A new report from the Canadian Plastics Industry Association indicates that the recycling rate for postconsumer plastics is growing, though by how much is uncertain. The problem is that some of the reported increase is a result of new recycling activity but some is a result of improved reporting and there are significant data issues in data collection in this field.
Despite the data problems it seems clear not only from this report but from other plastics recycling initiatives that Canadian recycling of post-consumer plastics is on the increase and that there is significant market demand from processors for more material.
The study reports that 268.5 thousand tonnes of post-consumer plastic was recycled in Canada in 2011, an increase of 24% over what was reported in 2010. According to a different study conducted for CPIA and published earlier this year, total plastics disposed of in Canada is 2,800 tonnes, meaning that somewhat less than 10% of plastics used in Canada are currently being recycled. GallonDaily cautions that all numbers may be less than totally reliable, but at least they give an indication of how much more work remains to be done in the plastics recycling chain.
Given their professed interest in product and packaging environmental stewardship, in economic development and provision of jobs, and in the reality that virtually all use of recycled material has lower overall environmental impact than use of virgin raw materials, GallonDaily continues to wonder why governments are not doing much more to stimulate development of new industries that use recycled materials as inputs.
A summary of the CPIA study 2011 Postconsumer Plastics Recycling in Canada and a link to the full report (free) is available at http://www.plastics.ca/_files/file.php?fileid=newsuPjWqnHaBl&filename=file_file_NR_Cdn_2011Recycled_Tonnes_Report_Dec_17_12.pdf
One of Canada’s newest retailers has announced that all stores opening in 2013 will be renovated to the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for existing buildings. This will make Target a leader among Canadian mass retailers when it comes to LEED buildings and will set a new high in the industry for green initiatives. Target has announced that design plans include conserving energy and water, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and limiting waste sent to landfill.
In 2011, Target acquired 189 Zellers sites across Canada and is planning to renovate between 125-135 of them to become Target stores. Unlike some past retailer store conversions, the Zellers stores are being closed and extensively renovated before being reopened as Target stores.
Information and documentation for the LEED for Existing Buildings Rating System is available at http://new.usgbc.org/leed/rating-systems/existing-buildings.
The Target announcement is available at http://pressroom.target.com/news/targetR-seeks-leed-certification-for-all-2013-canadian-store-locations.
WestJet has become the first Canadian airline to publish a sustainability report that adheres to Global Reporting Initiative guidelines.
The 40 page report is interesting in a number of ways. Not surprisingly for an airline, issues of safety are given much prominence. The report provides quite specific details about a number of the initiatives undertaken by the airline.
On the environment front a clear graph provides information on how much the Company’s carbon dioxide emissions have been reduced by efficiency initiatives implemented since 2000. This is a neat way of dealing with changes in fleet size and distances flown while transparently illustrating that actual emissions continue to increase due to the Company’s growth.
Fuel consumption efficiency is presented somewhat less clearly, in part because this is a measure that may not be familiar to many readers and in part because the Company has used a graphical presentation that does not have zero as the starting point on the y-axis. GallonDaily considers this to be a style of presentation which may be easily misinterpreted because fast readers may not notice what amounts to a distorted graph. However, the report also presents the fuel consumption efficiency data for 2010 and 2011 in a tabular form which is not readily susceptible to misinterpretation.
The report, which we commend both to sustainability reporting aficionados and frequent flyers, is available at http://www.westjet.com/pdf/global-reporting.pdf
The high profile achieved by Ballard Power Systems’ fuel cell bus seems to have led many Canadians to think of fuel cells primarily as a potential future source of transportation energy. In fact there are many more fuel cells operating today in stationary applications than in mobile applications.
A recent article from the US Department of Energy makes clear the important role of stationary fuel cells in powering communications networks during storm situations. DOE reports that Altergy, a manufacturer of fuel cell power systems, had more than 60 fuel cells in the immediate Hurricane Sandy disaster area serving as backup power for cell phone towers. While many of the diesel, propane and battery cell phone tower backup generators were affected by the storm, all of the cell towers powered by fuel cells ran without any issues — allowing many disaster victims to continue accessing their cell phone network. UTC Power, another fuel cell manufacturer, had more than 20 400kW fuel cells systems in the New England and New York area providing continuous power to buildings such as grocery stores, with only one fuel cell shut down temporarily due to an issue outside of the fuel cell itself.
DOE points out that fuel cells can run as long as the fuel supply (usually hydrogen or methanol) is available. Fuel cells using hydrogen tanks can run for several days before a replacement tank is needed, depending on the size or number of the tanks. While diesel generators also provide long runtimes, their internal combustion engines have more moving parts than fuel cells and require more hands-on maintenance, something that may not be possible during natural disasters. The availability of diesel fuel during natural disasters can also be an issue. Another important advantage of fuel cells is the ability for remote monitoring and control, ensuring standby readiness and quick response, which can be critical.
