The ‘recycling crisis’ may be here to stay



File 20190219 121747 a495ho.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A major Victorian company has had to stop accepting recycling.
TRACEY NEARMY/AAP

Trevor Thornton, Deakin University

Over the weekend, Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority issued notices for a major recycling company to stop receiving waste at two of its sites.

While the full consequences of these notices are yet to be realised, in the short term this means at least one council will have to dump kerbside recycling in landfill.




Read more:
Australian recycling plants have no incentive to improve


This isn’t a new problem. It’s a result of China’s decision to stop accepting Australia’s recyclables, and a clear sign we’ve been playing catch-up but not focusing on sustainable solutions. We need to work out how to deal with recycling in Australia – and determine how much it will cost, and who will pay.

We’re missing a piece of the financial puzzle

Kerbside collections are of course funded by householders as part of their annual rates. After China stopped buying Australian recycling we saw the garbage component of rates rise, so the collection aspect of the costs seems to be addressed. But of course there are a range of materials that cannot be placed in kerbside bins, but can be recycled.

As reported recently in The Age, analysis by an environmental consultancy has found the prices consumers may have to pay to ensure there are systems in place to recycle a range of specific items. For example, it would cost A$16 to recycle a mattress. Given that my local landfill charges A$23 to dispose of a mattress, it seems to make economic sense to pay into a compulsory recycling scheme (and I would not have to transport the mattress to the landfill, which is another bonus).

However, the piece of the loop that is missing is the encouragement (by levies or incentives), for businesses to use more recycled materials in their products.

It does not make sense to collect and stockpile recyclable materials until commodity prices are high enough to justify sorting them. This habit makes us dependent on overseas markets and creates domestic issues.

Nor is it good to have a stop-start approach, in which recyclables are sorted properly when there is space, but sent to landfill when there is not (or have householders call the council fortnightly to see whether they should place their recycling bin out).

A recycling industry association has provided a ten-point plan for resolving what they consider the essential issues with recycling. This very positive list includes investing waste levy funds into recycling, providing incentives for companies to use more recycled material, and educating consumers and businesses on recycling issues.

Encouraging businesses to use more recycled material is crucial. Instead of just reporting how much of their waste is recycled rather than sent to landfill, all organisations should report on the percentage of materials they buy from recycled sources.

This would help consumers make better buying decisions, and give guidance for governments to target specific sectors or programs to increase the use of recyclables.

Better systems

We need a “fresh eyes” approach to how we manage waste, focusing equally on the environmental, economic and social aspects of this issue. One barrier is the lack of a centralised approach by all three spheres of government. It doesn’t make sense for state or local governments to have to to manage this large-scale infrastructure issue in isolation.

The largest portion of responsibility for waste management lies with the generator, but that is not to say others may not have a level of involvement. We all have some responsibility for the waste we create in our own homes, and how we dispose of it. Besides recycling, that also means (where possible) avoiding and reducing trash, and buying items made with recyclables – this is called “closing of the loop”.

Some businesses have made significant efforts to reduce their dependence on virgin raw materials, and are using recycled material to either make or package their products. But we do not hear much about this.

Perhaps it is time for a scheme similar to the “Buy Australian” program or energy efficiency stars, which would enable consumers to readily identify the level of recycled material in a product. Currently it is very difficult to tell.

Retailers often say they’re driven by consumers in what they can provide, so why not use our supposed power to force improvements (and more importantly, reductions), in use of virgin materials?

The banning of plastic bags by supermarkets was consumer-driven – so now is the time to encourage companies to reduce their waste burden. Perhaps you can approach a retailer about excess packaging, or make sure you check the label to see if an item was made or packaged with recycled materials.




Read more:
Electronic waste is recycled in appalling conditions in India


As we move towards a federal election we should also be asking what our political parties are proposing to do about our waste crisis. It’s time to ask local candidates about their sustainable plan for resolving Australia’s issues with recycling, waste management and reducing resource use.The Conversation

Trevor Thornton, Lecturer, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Advertisements

How climate change can make catastrophic weather systems linger for longer


Steve Turton, CQUniversity Australia

Many parts of Australia have suffered a run of severe and, in some cases, unprecedented weather events this summer. One common feature of many of these events – including the Tasmanian heatwave and the devastating Townsville floods – was that they were caused by weather systems that parked themselves in one place for days or weeks on end.

It all began with a blocking high – so-called because it blocks the progress of other nearby weather systems – in the Tasman Sea throughout January and early February.

This system prevented rain-bearing cold fronts from moving across Tasmania, and led to prolonged hot dry northwesterly winds, below-average rainfall and scorching temperatures.




