Coming full circle: how to make stuff without trashing the planet

Coming full circle: how to make stuff without trashing the planet

Colm Duffy highlights how the circular economy could be part of the solution to addressing challenges posed by climate change.

In the wake of the COP 21 climate change agreement in Paris, which seeks to limit global temperature increase by no more than 2 degrees, we need to find practical solutions that will enable our economy to become carbon neutral. There is no one solution to the challenges posed by climate change. The challenges are on a massive scale, and require a concerted global effort to implement a variety of solutions.

One part of the solution is the concept of the circular economy. The circular economy is a way of reorganising our current industrial systems to become restorative and regenerative in nature. The core principle is that waste is designed out of the system.

“The core principle is that waste is designed out of the system”

Our current economic system is linear, a ‘take-make-dispose’ economy. Materials are extracted, used in the manufacturing of products, those products are sold to consumers, who then discard the product when
it no longer serves its purpose, or indeed
an
upgraded version becomes available.

In Europe over 2, 514 million tonnes of waste was generated in 2012, of this only 36.4% reused, recycled or composted. The reality is that with a growing population, finite resources and climate change challenges more must be done to reduce the amount of waste we produce.

Achieving zero waste

In a circular economy, consumables are divided into two categories: biological nutrients and technical nutrients.

Biological nutrients, such as plants or other organic products, are those that can be safely returned to the biosphere directly or reused in other products. Examples of this can be seen through Greencup Coffee in the UK who turn their used coffee into fertiliser and Regrained, a San Francisco based company that takes spent grain from the beer brewing process and converts this into granola bars. Desso, one of the pioneers of the circular economy, manufactures completely biodegradable carpet tiles.

Technical nutrients are non biodegradable materials (metals and plastics) from more durable goods like washing machines or mobile phones. Successes here include Renault who managed to turn its remanufacturing business into a €200 million operation and Google’s Project Ara, a mobile phone made up of modules that customers can swap when new or improved components are available.

From consumers to users

A circular economy means durable products are designed for reuse from the outset. One way of ensuring this is to make the company the owner, while the consumer becomes a user and leases the product from the company. Responsibility for repair, replacement and disposal would all remain with the company, making them more likely to design a product that is built to last rather than built to fail. An example here is Michelin who provide customers with durable tires for hire rather than purchase

The circular economy provides macro benefits to national economies in terms of material savings, reduced resource dependency, potential job creation, and the long-term resilience of the economy. The energy required for the circular economy should come from renewable sources, increasing system resilience, while decreasing finite resource dependence and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.

The reality is that much more needs to be done in order to make our economic systems restorative and regenerative rather than destructive in nature. The circular economy is practical, achievable, and economically and environmentally sustainable.

So what are we waiting for?

Author: Colm Duffy

Colm Duffy has a BSc in International Development and Food Policy, a MSc in Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, and is currently researching a PhD in Gender Responsive Climate Smart Agriculture. Colm is also the Founder of the Climate Change, Agriculture & Food Security (CCAFS) Society in NUIG, and is the Director of the NUIG Divestment Campaign. Find out more about CCAFS on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo credit: Regrained, ReGrained repurposes “spent” beer grain, upcycled from the brewing process, to create healthy, delicious, and sustainable products baked with all natural, locally sourced ingredients, www.regrained.com

Liberia: the energy to end extreme poverty

Liberia: the energy to end extreme poverty

Growing access to electricity in Liberia can be the key to development, writes ROISIN CARLOS
(Photograph by Dominic Chavez / World Bank)

Limited access and an unreliable electricity supply is not just about rolling black outs. Access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy is vital to ending extreme poverty, and yet around 1.1 billion people still live without out it in the world today.

Progress in Africa remains especially slow. Demonstrating this, the Afrobarometer survey presents a stark picture of household connection to electricity in Africa. Only 25% of the continent is always connected, 30% suffers poor access, and 45% have no access to electricity at all. Break down this figure further and we see that 589 million people do not have access to electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 30 African countries suffer endemic shortages.

