Far too few household batteries being recycled

A poll released last week by Raw Materials Company, a leading battery recycler, states that only 37 per cent of Canadians properly dispose of their used batteries. The poll, conducted by Angus Reid, states that 87 per cent of respondents reported awareness of the detrimental effects improperly disposed batteries have on the environment, a mere 28 per cent currently utilize recycling programs, with an additional 11 per cent reporting to a hazardous waste centre.

GallonDaily’s take is that, as is often the case with polls about the environment, the rate of participation in battery recycling is significantly overstated by the Angus Reid poll. People have a very strong tendency to tell pollsters what they know they should be doing, not what they are actually doing. RMC states that Environment Canada estimates that only 5 only per cent single-use, disposable of batteries in Canada were properly disposed of in 2007. That is a more credible number.

GallonDaily’s perspective is that industry efforts to encourage household dry cell battery recycling are, to put it mildly, woefully inadequate. The result of the inadequate effort is likely to be government intervention and regulation within two or three years. With the collapse of support for ecofee based systems in Ontario, regulation may well place a significant additional burden on battery brandowners and retailers.

The RMC report, with more data and analysis,  is at http://www.rawmaterials.com/rss-news-feed/Raw-Materials-Company-Battery-Recycling-News/More-than-60-per-cent-1086/

BPA-free may not be enough

For several years environmental groups have focused on BPA as the bad actor in plastics. Governments have responded with limited regulations and all kinds of products are now labeled as BPA-free. New research published earlier this year in Environmental Health Perspectives, a peer-reviewed open access journal from the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, suggests that many plastics which are BPA-free may still exhibit estrogenic (hormone disrupting) activity. The researchers report that most of the more than 500 plastic products that they tested released substances having detectable estrogenic activity when subject to somewhat aggressive testing. These somewhat more aggressive tests include exposure to UV light, microwave radiation, boiling water, or dishwashing.

These results, if confirmed, have several implications for consumer product manufacturers and brandowners. BPA-free labels on products that use plastics other than polycarbonate might become an inappropriate and possibly illegal label because they imply to the consumer that the product is free of estrogenic activity when the replacement material is also estrogenically active. Replacement materials may also come under criticism or regulation in some jurisdictions. Consumers might well be advised not to use some of the suspect materials in microwave ovens, dishwashers,  or with boiling water.

The research has been criticized by the American Chemistry Council, an industry organization, and some have noted that the lead researchers are associated with a company which produces plastics claimed to be free of estrogenic activity. Nevertheless, it seems likely that at least some of the findings will reinforced in future as more research focuses attention on the estrogenic activity of some BPA-free plastic materials.

The article, as well as the ACC criticism and the author response, is freely available at http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/fetchArticle.action?articleURI=info%3Adoi%2F10.1289%2Fehp.1003220#f1

Plastic claims challenged by California Attorney General

The Attorney General of California has filed what she calls a “greenwashing” lawsuit against one plastics company and two bottlers for misleading advertising over claims that plastic bottles are “100 percent biodegradable and recyclable.” Under California law, it is illegal to label a plastic food or beverage container as biodegradable. The AG states that “Californians are committed to recycling and protecting the environment, but these efforts are undermined by the false and misleading claims these companies make when they wrongly advertise their products as ‘biodegradable.”

The plastic resin that is subject to the charges is produced by ENSO Plastics LLC and the bottled water products are from Balance and AquaMantra. The AG states that “Consumers may buy these defendants’ bottles and either dispose of them incorrectly, on the assumption that they will biodegrade quickly, when in fact they will simply take up space in landfills, or they will try to recycle them, creating problems and costs for recyclers.” Her press release also states that a recent Gallup poll found that 76 percent of Americans buy products specifically because of their perception the product is better for the environment.

In 2008, the California Legislature banned the use of words like “biodegradable,” “degradable,” or “decomposable” in the labeling of plastic food or beverage containers. Senate Bill 567, signed into law by the Governor this year, will expand that law to all plastic products beginning in 2013.

Although California’s legislation banning use of these terms is unique in the US, similar restrictions on the use of these terms exist in other US and state legislation and regulation and in Canada’s environmental labeling requirements. Similar charges could be laid in Canada.

Somewhat similar charges were brought against Mobil Oil Corp. in 1993 challenging degradability and landfill benefit claims for Hefty Degradable plastic trash bags. These claims were settled by consent order and the product in question was withdrawn from the market.

