Plastic Rings, Bygone Things

Plastic rings hold together sets of beer cans. GHI/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Why did it take this long, you might ask? It is not clear from this article. But that it is happening at all is surprising, so we hope it is correct to say better late than never: Soda and Beer Companies Are Ditching Plastic Six-Pack Rings

In an effort to cut down on plastic waste, packaging is taking on different forms that can be more easily recycled or that do away with plastic altogether.

The plastic rings ubiquitous with six-packs of beer and soda are gradually becoming a thing of the past as more companies switch to greener packaging. Continue reading

Circularity & The Future Of Recycling Plastic

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Since our earliest days we have had team members searching for news on the subject of plastic, and what to do about it. The Atlantic, publishing an article by Ula Chrobak that was originally featured in Undark, points out The False Promise of Plastic Recycling:

A French company has a new solution to the plastic problem. Not everyone is buying it.

Since the first factories began manufacturing polyester from petroleum in the 1950s, humans have produced an estimated 9.1 billion tons of plastic. Of the waste generated from that plastic, less than a tenth of that has been recycled, researchers estimate. Continue reading

Plastic, The Gift That Keeps Giving

An artwork at the Nairobi summit venue by the artist Benjamin von Wong, made with rubbish from Kibera slum, urging people to ‘turn off the plastic tap’. Photograph: Monicah Mwangi/Reuters

We have endless opportunities to demonstrate leadership, thanks to plastic:

World leaders agree to draw up ‘historic’ treaty on plastic waste

UN environment assembly resolution is being hailed as biggest climate deal since 2015 Paris accord

World leaders, environment ministers and other representatives from 173 countries have agreed to develop a legally binding treaty on plastics, in what many described a truly historic moment. Continue reading

Plastic Transformed With Purpose

Interior detail of “Earth Poetica,” which is a huge globe created out of plastic waste. Amit Elkayam for The New York Times

The challenge of plastic is a topic that goes back a decade in our pages.  We have featured artisanal plastic upcycling initiatives that we have supported entrepreneurially, as well as articles about other artisanal initiatives.

Today, in the same vein: Israeli Artist Turns Plastic Pollution Into ‘Earth Poetica’.

Beverly Barkat in her Jerusalem studio assembling “Earth Poetica,” a huge globe, from plastic waste. Its permanent home will be a building at ground zero in Manhattan. Amit Elkayam for The New York Times

In Beverly Barkat’s quest to connect people with nature, she found that environmental waste could be a powerful medium.

JERUSALEM — When the Jerusalem artist Beverly Barkat began to create an artwork for the lobby of a building in the new World Trade Center complex overlooking ground zero in Lower Manhattan, she aimed to come up with something architecturally site specific and impactful, large enough to connect with the space but not so enormous as to disconnect from the observer.

Barkat had a stark message to convey. Years earlier, she said, she had been struck by an image of children scavenging on a once-beautiful beach awash in plastic waste. Continue reading

Beggar Thy Southern Neighbors

A woman pulls a cart loaded with bags of recyclables through the streets of New York. Photograph: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty

Thanks to the Guardian for this Econ 101 textbook example of a “beggar thy neighbor” action taken in one country and imposed on others, using “market forces” explanations to justify the action:

Latin America urges US to reduce plastic waste exports to region

Study finds exports to region doubled in 2020 with practice predicted to grow as US invests in recycling plants

Environmental organisations across Latin America have called on the US to reduce plastic waste exports to the region, after a report found the US had doubled exports to some countries in the region during the first seven months of 2020. Continue reading

287 Pounds Of Plastic Per Person Each Year?

Plastic and other debris is seen on the beach on Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in 2019. (Caleb Jones/AP)

It is clear to me now, after two years of our two Authentica shops offering products made from recycled plastic (among other recycled materials), we will need to be at this for a long time to make a dent. Of all the amazing capabilities we humans have, our ability to generate plastic waste is among the most remarkable. Our thanks to Tik Root for reporting on this finding:

U.S. is top contributor to plastic waste, report shows

Scientists reveal the U.S. role in the ‘deluge’ of plastic littering the world’s oceans in a congressionally mandated report

The United States ranks as the world’s leading contributor of plastic waste and needs a national strategy to combat the issue, according to a congressionally mandated report released Tuesday. Continue reading

About That Convenience

Guardian graphic | Source: Morales-Caselles et al, Nature Sustainability, 2021

Thanks, Damian Carrington, for getting us the data that Morales-Caselles et al compiled making us wonder whether convenience is worth this cost:

Takeaway food and drink litter dominates ocean plastic, study shows

Just 10 plastic products make up 75% of all items and scientists say the pollution must be stopped at source

Plastic items from takeaway food and drink dominate the litter in the world’s oceans, according to the most comprehensive study to date. 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

Bubble Wrap & Our Future

It is not light reading. Nor short. But before you order anything else on Amazon you might want to at least skim this report:

