Baum Publications Ltd.

‘Kyoto cost’ of various production and recycling processes

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Courtesy of Baum Publications Ltd.

‘Kyoto cost' of various production and recycling processes: An interesting take on the the total CO2 emissions released during the lifetime of various containers used in the manufacturing and delivery of bottled water and other fluid products typically consumed in North America and Europe.

Despite a change in government and a Conservative pre-election pledge to opt out of the Kyoto Protocol, it is unlikely that Canada will withdraw from the principles and practice of controlling emissions entirely. The expansion of service provision in aspects of emissions quantification and accreditation in the EU in recent years is gradually being emulated in North America. The postponement of the inaugural meeting of the Pan-Asian Pacific Forum was widely perceived as an acknowledgement that the Kyoto Protocol was still viewed as the primary administrative mechanism of emissions control. In short, there is still life in Kyoto.

Recent research has shed some new light on the full lifetime environmental costs of a range of manufacturing processes that suggest the onus for meeting Kyoto targets might be better focused upon the manufacturers rather than the traditional target of Big Oil. The European Union recently completed the first full year of trading under the EU Emissions Trading Program (a natural evolution of the pioneering UK scheme that will complete its first five-year term early next year). Verified and audited emissions reductions (principally of the greenhouse ‘reference' gas CO2) incentivised EU industries to install abatement and related technologies. Raw material processing and packing businesses were direct participants in both UK and EU schemes.

The results of an independent survey into the lifetime emissions of processing and packaging in the bottling industry is particularly enlightening. This is timely in light of the recent strategic response that Perrier (owned and operated by Nestlé) undertook to its once-market leading carbonated water product range –specifically its decision to phase out the glass demi-litre bottle in favour of a PET equivalent – the European study illustrates why this was done. When averaged over the ‘functional unit of production' of 1,000 litres of the product, the environmental cost, in terms of emissions alone, totaled 767 kg of CO2. This is just the total generated in the entire production process of delivering the finished product and excludes the emissions generated in delivering the contents of the bottle prior to bottling. Economies of scale produce a figure of 466 kg of CO2 for the larger glass litre bottle.

In itself, these figures may not be too surprising, until they are compared to the environmental cost of delivering an equivalent 1,000 litres of gasoline from ‘well to wheel.' In the U.S. in 2003, factoring in all production and transportation environmental costs (but not the oil exploration environmental costs), a conservative estimate, based upon an EPA-based proportion consumed by non-commercial users, is 679 kg of CO2 – on a litre-for-litre comparison, less than Perrier's demi-litre bottle! The comparison is given added relevance when you bear in mind that the bottled water data excludes the environmental cost of extracting the water at source, extracting the CO2 (at the same location but at a greater geological depth), liquefying the gas and (re-) injecting the gas to provide the fizz. This is the essence of Perrier of course, the very act of re-injection that built its brand image.

In the light of these data, Perrier's introduction to the market of the PET demi-litre, seemed inevitable. The ‘one-way' (ie non-recycled) PET bottle is responsible for 230 kg of CO2, a figure that drops to 63 kg when the normal re-use profile of that bottle is factored in. For comparison, a steel beverage can of an equivalent volume is responsible for 223 kg, and an aluminium can 288 kg. HDPE bottles (the big milk jugs) generate 649 kg, dropping to 512 kg with its typical recycling profile.

At a time when published reports suggest that as much as 25 percent of all bottled or mineral water is exported from the country of origin (Perrier is excluded from this within the North American market with its own bottling facilities in the U.S.), the case for bottled water seems increasingly harder to make. Emissions attributable to transportation are typically assessed at between three and four times greater within the North American distribution system than that in the EU, by virtue of the distances alone. The feasibility of mineral water pipelines is some way off but not out of the realms of economic viability. Would you as a consumer be prepared to pay for it though?

