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NRDC & Harvard Reveal Costs of Mass Consumer Confusion; Offer New Plan for Commonsense Food Date Labeling

NEW YORK (September 18, 2013) – U.S. consumers and businesses needlessly trash billions of pounds of food every year as a result of America’s dizzying array of food expiration date labeling practices, which need to be standardized and clarified, according to a new report co-authored by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic. One key finding from an industry-conducted survey: More than 90 percent of Americans may be prematurely toss food because they misinterpret food labels as indicators of food safety.

“Expiration dates are in need of some serious myth-busting because they’re leading us to waste money and throw out perfectly good food, along with all of the resources that went into growing it,” said Dana Gunders, NRDC staff scientist with the food and agriculture program. “Phrases like ‘sell by’, ’use by’, and ‘best before’ are poorly regulated, misinterpreted and leading to a false confidence in food safety. It is time for a well-intended but wildly ineffective food date labeling system to get a makeover.”

NRDC and Harvard Law’s study, The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America ( is a first-of-its-kind legal analysis of the tangle of loose federal and state laws related to date labels across all 50 states and presents recommendations for a new system for food date labeling. The report is a follow-up to NRDC’s 2012 Wasted ( report, which revealed that Americans trash up to 40 percent of our food supply every year, equivalent to $165 billion.

For the vast majority of food products, manufacturers are free to determine date shelf life according to their own methods. The report finds that the confusion created by this range of poorly regulated and inconsistent labels leads to results that undermine the intent of the labeling, including:

* False Notions that Food is Unsafe – 91 percent of consumers occasionally throw food away based on the “sell by” date out of a mistaken concern for food safety even though none of the date labels actually indicate food is unsafe to eat;

* Consumer Confusion Costs – an estimated 20 percent of food wasted in U.K. households is due to misinterpretation of date labels. Extending the same estimate to the U.S., the average household of four is losing $275-455 per year on food needlessly trashed;

* Business Confusion Costs – an estimated $900 million worth of expired food is removed from the supply chain every year. While not all of this is due to confusion, a casual survey of grocery store workers found that even employees themselves do not distinguish between different kinds of dates;

* Mass Amounts of Wasted Food – The labeling system is one factor leading to an estimated 160 billion pounds of food trashed in the U.S. every year, making food waste the single largest contributor of solid waste in the nation’s landfills.

Two main categories of labeling exist for manufacturers: those intended to communicate among businesses and those for consumers. But they are not easily distinguishable from one another and neither is designed to indicate food’s safety. “Sell by” dates are a tool for stock control, suggesting when the grocery store should no longer sell products in order to ensure the products still have shelf life after consumers purchase them. They are not meant to communicate with consumers, nor do they indicate the food is bad on that date. “Best before” and “use by” dates are intended for consumers, but they are often just a manufacturer’s estimate of a date after which food will no longer be at peak quality; not an accurate date of spoiling or an indication that food is unsafe. Consumers have no way of knowing how these “sell by” and “use by” dates have been defined or calculated since state laws vary dramatically and companies set their own methods for determining the dates, none of which helps to improve public health and safety.

“We need a standardized, commonsense date labeling system that actually provides useful information to consumers, rather than the unreliable, inconsistent and piecemeal system we have today,” said Emily Broad Leib, lead author of the report and director of Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic. “This comprehensive review provides a blueprint calling on the most influential date label enforcers – food industry actors and policymakers – to create and foster a better system that serves our health, pocketbooks and the environment.”

