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Beijing took a hard line on Hong Kong – that may have backfired

http://www.smh.com.au/world/beijing-took-a-hardline-on-hong-kong–that-may-have-backfired-20160905-gr9f86

In 2014, tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents took to the streets in a defiant challenge to China. They called for full democracy, universal suffrage and the protection of their way of life.

But few spoke of independence — until now.

Two years after the “umbrella revolution” swept Hong Kong, with rising anger about Beijing’s influence in the city, what once was a fringe position has become a nascent political force.

On Sunday, in the first election since the 2014 protests, a record number of Hong Kong voters chose several candidates who either support the idea of independence from China, or have called for far greater autonomy.

According to early results, the new faces include Sixtus Leung, a 30-year-old who has said he supports independence and Nathan Law, a 23-year-old student leader who helped lead the 2014 protests and is calling for a referendum on “self-determination.”

The results will not immediately change Hong Kong’s governance. Only half of the seats of the city’s 70-member legislative council are directly elected through universal suffrage; half are “functional constituencies” that give corporations, associations and chambers of commerce actual votes.

Yet the strong showing by young, pro-independence and pro-democracy candidates means that those critical of Beijing’s influence will maintain the ability to veto policies proposed by the pro-China camp.

And it sends a clear message to Beijing: The battleground may have shifted, but the fight for Hong Kong is on.

Over the past four years, Hong Kong’s political landscape has been radically reshaped.

In 1997, the onetime British colony was returned to Chinese rule under an arrangement known as “one country, two systems.” Hong Kong would maintain certain rights and separate laws for 50 years but would be beholden, ultimately, to Beijing.

In the “two systems” framework, many in Hong Kong saw space for political change. And for the better part of 15 years, the city’s pro-democracy camp worked within the system for that goal.

When people in Hong Kong last voted in legislative elections, in 2012, independence was not on the agenda. But 2014 changed that.

In June of that year, Beijing issued a white paper that confirmed some of the democracy movement’s worst fears about the Chinese government’s plans for Hong Kong. “One country, two systems” does not mean autonomy, it said, but rather “the power to run local affairs as authorised by the central leadership.”

By September, anger about the paper, combined with outrage about the arrest of student leaders, culminated in the peaceful occupation of one of Asia’s financial centres — for 79 days.

But thousands of people sleeping on a major thoroughfare did not secure a single concession from Beijing. And by the time the crowds dispersed and the tent city was torn down, many thought the movement was over.

Perhaps it could have been. But in the years since, Beijing has done little to ease fears. Last winter, five men affiliated with a Hong Kong publishing house that specialises in gossipy books about Chinese leaders disappeared – abducted, it later emerged, by Chinese security forces.

One of the men, Lee Bo, is thought to have been spirited away from a Hong Kong warehouse and smuggled across the border to the Chinese mainland — an act widely considered a violation of “one country, two systems.”

While missing, he sent strange, seemingly scripted letters back to Hong Kong claiming that he was not missing but “assisting with an investigation.” As the farce unfolded, Hong Kong’s government was either unwilling or unable to help.

This and other incidents have fuelled a surge in anti-China sentiment and an interest in the idea of independence, especially among the young. Rather than address that anger, though, the government has tried to outlaw it.

In July, Hong Kong’s election commission said candidates in the legislative election had to sign a pledge accepting three clauses in the city’s mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law, that say Hong Kong is part of China. Six candidates were later barred from running because of their views.

In August, Hong Kong teachers were warned that they could lose their qualifications if they advocated independence in schools.

Hong Kong’s leader, Leung Chun-ying, said that the city’s teachers should stop students from talking about independence – just as they stop them from doing drugs. Another official, Fanny Law, said on the radio that the topic is simply “too complicated” for school.

The interest does not mean that independence is likely, but it suggests how hard it will be for China’s leaders to win hearts and minds as the gap between Beijing and Hong Kong seems to grow.

In a poll published in July by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, about 17 percent of 1,010 Hong Kongers surveyed said they support independence after 2047. The survey found that less than four per cent thought independence was possible.

