A 71-year-old and her grandchild on a green journey together, to find closeness again

Emma wants to save the earth from choking on waste. Mildred doesn’t see the point. On The Red Dot finds out whether this generation gap between two family members who have grown apart can be bridged. Derrick A Paulo and Poh Kok Ing Channel NewsAsia 7 Jul 18;

SINGAPORE: Mildred Chong and her granddaughter Emma Yoon used to live together and were very close. But when Emma turned six, her family moved out. And once the girl went to school, everything changed, lamented Mdm Chong.

“Sometimes I’d go to her house, and she’d either be on the laptop or in her room doing her work. We’d just say hello and ask, ‘Had your lunch?’ That’s all,” said the 71-year-old former army staff sergeant.

“I feel lonely sometimes because I’m away from them. It’s quite sad. I’ve missed her.”

Not only has there been less of a connection, but also little common ground.

Emma, now 15, is an eager environmentalist who has sworn off meat and is ditching single-use plastics, while her grandmother’s first thought on the issue is that reducing waste is “ma fan” (troublesome) and recycling is a waste of time.

“There’s a generation gap between me and Emma. She likes … saving the Earth and all that,” admitted Mdm Chong. “But our generation doesn’t do these types of things … I’d just dump (waste) in the plastic bag and down the chute.”

Having resisted any attempts to make her live a greener life, what would it take to bring them closer now?

That was the challenge faced by Emma and her when they had to work together on the programme On The Red Dot, in a series about four pairs of grandmothers and teenage grandchildren hoping to bridge their generation divide.

It meant confronting their different attitudes, trying to find a common goal and making discoveries about each other. (Watch the episode here.)


In Emma’s case, one thing she was determined to change was her grandmother’s non-green lifestyle, which is why she got Mdm Chong to embark on a zero-waste challenge together.

This involved each of them having to limit their rubbish over seven days to fit into a 500-millilitre glass jar, with the teenager inspired by the zero-waste movement she has seen on YouTube.

She brings a reusable lunchbox and cutlery to school, and has a recycling area set up at home, where she encourages her family to do their part. So she already sees such actions as a duty.

But even broaching the topic with Mdm Chong, on the other hand, was not easy. “How can all the trash go into (the jar)? Seven days is a lot,” she said. “Why are we doing this?”

“It’s to make us conscious of how much waste we’re producing,” replied her granddaughter, who cited the eight million kilogrammes of waste produced in Singapore each day.

While that figure surprised Mdm Chong, her response to Emma’s next point – that, at this rate, Singapore’s one landfill will run out of space for incinerated waste by 2035 – did not go down well with the girl. Said the senior:

It’s still far away. I don’t know if I’ll still be alive … So that’s your problem, not my problem.

It was a “frustrating” conversation, admitted her granddaughter. “At my every answer, she’d have a reaction to that. Trying to convince her to do it was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do.

“It made me feel quite sad that she wasn’t really bothered.”

Nonetheless, her grandmother agreed to the challenge. Said Mdm Chong: “It’s a good chance for me to get closer to her. I hope I can understand what Emma wants.”


But the complaints began as soon as day one, when she started to cook for Emma and herself.

“Every day, I throw at least three bags of waste, sometimes more than that, depending on how much I cook. All this waste inside a small 500ml container? I don’t think I can do it,” she said.

When her granddaughter advised her to let the food rot, she replied: “We don’t have any (plant) around here … Throwing it into the dustbin is easier.”

Pointing to her full jar, she added: “What am I going to do with this now?”

Seeing there was that much waste from making one meal, Emma admitted: “This challenge is a bit harder than I thought it would be.”

But she found a solution: Singapore’s first insect farm, Insectta, where the larvae of black soldier flies are used to break down discarded food. And the next day, she took her grandmother to the farm in Margaret Drive.

At first, Mdm Chong found the maggots creepy. But then she was intrigued, wondering why the food waste they were feeding on was not smelly (they eat it before it decomposes), and how long it takes to become compost (two weeks).

She also asked Insectta co-founder Ng Jia Quan, 29, why he went into this business at his “very young” age (because, he said, food waste is a “very big issue” here).

And it dawned on her that food waste used to be fed to pigs when Singapore had pig farms, while the young generation are letting insects do the job now.

Another thing she learnt was that the larvae can feed on okara – soya bean residue – which caught her interest because she helps out regularly at her son-in-law’s soya bean shop.

“We’ve been throwing it away for at least 10 years,” she said. “If you want, you can (come) and collect it.”


And so her gradual awakening began. When she met Emma the next day, she said: “Good thing we managed to recycle our food waste yesterday.”

While her granddaughter recognised her receptiveness to the issue as a “good step forward”, there was another thing the girl wanted to do: Wean her off single-use plastics. And looking at Mdm Chong’s jar, she saw two straws.

