Food waste in the United Kingdom is a matter of serious environmental, economic and social concern that has been attracting widespread attention in recent years. According to ‘Feeding the 5K’ organisation, 13,000 slices of crusts are thrown away every day by a single sandwich factory which is featured in the figure above. More recently, Tesco, one of the largest UK food retailers, has published its sustainability report admitting that the company generated 28,500 tonnes of food waste in the first six months of 2013. TESCO’s report also state that 47% of the bakery produced is wasted. In terms of GHG emissions, DEFRA estimated that food waste is associated with 20 Mt of CO2 equivalent/year, which is equivalent to 3% of the total annual GHG emissions.
Globally, 1.2 to 2 billion tonnes (30%-50%) of food produced is thrown away before it reaches a human stomach. Food waste, if conceived as a state, is responsible for 3.3 Bt-CO2 equivalent/year, which would make it the third biggest carbon emitter after China and USA. What makes food waste an even more significant issue is the substantially high demand for food which is estimated to grow 70% by 2050 due to the dramatic increase of population which is expected to reach 9.5 billion by 2075. Therefore, there is an urgent need to address food waste as a globally challenging issue which should be considered and tackled by sustainable initiatives.
A War on Food Waste
The overarching consensus to tackle the food waste issue has led to the implementation of various policies. For instance, the European Landfill Directive (1999/31/EC) set targets to reduce organic waste disposed to landfill in 2020 to 35% of that disposed in 1995 (EC 1999). More recently, the European Parliament discussed a proposal to “apply radical measures” to halve food waste by 2025 and to designate the 2014 year as “the European Year Against Food Waste”. In the light of IMechE’s report (2013), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in cooperation with FAO has launched the Save Food Initiative in an attempt to reduce food waste generated in the global scale.
In the UK, WRAP declared a war on food waste by expanding its organic waste programme in 2008 which was primarily designed to “establish the most cost-effective and environmentally sustainable ways of diverting household food waste from landfill that leads to the production of a saleable product”. DEFRA has also identified food waste as a “priority waste stream” in order to achieve better waste management performance. In addition to governmental policies, various voluntary schemes have been introduced by local authorities such as Nottingham Declaration which aims to cut local CO2 emissions 60% by 2050.
Sustainable Food Waste Management
Engineering has introduced numerous technologies to deal with food waste. Many studies have been carried out to examine the environmental and socio-economic impacts of food waste management options. This article covers the two most preferable options; anaerobic digestion and composting.
In-vessel composting (IVC) is a well-established technology which is widely used to treat food waste aerobically and convert it into a valuable fertilizer. IVC is considered a sustainable option because it helps by reducing the amount of food waste landfilled. Hence, complying with the EU regulations, and producing a saleable product avoiding the use of natural resources. IVC is considered an environmentally favourable technology compared with other conventional options (i.e. landfill and incineration). It contributes less than 0.06% to the national greenhouse gas inventories. However, considering its high energy-intensive collection activities, the overall environmental performance is “relatively poor”.
Anaerobic Digestion (AD) is a leading technology which has had a rapidly growing market over the last few years. AD is a biologically natural process in which micro-organisms anaerobically break down food waste and producing biogas which can be used for both Combined Heat & Power (CHP) and digestate that can be used as soil fertilizers or conditioners. AD has been considered as the “best option” for food waste treatment. Therefore, governmental and financial support has been given to expand AD in the UK.
AD is not only a food waste treatment technology, but also a renewable source of energy. For instance, It is expected that AD would help the UK to meet the target of supplying 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Furthermore, AD technology has the potential to boost the UK economy by providing 35,000 new jobs if the technology is adopted nationally to process food waste. This economic growth will significantly improve the quality of life among potential beneficiaries and thus all sustainability elements are considered.
According to a recent report, 87% of travelers want to travel more sustainably, but only 39% say that they accomplish the task on most or all occasions. Well, in a world that often focuses so heavily on comfort and convenience, it’s understandable. Many cultures and individuals are certainly making great efforts to lead eco-friendly lives, but many are still left wondering how to make those changes. Read on to explore a wide array of green ways to travel the globe.
Where You Go
Carefully choose your destination. Shorter distances without air travel are ideal, but obviously, that’s not always possible. So, if you’re planning to travel a little further, look into visiting destinations that value sustainability as well. It will be easier if the surrounding culture has the same eco-goals.
