Monday, February 6, 2017

Recycling: How Are We Doing As A Global Community?

 Individuals and governments the world over are beginning to understand that if we don’t act now, as a global community, the environment is in grave peril. One major step many communities of the world have taken is educating about and enforcing recycling standards. As a result of increased wealth and population, extreme consumerism, and lifestyle changes, have led to increased waste. Recycling reduces toxins released into the atmosphere from landfills and reduces the pollution generated in manufacturing more (fully recyclable) packaging of products.

Which countries recycle the most?

        The top six countries for recycling are Germany, South Korea, Slovenia, Austria, Belgium and Switzerland. Germany gained number one status (although technically, it is virtually tied with Austria) by implementing what is called the green dot initiative. (We give Germany the edge in global ranking for recycling, due to the fact that Germany came up with the Green Dot system). In order to get a green dot on the package, manufacturers have to pay a fee based on the size of the packaging, which is used for recycling. Manufacturers have thereby been encouraged to reduce the volume of packaging, and to make packaging more easily recyclable. This encourages companies to produce more minimalistic and innovative packaging. They also came up with an intricate system of domestic and commercial sorting to make sure every material is able to be recycled properly.  The Green Dot system started in Germany in 1991, and now has spread to 26 countries on the European continent.
Who Recycles the Worst?
        The worst countries worldwide for recycling are Turkey and Chile. Turkey recycles a mere 1% of its total waste. The government places little to no importance on the recycling issue. Chile is known for having bad infrastructure for waste management, and so a lot of illegal dumping occurs.
How Can We Improve Recycling Rates?

        In order to improve recycling rates, it is important to make recycling receptacles ubiquitously available. This means both installing public receptacles, and providing recycling services free of charge to residential areas. Most people will choose to recycle when it presents no apparent added effort.
        When people have to think too hard about which item goes in which bin, they tend to give up and either throw it in a random bin, or just throw it in the trash. Unless zero-sort recycling infrastructure is already in place, incorrectly recycled items create increased cost in the recycling process. In fact, zero-sort facilities are a great way to avoid the apparent added effort of having to think. Most people know that, in general, glass, paper, and plastic are recyclable, and everything else is landfill material. With zero-sort receptacles, there is no added thought required.
            Creating a penalty for not recycling is also a tool that can be implemented for increased community recycling. It actually costs you to not recycle, and throw out your trash is a special plastic bag, in Switzerland. In Denmark, trash disposal is closely monitored and regulated in order to ensure the maximal recycling is done correctly.Germany issues each household 5 different colors/ categories of recycling bins. Cities where you can be fined if you don't recycle, include Burlington, VT, Dayton, OH, San Francisco, CA and Cardiff, Wales.
            Most importantly, city officials need to evaluate the needs of their city. If it is particularly windy, they may need to provide covered bins for residence; if there is constant illegal dumping, they may need to provide more accessible recycling and trash centers. The needs of each community vary so widely that it is impossible to prescribe one generic solution. The important take away is that we all need to be doing something as a global community, to increase environmental welfare.

