors of turtle food, ocean-soaked plastic, clean plastic and water. The turtles ignored the scents of clean plastic and water but responded to the odors of food and ocean-soaked plastics by showing foraging behavior. This included poking their noses out of the water repeatedly as they tried to smell the food source and increasing their activity as they searched. The turtles did not ingest plastics during the experiments and were released into the ocean after the study.

“Very young turtles feed at the surface, and plastics that float on the surface of the ocean affect them,” said Kayla M. Goforth, a Carolina biology doctoral student who worked on the study. “Older turtles feed further down in the water column, sometimes on the ocean bottom. Regardless of where plastics are distributed in the ocean, turtles are likely to eat them.”

The study raises questions about the long-term impact plastics may have on all ocean species, the researchers said.

Related: Ignite Retreat speaker leads charge to reduce plastic waste in Durham, N.C.

“In parts of the Pacific Ocean there are huge areas covered with floating plastic debris,” Lohmann said. “One concern this study raises is that dense concentrations of plastics may make turtles—or other species—think the area is an abundant source of food. These areas may draw in marine mammals, fish and birds because the area smells like a good foraging ground. Once these plastics are in the ocean, we don’t have a good way to remove them or prevent them from smelling like food. The best thing we can do is to keep plastic from getting into the ocean at all.”

The National Science Foundation funded the study, which also had support from the Bald Head Island Conservancy and University of Georgia Marine Extension on Skidway Island.

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the UNC website.


Oglethorpe University Senior Has Simple Solution to Better Protect Hawaii’s Dolphins

Have you ever come across wildlife at the beach and wondered what you can do to protect it? You are not alone, according to biology student Alex Prots, a senior at Sullivan Foundation partner school Oglethorpe University.

Prots’ assistance with faculty-led research on spinner dolphin conservation policy took her to the coasts of Hawaii. There, she learned that wildlife, specifically Hawaiian spinner dolphins, were being treated poorly by tourists participating in recreational activities.

Related: How to solve the global extinction crisis for just $100 billion

“We noticed very low levels of enforcement of existing laws and regulations in several bays,” said Prots. “In one bay, the only indication of regulations pertaining to wildlife and dolphins in the area was a single sticker. It was placed high on a pole and covered by other stickers.”

photo of alex prots, a dolphin researcher at Oglethorpe University

Alex Prots believes tourists in Hawaii can be dissuaded from harassing dolphins with proper signage that explains wildlife regulations.

As part of the research process, Prots helped conduct an onsite survey of visitors to three bays in the area. The results confirmed what Prots suspected: People visit the bays specifically to see dolphins and other wildlife. And most don’t know the difference between mere suggestions and laws when interacting with wildlife.

Prots believes the lack of exposure to federal and state regulations on human-wildlife interaction has contributed to the public’s confusion. However, she thinks most would read signage about the regulations if readily available and adjust their behavior accordingly. “The signage could be a sustainable alternative to increasing enforcement personnel,” Prots added. “It’s also an alternative to stricter policy that could potentially close the bays completely to visitors.”

The long-term goal of the research project is to present findings to lawmakers, along with recommended signage format, and to effect change in policy, says Prots.

Related: Protecting the Florida Everglades has become Tori Linder’s mission in life

One of the bays has existing signage that could be replicated elsewhere, making the recommendation even more feasible for lawmakers to implement. Sponsorship of signage is also important, she believes, to help encourage change in behavior.

“What organizations do people trust?” she asks. “Our hope would be that federal and state agencies, along with a non-profit, would sponsor the signage.”

Originally a pre-med student, Prots says she accidentally got into conservation when she enrolled in the conservation biology course that first took her to Hawaii in early 2018. This biology elective, offered every two years, takes a small group of students to Hawaii for two weeks during winter break. The course includes field work and lectures and is filled with hands-on learning opportunities focused on both terrestrial and marine species in the area.

“Through this class, I learned how wildlife was being treated, and it sparked my interest,” said Prots, who returned to Hawaii just months later to conduct the focused research.

“The love for the environment, love for the outdoors, love for nature—those things have always been in me, but the class really brought those interests out. The tourists and mainland visitors unintentionally destroying some of this habitat—it was always something I expected people to have more respect for. A lot of what I saw pushed me to want to help out. I knew if this was happening in Hawaii it was happening in a lot of other places too.”

