Socioeconomic implications of air pollutionAir pollution is commonly understood as an environmental issue. In the U.S., pollution is most commonly tested using the Air Quality Index. The AQI measures air pollution based upon ground-level ozone, particle pollution, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide levels. Air pollution causes a number of health risks such as cancer and respiratory infections. In 2016, an estimated 4.2 million people died prematurely due to air pollution. Often, the effects of environmental issues have more consequences for the poor. Thus, concerns stemming from air pollution are not just environmental but also socioeconomic.

Who is affected?

About 90 percent of premature deaths by air pollution occur in low-middle income areas. This issue disproportionately affects lower-income households for many reasons. For one, impoverished homes are often dependent upon energy sources such as coal and wood. The burning of these fossil fuels contaminates the air with carbon dioxide emissions and creates indoor pollution. A lack of finances can also result in the absence of healthcare. Without early treatment, people dealing with infections related to air pollution are more likely to suffer fatal consequences.

Research shows that this disparity supports social discrimination. A study in 2016 reports: “The risk of dying early from long-term exposure to particle pollution was higher in communities with larger African-American populations, lower home values, and lower median income”. Minority groups often face prejudice in places such as employment. On average, a black woman makes 61 cents per dollar earned by a white male counterpart. In sum, minority groups ordinarily earn lower wages. This prohibits them from buying more expensive renewable resources.

The largest effects of air pollution take place in the World Health Organization’s South-East Asia and Western-Pacific regions. These regions are primarily occupied by developing nations. With a lack of financial resources, these countries resort to cheap and environmentally unsustainable practices. For example, the slash-and-burn technique is a method used by farmers and large corporations. This technique involves clearing land with intentional fires, which raises carbon dioxide levels.

What are the implications?

When considering the socioeconomic implications of air pollution, it is important to note all of the key facts. Here are a few things to consider:

  • The WHO has declared air pollution as the number one health hazard caused by environmental degradation. Air pollution can cause ischaemic heart disease, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer.
  • Worldwide, 1 in 8 people dies due to the effects of air pollution. In 2018, 7 million people passed away because of infections relating to air quality.

Who is helping?

Air pollution should not be overlooked as a serious issue. Fortunately, in recent years there has been a significant movement to combat poor air quality. For example, China has a reputation for being heavily polluted. However, in 2015, the Chinese government was the world’s lead investor in renewable energy. The government invested $26.7 billion in renewable resources, which was twice the amount that the U.S. invested that same year. Furthermore, between the years 2010 and 2015, particle pollution levels in China decreased by 17 percent.

Organizations such as Greenpeace have advocated for better policies surrounding environmental degradation. In 2013, the Chinese government released the Clean Air Action Plan which set forth the initial progress in combating air pollution. Nevertheless, in 2017, Greenpeace recorded that while particle pollution levels continued to decrease, progress had significantly declined. Greenpeace is now urging the government to produce a new plan to further challenge air pollutants.

Air pollution is harmful to the global ecosystem but it also has a profound impact on society. In order to fully understand the consequences of this issue, one must consider the ways in which environmental degradation targets specific groups. The contamination of the environment, or more specifically the air, often affects minorities and the poorest people. Thus, air pollution should be a top priority not only for environmentalists but also for social activists. Luckily, governments are already seeking plans to prevent the outcome of air pollution. By contributing to organizations such as Greenpeace, everyone can advocate for better policies and regulations against the socioeconomic implications of air pollution.

– Anna Melnik
Photo: Flickr

Wastewater in India
India is not only one of the most populated countries in the world, but it is also one of the poorest. In addition to poverty, India is grappling with a lack of access to clean water and increasing pollution. This not only takes a toll on households but also affects industrial and agricultural demands. Urban runoff is an issue when domestic waste and untreated water go into storm drains, polluting lakes and rivers. Approximately only 30 percent of the wastewater in India is cleaned and filtered.

The U.S. Agency for International Development teamed up with a nongovernmental organization, Agra Municipal Corporation, to formulate a treatment plan to clean the wastewater in India.

What is Being Done?

North of the Taj Mahal runs the Yamuna River, one of the most polluted waterways in India. Agra, the city through which the river runs, is a slum community. As of 2009, this community has had no access to sanitation facilities, disposal systems or waste collection. At least 85 percent of the residents in Agra have resorted to open defecation that ultimately pollutes the Yamuna River, where residents collect drinking water. This lack of sanitation has left the community vulnerable to diseases such as cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio.

