How to Make an Environmentally-Conscious Person

The public discourse on industrial pollution, climate change, global warming and sustainable development has made environmental protection a top priority for one and all.  Concerted efforts are underway from governments, businesses and individuals to make Earth a clean and green planet.  When it comes to sustainability, everyone has a role to play. We can contribute to the global environmental movement by adopting changes that are within easy reach.

Here are some tips to prove that you are an environmentally-conscious person:

Use Solar Power

Solar power is the most popular form of alternative energy. Worldwide, millions of businesses and households are powered by solar energy systems. A potential way to harness solar power is to install solar panels on your roof which will not only provide energy independence but also generate attractive revenues through sale of surplus power. Another interesting way to tap sun’s energy is use solar-powered lights for illuminating streets, boundary walls, gardens and other public spaces. Solar-powered lights by Deelat Industrial provide a reliable and cheap source of energy in rural and isolated areas.

Recycle Stuff

Recycling keeps waste out of landfills, thus conserving natural resources. The first step in recycling is to buy a multi-compartment recycling bin for separate collection of paper, plastics, food waste and metal. Paper, plastics and metals can be recycled and reused while food waste can be composted or anaerobically digested to produce biogas and nutrient-rich fertilizer.

Switch to Efficient Bulbs

The traditional incandescent light bulb consumes lot of electricity, and a better alternative is an LED light. LEDs are important because due to their efficiency and low energy, they are beginning to replace most conventional light sources. A LED reduces pollution by a ton per light per year, with almost 80 percent reduction in energy consumption. Although the price of such a bulb is higher, it will surely cover expenses through energy savings.

Unplug Gadgets

A simple method to protect the environment is to remove the power source when you turn off the gadgets. Putting gadgets (or appliances) on stand-by mode consume a lot of power and substantial cost savings can be made by stopping this practice. Prevent energy wastage by unplugging any gadgets not in use or that are fully charged. You may also use smart power strips that cut the power supply to devices that no longer need it. 

Pull that plug!

Use Filtered Water

Buying packaged water is good for your health but this does create a problem. Plastic waste is something that everyone should worry about. At the same time the water you buy will be transported for a long distance until it reaches the supermarket. This means that precious fossil fuel is used in its transportation. An alternative that reduces its environmental impact is to filter your own water and use a refillable water container. Tap water is good for consumption and you can always use filtration systems to increase water quality.

African Development Bank and Renewable Energy

Africa has huge renewable energy potential with some of the world’s largest concentration of alternative energy resources in the form of solar, wind, hydro, and energy. Overall, 17 countries in sub-Saharan Africa are in the top-33 countries worldwide with combined reserves of solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal energy far exceeding annual consumption. Most of the sub-Saharan countries receive solar radiation in the range of 6-8 kWh/m2/day, which counts among the highest amounts of solar radiation in the world. Until now, only a small fraction of Africa’s vast renewable energy potential has been tapped.  The renewable energy resources have the potential to cover the energy requirements of the entire continent.

The African Development Bank has supported its member countries in their energy development initiatives for more than four decades. With growing concerns about climate change, AfDB has compiled a strong project pipeline comprised of small- to large-scale wind-power projects, mini, small and large hydro-power projects, cogeneration power projects, geothermal power projects and biodiesel projects. The major priorities for the Bank include broadening the supply of low-cost environmentally clean energy and developing renewable forms of energy to diversify power generation sources in Africa. The AfDB’s interventions to support climate change mitigation in Africa are driven by sound policies and strategies and through its financing initiatives the Bank endeavors to become a major force in clean energy development in Africa.

Energy projects are an important area of the AfDB’s infrastructure work, keeping in view the lack of access to energy services across Africa and continued high oil prices affecting oil-importing countries. AfDB’s Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), and other programmes, are in the process of identifying priority investment projects in renewable energy, which also include small and medium scale hydro and biomass co-generation.  The Bank supports its member countries towards developing renewable energy projects in three ways:

  • By encouraging countries to mainstream clean energy options into national development plans and energy planning.
  • By promoting investment in clean energy and energy efficiency ventures
  • By supporting the sustainable exploitation of the huge energy potential of the continent, while supporting the growth of a low-carbon economy.

FINESSE Africa Program

The FINESSE Africa Program, financed by the Dutch Government, has been the mainstay of AfDB’s support of renewable energy and energy efficiency since 2004. The Private Sector department of AfDB, in collaboration with the Danish Renewable Energy Agency (DANIDA), has developed a robust project pipeline of solar, wind, geothermal and biomass energy projects for upcoming five years. 

The FINESSE program has helped in project preparation/development for Lesotho (rural electrification by means of different sources of renewable energy), Madagascar (rural water supply using solar water pumps), Ghana (energy sector review) and Uganda (solar PV for schools and boarding facilities), as well as on the development of the energy component of the Community Agricultural Infrastructure Improvement Program in Uganda (solar PV, hydropower and grid extension), the Bank’s initiative on bio-ethanol in Mozambique (including co-funding a recent bio fuels workshop in Maputo) and the AfDB Country Strategy Paper revision in Madagascar.

Clean Energy Investment Framework

The AfDB’s Clean Energy Investment Framework aims at promoting sustainable development and contributing to global emissions reduction efforts by using a three-pronged approach: maximize clean energy options, emphasize energy efficiency and enable African countries to participate effectively in CDM sector. The AfDB’s interventions to support climate change mitigation in Africa are driven by sound policies and strategies and through its financing initiatives the Bank endeavors to become a major force in clean energy development in Africa.

In order to finance energy access and clean energy development operations, the Bank Group will draw on resources from its AfDB non-concessional window to finance public-sponsored projects and programs in countries across Africa. According to the Framework, AfDB will work with a range of stakeholders (national governments, regional organizations, sub-sovereign entities, energy and power utilities, independent power producers and distributors, sector regulators, and civil society organizations) on key issues in clean energy access and climate adaptation in all regional member countries. 

Climate Investment Funds

Part of the AfDB’s commitment to supporting Africa’s move toward climate resilience and low carbon development is expanding access to international climate change financing. The African Development Bank is implementing the Climate Investment Funds (CIF), a pair of funds designed to help developing countries pilot transformations in clean technology, sustainable management of forests, increased energy access through renewable energy, and climate-resilient development. The AfDB has been involved with the CIF since their inception in 2008. 

