What Do Crematoriums Contribute to Urban Air Pollution?

Toxic Emissions from Crematories: A Review(7 page pdf, Montse Mari, José L. Domingo, Environment International, Oct. 12, 2009)

Also discussed here: Incineration – EMEP/EEA Emission Inventory Guidebook(13 page pdf, Marc Deslauriers, David R. Niemi and Mike Woodfield, 2009)

Today we review the literature on emissions from incineration  of human bodies which is the way almost all bodies are disposed of in Japan and China and have increased to around 37% in the USA and Europe today and increasing about 10% per decade. Very few analyses of emissions from crematoriums are available but there are concerns about the amount of mercury from tooth fillings that end up in the air. The paper concludes that unless  mercury emissions from crematories are properly controlled, these facilities -which number over 1,000 in Europe alone – could become an important source of air pollution.


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Are Composts a Public Health Hazard?

Legionella bacteria found in compost products (University of Strathclyde, Oct. 1, 2013)

Also quoted here: Legionella spp. in UK composts – a potential public health issue (Abstract, Sandra L. Currie, Tara K. Beattie, Charles W. Knapp, Diane S. J. Lindsay, Clinical Microbiology and Infection, Sep.3,  2013)
And here : Does compost really pose a threat to our health? (Lucy Siegle, The Observer, Oct.20, 2013)
Many people compost their organic garbage, thinking that this is good for the environment, produces rich soil for home gardens and extends the life of urban land-fills. Today we review a report from the UK which looked at the presence of Legionella in composts both store-bought and home-made. Almost 60% of the composts contained Legionella which can cause human disease. The good news is that  infection from this is rare, especially if proper hygiene is followed – and it is recommended that compost packaging carry public health warnings to this effect.

compost heap

To see Key Quotes and Links to key reports, click HERE

Zero Waste Swedish Style

Sweden Runs Out of Garbage(Eco-waste, Sep. 18, 2013)

Also discussed here: Towards a greener future with Swedish Waste -to-energy – The world’s best example(28 page pdf, Avfall Sverige, 2013)

swdish waste

Today we review a report on the Swedish approach to waste management using modern incineration, an approach that has few  rivals world-wide in terms of energy recovery and in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 76% from 1990 to 2020. Only 4% of waste (no organic by law) is sent to landfills. Waste incineration expected to grow world-wide by 4% per year from 200 million tons in 2007.

To see Key Quotes and Links to key reports about this post, click HERE

Modelling Energy, Consumption and Waste Flows for Cities

Quantification of urban metabolism through coupling with the life cycle assessment framework: concept development and case study(15 page pdf, Benjamin Goldstein, Morten Birkved, Maj-Britt Quitzauand Michael Hauschild, Environ. Res. Lett., Jul. 26, 2013)

Today we review a more sophisticated estimate of the ecological footprint of a city using a 3rd generation urban metabolic model called UM-LCA for short. The model is applied to five cities with different characteristics: Cape Town, Toronto, Beijing, London and Hong Kong and the resulting estimates reveal large differences in per capita contributions to global warming and energy flows, showing once again the destructive outcomes from sprawled cities and private vehicle use such as Toronto and of the relative emissions from residences and industry.

cities matabolsism

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How Does Waste Heat from MegaCities Affect the Global Atmospheric Circulation?

Energy consumption and the unexplained winter warming over northern Asia and North America(5 Page pdf, Guang J. Zhang, Ming Cai and Aixue Hu, Nature Climate Change, Jan 27, 2013)

Also discussed here: Cities change temperatures for thousands of miles(UCAR ATMOS News, Jan. 27, 2013)

And here: City heat affects temperatures 1,000 miles away(The Times of India, Jan. 28, 2013)

Today we review global climate modeling research that examined the contribution of the waste heat produced by buildings and vehicle emissions in very large cities. Although this heat is small compared to the warming from greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere for the entire world, the model simulations reveal large changes in the regional circulation near these cities which may intensify local weather events such as droughts or extreme storms.