“That’s a lot of straws in such a short time,” she remarked. “Maybe you should consider using fewer straws … because they can’t be recycled.”

As part of her action plan, she had decided to take her grandmother to Unpackt, Singapore’s first zero-waste grocery store, in Sembawang Hills Estate.

That meant bringing their own containers. And when Mdm Chong bought soya sauce, she was surprised that it cost only 45 cents, as the store’s food is sold by weight, without the packaging.

Emma was quick to highlight this, saying: “See, so there are the plus points of not using packaging.”

Her grandmother was reminded of the past once more. She said:

A shop like this is quite interesting to me. It’s like going back to the olden times, when we bought things using our own containers.

Again she also asked the co-founder of the enterprise, 36-year-old Florence Tay, her reason for being in this line of work.

The reply – that packaging ends up as rubbish and “what we’re leaving for the next generation isn’t wealth and health but plastic pollution for them to handle” – left her looking thoughtful.

Turning to her, Emma asked if she thought the waste issue was still not her problem, to which she said: “Now I understand. A bit.”

What she realised also was that young people like her granddaughter were genuinely concerned about the state of the environment.


For Emma’s part, she made a discovery of her own after their visit. When she asked her grandmother how the zero-waste week had been so far, Mdm Chong said: “I’m happy because I got a chance to spend time with you.

“That’s why I took up the challenge. We used to have time together … Nowadays, sometimes I don’t even see you.”

That “really touched” the teenager, who had “no idea” that her grandmother felt neglected. “She never did voice those feelings to me,” said Emma, who tried to reciprocate by expressing happiness about Mdm Chong’s receptiveness to the challenge.

“You’re putting in effort to learn, and you’re asking very good questions,” she told her. “What counts is that you’ve tried.”

The week was not over, however, and on the fifth day, they went to the Love Life Carnival, which aimed to teach visitors how to live a sustainable life.

Emma was hoping that her grandmother would see that “it’s not just young people who are protecting the environment, but people of all ages because it’s everyone’s responsibility”.

That message sank in when Mdm Chong learnt from the exhibits that Singapore’s recycling rate was way below that of other countries – and that plastic could take 100 to 1,000 years to decompose.

“Now I think the environment needs protection because there is a lot of wastage, like food waste and disposable items,” she said.

Just as clear was that both of them had grown closer. And what made Emma “really proud” of her grandmother was the latter’s initiative the next day to display stainless steel straws and reusable mugs for sale at their family’s soya bean shop.

When the week was up, they both also managed to fit their non-recyclable rubbish into their jars. Mdm Chong, however, had one last surprise for her granddaughter.

Having noticed that the girl had been putting mainly tissue in her jar, she gave her a handkerchief to help her “cut down more” on her waste.

Said Emma: “I was definitely not expecting this much enthusiasm and participation from my grandmother … This is one of the best weeks we’ve spent together.

“Now that I know she wants to spend time with me, I’ll definitely make more time for her because our time on this earth is limited. So we should make the best of what we have.”

Mildred and Emma are one of four pairs of grandmothers and grandchildren featured on On The Red Dot. Watch the episode here. The next episode of the series airs on Mediacorp Channel 5 on Friday, July 13, at 9.30pm.

Source: CNA/dp

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Large hotels recycling less, can manage waste better: NEA

Aqil Haziq Mahmud Channel NewsAsia 7 Jul 18;

SINGAPORE: Large hotels can do better when it comes to managing their waste, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said, indicating they still have some way to go four years after a mandatory waste reporting exercise was implemented.

This comes as latest figures from the exercise revealed that large hotels - defined as those with more than 200 rooms - recycled less in 2016 compared with two years before. In 2016, their average recycling rate was 5.5 per cent, a 0.5 percentage point cent drop from 2014.

“A large proportion of hotel waste consists of types of waste such as food, paper and plastic bottles, which can be segregated and recycled,” NEA told Channel NewsAsia in June. “Thus the NEA is of the view that the average recycling rate is low and can be improved.”

The mandatory waste reporting exercise, introduced in 2014, aims to draw greater management attention to the amount of waste produced by large commercial premises like shopping malls and hotels.

NEA determines how well hotels perform by tracking how much of each major type of waste is recycled compared to the total waste generated.


Senior tourism lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic Michael Chiam said some hotels could find it difficult to recycle due to logistical challenges.

According to an NEA guidebook for hotels, recycling bins should be easily accessible to staff and guests, match the type of recyclable waste produced at that location, and be placed together with general waste bins to prevent misuse. Ideal bin locations include rooms, kitchens and housekeeping areas.

The hotel should also buy its own recycling bins to be placed at the front-of-house, as those provided by the waste contractor are more appropriate for back-of-house or bin centres.

