Are we really sustainable?

Pic. Malgorzata Nikodem, Athens 2018

I started to ask this question myself when I get little bit deeper into it while working on my project.

I was working on the college project for RSA competition last year when I realised that the word sustainable doesn’t apply just for environment. It applies to us as well. We are the part of environment and we have to take care of ourselves.

While doing my research I discovered that plastic has very bad impact on people’s health. The plastic is absorbed by our body probably from the food wrapped with plastic, seafood, and plastic bottles. The scientists detected several types of plastic in humans faeces in Europe, Russia, and Japan.

There is not only plastic, but the preservatives used in food are toxic to human body as well. Currently there is so many preservatives widely used in food. A preservatives, colourants, and sweeteners are eligible in very small amount however they are everywhere, and people are consuming them in the amount that is affecting our genetic function.
Considering these facts, we have to start to watch very carefully what we are eating and in what packaging the food is stored. The scientists proved that the food does change the genetic function but is not changing the DNA itself. The process is called epigenetic. It does not apply to human only. For example, in bees the Queen Bee is born genetically the same as the rest of the bees. The difference lies in the diet. Queen Bee is fed of royal
jelly diet, but the low workers are fed pollen and nectar. This difference between the diets determines the bee future.

In today’s world we have a big problem with many genetics related diseases such as cardiovascular, cancer, diabetes, and obesity pandemic especially in children. There is a quite clear correlation between food and diseases. The preservatives used in foods have very big influence on our body condition. Let’s take the simple example of dried food. The Orchard Fruit Mix and Soft Figs. Both from popular market and both dried fruits. In the first one we can read in ingredients section that for all dried fruits the Sulphur Dioxide was used as a preservative, on the second one we can read that there are only partially rehydrated figs. Guess which one of them landed in the bin.

So, let’s check what is the sulphur dioxide. It’s a chemical which occurs naturally in volcanic gases but usually is prepared by industries and used in many products for example matches struck or for food preservation. The sulphur dioxide is poisonous gas, and it should be avoided in the food. It shouldn’t be used in meat and on fruit and vegetables raw served, and it should not be used in foods recognised as a source of thiamine because it can produce vitamin B1 deficiency. The symptom of the thiamine (B1) deficiency include depression and ataxia which can lead to seizures and even dead.

Sulphur dioxide, SO2, Structural chemical formula and molecule model. Vector illustration

The WHO recommendation is to not treat the food with sulphur dioxide or any sulphating agent especially in the food to be a significant source of vitamin B1 because it can radically reduce the level of thiamine in the rest of the diet. The sulphur dioxide can cause mental problems as well especially in men because it has an influence on the chromosome X and because men have only one chromosome X they are more affected by the gas.

Not only preservatives, but colourants and sweeteners can cause health problems, especially in children. They can cause the hyperactivity and it is important to avoid them or at least to decrease its consumption.

These are just few examples and when thinking how many of these preservatives are in our food – they are practically almost everywhere especially in the cheap food – we shouldn’t be surprised in the explosion of different kind of cancer and obesity. If we want to fight them back, we have to start to ask and check what is in our food. Many scientists agreeing that today’s food has not have as much nutrition as it used to be 10 or 20 years
ago especially the processed food. The more processed the food is the least nutrition it has which leads to the conclusion that today we have children who are obese, but they are malnourished. This is happening because our children are exposed to the very high processed food and drinks, which is very high with calories and carbohydrates, but it has no nutritional value.

Of course, not all the preservatives are toxic. Some of them are natural and good for our bodies or at least they do no harm. We just have to bear in mind to not eat them excessively.

There are many regulations and legislation regarding food additives. Every country has different regulations but if we think globally there are some general legislations in Europe, USA, China, and other trade unions. For example, in the EU zone there is a European Commission called EMAS which stands for Eco – Management and Audit Scheme. This organisation is evaluating, reporting, and improving the environment and performance
of companies applying for their certificate. In USA they have Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The use of preservatives is mainly regulated by EPA. These two organisations can have different standards and what could be used in one area it does not mean that the same elements are allowed in the other zone.

