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Tidal Wave of Foreign Trash Hits Thailand

 Searching the housands of containers at Thai ports for illegal waste shipments is a monumental task. While there has been shipping along the Chao Phraya River for centuries, construction of Bangkok Port was started in 1938. Construction of Laem Chabang Port on Thailand's Eastern Seaboard, now much larger than Bangkok Port, was begun in 1987. (Photo by Guido Vanhaleweyk) Posted for media use.

Searching the housands of containers at Thai ports for illegal waste shipments is a monumental task. While there has been shipping along the Chao Phraya River for centuries, construction of Bangkok Port was started in 1938. Construction of Laem Chabang Port on Thailand’s Eastern Seaboard, now much larger than Bangkok Port, was begun in 1987. (Photo by Guido Vanhaleweyk) Posted for media use.

By Sunny Lewis

BANGKOK, Thailand, August 9, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – Government officials in Thailand are struggling to limit a waste scandal after discovering a massive amount of plastic and electronic waste was imported to the Southeast Asian country this year, often illegally, by factories involved in recycling.

Thais have been shocked to learn that hundreds of thousands of tons of electronic waste has been shipped into the country since China decided to stop taking waste from wealthy countries at the end of 2017.

The waste scandal became public in late May after Thai police raided a waste management plant in Chachoengsao, east of Bangkok, after claims that hazardous waste smuggled from abroad was being burned at the facility.

Media reports show that untrained and unregistered migrant workers paid just 9,000 baht a month (US$272) were handling toxic items and burning electronic circuit boards, exposing themselves and the environment to heavy-metal contamination.

The Chinese owner of the plant was accused of importing potentially dangerous waste under false Customs declarations, the U.S. publication “The Nation” reported in a June 11 article. Foreigners were smuggling trash and declaring it as second-hand goods, police said.

The revelation led to other illegal waste sites being raided. Officials admitted they often had “no idea what kind of waste is toxic” or how to deal with it.

More than 210,000 metric tons of waste was found to have been imported from 35 countries in the first five months of this year, Thai police said.

Fears that Thailand – or “Trashland” as some cynics have labeled it – could become the new dumping ground for the world’s electronic waste. That spurred concern about the long-term toxic hazards from waste piled up at e-waste dumps.

The world is generating more e-waste than ever. Frost & Sullivan’s recent analysis, “Global Waste Recycling Market Outlook, 2018,” reveals that close to 48.2 million tonnes of eWaste was generated in 2017, of which only 20 to 25 percent was documented to be collected and recycled. The remaining waste was either landfilled or disposed of unsafely or illegally in countries like Thailand.

This scenario is likely to persist in the absence of stringent regulations, closed-loop supply chains, and greater producer responsibility. China made a market-altering decision when it announced a ban on the import of 24 categories of recyclables and solid waste by the end of 2017.

This decision will force the world’s biggest waste importers, which include the UK, the US, Europe, and Japan, to build new recycling infrastructure in their own facilities or look to other Southeast Asian countries for waste management.

On June 1, four containers packed with plastic waste were found in eastern Bangkok. By the third week of June, nearly 20 illegal waste sites had been raided and there was speculation that legal changes brought in by the military government had opened the door to the “surge in foreign trash,” because such facilities could now be set up anywhere regardless of an area’s zoning.

A representative from Greenpeace said, “Electronic waste (e-waste) can be used as fuel in waste incinerators, as well as unrecyclable plastic. This order has eased restrictions for incinerators and waste factories.”

The NGO ReReef Thailand, which wants to build a business case for sustainability based on the vulnerabilities of the country’s coral reefs, said, “The substance never disappears … Since the beginning of plastic production, about 60 years ago, 6.3 billion tons of plastic never really gone. Less than 10 percent of recycled materials mean that more than five billion tons of plastic has become waste in the environment. It has become one of the most important environmental crises of this era.”

Concerned about the scale of the problem, and media reports that perhaps that national politicians had been involved in the illegal trade in waste, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said there may no longer be imports of foreign waste to Thailand.

The licenses of five importers were suspended after they were found to have hired illegal factories to recycle waste.

Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda said the government will establish a multi-agency panel to work out how to regulate garbage from other countries. “It’s not just e-waste but also other types of garbage,” he said. “If the trash does not benefit the country and causes negative impact and burdens, we won’t allow it to be imported.”

Meanwhile, about 400 containers thought to contain electronic waste, plastic and discarded metal are now sitting abandoned at ports in Bangkok and Laem Chabang. Customs officials have warned that if they are not claimed within 15 days, they will dispose of these containers and their contents or send them back to where they came from – countries such as the United States, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and China.

All of this disruption has triggered a warning from a U.S. environmental group that the experience Thailand has gone through could happen to many countries in South and Southeast Asia.

Basel Ban Amendment Close to Becoming Law

The Seattle-based NGO Basel Action Network said Monday that developing countries could be “hit by a tidal wave of electronic and plastic waste” if they don’t move to ban the import of such waste by ratifying an international agreement called the Basel Ban Amendment.

This change to the Basel Convention, an existing treaty agreed by 194 countries, would make it illegal to export hazardous and electronic waste from developed countries such as those in the European Union to poorer states.

The Basel Action Network says most e-waste from North America and Europe is exported to Asia – to Hong Kong, and increasingly to Thailand and Pakistan.

“Brunei, China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka have ratified the agreement, but Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam have not,” said the Basel Action Network in a statement.

“It is especially ironic that while the Thai government is rightly very concerned about the dumping on their territory, they have not made a move as yet to ratify the Ban Amendment. The Ban Amendment is but three ratifications short of going into the force of international law.”

New Technology Could Relieve Waste Burden

“The waste recycling market, like its end-user industries, is experiencing disruptive changes due to the advent of advanced digital technologies,” said Deepthi Kumar Sugumar, Frost & Sullivan research analyst. For example, smart waste bins with Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities will play a significant role in changing the way waste is collected and sorted.”