Energy poverty acts as a major obstacle to development in the continent, with real consequences upon a plethora of human development indicators including economic growth, health and the environment. No other African country best presents the realities of these consequences than Liberia. With only four million people with electricity access and less than 1% of the population connected to grid power, Liberia holds the title for the lowest access to electricity in the world. This devastating access rate can be explained by numerous factors, including the widespread destruction of existing infrastructure during the 16-year civil war. In fact, it is only since the end of the civil war in 2003 that the Government finally began rehabilitating the badly damaged electricity connections. As a result, in 2006 electricity was restored to parts of Monrovia for the first time in fifteen years. Consequently, Liberia is reeling from the implications of limited electricity access, particularly in the economic, health and environmental sectors, leading the government to declare an ‘electricity national emergency’ in 2012.

Energy consumption, economic growth and employment generation are all positively correlated. In a country where 76% of the population has an income of less than 1 USD a day, solutions need to be found to drive economic growth and employment generation. Electricity access, by acting as a tool to unlock greater productivity in the workforce, can be instrumental in this regard. However, the key to unlocking this potential is to first invest in energy infrastructure for increased access to energy in order for the economy to grow.

The energy challenge has been equally critical in the delivery of healthcare in Liberia. In a country characterized by extremely dispersed and rural populations, limited electricity has been detrimental to the development of health care centers in rural areas. Healthcare is systematically undermined when it is dependent upon electricity access for motorizing technologies, keeping medicines cool or using sterilization machines. We need not look any further than Liberia’s devastating experience of the 2015 Ebola outbreak, in which everyone one of Liberia’s fifteen counties reported cases, to understand the importance of the delivery of advanced health care.

Consideration of the sustainable development of the country would be incomplete without mention of the environmental impact posed by energy access. As a result of limited electricity, the vast majority of the population rely on informal systems such as household-scale diesel gensets and biomass for basic energy services. However, substitute fossil based fuels present serious negative impacts including deforestations, increased green-house-gas emissions, and loss of biodiversity, in addition to health concerns created due to poor air-quality.

In the words of US President Barack Obama when launching the US funded Power Africa in 2013, “You’ve got to have power”. The solution seems clear: unleashing the energy potential of Liberia. Indeed, Liberia has the power potential in the form of renewable energy. This solution has been duly recognized, as today there are numerous examples of high-profile initiatives being rolled out to tackle the heart of this problem, including USAID’s Power Africa Initiative, the African Development Bank’s Energy for Africa, or the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All), among others, along with national strategies to meet the seventh Sustainable Development Goal.

Promoting access to electricity through renewable energy can and will be a key to development in Liberia, and in extension in the continent of Africa. Renewable energy not only responds to the population’s needs, fueling economic growth and access to health care, but it also has the added incentive of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, positively impacting the sustainable development of the country.

Regulating prostitution: is criminalising the buyer the answer?

Regulating prostitution: is criminalising the buyer the answer?

Ariane Allex explores the Swedish model for regulating prostitution and considers arguments both for and against it.

In the 21st century, an increase in migration and the changes in labour markets have created the conditions for an increase of individuals turning to sex work. As a consequence, many countries have begun to change or at least consider changing their regulations regarding sex work.

There are three main models of prostitution legislation: abolitionist, where the aim is to eliminate prostitution from society completely, regulatory, where selling and buying sex itself might not be illegal, but the activities around it are regulated, and legalisation, where prostitution is decriminalised. In 1999, Sweden adopted an abolitionist model but with a unique approach: it is illegal to buy sexual services, but not to sell them. Since then, many countries have adopted similar models, including Norway, Iceland, France and soon Ireland.

Currently in Ireland, prostitution is legal and follows a regulatory model. However, most activities surrounding it, such as curb-crawling, soliciting in public, loitering in public places, brothel keeping and living off immoral earnings, are not.

