Tag Archives: Adelaide

Excellent environmental event on plastics and recycling #Adelaide #hope

Messages of practical action and causes for (cautious) hope abounded tonight at the Adelaide Sustainability, where a meeting on plastics and what to do about and with them was held.  Around fifty people (overwhelmingly female) got to eat scrumptious (potlatch) food, and then heard from four expert panellists, all before watching an interesting American documentary ‘Bag It’.

As part of Plastic Free July, an event – “Bag It! Plastic Free Film Night”  was held at the Adelaide Sustainability Centre tonight (Tuesday 11 July). This blog post tries to give a relatively complete account of who said what (but it’s not verbatim and if you think I got something wrong, please let me know via the comments).

People were asked to bring food to share, and all who came were treated to lovely and mostly vegan/vegetarian food and mingling before the formal event started. It was a good way to get to meet new folks.  Diane Salvi, who runs the ASC for the Conservation Council opened the event with a welcome to country. She noted as well that it is NAIDOC week and closed with a request that if people have ideas for events, to get in touch.[ diane.salvi at conservationsa.org.au ].

Then Lynda Curtis who organised Plastic Free July took over and introduced four panellists, Luke Christiansen from Precious Plastics South Australia, AliRoush from KESAB, Jo Hendrikx, also from KESAB http://www.kesab.asn.au/ and Jarvis Webb from Rawtec.

2018 07 11 panel one
From left – Lynda, Jo, Jarvis, Ali, Luke

Jarvis was asked to talk on some developments in the reduction of waste since the ABC’s ‘War on Waste’ show last year. These include moves towards substantial (rather than tokenistic)  moves to phasing out single-use items, more compostable items (an interesting topic for the final Q and A), and the “circular economy”. Two Foodland supermarkets (in Brighton and Glenelg South) have been trialling compostable food bags. Government funding has been extended to February 2019, but since the bags are 4 to 7 times more expensive than standard bags, getting business on board is going to be quite a challenge… There was mention of a move in Milan where single-use bags have been legislated out, and food-waste diversion (a good thing) is very high (80%), (see here )  whereas in South Australia it is at only 6 to 15% (depending on which council is in charge). (However, South Australia is very good at doing its recycling within the state – very little ends up interstate or overseas).

Jo was asked what the biggest change in the last 20 years has been an increase in awareness of the need for recycling.  The increase in plastic use in the 70s and 80s meant the end for backyard incinerators (the author of this blog post doesn’t want to admit being able to remember that).  But then again, said the panellist, the problem is only 30-40 years old, and is therefore (perhaps) soluble…

There was also an important warning that the words ‘biodegradable’ and compostable are NOT the same thing, and that there is a lot of confusion (which benefits the status quo) about these, with people easily lulled into thinking that because something is biodegradable that it is somehow okay.

Luke explained that his organisation – Precious Plastic South Australia – has put in an order for five new shredders (to reduce plastics to small enough size that they can be remoulded), and this and other activity is helping to “build networks of back-shed recyclers”, with new connections and new networks  (Precious Plastics was born in the Netherlands but a few years ago by Dave Hakkens).

Ali, who among other things for KESAB does school engagement, was asked “what are the kids talking about.”  Ali spoke on how they’re open, have hope, believe they can change the world (unlike we jaded adults).

On the general question of what solutions are “out there”, Luke spoke of reading in Engineers Australia magazine (presumably create ) about a Western Austrailan chap, angered that no recycling facilities existed in WA (so it is all shipped overseas or interstate) has established “Green batch”, which is turning plastic bottles into 3-D printer filament

Eco Party Box people (“Australian-owned family-run business on the south coast of Adelaide in the beautiful fleurieu peninsula, offering eco party, catering and wedding supplies including biodegradable plates, cups and cutlery. Eco friendly decorations, party bag fillers, party stationery and party boxes“) turned up and got a shout out.

Lynda then asked what can/should governments and citizens be doing.. Answers came

  • Push in schools and workplaces, (even though it seems to take forever. Also, do it with a smile)
  •  push governments to legislate/mandate
  • make sure ‘recycled content’ is actually from within Australia
  • show others how easy it is to do stuff (be a role model)
  • make it easier for those who aren’t interested

There were time for three questions before the film

The first was on the finer details of compostable bags (sorry, didn’t catch the gist of this)

The second was on what incumbents might do to water down the moves of entrepreneurs/legislators.  One positive example was given – ten years ago SA Power Networks had almost 94% of their waste going to landfill.  They sought advice, then took that advice and now almost 90% of their office waste and 80% of their site-based waste avoids landfill.  Additionally, Woolworths are banning plastic straws etc.

