OnePlus, Nintendo smartphone and Microsoft Lumia 950 : why the term waste is already redefined!

Just have a look at the speed with which new, unbelievable powerful mobile phones are arriving. 

1. Chinese company OnePlus is hosting a launch event on October 29 in India (and other countries) where it will - in all probability- take the wraps off its new affordable Mini device, touted as the OnePlus X. The OnePlus X is expected to be a Mini variant of the OnePlus 2, and will therefore carry a lower price tag in comparison. There have been numerous rumours around this aspect of the OnePlus X.

2. Microsoft is all set to launch its recently announced Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL Windows 10 smartphones in India in the month of November. The company is planning to bring the Lumia 950 smartphone to India at a price of Rs 38,000, while the Lumia 950 XL will be carrying a price tag of Rs 43,000, approximately. 

3. Nintendo announced the first smartphone - game, developed in partnership with mobile service company DeNA , will be an app called Miitomo, which will allow users to create Mii characters and exchange facts about themselves with other players. Of course, it requires advanced mobile phones and fast processing units.

Well, if they continue like this, very soon our 2 years old mobile phones will become... waste! And I am sure that this will be the case, as the speed of the third industrial revolution is getting higher and the pace of change in certain industrial sectors, IT and mobile phones are certainly two of them, will get faster and faster. 

This is why I insist that we have to be ready for a more radical transformation: the term waste, very soon, will be completely redefined as a result of the third industrial revolution - this video at the beginning of the post, from a recent key-note I delivered in Buenos Aires, explains why. 


Hurricane Patricia and Future Trend #6: Climate Change

Hurricane Patricia headed toward southwestern Mexico yesterday, as a monster Category 5 storm, the strongest ever in the Western Hemisphere that forecasters said could make a "potentially catastrophic landfall" later in the day, according the latest reports.   The hurricane is expected to bring accumulated rains ranging from 6 to 12 inches which could easily produce "life-threatening flash floods, mud slides (especially in areas of mountainous terrain), and high winds up to 130 m.p.h.," NOAA warns.

Well, this hurricane is one more extreme wether phenomenon and there are a lot of great research papers for the relation between climate change and extreme weather phenomena (this is one I like a lot by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute). And as much as we are preparing our cities to adapt themselves in the new emerging climate patterns, as much we should realise that waste management and recycling patterns will be certainly affected a lot by the climate change policies and science. 
Obviously, a first influence regards the financial resources: already there are a lot of funds available for waste management activities related to GHGs reduction (have a look at Climate Funds Update for more).
Another, also obvious trend regards the global cooperation required for fighting climate change - it seems that we are on the way for a new agreement in Paris. Countries have agreed that they would adopt a new climate agreement in 2015 at the Paris Climate Conference this DecemberThe Paris 2015 Conference needs to result in the adoption of an international agreement, setting the framework for a transition towards resilient, low-carbon societies and economies. The Conference has the potential to mark a decisive step forward in the negotiation of the future international agreement that will enter into force in 2020,  with the aim that all countries, including the greatest greenhouse gas emitters – both developed and developing countries – should be bound for the first time by a universal climate agreement. 
In case this global agreement is achieved, then there will be a lot of new instruments to motivate GHGs reduction and certainly waste management sector will benefit of them. As an idea of the actual expectations and intentions of the recycling and waste management industry, the recent ISWA's Declaration on Climate Change and Waste Management provides a brief but thoughtful overview. 
But there are further, not so obvious impacts. 
Globalisation of environmental impacts: GHGs and marine litter are the most obvious ways to highlight that local SWM has a global environmental footprint. 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.
GHGs and developing countries: I think that the global agenda for GHGs provides a unique opportunity to rethink the way international aid or Official Development Assistance (ODA) is distributed - there are many problematic situations at this field and the most important ones are two. A. the overall amount of ODA related to waste management is ridiculously small (less than 0.3% of the overall ODA) and, B. the poorest countries receive much less support than the developing to developed ones. This has been proven by a report that was made within the framework of the "Globalisation and waste management" project that was implemented by ISWA - for more check "A review of international development cooperation in Solid Waste Management".  If we are going to fight seriously the Climate Change, if we are going to prepare substantial adaptation and mitigation plans, then certainly we need to change completely the way ODA is managed. 
And last but not least is the challenge of adaptation, which is certainly underestimated when we speak about waste management. I have written again about it, but unfortunately nothing has changed. It seems that the most vulnerable waste management systems are the ones that happened to be in growing and transition megacities, where informal sector plays a certain role in waste management and infrastructure either is not in place or it is not adequate. In those urban areas, the environmental and health risks from a potential disaster related to waste management are really high and under certain conditions they might be proven more than local ones. Take into account that dumpsites, which are the dominant practice in those cases, are usually located at low levels and excavated with no plan and hydraulic protection and you will understand that this is a serious problem. 


