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












Friday, 12 November 2010

Major producers to ditch BPA from packaging


Here is some excellent news at long last? As this report from the Independent reports, many mayor food companies are removing the chemical Bisphenol A from packaging, amid growing concern it is causing a wide range of human illnesses including heart disease and breast cancer. See the film for more information on this dangerous chemical and how it's used in a wide variety of food packaging and elsewhere:

Some of the world's biggest food companies are removing the chemical Bisphenol A from packaging, amid growing concern it is causing a wide range of human illnesses including heart disease and breast cancer.


Nestlé, the world's biggest food manufacturer, says its will stop putting Bisphenol A (also known as BPA) into US products within three years, while tinned giant Heinz is at "an advanced stage" in removing it from UK baby food, and is funding research by one of the chemical's leading critics. General Mills, the US giant behind the Green Giant tinned brand, has already ditched BPA from its Muir Glen tomato range, while Campbell Soups says it has done "hundreds" of tests exploring alternatives. Several other firms, such as Coca-Cola, have declined to disclose a timetable for its withdrawal, saying that BPA is safe.

BPA toughens the packaging of many tins, glass jars and plastic bottles, and the casings of electronics gadgets such as TVs, mobile phones and laptop computers.

Dozens of scientists say it is an endocrine disruptor that affects hormones and could be causing breast and prostate cancer, heart disease, brain retardation, impotence and infertility.
While the US says it has "some concern" about the chemical's potential effects on the brain, on behaviour and on the prostate glands of foetuses, babies and young children, the European Food Safety Agency recent reiterated its view that the substance does not pose a risk to the public.

In a survey for a new report, Seeking Safer Packaging, the US investment fund Green Century Capital Management surveyed 26 food companies for their policy on BPA. Half said they were committed to ending use of the substance, double the 23 per cent found last year.

Emily Stone, of Green Century Capital Management, said: "Companies are actually moving faster than regulators in phasing out BPA from food and beverage packaging." Some firms, such as Del Monte and Hain Celestial, have begun warning investors of a potential risk from tougher regulation of BPA use.

However it is possible that UK subsidiaries of some firms may take weaker action in Europe than in the US – where consumer awareness is much higher. While saying it was phasing out BPA in baby food, Nestlé told The Independent: "As a global food manufacturer and marketer, Nestlé takes into consideration local needs, cultural differences and consumer preferences as well as attitudes concerning the use of certain materials. This may well result in different solutions in various regions of the world..."

More than 20 US states have introduced legislation to restrict BPA use, Canada has listed it as a toxic chemical and several European countries have refused to accept the European Food Safety Agency's latest position, released on 30 September.

Scientists are divided. While many endocrinologists, experts in hormones, believe low doses of BPA can harm humans, general toxicologists say evidence from large industry-funded studies suggests this is not the case.

Henrik Høegh, food minister in Denmark, which has has banned BPA in products for children up to three years old, said: "Our ban is based on a study which, according to Danish experts, shows uncertainty about the effects of even small doses of Bisphenol A on the learning ability in young rats."

Where BPA is Used

* Tinned Food
BPA resin sprayed on the inside of tins prevents metal from contaminating food. The Independent found this year that BPA was present in 18 of the UK's best-selling tins, including Heinz baked beans, Princes sardines, right, and Napolina tomatoes.

* Drinks cans
Some fizzy drinks, including Coca-Cola, are lined with a BPA resin. Pepsi has not said if its cans are lined with BPA.

* Glass jars
Some glass jars have BPA in the lid. Campaigners want firms such as Nestlé and Heinz to remove BPA from their baby and toddler food ranges because of fears over its impact on babies.

* Electronics
BPA is in the casings of electronics products including CDs, and DVDs, phones, TVs, laptops, personal computers, printers, cameras, shavers, hairdryers, irons, food mixers, microwaves and kettles.

* Plastic bottles
BPA is found in polycarbonate bottles designed to carry water or baby milk. Several manufacturers such as Tommee Tippee have phased out BPA.

* Sports equipment
Sports helmets, ski goggles, binocular housings and golf and tennis equipment contain the chemical.

* Till receipts
BPA is used to make ink visible on thermal till receipts. Concern arises about shoppers handling the paper and then touching their mouths or food.