Places like Amsterdam are great because they do not rely heavily on vehicular transportation. They stick to bikes and their own two feet most of the time which makes a huge difference. Additionally, make sure that you’re not visiting a destination that is already overwhelmed with tourists and travelers to the point of causing harm. You don’t want to be a part of the problem.
How You Get There
It’s no secret that air travel is a unideal form of transportation right now, but since it is often unavoidable, there are a few small things that can help. First, do your research and choose the most fuel-efficient airline. When you do, book a non-stop, flight and sit economy.
A significant portion of a flight’s emissions is during take-off and landing, and business select or first class is responsible for three times more emissions than economy seating. And in preparation, pack lightly because an aircraft burns more fuel when it is carrying a heavier weight.
But, if you can avoid flying, go for a relaxing train ride. Traveling by train is widely popular in places like Europe and in the United States, you can make it the highlight of your journey. If you need to rent a car, you can check eco friendly car rentalis before you book.
Where You Stay
Look for accommodations that prioritize sustainability. Do your research and look for places that have certifications from a third party, like the Global Sustainable Tourism Council or the Rainforest Alliance. It doesn’t mean that you won’t have the amenities that you may want or need, it just means that they abide by a particular set of global standards that aim for a more “green” operation.
Even if you aren’t able to choose the ideal location, avoid air travel, or stay at a certifiably eco-friendly hotel, don’t worry. There is still plenty that you can do to lighten the load. Support the local economy, bring a reusable water bottle, take shorter showers and go for ecotourism. Just do the best that you can, and you’ll be on the right track.
Globally, three billion people in the developing nations are solely dependent on burning firewood, crop residues, animal manure etc for preparing their daily meals on open fires, mud or clay stoves or simply on three rocks strategically placed to balance a cooking vessel. The temperature of these fires are lower and produce inefficient burning that results in black carbon and other short-lived but high impact pollutants.
These short-lived pollutants not only affect the persons in the immediate area but also contribute much harmful gases more potent than carbon dioxide and methane. For the people in the immediate area, their health is severely hampered as this indoor or domestic air pollution results in significantly higher risks of pneumonia and chronic bronchitis.
To remedy the indoor air pollution (IAP) and health-related issues as well as the environmental pollution in the developing world, clean cookstoves are the way to advance. But to empower rural users to embrace the advanced cookstoves, and achieve sustainable success requires a level of socio-cultural and economic awareness that is related directly to this marginalized group. The solution needs to be appropriate for the style of cooking of the group which means one stove model will not suit or meet the needs and requirements of all developing nation people groups.
Clean cookstoves can significantly reduce health problems caused by indoor air pollution in rural areas
Consideration for such issues as stove top and front loading stove cooking, single pot and double pot cooking, size of the typical cooking vessel and the style of cooking are all pieces of information needed to complete the picture. Historically, natural draft systems were devised to aid the combustion or burning of the fuels, however, forced draft stoves tend to burn cleaner with better health and environmental benefits. Regardless of cookstove design, the components need to be either made locally or at least available locally so that the long term life of the stove is maintainable and so sustainable.
Now, if the cookstove unit can by powered by simple solar or biomass system, this will change the whole nature of the life style and domestic duties of the chief cook and the young siblings who are typically charged with collecting the natural firewood to meet the cooking requirement.
Therefore the cookstoves need to be designed and adapted for the people group and their traditional cooking habits, and not in the reverse order. To assess the overall performance of the green cooking stoves requires simple but effective measures of the air quality. The two elements that need to be measured are the black carbon emissions and the temperature of the cooking device. This can be achieved by miniature aerosol samplers and temperature sensors. The data collected needs to be transmitted in real-time via mobile phones for verification of performance rates. This is to provide verifiable data in a cost effective monitoring process.
Saving the Earth is on top of the list of most product designers these days. On a daily basis, we contribute to global pollution. From our homes to our jobs, lighting is a big factor in our everyday life. Our goal is to find life-changing ways to save Mother Earth from destruction.
Let’s start in places we usually go to like the house, office, restaurants, and malls. One of the factors contributing to environmental pollution is lighting materials. Most lighting materials increase the consuming of carbon footprint and chlorofluorocarbon. With the advancement of technology comes the birth of LED (Low Emitting Diode). It is the next big thing when it comes to interior and exterior architecture without compromising the Earth’s current state.
With these in mind, we have four convincing reasons why LED lights are saving the Earth.
