Plastic remains as one of the biggest hurdles in the path of circular economy in Europe

As European economies have flourished and developed along the last 50 years, the use of plastic has intensified enormously. According to recent estimations, plastic production has become 50 times bigger in this time period, and it is supposed to stay on growing.

While this can make sense to a certain extent since population and consumption has also increased during this period, what remains unbearable is how little is being done to switch to a more circular approach: nowadays, only 7% of the plastic produced is recycled. Furthermore, Europe is exporting part of that recycled plastic to countries like China, because the inner demand is not high enough.

Although the image of used bottles and bags can be the more visual representation of plastic waste, truth is technology has taken this problem to a whole new level. Specifically, the existence of microplastics (tiny pieces of plastic materials of less than 5mms) makes it so that a lot of the plastic we throw away is undetectable also for us: from hygiene products to clothes, many of the products we use on daily basis include almost undetectable traces of plastic, making it really hard for the average user to know the damage he is causing by using those products.

According to studies, the highest damage by plastic waste is done in the oceans. All those microplastics slowly tear apart and go down the sink to end in the waters of all around the world. For instance, rain takes microparticles of the car tires away, which finish in the sea. We have another example in the washing machines: recent evaluation suggests that around 10% of the microplastic present in the oceans comes from its use.

And why is this so important? Well, for a start, it is much easier to tackle the problem while the waste is still on land. Even when the plastic particles are already into the sewer system, it is possible to apply different filters to capture it. In this sense, the company SUEZ has developed new technology to filtrate the microplastics that pass through different plants for water treatment.

Nonetheless, the full circle of the circular economy does not close just with the increasing capability of collection. As Jean-Marc Boursier, one of Suez’s senior executives affirms, “it does not make much sense to ask people to increase their efforts on separating their waste to facilitate the recycling process when, for instance, most of the plastic collected in Europe ends up in China because the internal demand is not high enough”. “It’s a matter of political will” he adds.

European Commission is trying to take some steps in this direction. Recently, a proposal was raised to change the relation with plastic, materialized on the goal of recycling at least 90% of disposable bottles by 2025. While on paper it may seem ambitious enough, reality keeps on pushing us to make bigger efforts: it has been forecasted that by 2025 the oceans will bear a plastic waste/fish ratio will be 1:3. The time to raise awareness is falling behind, and now is the time to take actions.

The evolution of agriculture: how we lost productivity, efficiency and stability of our fields

Nowadays, the agricultural sector is ruled by the industrial approach: fields are factories guided by the rule of business. Nature does not play the main role anymore.

We expanded our production to places that are really not adapt for growing crops. Every year we lose huge amounts of fertile soil, destroying its capacity both in terms of productivity, efficiency and resilience. That led to a continuous expansion of the farmland with a decreasing productivity, that involves problems of space and food production for the whole planet.

Regarding the loss of resilience of the soil we are simply increasing the use of pesticides. Since 1945, pesticide use has risen 3300 per-cent and is still supposed to increase, given that pests are developing resistance to our new powerful chemicals.

At the same time, due to the loss of fertility and capacity of our soil, we also have to face the problem of productivity (crop losses have increased 20 percent over the same period). In order to do that, we have introduced fertilizers and we are employing an endless quantity of them. That is also absurd considering that we could avoid all these problems  simply living the nature and natural ecosystems play their original role.

Moreover, imposing our artificial knowledge over the original experience of the nature, we are replacing plants with hybrid ones, genetically modified by humans. Because of their hybrid nature these new plants couldn’t pass their genetic traits on the next generation, meaning that every farmer will be supposed to buy hybrid seeds instead of planting seeds from the plants he/she eats. In this way we will progressively lose the wide variety of different species that originally existed, replacing them with an unique – and generally poorer – type.

