Is there an eco-friendly alternative to stubble burning?

Rice: A staple food for a lot of Asian countries which requires a labor intensive cropping and harvest cycle. However, the challenge is not only to harvest the rice from the paddy fields but the stubble that is left behind. Once the rice is harvested from the paddy fields, the residual stubble (typically a Kilogram per Kilogram of rice harvest) needs to be cleared to prepare the field for the consecutive plantation cycle. For the moment, there are two apparent approaches for this: 1.) To let the stubble rot in the field which release Methane which is a greenhouse gas and contribute to global warming; or, 2.) burn the stubble which has contributed to record breaking levels of pollution especially in places like New Delhi and Punjab, India where such practices have prevailed for several generations. In today’s times, where the humanity is already struggling with the environmental imbalance and record high levels of pollution, is there an eco-friendly alternative that can be adopted by rice farmers globally?

Potential eco-friendly solution

One alternative to burning the paddy stubble could be the use of alternative technologies like the Happy seeder, a tractor-mounted machine that sows seeds without the need to till the field or remove existing paddy straw. Whilst this does away with the need to till the field altogether, people in other parts of the world are looking into ancient technologies of converting cellulosic fibers into paper.

Mrs. Jaruwan Khammuang, Co-founder and CEO of the Fang Thai Factory in Thailand, has come up with a unique eco-friendly solution to recycle the left over straw whilst giving monetary incentives to farmers. They purchase the residual straw from farmers at the rate of few cents per Kilogram. At the processing site, the accrued straw is first chopped and then mixed with water and brought to a boil for about 4 hours. This leaves behind a pulpy mass which is then dried without any chemicals. The dried powdery raw material can then be processed to obtain rice paper, dinnerware and leak-proof take-away food packaging. The technique itself of converting any Lignocellulosic biomass be it rice straw or wheat straw etc. into paper is not novel and has existed since the 1st century AD as reported by the Chinese history. But in recent days, startups around the world are showing renewed interest in developing this into a widely acceptable farming practice.

All that remains now is to perfect the technique to make it economically feasible for the end-products to be produced locally, thereby doing away with the need to outsource the raw material for processing into end-products for consumer use.

Environmental and social benefits

Aside from its apparent eco-friendly strengths, this solution also serves as an additional livelihood for the farmers. Usually, upon harvest the farmers face low season until the next harvest season but like this, the farmers can be employed for post-processing of the straw giving them a sustained and perhaps an additional source of income until the next harvest. This might just be what the rice farmers need from across the globe as an adaptation to their post harvest practices to minimize their carbon footprint.

[Guest feature] Why should you care about biomedical waste?

When it comes to waste, the first picture that comes to mind is a garbage landfill site full of plastic waste and scavenger birds looming in the sky. One significant type of waste that is often overlooked is the biomedical waste. This is partly owing to lack of knowledge and with this article it is aimed to shed some light in the havoc that can be unleashed if the biomedical waste is not treated carefully.

What are the types of biomedical waste?

Biomedical waste can be generated from hospitals, pathological laboratories, mortuaries, autopsy centers, blood banks, animal research facilities, nursing homes for the elderly etc. Based on the nature of the waste, it can be primarily classified into following major categories:

  • Infectious waste: waste contaminated with blood and other bodily fluids (e.g. from discarded diagnostic samples), cultures and stocks of infectious agents from laboratory work (e.g. waste from autopsies and infected animals from laboratories), or waste from patients with infections (e.g. swabs, bandages and disposable medical devices).
  • Pathological waste: human.animal tissues, organs or fluids, body parts and contaminated animal carcasses
  • Sharp waste: syringes, needles, disposable scalpels and blades
  • Chemical waste: for example solvents and reagents used for laboratory preparations, disinfectants, sterilants and heavy metals contained in medical devices (e.g. mercury in broken thermometers) and batteries
  • Pharmaceutical waste: expired, unused and contaminated drugs and vaccines
  • Cyctotoxic waste: waste containing substances with genotoxic properties (i.e. highly hazardous substances that are, mutagenic, teratogenic or carcinogenic), such as cytotoxic drugs used in cancer treatment and their metabolites
  • Radioactive waste: products contaminated by radionuclides including radioactive diagnostic material or radiotherapeutic materials
  • Solid waste: includes non-sharp items contaminated with any bodily fluids or biological material. For example: gloves, pipettes, towels, or culture.
  • Liquid waste: includes bulk quantities of blood or bodily fluids.
  • Sharp waste: includes any materials that can puncture or pierce through skin and is contaminated with biological material that can risk transmission or release to the environment. For example: needles, syringes, scalpels, microscopic slides, small broken glass or tubes.
  • Pathological waste: includes human organs, tissues and body parts with the exception of teeth.

