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Food and Fertilizer Extraction

mining-industry

Many people forget about the inputs that go into producing their food and the practices that aid in the cultivation of their crops. There are many inputs that go into food production, many of which are fertilizers. Fertilizers place a huge burden on the environment through runoff, improper use, and many other harmful practices. Many people forget about how these fertilizers are produced and the mining practices that are used to extract these fertilizers. Environmental impact starts with extraction.  What are the inputs? What does it take to extract these fertilizers? How much can you extract while minimizing losses? All of these questions play a major role within the food industry that we know today. Phosphorus is one of the most vital inputs to ensure food security, and without it production is lost. How can we assure that future generations will have enough phosphorus to meet their needs?

There is a growing awareness within America that the capitalist way of life is based on a gradual depletion of fossil reserves, specifically phosphorus, which is not infinite. Phosphorus is extracted in a variety of ways. It can be extracted from our waste streams and can be recycled, but we continue to extract phosphorus from nonrenewable phosphate rock reserves. Phosphorus is an essential element for our current and future food security, which has no abundant substitute. We need to start recycling phosphorus in order to sustain the amount of resources that farmers need in order to produce enough food to enrich humanity while focusing on minimizing the environmental and economic impacts. Phosphate reserves are depleting and there is currently a debate in regards to how much remaining phosphate reserves there still are. Some scientists estimate that the reserves vary from several decades to a few hundred years Sustainable Use of Phosphorus. The quality of the remaining reserves is being reduced due to phosphate reserves becoming more difficult to access. While there is a burden on supply, demand is expected to vastly increase Phosphorus Extraction.

Phosphorus is essential to all living organisms. It aids in producing DNA and RNA, as well as ATP.  700 mg of phosphorus is the recommended daily intake for a healthy diet What Is Phosphorus and Why Is It Important. It plays a large role in fertilizer production and food security. It is critical in biological energy transfer processes, which are important for life and sustained growth. Phosphorus fertilizers aid in producing higher yields through improving crop quality, increasing stalk strength, greater root growth, and faster crop maturity Managing Phosphorus for Crop Production. Phosphorus deficiency within crops can lead to the stunting and abnormal discoloration of plants in early developing stages.

Five countries hold 85% of the world’s reserves, including China, Morocco, the United States, South Africa, and Jordan Sustainable Use of Phosphorus. Currently, there is a surplus of phosphorus, which leads to more accumulation in agricultural soils, as well as waste sectors, all of which further impact the environment.  The process of recycling phosphorus can reduce this surplus and leave a burden on the environment. Currently, only abound one-fifth of phosphorus extracted is consumed. There are many losses associated with this form of extraction. Each step from mine to fork has a variety of unsustainable practices. These losses are accumulated in water bodies and a variety of landscapes within exporting countries.

Moving from current phosphorus extractions to more sustainable practices is a difficult process. It will require an integrated approach that keeps in mind, both efficiency and reuse. Improvements have to start at the extraction level by reducing the number of tailings in the mining process Phosphorus Extraction. The production process of phosphorus also needs to be much more sustainable; this can come from improved technology and knowledge within this industry. Agriculture is the last stage but needs the most improvement. This can come through improved mining equipment, recycling, and runoff prevention. Improvements can also be achieved by changing the way we handle waste that contains phosphorus. The recovery of phosphorus from water bodies and waste areas will not only benefits water pollution, but also contribute to the sustainability of the phosphorus industry.

Sustainable phosphorus will soon become essential for global food security. The current reliance on rock extracted phosphorus is far from sustainable. For this industry to become truly sustainable, efficient phosphorus use must approach a level close to 100% in each chain Sustainable Use of Phosphorus. This will take the full recycling of phosphorus at many levels to ensure global food security. Raising public awareness on the scarcity of phosphate reserves, while presenting policy and solutions to the issue, would be the best approach to tackle this issue.

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Can the Marijuana Industry ever be Sustainable?

Cannabis has been cultivated for thousands of years, used in both practical applications, such as being a fiber for clothing, a substitute for paper made from wood, and many medicinal purposes. The production of hemp was once required by law to be grown on every farm in Virginia. In 1996 California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, which started the loosening of national restrictions on a large scale. Other states followed in California’s footsteps such as Colorado, Washington, and Oregon. In 2012 Colorado became the first state to legalize marijuana for over 21-year-old users (Geiling, 2015). Now as many as 11 states could vote to legalize marijuana.