USAID-supported NGO Center for Urban and Regional Excellence decided to reverse the state of Agra and come up with a treatment plan. In 2011, they built a wastewater treatment plant to clean the water, leading to healthier community members. Instead of chemicals, the treatment plant uses natural methods to sanitize the water. Moreover, they designed the plant to be low-maintenance, thus keeping it cost-efficient. After filtering and sanitizing the water, it flows back into the community for residents to collect.

As of 2017, the Agra Municipal Corporation, who initially teamed up with USAID, took over operating the plant. And they made it their mission to continue working to improve the lives of the residents.

The Progress

The Center for Urban and Regional Excellence’s transformation of Agra influenced the government to also act. As a result, the government planned to cleanse the entire country by the end of 2019. On Oct. 2, 2014, the Prime Minister of India declared the Swachh Bharat Mission. At the time, only 38.7 percent of the country was clean—less than half. As of 2019, India’s government reported 98.9 percent of the country is now clean. Since the mission began, they built 9,023,034,753 household toilets and established

  • 5,054,745 open defecation-free villages,
  • 4,468 open defecation-free villages in Namami Gange,
  • 613 open defecation-free districts, and
  • 29 open defecation-free states.

Less than 2 percent away from meeting their goal, India has made big improvements to better the lives of its citizens by providing clean water for domestic and industrial purposes.

Lari’onna Green
Photo: Flickr

Religious Flowers in indiaThe idea of profiting from recycling religious flowers in India and receiving recognition from the U.N. for it may seem ludicrous, but cofounders of Indian startup Kanpur Flowercycling made it possible. Ankit Agarwal and Karan Rastogi saw an opportunity in these religious flowers in India on the day of Makara Sankranti, an ancient Indian festival celebrated by bathing in the sacred water of the river Ganges for the end of the winter solstice.

Toxic Flowers in the Ganges

People worship, bottle and drink these waters, even though it has become visibly carcinogenic. Agarwal and Rastogi noticed small, colorful flowers discarded from the temples nearby turn into mulch in the river waters. Research shows that the flowers are filled with pesticides and insecticides. In the river, the chemicals mix with the water, making toxic compounds, suppressing the oxygen level and endangering marine life.

After a year and a half of pitching their temple-waste maintenance idea and countless hours in a makeshift laboratory, Agarwal and Rastogi’s idea came to life. The flower recycled incense and vermicompost that would open the door to conserve the Ganges, provide livelihood and employment for people even of lower-caste were born.

Livelihood and Employment Opportunities

HelpUsGreen, the brand over this project, grew to receive recognition as one of the young leader projects that helps achieve the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. Although the vision of HelpUsGreen might have started at preserving the river Ganges, it didn’t stop there. The startup, supported by Tata Trusts, uses its flower-recycling technology to also provide employment for people. HelpUsGreen provided a livelihood for 73 scavenging families that now earn six times what they earned before. It also sent 19 children to school and provided a predictable livelihood for almost 200 women.

The startup makes empowering women specifically of lower-caste a priority by employing 1,200 women to collect flowers. “Many of them are more confident now,” Agarwal told Fast Company, “They’re earning more than their husbands. They got some say in the decisions that are made in the home and they’re saving money so they can send their children to school.” Making women a priority for their business taps into a global poverty reduction strategy of putting women in the workforce. The significance of this strategy stems from the gender disparity in the workforce which made women an untapped market to downsize global poverty.

India’s Pollution & HelpUsGreen’s Plan

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cities in India suffer from particulate pollution more than anywhere else in the world and Kanpur comes first. Poor governance, kerosene lighting and cookstoves are major sources of pollution in big cities in developing countries. Kanpur, located in an industrial region of India, suffers severely from particulate pollution.

HelpUsGreen decided to set goals that will make a difference in these circumstances. The 8 million tonnes of showering flowers annually are symbols of devotion discarded in toxic ways to water bodies, groundwater and the Indian civilization. “Kanpur Flowercycling already collects some 7.2 tons of flowers a day from two dozen sites but it’s just scratching the surface,” Agarwal explained. Agarwal believes the startup can gather 50 tons a day and branch out into new products. These religious flowers in India represent a symbol of devotion but more than 420 million people use the Ganges where they are dumped. People rely on it for food, water, bathing and agriculture. If the river is dying, it will put the Indian civilization in a very vulnerable position.

