Trying to curb the appetite of tree-hungry chopsticks


For the humble chopstick, life is predictable, reports Alice-Azania Jarvis in the Independent newspaper.

Start off as a tree, one of the 25 million felled each year for the purpose. Spend a brief few weeks, newly-whittled, encased in paper. Then wind up on someone’s plate, where you are expertly used to shovel noodles, or rice, or meat into a mouth.

Then that’s it. It’s time to face the great landfill in the sky. Millions of chopsticks meet their end like this. In fact, billions – 45 billion a year in China alone, taking with them some 100 acres of birch, poplar and bamboo forest a day.

It is one reason why attempts are under way to turn the Chinese off their disposable cutlery and on to the longer-lasting kind.

In 2006, the Government introduced a 5% tax on all disposable wooden chopsticks following petitions from schoolchildren and citizens’ group.

Since then, efforts to curb the wooden sticks’ use have increased. A BYOC (Bring Your Own Chopsticks) movement has been actively petitioning for sustainable options for some time.

Described by the China Post as a collection of “young yuppies”, they carry around their own implements when dining out. Occasionally, claims the Post, restaurant owners take it upon themselves to reward the yuppies’ efforts with a complimentary bowl of soup.

Greenpeace launched a campaign with the slogan “say no to disposable chopsticks.” In 2008, activists dressed as orang-utans invaded corporate cafeterias – Microsoft, Intel and IBM among them – to discourage diners from going disposable.

Then, earlier this year, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce joined with five other government departments to warn that companies using disposables could soon face legal restrictions. They claimed to “aim at decreasing the use of the throwaway utensil”.

“Production, circulation and recycling of disposable chopsticks should be more strictly supervised,” they explained.

It’s a stark about-face for the Chinese government. Prior to the measure, they had actively encouraged disposables’ use. They were, reasoned authorities, more hygienic that their reusable cousins.

The debate over throwaway instruments, while raging in China, is by no means limited to chopsticks.

In the UK, disposable cutlery is thought to be used for an average of three minutes before being discarded.

Plastics – including convenience cutlery, crockery and cups – account for 7% of office waste. That’s before the countless millions of knives, forks and spoons churned out by fast food restaurants, cafes and supermarkets are taken into account.

Recent years have seen the rise of the Carry Your Own Cutlery (CYOC) movement, while websites such as recyclethis.co.uk offer readers advice on how to reuse their plastic implements.

Increasingly, retailers are under pressure to offer – if not reusable – then at least recyclable options.

Starbucks recently pledged to introduce renewable materials during its next round of store upgrades and has committed to using entirely recyclable cups by 2015. Pret-a-Manger, meanwhile, has pledged to go “landfill-free” by 2012.

Not everyone has been so quick to change. McDonald’s, while using recycled paper in much of its packaging, defends its choice of plastic cutlery on the grounds that washing up would waste energy.

How effective China’s measures will be remains to be seen. The BYOC has been slow in picking up active support, and the government’s waste warning, while a step in an environmentally-friendly direction, is more bark than bite.

Legislation is looming, though as yet there are few concrete incentives for diners to trade in their disposables. Wooden chopsticks cost restaurant owners a fraction of what the more durable alternatives do, since the cost of sterilisation is high.

What’s more, the alternative melamine-resin chopsticks have a notoriously high formaldehyde content, which is neither great news for the environment nor diners’ health.

Polls by news outlets have found broad support for reusable items. Some 84.2% of participants told a recent Sina.com poll that they would swap for more durable options.

Still, analysts point out that the authorities’ interest is divided: environmentally, cutting down on chopsticks makes sense; economically – in the short term at least – it doesn’t.

More than 300,000 people are employed by the wooden chopstick industry, across 300 factories. Exports of their wares bring in $200m a year.

In 2009, it was claimed that 300 restaurants in Beijing had ceased to provide disposable chopsticks. In a country of some 1.3 billion diners, there’s a long way left to go.

Source: Independent

Date: 31/08/2010

Ranching ‘biggest driver of deforestation’ in Brazil


Cattle ranching is the biggest driver of deforestation in Brazil, says Greenpeace.

In evidence presented at the World Social Forum, hosted by Belem in the heart of the Amazon, the environmental group said it showed that cattle ranching was the biggest driver of Amazon deforestation.

Greenpeace Brazil has produced a series of maps which it said showed the links between cattle ranching and tree felling in the highest resolution to date.

The details have been released as part of the organisation’s Save the Planet – Now tour.

Greenpeace lists the South America nation as the world’s fourth biggest polluter, with 75% of its emissions stemming from deforestation.

The Brazilian government has pledged to tackle destruction of the Amazon as part of its climate commitments. However, green campaigners say plans to expand its cattle industry contradict these.

Internationally, tropical deforestation is responsible for a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the global transport sector.

