Posts Tagged ‘pollution’

Monday Moaning

Electronic waste: we must design gadgets that don’t poison the planet

We discard huge amounts of electronics every year, creating a toxic wasteland – often in the poorest countries

We love our gadgets, but we need to find safe ways of disposing of them. Photograph: Oliver Stratmann/AFP/Getty Images

Record sales of tablets, laptops and smart phones. Ever smaller computers, and thinner televisions, brighter screens and sharper cameras. What could possibly be wrong with the worldwide explosion in sales of electrical and digital equipment seen this Christmas? Consumers love the sleek designs and the new connectivity they offer, businesses can’t make enough for a vast and hungry global market, and governments see technological innovation and turnover as the quick way out of recession. This is a new age of the machine and electronic equipment is indispensable in home and workplace.

But there is a downside to the revolution that governments and companies have so far ignored. In the drive to generate fast turnover and new sales, companies have deliberately made it impossible to repair their goods and have shortened the lifespan of equipment.

Hardware is designed not to keep up with software, a computer’s life is now under two years and mobile phones are upgraded every few months. Many electronic devices now have parts that cannot be removed or replaced. From being cheaper to buy new devices than to repair them, it has now reached the point where it is impossible to repair them at all.

The result is that much electronic equipment is impossible to recycle. As devices are miniaturised, they become increasingly complex. A single laptop may contain hundreds of different substances, dozens of metals, plastics and components which are expensive to dispose of. As we saw last week from Ghana, vast quantities of this dangerous “e-waste” is being dumped on developing countries where it is left to some of the poorest people to try to extract what they can in dangerous conditions.

The scale of e-waste growth is shocking and has left governments and authorities behind. By 2017 it is expected that there will be more than 10 billion mobile-connected devices alone.

From under 10m tonnes of e-waste generated in 2000, it has now reached nearly 50m tonnes, with every sign that this will increase by 33% in the next five years. Britain will discard over 1.3m tonnes of electronics this year, much of which will be buried in landfill, incinerated or exported.

The old corporate model of “take, make and chuck” is not sustainable. Our obsession with gadgetry and technology is now driving industry to open new mines around the world, squandering energy, biodiversity and water at every stage of extraction. Enormous areas of toxic wasteland are created and left for future generations to deal with.

Designing goods so they can be easily recycled is now critical. Companies must be challenged to rethink the way they make and source their materials to ensure there is no waste from start to finish. Gadgets must be reusable and repairable, and built-in obsolescence discouraged. Companies, too, must become responsible for the entire lifecycle of their products, especially when they become obsolete.

Governments must better monitor waste shipments from ports. E-waste is easy to conceal, and the black market is attracting organised crime. Natural resources have long been used to fuel violent conflict and human rights abuses, but now we must accept that gadgets can be equally dangerous. The sale of millions of computers and mobile phones, even the electronic toys that we will give this Christmas, is being driven by an increasingly flawed business model which is leading to a depleted and polluted planet.

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Opinion:

No need to express an opinion here, because it’s bloody obvious!

Any company that sells any electronic gadget must be legally bound to accept that back on the purchase of a new one; and, be responsible for the responsible disposal of that gadget.

It boils down to this: If companies insist on planned obsolescence, then they are to be made responsible for the end disposal.

 

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Satireday on Eco-Crap

The trash barrel…

All the rubbish about surfing you ever wanted to know.

Trash Barrel small-thumb-500x333-12491

Source: Can’t remember, but if it’s yours let me know in comments and I’ll attribute.

Our culture is ugly and harmful

Check out these facts.

A one day beach clean-up on California beaches in 2012…

Source: Switchboard

Monday Moaning

This is my 100th Monday Moaning…

Nobody does Nuthin’!

There is so much crap out there and it appears as though nobody is doing anything because things are just getting worse.

It doesn’t matter whether it is the climate, global warming, CO2 emissions, pollution, GMOs, industrial and agricultural poisons, BPA, just to name a few.

We have become complacent.

Isn’t life worth fighting for? Have we all rolled over and are playing dead?

Daily, I read the news, the more I read, the more despondent I become. I am at the tail end of life, soon it won’t matter for me, but I am leaving children and grandchildren who are going to pay for our collective apathy.

The people who generally read this blog are not included in the apathetic, they try in big and small ways. But the people who should be in control are the apathetic ones, the politicians, the governments, the media, the organisations who are there to protect us, and they are not.

When are we the people going to take our power back?

Because if we don’t, there’s going to be a lot more suffering in the future, your children, your grandchildren.

</rant>.

Monday Moaning

The world seems to be treading a fine line between need and want.

The world needs food.

The world wants to drive for fun.