* Medical equipment
BPA is found in the casings of dialysis machines, dentists' operating lamps and blood sample reservoirs. It also toughens the lenses of spectacles.


Going BPA-free...

Heinz
"Heinz remains committed to moving to alternatives. Our plastic Heinz Beanz Snap Pots and Heinz Beanz Fridge Pack contain no BPA. All Heinz plastic baby food and juice containers, as well as packaging for our snacks and cereals, are BPA-free.
"Our baby food cans also contain no BPA and we are already at an advanced stage of phasing out the minute amounts of BPA used in the lids of jarred baby foods to ensure seal integrity, even though the BPA is coated and does not come into direct contact with the food at any time.

"Heinz continues to advance research into alternative coatings in response to consumer opinion but safety remains our first priority before making any changes."

...and sticking with it
Coca-Cola

"The consensus repeatedly stated among regulatory agencies is that current levels of exposure to BPA through food and beverage packaging do not pose a health risk to the general population. BPA is found in the linings of our aluminium cans. Our bottled water and plastic soft drink containers are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic, which does not contain BPA.

"While we are confident about the safety of our aluminium cans, we are always looking for ways to improve our packaging. We are working closely with several suppliers who are seeking alternatives. Any new material ... also would have to meet our safety, quality and functiona









Saturday, 18 September 2010

Plastic Bags: How Long Does it Take to Decompose?


Researchers fear that such ubiquitous bags may never fully decompose; instead they gradually just turn into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic. The most common type of plastic shopping bag is made of polyethylene, a petroleum-derived polymer that microorganisms don’t recognize as food and as such cannot technically “biodegrade.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines biodegradation as “a process by which microbial organisms transform or alter (through metabolic or enzymatic action) the structure of chemicals introduced into the environment.” In “respirometry” tests, whereby experimenters put solid waste in a container with microbe-rich compost and then add air to promote biodegradation, newspapers and banana peels decompose in days or weeks, while plastic shopping bags are not affected.

Even though polyethylene can’t biodegrade, it does break down when subject to ultraviolet radiation from the sun, a process known as photodegradation. When exposed to sunshine, polyethylene’s polymer chains become brittle and crack, eventually turning what was a plastic bag into microscopic synthetic granules. Scientists aren’t sure whether these granules ever decompose fully, and fear that their buildup in marine and terrestrial environments—and in the stomachs of wildlife—portend a bleak future compromised by plastic particles infiltrating every step in the food chain. A plastic bag might be gone in anywhere from 10 to 100 years (estimates vary) if exposed to the sun, but its environmental legacy may last forever.

The best solution to plastic bag waste is to stop using disposable plastic bags altogether. You could invest a few bucks in reusable canvas totes—most supermarket chains now offer them—or bring your own reusable bags or backpacks with you to the store. If you have to choose between paper and plastic, opt for paper. Paper bags can biodegrade in a matter of weeks, and can also go into compost or yard waste piles or the recycling bin. Of course, plastic bags can be recycled also, but as just explained the process is inefficient. According to the nonprofit Worldwatch Institute, Americans only recycle 0.6 percent of the 100 billion plastic bags they take home from stores every year; the rest end up in landfills or as litter.

From HealthNewsDigest.com

Sunday, 12 September 2010

This blog is in hibernation!

I've decided to put a hold on this blog, for now at least. I feel I've gone as far as I personally can with this. There are far more eloquent blogs around that are  dealing with the issues and challenging our ideas about waste and plastics. I highly recommend that anyone interested in facing up to the problems that plastic is causing to our environment, look at a few of the great blogs I have listed on my blog list.

I am still blogging over at my other blog, Beyond Materialism. Hope you will pop in sometime

Warmest wishes

John
   

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

More bad news for plastic!


Here are some  fascinating pieces of information about plastic, reproduced from Plastic Manners. With kind permission of the blog owner, Taina.


Recycling is not the solution.

‘Traditional’ plastic uses non-renewable petroleum as its main ingredient. Many varieties of petroleum-based plastic can be “recycled”  and these are denoted with an SPI Resin Identification Code of 1 through 7 on the bottom of the plastic container. One being the easiest to recycle into other goods and 7 being the hardest.