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Where are the Worst Hazardous Waste Sites in the World?

The World’s Worst Pollution Problems: Assessing Health Risks at Hazardous Waste Sites(52 page pdf, Blacksmith Institute, Oct. 23, 2012)

Also discussed here: Pollution as harmful as malaria, TB in developing world – study(Jonathan Allen, AlertNet, Oct. 23, 2012)

Today we review a report that assesses the state of toxic waste sites around the world and how much waste from ten industries affect human health and mortality- excluding the contributions from urban emissions from traffic and poor sanitation but including the impact of landfills and such items as electronic waste. The results, in terms of years of healthy life lost, indicate that these sources of pollution have a similar impact (17M) as malaria (14M), tuberculosis(25M) or HIV (29M) in the 49 countries examined.

To see Key Quotes and Links to key reports about this post, click HERE

Intelligent Sewage Control

Managing sewage like traffic thanks to data(Derrick Harris, GIGAOM, Aug.30, 2012)

Also discussed here: Report sounds alarm on aging infrastructure(CBC News, Sep. 11, 2012)

Today, we look at an article that describes how South Bend, a city in the USA, reduced sewage overflow problems from 27 to one per year and saved $114 million, using a combination of sensors and intelligent monitoring and control, much as how traffic is managed with intelligent traffic lights, for example. This would be of interest to those cities, such as Ottawa in Canada, which is trying to reduce pollution reaching nearby rivers and streams by constructing large holding ponds at a cost of several hundred million dollars. The same approach could be used to monitor and control water leakage, another major and growing issue in cities with antique piping infrastructures.

To see Key Quotes and Links to key reports about this post, click HERE

Optimizing Utilization of Municipal Waste

Design of an Optimal Waste Utilization System: A Case Study in St. Petersburg, Russia (24 page pdf, Mikhail Rodionov and Toshihiko Nakata, Sustainability, Sep. 8, 2011)

A pollution-free city is one where the air and water are clean and solid pollution is eliminated. Today’s review article looks at a system in St Petersburg, Russia where waste production was outstripping landfill capacity and where a system is proposed to both reduce the waste volume and convert the emitted methane gas to energy.

To see Key Quotes and Links to key reports about this post, click HERE

Greenest Cities in the U.S. and Canada

US and Canada Green City Index – Assessing the environmental performance of 27 major US and Canadian cities (71 page pdf, conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, sponsored by Siemens, July 2011)

Today’s review article comes from the Economist which assessed over two dozen cities in the US and Canada in terms of performance under 9 factors which are seen in the graphics below for two of the Canadian cities, Calgary and Ottawa which both ranked in the middle of the pack (both cities scored high in water use efficiency and lower in air quality, particularly in CO2 emissions). San Francisco, New York City and Vancouver were leaders in the group.

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Health Impacts of Landfills and Incinerators

A landfill in Poland

Image via Wikipedia

Health impact assessment of waste management facilities in three European countries (48 page pdf, , Francesco Forastiere, Chiara Badaloni, Kees de Hoogh, Martin Krayer von Kraus, Marco Martuzzi, Francesco Mitis, Lubica Palkovicova, Daniela Porta, Philipp Preiss, Andrea Ranzi, Carlo A Perucci, David Briggs, Environmental Health 2011, 10:53, June 2, 2011)

Today’s review article assessed the health impacts for people living close to a landfill or incinerator in three European countries, which are generally classified as cancer incidence and premature or malformed births. The main health threat for mortality comes from elevated levels of NO2 near incinerators.

To read more about this post and Key Quotes and Links to key reports, click HERE

Zero Energy Houses and The Cube Project

The Cube Project


The focus of today’s review is a Zero Energy House conceived in the UK, suitable for one person (but can be scaled up for larger homes or buildings). In addition to generating zero waste and energy self-sufficient, it can produce  £1000 per year by feeding unused electricity from solar panels back into the grid.