In Beijing’s eyes, of course, it is absolutely not an option. In May, a top Communist Party official, Zhang Dejiang, dismissed independence out of hand, warning Hong Kong against moves to “resist the central government.”

Alzheimer’s could be caused by toxic air pollution particles found in brain tissue

Abundance of magnetite in brains of people from Mexico City and Manchester described as “dreadfully shocking”

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/alzheimers-toxic-air-pollution-particles-brain-tissue-magnetite-barbara-maher-a7227891.html

Minute magnetic particles typically found in air pollution have been detected in “abundant” quantities in human brain tissue for the first time.

The tiny particles of iron oxide, known as magnetite, are toxic and it has been suggested they could play a role in causing or hastening the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, in which brain tissue samples from 37 people were collected from those who had lived in Mexico City and in Manchester in the UK, is the first to prove magnetite particles found in air pollution have made their way into the brain.

Magnetite naturally occurs in angular formations in the brain. But for every one natural angular particle, researchers found as many as 100 smooth, spherical particles.

The smooth shape of the observed magnetite particles is characteristic of high temperature formation, such as from vehicle (particularly diesel) engines, power stations or open fires, researchers said.

The toxic magnetite particles disrupt normal cellular functions in the brain by causing oxidative stress, and by the creation of unstable free radicals – particles which damage essential structures in brain cells.

Though no definite link between magnetite and Alzheimer’s has been established, previous studies have found a correlation between high quantities of the compound and the disease in the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers.

The study was led by scientists at Lancaster University and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The World Health Organisation warned as many as three million premature deaths every year were the result of air pollution.

In the UK it is thought as many as 50,000 people die each year due to air pollution. A further 520,000 are affected by Alzheimer’s, a common form of dementia.

Physicist Barbara Maher, co-director of the Centre for Environmental Magnetism and Paleomagnetism at Lancaster University said in a statement: “Our results indicate that magnetite nanoparticles in the atmosphere can enter the human brain, where they might pose a risk to human health, including conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.

“The particles we found are strikingly similar to the magnetite nanospheres that are abundant in the airborne pollution found in urban settings, especially next to busy roads, and which are formed by combustion or frictional heating from vehicle engines or brakes.”

Speaking to the BBC she added: “It’s dreadfully shocking. When you study the tissue you see the particles distributed between the cells and when you do a magnetic extraction there are millions of particles, millions in a single gram of brain tissue – that’s a million opportunities to do damage.”

Professor David Allsop, a specialist in Alzheimer’s at the University of Lancaster and co-author of the study, said: “This finding opens up a whole new avenue for research into a possible environmental risk factor for a range of different brain diseases.”

Geophysicist Joe Kirschvink at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who first detected naturally formed magnetite particles in the brain 25 years ago, told the journal Science, he believes the presence of the particle in the brain is “disturbing”.

He said: “Once you start getting larger volumes of [environmental] magnetite, the chemical reactivity goes way up.

“That nanoparticles of industrially generated magnetite are able to make their way into the brain tissues is disturbing.”

Dr David Reynolds, chief scientific officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, told the Press Association: “Little is known about the role of magnetite nanoparticles in the brain and whether their magnetic properties influence brain function.

“It’s interesting to see further research investigating the presence of this mineral in the brain, but it’s too early to conclude that it may have a causal role in Alzheimer’s disease or any other brain disease.

“We know that air pollution can have a negative impact on certain aspects of human health, but we can’t conclude from this study that magnetite nanoparticles carried in air pollution are harmful to brain health.”

Policymakers should take note of the results, Professor Maher told Science.

“It’s an unfortunately plausible risk factor, and it’s worth taking precautions. Policymakers have tried to account for this in their environmental regulations, but maybe those need to be revised,” she said.

Red tides in Hong Kong flag failings of small-house policy and officials in denial

http://www.scmp.com/comment/letters/article/1999649/red-tides-hong-kong-flag-failings-small-house-policy-and-officials

The report on the causes of recent red tides by the University of Hong Kong (“Seeing red over algal blooms”, July 30), highlights the woeful performance of the government in controlling marine pollution.