But really, the above statement really doesn’t accurately depict the real situation. Plastic is actually not recyclable in the true sense of the word: you cannot turn one plastic bottle into another plastic bottle. Plastic downcycles at best –becomes lower quality items like plastic lumber.. which will end up in landfill anyway at some point.


Nobody can say that they “recycle” plastic. We put plastics in recycling containers and these are taken away.. where? Nobody knows. Most of the plastic disposables are shipped to China where they are burned for energy, or melted into low-quality plastic. Sometimes it just ends up in the landfill. They say that in the US, less than 10% of plastic gets recycled.. but that is not true. 10% gets recovered, which doesn’t mean that it will be recycled. A small percentage of that will be downcycled and the rest will be landfilled (or end up in the ocean), burnt or shipped to other countries. It would be more appropriate to say that 0% is recycled. Recycling of plastics is a myth, designed to perpetuate a business built around the generation of waste.
For what it’s worth, Greenpeace provides the following chart on plastics.


Plastics affect human health.
And then, there is the health side of it all. Plastics are toxic and can have severe impacts on your health. Here are some things you should know (source: http://lifewithoutplastic.com/):

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE)
Used in soft drink, juice, water, beer, mouthwash, peanut butter, salad dressing, detergent and cleaner containers.


Leaches antimony trioxide and di(2ethylhexyl) pthalate (DEHP). Workers exposed to antimony trioxide for long periods of time have exhibited respiratory and skin irritation; among female workers, increased incidence of menstrual problems and miscarriage; their children exhibited slower development in the first twelve months of life. The longer a liquid is left in such a container the greater the concentration of antimony released into the liquid. DEHP is an endocrine disruptor that mimics the female hormone estrogen. It has been strongly linked to asthma and allergies in children. It may cause certain types of cancer, and it has been linked to negative effects on the liver, kidney, spleen, bone formation and body weight. In Europe, DEHP has been banned since 1999 from use in plastic toys for children under the age of three.


High density polyethylene (HDPE)
Used in opaque milk, water, and juice containers, bleach, detergent and shampoo bottles, garbage bags, yogurt and margarine tubs, cereal box liners.


Considered a ‘safer’ plastic. Research on risks associated with this type of plastic is ongoing.

Polyvinyl chloride (V or Vinyl or PVC)
Used in toys, clear food and non-food packaging (e.g., cling wrap), some squeeze bottles, shampoo bottles, pet toys, cooking oil and peanut butter jars, detergent and window cleaner bottles, shower curtains, medical tubing, and numerous construction products (e.g., pipes, siding).


PVC has been described as one of the most hazardous consumer products ever created. Leaches di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) or butyl benzyl phthalate (BBzP), depending on which is used as the plasticizer 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.

Low density polyethylene (LDPE)
Used in grocery stores, dry cleaning, bread and frozen food bags, most plastic wraps, squeezable bottles (honey, mustard).


Considered a ‘safer’ plastic. Research on risks associated with this type of plastic is ongoing.

Polypropylene (PP)
Used in ketchup bottles, yogurt and margarine tubs, medecine and syrup bottles, straws, Rubbermaid and other opaque plastic containers, including baby bottles.


Considered a ‘safer’ plastic. Research on risks associated with this type of plastic is ongoing.

Polystyrene (PS)
Used in Styrofoam containers, egg cartons, disposable cups and bowls, take-out food containers, plastic cutlery, compact disc cases.


Leaches styrene, which is an endocrine disruptor mimicking the female hormone estrogen, and thus has the potential to cause reproductive and developmental problems; long-term exposure by workers has shown brain and nervous system effects; adverse effects on red blood cells, liver, kidneys and stomach in animal studies. Also present in secondhand cigarette smoke, off-gassing of building materials, car exhaust and possibly drinking water. Styrene migrates significantly from polystyrene containers into the container’s contents when oily foods are heated in such containers.


Other
This is a catch-all category that includes anything that does not come within the other six categories. As such, one must be careful in interpreting this category because it includes polycarbonate – a dangerous plastic – but it also includes the new, safer, biodegradable bio-based plastics made from renewable resources such as corn and potato starch, and sugar cane. Polycarbonate is used in many plastic baby bottles, clear plastic “sippy” cups, sports water bottles, three and five gallon large water storage containers, metal food can liners, some juice and ketchup containers, compact discs, cell phones, computers.