Source: Greenpeace International

Date: 29/01/2009

DR Congo cancels timber contracts


The Democratic Republic of Congo government has cancelled nearly 60% of timber contracts in the world’s second-largest tropical rainforest, the BBC News website reports.

It follows a six-month review of 156 logging deals aimed at stamping out corruption in the sector and enforcing legal and environmental standards.

At the end of the World Bank-backed process, government ministers found that only 65 timber deals were viable.

New contracts will be issued for 90,000 sq km (35,000 square miles) of forest.

Environment Minister Jose Endundo told a news conference in the capital Kinshasa that the other agreements would be cancelled.

“I will proceed within the next 48 hours to notify those applicants having received an unfavourable recommendation from the inter-ministerial commission through decrees cancelling their respective conventions,” he was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

“Upon notification of the cancellation decision, the operator must immediately stop cutting timber.”

Mr Endundo also said the government planned to respect a moratorium, introduced during Congo’s 1998-2003 war but widely ignored, on granting new logging deals.

The BBC’s Thomas Fessy in Kinshasa says all the timber agreements were struck during the conflict.

Amid rampant corruption, huge concessions were gifted to logging companies, which paid almost no tax, he says.

Monday’s decision should reduce the surface area exploited by timber firms by up to half, according to our correspondent.

The Congo Basin is home to the second largest tropical forest in the world after the Amazon, but campaigners say it is being eaten away by logging, mining and agricultural land clearance.

Sarah Shoraka, of Greenpeace, says the new rules must be enforced to protect a vital resource.

“Real economic development is what’s needed,” she told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme.

“We’ve highlighted tax evasion, and there’s often quite serious disputes between local people and these logging companies.

“The logging companies promise hospitals and schools and they hardly ever deliver these things on the ground.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 19/01/2009

Hackers ‘aid’ Amazon logging scam


Hackers have helped logging firms in Brazil evade limits on tree felling, says a Greenpeace report.

The hi-tech criminals penetrated a computer system designed to monitor logging in the Brazilian state of Para, according to a report on the BBC News website.

Once inside the system, hackers issued fake permits so loggers could cut down far more timber than environmental officials were prepared to allow.

Greenpeace estimates that 1.7m cubic metres of illegal timber may have been removed with the aid of the hackers.

Drawing on information released by Brazilian federal prosecutor Daniel Avelino, Greenpeace believes hackers were employed by 107 logging and charcoal companies.

“Almost half of the companies involved in this scam have other law suits pending for environmental crimes or the use of slave labour,” said Mr Avelino in a statement issued by Greenpeace.

Mr Avelino is suing the companies behind the mass hack attack for two billion reals (£564m) – the estimated value of the timber illegally sold.

The Brazilian investigation of the hackers began in April 2007 and more than 30 ring leaders were arrested during the summer of that year. The ongoing investigation means that now 202 people face charges for their involvement in the subversion of the logging system.

The hack was made possible by a decision in 2006 to do away with paper forms to help monitor whether logging and charcoal firms were keeping to the quotas they were set.

Instead, the Amazon state of Para turned to a fully-computerised system that issued travel permits for the timber logging firms were removing. The intent was that travel permits would stop being issuedonce logging companies had reached their annual quota.

With the help of the hackers, Brazilian logging firms were able to issue fake permits allowing them to bust through these caps.

“We’ve pointed out before that this method of controlling the transport of timber was subject to fraud,” said Andre Muggiati, Greenpeace campaigner in Manaus. “And this is only the tip of the iceberg, because the same computer system is also used in two other Brazilian states.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 15/12/2008

Brazil government ‘worst logger’


Brazil’s government has been named as the worst illegal logger of Amazon forests by one of its own departments, the BBC News website reports.

The Environment Ministry has drawn up a list of the 100 worst offenders and says all of them will be charged.

Topping the list was the Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (Incra), a government department which distributes land to the poor.

The revelation came after an official report revealed that deforestation in the Amazon region was gathering pace.

The six largest deforested areas since 2005 all belonged to Incra, Environment Minister Carlos Minc said.

In total 550,000 acres of the world’s largest rainforest was destroyed on those six properties.

Greenpeace has accused Incra officials of illegally handing over rainforest to logging companies and creating fake settlements to skirt environmental regulations.

But Incra’s president, Rolf Hackbart, said all the areas cited by Mr Minc as being deforested by his department were areas legally settled between 1995 and 2002.

Mr Minc told a news conference he would take legal action against all of the loggers.

“We’re going to blow all 100 of them out of the water and then some,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

Meanwhile, official data released by Mr Minc showed a renewed increase in the rate of deforestation.

About 760 sq km (300 sq miles) of the Amazon was destroyed last month, compared with 230 sq km in August 2007.

“It was a terrible result,” Mr Minc said.

He blamed expanding cattle and farm activity, as well as land theft through the falsification of property titles.

The environment minister said he would create an environmental police force with 3,000 armed officers to help combat deforestation.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 30/09/2008

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