Use of expiration dates for food stem from consumer unease about food freshness mounting over the 20th century, as Americans left farms and lost their connection to the foods they consume. By 1975, a nationwide survey of shoppers showed 95% of respondents considered date labels to be the most useful consumer service for addressing freshness. The widespread concern prompted over 10 congressional bills introduced between 1973-1975 alone, to establish requirements for food dating. During that time, the General Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report to Congress advocating a uniform national date labeling system to avoid confusion. Despite GAO’s prophetic advice, none of the legislative efforts gained enough momentum to become law. Instead, the 1970s began the piecemeal creation of today’s fractured American date labeling regime.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture have the power to regulate food labeling to ensure consumers are not misled, both agencies have failed to adequately exercise their authority. FDA does not require food companies to place any date labels on food products, leaving the information entirely at the discretion of the manufacturer. The only product for which a date is federally regulated is infant formula.

Food producers and retailers can begin to adopt the following recommended changes to date labels voluntarily but government steps, including legislation by Congress and more oversight by FDA and USDA, should be considered as well:

* Making “sell by” dates invisible to consumers, as they indicate business-to-business labeling information and are mistakenly interpreted as safety dates;

* Establishing a more uniform, easily understandable date label system that communicates clearly with consumers by 1) using consistent, unambiguous language; 2) clearly differentiating between safety- and quality-based dates; 3) predictably locating the date on package; 4) employing more transparent methods for selecting dates; and other changes to improve coherency;

* Increasing the use of safe handling instructions and “smart labels” that use technology to provide additional information on the product’s safety.

“The scale of food waste worldwide is one of the most emblematic examples of how humanity is needlessly running down its natural resources. This new report comes on the heels of one compiled by the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), which points out that 28 percent of the world’s farmland is being used to produce food that is not eaten–an area larger than China,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director. “Everyone, every business, every city, state and government should do something to tackle this wastage to help reduce the global Foodprint.”

* Read the full issue brief here: or

* NRDC’s blog series on food waste:

* NRDC’s Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill report:

* UNEP and the FAO launched the Think Eat Save: Reduce Your Foodprint campaign in January 2013-its partners include NRDC:

Contact: Jackie Wei,, 310-434-2325 or (cell) 347-874-8305

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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Livingston, Montana, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

The Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, a division of the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation, is an experiential teaching program of Harvard Law School that links law students with opportunities to serve clients and communities grappling with various food law and policy issues. The Clinic strives to increase access to healthy foods, prevent diet-related diseases, and assist small and sustainable farmers and producers in participating in local food markets. For more information, visit


Making your own alcohol fuel

Many folks are familiar with making beer or wine at home. Making alcohol fuel is the next step. The process is simple, distilling the “beer” made from fermented sugars. Drinking alcohol has quite a bit of water in it. For fuel, we want a almost water free product, in excess of 160 proof. The process is energy intensive, especially if you have to convert starches to sugar first, so using waste heat, or solar could mitigate your energy inputs, and produce a less expensive fuel. There are a lot of sugar bearing crops, like beets, corn, and even tree sap. Ethanol can even be made from wood waste like sawdust. There’s one outfit that makes vodka from maple sap, so it’s doable. Waste food sources like stale donuts have even been used.

If you are interested in making your own fuel, I suggest the following information:


Organic Drip Coffee, No Machines

I’m sitting here enjoying a great cup of organic coffee, dripped to perfection, but no coffee maker in sight. It’s called Dr. Drip, and it let’s me enjoy a cup of coffee, packaged in a biodegradable (no plastic) package, without needing a coffee maker or electricity to make it. This is not instant coffee! I heated the water on my rocket stove with a few twigs, and 2 minutes later, a great cup of coffee. Can you tell I’m excited about this? You bet I am! I love coffee, and with no landfill waste, I can put all the remains into my composter for the benefit of my garden.


Coconut Coir – A multipurpose waste product

Coir is the fiber from the husk of the coconut. It is the “waste product” (renewable natural by-product) of the food industry, and is a very useful material. It is used in ropes, mats, brushes, sacks, caulking for boats and as stuffing fiber for mattresses. It is also used in horticulture in potting compost, especially in orchid mix, and in wetland restoration, erosion and sediment control.

