What more can we do?

Within the space of 15 minutes I was confronted by two ecological disasters. The cargo ship X-Press Pearl caught fire near the Sri Lankan coast and, despite desperate efforts to tow the ship to deeper water, it sank onto the seabed at one end. The ship was carrying millions of plastic pellets, the raw material for shopping bags, which spilled into the sea and have washed up on local beaches. These are affecting marine life and consequently people’s health and livelihoods. The ship was carrying 25 tonnes of nitric acid and hundreds of tonnes of oil, both of which will add to environmental destruction if they leak into the sea.

I was still making sense of this when a film on an ecological disaster in the Sea of Azov came on the screen. The build-up of marine mucus along the coast is believed to be the biggest in history and is causing chaos for local communities. Marine biologists and environmentalists have been alarmed by a huge mass of marine mucilage (a thick, slimy substance), which has bloomed in Turkey’s Sea of Marmara, as well as in the adjoining Black and Aegean Seas. It covers the bottom of the ocean, killing corals and other marine life by starving them of oxygen. The grey sludge forms when sea algae are overloaded with nutrients as a result of warmer temperatures and polluted water. It is man-made.

Addressing the climate crisis is becoming more urgent. A lot of individuals and companies are changing what they do as a result. Goods are sent in paper bags and cardboard boxes. Plastic bags have been replaced with compostable bags. Recycling is a lot more prevalent. It is noticeable how, where possible and appropriate, we have reverted back to how things were done in the past. We use the stairs to keep fit, while saving electricity. Liquids are sold by some shops in reusable containers, like the milk bottles of old. Drying clothes on a line really does use wind and solar power directly. Finally, I recently heard that someone offering a hand-pushed mower for sale was inundated with responses. Cut the grass, get fit and save electricity: win-win-win.

The benefit of NDT to sustainability has been discussed previously. At the manufacturing stage, NDT can identify defects early and analysis of the trends in those results can identify manufacturing problems so that rework is minimised. Reliable and precise NDT can provide optimisation of components to reduce material usage. In-service NDT provides early warning of potential failures and leaks, protecting the environment from damage. As a component nears the end of its original design life, NDT supports the assessment of life extension, allowing existing assets to be operated for longer. So, overall, we can be quite smug that our profession makes a major contribution to the environment and the better use of resources.

We can safeguard the planet through our work and personal initiatives or actions, but what else can NDT do for climate change and sustainability? I guess you will now be expecting me to launch into a list of potential changes we could adopt going forward. Unfortunately, I do not know the answers. I am raising the question so that you can let me, and the rest of the profession, know about any initiatives or actions that are currently underway. Failing that, I hope you can have discussions and let me know of any ideas that emerge.

In the meantime, here are some of my ideas, which may stimulate a response. Any electrical appliance can be refurbished, re-used or recycled in some way, but should recyclable materials be designed-in from the beginning? In NDT there is a lot of portable equipment that relies on batteries. As you will be aware, there is an increased demand for batteries and their constituent materials. What, if anything, should we be doing about this going forward? What about data recording and storage? Is there something that can be done to reduce the waste of obsolete media?

Artificial intelligence (AI) and Industry 4.0 offer future benefits for NDT. Computing-intensive applications such as AI will increase power demands and require management. AI and automation are seen as remedies for human error in NDT. Sustainability is not just about materials, it can also apply to the creation of new opportunities in job roles and training. I await your comments and suggestions.

Please note that the views expressed in this column are the author’s own personal ramblings for the purpose of encouraging discussion within NDT News. They do not represent the views of Jacobs or BINDT.

Letters can be mailed to The Editor, NDT News, Midsummer House, Riverside Way, Bedford Road, Northampton NN1 5NX, UK. Fax: +44 (0)1604 438301; Email: ndtnews@bindt.org or email Bernard McGrath direct at bernard.mcgrath1@jacobs.com

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