As part of its new strategy on waste prevention the Danish Ministry of Environment wants to make it easier for Danes to share more in order to prevent waste. Re-using products has always been recognised as an important component to effective waste management strategies, but it is the first time that Denmark has explicitly identified it as a policy target.
“In Denmark we produce more waste per capita than most other countries in the world. We throw things out that are still functioning. Therefore, we must rethink the way we consume, and one of the ways is to get Danes to share more”, says Kirsten Brosbøl, Danish Environment Minister.
We must rethink the way we consume – we must share more!
“Denmark without waste II” will support 72 initiatives directed at both consumers and businesses divided into five key themes: food waste, building & construction, clothing & textiles, electronics and packaging. These initiatives are all about resource efficiency, waste minimisation and ’sharing’ or re-use!
Some preliminary advice given includes encouraging Danes to exchange or pass on baby clothes, sharing drills amongst neighbours and using your mobile phone for longer. The Ministry is also launching a new portal called “Environment directory – the easy way to a green life” containing information about how to consume more sustainably and thus prevent waste. It will air in 2015 as part of the Danish Environment Agency’s website mst.dk.
Advocates of circular economy ideas, such as Professor Walter Stahel, a longstanding supporter of the circular economic model, or more recently Ellen MacArthur (who presented circular economy thinking at the World Economic Forum), maintain that reusing is as important, if not more so, than material recovery through recycling in a sustainable waste management system.
But don’t we do this already? Charity shops and organisations have for years been the dropping and distributing point for unwanted, yet still functional, items. Libraries are the epitome of a ‘sharing’ or ‘collaborative’ community institution. Cars are fixed over and over to extend their shelf-life, while tailors still update or refit old clothes. In the UK ‘car-boot sales’ have been the rage for years. While all over the world flea-markets are serious attractions! Family, friends and neighbours share things like garden tools all the time.
Products are getting a second lease of life through these avenues – saving money, extending product life times and postponing, and therefore, reducing pressure on final waste disposal methods. But the reality is that what and how much is reused still represents a small percentage of the total functional products that are thrown away. According to one study by UK NGO WRAP only 17% of sofas, 14% of office chairs and 1 in 7 televisions get re-used in the UK. Nearly 615,000 tonnes of material that currently finds its way to landfill or incineration could instead be repaired, resold or donated.
Encouraging repair and reuse is quite challenging. How do you change consumer desire for the convenience of disposable products and the enjoyment of new things? Firstly, we would have to accept ‘used’ as good enough, the norm? Would you be willing to buy a used item as a gift (antiques aside!)? Secondly, consumers need to choose repair over the convenience of throwing a product in the bin, which is both a cost and convenience issue; repairing has to be economical and easy to do! Desirability, affordability, convenience, design for repair and quality control are some of the issues that thwart more reuse.
What’s exciting though is that there are a myriad of new projects, businesses and networks out there trying to make this happen. Fixing, re-using and sharing is becoming a serious hive of community and business activity – not just a community or charitable service.
Now there is a prolific array of websites through which individuals can make money selling used goods: eBay, Facebook, Gumtree and Preloved while online shops like Cash Convertors, Cash-in-your-gadgets and CeX buy your unwanted electrical goods. Even Amazon enables people to sell their second-hand books through its website.
Projects which enable people to repair their goods are proliferating in the UK. Such as the Restart Project – ‘a London-based social enterprise that encourages and empowers people to use their electronics longer, by sharing repair and maintenance skills‘; iFixit which produces free repair manuals for everything; Fixperts which links product designers with people who need a product fixed to solve it; Superuse Studios which helps design systems to make effective use of waste flows; and Ricoh which takes back copiers and printers, dismantles, reassembles, improves and then sells again.
Waste is an undervalued resource!
Other than Denmark other cities and countries are taking on the sharing ideology. In 2012, Seoul set about becoming a model for a sharing economy, calling itself the Sharing City. The city aims to expand sharing infrastructure, promote sharing enterprises, support sharing startups, utilise idle public resources more effectively, and provide more access to data and digital works.