Made of Non-toxic Materials
Unlike incandescent and other traditional lights, LED lights are made of non-toxic materials. This does not just affect the environment but as well as its users. LED lights are carefully manufactured with the idea that it frees the Earth from contamination and pollution. Efficient disposal is also what makes it environment-friendly. It alleviates the toxic waste produced by the material composition of traditional lighting.
LED lights are established to lower the environmental impact of lighting. The absence of mercury makes it easier to use and to dispose of. Traditional lighting can produce a toxic gas which can harm both the environment and the people.
Moreover, LED lights sold in the market is a big step to the people they cater to. They do not contribute to the increase in temperature because they don’t produce ultraviolet rays. Their excessive heat and vibrancy can cause a hazard to our environment.
Durable Lighting Design
What we loved the most about LED lights is their durable design. On average, an LED bulb can last from 10 to 15 years. Their lifespan is six times more than a traditional bulb. Even after a decade, the vibrancy of the light is maintained regardless of the daily usage. Since it’s energy efficient, it reduces the number of times required for replacing your lights. The longer lifespan offered by LED lights results to lower carbon emissions.
The durable lighting design of LED lights ensures the safety of the Earth. Lowered number of replacements mean lowered costs in purchasing, delivery, and installation of lights. In line with this, you get to minimize the waste product produced by your home or establishment. The composition of LED lights promotes the efficiency of utilization and disposal. Even at the last second, you get the best value for your money without compromising the safety of the Earth
Comes in Different Variants
Apart from the amazing specifications of LED lights, they come in different shapes and sizes too. The birth of LED lights introduced the art of lighting. Some light variants feature different colors and vibrancy you can play in just a click away. Smartphones and remotes are used to take control. Moreover, LEDs are more than just bulbs. They come in different types too. Bulbs, floodlights, decorative, strip, and downlights are what the LED light family is comprised of.
With these features, you can choose the best LED lights depending on utilization. Some can work indoors, outdoors, and some can be used in both. They are considered as a piece of unique lighting equipment because it gives you the ability to be creative with lighting design. You can use it for home and establishments’ to promote its atmosphere. These lights are commonly found in factories, restaurants, offices, streets, hotels, and walkways.
On average, you can save up to 90% of electricity costs with LED lights. Unlike traditional lighting, they are an economical choice. Their lighting capability will not require you to fill the room with a number of lights. LED lights are the best example of direct lighting. Lesser number of lights are required to give you the same amount of lighting as traditional lights. There is no energy wasted because it is capable of emitting lights in all directions.
Using LED lights are ideal especially for office buildings and factories. Since they light a bigger space, they save a bigger percentage designated for electricity. LED lights convert 95% of their consumed energy into light and 5% into heat. They will give you the same amount of light as traditional lights with 36 watts consumed. This is a big help to the environment considering that they will demand less energy from power plants and fewer greenhouse gases emitted.
LED lights have different benefits for their users. They the ability to promote productivity since the lights give you a cool relieving feeling compared to incandescent. These lights enhance your sense of concentration and energy. Incandescent lights, on the contrary, give you a warm and lazy atmosphere. The heat they produce tends to make you feel cozy. That is why most occupational buildings switch to LED lights to give the employees a sense of focus.
Switching to LED lights alleviate the demand and pressure on the resources of the Earth. We save money and energy from using these and at the same time, we are saving our environment. Knowing that the quality and brightness are not compromised, it’s an economical choice to make. Use these 4 reasons as an eye-opener on why you should switch to LED lights!
The USA is way behind Europe when it comes to electric vehicles, with sales in Europe exceeding 1 million in 2018, while US figures stood at just 750,000. This is despite the giants of Silicon Valley, including Google, Amazon and Tesla, all making strides to offer electric vehicles to the mass market. The area where the contrast is most clear is in regards to vans. While Europe has many on offer, electric vans are almost non-existent on American roads. Where does this leave commercial enterprises looking to cut their carbon emissions?
Europe Leading the Way
Although hardly the norm, it isn’t uncommon to see fully electric commercial vehicles on European streets. German based DHL are selling over 5000 StreetScooters a year, allowing companies to offer battery powered deliveries. Meanwhile, the UK’s best selling plug in van is the Nissan e-NV200. This attractive commercial vehicle is on sale throughout Europe, selling more than 4000 a year. Unfortunately, it is not available in the US.
Don’t worry – it isn’t all bad news for the USA. With companies like Tesla offering their own electric pickup and semi vehicles, there could be a shift in sale trends soon. However, neither of these vehicles are yet to hit the mass market. Other electric truck or van options are few and far between. The likes of Google are focusing their efforts on creating self-drive vehicles rather than venturing into commercial electric automobiles that are wheelchair accessible as well..
