Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Plastic that really does degrade!

I’ve just been reading about a plastic bag that is supposed to be completely biodegradable! Unlike other marketed degradable plastics such those made from a corn based, which will only degrade under extreme temperatures, this one seems to really do the job, (fingers and toes crossed here). But some people have commented that this bag won’t break down in compost heap, as they don't reach sufficient temperatures (I know mine doesn’t). Has anyone used it?

If this is all it’s cracked up to e, it will be truly revolutionary, it that simply dissolves in hot water. No waste. No landfill.

Once you’ve finished with the bag, Place it in a receptacle filled with water, the plastic dissolves into the water almost immediately.

Cyberpac, its creators, claim that you don't need to boil it, just chuck it on the compost heap!

"Harmless-Dissolve is made from a hydro-degradable substrate which is 5 times stronger than normal polythene. It is a readily biodegradable, water-soluble polymer which completely biodegrades in a composting environment, in a dishwasher or in a washing machine. It has no harmful residues and will biodegrade into naturally occuring substances - the bugs love it.

"It's non-toxic and is degraded by micro-organisms, moulds and yeasts. These organisms can occur in both artificial environments, such as anaerobic digesters, activated sewage sludge and composts and natural environments such as aquatic systems and soil. The micro-organisms use Harmless-Dissolve as a food source by producing a variety of enzymes that are capable of reacting with it. In the end the bag becomes carbon dioxide, water and biomass.

“Harmless-Dissolve is incredibly versatile and flexible. It can be produced in many colours and formats:

”For envelopes, Harmless-Dissolve can be made in any size, printed full colour process using biodegradable inks and finished with a biodegradable peel and seal lip.”

They also produce a wide range of other environmentally friendly products


Thursday, 10 February 2011

Plastic Planet: Life in the plastic age

This is a review of a new documentary Plastic Planet, by Jonathan Kim of The Huffington Post. The film   deals with the problems of the mounting piles of plastic that are everywhere in the natural envoronment. Director Werner Boote proclaims that just as the world experienced the Ice Age, the Stone Age and the Bronze Age, mankind is currently living in what could only be called the Plastic Age. First created in 1855 by Alexander Parkes, plastic is involved in every facet of modern existence to the point that life without it is unimaginable. Don't believe me? If you do a quick check, I'm willing to bet that you are currently touching at least three pieces of plastic right now. Looking around me, I could reach out and touch at least 50 plastic items (pens, tape dispenser, phone, printer, blank DVDs, etc.) and probably a lot more.

But plastic is not as benign as it appears. Plastic Planet attempts to tell the full story of plastic -- how it's made, where it goes, and how dangerous chemicals found in plastics make their way into the environment, the food chain, and eventually into the human body. Watch my ReThink Review of Plastic Planet and my discussion with Ana Kasparian of the Young Turks about how plastic chemicals enter your body, the effects they can have on the endocrine system, and some ways to keep plastic out of you.

In this video, I have one statistic wrong -- it turns out that it's 92.6 percent of Americans (not all humans) who have detectable amounts of plastic chemicals in their blood and urine, though BPA has been found in the air around the world. Unfortunately, that chemical is bisphenol A (BPA), a known endocrine disruptor that can mimic human hormones and has been linked to cancer, obesity, early puberty, diabetes and heart disease. You may remember a few years back when Nalgene was criticized for using BPA in their hard plastic water bottles favored by outdoorsy types (they've since stopped using it). The US and state governments have been restricting the use of BPA in products designed for babies and very young children, but BPA is still widely used in food packaging, including the linings of cans. To find out more about how countries are restricting BPA, go here.

Of course, the best way to keep plastic out of your body and the environment is to use less of it, especially when it comes to food. I recycled some old plastic containers and bought glass replacements for the two plastic items I use the most -- my juice pitcher and a large measuring cup I use to blend my smoothies. I already don't drink bottled water (nor should you for many reasons), and most of the food I buy doesn't come wrapped in plastic. I often store leftovers in plastic containers (including reused yogurt containers, which probably isn't a good idea), but will be looking into getting glass containers, possibly as a birthday gift (hint).