Basically, waste can not – and should not – be treated like waste. Waste is a resource! We need more ambitious policies like the Danish waste management strategy, EU recycling/reuse targets and WEEE Directive. We need more products designed with reuse or recycling in mind. We need more organisations and businesses that enable reusing. We need consumers to consume differently.
The World Bank estimates that by 2100 the growing global urban population will be producing three times as much waste as it does today. While waste output will peak in developed countries around 2050, output in emerging and developing countries will continue to rise – with global generation of solid waste hitting 11 million tonnes a day by the end of the century. Wow!
Without changing our waste mindset these 11 million tonnes will be squandered – ending up in a landfill or as incinerator ash. It is time to ‘waste not want not’!
The Climate Summit in New York yesterday was the beginning of a call to arms; arms against climate change. But with each country at the Summit reiterating ‘doing their own thing’ to curb climate change, there was a notable absence of a sense of a united front, ambitious vision or urgency. Political divisions were obvious with finger pointing by emerging countries at those responsible for this mess (the developed nations), and defensive non-committal responses from the big industrialised nations. Whether the reiteration of current pledges, and some new ones, represents solid commitment we won’t know until the next UNFCCC meeting in Paris 2015.
Firstly the big nations disappointed. US President Barack Obama reaffirmed its commitment to a reduction in GHG emissions in the “region of 17%” by 2020 but he didn’t make any bolder statement. Although recognising that as a large economy they should take the lead he also implied that the USA will only step up if others do saying in his speech - “Just a few minutes ago I met with Chinese vice premier Zhang Gaoli and reiterated my beliefs that, as the two largest economies and emitters in the world, we have a special responsibly to lead. That’s what big nations have to do.”
Additionally Barack Obama intimated that emerging economies need to step up as their economies are growing. “Emerging economies are likely to produce more and more carbon emissions in years to come. So nobody can stand on the sidelines of this issue, we have to set aside the old divides,” he said.
The USA is the biggest emitter of CO2 per capita – IT needs to step up!
China seems to be taking a more ambitious stance but is still hanging back. Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli said that China will “announce post-2020 actions on climate change as soon as we can to markedly reduce carbon intensity, increase the share of non-fossil fuels, and raise the forest stock. We will also try to bring about the peaking of total CO2 emissions as soon as possible”.
According to the Vice Premier, China has achieved the following: “In 2013, China’s carbon intensity was down 28.5 percent from the 2005 level. According to World Bank report, China contributed 58 percent of all the energy saved globally between 1991 and 2010. In 2013 the installed renewable capacity in China was 24 percent of world total and forest stock in China grew 2 billion cubic meters from 2005 levels.”
But China is not willing to be a leader in the negotiations. Zhang Gaoli’s response to US President Barack Obama’s suggestion that responsibilities between developed and developing countries should be redrawn was that no he thinks they should remain the same. In other words China does not need to do as much as the USA.
Neither party showed interest in a legally-binding universal agreement. At least Brazil President Dilma Rousseff was for such an agreement. But most “differentiated responsibility” in the final climate agreement was a common demand from most nations, including Brazil, and clearly still a sticky issue. President Rousseff said that although her country is committed to tackling climate change and that a legally-binding universal agreement was necessary, she defended the need to take “balanced and ambitious measures” that respect the principles of “equity and common, but differentiated, responsibilities.” While Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni said: “Most unfortunately, this is not the fault of Africa. This is the fault of North America, Europe, and some parts of Asia.” But such a statement from an African Nation is permissible.
Prime Minister David Cameron said it was “playing its part” by forging ahead with it’s commitment to cutting GHG emissions by 80% by 2050. How it is to do this was not explained; and no commitment to a legally-binding agreement was mentioned, nor further pledges.
While Denmark could stand tall, and proud, at the Summit. Simply stating that Denmark will be fossil free by 2050. If they can do it others can!
Although many pledges were made, contributions to the Green Climate Fund still fell far short of the $100 billion needed (and committed to at last year’s COP18 in Warsaw). France joined Germany in pledging $1bn of climate aid over the next few years while Switzerland, South Korea and Denmark also pledged $270 million to the Fund.