Does it pose a risk?

It is crucial to treat biomedical waste because improper management of waste generated in health care facilities poses a direct health hazard to the community, the health care workers and on the environment. It is important for healthcare facilities to take caution while handling biohazardous material and that only trained personnel handle and transcript this type of waste for disposal.

While about 85% of the net biomedical waste generated is non-hazardous waste, the residual 15% is indeed hazardous material that may be infectious, chemical or radioactive. There are extensive regulatory guidelines laid out by the World Health Organization (WHO) that strictly govern how the particular type of biomedical waste is to be treated and must be strictly adhered to. This includes aspects like regulatory framework, planning issues, waste minimization and recycling, handling, storage and transportation, treatment and disposal options.

However, biomedical waste is often not separated into hazardous or non-hazardous wastes in low-income countries making the real quantity of hazardous waste much higher.

There are health and environmental risks posed if one were to simply dump the medical waste at a landfill without any pre-treatment/decontamination. Treatment and disposal of medical waste may pose health risks indirectly through the release of pathogens and toxic pollutants into the environment. The main environmental problem is that the disposal of untreated medical wastes in landfills can lead to the contamination of drinking, surface, and ground waters.

What are the existing solutions?

Existing technologies like incineration or autoclaves for biomedical waste treatment on-site have existed for a while. But none of these technologies were innovative and eco-friendly. Indeed, incinerators reject CO2 emissions and furans whereas autoclaves consume a lot of water and rejects a contaminated water after treatment. To this end, AMB Ecosteryl has developed micro-wave technology which only requires an electric connection, there are no emissions, nor rejections of anything. They now have about 170 machines installed in 50+ countries all over the world.

DISCLAIMER: This guest feature was jointly co-authored with Justin Petit, Sales Representative at AMB Ecosteryl, that develops new equipment and machinery for recycling, recovery and processing of medical waste.

[Guest feature] What is in the cigarette butt?

It is a well-known fact that smoking kills. But the irony is, it is not just the smoker that it kills, its also the nature that suffers, especially the oceans. Studies suggest that about 4.5 Trillion cigarette butts (22-46% of visible litter) are littered each year that make their way to the oceans. When the trash gets washed ashore, its not just the plastic bottles, plastic bags, food wrappers but also the cigarette butts that are choking the marine life and are becoming a global epidemic.

It is perplexing how the cigarette butts littered on the city streets make their way into the oceans (perhaps via the rain and river water), but knowing that they do, why should we care and why are they such a big problem?

The anatomy of cigarette butts

Cigarette butts are mainly made of cellulose acetate that biodegrades slowly and can take up to 10 years to break down under normal litter conditions. Cigarette butts were invented in 1950’s as a promotional feature by the cigarette manufacturers which was later made mandatory due to fear of contracting lung cancer. By the mid-1960’s, researchers realized that the substances being filtered, like nicotine, were what made cigarettes satisfying for smokers, so manufacturers made filters less effective. Today 98% of cigarette filters are made of plastic fibers- cellulose acetate.

The havoc unleashed

A single cigarette butt can contaminate over 500 ml of water and contains more than 20 toxic chemicals that can harm the marine and aquatic life, if leeched into the environment. A whooping 4.5 trillion cigarette butts end up as litter making cigarette butts the top most littered item worldwide. Also, one kilogram of cigarette waste contains above 3,000 cigarette butts.

The solution

Careful disposal and efficient recycling of the cigarette butt is possible and companies like the Code Effort Pvt. Ltd. and TerraCycle are doing their part in recycling the erstwhile hard to recycle waste like cigarette butt. The challenge was that most regions lacked specific guidelines or regulations for appropriate cigarette waste management and recycling. This meant that not many recycling organizations existed owing to lack of proper knowledge and government guidelines.

Code Effort Private Limited provides a complete system for collection of cigarette waste from PAN India through cigarette vendors, contracts, corporates, rag pickers, volunteers, etc. The collection of cigarette waste is one rigorous task our team successfully handles. As of today, 1,000 Kilograms (3,000,000+ cigarette butts) are collected for recycling from PAN India monthly from major cities like Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Kolhapur to name a few. Code Effort Private Limited offers customized cigarette waste receptacles sold under the brand name of VBINS (Value Bins) to cigarette vendors, commercial spaces and individual smokers to ensure appropriate cigarette waste disposal. The cigarette waste collected through various channels is exchanged with monetary as well as non- monetary returns to enhance employment and by- product sales across India on behalf of Code Effort Private Limited. The system of cigarette waste management provided by Code Effort Private Limited has improved the economic and living conditions of hundreds of rag pickers, unemployed people and volunteers across India.

