How a new way of thinking about soil sparked a national movement in agriculture

As word gets around that soil is alive, farmers have adopted a whole new attitude toward their land.

For three weeks every month, Ray Archuleta captivates audiences with a few handfuls of soil. He begins with two clumps, dropping them into water. The soil from a farm where the soil isn’t tilled holds together, while the tilled soil immediately disperses, indicating poor soil structure.

Next, volunteers from the audience — mostly farmers and ranchers — pour water over a soil that grew a variety of crops, and it runs right through. A sample of tilled soil that grew only corn is like a brick, and the water sits on top.

Water is the most precious resource for growing crops, and having a soil that is unable to absorb water is crippling for farmers.

The implications of Archuleta’s demonstrations are obvious to food producers, who see the fate of their acres in those clumps of soil.

The message is powerful, and producers drive home knowing that soil is alive, that it can be sick or healthy, and that healthy soil can do some pretty amazing things — like make a farm more resilient to drought, sequester enormous amounts of carbon, reduce erosion and support an ecosystem that’s teeming with life.

Archuleta, a conservation agronomist with the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, popularised these soil health demonstrations that by his estimates have reached more than 100,000 farmers and ranchers in the US alone.

He’s a pioneer of a movement that has recently stolen the spotlight from conventional agriculture.

Known as the soil health movement, it is a management philosophy centered around four simple principles: reduce or eliminate tillage, keep plant residues on the soil surface, keep living roots in the ground, and maximise diversity of plants and animals.

Some immensely successful farmers have ascended to celebrity status in the agricultural community preaching these principles. They are growing more food while drastically reducing their use of inputs like herbicides and fertilisers, which is the ultimate strategy for becoming more profitable.

Health denotes life and function. Quality is like the quality of a couch or something. Farmers intuitively grasp soil health.

Ray Archuleta, conservationist and agronomist, US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service

Benefits on top of profitability include enhancing the health of ecosystems we depend on. The possibility of a win-win for farmers and the environment is a driving force for the movement.

“This whole movement emerged out of desperation,” says Archuleta. Over 10 years ago, he thought of a farmer friend of his and wondered, “Why can’t he make a good living on 600 acres of prime irrigated ground, and why can’t he bring his son into the operation? It starts dawning on me that something is wrong with modern agriculture.”

In many ways, that “something” is that farming has become too expensive. Over the past several decades, farmers have increasingly paid more for inputs like equipment, seeds and chemicals, while commodity prices have remained stagnant or even fallen.

Sociologists call this phenomenon the “double squeeze,” as the rising cost of doing business, combined with meager returns, has put pressure on profits.

Combined with soils that are deteriorating from centuries of tillage and monoculture, these trends exacerbate the vulnerability of a profession that is already fraught with uncertainty.

For farmers, the blend of poor soil and the double squeeze makes it harder to survive an extended drought or bounce back after a few failed crops. On a larger scale, it threatens rural economies, natural resources and food security alike.

But in 2011, Archuleta saw an opportunity to reverse these trends. Jason Weller, then the NRCS chief of staff, had assembled Archuleta and a group of other NRCS employees from around the country in Greensboro, North Carolina to create a plan for the federal agency to engage in the broader sustainable food movement.

The soil health movement had been bubbling around the country for two decades. The Greensboro team, and ultimately the NRCS leadership, decided the time was right to scale it up into a coordinated, national effort to advance soil health.

Birth of a movement

We don’t know who first uttered the term “soil health” in the US, but Jay Fuhrer started saying it in the 1990s. As a district conservationist with NRCS in Bismarck, Fuhrer was dismayed by the declining status of the soil in his region. He used to spend his summers building sod waterways on farms in North Dakota.

“We had all this erosion, and we were trying to establish a safe outlet for water coming off a field,” says Fuhrer. “But the question begs, why is the water coming off the field?”

The answer is what Archeluta demonstrates in his presentations today: Degraded soil has a hard time absorbing water. That means much of the water a farmer needs to grow crops runs off and eventually pollutes streams and rivers, taking precious topsoil with it.

“So we got together one day and we kinda looked at each other,” Fuhrer says, recalling a meeting at the field office in the early 1990s. “We asked, ‘how much further can we bring this system down?’ It got pretty quiet in that room. Honestly at that time, we didn’t really know what changes we were going to make, we just knew that what we were doing wasn’t working.”

So Fuhrer and the other NRCS conservationists in Bismarck dubbed themselves the “Soil Health Team.” Fuhrer doesn’t recall why the term “soil health” popped into his head, or where he heard it for the first time, but the team began to educate itself about ways to restore and maintain soil function.

They read academic papers and learned from successful producers in the region, and then they brought what they learned to other farmers and ranchers in North Dakota through workshops and farm tours.

Ray Archuleta knew something special was happening in North Dakota. He heard about Gabe Brown, a farmer and rancher, turning his operation around after a few years of failed crops by eliminating tillage, growing diverse mixes of crops and changing how he grazed his cattle to more closely mimic the way bison once grazed the prairie.

