Recycling 2.0, Maine Gets It Done

A collection facility in Bend, Ore. The state is expected to adopt a recycling law similar to Maine’s within weeks. Leon Werdinger/Alamy

When we were making decisions about coffee and chocolates that we would offer in the Authentica shops, which we knew to be best-selling categories for travelers wanting to take something home from Costa Rica, product quality was the top consideration. Packaging was a close second. Relative to what was sold in other shops, we radically reduced the carbon footprint of the packaging, and more recently took another step further down that road. We know that every little effort counts, but we also know that the big game is elsewhere, and we are happy to see a relatively small state making big strides in the USA:

Maine Will Make Companies Pay for Recycling. Here’s How It Works.

The law aims to take the cost burden of recycling away from taxpayers. One environmental advocate said the change could be “transformative.”

Gov. Janet Mills of Maine, a Democrat, signed the new recycling policies into law this month. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

Recycling, that feel-good moment when people put their paper and plastic in special bins, was a headache for municipal governments even in good times. And, only a small amount was actually getting recycled.

Then, five years ago, China stopped buying most of America’s recycling, and dozens of cities across the United States suspended or weakened their recycling programs.

Now, Maine has implemented a new law that could transform the way packaging is recycled by requiring manufacturers, rather than taxpayers, to cover the cost. Nearly a dozen states have been considering similar regulations and Oregon is about to sign its own version in coming weeks. Continue reading

Ghana, Scaling New Solutions For Plastic Re-Use

An engineer inspects paving blocks made from recycled plastics in a suburb of Accra, Ghana. CRISTINA ALDEHUELA/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

In our Authentica shops we offer some artisanal approaches to plastic re-use, and have been fans of the concept since a visit to Ghana in 2013. But the plastic problem will not be solved this way because the level of re-use it is not at scale with the amount of plastic needing re-use. Thanks to Ann Parson fo showing a new potential demonstrated in Ghana more recently:

How Paving with Plastic Could Make a Dent in the Global Waste Problem

Roads in which waste plastic is melted down and mixed with paving materials are becoming more common around the world. Although for now they remain a niche technology, experts say the roads could become one of a diverse array of uses for discarded plastic.

A road running through Accra, Ghana’s capital, looks like any other blacktop. Continue reading

Making A Better Carbon Chain

Animation by Megan McGrew/PBS Newshour

Thanks to Isabella Isaacs-Thomas and PBS Newshour for a look at our carbon chain through the lens of a scientist determined to making that chain more sustainable:

How this chemical engineer is hacking plastic production to promote sustainability

The products many of us purchase on a regular basis — the water bottles, clothes and, perhaps especially in the era of COVID, take-out containers from our local restaurants — are often plastic, disposable and bound to outlive us for generations. But the enormous amount of plastic waste that humans leave behind is a logistical and ecological nightmare, and experts say potential solutions must be approached from multiple angles, both for the planet’s sake and for our own. Continue reading

Uncommon Response To An Uncommon Ocean Spill

Replica Air Jordans, constructed by the artist Andy Yoder’s from trash gathered on dumpster dives, evoke the Great Sneaker Spill of 1990. Greg Staley

We shared another story years ago about a creative response to an ocean spill, but it was the frequent kind of spill, involving oil. More common in our pages are stories about creative responses to the plague of waste, especially that from plastic. Today’s story is in good company:

If the Shoe Floats

Over the decades, a mass of flotsam from a freighter accident has inspired scientific discovery, urban legend and, now, an art exhibition commemorating the Great Sneaker Spill of 1990.

Mr. Yoder wields a glue gun to create a sneaker replica for an installation that also stands as commentary on environmental destruction. Greg Staley

It seemingly happened so long ago that the event has assumed elements of urban legend — the saga of the Great Sneaker Spill.

Sometimes referred to as the Great Shoe Spill, the tale recounts an event on May 27, 1990, when, during a sudden violent storm in the North Pacific, five shipping containers were swept off the deck of the freighter Hansea Carrier somewhere between Seoul and Seattle.

Of the 40-foot steel boxes that broke loose and crashed into the ocean, one sank to the bottom and four broke open to spill out a stream of contents that included computer monitors, sex toys and 61,280 Nike sneakers destined for America’s basketball courts and city streets.