Monday, October 24, 2016

6 ideas to aid the world water crisis

How important is clean drinking and potable water for household use? 1/3 of the world’s population doesn’t have access to clean drinking water. Water used for cooking, cleaning and bathing must also be clean, as many diseases (especially in developing countries) are water-borne diseases, from bacteria or other microorganisms in unclean water (see: climatechange/health_impacts/waterborne_diseases/). Household (or village) is not currently safe for most of the world's developing countries. In fact, over 10% of the world’s population doesn’t even have access to clean potable water. Meanwhile, over 70% of the earth is covered in water.
water nano-water filter
1(a). The most immediate way to help the world water crisis is to provide filters to people who lack clean water, primarily to the 3rd world and low-income people of the world. This takes relief funds, both established by governments and private charities. There are many promising and emerging water purification technologies such as LifeStraw. "LifeStraw technology was originally introduced in 2005 as an emergency response tool to filter water..." (see: lifestraw)
(more clean water technologies are described here: water-purification-new-technologies-change-world)
Established, available filter technologies also range from: activated charcoal (or other carbon-based materials) to new nanotechnologies which use materials such as graphene, silver and titanium which are made into microscopic filtration membranes. There are a variety of very promising uses of graphene in newly designed and developed filters -(can-graphene-make-the-worlds-water-clean).
More media on nanotechnologies (including graphene materials used in combination with other nanomaterials):
Another great example of the use of graphene in water filters and water systems comes from the company G2O: g2o
“G2O’s graphene filter technology addressing a $2Bn market and reducing energy costs by up to 97%. In addition to use in filter technologies, this company sees applications for its graphene technology in:
  • Environmental maritime applications in aquaculture and oil & gas production
  • Drain water and waste water management
  • Desalination of seawater”
1(b). Develop more water treatment (storm water, river/ stream/ lake water, industrial use water, sewage) plants (waste-water/treatment)
clean_waterdrop_Fotolia2. Improve and create new rainwater collection systems such as the ones found here: rainharvest
3. Water reclamation:
4. Develop more desalination plants...(please check the desalination article on our website: desalination-clean-water-for-a-thirsty-world and also desalination-quest-quench-worlds-thirst-water
5. Improve water infrastructure (reservoirs, aqueducts, piping networks…) and 6. Utilities (especially in 3rd world countries) to further develop the use of micro-payments via mobile/ smart phones (also great for solar electricity, in addition to water)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Incentives for Energy Efficiency: A Look at Global Practices

Globally, it is undeniable that there has been a proactive approach towards promoting sustainability. Different nations, their respective governments, as well as private organizations, have been incessantly searching for the best ways to protect the environment and promote what is best for it, specifically through the use of renewable energy. In fact, federal and state subsidies have been common in many developed countries, which is a way of encouraging businesses and citizens to be contributory in the quest towards having a cleaner world.

In the rest of this post, we will have a quick look at some of the various federal and state programs to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency, including tax incentives and subsidies that are in place in different countries. These programs are meant to attract governments, states, businesses and entire countries, into considering alternatives to promote clean energy.

United States

When it comes to providing tax incentives for the use of green energy, United States is perhaps one of the best. The Solar Investment Tax Credit is one of the most popular examples of such. This will provide tax credit of up to 30% to eligible residential and commercial users. It is in place until 2023, which means that businesses in the solar industry can expect steady growth in their finances. There is also a Production Tax Credit for those who are engaged in the production of electricity using renewable sources. In addition, there are also various federal and state subsidies that are in place. The US Department of Agriculture, for instance, has a program that helps in energy generation and transmission in rural communities. More so, under the Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Tax Credit, combining 20% of biodiesel in various equipment can make an organization eligible for further tax credits.

Clean Energy Incentive Program - The EPA is providing a Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP) to reward early investments in renewable energy generation and demand-side energy efficiency measures that generate carbon-free MWh or reduce end-use energy demand.  State participation in the program is optional.   

The Clean Power Plan is no different, as state participation is optional, based on the level of desire for participation in this program. This Plan was stayed by the Supreme Court until further litigation is resolved. However, it will see its day in court and EPA remains fully confident in its legal merits. The Plan rests on a strong legal and technical foundation and is consistent with Supreme Court decisions, EPA’s statutory authority, and air pollution standards that have been put in place to tackle other pollution problems. More info. on the Clean Power Plan:




In order to demonstrate their concern towards environmental sustainability, a plan has been enforced since 2005, which has mainly been aimed towards improving energy efficiency and included more than 180 power-intensive companies. In exchange for their participation in the reduction of their energy use, they have been provided tax credits. The government also provides a fee-based system in order to recognize businesses that have been actively pursuing strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


The country’s government has expressed its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 30% by 2030 compared to its level in 2005. By the same year, the government has vowed to source 90% of its electricity from clean sources. There are various tax incentives in place to encourage wide-scale participation. For instance, there is an Investment Tax Credit for companies performing research and development concerning the use of green energy. The Accelerated Capital Cost Allowance and Canadian Renewable and Conservation Expense are open for eligible businesses, which can effectively lessen their income tax in exchange for the use of renewable energy sources.


