Antonis Mavropoulos discusses the latest hot topics in waste and resource management
January 10, 2017: ISWA’s 2017 Annual Congress
I am sure that many of you are already aware that ISWA & SWANA 2017 World Congress will be held in Baltimore, on September 25-27. I am also sure that most of you will utilize the Early Bird options, which is already open.
But, what I would like you to consider is that if you join ISWA & SWANA 2017 World Congress, then you will be able to get a first hand experience on some of the most challenging issues for the waste management sector. I am sure that our SWANA colleagues prepare a lot of surprises and inspiring content, so allow me to inform you just about what ISWA will present in this great conference.
In Baltimore, ISWA will present three emblematic projects that will create a lot of interesting discussions and, I am sure, will inspire the participants.
1. We will present ISWA’s report on Marine Litter, a groundbreaking approach that will demonstrate the positive contribution of integrated sustainable waste management in Marine Litter prevention. ISWA’s work will highlight the important role of the waste management industry in Marine Litter abatement and it will boost the discussion in another way: finding ways to deal with Marine Litter is a good but end-of-pipe solution, delivering integrated waste management systems is what we call “waste prevention”. Of course, it is not a coincidence that this report will be presented in Baltimore with the famous Water Wheel where there is a lot of on-going debate about the proper solutions for Marine Litter.
2. ISWA will present the outcomes of our on-going global survey regarding the 4th industrial revolution and the future of the waste industry (in case you have not participated yet you can do it now here). Already we have several hundreds answers and the results demonstrate that there is a need for discussing in a deeper way the on-going transformation of the waste industry. In Baltimore we will announce the survey results as well as the next steps for the industry’s roadmap towards the 4th Industrial Revolution. Do not miss the relevant session!
3. Last but not least, ISWA will present the results from the campaign to close the biggest dumpsites of the world. Soon, there will be much more news about it, but the overall picture and the first tangible results will be presented in Baltimore.
For more, CU in Baltimore!
November 10, 2016: Rethinking the Waste Industry - ISWA’s global survey is online
The fourth industrial revolution will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. The waste management industry will not be an exception; it will be redefined too. In each and every industrial revolution the discovery of new techniques and new materials drives the creation of new types of products. Each and every new product, sooner or later becomes a new type of waste, in a virtuous cycle that brings always surprises to the waste industry.
Some examples: 3D printers already deliver 95-99% reductions of waste in specific industries and open a new set of great solutions for plastic recycling; robotic technologies provide unimaginable solutions for mixed waste separation; the Internet of Things can boost preventive maintenance, prolong life cycles and drive optimization and customization of home appliances; driverless cars and drones will make door to door collection and recycling cheaper and tailor made too.
There is an abundance of new fantastic solutions that are already reshaping our world and the potential for a wasteless future is more than clear and realistic, at least in the areas and the supply chains of the world that will be capable to integrate the miracles of the fourth industrial revolution within the waste and recycling industry. However, the problem is that our experiences from all the previous industrial revolutions indicate a different, risky pathway too. For the last 200 years, whenever we created advanced technological solutions that allowed us to deliver more products using less materials and energy, the actual response was to increase exponentially the consumption. Thus, despite the fact that waste materials or wasted energy per unit was much lower due to industrial optimization practices, the result was to accelerate resource depletion and waste generation in unbelievable rates, creating what is called the Anthropocene, the era in which the human footprint is transformed in a geological one.
This is also the case of the fourth industrial revolution. Are we going to utilize it towards a circular economy or we will just accelerate resource depletion with advanced efficiency? Are we going to redesign products, business models and social practices or we are going to continue with fast food, fast fashion and built-in obsolescence? Are we going to rethink, reboot and remake the manufacturing and thus, the waste management sector too or we are going to simply watch new waves of exotic waste arriving and try to manage them with end of pipe solutions?
No one knows the answer, and definitely it depends much more on the required transformation of manufacturing, rather than the response of the waste industry. Still, we need to be prepared for a brand new world, where many of the current practices will be simply irrelevant or wiped out by radical innovation.
This is why ISWA asks all the waste management and recycling sector, all the professionals and academics, all the companies and research institutes to participate in the first global survey about the fourth industrial revolution and the future of waste management. The survey aims to collect opinions and views to identify the impact of the fourth Industrial Revolution on the waste management sector. The results will be published by ISWA and become available to all the participants. Since this is the first survey of its kind, we ask participants to take the time to reflect on the questions, as their input will provide the basis for evaluating and identifying the most important challenges the waste management sector is going to face.
Join the survey and be prepared for the disruption ahead. Help us to create a collective Roadmap, the mindsets and the tools required for remaking, rethinking and redefining one of the most crucial elements of our day to day lives: the waste industry.
October 20, 2016: How to Transform Our World in 15 Years!
Roughly 6 months ago, during discussions in several conferences and ISWA’s meetings, we came to a simple but important conclusion. The best way to advance the new UN Sustainable Development Agenda that has been adopted by 193 countries is to resolve the waste management problems that do exist in the developing world! So, we decided to work more on that argument. We presented some first ideas in the Roadmap Report, and today I am happy to present our new video that visualizes ISWA’s contribution to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) identified by the UN Agenda.
This is a blog post written by Gunilla Carlsson, chair of ISWA’s Working Group on Communication and Social Issues. Gunilla undertook the task to demonstrate ISWA’s contribution to SDGs. She worked in close cooperation with Jiao Tang, the Head of ISWA’s Technical Cooperation Department. Enjoy Gunilla’s post.
“On September 25th 2015, the world leaders, in an historic UN Summit, approved the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda that aims to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. This agenda involves a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and each goal has specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years.
Before summer, I was asked by in that time “the ISWA President-to-be” Antonis Mavropoulos, to look into how ISWA could visualize its contributions to SDGs. The SDGs are a universal set of goals, targets and indicators that UN member states are expected to use to frame their agendas and policies. In the next 15 years, countries will mobilize efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind. That’s not an easy piece of work!
It’s not either an easy piece of work to visualize such a complex set of goals and work carried out by so many people in so many places on earth in a format that really gains peoples interest.
The first step was to collect information about what goals and targets were of highest priority for ISWA. The next step was to match the targets to on-going or recently closed ISWA activities. The ISWA General Secretariat’s support was extremely helpful in identifying the targets suitable for a sound sustainable waste management and match those targets with the activities. The third step was to find suitable overarching statistics. When this was done – everything was put together in a form easy to interpret.
I’m convinced that ISWA’s vision “to create a world where no waste exists” can be a reality sometime in the future. As the waste sector can reduce greenhouse gas emissions with up to 15-20 percent, we do have a great impact and should work in a wise way to achieve it. Together with other organizations ISWA can really be a player when it comes to create results.
One powerful and really difficult activity within ISWA at this time is to close down and transform dumpsites. This activity is not about waste – it’s about people! Another activity is to “turn off the tap” of waste ending up in the oceans. These actions will for sure relate to the SDG’s in so many ways.