The cigarette butts procured by Code are manually separated into three categories i.e. cellulose acetate, paper covering and leftover tobacco with necessary precautionary measures like gloves, masks and thread cutters in place for the workers. The cellulose acetate is shredded by industrial shredder, treated using a proprietary biodegradable chemical composition for 24- 36 hours and carded using a carding machine to enhance fiber softness. After thorough quality check, they are then transformed into various premium by-products sold under the brand name of VMAKE (Vision Make) like handicrafts, cushions, mattresses, soft toys, etc. The waste water that is generated after treatment of cellulose acetate is further recycled using certified chemicals for usage in further batches. The paper covering and the leftover tobacco are shredded into pulp by industrial shredder, formulated into A5 sheets and hand-cut into 25×30 mm mosquito repellents sold under the brand name of NMOSQ (No Mosquito) for domestic use. All the by-products of Code Effort Private Limited are prepared and packed by a team of 25 semi-skilled women to foster women empowerment and work- from- home opportunities. The treated materials adhere to all the safety and legal standards and have certified lab reports with respect to the same.

Code Effort Private Limited has upcoming by-products like air-purification systems and eye frames to name a few. Such by-products are under research and development phase and expected to be launched in the financial year 2020-2021. Due to no existing competitors in the field of cigarette waste management and recycling in India till date, Code Effort Private Limited is a leading initiative for CSR which has the potential to reach masses and make an impact globally.

Let us all take a step towards Conserving Our Depleting Environment!

DISCLAIMER: Co-authored with Naman Gupta from Code Effort Pvt. Ltd, India.

Is the dairy industry really single-use plastic free?

With the growing awareness about the ill-effects of single-use plastics, the consumer industries, governments and environmental conservation agencies are trying hard to ban the use of plastic, at least the single-use kind. Often in this movement, we get to hear about the organic dairy farms going plastic-free but should we just accept this fact at its face value? To what extent is the dairy industry really single-use plastic free?

Single-use plastic in dairy product packaging

A lot of organic dairy farms are switching to glass bottles as opposed to previously used single-use plastic packaging. While this is a positive step towards promoting a circular economy and conserving the planet, this is just the tip of the iceberg. When shopping for dairy products, we often find cheese wrapped in plastic films, yogurt sold in plastic cups and butter packaged in plastic boxes too. It doesn’t stop there as even the non-dairy products like tofu get packaged in single-use plastic.

Single-use plastic in dairy input

It is not just the dairy products generated at the end of the production line that often find themselves packaged in single-use plastic to maximize their shelf lives. The dairy inputs like animal fodder also are packaged and transported with single-use plastic silage wraps.

Plastic-free packaging alternatives

By this time, it is becoming a common practice to either sell milk in biodegradable cardboard tetra packs or glass bottles. Just like milk, dairy cream can also be packaged in glass bottles. As for the yogurt, it can either be sold in clay pots or small glass jars. For cheese wraps, instead of cling-films, bio-degradable bee’s wax paper should be used. Care needs to be taken that the paper is coated with bees wax and not petroleum-based paraffin wax which would otherwise make it non-biodegradable. The same paper can potentially be used to transport the butter from the Deli to your home after which you can transfer it to a dish of your choice and keep refrigerated. For those who know the health benefits of clarified butter a.k.a. ghee, the challenge is easily addressed by storing ghee in glass jars. And just like that, most of the dairy products can be packaged without relying on single-use plastic.

Plastic-free alternatives for dairy input

It is possible to switch to bio-degradable silage wraps like bale wraps that is even edible. Alternatively, using innovative farming techniques like hydroponics, nutrient rich barley fodder can be grown on-site, all year around completely doing away with the need for silage wraps and hence are an economical solution to tackling harsh weather. Fodder Solutions is a global leader in this approach and is already reaping the benefits.

Now, it is a matter of time before the leaders in the Dairy industry take note of these challenges and invest in alternative solutions like those discussed here to actually make the dairy-industry plastic-free and truly “organic”.

[Guest feature] Is switching to a green electricity tariff a good thing to do?

How do you know if the energy powering up your appliances is green energy? And, can green tariffs really help play their part in getting us to 100% renewable energy? It’s an issue we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, so here’s our thoughts.

Where we are, and where do we need to be?

The world is on a precipice. We have roughly a decade to avert catastrophic climate change, and our progress in cutting emissions right now is too slow. 

Here in the UK, around 40% of our electricity is already sourced from renewables, compared with just 7% in 2009. Great progress, but government forecasts estimate that this will rise to only 52% by 2025. This needs to be 100% and as fast as humanly possible. Can green tariffs help this happen?

What is a green tariff?