And he almost completely eliminated his chemical inputs, helping him to become more profitable.

Archuleta watched Fuhrer and Brown start to redefine agriculture in North Dakota. And when they popped into his mind years later in Greensboro, North Carolina, what had been an undercurrent suddenly took a turn toward the mainstream.

Critical moment

Today, government agencies, food and agribusinesses, universities, and environmental groups are all pivoting to support and capitalize on the possibility of a paradigm shift in agriculture, and they are investing millions of dollars in the process.

With thousands of farmers already on board, powerful partnerships have taken on the challenge of filling knowledge gaps in the science and economics of soil health that prevent other producers from taking the plunge. USDA announced a US$72.3 million soil health investment to help farmers adapt to and mitigate climate change.

A pledge of US$4 million from the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative, founded by Cargill, the Environmental Defense Fund, General Mills, Kellogg Company, Monsanto, PepsiCo, The Nature Conservancy, Walmart and the World Wildlife Fund, will augment an on-farm study and demonstration effort of soil health practices led by the farmer-led Soil Health Partnership.

And the Walton Family Foundation provided a US$626,000 grant to the Soil Health Institute to quantify the economic implications of soil health management systems. Money is coming from all sides to support this movement.

One of the most unexpected outcomes of the soil health movement is that groups that were once fighting each other are now working together to achieve the same goal.

In the fall of 2013, for example, representatives from Monsanto and the Rodale Institute (“the organic pioneers”), came together with the Walton Family Foundation, the Nature Conservancy, Cornell University, farmers, federal agencies and numerous other stakeholders to draft a strategic plan for advancing soil health as the cornerstone of land use management decisions.

This meeting, led by the Farm Foundation and the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, has helped spawn numerous initiatives, like the Soil Health Institute, with the goal of leveraging these powerful relationships to research and spread soil health.

What is the secret of soil health that enables such diverse groups to unite under the same banner?

There has been little analysis of soil health as a movement, but one possible reason for its success is that it nestled right in the middle of a Venn diagram of two ideologies that are so often at odds.

To productivists driven by the “feed the world” mentality of agribusiness and yield-maximising producers, soil health means bigger and healthier plants and animals. But it also jibes with environmentalists’ goals of improving water quality, sequestering more carbon, using less pesticide and herbicide, and providing greater habitat for biodiversity. At least for the moment, it truly seems to be a win-win.

Beyond that, however, the answer — one that can be instructive to other environmental issues — seems to lie in crafting and delivering a message that can be championed by all sides.

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, the push by NRCS and the research community was to advance “soil quality.” This term worked fine for scientists, because it is easy to define and measure, but farmers didn’t connect with soil quality.

“Health denotes life and function. Quality is like the quality of a couch or something,” says Archuleta. “Farmers intuitively grasp soil health.” That minor turn of phrase made all the difference.

Similarly, soil health is aligned with many of the concepts of agroecology, but agroecology is not a staple of the American farmer’s lexicon. The soil health terminology made it possible for agroecological farming practices to emerge in mainstream American agriculture.

The success of soil health can also be attributed to the way the message is delivered. Demonstrations and conferences are the core infrastructure of the movement.

High-profile farmers and ranchers speak and write to thousands of producers around the country every year, sharing stories of how soil health has revolutionised their operations. Inspired by these talks, demonstrations and articles in farming magazines, producers experiment with soil health practices on their own farms.

Pockets of formal or informal regional producer networks have popped up all around the country, and they exchange what they’ve learned through experimentation. The movement has taken on a life of its own.

With momentum now spilling into countries around the world, global attention to soil is at an all-time high. The United Nations designated 2015 the International Year of Soils.

The race is on to understand soil in all of its complexity and to engage in agriculture that will prepare soil for the tough times ahead. Still in its infancy, the soil health movement will take continued effort and resources from all sides to maintain momentum.

But everyone is at the table together, and the table is set for a revolution.

Source: eco-business

Water on our minds – Stellenbosch citizens get active

Water is on everyone’s minds, at last. It should have happened a long time ago, but now that we are facing ongoing water shortages, droughts and water quality crises, South Africa is finally paying attention to what conservation and water health mean.

Foreseeing this three decades ago, the WWF-SA’s Freshwater Programme has focused on a number of catchment-wide water conservation and community engagement projects in South Africa, several of which the WWF Nedbank Green Trusted has supported since its inception 26 years ago.

One of these projects is the Stellenbosch River Collaborative (SRC), which, in partnership with the WWF Nedbank Green Trust and the conservation organisations – Living Lands and the Wildlands Conservation Trust – is working on the restoration of the Eerste River catchment.

The polluted waters in the Eerste River, Stellenbosch’s main river, and two other rivers that flow into it – the Plankenbrug and Veldwachters – pose a serious health risk to the greater Stellenbosch community. This is also jeopardising the viability of the area’s key economic drivers, notably the wine and fruit producers in the Eerste River catchment.

