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Month: November 2014

The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round

Written By:  David Jones

The next stop for a sustainable future has finally launched with the UK’s first poo-fueled bus. This is an exciting new beginning to providing a cheaper and cleaner way for out transit needs. On November 20th, the UK’s first ever bus, powered on human and food waste began operation on the road. This fuel for public transport will cut emissions in polluted towns and cities. It will also set the example for all other nations to follow, with the common goal of having a healthier environment for all.

The bus is being run by Biomethane. This is a naturally occurring gas which is produced by the so-called aneorbic digestion of organic matter such as dead animal and plant material, manure, sewage, organic waste, etc. It is chemically identical to natural gas which is stored deep in the ground and is also produced from deal animal and plant material. Natural gas is classified as fossil fuel, whereas biomethane is defined as a green source of energy. Biomethane is produced from “fresh” organic matter which makes a renewable source of energy that can be produced worldwide. Its production also eliminates the release of a great deal of methane and other harmful gases. Since biomethane and natural gas are chemically identical, it can be used for the same applications which are electricity generation, water heating, space heating, cooking, and of course, to fuel vehicles.

The bus that went into operation today is a 40-seater Bio-Bus, which runs on gas, generated through the treatment of sewage and food waste that’s unfit for human consumption, thus improving urban air quality by producing fewer emissions than the traditional diesel engines. This bus runs on waste products that are both renewable and sustainable, it can travel up to 300km on a full tank of gas generated at Bristol Sewage Treatment works, a plant run by GENeco, a subsidiary of Wessex Water. This week GENeco became the first company in the UK to start injecting gas generated from food waste and sewage into the national gas grid network and installed a gas refueling plant for the bus at the same time.

General Manager for GENeco Mohammed Saddiq said “Through treating sewage and food that’s unfit for human consumption we’re able to produce enough biomethane to provide a significant supply of gas to the national gas network that’s capable of powering almost 8,500 homes as well as fueling the Bio-Bus.” “Gas powered vehicles have an important role to play in improving air quality in U.K. Cities, but the Bio-Bus goes further than that and is actually powered by people living in the local area, including quite possibly those on the bus itself.”

The first passengers to ride the bus today were visitors to the UK who were commuting from Bristol Airport to the historic city of Bath. This could not be a more perfect time for the UK to launch this bus as we approach 2015 when the city of Bristol becomes a European Green Capital. With so much attention being directed towards improving air quality, generally the public reaction to the appearance of this bus on a service between a World Heritage City and an airport will further focus on the potential for this particular fuel. The Bus clearly shows that human poo and our waste food are valuable resources. It will help demonstrate the true value of separate food waste collections, which are now obligatory in all other regions, to the English government.

Biomethane is now proving to be a great potential as an alternative source of energy, especially to fossil fuels. Its uses have been known for quite some time, but production started only in the recent years as a result of the rising prices of natural gas and high electricity prices. Definitely a bonus with the threat of global climate change.

Climate Change or Global Warming – Either Way It Spells Big Trouble

I get the newspaper every day, and usually like to do the sudoku and word puzzles before I even delve into the sports pages.  Recently, I solved a cryptoquote that I thought would fit well with one of my blogs; it read, “When we see the land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”  The quote was attributed to Aldo Leopold (1887 -1948), an American author, scientist, ecologist and environmentalist who was profoundly influential in the development of the environmental movement in this country long before Earth Day became an annual reminder of our need to preserve the planet upon which we live, or global warming began to pose a pervasive threat to our very existence.

As the 2014 Climate Summit was taking place at the United Nations last month, preceded by the People’s Climate March in New York City, which drew over 300,000 participants (similar events were also held in nearly 2700 other locations in 150 countries throughout the world), it was reported by the Associated Press that scientists studying 16 incidents of what they termed “wild weather” last year have determined that over half of them are connected to global warming caused by man’s unabated use of fossil fuels.  Heat waves that occurred in Australia, China, Europe, Japan and Korea bore the fingerprints of made-made climate change, as did extreme amounts of rain in parts of India and the United States, and severe drought conditions in New Zealand and in California.

The studies, organized by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, utilized computer models to reveal the ways in which the odds of particular weather events can increase due to climate change caused by greenhouse gases, while cautioning that global warming is never the sole reason for aberrant weather events.  “It’s not ever a single factor that is responsible for the extremes we see,” according to NOAA National Climatic Data Center director Tom Karl.  “Natural variability is always part of any extreme climate event.”  Meanwhile,  the journals Nature Climate Change and Nature Geoscience have published the results of studies conducted by the Global Carbon Project which determined that, in 2013, the world spewed more carbon pollution into the atmosphere than at any time ever before. The leading polluters were China, India and the United States, increasing their emissions by 4.2 percent, 5.1 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively.  While China is known to be the world’s worst carbon polluter, the United States had actually reduced its carbon emissions in four of the five years immediately preceding the study, but increased its use of coal in 2013 due to the “recovering economy. “

Aldo Leopold is no doubt rolling over in his grave.