A very positive declaration was made on forests. 27 governments and more than 100 companies and organisations committed to end global deforestation by 2030. That was something.
Meanwhile World Bank president Dr. Jim Yong Kim indicated the business’ interest in a universal price on carbon. According to the World Resources Institute’s live feed, he said that “73 national governments and over 1,000 companies, which together represent 52 percent of global GDP, 54 percent of emissions, and almost 50 percent of world population, support a carbon price”.
The Summit reminds one of the Israel-Palestinian conflict; where old wounds and historical differences prevent parties finding consensus or peace. Also, those most powerful are unwilling to budge for the greater good. Historical production of GHG emissions should not prevent countries from curbing current and future emissions! America and China are the biggest economies. They have the best position and opportunity to curb climate change impacts but their ego (and vested interests) prevent them from doing enough.
African nations are not yet in the position to contribute significantly to GHG emission cuts and should be exempted – but helped to do so in the long run. But what about the likes of Brazil? They have experienced huge economic growth recently (although this is slowing). They are in a position to drive change as well. It would be exciting and uplifting to see an emerging economy skip western countries’ industrial revolution and go straight to a ‘green revolution’ (not the agricultural kind!).
We are all in this mess together. This is actually an exciting opportunity; a chance to escape the fossil fuel era that has defined so much of our recent history, that has driven so much conflict and caused health and environmental problems along the way; a chance to embrace new, efficient, cleaner technologies; a chance to leap into the future.
Fossil fuels have contributed immeasurably to our well-being and economic prosperity. Without the fossil fuel era we would not have the life quality we can experience today. But the costs are now clearly outweighing the benefits. Therefore it is time for a new era based on cleaner energy sources, protection of our forests, biodiversity and environmental services, new non-fossil-fuel based transport systems and a green, circular economy.
By Philippa Shepherd
Quotes have been obtained from the UN live webtv and Guardian site. See:
Plastic is one of the fastest growing waste streams and is the least managed, but on the up side there is great potential for minimising plastic waste streams, and existing and future alternatives to plastics are many and diverse.
Two key ways to minimise plastic: 1) Using alternatives that are less harmful to human health and the environment whether alternative materials e.g. glass, or different types of plastics such as biodegradable polymers made from starch; 2) Better management which means more efficient use of the resource such as using the most appropriate plastic and avoiding plastic where possible, better product design, recycling and reuse.
Using alternatives will reduce the amount of plastic in the waste stream and potentially reduce exposure to harmful chemicals, while recycling has significant environmental benefits.
There are many alternatives to fossil-fuel based plastics (see HowStuffWorks). Substitutes identified are glass (as a substitute for plastic bottles and other containers), reusable shopping bags, adding plastic additives that help breakdown plastics by almost 100% such as in polyethylene carrier bags and biodegradable polymers (building blocks of plastics) made from milk, chicken feathers, liquid wood and starch from sources like corn.
Additional alternatives are not about substituting the material but approaches that rule out the need for that material. Plastics can be avoided all together if a different approach to the problem is implemented e.g. do we need plastic packaging for our fruits and vegetables? Or can we change people’s expectations and behaviour to reduce plastic waste, for example encourage people to use alternatives.
These alternatives are already out there. They aren’t new just not mainstream – yet.
Compostable bin liners can now be bought all over the world. With increasing food waste collection such as in Europe and the US these compostable bags are used to line food waste caddies. There are biodegradable nappies, carrier bags, covers on washing powders, polystyrene…(see Biodegradable Plastic Bags). Plastic packaging is used to keep food fresh. An innovative new product has been developed to keep food fresh without the use of plastic called “freshpaper”. In many countries organic food box schemes exist where fruit and vegetables are delivered without plastic packaging. Denmark still uses returnable glass and plastic bottles for many beverages!
So the alternatives do exist and are being developed or improved as we speak but although there are many options to reducing plastic waste there are also many barriers (see end of article).
