Reuse of the dredged sediments
The setting sun paints the sky and sea in red and orange. Tiny pieces of broken seashells glitter in the vast sandy beach. This is the location of the Putou Operation Area of the Meizhou Bay Port. This 1,200-square-meters land has been filled with dredged sediments from the Meizhou Bay Navigation Improvement Project, and six berths for ships will be built here.
Supported by a $50 million loan from the World Bank, the project seeks to widen and deepen 21.5 kilometers of the existing main channel through dredging and rock blasting. Managing the disposal of large amounts of dredged sediments and debris was a challenge.
“The traditional way is to dump it into the ocean. But it would cause pollution of the ocean. So we used the dredged sediments to backfill the land area behind the port, and turned the waste into something useful,” said Chen Jianxin, a division chief from the project management office.
Reusing the dredged sediments, estimated at 16 million cubic meters, could save up to RMB100 million ($15 million), said Zhao Xiangchao, manager of the Putou Operation Area.
Mitigating the environmental impact
The dredging of the navigation channel has major environmental impacts on bottom-dwelling organisms such as worms, clams, crabs and lobsters, and aquatic habitats, coastal mudflats, water quality and marine hydrodynamics. In addition to mitigation measures, an ecological compensation plan has been carefully designed, which includes a fish reproduction and release program, and a habitats restoration program for planting mangroves.
In the fish reproduction and release program, five fast-growing native fish and shrimp species with high economic value have been selected and bred in a hatchery under the supervision of the Fujian Fisheries Research Institute. These are released in batches during a five-year period.
The fourth release event took place on August 11, 2017 on the coast of Quanzhou. A researcher from the fishery institute conducted a sample count of the tiny shrimps brought in from the hatchery before these were loaded onto fishing boats and released into the sea. About 150 million baby shrimps was released that day, and researchers will monitor and carry out follow-up surveys to assess the effects of the program later.
The program is welcomed by the local fishing communities. An increase in fishery resources leads to more catches and therefore more income. A fisherwoman who joined the release work said there are now more fishes than before.
The 950-year-old Luoyang Bridge in Quanzhou is the first stone bay bridge built in China, and is one of the country’s four most famous ancient bridges. Near the bridge are large areas of lush green mangroves. A few egrets can be seen resting or searching for food among the trees. These mangroves are part of the Quanzhou Bay Estuary Wetland Nature Reserve.
“Under the project, we have planted 558 mu (372,000 square meters) of mangroves inside our reserve,” said Lai Xingkai, an engineer from the reserve.
Mangroves play an important role in coastal protection. Lai listed their three major benefits: they can improve water quality, reduce pollution and eutrophication (over-enrichment of water by nutrients), and prevent red tides; they can reduce waves and strengthen dikes; and they provide a home to birds and coastal animals.
“Our workers are all hired from the nearby villages, and familiar with local conditions. We have more than 40 regular workers to maintain the mangroves,” Lai said.
Chen Chunfang, a local resident in the Zeng’an Village, looks after the mangroves as a part-time job. Every day, she would drive around the mangroves and stop any activity that may be harmful to the trees. “With the mangroves, the environment has become so much better, and there are so many birds now, particularly in the morning,” said Chen.
Close attention has been paid to the protection of the environment during the project’s implementation, with more than RMB30 million ($4.55 million) invested in environmental measures. Engineering design was optimized to reduce the disposal area; special staff were assigned to supervise environmental compliance of contractors; related training courses were organized; intensive environmental quality and impact monitoring was conducted; and independent environmental consultants were engaged to assess the implementation of the environmental management plans and provide technical guidance and support.
Improving connectivity and creating jobs
Located between Quanzhou and Putian in the middle of the coast of Fujian Province, the Meizhou Bay Port is a major bulk port, handling approximately 40 million tons of freight in 2010 at 46 berths spread over four port areas. The main commodities handled are crude oil, building materials, coal and oil products, as well as iron ore, grain, and timber. It is also the closest port to some of the inland provinces.
Upon completion of the project in 2019, the main navigation channel will be upgraded to a 300,000 DWT (deadweight tonnage) standard that will allow for unidirectional tide-independent navigation of Q-MAX LNG (liquefied natural gas) ships, as well as unidirectional tide-dependent navigation of bulk cargo ships up to 400,000 DWT, the world’s largest bulk vessels.
