A study by a team of US and Chinese researchers reminds how the high standard of living enjoyed by people in the richest countries often comes at the expense of CO2 emissions produced with low efficiency technologies in developing countries. Not only can this happen between developed and developing countries but it can also occur between more well to do and less well to do regions within the same country. The problem arises because we measure greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions at the emitting location rather than at the point where the manufactured goods are used. If we chose to measure emissions at the point where the manufactured or produced goods are used, the responsibility of developed nations in the US, Canada, and western Europe for global greenhouse gas emissions would be seen to be much higher than is currently reported.
The study in the peer-reviewed Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America found that 57% of China’s GHG emissions are related to goods that are consumed outside of the province where they are produced. China has a target to reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by 17% from 2010 levels by 2015, with regional efforts ranging from a 10% reduction of carbon intensity in the less developed west and 19% reduction in east coast provinces. The regions that produce the most emissions and use the least advanced technologies have less stringent intensity targets than the more affluent and technologically east coast regions. The authors suggest that, in addition to interprovincial emissions trading, progress against emissions targets could be evaluated not only by “production-based” inventories of where emissions occur, but also by “consumption-based” inventories that allocate emissions to the province where products are ultimately consumed.
This thinking is not new. Some have even suggested that the US should take responsibility for that part of Canada’s oil sands emissions that arise from production of oil consumed in the US. Of course, a similar approach would need to be applied on a global scale if the unfairness of the present production-focused quantification of emissions is to be overcome. The paper presents a methodology that may be appropriate for this.
The study report is available at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/06/04/1219918110.full.pdf+html
The concept of public payment for ecosystem services, such as water resources, is still in its infancy, especially in Canada. However, a new study from Australia, published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One, suggests that the public is willing to pay to maintain both the existence value (i.e. the value placed on knowing that the site exists for themselves and others in the current generation) and bequest value (i.e. the value of preserving the river for future generations) of a mostly undisturbed river system. This finding could significantly move the debate about ecosystem services from the “free for all” level to a level at which those who wish to disturb at least certain types of natural resources will have to pay significant amounts of money in compensation.
The study was of the Daly River system, a tropical river system, in northern Australia and was conducted through social research methodologies. The study found that the 110,000 people in the Daly River catchment area and the people of the city of Sydney, more than 3500km distant from the Daly River basin, would be willing to pay an average of $120 to maintain high quality recreational fishing in this river system, $91 to maintain biodiversity in the area, and $161 to maintain waterholes for Aboriginal people in good condition. In total, people told the researchers that they would be willing to pay about $87 million to maintain the river system in essentially its present condition. This means, at least in theory, that interests, primarily agricultural irrigation interests, wishing to disrupt this river system would have to provide an economic benefit of at least the same amount of money to win over public support for retaining the river system as it is today.
The report is very readable and provides interesting discussion of the non-tangible or conventionally unquantifiable aspects of public willingness to pay, such as the maintenance of Aboriginal watering holes. For industry, extension of this type of ecosystem services valuation from the journal page to the real world may change for ever the cost of access to ecosystem services.
The article is available at http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0064411
As part of a project Creating a Sustainable Food Future the respected World Resources Institute has published a report Reducing Food Loss and Waste. The 33 page report contains a number of proposals which could easily be implemented and which GallonDaily sees as falling into the category of ‘sensible things to do’. While some of the proposals are targeted towards developing countries, many are relevant to developed countries such as Canada:
- Food redistribution or donation programs, voluntarily giving away food that otherwise would be lost or wasted to recipients such as food banks, are a method for reducing both food loss and waste.
- Using plastic crates instead of other forms of containerization has demonstrated significant reductions in food losses during handling and storage, particularly among fruits, vegetables, and other forms of fresh produce.
- Dates provided on the packaging of food and drinks, such as “use-by,”“sell-by,” and “best before,” are intended to provide consumers with information regarding the freshness and safety of foods. However, these seemingly simple dates can actually confuse consumers about how long it is safe for them to store food and when they should dispose of uneaten items. One study, for instance, found that a fifth of food thrown away by households in the United Kingdom is thrown away due to food being perceived as “out of date” due to labeling, when in fact some of the food was still suitable for human consumption. This suggests that while some of this waste may be legitimate due to food safety concerns, there may be room to reduce unnecessary household food waste by clarifying the meaning of these dates and changing the way in which they are used, displayed, and interpreted by consumers.