Other Ways to Cut Carbon Emissions
Keep searching for the perfect electric van for your company. If Europe has them, then you can find one in America. In the meantime, however, consider other ways to cut your carbon footprint. For the running of any electronics, invest in solar power. This has really taken off in the USA and is one of the cheapest options available. You should also try to source products locally and remove plastic packaging from your goods.
Electric vehicles really can’t arrive soon enough, but commercial vans and trucks are yet to become mainstream. The USA needs to take a leaf out of Europe’s book and invest in electric vans. In the meantime, consider switching to solar power and taking other steps to reduce your company’s carbon emissions.
The biggest obstacle to the implementation of Waste-to-Energy (or WTE) lies not in the technology itself but in the acceptance of citizens. Citizens who are environmentally minded but lack awareness of the current status of waste-to-energy bring up concerns of environmental justice and organize around this. They view WTE as ‘dumping’ of pollutants on lower strata of society and their emotional critique rooted in the hope for environmental justice tends to move democracy.
An advocate of public understanding of science, Shawn Lawrence Otto regrets that the facts are not able to hold the same sway. Some US liberal groups such as the Center for American Progress are beginning to realize that the times and science have changed. It will take more consensus on the science and the go ahead from environmental groups before the conversation moves forward, seemingly improbable but not without precedent.
Spittelau Waste-to-Energy Plant
The Spittelau waste-to-energy plant is an example of opposition coming together in consensus over WTE. It was built in Vienna in 1971 with the purpose of addressing district heating and waste management issues. Much later awareness of the risks of dioxins emitted by such plants grew and the people’s faith in the technology was called into question. It also became a political issue whereby opposition parties challenged the mayor on the suitability of the plant. The economic interests of landfill owners also lay in the shutting down of the WTE facility. The alternative was to retrofit the same plant with advanced technology that would remove the dioxins through Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR).
Through public discussions it appeared that the majority of the people were against the plant altogether though thorough studies by informed researchers showed that the science backs WTE. The mayor, Helmut Zilk eventually consulted Green Party members on how to make this technology better perceived in the eyes of the people, and asked the famous Austrian artist Freidensreich Hundertwasser, who was a green party member to design the look of the plant. Freidensreich Hundertwasser after carefully studying the subject wrote a letter of support, stating his belief as to why WTE was needed and accepted Mayor Helmut Zilk’s request. Later public opinion polls showed that there were a majority of people who were either in favor of or not opinionated about the plant, with only 3% in outright opposition of the plant.
Waste-to-Energy or recycling has kept public discourse from questioning whether there may not be intermediate or case specific solutions. This polarization serves to move the conversation nowhere. For now it can be agreed that landfills are devastating in their contribution to Climate Change and must be done away with. The choice then, of treatment processes for municipal solid waste are plentiful. If after recovery of recyclable materials there remains a sizeable waste stream the option of waste-to-energy can be explored.
Environmental implications (i.e. CO2 emissions vis-à-vis the next best fuel source) given the composition of the local waste stream. If the waste stream consists of a high percentage of recyclables the more sustainable waste strategy would be to ramp up recycling efforts rather than to adopt WTE,
Likely composition and variation of the waste stream and the feasibility of the technology to handle such a waste stream,
Financial considerations with regards to the revenue stream from the WTE facility and its long term viability,
Efforts at making citizens aware of the high standards achieved by this technology in order to secure their approval.
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
With increasing concern and awareness of climate change, there has been a growth in the renewable energy sector through government subsidies and private investment, allowing for the replacement of current sources of energy with less carbon-intensive fuels. However, renewable energy technologies are yet to topple the traditional fossil fuel-powered electricity market. With the increasing trajectory of global emissions, climate research has been exploring other methods of climate mitigation, for instance, through the use of large-scale geoengineering technologies.
A quick glance at popular biomass resources
Of particular focus are the carbon dioxide removal techniques, namely Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) that have been prominently featured in emission scenarios of climate models, particularly for their direct influence in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. CCS involves capturing carbon dioxide emissions from industries and storing them under geological reservoirs either on shore or offshore. You can read more about this technology on a previous EcoMENA article.
What is Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage
One of the main concerns about CCS is the use of fossil fuels for its operations. In the pursuit for greener climate mitigation technologies, Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) has emerged as a climate saviour, featuring in prominent emissions scenarios and climate models to achieve the 1.5-degree target.