The pollution and microbial quality of the river water (levels of human excrement and disease-causing pathogens such as E. coli) is not fit for drinking or irrigation. It fails to meet the export standards set by the European Union for fresh produce and the World Health Organisation and Department of Water and Sanitation guidelines for safe irrigation.

In response to the many negative consequences of their polluted catchment concerned citizens and stakeholders from every sector of the Stellenbosch community came together and formed the SRC. Launched in November 2013, its aim is to restore health to the Eerste River catchment.

The initiator and coordinator of the SRC is researcher Charon Marais, who is doing her PhD on sustainability and transformational governance through the University of Stellenbosch Business School, and is part of the transdisciplinary TsamaHUB doctorate programme of the Sustainability Institute.

The Stellenbosch University Water Institute (SUWI) has adopted the SRC as an important official in SUWI projects. Stellenbosch’s Municipality is an active partner in this initiative.

‘It is all about what we call the ‘river connect’ – about connecting neighbours and communities upstream and downstream of the Eerste River to restore health to the river for every member of the greater Stellenbosch community,’ Marais explains. ‘From people living in Kayamandi and Enkanini informal settlements to big businesses such as Spier and Distell, the health and sustainability of the river affects one and all.’

The Stellenbosch Municipality is responsible for the health of the Eerste River and its feeder rivers. However, heavy sewage leaks from the Stellenbosch Municipality Waste Water Treatment Plant and pollution from the Plankenbrug industrial area and the informal settlements are continuous sources of river contamination, and have been for the past 20 years.

The true gravity of the situation was brought to the attention of the broader public through national media coverage when the Wynland Water Users Association, representing farmers, individual users, conservation authorities, and the Department of Water Affairs, took legal action against the municipality for non-compliance.

The SRC has played an instrumental role in bridging the divide and creating a space where the municipality can come on board and assume its role in a number of river restoration initiatives.

One of these initiatives is the Enkanini water and sanitation pilot programme launched in March 2016, in partnership with Living Lands, Isidima Design and Development, and a group of young women and men from the Enkanini informal settlement who named their project ‘The Enkanini Water Hustlers’ with the slogan ‘Changing the Flow’.

Christine Colvin, Senior Manager of WWF’s Freshwater Programme, who oversees all of WWF-SA’s water projects, explains that Enkanini does not have any formalised services. All forms of pollution and effluent from the community end up in the Plankenbrug River.

‘To tackle this with the community members, we are drawing on learning gained from the WWF Nedbank Green Trust Msunduzi Green Corridor (MGC) – a pilot project that is promoting partnership action between communities and the public and private sector, to address the rapid decline of the Duzi River,’ Colvin explains.

‘Now in its second year, the project is addressing the severe sewerage contamination and solid-waste problem in the Duzi, in partnership with the Msunduzi Municipality and the communities living on the banks of the Duzi River and Midmar Dam,’ Colvin explains.

The Duzi River frequently registers contamination counts of well over 10 000 year-round counts, sometimes above the 100 000s, when anything over an E. coli or sewerage contamination count of 1 000 is a health risk for anyone making direct contact with the water.

The MCG is managed by the Duzi-Umngeni Conservation Trust (DUCT), which has established Eco Clubs at over 40 schools along the Duzi and a highly successful Enviro-Champs water and pollution-monitoring programme, led by members of the Mphophomeni Township adjoining Midmar Dam.

‘It is about people making the river their own, and about understanding their individual and collective responsibility to champion clean water, to report sewage leakages, to stop dumping refuse in the river and to discourage others from doing so,’ explains DUCT’s Richard Clacey, a local economic development and environmental specialist who focuses on the links between river health, community health and development issues.

The Enviro-Champs from the MCG visited their counterparts in Stellenbosch – the Water Hustlers – to share knowledge, grow water awareness and help the Water Hustlers think through how they want to manage their project. Six community members from Enkanini are currently leading the Water Hustlers’ pilot programme.

They explained that they chose the name ‘Hustlers’ because that is how they live; if you don’t hustle, nothing happens. They monitor the water quality; report leakages, burst pipes and pollution issues in Enkanini; and visit households to raise awareness about water.

‘Their commitment to this project and the operational support we are now receiving from the Stellenbosch Municipality is most encouraging,’ says Colvin. One example of this support is the painting and numbering of the manholes in and around Enkanini. This enhances municipal responsiveness when manholes overflowing with pollutants are reported.

‘Previously, there was no way of identifying the specific manholes and in an informal settlement the municipal officials often battled to locate them. Now that they are painted and numbered, it has helped to fast-track this process.’

Colvin adds that the Stellenbosch Municipality is also working on bringing services to over

1 000 households in Enkanini, including clean water and decent sanitation.

The Enkanini Water Hustlers and the SRC are receiving considerable support from Spier and Distell, who are also situated on the banks of the Plankenbrug River, downstream from Enkanini.