The full DOE article, and a link to another DOE document on products supported by the Department’s Fuel Cell Technologies Program, is available at http://energy.gov/articles/calling-all-fuel-cells .
An article in the latest issue of the open access peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE reports on a study of the public’s perception of risk from high winds compared to the actual risk from such winds. Given that strong winds are likely to become more frequent in the future in most parts of Canada, information on public reaction to strong wind conditions may become a useful tool not only for governments but also for industry and commercial/institutional business operators. For example, if a person is at risk as a result of strong wind, or from their perception of risk from strong wind, while they are on private property other than their own, what steps is it appropriate for the property owner to take to warn the visitor of, and provide them with protection from, the risk?
The research exposed 76 people to winds of 4.5, 8.9, 13.4, 17.9, 22.3, and 26.8 metres per second (10 to 60 miles per hour) in randomized orders and asked them to estimate wind speed and the associated risk to their person. It found that people’s estimates were accurate at lower wind speeds but overestimated at higher wind speeds. People who had previously experienced high wind speeds, for example in tropical storms, were more likely to be accurate in their estimation.
The authors state that the findings have potentially life-saving public policy implications with respect to how information is communicated prior to and during extreme weather events (e.g., tornadoes, hurricanes). Overestimating wind speed may negatively affect people’s decision-making about preparation and evacuation. For example, a major civil problem with government-issued evacuations is the phenomenon of “shadow evacuation,” in which people who do not need to evacuate chose to do so anyway, thereby unnecessarily exacerbating traffic jams along evacuation routes, and filling limited spaces in shelters and hotel rooms. The authors suggest that their findings should be taken into account by policy makers. For example, wind speed forecasts might be accompanied by relevant information such as “this wind speed is sufficient to knock over the average person”.
The full article by researchers at the University of Florida is available at no cost at http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0049944
In one of the world’s largest carbon capture and storage funding programmes the European Commission allocated €275m (approximately $CDN350m) to assist projects but an open competition this year failed to find any that meet the criteria for a grant. It had been expected that two or three CCS projects would be supported.
Ten projects had been on the EC’s short list. Four of the projects involved carbon dioxide capture from natural gas combined cycle electricity generating plants, four from coal fired electricity generating plants, one from a plant that is planned to produce hydrogen , and one from a steel blast furnace. Seven of the projects planned to store the carbon dioxide in saline aquifers, three in depleted oil fields, and one in onshore storage vessels. One of the projects planned to use both a saline aquifer and a depleted oil field. Summaries of each of the projects are provided in the European Commission Staff Working Document at http://ec.europa.eu/clima/news/docs/2012071201_swd_ner300.pdf
The EC reports that “Member States were unable to confirm the projects for various reasons: in some cases there were funding gaps, while in others the projects were not sufficiently advanced to allow for confirmation within the timeframe of the first call for proposals.” Some observers consider that the inability of any of the projects to qualify for this funding is an indication of the early stage of development at which CCS technologies are currently positioned.
It is expected that the unused CCS funding will be carried forward to a new call for CCS project proposals in 2013. Applications must be submitted through an EC member government.
The EC decision on CCS projects, as well as a more positive decision on innovative renewable energy projects, can be found at http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-12-999_en.htm
Not too many North American companies commit community resources to environmental education but Cummins, of diesel engine fame, is doing exactly that in India.
To mark its 50th anniversary in the country, Cummins aims to provide environmental awareness programs to 75,000 school kids in communities where its plants are located. One program seeks to achieve Zero Waste and improve the lives of residents and garbage pickers while another encourages elimination of waste and other eco-friendly activities at some of the major community festivals.
Cynics might argue that Cummins has a direct interest in better waste management practices. After all, their diesel engines are used with landfill gas and biogas from anaerobic digesters to generate electricity. However, if more companies linked business activities and environmental activities into their community involvement, it could be a real bonus to environmental progress as well as positive recognition for corporate community activities.
About Cummins environmental education activities in India, S. Ravichandran, Head of Corporate Responsibility for Cummins Group in India, is quoted in the Company’s press release as saying “Children are the citizens of the future, and also the most impacted by the changing climate owing to incorrect practices. It is crucial to engage with them while they are in their formative years, to help inculcate in them the right practices that help preserve the environment.”
Cummins publishes a Sustainability website, which incorporates a GRI-inspired sustainability report, and is listed on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. It has adopted a statement of 10 climate change principles and has exceeded its 25 percent greenhouse gas emissions reduction commitment under U.S. EPA Climate Leaders Program.