In the place of fossil fuels, biomass is instead used as the primary fuel source for BECCS as seen in the picture below. The two-step absorption of carbon dioxide, first during the growth of the biomass, and second through capturing of the biomass emissions, makes BECCS, in theory, a net negative emissions technique.
Source: Can we deploy enough BECCS to achieve climate targets? AVOID 2
Of the 116 climate scenarios suggested by the IPCC, BECCS was seen to have a significant role in 101 of the scenarios to help prevent global temperature rise above the 1.5-degree target. In fact, UK electricity generator Drax, has chosen to invest in the BECCS technology and started its first trial earlier this year, making it the first of its kind in Europe.
Risks associated with BECCS
While the combination of bioenergy and CCS provides an ideal carbon negative mitigation strategy, it also combines the existing risks associated with both technologies. In addition to lack of investment and long-term economic policies for CCS, large scale deployment of BECCS is hindered by uncertainties such as land, water and resource availability. Studies have shown concerns regarding the carbon intensity and the scale of land and resources required to sustain the bioenergy component required for BECCS.
While the net negative aspect of BECCS may work in theory, studies have revealed significant proportions of emissions associated with indirect land use change for biomass production for BECCS. In addition to technical challenges, one of the key constraints for the deployment of such climate technologies is social acceptance, where sections of the general public, or specific stakeholders, remain unconvinced with certain aspects of the technology due to ethical or political reasons.
As such, while CCS and BECCS may offer the ideal climate saviour solution to reduce overall carbon dioxide emissions, the technologies are still overcast with various technical and social challenges that limit their commercial usage for climate mitigation.
It takes a high level of data analysis to predict the effects of climate change and the implications of our actions to stop and adapt to it. Often, scientists have terabytes of data, but not the computing power to make sense of climate issues like hurricanes. But this level of analysis is possible with artificial intelligence (AI). In fact, AI may be the best weapon we have to combat and adapt to the effects of climate change. That’s because it can analyze large chunks of data from past events and make accurate predictions about future ones.
Today, AI is helping to monitor and predict everything from glacier retreat to commercial waste management. As innovations in “deep learning” march on, AI’s prescience will help inform scientists about climate impacts and policymakers on the most prudent steps for adaptation. Here are some critical ways AI is helping to preserve our planet.
Smarter Home Energy Use
AI is helping save the planet by assisting homeowners through energy-efficient smart homes. The Internet of Things and today’s “smart devices” let homeowners control their energy use and lower their monthly bills. Smart thermostats can adjust temperature settings for specific rooms in a house. Smart water sprinklers can change water usage based on weather forecasts. And smart security systems can cut down on false alarms calls — so fewer gas-guzzling trips by first responders. The automation, connection, and prediction power built into these smart devices allow homeowners to lower their carbon footprint.
But smart energy use is not just about conservation — it’s also about the best time to use energy. Peak energy hours like evenings are higher-demand, higher-cost times. Smart devices can automate energy use for low-demand hours. Plus, off-peak times like mid-day are when alternative energy sources like solar and wind contribute the most. Therefore, smart technology promotes renewable energy.
Soil degradation is a problem often overlooked in the media. But it has serious consequences for humanity’s ability to adapt to and survive climate change. It takes a millennium to generate only three centimeters of topsoil, and soil degradation is happening at a much faster rate. Chemicals, deforestation, erosion, and global warming are major contributors to soil degradation. And if the current rate of degradation continues, the planet’s farmable land could disappear within 60 years, according to United Nations officials.
But farmers and scientists are using AI to help conserve the soil by marshaling complex algorithms along with robots and drones to detect erosion and monitor soil health. For example, one company has developed an agricultural app to help farmers identify nutrient deficiencies within their soil. And farmers are using machine learning to predict the best times to plant, irrigate, and harvest crops based on weather changes. Accurate predictions mean less need for pesticides and fertilizers, which degrade the soil.
Exploring and Protecting Oceans
Scientists watch and test the health of oceans because they’re the best indicators of Earth’s health. Microplastics, increased CO2 levels, and ocean acidification are changing the surface of the planet. The key to protecting oceans is exploring and monitoring them for changes. Climate scientists and oceanographers are using AI technology to drive autonomous marine vehicles to the deepest depths. And some companies are developing autonomous garbage collection systems that would help remove plastics and floating debris.
