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Australia recycles its waste onshore as China denies recycling imports

Ari Kelo

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In response to the global recycling crisis caused by China’s recent ban, Australia has looked into new ways to combat its waste problem. Its main concern? Keeping recyclables out of the Pacific.

To do so, Australia wants to reuse and recycle its waste completely on-shore. In the past, the country exported its recycling overseas, which led to ocean pollution. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has therefore pledged to ban exports of waste plastics, paper, glass, and tires. Instead, Australia plans to handle it all domestically. In addition, Australia is finding new ways to transform its waste into long-term recycling solutions.

Why Australia’s recycling process needs reinventing

For over three decades, most of the world’s countries — including Australia — relied on China to accept and process their recycling waste. But last March, China surprised the world with increased regulations on what waste they would accept in their facilities.

These requirements for recycling imports rose to a “nearly impossible [standard],” according to More Recycling CEO Nina Bellucci Butler. Indeed, the rise in recycling waste over recent years has led to inefficient processing in China. The country’s industry no longer profits from accepting the world’s waste due to an increase in labor cost, its own waste, and processing mistakes.

So without China to rely on, Australia is now forced to rethink its recycling process — a long-overdue task.

A report published last year by Australia’ environment department reveals Australia’s lagging recycling system. Only 12% of the plastic Australians put in their curbside recycling bins actually gets recycled.

And without China recycling the 620,000 tons of waste Australia used to send them each year, Australia needs a new approach. A few potential solutions look promising: on-shore processing and engineering waste into long-term solutions.

Australia’s PM vows to recycle all waste at home

After a Council of Australian Governments meeting last Friday, PM Scott Morrison vowed to eliminate exports of recyclable waste “as soon as practicable.”

This comes in response to high levels of plastic waste from Australia ending up off its coasts in the Pacific. The PM commented that continuing to export its waste to Vietnam, Indonesia, and China “runs the risk of [it] floating around in our oceans.”

But is this truly achievable?

The current plan involves transforming waste into packaging, furniture, railway sleepers, roads, and more. But Australia’s recycling industry will need a complete make-over to do this.

Since Australia has always relied on exporting its recycling, it has no at-home method for sorting its recyclables. That’s because it was always more economically efficient to have it sorted abroad, so Australia’s curbside recycling system just isn’t equipped with a sorting process. The country also only has 21 plastic recycling plants. So for PM Morrison’s plan to take off, major change is in order.

This plan will do more than just limit ocean pollution, though. PM Morrison also pointed out that domestic recycling would boost Australia’s economy by creating new jobs. “There is the work on the science but there is also the work on the economics,” he said.

That said, the recycling economy is currently in a ditch, with the value of discarded plastic and paper almost nothing at the moment.

Australia recycling its waste in new, creative ways

Plastic Roads

Beyond enlarging its domestic recycling industry, Australia is pursuing new ways to utilize its recycled materials.

Outside of Melbourne, Australia constructed the first road in the world made of Reconophalt. This material combines recycled plastics and glass with asphalt to create more sustainable infrastructure. So far, the road has used about 200,000 plastic bags, 63,000 glass bottles, and 4,500 printer cartridges, according to the New York Times.

A National Container Deposit Scheme

By enlarging their container deposit scheme to the national level, Australia could incentivize more recycling and help its sorting problem. Certain Australian states already have the system in place, but federal supervision could increase efficiency and lower costs. The vending machine-like depots allow you to recycle plastic bottles and aluminum cans for a 10c refund.

Waste-to-Energy Plants

Taking after Sweden, Australia is developing a Waste-to-Energy (WtE) plant that will convert household waste into electricity. Although these facilities lead to air and water pollution, the effects may be offset by the benefits of waste disposal. While this isn’t a perfect solution, it would reduce Australia’s reliance on nonrenewable energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions created by waste.

“Micro-factories”

Traditional recycling factories are large, expensive, and only capable of manufacturing certain items. But new technology in Australia could lead to the micro-factory: a portable recycling site that’s about 50 square meters. This project is off to a good start. Two e-waste recycling micro-factories began operation last year at the University of New South Wales. The micro-factories “offer a cost-effective solution to one of the greatest environmental challenges of our age, while delivering new job opportunities,” according to project leader Veena Sahajwalla.

This is only the beginning

Despite these efforts to increase decrease waste, Australia still has a lot to do before it catches up with other developed economies. In comparison, Australia lags behind, recycling less and creating more waste.

