Thursday, 8 October 2009

Kingsnorth power station plans shelved by E.ON

• Decision hailed by groups who staged Climate Camp protest• Lower electricity demands due to recession cited as reason
David Adam and Mark Tran, Wednesday 7 October 2009 21.12 BST
Environmental campaigners were celebrating tonight after controversial plans for a new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent were shelved, as the company behind the scheme postponed the project and blamed the recession.
Energy group E.ON said recent falls in demand for electricity had forced it to rethink, but that the plant could still be built if economic conditions permitted.
However, green campaigners were claiming a major victory over what they viewed as in effect a cancellation of the Kingsnorth station, which has become a focus for protest and concern over carbon dioxide emissions and climate change.
In a statement to green groups including Greenpeace, the company said: "We can confirm that we expect to defer an investment decision on the Kingsnorth proposals for up to two to three years. This is based on the global recession, which has pushed back the need for new plant in the UK to around 2016 ... we remain committed to the development of cleaner coal and carbon capture and storage".
John Sauven, head of Greenpeace, said: "This development is extremely good news for the climate and in a stroke significantly reduces the chances of an unabated Kingsnorth plant ever being built. The case for new coal is crumbling, with even E.ON now accepting it's not currently economic to build new plants."
Professor Jim Hansen, one of the world's leading climate scientists, welcomed the decision: "This is a step in the right direction. But there must be government leadership to make it truly important. The requirement is to phase out coal emissions, if we want to be fair to our children and grandchildren. We desperately need a nation to exert some leadership, adopting policies to move promptly in that direction. I still look on UK as being perhaps the best hope for leading a fundamental change.
"But as yet there seems to be no government, the US included, with the guts to say what is needed and move in that direction. Instead we hear goals for emissions reduction – what a fake – the coal must be left in the ground or we can never achieve the needed goals for atmospheric carbon dioxide."
Andy Atkins of Friends of the Earth said: "We're delighted that E.ON has shelved its Kingsnorth plans – we should be investing in clean energy sources not building new dirty coal-fired power stations. Plans to build this power plant have seriously undermined the UK's credibility on climate change ahead of crucial talks in Copenhagen. The government must now show real leadership and say no to all new coal plants which aren't fitted with 100% carbon capture and storage from day one. The UK has one of the best renewable energy resources in Europe, but our record on developing green energy is a national disgrace. It's time to make the UK a world leader in developing clean power and cutting energy waste."
At its most far reaching, E.ON's decision is a blow to government plans to develop so-called clean coal technology, which would trap and store polluting emissions underground. The unproven concept is attractive to ministers because it provides a way to burn fossil fuels while introducing other policies to curb carbon emissions.
E.ON first applied for permission to build the Kingsnorth facility in 2006, but subsequently asked for the decision to be deferred until ministers had decided whether it must be fitted with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.Earlier this year, Ed Miliband, the environment secretary, said new plants such as Kingsnorth would have to trap and store a large portion of their emissions, which would significantly raise the cost.
How this cost would be met has yet to be decided. The government has pledged funds to the winner of a competition to develop a CCS plant by 2015, in which Kingsnorth is one of three contenders. Ministers have also talked of funding an additional three CCS plants by 2019, perhaps through a levy on electricity bills.
A source close to the process said tonight that E.ON's move could be an act of "brinkmanship" intended to force ministers to place less of the financial burden for CCS on energy companies.
Ministers have talked up the need for clean coal plants to meet future electricity needs and to help Britain rely less on gas supplies from nations such as Russia.
A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: "E.ON's decision to delay their proposed project is a response to the global economic situation and they remain committed to developing clean coal. They have not said they are withdrawing from our CCS demonstration competition and we will be discussing with them the implications for this and for their planning consent application."
Greg Clark, the shadow climate change secretary, said: "This latest news underlines the chaos in Labour's energy policy. At a time when the government is predicting power cuts by 2017 its plans for new capacity with carbon capture and storage are disintegrating."

