Tag Archives: Waste

Chile’s waste bus changes throw-away societies

In a world choking on its own discarded rubbish, Chile’s waste bus is showing a way to slow the flood.

LONDON, 22 December, 2020 − If the climate crisis keeps you awake at night, the impact of what we casually throw away is sure to have you worried: it makes global heating a lot worse. But Chile’s waste bus is managing to change behaviour in a country with ingrained ways of disposing of what it no longer wants.

An estimated 1.6 billion tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) were generated globally from the treatment and disposal of waste in 2016 – representing about 5% of global CO2 emissions.

But recycling, experts say, is simply not enough to tackle this deluge. It’s useful and necessary, but waste needs to be “designed out” of the production and consumption cycle early in the life of a product.

The UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the Paris Agreement on climate change). It’s singled out a Latin American pioneer of an approach to waste which it thinks can teach the world a lesson or two.

It’s a social enterprise in Chile which encourages people to produce less waste and to recycle more − and which knows how policy and economic shifts can help to achieve rapid change. Enter TriCiclos, a company focused on changing consumerism and waste management so as to balance its three eponymous cycles: social, environmental, and financial.

Largest network

The TriCiclos model develops more sustainable ways of working, while engaging people in playing an active part and helping companies to re-design their processes to suit a circular economy.

TriCiclos was founded by two friends, Gonzalo Muñoz and Joaquin Arnolds Reyes, both determined to change how society thinks about resource use and to question what happens when something is “thrown away”.

It provides a service – on-site recycling centres called “Puntos Limpios”, or “clean-up points”, made from old shipping containers – where products that can be recycled or recovered are deposited in separate waste streams by consumers.

Brightly coloured and easy to use, each functions as a self-contained small-scale recycling centre coping with 25 different types of materials divided into categories: cellulose, plastic-coated cardboard, plastics, metals (aluminium and other metals), and glass. The containers gain by being installed in a chain of retail stores – one of the major players in home improvements in Latin America – allowing the partners to create the largest national network of clean-up units in Chile.

“In a sustainable society, we will need to stop using a variety of materials and products that are still seen as normal and acceptable today”

The company also runs education programmes to teach people about waste disposal and recycling, and its “waste bus” travels the country providing advice on how to re-use waste and recycle it properly. The bus visits schools as well, and supports beach cleaning projects. TriCiclos has also invented a machine that turns plastic into toys, to show the potential of re-using materials, and works with waste pickers’ groups and cooperatives.

Unusually, perhaps, TriCiclos also offers business consultancy. True to its core belief that “waste is a design error that needs to be fixed”, the company helps manufacturers and designers to prevent their products entering the waste stream at all. To influence the production chain of consumer goods even before their creation, the company has developed its own software and machinery to help clients transform materials into circular resources.

Muñoz calls TriCiclos a company of cultural change disguised as recycling: “We want to change the culture of product design; the consumer culture that now exceeds our planet’s capabilities; the culture of citizens who must do their part by choosing better, as well as preparing and separating materials; the culture of the recycler that, as a standard, can and should become a service provider; and finally, the culture of waste that must disappear to accommodate the circular economy culture.”

By 2014 the business had arrived in Brazil. Today it is working in Colombia, Peru, Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

Nets salvaged

It is spawning imitators at home as well. Marine plastic has become a huge pollution issue on Chile’s beaches and in the poorer southern half of the country no facilities existed for fishermen to dispose safely of unusable plastic nets. Now a recent startup, Bureo, founded by three North American surfers, is collaborating with local fishing communities to keep hundreds of tonnes of discarded nets out of the ocean each year to be treated in Bureo’s warehouse, before being turned into 100% recycled pellets which are sold as a sustainable alternative to first-use plastics.

TriCiclos works with waste collectors to pass on their knowledge and experience of recycling to citizens, showing people how to separate their garbage, and also having conversations that lead the Punto Limpio users to reflect on their consumption and purchasing choices, raising awareness of which materials are recyclable as well as which brands and products follow sustainable practices.