- Consumer attitudes and behavior play a large role in determining the amount of food that is wasted in households. Although changing the way people consume and throw out food can be difficult, communication campaigns can help influence consumer behavior at the household level. The grocery retailer can play an important role in reducing food waste at the consumption stage because of the retailer’s direct interaction with food consumers. Pioneering retailers have implemented a number of approaches designed to tackle food waste. For example, the Co-operative Group, which has more than 2,800 grocery stores all across the United Kingdom, has begun printing tips for improving food storage and lengthening shelf-life for fruits and vegetables directly onto the plastic produce bags in which customers place their purchases. The Co-operative Group has also shifted away from “Buy-One-Get-One-Free” promotions for perishable goods, using price reduction promotions on such goods instead.
- For restaurants and other food service providers, food portion sizes can dictate the amount of food waste that occurs within the four walls of their business, since larger portions increase the likelihood that a consumer will not consume all of the food purchased. Reducing portion sizes for consumers in both direct and indirect ways can both decrease food waste and save money for food providers.
The report, which contains many more proposals to reduce food waste as well as much more detail on the above, can be found at http://www.worldresourcesreport.org/ by scrolling down to Installment 2: Reducing Food Loss and Waste, Download the report.
A recent event in London, Ontario promoting the environmental benefit of commercial car washes got GallonDaily thinking about an issue that had not recently come to our attention. The Canadian Car Wash Association, an association of car wash operators, is claiming that automatic and coin-operated car washes are more environmentally responsible than washing your car on your driveway.
Their claim is based on:
- To save water, wash cars at a professional carwash instead of in the driveway. Professional carwashes use on average about a third of the water used when washing a car at home.
- Letting any type of chemical or soap run into storm sewers can be environmentally harmful.
- The dirt on cars can contain toxic chemicals, heavy metals, oil and grease. Commercial car washes send the wash water to the sewage treatment plant rather than allowing it to flow down storm sewers into rivers, lakes, and the ocean.
These are interesting claims but GallonDaily is not totally convinced. It is certainly true that wash water from car washing should not be allowed to flow into street drains because these are not connected to the sewage treatment plant. So far, one for the industry. Some, but not all, automatic car washes recycle the wash water. That is certainly a good thing for the environment when compared to not recycling the wash water and another plus for the operators of that type of car wash. Others advertise fresh waster for every wash. That is wasteful.
But is car washing actually a good thing to do at all. We suspect that the industry would claim that washing your car prevents all that dirt from being washed on to the road and into the storm drains. The problem with the claim is where that dirt came from in the first place. Most of it came from the road surface and from droppings of oil, grease, rubber, and other materials from the underside of the car. If your car was not on the road, all the dirt would be washed into the storm drain. By being on the road, your car is picking up some of the dirt but is also adding to the dirt. Our guess is that most cars add more to the dirt than they pick up and that however you wash the car you are not really helping the environment.
We will give the car wash industry the benefit of the doubt and indicate that washing your car at a commercial wash may be better than washing it on your driveway if your driveway drains into the storm drain on your street. But we are still worried about the amount of water and energy that a car wash uses. Maybe the best thing to do is not to wash your car at all, and for sure the even better thing to do is to not use your car at all, or at least to dramatically reduce the amount of car driving you do.
We thank the Canadian Car Wash Association for drawing this matter to our attention and we look forward to more research on all kinds of car wash options. More information about the Canadian Car Wash Association’s environmental position can be found at http://www.canadiancarwash.ca/files/cwevents/City_of_London_carwash_pamphlet.pdf and http://www.canadiancarwash.ca/Carwash_Myths.aspx
A Scottish company has been fined almost $80,000 for illegally storing waste on its property. Such fines are not unusual. What is unusual that, for the first time in Scotland and, as far as GallonDaily is aware, for the first time in much of the developed world, the company has had the property where the offences occurred confiscated under proceeds of crime legislation.
In this particular case the property does not contain any buildings and was apparently used only for the illegal storage of scrap metals, liquid, tires, and batteries. The property was worth only about $60,000. However, the precedent has been set and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency intends to go after chronic other environmental offenders in the same manner.
The owner of the property could not claim that he did not see this coming. SEPA states that it tried to work with the company but that agreed compliance deadlines were not met. The Scottish Government established an Environmental Crime Taskforce in 2011 to deal with the issue of organised crime operating in the environment sector, be it stolen equipment found at landfill sites, money laundering at unlicensed scrap yards or illegal dumping of industrial chemicals. Its final report and recommendations are due to be given to the Minister within the next few weeks. GallonDaily will be reporting.