A third observation came from someone suggesting that it is worth engaging with big supermarket chains etc, and praising them when they do the right thing.

Next up was the film (reviewed here)

The post-film Q and A was short, but very interesting. Although the panellists had had to leave, there were clearly some very knowledgeable people in the audience.

What about cutlery etc  that is labelled as compostable?  There are people who think that will contaminate compostable wastestreams and should go in recycling.    There’s a further set of educating to be done there (sidebar from an academic – this is an example of mimicry a la Edison and gas lighting being TOO successful).

Overall, the event was a really impressive piece of work.  Well-designed, well-executed.  It may be that because the audience was overwhelmingly (4:1) female that there was none of the dreadful speeches-thinly-disguised-as-questions from the floor which usually suck the energy out of the room.  How can I repay the hard work and skill of the organisers, besides by writing a blogpost?  Well, by making two suggestions.  One, try to get these events videoed for those who could not be there (and for those who want to refresh their memories).  Second, further improve the network-building by having a ‘turn to the person next to you’ thing, at the outset and immediately after the film, so people can compare notes, come up with questions (see previous blog posts about this here and here).  But seriously, this was a fantastic event, so congrats to the organisers, the panellists, those who brought food, asked questions etc.

Marc Hudson is finishing his PhD.  No, honestly. His writing on (on climate policy, renewables etc) has appeared in The Conversation, reneweconomy.com.au and in various Australian newspapers He is researching an article on the “Greenhouse 88” conference (especially the Adelaide element). If you were at it, he would love to hear from you. Also, please pass this on to anyone who was at the event.

Email: marcmywords@gmail.com

Phone: 04979 32031

In other news: On Weds 18th July there’s an event at the King’s Head called ‘What Happens to My Waste?’. Organised by  Adelaide Sustainability Connect and Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA) SA Young Professionals Group, it will look at not just the ‘easy’ items to recycle, but also paint, electronic waste and medical waste.  The panel includes Linley Golat, Sustainability Educator at Cleanaway, Lynda Wedding, Waste & Recycling Education Officer at the City of Onkaparinga, and Tim Johnston, Logistics Officer from Veolia. It’s free, and is happening at the King’s Head, 357 King William Street , on Wednesday 18th July from 6pm to 7.30

Technology as fetish? South Australia and the Social Economy.

A rather interesting event today, high above the mean streets of Adelaide.  What place might “technology” (we will come back to the scare quotes) have in helping Adelaide (and South Australia more generally) cope with the slings and arrows of deindustrialisation and globalisation?

The event was organised by the Dunstan Foundation (named for the last SA Premier to properly shake things up. He stepped down in 1979), and sponsored by “Connecting Up”. The Dunstan Foundation is revivifying the ‘Thinkers in Residence’ programme, which started 15 years ago with the late great climate scientist Stephen Schneider.  The theme these days is ‘Social Capital’, and it was this context which brought people together to listen to (and engage with) Suzi Sosa. Who she? She is  ‘Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Verb, a global social enterprise producing large-the competitions focused on pressing social and environmental issues.’
And she’s a pretty good facilitator, when it comes down to it.  There were twenty of us, apparently a younger crowd than the previous roundtables that have taken place over the last few days (Adelaide as gerontocracy? Who knew?). The specific question was “Social Impact and ICT.’

As the chair said in his opening comments explaining the re-birth of the Thinkers in Residence programme, the ‘social economy´ matters; in the aftermath of a major employer shutting down, a report revealed that it is a significant employer, and the Dunstan Foundation is interested how to make the social economy work for SA, how to speed it up (with technology).

Ms Souza made some brief opening remarks – South Australia at fork in road, question of whether to try to entice a big employer or try for local entrepreneurship (that ‘endogenous growth that Gordon Brown used to talk about).  And meanwhile, Gen Y and Z types are restive – with 70% saying they are looking for purpose/meaning in their daily work.  There was a certain amount of buzzword bingo- cutting edge/going forward/DNA- but I think I detected a little self-knowingness in them.

We then had a name-go-round and brief self intro of the 20 of us.  I outed myself as a skeptic on ‘social capital’, saying at the time that my scepticism was down to the buzzword nature of it (compare sustainable development, participatory etc.). I didn’t say it’s because it’s part of the constellation of terms – resilience, continuous professional development/lifelong learning – which add up to the subjectification under neoliberalism, what Jurgie Habermas would call the colonisation of the life world. Why not? Time, cans and worms etc; see also.)

