Ocean Cleanup Array vs 5Gyres : A Healthy Debate to Remove plastic from Oceans

Here comes the first part of the attempt by Boyan Slat and his plans to remove plastic waste from the oceans..

Boyan Slat

19-year-old Boyan Slat has unveiled plans to create an Ocean Cleanup Array that could remove 7,250,000 tons of plastic waste from the world’s oceans. The device consists of an anchored network of floating booms and processing platforms that could be dispatched to garbage patches around the world.

Instead of moving through the ocean, the array would span the radius of a garbage patch, acting as a giant funnel. The angle of the booms would force plastic in the direction of the platforms, where it would be separated from plankton, filtered and stored for recycling.

At school, Boyan Slat launched a project that analyzed the size and amount of plastic particles in the ocean’s garbage patches. His final paper went on to win several prizes, including Best Technical Design 2012 at the Delft University of Technology. Boyan continued to develop his concept during the summer of 2012, and he revealed it several months later at TEDxDelft 2012.

Slat went on to found The Ocean Cleanup Foundation, a non-profit organization which is responsible for the development of his proposed technologies. His ingenious solution could potentially save hundreds of thousands of aquatic animals annually, and reduce pollutants (including PCB and DDT) from building up in the food chain. It could also save millions per year, both in clean-up costs, lost tourism and damage to marine vessels. It is estimated that the clean-up process would take about five years, and it could greatly increase awareness about the world’s plastic garbage patches.

On his site Slat says, “One of the problems with preventive work is that there isn’t any imagery of these ‘garbage patches’, because the debris is dispersed over millions of square kilometres. By placing our arrays however, it will accumulate along the booms, making it suddenly possible to actually visualize the oceanic garbage patches. We need to stress the importance of recycling, and reducing our consumption of plastic packaging. 

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Read the complete article on his project here 

Here comes the second part the revelation or the questions on feasibility of this attempt…

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Following his Proposal Stiv Wilson, the policy director of the ocean conservation nonprofit 5Gyres.org, came up with his views saying “The solution to this problem isn’t elegant, and there exists no silver bullet. The first step in solving the problem is to personally lower your plastic consumption. The next steps are to get involved in cleanups, get involved in campaigns to eliminate problem products, and demand that companies take responsibility for their products post consumer. There is a lot to be hopeful about, even if the real solutions don’t appear real sexy. But with engagement, en masse, there is light at the end of the sewer pipe. Unfortunately with Slat’s idea, I see only wasted resources and more ocean garbage in the making.” He detailed as follows

As the policy director of the ocean conservation nonprofit 5Gyres.org, I can tell you that the problem of ocean plastic pollution is massive. In case you didn’t know, an ocean gyre is a rotating current that circulates within one of the world’s oceans – and recent research has found that these massive systems are filled with plastic waste. There are no great estimates (at least scientific) on how much plastic is in the ocean, but I can say from firsthand knowledge (after sailing to four of the world’s five gyres) that it’s so pervasive it confounds the senses. Gyre cleanup has often been floated as a solution in the past, and recently Boyan Slat’s proposed ‘Ocean Cleanup Array’ went viral in a big way. The nineteen-year-old claims that the system can clean a gyre in 5 years with ‘unprecedented efficiency’ and then recycle the trash collected. The problem is that the barriers to gyre cleanup are so massive that the vast majority of the scientific and advocacy community believe it’s a fool’s errand – the ocean is big, the plastic harvested is near worthless, and sea life would be harmed. The solutions starts on land.

The sea is cruel and it’s really really really big

The nonprofit I work for, as part of its mission, takes people other than scientists on expeditions to the gyres. Why? It’s simple; we want regular people, like Slat, to understand the scale of the problem and the vectors that contribute to the difficulty of solving it by being informed by a firsthand vantage. So far, we’ve taken one gyre cleanup advocate across the South Atlantic, from Brazil to South Africa. We had 22 days of storms with seas in excess of 30 feet at times. By the time we got to the other side, some 30+ days later, he’d abandoned his hope of cleaning the gyres once he realized how big a ‘place’ we’re talking about. What I find astonishing is that out of all the gyre cleanup proponents I’ve met, none of them have ever been to the gyres.

