Energy Access to Refugees

refugee-camp-energyThere is a strong link between the serious humanitarian situation of refugees and lack of access to sustainable energy resources. According to a 2015 UNCHR report, there are more than 65.3 million displaced people around the world, the highest level of human displacement ever documented. Access to clean and affordable energy is a prerequisite for sustainable development of mankind, and refugees are no exception. Needless to say, almost all refugee camps are plagued by fuel poverty and urgent measure are required to make camps livable.

Usually the tragedy of displaced people doesn’t end at the refugee camp, rather it is a continuous exercise where securing clean, affordable and sustainable energy is a major concern. Although humanitarian agencies are providing food like grains, rice and wheat; yet food must be cooked before serving. Severe lack of modern cook stoves and access to clean fuel is a daily struggle for displaced people around the world. This article will shed some light on the current situation of energy access challenges being faced by displaced people in refugee camps.

Why Energy Access Matters?

Energy is the lifeline of our modern society and an enabler for economic development and advancement. Without safe and reliable access to energy, it is really difficult to meet basic human needs. Energy access is a challenge that touches every aspect of the lives of refugees and negatively impacts health, limits educational and economic opportunities, degrades the environment and promotes gender discrimination issues. Lack of energy access in refugee camps areas leads to energy poverty and worsen humanitarian conditions for vulnerable communities and groups.

Energy Access for Cooking

Refugee camps receive food aid from humanitarian agencies yet this food needs to be cooked before consumption. Thus, displaced people especially women and children take the responsibility of collecting firewood, biomass from areas around the camp. However, this expose women and minors to threats like sexual harassments, danger, death and children miss their opportunity for education. Moreover, depleting woods resources cause environmental degradation and spread deforestation which contributes to climate change. Moreover, cooking with wood affects the health of displaced people.

Access to efficient and modern cook stove is a primary solution to prevent health risks, save time and money, reduce human labour and combat climate change. However, humanitarian agencies and host countries can aid camp refugees in providing clean fuel for cooking because displaced people usually live below poverty level and often host countries can’t afford connecting the camp to the main grid. So, the issue of energy access is a challenge that requires immediate and practical solutions. A transition to sustainable energy is an advantage that will help displaced people, host countries and the environment.

Energy Access for Lighting

Lighting is considered as a major concern among refugees in their temporary homes or camps. In the camps life almost stops completely after sunset which delays activities, work and studying only during day time hours. Talking about two vulnerable groups in the refugees’ camps “women and children” for example, children’s right of education is reduced as they have fewer time to study and do homework. For women and girls, not having light means that they are subject to sexual violence and kidnapped especially when they go to public restrooms or collect fire woods away from their accommodations.

Rationale For Sustainable Solutions

Temporary solutions won’t yield results for displaced people as their reallocation, often described as “temporary”, often exceeds 20 years. Sustainable energy access for refugees is the answer to alleviate their dire humanitarian situation. It will have huge positive impacts on displaced people’s lives and well-being, preserve the environment and support host communities in saving fuel costs.  Also, humanitarian agencies should work away a way from business as usual approach in providing aid, to be more innovative and work for practical sustainable solutions when tackling energy access challenge for refugee camps.

UN SDG 7 – Energy Access

The new UN SDG7 aims to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”. SDG 7 is a powerful tool to ensure that displaced people are not left behind when it comes to energy access rights. SDG7 implies on four dimensions: affordability, reliability, sustainability and modernity. They support and complete the aim of SDG7 to bring energy and lightening to empower all human around the world. All the four dimensions of the SDG7 are the day to day challenges facing displaced people. The lack of modern fuels and heavy reliance on primitive sources, such as wood and animal dung leads to indoor air pollution.

Energy access touches every aspect of life in refugee camps

Energy access touches every aspect of life in refugee camps

For millions of people worldwide, life in refugee camps is a stark reality. Affordability is of concern for displaced people as most people flee their home countries with minimum possessions and belongings so they rely on host countries and international humanitarian agencies on providing subsidized fuel for cooking and lightening. In some places, host countries are itself on a natural resources stress to provide electricity for people and refugees are left behind with no energy access resources. However, affordability is of no use if the energy provision is not reliable (means energy supply is intermittent).

Parting Shot

Displaced people need a steady supply of energy for their sustenance and economic development. As for the sustainability provision, energy should produce a consistent stream of power to satisfy basic needs of the displaced people. The sustained power stream should be greater than the resulted waste and pollution which means that upgrading the primitive fuel sources used inside the camp area to the one of modern energy sources like solar energy, wind power, biogas and other off-grid technologies.

For more insights please read this article Renewable Energy in Refugee Camps 

Solid Waste Management in Pakistan

Karachi-Garbage-DumpSolid waste management situation in Pakistan is a matter of grave concern as more than 5 million people to die each year due to waste-related diseases. In Pakistan roughly 20 million tons of solid waste is generated annually, with annual growth rate of about 2.4 percent. Karachi, largest city in the country, generates more than 9,000 tons of municipal waste daily. All major cities, be it Islamabad, Lahore or Peshawar, are facing enormous challenges in tackling the problem of urban waste. The root factors for the worsening garbage problem in Pakistan are lack of urban planning, infrastructure, public awareness and endemic corruption.

Contributing Factors

Being the 6th most populated country in the world; there is a lot of consumerism and with it a great deal of waste being produced. Like other developing countries, waste management sector in Pakistan is plagued by a wide variety of social, cultural, legislative and economic issues.  In the country, more waste is being produced than the number of facilities available to manage it. Some of the major problems are:

  • There is no proper waste collection system
  • Waste is dumped on the streets
  • Different types of waste are not collected separately
  • There are no controlled sanitary landfill sites
  • Citizens are not aware of the relationship between reckless waste disposal and resulting environmental and public health problems

As a result of these problems, waste is accumulating and building up on roadsides, canals, and other common areas and burning trash is common, causing hazardous toxins to be exposed thereby threatening human and environmental health. Among the already few landfill sites that are present, even fewer are in operation. Even within Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, there are no permanent landfills to be found. The waste on the roads allows for an ideal environment for various flies to thrive which effects both human health and the health of the environment for other species. The poor solid waste management in Pakistan has caused numerous diseases and environmental problems to rise.

