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Hong Kong becomes a dumping ground for US e-waste, research finds

A two year investigation by Basel Action Network attached 200 GPS trackers on broken electronic items in the US and found many ended up in dumping grounds in the New Territories.

Hong Kong has become a haven for exporters of electronic waste in the United States, according to an environmental group that claims the SAR has replaced the mainland to become “ground zero” for toxic electronic materials.

A two-year investigation by Seattle environmental group Basel Action Network, attached 200 GPS trackers on broken electronic items in the US, and found many ended up in dumping grounds in the New Territories.

Of the 200 trackers, 65 were found to have been exported out of the US. Out of those 65, 37 were exported to Hong Kong, making it the most popular destination for the harmful electronic waste. By contrast, eight were detected on the mainland.

“These findings are very different than our findings over the past decade, when it was observed that the vast majority of e-waste from North America went to China, and most of that to Guiyu, a township and region in Guangdong Province,” the report states. Previous research from 2002 put e-waste exports to the mainland in the spotlight.

The research project, supported by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Senseable City Lab, is the first of its kind. Previous efforts commissioned by the US federal government to quantify e-waste being exported out of the US have only been based on trade reports or surveys from recyclers claiming to act responsibly.

BAN, by contrast, installed the trackers in printers, flat-screen monitors and cathode ray tube monitors. These items were then delivered to publicly accessible e-waste recycling drop-off sites across the US.

The research found that many of the items – which contain toxic materials such as lead and mercury – were being exported out of the US, with the group estimating 65 of the devices to be illegal shipments due to the laws in the importing country or regional government.

“Ironically, it appears that Hong Kong, usually thought of as one of the most technologically and economically advanced areas of China, has not enforced the Chinese import ban as diligently as mainland China has done, and appears to have, in fact, become a new pollution haven,” the report reads.

The report comes as Hong Kong legislators call upon the government to better regulate and ¬investigate dumping grounds on the SAR’s outskirts, which they suspect to contain hazardous electronic waste.

Accusing the government of sitting on its hands, democratic legislators this week called upon the government to investigate open air dumping grounds in the New Territories, of which around 100 are expected to exist.

Democratic Party vice-chairman Andrew Wan Siu-kin said he had been tracking two sites ¬– one in a green belt zone near the ¬wetland park in Sheung Pak Nai, Tin Shui Wai; another zoned for “recreation and farming” at Hung Shui Kiu near Lau Fau Shan – which he suspected as places where electronic waste was not just stored, but also possibly processed.

“There’s no way out [for the materials], it’s contaminating Hong Kong’s environment,” said Democratic Party lawmaker Wu Chi-wa, who complained that the SAR lacked a tracking system for monitoring e-waste.

“The mainland tightened ¬controls almost two years ago, so now it is more and more likely that this material is remaining in Hong Kong.”

According to Hong Kong legislators, Hong Kong has failed where mainland China has succeeded in enforcing its ban on ¬importing hazardous waste, which it implemented in 2000.

The US is thought to generate 3.14 million tonnes of e-waste each year, according to the ¬Environmental Protection ¬Agency, with an estimated 40 per cent expected to be turned around for recycling. But owing to a bear market for many commodities found in e-waste – such as copper, plastics and steel – recyclers are opting to export the goods rather than process them domestically.

Unlike China, the US is not party to the Basel Convention, a treaty which regulates the cross-border movement of hazardous materials.

China is party to the Basel Convention, which renders it ¬applicable to Hong Kong. But under the “One Country, Two Systems” policy, the SAR is ¬responsible for implementing separate controls on the ¬cross-border movement of ¬hazardous waste.

Responding to the report, the Environmental Protection Department expressed “grave concern” and on Friday said it had immediately initiated an investigation against the alleged recycling sites in the New Territories. “The EPD will not tolerate any hazardous e-waste being illegally imported to Hong Kong,” a spokesman said.

The spokesman said the EPD has already contacted BAN for information and had urged them to provide US authorities “with relevant information at the same time to facilitate interception at source”.

The department stressed that provisions set out in the city’s Waste Disposal Ordinance were formulated “in accordance with the requirements of the Basel Convention” and were consistent with those adopted by other jurisdictions including member countries of the European Union.

The department said it had inspected about 3,200 containers in the past five years and successfully carried out prosecution of 100 cases. All illegally imported e-waste had been returned to the originating places of export, it said.
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Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/1977148/hong-kong-becomes-dumping-ground-us-e-waste

STUDY: US OIL FIELD SOURCE OF GLOBAL UPTICK IN AIR POLLUTION

http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_ETHANE_POLLUTION_MTOL-?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2016-04-29-19-04-30

WASHINGTON (AP) — An oil and natural gas field in the western United States is largely responsible for a global uptick of the air pollutant ethane, according to a new study.

The team led by researchers at the University of Michigan found that fossil fuel production at the Bakken Formation in North Dakota and Montana is emitting roughly 2 percent of the ethane detected in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Along with its chemical cousin methane, ethane is a hydrocarbon that is a significant component of natural gas. Once in the atmosphere, ethane reacts with sunlight to form ozone, which can trigger asthma attacks and other respiratory problems, especially in children and the elderly. Ethane pollution can also harm agricultural crops.

