11.18.2011

DEER IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD

Date: May 2011
Place: Klampenborg, Denmark




These photos of free and happy as a sandboy deer were taken at the J√¶gersborg Dyrehave (“The Deer Park” in Danish) in Denmark. A former royal hunting ground, Dyrehaven now occupies around 11 square kilometers and has approximately 2000 deer with the largest populations being of red deer (Cervus elaphus), fallow deer (Dama dama), and sika deer (Cervus nippon). The park is very close to the Danish capital Copenhagen and other cities of the Eastern coast of Zealand.
The deer (Cervidae) can be easily distinguished by the significant antlers that males (stags) grow and shed every year. The growth rate of these antlers is 2.5 cm per day. Deer are ruminant mammals, meaning that they have a four-section stomach, and the plants they eat are initially softened in the first section, then regurgitated into the mouth, rechewed there, and only then digested in other sections of the stomach. Deer are present in all continents, except Australia and Antarctica. They are hunted and grown by humans for food, clothing, and transportation. In former times the word “deer” meant any wild animal of any species, but then narrowed down to these particular mammals.


The red deer (Cervus elaphus) shown on the photos is one of the largest representatives of the Cervidae family, with stags being around 220 cm in length and 200 kg in weight. During the autumn the red deer gets a “free fur coat”: it grows a thicker coat of hair to help its body keep the heat during cold winter days. These mammals can live up to 20 years, but their average lifespan is only about 10 – 15 years. This is the only species of deer inhabiting Africa.

Note: You can see more photos and read about the J√¶gersborg Dyrehave in “Copenhagen Pictures: Dyrehaven – The Royal Hunting Ground And Park”.

9.06.2011

TRIPLER: JOIN THE WASTE MANAGEMENT EVOLUTION!

The previous post entitled “LET’S CLEAN UP MOLDOVA… IN A SCIENTIFIC WAY!” revealed some details of the international research project that is currently in progress. It bears the official name “Non-state Cooperation in Environment Protection Area in Developed and Developing Countries: The Case of Waste Management in Moldova” and is aimed at researching the possibilities of cooperation between corporate and non-corporate sector in the area of waste management and coming up with recommendations for its establishment and progress in the developed (Denmark) and developing (Moldova) countries. The project is planned to end in May 2012 with several research articles and the comprehensive final report.


The most recent achievement within the project activity is the finalized research work “Business Opportunities in the Waste Management Market in the Baltic States and the Example of TripleR: Join the Waste Management Evolution!”. Its output tells about the current situation with waste management in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and some opportunities of establishing business in this attractive market. It will be made publicly available in the nearest future.
But the output document is not the only significant result of the above-mentioned research work. Its conclusions and recommendations, as well as the increasing number of persons interested in the research project and the issue of waste management in general became the inspiration for and push towards the creation of an on-line networking and sharing platform. In order to make it professional, the virtual social network LinkedIn was chosen to host this platform. So, nowadays one can find there the group called "TripleR: Join the Waste Management Evolution!".


The group includes updates about the research plans and progress of the project, recommendations for the literature used, released articles and other publications, good case practices from different countries, job positions, etc. You are able to join a discussion, start a new one, share your thoughts, promote opportunities, contact other interested people, contribute to the research project, and much more. Of course, all this is related to the issue of waste management.
Thus, if you are interested in and willing to contribute to cleaning up our planet in a scientific way, then this group is for YOU.
JOIN TRIPLER!
JOIN THE WASTE MANAGEMENT EVOLUTION!


Note: A recommendation is to also take part in the group “Waste Management & Recycling Professionals” that represents a good networking tool for people working in the waste management industry.

6.28.2011

LET’S CLEAN UP MOLDOVA… IN A SCIENTIFIC WAY!