… cartons from McDonald’s takeout meals … Greg Staley

The incident went on to become a parable of environmental disaster, as well as a red-letter event in the history of sneakerheads. For months, the buoyant flotilla drifted, carried by wind and currents until, in early 1991, beachcombers reported coming upon batches of the sneakers off Vancouver Island in Canada, pushed north on the Davidson Current. That spring, driven southward by opposing breezes, more of them turned up along the coastlines of Washington and Oregon.

… and posters from a David Hockney exhibition. Greg Staley

The Great Sneaker Spill might have gone unremembered had it not been for the enterprising scavengers who washed and resold the flotsam and Curtis Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer who, alerted to the spill’s existence by his mother, later used it as the basis for a study of little-known currents. Continue reading

Darn Charm

merlin_170001618_4a8316e7-9a76-4c7f-aba8-42af449f76e4-jumbo

Amy Lombard for The New York Times

Thanks to Steven Kurutz, whose first two appearances in our pages (6 and 4 years ago, respectively) prepared us well for this charming news:

Now Is When We All Learn to Darn Our Socks Again

“Visible mending” has been taken up by those who want to protest fast fashion and disposable culture. It’s also thrifty.

merlin_170001855_ff560039-51a4-4526-8ce1-c22fdbaab296-superJumbo

Amy Lombard for The New York Times

Only a few generations ago, socks were routinely darned, sweaters mended and pants patched. You could buy a sewing kit at any drugstore. Knowing how to use it was a mark of good housekeeping.

Kate Sekules, 58, remembers that world, in which the act of repairing clothes was integral to wearing them. “My mother was a dressmaker to the end of her life,” said Ms. Sekules, who grew up in England. “My mother just mended as a matter of course.”

Ms. Sekules has kept up that thrifty tradition. She started one of the earliest secondhand online clothing exchanges, Refashioner. She buys all of her clothes vintage and mends them all, including her husband’s moth-eaten sweaters. Continue reading

Capsules = Pods = Waste

RecycDecept.jpg

The greatest trick companies ever played was making us think we could recycle their products. The New York Times

My most recent reference to pods could have been the last. Enough said. But my eye was caught by the title of this item yesterday, and all day I kept wondering whether I need to know more about the confidence game that has been, and is, recycling. Deciding this morning to click through I was rewarded with an update on my favorite coffee scandal. Insult on top of injury. Surprised by that? Nope. My thanks to Tala Schlossberg and Nayeema Raza for this creative op-ed video, and accompanying text:

The Great Recycling Con

The greatest trick corporations ever played was making us think we could recycle their products…

Skip The Cycle

9781635570106_custom-54da6225b0d86a33d85194d6b606615cc8db9066-s300-c85Adam Minter has not appeared in our pages before, surprisingly. Stories with recycling and upcycling themes have been featured dozens of times on this platform, but this theme is just enough different as to qualify as original, to us. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this review and author interview:

Author Adam Minter remembers two periods of grief after his mother died in 2015: the intense sadness of her death, followed by the challenge of sorting through what he calls “the material legacy of her life.”

Over the course of a year, Minter and his sister worked through their mother’s possessions until only her beloved china was left. Neither one of them wanted to take the china — but neither could bear to throw it out. Instead, they decided to donate it. Continue reading

Doing Something, Anything, About Plastic

whale-skeleton-7ce1508b1ad1868bd09c75bacde71f8436345cf3-s800-c85.jpg

A to-scale sculpture of a juvenile humpback whale ribcage made of plastic bottles.
Kirk Siegler/NPR

An artist doing something about it. Whether or not the root problem is solved, we can all be more creative about doing something about the problem. Angela Haseltine Pozzi demonstrates by example. That’s a nice story to start the day with. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for brightening our day:

On The Oregon Coast, Turning Pollution Into Art With A Purpose

sea-dragon-65ed2496ce904724cb4fa2c20bcabfa0f80b54e0-s800-c85.jpg

In her gallery in Bandon, Ore., Angela Haseltine Pozzi stands next to an enormous sea dragon sculpted from plastics found on Oregon’s famously ‘pristine’ beaches.
Kirk Siegler/NPR