Dr Muñoz says: “The first thing you have to consider is where garbage comes from. This way we can understand that in a sustainable society, we will need to stop using a variety of materials and products that are still seen as normal and acceptable today. In order for this to happen, we must change our culture, change our incentives, challenge waste and programmed obsolescence.”

Waste, already a huge global problem, is growing fast. A 2018 World Bank report said annual waste generation was expected to jump from 2.01 billion tonnes in 2016 to 3.4 bn tonnes over the next 30 years, driven by rapid urbanisation, advertisements promoting consumerism, and growing populations. Humanity is already consuming more resources and producing more waste than the biosphere can regenerate and safely absorb.

Plastics – a product of the fossil fuel industry – are especially problematic. If not collected and managed properly, they will contaminate and affect waterways and ecosystems for hundreds or even thousands of years. More than a third of waste in high-income countries is recovered through recycling and composting, but only 4% is recycled in low-income countries . – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

In a world choking on its own discarded rubbish, Chile’s waste bus is showing a way to slow the flood.

LONDON, 22 December, 2020 − If the climate crisis keeps you awake at night, the impact of what we casually throw away is sure to have you worried: it makes global heating a lot worse. But Chile’s waste bus is managing to change behaviour in a country with ingrained ways of disposing of what it no longer wants.

An estimated 1.6 billion tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) were generated globally from the treatment and disposal of waste in 2016 – representing about 5% of global CO2 emissions.

But recycling, experts say, is simply not enough to tackle this deluge. It’s useful and necessary, but waste needs to be “designed out” of the production and consumption cycle early in the life of a product.

The UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the Paris Agreement on climate change). It’s singled out a Latin American pioneer of an approach to waste which it thinks can teach the world a lesson or two.

It’s a social enterprise in Chile which encourages people to produce less waste and to recycle more − and which knows how policy and economic shifts can help to achieve rapid change. Enter TriCiclos, a company focused on changing consumerism and waste management so as to balance its three eponymous cycles: social, environmental, and financial.

Largest network

The TriCiclos model develops more sustainable ways of working, while engaging people in playing an active part and helping companies to re-design their processes to suit a circular economy.

TriCiclos was founded by two friends, Gonzalo Muñoz and Joaquin Arnolds Reyes, both determined to change how society thinks about resource use and to question what happens when something is “thrown away”.

It provides a service – on-site recycling centres called “Puntos Limpios”, or “clean-up points”, made from old shipping containers – where products that can be recycled or recovered are deposited in separate waste streams by consumers.

Brightly coloured and easy to use, each functions as a self-contained small-scale recycling centre coping with 25 different types of materials divided into categories: cellulose, plastic-coated cardboard, plastics, metals (aluminium and other metals), and glass. The containers gain by being installed in a chain of retail stores – one of the major players in home improvements in Latin America – allowing the partners to create the largest national network of clean-up units in Chile.

“In a sustainable society, we will need to stop using a variety of materials and products that are still seen as normal and acceptable today”

The company also runs education programmes to teach people about waste disposal and recycling, and its “waste bus” travels the country providing advice on how to re-use waste and recycle it properly. The bus visits schools as well, and supports beach cleaning projects. TriCiclos has also invented a machine that turns plastic into toys, to show the potential of re-using materials, and works with waste pickers’ groups and cooperatives.

Unusually, perhaps, TriCiclos also offers business consultancy. True to its core belief that “waste is a design error that needs to be fixed”, the company helps manufacturers and designers to prevent their products entering the waste stream at all. To influence the production chain of consumer goods even before their creation, the company has developed its own software and machinery to help clients transform materials into circular resources.

