Saturday, May 30, 2009

Planet Keepers - Six campaigners winthe environmental world's 'Nobels'.

Planet Keepers

Six campaigners winthe environmental world's 'Nobels'.

FROM the rainforests of Africa to the mountain-top coal mines of West Virginia, six campaigners who have fought governments and industry to protect the planet won prestigious Goldman Environmental Prizes recently.

The awards, often referred to as the Nobel Prizes of the environmental world, went to activists in six continents who took on everything from toxic chemical dumps in the former Soviet Union to ship-breaking in Asia.

Thisyear's African winner is Marc Ona Essangui, who campaigned against plans by a Chinese state-owned company to open an iron ore mine in the rainforests of Gabon, west Africa.

Ona, who uses a wheelchair due to child- hood polio, has been repeatedly threatened, and arrested and evicted from his home.

"Threats shouldn't prevent you from carrying on your fight. It could destroy the most beautiful forests in central Africa."

His campaign helped lead to a review of the project, which is currently on hold, the prize's organisers said.

The North America winner was Maria Gunnoe, a former waitress who campaigns against the environmental impact of mountain-top coal-mining in the Appalachian hills of West Virginia.

The method involves blasting the tops of mountains, removing the coal and pushing the rubble into valleys. Critics say it pollutes land, destroys streams and causes flooding.

In an area where coal is the backbone of the economy, Gunnoe has divided the community and received death threats.

"There's a lot of people here who support what I do. But there's others who drive in here every, day for their jobs, and given a choice, they would run over me in a heartbeat," she said in a message on her website.

In Europe, the prize went to Olga Speranskaya, a Russian scientist whose Moscow-based campaign group Eco-Accord aims to rid former Soviet republics of old toxic chemicals once used in agriculture or industry.

"They are among the most toxic and dangerous substances and cause birth defects... and even cancer," she told Reuters.

The other winners, who received their US$150,000 (RM540,000) prizes at a ceremony in San Francisco were:

> From Asia: Rizwana Hasan, from Bangladesh, who has raised public awareness of the dangers of ship-breaking.

> From South and central America: Hugo Jabini and Wanze Eduards, from Suriname, who organised local people to campaign against logging on their land.

> From islands: Yuyun Ismawati, who campaigned for better waste management in Indonesia.

Previous winners of the award, established in 1990 by two US philanthropists, include the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, hanged in 1995 after leading protests against oil companies in Nigeria.- Reuters

Recycling is taking an object, like a plastic bottle, and after you drink it, turning it into a candleholder

Waste not
A husband and wife architect team is on a quest to promote a green lifestyle for themselves and their community.

MOST things in the lives of Alejandro D'Acosta and Claudia Turrent are recycled: the trailer in which the architects live, their three-year-old Christmas tree.

"The only thing not redclada is my wife," D'Acosta says with a grin, his wedding-ring finger tattooed with her name.

"Ay, gordo! What am I going to do with you?" Turrent admonishes him, laughing, her right wrist imprinted with his name like a bracelet. The couple show their good humour, but make no mistake: they are on a serious quest to promote a sustainable way of life for themselves and their community in the nascent revoludon verde just south of the Tijuana border in Mexico.

The Ensenada coast and nearby Valle de Guadalupe wine-making region inland are testing grounds for the couple's experiments in recycling and "upcycling", the process of designing a product with its end-life in mind.

"Recycling is taking an object, like a plastic bottle, and after you drink it, turning it into a candleholder," Turrent says. "We want companies designing the plastic bottle to design it in the shape of something functional, like a roof tile." Instead of ending up in a landfill, she says, the plastic could be incorporated into an inter- locking System of bottles that provide cover. "This would help many poor people have a shelter over their heads,and at the same time, the Earth will be cleaner."

At the rear of the couple's home facing the northern Baja coastline, where waves break dramatically along the shore, a brown Christmas tree stands in the small garden. "The tree was a big discussion at Christmas," D'Acosta says. "My children told me, 'It smells like fish, and we want a new one that smells more like Christmas.' I told them, 'This tree will be for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.'"

