Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Recycling reaches record levels

The increase in the amount of materials recycled in Portugal last year peaked at extraordinary heights.

The latest statistics reveal that the overall level increased by 10% compared to the 2018 figures.

TheMayor.EU portal for European cities and citizens has described the increase as   “staggering”. It says that “Portugal is well on its way to achieving its sustainability and recycling targets.”

The statistics are seen within the EU as a clear indication that Portuguese citizens are taking sustainability and the circular economy to heart.

A breakdown of the 2019 figures shows recycling increases of 5% in plastics, 9% in glass, 14% in paper and cardboard, 7% and 14% in steel and aluminium respectively, and 34% in wood.

This latest data was gathered by the Sociedade Ponto Verde, founded in 1996 as a private, non-profit Portuguese organisation that   manages and promotes the selection, collection and  recycling of various materials in this country.

Because of COVID-19, however, the   extremely positive trend in 2019 cannot be expected to continue this year.

 Sociedade Ponto Verde  says the pandemic is having a negative impact on recycling as the Portuguese government’s focus has shifted from sustainability goals to protecting the health of citizens with emergency regulations.

Social lifestyle limitations together with the loss of employment in certain sectors are inhibiting the separate collection of waste and its recycling, even though this is expected to remain a priority for the relevant authorities. 

Residual waste services to households were being disrupted  in 17% of Portuguese local council areas, according to the results of a survey  published on 3 April, 11 days into the government’s original three week ‘stay at home’ period. Garden, food and bulky waste were being hit hardest.

Another worrying factor is the slump in the price of oil. As crude oil is a basic component in the production of most plastic material, the price of ‘virgin’ plastic is falling substantially. This means the price of recycled plastic is coming under increasing pressure and if something is not done, many recyclers may be in trouble financially, say analysts.

“The challenges presented by global warming and the lack of a global response are always in the rear-view mirror,” say representatives of Sociedade Ponto Verde.

Their simple message to citizens is do not forget good recycling habits no matter how life has changed and how it will change further in the not too distant future.

It is only through positive and responsible policies and attitudes that improvements can truly be achieved.

According to European Community legislation, all packaging entities are responsible for the management and final destination of their packaging. They can and do delegate these responsibilities to licensed specialists such as Sociedade Ponto Verde.

The Green Dot symbol used by the Sociedade  indicates that the packaging company has delegated at its own expense the responsibility of management and recycling of packaging.  The symbol is used by a whole  European network of organizations.

Meanwhile, in line with the EU Plastics Strategy, a pilot project was launched in Portugal last July to test  container deposit scheme for beverages.  As a result, the start of  2022 will likely see  a mandatory  scheme formally introduced for the return of non-reusable plastic bottles and cans. It is hoped this will be a breakthrough,   bringing plastic recycling in Portugal back to new record levels.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Lagoa link in crisis food chain

It is vital that the food supply chain in Europe continues to operate as efficiently as possible, and a Lagoa-based farming company is an example of how this can be done with a minimum of disruption despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The food chain in Europe is still struggling, but the company Schroll Flavours is going from strength to strength on its farms on either side of Lagoa growing, harvesting and exporting crops without too many coronavirus-related problems. 

Founded by the resident Danish entrepreneur Brian Knudsen, Schroll Flavours has specialised since 2016 in growing herbs and exporting most of its year-round crop to northern Europe.

The devastation of COVID-19 and the continued imposition of strict emergency regulations in Portugal and other countries has not impacted negatively on the company’s overall output, says Knudsen.

The company lost 90% of its normal wholesale and food service customers, but has been able to replace them with supermarket and online suppliers. 

“We can’t complain at the moment. We know of colleagues are in a much worse situation,” says Knudsen.

The food supply chain experienced setbacks from the start of the pandemic in Europe, which sparked panic buying that emptied supermarket shelves. Shortages didn’t last too long, but the state of emergency rules about social distancing meant reducing the flow of shoppers. 

The closure of restaurants, cafes and schools immediately impacted on their suppliers and added to the number of employees suddenly out of work.   

Farmers specialising in tomatoes and other salad crops in the central Portuguese province of  Ribatejo have been unable to get normal production underway because of a shortage of nursery plants. 

Other producers in Europe are currently incensed that large quantities of fruit and vegetables are being flown in from non-European countries, such as South Africa, Kenya and Venezuela, while farmers in Europe are struggling to sell their own fresh produce.  

The same lockdowns and travel restrictions are hindering relief efforts to prevent vulnerable developing countries, particularly in Africa, from sliding into famine on account of the pandemic.

Of major concern in the United States is that meat packaging plants have been shutting down because the close proximity of employees has caused a high number of coronavirus infections. 

Meanwhile, Schroll Flavours’ farm workers in Lagoa have been adhering to the social distancing rules and the farms are closed to all except those essentially delivering or loading goods.

With ideal soil and climatic conditions, including plenty of sunshine backed by adequate irrigation,  Schroll Flavours is able to produce all kinds of herbs all year round. 

Employees from Portugal, Denmark and India are kept particularly busy picking from March all the way through to January. The harvests are loaded onto trucks in Lagoa and sent across borders without unnecessary restriction to Scandinavian countries, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

The biggest herbal demands abroad are for coriander, basil and Moroccan mint, followed by thyme and chives, with lesser amounts of rosemary and lemongrass. 

There is no complacency in any of this. Better days lie ahead. It’s been a firm objective of Brian Knudsen for quite a while and it’s about to be fulfilled. From the end of next month, May, his entire annual crop of herbs will be grown organically. 