All members of the greater Stellenbosch community recognise the principle of ‘my neighbour’s water is my water’ and are working to achieve better quality water throughout the catchment.

‘This model could be used in many South African catchments, towns, informal areas and townships,’ adds Colvin. ‘Water pollution and failing wastewater treatment plants is a ubiquitous problem in South African and a key threat to lives and livelihoods. We need to find a way to upscale these projects for water stewardship throughout the country – it would serve all the people of South Africa significantly.’

By Heather Dugmore

Huge cruise ships will worsen London air pollution, campaigners warn

Resident groups mounting a high court challenge to plans for a new wharf in Greenwich say diesel emissions from docked liners would breach legal limits.

Toxic fumes from large cruise liners powered by giant diesel engines will worsenLondon’s air pollution and could prevent the city from meeting its EU legal limits on deadly nitrogen oxide emissions, says resident groups opposing a new terminal.

Plans for a wharf in the Thames that would be able to handle 240 metre-long cruise liners carrying up to 1,800 passengers and 600 crew were approved by Greenwich council last July but are being challenged in the high court by residents.

Developers say that 55 liners a year, each weighing around 48,000 tonnes, would be expected to spend up to three days “hotelling” at Greenwich. Using their auxiliary diesel engines while moored, they would burn around 700 litres of diesel an hour for six months of the year in a borough considered a hot spot for air pollution.

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Consultants have calculated that each ship would emit the equivalent of 688 heavy lorries permanently running their engines at Enderby Wharf in Greenwich.

But larger ships, potentially the size of the 12-deck high Crystal Symphony, may also be allowed to moor at Enderby and would emit as many diesel fumes as 2,000 lorries a day, say objectors.

“On top of the ships the port will need tugs, hundreds of taxis and service vehicles all belching diesel close to high-density housing in an already heavily polluted area. I am aghast. Greenwich is already breaching EU limits. The council must know that 10,000 people a year die from diesel fumes a year in London,” said Ralph Hardwick, a campaigner from the Isle of Dogs.

“The alternative is to supply clean onshore power to the cruise vessels rather than running filthy diesel engines. Yet the current planning permission does not require a cleaner operation. Nor has a health feasibility study been undertaken,” said a spokesman for East Greenwich Residents Association.

A spokeswoman for London City cruise port declined to comment pending the legal challenge.

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The residents will argue in court that the council should have required the development to provide an onshore power supply for the ships. If so, the liners could turn their engines off while berthed. Instead, it accepted the developers’ argument that it was not “commercially viable”.

The legal challenge follows law firm ClientEarth taking the UK government to court for a second time over what it says are its repeated failures to tackle illegal levels of air pollution in London and other UK cities. Last year the supreme courtforced the government to rethink its plans to meet EU limits.

Concern about air pollution from cruise ships is growing as a new generation of mega-liners is commissioned and cruise holidays become more popular. The largest liners are now effectively floating cities, able to take 8,000 passengers and crew. Powered by some of the largest diesel engines in the world, they burn hundreds of tonnes of fuel a day.

“Air pollution emissions from ships are continuously growing, while land-based emissions are gradually coming down. If things are left as they are, by 2020 shipping will be the biggest single emitter of air pollution in Europe, even surpassing the emissions from all land-based sources together,” said a spokesman with Brussels-based Transport & Environment group.

Air pollution from international shipping accounts for around 50,000 premature deaths per year in Europe, at an annual cost to society of more than €58bn, according to studies.

In Southampton, one of nine UK towns and cities cited by the World Health Organisation as breaching air quality guidelines, up to five large liners a day can be berthed in the docks at the same time, all running engines 24/7, said Chris Hines, vice-chair of theSouthampton Western Docks Consultation Forum (WDCF).

Southampton is one of the world’s busiest ports for starting and ending sea cruises. “Pollution from the ships is leading to asthma and other chest diseases. The docks are the most polluted areas of Southampton. The pollution is getting worse. We are now getting more, bigger liners, but also very large bulk cargo ships,” said Hines.

Under EU law, ships must switch to their auxiliary engines and burn low-sulphur fuel within two hours of arriving in port until two hours before they leave. However, there are no regulations on how much NOx and particulate emissions they can emit.

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Low-sulphur fuel has greatly reduced SO2, or “acid rain” pollution but not other toxins like nitrogen oxides, benzene, toluene and formaldehyde which are emitted in diesel fuel and can have serious health impacts.

According to the Southampton city council scrutiny committee, admissions to hospital from lung, chest and heart diseases are most common from polluted areas like the docks.

According to evidence given to the commitee by WDCF, the cumulative effect of up to 20 or more ships in port at the same time, including many large cruise liners with large diesel engines, was a major concern to the public. Incidences of lung diseases in the city and hospital admissions for respiratory diseases linked to air pollution were much higher than the average in England, it was said.

