Household product safe disposal – Triclosan

I was home recently and I found several bottles of half used soapless cleansers that contained that creepy chemical the media has been warning us about – triclosan. For those that have not been paying particular attention to their personal cleaning products, here is a description of triclosan from the Government of Canada and here is a description of triclosan from Wikipedia. I no longer use the product and I was trying to find the best way to dispose of this. Originally I contemplated either slowly use up these products or putting these directly down the drain and then recycling those bottles. Thankfully I followed neither of those and just a few days ago I asked one of my geotextile colleagues and he immediately referred me to the strengths of geotextiles used in landfills. The typical engineered landfill geotextiles, he believed, ought to be adequate in securing any chemicals leaking out of containers within the landfill. Check with your local waste management authorities but I believe that the best way forward to dispose of unwanted unspecified household liquids may in fact be to put them in with the trash. Go figure…

As always, comments and questions are welcomed.

Posted in Reduce Reuse then Recycle, Social Health | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Usage Tax/User Fees

I am writing this while sitting inside a public library, which I partially pay for this public library through the government’s various taxing schemes. In certain angle, I guess you can say that I don’t pay to use the service but I have faith in the way tax revenues are divvied up and presume that the right portion of money is going to the public library system.

I am familiar with the concept but I am new to the term Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), thanks to C.D. Howe Institute’s The Eco-Fee Imbroglio. Summarily, the concept suggests that a financial cost more representative of the true environmental cost to an economic activity should be borne by all the parties involved in the transaction, namely the manufacturer, retailer and user. This will ensure all parties consider the entire life cycle of the product, as well as the product that the new one is replacing. When this financial cost is passed down onto the consumers, I call this a usage tax/user fee.

Personally, I have no issues with user fees and in fact I believe this to be a useful tool to quantify consumer’s desire for a product or service. Some years ago, I was prompted by my telecommunication service provider to switch over to paperless invoices and bills to be environmentally friendly and the alternative was to pay a small fee to continue receiving paper copies. It was a no-brainer for me. However, years now since I switched, I still know people that are dubious of this offering and whether the money collected for paper copies are used as a revenue tool or as means to promote positive environmental behaviour. That becomes a matter of trust I guess.

One of the ways to increase effectiveness is to ensure that a user-fee program is participated by a majority of the companies within a sector. I believe this is a constructive way to increase the integrity of the program and to ensure customers that the revenue received is going to a stewardship fund, a environmental protection trust, etc.

I would highly recommend that all readers interested in this topic to go through the article from C.D. Howe as it provides numerous recommendation from the previous incarnations of user fee regimes.

As always, all questions and comments are welcomed.

Posted in EPR (Extended producer responsibility) | Leave a comment

A New Crop

I was reminded today that another crop of engineering students has just received their Iron Rings this last month and thereby entered into a proud profession. I am also keenly aware of the changes that has happened since I graduated, nevermind in the last 30 years. When I was in university, environmental sustainability and LEED had hardly entered the curriculum of the undergraduate engineering student. Fast forward to 2013 and I am quite sure that many undergrad students have at least some experience with projects relating to those subjects, with even more graduate programs tailored for that purpose. That had gotten me thinking, how do engineers from different era see themselves? Do some see themselves as champions of environmental sustainability, among the likes of Al Gore and Gro Harlem Brundtland; and some merely see the whole LEED and environmental design as a scam and a meal ticket?

I do not believe this topic within the field of LEED has gotten much attention because it is not something directly affecting the performance of workers or the construction time of projects. However, as newer generations of engineers climb the corporate ladder there is a need in my mind to ensure the proverbial torch gets passed on to the proper individuals. Borne out of the green movement in the 80’s & 90’s, LEED was created as a system to document and characterize various building systems that could be made more energy efficient, environmentally friendly or less detriment on human health. I was too young in the 90’s to be directly involved with design in those days but I remember reading magazine articles where visionaries was constructing homes with plant gardens and glazing that will cut heating and cooling, while decreasing overall power grid use by using solar PV. Many of the engineers and designers now involved with LEED building design are the passionate individuals from that era but I am not entirely confident that their support staff, like the junior designers and the EITs, share their vision.

