Waste not, want not… in China

FROM CHINA DAILY

While you often hear Chinese parents tell their kids to notwaste food, the fact is food waste accounts for about 70percent of the country’s mounting garbage production.That’s compared to less than 20 percent in manydeveloped countries, where sorting and processing havebeen the norm since the 1980s. And as China’s waste processing capabilities simply can’t keep pace with theamount of garbage that is being produced, food waste is abigger problem than it might be. “As people’s livesimprove, the catering industry is booming and dietaryhabits are changing, so we’re producing massive amounts of food waste,” Beijing Technology and BusinessUniversity’s Department of Environmental Science and Engineering professor Ren Lianhai says.

“China has a long way to go in terms of better disposal because it lacks a national policy, scientific management and processing methods.”

Beijing was among a slew of local governments to pass regulations in 2011 about trash sorting and food waste disposal, largely because of public concerns about “gutter oil” – cooking oil retrievedfrom drains and sometimes reused by restaurants.

The problem is that governments, NGOs and enterprises are struggling to cook up solutions for kitchen waste disposal and are finding they don’t work or are difficult to implement.

Recipes that are being tried include composting the waste into organic fertilizer using enzymes and earthworms, burning it to create electricity, feeding it to pigs and even using gutter oil as biofuel topower Dutch Airlines’ planes.

“Kitchen waste has become a primary pollution source and imposes serious risks to people’s health and the environment,” Ren says.

Ren, who has studied waste management for more than a decade, explains the dangers of burying kitchen waste in landfills.

China’s food waste is 74 percent water – that’s three times the saturation of US and European kitchen waste. It’s referred to as “wet waste” globally.

The pressure of being buried, combined with the chemical reactions of microbial biodegradation, causes the water to ferment and percolate, forcing hazardous and even carcinogenic sludge toooze out, Ren explains.

And food waste poses sanitation hazards before it even reaches the landfills, he adds.

Take Beijing, for example. The capital’s households produce 11,000 tons of kitchen waste, plus the 2,500 tons that spew out of restaurants, a day. But the municipality’s three large-scale processing plants can only handle 800 tons a day of food waste.

The most common methods of kitchen waste disposal are feeding it to pigs and composting.

While the evidence is inconclusive, many experts worry that turning household kitchen waste intopig slop is dangerous.

Pork is China’s most popular meat and its presence in hog feed creates the risk of homology. Homology is cannibalism among animals that typically don’t eat the meat of their own species in nature and can cause prion infections, such as mad cow disease.

The Ministry of Agriculture has created a panel to study the risks but hasn’t reached a consensus.

Although the practice is common in Japan and South Korea, some of China’s local governments, such as Fujian province‘s Xiamen city, have outlawed it.

Organic composting, though promising, also faces challenges.

Many pilot projects have problems, such as people not sorting their trash, or collectors dumping sorted trash together or waiting too long to pick it up, creating a stench.

“Trash processing is a chain,” Beijing Municipal Commission of City Administration and Environment garbage disposal official Chen Ling says.

“We can’t expect people to sort out kitchen waste if there’s no channel to handle it.”

Ren says the chain’s weak links come from a diffusion of responsibility.

“The dilemma is that experts complain about management, while officials complain about technological deficiencies,” he says.

There are also chemical reasons it’s difficult to compost in China.

Chinese food contains too much oil, especially animal tallow, which coats the waste in a thick cover that seals out oxygen microbes need to biodegrade the waste,” Ren explains.

One solution is to dilute the food waste with other biodegradable trash, such as paper.

Insufficient storage is another problem. Farming is seasonal, but food waste is produced year-round.

And even if there were more storage facilities, compost rots too quickly to last from harvest until the next planting.

In addition, the saltiness of Chinese food means the fertilizer it becomes can make arable landfallow over time, Ren says.

Still, several projects are running that turn kitchen waste into organic fertilizer around the country.

Many NGOs, such as the Fujian Environmental Protection Volunteer Association, exchange organic vegetables for correctly sorted trash.

The produce is grown with the organic fertilizer from their community’s waste, meaning that,theoretically, the melon rind a household throws out can end up back on the family’s table as afresh organic melon.

The association’s founder Zheng Dijian believes it’s all about incentives.

“If people get something out of sorting their garbage, they will,” he says. “If they don’t, they won’t.”

Another kitchen waste use idea being tried out is incineration to create electricity.

Trash in Chaoyang district’s Chaoyang Circular Economy Industrial Zone, in Beijing, iscompressed to wring out the water, left to dry for five days and then incinerated at the 200-hectaresolid waste incineration plant.

About 1,600 tons feed the furnaces a day, creating 220 million kilowatt hours – equivalent to 70,000 tons of coal – annually. About 70 percent of that electricity powers the industrial zone while the restflows into the North China Power System.