At Coquille Point along the remote and rugged southern Oregon Coast, the wind is tumultuous and the sea just as violent. Huge waves crash up against the giant, moss-cloaked rocks perched off the beach.

angela-on-beach-4-8188157827d3cad05454b76fa58fa132372d0727-s800-c85.jpg

Angela Haseltine Pozzi founded Washed Ashore in 2010. The nonprofit turns plastics taken from Oregon’s beaches into eye-opening sculptures of threatened marine life.
Kirk Siegler/NPR

This particular stretch of the Oregon coastline is famous for being pristine and wild. But train your eyes down a little closer to the beach and sand as Angela Haseltine Pozzi so often does, and even here you’ll find bits of plastic.

“I think the most disturbing thing I find is detergent bottles and bleach bottles with giant bite marks out of them by fish,” she says.

sea-star-6b5d819c01662700e21ec3d47d27212ea975f7b9-s800-c85.jpg

A sea star made mostly of plastic water bottles from the 2008 Summer Olympics in China that are still washing up on Oregon beaches today.
Kirk Siegler/NPR

Haseltine Pozzi is a local artist and longtime art teacher who’s made it her mission to collect as much of this shameful garbage as possible. It washes up from Asia, Europe, California and right here in Oregon.

In her gallery in the nearby town of Bandon, where she’d spend summers with her grandmother exploring the wild beaches, she’s now taking these plastic invaders and turning them into jaw-dropping sculptures. The plastic bottle caps, cocktail toothpicks, shotgun shell casings — anything — form life-size garbage creatures of the very marine life threatened by all this plastic. Continue reading

Joyful Artisan Ethos

At the same time Crist has been writing multiple teaser posts about our upcoming Authentica shops we continually search for both classic and innovative artisanally crafted items to highlight there. Each discovery feels like stumbling upon a gem while sifting through stones.

Those discoveries have even more personal impact when they have an upcycled or recycled element. Wagát Upcycling Lab is just one of those exciting discoveries. Continue reading

Convenience & Connivance

1534.jpg

‘I think we’ve taken convenience and just turned it into a monster,’ said Shaymah Ansari.
Photograph: Francis Gardler/AP

I acknowledge it has not been easy to eliminate plastic from my life. Plastic is everywhere. It is ubiquitous in developing economies as well as in more developed economies. But since recycling is costly, then at least radically reducing its use is important. So consider how seductive convenience is, and how conniving companies can be:

US recycling event is cover for enormous volume of plastic pollution, say critics

America Recycles Day promoted by EPA is brainchild of not-for-profit backed by companies that produce plastic products

4032.jpg

 Packaging for plastic food items that cannot be accepted for recycling. Photograph: Emily Holden/The Guardian

America’s government-backed national recycling awareness day is being used as cover by large corporations that are churning out enormous volumes of plastic that end up strewn across landscapes, rivers and in the ocean, critics have said.

The second annual America Recycles Day event on Friday is being vigorously promoted by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a way to encourage Americans to recycle more.

But critics point out that the initiative is the brainchild of Keep America Beautiful, a not-for-profit founded and backed by large companies that produce vast quantities of plastic products that end up as pollution.

Current backers include Coca-Cola, Nestlé, Pepsico, and Altria, the tobacco giant formerly known as Phillip Morris. Decades of campaigns by the group have emphasized individual responsibility for plastic recycling, which data reveals to be a largely broken system. Continue reading

Where Does Your Plastic Go?

2937.jpg

Plastic bottles bundled in a recycling facility. Bales such as these travel around the world on shipping containers. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Thanks to the Guardian for this series on plastic waste management. It is not pleasant reading, but it should motivate change:

What happens to your plastic after you drop it in a recycling bin?

According to promotional materials from America’s plastics industry, it is whisked off to a factory where it is seamlessly transformed into something new.