Waste Management Situation in Lahore

In Lahore, the capital of Punjab and the second largest city in Pakistan, there are currently no controlled waste disposal facilities are formal recycling systems, though roughly 27% of waste (by weight) is recycled through the informal sector, Lahore does not have very high performing governmental management in the waste management situation. Instead, the City District Government Lahore established the Lahore Waste Management Company and left the responsibility of the Solid Waste Management in Lahore to them. Beginning in 2011, Lahore Waste Management Company strives to develop a system of SWM that ensures productive collection, recovery, transportation, treatment and disposal of the waste in Lahore.

Lahore Waste Management Company (LWMC) has over 10,000 field workers involved in waste collection and disposal. Though the LWMC is working in phases, 100% collection rates are not seen yet. Lahore currently only has three disposal sites which are no more than dumps, where illegal dumping and trash burning is common. However, there is some resource recovery taking place. It is estimated that 27% of dry recyclables are informally recycled within the city. Additionally a compost plant converts 8% of waste into compost.

In general, the governance over the Waste Management in Lahore is hardly present. Though there are current projects and plans taking place, by the Lahore Waste Management Company for example, in order to achieve a productive and sustainable system in the city it is necessary for all service providers (formal, private, and informal) to take part in decisions and actions.

Current Activities and Projects

According to the United Nations Environment Program, there are six current activities and plans taking place towards an efficient Waste Management System. These current activities are as follows:

  • Solid Waste Management Guidelines (draft) prepared with the support of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Japan.
  • Converting waste agricultural biomass into energy/ material source – project by UNEP, IETC Japan.
  • North Sindh Urban Services Corporation Limited (NSUSC) – Assisting the district government in design and treatment of water supply, sanitation and solid waste management
  • The URBAN UNIT, Urban Sector Policy & Management Unit P & D Department, Punjab. Conducting different seminars on awareness of waste water, sanitation & solid waste management etc.
  • Lahore Compost (Pvt.) Ltd. only dealing with the organic waste with the cooperation of city district government Lahore, Pakistan. The company is registered as a CDM project with UNFCCC.
  • Different NGOs are involved at small scale for solid waste collection, and recycling.

Additionally, in November 2013 a German company, agreed to invest in the installation of a 100 megawatt power plant which generates energy from waste from Lahore. Progress is being made on the country’s first scientific waste disposal site in Lakhodair. With this in mind, the Lahore Waste Management Company considered other possible technologies for their Waste-to-Energy project. They opened up applications for international companies to hire as the official consultant for LWMC and their project. The results of the feasibility study results showed that the power plant has the potential to process 1035 tons of municipal waste daily, and generate 550 megawatt electricity daily.

The Way Forward

Although SWM policies do exist, the levels at which they are implemented and enforced lack as a result of the governmental institutions lacking resources and equipment. These institutions are primarily led by public sector workers and politicians who are not necessarily the most informed on waste management. For improvements in municipal solid waste management, it is necessary for experts to become involved and assist in the environmental governance.

Due to the multiple factors contributing to the solid waste accumulation, the problem has become so large it is beyond the capacity of municipalities. The former director of the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Dr. Mirza Arshad Ali Beg, stated, “The highly mismanaged municipal solid waste disposal system in Pakistan cannot be attributed to the absence of an appropriate technology for disposal but to the fact that the system has a lot of responsibility but no authority.” Laws and enforcement need to be revised and implemented. The responsibility for future change is in the hands of both the government, and the citizens.

Waste practices in the Pakistan need to be improved. This can start with awareness to the public of the health and environment impacts that dumped and exposed waste causes. It is imperative for the greater public to become educated, have a change in attitude and take action.

References

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/08/solid-waste-pakistan-karachi-2014867512833362.html

http://www.iamcivilengineer.com/2014/04/solid-waste-disposal-and-collection.html

http://epd.punjab.gov.pk/solid_waste

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/08/solid-waste-pakistan-karachi-2014867512833362.html

http://www.unep.org/gpwm/InformationPlatform/CountryNeedsAssessmentAnalysis/Pakistan/tabid/106536/Default.aspx

http://www.iamcivilengineer.com/2014/04/solid-waste-disposal-and-collection.html

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/264629066_An_assessment_of_the_current_municipal_solid_wastemanagement_system_in_Lahore_Pakistan

http://www.lwmc.com.pk/about-us.php

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/264629066_An_assessment_of_the_current_municipal_solid_wastemanagement_system_in_Lahore_Pakistan

http://www.unep.org/ietc/Portals/136/Events/ISWM%20GPWM%20Asia%20Pacific%20Workshop/Pakistan_Presentation.pdf

http://www.dawn.com/news/1081689

http://www.lwmc.com.pk/waste-to-energy.php

http://www.unep.org/gpwm/InformationPlatform/CountryNeedsAssessmentAnalysis/Pakistan/tabid/106536/Default.aspx

http://thinkbrigade.org/asia/pakistan-waste-management/index.html

Peeping into the Future of Waste

Waste management is an important tool for curbing climate change and for keeping our environment clean and healthy. Methane generated from biodegradable wastes is a powerful greenhouse gas, and when it’s not captured and used as a fuel it contributes to rapid warming of the atmosphere. Estimates suggest that biodegradable waste in dump sites and uncapped landfill sites are contributing far more methane to the atmosphere than previously thought. What’s more, urban food waste is predicted to increase by 44% from 2005 to 2025, and with no proper management in place, will significantly add to global greenhouse gas emissions.

Worryingly, 38 of the world’s 50 largest dumps are close to the sea, contributing to marine and coastal pollution. The accumulation of plastics in the marine food chain is causing global concern. While we don’t yet know how to clean the oceans, stemming the flow of waste into marine environments would be a step in the right direction.

Wasted health

40% of the world’s waste ends up in open dumps. These aren’t even what you’d call “landfill”. They don’t have any impervious lining to prevent noxious leachate from entering the surrounding environment, nor are they capped to prevent the spread of disease. In fact, in India, the Philippines and Indonesia, the health risk from open dumping of waste is greater than the risk of malaria[i].

3.5 billion people in the world lack access to proper waste management. That figure is expected to grow to 5 billion by 2050. Respiratory diseases, gastrointestinal diseases and occupational health risks add to the misery experienced by the 50,000+ people living from open dumps.