Originally from Mexico City, the couple spent eight years living in Oaxaca, teaching and aiding poor communities in the area by building health facilities and cultural centres. Along the way, they learned to create a modern architecture based on ancient traditions.

A local bar, La Mezcaleria, features walls and a ceiling woven of carrizo or cane grass, which the indigenous people also use for roofs, window coverings and baskets.

"Es una canasta ... it's a basket," D'Acosta says of the structure. When the sun's rays stream into the interior, Goethe's description of architecture as frozen music comes to mind. "We have much to learn from indigenous people and the way they live with the land," D'Acosta says. "Some people call them backward, but they don't need cars because they grow their food in the garden next to their house. They use the natural materials that surround them to make their homes."

The couple have taken the lessons they learned in Oaxaca and created a vernacular architecture of their own based on materials that surround them in northern Baja. And the material found in most abundance here, they say, is basura - trash.

Showcase home
D'Acosta and Turrent's home is a laboratory. They joined a 1940s American mobile home with a former Mexican office trailer to create a comfortable, inexpensive dwelling that seems to float on the land, parallel to the sea. The 20m-long red mobile home, re-clad in waterproof
corrugated cardboard, houses the kitchen, living room, two girls' bedrooms and a bath. The shorter trailer, set at a right angle, serves as the master bedroom suite overlooking the ocean.

The house wears an interior skin of unpainted dry wall and is filled with recycled furnishings. A whale vertebrae is now a sculptural centrepiece atop the patio dining table. A vintage blouse is a cover for the plasma TV. A 70s desk serves as the kitchen table.

Outside, a long deck made of redwood beams from an old, deconstructed bridge stretches to the shore. An open-air aluminum-and-wood pavilion, reclaimed from an old factory, is covered with carrizo, echoing the trailer's topping of palm fronds. The materials, salvaged from their neighbour's trash heap, help to cool the spaces.

"Our neighbour used to throw things out. Now he asks us before disposing of anything," says D'Acosta, who can be found most Sundays combing the coastline for trash, often returning with a necklace of plastic bottles draped around his neck. "Gifts from our northern neighbours," he quips, referring to refuse that has washed clown from California. "They make great insulation."

He's planning to use the colourful bottles in a new wine-tasting centre at La Escuelita, a wine school started six years ago by his brother, Hugo D'Acosta, in the Valle de Guadalupe. Set in a former olive oil factory that still produces olive oil as well as wine, the school is where D'Acosta keeps stashes of trash in segregated piles.

"Another laboratorio," he says, pointing to mounds of cans, tyres, rusted pipes, barbed wire
and old wood, as well as a lone toilet where he takes up a seat to gaze at his tesoro. Treasure? Most people would look at all this and see junk. D'Acosta, like Don Quixote on his quest, conjures other visions. Buildings on the property have been fashioned from the trash: a classroom made of discarded pieces of wood from construction sites; a wine storage facility composed of used bottles; and an open-air building framed in rusted box springs. Then there's the front of the school, clad in discarded filters used in the pressing of olive oil.

His latest structure is a work in progress:a wine-tasting centre made of old barrel staves. Colourful plastic bottles will be placed between walls as insulation and to "colour the light," he says. Old wine barrels, fittingly, will make up the wine bar. "The idea of buildings is not just for function but to create sensations," D'Acosta says. "Each material~ has its own soul, and when you reuse that material it has a new soul on top of its old soul." Nature's way

Turrent has her own project, Viento, a highrise condominium in El Sauzal, a seaside community just north of Ensenada, complete with an in-
house wine-making facility that will be cooled by sea breezes and heated by the sun. She's experimenting with hand-carved furnishings - built-in benches, wooden sink stands - made from the same redwood beams that form her home's deck.

While the project is on hold, Turrent has turned her attention to retrofitting a half-dozen trailers on the property as part of a new delimarket by the sea. Come summer, when wine aficionados hit Ensenada's Fiesta de la Vendemia (Harvest Festival) and other cultural events, the new market will be in place offering organic and regional products. "The idea," she says, "is to
bring small producers together and promote the idea of buying local."