“After graduation, I would like to stay in the Atlanta area and work. I would love to work in an urban setting after having worked in coastal environments, said Prots, who is from central North Carolina. “Ultimately, I want to go to graduate school. Conservation has a whole umbrella of topics that would interest me, so I need to look at what specific area I’d want to study and pursue.”

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Oglethorpe University website.

Auburn Forestry Faculty Help Destin Sandlin Plant 20 Million Trees

By Teri Greene

Two forestry professors at Sullivan Foundation partner school Auburn University lent a hand to hugely popular YouTube scientist Destin Sandlin in an effort by internet content creators to raise $20 million for the Arbor Day Foundation, which has agreed to plant one tree for every dollar raised at

Professor Becky Barlow and Research Fellow John Kush of Auburn’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences joined up with Sandlin, whose YouTube channel, “Smarter Every Day,” has more than 8 million followers, to share their insight and raise awareness about the growth cycles and conservation of trees.

Sandlin’s video, How to Plant 20 Million Trees, which features Barlow and Kush, has received more than 1.3 million views. It’s part of the National Arbor Day Foundation’s lofty goal to raise $20 million in order to plant 20 million trees. The goal was met well before the deadline, and the project is retaining its momentum: By the end of February, the fundraiser had surpassed its goal, with more than $21.7 million raised and donations continuing to pour in. To see a live count as the donations continue—or to make a donation in honor of National Arbor Day—go to

Kush said he had no idea how far a group of YouTube videos could go in terms of raising awareness and advancing education. “I was amazed,” Kush said of the million-plus views Destin Sandlin’s video received. “It’s great exposure for the longleaf pine, the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences and Auburn University. I had no idea how many people subscribe to some of these YouTube channels.”

this photo shows Destin Sandlin of Smarter Every Day on Youtube

Auburn University forestry professors helped Destin Sandlin of “Smarter Every Day,” to raise $20 million for the Arbor Day Foundation, which has agreed to plant one tree for every dollar raised at

The #TeamTrees campaign was started by internet content creators, sparked by a tweet from YouTube star Mr. Beast, who decided to commemorate reaching the 20 million subscriber mark by setting off a viral effort to plant 20 million trees. In May, his fellow YouTuber Mark Rober teamed up with Mr. Beast and his crew to kick off the project by planting trees in a field in Oregon. On the project’s launch day, Oct. 25, Rober posted a video of that tree-planting and, with Mr. Beast and others—including Sandlin—began to rally social media influencers to spread the word about the #TeamTrees project, which ran through Dec. 31.

Since the trees are scheduled to be planted in locations worldwide, this effort places an emphasis on planting trees that are native species, where local conditions and forest plans allow. The National Arbor Day Foundation’s motto sums it up: “To plant the right trees, in the right place, at the right time, for the right reasons.”

Which Trees, Where to Plant and Why
Destin Sandlin made a pitch to Auburn’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, including the lines, “I’d love to include Auburn University in the video [even though I’m a Bama grad]. You’re the authorities on forestry, and I’d like to highlight that to an international audience.”

Sandlin, who’s examined nature worldwide in his video adventures, has a keen interest in trees, and he’s familiar with Auburn’s forestry work: Back in the 1960s, his grandfather worked with Auburn students to see whether a group of newly planted longleaf pines would grow on his property, just north of the species’ range. Only two of the many trees planted on his grandfather’s land survived. One lived until the mid-1970s, and the other lived until the late ’80s.

“My hope was that, if we are going to plant 20 million trees, we should gain some scientific knowledge about what species will perform best in certain soils and climates,” Sandlin said of his contribution to the #teamtrees project. “Environments and ecosystems change, and I see this as a gigantic opportunity to gain data for the snapshot of time that we live in. What happens will be left up to the Arbor Day Foundation, but I hope to work with Auburn to gather data in some way.”

“Dr. Barlow and Dr. Kush share my passion for education, but also were willing to lay out the facts in a clear, intelligent and respectful way,” he added.

Barlow and Kush were enthusiastic to share their expertise with Sandlin and his viewers. Barlow explained the importance of silvics—the study of the life history and character of forest trees. In the video, she explains the importance of the location in which trees occur, their growth levels, need for sunlight and tolerance of shade. She also emphasized that some species require higher levels of maintenance than others.

In the video, Kush’s statement that certain trees need fire to survive seemed to take Sandlin—and probably his viewers—aback. But Kush said getting the word out about the health of the longleaf pine was one reason he was excited to work with Sandlin. He said the ecology of the longleaf—particularly its need of fire—is often misunderstood.

photo of Becky Barlow and John Kush of Auburn working with Destin Sandlin of Smarter Every Day

Auburn’s Becky Barlow and John Kush joined up with Destin Sandlin of YouTube channel “Smarter Every Day” to raise awareness about the growth cycles and conservation of trees.

