It’s still greener

The chemical industry must become more environmentally friendly. But not every strategy is sustainable in the long term. Which approaches are useful.

The undesirable side effects of material prosperity are seldom as obvious as the colorful plastic mix of bottles, flip-flops and fishing nets that blemishes some holiday beaches. Most of the potentially harmful chemicals in the environment are invisible to the naked eye: flame retardants, for example, biocides, pesticides, medicines and long-lasting fluorochemicals that can be found in coated pans, jackets and baking paper and, as the Federal Environment Agency recently reported, in alarmingly high doses have been detected in the blood of children. Again and again, chemists find problematic substances where they don’t belong.

At some point Klaus Kümmerer from Leuphana University Lüneburg had enough of such finds. “I just didn’t feel like measuring the five thousandth pollutant in the six hundredth sampled area,” says the scientist. For 15 years he has been researching how chemistry can be made more sustainable from the ground up. Together with his team, for example, he chemically converted a heart drug, a beta blocker and an antibiotic so that they can be more easily broken down by microbes in the environment. Similar to how chemists once defused surfactants from detergents that had produced meter-high mountains of foam on the rivers in the early 1960s.

“Benign by Design” is the name of the concept of chemically assembling substances in such a way that they cause as little damage as possible to the environment. It is one of the twelve guiding principles of so-called green chemistry, which were developed 22 years ago by the US chemists Paul Anastas and John Warner. “Green” are also products and manufacturing processes that produce as little waste as possible, that use little energy and resources, or those from renewable sources. There are countless examples of the success of the concept today, says Julie Zimmerman from Yale University, USA, who works with Anastas. They range from batteries for electric cars to biofuels and gentle production methods for cancer drugs that generate little waste.

Planet plastic

“One of the biggest challenges is getting away from the concept of waste and seeing every ‘waste’ as a resource,” says Zimmerman. At the beginning of the year , her team reported in the journal Science on two examples that are already being implemented industrially. The wood waste material lignin from the paper industry is used, among other things, as a raw material for vanilla flavoring, and chemical building blocks for foams made of polyurethane can be obtained from the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

From Kümmerer’s point of view, the main ideas behind green chemistry are correct, but they often fall short. “They do not consider the entire material and product flows and how they could be reduced,” he criticizes. Metals that are increasingly in demand for digitization, for wind turbines and solar cells, or phosphorus for fertilizers, for example, are simply finite and thus resources that have to be managed well. “The first thing you should ask yourself about every chemical and every product is: Do I even need it?” He is convinced.

Fungal resistant wood could make fungicides superfluous in facade paints

For some functions there are definitely more sustainable, non-chemical alternatives. To protect wooden structures, for example, a roof overhang or fungus-resistant wood could make the use of fungicides in facade paints superfluous. “Only when it is clear that a chemical compound is needed does the question of how it can be produced most sustainably,” emphasizes the chemist. This also includes observing ethical and social criteria, such as the origin of the resources and the conditions under which they are obtained.

The example of biodiesel shows how much damage a narrowed view can be. Part of the fuel is obtained from vegetable oil instead of crude oil, i.e. from renewable raw materials. But rainforests have already been cleared and moors drained for the oils, which will continue to release carbon dioxide for centuries. Fields are also blocked for food production. “That does more harm than good,” said the Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, Hartmut Michel, recently at the virtual Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. In addition, the efficiency of photosynthesis, with which plants produce biomass from light and carbon dioxide, is extremely low at around one percent. It is more efficient to generate hydrogen with solar power,

As far as the circular economy is concerned, it is also worth taking a look at the details. ” Recycling is always associated with material losses, energy consumption and other waste materials,” says Kümmerer. The more substances there are in a material, the more difficult it will be to separate them again. Many plastics, for example, still contain dyes, flame retardants and plasticizers.

Innovative composite materials that are supposed to make cars lighter are also problematic. “They may help to save carbon dioxide, but in 20 years you will be there and have to see how you can recycle it,” said Kümmerer. The same problem arises today with innovations from the past, such as electrical appliances, wind turbines and solar cells. “Products and materials have to be planned much more so that they can be recycled,” demands the chemist. The simpler they are set up, the better.

Every innovation should immediately be critically questioned: Do you really need it?