Proponents of taxing the heavy polluters out of existence have raised their voice in recent years. The idea of levying a graduated tax burden on the vehicles that have the highest consumption (and rebating or ‘feebating' the low consumption models) have hit opposition from those engaged in recycling. The extension of eco-labelling practices (in which the green credentials of products are displayed) has a natural extension in the willingness of the food retail sector to engage in attributing ‘food miles' to individual product offerings. The intention is to make the consumer more aware of the full life-cycle costs of delivering that product to them, and an integral component of this would be the embedded ‘CO2-cost' or ‘Kyoto-cost' component.

Individual consumers would be incentivized to base their purchasing decisions based upon the accreditation of their purchases within their own ‘CO2-current account balance.' Existing smart card technologies would make ‘food miles' as well as other environmental components of products directly fungible within their national Kyoto targets.

The establishment of formal trading exchanges in carbon ‘futures' suggests that Kyoto targets are attainable through individual as well as corporate participation. You or I could open an account today and speculatively buy and sell units of account in carbon-dioxide futures. When consuming a case of bottled water is proving to be more environmentally damaging than filling up the tank in the family car the time has come to perhaps rethink our priorities.

Trend in hearing protection technology moving towards “sound management,” says industry expert
ccording to industrial audiologist Brad Witt, the days of striving to develop Hearing Protection Devices (HPDs) that could simply block the most sound are over. “Today, the focus is definitely more on sound management: on attenuating the hazardous noise to a level that still allows communication and warning signal detection,” said Witt, who is Audiology and Regulatory Affairs Manager for the Bacou-Dalloz Hearing Safety Group. “In noise-hazardous environments, we are not trying to eliminate all sound,” said Witt. “There are still sounds we want to hear, such as co-worker voices, warning signals, mobile radios, and even some machinery noise that may alert us to malfunction or maintenance needs. Wearing high-attenuation protectors without regard to communication creates a feeling of hazardous isolation, being cut off from the verbal and audible cues that keep us safe and connected with our work.” In response, Witt said, HPD manufacturers are increasingly working to develop more innovative products that protect without compromising these basic communication needs. One way this has been accomplished, according to Witt, is by designing HPDs with “flatter” attenuation characteristics.

“Today the focus is definitely more on sound management: on attenuating the hazardous noise to a level that still allows communication and warning signal detection,” said Brad Witt, Audiology and Regulatory Affairs Manager for the Bacou-Dalloz Hearing Safety Group.

“First-generation earplugs and earmuffs were not so effective against low-frequency noise, but attenuated high-frequency noise quite easily. These ski-slope attenuation curves created a distorted sound while wearing HPDs, making speech difficult to understand.” In contrast, newer generations of hearing protectors have raised low-frequency attenuation significantly, nearly matching the high-frequency attenuation. “This flatter attenuation curve creates a sound while wearing HPDs which is more natural,” said Witt. “It still blocks the noise, but with less distortion of speech and warning signals. The effect is most noticeable for workers who have some existing hearing loss, even a mild loss.” Another innovative approach to managing the sound in loud environments is through sound amplification earmuffs. “How many times have we seen workers remove their earplugs to hear a radio call, or lift up their earmuff to talk to a co-worker?” Witt asked.

“Sound amplification earmuffs have microphones, placed directionally on the ear cups, which amplify normal sounds to a safe level while still protecting from the hazardous workplace noise. The result is that workers have more control over hearing what they need to hear, without compromising protection.” Witt predicts this trend will guide new product development for several years to come. “We are just now beginning to take full advantage of recent advances in material and manufacturing technology which make these new approaches to hearing protection possible and economically viable,” he said. “This, in turn, has sparked new developments in the design of these systems so we can better control not only how much, but the manner in which sound reaches the human ear.” But new technology is not the only way safety officers are seeking to “manage” sound in their workplace environments. “One of the simplest things they can do is provide HPDs with a range of attenuation ratings (NRRs),” said Witt. “By targeting attenuation to the level of the noise hazard, workers can be assured of adequate protection, while not totally blocking their ability to hear and communicate on the job.”

About the author: Peter Ion, MSc MBA, is a technical author, based out of Vancouver, B.C

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