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Australia recycles its waste onshore as China denies recycling imports

Ari Kelo

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Recycling

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.

Politics

Russia, the world’s fourth largest polluter, finally joins Paris Agreement

Ari Kelo

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Vladimir Putin, President of Russia

After four years of deliberation, Russia has finally signed the Paris Agreement. On Monday, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev gave formal support for the agreement and ordered that Russia’s laws adapt to fit its regulations.

A new brand for Russia

Hours after signing the decree, PM Medvedev brought the news to a government meeting. There, he outlined a new climate strategy for Russia.

“The threat of climate change is (the) destruction of the ecological balance, increased risks for successful development of key industries… and most importantly, threat to safety of people living on permafrost and increase of natural disasters,” Medvedev said.

Indeed, by joining the accord, Russia has taken a long overdue stance on climate control. As the fourth largest global emitter of greenhouse gases, Russia’s entrance into the agreement can serve as a call to action for other countries not yet committed.

Notably, Russia has chosen to join the accord merely weeks before US President Donald Trump plans to withdraw from it in November.

Does Russia even want the Paris Agreement

Yet despite the seemingly good news, Russia’s decision to join the agreement may have had an ulterior motive.

The decision came just hours before the UN Climate Action Summit in New York. At the summit, Putin’s climate adviser, Ruslan Edelgeriev, broke the news. “The Russian Federation has accepted the Paris Agreement and is becoming a full-fledged participant of this international instrument,” he said.

Russia may be attempting to gain more international support. Its decision to ratify came at a good time, as belief in the accord’s effectiveness is at an all-time low. By finally ratifying, Russia has boosted morale for international climate cooperation.

In an attempt to further garner support for Russian environmental efforts, Edelgeriev explained his country’s progress. “Our total emissions [since 1990] have decreased almost by half. This represent 41 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent which on the planetary scale has allowed to cumulatively hold global warming for an entire year.”

Edelgeriev also mentioned that Russia plans to create a law on emissions by 2020.

This may all be for show

Joining the Paris Agreement means very little for Russia, whose current carbon targets are laughable.

Since the Paris Agreement allows countries to develop their own, non-binding targets for reducing CO2 emissions, Russia chose a very weak target. By 2030, Russia pledges to reduce its emissions to 25-30% less than its emission rates in 1990.

But due to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia’s industries have severely slowed down. So, in 2017, Russia actually polluted 32% less than it did in 1990. Meaning Russia is already below its target.

In other words, Russia can actually increase its pollution while still staying within its target.

Noticing this furtive maneuver, the NGO Climate Action Tracker declared Russia’s targets “critically insufficient.” According to them, if every country followed Russia’s emission rules, global warming could increase 4 degrees.

To make matters worse, Russia is actually increasing coal production and opening new gas and oil plants.

So if Russia seriously wants change, it will need to reevaluate its climate plan.



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Australia urged to move towards a circular economy on recycling

Rich Bowden

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Recycling

Australia should take its cue from the circular economy on recycling, reusing its waste rather than sending it to landfill, says a recent report by business advisory firm EY. It added that Australians need to have confidence in their country’s recycling system and should look upon it as a resource rather than waste.

The accounting firm affirmed a combined approach to waste which included households, local councils and the private sector is needed to “restore faith” in the country’s recycling system. This would lead to the start of a win-win circular economy. 

Such an economy can be achieved when “people minimize waste and make the most of resources. Shifting to a more circular economy will grow the economy, increase jobs and reduce impacts on the environment,” according to the Victorian State Government.

China recycling ban

Australia’s strategy of dealing with its waste by sending it to China for processing was thrown into confusion in 2017. It was then when China decided to tighten the restrictions on contamination for accepting foreign waste. The new standards effectively banned all Australian paper, plastics and textiles because of their high contamination rate. 

Before the Chinese ban, it had been sending 619,000 tonnes of recycling waste to China every year.

A “lost opportunity”

Terence L. Jeyaretnam, an environmental and sustainability expert who is also a partner at EY in Melbourne, described the present methods as an example of a “lost opportunity”.

“Through better sorting of recyclables, reducing contamination and developing markets for our recycled waste, Australia could take advantage of this lost opportunity sitting in our kerbside bins,” he said.

He added that Australians were missing out on up to $324 million of value in our waste bins and needed to change to adapt to the future. 