Some substances cannot be put into the cycle, such as shampoo, cleaning agents or medication. Because sewage treatment plants often cannot collect them and around 80 percent of the world’s wastewater cannot be cleaned anyway, they should be designed in such a way that they decompose completely as quickly as possible.

For researchers like Zimmerman and Kümmerer, there is no question that government pressure and financial incentives are required to make the chemical industry more sustainable. New business models can also help. For example, so-called chemicals leasing, which has been promoted for several years by the United Nations Industry Department UNIDO together with Switzerland, Austria and Germany. Manufacturers or importers do not sell chemicals, but a service that also includes advice and the return of chemicals.

One example is car manufacturers who pay paint producers for the painted sheet metal area instead of the paint itself. “Then there is an incentive to achieve good quality with as little paint as possible,” explains Kümmerer. In hospitals, manufacturers of disinfectants can be paid for advice on the necessary hygiene standard instead of the chemicals. His team successfully tested this in a clinic in Worms, says Kümmerer. About half of the disinfectants could be saved.

Last but not least, the topic of sustainable chemistry is a compulsory part of the training. But this is still more the exception than the rule, also in Germany. Since March of this year, Leuphana University has been offering a part-time master’s degree in sustainable chemistry under Kümmerer’s leadership. The researcher asks his students to critically question every innovative product idea: What function should the product fulfill? What are the consequences if I produce 100,000 tons of it? Where does the material come from? How much do you lose And all of this beyond the first life cycle, says the scientist: “We need this kind of thinking.”

Place there!

There is displacement competition in the Dachau flora: so-called neophytes spread at the expense of native species. How environmentalists in the county are responding to the problem.

A battle rages between rodents in Europe: the gray squirrel from North America is in the process of ousting the native squirrel. In England, for example, there are “only remnants” of the native species, according to the Nature Conservation Union, and Germany could also be targeted by the wandering gray squirrels. A similar displacement competition in the Dachau flora has long been a reality. In the main role: neophytes, i.e. plant species that are not native to this country, but have nonetheless established themselves permanently. Some neophytes threaten the native flora and fauna, others have long since become dear to our hearts, for example the potato.

The term neophyte comes from the Greek and means “new plant”. According to the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, this is understood to be alien plant species that were not native to Europe before America was discovered. They came to Europe from North America and East Asia in various ways. Once you arrive, “you will never get rid of the species completely”, says Sybille Hein from Nature and Landscape Protection Dachau. This development has been causing the district great difficulties for many years.

The main problem with neophytes: They can grow up to two meters high and simply take the space for native plants to grow. Basically, the local spread of neophytes affects both the insect and the plant world. Certain species can even be dangerous to humans. Peter Heller from the Bund Naturschutz(BN) in Dachau complains about the settlement of non-native plants in the region. He is particularly concerned about the Canadian goldenrod, the Indian balsam and the giant hogweed. “The neophytes gradually settle here and displace our plants,” says Heller. The Canadian goldenrod and Indian balsam are particularly common on riverside regions. There is also too much of the Indian balsam on the Amper. There are other “hotspots” in the district, for example, in Dachau-Ost in the direction of the herb garden or in the Alte Würm, says Sybille Hein. Forest edges are also affected. According to the BN, these areas are particularly important for maintaining biodiversity. Heller emphasizes that one must keep non-native plants away from forest edges in order to “reduce the impoverishment of the landscape” to prevent. Contact with the giant hogweed can also be dangerous for humans and lead to serious health problems, warns Hein. The sap contains substances that are toxic to humans and could cause burns in sunlight. Hein therefore recommends wearing protective suits every time you work with the hogweed.

However, there are also good sides to the “new plants “. Certain neophytes can be useful: Wolfgang Niedermeier from the Dachau District Beekeeping Association emphasizes that the Indian balsam is an important source of food for bees. However, he too is concerned about the rapid spread. Because “as soon as the bees find something, they naturally try to enter it and nature does not foresee that to that extent”. The work that a bee would need in spring is then already done in winter. Niedermeier emphasizes how important “a clever frost” would be in the middle of October, so that “the catch crops and balsam overturn”. If this does not happen, the bees continue to register that the natural cycle becomes unbalanced.

The introduction of the neophytes was not entirely unintentional. According to the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, half of the plants established here were deliberately introduced as useful plants. For example the potato, the tomato or the corn. The only problematic are those neophytes that reproduce uncontrollably and displace native flora. “It is difficult to do something about it. You would need an army of people and government funds,” said Heller. The fight is just hard to win. However, targeted measures can help to protect native species.