In this country, the renewable energy that is produced is five times more than what can be consumed by the current population. This means that there is a lot that has yet to be utilized, especially in the form of geothermal and hydro energy. To promote the use of green energy, the country is offering tax credits to investors. BMW is one of the biggest companies to have taken advantage of such. The company noted that their operating costs were reduced to as much as 83% because of the incentives provided by the national government. This was mainly due to the profit tax being reduced from 20 to 15% due to their use of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies.


Under the Green Growth Strategy, the government envisioned protection of the environment and promotion of the agricultural sector. To do this, the government has released 32 billion DKK annually in order to fund planting costs of farmers. They also provided starter fund for organic biogas production. Such federal and state subsidies reflect efforts of the government to help promote green energy in the country. Tax incentives are also in place for users of renewable energy sources, including solar panels and wind turbines.

Please also see:

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Injustice of the Dakota Access Pipeline

It is fair to say that the injustice presented by the Dakota Access pipeline is the most prominent example of big oil versus our most cherished communities today. Even though the Obama administration halted the construction of the pipeline for now, damage had already been done.

The pipeline was originally proposed to go through Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota, but was rerouted to go through the Standing Rock Sioux tribal sacred grounds south of the capital. This was done because an oil spill near the capital would endanger the water supply near the capital, and it was seen as posing less potential damage in the case of a spill, to move the pipeline route near the tribal reservation.

The Army Corps of Engineers designated tribal land as "needed" for shipping crude oil through the Dakotas to Illinois. The land has been the site of construction of the Dakota Access pipeline that began to take place, and subsequently was stopped by the Obama administration, this September. 

The Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is land west of the Missouri River in South Dakota ( A portion of this Native American land in South Dakota was designated for the pipeline, without consent from the Standing Rock Sioux, and without yielding to the concerns of the EPA and two other federal agencies.
"The EPA, the Department of the Interior and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation echoed those concerns [of the tribe] in public comments on the Army Corps' draft environmental assessment." dakota-access-pipeline-standing-rock-sioux-army-corps-engineers-approval-environment

Prior to the Obama administration's actions to stop the pipeline, bulldozers had already begun to go over the tribe's sacred ground in the area. This is damage done to the Native American's land already.
"Dakota Access Pipeline and Energy Transfer Partners brazenly used bulldozers to destroy our burial sites, prayer sites and culturally significant artifacts," Tribal Chairman David Archambault II said. 
"They did this on a holiday weekend, one day after we filed court papers identifying these sacred sites. The desecration of these ancient places has already caused the Standing Rock Sioux irreparable harm. We're asking the court to halt this path of destruction."full story
We need clean energy not more dirty fossil fuel infrastructure and energy, and this pipeline would provide nothing but damage to this land, endanger the water in the Missouri River, on which the surrounding population depends, and further the destruction brought by climate change. People in Washington, including politicians and lobbyists, need to take action to get the stay on the Clean Power Plan lifted, and stop construction for fossil fuels now. 
Clean energy is the way of the future, providing more tenable jobs and a more viable, vibrant future. Fossil fuel infrastructure will soon be outdated, as the clean energy revolution reaches full steam. This pipeline and all proposed pipelines show humanity the route backwards, not forwards. Clean energy is the wave of the future, not fossil fuels. renewables-replace-fossil-fuels
Oil pipelines already scar the earth with their antiquated, outdated means to provide humanity with energy. Native Americans have used renewable energy sources for centuries, thousands of years even, and it's up to for the rest of the human population on the earth to catch up. Native Americans have lived in harmony with nature successfully for millennia
"Renewable energy – low-tech or high, large-scale or small – harnesses the natural forces upon which much of traditional Native American culture revolves, Henry Red Cloud, a pioneering Native American renewable energy advocate and entrepreneur, points out. Akin to solar, wind, hydro, biomass and geothermal energy, 'Our language, our song, our cultural traditions are based on the Sun, the winds, the Earth and its waters,' Red Cloud, a descendant of Lakota-Northern Cheyenne chiefs, said." environmental-justice/native-americans-renewable-energy-environmental-justice/

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Elements of The Clean Power Plan still move forward

Republicans in the House and Senate deny climate change exists, that it is man-made, or that it is significantly influenced by man-made events, to the tune of over 50% of their party members in Congress. Due to that political environment (among many other poor justifications for this action, or, rather, inaction), the Supreme Court has issued a stay (pending further legislation) on The Clean Power Plan.