Fighting Pollution Is Fighting Poverty

HelpUsGreen considers Kanpur and India’s environmental challenges in the vision for its business. This vision aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals of life on land, sustainable cities and communities, clean water and sanitation, good health and well-being, zero hunger and no poverty. The startups’ priority for women employment creates alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals of gender equality, decent work and economic growth and reduced inequalities. The values of Kanpur Flowercycling matching over half of the U.N.’s goals justifies their nomination for a UNICEF award by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim also recognizes cleaning the Ganges river as part of the poverty fight. Kim visited the Ganges to observe an Indian government initiative supported by the World Bank to clean the river. Kim recognized reducing the number of sources of pollution entering the river as a way to reduce poverty in India. HelpUsGreen has already begun to gather tons of flowers away from the river to eliminate factors polluting it. These religious flowers in India can still represent a symbol of devotion and be discarded in sustainable ways that will also help reduce poverty.

Janiya Winchester
Photo: Pixabay

How Kanpur's Pollution Is Being LoweredThe rising amount of pollution on Earth is something that almost everyone is well aware of. Pollution is something that continues to increase daily and can often remain in an area for years. It can be seen in the Arctic, the oceans, the forests and the most populated cities. In Kanpur, for example, the population is so dense that it has become nearly impossible to keep pollution to a minimum, especially in the winter time. Kanpur sees this pollution as a problem and is seeking out innovative solutions to help lower Kanpur’s pollution.

Health Problems From Pollution

Kanpur is home to 3 million people and contains a hazardous amount of pollution that is gradually killing the city. This can lead to health problems for its citizens as well as create a more difficult environment for the vulnerable population. Kanpur generates 400 tonnes of waste that often contaminates underground water sources, which leads to disease. In 2015, 40,000 patients were seen at the Murari Lal Chest Hospital, but in 2016 this number jumped to 64,000. The people seen are those who are able to afford healthcare, but many are not able to seek out medical help for pollution-related health problems.

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has recently come up with a solution to help lower Kanpur’s pollution. It’s called cloud seeding, it’s a process that involved a mixture of salt and silver iodide. These two substances are transported and dispersed through flares in an aircraft. Although these chemicals sound harmful, it actually is a very beneficial process that creates artificial rain. Artificial rain can be used in numerous ways, like providing relief during a severe drought, but in the case, it’s used to cleanse the air in a sense, thus reducing pollution.

Important Renewable Energy

Kanpur is working harder to put renewable energy to use. The city plans on ramping up clean energies daily through the use of solar energy. Clean energy is a great way to leave a smaller carbon footprint but have a bigger impact on reducing pollution. This power will be generated through a power grid to be used by the people on a regular basis. This method of reducing pollution is fairly new for those residing in Kanpur. Kanpur’s electric company, Kesco, will be taking the lead on this project with the solar power plants. This energy project will supply energy to 7.44 million homes and also improve employment in the area through the creation of new jobs in the solar energy field.

As we can see, Kanpur is finally taking the initiative when it comes to reducing pollution in the city. Not only is the city providing employment opportunities for its residents but it is also working to protect the environment by implementing a clean energy source. The CPCB is also working hard to create artificial rain to make sure that the air stays clean. These creative solutions are definitely working towards a major overall goal of making sure to help lower Kanpur’s pollution.

Emme Chadwick

Photo: Unsplash

Indonesia's Natural ResourcesIndonesia is a bountiful country full of natural resources, such as coal, copper, gold, oil and natural gas. However, regardless of the strides Indonesia has made toward lowering its greenhouse gases emissions, it has been a challenge for the country to become “energy- and food- secure while also protecting forests.” The World Resources Institute (WRI), an environmental think tank, supports the efficient use of Indonesia’s natural resources by assisting the government through analyses and advice for the most equitable way to use the county’s land.

Green Development

The premise of the green development framework is to keep current and ongoing development projects underway in order “to keep within this ecological “carrying capacity.” Propelling this shift in Indonesia’s natural resources paradigm is the government’s acknowledgment that the rate at which the country is plowing through its natural resources is not sustainable for the future.