We switched to a system of farming that mimicked industry, not nature. As a result, the leading force in farming is making profit. Nowadays, we are not growing food to sustain ourselves anymore: we are growing so much food it became a surplus – an export item and a political tool. Food is produced not in the most suitable place but in the country which has the most significant market power, able to produce with the lower cost and in larger quantities. That’s the case of some Italian brands of pasta which used to import wheat from Canada. Passing over the transportation costs and the environmental concerns linked to a so displaced production, what is really surprising here is that Italy has the best weather conditions for the production of wheat but it is still importing it. So, the question is: why does Canada have a so significant market power in the production of wheat? Why, speaking about the agricultural sector, the natural landscape and the weather features of a country are less important than its market position? Isn’t food production supposed to be related to the nature and the surrounding environment more than to scale economies, capital and profit making capacity?

Janine M. Benyus, in her book “Biomimicry – Innovation inspired by nature”, presents two interesting data about the agriculture industry. First of all, because of pesticide residues, agriculture is defined as the number-one polluting industry in U.S.; the biggest concern is about groundwater, contaminated by pesticide and nearly impossible to clean. Recent studies have shown that people who get in touch with these pesticide residues have higher than normal risks of developing illnesses, such as leukaemia, lymphoma and other cancers.

Secondly, mainstream agricultural techniques are currently less efficient than how they used to be in the past. The input-production ratio moved from 1:4 in 1990 to the current value of 1:1,5; even if we are producing much more now than in the past, the efficiency of our production has strongly been impaired by the adopted practices of farming.

That’s only a brief explanation of the problems linked to monocultures and the men’s attitude of imposing themselves on nature. Solutions are available, new ideas are spreading and there is some hope for improvement in the future. Actually, that would also be our unique chance to get over the problem of food production and climate change in general. But, as Janine M. Benyus states in her book, this may be just “the storm before the calm”. The system is not sustainable anymore, not even stable or optimal and we are now in the position to move on and revise the funding principles of our production system.

Deforestation in Italy: new regulation and new problems

On the first of December 2017, the Council of Ministers approved the so called Testo Unico Forestale, a Consolidated Act aimed to regulate the forest management  in Italy.

So far, an organic regulation of the sector was missing. The act aims to fill the gap and provide new instruments for the promotion of the Italian forest heritage. The core of the normative – according to the Minister of Agricultural Food and Forestry Policies Maurizio Martina – is to stimulate an active management of the forest, an essential resource both for the protection against hydrological instability and to fight the depopulation of rural areas.

“Moving away from a museum vision of the forest – claims the minister – we aim to a sustainable management, able to safeguard the requirement of the environment and the job opportunities for the communities who live inside the area”.

However, despite the enthusiasm  of the minister and other members of the Government, there are still adverse opinions, who define the act as an “attack to the Italian forest”. Let’s check a bit deeper the reasons of the criticisms.

No proper zoning of the woodland

There is not any clear distinction between areas that have to be conserved and areas for the production of wood. That’s a clear back step even with respect to the legislation of the 1923 (legge Serpieri). According to that law, you cannot eliminate some particular areas, defined as “untouchable”, because of ecological, touristic and cultural reasons. The new legislation does not set any similar disposition and that’s the reason why professor Paolo Maddalena defined the decree unconstitutional and conflicting with some funding principles of our democratic and constitutional system (remember that the 9th article of the Italian Constitution states that the Republic “safeguards natural landscape and the historical and artistic heritage of the Nation”).

Moreover, both areas where the forest is spontaneously growing again and areas where intervention of artificial reforestation are going on are not into the definition of forest and, consequently, may be freely eliminated. Those represent 40% of the current Italian woodland area and we have also to remember that the reforestation process required a lot of public resources: loosing those areas would represent a huge loss in terms of both public money and environmental resources.

The possibility of compensation

Another problem relates to the idea of compensation. According to the decree, you can eliminate or transform a forest area if you are able to compensate. You can do it through reforestation activities, which include a large variety of projects and services (e.g. a new road), independently of their different and uncertain effects. But, even worse, you can economically compensate the loss, whether allowed from the Region, simply paying an amount of money that will be collected into a forest fund.