Waste is any material that is no longer wanted for its original purpose. The owner doesn’t have a need for it, and so discards it. Even valuable items can and do end up as waste purely because someone has thrown them away. The recent (and rather brilliant) BBC programme Hugh’s War on Waste shone the spotlight on attitudes towards disposable fashion. A look through the bins of a typical street uncovered a startling amount of clothing that had been thrown away, despite it still being in perfectly good condition. This highlights a simple fact: there is plenty of value in waste.

  • Estimates suggest there are 40 million people globally who are making their living from waste – half of these are working informally.
  • During the last recession in the UK, the waste management sector was one of the only industries to keep growing, resulting in it being termed the “Green Star of the Economy”.
  • Showing people how to turn a waste stream into something valuable isn’t rocket science. There are lots of examples of informal, community-based, grassroots recycling and upcycling projects that generate wealth for the poorest in society.
  • Internet is allowing simple waste processing techniques to be replicated all over the world, and helping make that information accessible is one of the most fulfilling aspects of my career.

Business skills

“Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day. Show a man how to fish and he can eat for the rest of his life.” Teaching people how to make valuable products from waste is important. But just as important, is passing on the business skills to be able to identify a market, factor in costs, check out the competition, market their products and run a successful business.

Development work in the waste arena needs to address both sides of the coin, and in doing so will enable people to start up their own businesses, in their own communities, and generate wealth organically. That’s far more valuable than delivering aid in a ready-made package (which incidentally rarely works – there’s a great TED Talk on this topic by Ernesto Sirolli, called “Want to help someone? Shut up and listen”).

Why closing dumps isn’t a silver bullet

The proliferation of megacities, particularly in developing countries, is causing a health crisis. Decent waste management is an indicator of good governance – that is, if a council or government can collect taxes and provide a waste management service, then it most likely isn’t (very) corrupt. However, in many places where corruption or other forms of bad or weak governance prevail, top-down solutions are notoriously difficult to implement.

Often, when the world’s attention turns to an open dump, the government responds by closing it and the journalists go home. This is what happened with Smokey Mountain dumpsite in the Philippines (and many others around the world). All that happens is another open dump emerges nearby, and the scavengers move to the new site.

The problem is that if there is no alternative solution in place, people will discard of their waste in the only ways available – dumping it or burning it; and the poor will follow the waste.

Replacing an open dump with a government-controlled waste management system isn’t a silver bullet either. The losers, again, are the hundreds, and sometimes thousands of men, women and children who live from scavenging from the dump. It may seem horrific to many of us, but the truth is that if you take that opportunity to earn a paltry living away from the poorest in society, they will starve. Solutions need to be inclusive.

Power to the people

To close dump sites, you need to have a workable alternative solution in place. You need to have regular waste collection taking place, and you need somewhere to take it. Building materials recovery facilities alongside existing open dumps is one idea. Informal waste pickers who are currently working in dangerous conditions on the dumpsite can gain employment (or better still, form a cooperative) sorting recyclable materials and reducing the amount of real “waste” that needs to be disposed of.

For example, Wecyclers in Lagos, Nigeria employs people to cycle around collecting recyclable materials from households. In return for their source-separated waste, the householder receives a small reward.

In Bangalore, IGotGarbage has harnessed the power of phone apps to enable people who were previously waste pickers to be called directly to a house to collect the waste materials. Solutions like this work because they continue to provide livelihoods for people, while taking waste off the streets.

The need for appropriate technology

There will always be something left though: the stuff that really has little value other than the energy embodied in it. In industrialised countries, energy-from-waste incinerators have become popular. Seen as a clean alternative to landfill, these facilities burn the waste, release the energy, and convert it into heat, electricity and ash. Some of that ash (from the air pollution control system) still needs to be disposed of in specially-prepared hazardous waste landfill sites. The remainder, being fairly benign, can be used to make concrete building blocks.

However, incinerators are fairly technology-heavy, rendering them unsuitable for many developing country contexts.

A problem that we’ve witnessed is that waste management companies from industrialised nations try to wholesale their technology in developing countries. The technology is usually unaffordable, and even if the capital can be raised to procure a facility, as soon as something breaks down the whole solution can fall apart.

There is a need for information about simple waste processing technologies to become more open-sourced. Smart future-thinking businesses could capitalise on selling blueprints rather than entire prefabricated facilities. Most of the time it’s far cheaper to fabricate something locally, and also means that when something breaks it can be fixed.

The continuing need for landfill

The fact is that in most cases, a standard, lined landfill site with landfill gas capture is still the most appropriate answer for non-recyclable waste. Add to that a well-organised, low-cost waste collection service with source separation of recyclable materials and biodegradable waste, and you have a relatively affordable solution that is better for the climate, better for health, better for the local economy, and contributes to a more sustainable future.

Landfill may seem very unfashionable to those of us who work in the recycling sector, but nevertheless it will remain a necessity both in developed and developing countries for the foreseeable future.

Joining forces and stepping stones

The success of the Sustainable Development Goals and potential Climate Change Agreement depend on developed and developing countries working together. Miguel Arias Cañete, the EU climate commissioner, said the Climate Coalition alliance showed that developed and developing countries could work together with a common interest. “These negotiations are not about them and us. They are about all of us, developed and developing countries, finding common ground and solutions together. We urge other countries to join us. Together we can do it.”

Necessity is the mother of invention, and we are facing a waste crisis of unprecedented proportion. The potential for waste management in reducing GHG emissions has never been more pertinent. Waste and development practitioners, academics and entrepreneurs around the world are working together more and more to help bring about the change we want to see, which will benefit the billions of people suffering from poor waste management, and the rest of us who share a warming planet – and share the burden of climate change and poverty.

By sharing knowledge through platforms such as beWasteWise and ISWA, and through initiatives like WasteAidWASTE and Wiego, we can start making a dent in this very large problem.

No silver bullets, but lots of small stepping stones in the right direction.

Note: The original and unabridged version of the article can be found at this link. Please visit http://zlcomms.co.uk/ for more information about the author.

