To be clear up front, I am not a fan or supporter of Starbucks. But on a roadtrip in California, they crop up at every exit and provide a reliable place to use the restroom and get a shot of caffeine to keep motoring. And so when I found my SIGG bottle empty and being in need of water, I decided to take my bottle in and ask if they could refill it, hoping they would have filtered water. To my surprise, the barrista (despite being harried with a line of customers), cheerfully refilled my bottle with the filtered water from a dispenser behind the counter! I had never thought to ask before. It just goes to show that making a little effort can help us all Rise Above Plastics!
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
A primer on biodegradable plastics
Paper, plastic ... or biodegradable? Yes, get ready to add a third option at the grocery store checkout line as biodegradable plastics enter the mainstream consumer market.
It is hard to imagine that the plastic grocery bag made its debut only 30 years ago. But now, even in Antarctica, scientists regularly find them blowing about.
The problem is that, unlike many other overnight sensations, plastics stick around. It can take roughly 1,000 years for some petroleum-based plastics to disintegrate. And when they do disintegrate, traditional plastics leave behind a messy legacy of fragments and chemical residues that get absorbed into streams and soil. In the meantime, they clog landfills and rivers, or kill whales and sea turtles that mistake them for food. With up to 1 trillion plastic bags manufactured annually and 2.7 million tons of plastic used just to bottle water each year, concern is rising worldwide.
Enter bioplastics, designed to degrade into an ecofriendly mix of water, carbon dioxide, and biomass. While biodegradable plastics have been introduced before in the past 20 years, they have failed to achieve widespread use due to their inferior strength and higher cost. But this is changing, says Steve Mojo, executive director of the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) in New York City.
"In the last decade, we've seen that through improved production technology … these materials have become comparatively durable and affordable, without leaving behind the remnants that petroplastics do," says Mr. Mojo.
While the cost of producing bioplastics ranges from as little as 10 percent more to many times that of traditional plastics, bioplastics companies have seen an increased demand due to rising environmental concerns among consumers and changing environmental regulations. The improved strength, meanwhile, is great news to any trash collector or conscientious pet owner who knows the hazards of an inferior plastic bag.
But when it comes to disposal, not all bioplastics are created equal, leading to confusion for consumers and waste-management groups alike. Bioplastics are not uniform in their ability to decompose under different conditions. While some brands can biodegrade within a few months in backyard compost piles, others require several months at industrial composting facilities.
NatureWorks, the largest producer of bioplastics (they make about 300 million pounds per year), distributes beverage bottles made from polylactic acid (PLA), a hydrobiodegradable polymer. Its bottles are touted as biodegradable within 100 days – but only if it reaches an industrial composting plant with high humidity and temperatures.
According to the Container Recycling Institute, such bottles are unlikely to end up at such plants; of the estimated 25 billion single-serving, plastic water bottles Americans will buy this year, 8 out of 10 (22 billion) end up in landfills. Many stores do not accept returned PLA plastic for recycling or composting. And given that scarcely more than 100 industrial composting facilities exist nationwide, some question the benefits of bioplastics largely destined to end up as litter or in dumps.
In contrast to NatureWorks, Mirel, a product line of Metabolix Inc., says its products – including bags, gift cards, and razor-blade handles – will decompose in a backyard composter within two months, and within four months in soil, fresh water, or salt water.
Currently, both companies' products are primarily made of modified corn feedstock, as opposed to petroleum byproducts. Ultimately, the natural polymers biodegrade as microorganisms consume them. While this source of plastic seems earth friendly, some environmentalists say the footprint of corn cultivation should be considered.
"Corn, overall, is very energy intensive, requiring a considerable amount of fertilizer and gasoline to produce and transport each bushel," says Janet Larsen, research director of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington. "The nitrogen-rich fertilizer then often becomes runoff in streams, rivers, and oceans, creating algal blooms that kill marine life."