Shortages in housing, water and food are just a few examples of the environmental and public health consequences that the current usage rate of natural resources has on development. Some concerns lie at the regional level rather than the national. For example, the islands of Bali and Java are at a critical level when it comes to their water resources.

The new course of development includes initiatives to hone in on major areas such as water, fisheries, energy and transportation, agriculture and peat. The key goal is to find “a balance between [economic] growth and environmental carrying capacity.” WRI Indonesia is working with the private sector to convert peat restoration into “viable” opportunity for business.

The Ocean

Being a well known marine nation, another pertinent Indonesian resource is the ocean. “The country’s waters support over 3,000 species of bony fishes and more than 850 sharks, rays and chimaeras,” and the fishing industry employs roughly 12 million Indonesians. Despite the many benefits of fishing, avoiding the exploitation and loss of fish needs to be a significant area of focus.

In some rural parts of the country, the water toxicity has increased significantly due to the runoff of pesticides and fertilizers as well as an increase in algae in the riverbeds. This has led to an unfortunate loss of marine life. To help solve the marine pollution crisis NGOs, activists and community groups have made efforts to clean Bali’s beaches. In 2017, volunteers collected 40 tons of trash from several different beaches. Further environmental reforms will be necessary to prevent toxicity from reaching the beaches.

Low Carbon Development

In an effort to account for its ecological carrying capacity, Indonesia has set in place the KLHs or Strategic Environmental Assessment. This assessment is carried “out prior to issuing permits for land or forest management”  as a way of weighing the environmental impact of the companies requesting the permits.

Indonesia has set a bold and challenging goal in its first-ever low carbon development and green economy framework. The plan will focus on the energy and land use sectors of five different areas. The end goal of the green development plan is to continue to grow economically, but find “a balance between growth and environmental carrying capacity.”

Research suggests economic benefits as high as $26 trillion are foreseeable if strong stances are taken in climate change. These benefits include “new jobs and better health outcomes globally.” The new green development framework could propel “rapid economic growth, reduce the poverty rate and decrease greenhouse gas emissions.” The way forward for Indonesia’s natural resources and economic development goals could be further improved with support from other nations.

Without a doubt, Indonesia’s natural resources play a major role in the country’s economy and livelihood. The pledge to transition to a more sustainable economy and green development characterizes the brave nation that is Indonesia. The green development framework paves the way to preserve and celebrate the history of the country for generations to come.

Karina Bhakta

Photo: Flickr

life expectancy in MongoliaMongolia is a landlocked nation in Central Asia bordered by China to the south and Russia to the north. It is the third-least sparsely populated country in the world with an average population of 1.9 people per square kilometer. Mongolia has been a representative democracy since the U.S.S.R. collapsed in 1990 when a protest movement forced out the pro-Soviet government. The country’s economy crashed after the withdrawal of Soviet support in the 1990s and then again after the global financial crisis of 2009. It exhibited a strong recovery a few years after each event. These top 10 facts about life expectancy in Mongolia should shed some light on the state of health in this country today.

Top 10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Mongolia

  1. The average life expectancy in Mongolia is 69.9 years, ranking 160 in the world out of 224 countries listed. For comparison, the U.S. ranked 43 in life expectancy. According to figures from the World Bank, life expectancy in Mongolia had increased by 43 percent between 1960 and 2016.

  2. The top causes of premature death in Mongolia are heart disease, stroke and neonatal disorders (diseases affecting newborn children). However, neonatal disorders have decreased significantly in recent years. According to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the prevalence of neonatal disorders decreased by 13.3 percent in just 10 years from 2007 to 2017. Infant mortality overall has steadily declined since 1978 from 117.9 to 14.8 per 1,000 live births. However, heart disease and stroke have both increased during that same period by 9.3 percent and 11.2 percent, respectively.

  3. The Millennium Challenge Corporation, a U.S. government foreign aid agency, cooperated with the Mongolian government on a variety of programs as part of a $284.9 million compact between 2007 and 2013. One of those programs was the Health Project, which aimed to combat various diseases, including heart disease and stroke. The project trained more than 17,000 medical professionals and provided equipment to more than 550 health facilities, which enabled those facilities to screen almost every Mongolian person over the age of 40 for various diseases.

