Category Archives: Resources

A simple guide to choosing the greenest office paper

Yoda Origami

Choosing sustainably sourced office paper isn’t straightforward. There are a lot of claims and counter-claims made by timber companies, paper manufacturers and different environmental groups. Even so, there are three simple rules you can follow to make sure your paper is as environmentally friendly as can be.

Three Golden Rules:

  1. Eco-labels: Always look for a trusted eco-label. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and The Blue Angel are two of the best.
  2. Feedstock: Choose paper derived from the least controversial raw materials. Everybody agrees that paper made from post-consumer waste (PCW) is the best choice for sustainability. From least controversial to most controversial, other kinds of feedstock are pre-consumer waste paper, alternative fibres from agricultural waste and other kinds of waste, pulp from certified forest plantations, pulp from certified regrowth forest and pulp from uncertified forests, which may include high conservation value forests and old growth forests.
  3. Bleaching: Always choose paper that is ‘elemental chlorine free’ (ECF) (good), ‘process chlorine free’ (PCF) (better) or ‘totally chlorine free’ (best).

Eco-labels

One way to sort through the competing claims of manufacturers, industry groups and lobbyists is to see what kinds of accreditation the paper has been given. Paper producers pay money to have their production methods audited. If the production process meets a certain standard, the producer can use an ‘eco-label’ that helps consumers verify the company’s green credentials.

Not all labels are the same. For example, an Australian manufacturer recently lost certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), but continues to be certified by the less stringent Australian Forestry Standard and the international Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification.

To add to the complexity, within each certification scheme there is often more than one kind of label. To choose the most environmentally friendly product, we need to understand who the certifier is and what the label is telling us.

And as if labelling isn’t complicated enough, most or all certifiers are criticised from time to time by environmentalists that dispute the way labels are applied or the integrity of people involved in certification. In any case, two of the most trusted certifiers for paper are the Forest Stewardship Council and The Blue Angel.

Forest Stewardship CouncilThe Blue Angel

Also, don’t be fooled by a ‘recyclable’ label. All paper is recyclable.

Feedstock

One of the most important issues to consider when choosing sustainable paper is the feedstock, but this is also more complicated than it first appears.

Feedstock can be pulp from old growth native forests, regrowth native forests, forest plantations, alternative fibres (cotton, hemp, flax, etc.), pre-consumer or post-consumer waste paper, or any combination of these.

Most people agree that we shouldn’t exploit old-growth forests to produce timber or paper. Also, practically everybody agrees that we should increase the amount of paper we recycle – so that we cut our demand for ‘virgin fibre’ from forests.

For other sources of feedstock there are different views about what should be used for paper and what shouldn’t. It’s hard for a consumer to know who to believe.

In Australia, many lobby groups are campaigning against the only Australian paper manufacturer that produces 100% recycled office paper. Several companies, government offices and individuals refuse to buy Australian recycled paper and instead import paper from Europe.

This is happening because conservationists accuse the manufacturer of producing other kinds of office paper sourced from ‘high conservation value’ (HCV) forest in Victoria, Australia. The manufacturer on the other hand claims that the Victorian forests are being logged sustainably without impacting on conservation values.

Forest protest

Also, not all recycled papers are the same. Many environmentalists want us to choose paper made from 100% ‘post-consumer’ waste.

‘Post-consumer’ waste paper (also known as ‘PCW’) is the paper you and I put in the recycling bin at home or work. Many people think that it’s important that we encourage the use of PCW because it reduces the demand for virgin pulp from forests, increases demand for recycled paper collection and reduces the amount of scrap paper going to landfill.

Paper recycling
Post-consumer waste (PCW)

‘Pre-consumer’ waste on the other hand is waste paper that has never been used by a consumer. It includes trimmings, offcuts and over production. This is the easiest and cheapest type of paper to collect and reprocess, but its use doesn’t significantly reduce our reliance on forests for paper. To do that, we need to re-use as much post-consumer scrap as possible.

Bleaching

Office paper is bleached to make it whiter and brighter but some bleaching techniques are very bad for the environment.

Conventional bleaching processes, which are being phased out, use ‘elemental chlorine’ and cause the release of highly toxic chlorinated organic compounds, including dioxins, into the environment.

Today, most paper is produced with an ‘elemental chlorine free’ (ECF) process that replaces elemental chlorine with less harmful substitutes such as chlorine dioxide. This process still generates toxins, but in very low amounts.

You can also buy paper that is ‘process chlorine free’ (PCF). This is paper that is produced without using chlorine, but may have been made from recycled material that was originally bleached with chlorine.