Using an ultrasonic sensor, an Internet of Things system gives a real time indicator of the garbage level in any trash can at any given moment. Using that data garbage companies can then optimize waste collection routes to reduce fuel consumption.

“Similarly, the rise of 3D printing technologies has made it much easier to recycle plastic waste. Many industries are turning plastics into high-quality filaments to replace spares, lowering the need for re-manufacturing,” said Sugumar.

Although technology has improved waste management considerably, market participants using these technologies will be challenged to convince industries employing conventional methods to switch to modern systems. They need to be made aware of the role novel recycling systems can play in enabling a circular economy, said Sugumar.

Meanwhile, the use of cutting-edge technologies is giving rise to innovative business models such as commercial waste collection zones. These models allow haulers to invest in infrastructure improvement and introduce inventive methods for minicipal solid waste collection.

By optimizing waste collection routes, combining real-time data, and employing data-related technologies such as predictive analytics, it will be possible to eliminate the unplanned dispatch of vehicles to collect waste.

“Another important technology that could have far-reaching consequences for the waste management market is augmented reality (AR),” observed Sugumar. “AR can help any manufacturer make informed decisions to prevent waste in the first place. Though AR is still evolving, it will change the way waste reduction and management is conducted in the future.”

Featured Images: Trash at the Nonthaburi landfill, Bangkok, Thailand, February 4, 2014 (Photo by Thibaud Saintin) Creative Commons license via Flickr


Equator Prize Winners Demonstrate Maximum Impact

2017EquatorPrizeStage

2017 Equator Prize winners celebrate together on the stage at New York’s Town Hall Theatre to the music of American singer-songwriter Morley, September 17, 2017 (Photo by Arnaldo Vargas courtesy UNDP) Posted for media use.

By Sunny Lewis

NEW YORK, New York, September 19, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – Outstanding local and indigenous community initiatives that resolve climate, environment and poverty issues are honored with the Equator Prize, just as the United Nations General Assembly opens at UN headquarters in New York.

This year, on the 15th anniversary of the biennial Equator Prize, 15 community groups from 12 countries each was awarded a $10,000 prize at a gala celebration Sunday at The Town Hall theater, hosted by the Equator Initiative, a part of the UN Development Programme (UNDP). All the winners were supported to attend the award ceremony.

The Equator Initiative brings together the United Nations, governments, civil society, businesses and grassroots organizations to recognize and advance local sustainable development solutions for people, nature and resilient communities.

This year’s winners are protecting, restoring and sustainably managing marine, forest, grassland, dryland and wetland ecosystems, while creating jobs, protecting endangered wildlife, and decreasing risks from natural disasters.

Achim Steiner, UNDP administrator, presented the awards to the 15 winners, who hail from: Belize, Brazil, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Mali, Pakistan and Thailand.

Steiner, a former head of the UN Environment Programme, said, “The 15 communities we honor tonight, together with the more than 200 previous prize winners, and more than 5,000 nominations we have received to date, are weaving together a global tapestry of local solutions to tackle some of the biggest global challenges we face.”

“These solutions show us that when we invest in nature, we can achieve our global goals of obtaining food, water, peace, gender parity, and security in a truly sustainable manne,” Steiner said. “By thinking globally and acting locally, the 2017 Equator Prize Winners helped not only their communities but also communities worldwide facing sustainable development challenges.”

The winners called on governments, civil society, donors and all stakeholders to “join hands in protecting Mother Earth, our shared heritage.”

“By safeguarding nature we are investing in sustainable development,” they said.

The winners also expressed the belief that without empowering women there can be no social change; they emphasized the need of land rights for women farmers and entrepreneurs.

Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s minister of climate and environment, reminded the audience of the fearful price paid every day by defenders and protectors of the Earth.

“The remarkable communities here tonight demonstrate that indigenous and local communities, working together, can safeguard their lands and forests, and realize their own sustainable development goals,” said Helgesen. “However, we must recognize that protecting forests and traditional lands comes at a steep price. Nearly four people were killed every week last year defending their land rights against destructive industries and illegal activities. This must end.”

Equator Prize winners are selected based on the impact they have, and also the partnerships they build with other community groups, the private sector, governments, research and academic institutions, as well as public or private foundations

To qualify for the prize, the groups must demonstrate that their practical, innovative solutions result in at least three years of successful changes in local socio-economic conditions and have positive impacts on biodiversity.

Their initiatives must demonstrate new and adaptable approaches that overcome prevailing constraints, incorporate social and cultural diversity, promote gender equality, and empower local people, especially marginalized groups.

They must demonstrate leadership that inspires action and change consistent with the vision of the Equator Initiative – of “sustainably managing nature to achieve local sustainable development, such as food security, water security, sustainable jobs and livelihoods, and disaster risk reduction.”

Crosscutting issues include advocacy for land and water rights, social and environmental justice, and gender equality.

Naoko Ishii, CEO and chairperson, Global Environment Facility, said at the awards gala, “Communities have shown that they can be an engine of innovation and learning, and for that reason, the GEF has invested $450 million to support over 14,500 community-based projects in over 125 countries. It gives me great pleasure to see that six of the Equator Prize winners tonight are recipients of SGP [Small Grants Programme] awards, demonstrating that by investing in communities, we can achieve lasting results that help provide a pathway toward a just, resilient and sustainable future.”

Following a global call for nominations, the Equator Initiative received a 806 nominations from 120 countries.

The winners were selected during an extensive months-long review process guided by a Technical Advisory Committee of international experts.

And the Winners Are:

Sub-Saharan Africa

1. Mikoko Pamoja, Kenya

Area of Focus: Biodiversity: Forests, oceans, coasts, wetlands, wildlife

Started in 2013, Mikoko Pamoja brings together two communities in southern Kenya’s Gazi Bay to sell carbon credits from mangrove conservation, trading 3,000 tons CO2-equivalent per year in the voluntary carbon market.

Mikoko Pamoja is the first community-based project of this kind in the world to successfully trade mangrove carbon credits.