To transform our world, everyone needs to take the first step!
Together we can create a better world!”
October 11, 2016: The War on Dumpsites is about People not Waste!
Two days ago, I completed my mission to Managua, Nicaragua. Together with Timothy Bouldry, we visited two dumpsites, La Chureca and Nueva Vida, in order to meet the 40 kids (and their families) that participate in the ISWA Scholarship Programme (initiated by David Newman at ISWA’s 2015 Annual Congress). For those who are not familiar, the programme (supervised by Timothy Bouldry on behalf of ISWA) aims to exchange child labor in the dumpsites with proper education in schools and descent food.
Meeting the kids, I realized that there is a very practical way to eliminate child labor in dumpsites. As Gilma, a 95 years old informal recycler who was working in La Chureca for more than 50 years, explained me “If they go to school, they will not come back to the dump”. Fernanda, a 6 years old girl that will join ISWA’s program next year, gathered carefully 10 purple flowers from the dumpsite and brought them to me as an expression of her thankfulness for the opportunity ISWA offers to her life.
I played with Norlan and Peter, 4 and 8 years old boys, my personal guides in Nueva Vida, who were experts in identifying watermelons that grow inside the dump. I paid my respect to Tupan, an 18 years old English teacher who grew up in the dumpsites as informal recycler, who has dedicated his life to educate informal recyclers’ kids in English. He showed me the introduction of the book he prepares and I was shocked by the phrase “This book is realized thanks to God and ISWA”.
I spent 6 great hours meeting all the ISWA kids in a well-organized event in Villa Guadelupe, the biggest informal settlement in Managua where roughly 5,000 recyclers have set their houses. With the help of Timothy Bouldry and Tupan, we shared moments of their daily lives, I dealt with their parents about the vast survival problems they face, we discussed the health problems related with their daily lives and we addressed the challenge of education for their kids. Timothy Bouldry awarded the four best paintings related to ISWA’s Scholarship programs, and we had a great time trying to identify the best paintings.
During the days I spent with them, visiting their families and walking at the dumpsites, I felt shocked, surprised, and emotional. But I also felt proud for ISWA and blissful, because our Scholarship Programme creates a real bridge out of poverty, a real path towards a better future. Access to education and broader opportunities is the compass that navigates those kids out of the cycle of generational informal recycling.
ISWA goes on war against dumpsites; each and every kid living and working in a dumpsite is a hostage that must be liberated. Flying back from Managua, I was thinking that the real added value is not only about those 40 kids. It is the example given to thousands of families; it is about the families that those kids will sooner or later create; it is the demonstration of practices that must be adopted by local, regional and national authorities. With our Scholarship Programme we highlight that the elimination of dumpsites will result in substantial social, health, environmental and economic benefits. We signal that there are practical solutions not only for the technical, but also for the financial, the governance and the social challenges involved in the effort to close the world’s dumpsites. Actually, this is exactly the content of our recent report Roadmap for closing waste dumpsites – the world’s most polluted places.
So if you want to join ISWA’s war against dumpsites, it’s really simple. You can start by donating or raising funds for ISWA’s Scholarship Programme. I am asking all ISWA members and friends, National Members, companies and individuals to contribute to our Scholarship Programme. It is as easy as pressing this link and donate the amount you can afford for the programme. Please speak to your companies and organizations and ask them to contribute. We need only 3 euros per kid per day to divert kids from the dumpsites, drive them to education and ensure proper food for them.
Closing the world’s dumpsites is not just a matter of fixing waste problems. It is a matter of protecting public health and our environment; it is a matter of improving the quality of lives for billions of the Earth’s inhabitants. It’s about people, not waste!
August 30 2016: David Newman's Final Blog
As those of you who follow me will know, I have been writing for some months now that the massive tax avoidance from multinational companies, added to local political corruption, is a huge barrier to the development of the public service infrastructure countries need. The amount that Apple has been fined by the EU, some €13bn, represents all of Ireland's healthcare budget. Apple paid an effective tax rate of 1% in 2013 and an incredible 0.005% in 2014.
Whilst Ireland is a reasonably wealthy country, think what happens when this situation multiplies throughout developing countries where multinationals make profits and pay no taxes. No wonder we have no money to pay for waste infrastructure, public healthcare, pensions, and other essential public services.
Now it may sound like I am some sort of social activist ranting against multinationals. Not at all. No objection from me to anyone making money and becoming rich. But from me a huge objection to the duplicity of governments, the hypocrisy of companies and shareholders, who are on the one hand avoiding paying their fair share of taxes and on the other hand signing up to Sustainable Development Goals, claiming sustainability for their products, using funds from their personal foundations to help the poorest (almost seems like they are hiding their own guilt complexes), and so on.
Sustainability passes along the pathway of correct governance and collective responsibility. Corporations are passing up on their responsibilities, as Apple shows, and governments are failing in their duty to provide citizens with ethical governance.
So I hail the decision of the European Commission, and let's hope it's the first of many.
Now, see you in Novi Sad on September 19th and this blog passes over the the new President Antonis Mavropoulos. Thanks for reading me and best wishes to you all.
July 18 2016: Time for governments to lean harder on the big polluters?
My last visit to the Clean Environment Summit Singapore last week as President of ISWA and I wish to publicly thank our friends at WMRAS and the National Environment Agency for their hospitality and friendship in these last ten years. Together we have built the foundations of a training centre, including a course this week on hazardous waste, and the Singaporeans have developed a business oriented network on waste into neighbouring countries.
The discussion around Circular Economy dominated the proceedings and I fear this is a bit lop - sided. For sure the process of greater circularity in developed nations is inevitable. But what about the developing world where waste circularity is a mirage? There the conversation is simply about collection. Simple.
I enjoyed immensely the talk by ex EU Commissioner for the Environment Janez Potocnik who said such change is inevitable. And I totally agree with his statement that opposition to Circular Economy comes from those corporations ( such as the large consumer goods manufacturers) who think they will only have costs but do not see the benefits and the risk reduction from such policies.
Those of you who heard me speak late last year will remember my question: how many of you are in favour of the Circular Economy? (almost everyone in our meetings) and my showing how many corporations are actually lobbying against it. And what powerful opposition there is.
Mr Potocnik underlined this: corporations ask for legislative certainty, then oppose the legislation if they think their interests may be harmed. There is a lot of hypocrisy out there, and to hear an analysis saying " Coca Cola and PG are ready for a discussion on EPR" just makes my blood boil. Ready now? Where were they in the last twenty years? Why are they opposing every EPR legislation proposed everywhere, including the USA? Why do they not take any responsibility for the environmental damage their products are creating ?
Hearing a presentation from a very balanced Asian representative of IKEA was also upsetting. She hailed a plastics recycling pilot project IKEA has undertaken, and closed. What is IKEA waiting for to do a real recycling programme? Why the pilot? Who needs a damned pilot? We need large scale, community wide projects, and companies like IKEA are perfectly placed to do this. What the hell are they waiting for? A Circular Economy law which may be approved in five years time?