We use fresh water cured (no salt) coconut coir as bedding for our worm beds, cover material in our composting toilets, as a planting medium for aquaponics, and as part of our soil mix in our square foot garden beds. It is a excellent sustainable replacement for non-sustainable peat moss, as it lasts at least 5x longer without degrading.

We get our coir from The following is a description of Rolanka’s product and process:

Coir fiber has the highest strength and durability of any readily-available natural fiber and use for making a variety of products including products for protecting and improving natural resources. Coir is the fiber processed from coconut husks that have been cured in water. This abundant natural resource is a by-product of the coconut industry. It is a plantation crop growing mainly in the tropics. Each tree produces once in every 7 weeks and year round production of coconuts assures the availability of coconut husks. Traditional coir processing begins with curing (retting) the coconut husks in freshwater for at least three months. This curing turns the coir fibers to dark brown in color. It also increases the durability, strength and flexibility of the coir. With skilled processing, coir fiber is separated into different grades, depending on the length of the fiber. This fiber separation process is done only in Sri Lanka, and the Sri Lanka coir products are superior to coir products made in other countries.

During processing, the initially separated fiber is called mattress coir fiber. These are short and flimsy. The next fiber separated is called omat coir fiber. They are medium in length and thicker than mattress coir fiber. The longer and thicker fiber left after separating the mattress and omat coir fibers are called bristle coir fiber. Bristle coir fiber is the best quality fiber in the market and has very low biodegradability. The left over particles once all the fibers are separated is called the coir pith (dust). Although it has very little nutritive value, the porous coir pith is an excellent soil-less plant growing medium. Coir pith also use in worm and reptile bedding, as well in environmental cleanups.

Recently for convenience, some millers are processing fiber with quick defibering machines. The fiber process from this method is not as flexible and durable as the fiber process from traditional method. India, Philippines and a few other countries cure their coconut husks in lagoons. These fibers are generally white in color due the bleaching effect from salt in lagoon water and they tend to contain excess salts.

Coir fiber and Jute fiber are completely different fiber types. Coir fiber products are stronger and more durable than Jute fiber products.


Wood gasification

Over the years, we put together a collection of information on wood gasification. What is wood gasification? Our friends at All Power Labs have put together a nice tutorial, and have provided us with a gasifier to experiment with. More documentation on that project is upcoming.

Gasification is the use of heat to tranform solid biomass or other carbonaceous solids into a synthetic “natural gas like” flammable fuel. Through gasification, we can convert nearly any dry organic matter into a clean burning, carbon neutral fuel that can replace fossil fuel in most use cases. Whether starting with wood chips or walnut shells, construction debris or agricultural waste, gasification will transform common “waste” into a flexible gaseous fuel you can use to run your internal combustion engine, cooking stove, furnace or flamethrower.

Sound impossible?

Did you know that over one million vehicles in Europe ran onboard gasifiers during WWII to make fuel from wood and charcoal, as gasoline and diesel were rationed or otherwise unavailable? Long before there was biodiesel and ethanol, we actually succeeded in a large-scale, alternative fuels redeployment– and one which curiously used only cellulosic biomass, not the oil and sugar based biofuel sources which famously compete with food.

This redeployment was made possible by the gasification of waste biomass, using simple gasifiers about as complex as a traditional wood stove. These small-scale gasifiers are easily reproduced (and improved) today by DIY enthusiasts using simple hammer and wrench technology. The goal of this GEK is to show you how to do it, while upgrading the engineering and deployment solutions to something befitting the digital age.



Environmentally Friendly Cleaning Products

Ever on the look out for cleaning supplies that are plant friendly, we found some that are made of plant materials. Non-toxic, biodegradable, grey water recycling friendly, and no waste. Even the packaging is made from recycled materials. They have everything from glass cleaner and bathroom cleaners to vegetable washes. We are using the Glass & Window Cleaner, All-Purpose Cleaner, and the Bathroom & Odor Neutralizing Cleaner. Our package came with a re-usable spray bottle. Just mix the crystals with water and spray. Made in the USA was a bonus!

