Waste management crisis
Phuket at a Crossroads
Phuket’s development has been almost unchecked for 10 years. New hotels, residential developments, increasing tourism and a difficult economic climate have all put a strain on Phuket’s infrastructure, limited resources and her local government.
The time is now, to reflect upon our fragile islands ecosystem, the wonderful beaches we take for granted, yet pollute so badly, our Andaman Sea that gets littered with plastic, our International destination Phang Nga Bay, with unchecked tourism, pollution and rapidly decreasing wildlife, and our “Green Island” that is burdened with nearly 600 tons of daily waste that gets incinerated and land filled.
On the SW edge of Phuket town, at Saphan Hin is the islands only incinerator and landfill that borders a mangrove wetland and Phang Nga Bay. The existing policy is localized collection and local central sorting, some recycling of basic recyclables such as ewaste & plastic water bottles then transporting to the incinerator. Trucks entering the incinerator are weighed and are charged per ton.
Up to 250 tonnes or 40% of daily waste is incinerated whilst the balance gets used as landfill. There are over 1mn tones of landfill currently at Saphan Hin and is nearing capacity. A new incinerator was commissioned in 2010 and will be open in May 2012 next to the existing plant. Its capacity is expanded to 300 tonnes. The old incinerator will then be reconditioned and reopen in 2012.
Incineration has been the easy answer, just burn it. But with volumes that could reach 1,000 tonnes a day by 2015 given expected increases in tourism and residents a waste reduction plan is now recognised as crucial.
Phuket is in a waste and water crisis and the time to act is now.
Phuket’s ecosystem is at a crossroads. The decisions made today will impact future generations and seal our future destiny.
Unchecked, we will become another overpopulated dirty tourism trap that tourists will visit once, and not return again, because of environmental degradation.
Checked, responsibly taken care of and loved, we will retain our image as one of the world’s favorite island destinations and the pearl of the Andaman.
The signs in 2011 have been very encouraging. Phuket is showing a new sense of maturity with more regulated construction, eco-building practices, a raised eco-conscience, and island wide support for a Clean and Green environmental and sustainability campaign.
Phuket Green Island, is a campaign initiated by the local Government to redress the islands issues and is an all encompassing strategy to minimize waste, limit degradation, educate residents and teach the next generation.
In 2009 the branding of “Low Season” was changed, in favor of “Summer in Phuket” to better support annual tourism. With this branding were major beach cleanups and improved, year-round beach management with full time life savers on all western beaches. This initiative was a catalyst for focusing public and private sector attention and leading the way in establishing Phuket’s Clean and Green Campaign.
The recent success of roadside cleanups, litter collection before roadside grass cutting, reduced litter through education and a phuket wide household waste management campaign that will be put into place in 2012 will continue to impact visible pollution dramatically.
Following a successful global practice, Phuket will launch a plastic bag reduction scheme on December 5th 2011 in honour of the Kings 84th birthday, being the first province in Thailand to integrate this key strategy for dramatically reducing plastic bag use at the source and used as a spearhead to tackle bigger issues.
Plastic bags are a blight to the environment and responsible for about 80% of roadside litter.
Plastic bags are a major source of mosquito breeding grounds and increase Dengue Fever, and other infectious disease outbreaks.
Plastic bags clog drains and cause flooding as seen in 2010 in Surin, Kamala, Patong and Kata beaches.
Plastic bags are consumed by Turtles, Dolphins and Birds, killing off what little wildlife remains in the Andaman region. There are several species of animals in Phuket and surrounding areas on the edge of extinction.
Plastic bags break down slowly in the ocean, creating toxic chemicals and waste consumed by sea-life, then enter the food chain
Plastic bags take 400-1,000 years to bio-degrade (this means that not one plastic bag has ever naturally bio-degraded)
The Phuket Green Island campaign initiated in 2010 increased awareness of the need to change our thinking, habits and actions. The campaign was created to help educate Phuketian’s change our attitudes towards waste and over-consumption, and launch the implementation of curb side recycling to dramatically reduce the discarded waste footprint.