Ozone also ranks as the third-largest contributor to human-caused global warming after carbon dioxide and methane.

“We didn’t expect one region to have such a global influence,” said Eric Kort, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of climatic science at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

The study was launched after a mountaintop sensor in the European Alps began registering surprising spikes in ethane concentrations in the atmosphere starting in 2010, following decades of declines. The increase, which has continued over the last five years, was noted at the same time new horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques were fueling a boom of oil and gas production from previously inaccessible shale rock formations in the United States.

Searching for the source of the ethane, an aircraft from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2014 sampled air from directly overhead and downwind of drilling rigs in the Bakken region. Those measurements showed ethane emissions far higher than what was being reported to the government by oil and gas companies.

The findings solve an atmospheric mystery – where that extra ethane was coming from, said Colm Sweeney, a study co-author from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

The researchers said other U.S. oil and gas fields, especially the Eagle Ford in Texas, are also likely contributing to the global rise in ethane concentrations. Ethane gets into the air through leaks from drilling rigs, gas storage facilities and pipelines, as well as from intentional venting and gas burnoffs from extraction operations.

“We need to take these regions into account because it could really be impacting air quality in a way that might matter across North America,” Kort said.

Helping drive the high emission levels from the Bakken has been the oil field’s meteoric growth. Efforts to install and maintain equipment to capture ethane and other volatile gases before they can escape have lagged behind drilling, said North Dakota Environmental Health Chief Dave Glatt.

Glatt’s agency has stepped up enforcement efforts in response. Last year, the state purchased a specialized camera that can detect so-called fugitive gas emissions as they escape from uncontained oil storage tanks, leaky pipelines, processing facilities and other sources.

“You’re able to see what the naked eye can’t and it reveals emissions sources you didn’t know where there,” Glatt said. “It’s a game changer. A lot of the companies thought they were in good shape, and they looked through the camera and saw they weren’t.”

Regulators at the Environmental Protection Agency were reviewing the study’s results. Spokeswoman Laura Allen said Friday that new clean air rules recently announced by the Obama administration to curb climate-warming methane leaks from oil and gas drilling operations should also help address the harmful ethane emissions.

There are other ways ethane gets into the atmosphere – including wildfires and natural seepage from underground gas reserves. But fossil fuel extraction is the dominant source, accounting for roughly 60 to 70 percent of global emissions, according to a 2013 study from researchers at the University of California.

This Baltimore 20-year-old just won a huge international award for taking out a giant trash incinerator

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/04/18/this-baltimore-20-year-old-just-won-a-huge-international-award-for-taking-out-a-giant-trash-incinerator/

Baltimore stands apart as the American big city with the most deaths caused by air pollution, and Curtis Bay is its dirtiest community. Several years ago, the air there stood to get even worse when the state approved a permit for a giant incinerator that would burn 4,000 tons of trash every day and emit up to 1,240 pounds of lead and mercury every year.

But destiny intervened. More specifically, a 17-year-old high school senior named Destiny Watford.

Outraged that her community was once again “being dumped on” and that the health of her family and neighbors was being “sacrificed for a profit,” the self-described shy girl led fellow students at Benjamin Franklin High School in a four-year campaign that mobilized Curtis Bay and halted the incinerator’s construction indefinitely.

As state environmental officials seek to revoke the permit for good, Watford is being honored with one of the world’s most prestigious environmental awards. On Monday, she was announced as a 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize winner for her community leadership.

Not only is Watford, at 20, the youngest of this year’s six recipients — who hail from Slovakia, Cambodia, Tanzania, Puerto Rico and Peru — she’s the third-youngest honoree in the history of the prize. She says she never imagined becoming an activist, let alone that her efforts would allow her to stand shoulder to shoulder with internationally recognized advocates of environmental justice. But her mother, Kimberly Kelly, isn’t surprised.

“I have five kids,” Kelly said, “and I just knew she was going to be different. She’s a debater. She wants to get her point across.”

Growing up in Curtis Bay, a community of rowhouses near Baltimore’s industrial southern tip, Watford watched her mother struggle with asthma. She knew neighbors afflicted with respiratory disease. During the campaign, when she and other students asked members of an art class at Franklin High if any of them had asthma, “almost every hand shot up,” Watford recalled last week.

A 2013 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that 113 people per 100,000 Maryland residents — higher than in any other state — die as a result of emissions from car and truck traffic, trains and ships, commercial heating systems and industrial smokestacks. Baltimore’s rate was far higher, exceeding that of New York City and smoggy Los Angeles.

Curtis Bay is Baltimore’s epicenter of pollution and bad health. Jutting into the bay where it meets the Patapsco River, it started out as a focal point for World War II-era shipping. It later gained a coal-burning power plant, a chemical-processing plant, a medical-waste incinerator and other industry.

And the air kept getting dirtier. In 2007 and 2008, Curtis Bay ranked worst in the nation for the release of toxic air pollutants, according to a report by the Environmental Integrity Project using emissions data from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The following year, it ranked second.

Like many residents there, Watford had no idea the incinerator had been approved for her community until she saw a story about it on the Internet in 2012.