These guidelines mean “more resources are needed to support the recycling initiatives”, Dr Chiam said.

In addition, Dr Chiam said an effective recycling programme requires “a lot of education, especially in changing the ways people work”.

“Housekeeping staff in the past may just dispose of the half-used bottles of shampoo and replace them with new ones. With the new recycling approach, they no longer need to throw away the shampoo bottles, but to replenish them,” he said, highlighting the extra workload.

Dr Chiam also pointed out the additional costs involved.

“Besides the direct recycling processing costs, like acquiring the machines, haulage fees and processing fees, hotels need to incur other costs to oversee the implementation of the recycling programmes,” he said.

This includes the manpower costs of having staff sort out recyclables and prevent contamination, and storage costs from bin spaces to hold the waste.


But one hotel is overcoming these challenges. The Grand Hyatt near Orchard Road said it recycled 20,519kg of waste last year, though it did not reveal its recycling rate.

“There are no internal challenges since we try to organise the steps and location (of recycling bins) carefully,” its stewarding manager Vijay Sivarajah told Channel NewsAsia.

There are recycling bins on each level at the back of the house, including kitchens, restaurants and offices. On designated floors, there are recycling bins for housekeeping staff to sort waste that come from guest rooms.

Mr Sivarajah said the hotel recycles “as many items as possible”, including aluminium cans, metals, papers and glass bottles. It also sends PET plastic bottles to be recycled into uniforms, aprons and napkins.

Soaps, shampoos and other toiletries left by guests are collected and recycled into new bars that are distributed to families living in high-risk areas for hygiene-related illnesses.

“However, we face the problem of recycling companies not being willing to collect waste such as vacuum packaging for meat,” Mr Sivarajah added.

The manager also admitted that recycling programmes might come with high costs and investments in the short term. But in the long run, the savings are apparent. Grand Hyatt has saved S$100,000 a year by recycling its food waste.

Instead of going into the bin, food waste is put in an on-site digester that converts scraps like vegetable, poultry and egg shells into organic fertilisers. This is then used for landscaping at the hotel.

“Due to our waste management system, we have the advantage of reduced haulage fees and trips,” Mr Sivarajah said, pointing out that the food waste initiative has earned the hotel a S$250,000 NEA grant.


Some hotels are also trying to reduce the amount of waste that could be recycled, although NEA’s reporting exercise showed only a slight drop in average waste produced from 2014 to 2016.

According to data from the exercise, the 97 hotels that participated in 2016 produced 66,000 tonnes of waste, equivalent to the weight of two buses. This means that each room produced 4.1kg of waste a day.

An industry sustainability guide published by the Green Hotelier said luxury serviced hotels that produce more than 2kg of waste per guest per day need to buck up. “A figure greater than this is excessive and illustrates poor waste management practices,” it said.

“Manpower constraints and the difficulty of getting stakeholders, for example their tenants, guests and hotel staff across departments, to participate are some of the main challenges hotel operators face when trying to reduce waste,” NEA said.


Still, the zero-waste movement is gaining momentum in hotels.

In May, the Millennium Hotels and Resorts (MHR) group pledged to eliminate single-use plastics from all six of its Singapore hotels by June next year. Given the hotels produce an average of 67kg of plastics weekly, the move will save almost S$500,000 a year in spending on plastic products.

One of MHR’s hotels, M Social, has replaced plastic straws with paper alternatives, and is using environmentally-friendly packaging, like paper boxes and wooden cutlery, for its takeaway service.

The group’s Orchard Hotel and Studio M are also in the midst of replacing plastic toiletry containers with dispensers in hotel rooms.

MHR's pledge follows Hilton's announcement in the same month that it will stop using plastic straws across its 23 managed hotels in Asia-Pacific by the end of this year.

“More hotel operators have implemented improved waste management systems and 3R initiatives, such as going paperless and installing on-site food waste digesters, which have helped to reduce the waste generated,” NEA said.

However, MHR vice-president of operations (Southeast Asia) Lee Richards acknowledged that the process was tedious.

“A comprehensive analysis needs to be done, from reviewing our plastic consumption and inventory list of each hotel; the timeframe it would take to complete the existing stock; the overall costs involved if we were to replace with dispensers,” he told Channel NewsAsia.

“Plastic products are almost entirely about convenience for most people and commercially convenient as these items are generally inexpensive or lower in cost compared to other materials.”

When asked if he was concerned about losing guests who might prefer using their own toiletry bottles to dispensers, Mr Richards said “we believe the majority of our customers will support the initiative”.

“In the long term, reducing plastic use will benefit the environment, reduce staff time and overall cost, and also show our customers we care about the environment,” he added.


Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s Dr Chiam said eco-friendly hotels will benefit from tourists who might perceive them as “forward-looking brands which attempt to do their part in saving the environment”.