The best thing we can do for ourselves is to be more aware and to be educated about our environment which includes food, the food production process and recycling. To be more sustainable and start to care about our surroundings.

What the sustainability means?

By definition it is a balance between economy, environment and people. It is also known as 3P: Profit, Planet, and People.

The sustainability movement encourage companies to think about their impact to the planet in the long term. Not looking for profit in 5-10-15 years’ timeframe programs but think what the impact they will make in the next 50-100 years’ time.
What will we leave for next generations?
How much carbon footprint they make? The less – the better.

The companies need to think about sources, production, pollution, recycling, energy usage or generation. They need to stop thinking about immediate profit and how much they can lose. It required forward thinking which has its challenges. The sustainable development required to change the way the companies were operating and sometimes completely change the production process. It required collaborative effort between companies’
heads and designers, scientists, economists to balance between environment care and profits. On the government website everybody can find ‘’Agenda 2030’’ document and get familiar with the plans that not only UK government wants to achieve in 2030 but this document is global, and it is available since 2017. This is a document with vision of reducing poverty and inequalities, promote education quality, equality, innovation, peace,
action and collective responsibility for better life and care for our planet.

This document is a guidance how and what to do to make our life better and our planet a better place for everybody. It is as well a document which inspire some people to create many theories suggesting a people’s population control and big reset. But let’s say the document is full of good directions and is revised every few years by each government because many countries around the world are participating in this program.

Currently the big topics are a Smart City and Reversed Logistic.

I was speaking with my friend Anna Orzel who is a Dr of Economy Science and specialise in law in Poland and she presented to me what human population would need to survive on Mars and what and how technology can be used to provide sustainable life on this planet. The interesting thing which caught my attention and inspired me in this presentation is that some of these technologies can be used here, on Earth to make our life more sustainable and slowly clean up the mess and pollution humankind made to the Earth.

One information caught my eyes in this presentation. It was the resolution of plastic disposability. On two slides I read that there is an enzyme which decomposes the plastic. The bacteria responsible for this process it’s called a Ideonella Sakaiensis. This bacteria were discovered by Japanese scientists in 2016 from the sample taken out of plastic bottle recycling facility. The bacteria are using ethylene terephthalate (PET) as a carbon and
energy source. It means it can dispose the plastic made from ethylene glycol and dimethyltryptamine which are made of the crude oil.

In practice the Ideonella can convert only PET plastic into simpler ethylene glycol and TPA (terephthalate) which then can be broken by other microorganisms to simple CO2. The challenge of this technique needs further development because the process is very slow and take about six weeks in 30°C to fully degrade piece of the nail-sized PET plastic.

The other plastic problem-solving idea are the mole caterpillars called Galleria Melonella. They can eat the most difficult to dispose polyethylene plastic waste. This mostly commonly used plastic for plastic bags and it is most difficult to bio-degrade. The caterpillars have the ability to digest the plastic into the simpler microorganisms
which are biodegradable. They can do this thanks to the enzyme in their digest system. The scientists are working on the enzyme and are trying to extract the genes of it to practical solution and carrying further research how to use it to save oceans and all the other environments.

The polyethylene plastic has the same molecular structure as the beeswax, the natural main source of food for caterpillars. Because of this characteristic the caterpillars are able to eat and digest the plastic.

These two solutions are very promising however it does not mean that we can continue our reckless behaviour to produce and throw our rubbish anywhere. Currently many countries are thinking how to minimise the plastic use, reduce the production of it, how effectively dispose it and some brands starts to find and use innovative solution to remove plastic from use.

I had a good fun and educated myself quite a lot while working on this project and I come up with the idea of platform and app working with full transparency about not only nutrition in products but artificial additives and the amount of them used in the product. Currently there are many apps and platforms offering the cooking receipts, talking about food and nutrition but it’s really hard to find any platform, app or programme about how artificial the food is. There is some information available on government website or NHS website with explanation what all the additions to food means but people rarely look for this information as they are spread out widely and sometime people don’t know where to look for info.