Thursday, April 9, 2020

COVID-19: Faith, facts and fears

During Easter, people of faith will be among those supporting the COVID-19 emergency measures imposed by politicians on the advice of scientists.

All places of worship in Portugal will remain closed at least until April 17 – and longer should the present state of emergency be extended. 

Catholics, by far the largest religious denomination in this country, are having to make do with services on television instead of attending Mass in their local churches. Pope Francis has said that the pandemic represents a chance for creativity and positive change and urged people to reconnect with the real world and reject what he called “throwaway culture.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses, well-known among all other religious and non-religious sections of the community for their door-to-door preaching visits, have suspended all such activity and are adhering to self-isolation and social distancing. They quote the Bible in saying that response to the pandemic should be measured and based on fact not fear. 

Passover, which is being celebrated between April 8 and 16, will not be quite the same joyous occasion for Orthodox Jews this year because of the inability of extended families and friends to gather together. 
Portuguese police are on duty to stop the small minority of city dwellers, religious and non-religious, who are hoping to drive south and spend the weekend in the Algarve. Fortunately the weather for the weekend in the Algarve is forecast to be not nearly so sunny and inviting as during most of last month.

In an especially stringent regulation, citizens have been banned from moving out of the municipal area in which they reside unless they have precise and important reasons for doing so.

All this is in contrast to the attitude of some preachers in the former Portuguese territory of Brazil who insist COVID-19 is divine punishment – the work of Satan – and that the virus is powerless against those who are not afraid of it.

Similarly, some evangelical pastors in the United States are urging congregations to mingle over Easter and ignore any lockdown rules.

American far-right evangelicals, who make up a substantial section of President Donald Trump’s supporters, are heavily into the blame game. They want China to be held accountable for allowing the virus to spread.  

They believe the fundamental cause of this pandemic has been incompetence, corruption and malice on the part of the non-religious Chinese scientific and political establishment. 

A reliable analysis of who has been responsible for the spread of the pandemic is probably still some time away, but it seems probably that Portugal, unlike the UK and the US, will be regarded as one of the countries that  took sufficient decisive action at the right time. 

Meanwhile, the notion that COVID-19 is not what scientists and medical experts are making it out to be is rife on social media. Disinformation is adding to the fears among those who are accessing the Internet in far greater numbers than ever before. 

Crazy conspiracy theories amounting to blatant false news are being circulated to the detriment especially of vulnerable people in self-isolation. This is being done despite the monitoring efforts of Facebook and other social networking platforms.   

Certain elements within the mainstream media are far from innocent in adding confusion among viewers and readers. Some TV reporters have been blathering on and on and on about data revealing not only the number of COVID-19 deaths in various countries, but lots of other bewildering numbers and percentages. Least reported are statistics on those who have contracted coronavirus but survived it without hospitalisation or any significant problems.

The economics of this pandemic are something else, of course. The longer COVID-19 lasts, the greater the ordeal of mass unemployment and collapsing companies. 

Greater clarity on the many coronavirus uncertainties that still exist today in Portugal will have to wait until after Easter.        

Saturday, April 4, 2020

COVID-19: Easter lockdown essential

The coronavirus tide may be turning in Portugal. 

“This month is decisive for us to be able to control the pandemic,” said Prime Minister António Costa as the state of emergency regulations aimed at limiting the spread of the virus was extended for 15 days to April 17.

During Easter – Thursday 9 to Monday 13 – it is forbidden, except in exceptional circumstances, for people to leave the municipality in which they reside. The exceptions include those necessarily travelling to a hospital, a work place, or a home to provide special care. 

The extended emergency decree from President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and backed by parliament came as the number of deaths from the disease in Portugal approached 200.  However, the number of infections and percentage of death is much less than in other European countries, particularly neighbouring Spain.

The effort by the Portuguese to self-discipline is very important and should be reinforced, said the Prime Minister. He was cautious in his predictions, saying that lifting the state of emergency could not be done in a hurry. Further restrictions on the movement of people might even continue for “one, two, three months,” he said. 

The current emergency extension to April 17 is likely to be fully accepted by the Portuguese population at large, though some Lisbon and other northern city dwellers have been criticised for irresponsibly driving south to spend Easter in the Algarve. 

The north, centre and Lisbon areas so far have been much worse affected by the pandemic than the Algarve or Alentejo regions, but most people throughout the country are adhering to appropriate self-isolation and social distancing. 

Most business, cultural and entertainment venues remain closed.  Outlets such as supermarkets, pharmacies and banks are continuing to serve a strictly controlled flow of customers.

Portugal’s internal emergency regulations, border controls with Spain and the grounding of international airlines have brought about a total absence of tourism, the Algarve’s main economic activity.

EasyJet, for example, have announced that they will not be operating any normal scheduled services this month, only repatriation flights. 

Easter is traditionally the start of the annual holiday boom, but hotels and all other holiday accommodation will have to remain closed until the pandemic crisis has been resolved, which may, or may not, be possible before the end of the summer season. 

Crucially, many small and medium-sized companies and their staff rely on revenue from the summer months to see them through the whole of the year.

Those in all sectors of the Algarve tourist trade are hoping that because of Portugal’s efficient handling of the crisis and the relatively low number of coronavirus infections in the region, it will be a top destination and see a surge of visitors from the UK, Germany and elsewhere in northern Europe when COVID-19 is over.