“Some tourists are more conscious of protecting the environment, and they may make a conscious effort to choose hotels which are more eco-friendly,” he said.

However, Dr Chiam suggested that corporate travellers are more likely to stay in eco-friendly hotels as compared to leisure travellers, at least for now.

This is because eco-friendly companies are likely to pick like-minded hotels for their staff on business trips, he added. “These corporate travellers will over time adopt the same standards when they book hotels for their family holiday.”

Globally, the trend seems to have picked up. A Booking.com sustainable travel report published in 2016 revealed that 68 per cent of 10,000 responders said they would be more likely to choose an accommodation if they knew it was eco-friendly.


Nevertheless, Singapore Environment Council executive director Jen Teo said the average guest has a part to play, though the onus remains on the hotel.

If a hotel has proper recycling education and provides reusable utensils, for example, guests should comply with the recycling programme and not use disposables, she said.

“Most guests are generally open to supporting the recycling movement provided it is not unnecessarily inconvenient,” Dr Chiam said. “The key is to make recycling programmes as seamless as possible.”

Ms Teo added that hotels form a major industry in Singapore, and thus have a “big part to play” in helping the country achieve its goal of becoming a zero-waste nation.

While only large hotels, which generate more waste, need to report their waste statistics to NEA, the agency said it will review if this should be extended to hotels with fewer rooms at a “later stage”.

Singapore Hotel Association executive director Margaret Heng believes that more hotels will start going green.

“This is because hotels are working on a holistic approach by engaging staff, suppliers and guests in their waste minimisation practices,” she said. “The pledge by MHR group is a big win for sustainability.”

Source: CNA/hz

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Cutting-edge membranes may be the future of waste water management

Madhumita Paramanantham Straits Times 5 Jul 18;

SINGAPORE - A local start-up has created membranes which it claims can filter waste water five times faster than traditionally used polymer and ceramic membranes.

With the launch of its 3D-printing plant on Thursday (July 5), the first of its kind in Singapore, Nanyang Technological University spin-off company Nano Sun will be able to print 600 sq m worth of these membranes every day - roughly equivalent to the floor space of six four-room HDB flats.

It will only take NTU's Associate Professor Darren Sun and his team of 18 four days to produce enough of these membranes to supply an average waste water plant.

While traditional filtration membranes require 13 steps of production, including the mixing of several substances and the application of heat, Nano Sun's 3D printer can produce the new membranes in one simple step.

The printer is also eco-friendly as toxic waste water generated during the production of traditional membranes can be eliminated.

Millions of fibres, five times thinner than a strand of hair, can be produced at the 3D-printing plant in Pioneer Road every second. These fibres are put together on a sheet and compressed to form the filtration membrane.

Prof Sun, a co-founder of Nano Sun, said: "Imagine a 3D printer that can print these membranes as easily as you can print a Word document. The process requires 10 times less space and 30 times less manpower when compared to the production of traditional membranes. It's fully automated too."

Cutting-edge membranes may be the future of waste water management

The don, for whom research on the process has been 21 years in the works, added that the emergence of these membranes could allow for the construction of smaller waste water treatment plants, which would lower the costs for land, infrastructure and labour.

Two large semiconductor multinational companies in Singapore and a new waste water treatment plant in China which can treat up to 20 million litres of water a day will be the first customers to use the new membrane.

Nano Sun's managing director and co-founder, Mr Wong Ann Chai, said that he hopes to capitalise on the international demand for industrial waste water treatment.

He said: "Most countries don't want to pollute their scarce surface water and underground water resources, which is why we've clinched a record value of contracts this year."

The company has invested about $6 million in research, product development and hardware for the printing plant.

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Indonesia: Hail threatens potato harvest in Central Java’s Banjarnegara regency

Agus Maryono The Jakarta Post 6 Jul 18;

Hundreds of hectares of potato fields in Dieng, Banjarnegara regency, Central Java, were covered in hail on Friday.

Such a weather phenomenon, based on past experience, would usually kill the potato plants, Dieng farmers said.

Residents said the temperature had dropped to -5 degrees Celsius early on Friday morning, which had caused hail that was thicker and spread more widely than a few days before.

Slamet Raharjo, the village head of Dieng Kulon in Batur district, said the hail would usually recur.

“Considering this is only the beginning of the dry season, it will continue. This morning it was -5 degrees Celsius in Dieng. Usually the lowest we have is -3 degrees Celsius,” he said.

He said after being covered by hail, Dieng farmers’ potatoes and vegetables would yellow and wither, which explains why residents refer to the hail as “poisonous dew”.
“Thirty hectares of my potato fields have been affected, and I’m sure they are dead now. It is merciless, I have to replant after this cold spell is over,” Slamet said.

Farmers could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of produce to the hail, he said.