6000 (1).jpg

Nguyễn Thị Hồng Thắm is paid $6.50 a day to sort recycling on the outskirts of Hanoi. Photograph: Bac Pham/The Guardian

This is not the experience of Nguyễn Thị Hồng Thắm, a 60-year-old Vietnamese mother of seven, living amid piles of grimy American plastic on the outskirts of Hanoi. Outside her home, the sun beats down on a Cheetos bag; aisle markers from a Walmart store; and a plastic bag from ShopRite, a chain of supermarkets in New Jersey, bearing a message urging people to recycle it.

5472 (2)

Migrant workers sort through plastic bottles at the Thaiplastic Recycle Group plant in Samut Sakhon, outside Bangkok, Thailand. Photograph: Diego Azubel/EPA

Tham is paid the equivalent of $6.50 a day to strip off the non-recyclable elements and sort what remains: translucent plastic in one pile, opaque in another.

A Guardian investigation has found that hundreds of thousands of tons of US plastic are being shipped every year to poorly regulated developing countries around the globe for the dirty, labor-intensive process of recycling. The consequences for public health and the environment are grim.

A team of Guardian reporters in 11 countries has found: Continue reading

Reduce Is Best Because Recycle Is Costly & Re-Use Is The Next Big Thing

1114

Starbucks at South Terminal, Gatwick. The scheme is being launched by Starbucks and environmental charity Hubbub. Photograph: Zute Lightfoot

We have been using this cup since early 2017, and it really should have replaced the paper cup by now. But slow as the pace is, we are happy to read the news of this experiment and wish it well:

Gatwick hosts UK’s first airport reusable coffee cup trial

Customers buying coffee from South Terminal Starbucks will be able to borrow free refillable cup

1060.jpg

A sign will remind passengers to return their cup before they board a flight

The UK’s first airport reusable coffee cup trial gets under way this week at Gatwick, offering passengers the opportunity to borrow and return refillable cups in a bid to help cut waste and tackle “throwaway” culture.

Customers buying hot takeaway drinks from Starbucks will have the option to borrow a free reusable cup instead of using a paper cup, which they can then drop off at a designated point before boarding their flight.

The trial – starting on Monday in Gatwick’s South Terminal – will help customers reduce their disposable cup usage in a manageable “closed loop” environment that could be used in any travel hub. The scheme is being launched by Starbucks in partnership with the environmental charity Hubbub with support from Gatwick, the UK’s second largest airport. Continue reading

Travel’s Ambassadors

Bike.jpg

A few years ago, as we were completing work on the final hotel of our work plan in India, we had visitors from Costa Rica. They brought this little thing as a gift. Bicycle as ambassador. Knowing that we had been developing relationships with artisan groups in India, this was a small token of what had been happening in Costa Rica in the many years we had been away. Using recycled materials, one group of artisans were designing and crafting mementos like this for people to take home with them after their vacation in Costa Rica.

During my doctorate years I had mementos from one place in my office. In my office now I have mementos from many different places to inspire the work we will do next. This little thing is in a prized place.

Plastic Soup & Creative Re-Use With A Critical Purpose

4159

Ocean Sole turns reclaimed flip-flops into colourful, hand-made animal toys and sculptures. Tonnes of flip-flops wash up on the east African coast every year.
Photograph: Courtesy of Ocean Sole/Plastic Soup

PlasticSoupAnd speaking of plastics, a new book has come to our attention thanks to the Guardian, and thanks to Island Books for the explanation of the book:

Plastics have transformed every aspect of our lives. Yet the very properties that make them attractive—they are cheap to make, light, and durable—spell disaster when trash makes its way into the environment. Plastic Soup: An Atlas of Ocean Pollution is a beautifully-illustrated survey of the plastics clogging our seas, their impacts on wildlife and people around the world, and inspirational initiatives designed to tackle the problem.

4519

Peter Smith made this floating work, World of Litter, in 2012.
Photograph: Courtesy of Jos van Zetten/Plastic Soup

In Plastic Soup, Michiel Roscam Abbing of the Plastic Soup Foundation reveals the scope of the issue: plastic trash now lurks on every corner of the planet. With striking photography and graphics, Plastic Soup brings this challenge to brilliant life for readers. Yet it also sends a message of hope; although the scale of the problem is massive, so is the dedication of activists working to check it. Plastic Soup highlights a diverse array of projects to curb plastic waste and raise awareness, from plastic-free grocery stores to innovative laws and art installations.

