Saturday, January 31, 2009

Recycling Reconsidered

Recycling has become a almost unchallenged virtue of the environmental movement. Millions of people sort out their paper, plastics and metals for pickup at their curbside. Countries such as Austria, the Netherlands, and Germany recycle over half of their rubbish. However, recently some reservations have been expressed whether recycling always results in a net benefit.

China is a huge part of the market recycled paper and plastics. Shipping tons of refuse thousands of miles to China to be recycled might produce more CO2 than shipping them to a landfill. The recent economic downturn has lessened China's demand for recycled materials causing some of it to pile up on the docks.

Recently, some have argued that oil based materials such as plastics are more efficiently disposed of by incineration.

Some efforts are being made to process more recycled material locally, saving money and energy. Britain is building three new plastics reprocessing plants that will be able to handle most of the 180,000 tons of recycled plastic bottles recycled each year. An anaerobic digester will soon digest 80,000 tons a year of discarded food from the supermarkets in Sainsbury, England. The process generates a mixture of carbon dioxide and methane that is burnt for heat and power. The new process will save several million pounds a year in disposal costs.

The process of recycling is somewhat more complicated than first thought. Maximizing the benefits of recycling requires planning for how the materials will be used, and ultimately even planning when products are constructed to lessen the time and energy necessary to separate materials when the product is recycled.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The New Land Rush

Last year's food crisis that saw record food prices and food riots around the world has touched off a rush by wealthy but food reliant nations to purchase farming land in poorer countries in South and Central Asia, Latin America, and East Africa. Countries such as China, Japan, South Korea and India have been buying up fertile farm land in order to secure their own food supplies.

China's serious water problems and creeping deserts led it to lease lands in Laos, Kazakhstan, Tanzania and Brazil. With $1.8 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, China has had ample funds to buy up land. Similar water problems in India led it to lease land in Burma which already supplies a quarter of its lentil imports. South Korea has secured farmland in Indonesia and Madagascar. South Korea is continuing to negotiate with Madagascar for a deal which would encompass half of Madagascar's arable land. Saudi Arabia has given up its efforts to feed itself and has plans to buy 400,000 hectares of land by early 2009 in Australia, Croatia, Egypt, Eritrea, India, Morocco, Pakistan, Philippines, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Ukraine and Vietnam.

The new land rush has sparked controversy in some of the selling countries. Calling the new land deals "neo-colonialism," the UN's top food expert Jaques Diouf has remarked that "Some negotiations [between host countries and the investors] have led to unequal international relations and short-term mercantilist agriculture." In Brazil, the government has become concerned that foreign groups' ownership of land was a "threat to sovereignty."

The possibility of resource wars has concerned many people who foresee growing shortages in coming years, but this new food colonialism has shown that there may be many ways that countries scramble to compete for scarce resources.