The Bank is actively supporting African nations and regions as they develop CIF investment plans and then channeling CIF funds, as well as its own co-financing, to turn those plans into action. One of the Climate Investment Funds, the Clean Technology Fund (CTF) provides developing countries with positive incentives to scale up the demonstration, deployment, and transfer of technologies with a high potential for long-term greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions savings. 

In the Middle East and North Africa region, US$750 million in CTF funding is supporting deployment of 1GW of solar power generation capacity, reducing about 1.7 million tons of CO2 per year from the energy sectors of Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. In Morocco, US$197 million in CTF funding is cofinancing the world’s largest concentrated solar power initiative. Another US$125 million is helping scale up investments in its wind energy program targeting 2GW by 2020.

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#InspireMENA Story 1: Humanizing Architecture – Through the Eyes of Abeer Seikaly

Through the jasmine-scented roads of L’weibdeh (Jordan) I navigated my way to Abeer Seikaly’s studio, an old house that resembles Jordan's genuine and inspiring identity. Abeer Seikaly is a young Jordanian architect who has been featured on several global and local media platforms because of her innovation "Weaving a Home" that was shortlisted for the 2012 Lexus Design Award.

Influence of Education and Local Knowledge

Top architecture schools in the Arab world are heavily influenced by international trends in built environment and sustainability, and unfortunately Arabic reference material is largely ignored in teaching. The emerging thinking around built environment and its relationship with people and nature rely largely on digital and virtual practice leaving students with minimal interaction with communities and building materials. Moreover, the growing disconnect between research and market requirements in most developing countries magnifies the gap between engineering and sustainable development.  Acknowledging the uniqueness of traditional Arab architecture and its historical importance in shaping sustainable building concepts raises concern on the diminishing role of local knowledge in responding to contemporary sustainability challenges.

For Abeer, having the chance to study abroad provided her with new insights not only about architecture but more importantly about her own potential and abilities within a larger context. What her culture-rich home environment gave her, on the other hand, was respect and appreciation for art, creativity and surroundings. With time, exposure and experimentation, Abeer defined her own architecture. Emphasizing that the pure definition of technology is craft, weaving, and making, her definition of innovative architecture combines old and new, traditional and contemporary. It is also thinking about architecture as a social technology.

Re-defining Success

When people are focused on the product, they usually tend to neglect the joy and benefit of the process itself. Focusing on the process boosts self-confidence and self-awareness and yet requires diligence and mindfulness while enjoying experimentation. It enables us to engage more deeply with the present, and thus, allow us to learn faster and experience life to the fullest.

According to Abeer Seikaly, architecture is not about the building itself but more about getting into it and experiencing its metaphysical nature with time. “Ordinary architects nowadays are inclined to use computer software to design buildings while sitting in closed offices. This is only dragging them away from people and from nature. As a real architect, you need to be out there to feel, interact and test your designs”, says Seikaly. “Creating is about the process and not about the outcome.”

Thinking through Making: The Tent

As a firm believer in the process, Abeer Seikaly has been working on her creative structural fabric for years. When the time was right, she used this creative work to bridge a gap in human needs. Participating in the Lexus Design Award was part of engaging her fabric with people and nature.  Disaster shelters have been made from a wide range of materials, but Abeer turned to solar-absorbing fabric as her material of choice in creating woven shelters that are powered by the sun and inspired by nomadic culture. The use of structural fabric references ancient traditions of joining linear fibers to make complex 3-D shapes.

Tackling an important issue like shelter for a humanitarian purpose can't be more relevant to both innovative architecture and sustainable development. With Jordan being host to more than 1.4 million Syrian refugees, this is about humanizing architecture and meeting basic human needs.  Abeer has explained everything about her fabric and its use in disaster relief on her blog.

Study model showing movement of the system and its collapsibility

She passionately mentions her ultimate inspiration: thinking through making. “Experimenting, looking at material's behavior, testing, and slowly you are there”, says Seikaly. “It is about thriving and not about surviving. Revelation results from years of hard work and continuous perseverance throughout the process”, she adds.

Recipe to Innovate

There is no recipe for innovation, Abeer Seikaly explains, but Jordanian engineers and architects need to ask themselves the following: What are you about? What is local/sustainable? What is Jordan about?

When asked about role of engineering firms, Seikaly stressed the fact that most corporations nowadays do not provide an enabling environment for youth to learn and grow. Emphasizing the importance of innovation, she says “With no personal attention and coaching, engineers are disconnecting from themselves and from community. Despite all the difficulties we face in our country, innovation goes back to personal drive and motivation: if you need it, you will make it”.

“Define your role as an Architect in a developing country, I have discovered mine and became an aware human being. To serve society and improve well-being is who I am”, concludes Abeer.

Architecture and Sustainable Development

The straightforward link between architecture and sustainable development goals is Global Goal No. 11 i.e. Sustainable Cities and Communities; nevertheless, a deeper look at how architecture influences and gets influenced by other elements brings about a link with almost each of the other Global Goals. The unique relationship between built environment, people and nature makes it an opportunity to demonstrate real sustainable development, as highlighted by Abeer Seikaly’s innovation. Around 60% of the world's population will be living in cities in 2030 which dictates a new and integrated way of thinking about urban design and architecture.

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Making a Switch to Circular Economy

All forms of wealth and security, including climate stability, biodiversity, resource availability, soil fertility, air and water purity and health, are depleted by the systemic error of running a linear economy. Linear economics consumes the basis for future growth so what is now growing fastest is unproductive activity, inactivity and instabilities. The credit crunch marks the withdrawal of faith in growth-as-usual and any reliable revival of growth and prosperity requires a switch of vision.

Circular Economics

The future for growth is circular economics where more economic activity would mean a faster pace of change away from waste-making and towards looking after the world and all its inhabitants. This would preserve and regenerate material value, co-operation and natural capital instead of losing it, so growth would work to build the basis for more growth. Today this may appear idealistic. Yet if circular economics was already practiced, and people were accustomed to prosperity based on resource security, then any proposal to adopt an exploitive self-defeating vision would be laughable.