According to some estimates, if we continue on our current path, the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by the year 2050. Created to inform and inspire readers, Plastic Soup is a critical tool in the fight to reverse this trend.

2362.jpg

Washed Ashore makes larger-than-life sculptures of marine animals, like this parrotfish, to make people aware of plastic pollution.
Photograph: WashedAshore.org/Plastic Soup

Know Your Numbers

Credit Tyler Varsell; Shutterstock

Coinciding with Earth Day  the NYTimes Environment team recently initiated the Climate FWD newsletter, emailing readers weekly with stories and insights about climate change.

We’ve been writing about plastics since the inception of this site; it’s alternatives, environmental impacts, and even creative applications with it’s existence.

Studies are clear that reducing plastic use and production is multiple steps better than recycling, yet considering the ubiquity of the material, the latter has it’s place.

One Thing You Can Do: Know Your Plastics

Ever notice those recycling symbols, the triangles with the numbers inside, on plastic packaging and containers? I always assumed they meant the plastic was recyclable. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Those numbers are resin identification codes, and they tell what kind of plastic the item is made from. And not all plastic is created equal.

Identifying what types of plastics are recyclable can be challenging because plastics do not always carry a resin code and because not all recycling programs are equal, either. Generally speaking, though, some categories of plastic are more widely recyclable in the United States.

“We always encourage people to focus on Nos. 1, 2 and 5 because we have great markets for them in the U.S.,” said Brent Bell, vice president of recycling at Waste Management, a major garbage collection and recycling company.

Water and soda bottles, milk jugs, laundry detergent bottles, yogurt cups and butter tubs are mostly made of these plastics. You could lend a helping hand by rinsing these kinds of containers and removing labels.

Continue reading

Mass Transit Morphing

Weeks 297, 2008 - Photo by Stephen Mallon.jpg

Subway cars set sail on a barge in “Weeks 297, 2008.” STEPHEN MALLON

Thanks to Winnie Lee and Atlas Obscura:

Photographing the New York City Subway Cars That Retired as Artificial Reefs

How Stephen Mallon captured this unusual voyage to the bottom of the ocean.

image.jpg

The rooftops of subway cars. “Abbey Road, 2008.” STEPHEN MALLON

The photographer Stephen Mallon specializes in documenting man’s industrial-scale creations. During his career, he’s focused his lens on the recycling industry, the largest floating structure ever built, and the transportation and installation of a new bridge in New York City. So it wasn’t surprising when, in 2008, he was drawn to an unusual program spearheaded by the MTA New York City Transit system: a multi-phased artificial reefing project that saw the shells of 2,580 decommissioned subway train cars repurposed and dropped into coastal waters off New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia, between 2001 and 2010.

image (1).jpg

The abstract beauty of stripped-down vehicles in “Transfer, 2009.” STEPHEN MALLON

Mallon arranged to follow the outdated subway cars as they were prepared and cleaned, loaded onto barges, and finally plopped into the sea. As he traveled with a crew in a tugboat to get his shots, the photographer developed his sea legs.

image (2)

Subway cars hoisted in the air in “Mind The Gap, 2008.” STEPHEN MALLON

“I was never underwater, so just needed to keep myself steady on the back of the boat. It’s kind of like surfing or skiing—just keep your balance, keep the horizon line straight, bend your knees, and don’t fall overboard,” Mallon says. Continue reading

Taking Responsibility For Stuff

GettyImages-1072467826_PR-plastics_web

Recycled materials being stacked at facility in Costa Rica last June. EZEQUIEL BECERRA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Some time a millennium or so from now, an article like this one, or perhaps like this one, will be written with wonderment about the waste management practices of the early 21st century. They will not be as amazed by how we digitally stored our most prized possessions, but curious what we did with all our unwanted stuff.