Benefits are reinvested in the community to improve clean water access for 3,500 community members, provide educational materials to 700 school children, and to ensure the 117 hectare mangrove forest remains protected.

Ecotourism provides a further source of income for this initiative, which is in the process of being replicated in other regions in Kenya and other countries.

2. The Kuruwitu Conservation & Welfare Association, Kenya

Area of Focus: Biodiversity: ocean restoration, coasts

The Kuruwitu Conservation & Welfare Association (KCWA) was set up in 2003 by community members concerned about the degradation of their seas by overfishing, climate change and uncontrolled fish and coral collection by the aquarium trade.

In Vipingo, Kilifi County, Kenya, elders who could recall how healthy and productive the sea had been decades ago felt it necessary to take restorative action before it was too late.

In 2005 they set aside a 30 hectare Marine Protected Area (MPA), the first coral-based Locally Managed Marine Area in Kenya. Twelve years later, the area has recovered.

With fishing prohibited within the MPA, fish have grown in abundance, size and diversity. The area has become a breeding ground, leading to an increase in fish outside the MPA. Local fishermen see greater catches and at the same time, biodiversity has blossomed.

Kuruwitu has become an eco-tourism destination, creating jobs for guides, boat captains and rangers.

KCWA is working with the local Beach Management Unit, the Kenyan State Department of Fisheries, and the Wildlife Conservation Society to develop a co-management plan that will cover a 800 hectare area of ocean off the Kenyan coast. With this co-management plan, KCWA will collaborate with local fishermen to promote the sustainable use of marine resources, to reduce post-harvest losses and improve fish marketing.

3. The Mali Elephant Project, Mali

Area of Focus: Wildlife

In a drought-prone zone rife with resource conflicts and violent extremism, the Mali Elephant Project brings together various ethnic groups to manage local resources and protect an internationally important population of 350 endangered African elephants.

Through the formation of community-based natural resource management committees, the provision of additional income through support for women’s groups engaged in sustainable harvest of non-timber forest products, and anti-poaching measures involving ‘eco-guardian’ youth community members, the initiative has reduced poaching of elephants in the 32,000 km² area.

The Elephant Project has improved social cohesion between different local communities, and contributed to peace-building efforts by providing alternatives to joining extremist groups.

Communities have created rules for local use of natural resources, set aside forests for elephant use, formed pasture reserves, and designated seasonal water sources to be shared by people, livestock, and elephants.

Latin America and the Caribbean

4. Alianza Internacional de Reforestación (AIRES), Guatemala

Area of Focus: Biodiversity: Forests, mountains

For 24 years, AIRES has utilized the expertise of indigenous Maya forestry professionals to support more than 130 low-income communities in Guatemala’s Chimaltenango province to fight erosion and prevent deadly mudslides, improve food crops and nutrition, and prevent lung disease.

Working with community members, AIRES promotes sustainable farming methods and environmental education programs, builds efficient stoves, and has planted almost five million trees.

Almost 3,000 farmers, 70 percent of them women, have been trained by indigenous peers, 200 nurseries established, and 860 cook stoves built.

5. Associação Ashaninka do Rio Amônia Apiwtxa, Brazil

Area of Focus: Sustainable Forestry

To protect their 87,205-hectare territory Terra Kampa do Rio Amônia from deforestation and to defend Ashaninka rights and culture, Apiwtxa has used participatory 3D mapping to demarcate and support community-based management of indigenous lands.

With this innovative technology and broad community engagement, Apiwtxa has created a management plan for the Ashaninka territory.

The group has also set up an educational center that promotes sustainable agroforestry practices with Ashaninka communities in Brazil and Peru as well as other indigenous and non-indigenous groups and educational centers.

The schools place cultural exchange and social inclusion at the heart of environmental education, while leading restoration activities, and selling handicrafts and non-timber forest products through a cooperative in a cohesive strategy to defend indigenous lands and enhance community livelihoods.

6. Associação Terra Indígena Xingu (ATIX), Brazil

Area of Focus: Biodiversity: Forests

Founded 22 years ago by 16 indigenous communities in the 27,000 km² Terra Indígena Xingu to manage their land and defend their rights, Associação Terra Indígena Xingu is the first community-based organization in Brazil to obtain permits from the Ministry of Agriculture as a certifying entity for community-based organic products.

Two tons of honey are sold every year, and the organization has developed a new certification called ‘Selo dos Origens Brasil,’ highlighting the preservation of traditional knowledge and customs.

ATIX advocates for the recognition of indigenous land rights in the face of powerful pressures on the forest.

7. Community Baboon Sanctuary Women’s Conservation Group (CBSWCG), Belize

Area of Focus: Biodiversity: Forests, Wetlands, Rivers, Wildlife

Led by women from seven communities in the northern coastal plain of Belize, the Community Baboon Sactuary Women’s Conservation Group (CBSWCG) supports the conservation of the black howler monkey, or baboon, in the 6,000-hectare Community Baboon Sanctuary.

CBSWCG brings together 240 landowners, each of whom voluntarily participates in conservation efforts through a pledge system.

The sanctuary has produced a sustainable land management plan with environmental, economic and social benefits.

Maintaining interconnected wildlife corridor integrity and a comprehensive sustainable natural resource management strategy are among CBSWCG’s achievements.

A micro-credit fund has backed projects in sustainable oil harvesting, tilapia farming, organic agriculture, and livestock rearing while the Bel-riv Commerce and Eco-Tourism Expo, created by the group in 2013, offers improved market access for farmers, small-scale entrepreneurs, and artisans.

The successful protection of the sanctuary has led not only to an increase in the baboon population from 800 in 1985 to 6,000 in 2011, but also to the recovery of vulnerable populations of jaguar, ocelot, margay, puma and over 200 species of birds.