Green SMEs: Catalyst for Green Economy

Green SMEsWith ‘green’ being the buzzword across all industries, greening of the business sector and development of green skills has assumed greater importance all over the world. SMEs, startups and ecopreneurs are playing a vital role in the transition to a low-carbon economy by developing new green business models for different industrial sectors. Infact, young and small firms are emerging as main drivers of radical eco-innovation in the industrial and services sectors.

What are Green SMEs

Green SMEs adopt green processes and/or those producing green goods using green production inputs. A judicious exploitation of techno-commercial opportunities and redevelopment of business models, often neglected by established companies, have been the major hallmarks of green SMEs. For example, SMEs operating in eco-design, green architecture, renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainability are spearheading the transition to green economy across a wide range of industries. The path to green economy is achieved by making use of production, technology and management practices of green SMEs.

Categories of Green Industries

Environmental Protection Resource Management
Protection of ambient air Water management
Protection of climate Management of forest resources
Wastewater management Management of flora and fauna
Waste management Energy management
Noise and vibration abatement Management of minerals
Protection of biodiversity and landscape Eco-construction
Protection against radiation Natural resource management activities
Protection of soil, groundwater and surface water Eco-tourism
Environmental Monitoring and Instrumentation Organic agriculture
Research and Development Research and Development

Key Drivers

The key motivations for a green entrepreneur are to exploit the market opportunity and to promote environmental sustainability. A green business help in the implementation of innovative solutions, competes with established markets and creates new market niches. Green entrepreneurs are a role model for one and all as they combine environmental performance with market targets and profit outcomes, thus contributing to the expansion of green markets.

Some of the popular areas in which small green businesses have been historically successful are renewable energy production (solar, wind and biomass), smart metering, building retrofitting, hybrid cars and waste recycling.  As far as established green industries (such as waste management and wastewater treatment) are concerned, large companies tend to dominate, however SMEs and start-ups can make a mark if they can introduce innovative processes and systems. Eco-friendly transformation of existing practices is another attractive pathway for SMEs to participate in the green economy.

The Way Forward

Policy interventions for supporting green SMEs, especially in developing nations, are urgently required to overcome major barriers, including knowledge-sharing, raising environmental awareness, enhancing financial support, supporting skill development and skill formation, improving market access and implementing green taxation. In recent decades, entrepreneurship in developing world has been increasing at a rapid pace which should be channeled towards addressing water, energy, environment and waste management challenges, thereby converting environmental constraints into business opportunities.

Solid Waste Management in Nigeria

waste-nigeriaSolid waste management is the most pressing environmental challenge faced by urban and rural areas of Nigeria. Nigeria, with population exceeding 170 million, is one of the largest producers of solid waste in Africa. Despite a host of policies and regulations, solid waste management in the country is assuming alarming proportions with each passing day.

Nigeria generates more than 32 million tons of solid waste annually, out of which only 20-30% is collected. Reckless disposal of MSW has led to blockage of sewers and drainage networks, and choking of water bodies. Most of the wastes is generated by households and in some cases, by local industries, artisans and traders which litters the immediate surroundings. Improper collection and disposal of municipal wastes is leading to an environmental catastrophe as the country currently lack adequate budgetary provisions for the implementation of integrated waste management programmes across the States.

According to the United Nations Habitat Watch, African city populations will more than triple over the next 40 years. African cities are already inundated with slums; a phenomenon that could triple urban populations and spell disaster, unless urgent actions are initiated. Out of the 36 states and a federal capital in the country, only a few have shown a considerable level of resolve to take proactive steps in fighting this scourge, while the rest have merely paid lip services to issues of waste management indicating a huge lack of interest to develop the waste sector.

Scenario in Lagos

Lagos State, the commercial hub of Nigeria, is the second fastest growing city in Africa and seventh in the world.  The latest reports estimate its population to be more than 21million making it the largest city in entire Africa.  With per capita waste generation of 0.5 kg per day, the city generates more than 10,000 tons of urban waste every day.

Despite being a model for other states in the country, municipal waste management is a big challenge for the Lagos State Waste Management Agency (LAWMA) to manage alone, hence the need to engage the services of private waste firms and other franchisee to reduce the burden of waste collection and disposal. One fundamental issue is the delayed collection of household solid waste.  In some cases, the wastes are not collected until after a week or two, consequently, the waste bin overflows and litters the surroundings.

Improper waste disposal and lack of reliable transport infrastructure means that collected wastes are soon dispersed to other localities. Another unwelcome practice is to overload collection trucks with 5-6 tons of waste to reduce the number of trips; this has necessitated calls by environmental activist to prevail on the relevant legislature to conform to the modern waste transportation standard.

Situation in Oyo

Away from Lagos State, Oyo is another ancient town in Nigeria with an estimated population of six million people. Here, solid waste is regulated by the Oyo State Solid Waste Management Authority (OYOWMA). Unlike Lagos State, Oyo State does not have a proper waste management scheme that cuts across the nooks and crannies of the state, apart from Ibadan, the capital city, people from other towns like Ogbomoso and Iseyin resort to waste burning. In case the waste generators feels that the amount being charged by the waste franchisee is beyond their means, they dump the waste along flood paths thus compounding the waste predicament.

Burning of municipal wastes is a common practice in Nigeria

Burning of municipal wastes is a common practice in Nigeria

Kano and Rivers State with its fair share of population also suffers similar fate in controlling and managing solid waste. Generally speaking, population increase in Nigeria has led to an unprecedented growth in its economy but with a devastating effect on the environment as more wastes are generated due to the need for housing, manufacturing industries and a boost in trade volume.

Future Perspectives

The government at the federal level as a matter of urgency needs to revive its regulatory framework that will be attractive for private sectors to invest in waste collection, recycling and reusing.  The environmental health officer’s registration council of Nigeria would do well to intensify more effort to monitor and enforce sanitation laws as well as regulate the activities of the franchisees on good sustainable practices.

Taking the advocacy further on waste management, to avoid littering the environment, some manufacturing companies (e.g. chemical and paint industry) have introduced a recall process that will reward individuals who returns empty/used plastic containers. This cash incentive has been proven over time to validate the waste to wealth program embarked upon by the manufacturing companies. It is also expected that the government will build more composting and recycling plants in addition to the ones in Ekiti and Kano State to ensure good sustainable waste management.