Kush noted that the species evolved with frequent fire. “We need to be proactive and increase our use of prescribed fire,” he said. “This will not only help in longleaf pine management but improve wildlife habitat for game species as well as numerous threatened and endangered species in the Southeast.”

Sandlin was grateful that Kush shared this fact with viewers. “It can be quite a challenge to help people understand that, at times, fire can be good for the ecosystem,” Sandlin said. “I believe our message got through.”

Funds Already in Action
The planting of 21.5 million trees is already underway, with specific projects planned for the spring, summer and fall of 2020, according to a joint press release from the National Arbor Day Foundation and #TeamTrees.

The funds are helping replant trees lost in the unprecedented 2018 California wildfire season, in which 8,000 fires burned through more than 1.8 million acres of forestland. Replanting this area will prevent mudslides and degraded soil, water and air quality and other challenges. The project is part of a four-year reforestation effort that will help families recover from those wildfires.

This spring and running through summer, the #TeamTrees team will aid in the replanting effort in Kenya’s Kijabe Forest, an important wildlife corridor and water source for the country that has been damaged dramatically over the past 15 years as it has been cleared for charcoal and timber. The newly planted trees will help re-establish a sustainable water supply, restore habitat for wildlife by stabilizing landslide-prone slopes and secure local livelihoods.

In the summer and fall, the team will help reforest the Cauvery River Basin in southern India, which has shrunk by about 40 percent from its historical flows over 70 years, resulting in scarce drinking water and difficult farming conditions. A loss of tree cover has also led to poor soil health. Reforesting the basin and educating farmers will help stabilize the river and improve soil conditions over time.

A Crowd-Driven Effort
In the end, the widespread social media push to raise awareness and educate had the greatest impact on the effort, with #TeamTrees identifying more than 800,000 unique donors. A handful of billionaires, including Elon Musk and Tobias Lutke, did contribute to the cause, but for the most part this was a grass-roots success.

“I predicted a few more wealthy individuals or organizations would realize the PR potential and jump on board,” Sandlin said. “The fact that the majority of funds for the Arbor Day Foundation were raised by individuals feels really good.”

This article was edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Auburn University website.

Researchers Have Found a Better Way to Recycle Polyurethanes

Researchers at the University of Minnesota are part of a national team in the Center for Sustainable Polymers that has found a better way to recycle a versatile plastic material, called polyurethanes, that could prevent the material from becoming waste, according to a press release.

In the past, a few methods have attempted to recycle polyurethane waste, but these techniques result in a material of lower quality. Now, researchers have found a way to recycle used polyurethanes into equivalent or even higher quality material using an innovative method.

Their findings are reported in the journal ACS Central Science, published by the American Chemical Society.

Related: The Plastic Bank turns plastic waste into currency for the poor

“We are quite excited about this new research from the Center for Sustainable Polymers because of the tremendous potential for recycling of polyurethane materials that are typically considered as waste,” said Marc Hillmyer, director of the Center for Sustainable Polymers based at the University of Minnesota and a chemistry professor at the University of Minnesota. “It also demonstrates how the powerful combination of polymer chemistry and polymer processing can be applied to help solve environmental problems.”

Polyurethanes are all around us. Polyurethanes can be a found in mattresses, insulation, footwear, construction materials, automotive suspension systems, carpet underlay, and many other products. Wear and replacement of these products generates a lot of waste and creates demand for new polyurethanes, often made from toxic chemical building blocks.

Conventional polyurethanes can’t be simply recycled by heating because the material consists of polymer networks held together by strong chemical bonds that don’t flow when heated. Instead, polyurethanes can only be downcycled into less useful materials using either mechanical methods or chemical recycling. Other past methods have made innovative types of polyurethanes with cross-links that can be broken and reformed, allowing it to be recycled. But this approach requires the industry to commercialize new starting materials, and it wouldn’t address the issue of conventional waste lingering in landfills. These methods also haven’t been tested on foams, a very common form for polyurethane products.

Related: This bioplastics entrepreneur is helping save the world from plastic waste

In this new study, researchers from the University of Minnesota and Northwestern University ground up polyurethane foam or film and then mixed the particles in a catalyst solution. After drying, the particles were compression molded to form new films. Compression molded films formed good-quality products, but compression molded foam produced cracked and inhomogeneous materials.