There are other bleaching options available that are even less toxic and do not use chlorine at all. These so-called ‘totally chlorine free’ (TCF) processes do not produce any dioxins.

Creative Commons Licensephoto credits: PhillipWestTakver, orphanjones

Meat and sustainability

Watchful | Rising Damp

Meat can be a part of a sustainable lifestyle.

There are two important issues when it comes to sustainable meat production:

  1.  Minimise the use of land that can be used to grow food crops directly for humans. It’s the extra inputs and processing required for meat production and the inefficient use of land that makes meat environmentally unfriendly.
  2. Minimise greenhouse gas emissions. Some kinds of meat production generate higher greenhouse gas emissions than others.

With that in mind, here are seven tips on how to be kind to the planet without missing out on meat!

1. Eat less meat

Toasted tomato, avocado, cucumber & hummus sandwich | SweetOnVeg

The environmental impact of meat is generally higher than for other food sources. Some startling facts:

  • Half of the world’s crops are grown to feed animals
  • The meat industry contributes about 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions
  • 30% of the all land and 8% of the water we use is devoted to raising livestock
  • Producing 1 kilogram of animal protein requires about 100 times more water than producing 1 kilogram of grain protein
  • For every kilogram of meat protein that is produced, 6 kilograms of plant protein is fed to livestock
  • The US livestock population consumes seven times more grain than the human population. That’s enough grain to feed 840 million people on a plant-based diet
  • The average American eats twice the recommended daily allowance of protein

2. Avoid beef and lamb

Cow Butt | St0rmz

Ruminants, including cattle, sheep, goats and camels produce methane, a greenhouse gas twenty times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Each cow produces much more greenhouse gas emissions than a car. In New Zealand, a small country that gets most of its electricity from hydro-power, about half of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions come from sheep and cattle.

3. Choose grass-fed beef

Cow on the hilltop | BinaryApe

If you aren’t ready to give up beef, choose grass-fed beef.

Animal welfare is an obvious reason for choosing grass-fed beef over feedlot beef. I can’t read a cows mind, but it’s hard to imagine that a cow would choose to spend the last several months of its short life in an overcrowded feedlot being fed food that makes it sick and would eventually kill it – if the unfortunate beast lived long enough! That’s what happens in a feedlot.

Aside from the ethical issues, grass-fed beef is likely to come from marginal land that isn’t suitable for cropping. Providing the land is not over-grazed, this is more sustainable than keeping cattle in feedlots and feeding them food that should be produced for people – not livestock.

Critics make the valid point that marginal land is not productive enough to meet our insatiable demand for beef. That’s  true. We eat too much beef! If we want to live sustainably, we need to eat less. Period.

4. Choose organic or biodynamic

Organic Sausage Stand | ajleon

The overall environmental impact of organic or biodynamic and free range meat is generally lower than for conventionally produced meat. There are benefits in relation to carbon emissions, soil erosion, biodiversity and air and water pollution.

Organic food is more expensive and organic production systems seem to produce less food per hectare than conventional systems. This has led to some concern that organic food can’t feed the Earth’s growing population. Nobody really knows.

However, a major reason that organic food is more expensive is because the ‘real’ cost of production is incorporated into the price. In conventional systems, food is cheaper, but someone else is paying for the environmental impact. ‘Someone else’ may include taxpayers, people living downstream or future generations.

To put this in economic jargon, in organic systems, many production costs are ‘internalised’, whereas in conventional systems, many costs are ‘externalised’. If we want our economic system to work better, we need to make the polluter pay. That is, we need to correct a ‘market failure’ and ‘internalise the negative externalities’.

5. Choose chicken, turkey or pork for lower greenhouse gas emissions

Angry chicken | Stewart Black

Chicken has the lowest emissions of conventional meats. Turkey and pork also have relatively low emissions.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Comparison of total greenhouse gas emissions from alternative protein sources: EWG Meat Eaters Guide.

6. Choose free range pork and poultry

The main reason we choose free range meat is because of concerns about animal welfare.

Most pigs are raised in factory conditions and never see the sun until they are sent for slaughter. On some farms in Australia - and in other countries – female breeding pigs (sows) are confined to metal stalls that are so small the animal can’t turn around. When the piglets are born, their teeth are clipped, tails cut off and they are castrated without pain relief. The young are removed before 4 weeks of age and the sow is impregnated again.

It’s a similar story for battery hens.  In some countries, there is little regulation around what ‘free range’ actually means. Fortunately, when it comes to chickens, there’s an easy way to tell if the birds are being looked after… If there are too many chickens in a given space, chickens peck each other to death. To manage overcrowding, some free range farmers de-beak their birds. Whether you are buying meat or eggs, find out if your ‘free range’ provider de-beaks their birds. If they do, the pens are overcrowded. Buy from someone else.