The conversation was relatively ahistorical, not-informed by sociology/ anthropology/ science and technology studies. The term ‘technology’ didn’t get thoroughly unpacked/critiqued, and there was uncertainty about who this ‘we’ was who was doing things, or planning to do so.  Nothing on hype cycles either. After a while, thanks to a couple of the women (especially the one sat opposite me) it picked up, with mention of participatory democracy.

At this point I pitched in and asked if anyone remembered the 1995 essay ‘the Californian Ideology’, which critiqued the rhetoric of empowerment around the coming of the World Wide Web and dotcom neoliberalism  (I might also have mentioned Clifford Stoll’s excellent Silicon Snake Oil).  I pointed out that each new technology – television, radio, newspapers, the printing press – came with expectations that it would solve social problems (poverty, ill-health etc) but that mysteriously they don’t, that questions of power and privilege cannot be buried under boosterism.

(I could have mentioned the Sustainability Fix,

but I didn’t want to give the (completely incorrect) impression of being an arrogant know-it-all.)

Ms Souza pushed me to explain what I thought about entrepreneurial ecosystems and how to help them along.  I suggested that there needed to be Devils’ Advocates and unusual supects  baked into the process, or else it would be a smart club which came up with some good ideas but didn’t reach its potential. I pointed out that there was a huge expat community of Adelaidians scattered around the world (not just in Sydney and Melbourne) who care deeply about the city, would like to come back, and that the technology surely existed to make them part of this conversation.

The conversation moved on in interesting ways; Adelaide is less staid than it was/young people no longer asking permission, there is still a braindrain, one of Adelaide’s advantages is that everyone knows everyone (1.5 degrees of separation), of the opportunity to something other than ‘catch up’ with Sydney, e.g. Austin’s “stay weird” slogan, human-centred design, volunteers as both asset but also inertial block, millennials wanting their superannuation to Do Good In The World., the problem of matching those with the skills and those who need them.

Ms Souza kept the conversation going in useful ways with a gentle nudge here and there. She told a good anecdote of having to switch a pitch from CSR departments (no money, risk averse) to HR departments, and the need to learn a new language and sell what was offering as talent retention rather than Doing Good in the World.  Her closing gambit was to do another systematic go-round of what should be in her report of recommendations of what is to be done.

Lots of useful ideas – including about the importance of business models, the risk-aversion of NGOs when their funding is on-the-line and much else. I pitched in the warning ‘if the only tool you have is a hammer, all your problems look like nails and that there might be space for a monthly ‘lek’ complete with skype/facetime/livestreaming for people in the provinces. It would need to be well-designed, facilitated and enforced so people can actually properly meet and connect If it’s not, if those with the greatest social capital dominate, others will quickly vote with their feet, and things are worse than they were before…

Thoughts on the event.  Nicely done.  Good format, input from some very smart people.  However, nothing on the downsides of Big Data, on the downsides of meritocracy, the risks of volunteering as downward pressure on wages, the old saw ‘Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.’  A touching faith in the power of our tools…

There was  a good practical focus on where is the money coming from/getting investment (and someone smart said afterwards, the impact of the State Bank collapse in the early 1990s has not been mentioned/understood).

There was, inevitably,  a game of buzzword bingo to be had-

Social imaginary, start-ups, tech savvy, siloed, entrepreneurial ecosystem, activate, leverage, hard infrastructure, soft infrastructure, technology as enabler (nowt on how technology can disable)

I’ve been to three things so far this week, (see this) and despite its silence on the pending ecological debacle,  this was by far the most interesting and fruitful.  It will be interesting to see what is in Ms Souza’s report, and what South Australia does next…


Blame games and framing battles over renewables in South Australia

Adelaide and energy systems have one thing in common – they rarely  dominate the news agenda in Australia. However, twice in the past three months they have been front and centre. That reveals something interesting about the ‘framing battles’ taking place over renewable energy and whose vision for Australia’s future will win.

Price spike and blackouts
In July spot prices for electricity in South Australia briefly went through the roof. While some (mostly Murdoch-based) media and commentators were extremely quick  to blame this on the high levels of renewable energy generation in Australia, the truth was a) different and b) more complicated, as was later reported. And yes, as those among us old enough to remember Enron’s shenanigans in California 15 years ago, there was sharp practice afoot too.

Spot prices don’t really have a visceral impact though. According to Reneweconomy, one energy company CEO ‘that “99.999 per cent” of customers would not have been required to pay the higher electricity prices energy bill may be a little higher than you’d expected’ (and most businesses hedge against this sort of thing) but it doesn’t compare to the lights suddenly going out as they did all across South Australia as they did yesterday.