Our Glass and Glass & Window Crystals Compound Additive cleans without streaks and uses no harsh chemicals. Excellent for effectively cleaning glass, mirrors, chrome, and other hard surfaces around your home.

Comes in packages of 1, 3 and 12

From our clamshell packaging made from recycled materials to our biodegradable and water soluble sachets of crystallized cleaning concentrate, Bio Green Crystals are the most environmentally friendly products available.

Bio Green Crystals is proudly made in the USA, by both Union and non-union workers.

Bio+Green Crystals are revolutionary new compounds. Products in water-soluble pouches containing premeasured amounts of powdered concentrates. When immersed in the water, pouch and powder dissolve formulating a precise cleaning solution for specific cleaning purposes. Bio+Green Crystals are proud to be ZERO-WASTE products.

Crystal Additives and Boosters can be added to any type of cleaner.

Bio+Green Crystals refills are the safest and most eco-friendly cleaners on the market.

They generate zero waste, 100% biodegradable product and carrier reduce your secondary carbon footprint at home, the office and everywhere else they are used.

These products achieve a carbon footprint reduction throughout the entire supply chain.

Bio+Green Crystals are sustainably manufactured and can help your company reduce waste

We can help you save water, save energy and reduce waste:
Environmentally the Bio+Green Crystals are the only true zero waste product on the market. When one weighs the enormous benefit of Bio+Green Crystals with today’s demand for environmental consciousness, added safety and overall value; bio+green crystals are simply the greenest choice for the planet.

Every time you use a bio+green crystal refill, you are conserving 20-40 Megajules of energy and countless amounts of water.
If your Company really wants to save, then do the math on your waste!
* This is the energy and water used to make the plastic bottle and sprayer from manufacture to disposal.


Off the Grid and On the Cloud

Our friend Nick Rosen, Author and director of off grid books and videos, is working on another project. His previous work on people who live off grid and why they choose to so met with critical acclaim. See Off the Grid: Inside the Movement for More Space, Less Government, and True Independence in Modern America.

Had it with The Man? You’ll love this series about 12 off-grid households – managing their own power, water and waste. Its freedom, eco-living, self-reliance.

Off the Grid Crowd-sourcing from Nick Rosen on Vimeo.


Constructed Wetlands

A constructed wetland is an artificial “bog”, designed to purify waste water, and provide habitat for migratory or native critters (we love watching the geese and listening to the frogs). They act as a biofilter and help cool the local microclimate as well.

They are a naturalists dream for a backyard, and can be a valuable source off food and relaxation.


The GOOD 30-Day Challenge: Waste Less

Every year the residents and businesses of Phoenix alone send one million tons of solid waste to Buckeye, Arizona’s, SR85 landfill. That’s about one ton per resident, and it’s enough garbage to fill the city’s pro football stadium from top to bottom seven times over. Outside of Arizona, the average American produces about 4.4 pounds of garbage per day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and in Mexico, households create 30 percent more trash than Americans. It all seems insignificant at first—a Starbucks cup here, a sandwich box there—but pretty soon you’re sweating while hauling giant Hefty bags to the curb yet another week in a row. Let’s stop being so trashy, and let’s start this month.



Farmer Calls For ‘Managing Manure To Save Mankind’

Long-time Ohio farmer Gene Logsdon says human and animal waste, including that from pets, is our greatest and most misunderstood natural resource. He points out that we spend billions to throw it away, and billions more to manufacture synthetic fertilizers.

Logsdon sees a future when companies might actually pick up human and pet refuse to compost and sell to farmers, and he argues that finding ways to turn our waste into fertilizer is crucial to our survival. Gene Logsdon’s book is “Holy Shit, Managing Manure to Save Mankind.” He also writes the blog, “The Contrary Farmer.”

- Read More -

The Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure, Third Edition