8. Federacion Tribus Pech de Honduras (FETRIPH), Honduras

Area of Focus: Sustainable Forestry

Federación Tribus Pech de Honduras unites 12 Pech communities in northeastern Honduras to fight for the protection of their forests against illegal occupation by settlers and to promote alternative livelihoods in a unique Access and Benefit Sharing scheme.

The group has founded a cooperative to sell liquidambar, an ingredient important in the fragrance and flavor industry, and has set production standards that ensure sustainability while addressing scarcity concerns in the international market, as well as guaranteeing a fair income for producers and the protection of Pech traditional knowledge.

Sixty percent of revenues directly benefit producers, providing a stable income for 60 families; the remaining 40 percent of revenues are directed to a community social fund that promotes education and public health.

FETRIPH successfully opposed the creation of a ‘people free’ national park, which would have stripped the Pech from the right to sustainably use liquidambar trees.

The government has instead signed an agreement with FETRIPH for co-management of the 34,000-hectare Anthropological and Forest Reserve ‘Montaña del Carbón,’ which provides the community with stewardship over their forest.

9. Organización para la Defensa y Conservación Ecológica de Intag (DECOIN), Ecuador

Area of Focus: Biodiversity: Forests, Mountains, Rivers, Wildlife

Founded in 1995 to confront a big mining project threatening communities and environment in the Intag Valley, DECOIN promotes alternative livelihoods and measures to advance conservation of the area’s Andean biodiversity.

Over the past 22 years, the organization has created community-based forest reserves to protect watersheds in 38 communities, totaling 12,000 hectares.

Sustainable agricultural activities such as small holder organic coffee production, aquaculture, poultry farming, and egg production, as well as eco-tourism ventures, provide additional income and viable alternatives to mining, which remains a strong pressure in the area.

Eastern Europe & Central Asia

10. Public Foundation “Zhassyl Azyk,” Kazakhstan

Area of Focus: Biodiversity: Drylands, ecosystem restoration

Concerned with extensive soil degradation, five farming communities near Almaty, Kazakhstan created the Community Fund ‘Zhasil Azik’ to restore the productivity of low-fertility lands by sustainably cultivating alfalfa.

Alfalfa cultivation serves as an entry point to restore soil fertility, counter the effects of monoculture, make more efficient use of scarce water supplies, and improve smallholder income.

New opportunities for livestock breeding through the availability of alfalfa have further enhanced food security.

The innovative approaches utilized by the group accelerate recovery of soil fertility, do not require large financial investments, are technologically accessible for smallholder agricultural producers, and have increased income by 20 percent.

More than 200 jobs have been created through the initiative’s work, and the national government has integrated these techniques into the National Program for the Development of Agro-industrial Complex, effectively providing the support to scale up these practices to the national level.

Community Fund ‘Zhasil Azik’ mobilizes local communities to deliver on solutions that address global challengess of food security, land degradation, water scarcity, and adaptation to climate change.

Asia & the Pacific

11. Asosiasi Usaha Homestay Lokal Kabupaten Raja Ampat (AUHLKRA), Indonesia

AUHLKRA is a growing network of 84 community-owned businesses in Papua and West Papua, offering ecotourism services that connect tourists directly with family-run homestays through a user-friendly web portal, Stay Raja Ampat, and an SMS booking system.

More than 600 new jobs have been created in homestays, fishing, and agriculture, including for youth and women, providing viable alternatives to the resort industry. The association sets hospitality and environmental standards for all member community-owned businesses.

Pressures on ecosystems have been reduced through community forest patrols, peer-pressure enforcement of no-take fishery zones, and a participatory system to report illegal activities.

12. Baltistan Wildlife Conservation and Development Organization (BWCDO), Pakistan

The Baltistan Wildlife Conservation and Development Organization protects Baltistan’s snow leopards by providing economic incentives to local farmers in 17 villages through insurance schemes and financial compensation against livestock losses following snow leopard attacks.

Damages are paid after verification through joint decisions between BWCDO and Village Insurance Committees established for this purpose.

Communities have also set up predator-proof fencing, and received training to improve herding techniques. Vaccination campaigns protect both livestock and wildlife.

BWCDO’s achievements have reduced economic losses to farmers. An educational program raises awareness and provides opportunities for girls, proactively engaging youth in conservation and development.

13. Community Mangrove Forest Conservation of Baan Bang La, Thailand

Area of Focus: Forests, oceans, coasts, wetlands, wildlife

In 2004, Bang La was protected from the worst of a catastrophic tsunami by a 192-hectare mangrove forest. Recognizing the importance of this natural habitat for disaster risk reduction, Bang La community residents formed an association to advance the protection of mangroves through co-management, community dialogues, and education programs. This enabled them to resist the expansion of urban housing developments into the publically-owned land.

The community has secured a Memorandum of Understanding from the provincial government, which provides them with the rights to establish a community-managed mangrove forest conservation area.

The community’s sustainable management of this area has triggered the return of the protected Phuket Sea Otter, and places this endangered species at the center of awareness campaigns that engage women and youth in natural resource management.

The group has established a savings and microcredit scheme to support small-business opportunities and retain the traditional character of the community.

14. Swayam Shikshan Prayog, India

Area of Focus: Grasslands, drylands

Swayam Shikshan Prayog empowers 72,000 women in the drought-prone state of Maharashtra to act as decision-makers, improving their health and economic well-being.

At the nexus of nutrition, sustainable agriculture, and gender, SSP has created 5,500 self-help and saving groups that support women to engage as farmers, entrepreneurs, and leaders.

SSP trains women to negotiate with their families to obtain their own plot of land for cultivation, usually about 0.4 hectares each. Low-input sustainable farming techniques, including efficient water use, organic farming, mixed cropping, and increased crop cycles, enable the women to improve food security, increase climate resilience, enhance agrobiodiversity, and reduce stress on water resources.

Through these projects, women develop capacity to influence household decision-making, improve nutrition, and increase water availablity in the region. The initiative provides a space for local women to co-create their own development solutions and to connect with likeminded women and organizations to spread their knowledge and experise in a broader network, creating a mechaism for widespread sustainable change.

