Water Bottles into Fleece

 

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Plastic bottles from GM plants are turned into insulation for jackets. Source: General Motors

Converting to a Closed-loop business model from an Open-loop model presents its challenges, but General Motors (GM) is a good case study of a corporation that is making progress in the closed-loop direction. GM has a zero-waste agenda which encompasses a variety of recycling programs that uphold their claim:

In recent years, the company added used water bottles to its kit of raw materials. Two million water bottles, many of which are from Flint, have been recycled into three products, which include engine covers for the V-6 Chevrolet Equinox, air filters for 10 GM plants, and coats for the homeless through a partnership the company has with a Detroit nonprofit. Through this recycling program, GM says it works with a total of 11 organizations while boosting its waste diversion efforts.

[The] challenge the automakers face in using recycled products for parts is whether they can maintain the same quality and strength of conventionally made materials.

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Coca-Cola Thinking Plants

BUSINESS THE BITE Coca-Cola debuts 100% plant-based bottle as companies go eco-friendly (+video)  csmonitor icon Latest News MORE EMAIL Subscribe Coca-Cola has unveiled a bottle made entirely of plant-based materials. The new Coke bottle is the latest sign of the company's growing shift toward more environmentally friendly practices. By Ellen Meyers, Staff writer JUNE 4, 2015 About video ads Coca-Cola to release plant-based recyclable bottles WSBTV - Atlanta Coca-Cola to release plant-based recyclable bottles Coca-Cola debuted an updated version of its PlantBottle, its first bottle made from 100 percent plant materials at the Expo Milan 2015 on Wednesday. The Atlanta-based beverage giant did not specify when the 100 percent plant-based bottles would be available to consumers. However, the company said it wants its current version of its PlantBottle, made of 30 percent plant-based materials, to be used in all of its products by 2020. “Our vision was to maximize game-changing technology, using responsibly sourced plant-based materials to create the globe’s first fully recyclable PET plastic bottle made entirely from renewable materials,” Nancy Quan, the company’s global research and development officer, said in a press release. Recommended: Who owns Gatorade: Coke or Pepsi? Take our 'parent company' quiz! Since the 2009 launch, Coca-Cola has distributed more than 35 billion bottles in nearly 40 countries using its current version of PlantBottle packaging, according to the release. The company estimates that the packaging helped save the equivalent annual emissions of more than 315,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide. TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE Who owns Gatorade: Coke or Pepsi? Take our 'parent company' quiz! PHOTOS OF THE DAY Photos of the day 06/16 In 2011, Coca-Cola licensed the technology for making PlantBottles to H.J. Heinz to use in its ketchup bottles. In 2013, Ford Motor Company said it plans to use the same material found in PlantBottle packaging in the fabric interior in certain test models of the Fusion Energi hybrid sedan. Coca-Cola says the new bottles will be the world's first entirely plant-based PET bottles. PET, known as polyethylene terephthalate, is a plastic resin and the most common type of polyester, according to the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR). It was discovered and patented in England in 1941, but it was not until the late 1990s when more companies and manufacturers started to make and use PET containers for products. NAPCOR says PET is appealing for both consumers and manufacturers for its low weight, strength, and recyclability, and its use in packaging materials, like bottles, has ticked up over the past few years. However, PET has its drawbacks. It can be an expensive packaging material to produce, according to a 2004 report from the Recycling Operators of New Zealand. RONZ also found that “PET acts as a gas ‘sieve,’ slowly allowing oxygen in and carbon dioxide out. This means the shelf life of beverages can be limited by the reduction, over time, in carbonation and oxygen degradation of flavours.” In other words, the carbonation in soda could go flat faster.  In terms of recycling, quality and quantity of supplies are also still major concerns. For reclaimers – professional recycling centers – PET packaging can be harder to clean than other plastics, Reclaimers still reported high levels of contamination in PET containers in 2013, according to NAPCOR’s 2014 report on recycling activity for PET containers. That complication can mean less PET materials are actually reused. In fact, only 22.6 percent of recycled PET containers in the US went on to be used in other products.   NAPCOR also reported that domestic collection of PET containers in the US is growing, but it is not enough to meet current and potential demand from reclaimers. That's led them to import PET from places like Canada, Mexico, and Latin America. While PET recycling has a long way to go, Coca-Cola's latest move highlights a long withstanding trend: the importance of businesses being more envronmentally conscious

While PET recycling has a long way to go, Coca-Cola’s latest move highlights a long withstanding trend: the importance of businesses being more envronmentally conscious

Coca-Cola has unveiled a bottle made 30% of plant-based materials. The new Coke bottle is the latest sign of the company’s growing shift toward more environmentally friendly practices. Can it be sustained? That remains to be seen.

