A pilot experience with a constructed wetland

A pilot experience with a constructed wetland

Aquamundam project was briefly introduced in the previous chapter of this constructed wetland series. CARTIF is currently participating in the pilot setting and analysis within Aquamundam project.

One of the main approved actions in this cross-border project is the restoration and optimization of a constructed wetland in Flores de Ávila, a small municipality in Castilla y León. This waste water treatment system allows the flow of purified wastewater back to the river Trabancos, with enough quality as not to modify the native ecosystem.

The building of this constructed wetland is framed in one of the pilot actions defined in Aquamundam Project, and it is being developed by Confederación Hidrográfica del Duero and CARTIF, both partners of the project consortium.

This activity has the aim of demonstrating that the proposed solution (the constructed wetland in this particular case) effectively improves the efficient integral water management. This demonstrative pilot experience will allow constructed wetlands introduction as a natural strategy for diversifying wastewater treatment technologies and will check its application for emergent contaminants in urban wastewater at the same time that could provide other environmental advantages in the selected sensitive locations.

The new installation will be a submerged surface flow constructed wetland with five different plant species sited in 10 cells separated by a sheet of water. 5 cells will be seeded with Phragamites australis, and the other 5 cells will be in parallel to the first 5 with different plant species for the analysis of the wastewater treatment effectiveness of the two different configurations and the various species.

This purification system will be supplied with caudalimeters for measuring the input and output flow of water and evapotranspiration and, furthermore, a weather station to collect climate data during the pilot working time.

During the project development, physico-chemical and microbiological data will be collected and analyzed. Monitoring of each cell will allow testing the effect of plant biodiversity over microbial communities responsible for wastewater treatment. Finally, metabolic activity and bacterial species effect over priority and emergent contaminants removal will be assessed.

These tasks will permit information gathering about this wastewater treatment usefulness as an integrated solution in a natural ecosystem.  The location of the pilot was chosen in order to demonstrate that constructed wetlands could be integrated in ecosystems with extreme weather conditions, especially considering raining patterns. The area near river Trabancos is affected by the seasonality of its flow, due to drought and flood periods in the river channel. This river hosts the endemic species Achondrostoma arcasii (vermillion), and the study of this species evolution will be a key indicator of this wastewater treatment integration in the natural environment.

Plastic planet

Plastic planet

Oceans have become plastic soups and garbage patch, where 8 millions of tonnes of plastic are discharged every year and consequently remains floating in the seas, moreover tonnes of this material are accumulated in dumps. Plastic gets to forests, rivers and are found in the farthest nooks of the planet.

This residue in which we are drowning and for what we are the only responsible ends up in the environment through different ways but the origin is always the same, the unnecessary and excessive use that humanity has made of this material since it was popularized in the 50’s.

Our life has been overrun by plastic, we use it daily and in every activity (clothes, kitchen, cleanliness…). In many cases, plastic is necessary and difficult to replace, but other times it is unnecessary and a sustainable alternative which does not jeopardize the environment exists.

More and more people are aware of the problem that this waste represents, and claim for a radical change that involve management and government policies, but also a lifestyle change, from the production to the way we consume. Several initiatives are being launched by collectives and individuals to encourage responsible and sustainable consumption, respectful with the planet.

The same though has crossed everones minds’ when our trash bins fill to overflowing everyday and nobody wants to contribute to this squander and unnecessary use of plastics. One of the most ridiculous uses is the fresh food plastic packaging, being very striking in fruits and vegetables. Is it necessary to protect with trays and plastics oranges, bananas, onions, etc? NO, their skins and peels are the best protection they have against spoilage. Have we become so lazy not to peel garlic, cut a tomato in half or an apple in dices so that these products have to be over-wrapped this way? (Real examples view in supermarkets)

This same consideration was launched in the Spanish blog “La Hipótesis de Gaia” some months ago, by Isa its author, who proposed making photos of fruits and vegetables with ridiculous plastic packaging under the hashtag #desnudalafruta (“nake the fruit”) and spread them through social media. Other similar actions with the same aim are #BreakFreeFromPlastic or #RidiculousPlastic.