Time for the waste industry to seriously pressure governments worldwide to make the Polluters Pay Principle a legally binding obligation. The real disruptive article in the EU Circular Economy package says that EPR schemes should cover the full (repeat, the full) costs of recovering the relative waste stream. This is a revolution, and we must strongly support it.
So far, we are paying lip service to the PPP and meanwhile hundreds of millions of tons of waste go into our environment every year. Shame on the opposition to EPR and CE.
June 29 2016: How will Brexit Effect the Waste Industry?
In case you didn't notice, a small majority of the UK electorate voted to leave the European Union. If you didn't notice, I guess you've been on holiday to the Moon.
The political and economic ramifications of the Leave vote are enormous. Let's try to make sense of it for what concerns our work and world, that pertaining to resource management.
Firstly, the effect of the vote is important not just for the UK but also for Europe. The glue which has held together the political consensus since the post - war and post Berlin Wall epoch, has come unstuck. Whilst Britain may become more isolated and return to the economic decline it had before joining the EU, the risk is that within the remaining 27 countries, the desire to disintegrate the union increases- and with xenophobes in Italy, France and the Netherlands ready to exploit this, that is worrying. So Brexit is a potentially more damaging result for Europe than it is for the UK.
Secondly, policy matters. In waste and environmental management, policies matter a lot. The industry is driven by regulations, government intervention, government mandated taxation, targets, fines, penalties, enforcement. Only governments can mandate policies that protect the environment of a nation. Whilst a local council can mandate them, its neighbours may not. So when governments join together collectively and mandate the sort of environmental policies we have enjoyed as citizens over the last 40 years in Europe, it's a big deal for the well-being of hundreds of millions of people.
But when a government leaves this collective bargaining and can decide not to implement such policies, it is a big deal negatively for that population. This may be the case of the UK.
Recycling levels are flat now at 44% since two years- as the UK leaves the EU, will it retain an ambitious target of 50% recycling by 2020? Or will it shelve the target? The answer is most likely the latter. And if that is so, this means no more investments, no more growth, no new plants in the country. It means 3 million tons of RDF will continue to flow to Europe, paradoxically, or back to landfills, sadly.
Will the UK adopt strategies around the Circular and Bio economies, as the EU is intending to do? Unlikely in the short term. Will the UK negotiate strong environmental standards in its bilateral trade agreements once it has left the EU? Well, it will be in less of a strong position to do so, as an isolated country. And if the UK adopts, for example, GMOs, will UK farm exports be allowed into the EU?
And finally, the EU has been a tremendous supporter of research and innovation funding. Will the UK continue to receive any of this? Or will the UK government have funds of its own to invest, once it has left the EU?
The major negative of Brexit is the uncertainty it has created. I am sure in five or ten years’ time both the EU and the UK will have found ways of working together that will make todays debate almost seem laughable. But meanwhile, it is not a laughing matter because we cannot see a pathway forward.
We environmental professionals should come together to give clear messages to our governments, whether in the UK or Europe, that the environment counts, for us, our children and our grandchildren. And the air they breathe, the food they eat and the water they drink doesn't care about the politics- our health comes first.
How did the waste and recycling industry react? See this feature in our magazine, Waste Management World.
The UK waste industry – will Brexit, wrexit? See Acucom's analysis here.
May 27 2016: ISWA Proudly Participates in the United Nations Environment Assembly
The second United Nations Environment Assembly took place in Nairobi this past week of May. I and ISWA Vice President Carlos da Silva Filho attended, he for three days while I was there only one day.
ISWA was invited to speak in three sessions, one specifically dedicated to waste and you can read my rather angry speech on this website; the other two were on business models and human rights where Carlos spoke.
At the same time the Assembly was debating a new resolution on chemicals and waste which called upon nations to increase their spending and raise political awareness around pollution from chemicals and waste, reinforcing the conventions of Basle, Rotterdam and Stockholm. Once this text is public, we will circulate it.
Waste was high on the agenda of the Assembly and in all the side events. Walking around the stands of organisations and companies present in the exhibition area, I was struck by how many dealt with waste issues, albeit from a developing country perspective. The reading of this is how producing energy, even at a local level, is key to resolving waste issues like collection and dumping. One organisation makes fuels from waste to heat village ovens, thus providing cooking and hot water to everyone without cutting down trees. Another is working on paying people to bring their clean, segregated waste ( a model we saw in Thailand) to collection points for resale on local and international markets, including local energy markets.
I think we are seeing something of a revolution happening. It is in its early stages but the trend seems clear: where there is growing demand for energy even at a local level, waste can provide small, incremental value chains that can answer that market demand.
We think of Africa as a hot continent, but actually in the higher areas, like Nairobi, very cool night temperatures create a demand for heat. So does communal cooking and the need to sterilise the drinking water by boiling it.
These markets are still in their early stages but if we were to help them along with some investments, get the corrupt politicians out of the way, leave people to regulate themselves, then we may see waste becoming a primary source of local energy supplies sometime in the not too distant future.
One personal note: our dear friend Surendra Shrestha, the Director of UNEP IETC, will be retiring in June and returning to his native Nepal to farm. I wish him every happiness and success there.
UNEA2 was an inspiring meeting place for those hoping for a cleaner Planet and I thank the UNEA President, Madame Oyun Sanjaasuren of Mongolia who many of you will recall from our Antwerp congress, for our invitations.
May 04 2016: News from the Global Organic Resource Congress in Dublin, Ireland
The Global Organic Resource Congress has just finished in Dublin, Ireland. It was very interesting event organised by the Irish compost and biogas association, CRE. The trends towards "biorefineries" seems to be gaining pace, meaning that the one facility now begins to produce fertilizers (compost), energy (biogas, methane for vehicles), heating from the motors. And now we are seeing the introduction of the first steps to using biowaste in the same facility for extracting sugars and starch for producing biopolymers.
However these are still first steps and need a greater market pull to develop more rapidly- for example a GPP programme for biomaterials.
A significant development is the scaling up of AD plant size. A presentation from SESA from north- east Italy shows how they treat over 400,000 tons annually of food and green waste and at this scale are economically profitable without incentives for renewable energy. Gate fees of around €60 per ton and re-sale of energy, fertilizers and heat make the operation profitable. But the scale is vital, because smaller plants cannot survive without the incentives and as energy costs are low and have driven down the political will to maintain incentives so smaller plants are at risk, or will not be built. I wrote about this two years ago. So renewable energy from waste can be economically viable without incentives as long as the scale is sufficient - and if the plant is multifunctional, selling heat, energy and fertilizers.
The lesson is important for less developed countries because those who dream of treating their food waste with AD plants have to think about how to pay for it- and fiscal policies need to go hand in hand with new technologies.