A major source of pollution is sewage from New Territories houses. Houses constructed under the small-house policy are exempted from building regulations and often have individual septic tanks.

Many village houses are part of large development plans, masterminded by developers and the Heung Yee Kuk, which are a blatant abuse of the small-house policy. Fake farming activities are often used to “condition” land before submitting building applications. Despite often being part of a coordinated development plan, house applications are treated individually. Planning authorities do not assess the cumulative impact of siting numerous septic tanks close to environmentally sensitive waters.

There are no plans to extend mains sewage to most New Territories villages and the government refuses to consider environmentally friendly sewage treatment plants for villages.

The Environmental Protection Department’s guidance material for constructing septic tanks is, by its own admission, incomplete.

The material is way behind international best practice, offering no protection to coastlines other than where there is a gazetted beach. Rules in the Water Pollution Control Ordinance, designed to protect Sites of Special Scientific Interest, mariculture sites and marinas, are ignored. The Lands Department, which processes individual house applications, uses its own document, which was agreed at a secret meeting between the Environmental Protection and Lands departments in 2009. It further waters down the regulations, for instance, removing the need to assess the suitability of soil conditions for septic tanks in many cases.

Monitoring water quality is haphazard and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department is incapable of measuring the minute quantities of pesticides which can be extremely toxic to marine life.

The main function of water quality monitoring appears to be to enable the Environmental Protection and Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation departments to tell everyone that there is no problem. The government lives in a state of denial of serious marine pollution problems.

The unaccountable, incompetent, complacent and uncaring bureaucrats who are in charge of Hong Kong’s environment will not be happy until the land is covered in concrete and the seas filled with plastic, human excrement and chemicals. So much for Hong Kong’s commitment to the Convention on Biodiversity. Compliance is a cosmetic farce.

David Newbery, Sai Kung

Nanjing ends waste incineration project

http://www.china.org.cn/china/2016-08/05/content_39028110.htm

The eastern city of Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, has put an end to a controversial waste incineration project following public uproar.

The government of Nanjing’s Liuhe District announced on Thursday that it will stop the incineration project after widespread public disapproval. A scheduled public consultation on Thursday was subsequently canceled.

The announcement received a lukewarm, or even hostile, reception online with many netizens saying that they are not against the incineration plant, but rather where it is built, and whether it will operate in accordance with rules to avoid pollution.

Zhang Guoru, deputy head of the district’s urban management bureau, said that there is currently only one incinerator in the district, which can dispose of about 150 tonnes of household garbage each day.

“As the district is developing fast, the amount of garbage has exceeded 380 tonnes every day, and is predicted to reach 500 tonnes per day in three years,” he said.

Incinerators are considered the most feasible and effective means of disposing of garbage, but pollution concerns have led to public protests.

In 2014, a planned waste incinerator in east China’s Zhejiang Province led to clashes with police.

Grand Hyatt Singapore’s effort in reducing waste production in Singapore

http://www.theonlinecitizen.com/blog/2016/08/04/grand-hyatt-singapores-effort-in-reducing-waste-production-in-singapore/

Grand Hyatt Singapore implements organic food waste management system, reducing waste production of the hotel and converts the waste into useable fertiliser.

The hotel received a grant of S$250,000 through the 3R (Reduce, Reuse & Recycle) Fund for the installation and implementation of the system. The grant is calculated based on key outcomes such as the actual quantity of waste reduced or recycled.

The 3R Fund, created by the National Environmental Agency, is a co-funding scheme to encourage organisations to undertake waste minimisation and recycling projects.

This new organic food waste management system touches on the first and the third of the three focus points in Hyatt’s 2020 sustainability plans.

The installation and implementation system uses two individual systems that operate in sequence:

• an integrated food waste disposal system which extracts water, grinds and compacts food waste from the restaurants and event kitchens
• a ‘Rapid Thermophilic Digestion System’ which then converts compacted food waste into pathogen-free organic fertiliser.