  4. In Mongolia, there is a steep divide in health care access between urban and rural areas. Part of the reason for Mongolia’s low population density is that many people in rural areas practice a nomadic lifestyle. However, the healthcare system, which has been largely dependent upon foreign aid since dramatic cuts in government spending in the 1990s, has struggled to adapt to servicing such a mobile population. This lack of equal access to healthcare might explain why health indicators, including maternal and infant mortality rates, HIV/AIDS and others are generally worse in rural areas of Mongolia than in cities.

  5. In recent years, the Mongolian government, with the help of the Asian Development Bank, has significantly expanded access to healthcare for rural people. This involved building new health centers, and providing new equipment and training to existing centers and hospitals. Shilchin Degmid, a nomadic livestock herder, told the ADB that, in particular, “[e]mergency services have greatly improved.” In the end, it is estimated that 700,000 people will receive improved healthcare as a result of the initiative.

  6. Even in urban areas with more facilities, access to healthcare can be very difficult for people living in poverty. Whether they live in the city or the country, people in Mongolia living in poverty struggle to access affordable healthcare. According to Lindskog, in Mongolia, “population health and access to affordable health care are significantly linked to socioeconomic disparities.”
  7. Poverty affects more than 1 in 4 people. According to the Asian Development Bank, 29.6 percent of people in Mongolia live in poverty. However, extreme poverty has decreased dramatically since its peak of 26.9 percent twenty years ago. Today, 1 in 200 people in Mongolia lives in extreme poverty.

  8. One successful project in fighting poverty is the Alternative Livelihood Project (ALP). ALP has been conducted in a rural area of South Mongolia by the U.N. Development Programme and in collaboration with the local government and organized groups of local residents. The primary purpose of the project was to improve disaster preparedness and economic sustainability in the local economy. Support from the U.N.D.P. and the local government has helped local residents access training and start new businesses. Local residents were also better able to access wider markets for their existing businesses thanks to the U.N.D.P.’s connections elsewhere in the country.

  9. Pollution is a serious problem for the health of urban residents. Air pollution has been shown to significantly impact life expectancy throughout the world. Last year, UNICEF declared air pollution in the country’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, to be a child health crisis. The agency noted that Ulaanbaatar has some of the highest levels of air pollution in the world during wintertime, with pollution rates reaching as high as 133 times the safe levels recommended by the World Health Organization.

  10. One initiative working to fight air pollution is the Ulaanbaatar Clean Air Project. The project is the result of the collaboration between Ulaanbaatar’s city government, the Mongolian national government, the World Bank and the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Between 2010 and 2015, the project distributed 175,000 low-emission stoves to impoverished residents of Ulaanbaatar. Most of the residents living in ger or small detached homes in Ulaanbaatar experience disproportionate levels of poverty. As a result, they heat their homes in wintertime using their stove. The new stoves that the project distributed had 98 percent lower emissions than older models of stoves, reducing pollution during winter months. Furthermore, in 2016, the project helped 200 households to insulate their homes.

 

While the effort to improve life expectancy in Mongolia faces significant challenges, progress is being made. The Mongolian government is collaborating with the United Nations Development Programme on several programs to reduce poverty, including improving economic policy planning and enhancing opportunities for entrepreneurship in rural areas. Furthermore, many organizations have worked with local organizations and governments in Mongolia to improve healthcare in a variety of ways. And while some indicators, such as economic growth, have tended to fluctuate, others, such as infant mortality, have uniformly improved in recent years. Even though challenges remain, these top 10 facts about life expectancy in Mongolia show that the future is bright.

Sean Ericson
Photo: Flickr

Indigo dye in indiaIn 2017, the people in Mumbai, India saw something strange happening with the stray dogs of the city. The dogs all seemed to be turning a light blue color. People reported to the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board that a company in the Taloja Industry area was dumping indigo dye, which was primarily used by that company, in the local Kasadi river. The dogs were hunting for food in the area and, consequently, their fur was turned blue. Authorities quickly shut down the factory to prevent more dye from entering the river, but the question remained about how toxic this dye is not only to the animals but the locals as well? With the long history of indigo dye and India, why has this only recently become a problem?

