David Newman comments on UN report

This report is a fairly outdated and probably expensive UN report stating the obvious.

We already knew these data from a UK report published over a year ago which shows how Britons throw away 30 percent of the food they buy, even when it is perfectly edible. But so what ?

When we go to the developing countries, where people are presumably poorer than in Britain and therefore likely to reject less of a prime commodity like food, well (guess who ?), UNEP in a report in 2005 tells us that organic (including food) waste accounts for up to 70 percent of urban waste.

Greenpeace reported on fisheries by-catch over a decade ago, demonstrating how many millions of tonnes are wasted annually.
So what has the new UNEP report added ?

What it could have said was : if we can correctly manage and capture the potential in food waste we could:
A) produce energy
B) produce fertilisers
C) reduce CO2 emissions

Until food is so expensive that we cannot afford to waste it all the rest is just talk. The fact is food is too cheap and this comes down to how we obscenely subsidise food production, especially in the rich countries. But that is another question waste managers cannot ask.


UN calls for food waste revolution

The following was publish by James Murray, in BusinessGreen, 23 Feb 2009.

The world could easily feed its growing population if farmers, businesses and government's simply stepped up efforts to curtail food waste, according to a major new study from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The report, which was published at last week's meeting of the UNEP Governing Council in Nairobi, Kenya, warned that without "a green revolution" across the food industry the combination of population growth and climate change will lead to severe food shortages over the coming decades that could see food prices climb by between 30 and 50 per cent.

"We need a Green revolution in a Green Economy but one with a capital G", said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. "We need to deal with not only the way the world produces food but the way it is distributed, sold and consumed, and we need a revolution that can boost yields by working with rather than against nature."

The report, entitled The Environmental Food crises: Environment's role in averting future food crises, calls on food producers, businesses and governments to prioritise efforts to cut food waste as the most effective means of addressing future shortages.

It found that up to 50 per cent of food produced in the US is wasted, while a third of food purchased in the UK is never eaten. Meanwhile, food losses in developing world are similarly high with an estimated 20 to 40 per cent of potential harvests lost as a result o pests and pathogens.

Moreover, 30m tonnes of fish are reportedly discarded at sea each year – enough to sustain a 50 per cent increase in fish farming and aquaculture production, which the UNEP calculates is needed to maintain per capita fish consumption at current levels by 2050 without increasing pressure on an already stressed marine environment.

"Over half of the food produced today is either lost, wasted or discarded as a result of inefficiency in the human-managed food chain," said Steiner. "There is evidence within the report that the world could feed the entire projected population growth alone by becoming more efficient while also ensuring the survival of wild animals, birds and fish on this planet."

The report calls for increased investment in agricultural R&D to help reduce waste during the production process, as well as increased efforts from government's to cut consumer food waste.

In addition, to targeting food waste the report calls for an end to agricultural subsidies, curtailing of the practice of using cereals to feed livestock, increased investment in developing second generation biofuels that do not impact on food supplies and improved water management regimes in drought affected areas.
It also calls for wider adoption of organic farming methods, citing a recent report by UNEP and the UN Conference on Trade and Development which studied 114 small-scale farms in 24 African countries and found that yields more than doubled where organic or near organic techniques were used.
"Simply ratcheting up the fertilizer and pesticide-led production methods of the 20th Century is unlikely to address the challenge", says Achim Steiner. "It will increasingly undermine the critical natural inputs and nature-based services for agriculture such as healthy and productive soils, the water and nutrient recycling of forests, and pollinators such as bees and bats."

The report warned that unless its recommendations are adopted up to 25 per cent of the world's food production could be lost by 2050 as a result of " environmental breakdown".

For example, it said that the retreat of Himalayan glaciers as a result of climate change could put nearly half of Asia's cereal production at risk, while global water shortages could cut crop yields by 20 per cent.

In related news, UNEP released a second report which found that 40 per cent of civil wars fought since 1990 were a direct result of natural resource shortages, a situation that is likely to worsen as climate change accelerates.

