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Developing Nations Should Focus on Water Research, UN Urges

Leading international agencies rank inadequate water supply and sanitation among the top-10 global risks

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Five, Non-Permanent, Members
The five will join the 15-nation body responsible for maintaining international peace. Pixabay

Post-secondary education and research aimed at tackling the global water crisis is concentrated in wealthy countries rather than the poorer, developing places where it is most needed, the UN University said.

Two new papers from the university’s Canada-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health on Wednesday called for reducing this ‘alarming’ imbalance between resources and need, which impedes the search for solutions to crucial water challenges.

They also suggested refocusing how water research is assessed; with more emphasis on whether the work leads to successful, practical solutions and less on counting the number of papers published and cited by other researchers.

Leading international agencies rank inadequate water supply and sanitation among the top-10 global risks, and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals set ambitious targets for improvement.

Developing nations, Water Research
Post-secondary education and research aimed at tackling the global water crisis is concentrated in wealthy countries rather than the poorer. Pixabay

Despite the research and other efforts that have gone into trying to resolve the water challenges, “not many of them have been removed from the global development agenda”, said Hamid Mehmood, an Institute for Water, Environment and Health Senior researcher, in his paper, “Bibliometrics of Water Research: A Global Snapshot”.

“Higher education related to water is a critical component of capacity development,” according to Colin Mayfield, Professor Emeritus at the University of Waterloo, in “Higher Education in the Water Sector: A Global Overview”.

In their separate papers, Mayfield and Mehmood examine the weaknesses in water-related research and education systems and suggest reforms.

In both cases, with no global data source offering detailed information on educational activities in the water sector, or even listing water-resources programs as a discrete category, the authors devised indirect strategies to extract information from several databases.

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Water-related research is published in 88 countries. Between them, the US and China accounted for 33 per cent of the 1.2 million papers published between 2012 and 2017, although their publication rate is growing more slowly than many other countries.

About 70 per cent of the academic journals that carry research on water issues are published in just four countries — the US, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands — and only two per cent are in China.

Mayfield’s paper states most of the universities that offer courses in water-related issues, and that publish research papers, are in North America, Europe and parts of Asia.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, which faces severe water shortages, very few postgraduate institutions offer recognised programs on water. (IANS)

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UN Calls People to Favour Products Containing Plastic Recycled from Waste

Manufacturers, meanwhile, need to improve designs so that a product’s plastic components are more easily recovered for recycling, use recycled plastic in their products, and advertise that feature to consumers

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Carpets, Rugs, Plastic Waste, Biodegradable, Recycle
The rugs manufacturer and exporter emphasises green and responsible production using non-polluting manufacturing practices and conservation of energy and materials as far as possible. Pixabay

A European Commission-funded project supported by the UN is calling for consumers to demand electronic and electrical products made with recycled plastic, and for manufacturers to redesign products to both improve recyclability and integrate recycled plastics in new products.

The call is made by PolyCE (for Post-Consumer High-tech Recycled Polymers for a Circular Economy), a multinational consortium led by Fraunhofer IZM and universities– UN University, Bonn; University of Ghent, Belgium; Technical University Berlin; and University of Northampton, Britain, civil society organisations (European Environmental Bureau), and numerous companies — including Philips and Whirlpool.

The 20 partners launching the two-year campaign are based or operate in nine countries: Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Austria, Spain, Finland, the US and Britain.

According to the Nordic Council of Ministers, plastics account for about 20 per cent of all materials in electronic and electrical equipment, most of it not designed for recovery and reuse.

The PolyCE consortium is launching a two-year campaign to raise awareness among consumers and manufacturers in order to change their attitudes towards recycled plastics and improve their market uptake.

Says project partner Kim Ragaret, University of Gent: “Plastics are a valuable resource with a great potential for circularity. Plastics themselves aren’t the problem; our so-called plastics problems relate to attitudes and waste management.

Plastics are essential for making many different components of electronic and electrical products, including phones, computers, TVs, vacuum cleaners, hairdryers and household appliances.

According to PolyCE consortium experts, products can be designed in ways that make material recovery of plastic components easier.

Of the more than 12 million tonnes of e-waste expected next year in Europe (EU, Norway and Switzerland), an estimated 2.5 million tonne (23 per cent) will be plastics.

Campaign, Plastic, Waste
Plastic waste is seen on the River Tisza near Tiszafured, Hungary, Oct. 1, 2019. VOA

That’s the weight equivalent of 62,500 fully-loaded 40-tonne trucks — enough to form a line from Rome to Frankfurt — and 2.5 times the 1 million tonne of plastic landfilled as e-waste components in the year 2000.

The PolyCE consortium noted a report from Sweden that, globally, just 10 per cent of higher grade plastics from durable goods is recovered and recycled worldwide today, which compares poorly with average 50 to 90 per cent recovery and recycling rates for metals and glass.

The project illustrates through a number of demonstrators that making electronic and electrical equipment containing high-quality recycled plastics is economically feasible for manufacturers, and the products are just as long-lasting and durable as those containing virgin plastics.

In addition, buying electronic and electrical equipment containing recycled plastics offers many other benefits for the environment.

Recycling plastic would not only take pressure off waste systems (in Europe, some 31 per cent of plastic waste still enters landfills while 39 per cent is incinerated) every tonne recycled would also help avoid up to 3 tonne of CO2 emissions created making new plastic.

A recent consumer survey carried out by the PolyCE project found that half of respondents did not know if they had ever bought a tech product that included recycled plastic.

Of the 25 per cent who said yes to the question, 86 per cent noticed no difference in quality, appearance or performance.

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Informed about the health and environmental benefits of recycled plastic components in electronic and electrical equipment, 95 per cent of those surveyed confirmed that they would buy products with that feature.

According to the survey, consumers show high willingness to act in line with the circular economy, but actual engagement is still pretty low, unfortunately. But communication is key.

“The consumer has absolutely vital role in a sustainable, circular economy and manufacturing system,” says UN University e-waste expert Ruediger Kuehr.

Manufacturers, meanwhile, need to improve designs so that a product’s plastic components are more easily recovered for recycling, use recycled plastic in their products, and advertise that feature to consumers. (IANS)