International collaboration to pressing waste issues in Asia
Waste is a global problem. It has no respect for international boundaries.
As Director of Environmental Engineering Studies at the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stephen Moore knows more about this than most. Mr Moore investigates how substances flow through international economies with a view to making products and processes more sustainable. This means he documents the flow of raw products from mining, through the product cycle and then on to what happens to them at the end.
“Lead, for example, is found in lead-acid batteries for cars, as a stabiliser in PVC plastic materials, and as shielding around X-ray machines etc. We make an account on the production, use and disposal/recycling of the lead in these goods to calculate how much is flowing through the economy on a yearly basis and how much is coming out as waste into the environment, either as dispersive flows or as concentrated end-of-life goods,” Mr Moore explains.
His research led him to undertake some comparative studies between Australia and one of its major trading partners, Japan (a major importer of Australian sub- stances like lead, zinc and cadmium), and then also to extend the system boundary beyond the national level to investigate the international trade-related effects.
The waste management techniques often employed by these managers could be reasonably described as “primitive”. Similar in fact, to what it was in Australia in the 1950s or 60s! There is uncontrolled dumping, some- times along creeks and rivers, and waste burn-offs with resulting problems of pollution and disease
International collaboration to pressing waste issues in Asia With long-standing research collaborations with part- ners in Japan, and other countries in Asia, now going back 15 years, it is no surprise that Mr Moore was recently invited to contribute to the development of a United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Holistic Waste Management graduate program.
“The program is targeted at middle management in local government in developing economies in South- east Asia and the Pacific, in particular the managers of water, waste water and waste management,” says Mr Moore.
“The waste management techniques often employed by these managers could be reasonably described as “primitive”. Similar in fact, to what it was in Australia in the 1950s or 60s! There is uncontrolled dumping, some- times along creeks and rivers, and waste burn-offs with resulting problems of pollution and disease.”
The main objective of the new course, which should be up and running within three years, will be to provide training in waste collection, recycling, composting and landfill operation. It is being developed by a consortium of six core members which include the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand; Griffith University in Australia; Kyoto University in Japan; TERI University in India; Tongji University in China; and UNSW Australia.
Planning sustainable infrastructure on Mer Island
Over two and a half thousand kilometres north of Sydney is a tiny island in the Torres Strait called Mer Island. The island has a community of 450 people who rely on diesel for electricity, desalination for water and import most of their food by barge from Cairns, eight hundred kilometres away. Their only waste disposal method is burning-off in a small open landfill.
The question posed to 70 students of the 2015 and 2016 fourth year Planning Sustainable Infrastructure course was: If you were an engineer, what would you do to improve the physical infrastructure to improve the quality of life on Mer Island?
The hands-on course saw UNSW student engineers engaging with Mer Islander people to deepen the dialogue about sustainable infrastructure and was devised by School of Civil and Environmental Engineering academics Stephen Moore and Professor Richard Stuetz, in association with Professor Martin Nakata from Nuri Gili (UNSW’s Centre for Indigenous programs) and Doug Passi on the Island.
“The small scale meant students could easily see the direct impacts of these type of problems on both society and the economy, but we were also able to scale it up and say Mer Island is actually a microcosm of the whole of Australia,” says Mr Moore. “The course was tremendously valuable for everyone involved.”