I follow the folks that write Japan Safety: Nuclear Energy Updates and they just posted an article from the Japan Times where they look at the current government’s plans for energy sustainability over the next few decades. The picture is disturbing in light of the disaster at Fukushima in 2011.
Nuclear energy is carbon neutral, but it brings so many other long-term risks into the picture that it should not be considered as a sustainable energy source. At Fukushima, they are having to store huge amounts of contaminated water on a site that was completely inundated with ocean water in 2011.
¶ A number of studies investigating the effect of wind turbines on birds have found that the actual impact wind turbines have on avians is relatively low. However, according to this new research, published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research, wind turbines’ effects on bats cannot be ignored. [CleanTechnica]
¶ Israeli alternative energy company Brenmiller Energy has solved one of the biggest issues with solar technology: how to generate electricity when the sun sets. The company says it will build a 10-MW solar facility that will generate electricity 20 hours per day through a proprietary energy storage technology. [Inhabitat]
¶ In Geneva, Switzerland just three weeks after the US Senate’s 98-1 vote that climate change is not a hoax, the first round of the 2015 United Nations talks among 194 nations produced the first-ever universally agreed negotiating text on how…
I have thought a lot about the vocabulary we use when we speak about issues. Much of the language we use comes to us courtesy of Economists. We speak of consumers or clients rather than citizens. We speak of economic debt and deficit to the exclusion of the discussion of social, cultural, environmental or infrastructure debt and deficits. We speak of healthy economies rather than healthy people, or healthy environments. And we rarely ever focus on important issues like fun or happiness.
This vocabulary poses a number of real problems for us. One very real problem is that if we use economic terms to describe our problems, the solutions we find will be limited to those that offer economic value. This is the old problem where having only a hammer in your tool belt tends to make every problem look like a nail. In the long-term, if we are to really deal with important issues in a constructive way, we have to change the way we speak to reflect our real values. This type of culture change takes time, and, if science is to be believed, we don’t have a lot of time before the chaos starts.
In the meantime, we can at least frame our economic arguments in terms that demonstrate that sustainability is at the heart of long-term economic success, and that is done brilliantly in a TED talk (embedded below) by Chris McKnett from 2013.
Have you ever heard of the concept of an “Earthship“? I was introduced to the concept by my brother-in-law about 14 years ago and was blown away. What is an Earthship then? In a nutshell, an Earthship is an Eco-friendly home, made predominantly from recycled materials, designed to be as close to “off-grid” as possible.
The concept of Earthships arose in the halcyon flower-power days of the 1970s in various states in the southern USA. The concept seems to have developed by Michael Reynolds, an architect from New Mexico. As you can see in the linked Wikipedia article, his idea was not without problems, but it was, none-the-less revolutionary. Michael has a website where he educates about, demonstrates and promotes the Earthship technology. The site has designs for a number of systems that an Earthship needs if it is to meet code (see figure 2, below). Continue reading What the heck is an Earthship? … maybe an idea whose time has come!→
This is a follow-on article to Mike Biddle’s excellent video on new ways of dealing with plastics recycling. In this article (originally published on the TED.COM website, Mike responds to a number of questions that arose from his original TED talk. He deals with the thorny issue of getting the waste to one of the “mining” facilities.
The TEDtalk elicited over 1000 comments and questions on TED.com, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere, including direct emails to Biddle and to the TED staff. Faced with the impossibility to answer them individually, Mike has grouped them together and addressed them below.
And now over to Biddle…
I want to thank the TED community for all of the heartfelt comments and great questions. Although many of the comments were directed to me as I am the one that gave the TEDtalk, I’m replying here on behalf of the whole MBA Polymers team. Much like the saying “it takes a village to raise a child”, it…
This video is all about empowerment. It is all about acting on our commitments…to the environment, to social justice, to each other. It is about supporting our government’s initiatives for becoming a “World Class Regulator“.
As with other “stuff” video, this one makes its point in the same clear logical fashion, taking us from being environmentally conscious but isolated islands to empowered actors in a movement to make a better world for us all. It does it using the same cheeky style, replete with stick figure art and snappy dialog.