The management of forest inventories

There is also a lot of uncertainty about who is going to manage forest inventories. In the past it was a task of the State Forestry Corps but now the Corp has merged with the police force and there’s no clarity about who is going to be charged with the management in the future. The decree covers this issue only superficially and no dispositions ensure any scientific methodology, accuracy and truthfulness.

Which is the “real” main objective of the policy?

Finally, there is also a sort of discrepancy related to the main objective of the policy. The writers of the decree wanted to promote an active management of the forest and enhance of the production of wood material. The availability of wood may be a good news for the sector of woodworking in Italy. The problem is that there is not any production structure on the territory. That means that the real objective of the decree is to provide the electricity producers with biomass! In fact, in the past, they have been authorized and established without considering the availability of raw material.

These are only few points among the many issues raised after the approval of the decree. Although a comprehensive legislation over the topic had been necessary for a very long time the result is not so satisfactory as expected. There are many problems in the text of the law and the norm is superficial and not specific enough in many points. Let’s wait and see how things will evolve in the close future.

 

Agrisource : an Open-Innovation Platform for Climate-Smart Agriculture

With 10% of the world facing food and water scarcity, any viable solution to meet the challenge of global food production must extend beyond field-level problems and encompass a wider, science-based approach.

The main practical problems encountered across the entire seed-to-shelf spectrum are:

–          lack of communication and transparency between the players of agriculture

–          needs for advice, knowledge and actions

–          need of better life cycle evaluations for the value chain.

These problems have also been strengthened in the context of deep climate change.

How to solve the problem?

Agrisource aims at bringing together all actors (businesses, institutions, associations, farmers…), stimulate debates on innovative technologies and technics, and act as a catalyst for new local or international projects. It is a mine of resources for those who seek information, and a network hub for those who come with an idea.

In order to do that, an Open Innovation Platform has been created for the purpose of encouraging a more efficient innovation into the agricultural sector by sharing best practises, experiences, knowledge and information. That may also be seen as a place where to spread and discuss strategies regarding both the reduction of GHGs emissions and the adaptation of the agricultural practises to climate change. At the same time, value chain players may also influence each other in the decision making processes and, finally, share the risks of changing food systems.

Data are collected using specific sensors and intelligent data collection devices, combined with hundreds of other data inputs, including satellite and drone imagery. Multi source data are used to monitor the full spectrum of agricultural and operational activity and solve specific agriculture and business problems (such as increasing brix in grape and sugar cane crops, optimizing irrigation scheduling for water sustainability). In this way, both yield and revenue are increased by improving crop health, food quality and safety, but also wages and profitability.

These data are then combined with advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning. Armed with this information, that provide a full range of economic, climate, infrastructure, and operational insights, officials in government or enterprise farm management teams can optimize water, electricity, nutrient, chemical, and fuel usage and make more informed forecasting and investment decisions in order to maximise the final output.

AgriSource is the Europe’s first open innovation platform for climate-smart agriculture, operating with the support of the CSA Regional Boosters, an original initiative from the European Climate-KIC, that focuses on CSA solutions on specific business areas.

The platform is still young and launching and there’s a lot to do to make it completely intuitive and efficient. The operating team from the INRA, the CIRAD, and the startup eKoal – as the lead developer, Marc Nougier claims in an interview for Daily Planet – is facing the challenges of now spreading the use of AgriSource by all kinds of users and in order to do that, the first step required is that users subscribe, contribute, bring their input… and their feedback on things that can be improved.

Pessimism or realism? New study claims that the increase in temperatures will be higher than expected

The goal set in 2015 during the Paris Agreement to not allow the global temperature to increase over 2º, beyond vague in the how to, might be just impossible to achieve.