Polycarbonate leaches Bisphenol A (some effects described above), and numerous studies have indicated a wide array of possible adverse effects from low-level exposure to Bisphenol A: 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.


Important Note: Two other types of plastic that fall under code 7 are acrylonitrile styrene (AS) or styrene acrylonitrile (SAN), and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). Both AS/SAN and ABS are higher quality plastics with increased strength, rigidity, toughness and temperature and chemical resistance. AS/SAN is used in mixing bowls, thermos casing, dishes, cutlery, coffee filters, toothbrushes, outer covers (printers, calculators, lamps), battery housing. The incorporation of butadiene during the manufacture of AS/SAN, produces ABS, which is an even tougher plastic. ABS is used in LEGO toys, pipes, golf club heads, automotive parts, protective head gear. Our research on risks associated with AS/SAN and ABS is ongoing.



Bioplastics are not the solution.
What about bioplastics? Bioplastics are just plastics made with plants. Bioplastics may or may not be biodegradable, may or may not be toxic, just like any other plastic. Bioplastics raise lots of questions. As of today, the term Bioplastics lends itself to greenwashing.


The term biodegradable needs to be defined (plutonium is also biodegradable… just give it 300,000 years…). Some “biodegradable” plastics take years to disappear, some require heat in commercial composting facilities, and some do not biodegrade at all if they end up in landfills or the marine environment. Biodegradable plastic may leave toxic contaminants in the soil and water. All biodegradable plastics require use water, land, energy, crops (largely GMO). Lots of questions need to be asked. The most important question is do we really need disposable plastics?
Biodegradable plastics cannot become an excuse to perpetuate our throwaway habits.



It’s a wrap!


I’m going to write a blog now, that I suspect will be read my few, so if you are actually reading this, I commend your endurance!


A new report into the UK’s plastic recycling habits reveals much food for thought.
The rather disturbing conclusion drawn in the WRAP report, is that despite an expansion in domestic reprocessing capacity; the UK remains heavily dependent on export markets for recycling its recovered plastics. So much for the predictions of a few years ago that we would be recycling most of our waste by now. Which is rather a depressing prognosis, given the realisation that land fills have almost reached saturation point.

In 2009, an estimated 900,000 tonnes of plastics was collected for recycling. Of this, 590,000 tonnes was plastic packaging; but over 700,000 tonnes of recovered plastics were exported for recycling in 2009, predominantly to China. About two-thirds of this is estimated to be packaging. The primary trading route for material destined for China continued to be via Hong Kong.

Also, the plastic bottle-recycling rate now stands at over 40% and there has been extensive investment in UK plastic bottle processing capacity over the past two years.


According to the National Packaging Waste Database (NPWD), around 590,000 tonnes of plastics packaging was recycled in 2009,14% more than in 2008 and 23% more than in 2007. Nevertheless, this equates to a recycling rate of under 25%. The majority of recycled plastic continues to be plastic bottles.




UK consumption of plastics is estimated to be around 5 million tonnes a year. Of this, nearly half is used in packaging, and a further quarter is used in the construction sector. Long-term trend growth in plastics consumption is estimated to be around 1% per annum, although plastics consumption is believed to have fallen during the recession in 2009, largely as a result of the contraction in the construction sector.



Of the 1.5 million tonnes of plastics packaging consumed by households, a quarter is rigid plastic packaging (such as pots, tubs and trays) and the remainder is films and bags. Commercial and industrial plastic packaging waste tends to be plastic films, which are used as secondary packaging (to get a product to a retailer or distribution centre), and larger rigid items such as crates, totes and drums. And the report admits that the recent increase in packaging recycling has come mainly from plastic bottles.


The needs to strengthen the UK’s recycling capacity is given priority in the report, as it says, “attention has now turned to collecting and developing infrastructure to recycle mixed packaging plastics, less than 5% of which is currently recycled. Around 20% of local authorities already operate kerbside mixed plastic collections, and 2011 will see the operation of the UK’s first mixed plastic reprocessing.” But oddly enough, whilst recycling isn’t progressing as well as forecast a few years ago, there is a high demand for such products, with demand for food-grade recovered polymers currently outstripping supply. With demand likely to strengthen further, this represents an opportunity for UK manufacturers of recovered polymers; recycling of non-packaging plastics has also increased in recent years, largely as a result of regulatory drivers.