April 11 2016: The Impact of Tax Evasion and Corruption on Waste Mangement
The Panama Papers shocked me. They have exposed, brutally and on a global scale, the level of tax evasion from political and business elites. Whilst the Kremlin may shrug its shoulders and say this is all false, the Chinese government has blocked access to websites like the Financial Times and the Economist because it fears the repercussions of millions of its citizens reading about the Panama accounts of its governing elite. As the Government is cracking down on graft among its own employees, its ruling elite have ensured that they avoided millions, or billions of taxes. Add the names of another 50 countries leaders and you get a picture which is both depressing and outrageous. The developed countries are not immune as Iceland, the UK and Italy have featured prominently in the papers.
What has this to do with waste?
As the Global Waste Management Outlook report made with UNEP (you can download it here.) last year clearly underlined, the key to getting waste infrastructure in place is Governance. Governance means creating the rules, the regulations, deciding the responsibilities and ensuring enforcement and compliance so that waste is treated in a manner that is less harmful to human health and to the environment than open dumping or uncontrolled burning. Governance also means imposing fees, taxes, payments, from individuals and companies to pay for the system of environmental and human health protection which waste management provides- from keeping the streets of our cities clean, to recycling energy recovery and sanitary landfills. Without these financial resources, countries are unable to invest in infrastructure. The cost of inaction is five to ten times the cost of action. As we have shown, without waste management people are dying from all sorts of diseases and due to increased flooding. So poor waste infrastructure crudely put, kills people.
ISWA has been campaigning since 2009 to make sure part of the global spending on climate change mitigation and adaptation goes to waste management in the developing countries, and we are now having some success. Also, we campaign for funding from overseas direct aid to be channelled into waste projects, with as yet limited success. Indeed wherever one travels to, in developing countries, the common complaint among waste experts is that no funding is available- “we are too poor, there is no tax base, we cannot afford it “.
However, the Panama Papers make it clear that more funds than we imagine are in reality available even in poor countries, like India and Pakistan; it is just that a considerable portion of these funds is not going to Governments and being spent on internal infrastructure, but are being channelled out to offshore accounts. In other words, corrupt elites, for their own personal gain, are diverting money that could be spent stopping people from dying. That is not just a tax crime, it is a crime against the populations of these countries whose people die of poverty. (By the way, I have no objection to people becoming rich, as long as they pay their fair share of taxes too and create wealth ethically.)
These same elites are also compliant in helping corporations avoid taxes. According to Christian Aid, a UK charity, multinationals evade up to $80bn a year taxes in developing countries. That is twice what the World Bank said needs to be spent on making our waste infrastructures secure in these same places.
Add to these the hundreds of billions of dollars evaded by companies we all use every day, from Starbucks to Apple to Amazon and Google, and we have a devastating picture: global corporations are starving Governments of their fair share of tax income to spend on making their citizens lives better. Corporate greed (known as shareholder value) is denying billions of citizens their right to clean air, water, seas and soil and to a waste - free society. And to add insult to injury, these same corporations lobby against any attempt by civil society to impose EPR systems to ensure their products are collected and correctly handled at the end of life. (see the graphic below).
It need not be like this. The role models of Singapore, among the world’s most ethically correct societies, or President Obama, whose eight years in power have been unblemished by any impropriety; or the recent Uruguayan President Jose Mujica who lived in his farm cottage rather than the Palace; and many other, unrecognised champions of decency globally working quietly every day to fulfill their responsibilities, show that Mankind can be correct and ethically decent. Probably these are a huge but silent majority.
But the elites have taken over running the show and have created a situation which is deeply disturbing, unethical and harmful to human health and the environment. It has to be stopped.
We need an ethical revolution against corruption that sweeps these people away and confines them to gaol and to the black book of history. We must close the tax loopholes, close the tax paradises, imprison evaders, ensure international monitoring of financial flows and stop giving aid to countries with high established levels of corruption. Only strong, publicly supported and ethical Governments have the strength to stand up to the greedy corporations cheating countries of taxes. Only then will we find the resources to spend on vital infrastructure. Good Governance is vital.
And think about which company pays taxes next time you want to buy a product or service.
(The views expressed here are my personal views and do not in any way reflect those of the International Solid Waste Association or its members). Map provided by Transparency International.
March 24 2016: Weak Organic Recycling Performance in UK are a cause for concern
On March 22nd the UK Department of Environment (known as DEFRA) reported a fall in household waste recycling rates for the first time in memory from 45% to 44.3% for the year ending June 2015. Dry recycling increased slightly, by 0.2%, whilst organics recycling fell significantly, by 5.7%. While overall household waste produced fell by 0.6%, waste sent to disposal increased by 0.6% to 12.3 million tons out of a total produced by households of 22.1 million tons- a shocking 55.7%.
The UK is going in the wrong direction and these figures are a condemnation of the last Government's inertia towards the sector in the years 2010-2015. Less organics are being captured, more waste is going to landfill and incineration, and dry recycling is static.
The Government elected in 2015 is showing a similar "hands off" approach to the environment in general and waste in specific. Yet the 2020 target laid down by the EU of 50% recycling is now literally around the corner. To achieve those extra 6% policies and investments need to be made now, and there are few signs of either. The Government seems to ignore the evidence that the UK householder spends less than their northern European partners and less investment means less infrastructure and lower collection rates.
As Jeremy Paxman, the BBC journalist, recently said " Britain is the dirtiest country in Europe " and evidence of littering is to be seen everywhere, sadly. Perhaps he has not travelled to the south of Europe and is exaggerating, nevertheless Britain has become more littered than in recent memory.
All this comes down to the one basic failure to understand or recognise that protecting the environment costs money. And to drive waste recycling rates (towards that Circular Economy model every politician declares is his/hers goal) we need more investment. Above all, we need more collection of organics- the UK underperforms dramatically on organics interception when compared to many advanced European economies.
A law sent to Parliament to make organics collection obligatory in England, as it is in Wales, Scotland and soon in Northern Ireland, has been rejected by the Government as an unnecessary burden. One despairs.
8 March 2016: Waste Infrastructure Investment. Where is the money going?
I wonder if change is happening or about to happen in global waste investment? I say this because re-reading the AcuComm Waste Business Monitor from the end of 2015 (Issue 15) – I don’t always have the time to read these publications the day they are online- then what is startling are two pieces of data:
- For the month referred to in this issue, November 2015, of the ten top countries for value of investments, five can be classified as less developed countries, with India leading the way. Interestingly, two Africa countries also appeared on the screen, Nigeria and Zambia for value, while South Africa features for the number of projects announced.
- The second piece of data shows that the USA and the UK are still the leading developed countries both for number and value of projects announced, a sign that these two nations are still investing heavily (though less so than in 2014) in waste infrastructure.
Now, we must always take announcements of projects with a pinch of salt- many will never be realised. Getting finance for them is often impossible, last minute planning decisions often torpedoe the best laid plans; investors also pull out sometimes as market conditions change.
Nevertheless, the change is happening I believe and happening maybe faster than we thought possible. The Clean India campaign may be having some effect as government money filters down into concrete projects; African countries are gradually waking up to the environmental disaster waste is causing them, with consequences for their inward investments in tourism, property and business.