As pointed out on the article published last week in the journal Nature called Greater Future Global Warming inferred from Earth’s recent energy budget, it is quite likely that policy makers in charge of working towards this target may be underestimating several factors that intervene in the process. The main implication of this comes straight forward: optimistic expectations bring more lax regulation, for instance on lower intensity cuts in the greenhouse gas (GhG) emissions, and an overall worsening of the situation.

“The basic idea is that we have a range of projections on future warming that came from these climate models, and for scientific interest and political interest, we wanted to narrow this range” said Brown, one of the co-authors. “We find that the models that do the best at simulating the recent past project more warning”.

In fact, the work of Brown and Caldeira -both at the Carnegie Institution for Science- claims that, keeping the current emission level trend, temperature will rise above 4 degrees with a 93% chance, which constitutes an increase of 50% with respect to previous forecasts that moved around 62% probability. Furthermore, their research affirms that global temperatures could rise still half degree more than projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in the same period.

Their approach has been to reduce the inaccuracy present in many of the studies that tried to set a range for warming in the current century. For example, the IPCC estimation goes from 3.2º to 5.9º by 2011 over pre-industrial levels. Authors of this study have come to believe that its huge variance comes from how the IPCC assigns weights to the different models. Instead, Brown and Caldeira aimed to distinguish between good and poor performing models, in order to reduce uncertainty. According to Brown, “If you take the best models, those are the ones projecting the most warming in the future”.

While this is just a theoretical work, authorities all over the globe should take it as a warning and work for a much more defined and strict framework regarding GhG policy. The consequences of not doing so are not only unpredictable but can also be a point of no return in our relation with the planet.

BALANGAY LEGAZPI is the Best Climate Practise 2017

On November 8th, in conjunction with the first week of COP23 and within the context of the “ICCG Climate Week”, ICCG organises a webinar dedicated to the Best Climate Practice Award, to showcase the most innovative and compelling projects that have participated in the 2017 edition of the contest and to explore the landscape and challenges of climate resilience and disaster risk reduction strategies.

After the online voting polls closed in July and the assessment of a jury composed of high-profile experts analysing the 19 shortlisted projects in the run, on the occasion of the International Day for Disaster Reduction, ICCG announced that the project “Balangay Legazpi” is the winner of the contest.

Legazpi City (capital of the province of Albay in the Philippines) is known for its adaptation and disaster risk reduction strategies, being highly vulnerable to natural hazards such as typhoon, earthquake, landslide, volcanic eruption, floods and tsunami. In order to sustain the disaster-risk reduction and management (DRRM) initiatives and to bridge the information gap between vulnerable communities and disaster-preparedness information providers, Balangay is a disaster-preparedness mobile and web application that provides communities information before and during the disaster. It is a public resource that provides to citizens disaster-related information, preparing families for earthquakes, floods and typhoons.

The main feature of the project is its user-centred approach. Before starting the project, potential users have been asked about what they dislike and why they use/don’t use similar technology-based initiatives. Official accounts are given to partner institutions and youth, engaged through local youth hobbyists who are tapped as volunteers to assist and create the promotional materials. Moreover, the local government issued accounts to barangays (smallest administrative divisions in the Philippines) to let them post announcements and information about their barangay activities.

The collaboration between local government units, academy, private sector, civil society organizations (CSOs), non-government organizations (NGOs) and affected communities strongly strengthens disaster education and bridges general information gap.

The role of youth (around 40 percent of the total population) is also enhanced by the structure of the application: they result both as the creators of information and materials and as end-users of the system, acting as information leaders in the family. A strong sense of ownership is developed, resulting in stronger engagement and higher and sustained user-base.

Statistics of the web and mobile application are very promising: 230 average daily visits from May 2016 to the first quarter of 2017 and 300 application downloads (exceeding the initial target of 199). In October 2016 it played a very important role during the Tropical Storm Karen, providing users rainfall advisory and updates. The project is also expected to growth in the future, with a projected increase of 10 to 15 percent per month in 2018.

