Tuesday 17 September 2013

RSAJ - Hypermobility

This week, for my Urban Transportation class, we read “Hypermobility: too much of a good thing?” by John Adams.  It is a very interesting read, taking a critical look at the direction in which societies, particularly develop(ed/ing) ones, are going in terms of mobility.  Much of the article can be related to WaPreG’s work and our various related interests.

Transportation in various forms can be wasteful, particularly if not done for necessity.  We all take part in wasteful travel.  What we need to do is to think about the form of transportation we are about to use and it's various impacts; environmental, social, health, etc.  In the article, Adams brings up three questions, which he calls opinion polls.
1 - Would you like a car, unlimited air miles and Bill Gate’s level of access to all the electronic modes of travel?
2 - Would you like to live in the sort of world that would result if everyone’s wish were granted?  Rephrased - would you like to live in a dangerous, ugly, bleak, crime-ridden, alienated, anonymous, undemocratic, socially polarized, fume-filled greenhouse threatened by terrorism without precedent?
3 - Would you like to live in a cleaner, safer, healthier, friendlier, more beautiful, more democratic, sustainable world in which you know your neighbours and it is safe for your children to play in the street?
These opinion polls inspired me as I read and further when I continued to read.  Answer each one in your head.  Do your answers change for each question?  For many, the answers will not be the same.  The reason is the way they are phrased; look at each one carefully and ask yourself why your answers did or did not change.  Now, when you picture the future of the earth, what is it that you see?  Do any of the opinion polls hint at what you see?  Is that what you want to see in the future?  If not, which opinion poll would you rather see?

As an example, here are my answers:
1 - I do not want a car or unlimited air miles, however the electronic modes of travel sound better to me.
2 - There is no way I want to live in this kind of world.
3 - Of course I would.
Keep in mind that my answers are influenced by an education in environmental and social justice issues.  I love walking and feel much more free with my bicycle than with an automobile.  I do drive on occasion and in my opinion, it is not as great as many drivers try to convince me that it is.  While I am a product of the world I live in, I do not understand how so many people can live a life of greed, ignoring all consequences.  The world described in question two is just what I picture in our future if people do not take a critical look at how they are living, how it impacts the planet and future generations, and make changes.  I am doing what I can to live in the world described in question three.  Not only with WaPreG, but also in my personal and academic life.

If more people looked at the consequences of their actions before acting, we would not have to react to these consequences, as they would not happen.  People are not innately bad people, nor do people seek to blindly cause environmental and social devastation.  The problem is the encouraged levels of ignorance on such vital issues.  We can make a change if we only look at every one of our actions and no matter how small a difference it makes, we must always choose the most ethical choice.

As a reader of WaPreG, you likely are making changes or would like to.  What are some hurdles and successes you have come accros along the way?

Adams, J. (2001). Hypermobility: too much of a good thing? The RSA Journal. (http://john-adams.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2006/hypermobilityforRSA.pdf)

Wednesday 8 May 2013

TEC - A New Solution For Our Plastic Waste

Image Credit: Rich Carey/Shutterstock
Today, I read “A new solution for our plastic waste?”, by Kat Friedrich, found on The Energy Collective’s website.  This article discusses how certain fungi and bacteria can digest plastics, creating less toxic residual minerals, thereby being put forward as a possible solution.  I am beyond critical of this short article.  

I think that the length of this paper shows the lack of information available on the topic, or at least known to the author.  A publication by Applied Environmental Microbiology (a peer-reviewed journal) is the basis for this article, however as I am always critical of this field, I made sure to save the article for future review.  I can see that people want to find a way to continue using this destructive material, rather than find an alternative that includes moving away from use of these materials.  The extraction industry as a whole is terribly destructive, which includes oil extraction.  Communities and the environment suffer greatly for this industry, just so we can use non-recycled materials.  I want to know how this is ideal.

I feel that people reading “A new solution for our plastic waste?” will feel a false sense of security when it comes to use of plastics.  This includes disposal into a landfill, since the bacteria and fungi can apparently break down plastics in a landfill.  How can we be sure this will happen and how can we take other factors into account?  This does not change the fact that other materials in the landfill are not breaking down, meaning breakdown is not complete, nor does it return safely to the earth’s system.  In my opinion, we need to stop using plastics, so as to prevent further pollution caused by this material.  If we must continue to use plastics, we need to use those plastics already created and turn them into new materials; ideally materials that will break down easily.  In addition, as can be seen in the introduction, the residue is LESS toxic, not NON-toxic, so how can we trust this alleged solution if some amount of toxicity continues to prevail?