Better management and greater system efficiency
Within a recycling scenario the largest potentials for recycling were found for plastic, iron, aluminium and glass waste (see SOER, EEA). In the US plastics represent 12% of American cities’ solid waste streams (see US EPA). Only a quarter of 1% of discarded polyvinyl chloride plastics (PVC) is recycled each year in the US – PVC is one of the world’s most common type of plastic. In terms of carrier bags, about a 1 billion of them pass through the U.S. every year, less than 1 percent of which are recycled (see Clean Air Council). Without better management and recycling most plastic ends up in landfills and if not landfill ends up littering towns and cities – or ends up in the ocean.
Europe is doing a little better with 18 European Economic Area countries meeting the 2008 target of the Packaging Waste Directive (2004/12/EC) to recycle at least 55% of packaging waste generated (see SOER, EEA). For example, in the UK 50% of plastic bottles are recycled but only 12-15% of mixed plastics are so there is still progress to be made (see WRAP). The EU has ambitious recycling targets but landfill is still the dominant waste management approach at 51% while recycling is 43.6% and incineration only 5%(see SOER, EEA). And plastic is still one of the least recycled waste products in European countries. At the same time, the use of plastics as packaging material is increasing the most: plastics in packaging increased by 40% between 1997 and 2006 in the EU15 compared to a 24% increase of paper and cardboard and 0-2% for glass and metals packaging(see SOER, EEA). And this is only plastic packaging waste streams!
San Francisco has probably the most ambitious recycling system in the world. Its target for 2010 was 75% waste diversion while its target for 2020 is zero! By 2008, 72% of its municipal solid waste was diverted for recycling. Its success is based on an easy-to-use extensive recycling collection and composting system (see Sustainable Plastics).
Recycled plastics are used for packaging, construction, landscaping, textile fibre, clothing, street furniture, bin liners and other uses (see WRAP). There are plenty of examples where recycled plastics are being used. Since 2009, the car manufacturer Ford has required suppliers of any new seat to use at least 25 percent recycled fabric. In 2011 the Litre of Light project launched by My Shelter Foundation uses plastic bottles filled with a solution of bleached water to produce cheap indoor lighting in shanty towns in the Philippines. In 1993, outdoor clothing company Patagonia was the first to adopt fleece made from post consumer recycled (PCR) plastic soda bottles.
Recycling plastics for use in the manufacture of new plastic items keeps this resource out of landfill, and delivers economic and environmental benefits by reducing the use of virgin plastics. For example, recycling 1 tonne of soft drinks bottles saves around 1.5 tonnes of CO2. Additionally, reducing the amount of plastics in landfill will reduce the amount of plastics reaching our beaches and oceans.
Some challenges to changing our dependence on plastic…
Currently some of the issues limiting the use or effectiveness of such alternatives are: 1) Economic – biodegradable polymers are still more expensive than polymers made from fossil fuels; 2) Convenience – throw away bags are easier to use than re-usable bags (we don’t have to remember bringing them for starters) or recycling is still too time-consuming/complex; 3) Recycling facilities are still inadequate which results in unlawful transportation of waste plastics abroad; 4) Technical – biodegradable polymers have more limited uses (due to their very nature) and due to the many plastics out there ensuring separation for recycling is complex; 5) The alternatives aren’t necessarily better environmentally – many argue that biodegradable polymers have environmental consequences too; 5) Political preferences – businesses can hamper change.
Putting the barriers aside, there is an amazing array of solutions to reducing plastic waste. What is more promising is that waste is increasingly seen by governments and businesses as a resource that is untapped and if managed properly can actually have positive economic advantages as well as environmental.
Today is the final day of the UNFCCC COP19 climate talks – two weeks of negotiations in Warsaw on climate change mitigation, financing and adaptation. More than 9,000 representatives from about 195 countries have participated in working towards making a pact on curbing rising greenhouse gas emissions to be signed in 2015 but to come into force after 2020. But the talks have seen hunger strikes, walk outs, disagreement and wrangling. The general feeling in the media is that this year’s climate talks are simply not delivering.
The talks began with a hunger strike by Philippine negotiator Yeb Sano over the devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, the strongest ever storm to make landfall, which garnered an emotional response from many delegates at the beginning of the conference but seems to have made no dent in the wrangling over climate mitigation efforts. The Typhoon caused devastation across the Philippines, with a death toll of more than 5,000 people and the displacement of 4 million people.
