Fair food price

Organic farming is on a roll. According to a report published yesterday by the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), the total number of organic pigs in the Netherlands increased to over 91,000, almost a quarter more than in 2017. Organic potato production in particular has shown a vast growth, but the production of organic milk also increased. In 2017, more than 223 million pounds of raw organic milk was transported to dairy companies. That’s over 12 percent more than the previous year. The number of organic eggs grew by 14 percent.

And yet, organic farming is still quite small in relative terms. Last year, 3.2 percent of agricultural land was used for organic agriculture and 2.9 percent of all livestock was organic, versus 2.6 percent a year earlier. Milk production is even lower with 1.6 percent.

Even though the upward trend in organic agriculture is good for people and planet, it has a few downsides. For one, the high price causes people with less money to prefer industrially grown fruit and vegetables. ‘And that is exactly why this form of cultivation may in some cases, be better for public health,’ says Professor Anthony Trewavas (Institute for Cell and Molecular Biology – University of Edinburgh) in the magazine Nature. ‘Industrial crops are cheaper than organic crops and reach more people. Because of the low prices, more people can get their minimum dose of vitamins. And there’s some strong evidence for that: ever since industrial pesticides came into fashion making vegetables cheaper, the occurrence of stomach cancer has decreased by no less than 50 percent,’  says a survey done by David Coggon and Hazel Inskip (Oxford University). As stomach cancer often occurs in people who eat little or no vegetables, prevention is directly linked to lower vegetable prices. ‘As long as organic vegetables are expensive, they won’t reach the poorest of the poor.’

Volkert Engelsman, CEO of a leading organic fruit and vegetable distributor and a well-known sustainable pioneer, talks about the definition of profit. Many people associate ‘organic’ with ‘too expensive’. And that is precisely the great fallacy, because it’s the regular products that are too cheap. All sorts of social costs are not included in the price.’

So what is a fair price? ‘That is the price at which all costs are taken into account, including those for people and the environment. . We have grown accustomed to low prices. And supermarkets compete strongly for the lowest price. While you could also distinguish yourself from competitors with a sustainable and fair range of products.’

Jeroen Candel of Wageningen University agrees with him: ‘Supermarkets now see that the importance of values such as sustainability, animal welfare, health and food quality is growing, and they play to that market. They have a large influence on the food industry: thousands of farmers and horticulturists and millions of consumers are serviced by only a handful of purchasing offices and supermarket formulas. For a transition to a more sustainable and fairer food system, we need to get those parties moving.’

‘Supermarkets have a wrong definition of profit,’ says Engelsman It is based on the misconception that our natural resources are infinite. We must adjust the definition of profit. If you only look at the health costs, organic pears are 19 cents cheaper per kilo than regular pears, because less pesticides are used. I repeat: organic products are not too expensive, non-organic produce is too cheap.’

It has begun!

This week, the contents of a climate agreement were revealed in the Netherlands, designed to take the country to Paris Accord standards and beyond. National Energy Commissioner Ruud Koornstra may end up in the history books as the spiritual father of this Dutch ‘Delta Plan for the Climate’. During the formation of the current Dutch cabinet, Koornstra turned into a motivated climate lobbyist who was instrumental in uniting all parties.

“No one can escape it. Every Dutch citizen will have to deal with the consequences of the Climate Agreement in the coming years, ‘said Ed Nijpels, chairman of the negotiations on the Climate Agreement, yesterday at the presentation of the plan. ‘The agreement must lead to the Netherlands achieving its climate targets in 2030, as stipulated in the Paris agreement. That means 49% less greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 and up to 95% less in 2050. ‘That can only be achieved if everyone participates.’

The Climate Agreement is one of the biggest economic reforms in Dutch history and there is a great consensus in politics and business to realize it. For example, the industry will replace large-scale gas with electricity, and capture CO₂ at factories and store it under the North Sea. In addition, the production of renewable energy will increase fivefold by 2030. This means hundreds of new windmills in the North Sea and hundreds of thousands of households that have to replace gas boilers by heat pumps or connections to heating networks.