A conversation recently with one of the world’s largest waste companies, in a European capital, confirms that they also see change coming from developing countries and are looking at these closely for investment opportunities in infrastructure. Just how to propose a financial and technical model for these countries requires a change in a European mind-set where traditionally technology, not money, was the key factor in deciding what plant to build.
ISWA is looking at this too. In our annual congress in Serbia, September 2016, we will issue a short report on the pathways to closing open dumps and moving to sanitary landfills in developing countries, an essential first step up the waste hierarchy.
See you there.
22 February 2016: The Potential Consequences of Our Unmapped Landfill Sites
A recent research from the British Geological Society highlights how thousands of old, closed landfills, that probably we all thought were problems of the past, are actually severe problems for the future.
As climate change is altering rainfall patterns, increasing flooding, and coastal erosion is eating into vulnerable coastal areas, so landfills that were built in those areas over the last century are now at risk of becoming exposed, flooded and of leaking their waste into the environment. And some of this is hazardous waste too.
This is an example of how communities need to build resilience to climate change and take into account in these scenarios old landfill sites. There is an enormous challenge simply in mapping the sites, identifying the levels of potential risk; and then the cost of securing them against flooding and coastal erosion. For sure, many sites will have to be excavated and removed.
I am sure this is not purely a British phenomenon; indeed compliments to the British for being among the first to highlight how vulnerable some of these sites will be with future climatic patterns. It would be interesting to see such a study undertaken more widely throughout the developed countries to help us understand our vulnerabilities and where resilience investments need to be focused. You can read more in this recent article in The Independent newspaper here.
15 February 2016: The Temperamental nature of Recycling Markets
I think a year or more ago, when I was writing that recycling was in danger of falling commodity and energy prices undercutting its markets, many readers thought I was either being a catastrophist or simply a contrarian. Well, sadly, having some basic schooling in economics, I was being neither but was trying to warn our industry that the theories we have developed around closed loops, circular economy, cradle to cradle, are all based upon financial subsidies.
Where those subsidies are not underwriting the falling markets, recycling was bound to suffer. In fact we know that in developing and middle income countries, recycling represents often less than 10% of all waste treatment, the rest destined to landfill or open dumps, or into the environment directly.
USA landfills are again receiving volumes of waste destined, just a year ago, to recycling. This re- opens the question which I asked last October in WMW: with falling energy and commodity values, are landfills destined for a revival even in some of the more developed countries? Can WtE or AD plants compete supplying energy at rates requiring subsidies to remain in the energy market place? Will landfill owners start thinking about extending the life and volumes of their plants? Will Governments react with greater subsidies (waste taxes and EPR contributions) to underwrite the lower value of recycled materials? And what is the value today of a circular economy model? Will linear return to fashion? In the USA these questions are finding answers in the closure of recycling plants opened just a few years ago.
Confusing and hard times ahead for those in our industry who have invested in the recycling model and are not supported by subsidies sufficiently to ride out the storm. And the storm is going to be a long one, as I wrote last summer.
25 January 2016: The Earth is not as Crowded as you may think
It was really a pleasure to be able to access the latest population data elaborated by the US Earth Observing System Data website run by Columbia University and NASA. Just register for free and wow, what a lot of interesting reading there is. From maps and data showing a huge array of environmental data, to detailed population maps.
Nothing new here of course, there are plenty on the web, but what is interesting is the interpretation of the data which constitute the population maps.
By dividing the planet into 28 million squares, the analysts coloured in yellow the areas with more than 8000 population; each cell represents 23,04 km2 therefore giving a population density of 889 per km2. The parts of the maps remaining in black are those areas which do not reach this density, ie are much less populated.
What is staggering (well, it was for me) is that half of the world’s population live on just 1% of the earth’s surface and half of those live in just five countries : China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh. There are vast areas of uninhabited lands, vast areas where population is very thinly distributed. Enlarge the maps of Australia, Brazil, Russia, the USA, large areas of Asia and much of Africa and it becomes evident that the myth of an “overcrowded” world is exploded. Evidently most people live in very crowded places, but much of the world is un-crowded.
I wanted to share this with you because it helps us understand where the needs for public services are and will be over the next years, such as waste management; but also because reading the evidence is somewhat reassuring- maybe the world can survive with 9 billion inhabitants as so much of the planet is still uninhabited. A little bit of good news? Well, make your own judgement but the website gives fascinating data in any case, useful for all of us.
7 January 2016: Soil - an often neglected, but important, topic and the significant role of waste management (copy 1)
2015 was the United Nations Year of Soil. How many of you knew that? I admit, it passed me by more or less until almost the end of the year itself.
Yet the UN did well to draw our attention to the quality of soil, by which we normally mean topsoil, the top 30, 50, 100 cms of soil in which plant life flourishes. It communicated this poorly, but the arguments in favour of greater soil protection are so abundantly clear.
Soil feeds us. It’s simple. But soil also stores water, CO2, bacteria, and acts as the carrier of human recreaton- gardening, sports fields, golf courses, parks and so on. Good soil quality is essential to the future of human life on the planet, but also to our enjoyment of our free time. It’s one of those components Nature provides us, along with air, water and sunshine which nourishes our existence in so many ways.
The recent floods in the UK, but we can look at thousands of examples globally, were exacerbated by poor soil management. The cleaning of the moors on the Pennines contributed to flash flooding in Hebden Bridge. The Chinese only started planting billions of trees, once they realised they needed to control the water running down bare hillsides into the Yellow River and flooding communities downstream. And every flood means more topsoil is washed away, silting rivers (therefore reducing their capacity to take water away) and depleting good agricultural land.
So, you may ask, what has this to do with waste? Well there are a couple of interconnections between waste and soil quality.
- farmed soil needs a continual supply of nutrients to maintain its fertility. Generally we use chemical based fertilisers to supply these and such products have helped lead to the boom in production farmers have seen over the last decades – though those increases have flattened out. However, chemical fertilisers have negative effects on water quality, generally through the leaching of excessive volumes of nitrates applied to soil. And the risk is that the law of diminishing returns compels farmers to load their soils with ever greater quantities of nitrogen to maintain yields. Organic soil improvers, generally from a compost base, are a partial answer to this problem, as they release their nutrients more slowly and add, as well as nitrogen, organic carbon matter.
- the second link is carbon sequestration. Soil is a carbon sink. We don’t know quite how much but I feel we should be researching this more. Certainly, poor soil management is one of the causes the UNFCCC says contributes to increased CO2 emissions, but I am not sure we know how much soil can contribute to holding carbon in its structure. We need to know more.
Waste managers have daily access to large volumes of organic waste, mainly food, garden and some agro-industrial waste, which in many countries are composted (or digested for their biogas), stabilised and returned to soil. In some countries, compost value is virtually zero as soils are rich in organic matter (and face a lot of competition from animal manure in Ireland, Netherlands, Denmark and so on); in others, especially the north African countries where compost sells at €300/ton, organic matter is at a premium.
