Apologies for the long lapse in posts, dear readers. The second half of last year got away from me. Regular posting will be recommence later this week.
In the meantime, think about resolving to reduce your waste in 2014!
Thanks for reading.
INEOS Bio, a subsidiary of the Switzerland-based petrochemicals company INEOS Group, announced yesterday that it has successfully produced ethanol from wood and other non-food organic waste. The company claims that it is the first to do on a commercial scale.
The fuel was produced at the Indian River BioEnergy Center, located in Florida’s Treasure Coast region. INEOS would not disclose the quantity of ethanol created from its first commercial test, but expects to produce eight million gallons of biofuel from the $130 million facility at capacity.
The breakthrough is a notable milestone for the cellulosic ethanol industry, which has struggled in recent years due to technical challenges and funding hurdles. If the effort can be expanded, large quantities of biofuel may soon be produced from common yard and forestry waste.
Renewable energy development has faltered in Spain due to deep austerity cuts there and a generally poor economic environment across the rest of Europe. Just a few years ago, the country was considered a world leader in wind and solar power. Yet, as these technologies languish, Spain is placing a bet in the more obscure green hope: algal fuels.
Chiclana de la Frontera, a Spanish resort town on the southwestern tip of the country, will be the first municipality to turn its sewage into biofuel. Sewage has been converted into energy before, but the town’s “All-gas” plant is the first in the world to use wastewater to grow algae for energy.
Aqualia, one of the world’s largest private water companies, will be the operator of the project. The company has said that its All-gas plant is 2 million euros cheaper cheaper to set up than a conventional sewage facility. Production of biofuel there is expected to commence in 2015.
Louisiana’s first-ever oyster shell recycling program has kicked off in the state’s gastronomic capital. Some of New Orleans’ most popular seafood restaurants will be working with the Baton Rouge-based Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana to collect the shells and return them to waterways along the Gulf Coast.
Oyster reefs play a crucial role in local aquatic ecosystems. Before being harvested, the molluscs filter organic particles and excess nitrogen from seawater, enhancing water quality and clarity. Depositing the empty shells back into the natural habitats helps create more stable reef foundations and grow robust oyster colonies.
CRCL’s Oyster Shell Recycling and Reef Restoration Program was launched with a $1 million donation from an aptly-named sponsor with deep ties to the state: the Shell Oil Company.
Visitors to Hong Kong may be impressed by its cleanliness; I certainly was when I paid a visit last year. Yet the neat appearance of the city’s downtown belies a waste management system creaking under enormous pressure, threatening to give way within the decade.
A different scene exists in the New Territories, at the far outskirts of the city center. There, three enormous landfills paint a clearer picture of the huge environmental problem that Hong Kong faces. These sites are being filled more rapidly than local planners could have imagined when they were opened in the mid-1990s. Projections by the HK Environmental Protection Department indicate that all three strategic dump sites will be filled by 2020. City officials are frantically pondering: after that, what then?
Hong Kong finds itself in this predicament largely because its residents over-consume. The city of 7 million produces 13,000 tons of solid waste each day, more per capita than the much larger Asian megacities of Tokyo and Seoul. This cosmopolitan hub of global commerce also has a surprisingly poor recycling ethic, given the esteem that it is awarded by international tourists and business people alike. A paltry 14 percent of residential waste is recycled, according to the group HK Recycles.
Now, Hong Kong is scrambling to create all manner of waste disposal solutions. At the start of the year, $4 billion in spending was urgently allocated toward solving the great challenge. Yet as the space around this densely packed metropolis continues to shrink, Hong Kong may do well to focus on waste reduction efforts, rather than finding new places to put all its garbage.
Six months later, the New York metropolitan area is still assessing the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy. According to a report released yesterday by Climate Central, more than 10 billion gallons of sewage was spilled into the region’s dense system of waterways as a result of severe flooding. This amount is equivalent to the volume of material it would take to blanket all of Central Park with a 40 foot wall of sludge.
Worse is the fact that over 90 percent of the sewage was deposited in New York and New Jersey rivers and canals — critical freshwater systems. The group urges immediate action be taken to overhaul the region’s wastewater infrastructure in order to safeguard against further threats to these waterways.
The full environmental impact of the massive sewage overflows has yet to be determined. In terms of economic cost, Climate Central estimates that New York and New Jersey will need to spend at least $2 billion and $1 billion, respectively, in order to repair and upgrade the several area sewage treatment plants affected by the storm. These figures do not take into account the additional expenditures that the states will need to make in order to maintain the rehabilitated facilities in the future.
Flat-screen technology has been a game changer for electronics makers, yet the sudden shift away from traditional displays is resulting in heaps of discarded televisions and computer monitors with nowhere to go. Recycling companies are becoming overwhelmed by the mounting volumes, which is no longer in demand due to the rapid adoption of newer technologies by consumers.
The previous generation of displays were composed of thick lead glass screens. Now being discarded en masse, these monitors are creating what industry experts are calling a “glass tsunami,” and the high concentrations of leaded material — roughly 660 million pounds nationwide — is causing a serious hazardous waste headache for recyclers.
Recycling the new flat screens may prove to be even more problematic in the future, as they contain highly-toxic mercury. While materials recovery is fast gaining in the US, demand for this tainted glass on the steep decline, leaving fewer but more costly options for responsible disposal.
Houston is aiming to boost its recycling rate up to as much as 75 percent within the next few years by embracing new waste separation technologies. The rate of materials recovery in the Lone Star State’s biggest city is presently 14 percent, well below the national average. The plan was recognized by the Bloomberg Philanthropies, winning a $1 million prize as part of the organization’s Mayors Challenge.
The city’s plans to implement a “One Bin For All” program, in which residents may mix nearly all types of waste — common household trash, yard clippings and recyclables — in a single container for pickup. The refuse will then be taken to a $100 million advanced sorting facility, to be built and operated by a private company.
Last Friday, the New York Times shuttered its Green blog, a popular and widely followed environmental news outlet that published over five thousand posts during its three-year operation.
Of course, I was very disappointed to learn of the news. The Green blog made some important scoops over its relatively brief life online and some of these ended up being presented on this very portal.
As someone who works in news media, part of wants to sympathize with the Times management. Since I got out of college nearly 10 years ago, I’ve been acutely aware of the tough challenges facing print media. This decision was surely neither easy nor popular within that organization.
However, given that the newspaper also recently dismantled its Environment desk, I have to question how the country’s third largest newspaper by circulation hopes to give proper attention to environmental stories, especially as the stakes on this front are only being raised by the day.
The timing of these closures could not be worse. With the nation engaged in such intense, thorny conversations about energy and climate change, where is the wisdom in such an influential voice essentially bowing out of the discourse?
The twin blows against NYT coverage of such vital topics strike me not only as misguided, but also socially irresponsible, as well. So despite my solidarity with my fellow news professionals in New York, I am very much critical of this move.