15. Yayasan Planet Indonesia

Area of Focus: Biodiversity: Forests, coasts

Fighting economic activities detrimental to the environment, Planet Indonesia identifies, led by the benefiting Dayak communities, sustainable livelihood opportunities through the development of conservation compacts and community businesses.

Activities range from forest protection to anti-wildlife trafficking to securing land rights.

Business groups have been set up in more than 50 villages, comprising 2,100 members, more than two-thirds of whom are women and/or indigenous.

Community members are trained to run small-scale businesses, savings and loans programs build community capital, a revolving fund covers damages and operational costs, and coaching and mentoring ensures long-term sustainability of each community business.

An annual fellowship program provides 50 high school students with funds to conduct adaptation and mitigation projects. To date, 30,000 hectares of forest have been protected and over 40,000 seedlings planted.

Since its inception in 2002, the Equator Prize has recognized the innovative work of 223 community initiatives that are helping to protect the environment and tackle climate change while advancing their sustainable development priorities.

This year’s Equator Prize was made possible by the generous support of the Governments of Germany, Norway, and Sweden, National Geographic, Pvblic Foundation, Conservation International, the Global Environment Facility, Rainforest Norway, The Nature Conservancy, and the individuals who contributed to the Equator Initiative crowdfunding campaign.


Featured image: Equator Prize 2017, Equator Initiative www.equatorinitiative.org
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Public-Private Solutions for Asia’s Waste Crisis

A girl searches for recyclable materials in a garbage dump with smelly gases rising around her. Mandalay City, Myanmar, February 2009 (Photo by Nyaung U courtesy UN Development Programme Global Photo Contest in China) Creative Commons license via Flickr

A girl searches for recyclable materials in a garbage dump with smelly gases rising around her. Mandalay City, Myanmar, February 2009 (Photo by Nyaung U courtesy UN Development Programme Global Photo Contest in China) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

MANILA, Philippines, August 24, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – Public-private partnerships have an important role to play in improving solid waste management in Asia, according to lessons learned from a five-city project undertaken by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) over the past three years.

Bringing expertise from both private and public sectors to bear on a routinely neglected area of municipal service in Asia would be the most effective way of upgrading landfill design, remediation, construction, and operation, project leaders found.

The senior project leader, Andrew McIntyre, is an urban development specialist with 32 years of experience who leads ADB’s Future Cities Program. He works with Asian cities over the long term, by facilitating cross-sectoral knowledge and financing partners, broadening project pipelines and ensuring integrated results.

“Asia’s cities are the engines of incredible economic growth. For many countries, they generate over 80 percent of GDP and improve the lives of millions of people. But this prosperity comes with a price. Take for example the more than one million tons of solid waste that cities generate every day as they grow,” says McIntyre in a report ‘Improving Waste Management: Solutions from Five Asian Cities’ on the project written for the bank.

“Without proper management, the deluge of solid waste causes severe pollution, helps diseases spread, and generates greenhouse gas emissions. It can also exacerbate urban flooding, which can endanger lives and compromise livelihoods particularly for the poor and marginalized,” he says.

Yet in spite of these risks, waste management has been a low priority for most Asian cities, while more attention is given to transport, water, and health services.

McIntyre says that “urban solid waste management interventions can no longer be piecemeal or underfunded” if the world is to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 12, one target of which is to reduce waste generation by 2030, and ensure sustainable patterns of consumption and production.

During the three-year project five cities in Asia received technical assistance from the bank’s project team on mainstreaming solid waste management.

The $1.4 million project worked with local authorities in Mandalay in Myanmar, Quezon City and Sorsogon in the Philippines, and Buriram and Mahasarakham in Thailand.

Key assistance was a review and upgrade of municipal 10-year plans for solid waste management plus one tailored project per city.

Issues covered were waste avoidance, minimization, and recycling; waste haulage and disposal; and information, education, and communication campaigns to help avoid and minimize waste and encourage reuse and recycling.

Lack of funds and technical skills to develop and implement environmentally sound methods of waste management is the main constraint in municipal solid waste management, McIntyre concludes. He says private sector participation that can infuse funds, technical skills and operational efficiencies is a key prerequisite for addressing the problem.

In country presentations and workshops were held in each city to develop and confirm action plans and address policy reform issues. A final workshop was held in January 2017 in Bangkok.

Each of the five project cities has completely different issues that need unique solutions, but all involve both the public and the private sectors. Here, we focus on three of the project cities – two large and one small.

In Myanmar, once called Burma, the project team addressed waste generated by the six townships in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city with a population of over 1.7 million. ‘Mandalay City: Outsourcing Waste Collection Services‘.

Mandalay’s waste collection is supposed to be door-to-door, but large areas have only community bins and informal dumping areas.

The waste collection fleet is composed of compactor vehicles, tipping vehicles, hook lift bins with both covered and uncovered containers, small tricycle collection vehicles, and push carts.

The city’s two landfill sites are operated as uncontrolled dumps and are in urgent need of changes to avoid generating landfill leachate, the bank project team found.

“Staff appear to lack skills required for improving the operation. For example, both sites have extensive areas of uncovered waste placed at very flat slopes, thereby maximizing leachate generation and associated hazards. Leachate was observed flowing off the southern dumpsite onto neighboring properties in dry weather,” the project team reports.

“Overall, the sites are poorly run, and fundamental operational and design errors are compounded by budget limitations, which impacts on availability of suitable equipment and material. Examples include an adequate supply of soil cover for daily, intermediate, and final cover application,” writes the team.

After consulting stakeholders, the project team and the Mandalay city government developed and agreed on an enhanced 10-year integrated solid waste management plan.

Due to strong interest from city, the project team conducted a pre-feasibility study on privatizing waste collection in Chan Aye Thar Zan, the main business district of downtown Mandalay. It is home to the city’s biggest shopping center, the Zegyo Market, and most international standard hotels

The study looked at a privatized fleet of compactors that collect waste door-to-door or from bins. It would be fully mechanized and efficient. The private operator could be contracted to provide the staff and technology, but could also be contracted to supply the collection equipment if a longer contract term was awarded.

