PBEC’s Director of Sustainability Jeff Tucker provides us his latest insights from Thailand
Today is Earth Day and I would like our followers to consider that we produce over a billion tonnes of CO2 and eCO2 currently and that 4.1 million deaths are attributed to PM2.5 in the developing world alone. One of the major problems is open field burning of crop waste. One solution to this is the adoption of sustainable farming practices, that provide economic incentives for rural farmers and communities. Crop waste can be easily and sustainably converted to valuable biochar. Farmers and villagers can be educated and provided equipment to manufacture biochar briquettes from crop waste and educated on accessing biochar sales channels to benefit economically. The wider benefits of this climate action programme is the reduction of billions of tons in CO2 and eCO2, particularly greenhouse gases Methane and NOx. The further benefits are the reduction in millions of deaths, illnesses and hospitalisations caused by emission of millions of tonnes of PM2.5. The social-economic benefit is an increase in income for farmers and new skills for rural and small farmers, $ billions in savings can then be redirected to worthwhile causes and become a pro-active environmental measure, which also addresses lost productivity, trade and tourism due to crop haze.
The adoption of a Biochar Briquettes Programme at market competitive pricing will produce basic charcoal briquettes for cooking and heating for an established market across rural Thailand, Southeast Asia and the developing world. The worldwide briquette market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 7.8% over the next 5 years ($6.7M to $10.6M), with the highest growth in the Asia-Pacific region. Biochar Briquettes outperform other fuel sources, they are readily available, cheaper than gas and compared to wood and charcoal light faster, burn hotter and longer, don’t smoke or smell. Currently approx. 25 million people in North and Northeast Thailand cook on wood or charcoal, as do millions more in neighbouring Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. Recent Thai government regulation barring the use of lump wood charcoal presents a huge opportunity for alternatives such as Biochar Briquettes.
Biochar does more than burn clean. In the soil, it has a remarkable capacity to absorb heavy metals, industrial chemicals and pesticide residues which helps bar them from leaching into the water table or entering the food chain. Biochar can be produced beneficially, profitably and sustainably from crop waste by farmers and is an ideal product for developing countries with pollution problems and limited resources.
Let’s examine the case of Thailand for the simple reason that as a country with good environmental services, Thailand provides data few countries can. A major problem is pollution generated by daily life that collects unnoticed in plain sight such as farmers’ fertilisers and pesticides, oil and hydraulic fluid from filling stations and garages, household cleaners, paints, building materials and batteries which are ploughed into fields, soaked into the ground, discarded in village dumps and burned in trash fires etc. Thailand, for example, has more than 25 battery manufacturers and there are millions of flashlights and cellphones with batteries as well as motorbikes, cars, trucks and tractors with batteries – all of which contain toxic heavy metals. Many of these batteries end up burned in open trash fires or dumped in open landfills that owners burn in order to reduce volume before covering. Even the best managed landfills can leak poisonous liquids into local ground water and aquifers and open dumps and landfills leach heavy metals as well as organic and inorganic toxics.*
The volume of such pollution is hard to estimate, but is surely huge. Similar problems bedevil the oversight of pesticides and hazardous chemicals, it is understandably very difficult to monitor the more than 2,000 listed hazardous chemicals and the tens of thousands of products that contain them.
PBEC members and our esteemed colleagues can support biochar-based programs that address these problems village-by-village in rural areas. The programs are waiting, just like the accompanying Chiang Mai Sustainability ESG project. Supporting them like this one described will have immediate, tangible climate action benefits for the environment and for the people living at and near the sites. It will also generate demand for biochar and so provide all of the benefits identified.
A series of seminars are planned to create awareness and attract support and investment for the biochar and environment education programme. This project can become a benchmark and example of best practice not just in climate action, but also in sustainability, ESG and CSR which can be further discussed and showcased at PBEC, APEC and ASEAN forums. Finally, this project will surely aid Chiang Mai’s UNESCO World Heritage Status bid.
For further information contact the editor:
Director of Sustainability,
Pacific Basin Economic Council
*Citation reports over 200 chemicals in common landfill leachates, 35 of which are classified as toxic or potentially carcinogenic.