Getting organic matter back to soil is a question of ensuring its quality to farmers, so soil is improved and not polluted. Permitted pollutant levels in digestate and compost need to be lowered to ensure this, for example by reducing plastic contamination. But above all, collection systems need to be enhanced to ensure clean organics go to composting- it is difficult to compost a plastic bag.
So waste managers are also fertiliser providers, flood control officers (fertile soil with optimal organic content improves water retention), and potentially, carbon kidnappers. Think about that next time you consider designing your collection systems.
You can read more on this in Dr. Jane Gilbert’s excellent report for the ISWA Task Force on Resource Management on the ISWA website: Circular Economy: Carbon, Nutrients and Soil.
20 December 2015: In a troublesome year David Newman focusses on the positives & looks forward to an exciting 2016
2015 comes to an end and we all survived it, somehow. I don't think I recall a year with so much bad news. The multiple attacks on Paris, the Germanwings suicide crash in the Alps, the rising number of gun deaths in the USA, the continuing disaster in Syria and the mass emigration to Europe. And on the environmental front the deteriorating air quality of major cities in India and China, the rising quantities of waste flowing into our oceans ( according to UNEP some 20 million tons of plastics this year), and deforestation happening above all in south east Asia. And much, much more.
Depressing stuff eh?
Yet what a year it has been too! It has really ended positively. Argentina has a new Government which may enact some more sensible economic policies to bring that beautiful country out of its long recession; the Security Council agreed a plan to help resolve the Syrian crisis (let's hope the Syrians agree it too); the Iranians agreed to a plan to reduce their capability to make nuclear weapons; President Obama passed rules to reduce power station emissions by some 30% over the next decade; and we got a deal at the Climate Change conference in Paris. Not a great deal, but the best possible deal when you have 195 countries around the table to negotiate with. And last but not least, the European Commission issued its renewed Circular Economy package which has laid down ambitious targets for the European waste industry over the next two decades.
The world economy grew again in 2015 and Europe recovered somewhat after six years of recession. A long way to go, but the corner seems to have been turned. Commodity prices are at record low levels, bad for countries exporting them and companies recycling them, but good for keeping consumer prices low in those countries importing commodities. And forcing the waste industry to look at its industrial models again.
ISWA has grown and its work is increasingly appreciated globally. Inthink the staff and Board have visited 50 countries or more this year, the last being Japan and Jordan, where we held a training course on waste. And we gave our small contributions to many of the international bodies shaping the future of the planet towards a more environmentally sustainable economy.
My diary for the first part of 2016 is already full.
So let's end on a note of hope, put the bad news behind us and look forward to a 2016 which will bring us all prosperity and hopefully, peace.
Enjoy the holidays and I look forward to meeting you in 2016 at one of the many events ISWA will organise globally.
Happy New Year.
07 December 2015: David Newman Discusses the EU's Circular Economy Package
It seems banal to write about the European Commission's Circular Economy package issued December 2nd, because so many comments have been transmitted from all the associations, national and European, involved in the sector. What to add to those?
Well, who hasn't yet commented is interesting to note.
So far no comment from the European Composting Network. Yet the lack of specific targets and obligations for separate collection of biowaste is actually the really contentious issue of the whole waste package. While the Directive gives targets for reducing landfilling, to 10% of MSW by 2030, and similarly ambitious targets of 65% recycling in the same timeframe, the organic fraction is not subject to similar targets. It "should" be separately collected. Good. But subject to the local circumstances- the revised article 22 says it all. In other words, if you want to, collect organics separately, otherwise say it is not feasible and justify not collecting it. Not good.
We can have the debate in mature waste management systems, like Denmark, about whether the recovery of energy for district heating is preferable over the recovery of energy from biogas for heating or electricity. There the infrastructure for district heating exists, and whilst burning very wet food waste has little logic, within a mass balance containing a lot of plastics and paper, it might be the best way to use resources within existing investments and plants. At least we can reason here within a series of known boundaries.
But in other nations where neither an advanced energy recovery infrastructure exists and landfill is 60%+ the disposal option, a lack of obligatory targets for foodwaste is opening the doors to MBT and landfilling of foodwaste post - treatment. This option reduces the need for separate collection of foodwaste and dry recyclables. Whilst keeping collection costs down it transfers the costs to intermediate treatment and a disposal system with little added value in recovery. Southern Italy, Spain, France and others, are among such cases. And the attempt to sell "compost" from MBT plants to farmers has failed miserably or been outlawed widely within the EU.
So I was expecting a stronger reaction from the association representing the composting industry because the lack of targets, for the single largest waste fraction, is, as Ray Georgson of the UK Resource Association has commented, not the EC's " finest hour".
Finally, no comments so far read from the governments of the eastern Europe countries. Maybe they have not yet been posted in English so I have not been able to read them. My apologies.
But the apparent silence would be explicable- their lobbying of the EC to lengthen the time in which they have to achieve their targets is a success for them. As is the weakened language on biowaste collection and a reduced target for landfill diversion from zero to 10% by 2030. They should be happy. They can continue for the next 15 years with only slow, incremental increases in recycling and reduced landfill use, meaning that they will effectively ignore the targets totally. 15 years is beyond any politician's electoral perspective. Frankly, most polticians won't be even minimally concerned about these objectives in countries like Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, the Baltics states and so on. No change in these countries is probable. And as I have written recently, these countries face depopulation, making the achievement of any target a lottery.
Yet at what price to Europe's environment and at what price in terms of climate changing emissions?
It means Europe has accepted de facto different standards for different regions. Maybe this is common sense and reflects reality; but it is certainly a set back for our industry in the east of the Union and for the environment in general.
19 November 2015: The Curious Case of UK Waste Exporting
Attending the ISWA- Avfall Sweden Beacon Conference on waste to energy in Malmö this week, there were a couple of eye-opening presentations.
From the UK Eunomia presented their estimates of UK waste treatment capacities and how these affect RDF exports. Currently the UK is exporting around 3 million ton of RDF to the Netherlands, Germany, Seden and others and they estimate this will plateau at around 3.5 mn tons in the next 2/3 years. Then new treatment capacities will come on stream in the UK and by around 2020 the UK will be self sufficient and indeed, if all approved projects are finally realised, will have a significant over capacity by around 2025.
The exports of UK RDF to Europe was a theme of the second presentation from the German waste to energy association. Until 2014 German plants had a spare capacity of around 5/8% of total approved capacity, around 23 million tons annually. Now, a year later, they are running at 100% capacity. This is great for those running incinerators because spot gate fees are now rising fast, to around €150/t for those without contracts, and this is causing trouble for an already weakened recycling sector- now, in order to dispose of the waste from sorting plants, they are forced into high price contracts, squeezing them at the disposal end. They are already squeezed by low prices for the recyclates, so are suffering an unpredicted financial pressure.
Well, it may have been unpredictable for them but had they read this blog and other articles in WMW and ISWA reports of the last three years, they would have seen it coming. I did.