Turn off the red light

Since the 2011 elections, many discussions and debates emerged on the potential of a law reform. More than 70 organisations have come together and started a campaign called “Turn Off the Red Light”. The campaign declares that: “Trafficking women and girls for the purposes of sexual exploitation is a modern, global form of slavery. We believe that the best way to combat this is to tackle the demand for prostitution by criminalising the purchase of sex.”

Turn off the Red Light has been advocating for an abolitionist model where the government would aim to eradicate prostitution by making the purchase of sex illegal. In September 2015 the new “Sexual Offences” bill outlined provisions which criminalise the payment for sexual activity, while the person offering sexual acts would not be guilty of a criminal offence.

The Swedish model was first implemented in 1999. It made purchasing sexual services a criminal offence, which is punished with a fine and/or up to one year of imprisonment. Although to this date, no imprisonment has been made. Special groups in the Swedish social services were set up, called KAST, to motivate potential and active sex buyers to change their behaviour and never to purchase sex. It also set up programmes and services to provide free healthcare and counselling to prostitutes, financed by the fines collected from the committed sex buyers.

Turn off the blue light

While the Swedish model continues to get more praise, there are still important criticisms and opposition by various groups in Ireland, in particular Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI). A counter-campaign to “Turn off the Red Light” was set up called “Turn off the Blue Light” but received less traction. In 2015, Amnesty International decided to advocate for the decriminalisation of prostitution, despite much criticism.

Is the Swedish Model a step towards the right direction, or a step backwards?

It can often be difficult to answer this question when articles and research reports on the subject tend to contradict each other. The debates around the Swedish model are often based on various reports supported by different organisations with different agendas.Researching sex work can also be very difficult due to its sensitive nature.

Impact for sex workers

Many countries are considering the Swedish model for the potential effect it has on human trafficking. Criminalising the buyer and enforcing tough laws on traffickers have led to the decrease of human trafficking in Sweden. This claim has been supported by the majority of reports. However, other reports argue that the model has just pushed its human trafficking market onto its neighbours: Norway and Denmark.

In Sweden, prostitution in the streets, argued by many as the most dangerous environment for sex workers, has significantly reduced. The Swedish Institute reported that danger of violence has decreased overall as the sex workers, who are not criminalised, are now free to contact the police and seek help. Critics of the model however, argue that while visible prostitution may have decreased, underground markets and internet prostitution has increased in Sweden. They further argue that by criminalising prostitution, sex workers are pressured to stay hidden, which puts them in further danger of violence.

A similar point can be said of the healthcare of sex workers. While the overall well-being of sex workers is reported to have increased since the 1999 Act, it is difficult to tell if the healthcare of sex workers in hidden markets has improved or worsened.

Pye Jakobsson, a Swedish sex worker, has spoken many times of her and other sex workers’ experience of the Swedish model. She is convinced that the law is ineffective as it drives prostitution in Sweden more underground and because it strips women of their agency and their rights to do with their body as they wish to. She currently campaigns for decriminalisation in Sweden.

Excluded voices

The most important criticism of the model is that often, the government putting in place the legislation did not consult the main persons affected by it: the sex workers themselves. The UNAIDS 2010 report states that the policies and programmes which aim to reduce the demand for sex work, and which ignore the voices of sex workers, often result in unintended harms including an increased risk of vulnerability of HIV for sex workers and their clients.

In “The laws that sex workers really want” Ted Talk, sex worker Toni Mac outlines this issue. Before implementing a legislative model for prostitution, governments rarely consult the individuals most directly affected by it, which can often lead to unwanted, sometimes disastrous, consequences for them.

SWAI campaigns for their voice to be heard: “SWAI believes sex workers themselves should be at the centre of the development of policy which directly impacts upon their lives.” Campaigns including Turn off the Red Light often portray a very negative dimension of sex work, while others can have a very different message. SWAI declares: “SWAI supports a human rights and harm reduction approach to policy and laws around sex work. We believe sex work should be decriminalised and that sex workers be allowed to work in safety without fear, judgment or stigma.”

