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December 7th, 2015:

EU Adopts Circular Economy Package, But Is It Good Enough?


Stakeholders are yet again criticizing the European Commission’s new Circular Economy Package. The original policy, released in December of last year, was denounced as insufficiently ambitious, resulting in its dismissal and a review process over the course of 2015. The Commission adopted the revised package on December 2nd, but some claim the new policy is even weaker than the original.

The rationale for circular economy legislation is clear. In the words of the European Commission’s First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, responsible for sustainable development: “Our planet and our economy cannot survive if we continue with the ‘take, make, use and throw away’ approach. We need to retain precious resources and fully exploit all the economic value within them. The circular economy is about reducing waste and protecting the environment, but it is also about a profound transformation of the way our entire economy works. By rethinking the way we produce, work and buy we can generate new opportunities and create new jobs.”

Timmermans went on to say the new Circular Economy Package “sets a credible and ambitious path for better waste management in Europe with supportive actions that cover the full product cycle. This mix of smart regulation and incentives at EU level will help businesses and consumers, as well as national and local authorities, to drive this transformation.”

Unfortunately, there has already been some debate on the validity of those claims. Charitable organization Friends of the Earth said the new Circular Economy Package “is worse than the old one,” “notably weaker than its predecessor,” and “falls short in many areas.”

The organization acknowledged the policy will be an improvement over the status quo, but notes that the target for reuse and recycling of municipal waste was reduced from 70 percent to 65 percent by 2030, and two other targets — a target to reduce food waste by 30 percent between 2017 and 2025; and a target for an overall reduction in the total amount of resources used — were removed altogether. Friends of the Earth added that the Commission did not follow through on recommendations to incorporate a plan to measure land, water, carbon, and raw material footprints.

“The Commission’s proposal is a disappointment in that it doesn’t nearly go far enough. It is now on the Parliament and Member States to ensure that high recycling targets are maintained, and that binding obligations to reduce absolute resource consumption are included in the final package,” said Samuel Lowe, Resource Use Campaigner for Friends of the Earth.

The Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE) also criticized the policy, suggesting it could do more for encouraging innovation in materials and waste.

“Just increasing the individual recycling targets for key materials like paper, plastics and aluminum will not be sufficient to match innovation,” said Bertil Heerink, director general of ACE. “Measures must be taken that strengthen existing recycling solutions, foster innovation in new recyclable materials and recycling techniques, resulting in a further increase in recycling of beverage cartons across Europe.”

The EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy targets are:

A common EU target for recycling 65% of municipal waste by 2030;
A common EU target for recycling 75% of packaging waste by 2030;
A binding landfill target to reduce landfill to maximum of 10% of all waste by 2030;
A ban on landfilling of separately collected waste;
Promotion of economic instruments to discourage landfilling;
Simplified and improved definitions and harmonised calculation methods for recycling rates throughout the EU;
Concrete measures to promote re-use and stimulate industrial symbiosis – turning one industry’s by-product into another industry’s raw material; and
Economic incentives for producers to put greener products on the market and support recovery and recycling schemes (e.g. for packaging, batteries, electric and electronic equipment, vehicles).
Several proposed directives on waste and fact sheets were also released. The European Commission expects the proposals to create energy bill savings of €465 per year per household by 2020, and over 170,000 jobs by 2035 through waste management efforts. Over 500 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions reductions are expected between 2015 and 2035.

The circular economy action plan will be funded by over €650 million from the Horizon 2020 EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, €5.5 billion from structural funds for waste management, and investments in the circular economy at the national level.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of dead fish wash up in river connected to ‘tainted’ reservoir


Shoals of dead fish washed up on the banks of Shing Mun River last week, around the same time as Greenpeace released data indicating that five of Hong Kong’s biggest drinking water reservoirs are tainted with a potentially carcinogenic chemical, perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). Lovely!

Mathematically-challenged local media have estimated the number of dead fish at anything from 400 to a staggering 10,000.

Oriental Daily reports Sha Tin district councilwoman Scarlett Pong as saying that two different tests (biochemical oxygen demand and chemical oxygen demand, FYI) of the river’s water in recent years showed elevated levels of pollutants. Pong went on to say that she has already complained to the Environmental Protection Department.

While the water quality of Shing Mun river has reportedly improved since 1993, it is occasionally threatened by the polluted waters of Tolo Harbour, which backflow into the river during high tide. Shing Mun River has multiple tributaries, one of which apparently flows into Shing Mun Reservoir.

