The European Commission voted last week to ban three common pesticides that are thought to contribute to the decline in the bee population — imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam. Taken together, they are the most used pesticides in the world. Six years ago, the European Food Safety Authority concluded that the chemicals were harmful to bees. The ban takes effect in 6 months — which will be after the current growing season in Europe.
All 28 members of the EU endorsed the ban. “This is a major victory for science, common sense and our under-threat bees. The evidence that neonicotinoid pesticides pose a threat to our bees is overwhelming,” says Emi Murphy from Friends of the Earth. In February, EFSA, the EU’s principal scientific risk assessment agency, reported a high risk to both honeybees and wild bees resulted from using those chemicals outdoors because they infiltrate wildflowers and succeeding crops as well as the original crop. Their use will still be permitted in greenhouses.
Plastic Recycling Action
China has recently closed it ports to plastic waste from abroad. That has had a knock-on effect on all the nations that used to bundle up their used plastic and send it China. Out of sight, out of mind was the operative thinking. That has all changed.
Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s first vice president for sustainable development says: “If we don’t change the way we produce and use plastics, there will be more plastics than fish in our oceans by 2050. We must stop plastics getting into our water, our food, and even our bodies. The only long term solution is to reduce plastic waste by recycling and reusing more. This is a challenge that citizens, industry and governments must tackle together.”
Three quarters of Europeans say they are concerned about the effect of plastic waste on their health. Almost 90% are concerned about the effect plastics have on the environment. The problem with plastic waste is that it has little commercial value. The European Commission’s Plastic Strategy hopes to tackle that issue with new regulations that require more plastics to be recyclable and more plastic products to contain recycled plastic. The EU is investing millions of Euros into research that will lead to better, more cost effective recycling programs. The goal is for half of all plastics used in the EU to be recyclable by 2030.
The Plastics Tax
Recently, the EU Commission has been considering ways of funding further advances in plastic recycling, leading to consideration about how to fund such efforts. The commission is proposing a tax of 80 cents per kilogram on non-recyclable plastic waste but is meeting resistance. Other ideas include a general carbon tax, raising gasoline or electricity taxes, or taxing financial transactions or banking tax and central bank profits. As expected, such measures are viewed favorably by those who don’t have to pay such new taxes and opposed by those who do.
A proposal to add a surcharge on corporate taxes has generated a significant amount of push back. “Member States are responsible for collecting taxes in the EU, and if we do not want to end up with a European superstate, we have to go here draw a clear red line,” says Markus Ferber, a member of the European parliament.
Entrepreneurs To The Rescue?
Regular reader Lief Hansen forwarded a news item from TU News in Norway about 5 students from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who were given 48 hours to come up with new ways to remove plastics from the environment, especially the oceans. The students were given three general categories for their solutions:
- Logistics and systems for collecting and shipping plastic for sustainable and profitable recycling.
- Prevent plastic from reaching the ocean – clean the stream in the largest rivers.
- Autonomous plastic removal and screening of micro-plastic with autonomous underwater vehicles.
One ingenious suggestion involved a filtering system for rivers. Studies show the majority of ocean plastic enters the sea from one of ten rivers in the world, among them the Amazon, Yangtze, and Ganges. The students propose a series of locks at the interface between the rivers and the sea that would trap the plastic. Then it would be sorted by spectrometers and other sensors. Sophisticated algorithms would make sure the plastic was removed without harm to aquatic creatures.
They note that the world has millions of cargo containers sitting around unused. They suggest those empty containers could be stuffed full of the plastics collected, then shipped to recycling locations. Europe has voted to ban three of the most common pesticides which are believed to affect bees. It is also searching for ways to increase the use of recyclable plastics to 50% by 2030.
AS Kongsberg was one of the sponsors of the contest, some of the students proposed re-purposing one of its Hugin UAVs to move through the water, filtering out plastics as it goes. It is estimated 95% of all ocean plastic is below the surface.
Actually, the students took the UAV idea a step further. As if to prove that scientists aren’t devoid of a sense of humor, they suggested Elon Musk would move to Norway in disgust after Donald Trump is re-elected in 2020. Once relocated, he would design a system using Kongsberg UAVs that would serve as floating charging stations connected to hubs where the AUVs are emptied of plastics. Their batteries could be recharged from the floating hubs during the unloading process, leaving them ready to dive down and collect more plastics.
Don’t laugh. It’s a better idea than anything Trump or any member of his cabinet has come up with in the past 15 months.