Currently the cannabis industry is the most energy-intensive crop, this is because the majority of the cannabis companies grow indoors. According to a 2016 report released by New Frontier Financials, cannabis cultivation annually consumes one percent of the United States’ total electrical output, which for a single industry growing a single crop, is a lot  roughly the equivalent of the electricity used by 1.7 million homes. If expansion continues it is stated that the electricity used by indoor grow ops will double in the next 20 years. This mass amounts of legalization places a burden on the environment. Most indoor growers use High Intensity Discharge (HID) lamps to grow their product. These lights are relatively cheap, but put off immense amount of heat. This requires these faculties to be air conditioned and dehumidified, to maintain a constant temperature.

This all adds up to expensive electricity bills, one cannabis farmer in Portland Oregon, Eli Bilton, estimates that a 25,000 square foot grow site (which is half of the maximum area allowed by the state of Oregon) would on average have a 30,000 energy bill each month. An alternative to this type of indoor growing would be outdoor growing, which if done improperly can cause quite the environmental degradation. It can lead to degrading soils, and pesticide and fertilizer runoff. It also requires an immense amount of water. The outdoor industry in California alone consumes as much as 430 million liters of water per square kilometer for a single season, which is twice the amount that wine grapes need.

Currently, there is no incentive for theses large scale cannabis growers, to look towards more efficient measures. They can bear the costs of high energy bills and environmental degradation because there has been neither a regulatory nor financial enforcement for them to alter their ways. These growers tend to stick to what they know rather than altering their ways, which could lead to losing their crops. Not all cannabis growers are avoiding switching to alternative forms of cultivation. Some faculties within Oregon area outfitted with gutters that accumulate rain water, which is then filtered into the plants, this method avoids using ground water or Oregon’s runoff. Many clippings are turned into fertilizer and condensation from humidifiers and air condition units is accumulated within recycling systems. There are certifications that certify farms as “organic” one is currently called Clean Green certification. There is also a lack of research and knowledge within this industry.

There are alternatives to the process of growing indoors, which many farmers avoid due to the high yield seen within indoor growing. Greenhouses are a direction that the cannabis industry could focus on in the near future. Harnessing the energy of the sun, which would then mitigate energy costs. Sensors that turn on lights when the cloud cover is present. The main thing that can be done to make the cannabis industry more efficient would be a reduction in the overall price of marijuana. This would make the cost of indoor growing completely unfeasible for growers. Alternative lighting systems such as LEDs reduce the amount of energy compared to high-pressure sodium bulbs. The issue with LEDs is that they cost more than traditional lighting systems, but they pay themselves off the long run.
The city of Boulder implemented regulations on the cannabis industry, starting in 2015, Boulder County mandated that any licensed cannabis grower had to obtain 100 percent of their electricity from renewable energy resources (Geiling, 2015). If the growers are not able to obtain 100 percent of their energy from renewable sources, they could instead pay into an energy offset fund.The fund is then used to educate cannabis growers about using less energy and capitalizing on renewable energy resources. Overall the laws mainly federal laws are potentially the biggest drivers in making the cannabis industry unsustainable. The reason for this is because marijuana is only legal in states where is does not grow well outside. This forces these industries to grow in only indoor facilities, as soon as marijuana is legal on a national level, there will be a reduction in prices which will lead to more outdoor farms across the U.S. This industry is far from sustainable, which is quite ironic considering most “stoners” are environmentalist. The industry will continue on this unsustainable path, until regulations are implemented or the price of cannabis is reduced. 

Sources

  1. https://thinkprogress.org/can-marijuana-ever-be-environmentally-friendly-5109b7436318#.c8bhe4gmg
  2. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/08/19/sustainable-marijuana-news21-water/31545469/
  3. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/doug-fine/can-the-cannabis-economy-_b_2479971.html
  4. http://www.alternet.org/drugs/surprising-solution-growing-sustainable-marijuana
  5. http://grist.org/politics/marijuana-may-be-more-law-friendly-but-its-not-more-eco-friendly/

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