The BN Dachau has been organizing so-called “neophyte campaigns” for years. From mid-May to mid-August, volunteers clear the area of ​​the Amperau from Indian balsam and Canadian goldenrod once a week. These actions promise success and, according to Heller, would help to contain the spread. “If nothing is done, native plants will disappear completely.”

Which tree is ideal for urban greening?

Urban trees now have to withstand climate change. This can mean that new species are needed.

A row of tall trees with a spreading dark green crown lines a small street near Stuttgart’s town hall. Last year, Eberhardstrasse was redesigned to be car-free, parking spaces were replaced with green spaces and seating. Here you can see on a small scale what is currently occupying many town halls in the country: How can they bring more green to cities that is also able to withstand climate change?

Volker Schirner is a trained gardener and horticultural engineer and has to face this problem with every new construction project and every tree that the city has to replace because it has become infected with an illness or has become old and brittle and is no longer considered to be roadworthy. At the beginning of his career, Schirner took care of the Berlin zoo. Now he is the head of the Stuttgart garden, cemetery and forestry office and, as such, lord of hundreds of thousands of trees.

He can still remember how the Japanese pagoda tree , for which he likes to use the old botanical name Sophora japonica , became a kind of fashion tree in the 1980s. At the time, the pressing problem in many cities was air pollution, and the Asian tree species was considered insensitive to pollutants such as sulfur dioxide. The pagoda tree is relatively common in Stuttgart.

The tree species is also doing well in terms of climate, says Schirner. Their advantage is the feathery leaves, through which less water evaporates than with linden or maple, which is why the trees can manage with less water. So actually ideal for a city center that heats up as much in summer as that of Stuttgart. But the Sophora also has its disadvantages: With its sweeping crown, the full-grown tree is not suitable for narrow street canyons – also because the branches can break when the wind sweeps through the alleys. To create an avenue, it would have to be repositioned and replaced by narrower types. But removing mature trees is not very popular today.

Norway maple and chestnut suffer from drought. You will probably see them less often in the future

In Eberhardstrasse, Schirner’s employees have now contrasted the tall pagoda trees with a narrower species. It is an elm that retains its slim crown even when fully grown. Elms had almost disappeared in Germany due to a fungal disease and are now enjoying a comeback in a more resistant variant.

Narrow-crowned species that evaporate less water and whose root ball can cope with little space: This is one of the strategies urban experts are using to adapt to climate change. In addition, many cities are experimenting with irrigation. They use substrates that hold water longer and equip the ground with water storage tanks that are either filled by the watering vehicle via a drainage pipe – or that are connected directly to the rain gutters of surrounding houses.

Many cities also work with water-permeable flooring in order to increase the seepage surface over the root ball. Since this year, more time and personnel have been available for irrigation in Stuttgart. The gardening office starts watering earlier than before in the year to saturate the soil before the growth phase. Schirner was also able to double the number of its casting vehicles.

In addition, the gardening authorities are looking for tree species that can deal with drought stress. The Norway maple and chestnut, which are popular in Germany, have their problems here. However, Schirner is convinced that these tree species will continue to be seen in German cities – albeit in a smaller proportion than today. When replanting, you will have to pay more attention to which tree is suitable for which location. At Stuttgart’s Schlossplatz, for example, where chestnuts stand on strips of meadow in a park-like setting, they are doing well. On the opposite Karlsplatz, where chestnut trees are surrounded by pavement, some specimens are visibly weakening.

The dominant tree species in most major German cities are linden and maple. In some places they make up half or more of the tree population. In Munich, for example, around 70 percent of the trees in public areas are linden and norway maples. In the Bavarian capital, the building department commissioned an inventory and a development plan last year. The aim is to achieve a mix of tree species that is adapted to climate change.

However, you never know when a pest will appear and attack the supposedly optimal climatic tree. The plane tree, for example, which is very present in downtown Stuttgart – there are around 120 of these Mediterranean trees in the central pedestrian zone alone. “It grows well, is incredibly robust and is decorative,” says Schirner of the tree that the master horticulturist Peter Joseph Lenné planted in the Berlin zoo more than 150 years ago. Unfortunately, a few years ago the massaria disease appeared. Now there is a risk that the beautiful plane tree avenue will eventually be attacked and carried away. “We are currently very careful about replanting plane trees,” says Schirner.