Promise of Precycling

Economic dependence on waste is perpetuated by managing waste primarily as an addiction to disposal, “how can we get rid of all this junk?” The ‘waste hierarchy’ (reduce, reuse, recycle, then dispose) that has been available since 1975 is commonly quoted but in practice the bulk of effort and funding provides for continuing long-term disposal to ecosystems (by landfill, waste-burning and pollution). The waste hierarchy is being used backwards and no nation has yet attempted to create the incentives for an economy that grows from the work done to end waste dumping and implement circular economics. This is achievable with the concept of ‘precycling’ originally used for public waste education.

Precycling is applicable throughout an economy and may be understood as action taken to prepare for current resources to become future resources. The ‘pre’ prefix emphasises that this cannot be arranged after something becomes waste; it must be done beforehand. The scope of action extends far beyond recycling, to creating the economic, social and ecological conditions for all resources to remain of use to people or nature.

Precycling Insurance

A simple economic tool is available to switch from linear to circular economics and from dumping waste to dumping the habit of wasting. This tool internalises diverse externalities efficiently within markets by paying the price of preventing problems instead of the larger or unaffordable price of not preventing them. Precycling insurance is an extension of the EU WEEE Directive’s ‘recycling insurance’ from just recycling to all forms of preventing all products becoming waste in any ecosystem. This allows a single economic instrument to work with the issues at every stage of product life-cycles. Significant producers would be obliged to consider the risk of their products ending up as waste in ecosystems and to retain responsibility for insuring against that risk.

Life Insurance for Products and Planet

Precycling insurance is a form of regulation to be set-up in every nation but not centrally planned. The volume of regulation can be cut but its effectiveness drastically boosted. For example, emissions can be cut rapidly with no need for any further ineffectual negotiations about capping. Unlike taxes, the premiums from precycling insurance would not be handled by governments (whose role would be to legislate, monitor and ensure full public transparency).

Unlike conventional insurance, the premiums would not be collected up and then paid out following (potentially irrecoverable) planet crunch shocks. Premiums would be distributed by insurers and invested preventively throughout society, to cut the risk of resources being lost as wastes. Support would be provided for the dialogue, understanding, participation, capabilities, designs, efficiencies, facilities and ecological productivity needed to return used matter as new resources for people and for nature. Today’s resources would feed tomorrow’s economy.

A Free Market in Harmony with Nature

Precycling insurance would switch the power of markets to reversing the planet crunch. The speed and scale of change would exceed the expectations of all who are accustomed to ineffectual controls designed to make markets less-bad. All market participants (such as buyers, sellers, investors and governments) would adapt their decisions to the new incentives, profiting by addressing actual needs rather than superficial consumerist wants.

Producers would remain free to choose how to meet customers’ needs without waste, and even free to continue making wasteful products, in competition with other producers cutting their costs (including precycling insurance costs) by cutting their product’s waste risk. Economic growth would no longer be a competitive scramble between people rushing to acquire and discard ever more resources from an every-shrinking stock. The economy would prosper in harmony, rather than in conflict, with nature.

Shrinking Material and Energy Demands

The material requirements of today’s linear economy would rapidly shrink since the new incentives would lead to the most needs being met with the least materials moved the least distance and then regenerated rather than dumped. The energy requirements of today’s linear economy would rapidly shrink since a smaller material flow with higher quality materials closer to where they are needed requires less energy to process. Shrinking energy dependence is the key to energy security, economic recovery, climate restabilisation and prevention of conflict over diminishing non-renewable resources. The resource and energy efficiency of circular economics makes it realistic to plan the necessary reductions in GHG concentrations (ie net-negative emissions).

 

Note: This article is part 4 of 8 of author's Advanced Research Workshop paper, Seven Policy Switches for Global Security, for the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme

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Tips to Improve Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air pollution is considered as one of the top environmental risks to public health worldwide due to increasing number of building-related illnesses. Studies have found that concentration of indoor pollutants is significantly higher indoors than they are in outdoor environment, which is two to five times and sometimes hundred times higher than outdoor levels. As most of the people spend 80% to 90% of their lives indoor, indoor air quality has significant implication on sustainability.

Decreased indoor air quality can affect quality of life of the building occupant, increase health risks and increase the liability for building owner, decrease the productivity of occupants and reduce the resale value of the building. Poor indoor air quality can cause “sick building syndrome”, which is a medical condition linked to poor health and absenteeism.

Poor indoor air quality is due to many factors including but not limited to improper building design, inadequate ventilation, off-gassing of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from furniture, carpets, paints and coatings, cleaning products, and from human respiration. Airborne particles such as lints, dust, dust mites, mold, bacteria, pollen and animal dander also contribute to poor indoor air quality. Indicators that are used to measure the indoor air quality include total particulate matter, total volatile organic compounds (TVOCs), formaldehyde, carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), ozone (O3), air temperature, relative humidity (RH). Concentration of CO2 in the indoor environment indicates whether ventilation is sufficient or not.

In the Middle East region, most of the people live in enclosed air-conditioned indoor environments. With rapidly growing population, increase in number of vehicles on the road, high temperature level, ever increasing construction activities, regular sandstorm, concentration of air contaminants in the region is among the highest worldwide. Indoor environment also reflects outdoor air quality and pollution. Transport of outdoor contaminants to the indoor environment can result in occupant exposure to outdoor pollutants that have serious health impacts. In addition, there are many sources of indoor pollutants present in building materials, cleaning products, indoor mold and legionella growth, and emission from interior furnishings, finishing and equipments.

Tips to Improve Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air quality is influenced by concentration of outdoor air pollutants as well as indoor source of pollution, characteristic of building and habits of occupants. Appropriate building design and mechanical system and control strategies as well as changing occupant behaviour can improve indoor air quality and health and comfort, performance and productivity of building occupants. There are a host of strategies to improve the indoor air quality.

Appropriate design: Building envelop, orientation, and location of air intake, location of mechanical ventilation systems can contribute to indoor air quality. Hence, these factors should be considered during the design stage of projects to control the main source of pollutants for the whole building.