The California Attorney General’s announcement of the charges can be found at http://oag.ca.gov/news/press_release?id=2577  Examples of the claims that are the subject of the charges can be found on the ENSO website at http://www.ensobottles.com/

California adopts cap & trade plan

The State of California has adopted a cap and trade program for greenhouse gas emissions that will begin to come into force in 2013. The first phase beginning in 2013 will include all major industrial sources along with electricity utilities. The second phase, beginning in 2015, will include  distributors of transportation fuels, natural gas and other fuels. The two phases will cover 360 companies with 600 major greenhouse gas emitting facilities.

Allowances will be distributed in 2013 – 2014 to all companies covered by the program. An allowance auction will be conducted for a smaller number of allowances for companies that require more than they are granted. Emitters will have to turn in enough allowances to cover their annual emissions. Eight percent of a company’s emissions can be covered using credits from certified  offset projects. Companies with more allowances than they require will be able to sell the excess to companies that have insufficient.

The program is designed to reduce emissions by 15% by 2020 compared to the ‘business-as-usual’ level.

It is likely to set a model for cap and trade programs introduced by other jurisdictions, particularly those that have joined the Western Climate Initiative, which includes British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec.

More details are available at http://www.arb.ca.gov/newsrel/newsrelease.php?id=245 . California anticipates that trading of allowances between jurisdictions with similar will be possible.

Basel Convention strengthened to ban hazwaste exports to developing countries

One of the items of unfinished business on the Basel Convention on Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste was the proposal to ban exports of hazwaste from developed countries to developing countries, whether for disposal or recycling. Some countries, including Canada, have previously sought to block or delay implementation of that section of the Convention.

Last week the Convention of the Parties to the Basel Convention addressed the Ban proposal, agreeing that such movement of hazardous wastes should be prohibited as soon as 17 more countries ratify that section of the Convention. The ban on movement of hazardous wastes from developed to developing country governments will be automatic unless the developing country involved explicitly agrees to accept a type of waste and the Secretariat of the Convention concurs.

It is likely that the Ban will come into force in five to ten years. Companies which produce hazardous wastes, including end of life ships, electronics, and other wastes including hazardous elements, that are currently being shipped to non-OECD countries should plan accordingly.

Details of the amendment are at http://www.basel.int/Implementation/LegalMatters/BanAmendment/tabid/1484/Default.aspxand and of the ratification requirements  in IISD Linkages at http://www.iisd.ca/basel/cop10/21oct.html

Projection: Windpower boom in Canada

Investment in onshore and offshore wind turbines will reach approximately $145 billion between 2011 and 2017, according to a new report from respected market research firm Pike Research.

In Canada 504 MW was installed in 2008, 969 MW in 2009, and 690 MW in 2010. Corresponding figures for North America as a whole were 8.9 GW in 2008, 10.9 GW in 2009 and 5.8 GW in 2010. Pike Research projects a doubling of total installed capacity in North America from approximately 53,000 megawatts in 2011 to almost 126,000 megawatts by 2017. That equates to a record average annual installation of more than 12.1 GW continent wide.

Of particular interest to GallonDaily is a Wind Energy SWOT analysis contained in the summary (free) version of the Pike Research report. While the opportunity is clearly shown to be high, the Threats to the wind energy industry are reported to include such matters as:

  • Policy shifts (primarily in the United States) that make wind less economically competitive with fossil fuels
  • Double-dip recession and/or return of credit freeze prevents projects from being developed
  • Offshore wind deemed too difficult or too expensive
  • Natural gas prices stay at historic lows
  • Public loses concern about carbon emissions, making it more difficult to maintain supportive policies and incentives

The full report can be purchased from Pike Research at http://www.pikeresearch.com/research/wind-energy-outlook-for-north-america (warning: not cheap!). An Executive Summary is available at the same location in return for a registration – free.

Spotlight on chlorine spills

Chlorine, the poison gas of the First World War, was involved in 181 accidents in the United States in 2009 alone, resulting in 56 injuries, according to a special report from the environmental journalism ngo Environmental Health News. The article reports that there have been hundreds more such accidents over the last decade, resulting in dozens of injuries and at least 13 deaths.

Chlorine is a widely used industrial substance, used at water treatment plants and in all kinds of manufacturing. One of the accidents reported by EHN took place at a recycling plant when workers cut into a tank that was supposed to be empty but which contained chlorine. Another took place at a fruit cannery where tomatoes were washed with chlorine dioxide.

Similar data for Canada is not publically available. GallonDaily is planning to ask the Ontario Ministry of the Environment for data on the number of spills involving release of chlorine which took place in that province over the last decade. We will publish the data if we receive it.