Waste management situation in Nigeria currently requires concerted effort to sensitize the general public on the need for proper disposal of solid waste. Also, the officials should be well trained on professionalism, service delivery and ensure that other states within the country have access to quality waste managers who are within reach and can assist on the best approach to managing their waste before collection.

Plastic Wastes and its Management

Plastic seems all pervasive and unavoidable. Since the 1960s our use of plastic has increased dramatically, and subsequently, the portion of our garbage that is made up of plastic has also increased from 1% of the total municipal solid waste stream (household garbage) to approximately 13% (US Environmental Protection Agency). Plastic products range from things like containers and packaging (soft drink bottles, lids, shampoo bottles) to durable goods (think appliances, furniture and cars) and non-durable goods including things from a plastic party tray to medical devices. Sometimes marked with a number and a chasing arrow, there is an illusion that all plastics are recyclable, and therefore recycled. But there are a number of problems with this assumption.

While use and consumption of plastic is increasingly high, doubts about viable options for reuse, recycling and disposal are also on the rise. Complications such as the increasing number of additives used alter the strength, texture, flexibility, colour, resistance to microbes, and other characteristics of plastics, make plastics less recyclable. Additionally, there is very little market value in some plastics, leading municipalities to landfill or incinerate plastics as waste. Based on figures from the EPA (2011 data) only 8% of plastic materials are recovered through recycling.

Another major concern about plastics in the waste stream is their longevity and whether or not they are truly biodegrade. It is estimated that most plastics would take 500-1000 years to break down into organic components. Because of this longevity and the low rate of recycling, much of our plastic waste ends up in landfills or as litter. Some of this plastic waste makes its way via rivers and wind to the ocean. Garbage barges, and the trans-continental transport of recyclable materials also lead to an increasing amount of plastics in our oceans and waterways.

Plastic waste directly and indirectly affects living organisms throughout the ecosystem, including an increasingly high impact on marine life at a macro and micro scale. According to United Nations, almost 80% of marine debris is plastic. Policy enforcement remains weak, global manufacture of plastics continues to increase, and the quantity of plastic debris in the oceans, as well as on land, is likely to increase.

With limited sustainable recovery of plastics, there is a growing global movement to reduce the generation of plastic. Certain types of plastic may be ’safer‘ for the environment than others, however, there are troubling issues associated with all of them, leading to the conclusion that action is needed to remove plastic waste, and stricter controls are required to limit new sources of plastic pollution. Efforts such as light weighting of packaging and shifts to compostable plastics are options. Policies limiting the use of plastics such as bottle bills and bag bans are other ways to decrease the production and consumption of plastics.

Mining the debris fields in our oceans and turning plastic waste into usable materials, from socks made of fishing line to fuel made from a variety of plastic debris, is one way to mitigate the current situation.

Note: This excerpt is being published with the permission of our collaborative partner Be Waste Wise. The original excerpt and its video recording can be found at this link

Pet Waste Management in UK – Prospects and Challenges

pet-wastesPet waste is a growing public health and environmental risk. According to a report commissioned by the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, 13 million UK households (45%) keep pets of some kind.  Cats and dogs are each kept by 8.5 million households (these numbers are not additive, as some will of course keep both). Can those of us who want both the joys of animal companionship and waste minimisation, find ways to cut down, or better manage, the huge amount of pet waste generated in the UK every year? With so many cats and dogs in the UK, pet waste must represent a significant mass of organic matter within the residual waste stream.

Does this waste represent a floater in the residual waste stream by necessity—due to inherently unpleasant and possibly dangerous characteristics of the waste—or is it only there out of convention and squeamishness?

I’ve written before about the relationship between waste management and squeamishness, and talking about faeces really brings the point home. There are some undoubtedly nasty pathogens present in pet faeces, notably the parasites Toxocariasis and Toxoplasmosis. But might these be safely killed off by the temperatures reached in anaerobic digestion (AD)? If so, provided any litter and bags were made of organic matter, might pet waste be collected along with food waste?

I began by contacting a local authority waste officer, but was told that no one had asked this question before, and that I might be better off talking to AD plant operators. This I did, but most seemed similarly baffled by my query.  However, one mentioned that AD digestate goes through a pasteurisation process, where it is heated to a temperature of 70oC for one hour, in order to make it safe for land application. I also attempted to contact some technical specialists in the field, but to no avail.

There are some theoretical indications that this pasteurisation should be sufficient. Hanna Mizgajska-Wiktor and Shoji Uga’s  essay Exposure and Environmental Contamination states: “Anaerobic waste treatment kills Toxocara spp. eggs at temperatures in excess of 45oC”, well below the 70oC mentioned by my operator. The susceptibility of Toxoplasma to heat is less clear, although numerous internet sources suggest this can be killed in meat by cooking at 66oC. So far, then, I haven’t confirmed or falsified my initial inkling, and so the collection of pet waste in the municipal organic stream remains a theoretical possibility.

Motivated dog owners  can already turn their pet’s waste into a resource within their own home. The website London Worms explains how you can turn your dog’s poo into rich and useful vermicompost, although it warns that the results will only be suitable for use on non-edible plants.

Foul Pay

Household pet droppings may still be largely fated for disposal, but even when binned this waste is at least moving through proper waste management channels.  Unfortunately, not all pet poo is binned, and we have real data measuring public perceptions of the disamenity resulting from dog fouling. For most, the presence of this unwelcome waste in our streets, parks and footpaths is of much higher concern than its diversion from landfill.

A 2011 Defra-funded study on local residents’ willingness-to-pay — via an increase in council tax — for improvements across a range of environmental factors found that dog fouling was the third most important issue out of the presented range (with litter and fly-tipping taking first and second place). Surveys were conducted in inner-city, suburban and rural/semi-rural areas around London, Manchester and Coventry.

In order to move from the current level of dog fouling to the best possible scenario, it was found that inner-city residents would on average be willing to pay £8.87 per month, suburban residents £7.79 per month, and rural residents £2.72. Combining these figures with population statistics allows us to place a disamenity value on dog fouling. National statistics only allow for an urban-rural split, but based on a 2012 Defra rurality study which found that 18.9% of the population lives in rural areas, we can calculate that across England we would collectively be willing to pay £462m per year to achieve best case scenario improvements in dog fouling.