GettyImages-1070623890_UK-plastics_web

Scrap metal at a dock in Liverpool, England, waiting to be exported. CHRISTOPHER FURLONG/GETTY IMAGES

And we have known for some time now that we have not been so clever. We have mostly been hiding that stuff. Out of sight, out of mind. If it seemed too good to be true, there was a reason for that. The long stretch of time during which China’s labor costs and their resource input equations made importing our unwanted stuff a win-win created a kind of mirage. Thanks to Cheryl Katz, writing in Yale e360, for making that clear in this story:

GettyImages-967157238_VietnamPlastics_web.jpg

A worker sorts through plastic bottles at a waste facility in Vietnam. Other Asian countries have increased their waste imports in response to China’s ban. NHAC NGUYEN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Piling Up: How China’s Ban on Importing Waste Has Stalled Global Recycling

China’s decision to no longer be the dumping ground for the world’s recycled waste has left municipalities and waste companies from Australia to the U.S. scrambling for alternatives. But experts say it offers an opportunity to develop better solutions for a growing throwaway culture.

The story is big, which is why I was not surprised to see Alana Semuel’s story on the same topic. Both are worth reading, but this one takes a starker view, and the disturbance its title question causes provides an effective added prod to reduce how much unwanted stuff gets created in the first place.

8bea8d007

Bales of plastic are piled at a Recology facility in San Francisco. (Alana Semuels / The Atlantic)

Is This the End of Recycling?

Americans are consuming more and more stuff. Now that other countries won’t take our papers and plastics, they’re ending up in the trash.

After decades of earnest public-information campaigns, Americans are finally recycling. Airports, malls, schools, and office buildings across the country have bins for plastic bottles and aluminum cans and newspapers. In some cities, you can be fined if inspectors discover that you haven’t recycled appropriately. Continue reading

Gaining Ground

Cleaning plastic waste from the oceans is an ever-present issue. We thank the UN News for sharing this example of collaborations that inspire present and future action.

Boat made of recycled plastic and flip-flops inspires fight for cleaner seas along African coast

After completing a historic 500km journey from the Kenyan island of Lamu to the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, the world’s first ever traditional “dhow” sailing boat made entirely from recycled plastic, known as the Flipflopi, has successfully raised awareness of the need to overcome one of the world’s biggest environmental challenges: plastic pollution.

The Flipflopi Project was co-founded by Kenyan tour operator Ben Morison in 2016, and the ground-breaking dhow was built by master craftsmen Ali Skanda, and a team of volunteers using 10 tonnes of recycled plastic.

The boat gets its name from the 30,000 recycled flip-flops used to decorate its multi-coloured hull. Continue reading

Consumerism’s Up(cycled) Side

Sustainability in both concept and practice has a long history in Scandinavian cultures in general, and Sweden in particular. As consumers become more conscious of the finite nature of materials, upcycling has to eventually be considered more mainstream. We applaud this type of public and private sector leadership that is the very definition of entrepreneurial conservation.

Thanks to the BBC for this story.

‘Welcome to my high-fashion, trash shopping mall’

Anna Bergstrom had a dilemma. She loved the glitzy world of high fashion, but had also come to feel that it was unsustainable and bad for the planet. She’s now found peace of mind by running a stylish shopping mall in Sweden, where everything is second-hand.

“Do you notice the smell?” Anna Bergstrom says, as she surveys her mall from the mezzanine level. “It smells nice here, doesn’t it?”

It’s very important to Anna that this place is enticing, because she feels it is making a statement. Everything for sale here, in 14 specialist shops covering everything from clothes to DIY tools, is recycled.

She is usually turned off by the smell of second-hand stores, she explains, even though she adores vintage fashion. For most people flea-markets and charity shops carry a stigma, she thinks – a mark left by countless bad experiences. Too often they are worthy but depressing, Anna says. Her mission is to bring second-hand shopping into the mainstream.

The mall itself is spacious and appealing, almost Ikea-like. An art installation – a tree and circular bench all fashioned from recycled materials – greets customers at the entrance. There is even a coffee shop and gift-wrapping service.

The mall is called ReTuna. “Tuna” because that’s the nickname for the city where it is based – Eskilstuna, an hour’s train journey west of Stockholm – and “Re” because the goods on sale have been recycled or repurposed.

It was set up by Eskilstuna’s local government in 2015, in a warehouse which used to house trucks for a logistics company. Continue reading