Indian Pesticide Pollution

The rich West has become used to cheap clothes. Walk into several high street stores and you can find T-shirts for £4 and pairs of jeans for £10.

Much of the cotton used in these garments is grown in India, the second largest producer of cotton in the world – the weather is well suited, labour is cheap and environmental regulations are less stringent (and less stringently enforced) than many other parts of the world.

Unfortunately cotton has many pests, and in order to maintain yields Indian farmers have been resorting to using ever larger quantities of pesticides, particularly as pests have become increasingly resistant. As a result cotton production accounts for more than half of India’s pesticide usage, even though it occupies only 5% of its agricultural land !

this reliance of large quantities of pesticides causes problems, but not only because of the volumes – it is often inappropriately applied by illiterate farmers – often at the wrong times of year, in the wrong weather or using ineffective techniques. Workers are often left unprotected, and regularly exposed to direct contact with high levels of pesticides, with many significant health consequences.

The organochlorine pesticide endosulfan, in particular, is in common use in Indian cotton growing, years after it’s widespread banning throughout most of the rest of the world. Agreement to phase it out was finally reached in 2011, as a result of increasing health concerns.

As with many of the things we buy in the globalized market, we tend to be ignorant of the effects of our consumption on the environment, and most vulnerable around the world – and cheap clothing is no exception. If we want to avoid our clothes being responsible for such far off impacts, we need to research our purchases carefully, buy organic cotton garments more often, buy second hand, or perhaps just consider buying fewer clothes overall . . . just a thought.

  

Photo by KimberleyKV, via Flickr

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E-Waste Pollution

How many mobile phones have you owned in your life ?

How about computers, video games consoles, monitors, TVs, stereos, speakers, video recorders, microwaves, printers, scanners, fax machines, DVD players ?

We carefully put them in the e-waste skip for recycling at the local dump – but where do they go after that ?

The sad truth is that it’s far more profitable to ship electronic waste to places like Nigeria, GhanaIndia and China for recycling and recovery of valuable metals, than it is to do it in the UK, Europe or the US.

Regulations now exist to prevent such trans-boundary shipments of e-waste, but these are not always effective.

Why ?

Because labour costs are cheap and environmental protection for this highly polluting process is often non-existent in the developing world.

In the language of economics, the pollution and health of the workers involved are ‘externalities‘ – not borne by the process, when waste is shipped to the developing world.

The city of Guiyu is the center of China’s e-waste recyling. It is, by any standard, a dirty and polluted place, with numerous health problems affecting it’s 200,000 poor migrant workers. Guiyu is no longer able to grow rice due to widespread pollution, and local water sources have become largely undrinkable.

It might be tempting to think of this of just another far off polluted place, tragic for the people involved, but nothing to do with us.

But it’s our thrown away surplus ‘stuff’ they’re sorting through – burning and recycling on our behalf. It’s our consumption habits, and our unwillingness to want to pay for the ‘externalities’ of  their pollution and health problems, that is to blame.

WHAT CAN WE DO ?

Take a look through THESE PHOTOS and see if you can spot any of your old gear . . . then consider ‘nudging’ the government to tighten-up regulation, electronics producers to tighten-up their return systems, and also yourself – to question whether you really need that upgrade just yet, or at least, if you do, to send your old phone or computer to a proper new home.

 

Photo by Wikicommons, via Flickr

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Go Brown to Go Green

I’ve a confession to make.

I’m a bit of a map geek.

Maps are about trying to capture and communicate knowledge about the world – and whether it’s tube lines or star systems, I think there’s something very cool about them.

One of the interesting things about maps is that they not only represent the geography, but also the period – effectively capturing time as well as space, with old maps working like a window back into the past.

Have you ever wondered what was ‘there’ before you were ?

If you’re sat in a Norman castle reading this then the odds are there wasn’t a whole lot of human development involved beforehand, but  if you’re in an old urban area, and the walls around you aren’t made of stone, then it’s quite likely there’s some history literally under your feet.

Weirdly, looking at old maps is a large part of what I do for my day job as an environmental scientist working in land contamination and remediation. If we want to properly understand the condition of the land today, it’s important to know what it was used for before – whether a farmer’s field or an old gasworks !

Two hundred and fifty years ago the UK gave birth to the industrial revolution, which went on to transform the world with factories, railroads and all kinds of products of coal, iron and steam. Needless to say there wasn’t a lot in the way of environmental protection or health and safety back then, and numerous toxic wastes and by-products of these various activities and industries found their way into local surroundings and communities, where many still remaining in the ground.