This somewhat crude calculation gives an indication of the perceived disamenity of dog fouling. Presenting the matter in terms such as these may allow economically minded policy makers a means of engaging with this important street scene issue and evaluating the costs and benefits of interventions.

Food for Thought

Let’s wash our hands of poo (with plenty of soap and warm water) and look to the other end of the pet waste problem. According to a report published by WRAP, the UK uses around 75,000 tonnes of primary packaging annually. This holds 1,263,000 tonnes of wet and dry cat and dog food, of which 9,000 uneaten tonnes are thrown away. Although this wasted food constitutes less than 1% of the total sold (if only we were as careful with food for human consumption) the estimated cost to the consumer is still £21m a year.

WRAP examined a number of designs intended to cut to down on the amounts of both pet food and packaging thrown away. A major problem with packaging design is the need to account for portion sizes, which vary from animal to animal and change depending on age and level of activity. Single serve packaging may actually lead to regular food wastage if the portion provided is too big for a particular pet; indeed, this is a problem I am experiencing with my own cat, whose appetite seems to fluctuate wildly. Re-sealable packaging that allows owners to dish out meals in accordance with the changing appetites of their pets is therefore preferable.

The material that packaging is made of is also significant: for example, relatively heavy tins are recyclable, whereas lightweight plasticised plastic foil packets are not. Pet food and its packaging can be pushed up the waste hierarchy by simply choosing a recyclable and resealable container which will allow them to adequately provide for the appetite of their pet. However, these issues are likely to be given less weight compared with health, convenience and cost in the minds of most householders. The onus has to be on manufacturers to develop packaging which is both low cost and easily recyclable.

Love pets, hate waste?

People love animals, but are rather less keen to engage with pets as an environmental issue. Leaving aside questions of whether it is sustainable for so many of us to have pets at all, there are clearly ways in which we can reduce their impact. The convenience of single serving pouches of pet food seems to win out over more recyclable and waste-avoiding alternatives, although pet owners might be willing to change their choices if presented with a better option.

While worrying about recovery options for cat poo might seem somewhat academic, it may be easier to tackle than dog fouling. It might even help to tackle the common psycho-social root of both issues. Cultural distaste perhaps lies behind the lack of information available on dealing with household pet waste, and the persistence of dog fouling as a street scene issue. Things were very different in Victorian London when “pure finders” earned a living by seeking out doggie doo to supply the tanning trade. But for us this kind of waste is a disagreeable fact of life which we deal with as simply and with as little thought as possible. But as a nation of animal lovers, it’s our responsibility to engage with the waste management issues our pets present.

Note: The article is being republished with the kind permission of our collaborative partner Isonomia. The original article can be viewed at this link

Waste Management Progress in Nigeria’s Delta State

waste-nigeriaWaste management is a serious problem in Nigeria, and Delta State is no exception. It is a problem that starts at a cultural level: many of the populace believe that once they remove waste from their homes it is no longer their concern. It is a problem that starts at a cultural level: many of the populace believe that once they remove waste from their homes it is no longer their concern, and you often see people disposing of their household waste in the streets at night. Once the waste gets out into the streets, it’s perceived as the duty of the government to handle it.

However, I have never yet heard of any Nigerian politician making waste management a feature of his or her manifesto during the election campaign process. Having said that, a few of Nigeria’s political leaders deserve to be commended for coming to terms with the fact that waste has to be managed properly, even if such issues were far from their minds when they entered political office.

Legislation and Framework

Nigeria does have a waste legislation framework in place. Its focus has been on the most toxic and hazardous waste: partly in response to some major pollution incidents in the 1980s, the government took powers in relation to Hazardous Waste in 1988. In the same year, the Federal Environmental Protection Agency was established – and was subsequently strengthened by the addition of an inspectorate and enforcement department arm in 1991, with divisions for standard regulation, chemical tracking and compliance monitoring. These laws have since given rise to regulations and guidelines pertaining to environmental and waste management issues.

Under our laws, waste management in each state is the duty of the local governments that fall within it, but few are taking an active approach to implementing and enforcing the sensible measures that the regulations require. A small number of states have taken over this task from local government, and Delta State’s decision to do this has led to significant new investment in waste management.

One of the fruits of that investment is the Delta State Integrated Waste Management Facility at Asaba for treating both household and clinical waste generated locally. It was developed when the Delta State government decided to put an end to the non-sustainable dumping of waste in Asaba, the state capital.

Integrated Waste Management Facility at Asaba

It is described as an integrated waste management facility because it includes a composting department, a recycling department and a (non-WTE) incineration department. Trucks carrying waste are weighed in as they come into the facility. From the weigh bridge, they move to the relevant reception bay – there are separate ones for household and clinical wastes – to tip their load, and are then weighed again on the way out.

Clinical waste is taken directly for incineration, but household wastes are sent along conveyors for sorting. Recyclables and compostable materials are, so far as possible, separated both from other waste and from one another. Each recyclable stream ends up in a chamber where it can be prepared for sale. The compostable materials are moved to the composting section, which uses aerated static pile composting.

The remaining waste is conveyed into the three incinerators – moving grate, rotary kiln and fixed end– for combustion. The resulting ash is recycled by mixing it with cement and sharp sand and moulding it into interlocking tiles. The stacks of the three incinerators are fitted with smoke cleaning systems to reduce emissions. The process produces wastewater, which is channelled to a pit where it is treated and reused. Overall, 30% of the waste is composted, 15% recycled and 55% incinerated.

There are many examples of sophisticated waste infrastructure being built in developing countries, but failing because the necessary collection systems were not in place to support them. To ensure that this problem is avoided at Asaba, the Delta State government? is working with a group known as the Private Sector Participants (PSP). Each member of this group has trucks assigned to them and has been directed to collect household waste from different parts of the city, for delivery to the facility for treatment. The arrangements made by each PSP are different: some collect from outside individual properties, and some from communal sites; most collect waste that is found in the streets; and while each is subsidised by the state, households also have to pay towards the cost.

Before the Asaba facility was developed, most of the wastes generated in Asaba were disposed of at a dumpsite just adjacent to the Delta State Airport. This created a pungent odour, as well as visual disamenity for people nearby. A great deal of remediation work is now taking place at the dumpsite, which is vastly improving the local environmental quality.