Indigo Dye in India

Indigo is a natural dye, but unlike most natural dyes, indigo dye penetrates clothes directly when heated. Indigo dye and India are correlated because the country had been using it naturally for centuries. Now, however, most factories use a chemical agent called mordant to increase the number of clothes produced in less time. Mordants can be just acidic, not necessarily toxic, but most companies choose to use mordant with aluminum and chromium. Both of these can cause great damage to the ecosystem. Factory wastewater can poison rivers, killing plants, animals and poisoning drinking water for the people of India.

Even without mordants, natural indigo dye is not great for the environment either. It is slow to decompose and darkens river water, so flora and fauna starve from lack of sunlight. That is why the dogs of Mumbai turned blue upon entering the river. The best approach to preventing toxic dyes from entering and poisoning the rivers is prevention and filtration. If factories used local plants for dyes, that would help filtration. Prevention is tricky. Scientist Juan Hinestroza is working on using nanotechnology to apply dye directly to cloth fibers. If this is successful, it would make toxic dyes and mordants obsolete.

Water Pollution

Groundwater, rivers and streams are being severely affected by this fashionable color. With such a high demand for cheap clothes in indigo, like denim jeans, factories and workshops find cheap, quick ways to produce products at high volumes. Tirupur, India is home to many factories specifically used for making and dyeing clothes. These factories have been dumping the wastewater from production into rivers in the area. Despite tougher regulations, they continue the process, rendering local and groundwater undrinkable.

With dying waters and a rising population, India is struggling to clean up its rivers. The fight is far from over, and people have turned to the government for an answer. Activists are heading to court to get municipalities and states to rise and take action. They started with one demand for the restoration for the Mithi river, a river polluted with dye, paint and engine oil. Citizens started legal petitions then gathered volunteers to get other rivers in the area cleaned up. After a terrible flood in 2005, dams were built to reduce overflow, which was helpful because the rivers are now split it in two.

Back To Nature

India is one of the few countries that produce indigo and denim clothes at high volumes, so the ways of naturally applying indigo to clothing is a long lost art. However, one designer is working to change that. Payal Jain, a fashion designer in India, is bringing back the natural ways of getting indigo straight from the plant and onto the clothes. Using mud and intricate wood carvings, artisans use this method to print the color directly to the fabric. Bringing back traditional ways of dying could relieve the environment from toxic, synthetic dyes.

Blue dogs appearing in the streets, poisoned rivers and groundwater, crops dying and limited access to clean drinking water are all direct results of indigo dye waste being dumped into the rivers. As long as factories continue to dump dye waste into rivers, this problem will persist. The citizens of India are coming together to clear the neglected rivers and push for tougher regulations on clothing factories. With the government’s support and the use of new scientific methods to dye clothing, Indigo dye in India could remain popular without being dangerous.

Kayla Cammarota
Photo: Flickr

Plastic waste in IndiaPlastic waste in India has collectively reached 8.3 billion tons throughout the past 70 years. This is inclusive of plastic bags, plastic bottles, packaging, straws, spoons and forks and much more. To picture how much 8.3 billion tons would look like, compare it to 1 billion elephants or 822,000 Eiffel Towers.

Plastic Poses a Threat to the Sea Life

This immense amount of plastic waste in India often ends up polluting the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. It acts as entrapments to the natural habitats. When ingested by fishes, the chemicals that compose the plastic poisons them and make them inedible for consumption. In other cases, plastic packaging such as the rings for canned sodas pose as a threat to wildlife like Turtles as it can strangle them. Additionally, the sea creatures view plastic waste as predators that interfere with their natural food consumption. This makes these animals starve as they find it difficult to approach their natural food source.

Plastic Waste in India Affects the Livelihood of Fishermen

Fishing is one of the primary occupations for people living on the coasts of India. For many, that is the only source of income. The problem of plastic waste in the sea is affecting the livelihood of fishermen to a great extent.

Recently, fishermen and women in India have begun to filter through, wash and sort the plastic collected from the sea. Those that are too damaged or far too recycled, are further recycled. While the plastic that is in near-perfect form is shredded and sold to construction companies. It is shredded into a consistency finer than confetti and used to build up the asphalt used to pave roads.

Using Plastic to Construct Roads

There are various benefits to using recycled plastics over regular plastics, especially in terms of constructing roads. By using recycled plastic, one can save approximately 1 ton of asphalt. In addition, cost wise, it provides approximately 8 percent profit. Furthermore, addressing the influx of plastic waste in India paves way for new jobs for many unemployed citizens.