The ocean surface is 315 million square kilometers; 70% of the earth’s surface. Plastic isn’t just contained within the borders of the gyres, it’s everywhere in the ocean. Half of it, like Coke bottles and PVC pipe, sinks. What does a garbage patch look like? Imagine the night sky on a cloudless, moonless night. Now replace the ocean surface with space, and the stars with plastic; it’s dispersed and it goes on infinitely. Yes, humans have managed to create a problem on a degree of scale that’s nearly incomprehensible and so overwhelming we’re predisposed to like ideas like Slat’s because it has the appearance of near divine simplicity. Every time a gyre cleanup proponent has shown me a design for addressing the problem, the first thing I ask is, ‘do you have the money to make 20 million of those doohickies?’ They look at me with a puzzled look, and I just mutter, ‘The ocean is really, really, really, big.”

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But beyond the size of the ocean, the sea is one giant corrosive force. Even on just a month-long sail across The South Atlantic, we tore our sails twice, broke some rigging, and utterly destroyed awind-powered generator—all due to the force of nature. Any blue water sailor will tell you about how destructive the sea is to anything with moving parts. That’s why sailors say, ‘a boat is a hole you fill with money.’ Heck, outer space is less corrosive to machines than the ocean is.

But let’s look at a practical example. My home state of Oregon has been trying to create North America’s first offshore wave energy farm. The first test buoy that was launched, just about 2.5 miles offshore, sank after just a few months. That buoy had a ‘100 year survivability’ rating, and wasn’t just an idea on an Ipad. That was the result of an incredible amount of engineering and venture capital. The company, Finavera Renewables, has since abandoned their wave energy ambitions. Is it because Finavera lacked vision? No. Whether you like it or not, Finavera, like all for-profit schemes, is governed by profit and loss. What’s interesting is that Finavera actually had a product (energy) that was worth money, and still it didn’t pencil out. Eventually, because energy IS so valuable and wave farms are near shore, the technology will become more viable. Which leads me to my next point.

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The economics of gyre cleanup don’t work – and a few notes on recycling

The two most common types of plastic in the ocean are polyethylene (PE- plastic bags, dispensing bottles) and polypropylene (PP- bottle caps, fishing gear). So, it stands to reason that these types of plastic would be what Slat’s machine would ‘harvest’ to sell to recyclers. Well, if the economic viability of Slat’s ocean cleaning device rests on his assumption that it will produce a product that will be sold in the market, he needs to better understand the market landscape for his product.

Plastics, chemically speaking, are polymer chains of monomer hydrocarbon molecules. Ultraviolet light weakens the polymer chains until they break, which is why you have the confetti-like micro-plastics found in the ocean. The number one barrier to a closed loop, cradle-to-cradle scenario for plastic is that recycling weakens the polymer chains and thus, the structural integrity of what you can recycle them into. Ocean-borne plastics are so brittle you can break them apart with your fingers, and they’re also saturated with toxic chemicals present in seawater. Another issue is bio-fouling. Life adheres to plastic, and for the most part, plastic can only be recycled if it’s clean or cleaned. Another issue is that plastics have to be separated by type, i.e. PP, PE, etc. In an ocean plastic scenario where all these bits are crazy small, this requires spectroscopic analysis that identifies plastic by the frequency of light it reflects. This is very expensive, even in an automated scenario. Another issue is transportation—plastic bags are hardly ever recycled because in most places, it’s more expensive to transport them to a recycler then the recycler will pay for them. So, from the market analysis standpoint in a gyre cleanup business plan, ocean plastics are about the worst possible feedstock for recycling imaginable, putting the product at a severe competitive disadvantage. Put it this way: Hiring people to climb trees in New York City to gather all the plastic bags in their branches would be more efficient and cheaper than ocean harvesting. Wait, do I sound crazy? Or visionary?

