Europe’s coal industry continues its downward spiral as a quarter of European Union countries have now closed their doors to the dirty energy source.
Belgium has become the latest country to shut down its last remaining coal-fired power station, Langerlo.
Announced on March 30, Belgium follows Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta and the Baltic countries in quitting the polluting fossil fuel.
The closure of Belgium’s Langerlo plant comes hot-on-the-heels of Scotland closing Britain’s largest coal-fired power station, Longannet, signaling the end of an era for Scottish coal.
And with plans to phase out coal by 2025 in Britain and Austria and by 2020 in Portugal, “golden days of the coal industry are over” according to Joanna Flisowska of Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe.
“Ending coal power use in Belgium marks a significant step in the inevitable transition away from fossil fuels,” Flisowska said.
According to CAN, the coal plant closure means Belgium’s annual CO2 emissions will be cut by almost two million tonnes. This is equal to more than one percent of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
Europe joins China and the U.S. in the list of regions moving forward on the path away from coal—an industry which not only contributes to negative health, water and climate impacts, but also continues to see record low production, with major players such as Peabody filing for bankruptcy.
However, not everyone in Europe is keen to say good bye to King Coal just yet. Poland in particular continues to look to burn even more coal as it plans to implement new legislation pushing the country’s energy mix further towards coal and biomass over wind power.
Indeed, the industry appears increasingly desperate to remain relevant. A recent study shows that despite a continued drop in demand for electricity generated by coal, nearly $1 trillion worth of new coal plants are in the pipeline.
And as DeSmog UK revealed last month, Europe’s main coal lobby association EURACOAL paid for Canadian climate science denier Patrick Moore to speak to EU Officials and members of the European Parliament at an intimate dinner-debate entitled “Climate Demons or Climate Gods: Coal Industry Stakes Its Future.”
But as Belgium becomes the seventh European country to move away from coal it seems the industry’s future is looking increasingly bleak.
“Hard times for the coal industry will get a lot tougher yet,” Flisowska said. “This is good news for the climate. To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the EU has to ensure that carbon emissions from its coal power plants are cut down much faster than their current rate.”
Scientists estimate more than 80 percent of the world’s coal reserves must stay unburned in order to limit global warming to 2C, the internationally agreed upper limit set under the Paris agreement.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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