Whole house mechanical ventilation: Properly designed and sized ventilation system can supply adequate outdoor air to indoor. In most of the green building rating systems, industry standards such as ASHRAE Standard 62 or Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality are commonly followed.

Mixed mode ventilation: Use of combination of mechanical and natural ventilation systems in buildings, such as automated window controlling systems and operable windows, can help in maintaining healthy indoor air quality.

Air quality management during construction: During the construction phase, molds can develop due to exposure of building materials with moisture. Dust and particulates can easily accumulate on building materials if they are not protected. The air quality during the construction period can be protected by protecting the building materials from dust and particles and moistures.

High efficiency air filters: Filters prevent transports of outdoor VOCs, dusts, particulates and ozone indoors. Use of good particle filter such as high MERV rated filters in ventilation equipment are found to be the most effective filters in filtering outdoor dust and particulates out.

Maintenance schedule for HVAC filters: Dirty filter can cause sensory irritation. Hence, appropriate maintenance schedule can prevent this to happen.

Use of low emitting materials: Use of materials that have low VOC content for products such as indoor carpets, rubber flooring, sub-floor materials, ceramics and ties, plasterboards, or other sealants and adhesives.  Also internal construction materials with low formaldehyde content can be helpful.

Conduct building flush out: Flushing out of indoor contaminants thoroughly in buildings before occupancy will help replacing dirty indoor air with fresh outdoor air.

Green cleaning program: Select cleaning materials that are made of low emitting materials and employ a green cleaning program to reduce contaminant exposure.

Carbon dioxide monitors: Install CO2 monitors in ventilation system and integrate them to regulate the supply of fresh air according to the building occupants demand. By doing so, if the CO2 concentration increases beyond a set point, then the airflow automatically increases. 

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Green Your Ramadan

Ramadan is a month which is very different than other months in terms of activities, praying and eating habits. The month call for not eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset to boost physical and mental endurance and to understand the hardships faced by the unprivileged human beings who do not have enough resources to satisfy their basic necessities. The true meaning of Ramadan is purifying ourselves, taking care of our body, soul, people, surrounding and ecosystems which is supporting us.

The month of Ramadan is a golden opportunity to consider making a shift towards a ‘green lifestyle’ that is environmental friendly, non-polluting, non-wasteful and aim toward saving of natural resources. The green lifestyle means improving the quality of life and achieving sustainable development.

Let us create awareness on our resources usage during Ramadan, think and act positively towards our environment and change our unfriendly habits which are impacting our ecosystem. Let us seize this opportunity provided by Ramadan and adopt a model for a green and responsible behavior that addresses the urgent environmental issues.

The month sees over consumption of meat, vegetables and fruits together with drinks, juices and syrups. We become more extravagant in terms of using food and resources. So, let us be patient on these consumptions, eat healthy and organic food in manageable quantities. Let us grow vegetables and fruits at our available land/ space. Use food items judiciously and avoid any wastage. Let us be away from our routine habits that pollute our air, soil and water resources. Let us be aware of our wasteful habits which are affecting the environment and our future generations. We need to understand that any mismanagement of our precious available resources will be having an irreversible impacts on our ecology and for our future generations. Let us make concerted effort to encourage and embrace "green" practices, especially during Ramadan.

Ramadan presents the perfect opportunity to recharge our spiritual batteries for the year. It is a time to seek forgiveness for our misgivings and to reflect upon the signs of creation from Allah. As human beings, we have a duty as stewards over this planet, and it is our responsibility to ensure that the resources and environment are used in a sustainable manner.

Use food items judiciously and avoid any wastage during Ramadan

Let this month not only harness our mental and physical ability but also be a turning point for respecting our resources and environment. Here are some basic thoughts:

  • Support and utilize local produce.
  • Plan food usage with no wastage.
  • Reducing the water usage, especially during making ‘wadoo’/ ablution. Be vigilant that the tap is closed. Any dripping should be eliminated to conserve precious water.
  • Reducing our energy and carbon footprint.
  • Generating less quantity of waste especially food waste. Support & practice recycling and reuse.
  • No littering especially in common areas, commercial and religious places and shopping areas.
  • Minimum or no use of plastic bags. Using less paper and stationery.
  • Switching off appliances after use like lights, ACs, fans, heaters, iron etc.
  • Using electrical appliances like washing machines, iron, vacuum cleaner and dishwashers in off peak hours.
  • Replacing lights bulbs from incandescent to compact fluorescent and turning off lights when they are not in use.
  • Eliminate use of disposables plates, cutlery, cups, containers etc. Avoid using Styrofoam containers and plastic cutlery.

Dealing with Polystyrene Wastes

Polystyrene (also known as EPS Foam or Styrofoam) is a highly popular plastic packaging material which finds wide application in packaging of food items, electronic goods, electrical appliances, furniture etc due to its excellent insulating and protective properties. Polystyrene is also used to make useful products such as disposable cups, trays, cutlery, cartons, cases etc.

Despite the attractiveness of polystyrene, municipalities and organisations are facing a growing problem in disposal of polystyrene packaging and products. Being large and bulky, polystyrene take up significant space in rubbish bins which means that bins becomes full more quickly and therefore needs to be emptied more often. Polystyrene is lightweight compared to its volume so it occupies lots of precious landfill space and can be blown around and cause a nuisance in the surrounding areas. 

Although some companies have a recycling policy, most of the polystyrene still find its way into landfill sites around the world. As per conservative estimates, hundreds of thousands of tons of waste polystyrene is produced in the Middle East and sent to landfills each year.  

Environmental Impacts

While it is estimated that EPS foam (or polystyrene)  products accounts for less than 1% of the total weight of landfill materials, the fraction of landfill space it takes up is much higher considering that it is very lightweight.  Furthermore, it is essentially non-biodegradable, taking hundreds perhaps thousands of years to decompose.  Even when already disposed of in landfills, EPS can easily be carried by the wind and litter the streets or end up polluting water bodies.  When EPS foam breaks apart, the small polystyrene components can be eaten by animals which can cause choking or intestinal blockage. 