It seems that we can’t have both.

Biofuel crops: food security must come first

Even so-called ‘good’ biofuels need safeguards to ensure that they don’t damage biodiversity or displace other crops

Biofuel crops increase emissions through land clearance, fertiliser use, and by displacing other crops. Photograph: Sipa Press/Rex Features

Since 2003, the UK and other EU countries have effectively poured billions of euros into biofuels, on the premise that they reduce emissions from transport. But it has been an expensive case of the Emperor’s new clothes: we now know that many biofuel crops actually increase overall emissions. At the same time, they damage biodiversity, hurt some of the world’s poorest people by pushing up food prices, and cost us an estimated £460m each year.

Early in September, the European Parliament will have its first opportunity to put the brakes on. MEPs will vote on whether to amend biofuels policy to take account of the critical issue of indirect land use change (iLUC) and at what level to cap biofuels made from food crops.

Biofuel crops increase emissions through land clearance, fertiliser use, and by displacing other crops. When millions of hectares of land are switched from food to biofuel crops, food prices rise and food production is displaced, triggering a domino-like chain of events ending in cropland expansion elsewhere, including into the tropical forests of Southeast Asia and the savannas of South America and Africa. This is iLUC.

We can’t point to the precise hectare of rainforest that’s felled because a particular farmer now grows fuel rather than food. But the evidence is clear that burning millions of tonnes of food as biofuel on top of what we eat leads to more land clearance and more fertiliser use (even accounting for useful biofuel co-products fed to animals). UK biofuel use in the first year of monitoring required around 1.4 million hectares of farmland, most of it overseas. That’s an area the size of Northern Ireland, just to provide 3% of our transport fuel. By ignoring iLUC, the EU overlooks a large share of the emissions triggered by its biofuel targets.

ILUC is not just about carbon. Agricultural expansion and intensification are among the greatest of all threats to wild nature. Each year, millions of hectares of new cropland threaten tropical forests, wetlands and other biodiversity-rich habitats. Fertiliser run-off from the US corn belt, which supplies us with bioethanol, helps create an oxygen-depleted ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico. The EU’s Renewable Energy Directive has laudable ‘sustainability criteria’, but unsustainable biofuels can still be imported; they just don’t count towards the targets. Furthermore, the criteria don’t address iLUC, so biofuel demand continues to cause deforestation and biodiversity loss. If a domino falls in the forest, apparently no-one can hear it.

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Opinion:

Maybe we are the tail trying to wag the dog. We’ve got the whole issue wrong.

Maybe we should be curtailing non-essential motoring instead of trying to find more ways to provide fuel for it.

Cars should be banned from Sunday outings, travelling across the country for that holiday, used to get to work where there are public transport services.

Things like hoons driving aimlessly in search of a bonk on a Friday evening, the whole concept of motor racing should be banned, pleasure boating and fun jet skis.

We should instead be looking at more ways people can work from home. Groceries can be delivered by one truck, instead of 40 cars being used for a household shopping trip.

I must admit that I am not a fan of on-line shopping, but my ilk are at the tail end of life, we’ll be dead soon. On-line shopping must be used more and more. Each trip saved prevents a car being used, or provides one more space on public transport for someone who needs it.

Every kilometre travelled on public transport means less tyres being produced, less cars and parts being manufactured.

Walking should be considered as a health benefit as well, less obesity; obesity costs every country millions in healthcare costs.

The world is all but doomed already, but if we change the paradigm now, maybe that eventual doom can be forestalled.

The first priority is to feed the world, to hell with that trip to the beach on Sunday.

 

Monday Moaning

Are we on the wrong track?

Have we missed the point?

Everybody is jumping on the bandwagon, bloggers, governments, environmentalist, but have we picked the wrong band?

It would appear so.

Whole cities are banning plastic supermarket bags or charging a small fee. Okay, this is good, but it’s not the answer. Plastic shopping bags are not the villain!

The villain is is the other 99,97% that we are not complaining about, or are, but not so loudly.

roadside-plastic-bagsThe plastic shopping bag is merely the most visible villain.

They are like roadside billboards, seen everywhere, seen in the garbage dumps, seen being blown by the wind in parks and countryside. They are a constant reminder and hence we see them as the villain.

But, here’s the surprise, the plastic shopping bag on makes for 0.03% of all plastic garbage, just 0.03% and we are howling ‘villain!’