There is also strong demand for recovered clear PET and natural HDPE bottles. Domestic demand for food-grade recycled plastics currently outstrips domestic supply, and there are believed to be significant imports, largely from the EU, to meet this demand. This was one of the more shocking findings for me at any rate in this report. We are actually importing recycled plastics due to an inability to recycle enough of our own!


Waste collections by local authorities have shot up massively, with more than half of the plastic packaging collected for recycling, from the municipal waste stream. In 2008/09, UK local authorities (LAs) are estimated to have collected 320,000 tonnes of plastics from the municipal waste stream, almost three times what they collected in 2005/06


The growth in plastics collections has been achieved by rapid expansion in LA kerbside collection schemes. In 2008/09, more than 80% of UK LAs operated kerbside plastic collection schemes. In terms of household coverage, it is estimated that 70% of households have plastic bottle collections. By contrast, only around 20% of LAs offered kerbside collections of mixed (non-bottle) rigid plastics.


But again around 90% of the plastic packaging collected from local authorities is plastic bottles.




In order to bring the recycling rate for rigid plastic packaging to a level comparable with that for plastic bottles, a further 160,000 tonnes of rigid plastic packaging would need to be collected. To achieve this, more mixed plastics collection and sorting capacity will need to be put in place. To date, there has been less investment in domestic capacity to recover and recycle mixed plastic packaging. A key barrier has been a lack of capacity to sort mixed plastics into separate polymer streams, which in turn reflects the difficulty of competing with low-cost manual sorting in the Far East. As a result, most of the mixed plastics collected are exported for reprocessing.


An additional 100,000 tonnes of annual plastic bottle reprocessing capacity is planned to come on-stream over the next five years.


WRAP research has shown that plastics recovery facilities (PRFs) that sort mixed plastics into separate polymers can be commercially viable in the UK. Indeed, PRF capacity has already started to develop in the UK, with two firms already having built plastic sorting lines that can sort and bale non-bottle rigid plastics although neither is capable of handling plastic films.


In 2009, WRAP awarded grant funding to support the development of the first UK facility to be able to both sort and process a range of non-bottle rigid polymers from municipal plastics collections. Although the report also warns that a key to the success of future investments will be the development of collection schemesthat are able to provide a secure supply of high quality mixed plastics feedstock.























Monday, 6 September 2010

Drowning in plastic


This is an article that first appeared in New Internationalist magazine. The magazine is well worth reading for its informed and intelligent reporting, and is renowned for its radical, campaigning stance on a range of world issues,


Plastic is forever!
There are more than 50 different groups of plastics and hundreds of different varieties – an estimated 113 billion kilos of raw plastic pellets are produced from petroleum feedstock, worldwide, every year.


• The world uses an estimated one million plastic bags every minute; 150 bags per year for every person on earth.1
• The Canadian province of Ontario banned plastic bags from government liquor stores in 2008 resulting in 80 million fewer bags being used yearly.2
• China banned plastic bags in 2008 following the lead of Hong Kong. Bangladesh was the first country in the South to ban them in 2002. Papua New Guinea, Bhutan, Taiwan and Botswana followed suit.3
• Ireland introduced a plastic bag tax in 2002. Within a few months the number of bags handed out at supermarkets had dropped by 90%.1
• It takes about 11 barrels of oil to make one ton of plastic bags. Before the ban, China used more plastic bags than any other country and wasted 37 million barrels of oil on them every year. 4



Sea of plastic
• Plastic debris causes the deaths of more than a million seabirds yearly as well as 100,000 marine mammals.
•Plastic makes up 60-80% of all garbage floating in the oceans. Every square km of ocean contains 13,000-18,000 pieces of plastic.
• Discarded plastic fishnets called ghost nets are perpetual killing machines continuing to catch fish and other species.


Chasing arrows
The plastic industry has adopted a numbering system to identify basic plastic resins. In a classic example of ‘greenwashing’ the numbers 1-7 are framed within the ‘chasing arrows’ recycling symbol, thus assuring consumers they can be recycled – which is often not the case.