The Internet of Things and the future of Recycling: think, prepare, react

This is a short video I prepared to trigger the discussion abut the Internet of Things and the future of recycling - it is also a short introduction of my new seminar on the 3rd industrial revolution and the future of waste management - well, the future is here and we better prepare ourselves for the huge changes that will take place within next 10-15 years.

I do not know how fast it will come, we have to discuss not only technical but social innovation too, we need to manage the substantial social impacts, but in any case the waste management industry has to make a substantial shift to IT solutions in order to prepare itself for the tsunami of interconnectivity. And what we can imagine now, is really minimal or even negligible comparing to what is really coming (more on the pace of change very soon).

As for the local authorities, as I discussed recently at LARAC 2015 (great conference, great atmosphere and very important views) they have to start the utilisation of the emerging interconnectivity, they have to work more on local mobile apps, they have to create virtual and physical human networks and to follow specific material cycles, on a local level and you know some? I believe that they can achieve much better results with substantial lower costs - we can't afford to miss the wave of interconnectivity!

Stay tuned, much more is coming


Biggest tech deal ever, Microsoft Surface and the global challenges of waste management

Few days before the largest tech deal ever was announced, the one between DELL and EMC, I was asked to participate at a radio show at LA Talk radio a growing internet radio that is irreverent, cool and entertaining also. The show held on October 2 and it was about the global challenges related to waste management and the possibilities for a zero waste society.

My host was Diana Dehm, a curious social entrepreneur with a big vision and passion for connecting people from around the world to create our sustainable planet in the most non-traditional ways. She holds the Sustainability News & Entertainment Radio and you can find all her radio shows plus many other interesting materials at her website. Interestingly, she rubs the very successful project Trash your Back, a fun, high visibility 5-day campaign driving awareness and education on our own personal trash impact.

You can find the whole radio show here - I hope you will enjoy it

I found it really challenging to have such a discussion on waste management at the same days someone commented that "...according to the engineers, a full-scale quantum processor would have major applications in the finance, security, and healthcare sectors, allowing the identification and development of new medicines by greatly accelerating the computer-aided design of pharmaceutical compounds; the development of new, lighter and stronger materials spanning consumer electronics to aircraft; and faster information searching through large databases".

As I am writing those lines, the first review of Microsoft Surface first look - review has been already published, to my understanding this will be another step towards the new modular design of laptops.

And I am thinking, how far is the waste management sector from the third industrial revolution that happens right here, right now? How we can move inside this revolution and utilise it? Well, this is my understanding: either the waste management industry will be tuned to the pace of change of the third industrial revolution or it will be gradually undermined by the waves of social and techno innovation that are coming.


Future Trend #5: Marine litter science is the equivalent of Mars exploration for the recycling & waste management industry

Many people were surprised by the recent NASA announcement that evidence was found for summertime water flows on Mars. Well, this is something that could change completely our perception regarding other planets. “Mars is not the dry, arid planet that we thought of in the past,” said Nasa’s Jim Green. 

I believe that marine litter science is a similar case - the findings that are already here and much more the ones that will come will change our perception for the plastics and they will create innovation waves that will reshape recycling and waste management. Well, maybe not so drastically as billionaire Elon Musk has spelled out that he wants to change Mars (he plans to create temporary suns over Mars in order to heat the Red Planet) but probably with a more concrete way.  

Marine litter will be a key-issue for waste management for the next 2-3 decades. The facts are shocking. According the recent study "Threat of plastic pollution toseabirds is global, pervasive, and increasing", 80 of 135 (59%) species with studies reported in the literature between 1962 and 2012 had ingested plastic, and, within those studies, on average 29% of individuals had plastic in their gut. Currently, the annual losses of sea birds, turtles and fishes related to the plastic pollution are estimated to be more than 1.5 million deaths per year and according to Laurence Maurice from the French Institute of Research for Development, the problem is likely to worsen.