According to Hong Kong Free Press, Greenpeace said that Shing Mun Reservoir tested positively for PFCs, although it reportedly showed a lower concentration that some other reserviors as it collects rainwater and mountain stream water.

PFCs are supposedly commonly used in the production of outdoor consumer items, like weatherproof membranes, as they are both water and oil-repellent.

Independent research finds Hong Kong beaches more contaminated than government says

Hazardous levels of sewage-based bacteria have been found at beaches the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) says are clean, according to testing carried out by University of Hong Kong (HKU) researchers.

Water and sand samples collected by marine science students at Golden Beach and Clear Water Bay Second Beach contained quantities of enterococcus exceeding levels considered safe in other countries, according to the research paper published in Marine Pollution Bulletin last month.

Enterococcus indicates the presence of faecal matter which can incubate various health-threatening microbes, leading to gastroenteritis, pneumonia, hepatitis and infections of the skin, eyes and ears.

The samples were collected in September and October last year. During that period, the EPD graded the water at the two beaches as “good”, its best available rating.

EPD map with contaminated beaches highlighted. Photo:

EPD map with contaminated beaches highlighted. Photo:

Researcher Kylie Yuen Ka-lai said the results were a wake-up call. “If the government says a beach is in good condition and you can swim there, people will go for it,” she said. “But we shouldn’t trust this kind of thing so easily.”

The contradictory findings result from different screening methods. Since 1986, the EPD has screened beach water for E coli, which it says is in accordance with World Health Organization guidelines.

But the WHO revised its guidelines in 2003 and now recommends screening marine water for enterococcus, which has higher resistance to salt and UV light, making it a more reliable measure of beach water contamination.

The US Environmental Protection Agency follows the WHO code, as do authorities in Europe, the UK and Australia. If US standards were followed in Hong Kong, the beaches tested would have been closed to swimmers during the sampling period and potentially for much of the year.

At Golden Beach, the EPD reported an average of 12 colony-forming units of E coli per 100 millilitres, well under its objective of 180 CFUs. By contrast, the HKU researchers found 41 CFUs of enterococcus, slightly above the US EPA’s objective of 35 CFUs.

The divergence at Clear Water Bay Second Beach was more striking. The EPD detected just 7 CFUs of E coli before it declared the beach safe, whereas the HKU researchers measured an imposing 124 CFUs of enterococcus per 100 millilitres – three and a half times the US objective.

“We cannot dance around the discrepancy,” said David Baker, research supervisor and a professor in the School of Biological Sciences at HKU. “I can’t imagine [the EPD] would refute the use of enterococcus when almost all of the scientific literature is promoting it today.”

Patrick Lei Chee-kwong, principal environment protection officer in the EPD’s Water Policy and Science Group, said the EPD has collected enterococcus data for almost five years. But the data has not been shared with the public or the scientific community and does not feed into beach water quality ratings.

Lei admitted enterococcus was tracking more strongly recently, but said there was no locally-produced evidence linking enterococcus with human illness and more research was needed. The EPD has not issued a press release on its marine water quality research since May 2010.

Hong Kong’s beaches attracted almost 10 million visitors last year. The two beaches in the HKU study are among the four that are open to swimmers all year round. Golden Beach is famed for its imported Hainanese sand, while the EPD website describes Clear Water Bay Second as “one of the most popular and finest beaches in Hong Kong”.

Limited testing by the HKU researchers found four other beaches relatively uncontaminated: the Hong Kong island trio of Repulse Bay, Stanley Main Beach and Shek O, and Butterfly Beach in the New Territories.

While the researchers used the same water sampling methods as the EPD, they also measured sedimentary bacteria, which the EPD does not. In the sands underwater at around waist depth, they found around four times as much enterococcus as in the water.

“The bacteria likes to adhere to sediments,” said Yuen. “If there is wave action or tidal action, it re-suspends the sediments. The bacteria then comes off the sediments and floats in the water column, where people are swimming.”

Despite the unsettling results, Baker said initiatives like the Harbour Area Treatment Scheme have had a positive impact on some of Hong Kong’s marine waters, and the government should view beach water quality as an opportunity for improvement.

“I think the government really shouldn’t be afraid of this, because they only stand to look good,” he said. “If they continue to invest in waste water management, and they continue to be transparent about the water quality data, then the trajectory is only going to be positive. It’s only going to improve over time.”

Hong Kong copyright bill: Why we need it and what to do with it

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