How well do you know your environmental health?
We all live on the third rock from the sun and everyone has their own stuff going on in the big rat race we call life. Somebody commented to me recently, “The smog doesn’t seem so bad in Dongguan today,” which made me ponder if recent environmental measures may actually be making a difference. How often do we really sit back for a moment and take scope of what our species is doing to this beautiful planet?
Wherever you hail from in the world, you will undoubtedly be familiar with phrases such as “global warming,” “acid rain” or even just “going green.” But are we really fully aware of what is being done to combat our collective carbon footprint? Can you honestly say you understand how environmental issues affect you directly and those close to you? Do we as individuals really have the ability to make a difference?
Due to the nature of my work, I have become ever more involved with legal environmental objectives and have broken down the issues for HERE! readers to get a clear understanding of how it all works.
What is climate change?
Let’s begin with the basics; climate change is not a new thing. It is well documented that the planet’s weather undergoes cycles of temperature shifts at recurring intervals, the most recent being the end of the last ice age, roughly 10,000 years ago. What has become ever apparent however is that there is a trend of unnatural emissions rising exponentially since the dawn of the industrial revolution, in tandem with the world’s ever-increasing population. This in turn has resulted in our dependence on fossil fuels and our self-perpetuating need to continually source them.
To be fair, during the time when Etienne Lenoir first invented the internal combustion engine, very little was known about the long-term effects of using fossil fuels. Today things are different and scientists have proven that “external forcing mechanisms” derived from human activity, are indeed contributing to accelerating the global warming process—primarily from CO2 as a by-product of fossil fuel usage. Consistent increases of global temperature since records began and documented drastic glacier melts are just two of the indicators that something serious is happening.
Waste Air Emissions
If like me you live in a high-rise in Dongguan, you may have occasionally observed the smoke on the horizon belching from the chimney of a nearby factory. The amount of man-made pollutants being constantly emitted over several decades naturally has had a cumulative effect on our air quality. To put the effects in perspective, the WHO report of 2014, attributed seven million deaths globally to air pollution from conditions such as respiration problems, cardiopulmonary disease and forms of cancer. In China alone, half a million deaths were attributed to air pollution in 2013, hence why world governments now are finally beginning to take the initiative to reduce air emissions via legal requirements.
A further key element of environmental practice is the monitoring and planned reduction of energy usage relating to water and electricity. Many of us will be familiar with signs saying “save water” or “switch off the lights,” but in the manufacturing sector this becomes even more poignant. Depending on the size of a factory, the sheer implementation of such energy saving principles can have dramatic effects benefiting the environment as well as cost cutting on utility budgets. Thinking more long term about reducing fossil fuel use, will undoubtedly involve solar panel installations, of which many modern enterprises are now attempting to utilize in order to work smarter as well as greener.
Solid Hazardous Chemical Waste
Chemical waste comes in three states of matter: solid, liquid and gas. Having covered the other two already, solid chemical waste has its own separate category. The four characteristics for a chemical to be deemed as hazardous are: flammability, reactivity, toxicity and how corrosive it is. The gray area with hazardous chemicals is how they are handled and stored compared to how they are disposed of, with the latter relating specifically to environment. All chemicals require “MSDS” (material safety data sheets) or product data sheets with a list of constituents that verify if the chemical waste needs specific disposal.
There are laws for general noise limits in the public sector. The WHO guideline of 50 decibels is generally exceeded in most cities (applicable to Dongcheng bar street I guess). Legal industrial noise law outlines that a worker has three different levels of acceptable noise exposure; lower, upper and maximum at 80, 85 and 87 decibels on average, with peak levels of 135, 137 and 140 respectively. By law the employer has to risk assess the noise and identify whether noise control measures or hearing protection may be needed. This will result in a document stating that the facility has been evaluated and is legally compliant.
Waste Water Emissions
Waste water comes in two guises; domestic and industrial. Of course, we are all responsible for what goes into the sewer system but industries have much tighter constraints on what they are allowed to discharge, with numerous legislation documents, permits and test reports required depending on the product manufactured. In some cases, a factory will treat its water before recycling it in a process rather than merely discharging it. Factories with high risk of contaminated water are generally subject to location restrictions, being situated away from fresh water supplies in designated industrial areas.
Recycling has fast become the easiest way individuals can contribute to reducing their global carbon footprint. Many countries now adopt initiatives for segregating domestic waste into its component materials, with fines imposed in some cases of infringement. Industrial standards are also beginning to improve with guidelines relating to ISO 14001 principles of environmental management control of recycling practice. Bear in mind also “re-use” and “reduce” which combine to make the 3R waste hierarchy system.
How is Dongguan becoming environmentally conscious?