Polystyrene can also be consumed by fishes once it breaks down in the ocean.  Marine animals higher up the food chain could eat the fishes that have consumed EPS, thus concentrating the contaminant.  It could be a potential health hazard for us humans who are on top of the food chain considering that styrene, the plastic monomer used in manufacturing EPS has been classified by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a possible human carcinogen.  Styrene is derived from either petroleum or natural gas, both of which are non renewable and are rapidly being depleted, creating environmental sustainability problems for EPS.

Recycling Trends

There seems to be a common misconception that polystyrene is non-recyclable.  Being a thermoplastic, it can actually be melted and molded into many different plastic items.  At present, the recycling of polystyrene (or EPS foam) basically follows the following process:

Segregation – EPS foam products are separated from other wastes and then sorted.

Compaction – The segregated EPS foam products are fed to a compactor in order to reduce its volume.  Some compactor systems have a compaction ratio of up to 50:1, which means that it can reduce the volume by up to 98%.

Shredding – Larger pieces are shredded into flakes.  Packaging “peanuts” – small EPS foam pieces used to cushion fragile items – normally skip this step and are fed directly to the pelletizing machine.

Melting/Extrusion – The flakes are forced through pelletizing extruders where they are heated and melted, then allowed to cool in order to solidify. The resulting material can then be used, through reheating and melting, to produce clothes hangers, picture frames, DVD cases and numerous other plastic products.

Major Bottlenecks

Although the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers have reported that the recycling rate for post-consumer and post-commercial EPS in the United States have risen to 28% in 2010 from around 20% in 2008, this value is still lower than most solid wastes.  According to USEPA, auto batteries, steel cans and glass containers have recycle rates of 96.2%, 70.6% and 34.2% respectively. Because it is bulky, EPS foam takes up storage space and costs more to transport and yet yields only a small amount of polystyrene for re-use or remolding (infact, polystyrene accounts for only 2% of the volume of uncompacted EPS foams). This provides little incentive for recyclers to consider EPS recycling. 

Products that have been used to hold or store food should be thoroughly cleaned for hygienic reasons, thus compounding the costs.  For the same reasons, these products cannot be recycled to produce the same food containers but rather are used for non-food plastic products.  The manufacture of food containers, therefore, always requires new polystyrene.  At present, it is more economical to produce new EPS foam products than to recycle it, and manufacturers would rather have the higher quality of fresh polystyrene over the recycled one.

Silver Lining

The cost of transporting bulky polystyrene waste discourages recyclers from recycling it.  Organizations that receive a large amount of EPS foam (especially in packaging) can invest in a compactor that will reduce the volume of the products. Recyclers will pay more for the compacted product so the investment can be recovered relatively easier.

There are also breakthroughs in studies concerning EPS recycling although most of these are still in the research or pilot stage.  Several studies have found that the bacteria Pseudomonas putida is able to convert polystyrene to a more biodegradable plastic.  The process of polystyrene depolymerization – converting polystyrene back to its styrene monomer – is also gaining ground. 

Meanwhile, for the rest of us, we can start reducing our polystyrene consumption by opting to use products that can be reused, such as bringing our own coffee mugs and food containers to stores that serve their food and drinks in EPS foam.  A small change in our lifestyles can make a big difference for the environment.

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Green SMEs in Middle East: Obstacles and Challenges

green-smes-middle-eastWith ‘green’ being the buzzword across all industries, greening of the business sector and development of green skills has assumed greater importance all over the world, and Middle East is no exception. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) operating in eco-design, green architecture, renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainability are spearheading the transition to green economy across a wide range of industries. Green SME sector in the Middle East has been growing steadily, albeit at a slower pace than anticipated. 

Regulations

One of the major obstacles in the progress of green SMEs in the Middle East the has been poorly-designed regulation. According to Ruba A. Al-Zu’bi, a renowned sustainable development consultant in MENA, “SMEs should be the drivers of transformation towards green economy in the Middle East. Lack of clear policy direction and enablers are hindering growth and competitiveness of green SMEs”. Product market regulations which stifle competition pose a big hurdle to SMEs operating in renewables, energy, environment and sustainability sectors.  For example, state-owned companies in GCC have almost complete monopoly in network industries which have large environmental impacts (electricity/energy sector) or control strategic environmental services (water and waste management sector).

Restructuring

Restructuring of the SME sector in the Middle East is essential to allow small businesses to grow and prosper, thus catalyzing region’s transition to a green economy. SMEs account for vast majority of production units and employment across the Middle East, for example SMEs are responsible for around 60% of UAE’s GDP. Needless to say, participation of SMEs is essential in the transition to a low-carbon economy, thus paving the way for greening the business sector and development of green skills across all industrial segments.

Green SMEs require strong government support for growth, which is unfortunately lacking in several GCC countries. As Ruba Al-Zu’bi puts it, “Despite the humongous opportunity for green growth in the Middle East, magnified by climate change, water scarcity, oil dependency and environmental footprint, green SMEs are plagued by severe challenges and competition.”

Pressing Challenges

The Middle East region is facing multiple challenges in the growth of green SME sector. As Ruba Al-Zu’bi puts it, “The most pressing challenges are (1) increasing disconnect between education and market needs and (2) the disorientation of research and development from industry priorities and trends. Government agencies, business associations and NGOs need to play a bigger role in advocating more streamlined priorities for green growth across all industrial sectors.” Green SMEs in the region are facing significant barriers to entry despite their key role in developing locally appropriate technologies and eco-friendly business models.

Promising Initiatives

Abu Dhabi has taken a great step towards consolidation of green SME sector by creating the Masdar Free Zone. As a business cluster, Masdar Free Zone endeavors to provide SMEs and startups with an environment that inspires innovation, offers business development opportunities and provides a living lab and test bed for new technologies. However office rents has been a hurdle to overcome for green SMEs with limited financial capabilities.  “High office rents in Masdar Free Zone have been a major deterrent for small businesses desirous of setting shop in the business cluster”, says Dubai-based sustainability consultant Sunanda Swain.

In 2007, Qatar also launched a promising initiative to promote green growth in the form of Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) with core areas of focus being energy, environment, health sciences and information and communication technologies. During the initial phase, QSTP has been heavily focused on establishing infrastructure and attracting large companies. During the second phase, QSTP intends to target SMEs and provide them support on legal matters, finance, mentoring and business planning.