Read more:
Dry lightning has set Tasmania ablaze, and climate change makes it more likely to happen again


Meanwhile, to the north, an intense monsoon low sat stationary over northwest Queensland for 10 days. It was fed on its northeastern flank by extremely saturated northwesterly winds from Indonesia, which converged over the greater northeast Queensland area with strong moist trade winds from the Coral Sea, forming a “convergence zone”.

Ironically, these trade winds originated from the northern flank of the blocking high in the Tasman, deluging Queensland while leaving the island state parched.

Unusually prolonged

Convergence zones along the monsoon trough are not uncommon during the wet season, from December to March. But it is extremely rare for a stationary convergence zone to persist for more than a week.

Could this pattern conceivably be linked to global climate change? Are we witnessing a slowing of our weather systems as well as more extreme weather?

There does seem to be a plausible link between human-induced warming, slowing of jet streams, blocking highs, and extreme weather around the world. The recent Tasman Sea blocking high can be added to that list, along with other blocking highs that caused unprecedented wildfires in California and an extreme heatwave in Europe last year.

There is also a trend for the slowing of the forward speed (as opposed to wind speed) of tropical cyclones around the world. One recent study showed the average forward speeds of tropical cyclones fell by 10% worldwide between 1949 and 2016. Meanwhile, over the same period, the forward speed of tropical cyclones dropped by 22% over land in the Australian region.

Climate change is expected to weaken the world’s circulatory winds due to greater warming in high latitudes compared with the tropics, causing a slowing of the speed at which tropical cyclones move forward.

Obviously, if tropical cyclones are moving more slowly, this can leave particular regions bearing the brunt of the rainfall. In 2017, Houston and surrounding parts of Texas received unprecedented rainfall associated with the “stalling” of Hurricane Harvey.

Townsville’s floods echoed this pattern. Near the centre of the deep monsoon low, highly saturated warm air was forced to rise due to colliding winds, delivering more than a year’s worth of rainfall to parts of northwest Queensland in just a week.

The widespread rain has caused significant rises in many of the rivers that feed into the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Great Barrier Reef lagoon, and some runoff has made it into the Channel Country and will eventually reach Lake Eyre in South Australia. Unfortunately, little runoff has found its way into the upper reaches of the Darling River system.

Satellite images before (right) and after (left) the floods in northwest Queensland.
Courtesy of Japan Meteorological Agency, Author provided

Huge impacts

The social, economic and environmental impacts of Australia’s recent slow-moving weather disasters have been huge. Catastrophic fires invaded ancient temperate rainforests in Tasmania, while Townsville’s unprecedented flooding has caused damage worth more than A$600 million and delivered a A$1 billion hit to cattle farmers in surrounding areas.

Townsville’s Ross River, which flows through suburbs downstream from the Ross River Dam, has reached a 1-in-500-year flood level. Some tributaries of the dam witnessed phenomenal amounts of runoff, reliably considered as a 1-in-2,000-year event

Up to half a million cattle are estimated to have died across the area, a consequence of their poor condition after years of drought, combined with prolonged exposure to water and wind during the rain event.




Read more:
Queensland’s floods are so huge the only way to track them is from space


Farther afield, both Norfolk Island and Lord Howe Island – located under the clear skies associated with the blocking high – have recorded exceptionally low rainfall so far this year, worsening the drought conditions caused by a very dry 2018. These normally lush subtropical islands in the Tasman Sea are struggling to find enough water to supply their residents’ and tourists’ demands.

Many parts of Australia have tolerated widespread extreme weather events this year, including some records. This follows a warm and generally dry 2018. In fact, 9 of the 10 warmest years on record in Australia have occurred since 2005, with only 1998 remaining from last century with reliable records extending back to 1910. Steady warming of our atmosphere and oceans is directly linked to more extreme weather events in Australia and globally.

If those extreme weather events travel more slowly across the landscape, their effects on individual regions could be more devastating still.The Conversation

Steve Turton, Adjunct Professor of Environmental Geography, CQUniversity Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The battle against bugs: it’s time to end chemical warfare



File 20190215 56220 4e8qzx.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Does it really pay to spray?
Dmitry Syshchikov/Shutterstock

Lizzy Lowe, Macquarie University; Cameron Webb, University of Sydney; Manu Saunders, University of New England, and Tanya Latty, University of Sydney

Insects are important wildlife often overlooked in urban habitats. What we do notice are the cockroaches, ants and mosquitoes in and around our homes. All too often we reach for the insect spray.