Emissions can be reduced by 95% if ships and ports are adapted allow ships a shoreside electricity supply but this is resisted by the industry on grounds of practicality.

According to Royal Caribbean, one of the largest cruise line companies in the world, only six out of the 490 ports that their ships visit have shore power.

In evidence to the scrutiny committee, Royal Caribbean said: “If Southampton were to explore installing shore power, it would be important to note that ships may not come equipped to use it. The European Union has stated that emissions reductions of only 1-3% of emissions are seen during a seven-night cruise during which a ship could use shore power at every port on the itinerary.”

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We all have a role to play to achieve water security

Access to clean, safe water is fundamental to life. It is essential to health and well-being, but also food, energy, prosperity and economic growth. Yet the impacts of climate change threaten to make water scarcity an even more pressing issue for even more people. Successfully safeguarding this precious resource requires true partnership between organizations, both public and private.

Already, momentum is building at the global level to better manage water resources. Ensuring everyone, everywhere has access to water is a key part of the recent Sustainable Development Goals. At the national level, recent droughts from South Africa and California to Sao Paulo have hit local populations, as well as businesses and economic growth. It’s impossible to ignore extreme weather and increased competition for water — and we can expect it to worsen as the impacts of climate change increase.

Experts we partner with tell us there are two main reasons people experience low water security. Sometimes, there is simply not enough to meet demand. Around 1.2 billion people, almost one-fifth of the world’s population, live in areas of physical scarcity, and 500 million more are approaching water scarcity. This means everyone should look to reduce any unnecessary waste or loss of water, and save water wherever possible.

But there is another type of water scarcity — one where water is available but people are unable to access the quantity and quality they need. This is where we can make a real and more immediate difference. Another 1.6 billion people face this type of economic scarcity, which has multiple and complex causes, from historical inequities and poor infrastructure to bureaucratic hurdles.

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The search for sustainable solutions to challenges like these brought us to work with a number of partners on both local and global water projects.

We know water scarcity is an issue that requires long-term vision and commitment. Our partnership over the past 17 years with the Unilever Center for Environmental Water Quality at Rhodes University in South Africa works to empower communities to have a say in how local water resources are managed and governed. This is critical when there are so many competing claims for water from industrial, agricultural and domestic users.

But we also need to provide immediate, practical solutions. As many households continue to suffer unreliable and interrupted water supply in South Africa, UCEWQ and partners have set up an emergency water program called Water for Dignity. Hundreds of homes are able to access safe water stored and made available through simple solutions like street water tanks. They are also supporting community-based businesses where volunteers provide household water barrels against staged payments — a model that will soon be self-sustaining.

These types of programs need to be scaled up if we want to meet the SDG of ensuring safe water for all by 2030. Today, we have just announced a new partnership with UNICEF to improve access to safe water in countries across sub-Saharan Africa. Starting in Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and Ivory Coast, the programs will promote handwashing in schools and improve water management. The aim is to provide access to safe water and drive behavior change in how people use and conserve water, in a way that is sustainable and scalable across the continent.

Our motivation for partnering with Rhodes University and UNICEF is as much a question of survival as it is of social responsibility. We know our business can’t succeed without water. We need water to grow our agricultural materials, keep our factories running and even for customers to use our products when they cook, clean and wash. We’re working hard to use water more efficiently within our own supply chain and to innovate products that help our consumers use less water. Since 1995, we’ve cut the water abstracted by our factories per unit of production by 74 percent. But there’s still much more for us to do — within our operations and with others.

The stakes could not be higher. As World Bank President Jim Yong Kim recently noted: “Achieving the water global goal would have multiple benefits, including laying the foundations for food and energy security, sustainable urbanization, and ultimately climate security.”

This year’s U.N.-Water theme, “Water and Jobs,” is a stark reminder of how many people depend on water for their livelihood and employment.

Communities, businesses and governments all have an interest in ensuring that we manage this scarce resource sustainability and equitably. It is critical for those who lack access to water today, but it is also essential if we want our communities and economy to thrive in the future.

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Recycling Is Under Fire. Here’s Why We Shouldn’t Abandon It

As commodity prices plummet, opponents are indicting recycling as too impractical and costly. The debate came to a head late last year when The New York Times posed the ultimate question: Is recycling worth it?

Its answer: probably not. But most of us working in the waste, recycling, public policy, environmental and health fields would respond with a full-throated, “Yes, it is.”

Recycling — hand in hand with other advanced waste management practices — plays a vital role in shutting down the true enemy of the environment: landfills.

The primary argument against recycling is an economic one: the costs don’t justify the benefits. In down commodity markets, this line of reasoning goes, the cost of recovering materials (and energy) is higher than the cost to produce and use virgin materials.

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Most of us in the waste and recycling community would agree that recycling should stand on its own. And it’s true that recycling may not always pencil out by itself. However, this math overlooks the enormous impact of externalities such as carbon and methane emissions, damage to public health and loss of resources. Even at today’s recycling rates, the avoided greenhouse gas emissions alone represent $8 billion to $12 billion a year in avoided future costs associated with climate change.