It warned that conflicts with a link to natural resources were twice as likely to relapse within five years as conflicts fought for other reasons, and called on the UN to take environmental and resource issues more seriously in its post-conflict planning.


5 year jail term for a plastic bag in New Delhi!

The discussion around plastic bags and their impacts to solid waste management has gone a long way last years.

Just last month New Delhi passed a preliminary ban imposing a five-year jail term or a 100,000-rupee fine, about $2,055, on anyone caught carrying or handing out plastic bags.

That did not stop 67,000 plastics professionals from convening last week for Plastindia 2009, a five-day celebration of all things plastic. Some interesting points regarding plastic bags, waste management and the plastic industry reactions are made by Heater Timmons in New York Times, 17/2/2009. See this at:



Some thoughts regarding SWM and Climate Change

The importance of Green House Gases (GHG) in decision making for SWM systems becomes an elementary part of every discussion about the future waste management. Below you will find some questions to consider and some thoughts to share about the issue.

I do believe that half of the effort we need is to create an appropriate framework for the assessment of the link between GHGs and SWM. Although there are a lot of very useful related documents, I still believe that the necessary political framework for this discussion is loose and not well defined. For the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA, www.iswa.org ) there is an opportunity to upgrade its profile being a part of the required global drivers for such a discussion. In fact, the global impacts of SWM (as highlighted by GHGs) are an obvious documentation of the need for global action and the necessity of a global know-how provider and driver to more sustainable SWM, exactly what ISWA’s mission is! So allow me to write some thoughts trying to contribute to an initial framing.


Globalization of environmental impacts: GHGs are the most obvious way to highlight that local SWM has a global environmental footprint. There are also a lot of other indications to highlight (in scientific terms) a similar relation between local actions and global effects, but under the current conditions and the global political agenda about Climate Change, the link between SWM and GHGs is the most important tool to create a universal understanding for how our local decisions in SWM contribute to global phenomena.

GHGs and the sense of time: human beings tend to underestimate or even ignore the importance of events that are out of their natural time scale. GHGs impacts are also a very good example in order to prove how previous and current SWM practices create Long Term results which substantially deteriorate the life of future generations.

GHG and developing countries: obviously the GHG effects and their management play a very crucial role for the formulation of international relations and diplomacy efforts. They also have a very clear political and economical content, which is very sensitive and difficult to be avoided. But we have to avoid a direct recommendation of what has to be done in terms of technologies and systems in place. In contrast, we have to point what should be the potential next steps (usually more than one) for more sustainability and less GHG effects in every different level of SWM. We need something like “How GHG effects influence SWM” or similar. The focus should be to criteria and conceptual relations between different practices and technologies and not to a direct indication to what has to be done.

Some Questions

GHG effects should be considered as a risk or as an opportunity for SWM development? (I suggest the second)

What are the impacts to GHGs from the different SWM practices? What are the main risks for SWM systems? Are there any opportunities and where?

What are the impacts to SWM practices and the industry from the accumulation of GHGs? How Climate Change is expected to affect SWM?

What are the key – actions that should be elaborated from different SWM systems and practices in order to minimize the GHGs impacts?

Should we discuss about the economical impacts as well?

Can we categorize Short and Long Term actions?

Can we categorize actions according their effects (e.g. Small, Medium, and High)?


Using mobile phones to promote recycling: the London experiment

The text that follows is copied by www.edie.net (12/2/2009)

Londoners are being encouraged to starve their bins in a new electronic game that they can play on the move. Recycle for London's latest publicity campaign, which is funded by the London Waste and Recycling Board, is using a mobile phone game to spread the word.

It is the first time that such technology has been used for a public sector campaign. Players will be challenged to starve their "evil bin" by catching recyclable materials in a green recycling box, scoring points for every item caught, and losing lives if the bin eats the items.

More than 60% of the rubbish thrown away in the capital can be recycled by the city is currently managing an average of just 20%. "In London we throw away so much rubbish that could actually be recycled - it's an important resource which is simply being chucked away," London Mayor Boris Johnson said. "I am very excited that the new Recycle for London campaign is using innovative technologies to boost recycling and my message is to starve your bins and recycle, recycle, recycle."