Since its introduction in 2009, PlantBottle packaging has been distributed in a variety of packaging sizes across water, sparkling, juice and tea beverage brands—from Coca-Cola to DASANI to Gold Peak. Today, PlantBottle packaging accounts for 30 percent of the Company’s packaging volume in North America and 7 percent globally, some 6 billion bottles annually, making The Coca-Cola Company a large bioplastics end user.  In 2011, the company licensed PlantBottle Technology to H.J. Heinz for use in its ketchup bottles. In 2013, Ford Motor Company announced plans to use the same renewable material found in PlantBottle packaging in the fabric interior in certain test models of the Fusion Energi hybrid sedan. And in 2014, the first reusable, fully recyclable plastic cup made with PlantBottle Technology rolled out in SeaWorld and Busch Gardens theme parks across the United States. More.

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From the 2012 Net Impact Conference, Part 1

A couple weekends ago, I attended the 2012 Net Impact Conference, which was hosted by the University of Maryland in Baltimore this year. If you’re unfamiliar with Net Impact, it is a 30,000-member nonprofit focused on mobilizing students and professionals to solve the world’s most pressing environmental and social problems through the public and private sector. I would personally describe Net Impact as an organization dedicated to mobilizing young professionals to make impacts with their careers. It’s an awesome organization.

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To Recycle, Compost, or just Trash?

Every student’s visit to the food court in Cox Hall, one of Emory’s largest dining halls, generates quite a bit of trash. Because of the diversity of Cox’s offerings—Chick-Fil-A, Pizza Hut, the Deli, and more—this waste comes in all varieties, too: thin cardboard cartons, Styrofoam boxes, plastic knives and forks, soy sauce and ketchup packets. While sorting these out and recycling them appropriately might only be a matter of taking a few moments to look at the labels, some students feel that they don’t have the time to find out what goes into recycling, composting, or just the trash. College sophomore Daniel F. weighs in:

            I like to think that I care about the environment, but there are times when I just can’t sort out what’s what. It gets confusing when you start bringing a lot of these packages together…

Emory, luckily, is making it easier for bewildered students like Daniel to live in a sustainable way.  Continue reading

A Brief Overview of Sustainable Guestroom Attributes

A recent article from the Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, titled “Hotel Guests’ Preferences for Green Guestroom Attributes,” caught my eye just a couple days ago. Written by Michelle Millar and Seyhmus Baloglu of the University of San Francisco and the University of Las Vegas, respectively (both institutions have well established programs in hospitality), the study analyzed a set of hotel room amenities/features and attempted to find out which ones guests thought were the most important. I was especially interested in this study—among the many studies on guestroom attributes—because I have some pretty strong opinions about the best things that hotels can do in their guestrooms to enhance sustainability.

Respondents ranked sustainable shampoo amenities among the most important attributes. Refillable shampoo dispensers, shown above, are widely used in cruise ships but have not yet gained traction in the majority of American hotels.

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They’re Real, Not Plastic

Earlier this year I would have thought blogging about plastic bags would be boring and quite redundant.  I have heard and read of the dire effects plastic bags have on the environment countless times.  And I am well versed in the “green tips” of bringing my own bag that are so prevalent.  Intellectually, I realize that plastic bags…well, suck.

I heard the implications and I pride myself to be eco-savvy yet I still would often be caught red-handed with those pesky plastic bags on a few desperate occasions. Continue reading

The Power of Clean

What happens to those little bars of soap in many hotel rooms?  Specifically, what occurs after a guest opens a carefully packaged bar and uses it?  Most guests often do not use all of it.  Some wrap it back up and take it; most leave it for housekeeping.  I have mostly seen the latter; and having some experience in housekeeping operations now, I am shocked at the amount of amenities that are thrown to overflowing landfills every day.  However, my anxiety about this abundance of waste was reduced slightly when I stumbled upon a small, not for profit organization, Clean the World Foundation, Inc., that collects these gently used bars of soap and recycles them to distribute amongst several developing countries and underprivileged communities.

According to Clean the World, millions of pounds of soaps are discarded each day in North America.  These bars not only get wasted and take up space in an overflowing landfill, but they also contribute to groundwater contamination.  Continue reading

Newspaper Bags

As I suggested in my last post, I’ve recently spent less time in the Periyar Reserve, i.e. observing and chronicling my encounters with the myriad species of plants and animals there, and more time in and with the local community. Working with resort management and Forestry Dept. officials, I’ve been trying to get off the ground a microbusiness enterprise, operated by residents of Kumily and members of the tribal communities in Periyar East, with the initial goal of producing bags from recycled newspaper. This is related to the bigger goal of eliminating the use of plastic bags.

One such bag, made from recycled newspaper

There are several aspects to this project, and as I delve deeper into them the more complex and intriguing it seems to me. I think the easiest and best way to present the full picture, to identify the difficulties and possibilities inherent to it, is to tell the whole story of my involvement in the project, and in the process to clarify the context of my previous posts.