Which tree species thrives where, and which can cope with extreme conditions such as a thin layer of earth above the subway shaft or a sun-drenched pedestrian zone, has been studied across Germany for years. Even at the time of the increased air pollution, municipalities founded the German Garden Authority Conference (Galk) and exchanged experiences. In the meantime, the focus has shifted to climate change.

Experts test exotic plants as well as old, almost forgotten species

Galk is responsible for an ongoing experiment in which cities from Hamburg to Stuttgart to Munich are planting new species where trees have to be planted anyway. They then document how the species are doing for years. “We are currently testing 40 tree species,” says Joachim Bauer, who coordinates the project. The results are incorporated into a list of recommendations that municipalities and tree nurseries can access.

It’s not just about exotic imports. The list also includes surprising rediscoveries such as the field maple, which can deal with drought much better than the Norway maple, says Bauer. For him, the plant is a hot candidate for the future tree. But he also still considers the Japanese pagoda tree to be very promising. You don’t necessarily have to plant it in a narrow street.

German environmental award for climate commitment

The scientist Ottmar Edenhofer and two young entrepreneurs from Limburg are honored.

Air pollution is Europe’s greatest environmental health threat

According to the European Environment Agency, there are 630,000 premature deaths from environmental factors every year in the EU – 400,000 are caused by air pollution alone.

More than 400,000 people die each year in the European Union as a result of air pollution . This is the result of a report by the European Environment Agency (EEA). The report analyzed data on the impact of the environment on the health and well-being of Europeans. In addition to the 27 EU states, the EEA member states include Great Britain, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland, Norway and Turkey. Cooperating countries are Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania and North Macedonia.

According to this, air pollution remains the greatest environmental threat to health in Europe. In 1990, however, the number of premature deaths due to it was still one million.

In second place is noise pollution, which leads to 12,000 premature deaths, the report said. The effects of climate change are also increasingly having their share, for example heat waves and floods. People in urban environments are particularly affected by the consequences of climate change, said Catherine Ganzleben of the EEA. Other factors mentioned by the Environment Agency are chemical compounds, resistance to pathogens resulting from excessive use of antibiotics and polluted drinking water.

The clear difference between the countries in Eastern and Western Europe is also striking. In many Eastern European countries, the rate of premature deaths from environmental factors is much higher than in Western Europe. Bosnia-Herzegovina has the highest proportion of deaths related to environmental pollution (27 percent), while Iceland and Norway have the lowest (nine percent). The situation in Germany is therefore also comparatively good.

630,000 deaths annually from environmental factors

The studies are based on data from the World Health Organization (WHO) on the causes of death and disease from 2012. According to this, around 13 percent of annual deaths in the EU – the equivalent of 630,000 premature deaths – can be attributed to environmental factors and would therefore be avoidable. The most common causes of death include cancer, heart disease and strokes.

“While we in Europe see improvements in the environment and the Green Deal with a clear focus on a sustainable future, the report shows that action is needed to protect the most vulnerable in our society,” said EEA Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx . Poverty often goes hand in hand with living in a polluted environment and poor health. “Dealing with these issues must be part of an integrated approach to an inclusive and more sustainable Europe.”

Bahn and Air India do without single-use plastic

New Delhi (dpa) – In India, the railways and the state airline Air India do without single-use plastic. The two innovations are part of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plan to ban single-use plastic entirely in his country by 2022.

At the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the Indian founding father and freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi, Modi said: “Cleanliness, environmental protection and animal welfare – these three things were particularly important to Gandhi, and plastic is the greatest danger to these three.”

The Indian government had originally considered banning some plastic items entirely from Wednesday. These plans were then rejected after talks with the plastics industry, according to the Ministry of the Environment in New Delhi. The industry would have warned of job losses and higher prices for consumer goods.

To encourage people to use plastic more sustainably, there are now recycling stations for plastic bottles in 4,000 Indian train stations, as a train spokesman said. In addition, plastic crockery and cutlery will be collected and recycled on trains in the future. Shops in the train stations are no longer allowed to sell goods wrapped in single-use plastic or use plastic bags. If they did that anyway, there would be penalties in the future, said the spokesman.