Wind power centre will keep Scotland in vanguard of renewable energy

Peter Jones

Glasgow secured a major jobs boost yesterday with the announcement by Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) that 300 jobs are to be created over the next three years in a new research and management centre for wind farm projects.
The £20 million project also marks a significant step forward in Scotland’s growing research capabilities into renewable energy, which now encompass several hundred scientists and engineers.
SSE said it was joining with the University of Strathclyde, a recognised centre for wind energy, to build a new centre for renewable energy engineering excellence in Glasgow.
The centre, which also safeguards 70 existing SSE jobs in renewable energy, will manage the development, design, engineering, project management, procurement and asset monitoring of SSE’s portfolio of onshore and offshore wind farms in Europe.

The company is in the second year of a five-year programme to invest £3 billion in renewable energy projects by 2013.
Ian Marchant, SSE’s chief executive, said the company had searched throughout Europe for the best site. Glasgow had helped its case, he said, because of the city council’s ambition to make Glasgow Europe’s most sustainable city in 10 years’ time.
While a substantial part of the centre’s work will be in managing the engineering of new wind farms, a significant part will also be devoted to making wind energy systems more efficient and robust, and to researching wave and tidal energy systems.
SSE is already Britain’s largest generator of electricity from renewable sources and, Mr Marchant said: “Scotland’s ambition to become a leader in renewable energy is well known and we are delighted to be making this investment in Scotland.”
The centre adds to a growing list of such research facilities in Scotland ranging from the marine energy research site in Orkney, several alternative energy projects in Aberdeen, to a carbon capture and storage research centre in Edinburgh.
Niall Stuart, chief executive of Scottish Renewables, a trade body, said: “Offshore wind will become a multi-billion pound global industry over the next few years. This announcement represents a significant expansion of Scotland’s technical expertise in this area, and is another important step towards creating and keeping high value engineering jobs.”
The Scottish government is helping with the cost of the project with a £2.8 million subsidy from regional selective assistance funds.

A fair wind blows yet again over Pall Mall

David Wighton: Business Editor’s Commentary

Energy from the wind and the tide is as free as the air and the waves. Or so you might think.
The chaps at the Crown Estate have other ideas. Rubbing their hands with glee, the rent collectors of Pall Mall were trumpeting the third round of licensing for offshore wind turbines.
The Crown Estate owns most of Britain’s foreshore and the seabed extending out 12 nautical miles.
Renewable energy brought in just £1 million last year, but it is a taster of what could be to come if the Government’s plans to build marine windmills on every coastal horizon come to fruition. The Crown Estate will get a bit less than 1 per cent from the value of every kilowatt produced offshore and rent from every inch of cable.

Thanks to the brilliant deal parliament did with George III, these wind tithes go straight into Treasury coffers, which may help to explain the Government’s infatuation with this expensive and unreliable source of energy.

Europe needs 50bn euros to win green tech race

Europe risks falling behind the US and Asia unless it persuades the private sector to invest €50bn (£46bn) in researching clean energy technologies over the next decade, say EU regulators.