There is no sound excuse for this stay. Republicans in Washington and elsewhere say that The Clean Power Plan threatens coal and oil jobs. Jobs relating to fossil fuels are a dying prospect, and it serves these workers to get re-trained now in clean energy, the job producer of the future.

Jobs such as manufacturing, distribution, construction and management abound in the clean energy and clean transportation industries. Just creating a wind or solar farm, biomass/ biofuel plants, sustainable mass transit for cities, alternative fuel for cars and buses, and working on the development of an alternative fuel infrastructure, involves hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs from each of those sectors in clean energy industries. Jobs are created as the energy farms are constructed and the energy harvesting mechanisms are developed and transported. More jobs are created as the energy farms are maintained and energy efficiency concerns on the farms are addressed.

Many jobs which are produced by efforts from states to comply with The Clean Power Plan actually remain in the fossil fuel industry. One example is combined cycle and combined heat and power plants (which often use natural gas, or a gas/ renewable energy mix). Another is carbon capture and sequestration/ carbon capture use and storage (coal and petroleum).

This Clean Power Plan was originally proposed by the Obama administration and the EPA, and in effect last year from August 2015 until it was paused by the Supreme Court in Feb. 2016. The CPP limits the carbon pollution produced by fossil fuel power plants when the plan is implemented and enforced as well as incentivising the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency measures. The Court should lift the stay, so that The Clean Power Plan can move forward with its full intent.

However, the EPA is still rewarding states that move forward with elements of The Clean Power Plan. The EPA is incentivizing states that implement early action to limit carbon pollution from fossil fuel plants (coal and petroleum) by implementing energy efficiency standards and/ or states that begin switching to natural gas (still a fossil fuel, but cleaner* than coal and petroleum) and renewable energy. 

Early acting states get extra credit toward their overall emissions targets. The exact targets will be determined by further legislation as the stay is lifted (assuming the stay is lifted sometime soon after Democrats do well in the upcoming election, which is a pretty safe assumption).

Elements of The Clean Power Plan are still being moved forward upon, and the momentum from before the Supreme Court stay is being continued, despite the stay, by as many as 20 states. These elements include carbon pollution reduction/ limits for existing fossil fuel power plants, increase in development of carbon capture and storage in new plants, the use of natural gas combined cycle plants (vs. traditional fossil fuel plants), the expansion of renewable energy projects and carbon neutral construction. The reduction of coal burned in power plants, in general, is an important factor: utilities-cut-coal-use-amid-clean-power-plan-fight

For example, California is leading the way with a statewide goal to run on 30-50% renewable energy (even up to 100% in some cities), as well as committing to aim for zero-net energy (ZNE) buildings for all new construction within the next 10-15 years. Many utilities, also, such as Duke energy in North Carolina, see the light, and are setting ambitious goals for including 25-40% of renewable energy sources in their energy mix. SDG&E in San Diego, California, offers 50% and 100% solar energy programs to their customers as options for their energy source from the utility. This program is surely an excellent example of the future of energy in the states.

*over the long-term, natural gas burns cleaner than coal and oil; but the short-term release of methane into the atmosphere from the burning of natural gas is a much more potent (shorter lifespan) greenhouse gas than CO2.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

European green building is leading the way forward

It often seems like smaller countries are doing the most to tackle climate change; nations like Switzerland and Austria have some of the best recycling systems in the world, while the likes of Bhutan and Costa Rica are doing more than anyone to become carbon neutral nations. However, there are some major Western European nations that are making interesting attempts to improve their carbon footprints.