Executive Summary

Amazon has a plastic problem. Oceana analyzed e-commerce and packaging market data1 as well as a recent scientific report, published in Science about predicted growth in plastic waste, that projects plastic pollution of aquatic ecosystems by country2 and found that Amazon has a large and rapidly growing plastic pollution footprint. Continue reading

Brilliant & Ominous

When you genuinely smile and then recoil a moment later, you are responding to what this artist wants you to see and then understand. The animation is brilliant and its short message on how ocean litter/marine plastic is harming marine life is ominous. The  Artist Statement that accompanies it is not required reading, but it is there for the taking:

Two years ago, an experience on a small island inTaiwan changed my life. It was the closest I’d lived to the sea, being only a ten minute drive away. Everyone can enjoy the beach with its white sand and turquoise ocean. At the time, I went snorkeling almost every week. Seeing such alluring tropical fish and coral reefs still lingers in my mind. However, I also cannot forget the scenes of tons of human waste lying around the shore as if it was a part of nature. Continue reading

Getting Real About Plastic

A worker examines plastic bottles at a recycling center in Santiago, Chile. MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

We admit to optimism as recently as three months ago on this issue, which we have been reading about since five years ago. Thanks to Jim Robbins for keeping it real:

Why Bioplastics Will Not Solve the World’s Plastics Problem

Coca-Cola’s new PlantBottle is made from 30 percent sugar cane and other plants, with the rest made from traditional oil-based plastic. COCA-COLA

Bioplastics are being touted by industry marketers as the solution to plastics pollution. But the idea that bottles and packaging made of plant-based material can simply be discarded and then break down and disappear is false – recycling and reuse are the only strategies that can work.

Coca-Cola calls it the PlantBottle — a new kind of recyclable plastic container, 30 percent of which is made from sugar cane and other plants, with the remaining 70 percent made from traditional oil-based plastic. The company says that PlantBottle packaging now accounts for nearly a third of its North American bottle volume and seven percent globally. Continue reading

If You Happen To Be On Line

There are themes we’ve returned to frequently since the beginning of this site, in the different ways we’ve posted about collective action conservation or cultural events. The titles of those posts began with the words, “If You Happen to be in…” – followed by the location of our conservation public service announcement.

The internet has obviously played an enormous role in people’s lives for decades now, but even more so in the time of Covid-19, when so many of life’s gatherings, from education to business meetings and conferences, has shifted to the virtual realm.

So, here’s a PSA for the Oceans. Hosted by Blue Planet, DC, with guest speaker Phil Karp (a frequent contributor to this site on themes of citizen science and marine conservation) this virtual seminar will discuss both the serious problem of marine pollution, but also some emerging solutions.

If you have an hour to spare on May 15th, join the conversation!

Details

Did you know that between 8 million and 13.5 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean every year, equivalent to a garbage truck full of plastic EVERY MINUTE?!

Plastic entering the ocean can cause harm to marine organisms and ecosystems, coastal economies and human health. This virtual seminar by guest speaker Phil Karp will examine the magnitude and dynamics of marine litter and ocean plastic along with emerging solutions. In addition, it will discuss what governments and consumers can do to address the problem.Phil Karp recently retired from the World Bank where he was Lead Knowledge Management Specialist in the Urban Development Global Practice. He is longtime diver, citizen scientist and ocean advocate focusing on the interface between marine ecosystem conservation and livelihoods of coastal communities.

Sign up today! Join below on May 15.
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89825590123

 

Really, California?

The executive order does not affect cities and counties that adopted their own ordinances banning or regulating single-use plastic bags.(Frederic J. Brown / AFP/Getty Images)

It’s been some months since we added to our “Really?” posts–which is definitely a good things– and California has usually been on the applaud side of our commentary. It’s a sad situation that the plastic industry is able to exert these pressures to take advantage of the current health crisis.

Coronavirus prompts Gov. Gavin Newsom to suspend California’s plastic bag ban

 Gov. Gavin Newsom has suspended California’s ban on grocery stores providing single-use plastic bags amid concerns that clerks may be at risk for exposure to the coronavirus if shoppers are required to supply their own reusable bags to carry their purchases home.

 

Newsom announced Thursday that he signed an executive order to suspend the 2016 plastic bag ban for 60 days after hearing concerns from the California Grocers Assn. about shoppers bringing reusable bags from home that are handled by store clerks filling them with groceries.

“We are being cautious to make sure there is no transmission of the virus,” said Dave Heylen, a vice president for the grocers’ group. He said the grocers will go back to abiding by the plastic bag ban when the order expires.

The executive order signed Wednesday does not affect the more than 100 cities and counties that adopted their own ordinances banning or regulating single-use plastic bags.