Just imagine that we are speaking for concentrations that reach 580,000 pieces per km2 and the plastic production is increasing exponentially. So it is not a surprise at all, when it is forecasted that the increasing plastics ingestion in seabirds will reach 99% of all species by 2050!   

Together with climate change, marine litter and ocean garbage gyres prove that no matter if we understand it or no, local waste management practices create global impacts and that there is a need for global coordination in order to manage such global impacts.

Marine litter is also a certain signal for the limits of our societies, the technological, social and ecological ones. Marine litter is straight forward associated with ecosystem’s damages by plastic pollution and demonstrates the tangible and measurable impacts of our collective inertia to face the global waste management challenge.

I have gone through two recent research papers that demonstrate the long-term impacts related to plastic pollution and marine litter.

The first one (Global warming releasesmicroplastic legacy frozen in Arctic Sea ice) indicates that microplastics have accumulated far from population centers and that polar sea ice represents a major historic global sink of man-made particulates. The study suggests “the potential for substantial quantities of legacy microplastic contamination to be released to the ocean as the ice melts therefore needs to be evaluated, as do the physical and toxicological effects of plastics on marine life”.

In the second one (An anthropogenic markerhorizon in the future rock record),  researchers from Hawai have reported “…the appearance of a new “stone” formed through inter- mingling of melted plastic, beach sediment, basaltic lava fragments, and organic debris from Kamilo Beach on the island of Hawaii. The material, herein referred to as “plastiglomerate,” is divided into in situ and clastic types that were distributed over all areas of the beach. Agglutination of natural sediments to melted plastic during campfire burning has increased the overall density of plastiglomerate, which inhibits transport by wind or water, thereby increasing the potential for burial and subsequent preservation. Our results indicate that this anthropogenically-influenced material has great potential to form a marker horizon of human pollution, signaling the occurrence of the informal Anthropocene epoch.”

Well, obviously the case of marine litter represents a huge global and local challenge for the international stakeholders, the governments and the industry. The solutions required have just started to be discussed publicly and some pilots have started to be tested. For sure, the solutions required will need changes in the whole life cycle of plastic products and not just in the way they are managed when they are considered as “waste”.

But let’s focus on the other side of the moon. The case of marine litter highlights some new opportunities, as much as it reveals global long-term threats. I am not hoping for a megatsunami, like the one that 73,000 years ago was created by a large flank from the volcanic island Fogo in the Cape Verde islands, off the coast of Africa, that fell into the ocean and triggered a tsunami that moved mountains.

Let’s start with the obvious. Marine litter impacts (much more than climate change) are relatively easily understood and visualized, so I bet that there will be many communication campaigns, especially the ones related to plastic recycling, that will use the case of marine litter as a powerful communication “bridge” too, for broad audiences.  So, yes, what I mean is that marine litter opens the opportunity to influence much broader audiences and create global awareness about the waste management and the recycling challenge.

The huge impacts of plastic pollution, which have just started to be understood through the case of marine litter, create the dynamics to discuss about the necessity to reduce plastics from the waste streams and to identify appropriate final treatment techniques when they can’t be recycled, for one or another reason.  Even better, we have to use the case of marine litter to promote the discussion for a plastic waste – free society, where many products should be redesigned in order to reduce or eliminate plastics and substitute them with more ecologically friendly materials. 

Obviously, the big challenge is to create an appropriate systemic integration between supply chains - consumption and post consumption management of plastics and the emerging Internet of Everything with the possibility to develop digital passports is certainly a hope. 

I do hope that we will also have a lot of technical innovation related to the management of post-consumer plastics – some new patents have already attracted my attention like production of ethanol from single stream plastic recycling or preparation of high calorific value fuel from end of life plastics. But this is just the beginning, because the global magnitude of the problem has attracted the attention of the big donors that are pulling gradually a lot of money to the relevant research. Many local social innovation programs have also started and if they become mainstream, sooner or later the problem will become much more manageable than it is today.

Thus, I am waiting a lot of innovation in several sectors, like:
Plastic recycling
End of pipe solutions
Material innovation and substitutes
Manufacturing innovation
Design Innovation

Will this wave of innovation be enough to resolve the problem of marine litter? No one knows, but it is worthy to try…