For the Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Eric Wiebes, the draft agreement proves that the polder model works in the Netherlands, as it shows a great ambition. ‘But we are not much more ambitious than other countries, we just started the game earlier. And those who start the game earlier have a greater chance of winning. ‘

Ruud Koornstra, as National Energy Commissioner, is on the front line of sustainable innovations. ‘We are faced with a huge task. We have learned from history that ‘disruptive’ innovation is of great importance to the success of our national mission. ‘

Every week the former sustainable entrepreneur blogs about innovations that can realize the Climate Agreement:

  1. ‘A farmer’s son has treated the slurry of cows in such a way that it can be spread over the land without harmful effects on the environment, eliminating the need for fertilisers. This means an annual reduction of 1 megatons (1 billion kilos) of CO2 at approximately 20,000 livestock farms.’
  2. It is now also possible to extract CO2 from the air and convert it into bricks. ‘
  3. ‘A small network operator has developed a regional plan to base a completely clean energy household on self-produced green gas from waste streams from the region by 2030.’
  4. ‘A Dutch invention for capturing hydrogen in powder form is a solution for the simple and affordable application of this energy storage medium.
  5. ‘A Dutch company has created a component for industrial electric motors, which can provide enormous energy savings for Dutch industry with a payback period of less than a year.

‘All these innovations appear at the climate tables,’ says Koornstra. ‘That is why I can’t name them yet: the process shouldn’t be disturbed. But despite the fact that the Climate Agreement is a huge challenge, I am positive. And especially about the fantastic innovations that the Netherlands produces. Embrace the innovative power! Realists are right, but optimists are successful. ‘

The new Africa

Three years ago, a new Africa fund was set up at a EU summit in Malta with the idea that migration could be slowed down by providing additional aid to countries of origin. That fund now contains 3.3 billion euros and last week, EU leaders raised an extra 500 million euros during the migration summit. The money goes to issues such as poverty reduction, economic development, border control and ‘migration management’.

‘But all that money is far from enough,’ says European Foreign Coordinator Federica Mogherini. ‘A European fund for companies to invest in has to be set up as well, so that together with the EU, we can raise more than € 48 billion. All that money can be invested in sustainable energy, infrastructure and companies, for example by giving microcredits. That must ultimately ensure that the African economy is stimulated and that there is no longer any reason for Africans to come to Europe. ‘

The Senegalese-American hip-hop world star Aliaune Damala Bouga, a.k.a. Akon has taken matters into his own hands. A few years ago, he collected billions to build not only a hypermodern city named Akon Crypto City, but also to build a huge solar power plant and network. That solar energy network was taken into use this week and now provides electricity for 600 million Africans.

The West African country where the artist grew up is extatic. The Senegalese president has already made large pieces of land available to build the ‘Akon Crypto City’. In this new high-tech city near the capital Dakar, homes, shops, parks, schools and industrial sites are currently being built. In addition, the city will operate entirely on its own cryptocurrency: Akoin. According to the singer, inflation, an unstable currency and lack of banks are a major problem for the African economy. The Akoin must bring safety and stability, so that young entrepreneurs can develop and flourish, according to the singer.

Akon does not know anything about all the technical and financial aspects of this enormous project. “I come up with the concept and the tech heads do the rest,” he jokes. Interested investors can register via the website. The philanthropist has already proven he keeps his promises with his Akon Lighting Africa. This organisation brings solar panels to remote areas in more than seventeen African countries.

The new banking

‘The big traditional banks are outdated,’ said Auke Plantinga, associate professor at the Faculty of Economics and Business at the University of Groningen last month in a speech during the presentation of the Lipper Fund Awards. ‘Banks will no longer exist in ten years’ time. At least no longer in the form in which we now know them. ‘

According to two Milieudefensie reports published today, both ABN Amro, ING and Rabobank invested almost EUR 5 billion between 2010 and 2018 in fourteen palm oil companies that are guilty of land grabbing, human rights violations and the deforestation of rainforest. “Banks have known what’s going on for more than fifteen years,” says Rolf Schipper of Milieudefensie, “yet they keep putting money into these dubious companies.”