To find out more about plastic pollution and ways to prevent it from damaging the environment and living things, check out Plastic Pollution Coalition.

To find ways to keep plastic out of your food, visit Life Without Plastic.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

One green bottle sitting on the (Supermarket) shelf!

'Wonderful,' amazing,' and many other superlatives came to me just now, as I read this piece in The Guardian. Slowly, surely, there is light  at the end of a very dark trunnel? There is now
 an alternative to the ubiquitous plastic bottle, and it's about to hit a supermarket near you!

A Suffolk-based inventor believes he may have found the answer to Britain's rapidly developing landfill crisis.

Each day some 15m plastic bottles are used in the UK, many ending up on the country's burgeoning waste mountains. And as the average plastic bottle takes 500 years to decompose, this legacy will have an impact on generations to come.

But now, inspired by a papier-mache balloon that his son made at school, Martin Myerscough believes he has come up with the answer. The GreenBottle, which looks remarkably like the conventional two-litre plastic bottles on supermarket shelves, comprises a sturdy paper shell with a plastic liner to keep the milk fresh.

Once the lining is ripped out, the paper shell can be quickly flattened and recycled up to seven times – plastic bottles can be recycled only once. Alternatively the paper bottle can be turned into compost within a matter of several weeks.

The bottle has been trialled at Asda stores in East Anglia and a national roll-out across the supermarket chain will start this week, beginning in Cornwall.

Myerscough dreamt up the idea for Greenbottle after talking to a man in his local pub. "A chap I row with was running the local landfill, so I asked him what was the main problem and he said plastic bottles, especially milk bottles, and that set me thinking."

Recalling his son's efforts with papier-mache, Myerscough played around with several designs before coming up with a prototype.

Currently 1,000 two-litre bottles are supplied to shops around Suffolk, and Myerscough claims customers have been "overwhelmingly positive".

There are plans to make the next generation of bottles entirely from paper and to sell products to other industries, such as detergent and shampoo manufacturers.

Asda's decision to introduce the bottles nationally should help bring costs of production down. "The price is the same as a plastic bottle," Myerscough said. "Our target is to be competitive with plastic bottles."

He claims that the production of each GreenBottle has a significantly lower carbon footprint than that of a plastic one, even though the paper cases are currently made in Turkey.

He conceded there were already greener alternatives to plastic bottles, such as pouches, but he said some supermarkets had withdrawn them because customers found them unwieldly. "Our product is more mainstream," Myerscough said. "The way the consumer uses the bottle is identical to a plastic bottle."

Here is a BBC news report about the bottles:

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Lot of Bottle Greenhouse!

I found this in my favourite newspaper, Positive news (which is free by the way)!
It's an amazing way to both recycle old plastic bottles as well as create something wonderful. Problem is that we don't buy these bottles, so are relying on neighbours to supply them to us. You can download the instructing on pdf, and, it looks very easy to make. The only concern I have is that there are too many gaps between the bottles so cold air would get in! I'll probably have to cover those gaps with old plastic sheeting too.

Plastic bottle greenhouses are inexpensive ways to protect winter crops, but they are also making use of resources that might otherwise go to landfill

A greenhouse offers a way to extend the growing season and cultivate fruits and vegetables that struggle during the cold months. Greenhouses, however, can be expensive to buy, difficult to build, costly to maintain and vulnerable to vandalism.

A structure made out of used plastic bottles - a concept devised by Scottish sustainable charity REAP - is an ideal solution. It is a project that everyone can get involved in too, including schools, groups and community organisations, because the basic blueprint can be adapted to make anything, from a pint-sized cold frame to a sizeable sun room.

With a few bits of timber, several bamboo canes and approximately 1,000 two-litre plastic drinks bottles - otherwise destined for landfill - gardeners all over the world are pulling out all the stops. The designs range from simple potting sheds on allotments, to outstanding mock-stained glass sun traps, to award-winning structures on display at the 2010 Chelsea Flower Show. The possibilities are clearly endless.