War on Waste

Of course, although this is an improvement there remains more to do. First on the list is education. People do not know how sustainable waste management can impact positively in their lives, reducing their exposure to toxins as well as improving their surroundings. Nor do they understand that recycling a beverage can or a plastic bottle will cost less than producing one from virgin materials and will have a lesser environmental impact. There remains a good deal of cultural change and education that is needed before people will stop throwing waste and litter on the streets – but there are few countries where, to some extent, the same would not be true.

Next is the lack of infrastructure. Nigeria has 36 states and a federal capital, yet the facility in Asaba is the first publicly commissioned one of its kind in the country; there are also some privately owned incinerators that a few companies in Port Harcourt use to treat wastes from vessels (ships), hospitals and industries. Lagos state and Abuja are relatively advanced, simply by virtue of having put in place a few managed landfills, but they are still far from having the level of facility that Asaba can now boast.

The backbone of Asaba’s progress is the state government’s commitment to put a proper waste management? solution in place. We’ve seen the impact in the form of infrastructure, collections and remediation, and law enforcement work is starting to change people’s perception about waste management in Delta State. At the moment, plans are being concluded to setup another facility in Warri, Delta State’s industrial hub, which will be twice the size of the Asaba facility.?

My hope is that the progress made by Delta State will be a beacon for other states’ governments. The example we are providing of cleaner, hygienic, more environmentally responsible waste management, and the positive changes that is bringing about, should inspire new development elsewhere in the country, which could equal or even exceed Delta State’s results. So whilst Nigeria’s track record on waste may leave a lot to be desired, the path ahead could be a great deal more promising.

Note: The article is being republished with the kind permission of our collaborative partner Isonomia. The original article can be found at this link.

Addressing India’s Waste Management Problems

Out of all the measures that are necessary in addressing India’s impending waste management crisis, the most efficient will be changes at the national policy and planning level. It is well known among the small but growing waste management sector that urban India will hit rock bottom due to improper waste management. Unfortunately, they think such a crisis is required to bring about policy changes, as they generally tend to happen only after the damage has been done. This attitude is unfortunate because it indicates a lack of or failed effort from the sector to change policy, and also the level of India’s planning and preparedness.

An average of 32,000 people will be added to urban India every day, continuously, until 2021. This number is a warning, considering how India’s waste management infrastructure went berserk trying to deal with just 25,000 new urban Indians during the last decade. The scale of urbanization in India and around the world is unprecedented with planetary consequences to Earth’s limited material and energy resources, and its natural balance. Rate of increase in access to sanitation infrastructure generally lags behind the rate of urbanization by 33% around the world; however, the lack of planning and impromptu piecemeal responses to waste management issues observed in India might indicate a much wider gap. This means urban Indians will have to wait longer than an average urban citizen of our world for access to proper waste management infrastructure.

The clear trend in the outbreak of epidemic and public protests around India is that they are happening in the biggest cities in their respective regions. Kolkata, Bengaluru, Thiruvananthapuram, and Srinagar are capitals of their respective states, and Coimbatore is the second largest city in Tamil Nadu. However, long term national level plans to improve waste management in India do not exist and guidance offered to urban local bodies is meager. Apart from the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM), there has been no national level effort required to address the problem. Even though JnNURM was phenomenal in stimulating the industry and local governments, it was not enough to address the scale and extent of the problem. This is because of JnNURM is not a long term financing program, sorts of which are required to tackle issues like solid waste management.

Are Cities Hands-tied or is Change Possible?

In the short term, municipal corporations have their hands tied and will not be able to deliver solutions immediately. They face the task of realizing waste management facilities inside or near cities while none of their citizens want them near their residences. Officials of Hyderabad’s municipal corporation have been conducting interviews with locals for about eight years now for a new landfill site, to no avail. In spite of the mounting pressure, most corporations will not be able to close the dumpsites that they are currently using. This might not be the good news for which local residents could be waiting, but, it is important that bureaucrats, municipal officials and politicians be clear about it. Residents near Vellalore dump protested and blocked roads leading to the site because Coimbatore municipal officials repeatedly failed to fulfill their promises after every landfill fire incident.

Due to lack of existing alternatives, other than diverting waste fractionally by increasing informal recycling sector’s role, closing existing landfills would mean finding new sites.  Finding new landfills in and around cities is nearly impossible because of the track record of dumpsite operations and maintenance in India and the Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) phenomenon. However, the corporations can and should take measures to reduce landfill fires and open burning, and control pollution due to leachate and odor and vector nuisance. This will provide much needed relief to adjacent communities and give the corporations time to plan better. While navigating through an issue as sensitive this, it is of the utmost importance that they work closely with the community by increasing clarity and transparency.

Municipal officials at the meeting repeatedly stressed the issue of scarcity of land for waste disposal, which led to overflowing dumpsites and waste treatment facilities receiving more waste than what they were designed for. Most municipal officials are of the sense that a magic solution is right around the corner which will turn all of their city’s waste into fuel oil or gas, or into recycled products. While such conversion is technologically possible with infinite energy and financial sources, that is not the reality. Despite their inability to properly manage wastes, the majority of municipal officials consider waste as “wealth” when approached by private partners. Therefore, a significant portion of officials expect royalty from private investments without sharing business risk.

Note: Acknowledgements will be published in the full report “Observations from India’s Crisis” on wtert.org and blog.wtert.org

Foam Packaging: Take the Bull by the Horns

foam-packaging-wasteNew York City and Oxford are two prominent examples of local authorities that have tried to restrict the use of foam packaging for takeaway food and drink, arguing that doing so would reduce the environmental impact of waste in a way that alternative approaches could not. In both cases, the intervention of packaging manufacturers has lifted or watered down the rules. Other administrations might well be put off the idea of similar measures – but the argument for cracking down on foam packaging that almost unavoidably gives rise to regional waste management problems, as well as wider environmental degradation through its contribution to litter, remains hard to ignore. Bans, however, may not be the only option.

Menace of Foam Packaging

A particular target for action has been expanded polystyrene (EPS). It’s rigid and a good insulator, and yet a great deal of it is air, making it very lightweight: it’s little wonder that EPS trays, cups and ‘clamshells’ are staples of the industry. It’s also widely used in pre-moulded form in the packaging of electronics, and as loose fill packaging in the form of ‘peanuts’.