The actual cause of the blackout is well explained by a variety of experts asked to comment by The Conversation (full disclosure: I’ve written for the Conversation, and I think it’s brilliant)

While the price spike fight was a straightforward “renewables proponents versus those who would like to slow/stop/reverse the use of renewable energy” fight, the blackout battle is already more nuanced. As well as pro-and-anti renewables advocates there are also those who see the event as an opportunity to press for distributed energy.

Propagating an opinion about any contentious event that has affected people is a tricky. Too soon and you’re accused of ‘insensitivity’, too late and the relentless news cycle, with all the attention-span of a goldfish that hasn’t been taking its Ritalin, has moved on.

Some people –  Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce independent senator Nick Xenophon and State Liberals leader Stephen Marshall – were quick off the mark. In their eagerness, they may have mis-timed it.  Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten made the point

“If the Greens had blamed, while a bushfire was underway, if they had talked about climate change, Barnaby Joyce would have been all over them like a rash, calling them un-Australian and all the rest of the nonsense, yet here we have the conservatives trying to play politics about renewable energy when this is a storm, it is the weather blowing over towers,”

The slightly more sophisticated version that admits extreme weather was the cause of the blackout but still tries to mobilise the fear and uncertainty that it caused as part of the ‘slow down the states in their push for increased renewables’ campaign. In this camp you will find Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – “What we know so far is that there was an extreme weather event that damaged a number of transmission line assets knocking over towers and lines, and that was the immediate cause of the blackout.” (source) and Environment Minister Josh Frydenburg, who had also been clear on the actual causes of the July price spike.

While admitting the present crisis is not caused by renewables, they still want to take the opportunity to try to de-legitimise the states’ renewables’ goals. Turnbull said that

it was time to stop the “political gamesmanship” between the states that has seen Queensland set a 50% renewable target when renewables account for only 4.5% of its mix currently.

“What’s the pathway to achieve that? Very hard to see it. It’s a political or ideological statement…. We’ve got to recognise that energy security is the key priority and targeting lower emissions is very important but it must be consistent with energy security.”

This antipathy to renewables should also be seen in the context of ongoing State-Federal government tensions on these issues. In the 2000s, while Liberal Prime Minister John Howard was resolutely blocking action on emissions reductions, Labor-led states began work on a states-based emissions reduction scheme instead. This was part of the pressure that forced Howard into a late-2006 U-turn, with both parties fighting the 2007 Federal election with an emissions trading scheme in their manifestos. The rest is history…   A similar dynamic is at play now, with Federal intransigence and outright hostility on a renewables target beyond 2020 being one of the factors behind ambitious action by states on the increase in renewables. The Federals simply don’t like being pushed around, forced into things that they don’t want to do.

What is interesting about this blackout though, is that it is also being used by proponents of distributed energy to boost their argument. This graphic, from here, captures that beautifully



Never let a serious crisis go to waste”
The use of events to try to shift the narrative about the proper place of technology is hardly new. When something goes “wrong”, there is an opportunity, as Raph Emanuel alludes to, to create a new ‘norm’.

For example, before World War 2, airships looked as if they might challenge heavier than air transport. Unfortunately for the industry, the (hydrogen-based) Hindenburg went up in flames at “the worst possible time to explode”, and so fixed the technology in the public mind as extremely dangerous.

If a technology doesn’t “fit” with a moral cosmology – a view of how the world ‘should be’-  its progress slowed or even stalled. My favourite example of this is the case of hookworm. As Deborah Stone writes, (1989)

“Bringing a condition under human control often poses a challenge to old hierarchies of wealth, privilege, or status. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, many poor rural whites in the South were afflicted with a chronic sickness later discovered to be caused by the hookworm parasite. People with the disease were listless and eventually became slow-witted. Popular belief held that the condition reflected the laziness and lax moral character of the victims. When Charles Stiles demonstrated in 1902 that hookworm was the cause and that the disease could easily be cured with a cheap medicine, he was widely ridiculed in the press for claiming to have discovered the “germ of laziness.” The discovery was resisted because it meant that southern elites had to stop blaming “poor white trash” for their laziness and stupidity and stop congratulating themselves for their superior ability to work hard and think fast – a supposed superiority that served to justify political hierarchy.”

Similar battles between technologies get fought all the time, whether it is over the legitimacy of nuclear power in the Netherlands and the UK, or the introduction of LED lighting and biofuels.

With our theory heads on, we should always remember that the appraisal of technology is not a ‘neutral’ process.

With our observers-of-current-events heads on, we can see  increasingly desperate attempts by advocates of the status quo – large, centralised (fossil fuel-based) electricity generation to blame any and all problems on the insurgent technology.  As the carbon accumulates in the atmosphere,  and the ‘1 in 50 year’ events happen more and more frequently, it will be a perverse kind of wonderful to watch.