Water and Plastic Bottles

In the 21st century, most people look to the oil and fossil fuel industry as the sector most likely to suffer compression of delivery and related economic stress. Yet water is the resource most under pressure. Whilst the two are inextricably linked through the manufacture of plastic bottles, (each bottle consumed uses approx 1/4 of the available content as oil in manufacture and supply)  most people are unaware of the financial, environmental and social costs being stored up for the future.

There is enough safe, clean drinking water for every person on this planet. But too many – one in nine people – lack access to clean water. Whilst in Greyton we have access to water, most will agree that its management, quality and storage are under performing.

Access to water has long been recognised as crucial to realising the most basic human rights, and in 2010, compelled by global advocates and government champions, the United Nations General Assembly affirmed the fundamental human right to water.

In 2008 a movie called Tapped, explored many of the issues relating to the environmental and human costs of using bottled water, whilst focusing on the USA experiences many of the discoveries and consequences are as relevant to us in Greyton and our surrounding communities as they are to the west.

Bottles cost – they cost in manufacture, transportation and disposal, whilst the variable water quality in Greyton encourages ‘safe’ drinking practice via the use of bottled water, the costs to our community of poor water quality are borne by all of us. GTT seeks to encourage water recycling and use of grey water, but also expects the local municipality to invest time and resources into improving our water quality, safety and storage. We need to work on these key aspects for the future of our community and safety of our food supply.

We have periods of water abundance followed by periods of water deprivation, better storage and multiple re-use of our water supply is an essential part of Transition management, but outside of the laudable aims is the shared demand for safe, efficient and well managed water to our homes and farms. Water extraction and use will continue to change, and our communities will feel the costs of these effects through rising charges and compression of quality, we need investment in infrastructure and education on how to best manage the limited water supply more effectively.

GTT support the intention and goals of the town manager to improve water delivery and quality, through better storage and reutilisation, then the desire and need for plastic bottles of water will decline, less waste will be generated and the costs to our community in terms of environmental and economic will decline.

Solar Power

Converting sunlight into electricity holds a tremendous amount of promise for helping nations and communities meet their energy needs and yet some big obstacles still stand in the way of adoption: cost, inefficiency of solar cells, storage issues,  and the shortage in supply of silicon materials for the making of photovoltaic cells, being the big ones. Yet on one single day, the sun sends 15,000 times as much energy to the Earth as we consume worldwide on a daily basis? A free supply that in contrast to fossil energy sources, such as oil and natural gas is available in limitless quantities!

One bright development is the expansion of graphene, a highly conductible material made from carbon, pioneered by UK scientists, but rapidly drifting into commercial use, it is likely that with just a few years that graphene panels will be many times more efficient and cheap. Graphene is a sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb-like lattice just one atom thick. Since its discovery in 2004, this “wonder material” has continued to amaze scientists with its growing list of unique electronic and mechanical properties. Some believe that graphene could find uses in a number of technological applications – even replacing silicon as the electronic industry’s material of choice.

The first graphene was produced in 2004 when Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov used sticky tape and graphite (better known as pencil lead) to separate the layers of carbon and isolate the one-atom-thick material graphene. Six years later, the scientists won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work with the substance.

As Geim and Novoselov noted in their seminal 2007 paper (pdf): “The graphene ‘gold rush’ has begun.” And though there are no commercial applications for it yet, it’s important to remember that graphene is only eight years old.

Graphene is nearly transparent, electrically conductive and capable of absorbing many different wavelengths of light, giving it great potential to be used in thin, flexible solar panels that could be plastered on everything from the sides of buildings to the clothes we wear.

A number of research groups are working to realize this potential. At the beginning of the summer, physicists from the University of Florida were able to increase the efficiency of graphene solar cells from 2.9 percent to 8.6 percent. The researchers believe if they can reach efficiencies of 10 percent, the cells could be competitive commercially.

Solar power is the energy of the future – safe, clean and 100 % environmentally compatible. Greyton Transition is looking to explore the potential role of solar power in the reduction of fossil fuel use in the town and local areas. Using the sun to heat water and supply fuel in South Africa where sun is abundant is a sensible way forward and GTT will include this as part of their overall strategic plan.

Inevitably there will be hurdles and technology will no doubt evolve less quickly than we would like, but look around us, even in winter we have sunlight available to us, everyone should consider the merits not only from the perspective of cost reduction to your household bills, but potential ecological and environmental costs as well. Their safe disposal and removal of hazardous materials is already under discussion and many companies already have such a system in place. Do ask your supplier what will happen in 20 years or so when the panels are no longer effective.

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