Finally, a good quote is in the last paragraph: “it will take extensive work to clean up our excess petroleum and plastic.”

Friday 26 April 2013

YT - UniquEco Video

Today, I am discussing UniquEco Video, a short documentary posted on YouTube on the 9 April 2008.  It was produced by Hey Miss K Productions and directed by Kristian Ruggiari.  Those speakers featured include Julie Church, Ali Bwanamusa and UniquEco Artists.  Finally, the documentary is introducing UniquEco - The (flip flop) Recycling Company.

This short documentary is a good introduction to a great initiative in East Africa; it introduces UniquEco, a company in Kenya.  This company salvages flip flops that wash up on the coast, as well as those found in the slums of Nairobi, then uses them to create various things.  Some creations are purely art (eg sculptures and other decorations), while others are artsy pieces that can be used in everyday life (jewellery, placemats, bottle stoppers, etc).

UniqEco has found a way to use our waste, diverting it from our landfills.  The point was made that they will never run out of flip flops.  As a group that weeks to prevent waste, we do recognize that there are some things that will likely always be used, such as flip flops.  Because of this, how do we prevent this waste?  First, we must create more sustainable flip flops, in a material that is biodegradable.  Second, those flip flops that are still not biodegradable must be created into something else, such as in the way UniqEco does.  Remember that most of our waste can be thought of in this way, we just need to be more creative, something that the UniquEco artists have done.

One point that was made is that they are only making a difference in Africa, nowhere else.  This is not true.  It may not be immediately recognizable elsewhere, but Earth is a system and waste affects that system, thereby affecting people in all regions.  By taking flip flops from the coast and making usable items with them, we have that much less waste in our oceans (remember was discussed on the 30 April 2012).  By taking waste from the slums, we have that much less in those landfills, which greatly affect soils and the atmosphere.  By helping the local economy, more faith can go into the idea that less people need to live in poverty than the system would like us to believe.  On that line, these art pieces are an income that costs absolutely nothing to create.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Blowplast Keeps Ghana Clean

Today, I am looking at Blowplast Recycling’s website and how the site deals with waste prevention.  This topic is important because waste is the most obvious form of pollution in Ghana.  Not only that, but everyone can do something to mitigate this problem.  I chose this site because its goal to keep Ghana clean is the same as waste prevention groups’.  It does not present much information, however, which makes it not very convincing at all.

There are some links to articles that do not work.  One opportunity is available, to collect 1000 Ghana for every kilo of water sachets; does not say kilo-what, though.  It is for Pure Water Manufacturers, which I find to be a bit pretentious, as this means the general public is not included.  No information is available about the team and the resource links do not work.  Contact information places Blowplast on Graphic Road in Accra.

The main menu gives links to the homepage, opportunities, the team, resources and contacts.  Clicking home or search at the top of the page does not work.  The navigation menu is on the top, with an image found above the text area.  Beside the navigation menu, the layout is generally good, though an increase in the font by half a point would make reading easier.  The logo works well as a unifying graphic for the website, setting up the colour scheme and the style elements used throughout.  The logo and website are simple, red and white, showing how recycling flows with the nature the company seeks to protect.  One photo is used beside the navigation bar on each page, which is easy to see but is not overpowering.  The recycling logo graphic is found throughout, as well as one photo related to a news piece on the main page, lines are minimal, keeping it simple.  Contents are few, but not too few; if you want to see more, just click on the link, though these often do not work.

This is a static website with faulty links, giving the impression that it is no longer being updated.  Because of this, I wonder whether this company still exists.  Furthermore, no dates are within the past few years and external links either do not work, or go to a dead end (404 not found page).  Though the search link does not work, the website is simple enough that anything can be found rather quickly.  There is a simple contact form, in addition to other contact information.