By Rowena MasonPublished: 8:42PM BST 07 Oct 2009
The European Commission yesterday claimed Europe needs more than its current €8bn research funding budget if it is to spend enough on experimental green technology. More than 80pc of this funding is usually spent on agriculture.
Europe has driven the green agenda in terms of tackling climate change, but it risks being leapfrogged by China, India and North America unless there is more investment in early-stage technologies such as carbon capture and storage.
The plea for more money to develop renewable, clean energy sources came as the Crown Estate confirmed it was close to leasing out the Scottish seabed for tidal wave power projects.
Rob Hastings, marine director at the Crown Estate, said tidal licences will be announced by February, but admitted that “there is a need to develop commercial technology”.
The UK state landowner also said it will take at least until 2014 before the third generation of offshore wind turbines begin to be installed.
It is due to award the licences for these projects by the end of this year.
The body, which owns more than half of the UK coastline, estimates that £100bn of private sector funds will be necessary to help meet the country’s target of producing a third of its electricity from renewable energy by 2020.
It also confirmed that the UK’s first plant equipped with carbon capture and storage technology is likely to send emissions by pipe to be buried under the North Sea.
The Government is currently deciding which UK coal-fired plant to give up to £1bn of subsidies in order to trial the untested technology.
If Iberdrola, the owner of Scottish Power, wins the competition, it will pump gas into a disused field owned by Royal Dutch Shell.
If RWE npower or E.ON gets the funding, they will pipe the gas into a depleted field owned by Eni, the Italian oil company.
“There is a desire to store the carbon dioxide offshore,” said Dermot Grimson, a spokesman for the Crown Estate.
“The best places to start, because the geology is understood, are depleted oil and gas fields offshore.”

Weather foils Isles of Scilly energy experiment

A world-first experiment to try and reduce energy use for the day on the Isles of Scilly was foiled after a turn in the weather caused participants to use more electricity.

Published: 5:25PM BST 07 Oct 2009

More than 2,000 people on the tiny islands were asked to turn off all unnecessary electrical appliances in a bid to cut power consumption by 15 percent.
The experts behind the project used Scilly - 28 miles off the coast of Cornwall - as all power reaches the island through just one cable from the mainland.
Islanders followed a series of guidelines including switching off unnecessary lights and TVs when not in use and only filling kettles with the exact amount of water required.
But despite the mass power-down red-faced organisers announced they reduced electricity consumption - by just over one percent.
Organiser Dr Matt Prescott said the experiment was undermined by bad weather - which saw people using more power than usual.
He said: "Scilly usage fell by 1.2per cent. The weather was horrendous compared to the day before so we were really fighting the conditions.
"Normally electric use tends to go up on a Tuesday so we were fighting the general trend and the weather."
The aim of the project - called E-Day - was to cut power use over a 24 hour period to prove that green living can considerably reduce energy output.
Organisers chose Scilly because power reaches the island through just one cable from the mainland - making it easier to measure the energy used.
Project organisers say it was the first "co-ordinated attempt" of its kind involving an entire community anywhere in the world.
The Isles of Scilly has a population of 2,150 people living on five islands - St Mary's, Tresco, St Martin's, St Agnes and Bryher.

Guy Hands fund bids for Novera Energy

Infinis Energy, the renewables company owned by Guy Hands’s Terra Firma, has made a £90m bid for its smaller rival Novera.

By Rowena MasonPublished:
The wind and biomass power group, which was established by the private- equity firm through a demerger in 2006, already had the largest shareholding in Novera, with a 29.9pc stake.
Infinis bought a further 13pc of the business on Tuesday night from the second-largest shareholder, Credit Suisse. Novera’s share price rose 15¼, or 32pc, to 65p yesterday following the 62.5p per share offer.
“The offer is attractive for Novera shareholders, providing certainty, in cash, at a compelling value,” said Infinis, which produces 10pc of the UK’s renewable energy – or enough power for 400,000 UK homes.
However, the board of Novera has already recommended that the remaining 57pc of shareholders reject the offer, claiming that it undervalues the company.
Novera owns two wind farms, 10 hydro-power stations and 46 landfill gas sites.