So going forward, Australia will need to financially incentivize businesses to use recycled materials, whether through increasing landfill levies or subsidizing the cost to recycle. It will also need to invest in more recycling facilities, processing plants, and a new method to sort recyclables.

Another issue is the lack of national organization. A 2018 report revealed that only about half of Australia’s 544 councils actually accept all seven types of recyclable plastics at curbside pick-up. The country will need to set national recycling standards if it truly wants change.

Australia has something to prove.

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Pacific allies condemn Australia over its inaction on the climate crisis

Rich Bowden

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Leaders discuss the climate emergency at the Pacific Islands Forum

The Australian delegation’s success at watering down the final communique on climate change at the Pacific Islands Forum last week has united Pacific nations against the regional power. Pacific leaders stated Australia’s pro-fossil fuel strategy at the forum, hosted by the island state of Tuvalu, will have negative consequences for the region’s future.

‘Fierce’ discussions about the climate crisis continue

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama attacked the Australian strategy in a tweet following the summit: “We came together in a nation [Tuvalu] that risks disappearing to the seas, but unfortunately, we settled for the status quo in our communique. Watered-down climate language has real consequences — like water-logged homes, schools, communities, and ancestral burial grounds.”

Bainimarama described Australia’s behavior towards the other Pacific nations as “very insulting and condescending.”

The Fiji PM was not alone in criticizing Australia’s negotiation strategy, which appeared to be to remove any reference to fossil fuels in the final communique. Vanuatu’s foreign minister Ralph Regenvanu, who was part of the negotiating process, described the discussion as “frank, fierce at times, [with] very strong positions being held.” He added that negotiations nearly broke down due to Australia’s intransigence.

Australia’s refusal to condemn fossil fuels as a major contributor to the climate emergency appeared to be the defining factor in the rancorous debate, according to sources.

Saving nations or the economy?

Speaking at a joint press conference with Australian PM Scott Morrison following the week-long forum, host Tuvalu’s PM Enele Sopoaga, said he told Morrison: “You are concerned about saving your economies, your situation in Australia, I’m concerned about saving my people in Tuvalu and likewise other leaders of small island countries,” he said.

“… we were exchanging flarey language, not swearing, but of course you know, expressing the concerns of leaders and I was very happy with the exchange of ideas, it was frank. Prime Minister Morrison, of course, stated his position and I stated my position and [that of] other leaders: we need to save these people,” he added.

However, the rancor was not limited to the forum. New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern, who said Australia needed to “answer to the Pacific” was on the receiving end of a vicious attack by Australian shock jock Alan Jones who suggested PM Morrison put a sock down the throat of the NZ PM. The derogatory comments drew criticism from Morrison.

Doors open to other regional powers

The Australian government’s lack of empathy for its Pacific neighbors, many of whom face an existential threat from rising sea levels caused by climate change, has opened the door for other countries to build influence in the region, according to commentators. The most active alternative is China which has offered Pacific nations concessional loans to help mitigate the effects of climate change.

Last week’s Pacific Islands Forum is being seen by observers as an opportunity lost by Australia to build confidence amongst its Pacific allies.

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The rise of ecofascism: a new deadly motivation for the far-right

Maddie Blaauw

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From Avengers: Endgame to China’s former one-child policy, concerns about overpopulation negatively affecting the environment are well-known. While the panic incited by the movement has passed, white nationalists and fascists are misapplying it and other environmentalist ideas to support their own violent goals. And by doing so, they’re effectively weakening the real climate activism arguments of those who don’t subscribe to extremist ideologies of ecofascism.

The far-right relates its ecofascist beliefs to environmentalist ideologies

Just look to the national parks. Their unrivaled beauty and serenity stand in stark juxtaposition with the heartless history of the history behind them; thousands of Native Americans were forced from their homes in the belief that they would destroy the land.

Moving forward half a century, the publishing of “The Population Bomb” by Paul R. Ehrlich in 1968 warned of worldwide famine and upheaval caused by overpopulation. It both coincided with and fueled additional anti-immigration sentiment in the late twentieth century. Ehrlich has said that adding to the fire of violence against minorities was not his intention. But nonetheless, his work justified the repression of minority groups worldwide, blaming them for overpopulation.