I particularly wanted to share this piece to show fellow Dongguaners that, from my recent experience, things are getting done. Of course, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but the environmental initiatives that are rolling down from Beijing are becoming ever stricter and under the table payments to keep factories open are simply not going to slide anymore. There is even an environmental tax applicable for some factories now and a national discharge figure online platform. China’s population is already at 1.3 billion and the nation’s descendants will be relying on its current inhabitants to embrace environmentally friendly paradigms, in order to sustain the longevity and prosperity of the country.
According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, China added 53 gigawatts of solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity in 2017 alone, an increase from 30 gigawatts the year before. What’s the reason for this large increase? Well part of it is because the Chinese government paid subsidies to developers of solar projects so as not to build more of the coal-fired power plants fouling the air in the country. At the same time, solar energy costs have fallen in China and around the world to the point where, in some areas, solar power is comparable to—if not less expensive than—non-renewable energy sources like coal and natural gas.
From January 1, 2018, a new environmental protection system took effect and replaced the previous one which had been implemented for 40 years. Under the new environmental protection system, there is no “pollutant discharge fee,” but it created a newborn tax in China—environmental tax. The tax is expected to raise 50 billion RMB annually, which is 2.84 times of the average pollutant discharge fee of the past 12 years.
Conceived three years ago, Beautiful Dongguan holds events to clean and preserve our lovely city regularly on Sundays, with different choices of location. Each time, those involved pick up trash while coming together to enjoy the fresh air and do something worthwhile for our community. Why not try something different? Get involved and join the team on Sundays to be a part of something great. Founder Adam told us, “We bring pickers, gloves and bags. Many children join and enjoy it and we often buy them ice cream after. Everyone feels fantastic after doing something good for Dongguan and it’s great to teach our kids the importance of being good stewards for our environment. Also watch this space for the latest “plogging” craze, where people actually pick up litter while jogging! Phew!
Guangzhou has the second highest carbon footprint of cities worldwide, according to a new study by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. With a population of approximately 14 million, Guangzhou emits an estimated 272.0 (±46.2) metric tons of carbon dioxide a year. In contrast a 100-meter-tall air purification tower in Xi’an, China has managed to produce more than 10 million cubic meters (353 million cubic feet) of clean air per day since it was launched at the end of 2017.
As of last month, Dongguan has introduced a mandatory classified waste system with color-coded communal bins placed around our gardens and streets—a clear reminder that really serves as a huge convenience for us. It’s about time DG jumped on the bandwagon and tightened up its system with recycling.
Every single day, Americans throw away an estimated 500 million single-use plastic straws, many of which wind up in landfills or the ocean without being recycled. Following on the curtails of the recent proposition 65 Starbucks scandal, California has now outlawed plastic straws. Not to be outdone, some of Dongcheng’s familiar establishments such as Liberty and One for the Road have already taken the initiative by introducing metal straws along with other reusable and recyclable products and methods.
By the end of 2017, Guangdong established the “river chief” system, with leading officials assuming responsibility for the problems of specific rivers including resource protection, waterline management and ecological restoration. Thus far, over 33,000 river chiefs have been appointed, covering each segment of the rivers in the province. Throughout 2017, Guangdong’s river chiefs organized over 400,000 inspections. They documented a total of 3,359 issues, 2,978 of which were resolved. Results showed a 4.2 percent increase in rivers deemed to have good water quality.
What you can do to make a difference
So what can the average Joe do? Sadly, in the grand scheme of things, nothing will change overnight. Small steps all add up though and by generally trying to conserve energy as well as undertaking recycling and waste segregation, we can all do our bit to contribute. Subsequently, we must put our faith in the latest drive from our local and national government for the greater good of the people and surrounding environment; that in itself is a breath of fresh air!
Even the smallest changes and efforts make a difference. Once you start to kick or switch a habit, it soon becomes second nature in your daily lifestyle. Here’s a checklist of some things you can do to contribute toward protecting our environment:
Separate and dispose of items accordingly and use DG’s recycling bins.
Get creative with old or waste materials and turn them into something useful.
Reuse bags, bottles, anything you have that can be reused, do so.
Teachers! Why not plan a class project based on environmental awareness?
Save on plastics. Take your own bag when you go shopping and say no to straws!
Decrease your carbon footprint by riding a shared bike in DG—we have plenty!
Save energy by turning off lights and using energy efficient appliances.
Join Beautiful DG or go on a beach trip and clean up trash with friends.
Use your business, WeChat account or social media to influence change.
Whether it’s asking your friend to stop using pizza gloves (more unnecessary plastic) or holding an activity to raise environmental awareness—it all helps.
Alixander Robinson is currently the regional project manager and auditor for “Responsabilitas” CSR company. Alix has audited hundreds of factories in Dongguan and the PRD for environmental compliance. His parent company’s head office is based in Shanghai and it is aimed at helping factories conform to legal requirements. To know more about what “Responsabilitas” is and does visit www.responsabilitas.com or scan the QR code.