As a follow-on to my earlier article about various technologies for lighting your home, I wanted to post this link. As the date for conversion of all light bulbs from incandescent looms near there is a lot more is being said about the safety of CF bulbs. Scientific American, known as a source of reliable information that is accessible to the common citizen, has written an article that describes the dangers associated with disposal of broken fluorescent bulbs.
Have you every noticed, that it is almost always windy on the nights when you have to put out your paper or your plastic for recycling?
My house is at the end of a long street that parallels the direction of the prevailing winds and you should see my front yard on recycling mornings. What a mess. This week, for example, was a plastic recycling week, and after the recycling was picked up by the city I collected two full bins of plastics and cans.
Now, I hate to complain about people who are doing their civic duty by recycling, because I really believe in recycling programs, but seriously! can’t you secure your recycling a bit better than that? When you put your plastics out on a blustery day and the box is overflowing with lightweight plastics, do you really think that they will ever make it into the truck?
At my house, our plastics go into a large rolling blue box with an attached cover so they never blow anywhere. Now this works for plastics because they are so lightweight, but it won’t work for paper because the folks that pick it up would herniate themselves if you packed paper in a large bin. So what can you do about paper products. I suggest that you either pack one of the boxes you are throwing out with paper and put it on top of the filled black box. This way, the paper in the box is protected from the wind and the box itself weighs down the paper in the black box. Another alternative is to put a large rock or a piece of firewood on top of the paper in the black box. The garbage-men will dump these weights back onto your driveway before they dump the contents of the box into the truck, so you can use them over and over again. If you secure your recycling, more of it will actually get to the recycling depot and you will be maximizing your reduction in waste footprint.
But best of all, if you secure your lightweight recyclables, they won’t end up in my front yard. And as Martha Stewart would say, “that is a good thing”.
The other day at work, one of my colleagues passed a link on to me because she knew that I am interested in waste management. I really have to thank her because the link she provided was to an excellent 3 part article entitled “Trash Troubles – grappling with our garbage” (Metroland.com – Trash Troubles) published in MetroLand.com and authored by Don Campbell and Thana Dharmarajah. These two journalists have done a really good job describing the problems with our solid waste management in many communities in Southern and Eastern Ontario. It is really worth a read.
In the article, they describe the escalating cost of landfill, the ridiculous practice of shipping our garbage out of our jurisdictions, the patchwork of recycling programs across the province and they provide a few ideas about what citizens can do to minimize their impact on the environment. They discuss where the responsibility lies for cleaning up our act.
The most important thing that I took away from their article was a feeling that the province needs to step up to the plate and play a bigger role, establishing policies and standards for managing solid waste across all communities, identifying best practices, building markets for recycled materials, and helping to fund waste management programs in a way that provides the best bang for the buck.
Another thing that they bring up that I have been advocating for years is for extended producer responsibility for waste management. I blogged about this earlier in my open letter to the plastics industry. It is high time that we start holding producers partly responsible for managing the waste that flows from our consumption of their products. Yes, this will increase the costs of products, but we are paying anyway…this will only bring the payment front and centre and not hiding it in the line items of municipal taxes. If you want to read more about plastic recycling read my blog entry at https://gourken.wordpress.com/2011/10/08/an-open-letter-to-the-plastics-industry/.
Anyway, the article by Campbell and Dharmarajah is an excellent overview of the issues that we need to face if we are to manage our solid wastes responsibly. While the picture they paint isn’t too hopeful, they do present a few things that will help us see that the future isn’t too bleak either.
On a final note, I am still very intrigued with Mike Biddle’s idea of using of mining technologies to mine waste streams to allow the extraction and reuse of plastic polymers and metals. If it works, this is a paradigm shift worthy of the word. It seems to me that you could use this technology to go back into landfills and mine for valuable resources (like the plastic polymers and the metal ores buried there). If you want to read more about this technology (and see a video of how it works), visit Mr. Biddle’s web site at http://www.mbapolymers.com/home/.
I am constantly looking for good environmental blogs and have been following a really good one lately named “Environmental world for all”. The site is authored by a university student in peace studies with minor in environmental studies. One of the author’s recent posts discusses the benefits of solar LEDs for use as Christmas lights. It is a really well thougth out article and in it the author discusses the pros and cons around this issue.