There are many reasons, however, to continue recycling in down markets when sluggish global growth drives down raw material prices.

First, the materials have intrinsic value, which will increase when the market recovers. Because the success or failure of recycling programs hinge on human awareness, behavior and habit, it’s counterproductive to start and stop recycling programs too frequently, leading to wasted resources.

Second, experience shows that when we stop innovating during difficult times, we fall behind, impeding progress when the good times return. Like commodities, waste generation cycles often mirror that of the global economy; the upside is that down cycles force us to find ways to increase productivity, brainstorm new business models, and drive down costs to stay competitive.

It’s time to think of recycling and zero-landfill programs as critical components of a broader strategy for end-of-life materials and important weapons in the fight against climate change, water contamination and various other environmental and social challenges.

This approach begins with the “reduce and reuse” mantra, where reducing demand for new products and materials reduces carbon emissions, pollution and waste associated with production, transportation and disposal. Recycling is the next leg of the journey, and serves to recover value from goods already made while avoiding the use of virgin materials.

For waste that can’t be effectively recycled, we move to an oft-maligned strategy that is widely successful around the world: responsibly burning waste to generate electricity.

Recovering energy from non-recycled waste offers myriad benefits — from the obvious reduction of unappealing landfills, to offsetting a ton of carbon for each ton of waste burned, to generating enough electricity to power a million homes in just the U.S. each year. Most people don’t realize waste-to-energy plants generate more energy than many major solar and wind projects.

Working together, and following countries like Austria, Germany and the Netherlands, all with exemplary recycling rates augmented with energy recovery, we could save over 260 million tons of CO2 annually — equivalent to closing over 60 coal-fired power plants. We could save the energy equivalent of 14 percent of our imported oil, all while generating 350,000 new permanent jobs and $130 billion in direct economic activity.

By contrast, landfills are among the most harmful environmental hazards we face today. Landfills are the third-largest source of methane, which is over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, and emit over 170 other air pollutants, including over 40 hazardous air pollutants, four known carcinogens, and 13 probable carcinogens. Recycling can help mitigate those emissions.

And while recycling opponents talk about how difficult it is to recycle, the industry has continued to find innovative ways to make it easier. By making recycling part of our everyday experience, our time and effort shapes a new mindset focused on strengthening the community.

In just the last few decades, a new recycling mindset has transformed human habits around waste disposal. Technology and a more comprehensive recycling strategy have sparked new green industries, bringing jobs, improved energy security, and protected communities, as well as generating impressive value for citizens.

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This Waterless Toilet is Helping Ghana Turn Poop Into Power, Clean Water

There are still 2.4 billion people without access to toilets, risking their health and safety on a daily basis. Costs, culture, and a lack of awareness of the dangers of unsanitary practices pose substantial challenges and have resulted in an ongoing search for the most sustainable and affordable “next-generation” toilet.

Researchers at Cranfield University took on the challenge and developed the nano-membrane toilet. Without using any water or electricity, the toilet removes the water from human waste and leaves solids that can be used as fuel or fertilizer, all safely free of pathogens and parasites.

The device uses a process called “pervaporation,” where mixtures of liquids are separated by vaporization through a membrane, explains The Guardian. The vapour is recovered and drained into a reservoir so it can be used for irrigation or household washing. A rotating, sealing “flush” scraper mechanism sends waste down into a collection tank, where sediments collect at the bottom and liquid waste is filtered. The solid waste is removed into a gasifier which converts it into gas and energy.

The nano-membrane toilet is currently being trialled in Ghana. According to Alison Parker, a water and sanitation expert at Cranfield University, the demand for western-style seat toilets in Africa is high, while squat toilets remain culturally preferable in Asia.

Parker and her colleagues are weighing a range of options for bringing the technology to market, The Guardian reports. A rental model that removes the need for customers to pay upfront seems likely, and the costs of maintenance – which would be provided by local entrepreneurs – could be bundled in to the rental package. This model has been proven with other companies, including the Clean Team project in Ghana, which rents portable toilets and charges a fee for waste collection 2-3 times per week.

On Thursday, February 11, the nano-membrane toilet will join 35 other low carbon technology companies pitching to an audience of investors, buyers, industry specialists and support agencies as a finalist in the ecoConnect Cleantech Innovate competition.

“We are delighted to see this innovative solution gaining national recognition through Cleantech Innovate. The Nano Membrane Toilet has the potential to change millions of lives by providing access to safe and affordable sanitation,” said Professor Elise Cartmell, Director of Environmental Technology at Cranfield University.

The nano-membrane toilet received $800,000 in financial support in 2012 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, which provides funding for the research and development of toilets that: remove germs and recover valuable resources from human waste; operate without connections to water, sewer, or electrical lines; are financially feasible for use in either the developed or developing world; and other criteria. Several universities and companies have received grants through the Challenge, including Kohler Co., which is field testing closed-loop flush toilet systems. Meanwhile, researchers from the University of the West of England and the charity Oxfam are developing a toilet that uses urine to generate electricity.