Quezon City, with three million people, is the largest city in Metro Manila, the National Capital Region of the Philippines. It is the site of many government offices, including the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the Philippine Congress, yet the municipality does not have a financially sustainable waste collection system.

Reasons for this state of affairs relate to fees for waste management and the length of time private waste collection companies can be contracted to operate the service.

Contracts are limited to one year due to restrictions in the national procurement law. So, private operators are not guaranteed a payback period for modernizing equipment, and there is limited incentive for investing in specialist compactor vehicles and a modern processing plant.

Quezon City is not collecting garbage management fees due to a legal issue on how waste management fees are calculated. Even though local government units in the Philippines have budget allocations for solid waste management, the cost of collection is often higher.

One solution is to provide more incentives to private companies to invest in solid waste management by extending contracts to a term of seven to 10 years or longer. Then private companies could schedule repayment of purchase costs for specialized equipment, but this would require changes to the country’s procurement laws.

As it is, residual waste is hauled to the Payatas dumpsite, which was converted into a controlled landfill 15 years ago. About five years ago, a lined landfill was established on the site. The site is operated and maintained by a private contractor and has more than five years of life remaining with just the current landholdings. But time and landfill space are running out.

The Payatas landfill development in Quezon City, Philippines, (Photo by Lyndsay Chapple courtesy Asian Development Bank) Posted for media use.

The Payatas landfill development in Quezon City, Philippines, (Photo by Lyndsay Chapple courtesy Asian Development Bank) Posted for media use.

The project team and the Quezon City government designed and agreed on an enhanced 10-year integrated solid waste management plan and a pre-feasibility study was conducted on setting up a waste-to-energy facility with a modular waste capacity of 1,000 tons a day using a stoker-type incinerator.

In Thailand, the project team worked with municipal officials in a small city of 28,000 people in the northeastern part of the country called Buriram, which literally means city of happiness.

They conducted a pre-feasibility study on whether refuse derived fuels could provide a possible method for diverting waste from the landfill. The waste would be separated and prepared to quality specifications, then transported and sold to cement kiln owners who might buy it as a coal substitute for the heating process.

Many small to medium domestic companies had already approached Buriram municipal officers promoting waste-to-energy plants, and in particular, refuse derived fuels. Municipal officers expressed high optimism for refuse derived fuels as a solution to the issue of ever-increasing quantities of solid waste going to landfill.

But the base case model showed a significant negative return on investment.

The bank project team concluded that such projects may not be viable in small cities in northeast Thailand due to small waste quantities and high transport costs.

A suggested solution is a public-private partnership that would take in funds from a subsidy to the refuse derived fuels developer through direct Buriram municipality tipping fees and/or central government capital subsidies.

Using lessons learned from the five-city project, the ADB is moving to help other Asian cities deal with their overflowing landfills in a clean, modern way.

In Vietnam in July, the bank and the Da Nang City People’s Committee signed a transaction advisory services agreement to develop a new landfill and waste treatment facility.

Da Nang, a rapidly growing industrial and tourism hub in central Vietnam with a population of over a million, collects about 700-750 tons of solid waste a day. Waste is disposed of in the city’s existing landfill, but the remaining capacity will be fully utilized by 2020.

The project will use a public-private partnership plan. The private sector will design, build, finance, operate, and maintain the waste disposal and treatment facilities that meet the city’s requirements beyond 2020 by applying modern technologies for treating waste.

The concession period and the technologies to be used will be determined based on a feasibility study.

“ADB has been a key development partner to Da Nang City,” said Norio Saito, ADB deputy country director in Vietnam. “This transaction advisory support to Da Nang for the solid waste treatment facility will complement the work we are doing in the urban sector in Vietnam, and create a template for delivering waste treatment solutions via public-private partnerships for other cities across the country.”

In the last analysis, whatever the circumstances, better solid waste management means investing more funds and increasing cooperation between the public and private sectors.

“Over the next decade, along with energy and transport infrastructure, we need to invest more in integrated solid waste management processes and facilities,” says McIntyre. “If we don’t, making developing Asia’s cities livable in the future will be nothing more than a pipe dream.”


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E-Waste Piles Proliferate in Asia

E-Waste Piles Proliferate in Asia

Creative reuse of Used PCBs, Agbogbloshie , February 28, 2014 (Photo by Fairphone) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

TOKYO, Japan, January 26, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – The volume of discarded electronics in East Asia and Southeast Asia rose nearly two-thirds between 2010 and 2015, and e-waste generation is growing fast both in total volume and per person measures, new United Nations research shows.

The study shows that rising e-waste quantities are even outpacing population growth.

Driven by rising incomes and high demand for new devices and appliances, the average increase in e-waste across all 12 countries and areas analyzed was 63 percent in the five years ending in 2015.

The e-waste totaled 12.3 million tonnes, a weight 2.4 times that of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

These calculations are drawn from the first-ever Regional E-waste Monitor: East and Southeast Asia compiled by the UN’s think tank, the United Nations University and funded by Japan’s Ministry of Environment.

To conserve resources and avoid serious health and environmental problems, the report urges a crackdown on improper recycling and disposal of electrical and electronic equipment, which includes anything with a battery or a cord.

The countries and other jurisdictions covered by the report are: Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

China alone more than doubled its generation of e-waste between 2010 and 2015 to 6.7 million tonnes, up 107 percent.

For many countries that already lack infrastructure for environmentally sound e-waste management, the increasing volumes are a cause for concern,” says co-author Ruediger Kuehr of UN University.

Increasing the burden on existing waste collection and treatment systems results in flows towards environmentally unsound recycling and disposal,” he warned.

Regionally, the average amount of e-waste generated by each person was about 10 kg in 2015, with the highest generation found in Hong Kong (21.7 kg per person), followed by Singapore (19.95 kg) and Taiwan (19.13 kg).

