How IKEA Is Using Technology to Reduce Its Food Waste by 50 Percent

К.Артём.1, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0
К.Артём.1, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

IKEA is much more than a place to find ready-to-assemble furniture. The chain is also a culinary giant, serving, among other Swedish delicacies, millions of meatballs each day. Food is such a large part of the brand that IKEA is now funneling resources into reducing waste in its cafes, Fast Company reports.

The plan is to cut food waste in IKEA’s restaurants and smaller bistros in half by the year 2020. To do this, the company has already implemented some innovative technology in many of its locations. As of May 2017, approximately 20 percent of all IKEA stores had added trash bins with specially-designed digital scales beneath them for measuring tossed food. After throwing away items, like old salmon or surplus cinnamon buns, employees use the touch-screen above the bin to document exactly what went into it. The screen responds with statistics about the food’s cost and its contribution to IKEA’s carbon footprint.

As staff members use the system, it collects data that will eventually be used by the restaurants to modify their production practices. Seeing that waste peaks at certain times of day, for example, lets IKEA workers know they should be preparing less food during that timeframe. And if one type of food is more likely to end up in the trash can than others, they may respond by ordering less of it.

Another consequence of the system may be preventing food waste that was never necessary in the first place. The United States wastes about 40 percent of its food each year, and a lot of that product is salvageable. By engaging with its employees every time they chuck something into the garbage, IKEA is forcing them to think about the larger impact that food waste creates.

The digital scales have already saved 80,000 pounds of food, or about $1 million. The chain is now installing them in all 400 of its stores across the globe. The initiative is the latest step in IKEA’s march toward making food a more central part of its business. Within the past year alone, IKEA has launched a cookbook-inspired marketing campaign and teased the possibility of some standalone cafes.

[h/t Fast Company]

You’ll Be Able to Buy Some of Fiona the Hippo’s Poop to Fertilize Your Garden

Mark Dumont, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
Mark Dumont, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Fiona the hippo has come along way since she was born two months premature at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2017. Today, Fiona is happy and healthy, weighing in at more than 1200 pounds. A hippo that size makes a lot of excrement, and now Fiona fans can purchase some of it to fertilize their gardens, WLWT5 reports.

Fiona produces about 22 pounds of poop a day; just 7 pounds shy of her birth weight. Normally the dung would be sent to a landfill, but as part of its new zero-waste initiative, the Cincinnati Zoo is composting all of its animal waste into fertilizer. Much of it will be added to the zoo's own farm and gardens, but some will also be available to purchase from the zoo's gift shops and online store. The fertilizer will be made from the dung left behind by the hundreds of animals living at the zoo, including Fiona.

The Cincinnati Zoo bills itself as the greenest zoo in the country. In addition to recycling all of its animal waste into compost, it also aims to fill its animal habitats with recycled rain water and grow more food for its animals on its own farm [PDF]. For the zero-waste part of the plan, the zoo plans to repurpose two million pounds of animal feces each year using a combination of on-site and off-site composting.

The zoo is in the process of acquiring the necessary equipment to launch its waste composting program. When the time comes, Fiona will be ready to make her sizable contributions to the project.

[h/t WLWT5]

Fat Bats Might Be Resistant to Deadly White-Nose Syndrome

Penn State, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Penn State, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Good news for flying mammals: chubby little brown bats might be genetically resistant to white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that’s killed more than 5.5 million bats since it was first documented in 2006 [PDF]. A new study in the journal Scientific Reports describes three genetic adaptations in the bats that could protect them from the pathogen.

Little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus), common in Canada and the eastern United States, are especially susceptible to white-nose syndrome. According to lead author Giorgia G. Auteri, a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan, white-nose syndrome kills bats by disrupting their hibernation cycles.

“When they’re in hibernation in the winter, they’re not meant to be waking up. They’re supposed to be asleep,” Auteri tells Mental Floss. “But this fungus grows on them, and it causes the bats to keep waking up during hibernation. And because they’re waking up when they shouldn’t be, they’re running out of fat reserves too early.”

But while white-nose syndrome has devastated bat populations in North America, not all infected bats die from the disease—some recover. Auteri wanted to find out what made the survivors so special.

Auteri and her team compared the genetic makeup of nine surviving and 29 non-surviving little brown bats from northern Michigan. They discovered that survivors share three important genetic distinctions. “One is involved with fat metabolism,” she says. “And another is involved with regulating when the bats wake up from hibernation. And the third gene is involved in their echolocation ability, in their sonar for hunting insects.”

The results make sense, Auteri says. Because white-nose syndrome interrupts bats’ hibernation schedules, bats with genes that relate to more optimal fat storage (i.e., they’re fatter) and better hibernation regulation (i.e., they sleep longer) are more likely to survive the disease.

Auteri’s research could help scientists and conservationists find ways to preserve little brown bat populations. Besides being adorable, little brown bats also play an important ecological role as predators of insects like mosquitoes, moths, and other pests that are destructive to crops and forests.

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