Meanwhile, plastic bottle greenhouses are popping up in school playgrounds across the UK. At Freemantle Infant School in Southampton, young eco-warriors were concerned about the amount of rubbish going into landfill, and how much time it takes for things to decompose. They also needed a greenhouse to sow seeds for the school's vegetable plots, so they decided a structure made from old plastic bottles was the most efficient way to solve both matters in question.

"We collected bottles from parents and had a fantastic result," say the pupils, "so we designed a large greenhouse and prevented over 1,700 plastic bottles going to landfill." Inspired by the success of this project, the children went on to build a fully functioning bicycle shelter out of 1,000 unwanted video cassettes. "We're going to have another collection of video tapes," they add, "and build a buggy store for parents to keep prams dry and safe." Freemantle School revealed to Positive News that one of their first-year students was overheard telling his parent: "We're super eco; look what we made!" while a year-two student proudly reported: "We grew these seeds in our bottle house."

Richard Bennett, from Fife's environmental group Sustainable Communities Initiatives, designs and build all sorts of plastic bottle structures and he believes they are the perfect project for schools. "With lots of children to help gather the bottles and wash them, it's a great re-use educational structure that really works," he says. Through community workshops, members at Fife have also designed other buildings out of plastic bottles, such as bus shelters and playground screens that shield pupils from the winter weather.

As part of a new sustainability project, the National Botanic Garden of Wales are also building a plastic bottle greenhouse next to the schools’ allotment plots in their double walled garden. Leading the scheme is Jane Richmond, who said: "This is an ongoing project and anyone is welcome to come and see how we are getting on - as long as they bring some bottles that we can use!" Jane added: "We aren't doing this just for show. This will be a functioning greenhouse, which will be used to grow plants in our education programmes. It may be made out of recycled drinks bottles but it'll make a very efficient greenhouse."

Meanwhile, an enterprising green team of volunteers at Linwood, near Glasgow, built their bottle greenhouse to help locals get more out of their community growing space. Schools, residents, groups and members of Renfrewshire Green Gym collected over 1,000 containers and spent the summer months constructing it. "The bottles act as double glazing," says Julie Wilson, a Green Gym coordinator. "Now we can grow veg through the winter."

Renfrewshire Green Gym offers local residents opportunities to improve their fitness levels by taking part in conservation activities, so the greenhouse was an ideal project to engage all its members. "The wonderful thing about Green Gym is that every day is totally different," one resident remarked. "One day, we'll do a litter pick and the next day is something completely different like building a bottle greenhouse. It's so much fun."

Detailed plans for building a plastic bottle greenhouse are available as a free download from REAP Scotland. Contact:

Friday, 21 January 2011

A tale of two countries: Plastic bag use is on the rise in Britain, whilst Togo has baned their use.

Just when we all thought that use of the ubiquitous plastic bag, to carry home our shopping  was in steep decline, along comes a new report in the Guardian, that suggests that we have a long way to go still. Are we just too lazy or don't we care what happens to plastic once it gets into the environment, or are we just not aware of the consequences? 

Plastic bag use in Britain is on the rise after the limited success of a voluntary agreement by retailers to cut the number of bags given to shoppers, according to figures compiled this week.

By contrast, in Ireland, which imposed a tax on plastic bags in 2002, the number of plastic bags has plummeted. Consumers in the UK now use nearly four times as many plastic bags as those in Ireland.

According to the figures by the New Statesman from official government sources, the number of bags used a month by each person in the UK dropped from 11 in 2002 to 7.2 in May 2009, but then rose again to 7.7 in May last year – equivalent to 475m bags in total per month. In Ireland, the equivalent figure – compiled from plastic bag tax receipts – has dropped from 27 in 2002 to 2 in 2009, suggesting that the tax is having a strong impact on consumer behaviour.

"Ireland's shoppers are enjoying freedom from the endless unnecessary plastic bags, as these figures show," said Julian Kirby, resource use campaigner for Friends of the Earth. "A standard charge in England would help save resources and cut climate-changing gases."