More information about this project and many other good practises from all over the world are available on the Best Climate Practices platform, where the best ground-breaking climate-friendly practices are presented: just take a look at the official web site http://www.bestclimatepractices.org/.

Green Vacations – Sustainability in the summertime

Spring has gone, and summer is coming on…

There are few exams left and you are already thinking where to spend the weeks ahead, right? Maybe visiting an European capital, maybe an on the road-trip, or maybe you will spend the summer in your hometown! Whatever you choose, relax but not on the environmental impact you will may have.

We all know that flights have not become less harmful, however they are the best option to cover long distances. Also, even if we plan to stay home we will likely hit the road many times during this summer, which means using the car. So how to have a green vacation and minimize our carbon footprint?

Let’s follow some principle by The International Ecotourism Society:

  • Be considerate of the communities and environment you visit.
  • Don’t litter.
  • Try to avoid excessive waste and the use of plastic bottles
  • Reduce energy consumption.
  • Conserve water. Take shorter showers… the average hotel guest uses over 300 litres of water per night! In a luxury hotel it is approx. 1800 litres!
  • Do not purchase or eat endangered species (e.g. turtle egg soup, crocodile handbags). Choose sustainable seafood
  • Support the local economy. Buy locally made souvenirs, eat at local restaurants – enjoy the local culture!.
  • Take public transport. Or if you must rent a car – why not a hybrid or electric one if available?
  • Ask your travel provider (tour operator, travel agent) about the company’s environmental and responsible tourism policies – support those who support responsible tourism.
  • Support local organisations – either in the place you visit or where you live

But what exactly is Ecotourism”?

We can think about it as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” Combining outdoor experiences and environmental responsibility, ecotourism offers a solution to provide funds for ecological conservation and for the development of local communities. Moreover, it improves people concern for the environment and their responsibility towards it!The most common destination suggested by “green tour operators” are cultural heritage or places where flora, fauna are the primary attractions and income generators for the locals.

What about some statistics?

The tourism industry represents approximately 9.5% of total global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2014, and it is a growing sector as the number of travelers is expected to reach 1.8 bilion by 2030; so far we can estimate that ecotourism accounts for the 15% of this market.  The leading country is Costa Rica where approximately 49 percent of 2 million visitors who flew into Costa Rica in 2010 participated in eco-tourism activities during their stay, and Ecotourism revenue was close to $1 billion

But all that glitters is not gold! Although many businesses meet the standards of sustainability, still is widespread the greenwashing practice and there are environmental issues related to the impact that visitors may have in virgin areas because of their mismanagement.

Still a lot has to be done, but ecotourism is paving the way ahead for all of us to be less environmentally harmful  and still experience an unforgettable vacation!

In the meantime be sustainable and have a good summertime!

RESD’s escape in the Sinis Protected Area

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The RESD team in Tharros

As the plane takes off, there is only one word in my mind to express what we have witnessed in those days; paradise!

The marine protected Area of Sinis peninsula and Isola di Mal di Ventre is one of the most beautiful place you can find on earth. Located in the gulf of Oristano, the protected area (300 square kilometres wide), is one of the biggest in Italy and home to many sites of interest.

The first we visited was the Isola di Mal di Ventre (in english stomach pain), originally Isola Malu Entu ( bad wind). After a short trip by boat from the white sand beach of Putzu Idu, we landed on the rocky coastline. The island is completely desert and largely occupied by two different species of gulls: the real gull and the Audouin’s gull, as well as by cormorants. The island is geologically formed by granite. However, the sand of the inner east beaches is composed by quartz. From one of this is possible to admire the coast of Is Arutas that shares the same type of sand, since the small pieces of quartz, similar to rice grains, roll through the sea giving to the beach this unique morphology.