This is not a very well developed website.  Since it has been around for so long, I am not confident in the company.  Reliability would be much increased if the website were both developed and up-to-date.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

IN - Government Declares Recycling War on Plastic Waste

Today, I would like to explore an article found on IRIN News called ‘GHANA: Government declares recycling war on plastic waste’.  IRIN News is "a service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs".  The article was written in July 2004, about a program that the Ghanaian government launched to eliminate waste generated in Accra.

As we can now see, nine years later, recycling has not solved the problem of plastic waste.  Some may see it as a problem for the economy, due to the effects it may have on tourism, yet go to Osu and you know tourism is not suffering extensively.  Since plastics have replaced leaves, glass and metal as a cheaper, and more efficient means of packaging, this non-biodegradable waste has been collecting around the country, choking drains, threatening small animals, damaging the soil and polluting beaches.  Despite these crucial issues, recycling was meant to improve Tourism, create jobs and save foreign exchange in imports of drugs to fight cholera and malaria that can be linked to rubbish heaps.  

The army created for this war was the Recycling Taskforce, a group of sixteen people from the government, plastic manufacturers, water sachet producers and city authorities.  These people were given the task of encouraging creation of new recycling plants as well as working with existing recyclers to expand their facilities.  The goal was to begin by recycling plastic waste into kitchen utensils, as well as pushing for legislation to promote the use of recycled plastic in the manufacture of items such as dustbins and gutters.  The Recycling Taskforce hired a team of waste collectors and supplied them with push-carts for house-to-house collection.  Paid one US dollar for every fifty kilograms they collected, the waste would then be stored at one of ten depots around Accra until the time came to recycle.

Furthermore, waste recycling companies from South Africa and the Netherlands expressed interest in the project and media targeted children.  There was a goal to create environmental clubs in schools, so as to increase awareness of the damage that littering can do, as well as to teach them about recycling.

Adjei-Darko, Minister for Local Government and Rural Development, stated that without proper recycling, "the alternative ...is to completely ban the production and importation of plastics, which would be a very painful action considering the plight of industry and employment."  I am not sure that industry and employment would suffer as much as he says, though.  Given the social, environmental and health issues linked with plastics, it seems to me the best thing would be to ban plastics globally, and if one country makes that stand, they would be the global leaders for this initiative.

Because of this idea of a possible ban, some plastic producers did begin to help the government fund the project, though there was some resistance to the amount.  The National Association of Sachet Water Producers, for example, found the monthly contribution of fifty thousand US dollars for clearing of plastic waste to be excessive; the association president stated that the authorities should not “target only the water producers" and that she would contribute half the requested amount.  Another source of funding was also proposed to come from people who drop litter, showing that the water producers are not the only ones targeted.  Local authorities having obtained legal backing to prosecute litter bugs, were able to make it that culprits face six months in jail or a twenty US dollar fine.  Personally, I think this is fully acceptable, particularly in a country like Ghana.  The reason for this is that since there is so much pollution in the form of littering in the country and since so many people cannot afford to pay any kind of fine, let alone twenty US dollars (which at times could amount to forty Ghana), this would greatly reduce pollution.  It may take time since the police are not everywhere (and I do not think they should be), but change has to start somewhere.

Despite all of my comments, this article brings up an important point: change forced by the government and by policy can only go so far.  When change comes from the grassroots, it disperses and becomes lasting change.

Saturday 16 March 2013

tS - Reasons for Optimism series: Africa’s lions are roaring as economies take off

Reasons for Optimism series: Africa’s lions are roaring as economies take off” by Jonathan Power is an optimistic and concise article that praises the economy in Africa.  Power discusses primarily the use of cell phones and the growth of this market on the continent in comparison to any other global market.  Power’s article is quite encouraging.  Many Ghanaians I know have regularly explained to me the importance of boosting their economy.  The goal behind this boost always seems to be that they want to be rich like the foreigners that come visit them.  The humanitarian side of me agrees.  I don’t understand why there is so much food and technology, yet so few are able to take advantage of either.  Those who do are a minority, despite this not being obvious to them.

On the other hand, I can’t help but think about so many of the problems that can be seen.  Humans have created the economy, yet we now depend on it as though it is a divine being.  Many people work at reducing poverty, yet they disregard what causes poverty.  Is poverty really the problem?  Could people feed themselves without the economy?  Could technology be created then used in a way that all benefit, rather than causing mass environmental and social destruction?  These questions raise a lot of issues and the answers seem simple to me, yet so many disagree.  If they don’t, then they appear to, because these problems persist.