Four years ago, single-use plastic bags became an environmental issue in the UK, after the residents of Modbury, Devon, banned them from the village. Photographs of wild animals caught up in plastic bags drew attention to the damage the bags were causing, and the Daily Mail joined the campaign, with a call in 2008 to "Banish the bags", so that "our streets, fields, parks, seas, rivers and beaches will be cleaner for our grandchildren to enjoy".

But, despite support from many sides, Gordon Brown backed away from imposing either a ban or a levy on the bags, and instead allowed retailers to create a voluntary agreement. The New Statesman's waste policy report suggests the agreement – although initially leading to a drop in bag use – has had only a limited success.

Ireland introduced a tax of 15 cents a bag in 2002, increasing it to 22 cents in 2007. The tax, which retailers are required by law to pass on to the shopper, is ring-fenced for green projects. Wales plans to follow suit this year.

Washington DC imposed a tax in January 2009, and Vietnam plans to introduce one this year. In Seattle, however, voters rejected a plastic bag tax, and in France the government performed a U-turn on similar plans.

"We certainly support a ban on plastic bags," said Sam Jarvis of campaign group Wastewatch, "as we would support a ban on any single-use disposable items such as disposable razors, as a general principle. Plastic bags are a totemic issue, and a ban might well encourage people to think about waste more broadly. The Irish example shows this really can work."

"If Gordon Brown hadn't bottled it with the supermarket lobby," says Rebecca Hoskins, who led the Modbury campaign, "plastic bags would now be a distant memory and we would all be wondering what the fuss was about."

But, there is some positive news too. It seems that people in other parts of the world are taking the scourge of plastic a little more seriously than we are. Three cheers to Togo! This is taken from the Independent.

Togo on Wednesday said it will outlaw the import and sale of plastic bags from July in order to protect the environment, picking up on a growing global trend.

"These bags have become truly disastrous for the environment...The public must know that a plastic bag is not biodegradable and that they need at least 400 years to decompose," said trade ministry official Mohamed Saad Sama.

Importers of plastic bags were given a six-month deadline and manufacturers nine months, he told national television.

More than three billion plastic bags are used every year by Lome residents, according to estimates by green group Pour un Avenir Ensoleille (For a Sunny Future)."

Kenya last week declared a similar ban, renewing an earlier pledge that had failed in 2007.

Of all five members of the East African Community - Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda - only Rwanda has so far successfully banned all plastic bags since 2008, and replaced them with paper bags.

Italy, among the top consumers of plastic bags in Europe, began banning them from shops and supermarkets beginning January 1, a move widely welcomed by environmentalists.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Plastic fantastic!

Every now and again, there's a bit of news that lightens the dark skies of the plastic world we inhabit:

UK-based recycling giant AWS Eco Plastics will today officially reopen Europe's largest plastic bottle recycling facility at its plant in Hemswell, North Lincolnshire, after a fire last year stalled the company's ambitious expansion plans.

The re-opened facility will be capable of processing 100,000 tonnes of UK plastic waste each year, sorting and cleaning 300,000 bottles an hour that will then be either recycled onsite or exported to China.

AWS managing director Jonathan Short said that the £17m facility marked the first stage of a major expansion push for the company that could ultimately see a second plant capable of processing 200,000 tonnes of plastic a year located on the same site.

He explained the plant would be expanded during the first quarter of next year to process an extra 40,000 tonnes a year, while the company is also in the process of raising an additional £15m funding round that would allow it to begin work on a second facility.

"The sector is now at a crossroads, there is room for more recycling capacity in the UK, the supply of materials is there, the demand is there, now we just need stability in the market to give people the confidence to invest." Short said that as well as sorting and cleaning plastic bottles the plant would be able to recycle 40,000 tonnes of plastic each year to a level where it can be re-used as a food-grade plastic - essentially allowing drink bottles to be recycled as drink bottles."The carbon cost of making food-grade plastic from recycled material is a third of that of producing virgin plastic," he added.

A tiny ripple in the sea of plastic, but something!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

I do Inhale!