But it’s uncertain how – and if – this could work on a nationwide scale.

Ren, who works on a national panel devoted to developing the country’s kitchen waste disposal system, says Beijing’s government plans to build at least one large wet waste processing plant inevery district and county.

The problem is that nobody’s sure what sort of plant they should construct.

The same quandary faces the proposed 100-150 plants to be built nationwide before 2016. Theyshould be able to process a total of up to 30 million tons a year.

“I’m glad to see people are working on this,” Ren says.

“But we still have a long way to go.”

 

 

Waste not, want not 

Waste not, want not 

Waste not, want not 

Waste not, want not 

 

 

 

(China Daily 01/19/2012 page18)

Waste Update : Global hunger for plastic packaging….

 

Plastic bags of gardening supplies fresh produ...
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The Chinese are good at re-using a range of things, but what about humanity in general? The Guardian UK reports  

Five hundred tonnes of Christmas tree lights and at least 25m bags of plastic sweet wrappers, turkey coverings, drinks bottles and broken toys will be thrown away by UK homes this Christmas and new year. But only a tiny proportion of this waste will be recycled.

Even at other times of year, only a little under a quarter of the UK’s plastic waste is recycled, but over the festive period still less escapes the tip according to a survey by home drinks maker SodaStream. Globally,recycling of plastics is even smaller.

The outcome is a belief that the Earth is being slowly strangled by a gaudy coat of impermeable plastic waste that collects in great floating islands in the world’s oceans; clogs up canals and rivers; and is swallowed by animals, birds and sea creatures.

In many parts of the developing world it acts as a near ubiquitous outdoor decoration, along roads in India, around villages in Africa and fluttering off fences across Latin America. And when it is not piling up, it is often burned in the open, releasing noxious smoke.

There are no global figures on the true scale of the problem but, according to PlasticsEurope, the European trade association for plastics manufacturers, 265m tonnes of plastic are produced globally each year. In the UK, about two thirds of this is for packaging; globally, this would translate to 170m tonnes of plastic largely created to be disposed of after one use.

Even at the almost unmatched EU recycling rate of 33%, two thirds of that – or more than 113m tonnes – would end up in landfill, being burned or cluttering up the environment. Such a figure, almost certainly a huge underestimate, would be enough to cover the 48 contiguous states of the US in plastic food wrapping. If the world recycled packaging at the rate the US does, 15%, it would generate more than enough plastic to cover China in plastic wrap. Every year.

A few years ago the UK was seized with worry about plastic bags: communities went “plastic-bag free” and the then prime minister, Gordon Brown, announced he would talk to retailers about phasing them out. In the absence of much change, his successor, David Cameron, recently re-raised the idea of a national levy. In response, the plastics industry argues that the alternatives would be even more wasteful in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

What would a world without plastic look like? Earlier this year, Austria-based environmental consultancy Denkstatt imagined such a world, where farmers, retailers and consumers use wood, tins, glass bottles and jars, and cardboard to cover their goods. It found the mass of packaging would increase by 3.6 times, it would take more than double the energy to make and the greenhouse gases generated would be 2.7 times higher.

To understand this, consider the properties of plastic that make it so attractive: it is durable, flexible, it does not shatter, it can breathe (or not) and it is extremely lightweight. As a result, food and drink are protected from damage and kept for lengths of time previously unimaginable.

The European Packaging and Films Association (Pafa) says average spoilage of food between harvest and table is 3% in the developed world, compared with 50% in developing countries, where plastic pallets, crates, trays, film and bags are not so widespread. Once the food reaches people’s homes, its lifespan is also increased – for a shrinkwrapped cucumber, from two to 14 days.

A less obvious benefit is that, by being much lighter than alternatives, plastic packaging greatly reduces the fuel needed for transport. Because of the huge carbon content of our diets, it is estimated that for every tonne of carbon produced by making plastic, five tonnes is saved, says Barry Turner from Pafa.

A more surprising point is made by Friends of the Earth’s waste campaigner Julian Kirby, who points out that because it is inert in landfill, plastic waste buried in the ground is a counterintuitive way of “sequestering” carbon and so avoiding it adding to global warming and climate change.

This focus on carbon and climate change, however, ignores the very reasons plastic bags and plastic packaging generally first gripped the public imagination – namely that it is such a highly visible result of our throwaway society.

Wales, Ireland and other countries have opted to levy a tax on plastic bags to deter their use but making deeper cuts to plastic waste will need other options too.

Many “ethical” products – from sandwiches to nappy bags – have switched to biodegradable plastics, made either from natural products such as cornstarch or by using an additive that helps break down the plastic. However, Turner suggests this will remain a niche, because the process is expensive and – in his words – is “destroying” a resource that could be recycled.