In 2012 this campaign will be broadened from Phuket Island to include the Andaman region, bringing together Khao Lak, Phang Nga, Krabi, Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi and Satun province supporting a clean Andaman Sea region.
REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE and the fourth R, Responsibility come together in that order.
REDUCE is the most important, reduce disposable product purchasing (bags, straws, water bottles, food containers, packaging & imported products), REDUCE waste stream by composting, REDUCE energy by taking out plugs, turning off electronic goods, REDUCE your aircon usage, REDUCE your carbon footprint.
REUSE what you can, fill your own aluminium or glass water bottles instead of buying plastic ones, REUSE shampoo, soap and other health items by refilling rather than replacing.
RECYCLE as much as possible at home, at work, at play. Plastic, Paper, Metals, Food and dispose of dangerous items such as ewaste and batteries carefully.
RESPONSIBILITY to take these issues seriously, practice these suggestions, tell your friends, help each other, keep a log or start a blog. Facebook and Twitter everyone you know to spread the word… every small action you take, if everyone on Phuket did it would make a huge difference.
June 2012 update
Plastic Pollution, local action and RIO
The world’s environmental problems can seem overwhelming, but I often find hope and inspiration in local victories. Local victories, when aggregated, can lead to major global change by informing, motivating and spurring action from leaders the world over.
An excellent example of local victories inspiring global action is the effort to stem the tide of plastic pollution that plagues our rivers, coasts, and oceans.
Last week, clean seas advocates won a major victory in California when Los Angeles became the largest city in the United States to ban plastic bags at supermarket checkout lines. This law will phase out plastic bags from 7,500 stores in a city of roughly 3.8 million people.
Plastic that ends up as pollution in the ocean (sometimes known as “marine debris”) has serious consequences for marine life and possibly for the food chain and human health. Hundreds of species and thousands of individual animals — including significant numbers of endangered species such as Hawaiian monk seals and every species of turtle — have been killed or seriously harmed by being entangled or ingesting plastics.
A California sea lion entangled and injured by discarded fishing line. Image courtesy: Marine Photobank, © 1990 Bob Talbot, LegaSea Project
Plastic bags are among the most problematic forms of plastic pollution because they are so lightweight and commonly blow out into the environment. It cost cities significant amounts of money to remove them from clogged storm drains and beaches. They are one of the most difficult forms of plastic packaging to recycle, which is why stronger controls are needed.
The solutions advanced in places like Los Angeles can be shared and adopted in cities, states, and even nations around the world. To create this local-to-global solution network, NRDC launched a campaign, the Global Call and Commitment to End Plastic Pollution, to provide a platform for sharing commitments from governments, business, and organizations, which we will showcase at the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June. Examples of pledges that can be made include the following::
Government and businesses can commit to enacting laws and policies that make the producers of packaging responsible for recycling it at the end of its useful life. This creates an incentive to use less packaging or it helps create more recyclable packaging. These kinds of laws are in place throughout Canada and the European Union.
Some products, like plastic bags and polystyrene foam containers, are so difficult to clean up or recycle, they have been banned or phased out in favor of reusable materials. These measures are in place in many locations, from many U.S. cities to Rwanda to parts of China, Australia, Ireland, Italy, and the Philippines.
Public education and good alternatives to disposable plastics are also needed to shift consumer behavior, but consumers and taxpayers need businesses and government to create better choices.
We are excited to showcase some of these solutions at an event called the Plasticity Forum at the Rio+20 Summit, on Thursday June 21.
Whether you can attend the Earth Summit or not, you can encourage your leaders in government, business, and organizations to join the Global Call and Commitment to End Plastic Pollution.
NRDC is advocating for the collection of all of the promises made by communities, corporations, and countries at the Earth Summit into what we calling the Cloud of Commitments. This is a web-based platform that will enable the world to start to track the progress we are making towards a sustainable future. This is the kind of real action that will make Rio+20 a success.
UPDATED EU eWaste rules August 2012
Stringent new EU e-waste rules officially came into effect yesterday, paving the way for a fundamental overhaul of how technology companies, retailers, recycling firms, and consumers handle waste electronic equipment and devices.