Future Perspectives

Policy interventions for supporting green SMEs in the Middle East are urgently required to overcome major barriers, including knowledge-sharing, raising environmental awareness, enhancing financial support, supporting skill development and skill formation, improving market access and implementing green taxation. In recent decades, entrepreneurship in the Middle East has been increasing at a rapid pace which should be channeled towards addressing water, energy, environment and waste management challenges, thereby converting environmental constraints into business opportunities.

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Environmental Impact of Olive Oil Processing Wastes

More commonly known for its popular culinary and medicinal benefits, olive cultivation and olive oil production are a part of the local heritage and rural economy throughout the North African and Mediterranean regions. In 2012, an estimated 2,903,676 tons of olive oil was produced worldwide, the largest olive oil producers being Spain, Italy, and Greece followed by Turkey and Tunisia and to a lesser extent Portugal, Morocco and Algeria. Within the European Union’s olive sector alone, there are roughly 2.5 million producers, who make up roughly one-third of all EU farmers.

The olive oil industry offers valuable opportunities to farmers in terms of seasonal employment as well as significant employment to the off-farm milling and processing industry.  While this industry has significant economic benefits in regards to profit and jobs; the downside is it leads to severe environmental harm and degradation.   

The Flipside

Currently, there are two processes that are used for the extraction of olive oil, the three-phase and the two-phase. Both systems generate large amounts of byproducts.  The two byproducts  produced by the three-phase system are a solid residue known as olive press cake (OPC) and large amounts of aqueous liquid known as olive-mill wastewater (OMW).  The three-phase process usually yields 20% olive oil, 30% OPC waste, and 50% OMW.  This equates to 80% more waste being produced than actual product.  

More contemporary is the two-phase system, in this system “the volume of OMW produced is reduced because less water is used and much of that water and toxic substances are held within the solid olive cake, thus producing a semi-solid residue (SOR).” While the two-phase system produces less OMW, the SOR it produces has a “high organic matter concentration giving an elevated polluting load and it cannot be easily handled by traditional technology which deals with the conventional three-phase olive cake.”

Regardless of system used, the effluents produced from olive oil production exhibit highly phytotoxic and antimicrobial properties, mainly due to phenols.  Phenols are a poisonous caustic crystalline compound.  These effluents unless disposed of properly can result in serious environmental damage.  Troublingly, there is no general policy for disposal of this waste in the olive oil producing nations around the world.  This results in inconsistent monitoring and non-uniform application of guidelines across these regions. 

Environmental Concerns

Around 30 million m3 of olive mill wastewater is produced annually in the Mediterranean area.  This wastewater cannot be sent to ordinary wastewater treatment systems, thus, safe disposal of this waste is of serious environmental concern.  Moreover, due to its complex compounds, olive processing waste (OPW) is not easily biodegradable and needs to be detoxified before it can properly be used in agricultural and other industrial processes. 

This poses a serious problem when the sophisticated treatment and detoxification solutions needed are too expensive for developing countries in MENA such as Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia where it is common for OMW to be dumped into rivers and lakes or used for farming irrigation.  This results in the contamination of ground water and eutrophication of lakes, rivers and canals.  Eutrophication results in reductions in aquatic plants, fish and other animal populations as it promotes excessive growth of algae. As the algae die and decompose, high levels of organic matter and the decomposing organisms deplete the water of oxygen, causing aquatic populations to plummet.

Another common tactic for disposal of olive mill wastewater is to collect and retain it in large evaporation basins or ponds.  It is then dried to a semi-solid fraction. In less developed countries where olive processing wastes is disposed of, this waste, as well as olive processing cake and SOR waste is commonly unloaded and spread across the surrounding lands where it sits building up throughout the olive oil production season.  Over time these toxic compounds accumulate in the soil, saturating it, and are often transported by rain water to other nearby areas, causing serious hazardous runoff. Because these effluents are generally untreated it leads to land degradation, soil contamination as well as contamination of groundwater and of the water table itself. 

Even a small quantity of olive wastewater in contact with groundwater has the potential to cause significant pollution to drinking water sources. The problem is more serious where chlorine is used to disinfect drinking water. Chlorine in contact with phenol reacts to form chlorophenol which is even more dangerous to human health than phenol alone.

Current Remedies

The problems associated with olive processing wastes have been extensively studied for the past 50 years.  Unfortunately,research has continued to fall short on discovering a technologically feasible, economically viable, and socially acceptable solution to OPW.  The most common solutions to date have been strategies of detoxification, production system modification, and recycling and recovery of valuable components.  Because the latter results in reductions in the pollution and transformation of OPW into valuable products, it has gained popularity over the past decade.Weed control is a common example of reusing OPW; due to its plant inhibiting characteristics OPW once properly treated can be used as an alternative to chemical weed control.

Research has also been done on using the semisolid waste generated from olive oil production to absorb oil from hazardous oil spills.  Finally, in terms of health, studies are suggesting that due to OPW containing high amounts of phenolic compounds, which have high in antioxidant rates, OPW may be an affordable source of natural antioxidants. Still, none of these techniques on an individual basis solve the problem of disposal of OMW to a complete and exhaustive extent.

At the present state of olive mill wastewater treatment technology, industry has shown little interest in supporting any traditional process (physical, chemical, thermal or biological) on a wide scale.This is because of the high investment and operational costs, the short duration of the production period (3-5 months) and the small size of the olive mills.

Conclusion

Overall, the problems associated with olive processing wastes are further exemplified by lack of common policy among the olive oil producing regions, funding and infrastructure for proper treatment and disposal, and a general lack of education on the environmental and health effects caused by olive processing wastes.   While some progress has been made with regards to methods of treatment and detoxification of OPW there is still significant scope for further research.  Given the severity of environmental impact of olive processing wastes, it is imperative on policy-makers and industry leaders to undertake more concrete initiatives to develop a sustainable framework to tackle the problem of olive oil waste disposal. 

References

Art, H. W. (1995). The Dictionary of Ecology and Environmental Science. New York, New York: Henry Holt and Company.

