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Posts by Ramon Arratia

Everyday products that contain harmful chemicals

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Apple Harmful ChemicalsLast week Apple announced that it would stop using two harmful chemicals, Benzene and n-hexane, that are used in the final assembly process across its lines of iPads, iPhones and Macs. These chemicals are thought to cause cancer and nerve damage.

Apple are not the only company using rare earth elements, toxic chemicals, or untested materials in their products. The long term issues and damages caused by these will be unknown for many years. The real issue will probably be their combined use.

Not only is this a worry for our health but it also can be a challenge as we try to build a more circular economy. These chemicals are often very hard to process, but thankfully in many instances there are alternatives.

Here are some everyday household items that you may not know contain, or use, noxious substances in their production. 

* No real surprises here – but many sanitizers, deodorisers and cleaning products contain all kinds of nasties from Perchloroethylene, Nitrobenzene to Petroleum Distillates. Carcinogenic and affect central nervous system – Use eco alternatives where possible.

* Avoid artificially scented candles, the fumes can be poisonous.

* Many beauty products – Lipsticks, talc, shampoo, and pretty much anything that contains mineral oil or petroleum jelly e.g. Baby oil – They often also contain chemicals, some of which are connected with health issues such as respiratory problems, allergies and skin development. Google, but read thoroughly, some of the sensationalised reports are dubious at best.

* Some toys and candles still contain lead! Most people now know the toxic nature of lead and yet some products still slip through the net.

* Batteries – Jam packed with all kinds of harmful elements. Obviously dispose of properly and ensure your children are protected.

* Smokeless smoking devices – At this time nobody knows how safe e-cigarettes are – ‘vaping‘ as it’s known.

* Mothballs – Contain paradichlorobenzene or naphthalene. Cancer causing, red blood cell deteriorating chemicals.

* Pressed wood products – (Anything that looks like wood but has been reconstituted) – Sometimes contains arsenic and the gluing agent can be urea-formaldehyde. Causes burning eyes and throat, difficulty breathing, and asthma attacks. Cancer has been linked.

* The computer you’re sat in front of – (And nearly every electronic device) - lead, cadmium, silver, chromium, mercury, brominated flame retardants and more. All toxic to humans.

* Printers and paints (Plus many other applications) – Some studies confirm that water paints, laser and ink-jet printers can releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and ozone particulates. VOCs are connected to lung and heart conditions.

* Pesticides in food – Our food is covered in products that deter weeds, plant diseases or insects.  There are proven links to non-Hodgkin lymphoma and leukemias as well as other health conditions. According to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, 9 of the 12 most dangerous and persistent organic chemicals are pesticides.

Of course it is impossible to avoid all pollutants and the research is growing daily. This list is by no means exhaustive and the advice is always simply to read the labels and use healthy alternatives where possible. Considering what is harmful to you, your family, as well as the environment.

Sources: Associated Press, Wikipedia – Rare Earths, PBSSafer Chemicals, Minnesota Health Dept.

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Barcelona – The #sustainable city

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barcelonaBarcelona is one of the trailblazer sustainable cities, integrating renewable energy, sensible public policy and waste management strategies into its core infrastructure.

Of course there’s more that can be done, and many cities are on the same track, but let’s look at Barcelona’s progress and key points to date:

* Home to 1.7m People in the city with c. 5m within urban proximity across 300 square miles.

* Spain’s second largest city.

* Top 5 EU city by GDP.

* In 2000, Barcelona became the first European city to have a solar thermal ordinance. In 2006 the Spanish government became the first in the world to enact a national building code requiring the installation of solar panels for hot water.

* In 2004 the city installed a 443-kilowatt PV array, the largest urban PV system in Europe at the time.

* By the end of 2011, Spain’s Catalonia region had a cumulative installed solar PV capacity of 234 MW.

* Green urban spaces in Barcelona have increased by 150% over the last 30 years.

* In 2002, Barcelona installed a heating and cooling system that relies on urban waste with a new one added in 2012. This system has reduced CO2 emissions by 17,500 metric tons in 2013—the equivalent of planting 875,000 trees, 6 times more trees than the city currently has.

* The bus network (transports 190mn pax / yr, has one of the cleanest bus fleets in Europe, with 400 natural gas vehicles, 82 hybrids, and the rest (approximately 500) with particulate traps that reduce annual emissions of NOx (71%) and particles (85%) for each bus.

* Bicing, their bike share program, since 2007 generates 14 million trips/yr on the city’s 181 kilometers of bike lanes.

* Around 50% of all trips in the city are made on foot or on bicycle, only 20% made by private vehicles.