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One company, Envision Plastics, has successfully managed to use ocean plastics, working with a company called Method to create a bottle with 25% post-ocean High Density Polyethylene (HDPE). But the economic viability of the product is the issue. Out of 67 products listed on Method’s website, only one is packaged in this type of bottle and it costs a dollar more than other products of the same volume in other types of recycled bottles. Envision Plastics does not advertise ‘Ocean Plastic’ as a wholesale product available on their website. The fact that Method’s ‘Ocean Plastic’ didn’t take off should be noted in Boyan Slat’s feasibility study. Slat seems at least cognizant of this problem when he says:

“According to current estimations – due to the plan’s unprecedented efficiency—recycling benefits would significantly outweigh the costs of executing the project. Although the quality of the plastic is somewhat lower than ordinary recycled plastic it could for example be mixed with other plastics to produce high-quality products. PR through an Ocean Plastics brand can further increase the plastics’ value, and would create awareness with the consumer.”

First up, there is no “plan” so it’s really difficult to vet its “unprecedented efficiency.” And “quality of plastic somewhat lower?” The word “terrible” is a better description. Though cool and innovative, Envision’s Ocean Plastic hasn’t taken off – and do you remember the massive PR around it just months ago? It’s gone.

Like the size of the ocean, the amount of plastic we consume is an issue of scale. In North America, the annual per capita consumption of plastic is roughly 326 pounds as of 2010. That statistic is up nearly a 100 pounds per capita from 2001. Of course, the plastics industry doesn’t like the idea of us consuming less because it means less plastic sold. They keep saying all we need is ‘more recycling.’ But despite even nominal gains in recycling, the sum total of virgin plastics produced in the world annually is going up, not down, which means the sum total of plastics entering the ocean is going up, too. I’m not anti-recycling; recovery is part of the solution, albeit small.


The problem is that the economics of most recycling are terrible, especially in the case of Polyethylene and Polypropylene. A growing single-use input for a market that has a sustained-use durable goods output means the input is always going to be greater than the output – that is – the supply will always exceed demand. Most plastics are very difficult to recycle not because we lack infrastructure, but because they’re not worth enough in a commodities market to incentivize venture capitalists to invest in more infrastructure to process them. Let’s remember that recycling isn’t the work of little green altruistic elves and fairies, it’s a business.

But even when plastics do get recycled, in the vast majority of cases, recycling only kicks the can down the road one generation by creating a product that can’t or won’t (because of economic constraints) be recycled again. In short, the vast majority of the recycling industry isn’t doing anything to solve marine plastic pollution, and for the most part, recycling is just creating a secondary market for waste. Even if the economics of Slat’s Ocean Cleanup Array didn’t further impede its viability, more plastic would still be entering the ocean than his device would pull out. Placing fees on producers of virgin plastics, and giving breaks to those who use 100% recycled content or are actively working towards it, would help to balance this equation out and would be great news for the ocean.

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What about the science?

In the simplest of terms, anything floating in the ocean tends to be a ‘party barge’ for life. What I’d like to see for Slat’s design is a time-lapse of his structure at sea predicting how fast it would be colonized by sea life—colonization happens very quickly. I can personally attest to this from recovering tsunami debris at sea, just a year after the devastating wave hit Japan. Anywhere you have seawater you’re going to have havoc wreaking barnacles. Anywhere where you have a platform, you’re going to have dead squid and flying fish stranding themselves, which will attract sea birds, and thus, guano. All of this stuff, coupled with salt, makes moving parts seize.

Little sea life attracts big sea life. Big sea life means entanglement issues. And unfortunately, sea life big or small is notorious for not doing what designers assume it will do. Slat’s design depicts massive booms sticking out of the sides in a ‘V’ pattern thus corralling the floating plastic into some mysterious filter that will separate plankton and plastic. First up, life would colonize the booms, weight it down, and create their own current and eddies around it which would affect the ‘flow’ of how the thing is supposed to work. Fish, attracted by the littler life and the protection from larger predators tend to be voracious ‘munchers’ and thus, really destructive. Oh and storms? You can’t imagine the ferocity we’re talking about until you’ve sailed in full gale. The wind itself becomes audible.