US threatens to derail climate talks by refusing to include Kyoto targets

Protocol seen as basis for Copenhagen negotiations but America refuses to be 'stuck with agreement 20 years old'More on the climate talks in Bangkok
John Vidal in Bangkok, Wednesday 7 October 2009 11.04 BST
The US threatened to derail a deal on global climate change today in a public showdown with China by expressing deep opposition to the existing Kyoto protocol. The US team also urged other rich countries to join it in setting up a new legal agreement which would, unlike Kyoto, force all countries to reduce emissions.
In a further development, the EU sided strongly with the US in seeking a new agreement, but said that it hoped the best elements of Kyoto could be kept. China and many developing countries immediately hit back stating that the protocol, the world's only legally binding commitment to get countries to reduce emissions, was "not negotiable".
With only a few days of formal UN negotiations remaining before the crunch Copenhagen meeting in December, and the world's two largest emitters refusing to give ground, a third way may now have to be found to secure a climate change agreement. Last night it emerged that lawyers for the EU are in talks with the US delegation urgently seeking a way out of the impasse that now threatens a strong climate deal.
In a day of high international rhetoric, chief US negotiator Jonathan Pershing said the US had moved significantly in the last year. "There has been a startling change in the US position. There is now engagement. We have had a 10-fold increase finance from the US. We have put $80bn into a green economic stimulus package. One year ago there was no commitment to a global agreement."
But he forcefully outlined America's opposition to the Kyoto protocol. "We are not going to be in the Kyoto protocol. We are not going to be part of an agreement that we cannot meet. We say a new agreement has to [be signed] by all countries. Things have changed since Kyoto. Where countries were in 1990 and today is very different. We cannot be stuck with an agreement 20 years old. We want action from all countries."
Yu Qingtai, China's special representative on climate talks, said rich countries should not desert the Kyoto agreement, which all industrialised countries except the US signed up to and was ratified in 2002 after many years of negotiations. It contains no requirement for developing countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions, as both their current and historical emissions are low in most cases. However, China, with its surging economy and rapidly expanding population is now the world's biggest polluter.
"The Kyoto protocol is not negotiable. We want [it] to be strengthened. We don't want to kill Kyoto. We really want a revival, a strengthening of the treaty. That can only be done by Annex I [industrialised] countries having a target of 40% cuts by 2020," said Yu.
"We have an agreement. If you take that away [you remove] the basis of negotiations. There are specific provisions for parties [like the US] who are not signed up to the Kyoto protocol."
China was backed strongly by the G77 group of 130 countries and the Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis), made up of Caribbean and Pacific countries which expect to be made uninhabitable in the next few generations if a strong climate agreement is not secured.
"We face an emergency. We want commitments. We did not create the problem. Any mechanism currently in use is one we want to maintain. National actions are important but they are no substitutes for an international framework," said Dessima Williams, a Grenadian spokeswoman for Aosis.
The EU, today sided openly with the US for the first time. "We look at the Kyoto protocol, but since it came into force we have seen emissions increase. It has not decreased emissions. It's not enough and we need more," said spokesman Karl Falkenberg.
"We are very unlikely to see the US join Kyoto, but we are working with the US to find a legal framework to allow the US to participate and which will allow large emitters [such as China] to participate."
The difference between the sides is now considered to threaten the success of the talks. In essence, the US is insisting on a completely new agreement, with all countries signed up and all countries free to choose and set their own targets and timetable. Most other countries want to keep the existing agreement as a basis for negotiations, to ensure that rich countries are held by international law to agreed cuts. China in particular wants cuts calculated on a per capita basis.
Diplomats last night suggested that the only way out could be for the US to be asked to sign a separate agreement acceptable to developing countries, which would see it cutting emissions at a comparable speed to other countries.
The G77 countries are meeting to consider their oppositions. One diplomat said: "They are very angry. People have talked of walking out."
However, lawyers said it would be difficult to terminate the Kyoto protocol because all parties have to formally agree by consensus to end it. In addition, if no further commitment periods after 2012 are established for rich countries, it would be a breach of their own legal agreements.

What would the Conservatives do for the environment?