Plastic bags: symbol of consumer waste may ignore worse offenders

Campaign to consign polluting carrier bag to the bin of history misses valuable point, say recyclers and packaging firms

Plastic bag use is still rising in England despite wholesale reductions of use in Northern Ireland and Wales. Photograph: Nigel Barklie/Rex Features

The greatest contribution that plastic bags have made to human society is their use as a toilet. In developing countries, the bags are commonly used as a repository for human faeces, where they end up hanging from trees. It is not pretty, and not particularly environmentally friendly, but it is better than the alternatives, of allowing detritus to make its way into drinking water supplies and thus spreading disease.

Still plastic bags are found polluting waterways and ending up in the sea, where they are a menace to marine life. Earlier this year, a whale was found to have died of plastic pollution, its guts clogged up with our packaging castoffs. The problem is so great that there is now a floating pool of rubbish in the Pacific, greater in extent than any other detectable man-made impact on the environment.

So when Nick Clegg, depute prime minister, announced a charge for plastic bags at the Liberal Democrat annual conference, there was cheering among delegates hungry for a new way to emphasise the party’s commitment to the environment. The charge – if it comes about, and there are doubts as to how it will be implemented, and its efficacy as a result – should deter people from using the bags. And in the process, tackle a potent symbol of throw-away consumerism.

But plastic bags are only a small part of the problem. They account for only 0.03% of marine litter, according to the industry organisation Incpen.

The packaging that we all use, in day-to-day activities from buying food in supermarkets to our deliveries from online shopping centres, has a much greater – though less obvious – effect on pollution. A much greater percentage of non-biodegradable litter comes from food packaging such as the wrappers around food stuffs in supermarkets. Moves are afoot to cut that, supported by the retailers themselves, but there is still a long way to go.

Charges for plastic bags have already been introduced in parts of the UK, including Wales and Northern Ireland, so we already have an indication of how the policy could work in practice. Anna Beggs, from Northern Ireland, where the charge is already in force, told the Guardian: “I try to remember to bring my own bags so that I don’t have to pay. If most people do that it will cut down on the plastic bag blight, especially in the countryside.” The charge is 5p, compared with 25p in Ireland.

Charging for plastic bags demonstrably cuts down on their use. A Welsh Assembly official said: “Since we introduced our 5p carrier bag charge in October 2011, bag use in Wales has reduced by up to 96% in some retail sectors and over £4m worth of proceeds from the charge have been passed onto good causes, which include environmental charities such as Keep Wales Tidy, children’s charities and cancer charities. Since the introduction of the charge, people in Wales have changed the way they shop. It has encouraged shoppers to stop unnecessarily accepting new bags every time they are at the till and checkouts in Wales are now full of people reusing their bags.”

The charge is not technically a tax but is paid into a fund that goes to good causes.

Maggie Dunn, a Labour party activist, says that charging for the bags in England, as Clegg has suggested, is overdue. “I support this – it is unacceptable, how many bags we throw away. We need to think about the consequences – they are in the sea, they are harming nature.” Her view is that people will accept the proposed charges, if they are introduced, but that they need to be higher to people from using the bags. She suggests 50p would be more effective.

Despite its reputation as the epitome of extravagant waste, packaging such as plastic films and paper wrappings for food, also play their part in environmental pollution. Companies and retailers that routinely rely on packaging point out that when food is spoiled for lack of preservative wrappings, the environmental cost is much greater than the impact of bags. In India, for example, and other developing countries, the UN has calculated that the spoiling of edible foods means that as little as half of the quantity produced makes it to market in an edible condition. The lack of cold storage facilities and poor refrigeration accounts for some of that, but the waste is one of the biggest factors in making it hard for the world to feed itself – an increasing problem in the context of a global population estimated to top 10bn by 2050, and the need to increase food production by more than half to cater to that rapidly growing need, according to the UN.

“People equate plastic with waste and that is understandable, but what people don’t realise is that packaging has a job to do – ensuring that the product doesn’t get overheated on the dock, or in the lorry, or to deliver the goods in a good condition,” says Jane Bickerstaffe of Incpen.

Take a case in point – cucumber growers, who need to preserve their fast deteriorating food as soon as it is picked. “A cucumber wrapped in plastic needs only about 1.5 grams of plastic in its wrapper, but that extends the life of the product from about three days to at least 15 days, and when you look at the effort and environmental impact of growing a cucumber, the water and the fertiliser and all the rest, you can see we are preserving resources.”

Bickerstaffe is alive to the impacts of plastic packaging, but she urges people to take a broader view than the rubbish that they fill their household bins with. “It is understandable that people do not think beyond their own experience. They take it for granted. But they don’t realise that the vegetable wouldn’t have got to the shop without plastic.” Companies are also taking the lead in recycling plastics, reducing the amount of packaging they use – which also cuts their costs – and finding new materials that can be substituted for polymers. But Bickerstaffe admits: “I don’t think we have the answers yet.”

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