Energy Answers International was promoting the project — set to be the biggest of its kind in the nation — as an energy-producing power plant that would serve schools and other facilities. It would be located less than a mile from Franklin High and Curtis Bay Elementary, which state environmental regulations wouldn’t typically allow. But the rule became irrelevant when the Public Service Commission approved the incinerator as an energy plant.

The company said by email last week that the PSC granted the exemption because the tire rubber, vinyl, plastic, metals and other municipal waste burned at the site would be processed into a fuel elsewhere. About 1.5 million tons of landfill waste annually would be diverted, converted and marketed as renewable energy, making the facility, “by all definitions, an energy plant,” according to a company statement.

The statement noted the upper limits of lead and mercury emissions under the permit and said the company never expected the incinerator to approach those. The project would require 1,300 temporary construction workers and create 200 permanent jobs, the statement said.

Watford and her classmates were concerned more about the air. They formed an advocacy group called Free Your Voice and studied the history of industry and pollution in Curtis Bay, as well as in the nearby Brooklyn and Hawkins Point neighborhoods. They began knocking on doors, expanding their network to hundreds of residents who circulated petitions that resulted in thousands of signatures. Their rallying cry: “Clear air is a human right.”

About 100 Franklin High School students, community activists and union members march in late 2013 to the site of the highly contested incinerator as part of a campaign to stop its construction in Curtis Bay. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun)

Ten students were the core of Free Your Voice, but the Goldman Prize will be given to Watford, because “she’s kind of been the glue, the person who not just stuck around but deepened her involvement,” said Greg Sawtell, an organizer for the nonprofit activist group United Workers who acted as a mentor and helped nominate her for the award.

“She distinguished herself beyond the organizing with her ability to use writing and creative expression through video,” Sawtell said. “Older people said they got involved from their doors being knocked on by Destiny. She inspired a multigenerational struggle. She showed a lot of wisdom and patience.”

Watford, whose soft Afro frames a baby face, had never heard of the prize. When the Goldman Prize director called to congratulate her, she almost didn’t answer because the number showing on her cellphone was unfamiliar. Then she didn’t know what to say: “I was really confused. I didn’t know who he was or what he was talking about.”

He was talking about her work. Early on, the students thought they would win because of the incinerator’s proximity to the two schools. They persevered after that setback and discovered that the school district and city government agencies had signed an agreement to purchase energy from the incinerator, according to the Goldman Prize. Watford led students to a school board meeting at which they used artwork and video to convince members to reconsider. The board eventually took a student-organized tour of the proposed site and divested from the project.

In the end, the plant was derailed last fall on a different issue identified by Free Your Voice. According to state law, construction on an industrial project must begin during the 18 months before a permit’s air-quality provision expires. That never happened. In December, the 90-acre construction site was still only gravel and patches of grass.

The students pressed the point during a showdown at the Maryland Department of the Environment’s headquarters. With the help of United Workers, Free Your Voice brought 200 protesters to confront Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles. Only a few were allowed in for a discussion.

“We told them, ‘You guys have to take action. If not, there’s going to be a consequence,’ ” Watford recounted. The group would not accept the secretary’s explanation that his hands were tied by legal red tape, she said, and the protesters refused to leave until Grumbles declared that Energy Answers no longer met the air-quality provision. The agency officially notified the company last month of its decision.

“The permit had expired due to a lack of ‘continuous construction,’ ” Grumbles said in a statement last week. The statement acknowledged the students’ frustration over the months-long wait for his department’s final decision. It also singled out their leader.

“Destiny is a talented, resourceful and passionate young advocate,” Grumbles said, “with great potential to make a difference in the lives of those around her.”

The Goldman prize described her in similar terms, noting her “unwavering dedication and wisdom beyond her years.”

Energy Answers still holds a lease on the property and is fighting to build its plant, but at this stage of the process the company would have to get the community’s approval, which is unlikely. When Energy Answers President Patrick F. Mahoney attended a Curtis Bay meeting in March to talk about the jobs and revenue the plant would bring, he was shouted down by angry residents.

Watford, who is a junior at Towson University north of Baltimore, is now leading an effort to turn half of the proposed construction site into a community-owned solar panel farm. The project would provide energy to schools and businesses just as the incinerator would have — but without the same health risks.

The Secret to San Francisco’s Zero Waste Success

http://waste360.com/waste-reduction/secret-san-francisco-s-zero-waste-success

Is there a secret in San Francisco related to their zero waste success?

Yes, I think there is, and unfortunately it is rarely discussed.

I love San Francisco and the zero waste work they are doing. And I want to draw attention to what their “secret ingredient” is so that other cities can better understand what they don’t have but might want to pursue locally, even if in an altered form.

Last month, the New York Times wrote another admiring piece about the San Francisco zero waste program. And again, the reporter missed asking the logical question, “Why San Francisco?” What is different about Golden Gate City that makes it such a star when it comes to progressive waste management systems?

It isn’t a unique technology, as Jack Macy even admits in the article. That is an important point considering all the sketchy “new tech, one-bin” proposals we’ve been seeing lately as the way to achieve zero waste.

There is more than just one reason that San Francisco is successful. But I am going to focus on the one thing that is really special, and it’s the relationship between the San Francisco government and the private sector service provider Recology. The working relationship between these two entities is very unique and I think is the key to enabling their soaring success. So why are they such good buddies in pursuit of a common goal when elsewhere we see conflict and struggle, such as the recent Houston-Waste Management Inc. contract tussle?