Also in the second half of the twentieth century, John Tanton, widely regarded as the father of the modern anti-immigration movement, gained a considerable following. Since the founding of the Federation for American Immigration Reform in 1979, Tanton’s ideas inspired many mainstream American conservative beliefs. To support them, he pointed to scarce resources and land in the United States. He reasoned that the country would become heavily polluted and overrun in overpopulation without anti-immigration policy. Tanton often singled out the Latinx community, arguing they should be barred from pursuing a life in the United States. Though the term ecofascism hadn’t been coined back then, this particular idea is deeply ecofascist.

The far-right claims to protect the environment

The most recent of these events was a mass shooting at a Texas Walmart on August 3. The gunman killed 22 and injured 24 others. Just before the attack, a manifesto that used environmentalist views to justify anti-immigration sentiment appeared online. Authorities are working to determine if the document is linked to the suspect. A section reads, with respect to immigrants, “[I]f we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can be more sustainable.”

The manifesto was titled “An Inconvenient Truth”, which may be an allusion to a 2006 climate documentary of the same name by Al Gore. The manifesto also cites the Christchurch shooting as motivation.

In the Christchurch mosque shootings of May 2019, which many extremists have rallied behind, the charged gunman expressed similar sentiments, attempting to justify anti-immigration with climate change activism. He mentions several times in his manifesto that he is an ecofascist.

Ecofascism is an escalating ideology

Politicians on the left maintain that climate policy should focus on solutions, like limiting pollution and utilizing renewable energy. The extreme right, on the other hand, continues to believe that the solution to climate change is to limit immigration.

The Nation journalist Jeet Heer says:

“This combination of a white nationalism with angst about the prospects for human survival is a perfect recipe for radicalizing young right-wingers and taking Trumpian themes to a new level of extremism … The very real dangers of climate change provide race war fantasists the dystopian background they need to give urgency to their violent agenda.”

Really, the far-right subscribes to ecofascism under the guise of climate change reform, and it’s having dangerous consequences.

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With new revisions to the ESA, Trump is putting endangered species at risk

Madeline Barone

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The Endangered Species Act (ESA), signed by President Richard Nixon in 1973, protected endangered species for the last 46 years. The Act also helps conservation partnerships nationwide to protect America’s animals. However, with the newest changes to the ESA, all bets are off for endangered species, as they become more at risk than ever before.

What will these changes do?

These changes will focus on how officials decide whether a species is endangered or threatened, what kind of protections threatened species should receive, and how officials will decide which areas of habitat to protect. 

When implemented, these changes may weaken the Endangered Species Act’s protections. For example, the changes could make it easier to remove species from the endangered and threatened species lists. The wording of the act may also allow the dismissal of climate change as an irrelevant threat to species’ survival. 

Species already listed as threatened or endangered won’t have their protections changed, but for new additions, the FWS rule case-by-case.  These revisions simply reduce protections for any species that get added to the threatened species list in the future. 

How are these changes different than past revisions?

These changes are far from surprising. The Trump administration proposed some of the revisions, specifically removing the phrase “without reference to economic impact” last July. Overall, these changes make it easier for officials to consider economic factors over environmental ones. 

Also, species categorized as “threatened”, a category placed one away from “endangered”, will no longer receive the same protections as species in the “endangered” category. Instead, the Trump administration will carry out protections on a case-by-case basis. 

What are the differing perspectives on the changes?

U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt claims that “the best way to uphold the Endangered Species Act is to do everything we can to ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal –recovery of our rarest species. The Act’s effectiveness rests on clear, consistent and efficient implementation.” He continued that “an effectively administered Act ensures more resources can go where they will do the most good: on-the-ground conservation.”

Leah Gerber, professor of conservation science and founding director of the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes at Arizona State University, disagrees. “The new rules completely undermine the strength of the ESA,” Gerber told TIME. “The point of the act is to prevent extinction, this is going to do the opposite. It’s going to undermine efforts to recover species.”

It seems that these revisions are simply to fit President Trump’s economic goals. Although rollbacks to the ESA have been implemented since the Act’s founding, these changes could jeopardize species that are already at-risk. 

Thomas Lovejoy, a Senior Fellow of Biodiversity and Environmental Science at the United Nations Foundation, thinks this is a way for the administration to ignore the effects of climate change on species survival. 

“I consider that absurd since it’s an administration that doesn’t believe in climate change,” Lovejoy told TIME. “The impact of climate change and the fingerprints of climate change can be seen in nature wherever you look. It’s really egregious to ignore it.”

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