The ‘Rapid Thermophilic Digestion System’ subsequently recycles the compacted food waste into organic fertiliser and this will be used only for the hotel’s landscaping purposes.

This innovative system enables the hotel to keep 100% of its organic food waste out of the city’s landfills – drastically reducing the property’s overall waste production and will be good for environment of the city.

The hotel said that this will also boost productivity and hygiene levels, as food waste will be transferred into the integrated in-feed stations located at various dishwashing and food preparation areas, and transported via the vacuum system into the centralised grinder and dewatering unit.

As a result, manpower is no longer required to physically move food waste into the waste compacters. About 55,000 trash bags will be saved each year, and this further contributes to the green efforts of this project which has an estimated payback period of less than 3 years.

This new waste recycling infrastructure saves Grand Hyatt Singapore approximately S$100,000 a year in food waste haulage fees and operational expenses. By eliminating the need for food waste haulage, the hotel will further reduce its carbon footprint.

Spearheaded by Executive Chef Lucas Glanville, this milestone achievement would also not have been possible without the dedication of Grand Hyatt Singapore’s Business Analyst Darrell Tan, Director of Engineering Ivan Leong, Stewarding Manager Vijay Sivarajah and the secretarial support of Anita Lukman.

Food waste is created in Singapore every single day from our food cycle – production, distribution, retail to consumption – and the wastage is huge and still looming to become a problem for the country.

According to the National Environment Agency, Singapore wasted approximately 790,000 tonnes of food in 2014 and it’s still looming to become a problem to the country.

Typically, food waste would go to a landfill where it would decompose, or it would go to an incinerator.

“The issue with landfills obviously is the emissions of landfill gas, which is basically methane. This is a very bad greenhouse gas – it is 23 times worse than carbon dioxide,” said Mr Edwin Khew, chairman of the Association of Sustainable Energy (SEAS)

At the present, burning food waste is Singapore’s primary method of waste disposal which uses enormous amounts of energy to do.

Singapore has only one landfill left – Semakau Landfill – and it is expected to run out of space if habits do not change.

It has been reported that Singapore’s landfill will run out of space between 2035 and 2045, if the nation continues to dispose of more than three million tonnes of rubbish a year.

Dutch activists sue government over air pollution

Dutch environmentalists said Tuesday they are suing the government over poor air quality, saying people’s “fundamental” rights to good health were being infringed.

In a lawsuit filed on Monday, the Milieudefensie group alleged “the Netherlands exceeds the legal standards for air quality and is violating fundamental human rights by doing too little to combat air pollution.”

“This pollution causes thousands of deaths every year, and leaves tens of thousands of people seriously ill. That is unacceptable,” added the group’s campaign manager, Anne Knol, in a statement.

The suit launched in The Hague is the first step in a lengthy process which could lead to a trial. The first hearing is due to be held on August 17.

Environmental activists say under the constitution “the state has a duty to protect citizens from unhealthy air.”

The group alleges that, in tests carried out at 58 sites across the country last year, the levels of nitrogen dioxide exceeded European norms in 11 places.

The indictment has been signed by 57 Dutch citizens, and the lawsuit has been launched after a crowd-funding campaign raised some 30,000 euros ($33,593) to cover the costs.

This latest action comes after another Dutch environmental rights group, Urgenda, last year won a landmark ruling ordering the government to slash greenhouse gases by a quarter by 2020.

Climate experts hailed the June 2015 ruling as “a milestone” in a case brought by 900 Dutch citizens seeking to force a national reduction of the emissions blamed for global warming. The government is appealing.

The Curse of Sachets in Asia: why western companies should be held accountable

Written by Zero Waste Europe Policy Officer, Delphine Lévi Alvarès after experiencing the incredible amount of plastic waste on beaches in the Philippines.

https://www.zerowasteeurope.eu/2016/07/the-curse-of-sachets-in-asia-why-western-companies-should-be-held-accountable/

On the morning of Saturday 16th of July some of Zero Waste Europe’s staff took part in their first Philippines beach cleanup. It was only 8am, and a swarm of volunteers were already in action on Freedom Island’s beach, armed with bags and gloves to clear the sand from layers and layers of garbage carried downstream into the Manila bay from all the small canals and rivers crossing the megalopolis.