The Tories oppose airport expansion and are backing green technology and renewable fuels, but will they be able to honour their energy-efficiency commitments?
David Adam
The Guardian, Thursday 8 October 2009
Despite strong rhetoric from Labour on the environment, its failure to deliver enough meaningful action has left many environmental campaigners disappointed. Some measurements put overall carbon dioxide emissions higher than in 1997 and a pledge to deliver a 20% cut by 2010 is doomed to fail. There has been little progress on renewable energy and Labour has managed to find itself on the wrong side of the debate on the two hot environmental issues of the day – the expansion of Heathrow and the construction of a new coal-power station at Kingsnorth in Kent.
So would a Conservative government offer a greener future? The pre-recession days when the two main parties battled to be the most eco-friendly have long gone, but there are still votes in the environment, and the Conservatives have set out a strong stall. Just this week, they restated their opposition to Heathrow's proposed third runway, and promised to make it a manifesto commitment, along with blocks on further expansion at Gatwick and Stansted. A new high-speed rail network will take up some of the domestic slack between London and northern cities such as Manchester.
The Tories have also talked up the need to modernise Britain's ageing electricity grid, and envisage a new "smart" system with householders able to sell power back to the system and check their fuel use on state-of-the-art meters.
Central to their energy plans would be the adoption of a feed-in tariff, to pay householders a fixed premium for spare electricity they generate. The system is credited with boosting uptake of renewables in countries such as Germany, but has been resisted by Labour. On a larger scale, they believe carbon capture and storage is reliable enough to force every coal power station to reduce its carbon emissions to the level of a modern gas plant.
On housing, they have pledged to find the money for £6,500 of energy-efficiency improvements to every home, and want to generate enough methane from farm and food waste to replace some 50% of natural gas used in central heating.
So far, so good, but environmental promises have a habit of being scrapped, or at least kicked out to endless consultations.
Labour officials question the sums, particularly the energy-efficiency pledge, which they point out will cost £160bn if delivered to every UK house. Conservative MPs voted against green investment in the budget, they say, and Conservative councils have opposed 60% of wind farms since Cameron became leader.
Dave Timms of Friends of the Earth says there are reasons for both encouragement and alarm in the Conservative approach. While green campaigners do not doubt the personal commitment of Cameron and other senior Tories on the issue, there are vocal elements within the party that remain distinctly off-message. "It's not a question of personal commitment, it's whether they can win the battle with the other departments," Timms says.
For all political parties, it remains easier to set environmental targets than to meet them. The first may help get the Tories into government, but only the second will help save the planet.

Untreated sewage and cyanide kill thousands of fish in river Trent

Those responsible for leak into river between Stoke-on-Trent and Yoxall face unlimited fines if identified and convicted
James Meikle and Helen Carter, Wednesday 7 October 2009 15.02 BST