Meanwhile, there are many alternatives to the regular banking system. Since the crisis of 2008, Dutch sustainable banks such as Triodos and ASN Bank have grown enormously, since they claim to be completely free from shady investments and environmentally harmful loans. Even so, these banks still lean too much against the old financial systems, says Ali Niknam, founder and CEO of bunq. ‘Banks are essentially nothing more than data shifters.’

Bunq, a mobile start-up with banking license that offers users a ‘clean’ alternative for traditional banks last week presented the short film Truth, Lies and Banking to ‘shake up the banking sector and people.’ The main role in the film is laid out for notorious British bank robber Jason Coghlan, who is sitting behind a management desk with a cigar in his mouth, explaining how consumers in the current banking system are hung out to dry unnoticed. Ali Niknam: “At bunq we believe in power to the people. The only way to awaken the banking world is to create awareness among the consumer – that is central to this process. All our innovations are dedicated to the user experience. With Bunq, your money is your money, we do not invest in dubious business and your privacy is not for sale. We wanted to make a film that starts the discussion about the current problems in the banking world. We also want to start a wider public debate by giving young artists a platform on which they can express their opinion.

Truth, Lies and Banking is part of a larger art project called The Art of Banking, a continuous series in which the critical opinion of young artists about the role of financial institutions and money is brought to the attention.

The first two art projects in the series are the films ‘Withdraw Yourself’ and ‘A Traditional Investment’. ‘Withdraw Yourself shows the work of tattoo artist Louis Loveless, in which he questions the position that the banking system occupies in our lives. In ‘A Traditional Investment’, international war reporter Robert King takes a critical look at what financial investments really cost us.

watch Truth, Lies and Banking here:


Doughnut for the supermarket

Most large supermarket chains still do far too little to make their shelves sustainable, an annual survey of Oxfam Novib shows. The sustainability policy of supermarkets in the Netherlands, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States were investigated during the research. In particular, the degree of transparency and accountability, and the treatment of workers, peasants and women were measured.

In the report ‘Ripe for change’ ,the organisation states that the largest supermarkets are partly to blame for keeping up the exploitation of workers at their suppliers in third world countries. “On our international ranking, all supermarkets score below par.”

“Supermarket chains realise billions of euros in revenues every year, but their focus is on making a profit for owners or shareholders and on extending their market share,” said Farah Karimi, general director of the Dutch Oxfam Novib branch.

“Twenty years ago, workers and small-scale farmers still received more than 10 cents of every euro that the consumer paid at the checkout. Now that is reduced to less than 8 cents per euro,” the organisation reported.

“Because supermarkets put pressure on suppliers, workers in developing countries are exploited. Supermarkets have the power and influence to change this,” said Karimi. “They all talk about sustainability, but their policies and practices do little to reflect that.”

Now that purchasing power has increased over the past few years, this would be a perfect time for the big supermarket chains to focus less on growth and more on sustainability. In her book ‘The Doughnut Economy’ , British economist Kate Raworth advocates for a new circular economy; the doughnut model. ‘Our economic activities shouldn’t follow a steep curve, but grow within limits, in an ideal circle. The economy should serve people and planet, not profit and growth. There are hard limits to what we can do to the planet,’ says Raworth. ‘When you start a company, you should be thinking and acting circular from day one. If you follow those rules as an entrepreneur, you can stay below that ecological ceiling of max. 1.5 degrees Celsius global warming and at the same time, you stay above the social limit of the minimum wage for workers.’

‘Citizens have had enough of politicians and policy-makers who spin that same neoliberal yarn over and over again. The call for new perspectives has never been greater among citizens.’