7. Choose wild-caught game meats

Deer in the Woods | kretyen

Free-living game can provide a sustainable source of meat.

People have created environmental conditions that have led to a boom in the population of some native species. For example, the population of deer have increased because we’ve killed off their predators. Kangaroos in Australia have benefited from the increased supply of grass and grain on land cleared for agriculture. Sustainable harvesting of wild game can supply us with meat and reduce ‘total grazing pressure’. Reducing grazing pressure has the added benefit of making conventional meat production more efficient.

Providing the method of hunting is right for each species, hunting game can also be good from an animal welfare viewpoint. Sometimes these species suffer from starvation due to overpopulation, especially over winter or due to drought. Also, unlike farm animals, game live natural lives.

And what is more, hunting feral animals can provide food and help reduce the impact they have on the environment. In Australia, culling wild feral camels has been proposed as a method for reducing their impact on the environment and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. If we can find a way to get camels out of the outback and on to dinner plates we’ll be helping the environment, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and accessing a new, sustainable source of meat. A win-win-win!

And a bonus tip!

8. Roadkill…

Kangaroo Sign | Bloody Nick

Well. It’s not my thing, but I’ve met a ‘vegetarian’ who wouldn’t say no to fresh roadkill. Enough said.

Creative Commons Licensephoto credits: Rising Damp, SweetOnVegSt0rmz, BinaryApe, Ajleon, Stewart Black, EWG, USDAgov, Kretyen, Bloody Nick

The trouble with biodiesel

Walmart’s Grease Fuel Trucks

Biodiesel is often promoted as a clean, green, renewable substitute for regular diesel or petrol. Unfortunately, the green credentials of biodiesel aren’t much better than for ethanol.

The difference between biodiesel and ethanol
Biodiesel and ethanol are both ‘biofuels‘. However, biodiesel and ethanol are not the same thing. Ethanol is an alcohol made by fermenting sugars. Biodiesel is made from plant oils and animal fats that have been chemically treated with a small amount of methanol.

The problem with biodiesel (and ethanol) is that it is impossible to produce very large amounts of biodiesel without clearing very large amounts of land or converting land used for food production into land used for fuel production. When biodiesel is made from plants grown specifically to produce fuel (and most is), biodiesel is likely to drive up food prices and incur all the attendant problems that go along with land clearing for agriculture – habitat destruction, soil erosion, water quality decline, carbon emissions, etc. Bummer.

On the plus side, biodiesel generates lower emissions of some air pollutants, including hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and possibly nitrous oxides and particulate matter. Also, we can produce small quantities of biodiesel using waste cooking oil and waste fat from meat production (tallow). And one day soon it may also be possible to produce large quantities of biodiesel on small amounts of land using algae fed from sewage, but as with cellulosic ethanol, the technology for mass production of algae oil is still being developed.

P3212577 | joyosity

When biodiesel is made from used cooking oil or tallow, overall greenhouse gas emissions are greatly reduced compared to diesel or petrol. However, less than 1% of biodiesel is made this way. Most biodiesel is produced from soybean, sunflower and rapeseed (canola) oil. Other food plant sources include castor beans, coconuts and oil palm – the same plant often blamed for the destruction of orang-utan habitat. When biodiesel is made from crops the overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is relatively low and may actually be higher than regular diesel.

So, whether or not you should switch to biodiesel depends on the source of the oil. If the oil comes from old cooking oil or tallow you’ll be reducing your greenhouse gas emissions by up to ninety percent. Fantastic!

However, if your oil comes from sunflower or canola the greenhouse gas reductions are much less. What is worse, you might also be contributing to pushing up food prices and encouraging conversion of land from forest to cropping. That’s bad news for people, forests, orang-utans and carbon emissions. For example, CSIRO in Australia found that biodiesel produced using palm oil grown on cleared forest will produce emissions that are between 8 and 21 times greater than for regular diesel. Ouch!

Palm oil protest | Greenpeace Finland

photo credits: Walmart StoresjoyosityGreenpeace Finland

Media manipulation and the mining industry

Another long empty coal train heads back to coal mines. Maitland, NSW, Australia

In Australia, mining companies have profited handsomely from an ongoing commodities boom driven by very high demand for Australian minerals in China. Australia is currently the world’s largest exporter of iron, coal and some other minerals.