Let’s look at the main technology discussed – cell phones.  In a few previous posts(18 June 2012; 26 July 2012; and 4 December 2012), I have discussed electronic waste, of which cell phones do play a part.  Now, let’s look at another side.  Cell phones, like any other consumer product, need to be assembled.  Who assembles them?  I do not have the answer for all cases, though based on what I do know at this time, working and living conditions tend to be in the form of suffering.  Where do the parts come from?  They are made with minerals and oil products.  First, the extractive industry is known to cause much devastation across the world.  Resource extraction can often cause much conflict, particularly as the firms increase in size.  When I mention the Western Region, I am sure many Ghanaians remember relatively recent conflicts in Bogoso, Prestea, Wassa ...these conflicts were because of the mining of minerals that are needed to create the technologies necessary to boost an economy.  Some companies are working at improving the problems, though this is not the case in many places, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The economy may be an important part of the current system, but at what cost?

Tuesday 4 December 2012

YT: E-Waste Hell - Ghana

I watched E-Waste Hell – Ghana on the Journeyman Pictures YouTube channel.  I have written about this issue before, but it is one that is dear to my heart, so I write about it again, using a different source.  The documentary from October 2011 is just shy of seventeen minutes, so it will be easy to make time to watch it!

An electronic waste recycler in Sydney, Australia, Joe Dickio, says he saw hundreds of televisions piling up at a charity depot in Sydney.  When exporters offered to take the televisions off their hands, the charity depot accepted.  Joe’s electronic waste company explained to them that this is wrong.  In response, the charity said they did not have the funds to dispose of the televisions properly.  Personally, I find this shocking.  I find it hard to believe that there is no way to have events geared at funding recycling of electronic waste, so as to avoid environmental, social and health problems that are directly associated with this kind of waste.  Many goods come from Australia, with no permits exist that allow Australian electronic waste to be shipped to any African location.  Despite this, Australian customs does not keep records on how many shipments leave for Ghana.  In the past two years, though, fifteen containers have been stopped from leaving Australia, albeit no prosecutions have taken place.

Llambert Faabeluon of the Ghana Environmental Protection Agency found this shocking and said that personally, he would like these people to be jailed.  He also says that Ghana has limited resources, making it difficult to deal with these problems.  Faabeluon did state that he wants to know why this kind of waste is leaving the core in the first place.  I completely agree.  If the waste had been properly disposed of, then this problem would not have come to such an extreme level in Ghana!  Illegal shipments started arriving in Ghana in 2003.  Now, around five hundred container-loads every month arrive in Ghana (about seventeen a day).  Though they are sent as working used goods, a broken frame shows that the sending parties know that goods are not still in working condition.

Mike Ananie, an environmental journalist, has been investigating the problem.  He brings the film-makers to a colleague of his, who shows them how easy it is to recover information from a computer.  This is something that is happening around Ghana, however not everyone is doing this with good intentions.  People and institutions around the world are therefore unknowingly sending their personal or confidential information to Ghana.  This information can then be found and used, increasing the threat of identity theft, something that can be linked to sakawa (click the word to watch a video for a brief explanation).  This is distributed throughout the country through a small fraction of electronics that can be fixed up and resold locally.  Through this resale, inexpensive used goods can be supplied to locals and more than 10 000 people get a regular income.

Despite this, what does not work ends in the landfill at Agbogbloshie, Accra.  This is Africa’s biggest electronic wasteland, where the poorest try to get money from what they can find.  Often, these are children who can be as young as five years old trying to get at the metals that can be resold, for less than one dollar a day.  By burning the plastic to get to the metal, they breathe in toxins that negatively affects their growth.  They also may complain of breathing problems and headaches.  Nearby, in the streets of Accra, the smoke affects peoples’ health both by their presence near the landfill and through the food they buy there.  Also, heavy metals which cause organ cancers go into the atmosphere, for everyone to breathe.

At the end of the film, Ananie recalls a time when that area had luscious growth.  He and his friends used to play within this growth.

Jimmy Carter:
"Solid wastes" are the discarded leftovers of our advanced consumer society. This growing mountain of garbage and trash represents not only an attitude of indifference toward valuable natural resources, but also a serious economic and public health problem.