To set the scene, I offer, in shorthand, a cultural backdrop:

What was only recently a subsistence and agricultural culture and economy, the Cardamom Hills (like all of Kerala) has undergone something of an economic and cultural revolution over the past fifteen to twenty years. Though I’m not an expert in this field, I can say, based on firsthand accounts and observations, that as education levels have risen even among the poorest people in this area (Kerala’s literacy rate is, famously, over 90%), and as the opportunity to pursue non-agricultural employment and consume newfangled products has become commonplace in this area, the demand for disposable income and new ways of attaining it has also increased. Generally, this is true of India as a whole, and as a global phenomenon it really deserves a more nuanced treatment than I’m able to give it (for more information, I suggest you go to your local library or see your neighborhood economist). But, on a microcosmic level, it is perhaps most pronounced, complicated, and—in some ways—easily tackled in the tribal communities of India’s forests. Continue reading

The Kitchen Table Connection: Following the Paper Trail

She wasn’t the creator of the newspaper bag concept, but Diwia Thomas has done her part to merge their production with the world of community development. Based on a deeply rooted desire to help women create a degree of financial independence, this lifelong resident of Cochin has used her business acumen, social network and marketing skills to advantage.

With the limited supply of paper pulp in India, newspaper printers have implemented the innovative practice of a de-inking process for recycled newsprint. Currently about a quarter of the paper the printers use is recycled material, which has both saved on paper pulp imports and driven up the price paid per kilo for old newspapers. India has a well-established history of recycling and these new developments have given more financial incentive to do so.

Diwia knows the system, her clients and her resources well. It only takes a gentle nudge to friends and family to leverage the equivalent of their daily coffee expenditures in the form of a weekly donation of their newspapers—they give them to her instead of selling them to a recycler (who would pay an amount worth a coffee at a local café). Only full, flat sheets of newspaper can be used in bag production, but with the ubiquitous use of newspaper in this culture as wrapping for everything from eggs, to vegetable market goods to crockery, there is plenty to go around for other recycling purposes. Continue reading

Newspaper Products

In the bathrooms at Morgan’s Rock, the trash cans are little green plastic bins covered in what appears to be painted wickerwork. However, closer inspection reveals that the woven material covering the bins and little caps is in fact newspaper that has been twisted into long strands and braided into shape. Despite the paint job, one can still see the letters and broken images on the baskets, and this simple artisanal craft adds a creative and rustic touch to what would otherwise be a banal bathroom fixture.

The bungalows are equipped with the above rectangular variations of newspaper bins for composting, recycling, and trash, and seeing the different colors next to each other convinces me that the unpainted version is the most attractive. Unfortunately, it is also the least common, as all the bathroom trash bins I’ve seen look like this.

I spoke to Alba, the General Manager, about the bins and asked where they were made. She answered that several towns in and around the Rivas area have handicraft shops, and that as part of community support Morgan’s Rock purchased these sorts of things for both utility and decoration. Rivas is a city and a department (sort of like a province, I think), so I will need to find out how widespread this newspaper craft actually is, because there could be an important collaboration between Nicaraguan and Indian newspaper craftspeople (Kerala in particular has been working on an utilitarian recycling over the past few years).

Water, (bottled) water everywhere…

Since I arrived in Bangalore airport on June 3, I’ve heard about Baba Ramdev and his highly publicized, nine-day fast. What I learned today was that, while Ramdev was being treated for weakness due to his hunger strike, another, less-publicized hunger striker, Swami Nigamananda, was being treated in the same hospital. Nigamananda had been fasting for nearly four months (114 days!) to protest illegal pollution in the River Ganga, a holy site for practicing Hindus and also a vital source of water for nearly 400 million Indians. He died this morning, the last days of his strike overshadowed by Ramdev’s.

Before I left the U.S., many friends and family members had told me emphatically, don’t drink the water! When I would ask why, they replied as if it was common sense: well, it’s dirty. Some had apocryphal stories about some friend of theirs who had gotten sick after drinking from a tap in India, and I typically left it at that. But Nigamananda’s death raised the question again in my mind: why is water in India dirty? Is this just some immutable fact, some geological curiosity, or is it rather a human-created problem worth addressing?

These questions aren’t easily answered, just as any question posed about a nation as diverse and large as India is not. There are as many reasons why some water is dirty and some is clean, and investment in hi-tech treatment facilities isn’t always the difference (though it’s a start). I’m only recently wading into the dense information surrounding Indian water policy, the role of industrial polluters along India’s rivers in dirtying the water, and what is being thought of to clean up the situation.

Because let’s not forget: if clean tap water can’t be had, besides boiling all water, the alternative for the consumer is…bottled water. In the States, more and more people are coming to an awareness of the destructiveness of bottled water, but in most areas of the U.S. clean tap is readily available and people have a simple choice to make in how they get it. In India, this choice is not so simple.

The availability of clean water is a pressing environmental, health, and national security problem for the resident of India. But it’s also a problem for the traveller. As the number of empty bottles of water in my room mounts, and as the monsoons continue to dump rain on me all day,  I have to think: am I doing everything I can to combat this problem? As I increase the amount of boiled water I drink, I also am inclined to think more broadly. I’ll let you know what I come up with as I investigate the problem further.

In the mean time, here’s a video (by the same women who did ‘The Story of Stuff,’ which I highly recommend, though I sometimes can’t stand her tone) about bottled water v. tap water, with an emphasis on the U.S. India makes a guest appearance about half-way through, though in an unexpected way.