The general impression people have of scientists is of the ones sitting days and nights in their laboratories, “playing” with complex formulas, and releasing mind-twisting research works that end up collecting dust on the libraries’ shelves. Such impression is even stronger regarding researchers in Environmental Economics, for instance. The reason is that theoretical research does not go hand-in-hand with the applied one, i.e. the research process and results are not implemented in the “real world”.
Yet, this can be changed and should be done for some fields of science. Theory can go along with its practical implementation if researchers work together with company managers, volunteers from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and policy makers. It is called synergetic cooperation, and it is precisely such cooperation the new research project targeting the Republic of Moldova is about.

The project entitled “Non-state Cooperation in Environment Protection Area in Developed and Developing Countries: The Case of Waste Management in Moldova” addresses the issue of how the experience of developed countries, such as Denmark and Germany, in non-state (companies and NGOs) cooperation in waste management can be applied to a developing state (in this case, Moldova) in order to construct and implement in practice an effective and efficient waste management development model there. In particular, the research project is focused on answering the following questions:
1) What are the reasons of inefficiency in waste management in Moldova and which are the most important ones to focus on?
2) What are the economic and social consequences of this inefficiency?
3) How can companies and NGOs work together to establish and develop the waste management market based on the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) of the waste hierarchy?
4) What are benefits and costs of such cooperation?
5) What existing best case practices in developed countries can be used in constructing the waste management development model for Moldova?
6) What waste management development model is suggested for Republic of Moldova and how can it be implemented there?
7) How can this model be used in other developing states?
The project has a one-year realization period (June 2011 – May 2012) and includes 2 intermediary and 1 final research articles to be released, as well as the final research report to be made public at the end of the period. Several seminars and workshops on non-state cooperation and waste management and an internship in a waste management company are also part of the project action plan.
As the research project is all about synergetic cooperation, it will bring together companies involved in waste management and/or Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities, environmental NGOs, and policy makers. The research work will be conducted simultaneously with consultations, negotiations with, and surveying of the above-mentioned economic agents, so the cooperation of theory and practice will also be achieved. And the project will contribute to resolving one of the most severe environmental problems a developing country, such as the Republic of Moldova, faces nowadays – the problem of inefficient waste management.
Thus, it is high time to clean up Moldova… in a scientific way!

Note: If you want to join the project team, contribute to its success in any other way, or just receive more information about it, please contact the project coordinator by e-mail: bsrcentre@gmail.com.

4.16.2011

“HAI, MOLDOVA!”: INTERNAL ASSESSMENT

On 16th of April, 2011 I participated in the national environmental initiative “Hai, Moldova!”, which consists mostly in activating citizens of my home country, the Republic of Moldova, for collecting waste in certain places. I had heard about this initiative a long time ago, and as an environmentalist became interested to see and analyze it from within. Anyway, I used to collect garbage during my walks in “The Roses Valley” park in Chisinau, as well as organizing such events as the “Green Picnic”.
However, there were certain doubts about the efficiency and impact of “Hai, Moldova!” also. In particular, I was concerned about recycling of the collected waste, organization of such large crowd of volunteers, cooperation with corporate actors, etc.
Thus, I joined in. I did not affiliate to any particular group of volunteers intentionally in order to be able to observe multiple groups and thus have a broader picture of the activities performed. It was an interesting and fun experience, I should say.
Still, the basic principles of scientific analysis make me depart from my personal opinion and present the assessment of “Hai, Moldova!” on the basis of the observed facts. Here I should stress the point that this is NOT a critique. This post is an independent internal assessment of an environmental initiative as seen through eyes of a young researcher and trainer in Environmental and Natural Resource Economics. It is organized according to the well-known feedback principle of “STOP, CONTINUE, IMPROVE”.