Why do I say use polarizing words? It’s because I believe people have cooled to the connectedness of climate change, environmental sustainability and the need for LEED construction. This is partly due to Canada’s political climate of the last ten or so years and the growing emphasis on ideology over science and research, which hurts the nurturing needed to educate engineering grads in the connectedness of the things I just mentioned. I fear many see LEED design/construction as simply another discipline and where I hope to see the creation of  future thought leaders and paradigm shift, in reality, they see paychecks for mortgage payments to the condo with 70% glazing and car payments to a luxury SUV. To be honest this concerns me, as our collective mentality becomes more consumeristic how will environmental sustainability and LEED construction/design interact with one another; will the two ideas diverge so much that in the future people involved in LEED design will laugh thinking of themselves as green individuals?

As always, all comments and questions are welcome.

[Ed. note: document updated for wording]

Posted in Building Code/LEED, Political Willingness | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

You say goodbye and I say hello

I am always glad I have this intellectual outlet for whenever I wish to write, I am just less impressed with the circumstances from which this entry originates from. I thought of how public transportation can be made more efficient as I walked, having just missed my transfer bus.

What if that bus you want to catch actually waited for you?

Much in the same way that communal insects like ants and bees have develop ways to communicate with each other, I think buses and streetcars need to have the ability to talk to one another when in close proximity. I am sure the planning of the routes went through a vigorous system engineering exercise to ensure all intersecting buses arrive close to each other within the hour, so this shouldn’t be a terribly hard thing to do. My vision is for buses to have radio communication, where one driver could ring a bus up ahead to hold for 10 seconds while riders make their connecting bus. This will allow more people to catch connecting buses and streetcars and it would be hard to believe other countries haven’t thought of this system. For the concept of a sustainable neighbourhoods, this would improve the efficiency of public transportation for intra-community travelling.

There are factors that need to be resolved before this is something actually workable, such as abuse,  but I do not believe the technology needs to be invented, it only needs to be utilized. What do you guys think? Am I completely crazy?

As always, questions and comments are welcome.

Posted in Sustainable Neighbourhoods | 2 Comments

The Long Wait

This particular entry has been sitting as a draft for the better of my weekend and I figure this was the best time to finish the draft. One of the projects that I have been undertaking is doing the groundwork for a book. I presume that this would take the shape of an ebook since the costs are much more manageable but I intend for this book to cover much of the stuff that I have been writing about for the last couple of months on this blog. The topics in the book will deal with the same topics I write about on here and the main difference will be that I intend to talk more about the interaction between the engineering profession and society. This was one of my research interests when I was at McMaster and I look forward to continuing my knowledge acquisition.

As the project continue to develop I am sure I will report back about the triumphs and tribulations of doing this. So stay tuned.

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Sustainable Cities

Life is full of opportunities, if you are too focused on your percieved goal in life you run the risk of missing chances to meet new people and learn new things. I am glad that I was in the right place at the right time and met the president of Rivercourt Engineering last week. We had a good morning to exchange some ideas about sustainable water infrastructures and other eco-conscious designs. It was that morning that the following article owe its existence to.

“Sustainable neighbourhoods” is now a buzz word often used in different cities’ master plan. It conjures up idyllic architectural renderings of suburban housing with manicured lawns, punctuated by saplings and populated by computer people. There is one right there beside us; of course, architects never seem to get these things quite right. In fact, I don’t think anyone has a clue what sustainable neighbourhoods ought to look like, since no one has ever been able to create one. I feel that I must add my voice to the cacophony trying to define “sustainable neighbourhood.”

To begin, I would like readers to familiarize themselves with terms like development charges, distributed generation and wastewater treatment. These are terms that will help in the understand of the stuff I am about to talk about.