There were large differences between nations, with Cambodia at 1.10 kg per person, Vietnam, with 1.34 kg, and the Philippines at 1.35 kg per person being the lowest e-waste generators in 2015.

The report cites four main trends responsible for the increasing volumes of electronic waste:

•             More devices: Innovation in technology is driving the introduction of new products, particularly portable electronics, such as tablets, and wearables like smart watches.

•             More consumers: In the East and Southeast Asian region, there are industrializing countries with growing populations, and also rapidly expanding middle classes able to afford more devices.

•             Decreasing usage window: The usage time of devices is getting shorter as rapidly advancing technologies make older products obsolete – for instance flash drives have replaced floppy disks.

Software requirements also play a role in decreased usage time. For instance, there are minimum requirements for computers to run operating software and other applications, and there are “soft factors” such as product fashion, the report states.

As more devices are replaced more rapidly, piles of e-waste grow.

•             Imports: Import of electrical and electronic equipment provides greater availability of products, both new and second-hand, which also increases the e-waste that arises as the devices reach their end of life.

The report warns of improper and illegal e-waste dumping prevalent in most countries in the study, regardless of national e-waste legislation.

Consumers, dismantlers and recyclers are often guilty of illegal dumping, particularly of “open dumping“, where non- functional parts and residues from dismantling and treatment operations are released into the environment, the report points out.

The main reasons for illegal dumping are: lack of awareness, lack of incentives, lack of convenience, the absence of suitable hazardous waste disposal sites, weak governance, and lax enforcement of whatever laws do exist.

The report points to common practices such as open burning, which can cause acute and chronic ill-effects on public health and the environment.

Open burning of e-waste is practiced by informal recyclers when segregating organic and inorganic compounds. For example, they may burn cables to recover the valuable copper.

Though less common, spontaneous combustion can occur at open dumping sites when components such as batteries trigger fires due to short circuits.

Informal recycling, called “backyard recycling,” is a challenge for most developing countries in the region, with a large and growing number of entrepreneurs conducting unlicensed and illegal recycling practices from backyards.

These processes are not only hazardous for the recyclers, their communities and the environment, but they are also inefficient, as they are unable to extract the full value of the processed products, the report points out.

These recyclers recover gold, silver, palladium and copper from printed circuit boards and wires, using solvents such as sulphuric acid for hazardous wet chemical leaching processes, or acid baths, which release toxic fumes.

Open burning and acid bath recycling in the informal sector have serious negative impacts on processers’ occupational health,” co-author Shunichi Honda warns. “In the absence of protective materials such as gloves, glasses, masks, etc., inhalation of and exposure to hazardous chemicals and substances directly affect workers’ health.

Associations have been reported between exposure from improper treatment of e-waste and altered thyroid function, reduced lung function, negative birth outcomes, reduced childhood growth, negative mental health outcomes, impaired cognitive development, cytotoxicity and genotoxicity,” explains Honda.

Indirect exposure to these hazardous substances is also a cause of many health problems, particularly for families of informal recyclers who often live and work in the same location, as well as for communities living in and around the area of informal recycling sites.

The report gives top marks to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. These three jurisdictions have a head-start in the region in establishing e-waste collection and recycling systems. They began to adopt and enforce e-waste specific laws in the late 1990s.

Among the most advanced economies and areas in the region, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are also characterized by high per capita e-waste generation, formal collection and recycling infrastructure and relatively strong enforcement.

Hong Kong and Singapore do not have specific e-waste legislation. Instead, these governments collaborate with producers to manage e-waste through public-private partnerships.

As small jurisdictions with large shipping and trade networks, Hong Kong and Singapore must cope with major transboundary movements of e-waste generated domestically, as well as e-waste in transit from other countries.

China, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam all have recent e-waste legislation. These four countries are in a transitionphase, with a mix of formal and informal elements in an evolving ecosystem in terms of collection and recycling infrastructure.

Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand have yet to establish legal frameworks for e-waste management. There is an active informal sector in these countries with an established network for collection and import of end-of-life products and their recycling, repair, refurbishment and parts harvesting.

Asia, including the 12 nations and jurisdictions in this new study, is the world’s largest consumer of electrical and electronic equipment, buying nearly half of all such equipment on the market, amounting to 20.62 million tonnes in 2005; and 26.69 million tonnes in 2012.

The increase is striking given the drop in sales of electrical and electronic equipment in Europe and the Americas in 2012 following the global financial crisis.

e-wasteHongKong

A tracking device inside an old printer led investigators from the Seattle-based nonprofit Basel Action Network to this e-waste scrapyard in rural Hong Kong, June 22, 2016. (Photo by Katie Campbell, KCTS/EarthFix) Creative Commons license via Flickr


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Eco-Conscious Tourists Welcome, Destroyers Go Home

Bang Kachao

By Sunny Lewis

BANGKOK, Thailand, January 14, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – Tourism can play a positive role in conservation by showcasing the value of existing natural and cultural heritage and focusing attention on the need for preservation. But tourists can be disruptive, and the amenities built to serve them can destroy wildlife habitat and disturb land needed as a bulwark against climate change.

Sustainable tourism is the key. It’s more than not littering and not buying souvenirs made from endangered species, but exactly what activities are sustainable and which are destructive? Groups around the globe are finding the answers.

The Pacific Asia Tourism Authority (PATA) is working with members from nine countries to cultivate a better understanding of how tourism affects the natural world.

At the PATA Academy, held in Bangkok in early December, a team from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and its Mangroves for the Future initiative offered a seminar on Business Ecosystems Training, a product of the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD) that presents the basics of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

As part of the seminar, IUCN hosted a site visit to Bang Kachao, a 2,000-hectare riverine peninsula covered with wetlands and forests located across the Chao Phraya River from Bangkok.

As it is near Bangkok, Bang Kachao faces the degradation of natural resources, the reduction of green space, water pollution from households and industries, land-filling for flood prevention and riverbank encroachment.