To see Key Quotes and Links to key reports, click HERE

A New Look at the Ecological Footprint

Development of Ecological Footprint to an Essential Economic and Political Tool (17 page pdf, Hans P. Aubauer, Sustainability, Apr. 12, 2011)


The concept of a single measure of sustainability, the basis for the Ecological Footprint, is analyzed in the article reviewed today.  The various deficiencies are addressed by combining the EF with three other indices with good results for planning the future.

To see Key Quotes and Links to relevant reports, visit the new internet platform for Pollution Free Cities by clicking  HERE

Are There Health Impacts from Incinerators?

Mortality and morbidity among people living close to incinerators: a cohort study based on dispersion modeling for exposure assessment (12 page pdf, Andrea Ranzi, Valeria Fano, Laura Erspamer, Paolo Lauriola, Carlo A Perucci and Francesco Forastiere, Environmental Health, Mar. 24 , 2011)


The advent of incineration or plasma-arc technology to dispose of waste is a growing trend as landfills become full. This in turn becomes a concern when people are exposed to the emissions. Today’s article examines the health threats to people located within a few km of incinerators. The evidence seems to point in this case to no significant mortality threat except from heavy metals which was linked to cancer. Broader questions remain to be answered such as, health impacts from landfills in general, impacts through land, food and water pathways, in addition to the air and, finally, greenhouse gas emissions resulting from incineration.

To read more about this post and see Key Quotes and Links to relevant reports, visit the new internet platform for Pollution Free Cities by clicking HERE

Designing a Sustainable City with Local Farming and Waste Management


Optimizing Urban Material Flows and Waste Streams in Urban Development through Principles of Zero Waste and Sustainable Consumption (29 page pdf, Sustainability 2011, 3(1), 155-183, Jan. 11, 2011)

Also discussed here: Zero Waste Australia

Today’s review article caught my attention because it focussed on urban farming and waste reduction and the large contributions to waste from the construction and demolition sector as a city progresses toward sustainability. These are all important aspects of Canada’s capital city, Ottawa, which is the larger by area than all of the other large Canadian cities by population put together- and contains more farmland than any other city in Canada. Its large area and loose controls on urban boundaries have resulted in sprawl and a very large road network which funnels the working population into its centre every day with downtown congestion and health impacts. The article makes recommendations that have been implemented in Australia under a “zero waste” and local food objectives.

Key Quotes:

“urban farming has emerged as a valid urban design strategy, where food is produced and consumed locally within city boundaries, turning disused sites and underutilized public space into productive urban landscapes and community gardens.”

“reports on best practice of urban design principles in regard to materials flow, material recovery, adaptive re-use of entire building elements and components..and other relevant strategies to implement zero waste by avoiding waste creation, reducing wasteful consumption and changing behaviour in the design and construction sectors”

“Today, no other sector of industry uses more materials, produces more waste and contributes less to recycling than the construction sector”

“Emerging complex global issues, such as health and the environment, or lifestyles and consumption, require approaches that transcend the traditional boundaries between disciplines. The relationship between efficiency and effectiveness is not always clear: high efficiency is not equal to high effectiveness, while recovery offers another side of those two notions. Today, it is increasingly understood that the same way we discuss energy efficiency; we need also to discuss resource effectiveness and resource recovery. “

Organic waste is playing an increasingly important role. ..a recommended split for a city can be found, where no waste goes to landfill:

  • Recycling and reusing min. 50–60%
  • Composting of organic waste 20–30%
  • Incineration of residual waste (waste-to-energy) max. 20%”

“recycling in itself is inefficient in solving the problem, as it does not deliver the necessary ‗decoupling‘ of economic development from the depletion of non-renewable raw materials “

“Australia is the third highest generator of waste per capita in the developed world. In July 2006, only around 50% of waste collected in the state of New South Wales (NSW) was recycled”

