Archive for January 2011
Britain’s landfills will be full in less than eight years unless we see a major shift in recycling rates.
This is the verdict of the Local Government Association (LGA), which says the public needs to be aware of the urgency of the situation, and the financial bite they will feel if the problem is not addressed.
The UK is sending more waste to landfill than any other country in Europe and is heading for huge fines if it fails to rein in the amount of waste it is burying in the ground.
Council tax payers are likely to pick up the bill if this happens.
Radical reforms are needed, say council leaders.
Householders, shops, businesses and manufacturers all have a vital role to play in protecting the environment and in cutting the amount of rubbish that is produced and thrown away.
LGA figures suggest at current rates of waste disposal Britain will hit its landfill limit in 2018.
Councillor Gary Porter, chairman of the LGA Environment Board, said: “For decades people used to be able to throw away their rubbish without worrying about the environmental or financial consequences.
“Those days have gone. Taxpayers face huge financial penalties if targets to reduce the amount of rubbish sent to landfill are not met.
“Householders should be congratulated for the efforts they have made in recent years to increase the amount of rubbish they recycle.
“But that doesn’t change the fact that Britain is fast running out of space to dump rubbish in the ground.
“With the current financial squeeze that all councils are facing, it is more important than ever that they work with residents to make sure as much rubbish as possible is recycled to avoid being hit by heavy fines.”
We may need two fixes. One for the short term, an indispensable step, and the other for the long term, also indispensable but it might not look like it to many of us. First, the short term fix because, if we don’t fix this part of climate change there’s good reason to doubt we will be here long enough to need the long term fix.
The extra CO2 we have sent up into the atmosphere will not be going elsewhere for thousands of years. That means the CO2 we have added to the atmosphere will stay right where it is, continuing to reflect heat back toward the planet, thereby insuring the already established trend of increasing heat will continue its growth, melting the glaciers and polar caps and causing all of the various aspects of weather to become increasingly extreme. In short, earth’s environment approaches outright hostility to human life.
Since there is no natural mechanism in nature that could move the extra CO2 from the atmosphere to somewhere else, at least before it gets too hot for us to live here, we will need to do this work ourselves. There are technologists already at work developing devices called scrubbers which can remove CO2 from the atmosphere. As of now, the technology is still primitive but, right now, the important thing to know about it is that at least in principle, it seems to work.
Removing the extra CO2 from the atmosphere is only part of the job, probably the easier part. Several years ago I saw a demonstration of the technology where atmosphere, containing CO2, was forced through a solution of sodium hydroxide (lye) and when the air was drawn out of the chamber the CO2 was left behind having bonded chemically to the lye. Since then the technology has taken several additional steps forward. Once removed from the atmosphere, the CO2 must be combined with something that will keep it stable as either a semi-solid or liquid and which prevents it from returning to a gaseous form which would enable its escape to the atmosphere. Simply combining CO2 with freezing water, emulating methane hydrate found in permafrost, which has been successfully sequestered from the atmosphere for millions of years, might work. Once in this semi-solid form, the whole mess could be pumped below ground through the same pipes we used for sucking the oil out of the earth into the cavernous expanses left over when the oil was removed. Although this part of the technology is yet to be proven, there, below ground, hopefully, it would remain forever but if some did escape, we would still have our scrubbers in place to do the job again. The procedure of pumping the CO2 underground is called sequestration.
For me, there is something very poetic about us being faced with having to put all of this stuff back where we found it. Why do I feel like my Mom (Mother Earth in this case) has just told me that if I don’t clean up my space and put everything back where it was, I won’t be allowed to hang around anymore. If you like irony, when the cost of doing this work is fully realized, we may also discover that much, if not all, of the wealth created by the burning of fossil fuels was illusory because it must now be spent putting this stuff back where we found it. What we thought was profit was actually a huge contingent liability that we chose not to recognize back then. Instead we deferred payment of the bill to future generations. A nice little legacy for the kids.
And then there’s the part I find the most interesting about all of this. Once we think about scrubbing and sequestration for awhile we will suddenly realize that even though the cost will take our breath away, the solution offers a less expensive option than changing everything we do now that contributes to advancing climate change. We could start scrubbing and sequestering and when the level of CO2 returned to pre-industrial levels we could keep some of the scrubbers running to deal with future CO2 emissions. We could continue to burn oil wouldn’t that be swell?
Companies say that regulatory requirements are now a more important factor driving corporate sustainability initiatives while the competitive advantage provided by such initiatives are viewed as less important, according to a new report.
AMR Research surveyed 189 employees that handle decisions on sustainability initiatives for the report, which also looks at business risks, the largest sustainability challenges and what companies are doing to reduce emissions and increase energy efficiency. Respondents came from both energy-intensive and non-energy-intensive industries.
The most important driver behind corporate initiatives is the business value provided by them, cited by 29 per cent of respondents. In the previous survey, in 2008, 28 per cent noted business value as a major driver.
Coming in second was compliance with regulatory requirements (27 per cent). In 2008 it was chosen by only 11 per cent of those surveyed. The change, the report notes, is due partially to the US EPA’s mandatory greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reporting requirement for certain industries along with the expectation that the US will eventually have formal carbon regulations.
The third main driver was competitive advantage, which was chosen by 33 per cent of those surveyed in 2008, but only by 12 per cent this year.
Another big change discovered by the report is that 35 per cent of companies said they are placing more importance on reporting Scope 3 emissions – those that come from supply chains, which are the more difficult ones to track and monitor – than they did last year. Only four per cent said they now put less importance on Scope 3 emissions.
When asked about their systems for managing GHG emissions data, 35 per cent said they have a system that is completely standardised and integrated, while the rest are working with fragmented systems and relying on in-house systems, legacy systems or spreadsheets, leading the report to conclude there is a growing need for sustainability software and services to assist companies.
The major business risks in a low-carbon economy that companies are facing today, expect in three to five years, or expect in 2020, are the cost of energy, government regulations, emissions reduction and energy efficiency, and the direct cost of emissions.
The report notes that risks could be lumped into two areas. The first is a group of immediate, direct risks that a price can be put on, mainly centred on energy and emission performance and regulations. The second group of risks is less immediate and indirect, such as pressure from stakeholders, customers and supply chains.
The issues that present the largest challenges to companies are their carbon footprints and sourcing renewable energy, while the actions that are the biggest challenges are reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.
The most prevalent action being taken by companies is carbon emissions reduction (51 per cent), but more companies than in past years are also purchasing green electricity (24 per cent) and purchasing carbon credit offsets (19 per cent).
The top area where companies are seeking energy efficiency improvements is in building management (53 per cent) followed by manufacturing process re-engineering (39 per cent), which was also named the main area for improvements three to five years from now.