Environmental regulators today said those responsible for a pollution emergency in which cyanide and partially treated sewage leaked into the river Trent in Staffordshire faced unlimited fines if they were identified and convicted.
Public health warnings were issued as the polluted water made its way downstream from Stoke-on-Trent towards the east Midlands and an investigation was launched into the incident, which killed thousands of fish and threatened other wildlife and pets.
The Environment Agency said people and animals should stay out of the river between Stoke and Yoxall. The Food Standards Agency said people should temporarily stop extracting water privately from the river.
The Drinking Water Inspectorate said public water supplies were not affected because there were no public abstraction points on the affected stretch.
The Environment Agency said the cyanide was thought to be from an illegal discharge which had affected bacterial treatment of sewage at Severn Trent Water's Strongford works at Barlaston, near Stoke.
A spokeswoman said that effluent released into the river was now at "acceptable" levels. Oxygen had been pumped into the river to prevent further fish deaths. Investigations were under way to identify the source of the cyanide.
David Lowe, the agency's environment manager, said: "The incident is under control - river water quality is improving. Levels of pollutant in the water have fallen significantly, but we continue to monitor the situation closely.
"As a precaution, people and animals should stay out of the water until further notice."
A statement from the water company said it had been dealing with "an illegal substance" in the sewers since the start of the week.
"This chemical is completely soluble and as a result it is impossible to prevent it entering and passing through the sewage treatment works.
"The effect this type of chemical has on the works is devastating, both as it passes through the works and pollutes the watercourse and for the company in terms of maintaining the normal sewage treatment operation."
Simon Cocks, waste water services director for Severn Trent Water, said: "I can confirm that our company is not linked to the disposal of the chemicals.
"Engineers at our Strongford works have been working day and night to get the works back up and running. We are deeply concerned about the impact this chemical pollution has had on our sewage treatment system and the community in which we operate. We are working hard alongside the Environment Agency to support their investigation and minimise the impact of this incident on the environment."
In Yoxall, the river was sludge coloured and a strong chemical smell wafted across the countryside.
Lowe said the fish kill had affected 20 miles of the river. Anglers had first spotted fish gasping for air "like canaries in a mine" on Monday, he said.
The levels of cyanide were less than one part per million but "aquatic life is very sensitive to poison," he said.
The cyanide had killed the bacteria used at the treatment works, and a combination of ammonia, from the sewage, and cyanide had killed the fish.
"Teams of people are working in Stoke-on-Trent to try to identify where the cyanide came into the sewerage system and why it happed. We hope to gather enough evidence to bring a case to court."
It was likely to have emanated from a metal-type industry.
David Matthews, a birdwatcher and environmentalist said: "It is really bad, absolutely appalling. This is bound to affect the birds as well as they feed on insects and peck weeds. Everything is going to be affected, not just the fish."
Last month, in a separate incident, Severn Trent was fined almost £7,000 after a prosecution brought by the Environment Agency.
The company was fined £6,700 and ordered to pay costs of £2,777.80 at Stafford magistrates court after pleading guilty to causing sewage pollution to enter the Trent.

Plans for offshore fish farms under fire

Environmental groups have attacked plans to establish Scotland's first offshore salmon farms, claiming the industry is unsustainable and that the measure could further harm seas already at risk.
Marine Harvest is hoping to implement the system as part of a £40 million expansion of its Scottish operations. The company wants to take advantage of the growing demand for farmed Scottish salmon across Europe, where consumption has been rising 6 to 8 per cent annually. It also believes the measure could also help address concerns about the environmental impact of its current fish farms, which are usually located in the relative shelter of sea lochs. Critics claim farmed salmon waste pollutes inland waters and carry diseases that threaten wild stock.
Duncan McLaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “We are unconvinced by these plans. Farming of carnivorous fish is unsustainable as an industry because it relies on a greater input of fish product than the salmon it produces, roughly 5kg of feed for 1kg of fish.
“Moving farms offshore as a means of reducing pollution just moves the problem further out at a time when our seas are under grave threat from climate change.”

Mr McLaren suggested that gaining planning permission for the proposals could be a challenge. “We will be interested to see what the environmental impact assessments find,” he said.
James Reynolds, from RSPB Scotland, also raised concerns. “We would question how sustainable the industry is in its current form in the amount of fish meal that is made to bring the salmon to market size, so if there were measures to increase that we would want to see it happen in the most sustainable manner possible,” he said.
Under the new system, fish farms will be positioned further out to sea, with potential sites already identified in the waters of the Minch, off the Outer Hebrides. Instead of travelling to work every day, staff will live on purpose built barges, and undertake shift patterns similar to those found on North Sea oil platforms, spending eight days on and four days off. Pay has yet to be decided but workers will be compensated for living away from dry land. About 40 jobs will be created in total, with a shore base also to be built on the tiny island of Barra.
Alan Sutherland, Marine Harvest’s managing director, said: “The time is right for the next generation of fish farming. The demand for our product is there and we know the quality is there.
“We have been looking at the opportunities that exist and believe the future of fish farming lies further offshore. This is possible if we use residential fish farms, which we use in Norway and British Columbia, where I previously worked.”
The firm aims to develop four new farms, each costing about £3 million and about three times the size of the average current farm. When completed, they will allow the company to produce an extra 20,000 tonnes of fish per year. The company already produces about 40,000 tonnes of salmon annually, about two thirds of which is sold in supermarkets across the UK.
Steve Bracken, the firm's business development manager, said the remoteness of the sites would make them more environmentally friendly, as they would be further away from the spawning grounds of wild salmon and trout.
Angling groups gave the proposals a cautious welcome.
Andrew Wallace, from the Association of Salmon Fishery Boards and the Rivers and Fisheries Trust of Scotland, said: “We are extremely interested in this initiative. Offshore production could have minimal impact on wild fisheries.
“However, we are very much aware that the industry wishes to expand to take advantage of the collapse in supply from Chile. If the additional capacity developed offshore does not actually allow the removal of many of the existing inshore salmon farms, which cause so much damage to wild fish populations, then this will not amount to progress.”