We’ve added to this contamination over the decades by spreading ash and clinker in our gardens, through fuel leaks, from deposition of combustion products from coal fires and car exhausts, lead pipes, asbestos roofing materials, sending effluent and sewerage into the ground and landfilling all manor of wastes. Contamination of our air and water tends to disperse and be short lived, but contamination of our soil tends to stay put.

There are three things to think about.

Firstly, are there places where this contamination is so harmful to people’s health that it need’s to be cleaned up ? If so how do we find them and who should pay for the clean-up ? An easy question to answer if you can identify the polluter, but altogether harder if you’re talking about contamination from factory long gone and replaced by housing.

Secondly, when we build new developments are we sure we’ve properly considered any possible contamination that may exist, and ensured our new homes and gardens are suitable for use – after all, the derelict site of a former chemical works might be heavily contaminated, but if fenced off, that contamination may not actually be causing any harm until houses are built on it.

Thirdly, have we stopped causing new contamination ?

These questions are important if we’re to have peace of mind about our homes, and progressively improve the quality of our environment – but the truth is they’re not rocket science. We have well developed and cost effective ways of investigating and remediating contaminated sites, and are continually developing our understanding of the risks and issues involved. Good news if we want to develop the vacant and derelict industrial sites in our urban areas, and avoid having to concrete over ever larger areas of our natural countryside, whether currently used to grow food, or by wildlife.

Mark Twain once said ‘Buy land, it’s the one thing they’re not making any more’, and of course he was right. The UK is a small crowded island, and if we’re to avoid eating up more and more green space through increasing urban sprawl for the homes and infrastructure we need, we’re going to have to get even better at recycling our old urban areas into new urban areas, including dealing more efficiently with the chemical consequences of former land use.

In it’s current drive for economic growth, the Government continues to debate the relaxation of green belt protection around our towns and cities. The alternative is, of course, that we focus development on our existing brownfields, using space more efficiently, rather than simply using more.

If you want the maps of the future to have as much green on them as our maps of today, why not drop your MP a line and let them know.

Afterwards you might also want to look at a few old maps of where you live – you might find it was an old factory, or you might find it was a green field.

Decide for yourself which is worse . . .

Photo by PhillipC, via Flickr

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Meet Mr Toilet

Jack Sim founded the Restroom Association of Singapore in 1998 to break the taboo of discussing toilet issues and habits and improve toilet design.

Globally 2.5 billion people do not have access to a toilet, with significant health and pollution consequences. Realising the extent of the global sanitation problem, Jack founded The World Toilet Organisation in 2001, with the aim of forming a global network to promote sustainable sanitation systems – now running a World Toilet College and annual World Toilet Summit.

After achieving financial independence at age 40, Jack has devoted the rest of his life to social work, receiving numerous business, environmental and humanitarian awards in the process.

“A life is 80 years, I’m now only 52. If I’m going to spend my next 28 years consuming ostentatiously, just to have a diamond watch, with which I can’t even tell the time because it’s so sparkly, it makes no sense! Doing social work that creates some impact, I think it is better to die doing that.”

Known as Mr Toilet to his many admirers, Jack hopes to see the day when everyone has access to a clean toilet.

[More Ideas for 'making a difference' in The Year I Saved the World]

Photo from Wikicommons

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Canada’s Tar Sands

Alberta in Canada is home to what is now considered one of the world’s largest hydrocarbon reserves – the Athabasca Tar Sands.

At room temperature the oil saturated soils and sands are semi-solid with a consistency of cold molasses, meaning they cannot flow freely, and heated steam or solvents are required to extract usable hydrocarbons. This makes oil from tar sands sources far more energy intensive to obtain, and potentially far more polluting.

Covering a huge area, to date only a small fraction of the total tar sands reserves have been exploited.

Even so, significant environmental impacts have already occurred, including pollution of sensitive ecosystems and water resources, and elevated levels of local air pollution, with the resulting fuel oil producing between 5 and 15% more carbon over it’s production-use lifetime than most conventional crude oils.

Some campaigners have labelled the tar sands project as The Biggest Environmental Crime in History.

Though championed by the Canadian Government, the tar sands extraction project is strongly criticised by numerous organisations and individuals, including Greenpeace, The Sierra Club, Naomi Klein and the WWF, as well as many local groups set-up in opposition, such as Dirty Oil Sands and Oil Sands Truth.

In the talk below conservation photographer and anti-tar sands campaigner Garth Lenz is moved to the point of tears describing local families having to feed potentially carcinogenic food to their children.

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Photo from Wikicommons