Against this backdrop, the Australian government plans to do two things that have prompted an aggressive backlash mining companies. Firstly, the government wants to introduce a new mining tax, to ensure that the Australian public secures a fair share of the very high profits that the mining companies are reaping at the moment. After all, we own the minerals and once they are dug up and shipped out they are gone forever. Secondly, the government wants to introduce a price on carbon – an idea that may gradually reduce demand for coal in Australia.

A vocal critic of the government’s plans to increase taxes on mining companies and put a price on carbon pollution is Gina Rinehart. Rinehart is the only child of mining magnate Lang Hancock. She took over her father’s company, Hancock Prospecting, following his death in 1992. On the back of the commodities boom, she has become the richest woman in Australian history.

ABC’s Hungry Beast profiled Gina Rinehart in this video:

Despite her usual reclusiveness, Rinehart has been in the news a lot lately. This month she bought a 15% stake in Fairfax Media, adding to a 10% stake in Channel Ten that she bought a little over a year ago. A total investment of about $400 million.

Amidst these developments, journalist Graham Readfearn discovered a YouTube video where Christopher Monckton is seen in a meeting pushing for an Australian Fox News. The video, which I first learned about via GetUp, is extraordinary. It reveals how wealthy mining interests seek to manipulate the public and influence government policy.

At the centre of these developments are three lead characters: Gina Rinehart, Christopher Monckton and Australian journalist Andrew Bolt. I’ve tracked back events involving Rinehart, Monckton and Bolt through the media over the last two years.

Over this time we see Rinehart developing an interest in manipulating public opinion and successfully destroying the proposed Resource Super Profits Tax and contributing to the downfall of the Prime Ministership of Kevin Rudd. Over the years, Rinehart, Monckton and Bolt seem to have joined forces and begun to formulate plans to expand their influence on public opinion through mass media.

This is how events unfolded:

27 January 2010
Monckton visits Australia, backed at least in part by Rinehart.

2 May 2010
Federal government announces proposal for a Resource Super Profits Tax (RSPT).

May 2010
An ad war begins between government and mining interests over the RSPT. Mining interests spend $22 million dollars in their campaign in 6 weeks. Fierce lobbying against the tax leads to its abandonment and will eventually contribute to the downfall of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

9 June 2010
Rinehart, who normally avoids the media, makes headlines when she addresses a rally urging the Australian government to dump plans for the RSPT – using the slogan “axe the tax”.

24 June 2010
Prime Minister Rudd is dumped by his party and replaced by Julia Gillard. The RSPT is also dumped.

2 July 2010
Prime Minister Gillard announces a proposed Minerals Resources Rent Tax (MRRT). The MRRT makes significant concessions to mining companies compared to the RSPT. Some mining companies welcome the new tax, but it is opposed by others, including Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting.

21 August 2010
A federal election is held. Gillard’s Labor party wins narrow victory thanks to support from independents.

22 November 2010
Rinehart buys a 10% ($166 million) stake in Channel 10 and joins the Board.

24 November 2010
The MRRT passes lower house of Australian parliament. The legislation is due to be debated in the Senate in 2012 and introduced from 1 July 2012.

also…
Andrew Bolt, a right-wing climate change sceptic and opponent of the federal governments mining taxes writes in his blog – “I have no idea what Rinehart hopes now to do to Ten, if anything. Nor could I guess what chances she’d have of turning it into, say, an Australian Fox News, even if she wanted to”. The comments appear to suggest knowledge of Monckton’s plans that would be revealed when he visits Australia in July 2011.

7 December 2010
Gina Rinehart buys $50 million (1.5%) stake in Fairfax Media.

8 May 2011
Andrew Bolt hosts new show “The Bolt Report” on Channel 10. Despite claims to the contrary, Rinehart is rumoured to have influenced Ten’s decision to hire Bolt.

4 July 2011
Christopher Monckton visits Australia again. At some time during his visit, Monckton attends a meeting in Perth hosted by the Mannkal Economic Education Foundation, a group chaired by Rod Nanners, a member of Gina Rinehart’s lobby group ANDEV.

This is where everything comes full circle:

At the meeting, Monckton frequently mentions Fox News and Andrew Bolt, who Monckton says was “rocketed to fame” and that “devoting some time and effort to encouraging those that we know are super rich to invest in perhaps even establishing a new satellite TV channel is not an expensive thing. “ Monckton goes on to state that he would like to work with people like Andrew Bolt ”to put together a plan for such a thing” and then seek an “angel funder”. Those in the room unanimously agree to take the idea away and work on the proposal.

2 Feb 2012
Gina Rinehart increases her stake in Fairfax Media to 15% ($192 million dollars) – making her the biggest shareholder and potentially gaining her a board position.