The development of the Meizhou Bay Port will reduce the land transport distance and improve transport connectivity between the land-locked provinces of western Fujian, Jiangxi and Hunan and the ports and cities of the more dynamic coastal region, thus boosting the growth of the underdeveloped inland regions.
Domestic and international shipping companies, as well as the nearby industries that are heavy users of the port such as petrochemicals, power generation, timber processing and grain milling will directly benefit from improved navigation conditions.
Sinochem Quanzhou Petrochemical Co. operates five berths for import and export of crude oil and petroleum products. Zhang Huaiguo, a manager from the company’s storage and transportation department, expects the project to reduce ships’ waiting time outside the port.
CNOOC Fujian LNG Co runs an LNG (liquefied natural gas) port. The current capacity of the navigation channel only allows 66,000 cubic meter LNG tankers. “Growing demand for LNG in the domestic market requires larger tankers, for example, 217,000 cubic meter Q-Flex tankers. Larger tankers would reduce transportation costs substantially,” said Xu Guoyang, a manager of the company’s production and operation department.
Xu’s words were also echoed by Yang Jin, a deputy engineering manager of the Luoyu Port, a large iron ore port under construction. “Ships of the future will be larger, because larger ships are more environment-friendly and cost-effective,” said Yang.
The port and associated industries have employed more than 30,000 people, with additional jobs provided by the upstream and downstream industries spawned by petrochemical and energy industries, benefiting the local communities.
Sharing knowledge and strengthening capacities
“The involvement of the World Bank has brought us international experience and best practices,” said Yu Junqi, a deputy director of the project management office. “The project has provided opportunities for knowledge sharing with peers in and outside China, by organizing study tours to major international ports such as Hamburg, Rotterdam and Esbjerg, and inviting experts from Germany and Singapore to give training and technical assistance. This has helped strengthen the capacities of the port authority,” he said.
Contributing to the Belt and Road Initiative
By 2020, the Meizhou Bay Port is expected to increase the number of productive berths from 50 to 90 with handling capacity reaching 200 million tons, and have the channel capacity for the world’s largest bulk carriers to enter. The port authority is also developing several logistics parks and a bulk goods trading platform, and seeking partnerships with other domestic and international sea ports, committed to play a greater role for the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative, according to its director Li Qing.
Diving into a cleaner blue ocean in 2019
When Miao Wang started diving, she was shocked at the deterioration of the ocean ecosystem around her. Now, three months after winning the Young Champions of the Earth prize for Asia and the Pacific, she has made great strides in addressing ocean protection.
“About eight million tonnes of plastic waste enter the ocean every year, causing 15 million deaths among marine life,” she explains. “Divers, who as a group stay long enough with the ocean, witness the degradation of the ecosystem while touched by its beauty.”
Her Better Blue initiative has already forged relationships with new donors, and she has signed agreements with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, the watch manufacturers Rossini and The Paradise Foundation.
As well as looking for further funding to support her projects going forward, she has trained many others to become divers and was selected to participate in a “speed incubator programme,” which trains young people in diving and collecting information about the ocean.
Wang has also developed a prototype for an education programme on sustainable consumption, which can be shared among people visiting popular cafes. Already, she has implemented the education programme in 10 cafes across Shanghai.
The cooperation among various popular cafes in Shanghai and soon other cities in China too, will advocate for providing alternatives to single-use plastic straws, and encouraging the cafes to replace their plastic cups with degradable ones.
Miao and Better Blue also attended the Xiamen Marathon – the first international marathon to join UN Environment’s Clean Seas campaign – and had a stand in the exhibition hall during the week leading up to the marathon.
“We continue to focus on the most essential job of organizing ourselves internally to handle operations and logistics. We are a small team and need to constantly prioritize to ensure we can deliver on all our goals. Going forward in 2019, this is an aspect of our business that we aim to strengthen, to keep Better Blue heading in the right direction.”
