Saturday, January 26, 2008

Sustainable Solutions - From Plastic To Fuel.

Plastic waste, the scourge of the environment - clogging landfills and responsible for the deaths of thousands of marine life every year - have been given a new lease of life through an exciting new technology which converts waste plastic into useable fuels and gases.

In what is a world's first, Enviro-Hub Holdings, a main-board listed waste management and recycling company in Singapore, has announced the construction of a S$50 million plastic-to-fuel commercial plant after researching for a long-term environmental solution for plastic waste since 2005.
Using a patented technology developed in India, for which Enviro-Hub holds an exclusive license, the company built a pilot plant that was able to revert plastics back to its constituent - oil. The technology heats waste plastic with a special catalyst that breaks it down into 85 per cent diesel, 10 per cent liquid petroleum gas and 5 per cent coke.

And the good news is that the diesel produced - unlike older technologies - will have a low sulphur content and lower carbon dioxide emissions. The heating process of converting the waste plastic into fuel will also be emissions-free.

Enviro-Hub's new facility will initially be able to take up to 100 tonnes of waste plastic a day and at about 30,000 tonnes a year, it will produce 20 million litres of diesel, four to five million kilograms of gas and 1,500 tonnes of coke. The plant will also be self-generating, using about 5 per cent of the fuel it produces to power itself with the rest being sold to other industries. There are also plans to expand the plant's capacity to handle up to 50,000 tonnes of plastic waste by the end of 2008.

With an estimated 4 billion tonnes of plastic waste discarded worldwide every year, the commercial potential is huge and Enviro-Hub's initiative will go a long way in coming to grips with plastic waste - a persistent environmental scourge - and is a great example of using technology to come up with sustainable solutions for environmental issues.

*Related post :
- The Convenient But Deadly Plastic Bag.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Convenient But Deadly Plastic Bag.

"Worldwide, an estimated 4 billion plastic bags end up as litter each year. Tied end to end, that’s enough to circle the earth 63 times." - Algalita Marine Research Foundation.

The plastic bag, an apt icon of consumerism and convenience, is the single most common consumer item on Earth, numbering in the trillions. Useful and durable, those plastic bags that you use to bag your groceries and shopping purchases are at the same time deadly pollutants, responsible for the deaths of thousands of marine life and are the scourge of the environment.
Plastic trash in China
Introduce to modern society about 25 years ago, plastic bags are derived from a non-renewable natural resource - oil. Extremely durable and stable, they do not biodegrade but instead photo-degrade under sunlight, fragmenting into smaller toxic bits and contaminating soil, choking waterways and rivers, polluting our oceans and killing wildlife and livestock.

With an estimated 4 billion plastic bags discarded each year and their ability to persist for thousands of years in our environment, plastic bags are the leading cause of deaths of marine life. Often mistaken for food, hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags. Estimates from the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation indicated that more than 50 percent of all marine litter is some form of plastic and a million birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die every year from ingestion of plastic or entanglement.

Turtle feeding on plastic
The Northern Pacific Gyre, a great vortex of ocean currents about 1,000 miles off the coast of California, is an astounding example of the extend of plastic pollution of our oceans. In this vortex, dubbed the "Trash Vortex", lies a swirling mass of plastic trash with an area that is twice the size of Texas. "It's an endless stream of incessant plastic particles everywhere you look. Fifty or sixty years ago, there were no plastic out there." said Dr. Marcus Eriksen, director of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation.

Plastic trash also have the ability to act as chemical sponges, attracting and concentrating the many persistent organic pollutants like PCB and DDT in our oceans which enters into the food chain when eaten by animals. As not all plastic floats - about 70 per cent of discarded plastic sinks to the ocean floor - they also smother corals and kill many marine species living at the bottom of the oceans.

Coral smother by plastic bags
And countries around the world are waking up to this scourge of our environment. From Europe to China to tiny Singapore, through a combination of heavy taxes, outright banning or eliminating the widely used thinnest plastic bags, countries are trying to get a grip on plastic pollution.

With a consumption rate of about 3 billion plastic bags a day, China recently announced the banning of the production of the widely used ultra-thin plastic bags and forbidding its supermarkets and shops from handing out free plastic bags from June this year. Kenya and Uganda have banned flimsy plastic bags by introducing minimum thickness requirements with many supermarkets giving away a free reusable basket with a minimum purchase.