In terms of quality, roads constructed with the help of recycled plastic tends to be more durable against weather conditions such as floods and high temperatures. A variety of smaller plastic shredding businesses have risen in order to support this new form of construction.

The Process of Utilizing Plastic Waste

The process involved in constructing roads from recycled plastic is relatively simple. First, the different kinds of plastic wastes are sorted, cleaned and dried. Then, it is shredded into a fine confetti texture. After that, it is melted at 170 degrees Celcius. To this, hot bitumen, a mixture used to build roads, is added. Once this mixture is complete, it is further mixed with asphalt concrete and laid out into foundations.

This technique of utilizing plastic waste to build roads has been already put to practice in 11 states throughout India. Some of these places include Halls Road, Ethiraj Silai Street and Sardar Patel Street. Currently, 100,000 kilometers of roads have been built.

One of the leading cities to implement this technique is Chennai. So far, 160,000 kilograms of plastic have been reused. In turn, 1.035 kilometers of road has been built. By following the mantra of reduce, reuse and recycle, plastic waste in India is being redirected to better the country.

Jessica Ramtahal
Photo: Flickr

Iraq’s Chemical Pollution in the Wake of ISISThree decades of armed conflict in Iraq have decimated the country. Hundreds of thousands of people have died, while countless more have been wounded and displaced. It has damaged Iraq’s vital infrastructure and industrial areas, polluting the country and wiping agricultural lands off the map. The government’s capacity for industrial and environmental oversight has diminished severely and the occupation by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) heightened long-standing concerns over the country’s environmental safety. Iraq’s chemical pollution in the wake of ISIS puts more agriculture, livestock, water and human health at risk, but U.N. organizations and U.S. programs are helping the country to recover.

The ISIS Occupation Consequences

During their occupation of the country, ISIS captured the Alas and Ajeel oil fields in the Hamrin mountains and seized control of Qayyarah oil field and the Baiji oil refinery. Qayyarah oil field produced 30,000 barrels daily and Baiji produced more than one-third of Iraq’s domestic oil production before this occurrence. According to the ISIS’ scorched earth strategy, they ignited oil wells around the Qayyarah, Alas and Ajeel oil fields, and during their retreat of Baiji, they devastated the facility not only by setting fire to wells but to oil tanks and critical infrastructure. When the Iraqi army recaptured the Qayyarah oil field in September 2016, ISIS had set 20 wells on fire as they retreated.

Satellite imagery captured by UNOSAT, the Operational Satellite Applications Program of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, showed that smoke from the fires deposited soot over the town of Qayyarah and its surrounding area. The fires had released immense quantities of toxic residues, while mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) left behind by ISIS complicated efforts by Iraqi firefighters. They managed to extinguish the last fire in March 2017, but by then, all that was left was a blackened and contaminated landscape. When Wim Zwijnenburg, a lead researcher at PAX, a Dutch nonprofit and nongovernmental peace organization, visited the Qayyarah region in 2017, he saw burning oil slicks still flowing from oil wells, lakes filled with solidified crude oil and white sheep black from soot.

Suffering From the Effects of Chemical Warfare

ISIS’ chemical weapons usage was rampant in Iraq and the concealed improvised chemical devices they planted upon their retreats still threaten citizens of Mosul and its surrounding areas. Oil spills from exploded wells, refineries, trucks, tanks and pipelines, as well as mustard gas residue, have infiltrated soil, ground and surface waters. Chemicals found in crude oil, such as Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heavy metals have subsequently influenced drinking water and agricultural land. When released by fires, these dangerous substances can affect natural resources and civilian health in communities far beyond their burning epicenters.

Additionally, as the oil from the spills dried out, hazardous volatile organic compounds have been released into the air and have caused liver and kidney damage and cancer in humans and animals. Damage to Mosul’s electrical grid has resulted in high levels of Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination in the city associated with slower mental development in children and cancer.

Toxic chemicals released by oil fires had impacted the respiratory system of Iraqis and chemical compounds found in these fires can lead to acid rain that destroys soil, all negatively impacting vegetation. Citizens view the agricultural aftermath of Iraq’s chemical pollution as a long-term consequence. It has compromised their livelihoods by killing livestock and destroying cultivated and grazing land, ridding livestock breeders and farmers of their income. ISIS also used university laboratories in Mosul to manufacture chemical bombs. Their lack of safeguards when handling chemical agents and hazardous waste now pose serious contamination risks to the nearby environment.

