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Turn waste into energy says Tearfund, after sewage row in Rio's Olympic waters

19 August 2016


Open sea: competitors during the men's 10km marathon swimming at Fort Copacabana at the Rio Games, on Tuesday

Open sea: competitors during the men's 10km marathon swimming at Fort Copacabana at the Rio Games, on Tuesday

A REPORT from the charity Tearfund, in the wake of the latest controversy over untreated sewage in the water around Rio de Janeiro, urges governments to invest in schemes to turn waste into energy.

Athletes competing in the water during the Olympics had been warned not to open their mouths, and to hose themselves down as soon as they got out of the water, because of the high level of contaminants, as raw sewage is pumped out into the sea.

The report, Virtuous Circle: How the circular economy can create jobs and save lives in low and middle-income countries, published jointly by Tearfund and the Institute of Development Studies, said that if the “circular economy” approach is adopted for waste reduction in countries such as Brazil and elsewhere, it would generate income, and be good for the planet.

A circular economy refers to an economic system that keeps resources in use for as long as possible, extracting the maximum value, by re-using and regenerating materials at the end of their life-cycle.

Tearfund’s senior policy adviser, Joanne Green, said: “We are creating mountains of waste and it’s killing us and the planet. In many cases, these pollutants can instead be used to reduce poverty through creating jobs and boosting the economy, by adopting a circular economy approach. Take organic waste — a major source of greenhouse-gas emissions when sent to the tip, and of disease when dumped into rivers or the sea, but a profitable source of renewable energy and fertiliser if used correctly. Whilst in other industries, repair and remanufacturing can reduce air and water pollution, and create jobs at the same time.”

The report looked at one such scheme in Brazil, run by a partner of Tearfund, Diaconia, which has adapted anaerobic bio-digester technology so that small-scale farmers can convert animal waste into cooking-gas and fertiliser, increasing their incomes and preventing emissions of methane.

And another scheme in Brazil employs waste-pickers to sort waste for recycling, thereby cutting down on landfill. The report calls on Western governments to do more to help developing countries switch to a circular economy, and discourage them from following the traditional Westernised model, where increased wealth equals increased waste production.

The report also calls for reform of the tax system, to penalise pollution and waste production.


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