The waste-pickers of Delhi

Daphne Wysham, Mother Jones
India’s waste-pickers—often women and children—join free-ranging cows and other less sacred animals in a daily forage through the garbage of the streets.

They’ve been recycling trash for decades, since long before recycling became fashionable in the West, and in Delhi, a 13-million-person metropolis, the waste-pickers number in the tens of thousands. For slum-dwellers, such recycling of plastic, paper, and metals—anything that can be turned into cash—is often the only source of income.

Bharati Chaturvedi, the director and cofounder of Chintan, a small Indian NGO that provides education to waste-pickers, claims that more than 1 percent of Delhi’s population sifts through garbage, recycling as much as 59 percent of the city’s waste. “These waste-pickers are providing a public service—for free,” she says.

That may soon change. A new waste incinerator that turns trash into electricity is slated to be built in Timarpur, a suburb of Delhi. Because it will reduce the amount of methane off-gassed by landfills, it will generate carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol. But the incinerator will also emit cancer-causing dioxins, mercury, heavy metals, and fly ash. Are the carbon credits available under Kyoto’s Clean Development Mechanism worth putting thousands of impoverished waste-pickers out of business?

Kyoto’s CDM was originally established to help finance clean energy projects in the developing world. Under the CDM, carbon credits generated in a poor country can be sold to a rich country, allowing that rich country to count the “emissions reductions” achieved in the poor country toward their own domestic carbon emissions targets. However, the CDM is rapidly becoming a subsidy for some of the dirtier industries—making coal-fired power plants slightly more fuel efficient, for example, or capturing waste heat from steel plants—and some brokers are growing rich on the schemes. The World Bank has handled many of these deals, charging a 13 percent commission on all of the carbon trades it brokers.
(August 2008)

Junk raft raises awareness of plastics despite adversity, challenges

Kenny Luna, Treehugger
While it’s hard to imagine floating across the Pacific Ocean from California to Hawaii on a raft made of complete junk to raise awareness of all that plastic floating in the middle of the North Pacific Gyre, the truth is that the guys risking life and limb to make it happen are finding themselves running out of food with a crack in their mast and still over 800 miles left to go.

Of course they’re certainly the resourceful type, using hose clamps to try and keep the mast from cracking any further and jury rigging their already patchwork flotation device as various other parts have broken down during the trip while doing their best to spear fish that happen by.
(8 August 2008)

Recyclers are cashing in on the fortune in your bin

Jill Sherman and Lewis Smith, The Times
Recyclers are cashing in on the fortune in your binJill Sherman and Lewis Smith Householders are missing a chance to share in the results of huge profits generated by the soaring value of recyclable domestic rubbish, The Times has learnt.

The price of recyclable plastic, newspaper and cardboard has doubled in 18 months, giving councils a source of “green gold” that could be spent on improving local services. Many are locked into 20 to 30-year contracts with recycling companies and are unable to cash in on the higher cost of plastic and copper.

As the cost of commodities rises it increasingly makes sense for manufacturers to retrieve materials from rubbish instead of buying them new. Town hall leaders have toldThe Times that the sector is missing out on millions of pounds that would come from trading commodities themselves or negotiating better contracts. They said that such profits could go to improving local services and even cutting bills.

Such is the concern over the complicated waste contracts that the Audit Commission is looking at the length and cost of the deals as well as the financial risks. The value of raw materials and the inequity of council returns are being examined as part of the inquiry. It reports next month.
(11 August 2008)

Largest water solar heater with PET bottles installed in Parana, Brazil

Paula Alvarado, Treehugger
The State of Parana has added one more star to its green reputation: since a few days ago it hosts the largest solar water heater Brazil, built with 1.8 thousand PET bottles and 1.5 thousand tetra-packs. The heater was installed in Palmas, in southern Parana, over a building belonging to the Brazilian army that serves as home for 50 soldiers and consumes eight thousand liters of water daily.

Solar heaters are becoming an important alternative in Brazil, where electric water heaters account for 47% of the household energy consume in critical hours (source: Tierramerica)…

…The heater installed in Palmas, Parana, was built under a design by Jose Alcino Alano, which the Environmental Secretariat has been spreading since 2004 as part of the Zero Waste Program. The idea is that people can download the design in a PDF file and install it in their homes, and so far it has been installed by six thousand homes according to the Parana news agency…
(11 August 2008)

A Tall, Cool Drink of … Sewage?

Elizabeth Royte, New York Times
… I gazed balefully at my hotel toilet in Santa Ana, Calif., and contemplated an entirely new cycle. When you flush in Santa Ana, the waste makes its way to the sewage-treatment plant nearby in Fountain Valley, then sluices not to the ocean but to a plant that superfilters the liquid until it is cleaner than rainwater. The “new” water is then pumped 13 miles north and discharged into a small lake, where it percolates into the earth. Local utilities pump water from this aquifer and deliver it to the sinks and showers of 2.3 million customers. It is now drinking water. If you like the idea, you call it indirect potable reuse. If the idea revolts you, you call it toilet to tap.

Opened in January, the Orange County Groundwater Replenishment System is the largest of its type in the world. It cost $480 million to build, will cost $29 million a year to run and took more than a decade to get off the ground. The stumbling block was psychological, not architectural. An aversion to feces is nearly universal, and as critics of the process are keen to point out, getting sewage out of drinking water was one of the most important public health advances of the last 150 years.

Still, Orange County forged ahead. It didn’t appear to have a choice. Saltwater from the Pacific Ocean was entering the county’s water supply, drawn in by overpumping from the groundwater basin, says Ron Wildermuth, who at the time we talked was the water district’s spokesman. Moreover, population growth meant more wastewater, which meant building a second sewage pipe, five miles into the Pacific – a $200 million proposition. Recycling the effluent solved the disposal problem and the saltwater problem in one fell swoop.
(9 August 2008)