Modern life is rubbish

How your leftovers and not-so-compostable coffee cups are destroying the planet, and some ways we might be able to put it back together again.

Over the last few months I’ve been a bit busier than usual, working a lot but also growing a tiny human. So, before I go on maternity leave, here’s a highlights reel of some stories you might have missed:

Modern life is (literal) rubbish

That compostable coffee cup you picked up on the way to work? For The Observer, I discovered that, in all likelihood, it’s going to landfill where it won’t ever become compost. The problem is that while most of these plant-based plastics can be composted in the right kind of industrial facility, they almost never get there. 

But there is some good news. For BBC Future I wrote about how, if we can figure out how to get them to the right place, compostable plastics could be part of the answer to our food waste problem

On the topic of food waste, I also added up how much those leftovers you threw out yesterday contributed to climate change before they even reached your plate. The headline figure is that, if we stopped wasting food altogether, we’d cut our carbon emissions as a planet by 8%. But the exciting thing is that this is one area where households can make a big difference individually: about half of food waste in Europe is our fault. 

Luckily, my special skill is coming up with meals made out of whatever needs using up from the fridge. If you reply to this email with what you have, I will send you an idea for what you should make for dinner.

And finally… anyone who has aquired a taste for oat and other plant-based milks will be pleased to know that probably all of them – even notorious water-hogger almond milk – are better for the environment than dairy.

When causality breaks

My first New Scientist cover story came out in January and is about the mind-melting idea that, in the quantum realm, cause doesn’t necessarily come before effect

The further into the reporting I got on this, the more it started to seem like the kind of idea someone should have had already. After all, nothing else in the quantum world appears to works the same way it does elsewhere, so why would causality? There’s still some experimental confirmation needed, but the idea that cause and effect could be in a superposition just like other properties is a tantalising prospect that could have implications for quantum gravity and beyond.

Also, I am totally framing this one to point to if anyone ever mentions the phrase “baby brain” around me. 

How to feed a planet

Over the last few months I’ve been spending some time at BBC Future, among other things commissioning and editing a series on the future of food and farming. 

Some of the stories already out include how farming in forests could help sustain the planet and save trees from the axe, how we’re destroying the nomad bees that pollinate our crops (including all those almonds that go into your almond milk), and how food’s plastic problem goes beyond the supermarket shelf to farms themselves.


Ethiopia’s strange volcanic landscapes are irresistible to scientists (and tourists) (Atlas Obscura)

How long space voyages could mess with our minds (BBC Future)

Amazon Prime Video is full of dodgy documentaries pushing dangerous cancer 'cures' (Wired UK)

The power of music: Vicky McClure's dementia choir (BBC Stories)

Why people’s misperceptions about climate change, vaccinations are so hard to shake (Horizon)

Haider Warraich: ‘We do everything in our modern lifestyle to hurt the heart’ (The Observer)

I’m going to be taking six months or so off starting soon, so this newsletter won’t be back in your inbox until later in the year (or maybe next year given my track record).

Until then, you can say hi at @kahoakes, or if you truly want to read EVERYTHING I’ve written in the past year, you can find that list at

– Kelly

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