Raworth doesn’t only put her finger on the sore spot, but she also brings suggestions to the table: ‘Criticising what already exists is not enough, you also need to come up with alternatives. Hence my plea for interest free money, for complementary currencies, for the taxation of pollution, raw materials and land, for a basic income, for circular economies, for an alternative business model that does not revolve around maximizing shareholder value, for physical measurement units rather than the monetary measuring of GDP, for open access rather than private intellectual property rights. As far as that is concerned, we are living in a unique time. Never before has this much been on stake, and never before has our creativity soared as it does now. I am very optimistic about that.’


AI – saving our lives?

On June 25, when the TOP500, a list of super computers, will be published, IBM’s supercomputer Summit is expected to rank no. 1. Summit is the size of two tennis courts, spread out over more than 250 units, each as large as a refrigerator, with 185 miles of fiber-optic cables, trillions of transistors and 9,216 CPU chips. In addition to those processors, Summit also has 27,648 GPUS (graphic processing units), which are ideal for performing calculations for artificial intelligence.

Hillery Hunter, director of cognitive infrastructure at IBM Research, says that the machine is about ‘a million times more powerful than a standard high-end laptop and has a processing capacity of approximately 200 petaflops.’

‘Best part is that this supercomputer can only be used for scientific researchers,’ says Jack Wells, science director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, home to the Summit. “That means that college and laboratory staff, companies and other government agencies such as NASA and NIH, can use it to be perform their research. Summit excels because of its data-crunching abilities,’ says Hunter.  ‘The possibilities are endless. We can’t even imagine yet what future studies this machine will be able to perform.’

AI developments and their consequences are hard to grasp, but what is already emerging bodes well. Even British Prime Minister Theresa May acknowledged as much last week. Last Monday, she unfolded plans to diagnose diseases at an early stage with the help of AI: “The development of smart technologies to analyse large amounts of data quickly and with a higher degree of accuracy than humanly possible, opens up a whole new field of medical research and gives us a new weapon in our arsenal in the fight against disease. Late diagnosis of treatable diseases is one of the biggest causes of avoidable deaths.”

The plans foresee that every year at least 50,000 people in an early stage of prostate, ovarian, lung or colon cancer can be diagnosed. By the year 2033, AI could help us prevent up to 22,000 cancer deaths each year.

In Dan Brown’s most recent book ‘Origin’, his protagonist Edmond Kirsch uses a supercomputer to predict that mankind as we know it will cease to exist and instead, biology and technology will merge into a new, hybrid life form. Far from creating a dystopian vision of the future, it creates a bright future: AI ensures that the gap between rich and poor fades, that billions of people get access to food, clean water and clean energy, that diseases are eliminated and that fighting over resources is no longer needed.

In short, AI could achieve every Sustainable Development Goal of the United Nations at a rapid pace. Fact or Fiction?

Science journalist Steve Andriole of Forbes magazine summed up the facts last week: ‘AI is more than one technology, it is a family of cumulative developing technologies, with a huge application potential. It can learn independently and improve itself. AI has a great impact on health care, transport, accounting, finance, production, customer service, sales, marketing, aviation, education, entertainment, media, law, security, negotiation, war and peace. AI will make a large part of our personal and professional lives more efficient and more productive, enabling us to pursue other activities.’

According to Andriole, it’s not a matter of if, but when. ‘No industry or process is safe for the impact that AI will have in the short term, say within the next seven to ten years.’

Value of polluted air

According to a recent report, Co2 emissions in the Netherlands increased by 2.5 percent in the first quarter of this year compared to the first quarter of last year. The increase is due to higher gas consumption of households and services. For example, the first quarter of this year was much colder than last year, so the CO2 emissions of households rose by 5 percent in the first three months. CO2 emissions also increased in the transport, agriculture, industry and construction sectors. Aviation emissions increased due to the growing number of flight movements. Despite far-reaching attempts to cut Co2 emissions, the addiction to fossil fuels is stubborn.

Nevertheless, various techniques exist to ‘capture’ Co2 emissions from the air. For example, the port of Rotterdam recently presented plans to capture Co2 from power plants and to store it underground in empty natural gas reservoirs.