Firstly, let’s clarify what a green tariff is. When you’re on a green or renewable electricity tariff, your supplier promises that, however much electricity you use in your home, the same amount of renewable electricity will be put into the National Grid.

How do you know it’s green energy?

Here’s where it gets more complicated. You can’t point at a wind farm and know that the electricity it produces will be supplied to your home. Most renewable electricity goes into the National Grid, where it’s jumbled up with electricity from other sources, just like streams feeding a big pond. When we take electricity out of the pond, it’s a mish mash of energy from lots of different generators – both clean and dirty. 

So, how can we prove that a renewable electricity tariff is actually sourced from renewable energy?

To solve that problem, the government gives renewable generators a certificate for every unit of clean electricity they put into the National Grid. These certificates are known as REGOs (which stands for ‘Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin’). 

Your energy supplier can buy REGOs from generators to prove that every unit of electricity you take out of the National Grid is matched by an equivalent unit of green electricity going into the grid. (They then have to ‘retire’ the REGO to make sure no-one can claim the same unit of green power twice.) 

Are there different types of green tariffs?

Not all green tariffs are the same. Green tariffs vary depending on how the supplier buys their green energy. Suppliers have three choices:

1.     Build your own

First, they can build their own renewables generation. Ecotricity and Good Energy have been pioneers in this area. This is arguably the greenest option as buying electricity from a supplier who purchases their energy directly from clean generators channels your spending directly to the renewables industry. However, in the UK this is not widespread and it’s often expensive to do this at scale.

2.     Buy direct

Alternatively, suppliers can enter into contracts directly with the generators of renewable electricity. This usually involves committing to buy a certain amount of electricity at a set price for a set number of years. When suppliers buy electricity in this way, the REGOs and the electricity are sold together. This is arguably the next greenest option, but can be relatively expensive due to the lack of flexibility and locked in prices.

3.     Wholesale

Most UK suppliers currently buy their electricity through wholesale markets. Wholesale markets aggregate demand, which gives access to lower prices. They also allow both suppliers and generators to sell surplus capacity, helping to balance the system. All of this improves efficiency and reduces costs for the end user. 

When you’re on a renewable tariff and your supplier buys their power through the wholesale markets, they have to buy their REGOs separately, directly from renewables generators. That way, they can demonstrate that the electricity they’re selling to you is matched by clean electricity that has been put into the grid. Most suppliers in the UK use this approach for buying green energy. This is mainly because it delivers green energy at lower cost to customers.

How can households and businesses switching to green tariffs help us get to 100% renewable energy?

There are many things outside of green tariffs that dictate the pace of renewable deployment in the UK. Government policy and the commercial attractiveness (and stability) for renewable generation companies to put up more wind and solar farms are big drivers.

Green tariffs are not the silver bullet to speed up our transition to renewables. However, here are a few ways that switching your energy tariff can make a difference:

1.     Demand can drive supply

Basic laws of supply and demand. If 100% of electricity consumers can be persuaded to buy renewable electricity, then it follows that 100% of supply will have to be from renewable sources. This is the fundamental principle that underpins everything we do at Big Clean Switch. Our goal is to get every home and business onto a renewable electricity tariff.

If every home and business in the UK was on a REGO-backed tariff, all of the electricity going into the pond would have to be clean. This makes REGOs a useful tool in transitioning the UK to a 100% renewable electricity mix. Although not outright the absolute greenest option, the REGO backed wholesale green tariffs that most suppliers in the UK offer, are making it possible for millions and millions of homes who would otherwise be unable to afford green tariffs to demonstrate their demand for clean electricity. This is important if we’re to achieve the speed and scale of change we need. 

2.     Divestment

Moving the money you pay for your energy bills from a supplier who is rooted in the fossil fuel industry (British Gas for example) to a renewable energy supplier can, and is, disrupting the finances of Britain’s biggest energy companies. The Big 6 suppliers in the UK have all been losing customers at a staggering rate. This has caused two of The Big 6, Scottish Power and Eon, to mover over to supplying 100% renewable electricity to all their customers in the last year. They ultimately see supplying green energy as a way to retain customers and make money. The decisions that these big energy companies make can definitely put us on track for a 100% renewable electricity system sooner.

3.     Signals it sends

Did you know that just under half (around 45%) of all households in the UK are on renewable electricity tariffs? This really does show that people want green energy. This can be used to send signals to politicians about the public’s desire for renewable energy and ultimately, influence the government and businesses regarding their decisions about where the UK’s energy comes from.

Given it only takes 5-10 minutes to switch, why wouldn’t you play your part in nudging us faster towards a 100% renewable electricity system?

DISCLAIMER: Featured image courtesy of LKABMinerals.

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