But not all insects are pests – a wide variety of them help keep our cities healthy. They pollinate plants, feed other wildlife, recycle our rubbish, and eat other insect pests. Insects are vital to our well-being.

Unfortunately, like many other wild animals, insects are under threat. A recent study warned that 40% of the world’s insect species face the prospect of extinction, amid threats such as climate change, habitat loss, and humanity’s overenthusiastic use of synthetic chemicals.

Australians use large amounts of pesticides to tackle creepy crawlies in their homes and gardens. But our fondness for fly spray has potentially serious impacts on urban ecosystems and public health.

We need a more sustainable way to deal with urban insect pests. Our recently published article in the Journal of Pest Science outlines some of the ways to do it.

What’s wrong with pesticides anyway?

Since becoming publicly available in the 1950s, insect sprays have been a popular way to deal with cockroaches, flies, moths, and ants around the home and backyard, and are also widely used by local councils to keep pests at bay. But what may have been effective in the past won’t necessarily work in the future, or may have unintended consequences.

Many pests, such as mosquitoes, are now becoming resistant to commonly used products. In parts of the world affected by diseases such as dengue, this jeopardises our ability to control outbreaks.




Read more:
Chemical or natural: what’s the best way to repel mozzies?


Another, perhaps wider, problem is that indiscriminate use of insecticides can kill more than just pests. Many species on which we rely for keeping our backyard gardens, bushland, wetlands and parks healthy can become collateral damage. This includes predatory species that can themselves help keep pests under control. As pest species often reproduce faster than their predators (a pattern that’s likely to be reinforced by climate change), we can get trapped in a cycle in which pest numbers bounce back higher than ever.

Many wasps are predatory and specialise in eating insects that can be pests around the home.
Manu Saunders



Read more:
Five reasons not to spray the bugs in your garden this summer


How do we do things differently?

Fortunately, there are alternatives to chemical pest control that don’t harm your household or the environment. For centuries, sustainable agriculture systems have used environmentally friendly approaches, and city-dwellers can take a leaf from their books.

Integrated pest management is one such sustainable approach. It focuses on prevention rather than treatment, and uses environmentally friendly options such as biological control (using predators to eat pests) to safeguard crops. Chemical insecticides are used only as a last resort.

There are many other farming practices that support sustainable pest control; these focus on behavioural change such as keeping areas clean, or simple physical controls such as fly mesh or netting around fruit trees.

Adopting these methods for urban pest control isn’t necessarily straightforward. There might be local regulations on particular pest control activities, or simply a lack of knowledge about urban pest ecology.

For urgent pest situations, it may be more expensive and time-consuming to set up a biological control program than to arrange the spraying of an insecticide. Insecticides take effect immediately, whereas biological control takes longer to have an effect. Prevention, the cornerstone of integrated pest management, requires careful planning before pests become a nuisance.

The goal of integrated pest management is not to eliminate insect pests entirely, but rather to reduce their numbers to the point at which they no longer cause a problem. By this logic, chemical insecticides should only be used if the economic damage caused by the pests outweighs the cost of the chemicals. If you hate the idea of a single cockroach living anywhere nearby, this might require you to adjust your mindset.

What can I do at home?

Don’t give pests opportunities. Be mindful of how we produce and dispose of waste. Flies and cockroaches thrive in our rubbish, but they can be effectively managed by ensuring that food waste is stored in insect-proof containers, recycled, or properly disposed of. Don’t leave buckets of water around the backyard, as this invites mosquitoes to breed.

Don’t open your door to pests. Seal cracks and crevices in the outside of your house, and ensure there are screens on your doors and windows.

Support the animals that control insect pests – they’ll do the hard work for you! In particular, don’t be so quick to kill spiders and wasps, because they prey on pests in your home and garden.

Spiders like this leaf curler will happily eat a range of pests, including ants, around your home.
jim-mclean/flickr



Read more:
The secret agents protecting our crops and gardens


What can we do as a community?

Urban communities can learn a lot from sustainable farming. First, there needs to be better education and support provided to the public and policy makers. Workshops run by local councils and information sessions with local gardening groups are a great way to start.

We can also work together to help debunk the popular myth that most insects are damaging or unwanted pests. Reaching for the fly spray might be easy, but remember you may end up killing friends as well as foes.The Conversation

Lizzy Lowe, Postdoctoral researcher, Macquarie University; Cameron Webb, Clinical Lecturer and Principal Hospital Scientist, University of Sydney; Manu Saunders, Research fellow, University of New England, and Tanya Latty, Senior Lecturer, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.