The Dutch tech artist Daan Roosegaarde also showed that polluted air can be of value. By sucking polluted air through the cleaning filters of his Smog Free Tower, they purify the air and the Co2 residue that is left on the filters is transformed into diamond rings that are popular worldwide.

In Canada, they take it one step further. Last week, the Canadian company Carbon Engineering presented a study that showed that they can capture CO2 from the air at a relatively low cost. ‘It is different from the CO2-capturing technology at power plants,’ says the founder of Carbon Engineering, David Keith. ‘We capture CO2 from the atmosphere and make low-carbon fuels out of it, using renewable energy. Our research ensures a huge breakthrough in the re-use of air waste. Direct air collection technology is now not only economically viable, but we also generate a completely new low-carbon fuel from the captured CO2. In the future, this carbon-neutral fuel can be used with the existing infrastructure and will allow us to drive cars and fly aircrafts in a much cleaner and cheaper way.

‘Although solar and wind energy is getting cheaper, it does not allow us to fly planes and run trucks,’ says Keith, ‘but Carbon Engineering has shown that by using hydropower to get the CO2 out of the air and turning it into a synthetic fuel, we can now compete with traditional fossil fuels.’

Eindhoven presents bio-car

In the race for the cleanest car, the materials that are used to produce the car are often overlooked. We want emission-free electric or hybrid cars, but they should not lose anything in terms of luxury compared to the fossil fuel cars we are accustomed to. As a result, many electric cars still have a considerable footprint. The materials are often largely recycled, but the production process still requires an excessive amount of valuable raw materials and results in massive Co2 emissions.

According to a recent study by the North German newspaper Der Nordschleswiger, it is becoming increasingly apparent that electric cars are not the climate-friendly alternative to traditional cars they are often made out to be, since their insatiable appetite for raw materials is anything but environmentally friendly. According to the newspaper, it is now also apparent that the production of batteries is so bad for the environment that electric driving will only be more beneficial after many years.

According to a Swedish research, every kilowatt hour (kWh) of capacity leads to 150 to 200 kilos of greenhouse gas emissions. For a small electric car with a 30 kWh battery, this would mean that 5.3 tonnes of extra CO2 have already been emitted before the car even leaves the factory. That’s 2.7 years of driving a comparable petrol car. For a Tesla model S, the emissions run up even higher. It has a battery of up to 100 kWh, which means you’d have to drive it for more than eight years before the climate benefits.

So electric cars also have a strong impact on climate. Compared to petrol cars, the battery production provides additional greenhouse gas emissions. But during use, the emissions of electric cars are considerably lower, especially because the technology is improving rapidly.

Students at the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU) have reviewed the entire car production process and presented a car made mainly of bio-composite during the Dutch Technology Week in Eindhoven. The car is called ‘Lina’ and was designed and built by the TU / ecomotive student team. The chassis, body and interior of the car consist entirely of natural materials.

With this, the team wants to show that the city car is not only super-efficient thanks to its low weight of 300 kilograms, it has also been produced with sustainability in mind.

TU / ecomotive used a mixture of a bio-composite and a bio-plastic for their chassis. The bio-plastic (PLA) is made entirely from sugar beet. The body is composed of bio-composite sheets made of flax. The bio-composite is comparable to glass fiber in terms of strength and weight. The TU / ecomotive team can be seen at the Shell Ecomarathon in London from 25 to 28 May.