Borja, R., Raposo, F., & Rincón, B. (2006). Treatment technologies of liquid and solid wastes from two-phase olive oil mills. 57, 32-46. http://digital.csic.es/bitstream/10261/2426/1/Borja.pdf

Boz, O., Ogut, D., Kir, K., & Dogan, N. (2009). Olive Processing Waste as a Method of Weed Control for Okra, Fava Bean, and Onion. Weed Technology, 23, 569-573.

Caba, J., Ligero, F., Linares, A., Martınez, J., & De la Rubia, T. (2003). Detoxification of semisolid olive-mill wastes and pine-chip mixtures using Phanerochaete flavido-alba Chemosphere, 51, 887–891. http://hera.ugr.es/doi/14978611.pdf

El Hajjouji, H., Guiresse, M., Hafidi, M., Merlina, G., Pinelli, E., & Revel, J. (2007). Assessment of the genotoxicity of olive mill waste water (OMWW) with the Vicia faba micronucleus test Morocco.

FAOSTAT. (2013).   Retrieved 11/30/2013, from http://faostat.fao.org/site/636/DesktopDefault.aspx?PageID=636#ancor

Niaounakis, M., & Halvadakis, C. P. (2006). Olive Processing Waste Management, 2nd Edition (2nd ed.): Pergamon.

Olives and the Olive Tree. (2010).   Retrieved 11/30/2013, 2013, from http://www.zaitt.com/honoring-tradition/olive-tree

Spandre, R., & Dellomonaco, G. (1996). POLYPHENOLS POLLUTION BY OLIVE MILL WASTE WATERS, TUSCANY, ITALY. Journal of Environmental Hydrology, 4, 1-13. http://www.hydroweb.com/jeh/jeh1996/spandre.pdf

The olive oil sector in the European Union (2002).   Retrieved 12/01/2013, from http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/publi/fact/oliveoil/2003_en.pdf

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The Menace of Single-Use Plastic Bags

Single-use plastic bags are one of the most objectionable types of litter in urban areas. The sheer volume of plastic waste generated coupled with energy and material resources required for production, as well as emissions resulting from these processes paint a grim picture of the environmental havoc created by plastic bags. Single-use plastic bags are a huge threat to the environment as an estimated 1 trillion such bags are consumed worldwide every year. In the United Arab Emirates alone, nearly 12 billion plastic bags are used annually.

Major Hazards

Single-use plastic bags are notorious for their interference in natural ecosystems and for causing the death of aquatic organisms, animals and birds. In 2006, The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimated that there are 46,000 pieces of plastic litter floating in every square mile of ocean and upto 80 percent of marine debris worldwide is plastic which are responsible for the death of a more than a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals each year from starvation, choking or entanglement. Infact, there is a huge floating dump in the Pacific Ocean called the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" which is hundreds of miles wide and consists mostly of plastic debris caught  in the ocean's currents. 

Plastic bags are mistakenly ingested by animals, like cows and camels, clogging their intestines which results in death by starvation. In addition, plastic bags clog urban drainage systems and contribute to flooding, as witnessed in Mumbai, Dhaka and Manila in recent decades. Moreover, toxic chemicals from single-use bags can enter the food chain when they are ingested by animals and birds.

Unfortunately only a small percentage of these bags are recycled each year, and most float about the landscape and create a tremendous expense in clean-up costs. Several countries, regions, and cities have enacted legislation to ban or severely reduce the use of disposable plastic shopping bags. Plastic bags litter serves as a floating transportation agent that enables alien species to move to new parts of the world thus threatening biodiversity.

Plausible Solutions

The hazards of single-use plastic bag can be mitigated by raising environmental awareness among communities. Many municipalities in the Gulf region are targeting shopping malls and grocery stores to reduce dependence on single-use plastic bags. Environmental education at workplaces, schools and residential areas is a vital tool in the fight against plastic bags. Empowering people to take proactive actions and encouraging them to be a part of the solution can also be helpful in reducing the reliance on single-use plastic bags.

Municipalities can make use of 5Rs of waste management – Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recover – to encourage safe disposal of plastic bags which may be facilitated by mass deployment of plastic bag collection systems and recycling facilities at strategic locations. Some of the alternatives are cloth-based bags, such as jute and cotton, which biodegradable as well as reusable. Infact, the range of durable fabric shopping bags is growing each year in the Western countries, including those that can be conveniently folded up into a pocket.

The introduction of ‘plastic bags tax’ can also be a handy weapon in restricting use of single-use plastic bags in the Middle East. For example, Ireland introduced a plastic bag charge called PlasTax ten years ago which has virtually eliminated plastic bags in the country. 

Regional Initiatives

The Middle East region has been slow in gearing up to the challenges posed by single-use plastic bags, though governments have been trying to raise public awareness aimed at behavioral change. The Ministry of Environment and Water in UAE launched an initiative called “UAE free of plastic bags” in 2009 to maintain the health of the natural habitat and enhance the environmental standards of the state. The Dubai Municipality has also launched an ambitious “No to Plastic Bags” campaign to slash 500 million plastic bags. There are similar efforts, but small-scale, efforts in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait to encourage clean-up campaigns in seas, deserts and citites. In Egypt, the Red Sea (Hurghada) is the first plastic bag free governorate having introduced a ban in 2009 which generated employment opportunities for women who have been charged with creating cloth bags in the place of plastic bags.

 

About the Authors

Eaman Abdullah Aman is MRLS graduate in Environmental and Natural Resources Law and Policy with a specialization certificate in Energy Law and Policy from Denver University, USA. Her expertise encompasses international petroleum transactions, petroleum contracts and agreements, international petroleum investment operations, energy policy and economics of natural resources law and policy. She has rich knowledge on issues related to climate change mitigation, environmental law and policy, environmental ethics, energy security, sustainable development etc.

Salman Zafar is the Founder of EcoMENA and a renowned expert in waste management, renewable energy, environment protection and sustainability. He is widely acknowledged as an authority on environment and sustainability sector in the Middle East and proactively engaged in creating mass awareness on clean energy, environment and sustainability through his websites, blogs, articles and projects. Salman can be contacted on salman@ecomena.org.

