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School food shapes our future
From Stephanie Feldstein, Population and Sustainability Program Director
There are many forces that determine which foods land on school lunch trays across the country. A recent Washington Post article explored how weak nutrition guidelines and strong food industry influence have put ultra-processed food like Lunchables and Domino’s pizza on school cafeteria menus.
“The weak standards that govern federally subsidized school lunches illustrate the power of the food industry in Congress,” wrote the article's authors. “While many nations have adopted more nutritious school meals and stricter advertising standards, pizza sauce and French fries still count as vegetables for schoolchildren in the United States.”
As the Center’s Senior Food and Agriculture Policy Specialist Mark Rifkin noted in a letter to the editor published in The Washington Post, continuing these school meal policies will increase the long-term risks of chronic disease in kids who carry the unhealthy eating habits they learn at school into adulthood. But as Rifkin points out, unhealthy school meals aren’t just bad for people — they’re bad for the planet, too. Industrially produced, ultra-processed foods in school lunch programs accelerate deforestation, climate change, and species loss — and ultimately make it harder to grow food at all.
Read on for the latest about bringing back refillable bottles, simplifying the holidays, and how pollinators play a key role in human health.
A new graphic novel by Center scientist Tiffany Yap follows a lone puma’s journey across the diverse landscapes of Central California. Tales of the Urban Wild: A Puma’s Journey, illustrated by Seattle-based artist Meital Smith, takes readers through diverse habitats, across busy freeways, and inside science labs to learn about one mountain lion’s survival story.
Tell Coca-Cola to Bring Back Refillable Bottles
For five years running, Coca-Cola has held the dubious distinction of being the world’s number-one plastic polluter. The company’s plastic packaging pollutes the environment on every continent, harming the health of people and wildlife. Yet just a century ago, Coca-Cola pioneered the use of the refillable bottle, collecting 96% of its bottles back for refill by using a deposit-return system.
In 2022 Coca-Cola announced a pledge to sell 25% of its product in refillable packaging globally. But aside from a small pilot in El Paso, Texas, it hasn’t signaled any intention to bring back the refillable bottle in the United States. The Center is calling on Coca-Cola and its bottlers to lead the beverage industry once again by reviving refillable bottles and supporting state-mandated refill quotas.
Here’s one thing you can do: Tell Coca-Cola to bring refillable bottles back to the U.S. market.
A Blueprint for Sexual and Reproductive Health
The Center believes that reproductive justice is environmental justice. That’s why we’re encouraging the current administration to prioritize sexual and reproductive healthcare and racial and gender justice and implement policies to help ensure all people obtain and maintain sexual and reproductive autonomy.
We recently supported the development and release of the newest vision statement for the Blueprint for Sexual and Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice. The statement outlines 10 principles that policymakers at all levels of the federal government can use to strengthen reproductive freedom.
Here’s one thing you can do: Download the Blueprint Policy Agenda and let your representatives know you support sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice worldwide.
Holiday consumerism does real damage to the planet. The United States creates 5.8 million tons more waste in December than in other months of the year. But there’s no rule that says we have to celebrate the holidays by shopping ’til we drop and decking the halls with cheap plastic decor.
In Center organizer Malia Becker’s new Medium article, she shares resources, stats, reports and opportunities to simplify the season and make the holidays bright for wildlife. And if you’re one of the many who wish the winter holidays were less materialistic, listen to Center campaigner Kelley Dennings share holiday tips for being eco-friendly on the Answers for Elders podcast.
Here’s one thing you can do: Check out our Simplify the Holidays website for sustainable gift guides; tips on how to start a conversation about alternative gift-giving with your family; and resources to help us all refocus this time of year on joy, connection and tradition.
Break Free From Plastic Pollution
Late last month the federal Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act was reintroduced to the Senate. It builds on earlier versions of the bill to address the toxic plastics crisis and protect people and the planet from corporate polluters. If passed into law, the Act will ban several of the most problematic single-use plastics, implement a nationwide bottle bill and packaging-reduction program, help pivot the United States toward reusable and refillable solutions, and phase out many of the worst toxic chemicals in plastic packaging and consumer products.
“Plastic is made of fossil fuels. It pollutes the environment, contributes to climate change, and devastates wildlife,” said Center campaigner Kelley Dennings. “We need to ditch our addiction to single-use plastic and transition to reusable systems. The health of people and the planet depend on it.”
Here’s one thing you can do: Sign the Plastic Free President petition demanding bold action on plastics.
Wildlife Spotlight: Oblong Rocksnail
The oblong rocksnail isn’t just a great band name — it’s also a species of nickel-sized freshwater snail found only in Alabama’s Cahaba River. These rare snails keep rivers clean by grazing on algae and serve as food sources for fish and crayfish. Underneath their brown-striped shells, oblong rocksnails have bright yellow bodies with black bands. They shelter beneath flat boulders and graze on algae in clean, silt-free rivers.
Unfortunately oblong rocksnails were nearly driven extinct in the past century due to water pollution and habitat degradation. The species hadn’t been seen for 70 years and was declared extinct in 2000 — and then it was rediscovered in 2011. Following seven years of advocacy by the Center, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently proposed to protect the snail as endangered.
Center for Biological Diversity | Saving Life on Earth
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Photo credits: School lunch via Canva; Tales of the Urban Wild cover courtesy Reverberations Books; Coke bottle graphic used with permission from the Story of Stuff; Blueprint for Sexual and Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice graphic used with permission by Reproductive Blueprint; shopper in thrift store by EmilyBlunt99/Wikimedia Commons; bee with apricot blossoms by Harold Litwiler/Flickr; sea turtle and plastic courtesy Raftography Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii; oblong rocksnail courtesy Alabama Aquatic Biodiversity Center.
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