The updating of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive, which first came into effect in 2003, will impose a series of ambitious new e-waste recovery and recycling targets on the IT and electronics industry while also introducing stringent new penalties for companies and member states who fail to comply with the rules.
The original WEEE directive represented the world’s first comprehensive e-waste legislation, placing a “producer responsibility” on manufacturers that made them legally and financially responsible for the safe collection and disposal of old equipment.
However, the directive has been widely criticised in recent years for struggling to sufficiently promote the re-use and recycling of valuable electronic resources and failing to crack down on the illegal export of old equipment to developing countries for scrap.
The updated directive, which was approved by the European Parliament last month, significantly strengthens a range of e-waste regulations and imposes new targets that will require member states to collect 45 per cent of electronic equipment sold for approved recycling or disposal from 2016, rising to 65 per cent of equipment sold or 85 per cent of electronic waste generated by 2019, depending on which goal member states choose to adopt.
In addition, from 2018, subject to an impact assessment, the directive will be extended from its “current restricted scope” to all categories of electronic waste. Many different types of electrical equipment are currently exempt from the rules after manufacturers argued they were too difficult to collect or recycle – a scenario the EU has signalled it wants to crack down on.
“In these times of economic turmoil and rising prices for raw materials, resource efficiency is where environmental benefits and innovative growth opportunities come together,” said Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik in a statement. “We now need to open new collection channels for electronic waste and improve the effectiveness of existing ones. I encourage the member states to meet these new targets before the formal deadline.”
Member states now have until February 14 2014 to transcribe the new EU directive into their national e-waste laws.
The directive will give government’s significant new powers designed to make it easier for businesses and consumers to dispose of e-waste in an environmentally responsible fashion, while also increasing penalties for firms found to be illegally exporting e-waste.
Specifically, retailers will be required to collect small items of e-waste from consumers unless alternative schemes can be shown to be more effective and as “reversed burden of proof” will be applied to equipment suspected of being illegal waste shipments, forcing exporters to prove old equipment will be re-used and then disposed of safely outside the EU.
The EU anticipates the new directive will have a huge impact on the e-waste recycling sector, delivering a five-fold increase in the amount of equipment that is collected and making it easier for firms to extract valuable materials such as gold, silver, copper and rare metals.
“The existing EU collection target is 4kg of WEEE per capita, representing about 2 million tonnes per year, out of around 10 million tonnes of WEEE generated annually in the EU,” the European Commission stated. “By 2020, it is estimated that the volume of WEEE will increase to 12 million tonnes. The final target of the new directive, an ambitious 85 per cent of all WEEE generated, will ensure that in 2020 around 10 million tonnes, or roughly 20kg per capita, will be separately collected in the EU.”
Let’s stop hiding behind recycling and be honest about consumption
George Monbiot: The Guardian
Every society has topics it does not discuss. These are the issues which challenge its comfortable assumptions. They are the ones that remind us of mortality, which threaten the continuity we anticipate, which expose our various beliefs as irreconcilable.
Among them are the facts which sink the cosy assertion, that (in David Cameron’s words) “there need not be a tension between green and growth”.
At a reception in London recently I met an extremely rich woman, who lives, as most people with similar levels of wealth do, in an almost comically unsustainable fashion: jetting between various homes and resorts in one long turbo-charged holiday. When I told her what I did, she responded: “Oh I agree, the environment is so important. I’m crazy about recycling.” But the real problem, she explained, was “people breeding too much”.
I agreed that population is an element of the problem, but argued that consumption is rising much faster and – unlike the growth in the number of people – is showing no signs of levelling off. She found this notion deeply offensive: I mean the notion that human population growth is slowing. When I told her that birth rates are dropping almost everywhere, and that the world is undergoing a slow demographic transition, she disagreed violently: she has seen, on her endless travels, how many children “all those people have”.