At Air India , food will in future be served in wax-coated paper plates and cups instead of tableware made of disposable plastic. You should eat with wooden cutlery. “The paper dishes are then thrown away,” said a spokesman for the airline.

However, environmental protection organizations warn that there are still many plastic substitutes around the world that are no better for the environment today. “When it comes to production, paper dishes generally have a worse ecological balance than plastic dishes,” said garbage expert Swati Sambyal from the Center for Science and Environment in New Delhi. So you need more CO2 to produce, which is bad for the climate.

It is best to avoid single-use products wherever possible, said speaker Rolf Buschmann from the Association for the Environment and Nature Conservation. It should also be ensured – for example through good collection systems – that as little plastic as possible gets into nature and is eaten by animals.

In India , however, millions of tons of plastic end up in the environment every year. Now the Indian Ministry of Transport wants to collect some of it, recycle it and build a 336 kilometer long road – a little longer than the straight line distance between Berlin and Bremen. But garbage expert Sambyal is also critical of this solution: “Cracks could appear and microplastics could get into the ground.”

However, plastic is difficult to replace. It is easy, inexpensive to manufacture and, for example, often the safest material in medicine, as the head of the Institute for Plastics Technology at the University of Stuttgart, Christian Bonten, says. Disposable syringes could best guarantee that no germs are transmitted from patient to patient. Researchers are also working on plastic that is also biodegradable in the sea, said Bonten. But science is not that far yet.

The saviors of the rainforest

The Olching honorary citizen Josef Aicher founded an organization to protect tropical tree areas. During a press conference in the Congo, the missionary reports on the struggle for nature against foreign investors

Every year the latest smartphone, a couple of times a year going on vacation and in summer the beef steak from the biologically correct raised Angus cattle from Argentina, cooked over charcoal, for which a giant tree in the tropical rainforest was cut down in case of doubt: Our lifestyle in the so-called civilized western world harms the environment in a variety of ways. This becomes clear, not least because of the protests by Greta Thunberg and Fridays for Future. “The topic has definitely gained relevance in the last few weeks,” noted the CSU member of the Bundestag for the Fürstenfeldbruck-Ost district. Katrin Staffler took this development as an opportunity for a press conference, at which she only offered the forum.

The real main characters on that day are the former Olching pastor Josef Aicher, who has worked as a missionary in the Congo for decades. Rainer Widmann, surveyor and supporter of social projects in Africa and South America, and Peter Kiefer, who also supports social projects in Africa. “We will not be able to solve the problem in Germany alone”, Staffler immediately draws attention to the rainforest area that spans the globe. The preservation and protection of these old forest areas would be the “most effective climate protection” against the global rise in temperatures, according to the Bundestag members. That is why the CSU politician invited Aicher and his colleagues. The three activists, who are organisationally based at the Kolping Family Olching, report on the situation on site,

Pastor Aicher, Kolping family Olching

In Latin America, for example, Widmann reports, the rainforest is being burned. In Africa, the giants of the jungle are usually cleared. The situation is similar in Southeast Asia: all over the world, rainforest areas are being destroyed by humans. One of the main reasons is the production of palm oil. According to the umbrella organization Transport and Environment, 53 percent of the vegetable fat, which initially appears cheap compared to domestic oils, was used in the European Union for biodiesel and 35 percent for food and chemical products.

Pastor Aicher, Kolping family Olching

In the Congo the forest is not torched, but supposedly well paid. According to Pastor Aicher, Chinese companies in particular are buying land on the foreign continent, clearing and cultivating the forest. Those interested pay 1000 euros for a cleared tree. An unimaginably high sum for the people living there. Understandably, one or the other promise, says Aicher. Especially since after the observations of the pastor who worked in Olching in the 1970s, the situation has changed completely.

Pastor Aicher, Kolping family Olching

“I experienced the good times of nature, the forest was intact. But now everything is no longer in harmony,” says Aicher. When he came to the Congo in 1979, the situation in the forest, but also between the forest and the population, was “heavenly”. He depicts a harmony between man and nature, where man only takes what he needs. “With the war came a complete reversal,” by which he means the armed conflicts between 1996 and 2003.

From 2003 onwards, according to Aicher, the situation in the Congolese forests has turned. People are no longer satisfied with ensuring their survival. They wanted to benefit from the forest. And do not understand that neither game nor trees and plants grow back at will. “The abundance of game has dropped to two percent,” complains Aicher.