He said the temperature drop was an annual occurrence in Dieng, but it did not always result in hail.

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Indonesia: FAO warns livestock farmers of new bird flu virus

Mohammad Anthoni Antara 6 Jul 18;

Officials of the Agriculture Office of Surabaya City injected Medivac AI (Avian Influenza) vaccine to the chickens owned by residents in Surabaya, East Java, some time ago. (ANTARA PHOTO/Didik Suhartono)

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Agriculture Ministry and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have warned livestock farmers of a pandemic threat of a new bird flu in Indonesia.

A new bird flu, H9N2, which has the characteristics of "low pathogenic avian influenza" (LPAI) has been found in Indonesia since early 2017.

The virus is not a danger to humans, but it would cause a decline in poultry productivity, an official news release said here on Thursday.

The virus could reduce egg layer productivity to 70 percent, the news release said.

In a bid to cope with the problem the Agriculture Ministry , the FAO ECTAD Indonesia and a number of other institutions have taken steps that farmers produce healthy poultry for the public consumption.

Among the steps already taken is by taking part in the annual forum of Indolivestock which took place in the Jakarta Convention Center (JCC) from July 4 to 6 in 2018.

"We re facing challenge of a decline in egg production as a result of H9N2. In addition we are in difficulty in producing vaccine. Previously there was the H5N1 type of bird flu (which is highly pathogenic), for which vaccine production is easier. Now there is the type of H9N2 virus for which it is difficult to produce the right vaccine," Director of Animal Health of the Agriculture Ministry Fadjar Sumping, said in a National Poultry Seminar at the JCC on Thursday.

Fajar said he had also received reports about the death of broilers resulting in many speculations about the causes of the deaths.

There were suspicions of infection by a certain animal disease or infection from a combination of a number of diseases, and problem over food management, vaccination , etc.

Fajar , therefore, advised farmers to improve management of chicken coops to prevent infection by virus on poultry.

"Our other attention is related to the use of antibiotics growth promoter (AGP) in poultry farms. This has been banned all over the world. We have tried to tell farmers that AGP would turn out only short term benefit, but would hurt very badly in long term," he said.

Meanwhile, chairman of the Team of FAO ECTAD Indonesia James McGrane said the use of antibiotic was harmful as it would cause resistance to anti microbe.

McGrane said the use of antibiotics is difficult to be controlled not only in the sector of human health but also in agriculture sector .

"If we do not do anything, deaths caused by infections that could not be healed as a result of resistant bacteria, could reach 10 million in 2050," he said.

Therefore, through the EPT2 program, which is financed by USAID, FAO ECTAD called on the Indonesian government to increase its capacity in facing and preventing the pandemic threat including anti-microbe resistance, he said.

"I am pleased today that together with the Agriculture Ministry and livestock farmers we discuss problem we are facing and to be faced in the future to find a solution," he said.

Ministry, FAO warn farmers on threats to poultry, antimicrobial resistance
Aria Cindyara Antara 8 Jul 18;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture and the FAO Emergency Centre for Trans-boundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) Indonesia warned farmers on the threats to the national poultry sector from avian influenza and other viruses.

According to a statement received here, Saturday, in early 2017, Indonesia detected H9N2 Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza (LPAI) virus that causes a drop in egg production of up to 70% on affected farms.

The Ministry, along with FAO ECTAD promptly responded to control the virus, including training of district veterinary service officers, on-farm technical support and raising poultry farmers` awareness of best farming practices.

On Thursday, the Ministry and FAO ECTAD conducted a national poultry farmers? seminar at the annual Indolivestock Exposition at the Jakarta Convention Center. The seminar aimed to raise awareness on poultry disease prevention through effective farm bio-security, appropriate flock vaccination and good on-farm management practices to reduce the risks from disease agents.

"We faced challenges in tackling the H9N2 virus, which causes egg drop syndrome. In the past, we were dealing only with Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Virus (HPAI) H5N1, and we were able to produce good vaccines for that virus. However, for H9N2, we are still facing difficulties to produce a good vaccine. In reality, the virus is badly damaging farmers? incomes, because H9N2 decreases egg production," said Animal Health Director of the Ministry of Agriculture Fadjar Sumping at the opening of the seminar.

He explained, that besides H9N2, MoA also recently received many reports of deaths on broiler chicken farms, "We are still investigating those cases, whether they were caused by a sole infection, or involve multiple infections, combined with other problems like bad poultry feed management, lack of vaccination, low biosecurity, etc," he said.

In facing those challenges, Sumping encouraged farmers to improve their farm biosecurity and management, as the best way to prevent viral and bacterial infections in poultry.

"We are now focusing our attention on the use of antibiotics as a growth promotor (AGP) in the poultry sector. This is forbidden in Indonesia, and we have tried to convince farmers that using AGP only provides temporary benefit, and can be very harmful in the long term, "he said.