Using feedstock for plastic further exacerbates record high corn prices, says Ms. Larsen, adding that corn supplies are already stretched thin by demands for food and ethanol. "This should make society ask, 'Do we really want to be turning food into plastic?' "
The definition of bioplastics has been further clouded by Symphony Environmental, a British bioplastics company that claims to have developed a petroleum-based plastic that biodegrades into a benign mix of water, CO2, and biomass. By adding a small amount of degradant in the manufacturing process, the plastic begins the decomposition process after a preset time that varies from product to product. Because no fragments of petropolymers remain, these products can safely be composted, says the manufacturer.
"There is a widespread confusion that all [bioplastics] are made from renewable resources and that all of them are biodegradable, " says BPI's Mojo. "Not all plastics made from renewable resources are biodegradable, and not all that are biodegradable are based on natural resources."
Mojo, who works closely with the American Society for Testing and Materials International to develop specifications for products that biodegrade in various environments, says that "the industry is in its infancy" and work is being done to develop more uniformity in composting and recyclability. "We will see more bioplastics in the next five to 10 years as technology advances, and we will see visible improvements in strength, cost, and degradability, " he adds.
In the meantime, Larsen of the Earth Policy Institute suggests the environmentally conscious choose a fourth option at the checkout line: "We would do better to bring our own canvas bags shopping or buy reusable water bottles and move away from the throwaway mentality that one-time use products afford us."
Posted by Bill at 1:19 PM
Friday, December 7, 2007
The plastic age.
Plastics have only been around for about 150 years -- Alexander Parkes created the first man-made plastic in 1862. As they haven't been around that long no one can be sure how long they take to break down. But environmentalists, scientists and manufacturers generally agree that the process can take anything up to 1000 years.
Since their introduction to U.S. supermarkets in the late 1970's plastic bags have become a ubiquitous presence. They were a blessing for every shopkeeper in the world; being lighter, stronger and cheaper than the conventional paper bag. Their numbers spread rapidly and it is now estimated that the annual worldwide consumption of plastic bags is currently running at between 500 billion to one trillion.
The average plastic shopping bag is made from polyethylene -- a thermoplastic made from oil -- and rivals a cockroach for indestructibility.
They biodegrade very slowly. In fact, they photodegrade which means they over time break down into smaller, more toxic petro-polymers which eventually contaminate soils and waterways. As a consequence their microscopic particles can enter the food chain.
Read the rest of the story here and be sure to have your reusuable bags on hand when shopping. I try to leave a couple in the car otherwise it's easy for me to forget.
Posted by Bill at 11:12 AM
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
This is the report from one Surfrider San Diego member who instituted an industrial plastics and glass recycling program at the biotech company where he works. It's a great example of the how one person can take action to Rise Above Plastics!
"The recycling committee at my work is having a happy hour on 11/30 for the company employees. We are giving out ceramic mugs with the company logo that say ‘Wash It, Don’t Toss It’ to encourage people to reuse their mug instead of using disposable cups. Employees can Christen their new mugs with draft beer, spring water from a dispenser, or wine from glass bottles as we show them ways that they can reduce, reuse, and recycle.
We are paying for part of it with money that we got paid for recycling glass. We may also be buying and handing out some reusable water bottles. We are also going to have samples of compostable and alternative material utensils and cups for people to try as we are introducing them to the lunch and break rooms at the same time.
It is far better of an outcome than I ever expected to have for this program. I have some materials from Surfrider and will print some from Algalita and will have them out for the attendees."
Posted by Elizabeth at 1:24 PM
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Monday, November 19, 2007
Living on Earth radio show: "Plastic, Plastic Everywhere" with Captain Moore
aired June 29, 2007
Posted by Elizabeth at 3:05 PM
Sunday, November 18, 2007
I recently visited India and Bhutan and was astonished to see the efforts there to curb plastic litter. In Delhi, India, there is a public campaign to avoid the use of plastic bags (see photo from outside a subway station in Delhi). In Darjeeling, India, and in the Kingdom of Bhutan plastic bags have been banned! (Bhutan also has completely banned smoking in 18 of its 20 districts). I noticed many public service messages about plastic (see photo from the Darjeeling Zoo). If cities in Asia can recognize the need to ban plastic to curb plastic litter, surely those in the U.S. can too! I also was interested to learn of a program by a businessman in Kurseong, India who runs an organic tea plantation. Every Sunday he buys plastic litter, by the kilo, from local children. This encourages them to clean up the town and allows them to earn a but of extra money. It's a great idea for Rise Above Plastics!
