This South Pacific island of rubbish shows why we need to quit our plastic habit


Jennifer Lavers, University of Tasmania

A remote South Pacific island has the highest density of plastic debris reported anywhere on the planet, our new study has found. The Conversation

Our study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, estimated that more than 17 tonnes of plastic debris has washed up on Henderson Island, with more than 3,570 new pieces of litter arriving every day on one beach alone.

Our study probably actually underestimates the extent of plastic pollution on Henderson Island, as we were only able to sample pieces bigger than two millimetres down to a depth of 10 centimetres. We also could not sample along cliffs.
Jennifer Lavers, Author provided

It is estimated that there are nearly 38 million pieces of plastic on the island, which is near the centre of the South Pacific Gyre ocean current.

Henderson Island, marked here by the red pin, is in the UK’s Pitcairn Islands territory and is more than 5,000 kilometres from the nearest major population centre. That shows plastic pollution ends up everywhere, even in the most remote parts of the world.
Google Maps

A 2014 paper published in the journal PLOS One used data from surface water all over the world. The researchers estimated that there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the top 10 centimetres of the world’s oceans.

Plastics pose a major threat to seabirds and other animals, and most don’t ever break down – they just break up. Every piece of petrochemical-derived plastic ever made still exists on the planet.

Jennifer Lavers, Research Scientist, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Three ways to improve commercial shipping’s environmental footprint



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A man stretches his leg on the bank of the Han River as a ship passes by amid thick haze. Tens of thousands of premature deaths in east Asia every year are caused by shipping pollution.
REUTERS/Stringer

Martina Doblin, University of Technology Sydney

Do you wear runners, drink coffee or own a mobile phone? The chances are that these products cruised to you on a ship. In 2015, the global merchant fleet carried a record 10 billion tonnes of cargo, a 2.1% increase from the previous year. The Conversation

However, while it’s an essential part of international trade, shipping also poses serious risks to the environment. Apart from damage caused by dredging shipping channels and the spread of marine pests around the world, there is also growing concern about pollution. According to a report from the European Union, international shipping contributes 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions annually. This is predicted to rise by between 50% and 250% by 2050.

As well as contributing to global warming, ship pollution includes toxic compounds and particles that cause a host of other health hazards. A 2016 Chinese-led study found the shipping boom in east Asia has caused tens of thousands of premature deaths a year, largely from heart and lung disease and cancer.

Commercial ships are designed to be used for a long time. As a result, their engines are typically older and less efficient than those used in many other industries, and replacing them is prohibitively expensive. But there are some immediate solutions to this problem that use existing technology: increasing fuel quality, treating engine emissions, and adopting other energy-conservation measures so that ships burn less fuel.

Improve fuel quality

When diesel ship engines burn poor-quality fuel, their smoke stacks release oxides of nitrogen and sulfur as well as carbon. These pollutants, as well as contributing to greenhouse warming, are highly toxic. Sulfur dioxide readily dissolves in water, creating acid rain that causes harm to both people and the environment.

Refinement of crude oil removes sulfur, which reduces the amount of sulfur dioxide produced when the fuel is burned. Higher-grade diesel also reduces the volume of heat-trapping nitrous oxide, but is more expensive to produce because it requires more purification at the refinery.

The International Maritime Organization, the UN body that regulates the safety and security of shipping, is planning to reduce the amount of sulfur allowed in fuel. However, it is currently considering whether the change will take place in 2020 or will be deferred to 2025.

Install exhaust scrubbers

Clean fuel is an important part of reducing emissions, but the higher cost of low-sulfur fuel will deter many companies. Another way for ships to meet clean-air requirements is by capturing engine exhaust and passing it through scrubbers. These scrubbers convert nitrous oxide gases into harmless nitrogen and water.

This process requires retrofitting older ships, and updating the design of new ship exhaust systems. One advantage of this approach is that it allows ships to meet the different pollution regulations around the world without having to swap fuels.

Another way to reduce production of nitrous oxide is by reducing the temperature at which diesel fuel burns, but this leads to decreased fuel efficiency and increased fuel consumption. Scrubbers are potentially a cheaper and more accessible option.

Reduce energy use overall

Ships don’t just burn diesel fuel to propel themselves through the water. Fuel also generates electricity so that people on board can do things like use computers and read at night.

To increase fuel efficiency, other energy conservation measures can be adopted so that ships burn less fuel and decrease their emissions. The US Navy’s Green Fleet has, for example, replaced their old light fixtures with energy-saving LEDs.

They have also undertaken a temperature control initiative, where thermostats have been checked to ensure they are in proper working order and faulty parts in their water cooling systems replaced. Some ships have gone further, and installed stern flaps that modify the flow of water under the ship’s hull to reduce drag, thus increasing fuel efficiency.