“Cities are resource-intensive systems. By 2030, we will need to produce 50% more energy and 30% more food on less land, with less water and fewer pesticides, using less material“

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Life-Cycle Assessment of Nanotechnology and Health

Jay Wright Forrester
Image via Wikipedia

Sustainable Nanotechnology: Through Green Methods and Life-Cycle Thinking (16 page pdf, Sustainability 2010, 2(10), 3323-3338, Oct. 25, 2010)

Before futurist Jay W. Forrester at MIT, developed the “World” model for the Club of Rome in 1970, he focussed on the same Systems Dynamic approach by applying it to an urban setting.  Many years later, we are still learning that a cradle-to-grave approach is needed to build pollution-free sustainable cities, especially with the advent of electronic devices such as TVs and cell phones, whose lifetimes are measured in weeks or months. The result of this and even greater miniaturization is an ever growing mountain of highly toxic materials which form part of either urban waste centres or shipments to even bigger mountains in China, India and other countries, as discussed in this post E-Waste

The article reviewed today assesses the life cycle of nanotechnology with some interesting observations such as the need to identify health impacts as soon as possible in development of these devices.

Key Quotes
“Sustainability and futures studies are linked to each other; the time scales involved may be different from the individual viewpoints of stakeholders, depending on whether they are futurists environmentalists. Futures thinking calls for planning in the time scale of hundreds of years whereas the environmental research community may think in terms of a few decades at the most”

“the need to conduct ―life cycle-based assessments as early in the new product development process as possible, for a better understanding of the potential environmental and human health consequences of nanomaterials over the entire life cycle of a nano-enabled product”

“The wide-ranging applications of nanotechnology have an equally widespread potential to adversely affect human health and the environment, through various exposure routes of nanoparticles, including occupational exposure”

“nano-based products that seem environmentally preferable over other alternatives in the Use stage may not actually turn out to be so when the whole life cycle is considered”

“the effects on human health and the environment are characterized based on environmental loadings… calculated using formulas based upon quantities of pollutants discharged to air, water, and land.”

Risk Assessment goes from quantities of pollutants discharged to analyzing their effects under ambient conditions, through various exposure pathways”

“current Life-Cycle Assessment methodology, developed for use with conventional bulk materials, needs to be reconsidered and modified, if necessary, to make it suitable for evaluating nanomaterials”

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Using System Dynamics to find More Sustainable Practices

T21-Ohio, a System Dynamics Approach to Policy Assessment for Sustainable Development: A Waste to Profit Case Study (19 page pdf, Sustainability 2010, 2, 2814-2832, Sept. 6, 2010)

The system dynamics approach has long been used to assess the many inter-linkages that exist in the integrated world of economics, environment and society, most notably by the Club of Rome in its “World Model” and “The Limits to Growth”, published in 1972. An updated version of this model to investigate at future global trends has been developed by the  Canadian Association for the Club of Rome , as reported in An Overview of the Global Systems Simulator and The Challenge of Global Systems Modelling – A Report on the CACOR Modelling Project

Today’s review article applies this approach to the waste produced by coal fired plants in the State of Ohio to find more sustainable practices which would be both more economical and less polluting.

Key Quotes:

“The System Dynamics (SD) methodology allows for an integrated evaluation of policy options relating to a variety of issues that arise in complex social, managerial, economic, and ecological systems..…The strength of this approach lies in its dynamic complexity; the feedback loops within and across sectors create dynamic and integrated projections in which various components interact to produce the results presented in this study“

“growth in both traditional and alternative energy capacity will interact with many other factors that influence economic prosperity and quality of life including employment, productivity, disposable income, air and water quality, agriculture and bio-products, urban and regional land use, vehicle propulsion systems, public transportation”

“We apply T21-Ohio to analyze the broader social, economic and environmental impacts of waste to profit activities such as recycling, electricity generation from waste, and bio-fuel production in the State of Ohio“

“biomass co-firing in selected coal-fired power plants and new biomass plants could reach about 7.44% of electricity generation from renewable sources in Ohio, .. reducing emissions by 6% in 2029..”