Slat claims that 24 of his devices are all that is needed to cleanup each gyre in 5 years. How massively long are the booms, and how do they stay in a ‘V’ shape that Slat assumes is needed to gather the plastic? Where on earth does the 24 number come from? Slat mentions that these would be anchored to the seabed. That’s great, but it’s not currently possible to anchor anything in 4,000 meters of water (the average depth of the open ocean). The deepest known mooring is 2,000 meters. Even if you could anchor it, one big storm and his device is going to be ripped from its mooring. Ask NOAA about how many data buoys they lose to storms, even in shallow water.

Another technicality is bycatch. Slat suggests that plankton wouldn’t be collected along with the plastic, though he admits more research is needed on this. The definition of plankton is an organism that can’t swim against a current; plankton have no control where they go and the assumption that they’ll somehow avoid the current that is taking the plastic into the processing thinga-ma-jiggy is a bad one. After conducting 50+ surface samples myself, at least half of the material we get from the surface is biomass. Zooplankton is really fragile, and trying to separate it from plastic in most cases is going to damage these critters beyond survivability, especially on an industrial scale. Plan B in Slat’s concept is to centrifuge the critters out—that would rip off their antennae and feeding apparatus. Scientists, when collecting zooplankton, use live catch nets and are very, very careful so as not to damage them. Plankton biologists, needless to say, are skeptical. Though zooplankton certainly isn’t the most charismatic fauna out there (and probably wouldn’t draw the ire of PETA if Slat’s device killed them), let’s remember that all life in the ocean depends on plankton at the base of the food chain. And if one endangered sea turtle was caught up? The fines that Slat would face would bankrupt his project in a second.

Perhaps one of the worst assumptions evident in this design is that the plastic will be on the sea surface. Researchers have shown that plastic suspends in the water column at 100-150 meters due to wave action and sea state. Not only does this mean that Slat’s design wouldn’t capture this plastic, it shows that his estimates of how much plastic is out there aren’t correct and thus, his five year timeframe to clean a gyre becomes even more unrealistic. For more analysis on what the premiere scientists working on the issue think, go here.

Why so bitter?

I absolutely love human creativity, especially when it’s channeled for a greater environmental good. But why I have such an adverse reaction to Slat’s concept is the naiveté with which he proposes it. And sure, maybe I’m a bit jealous that this tale of how solve the problem went viral when so many of my colleagues working on real solutions go unnoticed and uncelebrated by the media. But I also smell an arrogance here—an arrogance that flies in the face of everything we know about the ocean and the problems with recycling. If Slat were just simply floating a design concept, that would be one thing, but that’s not exactly how he portrays it–and all the ipso facto disclaimers working in concert with a fundraising scheme are really troubling. Slat’s facebook page feeds this in its tagline: “The first realistic ocean clean-up concept?” Seriously? Maybe he has the best intentions, but I find this gyre cleanup stuff to be a major distraction from the real solutions to the problem and as such, counter productive. To me, quite frankly, he’s selling snake oil even if he doesn’t know it yet. Remember what William Blake said about good intentions?

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The good news

Here’s something that will blow your mind—to clean the ocean of floating plastic, you don’t need to go out and get it, it will come to you. Yep, that’s right. Oceanographer Curtis Ebbsmeyer, author of, Flotsametrics describes a rarely talked about phenomena that occurs naturally in the ocean called Gyre Memory. Gyre Memory demonstrates that upon each orbit of a gyre, the gyre will spit out about half its contents. These contents will then either enter another current or gyre or wash up on land. As this repeats, it means that eventually, all the plastic in the ocean will be spit – out which is why you find plastic fragments on every beach in the world. Beach cleanup is gyre cleanup.

The solution to this problem isn’t elegant, and there exists no silver bullet. The first step in solving the problem is to personally lower your plastic consumption. The next steps are to get involved in cleanups, get involved in campaigns to eliminate problem products, and demand that companies take responsibility for their products post consumer. There is a lot to be hopeful about, even if the real solutions don’t appear real sexy. But with engagement, en masse, there is light at the end of the sewer pipe. Unfortunately with Slat’s idea, I see only wasted resources and more ocean garbage in the making.