Nevertheless, the pastor is optimistic that nature can still be saved. He founded the organization Réseau d’Encadrement des Communautés locales pour la Conservation des Forêts, or Recof for short. Their goal: nothing less than saving the tropical rainforests. In his second home he can already record successes in this regard: Around half of the Congolese rainforest area has already been registered by Recof as worthy of protection and conservation. However, this does not mean that the valuable forest areas are one hundred percent safe. “The provincial government is constantly selling against the will of the central government,” says Aicher. And so it can happen that some hectares of rainforest are actually already included in the Recof protection program,

“The people who live from and in the forest need a livelihood and that is our goal for the future,” emphasizes Widmann. According to him, many more schools are necessary for this, as well as education about the importance and function of the rainforest. Agriculture must also be expanded in the right locations.

But you don’t have to travel to Africa to save the rainforest. The activists around Pastor Aicher look forward to any help, from maintaining the website to sticking up posters. Those interested come to the Africa Stammtisch in the Kolpingheim every first Monday of the month at 7 p.m.

Climate change also endangers Australia’s platypus

Canberra (dpa) – More frequent and prolonged periods of drought in the wake of climate change also threaten one of Australia’s most impressive creatures: the platypus.

The number of egg-laying mammals is threatened to dwindle by half to a good two thirds in the next 50 years, and their range by a third to a good half, report Australian researchers in the specialist journal “Biological Conservation”. The platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) occurs in waters in eastern Australia and on the island of Tasmania. According to data from the World Conservation Union (IUCN) there are currently around 50,000 of the animals .

What impact the fires of the last few weeks have on the Ar had is still largely unclear and was not recorded by the researchers. For the entire habitat, they made projections for the populations that were currently present – before the fires – and used them in model calculations that took into account factors such as water shortage, loss of habitat due to human influence and the threat from introduced predators.

Because some of its populations are dwindling or already extinct, the platypus is currently classified by the IUCN as “potentially endangered”. The researchers led by Gilad Bino from the University of New South Wales in Sydney are convinced that a higher classification on the Red List as “endangered” is now necessary, especially with a view to climate change.

In the state of South Australia, the species is therefore already practically extinct. “At the local level, we have already made platypus extinct and in many places completely destroyed its habitat,” said Bino. “For Australia, the environment is not a priority.” For a developed country, the clearing rates are particularly high there, and many mammal species are endangered.

Scientists recently reported in the journal “Science of the Total Environment” that the sword sturgeon from the Chinese Yangtze is very likely to be extinct. A living specimen was last seen in 2003.

Caught cold

Extremely climate-damaging refrigerants for air conditioning systems often reach Europe illegally. The smuggling calls into question the EU’s strategy to promote environmentally friendly alternatives.

At the beginning of July, the EU anti-fraud authority, Olaf for short, achieved a great success for climate protection : the investigators seized 14 tons of so-called partially fluorinated hydrocarbons (HFCs) from China that were supposed to be illegally imported into the EU in the port of Rotterdam. These chemicals serve as refrigerants, for example for air conditioning systems or refrigerators and freezers – and are extremely harmful to the climate: If they get into the atmosphere, depending on their chemical composition, they contribute around 700 to 3900 times as much to global warming as the same amount of carbon dioxide.

The Rotterdam find is not an isolated incident. For several years now, EU investigators or customs authorities have repeatedly come across containers with smuggled refrigerants, mostly from China. On the other hand, there are many illegal imports that go undetected. The European Technical Committee for Fluorocarbons (EFCTC) – an association of European manufacturers – estimates that the black market for HFC refrigerants is up to a third of the legal market. This is shown by a new analysis, commissioned by the EFCTC, of ​​import and export data from China and the EU as well as imports from neighboring EU countries.

Organized crime is probably behind it

“We strongly suspect that this is mainly due to organized crime. The large amounts suggest that,” says Felix Flohr of the manufacturer Daikin Chemical Europe on behalf of the EFCTC. The British environmental protection organization Environment Investigation Agency has also observed brisk trade in illegal HFCs, but has come up with lower numbers. In a 2018 study, she put the volume of the black market at around one sixth of the legal market.