As so many in her position do, she was using population as a means of disavowing her own impacts. The issue allowed her to transfer responsibility to others: people at the opposite end of the economic spectrum. It allowed her to pretend that her shopping and flying and endless refurbishments of multiple homes are not a problem. Recycling and population: these are the amulets people clasp in order not to see the clash between protecting the environment and rising consumption.
In a similar way, we have managed, with the help of a misleading global accounting system, to overlook one of the gravest impacts of our consumption. This too has allowed us to blame foreigners – particularly poorer foreigners – for the problem.
When nations negotiate global cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, they are held responsible only for the gases produced within their own borders. Partly as a result of this convention, these tend to be the only ones that countries count. When these “territorial emissions” fall, they congratulate themselves on reducing their carbon footprints. But as markets of all kinds have been globalised, and as manufacturing migrates from rich nations to poorer ones, territorial accounting bears ever less relationship to our real impacts.
While this is an issue which affects all post-industrial countries, it is especially pertinent in the United Kingdom, where the difference between the domestic and international impacts is greater than that of any other major emitter. The last government boasted that this country cut greenhouse gas emissions by 19% between 1990 and 2008. It positioned itself (as the current government does) as a global leader, on course to meet its own targets, and as an example for other nations to follow.
But the cut the UK has celebrated is an artefact of accountancy. When the impact of the goods we buy from other nations is counted, our total greenhouse gases did not fall by 19% between 1990 and 2008. They rose by 20%. This is despite the replacement during that period of many of our coal-fired power stations with natural gas, which produces roughly half as much carbon dioxide for every unit of electricity. When our “consumption emissions“, rather than territorial emissions, are taken into account, our proud record turns into a story of dismal failure.
There are two further impacts of this false accounting. The first is that because many of the goods whose manufacture we commission are now produced in other countries, those places take the blame for our rising consumption. We use China just as we use the population issue: as a means of deflecting responsibility. What’s the point of cutting our own consumption, a thousand voices ask, when China is building a new power station every 10 seconds (or whatever the current rate happens to be)?
But, just as our position is flattered by the way greenhouse gases are counted, China’s is unfairly maligned. A graph published by the House of Commons energy and climate change committee shows that consumption accounting would reduce China’s emissions by roughly 45%. Many of those power stations and polluting factories have been built to supply our markets, feeding an apparently insatiable demand in the UK, the US and other rich nations for escalating quantities of stuff.
The second thing the accounting convention has hidden from us is consumerism’s contribution to global warming. Because we consider only our territorial emissions, we tend to emphasise the impact of services – heating, lighting and transport for example – while overlooking the impact of goods. Look at the whole picture, however, and you discover (using the Guardian’s carbon calculator) that manufacturing and consumption is responsible for a remarkable 57% of the greenhouse gas production caused by the UK.
Unsurprisingly, hardly anyone wants to talk about this, as the only meaningful response is a reduction in the volume of stuff we consume. And this is where even the most progressive governments’ climate policies collide with everything else they represent. As Mustapha Mond points out in Brave New World, “industrial civilisation is only possible when there’s no self-denial. Self-indulgence up to the very limits imposed by hygiene and economics. Otherwise the wheels stop turning”.
The wheels of the current economic system – which depends on perpetual growth for its survival – certainly. The impossibility of sustaining this system of endless, pointless consumption without the continued erosion of the living planet and the future prospects of humankind, is the conversation we will not have.
By considering only our territorial emissions, we make the impacts of our escalating consumption disappear in a puff of black smoke: we have offshored the problem, and our perceptions of it.
But at least in a couple of places the conjuring trick is beginning to attract some attention.
On 16 April, the Carbon Omissions site will launch a brilliant animation by Leo Murray, neatly sketching out the problem*. The hope is that by explaining the issue simply and engagingly, his animation will reach a much bigger audience than articles like the one you are reading can achieve.
On 24 April, the Committee on Climate Change (a body that advises the UK government) will publish a report on how consumption emissions are likely to rise, and how government policy should respond to the issue.
I hope this is the beginning of a conversation we have been avoiding for much too long. How many of us are prepared fully to consider the implications?
Edward Norton on waste crisis