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Reuse and Recycling of Textbooks

For every academic term or semester, thousands of new textbooks are being printed, bought and used. On the other hand, almost the same number of textbooks and course material are being discarded after its use and find its way to the garbage bins ultimately landing at the landfill site where they are being buried, compacted and disposed occupying precious land area. Usually these textbooks are not being reused or recycled generating huge quantities of paper waste.

In many of the private schools, the textbooks have to be bought in every term due to change in edition or minor revisions putting an extra burden on parents to buy the new books that cannot be used for their other children in coming years. Due to rise in standard of living, it is not a common sight that the text books are being donated, exchanged, re-used or utilized by other family members. Such practices are yielding more generation of paper waste.

A Novel Initiative in Bahrain

The recent initiative taken by Bahrain’s Ministry of Education is laudable whereby the textbooks have to be returned by the students after completion of the academic year and will be reused for the incoming students. Reuse of textbooks will conserve resources, finances and will generate less paper waste besides educating the children to reuse and recycle and taking care of the environment. Some private initiatives have also being launched to support needy students by providing free textbooks to them to be collected from students and parents. It is expected that around 1,000 of these book sets will be distributed to students, while those deemed unusable will be recycled as part of a dual program being operated by the organization in Bahrain.

In addition to books, poor students will also get free stationery including notebooks, pens, pencils, erasers, rulers and sharpeners. There is a greater need that text books are shared and re-utilized while establishing a culture of environmental responsibility. Though such practices are being done at individual level, it needs to be done at community and at school level. Text book collection boxes are to be kept and maintained at school level by the school authorities or by the parent teachers association or any NGO. In addition, students should be made responsible towards protecting the environmental resources.

The Way Forward

In almost all developed countries, there are book banks and libraries from where the text/ course books can be purchased both used and un-used one and can be returned or resold after use. Many online shops are available which deliver the books at nominal cost. In addition, many charity, community and non-governmental organizations set up text books bins, booths and boxes for such purpose of books collection and re-utilization. In line with the Government initiative, all private schools and vocational institutions should also initiate the text book re-utilization and recycling programs.

Reuse of textbooks will not only conserve the environment but also help in educating children in less-privileged communities.

Reuse of textbooks will not only help in environmental conservation but also help in education of children in less-privileged countries.[/caption]

The local charities and area committees can also include text book collection/ donation program within their scope, which then needs to be publicized by the local media enabling students and their parents to generously donate these books for further re-use within the country or can be exported out to other poor neighboring countries where cost of books prohibit the children to go to school. Such habits and awareness of conserving environmental resources will go a long way in inculcating environmental related habits in our younger generation who will take charge of this planet in near future.

An Environmental Message

We need to understand that it takes around three tons of trees to make one ton of paper which also utilize huge quantity of water per ton than any other product in the world. Paper making also produces high levels of air and water pollution which can be avoided. Each ton of recycled paper can save 17 trees and 7,000 gallons of water. It takes one tree to make 25 books.

By recycling our books, we are giving that tree a new purpose and reducing deforestation. It is suggested that schools should hold semi-annual book sales to clear out old inventory. Special bins/ containers for these books are to be made and appropriately placed in schools. We need to clear our shelves, and get unused books back into circulation.

We need to understand that recycling is a responsibility of today for a better tomorrow.

Guidelines for Eco-Friendly Eidul Fitr

The culmination of the holy month of Ramadan is with the festival of Eidul Fitr or Feast of Breaking the Fast. Eid is considered as a religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide and to show a common goal of unity. The main aspects of Eid are congregational prayers in masjids, open areas and parks, get to gather of families and friends at home or restaurants, making and eating special dishes and wearing ceremonial dresses.

Eidul Fitr, like other local, national and religious festivals often have a major impact on the environmental resources. Extra food, drinks and clothings are made, used and consumed. People spend a fortune on these items. The cost and environmental consideration is often being neglected, not considered and forgotten.

The celebrations and festivity are often extravagant and cause pollution and harm to the environmental resources. The day starts with the special prayers whereby men, women and children gather to offer prayers. The site of praying after the ritual is often plagued by litter, rubbish and waste scattered all over the place and even blowing in the air and migrating to nearby safe havens for unaesthetic accumulations.

Special food is prepared in houses which are visited by the relatives and neighbours. This causes great food wastage often due to under utilization as food is prepared more than the number of visitors and with a feeling that it should not be finished. On the other hand, people also eat limited quantity of special food less than expected or prepared which goes waste quickly. This includes special breakfast, lavish snacks, sumptuous lunches and extravagant dinners during the festival days.

To supply the population with the required quantity of food, government makes huge efforts in procuring or rather over-procuring food stuff for local consumption. It includes meat, poultry, vegetables, fruits, dairy products, cereals, grains, packaged food etc. Meat and poultry is lavishly eaten during the Eid holidays. The demand of beef, mutton, chicken etc increases to around 50% of the normal demand, which in itself is very high.

Eidul Fitr also prompts extra and panic buying of food items and eatables, which are out of shelves quickly in the super markets and cold stores during the last days of Ramadan. This trend again leads to more wastage as the food items bought are not being fully and efficiently utilized and ultimately end up in garbage bins.

Over the period of years, the festivities are increasing with more buying of items and eatables per head. Consumption of eatables has increased many folds in the Middle East  and people have become more wasteful due to rise in income, living standards and affordability. But affordability does not mean that wastage should increase.

While planning for Eidul Fitr celebrations, it is now imperative that we need to think twice before buying, procuring any food items, clothing etc and taking environment into consideration.

Let us change our attitude towards festivity and wastage and celebrate the festival in the right spirit.

Tips for Eco-friendly Eidul Fitr

  • Buying clothes and dressings with minimum packaging.
  • Buy food items in calculated quantities based on the actual requirements and number of guests to be served.
  • It is better to serve food in limited quantities rather than extravagantly in large dishes and quantities.
  • Educating guests in avoiding left overs and wasting food.
  • Serving drinks in small glasses
  • Avoid using disposable cutlery, plates, napkins, tissues etc.
  • Giving leftover food to the less privileged and poor people in the neighbourhood

Let us endeavor to celebrate the Eid in an environment-friendly manner.

 

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