Agreeing with Sumping, the FAO ECTAD Indonesia Team Leader James McGrane affirmed the misuse and over-use of antibiotics in humans and poultry that have placed humans at great risk due to antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that about 60,000 tons of antimicrobials are used globally in livestock each year. With the growing demand for animal products, global use is projected to rise by 67 percent by 2030 to 106,000 tons.

"If we don?t do anything, it is estimated that human deaths associated with infections caused by bacteria resistant to antibiotics could reach 10 million by 2050, with half of those fatalities occurring in Asia," he said in his opening remarks.

Through the Emerging Pandemic Threats (EPT-2) programme, funded by USAID, FAO ECTAD together with the MoA are focused on increasing the Government of Indonesia?s capacities to prevent and control global health threats, including AMR.

"I am very glad that today, together with the Ministry of Agriculture and Indonesian poultry farmers, we can sit together to discuss these problems. Let us work together to find the best solutions," McGrane added.

Editor: Otniel Tamindael

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The last (plastic) straw: travel and its environmental responsibilities

Some airlines, hotels and tour operators are now addressing the issue of plastics pollution but activists believe the solution requires everyone to take a stand
Isabel Choat The Guardian 4 Jul 18;

For decades the image of a brightly coloured plastic straw in a cocktail against a backdrop of sea and sunset signalled one thing – carefree holidays. But 2018 is the year the travel industry will say adios not just to plastic straws but all single-use plastic.

Today, those little plastic tubes are a symbol not of fun times but of the catastrophic damage our throw-away culture is doing to the planet. Photographs of straws littering the seabed and beaches are on every news site and eco-conscious social media account – along with a litany of grim statistics and stark warnings: 480 billion plastic bottles sold worldwide in 2016; one trillion single-use plastic bags used every year; more than half a million plastic straws used every day around the world. If we continue to generate plastic waste at the current rate approximately 12 billion tonnes will be in landfills or the natural environment by 2050.

Figures like these combined with the ‘Blue Planet effect’ have prompted travel companies to act. In the past six months cruise companies Hurtigruten and Fred Olsen, adventure operators Exodus, Lindblad Expeditions and KE Adventure, Edition hotels, US glamping site Under Canvas and the Travel Corporation, whose brands include Red Carnation hotels, Contiki and Uniworld, have all introduced a part or complete ban on single-use plastics on their trips.

Others companies are building rubbish collection into holidays in remote locations. This year the Mountain Company is asking each trekker booked onto one of its trips to Nepal, Pakistan, India or Bhutan to pick up 1kg of rubbish. The long-term goal is for litter-picking to become standard procedure for every Mountain Company group.

Some tour operators have gone further, introducing holidays aimed specifically at helping travellers “quit” plastic. This month up to 15 travellers are taking part in the first Peloton Against Plastic, a 27-day cycling tour launched by adventure specialist Intrepid. Along the way cyclists will meet local organisations tackling the problem and 10% of the profits will go towards Cambodian charity, Rehash Trash. Undiscovered Mountains, a much smaller adventure operator based in the southern French Alps, has advised travellers to leave all plastic behind and is to provide plastic-free accommodation on a dedicated trip.

These initiatives are not ground-breaking: luxury resort group Soneva banned plastic straws in 1998 and stopped importing bottled water in 2008, but from this year companies pledging to reduce plastic waste will be the majority rather than the pioneering few. We may be drowning in plastic but the tide is starting to turn.

“This is the year the corporate world woke up to the scale of our plastic problem and the travel industry is no exception. From airlines to cruise lines we have heard a raft of measures aimed at cutting throwaway plastic,” says Louise Edge, senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK.

“But there’s a lot more ground to cover. Some of the world’s most popular tourist destinations are in coastal areas, sometimes in countries already awash with plastic waste. Unless we tackle the problem at the source, more plastic will keep washing up on beaches. There’s a lot that travel operators and hotel chains can do to cut plastic waste, from eliminating sachets and disposable cups to encouraging the use of refill stations,” says Edge.

So far, most of the action has been taken by large companies with dedicated sustainability managers and a vested economic interest in keeping the environment they sell as pristine as possible. However, Joanne Hendrickx hopes to target smaller, three- and four-star hotels through her online toolkit Travel without Plastic.

Hendrickx says she reached “peak plastic” during a stay at a US hotel where breakfast was served exclusively in plastic dishes with plastic cutlery wrapped in plastic.

“I was watching the waiter clear it away and he must have filled three bins. Actually seeing it piling up before my eyes pushed me over the edge. I though I can’t contribute to this.”

So far 100 hotels have downloaded the toolkit, which advises on ways to minimise plastic waste and, crucially for small hotels, the potential economic impact of switching to environmentally-friendly alternatives.