Innovations to get rid of the plastic soup

The European Union started its fight against plastic waste in earnest last week. As of 2019, the production of single-use plastic such as cotton swabs and plastic cutlery, will be banned within Europe. With this regulation, the EU took a symbolic first step, because the plastic waste that washes through our oceans is clearly a global problem.
Research shows that 90% of all the plastic waste in the oceans mainly stems from 10 rivers in Africa and Asia. More than 12 million tonnes of plastic from these rivers annually pollutes the oceans of the world. At the same time, the enormous amount of microplastics that the cosmetics industry produces is exempt from the European regulations for now.
At the beginning of 2018, the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC) stated that 99% of the micro-plastics is captured by waste water treatment plants, but they failed to report that the same study explained that the sewage sludge (contaminated with the trapped microplastics) is then spread out on the land as manure. Which means that all those plastic particles end up back in the environment.
Until we come to some sort of internationalParis-agreement which bans the production of plastic worldwide, two innovations can offer a solution.
Francis Zoet, Anne Marieke Eveleens and Saskia Studer devised an elegant way to stop plastic in the rivers, where a free passage of shipping and unhindered fish migration was a requirement: The Great Bubble Barrier, an elegant, simple and cheap method. The idea consists of an underwater tube that creates a wall of rising bubbles. The floating plastic in the rivers can not pass the wall of bubbles and is guided to the river banks to be removed there. The Great Bubble Barrier has recently been tested and results showed that more than 80% of the waste was trapped.
In addition, we can also tackle the problem of microplastics now. Microplastics (found in toothpaste, facial cream, lipstick etc.) are so small that filters will not catch them. In Europe, we flush 74,000 kilos of plastic into the sewer everyday just by brushing our teeth alone. One shower accounts for 100,000 small plastic particles and our washing also contributes to the eight million tonnes of plastic that end up in our ocean annually. Scientists at the University of Bath now found an alternative to the harmful substances. For the first time, they succeeded in producing an alternative to the plastic balls. This biodegradable substance is made of natural cellulose, which is found in wood and plants. By resolving the cellulose, the scientists were able to create tiny globules strong enough to keep their structure in cosmetics products, but that will dissolve in the environment in a brief amount of time. ‘Microplastics in the cosmetics industry are made of cheap plastic materials derived from petroleum, and are not bio-degradable,’ said Dr. Jane Scott, one of the researchers involved in the project. ‘Our cellulose balls come from a renewable source material and are converted into harmless sugars.’

War on plastics

Tomorrow, the European Commission will meet to significantly reduce the use of plastics in the coming years and even ban them in some cases. Humanity uses more plastic than ever and that leaves a mark worldwide. Especially single-use plastics will be severely restricted, because there are often more environmentally friendly alternatives. Although man produces huge quantities of plastic, only a small part of it is recycled. Until recently. With the latest innovative separation methods, the mountain of plastic can be strongly reduced.

Until recently, plastic recycling was downgraded; of high-quality recycled plastic, only inferior products could be made, such as roadside poles. But TU Delft has now tackled that problem.

‘Plastic is difficult to recycle and a lot of quality is lost when it comes to remodelling,’ Peter Rem, Professor of Civil Engineering at TU Delft, explains. ‘The packaging industry already uses around 250 different types of plastic, but every brand also has a different colour. The biggest differences are the technical compositions of a plastic. Until recently this was the bottleneck. ‘

TU Delft has now made plastic recycling considerably more efficient by selecting it for density with sensor separators and air blowers, but recently also with more efficient water jets. ‘One of the problems with these sensor separators was that it was rather expensive and inefficient,’ says Rem.

‘The camera that looks at such a stream of plastic flakes had trouble separating it. If a certain type of flake is very close to another piece with a different colour, it was also separated. That was because we used air nozzles of 5 mm, but that air flow was too thick for the flake. The solution we have found is to work with very thin water jets that can blow away the flakes very accurately. After plastic is separated for density, you still have the colour problem. By separating them you keep pure plastic. This bypasses a chemical step (compounding) that is normally always part of the plastic recycling method.’

The implementation of this innovation is already being applied in the new plastic mining plant of Rotterdam’s Umincorp. In addition, Umincorp also uses the revolutionary MDS technology (Magnetic Density Separation) consisting of ferromagnetic liquids and specially designed magnets. Jaap Vandehoek, one of the directors of Urban Mining Corp and raw materials technologist explains: ‘The technology of Urban Mining Corp is focused on selecting plastic, originating from waste streams, as much as possible on density. Because separating the different plastics into categories makes it easier to recycle them. The precision of this selection process is currently at 97%, which at the end of the operation is very close to the quality of new plastic. The plastic becomes a high-quality raw material from waste. ‘