In Ireland, the change of legislation is now well on its way, and soon sex buyers will be criminalised. It is crucial that the effects of its implementation are reviewed and carefully researched in a non-biased way in order to identify whether the model is an improvement for society, but most importantly whether it improves the lives of sex workers.

Author: Ariane Allex

Photo credit: Red light district, Stoha, Creative Commons License.

Ariane Allex currently works as a Governance specialist in the Institute of Public Administration. She previously volunteered with Tallaght Drugs Task Force and St Vincent De Paul. Ariane recently graduated with a Master in Public Policy from UCD specialised in Drugs, Health and Community policy. Causes she cares about also include economic empowerment and the Environment.

Waste-free challenge: 1 week without producing waste

Waste-free challenge: 1 week without producing waste

Find out how Suzanne Cooper got on with her waste-free challenge.

Could you live the rest of your life without producing any rubbish? Could you get rid of your waste bin and only have a recycling and compost bin? Do you think that living this way is impossible or would you be up for the challenge?

A waste-free lifestyle

The idea for the challenge came from Lauren Singer, a New York based blogger, who in the last two years has only produced enough rubbish to fill one jar. Lauren decided to live a waste-free lifestyle, as she was majoring in Environmental Studies and felt like a hypocrite producing so much plastic waste. Lauren now produces no rubbish and doesn’t throw anything out, everything is reusable, compostable and recyclable, and the odd few things she can’t recycle, she places in a jar in her home.

Waste-free challenge

After watching Lauren’s videos and reading her blog, I decided to see how difficult it is to live a waste-free lifestyle and so I undertook a waste free challenge. I wanted to see if I could go an entire week producing almost no rubbish. Any rubbish that I did produce that couldn’t be recycled or composted went into a small lunch box. If by the end of the week the box was not full, I passed. If I could not fit all the rubbish I produced into the box, I failed.

Suzanne's lunchbox for waste

Suzanne’s challenge: to fit all her waste into this lunchbox!

Reducing my waste

I began by observing my own behaviour for a few days and seeing what I was actually throwing into my bins on a daily basis, because how can you reduce your waste when you don’t know what you’re reducing?! I realised that I produce very little waste when I’m out during the day, as I already own and use a reusable water bottle, coffee cup and lunch boxes.

But there were still things that I had to look out for; plastic spoons in cups of tea, straws in drinks, disposable napkins and the packets tea bags sometimes come in (these are not recyclable). Home is where I produced most of my waste like food packaging, and things such as make up wipes and plastic toiletry bottles.

The challenge was actually not as impossible as I thought it was going to be. There are so many easy ways to reduce or not produce waste, and it only takes a tiny change in habit to make them happen. When I was out, I just asked people not to put straws or plastic spoons in my drink. I deliberately ordered things that had no packaging or waste, and any waste I did produce, like fruit skins, tea bags or a paper wrapper on a sandwich, I put them in my bag to bring home to recycle or compost.

At home I made smart decisions about what I ate to produce little waste, and constantly checked the back of packaging to make sure that I could recycle it before I used it. The first three days of the challenge is definitely when I produced most of my waste, because I used things that I assumed would be recyclable, but on closer inspection they actually weren’t. The offenders were things such as cereal, because even though the box is cardboard, the plastic bag inside cannot be recycled.

“You don’t have to completely eliminate waste from your life, but there are small simple steps that you can take to significantly reduce it”

One area with lots of plastic packaging is toiletries so I tried making my own and it was surprisingly easy. I made my own toothpaste and deodorant. (Lauren has all of the recipes for making your own products on her blog.)

Challenges

It wasn’t all plain sailing with the challenge and I did end up with a good few pieces of rubbish in the box by the end of the week. I had a couple of microwavable popcorn packets, which although they are made of paper cannot be recycled, some muffin cases, dental floss, an apple sticker, cotton buds to remove make up, the plastic top off a mouthwash bottle and the plastic packet that cereal comes in.