Muñoz calls TriCiclos a company of cultural change disguised as recycling: “We want to change the culture of product design; the consumer culture that now exceeds our planet’s capabilities; the culture of citizens who must do their part by choosing better, as well as preparing and separating materials; the culture of the recycler that, as a standard, can and should become a service provider; and finally, the culture of waste that must disappear to accommodate the circular economy culture.”

By 2014 the business had arrived in Brazil. Today it is working in Colombia, Peru, Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

Nets salvaged

It is spawning imitators at home as well. Marine plastic has become a huge pollution issue on Chile’s beaches and in the poorer southern half of the country no facilities existed for fishermen to dispose safely of unusable plastic nets. Now a recent startup, Bureo, founded by three North American surfers, is collaborating with local fishing communities to keep hundreds of tonnes of discarded nets out of the ocean each year to be treated in Bureo’s warehouse, before being turned into 100% recycled pellets which are sold as a sustainable alternative to first-use plastics.

TriCiclos works with waste collectors to pass on their knowledge and experience of recycling to citizens, showing people how to separate their garbage, and also having conversations that lead the Punto Limpio users to reflect on their consumption and purchasing choices, raising awareness of which materials are recyclable as well as which brands and products follow sustainable practices.

Dr Muñoz says: “The first thing you have to consider is where garbage comes from. This way we can understand that in a sustainable society, we will need to stop using a variety of materials and products that are still seen as normal and acceptable today. In order for this to happen, we must change our culture, change our incentives, challenge waste and programmed obsolescence.”

Waste, already a huge global problem, is growing fast. A 2018 World Bank report said annual waste generation was expected to jump from 2.01 billion tonnes in 2016 to 3.4 bn tonnes over the next 30 years, driven by rapid urbanisation, advertisements promoting consumerism, and growing populations. Humanity is already consuming more resources and producing more waste than the biosphere can regenerate and safely absorb.

Plastics – a product of the fossil fuel industry – are especially problematic. If not collected and managed properly, they will contaminate and affect waterways and ecosystems for hundreds or even thousands of years. More than a third of waste in high-income countries is recovered through recycling and composting, but only 4% is recycled in low-income countries . – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Eat an orange and save an old lithium-ion battery

You could reclaim a lithium-ion battery with help from orange peel and juice – or make fuel directly from sunlight and air.

LONDON, 4 September, 2020 – Singapore scientists have found a way to recover valuable metals from a discarded lithium-ion battery – with minimal waste and serious help from old orange peel and a solution of citric acid.

And in Great Britain researchers have tested a simple solar reactor that can turn sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into the raw material for synthetic fuel.

Neither technology is anywhere near ready for commercial exploitation. But each could be scaled up.

The first confronts two global challenges: the devastating burden of uneaten food and the alarming build-up of electronic waste each year. The second improves on an idea from nature and turns sunlight and atmosphere directly into energy without the lengthy business of growing and burying forests and waiting 100 million years before they turn into fossil fuels.

“Sometimes things don’t work as well as you expected, but this was a rare case where it actually worked better”

And each is a reminder of the startling levels of ingenuity and resource in the world’s laboratories, in the search for solutions to the seemingly intractable challenge of climate change, and the shift to clean energy.

Right now, batteries surrender their valuable component metals by being heated to 500°C, or dissolved in strong acids, or in solutions of hydrogen peroxide: there are secondary pollutants and health and safety risks at each stage.

Researchers from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore report in the journal Environmental Science and Technology that they made a kind of paste of crushed batteries, mixed it with powdered orange peel and added citric acid – almost any citrus fruit produces the stuff naturally – and at a temperature of 100°C recovered around 90% of the cobalt, lithium, nickel and manganese from the waste without producing any further new waste that could be toxic.

To make their point, the researchers then used those recovered metals to make new lithium-ion batteries.

Cellulose the key

By 2026, the market for the batteries in smartphones, notebooks, cameras, medical devices and electronic vehicles is expected to reach US$139bn (£105bn).