I didn’t want to misspeak here, so I ran this column past a San Francisco insider to make sure I got this right. The company known today as Recology is, in fact, a very old company with deep roots in the San Francisco waste business dating to the early 1920s. They did something unique and remarkable many years ago. Two Recology predecessor haulers, Scavenger’s Protective Association and Sunset Scavenger Company, got written into the City Charter through a voter initiative ordinance as the exclusive official refuse haulers for the entire city. These exclusive refuse collection licenses could be overturned by the voters, but as long as voters were happy with the deal, it was forever. In Italy, this is called an “inside company” and is actually accepted as an option for providing public service. No surprise then that the original Recology was started by an Italian family.

This has created a sweet deal for Recology and they knew it. When the city staff approached the company in the 1990s and told them San Francisco wanted to become a zero waste city, Recology was in a good position to either fight the effort or join it. I don’t know what was said exactly. But I do remember having a personal discussion with a Recology manager back in the 90s. (When they were called Norcal.) This manager told me that the behind-the-curtain informal agreement was that the city would share the risk of this new zero waste path for long enough for Recology to learn how to transform their existing business model based upon primarily landfilling into a business plan that was based upon landfill diversion. By sharing the risk, the Recology would still be making profits during the transition. This sounded fair to me at the time, and it has proven to be a wise move.

But the remarkable part that I want to highlight here is that this sort of cooperation and planning between government and the private sector rarely happens in America. I think it must be due to Recology’s legally-protected status of being written into the City Charter that enables them to have a unique power within the relationship that can be used in partnership with the city to achieve community benefit and ensure a certain level of private sector profit.

I think this close relationship is similar to how my town “coordinates and plans the future” with our electric utility provider. This “public utility monopoly” approach for electricity exists in nearly every town in America.

So in some ways this special relationship that San Francisco and Recology have isn’t that unique. It’s just that other cities don’t use the public utility approach in the waste management industry. I think we should start doing so!

I don’t think the San Francisco City Charter approach is replicable across the entire country for many reasons. But I do think that many of the working elements that make their approach successful are replicable. At its core, the San Francisco zero waste program is run like a social enterprise, meaning that its primary purpose for being is to fulfill a mission (i.e. zero waste) and that the program is expected to make a profit while doing so. I know a lot about this approach since I created the nation’s largest nonprofit zero waste social enterprise here in Boulder, Colo., where our partnership success with the city came not from a legal protection like Recology’s, but from a civic mandate delivered to the city by a citizens army organized by Eco-Cycle.

This “double bottom-line (DBL) approach” to creating value for the community is an exciting new way of using the power of the marketplace in partnership with local government. The place to watch to see how far it can go is the U.K. right now, especially Scotland. We are watching new “legal vehicles” for the creation of DBL enterprises emerge with names such as “the CIC” (community interest company), or the “B” Corp (the for-benefit corporation), and my favorite, the “the L3C” (low-profit limited liability company LLC).

In the last few years we’ve heard the giants of industry, like Bill Gates and others, call for a more “compassionate capitalism.” The reason this topic is up for discussion is because there is a growing recognition that the current form of free market capitalism isn’t capable of addressing the serious social and environmental problems of our times. On top of that, our local, state and national government entities can’t do it either as their funding and public support is shrinking.

I say don’t mess with the existing single bottom-line capitalism—it has brought us Apple and Amazon—but that it is time for a new addition to the national economic operating system which I’ll call Capitalism 2.0, (as in two bottom lines), and that there are special needs in our world today, like clean energy and zero waste, that need a new marketplace approach that combines the leadership of government with the horsepower of business.

When more cities step forward and support the social enterprise approach, then maybe San Francisco won’t stand so alone as a national star in the race to zero waste.

Zero Waste in San Francisco and New York: A Tale of Two Cities

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/zero-waste-in-san-francis_b_9556380.html?section=india

One of the goals of a sustainable city is to effectively manage material flows into and out of the city. Garbage, or what environmental engineers call solid waste, presents some of the most difficult challenges to urban sustainability.

San Francisco may well be on the way to achieving their goal of “zero waste,” or to divert all of its garbage away from landfills. Currently, San Francisco diverts 80% of its waste away from landfills. According to New York Times reporter Matt Richtel: “San Francisco also has a world-class reputation for its composting processes, which turns food waste into fine, coffee-like grounds that is sent to farms as fertilizer.” And he observes that San Francisco is the “Silicon Valley of recycling.”

The city and county of San Francisco’s SF Environment department has set a goal of zero waste by 2020. That formerly future-sounding date is just four years away.

According to the department, about half of the waste now placed in non-recycle bins could be recycled, which would drive the waste diversion rate to 90%. According to the department’s website:

To achieve 100 percent zero waste, SF Environment will continue to advocate for state legislation and partner with producers to develop a producer responsibility system, where producers design better products and take responsibility for the entire life-cycle of a product, including take-back and recycling.