* Barcelona has one of the lowest per capita greenhouse gas emission levels in the industrialised world – under 4 metric tons of emissions per person per year (Houston is at 14.1 and Paris is at 5.2).

* Around 40% of all tenders issued by Barcelona include at least one environmental or social criterion.

* Barcelona was shortlisted for the European Green Capital Award 2012 and 2013

Sources: Wikipedia, RMI Outlet, ICLEI, Majorcities, Managenergy

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Net-Works – 9 tons of fishing nets arrives in Slovenia for recycling

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At the end of last month a container ship with 9 tons of fishing nets arrived in Slovenia from the Philippines. These monofilament nets were recovered by local villagers participating in the Net-Works™ project. Net-Works is a community-based initiative established by us and the Zoological Society to recover and recycle fishing nets from fishing villages in impoverished regions, connecting some of the dots for a more circular economy.

Over 660 million people on the planet depend upon the oceans to support their livelihood. But year after year, pollution in our waters and beaches gets worse.

Net-Works is the first step in creating a truly restorative loop in carpet tile production, cleaning up oceans and beaches while also creating financial opportunities for some of the poorest people in the world.

If you Google #IfNetEffect there are some great online spaces that capture the initiative in pictures, video and text. Like this Pinterest Board:

IfNetEffect Pinterest

 

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2020 – An important #sustainability milestone

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20202020 is going to be a busy year.

In the year 2020 we will see many initiatives, events and milestones reached, and it’s only 6 years off.

London’s Crossrail is scheduled to be in full service by 2020, the Summer Olympics will be kicking off in Japan, and Toyota says that all cars it will produce will be hybrid.

Other initiatives include the IFPRI Food Security visionGM have pledged to use 125 megawatts of renewable energy by 2020, and let’s not forget the 5 targets that the EU have set around - Employment, innovation, climate change/energy, education and poverty. The book Shift lists its vision for technology in 2020 which is also an interesting read.

For us, it will also be a huge year. The culmination of 26 year’s work on Mission Zero, which is our promise to eliminate any negative impact our company may have on the environment by the year 2020. Interface is on a mission to protect, restore, innovate and educate. We’ve broken our mission into 7 steps to help us on our journey toward zero:

1 Zero Waste
2 Benign Emissions
3 Renewable Energy
4 Closing The Loop
5 Resource-Efficient Transportation
6 Sensitivity Hookup
7 Redesign Commerce

In the run up to our 20 year anniversary this month I will post more detail around Mission Zero, the challenges and results to date.

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The impact of regulated labelling: Your Fridge needs dramatically less energy

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Energy efficient household appliances have lead to a drop in electricity consumption as the chart below illustrates. Here is some of the content from the announcement from the DECC detailing the drop in absolute costs of electricity consumed by household goods.

The technical progress with fridges in particular has been incredible – energy requirements have dropped from 300Kwh in 1990 to less than 100Kwh today. This is a combination of mandatory, regulated EU labelling, accompanied by strong innovation incentives.

Can you image what would we could achieve if we tried harder?

Household_Appliance_Drop

You’ll notice recently that energy consumption is forecast to plateaux generally, but worryingly there was a peak with TVs which may never flatten. The impact of TVs has been augmented by the increase in size and technology of the new sets, and exposes how bad our regulation and labelling is on the subject. For TVs we don’t regulate on an absolute basis but on a relative basis (eg. size) which is wrong. Product environmental performance should always be regulated on an absolute basis.

Imagine car regulation that instead of measuring kgCO2/km, divided emissions by the size of its steering wheel?

Labelling is most effective when it is regulated, standardised and accompanied by other policies. Private labels where some geezers and certification sharks make the money almost always are condemned to fail.

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Growing a Circular Economy – Ending the Throwaway Society #Report

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Growing a circular economyHere is the content from a report released today by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee – @CommonsEAC

For more information contact Nick Davies on daviesnick@parliament.uk  or 020 7219 3297

Growing a Circular Economy – Ending the Throwaway Society #Report

MPs are calling for lower VAT on recycled products, longer warranty periods for consumer goods and a ban on food waste being sent to landfill, in a new report looking at how the Government could help insulate the UK from rising resource prices by creating a more ‘circular economy’.

Environmental Audit Committee Chair, Joan Walley MP, said:

“We had throwaway economics in the past, but that disposable society simply isn’t sustainable in the twenty-first century. Less than half of all the stuff we throw away each year is recycled and turned back into something useful, despite prices for raw materials rising across the world. Global food prices have roughly doubled since the beginning of the century, metal prices have trebled, and energy prices quadrupled. These trends look likely to continue as emerging economies expand and the world population grows to 9 billion by 2050.