The challenge highlighted my problem areas, and if I look on Lauren’s blog, I could find out how to eliminate the waste I did produce.

At the end of the week the box was only partially full – I passed the challenge! Although in one week I produced the same amount of rubbish that Lauren has produced in two years, compared to the amount I usually produce, that’s a huge step forward.

Waste free challenge

Suzanne’s total waste from one week

You don’t have to completely eliminate waste from your life, but there are small simple steps that you can take to significantly reduce it. If we all did our bit, we could really help the environment.

Taking Action

So do you think that you’re up for the challenge? Why not try the waste free challenge for a week and see how well you can do?

Let us know how you get on in the comments below.

Author: Suzanne Cooper

Suzanne Cooper is a recent graduate from Journalism in DCU. She is passionate about animal rights, the environment, gender equality and human rights. Suzanne hopes that by being involved in Stand she can do something positive and contribute to change.

Photo credits: Suzanne Cooper

Protecting academics in the post-truth era

Scholars At Risk protects academics, artists, writers, and other intellectuals threatened in their home countries, writes Hiram Moylan

Freedom of speech has been a controversial topic in recent times. As a basic human right, it offers a voice to minorities and critics of society. Conversely, it has granted a platform to those who openly speak of hatred and bigotry.

Despite the progression of society in its ability to accept more varied worldviews in the last decade, there are still a number of violations to freedom of speech internationally. One of these is academic freedom; that scholars may teach or communicate ideas or facts without being targeted for censorship, persecution, or imprisonment.

Scholars At Risk (SAR) has spent nearly two decades trying to protect this freedom. SAR is an organisation dedicated to the protection and support of the principles of academic freedom, along with the human rights of scholars internationally. On behalf of academics, artists, writers, and other intellectuals who are threatened in their home countries, Scholars At Risk arranges their sanctuary at other universities in various countries. The reasoning behind its foundation comes from the occasions when scholars attempt to communicate certain ideas that could impact negatively on authorities or political entities, they can face serious consequences, which include unlawful persecution or even death.

Since its formation in 1999 at the Human Rights Program in the University of Chicago, SAR has assisted in the relocation and protection of over 700 academics. Along with transferring them from unsafe and potentially life-threatening situations, SAR also aids these individuals financially and socially, connecting them with other faculty members in their field.

For example, the research of an unnamed public health professor from North Africa into infant mortality rates lead to the discovery that his government were declaring a much lower figure in official reports than reality. When the professor went public with these findings, he lost his job and was imprisoned by the state. This was one of many cases that led to the foundation of SAR.

Over the past 17 years, SAR has been involved in a number of instances where a scholar’s human rights have been infringed. More often than not, those they work with are facing prison sentences or public disgrace. With this, they have also developed a project known as the Academic Freedom MONITOR run by volunteers worldwide. Researchers identify and document attacks on third level academics in order to develop a better understanding of the nature and reasons for these incidents.

In response to the various attacks, SAR coordinates Action Plans that call upon governments and officials to protect the human rights of members of academic communities. The volatile nature of certain political regimes in our world has left many figures in education fearful to disclose their opinions or research, with SAR’s aim being to protect this supposedly inalienable right. Being students in a western society often leaves us ignorant of the struggles of our peers globally.

In “the era of post-truth”, we need to set and continue the standard of respecting academic freedom. Many of the freedoms we take for granted are not respected across oceans and borders, but this can change. Scholars At Risk has protected academics with the same credentials and views as our own lecturers here in Ireland. In defending the academic freedoms of older generations, we ensure our own freedoms for the future, something that because of the current political climate, we might have to live without.

Scholars At Risk’s network stretches to 400 institutions in 39 countries, and consistently look for volunteer help. See scholarsatrisk.org for details.
Pictured is Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa, a law student and activist imprisoned in Thailand for nonviolent expressive activity.