Continue reading

Mutation as a Positive

Green plastic bottles ready for recycling

In addition to all the creative ways that people recycle and upcycle plastics, we appreciate when scientific collaboration is brought to the forefront, as in the example here. We thank Science Magazine for highlighting the story.

‘A huge step forward.’ Mutant enzyme could vastly improve recycling of plastic bottles

Recycling isn’t as guilt-free as it seems. Only about 30% of the plastic that goes into soda bottles gets turned into new plastic, and it often ends up as a lower strength version. Now, researchers report they’ve engineered an enzyme that can convert 90% of that same plastic back to its pristine starting materials. Work is underway to scale up the technology and open a demonstration plant next year.

“This is a huge step forward,” says John McGeehan, who directs the center for enzyme innovation at the University of Portsmouth and who was not involved with the work.

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is one of the world’s most commonly used plastics, with some 70 million tons produced annually. PET bottles are already recycled in many places. But the current approach has problems. For starters, recycling companies typically end up with a broad mix of different colors of the plastic. They then use high temperatures to melt those down, producing a gray or black plastic starting material that few companies want to use to package their products.

Instead, the material is typically turned into carpets or other low-grade plastic fibers that eventually end up in a landfill or get incinerated. “It’s not really recycling at all,” McGeehan says.

To get around this concern, scientists have searched for enzymes in microbes that break down PET and other plastics. In 2012, researchers at Osaka University found one such enzyme in a compost heap. Continue reading

Bacterium With A Purpose

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The bacterium is the first that is known to attack polyurethane. Photograph: imageBroker/Alamy

Thanks to the scientists who found this bacterium:

Scientists find bug that feasts on toxic plastic

Bacterium is able to break down polyurethane, which is widely used but rarely recycled

A bacterium that feeds on toxic plastic has been discovered by scientists. The bug not only breaks the plastic down but uses it as food to power the process. Continue reading

Next, Clean Ocean Sailing

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Simon Myers, who volunteered on a recent Clean Ocean Sailing expedition with his son, Milo.

The smoke has not cleared, but it is not too early to share thoughts of what will need our attention next:

The Plastic-Hunting Pirates of the Cornish Coast

The Clean Ocean Sailing initiative removes plastic waste from areas of England’s coastline that are inaccessible by foot.

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The Clean Ocean Sailing crew aboard the 112-year-old Annette.

The Cornish coast — with its high cliffs and inlets, lining the peninsula that juts out from England’s southwest corner — has a long association with pirates. Its rocky coves, secret anchorages and long winding creeks have historically been a haunting ground for seafaring scoundrels and salty sea dogs. Continue reading

Bag Snaggers, Inc., We Hardly Knew Thee

Fazier-PlasticBag

Photograph from Alamy

You can count on these pages continuing to feature these kinds of stories, that remind us of what still can and must be done, or simply provide a daily dose of charm:

My Old Nemesis: Plastic Bags

On Earth Day, 2019, when New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, signed a bill banning single-use plastic bags, he said, “You see plastic bags hanging in trees, blowing down the streets, in landfills, and in our waterways, and there is no doubt they are doing tremendous damage.” It is true that nowadays people do see plastic bags in trees. But they didn’t used to—not because the bags weren’t there but because the people didn’t see them. I believe I am the first person who actually saw bags in trees—that is, noticed them in any official way. Twenty-seven years ago, I wrote a short article for this magazine about plastic bags and other debris in the trees of New York City. Once I started noticing the bags, I couldn’t stop, and I soon passed the affliction on to my friends Bill McClelland and Tim McClelland. Noticing bags in trees changed our lives. Continue reading

Getting a Bigger Bang Out of Plastic

Plastic has been on our radar for years, both as an environmental scourge and a raw material for the rising recycle and “upcycle” economy.  Finding these creative uses for an ubiquitous waste material around the world has been inspiring, to say the least.

We hadn’t been familiar with the Precious Plastic model until we met the wonderful women from the Wagát Upcycling Lab. We applaud the community ethos of open source plans to address a global crisis.

Big Bang, Indeed!

Small Steps Could Lead to Big Impacts

A Chinese labourer sorting out plastic bottles on the outskirt of Beijing. Photograph: Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images

With over a billion consumers, even with exemptions these bans will hopefully have relevant impacts. Thanks once again to the Guardian for bringing these actions to our attention.

China moves to phase out single-use plastics

Plastic bags to be banned in all major cities by end of 2020, says state planner

China is stepping up restrictions on the production, sale and use of single-use plastic products, according to the state planner, as it seeks to tackle one of the country’s biggest environmental problems.

Vast amounts of untreated plastic waste are buried in landfills or dumped in rivers. The United Nations has identified single-use plastics as one of the world’s biggest environmental challenges.

The national development and reform commission and the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, which issued the policy, said plastic bags would be banned in all of China’s major cities by the end of 2020 and banned in all cities and towns in 2022. Markets selling fresh produce will be exempt from the ban until 2025. Continue reading