While no-one would deny its convenience, for waste managers, EPS is a challenge, for many of the same reasons that it is popular. It’s light and difficult to compact, so it fills up bins and collection vehicles quickly; and takes up a great deal of space if you try to bulk and haul it for recycling.

It’s easy to see, then, why in 2013 New York City’s council voted unanimously to prohibit the use of EPS by all restaurants, food carts, and stores. Yet from the outset, the ban proposal faced stiff opposition from retailers and manufacturers, with packaging giant Dart Container Corp. and the American Chemistry Council reportedly organising a million dollars’ worth of lobbying against the legislation. Once it took effect, the industry quickly managed to overturn it in the courts last month.

Ban on the Run

The city had found that the recycling of EPS was not, in fact, environmentally effective, economically feasible and safe, and NYC was declared EPS-free in July 2015. But in a widely reported ruling, Justice Margaret Chan deemed the decision “arbitrary and capricious”: the complex case turned on the question of whether there was a recycling market for EPS, and the judge decided that Commissioner Kathryn Garcia of the city’s Department of Sanitation had failed to take account of evidence supplied by the industry that such a market did exist.

Although it lacked the courtroom drama of the New York City case, a similar story played out in Oxford last year. The city council proposed to use its licensing powers to require street traders to use only “biodegradable and recyclable” packaging and utensils. The move was stymied by semantics: the Foodservice Packaging Association lobbied for the phrasing of the proposed licensing rule to be amended to ‘biodegradable or recyclable’. That tiny change allowed continued use of expanded polystyrene, as it is technically recyclable (though certainly not biodegradable).

Oxford’s traders are also required to arrange for the correct disposal of EPS takeaway packaging from their premises. This is an odd requirement given that take-away food is usually – well – taken away, and then disposed of in street bins, household bins, or in no bin at all. Unfortunately, Oxford City Council – like almost every other council in the country – isn’t currently able to send EPS for recycling, so the EPS it collects will in practice end up in the residual stream. The EPS litter that escapes will linger in the environment for centuries to come.

Foam Suit

It seems that both courts and councillors have been impressed by the manufacturers’ argument: ‘Why ban a highly efficient product when you can invest in recycling it instead?’ However, there are three important points that count against this contention.

The first is that, whilst EPS can technically be recycled, the economics of doing so remain tenuous. Zero Waste Scotland’s report on Plastic Recycling Business Opportunities found that polystyrene waste compacting and collection was the only one of five options considered that did not represent a viable business opportunity in Scotland.

In order to make the finances of collecting EPS for recycling stack up in New York, Dart Corporation and Plastics Recycling Inc. had to offer to provide the city with $500,000 of sorting technology; pay for four staff; and guarantee to buy the material at $160 per tonne for five years. Without this (time limited) largesse, New York’s ban would likely have stood.

They also provided a list of 21 buyers, who they claimed would purchase dirty EPS – although when the city did a market test, it could find no realistic market for the material. It’s hard to know whose view of the US market is correct; however, in the UK, the market is definitely weak.

Of the 34 EPS recyclers listed by the BPF Expanded Polystyrene Group, 12 only accept clean EPS – ruling out post-consumer fast food waste. Another dozen will only accept compacted EPS, creating an extra processing cost for anyone attempting to separate EPS for recycling. That leaves a maximum of ten UK outlets: not enough to handle the potential supply, and leaving large tracts of the country out of economic haulage range for such a bulky, lightweight material.

Foam fatale

The second is that it’s difficult to get a high percentage of takeaway food containers into the recycling stream. Food eaten on the go is likely, at best, to go into a litter bin. And if it’s littered, because it’s light, EPS can also easily be blown around the streets, contributing to urban, riverine and ultimately marine litter. It’s also very slow to break down in the natural environment. Polystyrene has been found to make up 8% of marine litter washed up on North East Atlantic beaches; in all, plastics account for three quarters of this litter. The cost, particularly for coastal and island nations, is only beginning to be recognised.

That leads on to the third argument: while EPS undoubtedly works, less damaging alternatives are clearly available. Vegware, for example, allows takeaway boxes to be moved up the waste hierarchy – from disposal to composting. Reducing impacts was clearly a consideration in Oxford: in the words of Councillor Colin Cooke:

“It is about making the waste that we do have to get rid of more user-friendly and sustainable.”

The economic and technical difficulty in recycling EPS, combined with the long-term impacts of its littering and disposal, led Michelle Rose Rubio to conclude, in an Isonomia article last year, that environmentally minded people – and perhaps governments – should perhaps avoid it altogether.

Silver Lining

Despite the discouraging events in New York and Oxford, there’s better news from elsewhere. Bans remain in place in Toronto and Paris (both dating from 2007), while Muntinlupa in the Philippines, and the coastal state of Malaka in Malaysia have imposed charges, fines, and biodegradable replacements for EPS food packaging, eventually leading to bans.

Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead has indicated that the Scottish Government is: “considering a number of options in line with the commitment in the national litter strategy to influence product design of frequently littered items to reduce their environmental impact… [W]e note a number of US cities have introduced bans on Styrofoam products, most recently New York City. We are keen to learn from these cities’ experience of introducing and implementing such bans.”

In Wales, a polystyrene ban petition lodged last year by Friends of Barry Beaches has been picking up support. The Foodservice Packaging Association’s pre-emptive opposition to the notion certainly suggests we haven’t heard the last of EPS food packaging bans in the UK.

However, bans are not the only way to deter the use of problem products. England has just joined the ranks of countries to impose a charge for single use plastic bags. Belgium has a tax on disposable cutlery, and Malta taxes numerous products on environmental grounds, including chewing gum and EPS clamshells. Whilst beyond the powers of local authorities, fiscal measures could drive change while being a bit less of a blunt instrument than a ban.

While EPS manufacturers may have scored some recent successes, they haven’t won the overarching argument. As we push towards a more circular economy, the pressure to reduce our reliance on materials that are inherently hard to recycle, which tend to escape into the environment, and which don’t decompose naturally, will grow. For EPS fast food packaging, the chips could soon be well and truly down.

Note: This article is being republished with the permission of our collaborative partner Isonomia. The original article can be found at this link.