Our first impression when we arrived at the beach was shocking. It was almost uniformly covered by little used sachets of shampoo, detergent, and instant coffee… an ocean of colours and brands among which many were recognised by the sharp eye of a western consumer. Nescafé, Maggi, Ariel, Palmolive, Colgate, Head & Shoulders, Mentos and many others, directly coming for the marketing brains of American and European multinationals such as Nestlé, Procter & Gamble and Unilever.

Why such a flow of single use sachets in this region of the world, to package the same products that we have in bigger containers in Europe and the US, and how do they end up in the rivers and the ocean? Speaking with our colleagues from South East Asia, we understood that behind the false affordability (the so-called ‘pro-poor’) argument made by the companies manufacturing these products (i.e. that for people with low income it is cheaper to buy these products on a daily basis than buying larger quantities despite the fact that the total cost they will end up paying is higher) there is a more significant marketing argument. Hence the appealing colours and glossy packaging. And even if it’s not part of their strategy, the absence of sound waste collection and management systems in most of the places where people use these sachets leads to massive littering both on land and in waterways increasing their brand’s visibility even more than the market stalls.

Yet the solutions to replace these sachets exist and many Zero Waste groups have been promoting them in front of these brand’s corporate leaders. In low-income areas they should be replaced by dispensers from which people could get one pump of their required product (oil, shampoo, detergent, etc.) in small returnable and reusable containers. It would be even cheaper to buy on a daily basis, because a large part of the product’s price is in the cost of the packaging itself. Improving the waste management systems in these areas is of course of high priority, but in regardless case it’s better to prevent than manage waste, and even more so because these sachets, made of multilayered material, are not recyclable.

The response of the brands to this proposal has been a resounding ”no”.

It is necessary for the producers to take responsibility for the products they put in the market and if they are sold in places where the means to manage this waste are not available they should -at the very least- shoulder the costs of collecting and treating this waste. If they do it in Europe, why can’t they do it in Asia?

Zero Waste strategy takes form in Barcelona

https://www.zerowasteeurope.eu/2016/07/zero-waste-news-from-barcelona/

On the July 14th, civil society organisations, schools, companies in the waste sector and public institutions met to initiate a ‘Strategy for Barcelona to go towards Zero Waste’. The main challenges of waste management in Barcelona were presented as starting point.

The Fundació per a la Preveció de Residus i Consum, a Zero Waste Europe member, participates actively in the design of the new strategy.

Food bridge (against food waste)

The Food Bridge project promoted by the Fundació per a la Prevenció de Residus and the Fundació Banc de Recursos intends to make an impact on food waste reduction through a campaign based on solidarity and the re-use of natural resources. This project is addressed to catering companies, restaurants and food distribution companies willing to reduce food wastage at their shops or restaurant and donate the excess food to social entities.

In a year, the project has managed to re-use 1722 meals of cooked food and 656kg of fresh food that would have been otherwise wasted.

The Zero Waste Festival, the place to be for zero waste advocates

Zero Waste Europe Policy Officer, Ferran Rosa covers his experience of the Zero Waste Festival in Paris.

https://www.zerowasteeurope.eu/2016/07/the-zero-waste-festival-the-place-to-be-for-zero-waste-advocates/

From 30th June to 2nd July the first Zero Waste Festival took place in Paris. Organised by Zero Waste France, the festival brought 5,000 participants together in a unique event where policy-makers, entrepreneurs, innovators, waste managers, individuals living a zero waste lifestyle and civil society organisations shared a forum.

The Festival successfully managed to provide a holistic vision around waste, from management and institutional solutions, to consumption patterns and sustainable lifestyles. More than a congress on zero waste, it was truly a Festival, with workshops, conferences, debates, seminars and lots of space to discuss and learn from different experiences, all accompanied with an excellent atmosphere of good music and veggie food.