What’s Up for Slat Now? 

His project received a huge amount of media coverage, although scientists and professional ocean activists question the feasibility of the design. Now Slat has turned to crowd-funding website Indiegogo seeking to raise $80,000 for a feasibility study. In the young inventor’s own words, “I don’t know if it’s possible, and that’s exactly the reason I’m doing it.”

Slat’s study would draw upon a team of students, engineers, oceanographers and industry experts to investigate whether his proposed Ocean Cleanup Array would be capable of removing vast amounts of plastic from the oceans.

Slat’s floating array is designed to capture plastic as it circulates through ocean gyres. Slat’s Indiegogo campaign is offering gifts based upon donations – for example, if you donate a $1, you receive a thank you and a digital summary of the study. However those that donate $500 or more will get a social media shout out and their name featured on the pilot vessel.

If you wondering what the $80,000 will go towards, Slat states that it will cover all estimated costs to scientifically prove the concept’s feasibility.”Our research includes 35 research topics in the fields of engineering, oceanography, (geo)physics, ecology, finance, maritime law and recycling.” In addition to pursuing a research budget, Slat adds that “by finishing this all-important study, we can continue with an open ocean pilot, followed by the actual full-scale execution of The Ocean Cleanup.”

So that’s how this story goes now. 

You can find more information on Boyan Slat and 5Gyres (just click to go to their website) 

Hope they both find a solution in their ways and help the world out. Kudos to both their Attempts and we wish them all success.

Courtesy & Sources : Google, BoyanSlat.com, 5Gyres.Org, InHabitat.com, Whydontyoutrythis.com

Japan is Successful with Circular Economy

Circular

Japanese recycling rates are extraordinary:  98 per cent for metals for example and, in 2007, just five per cent of Japan’s waste ended up in a hole in the ground, compared with 48 per cent for the UK in 2008. Japan’s appliance recycling laws ensure the great majority of electrical and electronic products are recycled, compared with 30-40 per cent here.  Of these appliances, 74-89 per cent of the materials they contain are recovered. Perhaps more significantly, many of these materials go back into the manufacture of the same type of products from which they were reclaimed. This is the ‘closed-loop’ holy grail of recycling essential for a truly circular economy.

So how has Japan managed it and can we do it too?

How it works over there
Collaboration is at the heart of the Japanese system. The public plays a part by separating out recyclables, paying recycling fees directly and holding companies to account when necessary. Manufacturers do their bit by using more recycled materials, and making longer lasting products that are easier to repair and recycle. The system has two key features:

Consumer-friendly collection: The system for collecting old appliances for recycling is so comprehensive and easy to use it’s harder not to recycle them. Old appliances are collected by retailers either in store or when delivering a new appliance. For old IT equipment, you can request that the original manufacturer collect it from your doorstep, or you can take it to any Post Office and have it sent back to them. This is standard across Japan, making it well understood and widely used.

Recycling infrastructure is co-owned: The law requires consortia of manufacturers to run disassembly plants, ensuring they directly benefit from recovering materials and parts. Because recovery is a legal requirement, companies invest for the long term in recycling infrastructure. And because they own both manufacturing and recovery facilities, companies send product designers to disassembly factories to experience the frustrations of taking apart a poorly designed product. Some companies even put prototypes through the disassembly process to make sure they’re easy to recover.

This system doesn’t just work well, it’s also big business:  Japan’s reuse and recycling economy was worth £163 billion in 2007 (7.6% of GDP) and employed 650,000 people.

– Courtesy & Source : http://greenallianceblog.org.uk

In recent years, circular economy has driven extensive discussion as the current economic development is being constrained by ecological environment and resources. The Japanese mode of circular economy is a good reference. A Report by Luying Hao, Xiujun Ji, Yongqing Zhang from China shares their insights on Japan’s Circular economy and its significance for China. Click here to read the PDF document. 

AWARE : MORE ON CIRCULAR ECONOMY : CHANGE FOR OUR FUTURE!