Unless we rethink the way we run our economy and do business in a different way, environmental problems like climate change will get worse and the cost of living and doing business in the UK could continue to rise. The good news is that with the right Government support we can stimulate UK manufacturing, create jobs, grow our GDP and reduce our environmental footprint. We have to create a more circular economy that rewards innovative businesses, values natural capital, and is resilient in the face of rising global resource prices.”

There are potentially billions of pounds of benefits for UK businesses in becoming more resource efficient. The Committee heard from leading companies – such as M&S and B&Q – who explained that this makes economic as well as environmental sense. Some are exploring new business models where things can be hired rather than owned or using innovative processes and materials to reduce environmental impacts.

Recycling

Businesses told the inquiry that the vast array of different area-by-area recycling regimes in England is confusing, sub-scale and makes it harder for companies to access valuable materials that could be reused. The variety of different recycling services also means there cannot be consistent on-pack information about a product’s recyclability to help households. The MPs say the Government should give new guidance to local authorities in England to standardise recycling collections to create new economic opportunities, as Wales and Scotland have done. The Environmental Audit Committee also wants the Government to support EU proposals to increase recycling rates to 70% by 2030. It points out that while England has improved its recycling rates since the beginning of the century from 11% to 43%, these have started to plateau, and it still has a considerable way to go to catch up with the best performing countries, like Austria and Germany.

Joan Walley MP added:

“It is possible to get recycling rates to nearly 70% as other European Countries and some UK councils have demonstrated.  There is about 3% to 5% of waste that you cannot avoid landfilling at the moment, but with better product design even that might be eliminated.”

Lower VAT on recycled products

The report recommends that the Government takes steps to reform taxation and producer responsibility regulations to reward companies that design greener products.  Differential VAT rates should be introduced based on the environmental impact or recycled content of products. Tax breaks should also be considered for businesses that repair goods or promote re-use.

Zac Goldsmith MP, Member of the Committee:

“Unless we learn to live within nature’s means, we are going to hit a wall. We know that because even while the world’s dwindling resources are becoming more and more expensive, our global appetite for resources continues to soar. Designing waste out of the way we live and do business is therefore a defining challenge. What’s clear is that businesses that take this challenge seriously will flourish, and those that don’t will eventually fall behind. But Government has an important role too, and this report highlights some of the steps it needs to take.”

Extended warranties and eco-design

The Government should work with the EU to establish eco-design standards across a range of products to make them easier to repair, upgrade, or recycle. Such standards should phase out products made from materials that cannot be recycled and encourage companies to design goods that have a clear end-of-life recovery route and are fabricated using easily separable and recyclable components. The Government should also work with industry sectors to set longer minimum warranty periods for consumer products to encourage businesses to adopt more resource-efficient business models.

Joan Walley MP added:

“We all know the frustration when we have to throw something away even though it’s just past its warranty. In our disposable society it often makes more financial sense to buy a new one than get something repaired. Things are not made to last and many manufacturers don’t make it easy for us to fix things. Government should work with companies to incentivise and encourage design that makes it easier to repair products and finally remanufacture or recycle them. Ministers should also work with industry to extend consumer warranties so that companies are encouraged to build things that last.”

Food Waste

The Government should also ban councils from sending food waste to landfill. Just 400,000 tonnes of food waste is separately collected for organic recycling in the UK out of the 7.2 million tonnes thrown out by households every year; around 6%. Instead this food waste could be collected separately and composted or used in anaerobic digesters to produce biogas and renewable energy and fertiliser.

Joan Walley MP:

“Food waste could be used to produce biogas for energy and fertiliser for our farming system yet at the moment too much is thrown into landfill where its value is lost and it produces climate-changing gases like methane.”

Government leadership

The MPs found that the Government’s current approach to these issues lacks ambition and leadership. It is characterised by small-scale schemes and although responsibilities are split across a number of departments, there is no strategic plan to achieve systemic change linked to industrial policy. Furthermore, Defra has dramatically cut funding for resource efficiency initiatives. The Committee argue that the Government should learn from the strategic vision that other countries have adopted and embrace the EU’s ambitious targets for improving resource productivity, supporting business in achieving the economic and environmental benefits of a more circular economy.

Joan Walley MP, concluded:

“Reducing the dependency on primary resource use for economic growth is an essential part of moving to a more sustainable and price-shock proof economic system. Some businesses are showing real leadership and innovation to adjust their business models and become more resource efficient. However, the Government must do more to ensure that the right conditions are in place so that many more businesses can shift from a linear approach to a circular one. We heard from business how successful green taxes such as the landfill tax had been in driving change in the waste industry.  We need the same strong tax signals from the Treasury for the Circular Economy”

Background info

The European Commission published a Circular Economy package on 2 July 2014. This proposes that countries should recycle 70% of municipal waste and 80% of packaging waste by 2030. The Package also includes a zero-waste-to-landfill policy for plastics, paper, metals, glass and bio-waste by 2025, as well as initiatives around eco-design. The European Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik says that the European Commission’s vision was that “by 2030 each country should recycle everything it is possible to recycle”.