Recycling plastic is particularly hard because there are so many types and because it is difficult to remove contamination. Increasing recycling is, though, one of the two areas focused on by the plastics industry. It estimates that if every council in the UK operated at the rates achieved by the best local authority for each type of plastic – PET bottles, cartons, trays, bags and so on – the country could raise total plastic recycling from 23% to 45%. “On-the-go” recycling – currently almost nonexistent – also needs to be dramatically improved, said Turner.

To meet its self-imposed target of zero plastic waste to landfill by 2020, however, the industry is largely looking to incineration, which is highly controversial with environment groups and communities, who worry abouthow waste ash is disposed of and breathing in emissions from the plants – despite assurances from the Health Protection Agency that modern plants are not damaging to health.

Greenhouse gas emissions from such plants are also high: equivalent to540g of carbon dioxide (CO²e) per kilowatt hourmore than gas power and more than 100 times that for nuclear.

Instead, environment campaigners want more attention paid to the “waste hierarchy” – reduce, reuse, recycle. To drive this change, the government this month proposed increasing all recycling targets, raising plastics to 50%.

If enforced, that should encourage innovations, such as more food recycling (which research suggests reduces over-purchasing and so the need for packaging), and the recent development of a new dye for black plastic bags which, unlike the traditional compound, can be detected by the automatic sorting machines.

Globally, 47 industry groups have united to fund research to stop plastic getting into the seas. On land, countries could adopt a system used in several European nations where manufacturers are responsible for recovering a percentage of the plastic they make. “The idea of producer responsibility is one that people are most agreed on, but no one’s sure how,” said Kirby.

Source : http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/dec/29/plastic-packaging-waste-solution?intcmp=122

‘Developed’ and ‘developing’… UN close to ban on West’s toxic waste exports

Pile of e-Waste / Electronic waste: A few olde...
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One of the most persistent and insidious pollution problems visited by the West on the developing world has taken a huge step towards a permanent solution this weekend.

 

A UN environmental conference in Cartagena, Colombia, attended by more than 170 countries, has agreed to accelerate a global ban on the export of hazardous waste, including old electronics and discarded computers and mobile phones, from developed to developing countries.

Environmental campaigners, who have been battling to broker a deal on the dumping of toxic waste for more than 20 years, said they were “ecstatic” about this “major breakthrough”.

Kevin Stairs, Greenpeace’s EU chemicals policy director, toldThe Independent on Sunday: “This is a great breakthrough for the environment and human health. Finally, the way forward into forcing developed countries to assume responsibility for their own hazardous waste and stop shipping it to developing countries has been agreed.

“All forms of hazardous waste including that sent for recycling, to obsolete electronic waste, will be banned from leaving wealthy countries destined for developing countries.”

The ban will be introduced when 17 more countries ratify an amendment to the 1989 Basel Convention, a treaty aimed at making nations manage their waste at home. It is expected that this could be achieved in two to five years. More than 50 countries have already ratified it.

The ban was adopted as an amendment to the Convention in 1995, but a disagreement, about how it would be translated in law, left it inactive for years.

Now, after a deal was brokered by Indonesia and Switzerland at the conference, a legal obstacle has been lifted by the 178 parties in attendance.

Jim Puckett, the executive director of the Basel Action Network (BAN), said he was “ecstatic” with the decision: “I’ve been working on this since 1989 and it really does look like the shackles are lifted and we’ll see this thing happen in my lifetime.”

Mr Puckett added that there are no reliable estimates on how many tons of toxic waste are exported as nations do not accurately record or report what they ship abroad.

He said a private US company will, for example, list waste as “exports” when sending them to a developing nation so they can avoid paying taxes and other fees. The UN has estimated that, worldwide, up to 50 million tons of electrical and electronic goods which had come to the end of their lives were being thrown away every year – of which only 10 per cent is recycled – and often end up in landfills in developing countries.

Up to 1.2 million second-hand televisions, refrigerators, washing machines and air conditioners were estimated to have entered the Philippines between 2001 and 2005, and, according to a study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Philippine Board of Investment, 60-70 per cent of it came from Japan.

An investigation by CBS News at a landfill in Manila found an increasing prevalence of tuberculosis among workers and their children, which a doctor treating them attributed to chronic exposure to burning copper from the electrical goods. One community youth leader had brought more than 200 people suffering from TB to a health centre.

The chemical, which coats much of the e-waste burned by the women and children at the dump, polyvinyl chloride plastic, is even more dangerous due to its emission of carcinogenic gases, according to scientists.

A 2008 Greenpeace report found containers of e-waste from Germany, Korea, Switzerland and the Netherlands being opened at Tema harbour, the biggest port in Ghana. The team documented children, most between the age of 11 and 18, but some as young as five, taking the electronic scraps apart with their bare hands, releasing toxic fumes.