All of this means the shipping industry can lower its fuel bill through conserving energy, and at the same time reduce its negative impacts on the health of humans and the planet. With more than 20,000 ships in the global fleet, these immediate solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other types of pollution will make a real difference.

Martina Doblin, Senior Research Fellow, Plant Functional Biology & Climate Change, University of Technology Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Emissions standards on cars will save Australians billions of dollars, and help meet our climate targets



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An emissions cap could save Australians up to A$500 each year in fuel costs.
Petrol image from http://www.shutterstock.com

Scott Ferraro, Monash University and Claire Painter, Monash University

The cheapest way for Australia to cut greenhouse gas emissions is to put a cap on car emissions. It would be so cheap, in fact, that it will save drivers money. The Conversation

According to analysis from ClimateWorks, the toughest proposed standard would help Australia achieve about 6% of its 2030 emission reduction target, and save drivers up to A$500 each year on fuel.

The federal government is looking at policy options to meet Australia’s 2030 emissions target of 26-28% below 2005 levels. Last year it established a ministerial forum to look at vehicle emissions and released a draft Regulation Impact Statement for light vehicles (cars, SUVs, vans and utilities) in December.

There is no reason for the government to delay putting the most stringent emissions standard on cars.

Cars getting cleaner, but not in Australia

Australia currently does not have carbon dioxide emission standards on light vehicles. CO₂ standards work by improving the overall efficiency of the vehicle (the amount of CO₂ emitted per kilometre). These are different from fuel quality standards, which regulate the quality of fuels used by vehicles, and noxious emissions standards, which monitor a car’s emissions of noxious gases and particulates.

Currently, CO₂ emission standards cover over 80% of the global light automotive market. The lack of standards here means that Australia’s cars are less efficient than in many other countries, and this gap is set to widen.

In 2015, the average efficiency of new cars sold in Australia (in grams of CO₂ emitted per km) was 184g per km. In the European Union, the average efficiency of new cars was 120g per km for passenger vehicles and 168g per km for light commercial vehicles (such as vans used as couriers). In the United States – the spiritual home of the gas-guzzler – it is 183g per km and set to improve to 105g per km in 2025.

Australia’s cars account for about 10% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, which are set to grow to 2030 if the market is left to its own devices.

Helping meet Australia’s climate target

In our submission to the draft Regulation Impact Statement, we confirmed that if the most stringent proposed target (105g per km) were introduced as proposed from 2020 to 2025, it would deliver 6% of Australia’s 2030 emissions reduction target. This would save A$49 per tonne of CO₂. Although there would be some costs in introducing the scheme, it would save A$13.9 billion by 2040 overall.

This saves an extra additional 41 million tonnes of CO₂ by 2030, 140 million tonnes by 2040, and an extra A$8.1 billion overall by 2040 compared with the least stringent proposed target (135g per km by 2025).

However, we found that a two-year delay would add an extra 18 million tonnes of CO₂ to the atmosphere, or 2% of the government’s 2030 carbon budget.

Any reductions not achieved in vehicle emissions will need to be made up in other sectors, or purchased through international carbon permits, most likely at a higher cost.

Savings on fuel and health

The most stringent target delivers A$27.5 billion in total fuel savings by 2040, A$16.7 billion more than the least stringent standard.

The draft regulations show that for an average car this is equal to a saving of A$197-295 a year for a driver doing 15,000km per year, and A$328-493 for a driver doing 25,000km per year.

To put this in context, based on 2012 household energy costs data, this would cut household energy costs by up to 10%, with even greater savings for low-income households.

But a two-year delay of the most stringent standard would also result in new car owners paying an extra A$4.9 billion in fuel costs by 2030, and an extra A$8.3 billion to 2040.

The reduction in fuel use will also potentially reduce air pollution, resulting in better health outcomes.

The most stringent standard will save deliver 2.6 times as much fuel as the least stringent standard, so should reduce health costs by a similar proportion. However, the introduction of emissions standards would need to occur in a way that does not increase noxious emissions such as nitrogen oxides.

No reason to delay

Given the enormous benefit of a more stringent standard, the government should also investigate an even more ambitious target.

Our research shows a standard of 95g per km by 2025 will deliver even greater benefits and is technically feasible based on achievements in other markets. The EU is aiming for this level by 2020.

While we also support improving fuel quality to reduce noxious emissions, research by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) shows that we do not need to improve Australia’s fuel quality standards before the introduction of standards to improve the overall efficiency of the vehicle.

Similarly, despite discrepancies between on-road and in-lab performance of vehicles as seen in the Volkswagen emissions scandal, a standard will still provide significant savings to consumers and the environment.

Standards alone are not the silver bullet. We’ll need a range of other measures to support emissions standards on cars to help improve efficiency and build consumer awareness of fuel-efficient vehicles.