“How much refrigerant is now being illegally imported into the EU cannot be precisely quantified, as the comparison of import and export data is only of limited meaning,” says Diana Thalheim from the Federal Environment Agency (UBA). “However, it is undisputed that illegal trade is a serious problem for climate protection.” Because the black market undermines the EU’s efforts to reduce the use of HFCs. The EU’s “F-Gas Regulation” stipulates that the amount of climate-damaging refrigerants that can be sold in Europe is steadily falling. In terms of the greenhouse gas effect of chemicals, only two thirds of what was sold in 2015 is allowed today; by 2030 it should still be a good fifth. With smuggling, however, large quantities also enter the market.

Maintenance companies in particular buy from smugglers

In addition, illegal imports are torpedoing the EU’s strategy of using prices as a tax instrument. In the first three years after the 2015 ordinance came into force, the shortage of supply meant that common HFCs were eight to ten times more expensive. This made climate-friendly alternatives such as propane or ammonia more attractive. Since 2018, however, the prices for some HFCs have fallen by around half in some cases, explains Matthias Schmitt, Managing Director of the Federal Guild Association of the German Refrigeration Industry. “This is, it is often assumed, primarily due to the increase in illegal imports,” says Schmitt.

The smugglers mainly find buyers in companies that take care of the maintenance of air conditioning systems in buildings and vehicles. One of their tasks is to top up the refrigerant that escapes when the systems are in operation. Many buyers are probably well aware of the illegal origin of the products – there are some clear signs that point to black market trading. “A typical feature of illegally imported refrigerants is that they are sold in disposable containers,” says UBA expert Thalheim. “Another thing is the price: if it is well below the market price, you can be sure that they are being sold illegally.”

The contraband is even sold on Ebay

Customers should also take a close look at the seller. “If it is a private person or a company where it is not clear where it is based, one should refrain.” The sellers still seem so sure of their cause that they even use public e-commerce platforms such as Ebay for their business. There are always cylinders with HFC refrigerants of undeclared origin, for which there is apparently no take-back system. Inquiries to dealers about how and where empty containers can be returned remain unanswered.

The manufacturer association ETCFC assumes that the volume of illegally imported HFCs into the EU corresponds to a CO equivalent of up to 34 million tonnes. For comparison: Germany emitted a total of 805 million tons of CO₂ in 2019. How much contraband actually finds its way into the atmosphere cannot be said, however. Some of the refrigerants from the black market are rendered harmless when the systems and devices are disposed of. However, the quantities that escape through leaks during operation should not be underestimated. According to the Federal Environment Agency, air conditioning systems in cars, for example, lose around ten percent of their refrigerant every year, and those in buses as much as 15 percent. With modern large air conditioning systems, for example for office buildings or shopping centers, it is 3.2 percent, with older systems it is six percent.

Good reasons for the Federal Environment Ministry to take more stringent measures against the illegal trade in HFCs. The ministry has drawn up a draft law which, among other things, provides for comprehensive documentation requirements throughout the supply chain. This should make it easier for the supervisory authorities to trace trade routes and punish criminal offenses. The ETCFC welcomes the law, but points out that its effectiveness ultimately depends primarily on how it is enforced and whether the penalties are sufficiently dissuasive. In the end, however, it is also important to be more aware of the problem, says Felix Flohr – “if no one purchases illegal goods anymore, the black market also loses its foundation”.

Aviation has so far contributed 3.5 percent to global warming

Oberpfaffenhofen (dpa) – According to a new study, aviation has so far contributed around 3.5 percent to man-made global warming. This is the conclusion of an international team of researchers in the journal “Atmospheric Environment”. The industry emitted 32.6 billion tons of CO2 between 1940 and 2018, according to a message from the German Aerospace Center (DLR), which was involved in the study with researchers from the Institute for Atmospheric Physics.

 

Half of it was produced in the past 20 years – which the researchers attribute to the increased number of flights and the expansion of flight routes and aircraft fleets.

The researchers estimate that 32.6 billion tons correspond to around 1.5 percent of total human CO2 emissions. However, air traffic does not only influence the climate through these emissions . Therefore, the researchers also considered other factors. In addition to the emission of carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides, this also includes the effects of contrails and so-called contrail cirrus. These are clouds of ice crystals that are generated by aircraft at high altitudes under certain meteorological conditions. In addition, the effects of water vapor, soot and aerosol particles were included in the calculations.

 

The US climate agency NOAA, the Norwegian climate research center Cicero and universities in several countries were also involved in the study.

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