“We do all the research and set out the pros and cons of switching. For example, if you take toiletry miniatures out of rooms, what do you replace them with, what are the cost implications?”

Exactly what effect these initiatives and bans will have is yet to be seen. The travel industry is huge – according to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) international tourist arrivals grew 7% in 2017, reaching 1.3 billion globally – but so is the problem, with headlines highlighting how plastic may outweigh fish by 2050.

Even someone aware of the issue, who takes their own stainless steel water bottle on holiday, can end up producing a mini-mountain of plastic waste before they reach their destination – from disposing of water bottles and cosmetics at security to buying miniature toiletries in duty free and then working their way through endless plastic cups of water and hot drinks in flight.

Airports say they are doing their bit. Gatwick recycles all plastic bottles and says all food and drink outlets offer free tap water, although it only has five water fountains across its two terminals (compared with 100 at Heathrow). Until recently the focus on air travel and pollution was almost exclusively on emissions but plastic footprint is massive too. In 2016 airlines generated 5.2m tonnes of cabin waste, a problem that is only just starting to be addressed. In March, Ryanair announced it would eliminate all non-recyclable plastics within five years as part of a new environment policy. Others are more vague about the level of their waste reduction. British Airways has stated it is “actively seeking to source non-plastic alternatives where possible”.

But campaigners are confident that consumer awareness is high enough for the momentum to build into meaningful action. Plastic Free July, a grassroots campaign that started with 40 people in Australia in 2011, estimates that two million people from 159 countries will participate in this month’s pledge to reduce their use of plastic. Sales of water filters are on the rise. Water-to-Go, which sells a filtration bottle that eliminates 99.9% of all microbiological contaminants in water, giving travellers a viable alternative to buying bottled water, has seen its biggest growth in sales since it launched in 2010.

Christine Mackay, founder of the Travelers Against Plastic (TAP) campaign, who also runs a non-profit adventure company, Crooked Trails, has been using filter devices for years. Where once she drew strange looks, now fellow travellers ask where they can get one from.

“There will be a tipping point when it becomes embarrassing to hold a plastic water bottle. In five years time no one will be holding one.”

Resources and how to get involved
• Responsible Travel’s new plastic-free guide features 40 holidays, the majority of them sailing or diving trips.

• PlasticPatrol is a nationwide campaign to rid the UK’s inland waterways of plastic pollution. It is organising a series of clean-up events at eight locations across England this summer (14 July-7 August). Just show up at one of the designated locations and they will provide the bags and litter pickers and dispose of the rubbish afterwards – and a paddleboard for those who want to help from the water rather than the towpath.

• Travelers Against Plastic lists 250 travel companies that have signed its pledge to reduce the use of plastic water bottles, which it plans to extend to all single-use plastic. Individual travellers can also commit to reducing their use.

• Wateratairports.com lists water fountains at airports around the world.

• The Cabin Waste project looks at how airline waste can be disposed of in a more environmentally-friendly way.

• Surfers Against Sewage is inviting people to become plastic-free community leaders with the aim of establishing 125 plastic free communities by 2020.

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Red list research finds 26,000 global species under extinction threat

IUCN fears planet is entering sixth wave of extinctions with research from Australia revealing more risks to reptiles
Jonathan Watts The Guardian 5 Jul 18;

More than 26,000 of the world’s species are now threatened, according to the latest red list assessment of the natural world, adding to fears the planet is entering a sixth wave of extinctions.

New research, particularly in Australia, has widened the scope of the annual stocktake, which is compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and revealed the growing range of risks to flora and fauna.

Nineteen of the species previously on the list have moved to a higher level of concern. They include the precious stream toad – Ansonia smeagol – (named after Gollum in Lord of the Rings), which is being decimated by tourist pollution in Malaysia; two types of Japanese earthworm that are threatened by habitat loss, agrochemicals, and radioactive fallout from the Fukushima nuclear disaster; and the Bartle Frere cool-skink, a slinky Australian reptile whose habitat has shrunk – as a result of global warming – to a 200-metre band at the peak of the tallest mountain in Queensland.

The threats are not limited to faraway creatures with exotic names. Scientists have the loss of biodiversity is more of a threat than climate change because it the earth’s capacity to provide clean air, fresh water, food and a stable weather system.

Compilers of the red list said the latest toll showed the onslaught on biodiversity.

“This reinforces the theory that we are moving into a period when extinctions are taking place at a much higher pace than the natural background rate. We are endangering the life support systems of our planet and putting the future of our own species in jeopardy,” said Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the IUCN red list unit in Cambridge. “This is our window of opportunity to act – we have the knowledge and tools on what needs to be done, but now need everyone, governments, private sector and civil society, to escalate actions to prevent the decline and loss of species.”