“Plastic attack” is a kind of organized event where angry customers, after taking and paying for groceries in shops, free them from plastic packaging, put every waste together in fully trolleys and give them back to supermarkets with the only aim of showing that food can be bought without creating waste.

But the first step for reducing plastic waste is the self thinking, being aware of the use and overuse that we make of plastic and avoiding buying unnecessary things or purchasing non contaminant alternatives. Groceries in bulk, cloth bags for shopping, not to use disposable plastics searching others options. We can start saying goodbye to disposable cutlery and straws, plastic containers, bottled water, etc. ..we already have more sustainable and less contaminant options available in the market. This initiative is a good example.

However, some plastics are difficult to replace, or it doesn’t exist an alternative nowadays. In this case, R&D is taking the initiative to the development of bioplastics, polymers that come from natural resources and which are biodegradable.

Bioplastics are produced from biomass, agricultural by-products or even from used plastic bottles and other containers. These materials are processed by microorganisms and through their fermentation they are converted in monomers that will be used to obtain new polymers like PLA and PHA (polilactic acid, and polihidroxialcanoate acid) from which all kind of products can be made: packages, bags, plastic films, etc.

This kind of material is a promising alternative to fossil-fuel plastics so they are biodegradable and they are derived from renewable raw materials. Current research and new technologies are allowing getting bioplastics with the same properties and applications that the plastic obtained from fossil-fuel sources.

In short, research in new plastics and in more environmentally friendly processes will be our allies to make a planet more sustainable, but only if they are accompanied by a change in our lifestyle, being more responsible in our consuming way and in our relationship with the environment.

There’s a bug in my pantry!

There’s a bug in my pantry!

Everybody has lived something like this. Open the pantry, take a packet of rice, flour or pasta and… insect! We find out that our foods are infected with bugs.

Insect contamination of stored food is a very annoying and worrying problem for consumers and for food companies. It involves high losses of raw materials and stored products, giving room to huge economic losses and damaging the image of the brand.

These animals are not pathogenic and do not represent a health problem for consumers, but the contaminated packet is discarded directly blaming the manufacturer, even without being responsible in the most cases.

The contaminating insects of stored products are diverse and attacks multitude of food: flour, rice, nuts, dried fruit, bread, cookies, pasta, etc. In Europe, there are approximately 300 million tons of grains which run the risk of contamination by pests during post-harvest treatment, storage and then, in food companies facilities (Stesjakl, V. 2014)

Raw materials and food companies face a big problem trying to control and remove of their facilities these arthropods, which find in silos and warehouse the perfect place to feed and reproduce.  Companies use different methods of food insect contamination prevention, control and elimination in all their processes, in order to ensure that their products are free from any contamination. In addition, they must pass rigorous audits in which each process and corner of their factories are reviewed for this purpose.

However, once products leave the factory, the control over is very difficult. These insects live to feed and reproduce, so looking for food is their priority. Contamination by insects is much more susceptible during the transport process, during storage and at homes, despite all the measures.

These arthropods have an exceptional sense of smell and they are able to smell the food through packaging and packages, so they introduce themselves by any small hole or crack of the package. Besides, they are able to drill paper, cardboard and all kind of plastics (penetrator insects). For this reason, the R&D departments of food businesses, and research centers with which they work, are constantly innovating their packaging and seeking alternatives to improve them and make them more resistant to bugs.

As consumers, we must look at the supermarket if the packages have some sign of being damaged and, at home, we have to keep products in glass or metal. In addition, if we find out in our pantry some infected package, we must remove all products that may have been contaminated and proceed to clean it thoroughly.

From the point of view of researching, due to the increasing restrictions on the use of insecticides, such as methyl bromide or phosphine, they are conducting studies to replace these methods by others technologies less harmful and more friendly with environment, such as the use of pheromones or the use of extreme temperatures for cleaning and control plants.

