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Scrap Happy

San Francisco food-composting program is a hit In 1996, a company called Norcal Waste found that 19 percent of landfill matter in San Francisco consisted of discarded food scraps -- and it sensed a market opportunity. Now the city boasts a popular and growing composting program, with discarded food collected and processed into organically certified "Four Course Compost," sold to organic farms and vineyards. Sales of the compost have increased by 23 percent in each of the last two years, but perhaps more importantly, the program is a hit with the city's residents and restaurateurs. "It's increased the morale in …

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I’d Like to Buy the Crops a Coke

Indian farmers use Coca-Cola as a pesticide Urban legend has it that Coca-Cola works well to remove rust spots, clean corroded batteries, polish toilets, and -- we can confirm this one -- dissolve baby teeth that have fallen out of an innocent 5-year-old's mouth, thus yielding a lifelong terror of soft drinks. But Indian farmers have added another unexpected use to that list: They are spraying their crops with Coke in lieu of pricey pesticides. A liter of most popular pesticides in India costs about $220; 1.5 liters of locally produced Coke costs about 66 cents. One theory is that …

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Thank Your Lucky Starbucks

Starbucks chief pushes for fair-trade, eco-friendly coffee Starbucks has served as a convenient target for the anti-globalization crowd, especially given that you can't throw a brick in some neighborhoods without breaking a Starbucks window. But CEO Orin Smith is fighting back against the company's bad reputation. He recently announced that, by 2007, Starbucks would attempt to procure 60 percent of its coffee from farmers following a strict set of environmental and labor rules under the Coffee and Farmer Equity (CAFE) Practices Program. Smith also announced that when he retires next March, he will head a $1 billion fundraising effort for …

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Now That’s a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Pumpkins found to absorb pesticides from soil Pumpkins are not only good for jack-o'-lanterns, pie, and carrying Cinderella home -- they are also extremely effective at drawing persistent organic pollutants like the toxic pesticide DDT out of soil, according to a new study by Canadian researchers. They tested rye grass, tall fescue, alfalfa, zucchini, and pumpkins, but the oddly Halloween-specific orange gourd won by a large margin. While the Canucks acknowledged that phytoremediation -- the use of plants to clean contaminated sites -- will never fully replace more high-tech methods, they suggest that it offers a "green solution" that may …

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Fish ‘n’ Chicks

Study finds excessive mercury in 20 percent of women of childbearing age A new Greenpeace-commissioned study on the correlation between fish consumption and levels of mercury in the body has produced interim results, and they may cause you to think twice about your next order of a tuna-salad sandwich. The study analyzed hair samples sent in by people, many of whom read about the study on the internet [cough Grist! cough], who also reported on their average monthly consumption of canned tuna, locally caught fish, and fresh or frozen fish sold in stores and restaurants. Hair samples from some 1,449 …

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We Take Our Coffee Green

Central American coffee industry rebounds by going green A global surplus of coffee five years ago sent the Central American coffee industry into a tailspin, but it is gradually recovering by focusing on high-quality beans -- which in many cases means organically grown. In that rarest of things, a genuine win-win situation, the industry is being helped by an odd coalition including large U.S. coffee corporations, international conservation groups, U.S. aid agencies, and Central American governments. The U.S. government sees aid as a way of encouraging financial stability in nearby nations; conservation groups see it as a way of encouraging …

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Dairy Err

Millions in California anti-pollution money went to, uh, pollution Almost $70 million in California state bond money designated to fund industry pollution-reducing measures has gone to fund the expansion of polluting mega-dairies in the San Joaquin Valley, the nation's most polluted air basin. In each case, the Pollution Control Financing Authority approved tax-exempt, low-interest loans on the basis of dairies' pledges that expanding would help them divert waste from landfills. Well, funny story ... Turns out dairies never dumped their waste in landfills in the first place. "That's a staff error," said State Treasurer Phil Angelides, who oversees the loan …

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Let a Thousand Species Bloom

Organic farming increases biodiversity, research indicates According to the largest review yet done of studies comparing organic to conventional agriculture, organic farming increases biodiversity at every level, from bacteria to birds to mammals. The two groups that conducted the reviews -- English Nature, a government group, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds -- had no vested interest in organic farming. They concluded that organic farming fosters biodiversity by using fewer inorganic fertilizers and pesticides and by adopting critter-friendly practices like mixing arable and livestock farming. Of particular note to the Royal birders was the flourishing on organic …

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Umbra on the mysteries of produce code numbers

Dear Umbra, I recently learned that the UPC numbers on produce indicate whether the item is conventionally grown (beginning with a 4), organically grown (beginning with a 9), or genetically modified (beginning with an 8). I like to buy organic, locally grown produce at my local health food store whenever possible, but recently at a large grocery story I noticed some tomatoes with a UPC number that began with a 3. What does a 3 indicate? RobinLouisville, Ky. Dearest Robin, Sounds like you are thinking of the PLU code, the four or five digits on the super-sticky little sticker stuck …

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Umbra on the eco-relevance of health concerns

Dear Umbra, As a practicing vegan for quite some time now, I take pride in my knowledge of nutrition and my ability to enrich my body through a varied diet with all the essentials. For the past five years or so, I have heavily relied on soy products for protein and other nutrients. Recently, however, I have heard that soy products increase estrogen levels, which in turn increase the risk of cancer (specifically breast cancer). I also have been told to stay away from soy because so many people are allergic to it. I always thought soy was great and …

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