STOP:
None observed.
CONTINUE:
+ Promotion and raising awareness about the issue of waste accumulation on the territory of Moldova among the society. The “Hai, Moldova!” message reached various economic agents: individual citizens, companies, non-governmental and governmental organizations.
+ Recycling of plastic. The volunteers were instructed to separate all garbage into plastic and non-plastic one. I was told that all plastic waste would be transported to a recycling station at Ungheni. However, I received no information on where it is located and, most importantly, how the waste would be recycled. Therefore, refer to the IMPROVE section for further discussion.
+ Equipment (protective clothing and bags) provided for all volunteers. The clothing allowed people to stay clean, while the bags were used to collect and store waste. Still, see the IMPROVE section for feedback about it.
+ Aesthetical results. The activity of “Hai, Moldova!” contributed to the removal of waste on a large area. Many people enjoyed the view of the cleaned territory after performing the activity.
+ Networking. The event on 16.04.2011 brought together many people from different sectors and places. There were even some foreigners.
+ External promotion for companies as environmentally responsible agents.
+ Team-building activity for representatives from corporate, non-corporate and governmental organizations.
+ Fun. Many people enjoyed the activity in the fresh air, even though it was quite muddy after the rain.
IMPROVE:
! Achievement of the environmental goal. “Hai, Moldova!” claims to be the environmental initiative, but the environmental impact is dubious here. The initiative results in removing the waste from certain territories and transporting to other ones, but not in the reduction of the total amount of garbage on the territory of the country (for a discussion about the dangers of such approach see here). Therefore, “Hai, Moldova!” contributes mostly to resolving aesthetical and perhaps health issues related to waste, but less to the environmental one. A suggestion here is to pay much attention to the recycling aspect of waste management.
! Control for further waste “way”. Talking about recycling, “Hai, Moldova!” seems to be not controlling the real elimination of waste from the ecosystem and, in general, have extremely little information about further “fate” of the collected garbage. The initiative encourages the behavior more of “yardmen” than of “environmentalists”. There is also danger of using the inappropriate ways of recycling. For example, simple burning of plastic bottles releases all their toxic components into the atmosphere and also contributes to carbon emission increase. Possible improvements can be represented in more active cooperation with the recycling stations, thorough tracking of the whole waste “way”, and more focus on waste destruction.
! Coverage of the whole waste hierarchy. The focus of “Hai, Moldova!” is only on the lowest levels of it: disposal and recycling. But the real positive environmental impact is achieved by combining all levels, especially the “3 Rs”: REDUCE slows down the production and consumption of waste-generating goods, REUSE supports multiple use of the same goods, and RECYCLE eliminates the waste that has been impossible or extremely costly to reduce and reuse from the ecosystem. So, an evident proposal here concerns either the enriching of the “Hai, Moldova!” activities to cover all “3 Rs” or its cooperation with economic agents that focus on the REDUCE and REUSE campaigns. See for yourself: wouldn’t it be better if there is no need for such cleaning activities and people spend their time in more productive ways because there is simply no waste to collect – it is either reduced, or reused, or in the worst case recycled?
! Dealing with “they will clean it anyway” attitude. The activity of “Hai, Moldova!” contributes to nurturing two opposite types of attitude and behavior in the society. The first one is represented by a more careful attention to the environment and less littering, while the second has the potential of producing even more waste. “I may litter as much as I can. Those guys from “Hai, Moldova!” will clean it anyway!” – such attitude deserves much attention and brainstorming for ideas on dealing with it.
! Room for creativity and innovation. “Hai, Moldova!” uses volunteers as simple workforce with the approach “go there and do that”. There are few opportunities and specific environment for these volunteers and the whole society to express their ideas and come up with initiatives for resolving the pollution issue. There are simply no incentives to “think outside the box”. Some possible recommendations here are the following: creation of the “innovations” page on the website for users to post their ideas and initiatives; establishment of the virtual forum for creative discussions; organization of conferences, round tables, scenario workshops, etc. for networking and sharing of ideas among different economic agents.
! Organization of volunteer groups. The beginning of the 16.04.2011 event was rather chaotic with many groups and individual volunteers seeking for some instructions and directions. It is possible to improve this by organizing separate “meeting areas” and “info-points” for individuals, companies, NGOs, etc.
! Equipment, such as protective clothing and bags, distributed by “Hai, Moldova!” is waste in itself. After use it was thrown away, thus adding to the aggregate amount of garbage already available on the country’s territory. Additionally, the label on the clothing read “100% polyolefin”, which is a polymer containing such ingredients as dibutyl phthalate (30 – 40%) – a hazardous compound banned in the European Union and other countries. In the process of decomposing of such piece of clothing the compound is released into the environment, causing harm to plants, animals, and people. The recommendation for preventing such negative impact is either to reuse (do you remember the “3 Rs”?) clothing by collecting and washing it or to acquire more environmentally friendly protective clothing, or preferably both.