Medical Treatment and Wash Needs

High levels of radiation and other toxic substances from previous conflicts still flow into the Iraqi environment, but it is Iraq’s chemical pollution in the wake of ISIS that heightens the concerns of Qayyarah’s citizens. Aside from burns, deformations and other disabilities, chemical weapons, burning oil and military remnants can mutate human genes and result in more defects at birth.

In March 2017, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) collaborated with medical authorities and the World Health Organization (WHO) to treat patients suffering from toxic exposure. According to a U.N. report, in September 2018, U.S. Ambassador in Iraq, Douglas A. Silliman, declared a health disaster in Basrah after approximately 80,000 people contracted gastrointestinal illness from contaminated water between August and September. In response, USAID allocated $750,000 to address immediate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) need.

Cleaning Up a Toxic Wasteland

In 2018, the Iraqi government and U.N. Environment Programme partnered to build a cross-ministry team to tackle Iraq’s chemical pollution. The joint initiative’s objective is to prevent future exploitation of toxic substances for chemical warfare through government capabilities enhancement and chemicals control improvement. As a selected participant of the U.N. Environment’s Special Programme, Iraq will receive comprehensive information and training to help it meet its chemicals and waste management program obligations.

Iraq’s Ministry of Environment is capable of assessing contaminated sites but lacks the equipment and skills for cleaning and full documentation. The hope is the initiative will provide strategies and enhance on-site assessment methodologies to expedite the cleanup of Iraq’s Chemical Pollution.

– Julianne Russo

Photo: Pixabay

Using Ocean Plastic to End Poverty
There are an estimated 150 million tons of plastic in the oceans and about 80 percent of that plastic comes from countries that can be considered as countries with extreme poverty. Individuals struggling to feed their families and send their children to school do not have time to worry about recycling and are often unaware of the effects of pollution on their surrounding environment. To address this issue, David Katz founded the Plastic Bank, a company that is using ocean plastic to end poverty.

The Plastic Bank- Using Ocean Plastic to End Poverty

The Plastic Bank aims to combine social and environmental impact by creating value out of plastic waste. Communities suffering from poverty usually do not have effective waste management programs and therefore any plastic products used by local families end up polluting the surrounding environment. By working with impoverished communities, the Plastic Bank helps set up stores in which the accepted currency is post-consumer plastics. This enables individuals to collect plastics and exchange them for money, goods and services.

This program has proven to be very successful in Haiti. A number of stores have been founded in which locals can bring used plastics to be weighed and checked for quality and then traded in for credit. The stores that are created and operated by locals offer various products and services, from food and water to school tuition and medical insurance to cell phone minutes and high-efficiency stoves.

Cooperation with Other Companies

In addition to offering a means of steady income, this credit system allows individuals to set up a savings account. Impoverished communities often rely on cash transactions and are therefore at a greater risk of corruption and theft. To solve this, the Plastic Bank teamed up with IBM to employ blockchain technology, removing money from the equation completely.

The Plastic Bank then sells the plastics collected to socially and environmentally conscious companies around the world. Brands like Marks and Spencer and Henkel use recycled plastic in their manufacturing. As a consumer, everyone can support poverty-reduction efforts and the environment by buying products made with these recycled plastics.

Innovative Solutions

The Plastic Bank is continuing to expand its operations and is testing out other innovative solutions by using ocean plastics to end poverty, such as a bottle-deposit program in Vancouver in which all of the money collected from recycled plastics is sent to poor communities around the world. Another idea is to match churches in big cities with those in impoverished nations. For example, a church in London asking its members to bring in plastics and then, with the help of the Plastic Bank, sending the proceeds to a church in Cairo that is able to assist the members of its community suffering from poverty.

The Plastic Bank has formed a system in which plastic waste is given a value, offering individuals a means of income while incentivizing anti-pollution efforts. Not only is this program using ocean plastics to end poverty and to create jobs for locals living in poverty, but it also creates stores in which goods and services most needed by the community are available. As they continue to grow and implement new ideas, the Plastic Bank is supporting those suffering from poverty around the world while tackling a global pollution issue.

– Georgia Orenstein
Photo: Google