The researchers solved this problem by developing a twin-screw extrusion process that improved mixing and air removal in recycled foams, compared to the compression molding approach. They say this new method could be used for continuous recycling of the large amounts of polyurethanes waste currently in landfills and newly produced.

“The extrusion process removes air simultaneously as the catalyst enables the polyurethane to flow like a liquid,” said Christopher Ellison, a University of Minnesota chemical engineering and materials science professor and one of the senior authors of the study. “This reactive process is similar to those already used in the plastics industry for other purposes meaning the technology could have impact quickly.”


Rollins College Teaches Sustainability Beyond the Classroom

By Stephanie Rizzo

It was like something out of a post-apocalyptic novel: A group of Rollins College students had come to Sonoma, California, to study sustainability but instead found themselves in a hotel with no electricity. Pacific Gas & Electric cut power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses as a preventative measure to discourage wildfires from spreading in Northern California due to unusually strong and dry offshore winds. Meanwhile, 13 miles to the north in Santa Rosa, the state was ablaze.

This devastating situation turned into a teachable moment for the students enrolled in Sustainability Beyond the Classroom, a series of five linked courses taught by environmental studies professors Lee Lines and Barry Allen. One of the courses? Natural Hazards. The cohort had spent half a semester in Lines’ class discussing earthquakes, landslides, and wildfire, and now they were seeing the effects firsthand. Though the students were never in any danger—the power company was merely taking precautions—the experience provided them with a glimpse into the ways climate change, public policy, conservation, and capitalism intersect.

And that’s exactly the point of these courses: to deliver hands-on learning opportunities for students to apply classroom concepts to 21st-century environmental challenges in the real world and to inspire them to band together wherever they are to form a community of creative problem solvers.

Photo by Scott Cook

The Scoop
In 2007, Lines and Allen wanted to create an immersive, semester-long experience combining classroom instruction with ongoing field studies and project-based learning, The result? A series of five linked courses that include field studies scattered throughout the semester. After a successful run in 2007, they repeated the immersion in 2009, 2012, and fall 2019.

“The whole idea is for this to be a true learning community,” says Lines. “The benefit of having the same 14 people together in every class throughout the whole semester is that it makes the class discussions more meaningful and fluid.”

Here’s how it works: Lines and Allen each teach two courses. In the case of the most recent semester, Lines took on Natural Hazards and Food, Culture, and Environment, while Allen taught Public Lands and American Environmental Thought. They co-taught the field component, which served to underscore the unifying theme of all the courses, Sustainability in Practice. During the semester, the group visited a number of state parks around Gainesville, Florida, spent nearly two weeks in California, and did an overnight trip to the Canaveral National Seashore on Florida’s east coast, all the while applying concepts they had learned in the classroom to real-world environments in need of innovative solutions.

“While we were in California, the students conducted interviews with different people, including farmers, residents, and park rangers, which really allowed them to put what they were learning to the test,” says Lines. “One of the texts the group read in the Public Lands course was The Oyster War about a small, family-run oyster farm located inside the boundary of the Point Reyes National Seashore. Now the students were able to travel to this site and talk to members of the community in person.”

Photo by Scott Cook

In late November, the cohort traveled to Titusville, Florida, to kick off an overnight trip focused on topics covered in the Public Lands and Natural Hazards courses. After a night of kayaking through the Indian River Lagoon, we caught up with the environmentalists on a morning visit to the Canaveral National Seashore, where they learned about the history of the area’s designation as public land and discussed barrier island geomorphology in relation to climate change and hurricane risks.

One of the students brought a rock to Lines, a physical geographer who identified the specimen as coquina limestone, a type of sedimentary rock made up of tiny cemented shell fragments from the ocean floor. Lines explains that the rock is shaped by periods of rising and falling sea levels. As sea levels recede, the rock is exposed to natural elements, including rain, which is often acidic. The acid dissolves calcium in the limestone, giving the coquina its signature porous appearance. “The rocks tell a story, says Lines, “and are a sign of shifting coastal conditions.”

Student Perspective
Transfer student Marcus Mosquera ’22 came to Rollins to pursue environmental studies on the recommendation of his brother, who is also an environmental studies major.

“Dr. Lines mentioned to my brother that a spot had just opened up in the immersion courses, and I thought it would be an interesting way to jump right into my Rollins experience,” says Mosquera. “Having the chance to do work in the field really tied together what I learned in my classes this semester. Real-world examples of things we read about and discussed in class provided a profound understanding of complex topics and issues related to sustainability in practice, not just theory.”