In Europe, only about 5% of the waste from these batteries is recycled. The key to the success of the experiment, the researchers say, proved to be the cellulose in the orange peel. It turned to sugar under heat during the reaction process, to help leach the important metals from the waste slurry.

The world is not short of disposable cellulose. Humans generate 1.3bn tonnes a year in the form of food waste. The world also generates 50 million tonnes of electronic waste every year. The Singapore studies suggest the real possibility of a circular economy with zero waste: so far, an environmentalist’s dream.

Another recurring environmentalist dream has been to steal a leaf from nature’s book and turn sunlight and carbon dioxide directly into stored energy. Carbon dioxide is a building block of all fuels.

Minimal waste

There have been repeated experiments to develop an “artificial leaf”. Researchers in the UK have announced a variant approach. They report in Nature Energy that they have tested a set of photo-catalysts on sheets made up of semi-conductor powders, to convert carbon dioxide and water to formic acid, which is a precursor to a range of possible synthetic fuels.

Sunlight delivers the power. There is no electric current involved, no wiring, no chemical reagents that have to be deployed, and the only waste is atomic oxygen. Right now, the test unit is only 20cms square. It could however be scaled up to several metres to produce clean fuel on energy farms.

“We were surprised how well it worked in terms of its selectivity – it produced almost no by-products,” said Qian Wang, a chemist at the University of Cambridge, who led the study.

“Sometimes things don’t work as well as you expected, but this was a rare case where it actually worked better.” Climate News Network

You could reclaim a lithium-ion battery with help from orange peel and juice – or make fuel directly from sunlight and air.

LONDON, 4 September, 2020 – Singapore scientists have found a way to recover valuable metals from a discarded lithium-ion battery – with minimal waste and serious help from old orange peel and a solution of citric acid.

And in Great Britain researchers have tested a simple solar reactor that can turn sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into the raw material for synthetic fuel.

Neither technology is anywhere near ready for commercial exploitation. But each could be scaled up.

The first confronts two global challenges: the devastating burden of uneaten food and the alarming build-up of electronic waste each year. The second improves on an idea from nature and turns sunlight and atmosphere directly into energy without the lengthy business of growing and burying forests and waiting 100 million years before they turn into fossil fuels.

“Sometimes things don’t work as well as you expected, but this was a rare case where it actually worked better”

And each is a reminder of the startling levels of ingenuity and resource in the world’s laboratories, in the search for solutions to the seemingly intractable challenge of climate change, and the shift to clean energy.

Right now, batteries surrender their valuable component metals by being heated to 500°C, or dissolved in strong acids, or in solutions of hydrogen peroxide: there are secondary pollutants and health and safety risks at each stage.

Researchers from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore report in the journal Environmental Science and Technology that they made a kind of paste of crushed batteries, mixed it with powdered orange peel and added citric acid – almost any citrus fruit produces the stuff naturally – and at a temperature of 100°C recovered around 90% of the cobalt, lithium, nickel and manganese from the waste without producing any further new waste that could be toxic.

To make their point, the researchers then used those recovered metals to make new lithium-ion batteries.

Cellulose the key

By 2026, the market for the batteries in smartphones, notebooks, cameras, medical devices and electronic vehicles is expected to reach US$139bn (£105bn).

In Europe, only about 5% of the waste from these batteries is recycled. The key to the success of the experiment, the researchers say, proved to be the cellulose in the orange peel. It turned to sugar under heat during the reaction process, to help leach the important metals from the waste slurry.

The world is not short of disposable cellulose. Humans generate 1.3bn tonnes a year in the form of food waste. The world also generates 50 million tonnes of electronic waste every year. The Singapore studies suggest the real possibility of a circular economy with zero waste: so far, an environmentalist’s dream.

Another recurring environmentalist dream has been to steal a leaf from nature’s book and turn sunlight and carbon dioxide directly into stored energy. Carbon dioxide is a building block of all fuels.