So countries like Lebanon, running around without a plan looking for help to dispose of their waste, are hitting a brick wall. The message is, waste to energy plants in northern Europe are now running at full capacity again. And that situation is not likely to change until the UK gets its own plants on stream in around 3/5 years time.
02 November 2015: A call for common platforms to represent the European waste industry (copy 1)
When the month of November begins the mind thinks of the countdown to the Christmas holidays in two months time. But before then a really busy period is ahead as if we are punished for taking time off over the New Year.
The European Group meets on November 3rd with the European Commission in Brussels and with the participation of many of the other European associations. This is an important signal. Why? Because one of the obstacles, in my humble opinion, to our industry obtaining a positive and wished for result on the new Circular Economy package, is our fragmentation into a myriad of associations representing the waste industry in Brussels.
Whereas the UK has gone towards a united approach, joining CIWM (public) and ESA (private) in common platforms, most other countries are still divided between companies that are public or private and therefore represented by two different European associations. Further, whereas the large waste multinationals are all integrated in their systems, in Europe the organic waste lobby is separate from the waste to energy lobby. Yet organics increasingly produce energy from AD and logically should be looking at many of the same policy platforms as the WtE lobbyists.
And then the packaging industry has dozens of associations representing each piece, while oils, tyres, batteries, and so on are all represented by different associations.
If I were sitting in the European Commission wondering who represents the waste industry, I'd be a little confused. It reminds me of the famous saying of Henry Kissinger, "Who do I call if I want to call Europe?".
So the meeting of November 3rd is an opportunity for the principle associations to talk together about which policy priorities we wish to focus upon in the EU debate on Circular Economy. And we need to prioritise because we fail to realise that there are significant powers lobbying strongly against the advancement of environmental legislation globally and in Europe too. According to one research I read last September, 45% of the worlds' largest 100 companies are actively taking part in, and financing, associations lobbying against a climate change agreement. And you can bet your last Euro that they will be heard on the Circular Economy debate too.
So let's unite behind some few, achievable, commonly-agreed policy objectives in the coming months and give a united front to the Commission on the Circular Economy package.
The Climate Conference also comes up in December and here the international waste industry has made a common platform as previous blogs have illustrated. It is essential that we are compact, focussed and clear on our objectives going into these arena because otherwise the waste industry will be forgotten and the debate will, as too often, centre around oil, renewables, coal, gas, solar power, and not about materials recovery and waste to energy and the enormous benefits this has for the climate, public health and urban liveability.
13 October 2015: Positive steps forward for ISWA following the World Congress
This has been a busy post-Antwerp period for our association.
On October 12 ISWA was invited by the European Commission in Brussels to present the findings of the Task Force on Resource Management. Before an audience of over 50 officials from the EU and from all the Member States environment ministries, Antonis Mavropoulos and Martin Brocklehurst presented the five reports and a series of concluding recommendations for the new Circular Economy package which the EC has promised will be published by 4 December 2015.
Our recommendations included focussing attention on intercepting the organics fraction of waste, important for producing energy from AD, quality soil improvers to combat loss of organic carbon in soils, and to reduce methane emissions from landfills. While driving recycling higher for packaging waste will depend largely on markets, other drivers are more important to force up the organics recovery levels, still woefully low in many EU countries.
We also asked for greater homogeneity in statistics collection, in applying EPR programmes, a change in the way we apply end of waste rules to make recovery and re-use of secondary raw materials more convenient, and so on. A copy of our presentation can be obtained by members of ISWA from our GS.
After Antwerp we sent the ISWA national members' declaration on climate change to the UNFCCC secretariat in Bonn to underline the industry's committment to continue reducing climate change emissions through enhanced recycling, reduced landfilling of organics, waste to energy, and improved collection systems.
Just this week the General Secretary of the UNFCCC Cristiana Figueres responded to us congratulating ISWA on the declaration and suggesting ways in which we could work with the secretariat over the coming period leading up to the Paris COP21 conference. This implies that waste will be one of the focal points of the forthcoming meeting.
This is to keep you informed on how ISWA is engaging at the highest level to enhance the role of the waste industry in the European and global policy making which will influence our lives over the next decades. We will keep you informed as events evolve.
22 September 2015: Environmentally friendly funds and carbon tax
Good to read the Financial Times occasionally, not to understand whether stocks and bonds are rising or falling but to look at how the environment impacts upon companies' investments and values.
Two pieces of interesting news from the FT on Monday September 21 which give indicators on how the waste industry may view its future.
News number one. An analysis of 1,400 investment funds by the Edinburgh Business School shows that environmentally friendly funds returned greater yields to investors over the last two years than traditional fossil fuel funds. They also beat returns on mainstream investments.
Of course renewable energies make the bulk of such investments; nevertheless the news is worthy of report because they have become, as I have said elsewhere, competitive to fossil fuels on investment returns. The waste industry is at the forefront of renewable energy with AD treating organics and waste to energy plants treating many waste streams, both producing electricity, heat and in the case of AD, fuel and fertilisers too.
News number two. CDP, an environmental data group, reports that in the last 12 months the number of companies pricing in their carbon emissions has tripled. They include huge companies such as GM, Glencore, Cathay Pacific, wanting to see how much their activities would cost were a climate change agreement to lead to a carbon tax. Companies are choosing of course their own pricing levels- some as high as $ 80 a tonne, some as low as $30 ( the Zara brand). But it matters not which price they choose. It matters that multinationals think they should prepare for carbon pricing because they believe it may be imminent and even acceptable.
This makes the ISWA Climate Change declaration (see link below), signed by our General Assembly last September 6th, all the more credible and topical. It shows how we are party to a trend that goes beyond waste and resources into mainstream production of consumer goods and services and underlines how the waste industry can play a huge role in reducing carbon emissions, if the policies are right.
So let us now get that declaration out to the press and politicians in our countries around the world to underscore how we, the waste industry, are part of the growing global business community embracing positive change for the environment. And let us make this happen in Paris next December.
14 September 2015: ISWA launches CSR-project to help scavenger kids
Timothy Bouldry is a young American photographer who made a presentation of his work during ISWA 2015 in Antwerp. He has worked in landfill communities for the last six years, mostly in central America, but also in India. His photos invoke shock, dismay, hope and charity. Working with landfill scavengers, he helps them understand the immense health risks they run , as well the danger their children run in terms of rape, lack of educational opportunities, disease. He has helped many children find school places to help them out of poverty. And it works. Those kids are a generation saved from landfill scavenging as they go on to become teachers, artists, and workers in ordinary jobs.
His work has inspired us to launch a programme in 2016 in which ISWA will fund $20.000 to pay for schooling, food and transport for kids in one Central American landfill chosen by and managed by Timothy.
If you believe in charity, join us with a contribution to make the programme larger and help many more kids out of landfill poverty. Send me an email declaring your support. One child's education, food and transport for a year costs about €1000 but you can contribute much less and together we can get many children on the path to a normal life.