Visiting Bang Kachao allowed participants to see how well-managed tourism and cooperation with local communities can help protect the peninsula’s habitats. They learned how sustainable tourism can help conserve wildlife habitat by providing income to the local people who do the work of preservation.

Talking with community conservation groups, participants learned that local wisdom and knowledge can contribute to the sustainable management of Bang Kachao through the restoration of its mangrove ecosystems.

In 2013, IUCN Thailand started working on biodiversity conservation in Bang Kachao. With Thailand’s Royal Forest Department, the Asia-Pacific Network for Sustainable Forest Management, community groups and academic institutions, IUCN supports efforts to conduct landscape and biodiversity surveys, to establish demonstration sites, and to promote ecotourism activities that benefit the local community.

That same year, IUCN and its Mangroves for the Future project partnered with the Marriott International hotel chain to protect the environment and support local communities in Bang Kachao and coastal areas of Thailand through mangrove restoration, the sustainable sourcing of seafood and local procurement practices.

All these practices are a part of daily life for conservationists in the world’s most magnificent, most fragile places. And they were not made up on the fly. Formal standards have been developed by an international body dedicated to sustainable tourism.

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), a virtual organization that exists only online, establishes and manages global sustainable standards with the goal of increasing sustainable tourism knowledge and practices among public and private stakeholders.

At the heart of this work are the two sets of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s Sustainability Criteria: Destination Criteria as well as Hotel and Tour Operator Criteria.

The guidelines are intended to apply to all forms of tourism accommodation, from large hotels and resorts to remote community guesthouses.

The GSTC Criteria are the minimum, not the maximum, that businesses, governments, and destinations should achieve to approach social, environmental, cultural, and economic sustainability.

Since tourism destinations each have their own culture, environment, customs and laws, the criteria are designed to be adapted to local conditions and configured for each specific location and activity.

And the guidelines have just become even more formal. In mid-December, the International Standards Organisation (ISO) published a new Technical Specification (TS 13811) “Tourism and related services – Guidelines on developing environmental specifications for accommodation establishments,” –  New guidelines help tourism accommodation go green.

As a member of the ISO’s Technical Committee on Tourism, the GSTC contributed to the development of the new standard.

GSTC Technical Director Guy Chester said, “Sustainable tourism is vital if we are to meet the recently adopted global Sustainable Development Goals. The Technical Specification focuses on environmental aspects and it is a tribute to the rigor and applicability of the GSTC Criteria that select criteria were adopted for this ISO document.”

Clare Naden of the ISO said, “The guidelines outline a number of things that accommodation establishments can do to reduce their impact, including conserving their use of resources, reducing pollution and better managing their waste, as well as ways they can make a positive contribution to the area. This includes things such as restoring natural areas of scenic beauty and educating staff, clients and the community of the important role they too can play.”

Tuba Ulu Yilmaz of Turkey, who led an ISO tourism technical specification working group, said the new guidelines are expected to be a technical reference for a wide range of stakeholders, not just accommodation providers who want to be more environmentally friendly.

“It is also aimed at countries with no regulations to constitute a framework; national and international bodies to assess and harmonize their existing schemes or certifications; and consumers who want the choice to choose establishments that have the environment in mind,” she said. “It will foster the ultimate goal of environmental sustainability and raise the overall standard of the tourism sector.”

But Geoffrey Lipman, president at International Coalition of Tourism Partners and chair of greenearth.travel, told a tourism workshop in San Jose, Costa Rica in November that “the travel industry is behind the curve in translating global policy into local level actions.”

The workshop, co-organized by The Long Run initiative of the Zeitz Foundation, the Costa Rican Tourism Board and the Chamber of Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism of Costa Rica, emphasized the recently adopted UN Sustainable Development Goals as amplifying the opportunity to realize the full potential of the tourism industry for the wellbeing of the people and the planet.

“Efforts need to be brought together to impact mainstream policy making,” said Lipman. “Everyone has a responsibility to link tourism to the Sustainable Development Goals and climate targets.”

Several United Nations agencies are involved in guiding and encouraging sustainable tourism. The UNESCO World Heritage Centre sets global standards for good management of the world’s most exceptional places.

Places as unique and diverse as the wilds of East Africa’s Serengeti Plain, the Pyramids of Egypt and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef are designated as World Heritage sites that belong to all the peoples of the world. This idea is embodied in an international treaty, the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted by UNESCO in 1972.

The World Heritage Centre encourages the 191 States Parties to the treaty to establish management plans and set up reporting systems on the state of conservation of their World Heritage sites.

Sustainable tourism guidelines set the standards, and awards motivate extra effort.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) will recognize exceptional sustainable tourism projects on January 20 at an awards dinner in Madrid, Spain.

The diversity of these projects is shown in the category of Enterprises. Award nominees include:

  • Garuda Indonesia airline and its Bali beach clean-up initiative, which emphasizes the role of communities in preserving coastal areas;
  • Switzerland Explorer Tours, with a 100% electric bus tour and sustainable tour experiences;
  • Meliá Hotels International of Spain for promoting employment opportunities for young people at risk of exclusion;
  • The Treetop Walking Path in the Anykščiai Regional Park in Lithuania;
  • The Projeto Fartura of Brazil and its Plentifulness Project linking food, research and travel in 145 Brazilian cities.

The UNWTO Awards on Excellence and Innovation are held in collaboration with Madrid International Tourism Trade Fair and with the support of China’s Macao Government Tourist Office, Port Aventura, the Galicia Tourism Board of Spain, Hilton Worldwide, Etihad Airways, Mapfre Asistencia, Amadeus and the Paraguay Tourism Board.

 


Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

Featured image: Samutprakarn Bang Kachao under creative commons license via Wikimedia Commons
Header image: Sri Nakhon Khuean Khan Park and Botanical Garden or the lungs of Bangkok in Bang Kachao, Samut Prakan via 123rf