CAN CIRCULAR ECONOMY BE A SOLUTION? MY POV

Eco Preservation : E-Waste and World’s most Polluted Guiyu!

Did you ever wonder what happens to your old laptop or cellphone when you throw it away?

Guiyu

Guiyu

Chances are some of your old electronic junk will end up in China.

According to a recent United Nations report, “China now appears to be the largest e-waste dumping site in the world.”

E-waste, or electronic waste, consists of everything from scrapped TVs, refrigerators and air conditioners to that old desktop computer that may be collecting dust in your closet.

Many of these gadgets were initially manufactured in China. Through a strange twist of global economics, much of this electronic junk returns to China to die.

“According to United Nations data, about 70% of electronic waste globally generated ended up in China,” said Ma Tianjie, a spokesman for the Beijing office of Greenpeace.

“Much of [the e-waste] comes through illegal channels because under United Nations conventions, there is a specific ban on electronic waste being transferred from developed countries like the United States to countries like China and Vietnam.”

For the past decade, the southeastern town of Guiyu, nestled in China’s main manufacturing zone, has been a major hub for the disposal of e-waste. Hundreds of thousands of people here have become experts at dismantling the world’s electronic junk.

On seemingly every street, laborers sit on the pavement outside workshops ripping out the guts of household appliances with hammers and drills. The roads in Guiyu are lined with bundles of plastic, wires, cables and other garbage. Different components are separated based on their value and potential for re-sale. On one street sits a pile of green and gold circuit boards. On another, the metal cases of desktop computers.

At times, it looks like workers are reaping some giant plastic harvest, especially when women stand on roadsides raking ankle-deep “fields” of plastic chips.

In one workshop, men sliced open sacks of these plastic chips, which they then poured into large vats of fluid. They then used shovels and their bare hands to stir this synthetic stew.

“We sell this plastic to Foxconn,” one of the workers said, referring to a Taiwanese company that manufactures products for many global electronics companies, including Apple, Dell and Hewlett-Packard.

Guiyu, China is often referred to as the “e-waste capital of the world.” The city employs over 150,000 e-waste workers who toil through 16-hour days dis-assembling old computers and recapturing whatever metals and parts they can re-use or sell. This is far from an organized operation; rather than having computers neatly stacked on palettes in storage units waiting to be recycled, computer carcasses are strewn about the streets and river banks. Huge tangles of wires and cables lay on street corners. Workers, whom will usually specialize in dis-assembling specific parts, will pull parts from the various scattered piles of parts about town and begin their work right on the side of the street.

 

Dirty, dangerous work & Hazardous Incentive

This may be one of the world’s largest informal recycling operations for electronic waste. In one family-run garage, workers seemed to specialize in sorting plastic from old televisions and cars into different baskets. “If this plastic cup has a hole in it, you throw it away,” said a man who ran the operation, pointing to a pink plastic mug. “We take it and re-sell it.”

But recycling in Guiyu is dirty, dangerous work. “When recycling is done properly, it’s a good thing for the environment,” said Ma, the Greenpeace spokesman in Beijing.

“But when recycling is done in primitive ways like we have seen in China with the electronic waste, it is hugely devastating for the local environment.”

According to the April 2013 U.N. report “E-Waste in China,” Guiyu suffered an “environmental calamity” as a result of the wide-scale e-waste disposal industry in the area.

Much of the toxic pollution comes from burning circuit boards, plastic and copper wires, or washing them with hydrochloric acid to recover valuable metals like copper and steel. In doing so, workshops contaminate workers and the environment with toxic heavy metals like lead, beryllium and cadmium, while also releasing hydrocarbon ashes into the air, water and soil, the report said.

For first-time visitors to Guiyu, the air leaves a burning sensation in the eyes and nostrils.

Dis-assemblers in Guiyu earn about $8 a day – almost five times what they previously earned as farmers and laborers. With a lack of other major industry in the area, many more were previously unemployed so destitution drives them to the hazardous work.