Mr Johnson added that he is confident that the recycling market will recover, despite reports of the recent downturn in some parts of the market for recycled materials. Councillor Daniel Moylan, from the London Waste and Recycling Board, said: "Along with reducing the amount of waste we send to landfill, driving up recycling is our top priority and we shouldn't let a few scare stories in the media divert us from this important endeavour."

For the first time, the campaign will now be advertised on television, alongside the radio and press adverts and the posters on public transport that most city-dwellers will already be familiar with. Londoners can download the game by texting BIN to 62967. iPhone users can download the game from the Apple Store on iTunes. All users can forward the game to friends. It will work on most internet-ready mobile phones. It does not work on BlackBerries.


Urban waste management solutions

This is an article from the DG Environment Newsletter "Science for Environmental Policy" (Special Issue 11, February 2009).

"What is the best way to manage urban waste? Towns and cities generate huge volumes of waste that are often disposed of as landfill. In a new study, researchers explain that sorting urban waste into organic and inorganic streams, which can be turned into energy and fertiliser, offers a much more efficient and environmentally friendly solution.

Each year, 1.3 billion tonnes of waste is thrown away in the EU1. In several European countries, the main way of disposing of this waste is in landfill sites. In Greece, Portugal, the UK, Ireland, Finland, Italy and Spain more than half of all waste ends up as landfill. Aside from the negative environmental impacts of landfill, including heavy metal leaching and slow release of greenhouse gases, landfill sites are in short supply. Alternative waste management strategies are therefore urgently required.

Using the city of Rome as a case study, landfill was compared with four alternative waste management options:
landfill without biogas treatment
landfill with collection of biogas to burn for electricity production
direct incineration of waste with electricity recovery
a scheme where waste is sorted into organic and inorganic streams at landfill sites, and ferrous metals are recycled

In each case, the researchers calculated how much new waste was generated by the waste disposal process itself, how much energy the process required and how much it generated, and the estimated global and local emissions. The results suggest landfill represents the worst waste management strategy both in terms of environmental impacts and energy performance. The data reveal that even incinerating waste is a better option than landfill.

Separating organic and inorganic waste, proved most effective in terms of reducing environmental impacts and energy performance. In this case, organic waste is turned into biogas and fertiliser, and inorganic waste is converted to Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) which is burned to generate electricity. This scenario could lead to an 80 per cent reduction in the amount of waste sent to landfill. In terms of global warming potential, this scenario has a positive effect on net greenhouse gas emissions (because the electricity and biogas produced can replace fossil fuels).

For comparison, under the landfill alone scenario, one year's worth of waste from Rome produces an estimated global warming potential equivalent to 1910 kt CO2 (mainly in the form of greenhouse gases emitted from the landfill site). If the waste is separated into streams, there is a net reduction in global warming potential equivalent to 345 kt CO2 from one year's worth of waste.

Although none of the options evaluated provide a full solution to the waste disposal problem, the researchers suggest that the fourth scenario is currently the most viable. This scheme produces twice as much energy as the direct incineration scheme and is the most energy efficient. From an environmental perspective, the same scheme offers the best solution, as the only remaining waste to enter landfill is burnt inorganic waste, which will not decompose further after disposal. In contrast, organic waste directly disposed of in landfill will continue to decompose for thousands of years, releasing greenhouse gases.

1. See: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/index.htm
Source: Cherubini, F., Bargigli, S. and Ulgiati, S. (2008). Life Cycle Assessment of Urban Waste Management: Energy Performances and Environmental Impacts. The Case of Rome, Italy. Waste Management. 28: 2552-2564.
Contact: cherufra@yahoo.it

Theme(s): Climate change and energy, Urban Environments, WasteAdditional information: LIFE has funded a number of innovative projects designed to improve the sustainability of waste management. For project details, please download: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/life/themes/urban/documents/urban_waste.pdf