Minimal waste

There have been repeated experiments to develop an “artificial leaf”. Researchers in the UK have announced a variant approach. They report in Nature Energy that they have tested a set of photo-catalysts on sheets made up of semi-conductor powders, to convert carbon dioxide and water to formic acid, which is a precursor to a range of possible synthetic fuels.

Sunlight delivers the power. There is no electric current involved, no wiring, no chemical reagents that have to be deployed, and the only waste is atomic oxygen. Right now, the test unit is only 20cms square. It could however be scaled up to several metres to produce clean fuel on energy farms.

“We were surprised how well it worked in terms of its selectivity – it produced almost no by-products,” said Qian Wang, a chemist at the University of Cambridge, who led the study.

“Sometimes things don’t work as well as you expected, but this was a rare case where it actually worked better.” Climate News Network

Wastewater flushes away a river of wealth

Waste not, want not. Especially water. The wastewater that flows through the world’s sewers has value that could be recovered.

LONDON, 7 February, 2020 − Canadian scientists have identified a new source of energy, wealth and nourishment being lost every day in every city, town and municipality on the planet: a great river of wastewater.

What swirls down the kitchen and bathroom plugholes in every home, cascades into the town drains and flushes the city sewers contains enough latent energy to power almost 160 million households.

The flow of wasted water is big enough to irrigate up to an area equal to one-fifth of all the farmland in the European Union. And the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium that sluices down the world’s drains would be enough to meet almost one-eighth of the world’s fertiliser demand, and notionally generate a revenue stream of more than $13 bn a year.

In effect, the researchers argue, humans are every day flushing good money down the toilet. And this stream of lost income could only keep growing. Right now, according to a new study in the UN journal Natural Resources Forum, the world’s wastewater discharges add up to 380 billion cubic metres a year.

This is five times the volume of the water tumbling over Niagara Falls on the US-Canadian border. It is equivalent to the entire flow of the Ganges through the Indian subcontinent: it could fill Africa’s Lake Victoria in seven years, and Switzerland’s Lake Geneva in three months.

“Municipal wastewater was and often still is seen as filth”

Research of this kind has two functions. One of them is to underline the sheer scale of the destructive challenge of the Anthropocene, the new informal name for the geological epoch inaugurated in the last century by one species, Homo sapiens, at the expense of the other 10 million species on the planet. And the other is to highlight the potential squandered by people, industry and government every day, everywhere.

How much of all of this diluted wealth and power could be recovered and used again is not certain. What researchers based at the UN University Institute for Water, Environment and Health in Ontario have established is that such issues might repay investment, especially as the volume of wastewater is certain to grow: by almost a quarter in the next decade, and by more than 50% by 2050.

“Municipal wastewater was and often still is seen as filth,” said Vladimir Smakhtin, who directs the UN University institute.

“However, attitudes are changing with the growing recognition that enormous potential economic returns and other environmental benefits are available as we improve the recovery of the water, nutrients and energy from wastewater streams.”

The scientists worked from data produced by UN, European Union and other sources wherever they could find them to assemble a kind of inventory of the world’s wastewater, and what gets wasted with it.

Choking the oceans

Every year, the drains and sewers carry more than 16 million tonnes of dissolved nitrogen and 3m tonnes of phosphorus.

Four-fifths of the first element and half of the second are supplied by human urine, and the resource isn’t simply wasted: this global excess of nutrients goes on to nourish dangerous levels of plant growth and feed oxygen demand in the world’s waters, helping to stifle aquatic life.

The energy roaring down the drains in the form of the constituents of the natural gas methane could in theory generate enough electricity to fuel all the homes in the US and Mexico, and the volume of wastewater is enough to irrigate two harvests a year from a farmland area of more than 30 million hectares.

The continent of Asia already flushes away almost 160bn cubic metres a year. North America and Europe waste around 67bn cubic metres each, at a rate of – in the US – 231 cubic metres per person per year. Africa by contrast discards only 95 cubic metres per capita, because water supplies are all too often limited and wastewater is poorly managed in many African cities.