The city’s zero waste policy includes three goals: 1. prevent waste; 2. recycle and compost; and 3. safely handle toxics. San Francisco’s unique political and social culture must be seen as a major factor contributing to this program’s success. People in that city behave as if reducing waste and recycling are important social behaviors. In contrast, New York City’s waste diversion rate is 16%. The goal is to get to zero waste by 2030. It’s a little difficult to see how that goal will be achieved. The city’s target for FY 2016 is 19%, but according to the NYC Mayor’s Management report, the actual diversion rate is anywhere from 1.2- 2.9% below target.

Any casual look at New York City’s public recycling bins will provide a sense of the difficult road New York must travel to reach anything approaching zero waste. Paper bins are filled with bottles and the bottle bins are filled with a wide variety of unsorted waste. Northern Californians may be thoughtful about waste disposal, but New Yorkers can’t be bothered. It is not clear that New York is capable of a cultural shift deep enough to achieve the diversion rates already reached in San Francisco.

Each city is different, and New York’s pace, diversity, and size make comparisons to San Francisco difficult. Still, large-scale behavior changes can be achieved with leadership, strategy and creativity. New York City has eliminated indoor smoking in public places. New Yorkers have learned how to comply with alternate side of the street parking rules and some are even learning how to stop jaywalking. So it is possible that waste disposal behaviors could change. But it will take leadership and the sustained attention of the mayor and the media. It’s unlikely to happen because garbage has little appeal as a political issue. Climate change holds conferences in Paris and attracts attention at Davos.
Garbage gets a little less glamor.

In any case, behavior change alone is not sufficient. The recycled waste must actually be reused—a problem with the weak market for some recycled substances. The technology of waste sorting and the energy efficiency and cost-effectiveness of recycling also need improvement. A city’s system of recycling and waste management is as important as an individual’s waste disposal behavior. The technology and market will come to New York City, but probably not by 2030.

Zero waste is an element of the concept of a circular economy. In a circular economy, all waste from consumption becomes an input into new production. Inevitably there is some leakage in the tightest circular production process. But the goal is to move from a linear model of production-consumption-waste to one more closely resembling a circular model. I don’t think of zero waste as an achievable operational goal, but rather as a model and an aspiration. It is a way to think about resource use and waste management, rather than an absolute target.

It requires a paradigm shift or a new way of thinking about consumption and garbage. Instead of mindlessly tossing something you have consumed into a waste bin, you sort it or consider how it might be re-used. In the case of production processes, it includes the concept of producer responsibility. The producer includes in the price of a good an incentive to bring the good back to the place of purchase or to the manufacturer. The manufacturer, in turn, designs the good to be mined for resources or to be reconfigured for additional use. Of course moving the good or material through the production process requires energy and so the closed system works best when it is powered by renewable energy.

These ideas of closed systems of production and consumption are central to the concept of the sustainable city. As the mechanization of agriculture reduces rural employment and as the Internet communicates the appeal and seductiveness of urban lifestyles, more and more of the world’s population is moving to cities. This creates opportunities for more efficient production, distribution and consumption of goods and services and leads to the possibility of systems that approach the goal of zero waste.

While New York City may aspire to zero waste by 2030, at the same time the city was announcing that goal in 2015, it was also proposing a long-term deal with an upstate New York landfill to take the city’s garbage for the next several decades. According to Cole Rosengren of City Limits:

A new plan to send Brooklyn’s garbage upstate would solidify the city’s waste export strategy for decades, but also shows how impractical the system has become. Under a newly proposed 20-year contract with IESI—a major industry player owned by Canadian company Progressive Waste Solutions—much of Brooklyn’s residential garbage would be shipped to the company’s Seneca Meadows landfill at a projected cost of $3.3 billion…New York has struggled to deal with its garbage in a sustainable way since the Fresh Kills landfill closed on Staten Island in 2001. According to Department of Sanitation (DSNY) data, it cost $99 to dispose of a ton of garbage in 2000 versus $145 in 2014 when adjusted for inflation.

It is clear to most experts that a system of recycling facilities, waste-to-energy plants and changed public behavior would be a more cost effective and environmentally beneficial waste management system for New York City.

Unfortunately, New York can barely site marine waste transfer facilities and has been unable to build waste-to-energy plants or other elements of a more advanced waste management system. New Yorkers simply won’t accept construction of those facilities in their neighborhoods. In any case, as New York’s land prices rise, it becomes increasingly uneconomical to locate those facilities within the city.

The gap between San Francisco’s accomplishment of 80% landfill diversion and New York’s 16% is huge. New York was ahead of its time in building its water and mass transit system, but is far behind the times in dealing with its garbage.

When compared to San Francisco, the two waste management systems are truly a tale of two very different cities.

San Francisco, ‘the Silicon Valley of Recycling’

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/29/science/san-francisco-the-silicon-valley-of-recycling.html?_r=0

SAN FRANCISCO — Robert Reed, who is enjoying a surprising career turn as a busy tour guide at the latest hot spot here, stood smiling one recent sunny morning before 10 foreign dignitaries and journalists. They included the mayor of Genoa, Italy, and the general consuls from Italy, Canada and Switzerland.

Each visitor wore a sport coat and tie, and a yellow safety vest to ensure they wouldn’t be run down by garbage trucks.