In 2015, France made it a legal requirement for all new buildings in commercial zones to cover part of their rooftops in plants or solar panels. This helps reduce the amount of energy it takes for these buildings to be heated in the winter, or cooled in the summer. The law could have gone further, and was watered down from original plans to cover the whole roofs of every new buildings in such a fashion, but this is still an inventive and hugely productive way to make buildings more energy efficient. 

The United Kingdom has made a legally binding commitment to reduce its carbon emissions by 80% come 2050. Currently, the UK Green Building Council is running an exciting project to refurbish its office in a creative, clever, and environmentally friendly fashion. 

It hopes this office will have the lowest measured fit-out carbon footprint in the UK, as well as to use 98% recycled materials over the course of the redesign. They have also worked to encourage major cities in the UK to take on environmental challenges, helping places like Manchester and Birmingham embrace innovative, refreshing green design. 

Some of the most impressive green buildings in the world are to be found in Germany. The city of Freiburg boasts several of them, including the Solarsiedlung (Solar Settlement) and the Sonnenschiff (Sun Ship), which is a small, vibrant community powered entirely by solar energy in the city district of Vauban.  

What's particularly impressive is just how energy efficient the Reichstag (Germany's parliament) is- the building generates 80% of the energy it uses itself, and there is a special insulation system to prevent unnecessary heat loss. It all comes together to make the Reichstag one of the world's most energy efficient major buildings. 

Stefano Boeri's jaw dropping 'Bosco Verticale,' or 'Vertical Forest,' consists of two skyscrapers with trees planted on special platforms. These skyscrapers are tall enough to sustain more trees than an entire hectare of forest could. On a bright, sunny day, the Bosco Verticale really is one of the most stunning things in Milan, as lush vegetation springs confidently forth from the skyscrapers, turning the skyline a delightfully vivid green. 

Of course, there is a practical purpose to this as well, as the extra trees guzzle up CO2 and dust particles and emit clean oxygen, as well as bringing natural warmth to the building, and protecting people and houses from sustained exposure to harmful sun rays. Gutsy projects like this may make all the difference in the future in ensuring our cities remain appealing places to live.

Top 5 recycling nations - RANKED

Many countries pay lip service to the importance of recycling, but which ones do it best? Here are the five nations who recycle the greatest percentage of their overall waste...

5) SWITZERLAND: The Swiss national character places a high value on order and cleanliness- you can spend a couple of nights in jail simply for taking the recycling out on the wrong day- so it's no surprise they are among the best recyclers in the world. It actually costs a Euro to simply throw your trash away rather than recycle it. The government don't just bribe and coerce people to recycle though; there are also bottle banks at every supermarket, and free paper collections once a month. Switzerland are busy creating a culture where it is actively unusual not to recycle. 

4) SOUTH KOREA: South Korea spends 2% of it's GDP on a Green Growth Plan, hoping to deliver environmentally friendly economic prosperity. Its recycling industry is booming, and major companies are on board. Each apartment block has a fastidious recycling system similar to the Swiss model, where recycling is free but merely throwing items in the trash costs you a small amount of money. Wherever you are in the world, it seems economic incentives are an effective way of convincing people to care about recycling.

Some people consider Belgium's recycling program to be the best in Europe. The Flemish part of Belgium has the highest waste diversion rate on the continent, with nearly three quarters of its waste getting recycled or composted. What's more, the Flemish economy has grown significantly since 2000, yet the level of waste generation has remained consistently low; usually economic growth goes hand in hand with a rise in the production of waste. 

GERMANY: Happily living up to their stereotype of efficiency, Germany does the best job of recycling its waste of any country on the planet. An average house will have five different types of bin, with four of them dedicated to categories of materials that can be recycled. The system can often prove daunting for foreign visitors, which goes to demonstrate just how much more advanced Germany is compared to the rest of the world in its attitude towards recycling. Indeed, with four of the countries on this list being in Central Europe, it seems that area of the world is setting the best example for everyone else.

AUSTRIA: Austria has taken a comprehensive approach to encouraging its citizens to recycle. The combination of economic incentives, the successful implementation of education and training programs, and memorable advertising campaigns have thoroughly convinced Austrian citizens of the value recycling, and helped turn Austria into the biggest recycler in the world.