___________________________

The mainstream media continues to debate Rinehart’s motives for investing in the media – but could the reason be any clearer? Rinehart is Monckton’s super rich angel investor. Bolt is Rinehart’s media voice. And Monckton is the gun for hire of anyone with a vested interest in climate change denial.

Creative Commons Licensephoto credits: Nomad Tales, Matt McDermott

The trouble with ethanol

Ethanol

What is ethanol?

Ethanol is an alcohol fuel usually made by fermenting sugar or starch in wheat, corn, sugar beet, sugar cane and other crops. Yeasts feed on the sugars, creating ethanol and carbon dioxide. The ethanol is then concentrated by distillation. Ethanol is seen by many as a replacement for oil and other fossil fuels because it is a renewable energy supply that can reduce reliance on oil imports.

The (purported) benefits of ethanol

  1. Lower transport-related carbon emissions: When crops are harvested and ethanol is burned in an engine, CO2 is released into the atmosphere – just as it is when oil and other fossil fuels are burned. The difference with ethanol is that as new crops grow, they absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and the overall concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere stays the same. When fossil fuels are burned, the CO2 stays in the atmosphere and the concentration of CO2 continually increases, contributing to global warming.
  2. Energy security: Because crops for ethanol can be grown over and over, ethanol has the potential to reduce dependence on oil imports and replace dwindling oil reserves.

Unfortunately, there are some serious drawbacks with ethanol. Some of these are listed below.

10 reasons why ethanol fuel is bad for you and the environment

  1. Lower fuel efficiency: Ethanol has less energy than gasoline. At higher blend levels (including E85) fuel efficiency will be noticeably lower than for gasoline.
  2. Agricultural subsidies: Although the price at the pump may seem favourable compared to gasoline, this is partly due to incentives and subsidies paid by governments to farmers, especially in the US and Europe. Not only does this mean that ethanol is effectively subsidised by taxation, the subsidies distort markets and hurt farmers in the third world who can’t compete on the world market.
  3. Deforestation and habitat destruction: Increasing demand for ethanol crops increases demand for agricultural land. Clearing forests to make more cropland destroys habitat and releases large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.
  4. Higher food prices: The land needed to make enough fuel for one car could be used to feed seven people. Ethanol producers buy grain in the same global markets that supply grain for food. Increasing the demand for agricultural land and grain increases the price of food worldwide, and this has a disproportional impact on the poorest people in society.
  5. Increased use of pesticides: As with most modern farming systems, farmers that grow crops for ethanol rely on pesticides that can contaminate soil, water and air.
  6. Increased use of artificial fertilisers: To increase yields, farmers use artificial fertilisers made from non-renewable petroleum, natural gas and phosphate minerals.
  7. Soil erosion and declining water quality: Land clearing and cultivation exposes soil to wind and water erosion. Soil, fertilisers and pesticides are washed into waterways where they can affect ecosystems and contaminate water used for drinking, crops and stock.
  8. Greenhouse gas emissions: As well as emissions from land clearing and the manufacture of fertilisers and pesticides, there are also emissions from farm machinery. The distilling process also uses a lot of energy. At present much of the energy to distil ethanol comes from coal-fired power stations. The overall reduction in greenhouse gases from using ethanol is relatively small and might sometimes be negative.
  9. Ethanol can only be a small part of the solution: It takes about ten acres of corn to supply enough fuel for one car. It would take the whole land area of the United States to make enough ethanol to fuel all cars in America today.
  10. Increased water use: Irrigation to grow crops comes from groundwater or streams and this adds to the overall environmental and social impact of ethanol by reducing water available to ecosystems, food farmers and town drinking water supplies.

So the catch is that ethanol isn’t very good at lowering carbon emissions or improving energy security – but it does cause a lot of problems. In some ways, mining of oil has been replaced with mining of soil and water. And the risk of oil spills has been replaced by the risk of denuded soils, declining water quality and soil fertility. It’s no surprise that ethanol from grains has been called “subsidized food burning”.

Fortunately, it might not be all bad news for ethanol. In this post, we only looked at ethanol from grain and sugar. It might soon be possible to efficiently manufacture ‘cellulosic’ ethanol made from crop residues, wood chips and fast-growing energy crops (like switch grass). If it becomes viable, cellulosic ethanol looks like it might be much more sustainable than ethanol from grain and sugar crops.

Another ‘renewable’ liquid fuel source gaining popularity is biodiesel . Biodiesel is a replacement for normal diesel fuel that is made from vegetable oils or animal fats, including used fats from cooking.

We’ll take a look at both cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel in future posts…

UPDATE: New post – The trouble with biodiesel

Creative Commons Licensephoto credit: swanksalot