It may be not the best project (as I didn’t win a place in competition) but I like it a lot because it gave me new knowledge and reminded me what I learned from school about environment, biology and chemistry lessons. I think we all should now check what we were taught in the past. Very often the old way of living and holistic thinking is a good way to take steps to our future. We can’t forget where we are coming from and think about ourselves as individual but with global way of thinking and how much influence and impact we – as a person – have on our wellbeing and our environment. And we have to remember that each of us – as a customer – have an influence on big companies to pressure them to change their practices.

My research and influences

Epigenetics of Royalty (plos.org)
Nutrigenomics: The Diet That Can Change Your DNA | HuffPost Life
Plastics have entered human food chain, study shows, Europe News & Top Stories – The Straits Times
Epigenetic Influences and Disease | Learn Science at Scitable (nature.com)
What is in Your Food? Sulfur Dioxide | Chronicles in Health
sulfur dioxide | Definition, Sources, & Uses | Britannica

Additives and Preservatives – Are they really that bad? | Online Dietitian, Helping You Eat Happy (nudenutritionrd.com)

EMAS – Environment – European Commission (europa.eu)
Regulation of preservatives in the USA | SpringerLink
Food-Info.net : E-numbers : E500- E600 Additives with different functions (food-info.net)
Food colours and hyperactivity – NHS – NHS (www.nhs.uk)
Approved additives and E numbers | Food Standards Agency
Sustainability Definition (investopedia.com)
Refill. Reuse. Rethink. Learnings from our pilot projects | Unilever global company website
WHO | Food Safety Collaborative Platform
Mercury in food – EFSA updates advice on risks for public health | (europa.eu)
Foods Containing Mercury (sfgate.com)
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/agenda-2030-delivering-the-global-goals
https://www.gsmmagazine.co/risograph-printing/

DOCUMENTARIES
The Social Dilema – 2020 (high tech manipulation)
History 101 – 2020
Connected – 2020
Rotten – 2020
Broken – 2019 (Recycling Sham)
Explained 2 seasons – 2019
Human Nature – 2019 (CRISPR)
Unnatural Selection – 2019 (Cot, Paste, Life (Cas9)
Dirty Money – 2020
The Barrier – 2020 ongoing (life with deadly virus)
What the Health – 2017
The Milk System – 2017 (damage to African local milk business)
The Bleeding Edge – 2018 (American vs European health guidlines-contraception and metal body parts)The
China Hustle – 2017
Cowspiracy – 2014 (factory farming crisis ignored)
Minimalism – 2016
Diagnosis – 2019
Afflicted – 2018 (sencitiveness to the mold, electricity etc)


MOVIES:
Mortal Engines – 2018 (vision of world in 3018) (ancients food hermetically packed still good to eat 1000
years later)

YouTube: Genetic Engineering Will Change Everything Forever – CRISPR : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAhjPd4uNFY The European Immunization Agenda 2030: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-EqzQf9mxkQ UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda | Patrick Paul Walsh | TEDxFulbrightDublin : https://www.
youtube.com/watch?v=dy8kit9gnbM ideacity 2009 – John Harris: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qtMqV9Eh04&t=636s

ARTICLES and BOOKS:
http://www.mojawyspa.co.uk/artykuly/39257/Europa-smartfony-emituja-14-mln-ton-CO2-rocznie,2 https://www.earthday.org/fact-sheet-plastics-in-the-ocean/ Dunne, A. and Raby, F., 2013. Speculative Everything. Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, pp.159 – 167.


OTHER:
Focus Group 20.11.2020
Zoom Interview with PhD in Economy Anna Orzel, Poland 25.11.2020 Orzel, A., 2020. Logistyka Zwrotna Na Marsie (Reverse Logistic On Mars). https://icdn2.digitaltrends.com/image/dell-se2716h-monitor-hero1-1500×1000.jpg?ver=1

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