In relation to packages, advances are aimed at the incorporation of repellent substances to deter insects attack. Last trials are aimed at the use of essential oil which, encapsulated and polyvinyl alcohol, could be printed as an ink onto polypropylene film and used as packaging material repellent to insects (Jo Hean-Joo, 2015)

With all these advances, it will be difficult to say ‘there is a bug in my pantry!’

All that glitters is not gold

All that glitters is not gold

We cannot speak about Mediterranean diet without the presence of olive oil in our dishes. This fruit juice plays an essential role in the gastronomy of our country.

Extra virgin olive oil, virgin olive oil, olive oil, olive-pomace oil…all of these products are obtained from olives, each one of them has their characteristics, but what differentiates one from another and how we can choose it?

The process of olive oil production, physico-chemical parameters and in the case of virgin oils, the sensory quality (evaluated with an expert taster panel) are used to classify the olive oil.

If we speak about tasting or sensory analysis of a product, it can think and not without reason, in a subjective process and under many errors in their implementation, ambiguous or subject to interpretation expressions. But sensory analysis is a scientific discipline used to evaluate the organoleptic characteristics of food, and it has been used for many years like a method to measure, analyze and understand human reactions to the organoleptic characteristics of food by the senses. Data from a sensory analysis are evaluated by a panel of tasters trained for it and are statistically treated in order to minimize errors and make objective results.

In the case of tasting olive oil for classification as extra virgin olive oil, virgin oil or lamp oil, it is carried out by a panel of experts, which will also be authorized by bodies of the member states, to carry out official control of the country.

The tasting test is carried out under a specific regulation developed by the International Olive Oil Council, in which the tasters follow a profile sheet with positive attributes and some negative attributes that are valued on a scale of 10 cm. The tasting test is carried out in a glass for oil specific and the oil samples shall be kept in the glasses at 28ºC±2ºC throughout the test, this temperature has been chosen because it makes it easier to observe organoleptic differences than at ambient temperature.

In the method for the organoleptic assessment are detailed the number of samples, amount of oil, explanation of vocabulary, etc.. to assessing the virgin olive oil.

The positive attributes that are valued in oil are fruity, bitter and pungent, these attributes will depend on the variety of olive, the degree of maturity of the same, and the time they have been harvested.

The negative attributes are determined by the following attributes:

1. Fusty/muddy sediment Characteristic flavour of oil obtained from olives piled or stored in such conditions as to have undergone an advanced stage of anaerobic fermentation, or of oil which has been left in contact with the sediment that settles in underground tanks and vats and which has also undergone a process of anaerobic fermentation.

2. Musty-humid-earthy Characteristic flavour of oils obtained from fruit in which large numbers of fungi and yeasts have developed as a result of its being stored in humid conditions for several days or of oil obtained from olives that have been collected with earth or mud on them and which have not been washed.

3. Winey-vinegary. Characteristic flavour of certain oils reminiscent of wine or vinegar.

4. Acid-sour. This flavour is mainly due to a process of aerobic fermentation in the olives or in olive paste left on pressing mats which have not been properly cleaned.

5. Rancid Flavour of oils which have undergone an intense process of oxidation.

6. Frostbitten olives. (wet wood) Characteristic flavour of oils extracted from olives which have been injured by frost while on the tree.

On the same tab tasting the taster may indicate other negative attributes such as a heated or burnt, hay-wood, rough, greasy, vegetable water, brine, metallic, esparto, grubby and/or cucumber.

To be considered extra virgin, the oil shall not have any defect and the fruity attribute must be greater than 0; if the oil has a defect (less than 3.5 on the scale) and the median of the fruity attribute is above 0, would become a virgin oil; and if the oil was very defective in sensory quality is classified as lampante virgin olive oil and should be refined for consumption.

In most cases as consumers, we will not be able to distinguish all of these attributes, but it’s all about training your palate, have good sensory memory and taste, taste and taste different oils. And whenever we want to enjoy quality oil, choose an extra virgin olive oil, where we can appreciate the variety of olive, the time of harvest the fruit, nuances of smells and flavors of the harvested area. Not all olive oils are the same … taste, let’s try and enjoy the liquid gold.