Our next stop, after some hours relaxing on the peaceful coast, was the Sinis Rescue Center (CReS) for marine turtles. Here the fantastic team showed us the rescued sea turtles and explained us their job of critical importance. The sea turtles are one of the oldest reptile on the earth, and are facing the threat of extinction. The main causes are fishery and sea litter, as very often they get trapped in fisherman nets dying for asphyxia or they eat plastic bags mistaken for jellyfishes, one of their typical nutriment. The center saves around fifty sea turtles a year; after a period of rehabilitation, that varies depending on the injury, the turtles are again set free into the sea.

After this inspiring stop we moved to Is Arutas. The stunning landscape made of quartz sand and crystal clear water is the perfect frame for the sunset. Without thoughts crossing my mind, I believed that we just found the lost paradise.

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Quartz sand of Is Arutas

The following and sadly last morning we all visited the archeologic site of the city of Tharros. The city finds its origins in the Nuragic age (8th century BC) , and all the major civilisations stopped here: Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs. Because of its strategic position, the city is located on the extreme part of the Sinis peninsula, it can control both the bay of Oristano and the open sea. The open air museum todays hosts mostly findings from the Roman age, such as the thermae, some houses and a temple. The biggest part of the artefacts are kept in the National Museum of Cagliari, the British Museum and the Archeologic City Museum of Cabras.

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Giant of Mont’e Prama

The latter has been our last stop. Here we could admire the most important archeological discovery of the last hundred years in the Mediterranean area: the Giants of Mont’e Prama. Fragmented into numerous pieces, they were found by accident in 1974. As one of the most important legacy of the Nuragic civilisation, the statues represent 38 warriors, archers and boxers, belonging to the nuragic aristocracy; they are 2 or 2.5 meters high, beautifully craved in the local sandstone. The statues are part of a huge necropolis, as under the statues individual graves have been found during the following excavation

Full of nice memories, delicious food and some sunburns, we left Sardinia with the hope to come back to taste again the wonders this marvellous island has to offer.

Exotic Renewable Energy Plants: Tidal Energy

Tidal Energy power plants are definitely some kind of an exotic form for energy production. That’s because most tidal power plants are just pilot projects that are only build for research purposes and do not create a very big amount of energy in their lifetime. Tidal energy is one form of hydropower energy that gets obtained from tides and is then converted in useful electricity. In ancient times and in the middle ages tide mills have been used to mill grain, and nowadays axial or cross flow turbines are used to produce the electrical energy that is needed in modern times. As the gravitational attraction of the moon moves huge amounts of ocean water on certain coastlines or trough lagoons, tidal power plants were build in this strategic positions, there are 4 main types of tidal power generators: Tidal stream generatorstidal barragesdynamic tidal power and a tidal lagoon.

Unfortunately the issues that come with tidal energy are fairly big, from environmental concerns on marine life (also given the danger of blade strikes and the acoustic output). From a technical and maintenance point of view corrosion in salt water and fouling have a big impact on the plants and make them hardly economically efficient.

Even tough there are some massive problems to face when it comes to significant tidal power generation, there are some steps in the right direction, like a 3,4 MW tidal power generator in the East China Sea.

Check out tidalenergytoday.com for more news on the argument!

 

Reduction in consumption of meat might be a good idea!

I know that the post image might tempt people to eat some meat right now. But as I have written few posts before about how the meat industry is kind of more responsible for the pollution around the world. Documentaries like ‘Cowspiracy’ and ‘Food Inc’ are worth watching for some reason. Deforestation is done also because of meat industry. According to some assumption, the demand for meat is going to be higher in the future. If this happens, the 2 degree target is well of the table.

If you read this article on Carbon Brief, there is strong evidence that reduce in meat might really reduce the pollution. I really have reduced my consumption of meat since Jan 2015. I intended to completely quit it but I will be honest, I can’t quit it 100%. Ever since I have started eating more veggies, my cooking skills have improved as I can try to cook different types of vegetables ( going off the topic now).

 

These two images taken from the article shows how the current consumption is happening around the globe. If you do not wish to quite it, no need as long as you reduce a little.

Read the article for more details.

 

Source: Carbon Brief.