“It’s always nice to meet new friends from around the world,” Mr. Reed said in his introduction, beaming. “In fact, we’ve had visitors from 58 countries.” Behind him stood a warehouse filled with a 630-ton mountain of refuse being pecked by sea gulls. “Come on,” Mr. Reed continued, “I’ll show you the bottles, cans and paper.”

You won’t find San Francisco’s Pier 96 in any travel guidebook but it has become a must-see destination for visitors from Afghanistan to Vietnam. They’ve come to explore Recology — Mr. Reed is a spokesman — one of the world’s most advanced recycling plants, a deafening, Rube Goldberg system of conveyor belts and sorters that, with the help of human hands, untangles a 30-foot hill of debris collected by trucks every day from across the city.

“It’s like a modern art installation,” marveled Mauro Battocchi, the Italian consul general here. “So fabulous — the people and machines and objects of our lives all working together.”

Foreign officials and others come here to pick up tips on how to handle their own mushrooming piles of garbage back home. As the world’s population grows, people are consuming more, creating more trash, and countries are looking for ways to deal with it that put less stress on the environment.

Many are part of a growing movement sometimes called Zero Waste or the Circular Economy. It entails trying to eliminate tough-to-recycle items like flimsy plastic bags and also pioneering new ways to recycle or compost everything else.
Often, cities around the world have led the way, including Portland, Ore.; Seattle; and Milan, as well as the Basque region in Spain. That has given rise to a trash tourism circuit.

Recycling sites “don’t have to market themselves,” said Jessica Morrison, an environmental policy analyst for the Fraser Valley Regional District in British Columbia, who helped organize a tour in 2014 for a dozen officials to visit a recycling plant in Montgomery, Ala. “People like us are knocking down the doors.”

And the interest remains despite strained recycling economics caused by falling oil prices. That has driven down the cost of new commodities, like plastic, and, in turn, the price of recycled materials sorted and sold by companies like Recology.

More broadly, skeptics contend that the energy and other resource costs required to recycle some items are not worth the investment. But the visitors to Recology tend to be among the converted, who believe that incineration and landfilling carry their own devastating, long-term ecological costs.

Recology, a private company, gets most of its operating budget from the monthly fee of $35.18 it charges each household for residential trash, recycling and compost.

Mr. Reed says the Recology operation is cost effective, at least by one measure: San Franciscans pay the same amount or less than residents of other Bay Area big cities do for curbside pickup, but they compost or recycle a greater percentage of their garbage.

This success is partly why San Francisco’s plant has achieved something approaching celebrity status, with numerous write-ups, including a big spread in France’s Le Monde newspaper; visits from some 50 film crews, mostly for television; and roles in two major movies: the 2012 documentary “Trashed,” featuring the British actor Jeremy Irons, and the popular new French documentary “Demain,” about solutions to global problems.

San Francisco has become a recycling model for some cities, including Paris. The city’s deputy mayor, Mao Peninou, visited in October 2014 and said Recology’s composting now serves as a proof-of-concept for new Parisian efforts along the same lines.

Recology continues to draw visitors even though it is “not state of the art,” said Jack Macy, the Zero Waste coordinator for San Francisco. He acknowledged that other places have pulled ahead with newer technology, and noted that San Francisco itself originally drew inspiration from Germany, which was recycling and beginning to compost in the 1980s.

Today, San Francisco diverts around 80 percent of waste away from landfills, putting it among the elite recycling cities. (And Recology plans to spend US$11 million to upgrade its facility in the next year to deal with more packaging from online shopping.)

San Francisco also has a world-class reputation for its composting processes, which turns food waste into fine, coffee-like grounds that is sent to farms as fertilizer.

The Recology tour starts at Pier 96, an industrial hub at the city’s southern edge, inside the doors of a cavernous, 200,000-square-foot warehouse.

The first step is the separation of all recyclable garbage, with tractors scooping up piles and pouring them onto five conveyor belts. It travels up to the first culling level, where human “classifiers” wearing masks, gloves and aprons pull out the biggest pieces of cardboard and drop them down chutes where they are baled.

A few feet later, everything else bustles up a fast-moving moving ladder that carries the lighter paper to the top, while heavier cans and bottles fall back down. The bottles and cans are then divided.

Farther along, an optical sorter uses a beam of light to determine which plastic bottles are clear and which ones are colored. The clear ones are flipped off the belt by puffs of air.

“It’s Willy Wonka’s everything-you-can-imagine recycling place,” Mr. Reed said during the recent tour. The former freelance reporter for The San Francisco Chronicle loves talking about recycling and composting so much that it is as enjoyable “as a woman asking if she can give me a back rub.” he says.

Where Does Your Recycling Go? | Bay Curious, KQED News Video by KQED News

Mr. Reed likes to explain that Recology is a private, employee-owned company that has created around 210 jobs, most of them drawn from Bayview-Hunters Point, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, where the plant is.

“It’s the Silicon Valley of recycling,” said Christian Forthomme, chief executive of RealChange, a Bay Area-based consulting firm that brings foreign executives and officials to visit Silicon Valley, including four delegations to Recology in the past six years.

One group included Bruno Hug de Larauze, president of the Chamber of Commerce in Brittany, France, who likens Recology to an Uber or Airbnb for waste that shows how technology and capitalism can change the world. Plus, the place is just impressive, Mr. de Larauze said.