Some information about the Environmental Crime Taskforce is at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Environment/waste-and-pollution/environmental-crime-taskforce
The announcement of the Taskforce, including rationale for its establishment, is at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/News/Releases/2011/11/10133202
Information regarding use of proceeds of crime legislation in the case of illegal storage of wastes on land in the town of Duns, Scotland, is at http://www.sepa.org.uk/about_us/news/2013/borders_company_handed_first.aspx
On Sunday June 3 a CP Rail freight train wrecked on a trestle over the Wanapitei River in northern Ontario. Twelve boxcars went into the river. CP Rail states that the spill involves “no materials or products of concern to the public or environment”.
English language media reports from the area state that the cars were carrying consumer goods. French language media reported that the train was carrying household cleaning products, not exactly something that is environmentally harmless when released in bulk into a river. The Sudbury & District Health Unit has issued a drinking water advisory for residents who draw their water from the Wanapitei River downriver from the train wreck, saying that chemicals contained on the train could be harmful if ingested. If the chemicals are potentially harmful to humans, what will they do to wildlife?
Who does one believe?
There are few consumer goods that, if dumped into a river, would not cause at least some water pollution. Even toasters, if dumped into a river with slight acidity, might quickly increase lead levels in the river. [We picked toasters not because we have any information that a bunch of toasters went into the river but because one of the containers carries a rather visible Canadian Tire logo.] Very few consumer products would cause no pollution when dumped into a river. If the French language media is correct and the boxcars included household cleaning products, then the risk to wildlife and aquatic species is very real. Even the oil from the wheel bearings could be harmful to birds and aquatic species. If the Health Unit is right and the water in the river is now and for the time being unfit for human consumption, then CP Rail has a potentially serious environmental disaster on its hands.
GallonDaily believes that it is totally unacceptable that CP Rail will not disclose the exact contents of the containers that went into the river. If the Company does not know then it is reckless for hauling containers of unknown goods around the country. If it knows and will not tell, then it is nothing short of irresponsible. If it truly believes that the spilled materials pose no threat at all to human health and the environment then its in-house environmental expertise is either lacking expertise or is deliberately being sidelined.
One day the contents of those containers will almost certainly be brought to public attention. On that occasion we will let readers know who is right, who is wrong, and who is lying.
The US Environmental Protection Agency has recently published a life cycle assessment of lithium-ion batteries such as are used in many electric and hybrid vehicles. In addition to providing advice on environmentally desirable improvements to battery design and systems, the study is an excellent illustration of one of the important uses of LCA – determining the steps necessary to reduce the environmental footprint of our activities and technologies.
While the study did not compare electric vehicle batteries with other systems for powering vehicles, comparison of the data in this report with other published information does indicate that vehicle batteries have a smaller environmental footprint than other vehicle energy systems, though use of coal-based electricity for charging the batteries significantly increases their environmental footprint.
Findings of this study include:
- Vehicle batteries that use cathodes with nickel and cobalt, as well as solvent-based electrode processing, have the highest potential for environmental impacts. These impacts include resource depletion, global warming, ecological toxicity, and human health impacts. The largest contributing processes include those associated with the production, processing, and use of cobalt and nickel metal compounds, which may cause adverse respiratory, pulmonary, and neurological effects in those exposed. Environmental improvements to technologies and manufacturing processes can help reduce these impacts.
- Global warming potential and other environmental and health impacts are influenced by the source of the electricity used to charge the batteries prior to vehicle operation. Specifically, the study results indicate that the use stage is an important driver of impacts for the life cycle of the battery, particularly when batteries are used with more carbon-intensive sources of electricity.
- Single-walled carbon nanotube (SWCNT) anode technology shows promise for improving the energy density and ultimate performance of Li-ion batteries in vehicles. However, the energy needed to produce these anodes in these early stages of development is significant (i.e., may outweigh potential energy efficiency benefits in the use stage). If researchers focus on reducing the energy intensity of the manufacturing process before commercialization, the overall environmental profile of the technology has the potential to improve dramatically.
- Current recycling processes do not recycle large volumes of Li-ion batteries for vehicles at present.
Opportunities for improvement include:
- Increase the lifetime of the battery.
- Reduce cobalt and nickel material use.
- Reduce the percentage of metals by mass.
- Incorporate recovered material in the production of the battery.
- Use a solvent-less process in battery manufacturing.
- Reassess manufacturing process and upstream materials selection to reduce primary energy use for the cathode.
A brief project description is available at http://www.epa.gov/dfe/pubs/projects/lbnp/
The full 115 page report is available at http://www.epa.gov/dfe/pubs/projects/lbnp/final-li-ion-battery-lca-report.pdf