I'm an asthmatic, have been for years. And so like many other asthmatics, I depend on inhalers to be able to function. Of course these inhalers are encased in hard plastic coverings. Apart from the possible negative medical aspects of putting plastics into the mouth - given that many nasty chemical compounds are used in its production - they are a real threat to wildlife too. Inhalers have been found in the stomachs of dead seabirds.

I use two different types of Inhalers, one is similar to the one in the photo above. In theory, when I go to my pharmacy for a repeat prescription, I should be able to just take off the plastic covering, hand in the metal container, which holds the actual compound and receive a new container, which I could then simply fit into the old plastic covering part. But no, neither the pharmacy or the manufacturers of these medicines, are able to do that. Instead every time I need a repeat - once a month - I can only receive the full package. This is madness and a total waste of resources. I have come to an agreement with my pharmacy now where they will at least take thee whole container off me. But I expect they simply dump it in their rubbish bin, or, incinerate it.

Why cannot the manufacturers just supply the inner metal container to the pharmacy? So all asthmatics could then continue to use the same outer case, but just receive a new metal inner case.

I wrote to the two companies who supply my inhalers. I still haven't heard from one of them (after 2 months), the second company did reply, but in typical, mumbo jumbo, non committal, business speak:

Thank you for your enquiry regarding recycling of the Turbohaler.

Whilst the environmental impact of our products is very important to AstraZeneca, patient safety must always come first. Our inhalers have been designed to ensure patient safety and the delivery of the correct dose of the medicine to the patient.

To protect the medicine and to make sure that it gets to the patient safely, our inhalers are manufactured using components with different properties. This means that different plastics are used to create a single inhaler. In addition, when all the doses in the inhaler have been used, there are always small amounts of medicine remaining inside, which should be disposed in accordance with local waste management regulations. These two factors make any re-cycling difficult.

We recommend that used inhalers are returned to a pharmacy where they can be disposed according to local laws. This usually results in the inhaler being disposed of as clinical waste.

We continue to work hard to improve the sustainability of our devices and packaging materials and are committed to reducing the amount of material and the range of different plastic materials used for our medicines.

As you know, the Responsibility section of our website provides detailed information about our approach to packaging and the environment and we report on our performance each year so that all interested parties can monitor our progress.

Thank you again for your interest.
Kind regards.

So, Ive written another letter to them, and am awaiting their response:

I was surprised to read your advice to me regarding the 'safe', disposal of the Inhaler. You suggest returning the used product to the pharmacy from where it was obtained, for incineration. Are you aware that incineration releases dioxins into the environment? Dioxins are known carcinogens and suspected reproductive and immunological toxicants.

That you use different plastics in the manufacture of these products also raises alarm bells. You may be aware that there is currently a lot of controversy regarding the chemicals used in plastics.

Would you be able to supply me with a breakdown of the exact types of plastics that are used in these inhalers? You surely must know what your products are composed of!

Numerous studies of one chemical used in plastics, Bisphenol A (BPA), which is leached from Polycarbonate, have indicated a wide array of possible adverse effects from low-level exposure to this chemical: chromosome damage in female ovaries, decreased sperm production in males, early onset of puberty, various behavioural changes, altered immune function, and sex reversal in frogs. Its use is currently being phased out by many leading companies in Britain, who use it in their products.

Similarly, PVC has been described as one of the most hazardous consumer products ever created. It leaches di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) or butyl benzyl phthalate (BBzP), depending on which is used as the plasticiser or softener (usually DEHP). DEHP and BBzP are endocrine disruptors mimicking the female hormone estrogen; have been strongly linked to asthma and allergic symptoms in children; may cause certain types of cancer; linked to negative effects on the liver, kidney, spleen, bone formation and body weight. In Europe, DEHP and BBzP and other dangerous pthalates have been banned from use in plastic toys for children under three since 1999.

I could go on and list the potential and proven harmful effects of many other chemicals used in plastic manufacture.

I would therefore be very grateful if you could send me a breakdown as stated, of the chemical compositions of the plastics used in your products."

I'll keep you informed