“It was the wow effect. It was incredible,” he said of his first visit (he’s been twice), and added with a laugh, “It smelled, let me be frank.”

After the tour with Genoa’s mayor and the consuls general, Mr. Reed organized a lunch of salad with French and Italian cheeses. As they sat down to eat, Mr. Reed raised the possibility of another destination for the group.

“I hope you’ll get a chance to visit our composting facility,” he told the dignitaries. “But we probably don’t want to talk about that while you’re eating.”

Likewise: know anyone who resides in Santa Monica ?

Six million Americans have lead-tainted water in homes, schools: report

Some six million Americans have drinking water tainted with higher levels of lead than allowed by US federal guidelines, the USA Today reported on Thursday.

With the nation focused on a major crisis in Flint, Michigan, where lead from aging pipes leeched into the municipal water supply, the newspaper launched an investigation which found higher than acceptable lead levels in about 2,000 water systems across the United States.

Tainted water was supplied to hundreds of daycare centers and schools, the report said.

Children are the population most vulnerable to the pernicious effects of lead, a toxin which affects the neurological system and can lead to permanent learning delays and behavioral problems.

Higher than allowed lead levels were found in all 50 US states, USA Today reported.

A sample of water drawn from one elementary school in Maine found lead levels some 42 times higher than the Environmental Protection Agency limit of 15 parts per billion, while a preschool in Pennsylvania recorded lead levels 14 times higher than allowed.

An elementary school in Ithaca, New York tested earlier this year showed 5,000 parts per billion of lead — a level so high it met the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s designation for “hazardous waste.”

More than 8,000 children in Flint, economically devastated by shutdowns and layoffs in the car industry, were exposed to lead for more than a year before the tap water contamination was uncovered by citizen activists.

The news report was published as Michigan Governor Rick Snyder prepared to appear Thursday before a congressional oversight committee probing the Flint crisis.

Critics are calling for the resignation of Snyder, who ordered water from the Flint River to be diverted to supply water to the city, in a cost-cutting measure.

Experts believe that the chemical-laced Flint River water corroded lead-bearing pipes, allowing large amounts of the chemical element to leech into the city’s water.

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Air pollution takes 3.3 million lives per year

http://www.airclim.org/acidnews/air-pollution-takes-33-million-lives-year

Farming emissions of ammonia are a leading cause of air pollution health damage and premature deaths in Europe and eastern United States.

Every year 3.3 million people die prematurely from the effects of outdoor air pollution worldwide – a figure that could double by 2050 unless clean-up measures are taken. This is shown in a study carried out by a team of researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, recently published in the journal Nature.

The study focuses on the most critical outdoor air pollutants, namely fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone. It is estimated that nearly three-quarters of the deaths are due to strokes and heart attacks, and one quarter to respiratory diseases and lung cancer.

This is the first study to single out different outdoor air pollution source-sectors and estimate the number of premature deaths they each cause, considering seven source categories: residential and commercial energy use; agriculture; power generation; land transport (i.e. excluding shipping and aviation); industry; biomass burning; and natural sources.

A surprising discovery, according to the authors, is that the two largest sources of health damage from air pollution are not industry and transport, but small domestic fires and agriculture.
Residential and commercial energy use is the largest source category worldwide, contributing nearly one-third of the premature deaths, and with particularly high shares in countries such as India and Indonesia. This category includes diesel generators, small stoves and smoky open wood fires, which many people in Asia use for heating and cooking. (Note that this study’s estimate of 1.0 million deaths per year from this sector is in addition to the 3.54 million deaths per year due to indoor air pollution from essentially the same source.)

By contrast, a leading cause of air pollution in Europe, Russia, Turkey, Japan and the eastern United States is agriculture. Ammonia is emitted into the atmosphere as a result of intensive livestock farming and use of fertilizers. It then reacts with other air pollutants, namely sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, to form ammonium sulphate and ammonium nitrate, which are tiny airborne particles.

Globally, agriculture is the cause of one-fifth of all deaths due to air pollution. In many European countries, its contribution is 40 per cent or higher. Since the abundance of ammonia is often a limiting factor in PM2.5 formation, a reduction in its emissions can make an important contribution to air quality improvements.

The finding that agriculture is the second-largest contributor to global mortality from PM2.5 is highly valuable, said environmental health expert Professor Michael Jerrett, at the University of California, because agriculture has generally not been seen as a major source of air pollution or premature death, and because it suggests that much more attention needs to be paid to agricultural sources, by both scientists and policymakers.

Other major sources are coal-fired power plants, industry, biomass combustion and motor vehicles. Taken together, they account for another third of premature deaths. Just under a fifth of premature deaths are attributed to natural dust sources, particularly desert dust in North Africa and the Middle East.

The authors conclude that: “Our results suggest that if the projected increase in mortality attributable to air pollution is to be avoided, intensive air quality control measures will be needed, particularly in South and East Asia.”