Plastic bottles reborn as blankets in Buddhist recycling centre

In Taipei, recycling is not just socially responsible, it is a religious practice for the elderly volunteers at the charity Tzu Chi
I had a vision of the future last week. It wasn't half as sexy, hi-tech or awe-inspiring as I might once have hoped, but there was a certain gritty positivism about the experience that made it feel more real than any science-fiction fantasy.
The setting was a Buddhist recycling centre on the outskirts of Taipei, where elderly volunteers were acquiring social and religious merit (or in some cases, just passing the time of day) by unscrewing tops and peeling off labels from a mountain of discarded plastic bottles. Sorted by colour so the plastic could be broken down, granulated and reused, the bottles were destined for reincarnation as soft blue polyester blankets.
In a separate workroom, another rank of volunteers on sewing machines hemmed the material, ironed on the logo of the Buddhist charity Tzu Chi, and folded them ready for free distribution to disaster victims and the homeless.
And that's it. Not a very euphoric revelation, I grant you. But it struck me that Tzu Chi – an organisation I had never heard of until last week – were riding three of the biggest waves of the 21st century.
The first was the ageing of wealthy societies. Taiwan is in the world's grey frontline, along with Japan, Hong Kong, Macau and several countries in Europe that are trying to find new ways to keep their elderly populations active, occupied and socially useful. The old people sorting through the trash near Taipei were from middle-class families. They said they did so for the exercise, for the company and because it was more constructive than sitting at home alone watching TV.
The second was the growing importance of recycling as the world's nonrenewable resources run down. Taipei city has one of the highest recycling rates on the planet. The rules are so strict that some city residents plan their social lives around rubbish truck schedules. Even McDonald's has separate bins. Chiau Wen-Yan, deputy minister of environmental protection, told me the recycling policy was now so successful it was creating a welcome problem of incinerators not having enough to burn. On this crowded island, the practice is not just socially responsible, it's becoming semi-religious. Tzu Chi – with 50,000, mostly retired, recycling volunteers – is one of three Buddhist groups that picks up members along with the rubbish.
The third was the growing need to prepare for disaster. If the climate specialists are right, storms and floods will become more frequent and intense. This summer, Tzu Chi handed out 60,000 recycled plastic blankets to the survivors of Typhoon Morakot, the biggest downpour in Taiwan's history, which killed more than 500 people.
People expected more disasters on this scale in the future, the vice minister of economic affairs, Huang Jung-Chiou, told me. It turned out he too was a Tzu Chi member, who was vegetarian on Mondays and volunteered for rubbish recycling even after taking office.
"It was an important experience," he said. "Peeling the labels off bottles was extremely boring, but it made me think 'Look at all that garbage. Who produced it?'"
I don't know enough about Tzu Chi to endorse them, but their bottles-to-blankets activity seems a grittier form of the recycling done by charity shops in the UK. It is not exactly how I hope to spend my retirement, but facing up to absurd amounts of waste is probably what we will all have to do a lot more of in the future.