CONCLUSION:

No doubt, such national environmental initiative as “Hai, Moldova!” is a valuable move towards the society’s friendlier attitude towards the environment. “Hai, Moldova!” managed to bring together many economic agents from all over the country and really “point their noses into” the problem of pollution by waste.
Still, it stands in the infancy of environmental initiatives, where a lot of important connections and interactions between various areas and issues are not considered. And, most importantly, there is no science behind vision, mission, objectives, and all activities within the initiative, as shown by the assessment above.
Anyway, I see (and I hope I see it correctly) that “Hai, Moldova!” is one of the first, but nevertheless important steps in addressing environmental problems. A baby needs to learn to crawl before one teaches him / her to walk. Therefore, if “Hai, Moldova!” learns to use science, to “see the Big Picture”, and to explore its own rich potential (and I see it rich indeed!), then it will have the strength to grow into a powerful organization producing REAL POSITIVE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT.
So, “HAI, MOLDOVA!” RISE UP AND START WALKING!

3.25.2011

THE “PLASTIC BAGS WAR”: PRICES AND TAXES

Nowadays in my home country, the Republic of Moldova, there is a blogging campaign for reducing the use of plastic bags, more specifically the plastic shopping bags given for free at shops and supermarkets. The issue here is that these bags have a very large period of decomposing (up to 100 years), and during this process polyethylene (the plastic the bags are made of) splits into toxic chemicals that pollute the environment.


The most common solution to reduce consumption of plastic bags in Moldova suggested by various bloggers is a tax levied on such bags. So, a consumer would have to pay a specific tax when receiving a plastic bag in a shop. This idea was inspired by the experience of such developed countries as the USA and Ireland.
However, though such plastic bag tax is appropriate for the developed world, it might cause the totally opposite effect in such developing states as Moldova. The reason is related to the states’ different position on the so-called Kuznets curve.


The developed countries are usually positioned after the tipping point, which indicates that they have enough resources and understanding to abate their pollution. This causes the reduction of environmental degradation. But the developing countries have “more important” problems to think of, for instance, GDP fall, external debt, technological drawback, poverty, hunger, etc. – there are many reasons not go care for the environment. So, such states allocate almost all of their resources to industry in order to catch up with other more developed countries at the expense of the clean environment. The pollution level here goes up.
Turning back to the tax on plastic bags. While in the developed world it is treated as an externality-correcting instrument and thereby is set at the level to discourage plastic bag usage, the governments of the developing countries will likely see it as an additional source of revenue for their weak budget. So, in order to maximize the amount of money it gets, the government will be interested in setting the tax level in such way that it does not reduce the plastic bags consumption (or does only a little), but assures this supplementary money inflow. By introducing this tax you just take some money from the society and give it to the government. Such “perverse incentive” gets even more troublesome in the presence of high corruption level, a commonplace thing in these states.
So, what can be done here?
Let us look at the problem from the beginner environmental economist’s point of view.
Firstly, a suggestion is to use the so-called “market-based incentives” instead of the tax. In other words, we need to create a market for the plastic bags, so that they become a separate good with their market price. In this way consumers will think twice before buying them, because it becomes more economically effective to carry your own bag or backpack when going shopping. Also economists argue that such market-based mechanisms are more flexible than the “once set and go” taxes, are more or less self-adjusting, and allow the obtaining of the desired effect in a relatively short time.
However, the implementation of this suggestion alone will not lead to significant reduction of plastic bags consumption, because so far we have addressed only the demand side of the problem. We need to target the supply also.
So, secondly, we can use the “so-many-talks-about” plastic bag tax, but levy it directly on the companies producing these bags. This suggestion is in line with the “polluter-pays” principle – in a way, these firms can be considered as polluters, can’t they? Of course, the companies will move the tax value into the product price, which seems to be the same as the tax levied on each plastic bag. So, what is the trick? The thing is that consumers already pay for the bag as proposed previously. Additional tax will hit hard on their pockets. And they will direct their complaints not to the government, but to the “original polluters” themselves. So, in order not to lose clients and to stay in the packaging business, firms will have 2 choices: either suffer from the significantly reduced demand for the plastic bags or innovate in direction of more ecologically friendly packaging, like the biodegradable bags. Taxes are said to be very difficult to set properly and require a long period of time to produce the desired effect. However, they are a very good motivation for the profit-maximizing firms to innovate.
In conclusion, the campaign on reducing the plastic bags consumption is definitely an environmentally beneficial thing to push forward. However, it should be done wisely, with analysis of different options and their combinations and with “putting ourselves into other’s shoes”. Science is a very good and helpful ally in this respect. It allows us to prevent many mistakes and unpleasant effects even before the implementation of the campaign’s suggestions.
So, it is high time to say “NO!” to plastic bags… in a scientific way.