With Australian car manufacturing due to cease by the end of 2017, it is an ideal time to ensure that new cars bought into Australia are the most efficient available. This will set us on the path towards lower vehicle emissions while reducing costs for motorists and improving health.

Scott Ferraro, Head of Implementation, ClimateWorks Australia, Monash University and Claire Painter, Project manager, ClimateWorks Australia, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Indonesia vows to tackle marine pollution


Thomas Wright, The University of Queensland

It is wet season in Bali, Indonesia, a popular tourist destination for Australian, Russian, German, Chinese and Japanese visitors. The Conversation

As the rain pounds down on banana leaves and rice fields, the rivers fill up and irrigation systems overflow. With it, the water masses bring trash in bulk: anything from food wrappers and plastic bags to bottles and other domestic waste.

To tackle the issue of marine pollution, several organisations got together in Nusa Dua – a popular tourist destination – and other locations across Bali to stage the largest beach clean-up the island has seen.

Around 12,000 volunteers collected 40 tons of garbage at 55 locations, according to the One Island, One Voice campaign page.

While the beach clean-up was a hugely successful awareness campaign and a great promotion which highlights the efforts done around the island, it is only a drop in the ocean of global marine pollution.

Plastic pollution in Indonesia

In recent years, Bali has seen growing environmental problems such as pollution and freshwater scarcity. Popular tourist destination Kuta beach is regularly covered in waste. Most of this is plastic that washes ashore during the rainy season.

The island’s garbage dumps are reportedly overflowing,. This makes solid waste management a pressing issue. Substantial groundwater resources are predicted to run dry by 2020, threatening freshwater resources.

On top of that, Indonesia is the world’s second-biggest marine polluter after China, discarding 3.22 million metric tons of waste annually. This accounts for 10% of the world’s marine pollution.

The effects marine pollution has on ecosystems and humans are beginning to be well documented. Marine scientists have found harmful consequences of marine pollution to sea life, ecosystems and humans.

Plastic can kill ocean mammals, turtles and other species that consume it. It can also poison food and water resources, as harmful chemicals leach out of the plastic.

It poses threats to human health as well. Plastics leach cancerous toxins. After being consumed by marine species, they enter the food chain, eventually ending up in fish we eat.

Marine plastic pollution is a global problem and Indonesia’s beaches present pressing examples to study the socio-economic effects this has on coastal communities.

Most vulnerable to marine pollution left out of global discussions

Last month, The Economist held the fourth Oceans Summit in Bali.

The summit was attended by state leaders such as Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla, representatives of major global economic organisations such as Citigroup managing director Michael Eckhart, and celebrity and entrepreneur Adrian Grenier.

Speakers and panels discussed a number of topics, including the “blue economy” and how companies and governments can participate in this marine-based sustainable industry.

During the summit, the Indonesian government announced it will pledge US$1 billion to curb ocean waste by 70% by 2025. It’s an ambitious objective, which shows dedication and commitment to a plastic-free future.

But not all voices are heard in this global debate. Many Bali-based environmental organisations engaged in education programs were not represented at the summit. Those economically most vulnerable to pollution – such as beach vendors, fishermen and others employed in the marine tourism trade – appear to be left out of the conversation.

Marine pollution and tourism

The Indonesian government plans to boost tourism and increase national visitors from 9.7 million in 2015 to 20 million by 2020. Such increases in visitor numbers and population will raise consumption and waste production, further pressuring the island’s infrastructure and ecosystems.

With tourism as the island’s largest economic sector, many Balinese people depend on foreign visitors to earn an income. Some tourism operators are concerned that if the plastic problem increases it will damage this industry. They fear tourists will stop coming to Bali if it is too polluted.

Marine communities may also suffer negative socio-economic consequences, as fishermen can lose their livelihood and tourism operators lose their customers.

While some tourism operators understand that clean beaches are key in attracting international tourists, the expected growth is likely to further stress Bali’s environment.

What is being done?

Efforts by activists, community groups and NGOs to clean beaches play a key role in protecting Bali’s environment. But they are only a temporary fix and don’t tackle the causes of this global problem.

Such groups are leading the fight against over-development and pollution through protests, clean-up events and educational programs.

Campaigners from Bali-based environmental youth group “Bye Bye Plastic Bags” advocate for an island-wide ban on plastic bags. They also spoke at the Ocean Summit.

And while they convinced Bali’s governor to commit to make the island plastic-bag-free by 2018, continued development of legislation, regulation and industry guidelines is needed to save Indonesia’s waterways from drowning in waste.

Thomas Wright, PhD Candidate in Anthropology, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia needs stricter rules to curb air pollution, but there’s a lot we could all do now


Robyn Schofield, University of Melbourne and Mark Stevenson, University of Melbourne

Have you ever left your car running as you wait for a passenger to return from a quick errand? It’s called idling, and while it may feel easier than switching it off and on again, it wastes money and fuel, and dumps pollutants into the air. Vehicle emissions are a very significant contributor to air pollution, which causes health problems.