Inland, in the Valle de Guadalupe, lies D'Acosta's latest boutique-winery, Paralelo. With its corrugated metal roof painted the colour of nearby olive trees, the rammed-earth structure all but disappears into the landscape. During harvest, trucks drive up the building's eastern ramp to the roof,.releasing grapes into the vats below.

"Everything is run by gravity," D'Acosta says. No pumps are needed. Metre-wide walls, punc- tuated with barrel-shaped windows on each side of the building, regulate air flow to control temperature. "We try to work with the land- scape, not against it," says the architect, also a professor at the Autonomous University of Baja California, where his classes emphasise ecology and sustainability.

Baja conservation attorney Jose Luis Perez Rocha recently worked with D'Acosta on trans- forming an abandoned 120-year-old school into a family home in La Paz, Mexico. "Alejandro sees things differently from the rest of us," Rocha says. "He turns waste and trash into something not only useful but beautiful."

Already copies of D'Acosta's work- fences of discarded lumber or recycled grapevines - are popping up in the Valle de Guadalupe and Ensenada. But D'Acosta says that's a good thing. "People are starting to look at trash as something that has value."- LAT-WP

Monday, May 25, 2009

Some housewives have resorted to smuggling banned dishwashing soaps as the 'green' ones

Detergent outlaw
Some housewives have resorted to smuggling banned dishwashing soaps as the 'green' ones, well, don't clean as well.


By day, Patti Marcotte is a working mum-dealing with the balancing act created by a five-year-old daughter, a demanding job, a split-level house and a willful boxer puppy. Come the post-dinner hour, however, Marcotte begins operating in the shadowy world of smuggled soap.

Spokane County, Washington, last July adopted a near-total ban on sales of water-softening phosphates in dishwasher detergent- the first in the United States - in an attempt to slow the flood of pollutants that is sucking oxygen out of the endangered Spokane River,smothering its fish.

The problem, Marcotte and many of her neighbours say, is that most low-phosphate detergents are wimps when it comes to fighting greasy pots and spaghetti-crusted plates. So she has become a detergent outlaw, driving 45 minutes across the Idaho state line to pick up secret stashes of the old, bad dish cleansers.

"With the 'green' stuff, the dishes come out with a real slippery texture ... like somebody poured a cup of grease in some dishwater ...
and a white film. Just really gross," Marcotte said. "And then the food gunk just mixes around the dishwasher and when it stops, it just settles on whatever's there. I mean, it's bad."

Retailers in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, say the sight of apologetic but defiant Washingtonians loading their carts with dishwasher detergent is becoming increasingly common. For those inclined to chuckle at the travails of distant, desperate people with dirty dishes, consider this: the detergent industry has pledged to make every automatic dishwashing soap sold in the United States and Canada nearly phosphate-flee by mid-2010.

With 12 states- including Washington-phasing in low-phosphate laws by the end of next year and four others considering them, industry officials say they are gearing up to produce a new generation of products that will clean dishes while also protecting lakes and streams.

The pledge marks a significant turnaround for an industry that until recently not only opposed such laws, but also warned that many "phosphate-free" dishwashing detergents didn't work the way consumers expected them to.

But plenty soon will be available, said Dennis Griesing, vice-resident of government affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based Soap and Detergent Association. "We sort of warned Spokane that things wouldn't be ready by 2008. We had told people it's not enough time to get our best products out there. We have to do the R&D, restructure our chemical supply lines, maybe build some new plants."

Two major manufacturers have introduced nearly phosphate-free gels that work well in most water conditions, he said, and more are on the way.

The transition echoes the elimination of most phosphates from laundry detergent several years ago, but represents an entirely different technological hurdle. Previous attempts to phase out dishwasher phosphates in Europe and a brief trial in Arizona met with implacable consumer resistance.