An extremely successful plastic levy - at 15 euros per bag - introduced in Ireland in 2003 reduced plastic bag consumption by about 90% while tiny Singapore, where a whopping 2.5 billion plastic bags are used each year, has its Bring Your Own Bag Day every month. Australia has also joined in and recently announced that it will phased out plastic bags in supermarkets by the end of the year.

While legislations, levies and exploring technology to breakdown plastic back to oil will have an immediate impact on the reduction of plastic bags usage, it is at the individual level that the greatest contribution will come from. Adopting simple measures in our daily lives like using reusable shopping bags, foregoing double bagging for our purchases, avoiding plastics for our needs, proper disposal, reducing and reusing can go a long way in addressing an urgent environmental issue.

*Sources :
- BBC News
- Planet Ark
- Green Peace
- Algalita Marine Research Foundation
- Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation

*Related posts :
- Sustainable Solutions - From Plastic To Fuel
- Man and The Loss of Biodiversity
- Global Warming and The Cradle of Life

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Deforestation - How The World Is Losing its Cool

"Over the past 150 years, deforestation has contributed an estimated 30 percent of the atmospheric build-up of CO2. It is also a significant driving force behind the loss of genes, species and critical ecosystem services." - Climate, Biodiversity and Forests, World Resources Institute, 1998

From Indonesia to central Africa to the Amazon basin, the world's great forests, fueled by an insatiable demand for timber, are being lost at an alarming rate. Imagine losing forests the combined size of England, Scotland and Wales - about 20 million hectares - every year, with more than half being pristine primary forests and releasing millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Accounting for more greenhouse gas emissions than all the vehicles in the world, deforestation is a major contributor to global warming and accounts for about 20 per cent of all global carbon dioxide emissions. It is also the leading cause of loss in biodiversity and extinction of many species.
Deforestation in Indonesia
In Indonesia, second only to Brazil in terrestrial biodiversity, forests the size of the state of Maryland in the US are being lost every year - much of it from illegal logging - making it the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, after US and China. Between 1997 and 1998, large scale slash-and-burn in Sumatra and Kalimantan resulted in the loss of more than 5 million hectares of pristine rainforests, and the ancient Paradise Forests in Papua New Guinea are being destroyed faster than any other forest on the planet.

Indonesia is, in fact, the world's fastest forest destroyer. According to Greenpeace, between 2000 and 2005, an area of forest equivalent to 300 soccer pitches was destroyed every hour. At this rate, the country's 133.5 million ha of forests will disappear within 47 years, along with many rare plants and animals unique to the archipelago.

Deforestation in Amazon
Alarming deforestation, for timber and land for cattle ranching, is also occurring in Brazil - home to the Amazon basin which contains the planet's largest tropical rainforest. About a fifth of Amazon's forests has already been destroyed with the forests in the state of Parana almost completely cleared by the middle of the 20th century, a duration taking less than 30 years.

"Our recent report indicates that 60 per cent of the Amazon's forests could be gone by 2030, releasing billion of ton
s of CO2 to the atmosphere, with major contributions to global warming", said Dr. Meg Symington, WWF's priority leader for the Amazon. As a result, about 75 per cent of Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation and forest fires - mainly in the Amazon - making it the fourth largest climate polluter in the world.

Deforestation in Africa
In Africa, approximately 150 million acres of forests were lost between 1980 and 1995. According to World Wildlife Federation, West Africa had around 500,000 sq. km of coastal rainforests at the turn of the century but by 1997, only 22.8 per cent of West Africa's moist rainforests remain. Largely depleted by commercial exploitation - logging and conversion for agriculture - Africa is now losing forests at an estimated rate of 9 million acres each year. In Madagascar, an island off the southeast of Africa, only about 10 percent of its lush forest remains.

Similiar large scale destruction of our planet's forests can be also be found in China, Vietnam, Philippines and Ecuador.

Pristine rainforest
Often described as the Earth's lungs, forests are natural carbon sinks, soaking up and sequestrating CO2 from the atmosphere while releasing oxygen during photosynthesis but the unprecedented scale of deforestation in recent years had led to the release of millions of tons of carbon dioxide from decaying plants and trees, leading to higher worldwide temperatures.

Besides contributing to higher worldwide temperatures, deforestation also has other environmental implications. As forests play an important role in regulating and stabilising the world's climate, the unabated deforestation has led to disruption in rainfall patterns, altering natural water cycles, soil erosion - through the loss of forest canopies which reduces the impact of rainfall on soil - and catastrophic flooding.