Source: sustainablebrands

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Dubai is leading the trend in terms of electronic waste recycling

averda Dubai has signed a Partnership Memorandum with Dubai Municipality to provide an electronic waste collection service in the Emirate of Dubai. This initiative that stems from the Dubai Municipality ‘s commitment to promote integrated and effective sustainable waste management practices and thereby enhance the environmental and health standards of the Emirate of Dubai, falls under averda Group’s commitment to protect the environment, minimize the quantity of waste that cannot be reused or recycled and to ensure that our partners are provided with the latest technological developments in the field of waste management.

averda Dubai has provided the Municipality of Dubai with smart e-waste bins during 2014 – 2015, the bins being equipped with sensors that interact live, online, with averda Dubai Operations Department, via GPRS. The bins’ intelligent systems provide the desk-based analysts with data related to their filling level and expected dates for collection. In addition to the smart e-bins already provided, averda will commission additional bins in the very near future.

With a capacity of 1 cubic meter, the e-bins collect small electronic items such as mobile phones, tablets, trimmers, laptops, hair dryers, chargers and any other type of electronic items that can fit into the anti-scavengers bin lid of 40×40 cm. Any waste that is categorized by Dubai Municipality as hazardous, such as light bulbs and batteries, is not accepted for disposal in the e-bins.

All items collected, except for laptops, are sorted in Averda Dubai’s waste processing facilities and handed over to one of averda’s recycling partners for appropriate recycling. The laptops are being collected and delivered to Dubai Municipality whom will attempt to refurbish them and hand them out for free to those who come from socially disadvantaged groups.

Mr Oussama Natour, averda’s UAE Managing Director, said: “In the past years, the level of electronic waste has seen an unprecedented increase. E-waste is an important global environmental and health issue and we need to identify better methods and means of not just disposing of the e-waste but, most importantly, reusing and recycling it, primarily given that the United Nations Environmental Programme estimates that between 2007 and 2020, the domestic television e-waste will double, computer e-waste will increase five times and cell phones waste will increase 18 times.”

Source: rzawya

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African foreign ministers upbeat on future ties with China

PRETORIA, Dec. 3 (Xinhua) — Foreign ministers from African countries on Thursday said bilateral ties with China have a promising future given the political goodwill and sincerity from both sides.

The foreign ministers whom spoke to Xinhua on the sidelines of the 6th ministerial conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Pretoria, South Africa said Beijing will be a critical partner in the endeavor to accelerate Africa’s socio-economic transformation.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi attended the ministerial conference that was a precursor to the FOCAC Heads of State summit to be held in Johannesburg from Friday to Saturday.

African foreign ministers who attended the forum emphasized that strong bilateral cooperation with China is key to achieve long-term growth and shared prosperity in the continent.

In her opening remarks, South African Minister for international relations and cooperation, Nkoana Mashabane, said that Sino-Africa cooperation has evolved to cover issues that address poverty alleviation, peace, security, health and ecosystems protection.

“Our relationship with China has addressed major issues ranging from education, health, tourism and infrastructure development. Ours is a true friendship that has stood the test of time,” Mashabane remarked.

She added that China’s involvement was crucial to help African countries realize the UN sustainable development goals and the African Union’s agenda 2063.

The blossoming Sino-Africa cooperation provides a durable solution to the continent’s endemic challenges like poverty, infrastructure and skills gap alongside an under-developed industrial sector.

Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that China’s assistance was crucial to boost industrialization in Africa.

“We have a nascent industrial sector and require China’s help in areas like capacity development and technology transfer to enable us establish industrial parks,” said Ghebreyesus.

He added that China’s model of rapid economic transformation in the last two decades was an inspiration to African states aspiring to transition from agrarian to industrial powerhouses.

“We can borrow China’s best practices like manpower development and harnessing of innovations to drive industrial growth,” Ghebreyesus told Xinhua.

The landmark FOCAC summit to be held in Johannesburg will strengthen Sino-Africa bilateral cooperation in strategic areas like industry, infrastructure development, energy and cultural exchanges.

Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said that China is a critical ally that will help African countries realize peaceful and inclusive development.

“There is no question China is an important ally for the African continent. The country has global influence and FOCAC summit presents us an opportunity to review our friendship with Beijing,” Mushikiwabo remarked.

She was upbeat Sino-Africa cooperation will be elevated to new heights in order to help address the continent’s pressing challenges.

“We look forward to major undertakings between China and Africa. We expect China to help us develop infrastructure and link up the continent,” Mushikiwabo told Xinhua.

The theme of the sixth FOCAC summit to be held for the first time in the Africa is in tandem with the continent’s ambition to realize prosperity, peace and cohesion.

Somali Foreign Minister Abdusalam Omer said the landmark summit will lay a strong foundation for future cooperation with China.