“Next year, we hope to engage in more cross-border collaboration, especially with some major brands, to convey key messages about sustainable living, turning marine protection into a way of life. We also hope to inspire other people to protect the ocean too, as that is where all life begins,” she said.
“The Young Champions of the Earth prize has been a major support for Better Blue, helping us to take our mission from strength to strength.
“In addition to participating in the Professional Association of Diving Instructors annual gala and providing trainings to diving centers, Better blue will continue to work on its development strategy and financial risk management, as we look forward to a successful 2019,” she said.
Lessons from China on large-scale landscape restoration
In the 1980s, the hilly Qianyanzhou region in Jiangxi Province, southern China, faced severe soil erosion due to deforestation and unsustainable farming practices. Fertile red soil was being washed away causing crop yields to tumble.
But a remarkable change has taken place in the last 30 years thanks to a government-backed land-use plan which has seen the upper hills reforested, citrus orchards planted on moderate slopes, and rice paddies in valley bottoms. Within a few years, this mosaic of sustainable land use was yielding higher incomes. Biodiversity and environmental quality, as well as the microclimate, improved.
In early November 2018, the head of UN Environment’s freshwater, land and climate branch, Tim Christopherson, together with his colleague Xiaoqiong Li, visited several sites in the area to better understand how large-scale ecological restoration works.
Huimin Wang, the director of an ecological research station in Ji’an, Qianyanzhou region, briefed UN Environment on the problem and the centre’s role in restoring the landscape.
“Thirty years ago, this area was denuded of trees and vulnerable to landslides. Erosion gullies washed fertile red soil away,” says Wang.
“We set up this ecological research station to work out how best to restore the land. We brought together experts from around the world, including from the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation in Germany.”
Research focused on forest structure optimization and how to improve ecosystem services from the forest; the structure and functions of forest ecology; carbon, water and nutrient cycling in forest ecosystems under climate change; and the Qianyanzhou upgrade model to be achieved by improving ecological and economic benefits in the watershed.
Another key element of the restoration process was agroforestry, supported by the local government: farmers continued to grow cash crops such as peanuts, sesame and vegetables among the restored orchards, and breed Silkie chickens (black-boned with fluffy plumage) in orchards and forest plantations. This ensured economic returns in the early stages of the project and helped improve soil fertility. As well as building dams and ponds, government agencies provided loans to households to help them get started.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, about 21.9 per cent, or 206,861,000 hectares of China, was forested in 2010. In just one decade, the Qianyanzhou restoration drive has increased China’s total forest area by 74.3 million hectares. Qianyanzhou’s forest coverage has increased from 0.43 per cent to nearly 70 per cent.
Qianyanzhou restoration efforts have helped the region and the country take a big step towards implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goals 1 (No Poverty), 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), 8 (Good Jobs and Economic Growth), 12 (Responsible Consumption), and 15 (Life on Land), as well as the Bonn Challenge and the New York Declaration on Forests, all of which fall under UN Environment’s programme of work.
Forests are a major, requisite front of action in the global fight against catastrophic climate change, thanks to their unparalleled capacity to absorb and store carbon. Forests capture carbon dioxide at a rate equivalent to about one-third the amount released annually by burning fossil fuels. Stopping deforestation and restoring damaged forests, therefore, could provide up to 30 per cent of the climate solution.
The United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (The UN-REDD Programme) was launched in 2008 and builds on the convening role and technical expertise of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the United Nations Development Programme and UN Environment.
Plastic recycling: An underperforming sector ripe for a remake
While there is no silver-bullet solution to the toxic tide of plastic surging into our oceans, recycling must form part of the answer. The problem, many experts say, is that current processes are not fit for purpose.
The world produces around 300 million tonnes of plastic waste each year. To date, only 9 per cent of the plastic waste ever generated has been recycled, and only 14 per cent is collected for recycling now.
The reasons are complex. Not all plastic can be recycled and a lack of public awareness means plastic collections are often contaminated. This can increase the cost of recycling.
In the United States, for example, the introduction of single-stream recycling—where recyclables are not separated in household collections—led to a huge surge in recycling rates, but as plastics became more complex, people started placing the wrong things in their bins. Waste Management, the largest processor of residential recycling in North America, says that one in every four items in recycling bins today is not recyclable.