Few of us would leave the tap running or the fridge door open, and many are diligent about turning off lights. But when it comes to air pollution, many people are wasteful and unaware.

We need major public health campaigns to change people’s beliefs about what they can do to reduce air pollution, similar to the campaigns and enforcement that made our public spaces smoke-free and our schools and beaches sun smart. Australia also needs stronger policy aimed at curbing air pollution.

The Australian government’s fuel efficiency standards and noxious vehicle emission standards review, under way now, offers a chance to do that – but what’s been proposed so far doesn’t go anywhere near far enough.

A lack of awareness and weak standards

Air pollution is associated with cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, dementia, cancer, pregnancy complications and adverse birth outcomes.

Many governments around the world now ask citizens to stay home when particulate matter – meaning the mix of solid particles and liquid droplets in the air – from vehicles, fossil-fuel and wood burning are at hazardous levels.

And bans on diesel vehicles in some places are part of a broader push to cut the amount of harmful particulate matter, nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide in the air.

Australia, by contrast, lags behind the rest of the world on policies to reduce air pollution. Take, for example, our rules on sulfur in fuels – a particularly damaging component of vehicle emissions.

Australia has one of the world’s most lenient sulfur standards for petrol, allowing 150 parts per million. That’s 15 times the limit allowed in the European Union, Japan and the US. It’s three times what’s allowed in Brazil and China (China will allow just 10 parts per million from 2018).

Australia’s air quality standards, which are also being reviewed under the National Clean Air Agreement, feature good targets – even better than the World Health Organisation recommendations for PM2.5. However, without stricter measures to reduce vehicle emissions, these air quality targets will not be achieved.

The Australian government’s review of fuel efficiency and vehicle emission standards is looking at particulate matter, ozone, nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide (known collectively as NOx), and carbon. But what has been proposed so far worryingly includes a do-nothing scenario.

Doing nothing comes with significant cost

The OECD estimates that there are approximately 740 preventable deaths per year in Australia due to ozone and PM2.5 (the very fine particulate matter from vehicle emissions which, when inhaled, goes deep into the lungs and can pass into the bloodstream), but that does not include NOx – so these are very conservative estimates.

To put this in context, there are 1,280 deaths on our roads each year and another 740 deaths due to vehicle emissions. This is a significant cost for choosing a transport system reliant on fossil fuel.

If the strictest standard being considered by Australia under the review – the Euro 6 standard – is mandated for both light and heavy vehicles, a net benefit of A$675 million will be realised by 2040. This figure is very small compared to the current annual cost of vehicle pollution to Australia of A$4 billion.

But the standard Australia considers the strictest option is actually business as usual now in the US and Europe. Surprisingly, the impact statement doesn’t even discuss banning or phasing out diesel vehicles in cities – a policy that experts now consider global best practice.

What could be done?

The decisions being made this year on Australia’s fuel efficiency and vehicle emission policies can improve the health of our urban air. This is a great chance to simultaneously improve fuel efficiency, demand higher-quality fuels and implement emission testing for vehicles to improve the air in our cities.

In the short term, we can all try to use cars less often and not idle our cars when in use. Raising awareness helps; a recent study showed millions of dollars could be saved in fuel costs by exposing drivers of fleets to anti-idling initiatives.

Purchasing a vehicle with automatic idle-stop technology will help cut vehicle emissions. This technology, popular in high-end European car models, automatically switches off the vehicle when it is still and allows the driver to restart the car when their foot presses the accelerator.

To achieve a population-level benefit from such technology, however, would require policymakers to include it in the Australian Design Rules, the national standards for vehicle safety, anti-theft measures and emissions. That process can take many years.

A more sustainable approach to air pollution would be to upgrade Australian refineries to supply low-sulfur fuel. Although costly, the alternative – the escalating health burden associated with vehicle emissions – is a cost too high for society to pay.

We cannot afford to continually invest in a transport system operated solely on fossil fuels. Supporting public transport that operates with “clean” fuels (such as our trams and trains, which run on electricity) will go some way to reducing air pollution in our cities. It is worth noting, though, that while our electricity is mostly fossil-fuelled, this only shifts the air pollution to someone else’s backyard.

Importantly, we need to raise public awareness of the quality of our air and ensure the government considers the long-term ramifications of short-sighted policies.

We must all do our part to improve air quality in Australia – and that means not idling your car, which is an offence that can attract fines as high as $5,000 and/or jail time in some parts of the world.

We can survive weeks without food, days without water, but only minutes without air. Let’s start treating our air as the valuable commodity it is.

The Conversation

Robyn Schofield, Senior Lecturer for Climate System Science, University of Melbourne and Mark Stevenson, Professor of Urban Transport and Public Health, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.