Another emerging technology — blockchain — is helping to track fishing and identify illegal behavior. Blockchain is the same technology that powers cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. The technology acts as a transparent ledger for transactions. Blockchain is a decentralized system, which means it operates autonomously and isn’t subject to misuse and abuse. Trust is critical to international treaties that regulate fishing quotas and manage overfishing. Blockchain technology can record each fish (e.g., tuna) with a scannable code uploaded to the ledger. Therefore, retailers, customers, and regulators can confirm that fish are legally caught.
Air Pollution Detection
AI is becoming an invaluable tool for tracking our air quality and identifying sources of pollution. During accidental emissions, city air quality officials need to identify and respond quickly. Some European cities are using leak sensors and AI to help create emission maps, predict mortality rates, and estimate financial costs of emergency responses. These data points give decision makers a more accurate view of the air pollution along with more targeted remediation.
In addition to monitoring air pollution, AI is also cutting tailpipe emissions. AI manages self-driving cars to make getting from point A-to-B more efficient. Self-driving automobiles can cut oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 2% to 4% annually. AI and global positioning systems operating driverless tractor-trailer rigs will make deliveries non-stop, faster, and less costly to the planet. Complex algorithms, sensors, and traffic lights are directing traffic flow in some cities. These systems are currently reducing travel time by 25%, braking by 30%, and idling time by 40%.
Evaluating the Efficacy of Action
AI is bringing powerful ways to monitor and predict threats to our environment. Synthetic thinking adds value for scientists, officials, and policymakers by giving them deeper looks into current environmental situations. Perhaps, more than anything, AI’s biggest potential lies in figuring out where solutions hit the mark and where they miss. It’s counterproductive to invest resources and time into bad solutions. But that’s highly likely, given the complexity of climate change and adaptation.
Where do we invest? Which coastline needs saving the most? What communities are at a higher risk? With dwindling resources and bigger dangers, we will face some hard decisions in the future about where to deploy our efforts. At some point, those decisions will mean life or death. We will need quick thinking and accurate data. Evaluating our options and predicting their implications is where AI will bring the most value.
Vehicles remain a huge global pollutant, pumping out 28.85Tg of CO2 in Maharashtra alone, according to a study by the Indian Institute for Science in Bangalore. However, vehicles cannot be discarded, as they form the lifeblood of the country’s towns and cities. Between electric vehicles and hybrids, work is being done to help rectify the situation by making use of green car fuel and technological advancements.
Emissions continue to be a huge issue, and there are two main options for helping to rectify that. The first is electric, which is seeing widespread adoption; and the second, biomass fuel, for more traditional vehicles. Between the two, excellent progress is being made, but there’s much more to be done.
How electric is helping
Electric cars are favoured heavily by the national authorities. A recent Times of India report outlined how the government is aiming for an all-electric vehicle fleet by 2030 and is pushing this through with up to US$16m of electric vehicle grants this year. Green vehicles are obviously a great choice, improving in-city noise and air pollution whilst providing better vehicular safety to boot; a study by the USA’s MIT suggested that electric vehicles are all-around safer than combustion.
However, where EVs fall down to some extent is through the energy they use. As they are charged from the electricity grid, this means that the electricity is largely derived from fossil fuels – official statistics show that India is 44% powered by coal. Ultimately, however, this does mean that emissions are reduced. Fuel is only burned at one source, and oil refining isn’t done at all, which is another source of pollutants. However, as time goes on and the government’s energy policy changes, EVs will continue to be a great option.
The role of biofuels
Biofuels are seeing a huge growth in use – BP has reported that globally, ethanol production grew 3% in 2017. Biofuel is commonly a more favoured option by the big energy companies given the infrastructure often available already to them. While biofuel has been slow on the uptake in India, despite the massive potential available for production, there are now signs this is turning around with the construction of two US$790m biofuel facilities.
Biofuels are increasingly being used to power vehicles around the world
The big benefit of biofuel is that it will have a positive impact on combustion and electric vehicles. The Indian government has stated they intend to use biofuel alongside coal production, with as much as 10% of energy being created using biofuel. Therefore, despite not being emission-free, biofuel will provide a genuine green energy option to both types of eco-friendly vehicle.
Green car fuel is not entirely clean. The energy has to come from somewhere, and in India, this is usually from coal, gas, and oil. However, the increase in biofuel means that this energy will inevitably get cleaner, making green car fuel absolutely a reality.
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.
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.
“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 WasteAid, WASTE 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.
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