When I left a comment and asked him about the ability to recycle these devices he brought my attention to this site (Solar Lights Recycling | Your Solar Link) in the US that is trying to set up a recycling program for these products.
If you are interested in environmental issues I think a few minutes browsing these two sites would be time well spent.
Sometimes being environmentally friendly means using new technologies like solar and wind power, but sometimes it is simply about doing what we have always done, but doing it in a smarter way.
URISA, an association of GIS professionals, has an annual competition for students in the GIS field to produce papers and posters on using GIS to solve real world problems. One group in Maine has used GIS technology to model how to reduce the cost of transportation of recyclables from collection locations to the processing plants. They will still be using the same technology to collect the recyclables, but they will be reducing the distance that they are transported, resulting in an enormous savings in CO2 generation and a reasonable savings in cost. This will be especially valuable if we ever move to a “mining” paradigm for dealing with recyclable waste.
First, I am not rabidly anti-plastic. I think that plastic has made many parts of our life better, but I am against plastic waste (plastic for which there is no after market recycling program) and I am against over packaging, and your industry is implicated in both.
From an energy perspective, I am aware that lightweight plastic packaging is cheaper to transport than many other materials. From an energy perspective, the problem is that plastics consume oil products that could be used to heat homes, to fuel automobiles, etc. If you cannot reuse a plastic product that is recycled, it means that you will be consuming new oil for every product you produce.
From a waste perspective, you need look no further than the Eastern Pacific to see a Texas sized “island” of plastic waste that will last for tens of thousands of years. If your industry does not come to grips with this problem, we will be doing it for you by banning the use of plastic products. This is not in your best interests and it isn’t good for consumers either. Get your act together and:
1. Make certain that every type of plastic is well-marked for recycling and don’t allow unmarked plastics into the market place.
2. Help local governments fund plastic recycling programs
3. Help create markets for recycled plastic and ways to use them that is environmentally friendly and energy-efficient
4. Don’t produce anything that you cannot re-use in manufacturing and set targets and deadlines for recycling 80% of the product you produce.
5. Ensure that products that contain recycled plastic are marked, advertising that they have helped keep plastic out of landfills.
6. Talk to the packaging industry and retail stores to get them to reduce “over packaging” and to ensure that all packaging can be easily separated into non-plastic and plastic products and that the individual plastic components are all marked for recycling
7. Fund “bring it back collection sites” for large plastic components that it is not possible for the recycling programs to handle.
Many of the same recommendations should be addressed to municipal and provincial governments to ensure that if industry doesn’t step up to the plate that the regulators do, so if you don’t want to get regulated out of business, I suggest you consider cleaning up your act.
As a post script, the article below is about a company that takes all sorts of post consumer plastics and metals and uses a “mining” approach to turning them back into usable plastics – reducing waste, reducing the cost of production and … well, give it a look, he says it better than I could anyway.
The newspaper reports that the City of Ottawa is, once again, recycling all hard plastics. You may remember that some time in the Chiarelli administration Ottawa decided to save some money by taking a money losing, but successful, program of plastic recycling and scrap (literally) everything except recycling of number 1 and 2 plastics. There’s no telling how much the changes saved the city, but it is clear that we didn’t divert nearly as much waste from landfill than we would otherwise have. Now the real costs come home to roost with the Trail Road landfill facility fast filling up and Waste Management Inc. asking for permission to increase the size of their Carp Road facility. This is the real legacy of that tax savings…the need to take otherwise valuable land and re-purpose it as a landfill. Some savings!!!
When are we going to start taking a longer term view of our actions? When are we going to put as much emphasis on environmental, social and community debts as we put on economic debts?
Anyway, it seems like the current council has it’s head on a bit straighter than the past few. Let’s hope that they keep it up!
Given the interest in solid waste policy in the City of Ottawa at the moment, now might be a great time for you to brush up on some recycling facts. CBC has a page and a video with some interesting information that might inform and entertain you.
The City of Ottawa is currently conducting a review of residental solid waste service levels and this is your chance to have a say before the service levels change (or your tax bill does). The solid waste review has its own web page on the city’s site.
The site includes an on-line survey which allows you to give the city your views directly … democracy in action and all that. I took the survey and it took about 5 minutes to answer. They also have a contact address if the survey doesn’t give you enough flexibility to present your views.