“Chemicals added to plastic polymers, products made of mixed materials and food packaging contaminated with food waste make recycling difficult and costly,” wrote the authors of UN Environment’s The State of Plastics report.
The need to rethink recycling became more apparent when China, which has imported nearly half the world’s waste since 1992, stopped taking foreign plastic waste this year. China’s decision exposed weaknesses in recycling facilities in many other countries.
There are financial reasons for the shortfalls. Depending on the oil price, it is often cheaper to make virgin plastic while the market for recycled plastic is notoriously volatile, making investors reluctant to commit to the sector.
For years, activists have argued that packaging producers and retailers should pay more to cover the cost of dealing with their waste. While many brands have committed to using more recycled plastic, the pressure is growing for them to do more.
In Britain, the government is said to be planning to charge supermarkets, retailers and major drinks brands tens of millions of pounds more towards the cost of recycling. The strategy would include plans to increase contributions from retailers and producers from an average of about 70 million pounds a year to between 500 million pounds and 1 billion pounds a year. There are also plans to include smaller producers.
The European Commission unveiled a Plastics Strategy in January, saying that its drive to make all plastic packaging recyclable or reusable by 2030 could create 200,000 jobs but only if recycling capacity was multiplied fourfold. The European Union recycles less than 30 per cent of its 25 million tonnes of plastic waste each year, and half of that used to be sent to China.
As part of its strategy, the European Union will develop new rules on packaging to improve the recyclability of plastics and increase demand. It wants to see improved and scaled up recycling facilities and a more standardized system for the separate collection and sorting of waste.
UN Environment, which started its Clean Seas campaign in 2017 to push for the elimination of unnecessary single-use plastics, also supports the implementation of integrated waste management systems through its International Environmental Technology Centre in Japan.
There is clearly a need to support waste management strategies in poorer countries, where municipal authorities often do not have the capacity to implement suitable policies. Some of these countries are also among the biggest marine polluters: 90 per cent of the plastic in our oceans comes from just 10 rivers, with eight of those in Asia.
Some of the industry’s top players have spotted the gaps. In October, waste management company Veolia and consumer goods giant Unilever said they would work together to invest in new technologies to increase recycling and move towards a circular economy.
The three-year partnership will focus, at first, on India and Indonesia where the firms will work to scale up waste collection and recycling infrastructure.
Circulate Capital, an investment management firm dedicated to preventing ocean plastic, said in October that it expected US$90 million in funding from some of the world’s leading consumer good groups and chemical companies, including PepsiCo, P&G, Dow and Coca-Cola.
Created in collaboration with Closed Loop Partners and the Ocean Conservancy, Circulate Capital aims to demonstrate the value of investing in waste management and recycling in South and Southeast Asia. It uses philanthropic and public funds, as well as technical assistance, to support and develop public and nonprofit entities to implement new approaches and build capacity that can support large institutional capital commitments.
“We have recognized that financing is a key barrier—as people always want to know ‘who is going to pay for it?’ By removing capital for infrastructure and operators as a barrier, we believe we can accelerate solutions to policy, education, supply chains and more,” said Rob Kaplan, the founder and CEO of Circulate Capital.
Big name corporations are not the only players. In many developing economies, recycling is carried out by millions of waste pickers, often women, children, the elderly and the unemployed. They may be on the frontline of sustainability but their own lives are often marred by unhealthy working conditions, lack of rights and social stigma.
The World Bank said in its What a Waste 2.0 report that when waste pickers are properly supported and organized, informal recycling can create employment, improve local industrial competitiveness, reduce poverty and decrease municipal spending.
Citizens also have a role to play but education and information are essential. The World Bank cites the example of Jamaica, where environmental wardens, employed by the National Solid Waste Management Authority, teach their neighbours about environmentally friendly disposal of waste. The communities involved collect plastic bottles and remove plastic litter from shared spaces and drains. They then sell the collected bottles to recyclers.
“There is no silver bullet to solving ocean plastic and scaling global recycling—investing in public education without infrastructure won’t achieve results, and vice versa,” said Circulate Capital’s Kaplan. “It is a systems challenge that requires systems solutions.”
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