“The old way of sorting our waste is not the right fit for 21st century Australia,” he said in the study, adding that “not only does it lead to poor environmental outcomes, it’s preventing us from grasping an opportunity worth hundreds of millions per year.”

Restoring belief in the system

The report underlined the need for Australia to view waste as a valuable resource saying it  “will only be realized if households take a more diligent approach to sorting, councils assist though education and infrastructure and there is a greater focus on waste as a resource.”

It points to a lack of confidence currently amongst households with the country’s recycling methods.

“Instead of ‘waste’ we need consumers to see a tradable asset, a commodity with a market value. The first step in changing consumers behavior is restoring their belief that what they are putting in the recycling bin is actually being recycled,” said the discussion paper.

Restoring the customer’s faith in the broken recycling system would be the first step towards creating a viable circular economy and finding a solution to the recycling crisis in Australia, summarized the report.



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Kamala Harris’s climate plan: How does it hold up against the competition?

Maddie Blaauw

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Kamala Harris

In the third Democratic debate last Sunday, 2020 presidential candidates did not spend much time on climate change. However, candidate Kamala Harris made sure to use her time to make a strong stance about acting on climate change now. Harris also released a climate plan earlier this month, her own version of the Green New Deals many other candidates have released. 

During her allotted 45 seconds to summarize her stance on climate policy, Harris focused on the effect of inaction on future generations. In reference to the Republican stance on denying or minimizing the topic, Harris accused them of having a “lack of courage.” She also stated that as president she would “lead as president on this issue because we have no time, the clock is ticking.” However, during the debate time, Harris did not mention many specific details about her plan to take on climate change, besides her history of “[taking] on the big oil companies.” So what specific actions would Harris take as president to fight rising temperatures?

Kamala Harris has a history of advocating for the environment

Harris released a plan detailing her goals as president to act on climate change earlier this month, but even before that, she has backed several pieces of legislation to not only act on the emissions of big companies, but also to protect the Americans who suffer the most from pollution. In July, she joined forces with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to create the “Climate Equity Act.” Covered at length in this article from The Rising, this piece of legislation aimed to first identify and then give assistance to the communities which would suffer climate-related consequences. 

Harris has also referenced taking on big oil companies in her previous job as the attorney general of California. She held this role from 2011 through 2016. While the claim that she has sued oil companies herself is controversial, statements from her campaign spokesman Ian Sams support her claims of more general action against them. Sams stated that she “obtained $50 million in settlements from oil companies she took on like BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Phillips 66. She also announced criminal indictments against Plains Pipeline for the massive oil spill they caused off the coast (of) Santa Barbara. The case continued after Harris left the AG’s office and resulted in conviction.”

The 2020 presidential candidate also supported a carbon tax at a CNN forum on climate change. As this was common among the other democrats who attended the event, Harris took a step to set herself apart even further and voiced support for even more aggressive policy, including an outright ban on offshore drilling for oil and hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking). 

Harris’s $10 trillion plan

Following the trend of other presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders releasing plans of action for a presidential term specifically pertaining to environmental policy, Harris also released her own, right before the climate forum. While the general ideas of her plan was similar to those in Green New Deals already released, there are certainly notable differences. 

First, the presidential candidate sets a goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2045, five years faster than the United Nation’s recommended date of 2050. She would invest $10 trillion into reviving and overhauling infrastructure to achieve this. Possible methods of raising this money could come from the carbon tax backed by nearly all democratic candidates and even some of the republican candidates. 

Other goals from Kamala Harris that are less common among the Green New Deals currently circulating are to pass new fuel economy standards by 2035 to ensure that all new passenger vehicles would emit zero emissions. She would also expand the clean energy tax credit program beyond its current reaches to achieve total carbon-neutral electricity in 10 years. 

Perhaps the thing that Kamala Harris stresses most in her plan, though is that it is for the people of the world, not against big companies. While it certainly does aim to put legislation in place against these companies to achieve set goals, the focus is always brought back to protecting those that cannot protect themselves from big company carbon emissions. Harris frequently references her Climate Equity Act in the plan, making it a central component. Many believe that this feature allows her plan to be more well-rounded; it is not just about punishing the companies who hurt the environment, but also about supporting those who are and will suffer the most from the pollution. 



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