Indonesia's slash-and-burn technique of forests clearing during the 90s' had also caused widespread pollution in South East Asia. The haze from these fires blanketed much of neighbouring countries like Malaysia, Singapore and even northern Australia, risking the health of millions of people and causing an estimated loss of US$4 billion in tourism revenue.

Deforestation is the leading cause of the loss of ecosystems, disappearance of numerous indigenous people and cultures, and the extinction of some of the rarest plants and animals on the planet. This unsustainable exploitation of nature is detrimental to both biodiversity and mankind, and unless actions are taken to halt deforestation and recognise the natural value of these ancient forests, they would virtually disappear as functioning ecosystems, resulting in the loss of a legacy that took thousands of years to form.

*Sources :
- Greenpeace
- World Wildlife Federation
- The Nature Conservancy
- Rainforest Action Network
- Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, United Nations
- Climate, Biodiversity and Forests, World Resources Institute

*Related post : Man & The Loss Of Biodiversity

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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Another Year Of Freakish Weather Patterns.

"Breaking news in recent years has been swamped with stories of extreme weather - flash floods in East Asia, prolonged drought in Africa, destructive hurricanes like Hurricane Katrina, heavy monsoon rainfall in South Asia, and an historic heat wave in Europe. The effects of these weather crises have been devastating and their frequency seemingly on the rise." - A NASA Feb 2007 report

As climate experts warned that higher temperatures are a taste of things to come, the new year begins ominously with wacky weather patterns occurring in major countries around the world in the first week of 2008.
Bush fires in Australia
Australia started the new year with a spate of extreme weather conditions from heatwaves, heavy rainfall to flooding. Major cities, like Perth and Melbourne, suffered heatwaves with bushfires raging in the east and west coast while in Sydney, huge waves of up to 3 m high pounded the beaches, forcing their closure to the public. In northern Darwin, Cyclone Helen wrought havoc with winds of up to 130 kmh and a stretch of New South Wales coast was declared a natural disaster zone after five rivers in the east coast broke their banks amid heavy rainfall, with the flooding forcing people to flee their homes, submerging properties and bridges.

Winter storm in US
According to Australia's Bureau of Meteorology, Australia experienced its sixth warmest year on record last year, with an average annual temperature of 21.8 deg C, some 0.67 deg C above normal. The southern states of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, as well as the major agricultural zone of Murray Darling Basin, experienced their hottest year since 1910.

These areas are home to the majority of Australia's population and formed about 75 per cent of the country's irrigated farmlands. "What we have seen in the past year is a confirmation of what we have known is going on. Australia is warming; it is warming quickly," said Mr. David Jones of the National Climate Centre. What made the higher temperatures abnormal was the fact that it came about as the country experienced the La Nina phenomenon - usually associated with cooler and wetter conditions.
Heavy flooding in Malaysia
Similiar freakish weather behaviour were also reported in other countries for the new year. In the US west coast, winter storms left hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in California, Oregon and Washington without power. Emergencies were declared in three counties in California and about 160 km of the Interstate 80 highway was closed. In Malaysia, sudden monsoon storms and heavy downpours caused heavy flooding in the states of Johor, Pahang and Kelantan, submerging homes and leaving thousands of people stranded without food and power.

Harbin Ice Festival
In China, higher temperatures are even hurting the most famous tourist attraction in the northern city of Harbin - its annual ice sculpture contest. Average annual temperatures in the city, dubbed the "City of Ice", hit 6.6 deg C last year, the highest since record-keeping began. Ice sculptures and lanterns melted right after they were sculpted and as the temperatures rises, the period of ice and snow activities shortened dramatically. "The average temperature of winter in Harbin is 5 deg C higher than historical records," said a senior meteorologist from the Heilongjiang Observatory.

The unbridled burning of fossil fuels have led to higher worldwide temperatures and changing weather patterns. With the world projected to experience a warmer 2008, and unless man can come to grips with reducing carbon emissions to mitigate the effects of climate change, the freakish and unpredictable weather patterns seems like here to stay

*Sources :
- BBC News
- Science journal Nature
- Bureau of Meterology, Australia
- Heilongjiang Observatory, China

*Related post : The Impact of Global Warming on Rainfall and Flooding.