“Wastewater resource recovery will need to overcome a range of constraints to achieve a high rate of return,” said Manzoor Qadir of the UNU institute, who led the study “but success would significantly advance progress against the Sustainable Development Goals and others, including adaptation to climate change, ‘net-zero’ energy processes, and a green, circular economy.” − Climate News Network

Waste not, want not. Especially water. The wastewater that flows through the world’s sewers has value that could be recovered.

LONDON, 7 February, 2020 − Canadian scientists have identified a new source of energy, wealth and nourishment being lost every day in every city, town and municipality on the planet: a great river of wastewater.

What swirls down the kitchen and bathroom plugholes in every home, cascades into the town drains and flushes the city sewers contains enough latent energy to power almost 160 million households.

The flow of wasted water is big enough to irrigate up to an area equal to one-fifth of all the farmland in the European Union. And the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium that sluices down the world’s drains would be enough to meet almost one-eighth of the world’s fertiliser demand, and notionally generate a revenue stream of more than $13 bn a year.

In effect, the researchers argue, humans are every day flushing good money down the toilet. And this stream of lost income could only keep growing. Right now, according to a new study in the UN journal Natural Resources Forum, the world’s wastewater discharges add up to 380 billion cubic metres a year.

This is five times the volume of the water tumbling over Niagara Falls on the US-Canadian border. It is equivalent to the entire flow of the Ganges through the Indian subcontinent: it could fill Africa’s Lake Victoria in seven years, and Switzerland’s Lake Geneva in three months.

“Municipal wastewater was and often still is seen as filth”

Research of this kind has two functions. One of them is to underline the sheer scale of the destructive challenge of the Anthropocene, the new informal name for the geological epoch inaugurated in the last century by one species, Homo sapiens, at the expense of the other 10 million species on the planet. And the other is to highlight the potential squandered by people, industry and government every day, everywhere.

How much of all of this diluted wealth and power could be recovered and used again is not certain. What researchers based at the UN University Institute for Water, Environment and Health in Ontario have established is that such issues might repay investment, especially as the volume of wastewater is certain to grow: by almost a quarter in the next decade, and by more than 50% by 2050.

“Municipal wastewater was and often still is seen as filth,” said Vladimir Smakhtin, who directs the UN University institute.

“However, attitudes are changing with the growing recognition that enormous potential economic returns and other environmental benefits are available as we improve the recovery of the water, nutrients and energy from wastewater streams.”

The scientists worked from data produced by UN, European Union and other sources wherever they could find them to assemble a kind of inventory of the world’s wastewater, and what gets wasted with it.

Choking the oceans

Every year, the drains and sewers carry more than 16 million tonnes of dissolved nitrogen and 3m tonnes of phosphorus.

Four-fifths of the first element and half of the second are supplied by human urine, and the resource isn’t simply wasted: this global excess of nutrients goes on to nourish dangerous levels of plant growth and feed oxygen demand in the world’s waters, helping to stifle aquatic life.

The energy roaring down the drains in the form of the constituents of the natural gas methane could in theory generate enough electricity to fuel all the homes in the US and Mexico, and the volume of wastewater is enough to irrigate two harvests a year from a farmland area of more than 30 million hectares.

The continent of Asia already flushes away almost 160bn cubic metres a year. North America and Europe waste around 67bn cubic metres each, at a rate of – in the US – 231 cubic metres per person per year. Africa by contrast discards only 95 cubic metres per capita, because water supplies are all too often limited and wastewater is poorly managed in many African cities.

“Wastewater resource recovery will need to overcome a range of constraints to achieve a high rate of return,” said Manzoor Qadir of the UNU institute, who led the study “but success would significantly advance progress against the Sustainable Development Goals and others, including adaptation to climate change, ‘net-zero’ energy processes, and a green, circular economy.” − Climate News Network