But Spokane County authorities say that since the law went into effect, they have reduced phosphate pollution from the county's main wastewater treatment plant by 14%. Scientists say phosphorus - a nutrient that is an essential component of living cells, as abundant in human waste and yard fertiliser as it is in detergent - is one of the biggest threats to lakes and rivers whose waters take in a constant stream of phosphate-laden wastewater discharges, agricultural runoff and storm-water flows.

Acting as a fertiliser in the water, phosphates promote the uncontrolled growth of often-toxic algae blooms that, when they die, nurture bacteria. That bacteria rapidly consume much of the oxygen in the water, leaving little for plants and fish.

The Spokane River is considered one of the United States' most endangered, threatened by mining pollution, sewage treatment planl outfalls and heavy draw downs of river wate that tend to concentrate pollutants.

In an attempt to turn things around, the state Department of Ecology imposed what appear to be the lowest phosphate limits in the nation on Spokane's main water-reclamation plant. And the county instituted its dish washer detergent rules two years before the statewide low-phosphate law takes effect.

The plant is spending US$7mil (RM25.2mil) to experiment with new technologies for cleaning up remaining ohosphates in the wastewater. SpoKane County will spend up to US$250mil (RM900mii) more to build a new treatment plant after that. The state is also looking to crack down on agricultural and industrial polluters, along with leaky septic systems.

The law allows dishwasher detergents to have no more than 0.5% phosphate content. The most popular brands contain about 8% phosphates in order to remove fats and hold food particles in suspension. Most hand dish soap, which relies on scrubbing to clean plates and pots, does not contain phosphates.

Marcotte says she's environmentally conscious, but the phosphate-free dishwasher detergents she has tried left the dishes so dirty she had to wash them twice, in much hotter water, or at least rinse them after washing them - a waste of water and electricity, since she normally uses tepid water on the short cycle.

"I try to recycle and do my part," she said. "The whole thing is if they're going to take away something that works, they need to replace it with something that works." - LAT-WP

Waste energy - A chicken waste-to-energy project is gaining attention.

Waste energy
A chicken waste-to-energy project is gaining attention.

DO NOT try to tell Oren Heatwole that chicken poop smells. "Total myth," he said before a colleague, eager to prove the point, scooped up a mulchy handful and inhaled deeply.

Heatwole, a former chicken farmer, might be biased. But he isn't the only fan of the stuff. Scientists at Virginia Tech are experimenting with technology that would convert what you might call an abundant resource here in the Shenandoah Valley into energy.

Virginia Tech has built a prototype chicken-waste-to-energy machine. Using a process called pyrolysis, the device super-heats the droppings to transform them into three products: an oil that can be used for heating, a slowrelease fertiliser and a gas that the researchers hope will one day be recycled to power the machine.

If successful, the project also will help reduce a source of pollution in Chesapeake Bay. Although the raw waste has long been recognised as a top-flotch fertiliser, if applied too heavily, it can flush into waterways and eventually the bay. That has led to severe restrictions on its use.

It will be at least two years before the technology is perfected and the unit - now built for about US$1 rail (RM3.6mil) - is affordable for the average poultry farmer, said Foster Agblevor, the Virginia Tech professor in charge of the project.

Environmental groups have been largely critical of efforts to generate energy from waste products such as garbage or droppings. Often such plants produce harmful emissions. In addition, critics note that raw poultry waste already brings in top dollar as a fertiliser - more, some-times, than the energy it can produce.

"It does not make sense to try to solve a waste problem as an energy solution," said Mike Tidwell, director of the non-profit Chesapeake Climate Action Network in Maryland. "It is an unproven technology that is going to serve only to delay and confuse the real solutions in Virginia, which are energy efficiency and true renewable energy like wind and solar."- LAT-WP

Converting Chicken Waste to Power

Scientists at Virgina Tech are developing technology to convert chicken waste to energy. In this process, chicken litter - a mixture of manure, feathers, bedding and fee - is super-heated by a portable machine. The heat breaks down the mixture and yields oil for heating, fertiliser and non-combustible gas.

Related Topic: Uses of Garbage Enzyme