At the beginning of the week environmental groups walked out in protest at the disappointing lack of commitment by delegates and have accused the conference of being a platform for fossil fuel proponents to lobby for tar sands, coal and shale gas extraction. UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres specifically addressed the coal industry pointedly saying, “I am here to say that coal must change rapidly and dramatically for everyone’s sake.” A group pf 27 international scientists meeting at Warsaw argued that 75% of coal reserves should stay in the ground to limit warming to a 2C rise.
Canada and Australia anti-climate change stance has given credence and strength to sceptics and fossil fuel lobbyists. With the windfall from its huge tar sands reserves in the province of Alberta, Canada’s government opted out of the Kyoto Protocol in 2011 making it clear that short-term economic gain outweighs the environmental and human damage that climate change will cause over the next century. In a similar vein, Australia’s newly elected conservative government has put climate change mitigation on the back burner in order to pursue the exploitation of its coal reserves. Australia has the world’s fourth-largest coal reserves — an estimated 76.4 billion tons, or 9 percent of global reserves.
More understandably but still disappointingly, Japan’s decision to significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emission reduction target of 25% (based on 1990 levels) to only 3.8% (based on 2005 levels) due to its current energy issues resulting from the 2011 tsunami shows how fickle commitments are. Without legally binding commitments country emission reduction targets are fickle; lacking accountability.
Another glitch to the negotiations was the delaying tactic by the G77+ China group of 133 developing countries who walked out of negotiations this week to protest against rich nation reluctance to pay developing countries for losses suffered due to the effects of climate change. The issue of who should pay for the loss and damage of climate change has been a sticky issue throughout talks, with developing countries wanting to see developed nations foot the bill. However, many so-called developing nations should no longer be entitled ‘developing’, namely China, and are significantly contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, more so than many “developed” nations.
Under such levels of distraction, disagreement, dissension and disempowerment will any positive steps come out of these talks? Will headway be made towards a new, more ambitious 2020 pact?
Any significant agreement on a new set of emission targets will not have been made this time. To be honest this will unlikely happen before 2015 – only when push comes to shove. However, small steps and commitments have been made during talks. Delegates have agreed to providing another $100 million to the Climate Adaptation Fund, and agreed on the financing rules of REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) a mechanism to aid the protection of forests by creating financial incentives to stop deforestation.
Negotiations will continue throughout the day, so we shall see what COP 19 has achieved over the next few days. But if anyone is expecting any major breakthroughs they will likely be disappointed. Perhaps the small positive steps that are achieved each year, and the heated debates among delegates and opposing groups, are constructive in themselves; paving the way, helping to lay down the building blocks upon which a new pact can be agreed by 2015.
Latest statistics from the Danish Energy Agency show that in 2011 renewables provided for just over 40% of Denmark’s domestic electricity supply.
The share of renewables rose to 40.7% of domestic electricity supply in 2011, from 34.8% in 2010, of which wind provision represented 28.1% rising from 21.9%, the agency said in its annual statistical review.
In terms of total energy consumption,Denmark’s February 2008 energy agreement was to cover 20% of gross energy consumption from renewable sources by 2011. This was achieved in 2011 hitting 21.8% rising to its current level of 23.6%.
It’s most recent targets in its green energy policy include securing 35% of energy production from renewable sources by 2020, of which 50% of total electricity consumption will come solely from wind generation.
Surprisingly Denmark, considering its ambitious renewable energy programme, is not the leader in overall renewable energy production amongst the 27 European Union nations. Other EU countries with higher shares of renewables, based on hydropower and biomass include Austria, Sweden, Portugal and Finland. However,Denmarkstill has the highest share of domestic electricity supply coming from wind in the EU.
Welcome to the new ICIS website. We hope you will enjoy its new look and content. It is far from finished but we are working hard to complete it as soon as we can.
When it is done ICIS will have a website that is much more interconnected and interactive. Finally you will be able to comment on our blogs, add tweets to ICIS twitter, of course “like” us on facebook and where possible watch video feeds from ICIS events.
With time the ICIS website will become an essential educational resource for those interested in sustainable development and design.
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