Laura Hardwicke ’11 is a grants coordinator for the city of Nashville, where she helps local government and community organizations secure funding for civic projects. As an environmental studies major at Rollins, she was able to participate in Lines’ and Allen’s 2007 and 2009 series of immersive courses, which formed a foundation for the work she does today.

“The courses showed me how to look at problems holistically, applying a mix of hands-on, community-based, and academic experiences to create solutions to community issues,” says Hardwicke. “This is at the core of my work on the Advanced Planning and Research team for the city of Nashville.”

Rollins College students learn about sustainable farm practices in Northern California. Photo by Lee Lines.

Did You Know?
The federal government manages around 640 million acres of public land, which accounts for 26 percent of the United States’ 2.27 billion acres. At just over 57,000 total acres, the Canaveral National Seashore encompasses the longest strip of unspoiled beach in Florida, with 24 miles of undeveloped coast stretching along the Atlantic.

“One of the goals we have, not just for this project but for all of our students, is to get them out into the environment and have them establish a connection to the natural world,” says Allen. “This trip is an opportunity for some of them to see what a beach looks like without condominiums all over it.”

It’s easy to connect to the natural world once you know where to look, whether that’s in California or Florida, on public lands or a private organic farm. Rollins’ location provides prime access to ecologically diverse habitats containing urban areas, wetland, prairie, scrub, and coastal habitats perfect for hands-on exploration.

This article originally appeared on the Rollins College website.

California Coffee Shops Test “Green” Cups as Solution to Single-Use Waste

A pilot program underway at cafes and coffee shops in California’s Bay Area aims to create green solutions to the problem of single-use fiber cups for national chains like McDonald’s and Starbucks, according to Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN).

The program was developed as part of the NextGen Cup Challenge, a global competition sponsored by NextGen Consortium, which is collaborating with leading brands, industry experts and innovators to “bring fully recoverable hot and cold fiber cup systems to a global scale.” Closed Loop Partners is the consortium’s managing partner, and corporate partners include McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Yum Brands (the parent company of Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell), Wendy’s, Nestle and the World Wildlife Federation.

Related: The Plastic Bank turns plastic waste into currency for the poor

To kick off the pilot program, coffee shops in Palo Alto and San Francisco, Calif., began testing “smart” reusable cups in February. Participating shops include Coupa Café, Verve Coffee Roasters, Andytown Coffee Roasters, Ritual Coffee Roasters, Equator Coffees and La Boulangerie de San Francisco.

These “smart” cups are embedded with a tracking device. Customers can return the cups to the coffee shops or other drop-off locations, such as the City of Palo Alto. NextGen will then collect the cups, sanitize them and re-deploy them. Unlike some reusable cup programs, this one is different because customers don’t have to buy the cup or remember to carry it with them at all times, Bridget Croke, managing director at Closed Loop Partners, told NRN.

Starting in March, several cafés in Oakland—three Red Bay Coffee shops and Equator Coffees—will test fully recyclable and home-compostable single-use cups. Unlike standard to-go cups, this type of fiber cup won’t have polyethylene plastic liners. Instead, they use an aqueous-based coating to prevent leaks.

Related: Duke University student turns trash into stunning sustainable art

Additionally, Snow White Coffee in Oakland will test out a different coated paper cup that’s also recyclable and home-compostable.

The pilot programs are “battle-testing” the cups and gauging customer response, according to NRN. NextGen will also measure how each program fits into the circular economy and determine whether the solutions will be financially sustainable to allow for scaling up to the level required by major chains as well as independent restaurants.

McDonald’s and Starbucks have pledged a combined $15 million to the NextGen program.

“Finding a cup that can be scaled will require continued innovation, testing and honing of solutions,” said Marion Gross, senior vice president and chief supply chain officer for McDonald’s North America, in the NRN story.

While many fiber cups are potentially recyclable, the vast majority end up in landfills, NextGen Consortium’s website points out. “There are two core issues with fiber cups: how they’re made and how the materials they’re made of are valued,” NextGen explains. “Most fiber cups have a plastic liner to prevent leaks. The fiber and plastic are recyclable once separated but limitations and inconsistencies in recycling infrastructure around the world mean that in most markets these materials aren’t easily recovered. And while recycled fiber and plastic are valuable, what’s currently recoverable from cups doesn’t sell for much, so there’s no strong incentive for recyclers to recover the materials.”