Delicious, and safe raw milk?

Delicious, and safe raw milk?

Surely many of you have as childhood memory go shopping with your parents to buy fresh milk from farm or the nearest village, or even remembers the van of milkman that went selling the milk in jugs by the streets. This flavour, the cream was left on the surface after boiling at home and what good this cream was to prepare delicious pastries!

In Spain the direct supply by the producer of small quantities of raw milk to the final consumer or to local retail establishments that supply directly to consumers is prohibited, according to Royal Decree 640/2006.

But meanwhile the AECOSAN (Spanish Agency of Consumer Affairs, Food Security and Nutrition) is considering the possibility of amending Royal Decree 640/2006, so that by 2015 it requested the Scientific Committee to report on the microbiological risks associated with the consumption of milk raw and processed dairy products made from raw milk. The report by the Scientific Committee gathered concretely aspects:

  1. The sale of raw milk and cream
  2. The production of cheese more than 60 days with raw milk that does not meet the criteria somatic cell and total germs
  3. The applicable requirements colostrum.

However, the sale of raw milk and cream in Spain intended for direct human consumption is not limited or prohibited, if all the requirements of Regulation (EC) No 852/2004 and Regulation (EC) No 853/2004 are achieved.

Therefore, currently in Spain we can find places to buy raw milk, in fact the trend for “natural is healthier” and other trends have increased the sale of this product. In Spain 42 tons of raw milk were consumed in 2013 (1.2% of all milk consumed), according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment. In the United States these trends are much higher, and there are lobby groups that promote the consumption of raw milk and dairy products, but is it safe drinking raw milk?

According to European Union (EU) legislation, “raw milk” is defined as milk produced by the secretion of the mammary gland of farmed animals that has not been heated to more than 40 °C or undergone any treatment that has an equivalent effect. Therefore, when it comes to raw milk consumption we refer to milk without any treatment, not even if we purchased raw milk and it is boiled by us in our home, and by the way, it is made at the discretion of each one.

Milk is a rich in nutrients, high water activity and with proper pH for growth of microorganisms, both microorganisms beneficial (species of the genera Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, Enterococcus) as pathogens (the most common organisms Salmonella spp., Campylobacter spp., Escherichia coli, Yersinia enterocolitica, Listeria monocytogenes and Staphylococcus aureus, but also viruses, parasites and food toxins) and this is where it runs a risk when consuming raw milk or products made from it.

Raw milk, contrary to what many people think, is not sterile, and may be the vehicle for the transmission of various diseases, some of them very serious depending on the state of health of the affected person or the moment of the life (children, pregnant women, ageing people, immunocompromised persons, etc.). Potential pathogens are not eliminated because does not exist a heat treatment, and may have reached the milk by a systemic infection of animals, or mastitis thereof (udder infection), addition during milking and subsequent distribution there is a risk contamination and deterioration thereof.

Treatments like pasteurization (heating for a specified time at temperatures below 100 ºC) or sterilization (higher than 100 ºC for a given time), allow us to have in our homes safe milk for our consumption, killing vegetative forms in first case and vegetative and spore forms the second.

The movements and groups advocating the consumption of raw milk, recommend its use without any heat treatment, even for children, arguing that the milk itself is safe, and they rely on the control of livestock and good practices. They also believe that raw milk is able to prevent allergies and intolerances. Neither pasteurization or sterilization determine allergy or intolerance to milk, milk either raw, pasteurized or sterilized is not suitable for people who have intolerance to lactose.

Processing operations of milk have influence in their organoleptic quality, and some flavors and tastes that have raw milk are lost during these operations, mainly due to the process of homogenization of fat, rather than processes heat to make it safe for its consumption.

The technology of food processes has allowed over the years to provide safe and affordable food to consumers. In the case of milk may we yearn for the taste of milk, their original taste, but if we do a real analysis of the risks of drinking raw milk without any treatment not worth playing roulette with a glass of raw milk… even if it is yummy.