The EHN report is available at http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2011/chlorine-accidents/

Solar for homes with no upfront cost

A US solar power company, new to solar but not new as a company, is offering exactly the kind of deal that GallonDaily encourages and likes to promote. Under a Power Purchase Agreement approach pioneered by Vivint Solar, home owners can have a solar system installed on the roof of their home at no upfront cost. The Company retains ownership of the system, agreeing to design, install, and maintain the system at no cost to the homeowner. The homeowner agrees to purchase the power generated, at a cost of 20% to 30% less than is available from the local utility. The solar panels are sized to meet about 80% of the home’s electricity needs and the agreement has a 20 year term.

Unfortunately for Canadians, the scheme is apparently so far available only in New York, New Jersey, Utah and Hawaii, but Vivint says that it hopes to go nationwide (US) fairly soon. We Canadians might yet be lucky – the photovoltaic panels which Vivint is using are reported to come from Canadian Solar, a Kitchener, Ontario, based company which claims to be one of the world’s largest solar panel producers.

Information about Vivint and its Power Purchase Agreement is at http://www.vivintsolar.com/cost

Information about Canadian Solar, listed on the NASDAQ exchange is at http://www.canadian-solar.com/en/our-company/about-us/

GallonDaily takes no responsibility for information provided. We have not conducted any due diligence on companies mentioned in GallonDaily or in Gallon Environment Letter. Potential purchasers and investors are urged to conduct their own due diligence before finalizing any decisions.

PhDs at risk for subsequent malpractice — in Germany

Regular readers will know that GallonLetter has frequently been critical of PhDs who use their degree to promote views that are not supported by research within their own area of expertise. Now a court in the state of Baden-Württemberg  has upheld to right of a university to revoke a PhD for scientific misconduct subsequent to, and separate from, the work which led to the award of the PhD.

In this case, in 2004 the University of Konstanz asked a physicist to return the PhD he had been awarded in 1998. The physicist, employed by Bell Laboratories, had been found by his employer to have falsified the results of a string of experiments in the fields of organic and molecular electronics, in which he was employed. Several of the false experimental results had been published in the journals Nature and Science.

The physicist appealed the withdrawal of his PhD to the courts, claiming that the matters for which he had been fired had nothing to do with the quality of the research that had led to the award of his degree. The appeal court upheld revocation of the PhD, stating that “it is essential to protect the trust in indispensable scientific principles such as the authenticity and the documentation of original data and the reproducibility of experimental results.” The Court further ruled that the notion of unworthiness can also be interpreted in the scientific sense and that a doctoral degree holder is recognized as a member of the scientific community. This not only confirms his ability to independently conduct scientific work but is also met with an increased level of trust. The court emphasized that the doctorate degree can only be revoked in the case of serious misconduct, which is the case when research results are falsified.

Further information, in English, at http://www.aktuelles.uni-konstanz.de/en/presseinformationen/2011/99/  and, in German, in the press release from the Court at http://vghmannheim.de/servlet/PB/menu/1271322/index.html?ROOT=1153033

Criticism of FDA standards for toxics in Gulf seafood

In the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill, a team of scientists from Natural Resources Defense Council, San Francisco, and the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, have published a critique of the Food and Drug Administration risk assessment of toxic contamination in seafood. The critique contends that the FDA risk assessment fails to account for the increased vulnerability of the developing fetus and child; utilize appropriate seafood consumption rates; include all relevant health endpoints; and incorporate health protective estimates of exposure duration and acceptable risk.

The authors claim that, for benzo(a)pyrene and naphthalene, levels of concern should be between 2-4 orders of magnitude below the level set by FDA and that up to 53% of Gulf shrimp samples are above these revised levels of concern for pregnant women who are high end seafood consumers. The study particularly emphasizes that levels set by FDA for seafood safety fail to take into account the risk to vulnerable populations who eat a lot of seafood.

FDA has responded to the article, defending its approach to risk assessment, and the authors of the first mentioned study have responded that the FDA response, is “arguably rooted more in
politics than in science, [and] ignores the long history of chemical assessments where new data and approaches have repeatedly demonstrated significantly greater risks than initially believed”.

Although the article focuses on seafood from the Gulf of Mexico, the debate over risk assessment practices has broad implications for assessment of risk in foodstuffs that have been exposed to toxic contamination. The article, the FDA response, and the response from the authors of the article, are all available online at http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/fetchArticle.action?articleURI=info%3Adoi%2F10.1289%2Fehp.1103695