California’s Plastic Bag Ban: What’s Not to Like?

Last month saw an enormous victory for environmentalists and proponents of sustainability as California became the first state in the union to enact a ban on single-use plastic grocery bags.  The California law, slated to begin taking effect in 2015, has been hailed as bellwether legislation that is likely to spur other states to follow suit in passing laws that prohibit plastic shopping bags.   Indeed, several states including Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island currently have bag-ban bills pending in their own legislatures.  However, not everyone is pleased with the new law.  Many California residents, especially those of limited means (people on government food-assistance programs have been exempted from bag fees), view the new mandatory 10-cent minimum charge for paper grocery bags as a flat tax on the citizenry that they can ill afford.  Proponents of the legislation counter that anyone can avoid being charged extra for bags by simply bringing reusable bags with them each time they shop.

The loudest opponent of the California law is the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA), a trade group founded in 2005 to represent the “plastic bag manufacturing and recycling sector.”   On its website, APBA claims that it “promotes the responsible use, reuse, recycling and disposal of plastic bags and advocates for American-made plastic products as the best environmental choice at check out.”  I’m making the assumption that by “check out,” they’re referring to the retail variety and not to death, even though their products do kill vast numbers of birds and marine wildlife.   At any rate, APBA executive director Lee Califf has called for a referendum to repeal California’s law, stating, “Our research confirms that the vast majority of California voters are opposed to legislation that bans recyclable plastic bags and allows grocers to charge and keep fees on other bags … Since state lawmakers failed their constituents by approving this terrible bill, we … have great faith that [California voters] will repeal it at the ballot box.” Wait, is he talking about the same “recyclable plastic bags” that are routinely thrown away by just about everybody and don’t decompose for hundreds of years?  Apparently so, as another APBA web page touts plastic bags as being “100% recyclable,” claiming that they comprise less than half of one percent of the United States’ municipal waste stream, and that the plastic bag industry is actually “Green” because it can use recycled petroleum-based plastic bags to make new plastic bags and products such as decking, fences and playground equipment.  Ergo, according to APBA’s website, “Any tax or ban would endanger this quickly growing green industry [emphasis added] and threaten jobs.”  Wow!

While I do sympathize with those Californians who lack the means to pay extra for grocery bags, I’m also wondering whether the APBA is comprised of people who are color blind or just completely delusional.

News from the Left Coast: California Bans Plastic Bags

It was bound to happen, and it finally has.  On September 30, 2014, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that makes California the first state in the country to prohibit stores from offering environmentally-problematic single-use plastic bags to their customers.  SB270 provides that plastic bags will be phased out from use at supermarkets, large grocery chains and pharmacies beginning on July 1, 2015, and the phase-out will extend to convenience and liquor stores on July 1, 2016.  This law marks a huge milestone for environmental activists, who have already had success in seeing plastic bags banned in cities throughout the United States including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, Portland, OR and Austin, TX.  According to Governor Brown, “This bill is a step in the right direction – it reduces the torrent of plastic polluting our beaches, parks and even the vast ocean itself.  We’re the first to ban these bags, and we won’t be the last.”  California Senator and co-author of the bag-ban bill Alex Padilla agreed, stating, “A throw-away society is not sustainable.  Moving from single-use plastic bags to reusable bags is common sense.”

While exempting the plastic bags used for meats and produce, as well as shopping bags used at other types of retailers, the California law also requires stores to offer recycled paper bags or bags made from compostable materials to customers at a minimum charge of 10 cents per bag.   Perhaps surprisingly, the plastic bag ban was welcomed not only by environmentalists, but by the California Grocers Association (CGA), representing grocery store owners who stand to save millions of dollars a year by not having to purchase plastic bags.   According to CGA president Ronald Fong, “History was made today, and our environment and economy will be better for it.”

The reaction of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, a national coalition of plastic bag manufacturers, wasn’t surprising at all, however.  The organization criticized the ban as a backroom deal between the grocers’ union and state representatives designed to “scam consumers under the guise of environmentalism.”  Calling it a cash giveaway to grocers that will lead to the loss of as many as 30,000 jobs, the trade group announced that it will seek a voter referendum to repeal the law.  In a prepared statement, the group claimed, “If this law were allowed to go into effect it would jeopardize thousands of California manufacturing jobs, hurt the environment, and fleece consumers for billions.”  Hurt the environment?  How?  By not fouling waterways, strangling wildlife, or littering roadways, parks and beaches?  By ceasing to clog landfills where these bags can take centuries to decompose?  I’d really like to know where the American Progressive Bag Alliance is getting their information from, wouldn’t you?

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