Posted by Elizabeth at 7:42 PM
Monday, October 15, 2007
Tom Jones, an extreme athlete, has been paddling down the California Coastline since August 4th. An Extreme Endurance athlete and Environmental Activist, Tom hopes that by doing this, he will generate world-wide attention to Plastics in our oceans. Upon completion of his journey on November 4th at Imperial Beach, Ca, Tom will have become the first person in history to paddle all 1250 miles of California Coastline, on nothing more than a 14-ft. paddle board!!
For more information about this Historic Paddle, visit the California Paddle 2007 website.
Posted by Maggie at 3:50 PM
Sunday, October 7, 2007
LA County to Ban Plastic Carry Out Bags
The County of Los Angeles is considering a ban on plastic carryout bags. Plastic bags were first introduced into Department stores in the late 1970’s and then into Supermarket chains in the early 1980’s. While this has proved very convenient for us, that convenience has come at a cost. Plastic bags pose a threat to the planet by using up our natural resources to produce them, they add much waste to our already crowded landfills, some say up to 5 percent of landfill space, and they are very harmful to our marine environment. Many places in California and around the globe are starting to take action to alleviate this plastic bag problem. Let’s join in the movement here in Southern California.
Sign the Plastic Carryout Bag Ban Petition: ( http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/Ban-Plastic-Bags-4-LA-County ) urging the County of Los Angeles to adopt a ban as soon as possible. Also, please share this with your colleagues, friends, and family – the goal is 10,000 signatures! Other Cities in California have taken the lead in banning plastic shopping bags. San Francisco was the first city to ban plastic shopping bags, next to follow in their steps were Oakland and Ventura. Check out Steve Lopez’s column on the plastic bag issue in LA Times ( http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-lopez12sep12,1,2059191.column?coll=la-headlines-california&ctrack=3&cset=true ). For more information on plastics visit our website and Heal the Bay to learn more about the issue of plastics in our ocean.
Posted by scott harrison at 2:06 PM
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
National Public Radio's All Things Considered recently had a piece about how plastics pollution is affecting wildlife in the waters and on the Midway Atoll, a remote part of the Pacific Ocean. The effects that plastics is having on wildlife is devastating and the pollution problem and has gotten worse since the landmark journey of the Odyssey in a "Sea of Plastic" in 2005.
Posted by Johnny at 8:58 PM
People all over the world and particularly up and down our Pacific Coast are waking up to the reality of the impact that plastics have on our ocean, The HeraldNet, out of Everett, Washington recently published an editorial with the above title,
" Recycling and sustainable living efforts continue to bump up against our throw-away society, but sometimes it's hard to know if we are making a dent in the nation's garbage dumps.Read the entire editorial here.
Facts and figures, such as: In 2005, U.S. residents, businesses and institutions produced more than 245 million tons of solid waste, which is approximately 4.5 pounds of waste per person per day, don't really register in our consciousness. Not the way, say, the price of gasoline does.
And that's the garbage that makes it to landfills. Pollution, particularly plastics, has been threatening the health of our oceans and wildlife for decades. Only 3.5 percent of plastics are recycled in any way throughout the world. Plastic debris, which do not biodegrade, cause widespread mortality of marine wildlife, according to marine researchers."
Posted by Johnny at 8:43 PM
Friday, September 28, 2007
- Californians are issued 600 plastic bags EVERY SECOND. Most are used only one time and then discarded
- The amount of petroleum required to produce single use water bottles, filter the water, transport and dispose of these UN-necessities could be represented with each bottle being quarter- filled with petroleum.
- Plastics, like diamonds, are forever. They don’t bio-degrade. An estimated 63 pounds of plastics for each American enters landfills each year. Less than 4% of plastics are recycled in any way. The triangle of arrows around a number doesn’t automatically signify that the plastic product can be recycled! Only types 1 and 2 are easily recyclable.
Posted by Maggie at 7:57 AM