Part of the rise is due to the steady expansion of the IUCN red list – which is compiled with the collaboration of thousands of experts around the world. It now includes 93,577 species, of which 26,197 are classified as vulnerable, critical or endangered.

Since last year, six species have been declared extinct, taking the total to 872. Another 1,700 species are listed as critically endangered, possibly extinct.

Among the most avoidable declines was that of the Greater Mascarene flying fox, which moved from vulnerable to endangered after the government of Mauritius carried out a cull at the request of fruit farmers who argued the bats were eating their crops. The IUCN is now working with both sides to find a compromise that will allow the species to recover without hurting livelihoods.

In the Caribbean, the tiny population of Jamaican hutia – a rodent – has been fragmented by expanding settlements. This makes it harder for the small mammal to mate and raises the risk of predation by dogs and cats. This highlights how humanity and a handful of domesticated animals are decimating other species. A recent research revealed the world’s 7.6 billion people represent just 0.01% of all living things, yet have caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants, while pets and livestock abound.

New studies are constantly widening the range of the red list. A focus of this year’s report was Australian reptiles, 7% of which are threatened with extinction. This is mainly due to climate change and invasive species, particularly the poisonous cane toad and feral cats, which are estimated to kill about 600 million reptiles each year. Among those suffering alarming declines are the grassland earless dragon and Mitchell’s water monitor.

On a more positive note, the Quito stubfoot toad was among four amphibian species rediscovered in South America after fears they had gone extinct. Overall, however, frogs and toads have shown some of the sharpest declines along with coral and orchids.

To counter such trends, Cristiana Pașca Palmer, the executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, says the world needs a global biodiversity pact equivalent in scale and stature to the Paris climate agreement. She wants nature reserves, ocean protected areas, restoration projects and sustainable land use regions to be steadily expanded by 10% every decade so that is nature friendly by 2050.

But most nations are off course to meet even the Aichi targets for 2020. At a meeting of conservation policymakers in Montreal, Jane Smart, the global director of IUCN’s biodiversity conservation group, urged countries to fast track action. “Today’s update of the IUCN red list of threatened species shows that urgent action is needed to conserve threatened species.

This and other proposals will be discussed at global biodiversity talks in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt this November and then in 2020 in Beijing.

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Global temperature rises could be double those predicted by climate modelling

Researchers say sea levels could also rise by six metres or more even if 2 degree target of Paris accord met
Lisa Cox The Guardian 5 Jul 18;

Temperature rises as a result of global warming could eventually be double what has been projected by climate models, according to an international team of researchers from 17 countries.

Sea levels could also rise by six metres or more even if the world does meet the 2 degree target of the Paris accord.

The findings, published last week in Nature Geoscience, were based on observations of evidence from three warm periods in the past 3.5m years in which global temperatures were 0.5-2 degrees above the pre-industrial temperatures of the 19th century.

The researchers say they increase the urgency with which countries need to address their emissions.

The scientists used a range of measurements to piece together the impacts of past climatic changes to examine how a warmer earth would appear once the climate has stabilised.

They found sustained warming of one to two degrees had been accompanied by substantial reductions of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and sea level rises of at least six metres – several metres higher than what current climate models predict could occur by 2100.

“During that time, the temperatures were much warmer than what our models are predicting and the sea levels were much higher,” said Katrin Meissner from the University of New South Wales’s Climate Change Research Centre and one of the study’s lead authors.

She said the effects today would mean populous urban areas around the world and entire countries in the Pacific would be underwater.

“Two degrees can seem very benign when you see it on paper but the consequences are quite bad and ecosystems change dramatically.”

Meissner said potential changes even at two degrees of warming were underestimated in climate models that focused on the near term.

“Climate models appear to be trustworthy for small changes, such as for low-emission scenarios over short periods, say over the next few decades out to 2100,” she said. “But as the change gets larger or more persistent ... it appears they underestimate climate change.”

The researchers looked at three documented warm periods, the Holocene thermal maximum, which occurred 5,000 to 9,000 years ago, the last interglacial, which occurred 116,000 to 129,000 years ago, and the mid-Pliocene warm period, which occurred 3m to 3.3 m years ago.

In the case of the first two periods examined, the climate changes were caused by changes in the earth’s orbit. The mid-Pliocene event was the result of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations that were at similar levels to what they are today.

In each case, the planet had warmed at a much slower rate than it is warming at today as a result of rising greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans.

“Observations of past warming periods suggest that a number of amplifying mechanisms, which are poorly represented in climate models, increase long-term warming beyond climate model projections,” Prof Hubertus Fischer of the University of Bern, one of the study’s lead authors.

“This suggests the carbon budget to avoid 2°C of global warming may be far smaller than estimated, leaving very little margin for error to meet the Paris targets.”

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