As many of us know, one of the greatest hindrance to widespread adoption of renewable energy is that delivery and transmission for it is difficult. It’s easy to generate electricity from solar, but storing any more than you can use immediately is expensive and unreliable. Losses in transmission lines are too great for a centralized solar farm to be financially feasible or be anything more than a greenwash project. The same exists for many other types of renewable energy generation and as the old saying goes, “smoke ’em if you got ’em.” If there is a real desire to create a sustainable neighbourhood, then the first task is to solve the dependency on the power grid for electricity by providing the neighbourhood with means to self-generate its electricity, e.g. solar panels on roofs, microturbine generators at intersections and neighbourhood squares. (ed note: I cannot remember the source of this, so take it with a grain of salt, but I remember reading two years ago that research has shown if half of all the roofs in UK were covered with solar panels, their dependency on fossil fuels would be cut by 40%.)

In order to complete our sustainable neighbourhoods, we must also take wastewater treatment through the same process as the distributed power generation. Small-scale wastewater treatment plants are not new; however, the established health standards of municipal governments has to change in order to allow the water treated using alternative methods the same classification as water treated to tertiary treatment. Luckily, as I have been told recently by individuals within the industry, we are starting to see some changes to the standards that may eventually allow this to happen. Having a small-scale wastewater treatment plant in the community also allows biomass as another method of power generation. Using anaerobic combustion, extra electricity can be generated for use in business parks or areas of higher electricity consumption. In all, the idea is to create a loop in both the resource input and output to a sustainable neighbourhood. While I envision small & medium businesses will be encouraged to locate in the neighbourhood, individuals will obviously commute as they normally do to transit hubs or to their places of employment.

The first comment by critics is no doubt – how do you plan on paying for this? By showcasing these projects, once made financially viable, companies and firms will look to invest into this idea. Feasibility studies should also show that by redistributing residential development charges, ones that are currently billed to developers and passed onto homeowners, some of the initial costs of those capital projects can be lessoned.

No doubt that this exists in fantasy, I am not sure how many takers would willing live in this type of environment. To some, I am sure it sounds a little too Orwellian, infringing on people’s freedoms and all that, but maybe we need to rethink our priorities and what luxuries we are willing to part with and what necessities we must keep.

As always, comments are welcomed.

Posted in Building Code/LEED, Reduce Reuse then Recycle, Sustainable Neighbourhoods | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Willingness of Act

This is an op-ed piece, all comments are welcome. One of the things that has been on my mind for some months deals with the real climatic changes that are going on around the world today and in particular, how people’s perception of climate change and global warming are being altered when faced with catastrophic weather events. I am a man of climatic science, in that I have believed in climate change since the first time I read as a child polar ice caps falling into the ocean. My interest here is whether or not the effects of climate change, i.e. extensive drought and record-setting rain levels, changes people’s impression of global warming and the acceptance of the steps necessary to produce change. I hope that these weather events teaches people to change their overall behaviour going forward, rather than seeing climate change as this thing they have to kill with science so they can go back to their normal lives.

These individuals who are in distraught from wicked weather events, what are their expectations coming out of any climate change negotiation or scientific processes? I wonder about their patience in expecting collectively negotiated results, as well as the time needed to realistically see real-world results. Most citizens’ understanding of climate change is just as basic as their understanding of the tools and solutions to develop a cure. I liken it to someone who didn’t believe in lung cancer and smoked four packs a day. When the doctor tells him/her they have cancer in their lungs, they expect a magic pill.

The reason for my queries is mainly that climate change is a political football, few politicians have the guts to do something tangible about it and many other just want to look like they are doing something before passing off to someone else. Much of weather-affected areas in North America belong to highly populated and agriculturally profitable provinces and states. In the years to come, I believe citizens living in these areas will learn to watch politicians carefully to see their handling of the damages caused by climate change. This goes back to the statement earlier with respect to the longevity of the topic in people’s minds as I see different political stripes benefiting from this. Owing to the past responses of natural disasters by all levels of government, I feel the Republican/Tories will try to make short-term political gains, such as monetary incentives and relocation, while stalling any meaningful discussions about what can be done about it. On the other hand, the Democrats/Liberals/NDP will aim for the long run, such as IPCC and scientific research, but I fear the time for action is now because it is no longer an academic exercise.

I support no political parties, as far as climate change is concerned, the public is too complacent to act as an unified mass to demand change and political stripes merely have a different take to passing the political football.

As always, comments and suggestions are always welcomed.

Posted in Political Willingness | Tagged , | Leave a comment