In fact, many actually move to Guiyu in hopes of seeking out the higher wages. Activists have lamented that these people must choose between poverty and poison, something no person should have to do. A sad reality of Guiyu is 88% of workers suffer from neurological, respiratory, or digestive abnormalities. A similar number also suffer from various forms of skin disease. Workers use their bare hands for dis-assembly of parts and sweep excess printer toner from the streets into the river.

Toxic tech

Studies by the Shantou University Medical College revealed that many children tested in Guiyu had higher than average levels of lead in their blood, which can stunt the development of the brain and central nervous system. Piles of technological scrap had been dumped in a muddy field just outside of town. There, water buffalo grazed and soaked themselves in ponds surrounded by piles of electronic components with labels like Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Epson and Dell. The enormous animals casually stomped through mounds of sheet glass, which clearly had been removed from video monitors. Flat screen displays often use mercury, a highly toxic metal.

“Releases of mercury can occur during the dismantling of equipment such as flat screen displays,” wrote Greenpeace, in a report titled “Toxic Tech.” “Incineration or landfilling can also result in releases of mercury to the environment…that can bioaccumulate and biomagnify to high levels in food chains, particularly in fish.” Most of the workers in Guiyu involved in the e-waste business are migrants from destitute regions of China and poorly educated. Many of them downplayed the potential damage the industry could cause to their health.

They asked only to use their family names, to protect their identity. “Of course it isn’t healthy,” said Lu, a woman who was rapidly sorting plastic shards from devices like computer keyboards, remote controls and even computer mice. She and her colleagues burned plastic using lighters and blow-torches to identify different kinds of material.

“But there are families that have lived here for generations … and there is little impact on their health,” she said. Several migrants said that while the work is tough, it allows them more freedom than working on factory lines where young children are not permitted to enter the premises and working hours are stringent.

Used to be worse

Despite the environmental degradation and toxic fumes permeating the air, many in Guiyu said that conditions have improved dramatically over the years.

“I remember in 2007, when I first came here, there was a flood of trash,” said Wong, a 20-year-old man who ferried bundles of electronic waste around on a motorcycle with a trailer attached to it.

“Before people were washing metals, burning things and it severely damaged people’s lungs,” Wong added. “But now, compared to before, the [authorities] have cracked down pretty hard.”

But residents who did not work in the e-waste business offered a very different take on the pollution in Guiyu.

The environmental and health side effects are extremely damaging; the air is not safe to breathe and the water not safe to drink. Lead and other poisonous metals course through the veins of the residents.

Over 10 heavy and poisonous metals were found: lead, mercury, tin, aluminum, and cadmium being the most prominent.

Drinking water has to be trucked in as the local river and underground water table are poisonous. Guiyu has the highest level of cancer-causing dioxins in the world; pregnancies are six times more likely to end in miscarriage and seven out of ten children are born with 50% higher levels of lead in their blood than children born elsewhere.The head of the group, who identified himself as Zhou, had another shocking admission.

“It may not sound nice, but we don’t dare eat the rice that we farm because it’s planted here with all the pollution,” Zhou said, pointing at water-logged rice paddy next to him.

Asked who did eat the harvested rice, Zhou answered: “How should I know? A lot of it is sold off … they don’t dare label the rice from here as ‘grown in Guiyu.’ They’ll write that its rice from some other place.”

Not that surprising considering that the latest food scandal to hit the country earlier this month is cadmium-laced rice. Officials in Guangzhou city, roughly 400 kilometers away from Guiyu, found high rates of cadmium in rice and rice products. According to the city’s Food and Drug Administration samples pulled from a local restaurant, food seller and two university canteens showed high levels of cadmium in rice and rice noodles. Officials did not specify how the contaminated rice entered the city’s food supply.

CNN made several attempts to contact the Guiyu town government. Government officials refused to comment on the electronic waste issue and hung up the phone.

However, it did appear that government efforts to restrict imports of foreign waste are reducing the flow of e-trash here.

“Why are they stopping the garbage from reaching us?” asked one man who ran a plastic sorting workshop. “Of course it’s hurting our business,” he added.

