Saturday, 13 July 2019

TRANSITION TO A CIRCULAR ECONOMY


Governments in Australia and elsewhere are moving away from a linear to a circular economy.  The first country to move along this path was Finland in 2016.

Australian states, starting with South Australia, are also moving towards a circular economy. 


So what are these two different economies?  The linear economy is based on the “take, make and dispose” model.  This results in wasteful use of natural resources with increasing amounts of material ending up in landfill.


A circular economy “aims to keep resources circulating in our economy to maximise value, generate local jobs and minimise waste. It can open up new markets and business models and lead to innovative resource and waste management solutions.“ (Too Good to Waste, NSW EPA discussion paper Oct. 2018)


According to this discussion paper NSW could obtain material cost savings of up to $9 billion per year.

The environmental benefits would also be significant. In a world where it is becoming increasingly obvious that natural resources are finite, it makes good environmental as well as economic sense to replace raw materials with recovered and recycled products.  Such re-use also minimises potential environmental impacts from the extraction and processing of these materials.


NSW, which started moving towards a circular economy at the end of last year, published its “Circular Economy Policy Statement” in February.  The policy states:  “This transition will generate jobs, increase the robustness of the economy, increase the accessibility of goods, maximise the value of resources, and reduce waste.”


The policy lists eight focus areas as the priority for government action.

One of these is government and business procurement practices which will drive demand for recovered materials and reusable products.


Another relates to avoiding wasting organic resources by encouraging recovery and re-use.   An example given is that donating unused food is preferable to composting, energy recovery or disposal.  And another deals with responsible packaging. The aim is to reduce packaging as well as increasing its recycled content and recyclability which will drive local demand for recycled materials.


Successful transition to a circular economy will have enormous economic as well as environmental benefits. 

            - Leonie Blain

 This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on July 1, 2019

Thursday, 4 July 2019

THE BLUEBERRY INDUSTRY IN THE CLARENCE VALLEY AND WATER USE


The Daily Examiner's headline (on June 10 this year) “Regulator begins new water works”, with the responsible regional director, admitting his team has a big job ahead, certainly attracted attention.

Compliance monitoring of the local intensive horticulture industry has been virtually non-existent to date, so closer scrutiny, particularly of its water usage, is welcomed. However, why wasn't action taken sooner, and why were earlier reported problems ignored?

The Clarence Environment Centre (CEC) first raised concerns about the industry's activities in 2011, in response to reports of illegal land clearing near Halfway Creek. That offender was reportedly fined $150,000, a penalty we later learned is often regarded by the industry as “a cost of doing business” (Inter-agency Blueberry Working Group minutes, February 15, 2017).

In ensuing years, the CEC fought several irrigation proposals, including one to pump water from State Significant wetlands.

In 2015, an industry push to be allowed to dam larger streams and harvest more water, saw the government undertake a review into water regulation and invite public input.  The CEC put in a submission to this review.

In March 2016, Clarence Valley Council announced the development of Australia's largest blueberry farm alongside the Orara River (a tributary of the Clarence River). A subsequent application to pump 60 megalitres (ML) a year, from the Orara was opposed by CEC, who argued that it, and their 90 ML harvestable rights, was only sufficient water for 70 ha of blueberries. Given the Lower Orara has only 800 ML available for irrigation under licence', the question was, where would the remaining 2,000 ML come from.

That matter went before a Tribunal hearing in early 2017 where, incredibly, Water NSW used a tax-payer funded lawyer, to successfully argue that the CEC's evidence not be heard.

The licence approval was subsequently granted and approximately 400 ha prepared for planting, complete with buried drip irrigation pipe and plastic covering. Then, in late 2018, all work stopped and the entire operation was advertised for sale.

With rumours that the operation cannot proceed because there's insufficient water, it will be interesting to see what the promised compliance blitz uncovers.

            - John Edwards

 This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on June 24, 2019

Sunday, 16 June 2019

BAMBOO AND CARBON SEQUESTRATION


Cultivated by humans for centuries, bamboo is a grass which grows very quickly, reaching its full height in one growing season.  It can then be harvested for pulp or other purposes or allowed to grow to maturity. After harvesting it will re-sprout and continue growing.

Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming (edited by Paul Hawken) is  a book which discusses 80 ways of reversing global warming  and a further 20 possibilities as "coming attractions". According to an article in this book, bamboo can play an important role. ( For more information about these solutions check  Project Drawdown )


“Bamboo rapidly sequesters carbon in biomass and soil, taking it out of the air faster than almost any other plant, and can thrive on inhospitable degraded lands.”

Added to these impressive qualities is the fact that it has the compressive strength of concrete and the tensile strength of steel.   It has a wide range of uses.  In building   it is utilised for frames, flooring and shingles.  It is also used for scaffolding in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia.

 Furniture is made from it as are utensils such as chopping boards, chopsticks, and wooden stirring spoons.   It is also used to make baskets and other containers, as food for both humans and animals, and for biofuels, charcoal and increasingly for fabric for clothing such as t-shirts and socks. It can also be used for paper, producing six times as much pulp as a conventional pine plantation.

As a grass, bamboo contains minute silica structures – phytoliths.  These resist degradation longer than other plant material, remaining in the soil for at least hundreds of years. 

According to Drawdown “The combination of phytoliths and bamboo’s rapid growth make it a prolific means to sequester carbon.”

An added benefit is its ability to replace high emissions products such as cotton, plastics, aluminium, steel and concrete - meaning its carbon reduction impact is even greater.

A proviso to its use is its capacity to be an invasive species damaging existing natural ecosystems. This means any expansion beyond its current approximately 80 million acres worldwide should be in appropriate locations such as already degraded lands.

       
     -Leonie Blain

This is an amended version of the  article that was published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on June 3rd.