Zero Waste France was made the case for the need to transition towards Zero Waste from many different angles including: individual consumption and waste generation patterns, municipal waste management, requirements for design, industrial responsibility, and more. In this regards, a wide range of solutions enabling a phase out of the take-make-dispose model were presented, from collective action (Capannori, Parma or San Francisco) to individual engagement to transition (Roubaix, Bea Johnson or Famille Zero Déchet).

Among these solutions, Zero Waste Europe launched its latest campaign, the People’s Design Lab, a collaborative tool allowing citizens to nominate wasteful products that will eventually be, redesigned in design workshops partnering with consumers, producers and designers. On top of that, Zero Waste Europe presented the network of Zero Waste municipalities and the importance of building a network of change-makers at the European level so that municipalities can learn from each other.

The attendance of 5,000 people at the Festival is testament to the success of Zero Waste France’s initiative and that there are plenty of people willing to make the transition happen in France and abroad, and that this number is indeed growing. The Festival didn’t only inspire individuals to finally live a zero waste lifestyle, but also local councillors to re-think their waste management systems and individuals to create a local Zero Waste groups.

MPs call for evidence on post-Brexit environment strategy

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has set a September deadline for the new Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (EU) David Davis, and new Minister for the Environment Therese Coffey to reveal how they plan to handle environmental policies during exit negotiations.

http://www.edie.net/news/11/MPs-call-for-evidence-on-post-Brexit-environment-strategy/

A letter from Labour MP and EAC chair Mary Creagh has called on the two ministers to deliver oral evidence at House’s September sitting as to how negotiating a deal to leave the EU will impact environmental policies such as air quality, water pollution and waste management.

“The Committee is particularly concerned and wishes to seek reassurance about the Government’s plans for the large proportion of UK environmental law that originated from EU level, the Government’s approach to ongoing negotiations around EU measures such as the Circular Economy Package and how the Government intends to maintain the benefits of transnational cooperation on environmental issues such as climate change,” Creagh said in the letter.

In the letter, which arrived just weeks after an inquiry on how Brexit would affect UK climate policy was launched, Creagh noted that the EU had implemented a “widespread impact on the environment” with many of the legislative measures covering the environment and climate change established at EU level.

Creagh also alluded to recent ONS figures, which show that the UK’s low-carbon and renewables economy was worth £46.2bn and supported nearly 250,000 jobs, as a reason why there are concerns that the Government may “deprioritise the issue”.

The letter claimed that business investors required “stability” and that the Brexit strategy should provide evidence on how the UK plans to tackle its worsening air quality levels and its “poor quality” water sites. A blueprint should also be provided on how the UK plants to improve biodiversity protection, which is likely to be secured through a new €12m MoorLIFE 2020 project.

The letter also calls on the ministers to provide evidence on how any policy changes or amendments would secure the current platform that has allowed the UK to “show global leadership on climate change”. Last month, former Energy Secretary Amber Rudd reassured delegates at the Business and Climate Summit that post-Brexit Britain would not step back from climate leadership.

Commenting on the letter, Friends of the Earth Campaigner Sam Lowe said: “It is essential that the government upholds current EU protections for our nature and wildlife and looks to improve them. With over 70% of our environmental laws coming from Europe, the government must urgently clarify its intent to create UK rules which will fully protect our environment.

“The government must also make sure that existing laws continue to be enforced throughout the negotiation period and that weakened protection for our environment doesn’t become a by-product of Brexit uncertainty.”

Circular Economy

The Circular Economy Package – which includes 65% recycling targets, tools to halve food waste by 2030, and measures to promote reparability in the design phase of products – has been one of the biggest areas of uncertainty surrounding the UK’s ability to trade products outside of a Member State status.

Speaking exclusively at edie’s Resource Revolution event earlier this month, chair of the UK’s Circular Economy Taskforce Sue Armstrong-Brown said the only way for Britain to open up trading streams with the EU after it leaves the bloc will be to create much more recyclable, repairable and reusable products and services. However, there are concerns that Brexit could lead to the collapse of the UK’s plateauing recycling rates.

Matt Mace