“waste recycling results in decreased air pollution and GHG emissions from incineration, reduced hazardous waste leaching from landfills, and reduced energy consumption as a result of reduced waste and resource consumption”

‘the use of certain biomass resources, made available through converted waste, a clean and renewable energy source, could reduce power generation-related emissions, currently driven by fossil fuel consumption in thermal generation plants”

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Uncertainty in Recycling Waste

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Uncertainty Regarding Waste Handling in Everyday Life (15 page pdf, Sustainability, 2(9), 2799-2813, Sept.3, 2010)

The need to reduce the output of waste for many cities is as great a need as to reduce vehicle emissions in that both, if not given enough priority, result in overflowing landfills and polluted water and air. This study based on research in one of the most advanced countries in this field found that uncertainty in the minds of the public initiating the recycling process at the sorting stage is a significant determining factor- based on cultural factors or habit among others. It concludes that less uncertainty could be achieved by associating waste with its ultimate impact on the environment rather than by a flood of (perhaps confusing) information.

Key Quotes:

“[Swedish Objective] by 2010 at least 50% of all household waste will be recycled, including biological treatment … and at least 35% of food waste from households, restaurants, caterers and retail premises will be recovered by means of biological treatment.”

“uncertainty—concerning for example, whether a particular item of waste was put in the correct bin or whether the waste recycling system works so that the item will actually be recycled and produce an environmental gain”

“Recyclng uncertainties:

  • professional categories not matching cultural categories – usability, value, constituents, purity, disgust, satisfaction, to show/to hide, shame/pride, status
  • challenged habits -If for instance a person has learned to sort waste into certain fractions, it is often easier to continue with this than to stop sorting and throw everything in the rubbish bin
  • Lacking fractions -Some kinds of items cannot be left for recycling and this makes waste collection incomplete from the users’ point of view
  • Missing or contradictory rules of thumb -particularly relevant if no motivating principle or rule of thumb (within the context of use) is successfully conveyed to the user.

“the waste system, in its cultural context, constitutes strong “information” in itself. ..do not recommend information as a measure on its own to overcome uncertainty and other barriers to reach goals concerning recycling levels, waste quantities and the environment”

“the habit of returning “bottles” has a strong cultural, definitely habitual and probably even institutional foundation“

“the environmental consequences seem to be the most important aspect of waste recycling”

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Sustainable Consumption

Recycling items for building
Image via Wikipedia

The Role of Formal and Informal Forces in Shaping Consumption and Implications for Sustainable Society: Part II (20 page pdf, Sustainability 2010, 2, 2573-2592, Aug. 10,2010)

The search for a sustainable, pollution-free city must address the issue of consumption of goods and what gives rise to it. The article reviewed today looks at the drivers for consuming behaviour and destroys some myths along the way.

Key Quotes:


  • People are primarily rational consumers and maximizers of personal utility..consumers are not always rational; they sometimes even act against their own best interests (for example, by knowingly eating unhealthy food) and sometimes make decisions prioritizing common or societal good over individual interests.
  • Information-based instruments are the main policy tool to address unsustainable patterns and levels of consumption.. the fact that people‘s actions sometimes contradict their stated attitudes and values is important to keep in mind when thinking about policy interventions.
  • Changing behavior in one domain of everyday life, e.g., waste sorting, will spill over to other domains of everyday life, e.g., driving or flying.. policy instruments should address general values related to the environment and wider society, in addition to aiming for individual behavior changes in specific domains
  • Consumers are the main actors in the shift towards sustainable consumption .. social norms, traditions, and values underlying mainstream society that have the most significant impact on consumption behavior, and so these should be the level at which policy interventions are targeted in the first instance.