See http://www.timothybouldry.com/ for the inspiring photos
Thank you in advance for your contributions.
14 September 2015: Spread the GWMO!
The launch of the GWMO (Global Waste Management Outlook), written with UNEP, was an important milestone for ISWA and for the waste industry as a whole. It outlines the successes, failures, challenges and route map to developing a modern waste management system in developing countries. A tool kit helps decision- makers elaborate their plans while building a case for financing from private and public capital.
The challenge now is that all of us, each individual who is intested in waste management developing, gets the GWMO in front of decision makers in every country- in the richer countries because they need now to dedicate more overseas aid to waste and help developing nations get their collection and disposal systems under control; to poorer countries so politicians can understand the immense cost, in terms of health, environment, loss of income from tourism and investments, caused by having dirty cities and rural areas.
And to global institutions, like the World Bank, the USA Foundations, so they can pour their financing into these countries.
There is hope for a cleaner, greener planet, but only if we all work in the same direction and waste no more time doing so.
Download the various GWMO documents:
27 August 2015: The dangerous costs of illegal waste practices
While the news posted here weeks ago about the waste emergency in Beirut has been reported globally, Naples will soon return to the global news channels again for its never ending waste problems.
Around Naples is an area known as the Terra dei Fuochi, or Land of Fires. Here, mostly at night, criminal gangs burn all sorts of waste in the open countryside, spreading acrid smoke and toxic pollution over a wide area. The Italian Government passed legislation three years ago to try to combat the phenomenon but as the video here illustrates too clearly, they have failed.
Waste is illegally dumped in the countryside, along roads, under bridges, in country lanes. Waste of all sorts including asbestos and potentially hazardous wastes. Some of these originate from industrial sites where companies pay unscrupulous operators to dispose of their waste, uncaring whether that is done legally or not. Some waste is simply fly-tipping from households, clearing out cellars and lofts or demolition waste from small building works. There is everything.
But what is of greatest concern is the emissions of dioxins from burning waste. Studies into the Naples area reported by ISWA in our study Waste Health, show the cost of the waste emergency in the area to run into billions of euros in extra health care for cancers and respiratory diseases, lost agricultural incomes as crops are damaged, loss of tourism incomes, and the cost of clean-ups.
The problem is essentially one of compliance and enforcement of the law; laws exist banning all forms of illegal dumping but the culprits are never caught, the victims whose lands are polluted often too frightened to speak against the criminal gangs even if they know who they are.
It is a saddening spectacle and a tragedy destined to run for a long time to come.
11 August 2015: Declining Commodity Values and the Waste Market
Jeff Sommers wrote this week in the New York Times that cheap commodity prices could be sign of an impending recession. While consumers, car drivers and energy importing nations, reap the benefits of oil at $48 a barrel, we often forget that many other commodities have fallen in value ; an overall commodity index called CRB has fallen 18% since May 2014. Some commodities like copper, gold, platinum, iron and coal, are trading at lows not seen for many years. And the slowing of growth in China leads us to believe nothing will change soon. As a result, inflation in most developed countries runs close to zero and recession may be looming.
All this is short-term good news for consumers I suppose, unless you come from a commodity producing nation (Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Russia, there are many of them) and you risk losing your job as mines or oilwells close down.
But what about the global commodities market for secondary raw materials from waste ? What effect will low commodity prices have on recycling markets ?
We have already written about how volatility affects markets for recovered resources and this will be one of the subjects covered in ISWA's Resource Management report to be presented next month in Antwerp. But the scenario is fast moving from volatility to long-term low values which make recycling many materials unprofitable. We have seen in the UK and USA over the last months the decline in recycling markets, and now that we face the future of low commodity prices we have to ask ourselves, what is the future of recycling ?
There would seem to me to be two scenarios:
1. a USA model where waste companies will leave the recycling markets, reduce source segregated collection, and head back to landfilling or energy recovery as a disposal solution. Despite 50% recovery targets by 2020, I see this also happening in some other EU countries, especially those most open to market forces, read UK. Elsewhere, in countries like Turkey, Brazil, South Africa, growing middle income economies where recycling is very low, don't expect any growth. I forsee here growth in waste to energy projects but a domination of landfill disposal for the next years. In low income countries where recycling is a subsistence activity for millions of poor, sadly I forsee the waste pickers becoming poorer as the value of recovered materials declines.
2. a protected market scenario: here I am thinking of much of the EU, Japan, Korea, where the internal markets are governed by forces capable of easing some of the effects of global markets- notably through the application of taxes and subsidies. EPR programmes are already in place for many waste streams in these countries- I predict their cost will increase as the subsidies given by industry will rise to overcome the decline in income from sales of secondary materials. So consumers, ultimately, will pay more for their products to compensate for the lower price of re-sale of recyclates.
Big winners in the first scenario are going to be landfills, landfill gas technologies, and waste to energy plants, especially in densely populated urban areas; in the second scenario there are no winners or losers, but business as usual; however, consumers will be subsidising this with the pennies or cents they pay every time a recyclable material is consigned to the bin. The question here is , will corporations making consumer goods play along with the rise in EPR fees or will resistence increase during a possible recessionary period ?
In the long term, post 2020, will commodity prices recover ? I believe so, and so I believe that the protected market scenario actually is the one that makes sense- those countries with high recycling rates will capture the benefit of growing markets more quickly than those that abandon recycling due to short term profit considerations. But nothing is more unpredictable than predicting the future.
See you in Antwerp in September
28 July 2015: The Beirut Waste Crisis
The news this week that Beirut is being slowly buried by its own waste shows that history does repeat itself and that humans don't learn from their mistakes. For Beirut read Naples.
Even by Middle East standards, the astonishing incompetence of the city and national governments in Beirut is something to behold. Knowing and agreeing that the landfill south of the city would be closed in July, the city made no alternative plans to dispose of its 2,500 tons of waste produced daily. Its international tender for waste treatment in June went deserted; clearly no company believed in the political, legal and financial frameworks established by the government. Not surprisingly, the city has now 25,000 tons of waste on the streets, in the summer heat, during the height of its tourist season. An amazing lack of governance.
Similar scenes from Naples were screened worldwide during the crises which repeated themselves over ten years from the late 1990s onwards, destroying its tourist industry and affecting agricultural exports from the surrounding countryside as burning waste polluted it.
But Beirut learnt nothing from these scenes from a Mediterrenean city with great geomorphic similarities- port cities, tourism industry, mountainous interior, dense population, weak civil society (for many differing reasons) and bitterly divided political representatives fighting each other.
It would have needed only a one day course on the history of Naples for the Beirut administrators to see the storm going to hit them, but history has taught them nothing.
Naples solved most of its problems by building a 600,000t/y incinerator , increasing recycling to 30%+ (led by household collection of organics), using alternative landfill sites in other regions, stocking waste and exporting some to northern European incinerators.
Before the crisis in Beirut goes much further, they would do well to look at the Naples example and learn from history.