Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Why "Bring Your Own Cutlery" needs to become a new trend

Katherine Martinko (@feistyredhair)
Living / Green Food

BYOC wherever you go, instead of using disposable plastic utensils that never biodegrade while littering the world's beaches.
While visiting Lake Louise last summer, one of the most famous sights in the Canadian Rockies, I was horrified to see a plastic spoon float by in the pale green water, close to shore. Whether someone had purposely thrown the spoon into the water, or if it was blown in by the wind, the sight jolted me. It was an awful reminder of the reach that plastic pollution has; it does not stay within the boundaries of a landfill site, but rather infiltrates the entire planet, even this most iconic of places. Try as I might, I could not reach that spoon, and had to watch it drift away.
Plastic forks, knives, and spoons are one of those things that we tend to think are inevitable when eating on the go or feeding a crowd. Even though alternatives do exist, these are not widely known or accessible, which is a pity, considering the impact that plastic cutlery has on the environment. It does not biodegrade, and a recent study found plastic cutlery to be among the 10 most common types of plastic trash found on California beaches.
Along with shopping bags and straws, disposable plastic cutlery is yet another part of the pollution puzzle that’s threatening the world’s oceans and waterways. And, like bags and straws, it’s a direct consequence of our societal obsession with convenience, something that wouldn’t need to exist if everyone took a few moments to plan ahead before leaving the house.
Grist wrote about the problem of plastic cutlery in an article called “It’s tine to take America’s plastic fork problem seriously”:
“It’s hard to say exactly how many forks, spoons, and knives Americans throw away, but in 2015 we placed nearly 2 billion delivery orders. If at least half those meals involved single-use utensils, that would mean we’re tossing out billions of utensils each year. They don’t just disappear: A recent study of the San Francisco Bay Area found that food and beverage packaging made up 67 percent of all litter on the streets.”

What are the alternatives?

Most obviously, disposable plastic cutlery should be made illegal, which is precisely what France has done. All single-use plastic cutlery, along with plates and cups, will be banned soon: "Manufacturers and retailers have until 2020 to ensure that any disposable products they sell are made of biologically sourced materials and can be composted in a domestic composter."
We should start carrying our own cutlery for eating in restaurants or on the go.Many people travel with water bottles, so why not forks and knives, too? Grist references Greenpeace China’s recent push to get people to carry reusable chopsticks, in order to reduce the 20 million trees currently cut down each year to make disposable chopsticks. The campaign has been hugely successful, thanks to celebrity backing. Visit Life Without Plastic for a number of great portable cutlery sets.
More restaurants should offer metal cutlery for people eating in-house. This may require changes in washing and sterilizing practices for takeout places. My sister’s pizza company ran into issues with the health department for offering metal spoons for ice cream, but it’s not an insurmountable problem.
Better disposables are available and should be purchased only when necessary.For your next big event, consider California-made SpudWare, made from potato starch, wooden cutlery from The Container Store or Amazon, or Bakey’s edible vegan cutlerymade with various flours, to name a few. You could even experiment with baking your own edible cutlery; learn how here.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Protect our children, ban lead in paint

A new killer has been agonizing society, robbing it of vibrant children and often leaving families devastated and desperate for help. The killer is Lead. Chemicals and waste play critical roles in today’s society and economies; hence their contribution to regional and global trade in the overall economic growth of countries cannot be under-estimated. Many developed countries have over the years put in place robust systems and standards on sound management of chemicals and waste, but developing countries and countries with economies in transition still lack the capacity to manage and dispose of harmful substances in products in an environmentally sound manner. And herein, lies the problem.
Lead is a toxic heavy metal responsible for an estimated 600,000 new cases of intellectual disability among children every year, with the highest burden in developing regions. Of particular concern is the role of lead exposure in the development of intellectual disability in children. Though there has been wide recognition of this problem and many countries have taken action, lead exposure remains a key concern to health care providers and public health officials worldwide.
Children remain the most vulnerable and worst victims of lead poisoning. The consequences of brain damage from exposure to lead in early life include intelligence loss, shortened attention spans and disruption of behaviour. Since the human brain has little capacity for repair, these effects are untreatable hence remain irreversible. In adults, lead exposure can lead to high blood pressure, kidney complications, joint and muscle pain, decline in mental functioning, memory loss and mood disorders. It can also cause reproductive disorders such as reduced sperm count or abnormal sperms in men, as well as miscarriages and premature births in pregnant women.
In countries without proper policies on lead management the majority of children are exposed to lead during childhood. This exposure comes from toys and often dons the walls of households, schools and playgrounds frequented by kids. Despite these realities and scares, the good news is that there is hope. Through the combined efforts from various players, tremendous progress has been made in the fight on banning lead paint.
In the UN system, the UN Environment is leading activities related to the sound management of chemicals. Through its Chemicals and Waste Management programme, it aims to promote chemical safety by supporting countries with access to information on toxic chemicals. UN Environment promotes chemical safety by providing policy advice, technical guidance and capacity building to developing countries and those with economies in transition, including activities on chemicals related to the implementation of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM).  Countries, businesses and other stakeholders are supported to improve their capacity to manage chemicals and waste soundly throughout their life-cycles. This is achieved by jointly developing policy instruments, including regulatory frameworks, and providing scientific and technical knowledge and tools needed to ensure a successful transition among countries towards sound management of chemicals and waste in order to minimize impact on the environment and human well-being.
Last year, the International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week ran from October 23-29; the campaign urged countries to ban the dangerous substance from paints by 2020. A global movement is working hard to push for change. The Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint –led by UN Environment and the World Health Organization – has set the target for all governments to ban lead in paint by 2020. In Africa, UN Environment has facilitated workshops in Addis Ababa, Dar es Salaam and Yaounde bringing together key agencies and regulatory bodies in the region and sub-regions to establish and harmonize standards and policies to limit lead in paint in an effort to minimize the significant adverse effects it has on human health and the environment.
As part of the International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, a consultative meeting with a large panel of stakeholders including governmental agencies,  paint manufacturers and informal recyclers, the academic and scientific research community, the civil sector, lead to strong commitment of all the stakeholders to move forward on the road of phasing out lead and other heavy metals in products in Kenya.
UN Environment's Regional Coordinator, Chemicals and Waste Management Programme, Prof Abdouraman Bary, confirms that the global goal for eliminating lead in paint is very achievable. “Substitutes for lead in paint are not only safer, but more cost-effective since they are readily available locally. Preventing lead poisoning from paint is entirely preventable but requires commitment from all the stakeholders,” he said.
As an example, the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KBS) has finalized new regulations that will bar the manufacture, importation and sale of paints whose lead content exceeds the safe threshold of 90 parts per million (ppm). The new standards have been endorsed by the KBS Board and are expected to be gazetted during the first quarter of this year but a lot of public awareness is also necessary for adequate enforcement,” said Peter Namutala Wanyonyi, Principal Standards Officer at KBS. The Kenyan experience will be share across the entire East Africa Community region for further harmonization of standards to avoid trade barriers.
The informal sector in much of Africa also remains vulnerable because many people do not use protective gear and are simply unaware or ignorant of the dangers of lead exposure. Hence, public awareness and sensitization must be enhanced and should also be a priority for governments, alongside the policy and regulatory frameworks adopted to ban lead paint.
For more information, please contact:
Mohamed Atani, Regional Information Office for Africa, UN Environment – Email: mohamed.atani [at] unep.org Tel. +254727531253