More details about its environmental education activities in India are available on the Cummins India website at http://www.cumminsindia.com/documents/financials/Press%20Release-%20%20National%20Education%20Campaign%20ajt.pdf
A study published this week in the peer-reviewed journal Psychological Science suggests that conservatives are more likely to express support for the environment, and to implement environmental initiatives in their own lives, if care for the earth is presented as an issue of purity, patriotism and reverence for a higher authority. Liberals are more likely to respond positively when environment is presented as a moral issue.
The researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, undertook and report on several interlinked experiments. The key experiment took place with a group of 308 randomly selected men and women. Overall, the study found that the purity-themed message inspired conservatives to feel higher levels of disgust, which in turn increased their support for protecting the environment. The study also found that most pro-environmental messages leaned strongly toward liberal moral concerns and hence were often not attractive to conservatives.
While research on this topic is still in early stages, publication of this article may inspire environmentalists and environmental communicators, including advertisers, to reframe messages in a way that is more inclusive of individuals across the spectrum of social values.
Different abstracts of the article are available at no charge at http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2012/12/10/conservatives-environment/ and http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/12/05/0956797612449177.abstract . The latter also provides a fee-based opportunity to purchase the full article.
Concerns over the influence of industry funding on university research results have come to the fore recently especially as a result of findings of potential bias in two separate university studies of the environmental risks associated with fracking. As a result the American Association of University Professors is developing a guidance document entitled Recommended Principles & Practices to Guide Academy-Industry Relationships.
In Canada the Canadian Association of University Teachers approved a somewhat similar guidance document earlier this year. Included among the CAUT’s Guiding Principles for University Collaborations include the following:
- Any grants or research funding related to an agreement should be evaluated and awarded using academic methods of independent impartial peer review.
- The planning, design, data collection, analysis and dissemination of results should be under the control of the researchers, not the donor or organizational partner.
- Agreements cannot permit the donor or collaborators to have any right to change the content of publications nor permit delays in publication for longer than 60 days, and then only if there is a compelling reason for the delay.
- Any interference with a researcher’s right and responsibility to publish results, regardless of effect on the collaborating organization, is unacceptable.
- Agreements should explicitly recognize the absolute right of researchers to publicly disclose information about risks to research participants or the general public or threats to the public interest that become known in the course of their research.
- Academic facilities and classrooms should not be used as sites for commercial marketing and promotion for the donor or corporate collaborator, or any affiliated entity.
- No agreement should contain any provision that permits or implies that the donor or corporate collaborator has the right to forbid faculty or graduate students from disclosing the agreement’s sponsorship of research.
- Classified research and/or confidential corporate research that is not intended for publication and/or dissemination are never appropriate within a university research setting, and should never be permitted.
- At a minimum, all agreements over $250,000 should be public documents.
- There should be assessments of the effectiveness and effects of each agreement at regular intervals within the term of the agreement and these assessments should be public documents made available to all members of the university community.
- An independent post-agreement evaluation plan must be part of the agreement. The results of the evaluation should be a public document readily available to the academic community.
CAUT is a professional association, not a governance body. However, industry partners in university research should anticipate that violations of CAUT’s policy, which is much more extensive than the brief summary given here, are likely to become public and risk becoming controversial in the media. The full policy is available from CAUT at http://www.caut.ca/uploads/GuidingPrinc_UCollaborationv2.pdf.
The US National Intelligence Council, an agency supporting the US Director of National Intelligence, has published a report entitled Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds. The report provides a scan of the potential impact of global trends on the state of humanity in 2030 and concludes that the world is transforming at an unprecedented rate.
Among the 2030 projections are several which reinforce the environmental projections made in recent years by other commentators:
- Demand for resources will increase owing to an increase in global population from 7.1 billion today to about 8 billion by 2030.
- Demand for food is set to rise 35 percent; energy 50 percent over the next 15-20 years.
- Nearly half of world population will live in areas with severe water stress. Fragile states are most at risk, but China and India are vulnerable to volatility of key resources.
- Dramatic and unforeseen climate changes are already occurring at a faster rate than expected. Most scientists are not confident of being able to predict such events. Rapid changes in precipitation patterns—such as monsoons in India and the rest of Asia—could sharply disrupt that region’s ability to feed its population.
- Solar geomagnetic storms could knock out satellites, the electric grid, and many sensitive electronic devices. The recurrence intervals of crippling solar geomagnetic storms, which are less than a century, now pose a substantial threat because of the world’s dependence on electricity
The report asks whether technological breakthroughs will occur in time to solve the problems caused by rapid urbanization, strain on natural resources, and climate change.
Much of the report addresses global economic and political issues but there is more than enough to be of interest to readers interested in global environmental and social futures. A summary of the 133 page report is available at http://www.dni.gov/index.php/newsroom/press-releases/96-press-releases-2012/780-odni-releases-global-trends-projections with a link for downloading of the full report and a Talking Points summary.