Beijing’s Air Quality Continues to Show Significant Improvement
Official figures from the Chinese government show that Beijing's ongoing seven-year "war on pollution" has netted significantly improved air quality in the capital city, as the South China Morning Post reported.
Data released by the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Ecology and Environment showed that concentrations of fine particulate matter known as PM2.5 fell 14.3 percent in the first 11 months of 2019, according to Xinhua. That is the lowest level since an integrated air quality-monitoring network was launched in 2013.
When the air quality-monitoring network started in 2013, the average concentration of PM2.5 was 89.5 micrograms per cubic meter. In 2019, that number plummeted to an average concentration of 42 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter, a 53 per cent reduction in air pollution, according to the municipal ecology and environment bureau, as the South China Morning Post reported. The trend held for concentrations of nitrogen dioxide and concentrations of the larger PM10 pollution as well.
Those numbers back up earlier findings from the Swiss firm IQAir AirVisual, which installed sensors on the U.S. embassy in Beijing. That report said Beijing's concentrations of fine particulate matter had fallen to its lowest levels since record keeping began in 2008, as The Washington Post reported. Those improvements mean the Chinese capital may soon be removed from the list of the 200 most polluted cities in the world.
The pollution levels are still far higher than what is considered healthy. The 2019 average concentration of PM2.5 in Beijing of 42 micrograms per cubic meter was still above the China's national air quality standard of 35, and far beyond the World Health Organization's recommended upper limit of 10, according to the South China Morning Post.
And yet, the rapid and drastic improvement is being touted for what is possible when government policies push for a cleaner environment.
"No other city or region on the planet has achieved such a feat," said Joyce Msuya, the deputy executive director of the UN's environment program, as the South China Morning Post reported. She added that the accomplishment was the result of "an enormous investment of time, resources and political will."
A March report from Msuya's department at the UN looked at 20 years of pollution data from 1998 to 2017. It found that controls on coal-fired boilers, the use of cleaner fuels in residential sectors, and tighter regulations on industry were the three most important measures to improving Beijing's air quality, according to the South China Morning Post.
While Beijing's air has shown significant and rapid improvement, other areas of China are heading in the opposite direction as other provinces have sought to spur growth during an economic slowdown, according to Lauri Myllyvirta of Greenpeace, as The Washington Post reported.
Myllyvirta told The Washington Post that nitrogen oxide emissions went up in northern China's industrial belt, which accompanied a growth in cement and steel production to meet the demand of government-funded construction.
"Old-fashioned smokestack industries are increasing in share and importance" in regions such as Hebei province, said Myllyvirta, as The Washington Post reported. "The pressure to hit GDP targets in the short term is a big part of it."
In Beijing, the war on pollution has meant authorities shuttered all coal-fired plants, encouraged residents to replace coal-fired boilers with natural gas and electricity, and invested in electric vehicles, as the South China Morning Post reported.
That action has also led to a drop in sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere. It fell 85 percent from 28 micrograms per cubic meter in 2013 to 4 in 2019, according the South China Morning Post.
However, while Beijing's air quality is improving, some worry that the Chinese government will invest in environmentally deleterious industries abroad in poorer, developing markets to supply its worldwide infrastructure projects, as the The Washington Post reported.
For example, China has struck deals to build hundreds of coal-fired power plants across developing markets from Pakistan to the Philippines.
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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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