“We need a shift at the societal level from our current normal way of life to a sustainable normal way of life and it is governments who can lead this best, rather than relying on the hope that if we give individuals enough information, they will choose to go against the mainstream and start living sustainably”

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Waste – burn it or bury it?

Should the U.S. Burn or Bury Its Trash? (New York Times “Opinion”, Apr. 13, 2010)

Also discussed here: Europe Finds Clean Energy in Trash, but U.S. Lags (New York Times “Environment”, April 20, 2010)

This article raises a crucial question on dealing with waste generated, as opposed to reducing it in the first place. On the one hand, incineration produces air pollution and exchanges a challenge for land space to a challenge for air quality while offering some usable energy.

On the other hand, disposing of waste in landfills has challenges for ground water quality, as well as for the generation of disagreeable odours and worse for the air. Many municipalities (in the US and Canada at least) opt for landfills, given the availability of nearby land in many areas for this purpose, while taking initiatives to reduce waste by recycling organic waste and eliminating non renewable materials (such as plastic water bottles) from the mix.

A third option, burning the waste at high temperatures eliminates much if not all of the toxic effluents – one such pilot project was described at Plasma arc waste disposal

What is clear is that unless the rate of waste generation is slowed or reversed, inevitably air and groundwater quality will continue to deteriorate.

Key Quotes:

“next-generation incinerators, known as waste-to-energy plants, have not caught on in the United States, where most garbage is still hauled to distant landfills”

“In the West, landfilling is much cheaper and land is still plentiful…In the Northeast..When you add the cost of transportation to landfilling, waste-to-energy incineration is competitive, but no one wants a plant in their backyard.”

“In 1960, 94 percent, or 2.51 pounds, of the 2.68 pounds of waste..per capita, per day ended up in landfills or non-energy-producing incinerators. In 2008, 54 percent, or 2.43 pounds, of every 4.5 pounds ..each day were handled in that fashion. The percent of garbage being buried is going down, while the amount has gone up.”

“Burning garbage is a primary source of cancer-causing dioxins and other pollutants that enter the food supply..Produces more carbon dioxide per unit of electricity than coal power… Due to its low calorific value, burning garbage to produce energy is highly inefficient”

“The environmental and public health benefits of using waste-to-energy facilities, particularly in congested urban areas, far outweigh transporting trash to landfill sites several hundred miles away.”

“New York is achieving a paltry 20 percent recycling rate of its mixed household waste…San Francisco..is already achieving an impressive 72 percent recovery rate through aggressive recycling, reuse, and composting programs.

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Plasma arc waste disposal

Plasma arc waste disposal (Wiki)

Since 2008,  Plasco Energy Group has disposed of 85 tons of waste each day in a demonstration project in Ottawa, through a largely pollution free process called “plasma arc gasification” .  If the demonstration is successful, the facility will be expanded to  process 400 tons per day which represents about 25 % of the daily waste produced in this city- over one million tons of waste per year. This is accomplished by heating the waste created by an electrical arc to an extremely high temperature (approximately 4,000 degrees C). The benefits include:

  • the diversion of waste from the city’s existing landfills which otherwise would be filled to capacity in a matter of 10 or 15 years,
  • the clean way that the waste is processed,  the only byproduct being a small amount of solid non toxic residue, along with CO2 and water, and
  • the production of hydroelectricity which would provide power to 3,600 homes (at the 85 ton/day rate)

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Masdar City – zero carbon, zero waste

Masdar City (wiki) is a 50,000-person city based on applied sustainability research and technology that is being developed in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Key Quotes from Top Ten Sustainability Stories of the Decade :

“The complex is being used for cutting-edge research in: renewable energy (including dozens of active and passive solar and wind technologies), water conservation technologies that can distill drinking water from ambient moisture both indoors (sweat) and outdoors (dew), as well as local urban food production schemes.”

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