Christer Ågren
Source: Max Planck Institute press release 16 September, 2015
The article: “The contribution of outdoor air pollution sources to premature mortality on a global scale.” By J. Lelieveld, J. S. Evans, D. Giannadaki, M. Fnais and A. Pozzer. Published in Nature, 17 September 2015; doi: 10.1038/nature15371

7 Reasons Why Recycling Is Not a Waste: A Response to ‘The Reign of Recycling’

http://www.sustainablebrands.com/news_and_views/waste_not/tom_szaky/7_reasons_why_recycling_not_waste_response_reign_recycling?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=brandsweekly&utm_campaign=oct15&mkt_tok=3RkMMJWWfF9wsRoluq7NZKXonjHpfsX56ugtUaa1lMI%2F0ER3fOvrPUfGjI4FRMJiI%2BSLDwEYGJlv6SgFTrTBMbVxyLgOXxk%3D

Recycling in the United States is an economically unsustainable trend — or at least that’s what New York Times writer John Tierney recently argued in his opinion piece, “The Reign of Recycling,” published in the October 4th Sunday Review. Tierney’s arguments focus almost entirely on the inefficiency and economic viability of recycling, suggesting that CPG companies and major brands, municipalities, and even consumers should stop worrying about recycling, and that linear disposal methods are successful enough for the sake of cost-effectiveness and profitability. I believe that this is a dangerous conclusion to make in the 21st century, a time where the need for long-term sustainability strategies and circular waste solutions are more apparent than ever.

We know full well the function economics play in recycling. If the value of a potentially recyclable commodity is higher than collection, logistic and processing costs, there is an economic incentive to recycle. But what about obviously less recyclable materials, such as multilayered films or plastic sachet packaging — materials that are, universally, considered non-recyclable? To go along with Tierney’s argument, landfilling and incineration are the only economically viable alternatives.

This focus on short-term economic viability is problematic, as it disregards the critical need for a more circular system of manufacturing and consumption. We don’t push for better education or health care based on whether they are economically justifiable institutions — we do it because there is a social imperative. Telling corporations and the public that recycling — save for a very select few materials — is essentially a waste undermines the need for more comprehensive strategies supporting sustainable development: reusing materials when we can, recycling those materials when we can’t, and decreasing the consumption of unsustainable materials bound for landfill.

There are a variety of environmental subjects that Tierney does not approach: the trillions of pieces of plastic floating on top and piling up on the bottom of our oceans; the difficulty of accurately identifying the health risks posed by waste incineration; the destructive linear model of consumption and production that resigns raw materials to single-use lives (burying waste and other materials in a landfill or burning in an incinerator). These (among many, many others) are all relevant topics that must be considered to accurately determine the environmental effects of our currently wasteful society.

Tierney also brings up the price comparison between recycled plastics and the plunging price of virgin plastic, thanks in no small part to the recent dip in oil prices. He fails to mention, however, the incredible volatility of global crude oil prices. In fact, a rebound is already predicted to occur over the course of the next five years. Recycled plastics can be a great way for manufacturers to avoid these volatile costs, do something environmentally beneficial, and strengthen supply chain security.

Recycled material in general can be a great way to build supply chain security overall. My company, for example, works with dozens of manufacturers to facilitate the collection and recycling of their pre- and post-consumer product and packaging waste. In a variety of these partnerships, after aggregating the collected waste we send it back to the manufacturer, where the recycled material is reintegrated into existing supply chains. It reduces waste and costs, and gives the company a competitive edge in the market.

As the need for sustainability strategies rises, even government institutions are increasingly demanding more recycled content in products, more recyclable packaging, and more substantial overall sustainability practices. Packaging taxes and extended producer responsibility (EPR) legislation is already active in many parts of the world, making manufacturers responsible for the collection and recycling (or reuse) of their pre- and post-consumer packaging waste.

The European Der Grüne Punkt (The Green Dot) network is possibly the most notable EPR system in the world, essentially taxing product manufacturers based on their waste-diversion strategies. The Green Dot’s licensing fees act as an incentive to increase sustainability practices, encouraging product manufacturers to collect and recycle their pre- and post-consumer waste (lowering their respective fees as a result). These strategies can help create a better ecological balance between production and consumption.

We can’t forget about consumers in this conversation either, as they are increasingly prone to making purchasing decisions based on product — and packaging — sustainability. Conscious consumers are reading labels and packaging for recyclability and sustainability claims, buying from socially responsible CPG companies, and are even inclined to pay premiums for eco-friendly or socially responsible products. Does this mean that consumers are falling into a “green marketing” trap, or — gasp! — that they actually care about the planet? Consumers will reward those manufacturers that make environmental stewardship, recyclability, and sustainability a part of their business models.

We have to take a step back and evaluate the economic and environmental costs to potential alternatives to recycling. Calling on short-term efficiencies and a lack of profitability will do nothing but undermine future efforts to strengthen our recycling infrastructure and to sustainably develop for future generations. Being complacent with our disposable society is not how we will accomplish this.

I couldn’t help but note the irony of the Times running an opinion piece decrying recycling because of a lack of obvious profitably on the very same day that yet another US State — South Carolina — was experiencing historic flooding and being called to a State of Emergency. The tragic events in South Carolina are leading to loss of life and billions of dollars of damage to public and private property. Unfortunately, Mr. Tierney and his editors at the New York Times failed to include these costs in their myopic calculations.