Domestic e-waste grows

The Chinese government had some success regulating e-waste disposal with a “Home Appliance Old for New Rebate Program,” which was tested from 2009 to 2011. With the help of generous government subsidies, the program collected tens of millions of obsolete home appliances, according to the U.N. Even if Chinese authorities succeed in limiting smuggled supplies of foreign garbage, the U.N. warns that the country is rapidly generating its own supply of e-waste.

“Domestic generation of e-waste has risen rapidly as a result of technological and economic development,” the U.N. reported. It cited statistics showing an exponential surge in sales of TV’s, refrigerators, washing machines, air conditioners and computers in China over a 16-year period. To avoid a vicious cycle of pollution, resulting from both the manufacture and disposal of appliances, Greenpeace has lobbied for manufacturers to use fewer toxic chemicals in their products. The organization also has a message for consumers who seem to swap their phones, tablets and other computer devices with increasing frequency.

“Think about where your mobile phone or where your gadgets go,” said Ma, the Greenpeace activist. “When you think about changing [your phone], or buying a new product, always think about the footprint that you put on this planet.”

Why Not Just Shut Guiyu Down?

It’s not that simple.

China officially bans the import of electronic waste, but the allure of the massive revenues to local government trumps human rights. Complicating the issue is a shortage of raw materials for major industry in China; factories are clamouring for the materials retrieved from the scavenging and they pay top dollar. As long as the business is profitable and kept largely out of world view, it is unlikely to face reform.

Further, it’s not as easy as simply asking government to enforce the rules; Guiyu’s entire economy is centered around this industry and its livelihood depends on it. If regulators shut down operations, over 150,000 people would be left unemployed.

Also to consider: if Guiyu’s operations were shut down, they would be continued elsewhere. Guiyu isn’t the problem; people of the world will still require disposal of their used electronics and suppliers will still pay for the recovered raw materials. It is a situation with many factors to consider before a practical solution can be determined.

Chinese officials that acknowledge the problem are quick to point to the United States and other industrialized countries as being the primary source of the problem: “The biggest responsibility lies in the developed countries that export e-waste” claims one Chinese professor.

While much of the culpability certainly lies at the feet of the industrialized nations who create and export waste, officials in China aren’t doing much to stand in the way either: tariffs and taxation from e-waste “recycling” produces nearly 90% of the regional government’s revenue, giving officials little incentive to enforce the laws.

 

Is it Recycling?

What is going on in Guiyu isn’t legal, but due to the immense revenue stream officials of the impoverished area overlook the violations. A 60 minutes TV crew featured a story on an American recycler based in Denver Colorado, and discovered that poor handling of used computer parts starts here with the companies that take used parts under the guise of “recycling.”

This particular recycler was not shy to boast of its green principles, and publicly chastised competitors for selling electronic waste to the lowest bidder overseas rather than following proper recycling procedures. Despite these claims of propriety, the 60 minutes crew followed a shipping container full of used CRT monitors from this recycler in Denver directly to China where they discovered it was actually being sold to Guiyu for illegal tear-down.

What many of the worldwide recyclers are doing is charging the public a fee for the disposal service, then reaping additional profits by selling the waste to the Chinese. Legality and morality aside, it’s a profitable business for the recyclers; they have few costs, customers pay them to take the product, and they can turn around and sell the product to another party. In some cases they also receive tax breaks from the U.S. Federal government due to operating under the guise of “green” recycling operations.

The Chinese take all of the used parts and strip away the items with no value – usually anything that isn’t metal – in an effort to retrieve valuable resources to sell for scrap.

Environmental activists have objected: “This isn’t recycling; it’s scavenging.”

7 Types of Plastics: Properties, Products, Reusability, Recyclabilty & Dangers

Source : Wikipedia & qualitylogoproducts.com

Source & Courtesy : Wikipedia, http://www.qualitylogoproducts.com

 

These facts are must read by everyone. PVCs are poisonous but used to carry drinking water mostly! Apart from Type 1 and 2 rest all are dangerous, then why we manufacture it and circulate? Carry bags used for food materials hardly recycled! Many insights and question about plastic.. We will come with more stats..

AVOID PLASTIC AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE! THAT SEEMS WISE CHOICE!

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-Propel Steps