Friday, 25 November 2016


News Date: 
Thursday, June 2, 2016
Port Harcourt – Nigerian Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari, today set in motion a $1 billion clean-up and restoration programme of the Ogoniland region in the Niger Delta, announcing that financial and legislative frameworks had been put in place to begin implementing recommendations made by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Speaking at an event in Port Harcourt attended by thousands, including international football star Joseph Yobo and Miss Nigeria Pamela Lessi, the Vice President said the Nigerian government was now delivering on what was one of President Buhari's key election promises.
UNEP's Executive Director Achim Steiner travelled to Port Harcourt to join Vice President Osinbajo and other dignitaries for the launch ceremony.
The implementation will be based on recommendations from a 2011 UNEP report, commissioned by the Nigerian government, on the impact of oil extraction in Ogoniland. The report found severe and widespread contamination of soil and ground water across Ogoniland. In a number of locations public health was severely threatened by contaminated drinking water and carcinogens. Delta ecosystems such as mangroves had been utterly devastated. The report also found that institutional control measures in place both in the oil industry and the Government were not implemented adequately. The report proposed the establishment of a Restoration Authority with an explicit mandate to clean up Ogoniland and restore the ecosystems. The report also recommended the establishment of an Ogoniland Environmental Restoration Fund with an initial capitalization of 1 billion dollars to cover the clean-up costs.
Mr. Steiner said, "The people of Ogoniland have paid a high price for the success of Nigeria's oil industry, enduring a toxic and polluted environment for decades. Today marks a historic step toward improving the situation of the Ogoni people, who have paid this high price for too long. A clean-up and restoration effort like this cannot happen overnight, but I am hopeful that the cooperation between the Government of Nigeria, oil companies and communities will result in an environmental restoration that benefits both ecosystems and the Ogoni people of the Niger Delta. UNEP has provided the scientific basis for this work, and will continue to offer its technical expertise as needed to help ensure a positive result for all involved."
Requested by the Federal Government of Nigeria, UNEP's Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland was released in August 2011. It examined over the course of two years the environmental impact of oil industry operations in the area since the late 1950s. It found that oil contamination in Ogoniland is extensive and is having a grave impact on the environment, with pollution penetrating further and deeper than previously thought.
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, who will be stepping down from his position this month, was joined by Erik Solheim, UNEP's incoming Executive Director. Since January 2013, Mr Solheim has been UNEP's Special Envoy to Ogoniland, supporting negotiations between the Ogoni people, the Nigerian Government and oil companies. His role as UNEP's future Executive Director will ensure UNEP's continuity in supporting the programme.
"The task to clean up Ogoniland will neither be easy nor fast, but it needs to be done," Mr. Solheim said. "If we succeed here, it will demonstrate that degraded environments can be restored, sending a signal to many other communities around the world that peaceful co-operation can lead to positive outcomes."
The clean-up is vital for the future of the region. It will help create new livelihoods, establish old livelihoods and change the lives of a million people. It will also establish a new model for working towards sustainable development, even in the most challenging of environments.
The environmental restoration of Ogoniland is likely to be the world's most wide-ranging and long-term oil clean up exercise ever undertaken. Experts suggest that it may take up to 25 years until ecosystems are fully restored.
UNEP's Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland is available online at: drustage.unep.org/disastersandconflicts/where-we-work/nigeria. Further information, including site-specific fact sheets about 67 of the contaminated sites studied, is also available at this website.
For more information on UNEP's work on Ogoniland, please contact UNEP Newsdesk (Nairobi), Tel. +254 715 876 185, Email: unepnewsdesk@unep.org
For more information on the clean-up and timescales, please contact Esther Agbarakwe, Nigerian Environment Ministry, donestyc@gmail.com
Associated photos can be downloaded from the following links (credit UNEP):