Note: For those interested in environmental taxes and market-based instruments a recommendation is to read Baumol, W.J., Oates, W.E. (1988): “Uncertainty and the Choice of Policy Instruments: Price or Quantity Controls?” in Baumol, W.J., Oates, W.E. The Theory of Environmental Policy, 2nd Edition.

3.19.2011

DID YOU KNOW THAT...

… collecting garbage can be harmful to the environment?

The reason is that you do not remove it entirely from the ecosystem, but just move (shift) and pile it in another place. Waste that is stored on a single territory produces more pollution pressure on this territory than garbage scattered on a far larger area. While in the second case the ecosystem is still able to cope with it, the battle with the constantly increasing concentrated waste is beyond its powers. Therefore, the first case leads to quick and irreversible damage of the ecosystem.
So, if we really want to clean up our planet, we need to change our focus from moving the increasing amount of waste here and there to reducing its “production” and reusing / recycling what is impossible to reduce.

Note: “Did You Know?” is an informational initiative of the BioSciences Research Centre (BSRC).

1.22.2011

THE SAINTS FROM THE FAIRYTALES

Date: August 2010
Place: Copenhagen, Denmark


The photo was taken at the distance of several meters from these beautiful birds. They were quite relaxed, only the snow-white mother was a bit nervous for its children.
The swans (Cygnus) are common species of the birds class (Aves) in Denmark. One can see them on almost all lakes and in most parks of its capital city, Copenhagen. Often people feed swans – this is why they are so tolerant to human presence there. These gracious birds are quite popular in this country mostly due to the Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytales, namely “The Ugly Duckling” and “The Wild Swans”.


Swans are the largest members of the Anatidae family that contains about 146 species and includes such other well-known birds as ducks and geese. As you can notice, the family represents species of birds that are well-adapted to swimming and living near water. Generally they are herbivorous and monogamous breeders (have only one mate at any one time).
Most of the swan species have either pure white (like the mute swan (Cygnus olor) presented on the photo) or black-and-white plumage. The Australian black swan (Cygnus atratus) is, as its name suggests, totally black (with the exception of white flight feathers on its wings). Their chicks (you can see two of them on the picture) are grey.
An interesting anatomic feature of swans is that they have “teeth” – small jagged parts of beaks that serve for catching and eating fish.
As it has been previously mentioned, these birds are monogamous – they form couples that stay together for many years, sometimes for a lifetime. This is why swans are often seen as a symbol of true love and fidelity. In Hinduism they are considered as saintly living beings in general.