Latest figures (from 2012) show that recycling rates in Europe are highest in Germany (65 %), followed by Austria (62 %) and Belgium (57%).

Recycling rates by local authorities in England in 2011/12 ranged from 69% (Vale of White Horse District Council) to 14% (Ashford Borough Council). Figures from 12/13 are available, but not broken down by authority.

Other countries have introduced regulatory measures to divert organic waste from landfill, such as the regulations requiring households to separate out food waste in Ireland, or the landfill ban on food waste being introduced in Scotland.

The Environmental Services Association suggest that a more circular economy could increase UK GDP by £3 billion a year. A Government study in 2011 indicated that there were £23 billion of financial benefits from low/no cost improvements available to businesses in the UK. The Green Alliance estimate that introducing more consistent recycling collections could be worth £1.7 billion a year.

Novamont submitted evidence to the Committee which uses data from WRAP to estimate that 400,000 tonnes of food waste was separately collected for organic recycling in the UK in 2012.

OTHER INFORMATION: This report (in HTML or PDF format) is available from 18.00 on Thursday 24 July 2014 via:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmenvaud/214/214.pdf

Likewise, this news story will go live from 18.00 on Thursday 24 July 2014 at:

http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/environmental-audit-committee/news/report-circular-economy

Membership of the Committee:  http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/environmental-audit-committee/membership/

Media Information: Nick Davies daviesnick@parliament.uk  020 7219 3297

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The Carbon Footprint Of Meat

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Most people know and accept that meat has a huge carbon footprint.

The land required to harvest red meat is 28 times more than that of pork or chicken. Red meat also needs 10 times the amount of water, and results in more climate-warming emissions by a factor of 5. It’s also worth noting for context that over 90% of our water footprint is created by food production.

Are you a heavy meat eater, or a vegan? This graph courtesy of Vox breaks it down:

less meat less emissions

This recent article from Climate Progress collates multiple sources to illustrate the problem, and this image shows the carbon footprint of one hamburger.

Carbon footprint of one hamburger

“Research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that livestock emissions are on the rise and that beef cattle are responsible for far more GHGs than other animals, including chicken and pork.

Meat production’s heavy environmental toll is not new, but the scale is surprising: The study found that beef requires 28 times more land to produce than pork or chicken, 11 times more water, and results in five times more GHG emissions.”

“The big story is just how dramatically impactful beef is compared to all the others,” Prof. Gidon Eshel, at Bard College in New York state, told the Guardian.

“I would strongly hope that governments stay out of people’s diet, but at the same time there are many government policies that favor of the current diet in which animals feature too prominently. Remove the artificial support given to the livestock industry and rising prices will do the rest. In that way you are having less government intervention in people’s diet and not more.”

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Destroy Carbon! Buy Carbon Permits For £6.47

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Let’s all help destroy carbon! In a good way of course.

In Europe, big polluters need pollution permits. These EU permits provide a legal limit on CO2 emissions. However there are too many permits, meaning there’s little incentive to reduce pollution and the millions of tonnes of extra CO2.

Sandbag’s Carbon Destruction initiative gives us the power to change this.

The permit price is now around €6 per tonne, and you can ‘buy to cancel’ permits via the Sandbag website for £6.47 (They make no profit on sales, and only cover admin costs).

The basic idea is that we buy the cancellation of an EU permit to stop companies purchasing the right to emit this carbon.

Destroy Carbon

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UK quietly slashes millions of tonnes of emissions

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Sandbag recently released this article reviewing emissions targets and what action has been taken in the UK. They look at what is really going on in emissions trading and encourage lobbying to ensure fewer permits are handed out. They also buy up the permits already on the market, and destroy them.

“With little fanfare, the UK government cancelled 36 million tonnes of carbon pollution rights in May. These carbon allowances relate to the UK’s carbon budgets and cover emissions outside the ETS that could otherwise have been banked forward into future budgets. With the stroke of a pen this eliminates more greenhouse gas emissions than the country’s two largest coal-fired power stations emit each year. At Sandbag we’re hopeful that this act, plus cancellation of HFC carbon credits in the Netherlands, on the Shenzhen carbon market, and others, sets a precedent for the cancellation of enormous surplus of allowances on the EU ETS.”

Read how Sandbag broke the full story here.

Carbon_space_to_grow_emissions

 

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