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal allows members to ban imports and requires exporters to gain consent before sending toxic materials abroad. But critics say insufficient funds, widespread corruption and the absence of the US as a participant have undermined the convention, leaving millions of poor people exposed to heavy metals, PCBs and other toxins.

The issue took centre stage in 2006 when hundreds of tons of waste were dumped around the Ivory Coast’s main city of Abidjan, reportedly killing at least 10 people and making tens of thousands ill. The waste came from a tanker chartered by the Dutch commodities trading company Trafigura Beheer BV, which had contracted a local company to dispose of it.

China has received global attention over electronic waste export issues since 2002, when environmental groups exposed “egregious” electronics recycling and disposal practices in the city of Guiyu, a place reported by scientists to have the highest levels of cancer-causing dioxins in the world. Scientists found pregnancies in the city to be six times more likely to end in miscarriage, with seven out of 10 children reported to have too much lead in their blood – a metal which can have irreversible effects on a child’s nervous system.

The US, the world’s top exporter of electronic waste, is among nations that have yet to ratify the original convention. “Unless the US joins the treaty they are just going to be a renegade,” Mr Puckett said, adding that the US has no rules for exporting electronic waste, which it sends mostly to China but also to Africa and Latin America.

Mr Puckett said shipping companies had opposed their inclusion in the ban, wanting to keep sending old ships to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to scrap them. “Earlier this week another six people died on the beaches of Bangladesh,” he said.

The global ban has been strongly backed by African countries, China, Colombia and the EU, which already prohibits toxic exports. Opponents have been led by Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, and recently joined by India, said Mr Puckett.

While it is illegal in Britain to export hazardous waste to other countries, the Environment Agency, who has its own crime team looking into the matter, said there are 11 ongoing investigations into illegal shipments abroad. One case is due to be tried tomorrow at Basildon Crown Court.

Source : http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/un-close-to-ban-on-wests-toxic-waste-exports-2374685.html

Recycling – Is Coke for real?

The Guardian reports Last week, in a bid to get a big green tick, Coca-Cola unveiled an advert campaign urging recycling. http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/sep/21/green-marketing-lucy-barrett

Call me cynical, but:  

* Are these corporations merely jumping on the ‘environmental/sustainability’ bandwagon, so customers will continue to buy/buy more of their goods and services?

* Reports suggest that we cannot cope with the waste we produce

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/8157745.stm and http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/kitchen-bin-war-tackling-the-food-waste-mountain-1698753.html

* With others saying it is working ‘Waste not: recession leads to big drop in amount of rubbish we are throwing away’ http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/waste-not-recession-leads-to-big-drop-in-amount-of-rubbish-we-are-throwing-away-1682289.html

* Putting things into recycling is one thing, but unless these recycled items can then actually be ‘re-used’ , recycling would become a process without an end – or purpose.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for recycling and education thereof. But why not take a leaf out of the African book and follow countries like Kenya have goods – including Coke if you must buy it – in re-sellable ‘glass bottles’!   

These giant corporations might respond by saying that they acknowledge waste is a huge problem and ”at least they are trying’.  

But is it all lip service?

 

Some links (see also Resources):

http://www.wasteconnect.co.uk/ recyclin database

http://www.wasteonline.org.uk/resources/InformationSheets/Glass.htm glass  recycling

http://www.recyclingglass.co.uk/ 

http://www.britglass.org.uk/Education/Recycling.html

 

 

The Story: Coca-Cola’s green marketing falls flat

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/sep/21/green-marketing-lucy-barrett

The soft drink giant’s move shows that sustainability is back on the marketing and advertising agenda, and there are two key events coming up that will propel the issue to the fore – the UN climate change conference in December, where a new worldwide treaty on global warming will be set out; and the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC), the British government’s mandatory CO2 emissions trading scheme, which comes into force next April.

Many brands will be forced to take significant steps to reducing carbon emissions; and to do so, companies will have to remove some choices from their customers such as plastic bags, packaging, posted statements etc. So they will have to find ways to explain why. Brands that get their messages right, using language that keeps customers on board, stand to win.

But it’s not easy to sound sincere when you haven’t bothered in the past. Take car companies: they will now have to tell us not just to use their product less, but also to drive slower. The same applies to many utility companies, which love telling us they are greener than their competitors but have yet to prove their sincerity. But while there are quite a few cases of advertising as green washing, some brands are doing meaningful things. The best example is Marks & Spencer’s Plan A. It has been supported robustly throughout the recession, making it more credible to the public. It is an initiative driven from the top – by M&S’s chairman Stuart Rose.

This brings us back to Coke’s Keep It Going – Recycle, which I think belongs in the insincere category. The company has clearly not thrown money at this campaign and it shows. The ad resembles something my local council could have knocked up. Coke should be leading the way, finding a creative way to encourage consumers to cut their carbon footprints, not just paying lip service.