“Our expectations for the FOCAC summit are high. We expect China and African countries to come up with a blueprint to guide future development of this continent,” Omer remarked.

He added that in future, Sino-Africa cooperation should focus on development of modern infrastructure alongside social amenities like education and health.

Source: news.xinhuanet

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Caribbean Tourism Leader Says Region Must Keep Refreshing and Improving

With vacation hotspots from around the world competing for business, the Caribbean cannot “rest on its laurels,” asserted Karolin Troubetzkoy, First Vice President and President-elect of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association in a recent press release.

The St. Lucia hotelier who owns and operates the award-winning Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain with husband Nick, observed, per the release, “The global tourism market is growing rapidly,” which is stirring up that competition.

Troubetzkoy explained how efforts to woo travelers are crucial to the very survival of the region, stating, “Tourism is by far the biggest sector of our economies in the Caribbean and we ought to ensure our hotels and other visitor facilities continue to improve because our people rely on revenue from the sector for education, health, culture and environmental conservation,” according to the release.

But where to begin in the quest to refresh, renew and get business?

The answers to these questions were revealed over the weekend at the inauguralCaribbean Hospitality Industry Exchange Forum (CHIEF), held in Puerto Rico, where Troubetzkoy was a speaker.

Troubetzkoy stated, per the release, “CHIEF has astutely identified three areas we should be focusing on: operations, sales and marketing, and the need to go green.”

And she unpacked each of these elements.

Recruiting and training the right staff are keys to operations success, Troubetzkoy contended in the release. “The personal touch is one of the most important elements. A tourist who connects positively, even on a perfunctory level, with at least one staff member, has a very high chance of returning.”

According to the release, she also feels it is crucial to ask, “Are we delivering the Caribbean dream and are we maximizing the guest experience to increase repeat visitation?”

To excel from a sales and marketing perspective, Troubetzkoy urges hoteliers to pay attention to guest reviews. “If you receive a negative review, embrace it, reply quickly and explain how you can use their experience as a teaching opportunity,” she said in the release.

Positive reviews give the hotel an opportunity to tell their story and engage in “effective public relations, advertising and social media strategies,” according to Troubetzkoy, per the release.

Lastly, Troubetzkoy highlighted the importance of renovations and “going green” in the release, stating, “The Caribbean is a maturing market so it is important to refurbish and renovate hotels and resorts,” she said. “As we do so, we must use the occasion to go more green and see the return on investment increase.”

Source: travelpulse

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Joburgers slow to pick up on drive for green waste management

THERE are downsides to Johannesburg being the country’s economic heartland — its residents produce mountains of waste that throttle its overflowing landfills.

On average, Johannesburg residents generate 6,000 tonnes of waste daily, while the typical South African churns out about 2,068kg a year.

This poses serious problems for the city’s authorities on multiple fronts. On average, illegal dumping costs Johannesburg R170m a year and the scourge is a serious health hazard because medication and electronic waste make their way into landfills, says City of Johannesburg waste entity Pikitup waste minimisation strategy director Musa Jack.

Rising electronic waste — among which are everyday gadgets including cellphones and computers — also constitutes an environmental danger because it contains toxic substances such as arsenic, lead and barium.

Ms Jack says: “We have electronic waste disposal bins available around the communities we serve … (But this) is not the only thing that is hazardous to the environment — nappies (are another danger), especially when children are playing next to the waste.”

Although the challenges seem insurmountable, Pikitup is making inroads — its waste separation at source initiative has seen 83,000 tonnes of rubbish diverted from the city’s landfill sites, says Ms Jack.

But this figure could be much higher if more households took part in the programme that was first introduced in selected areas with the aim of curbing illegal dumping, and recycling.

Since its inception in 2009, 450,000 households have been reached, but only 21% are active participants. Ms Jack cites as contributing factors a lack of understanding of the importance of recycling and individuals slipping back into old habits.

Pikitup deploys young trainees to households in their communities to preach the gospel of recycling, but this is proving a difficult task.

One of the ways Pikitup is intercepting illegal dumping is through the provision of multiple refuse bags to households so that residents can separate their rubbish.

Also, the entity has budgeted R50m towards this objective in the 2015-16 financial year.

Controlling illegal dumping reduces the amount of methane gas emitted into the air.

Prof Suzan Oelofse, of the Institute of Waste Management Southern Africa, says the separation at source initiative has a number of environmental benefits.

She explains: “(It) not only assists in diverting waste from landfills, but also increases the quality of the recyclables available for recycling. Clean recyclables can be recycled into higher-value products than dirty or mixed (ones).”

There are potential economic spinoffs from adopting a greener approach to waste management, she says, citing the long-held ethos among environmental diehards: Moving waste up the hierarchy towards reuse, recycle and recover.

Recycling reintroduces resources to the economy, lessens the burden on finding virgin resources, and contributes to job creation.

Source: bdlive

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