Toxic trio
Phthalates – compounds used to soften plastics, notably PVC. In everything from shower curtains, paint, pesticides and children’s toys to vinyl flooring, IV bags and hospital tubing. Also in hundreds of personal-care products like perfume, body lotion, nail polish, shampoo and air fresheners.


BPA (bisphenol A) – basic constituent of polycarbonate plastic, the hard durable plastic used to make re-usable, ‘sports’ water bottles, large ‘water cooler’ bottles, baby bottles, dental sealants, the lining in canned food and some drink containers, CDs and DVDs. First produced as synthetic estrogen – 2.7 billion kilos are now produced yearly.


PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) – used as flame retardants and added to plastic cases of consumer electronics – cell phones, digital cameras, iPods, TVs, laptops. Also found in textiles, curtains, foam cushions, mattresses, upholstery and circuit boards.

These chemicals are found in thousands of common household items and have been linked to birth defects, learning disabilities, cancers, liver damage and reproductive problems.



Bottled water blues
• It takes 7 litres of water to manufacture a 1 litre bottle creating 100g of CO2 emissions. Worldwide, bottling of water uses about 2.7 million tons of plastic each year.8
• In the US 96% of bottled water is sold in single-serving PET plastic bottles. An estimated 4 billion of them end up in the garbage, costing cities $70 million a year in clean-up costs.7
• To make the plastic bottles used annually in the US requires 17 million barrels of oil, enough to fuel a million cars for more than a year.
• In Britain 3 billion litres of bottled water were consumed in 2007 mostly in PET bottles. Of the 13 billion bottles, just 3 billion were recycled.

Green plastic?
Plastic made from plants takes generations to degrade in landfills. When it degrades without oxygen it releases methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more powerful than CO2.6


• The market for bioplastics made from corn, sugarcane and wheat is growing by 20-30% a year.



Who do you trust?
• In November, 2006, 38 leading scientific experts on BPA warned of ‘potential adverse health effects of exposure’ to polycarbonate plastic.12
• Every study backed by the industry has found that low-dose exposure to BPA poses no risks. Of the 160 non-industry studies, 90% have detected harmful effects including hormone-related illnesses and cancer.












Friday, 3 September 2010

Global depository for images of beached marine plastic objects


Britain's coastline is one of the more inspiring aspects of our environment, yet due to the large amounts of plastic washed ashore daily, this coastline is becoming increasingly polluted.

Steve McPherson is an artist who has created an online participatory art project, in an attempt to raise awareness of the problem. His site Marine Plastic, is inviting beachcombers to help document those places where plastic waste is spoiling the shoreline  

Steve says that he wants the project to be a place where anyone can add images of plastic objects found by mainly other foragers and beach combers from around the world. "I intend it to be a space to hold not just the images of the lost and found objects, but also to record the names of those who find them, and the date and location of the find."



"With no definitive end, and as long as participants still keep submitting images, the bank of objects will grow, as will I hope an awareness of the enormity of the plastic pollution of our worldwide oceans.

"My long term aim will be to use the images deposited on this website in a real world exhibition and publication, where all contributions would be credited and recognised."

Monday, 30 August 2010

The marketing and selling of water.


A new film, Tapped, exposes just how the bottled water industry works. The film delves into the chemicals that are used to make plastic bottles, chemicals that are being blamed for a whole catalogue of health issues. Finally Tapped discusses the political and social implications of water privatisation, in a world where at present one millions people have no access to fresh water.


The bottled water industry is a multi-billion dollar business, and demand is increasing steadily. Private corporations set up shop in local communities, leeching massive quantities of municipal water for pennies on the dollar, pouring it into some PET bottles and selling it back to the same community at a frightening 1,900 percent mark-up. Tapped explores the ethical, financial, and ecological impact of the beverage industry from numerous angles: the sustainability of freshwater as a resource, the privatisation of water as a commodity, the toxic effects created to manufacture the petroleum by products used to make plastic water bottles, and the ever-increasing dumping of plastic bottles into our ecosystem. The world may be heading for a water crisis


Selling bottled water to the public—the very act of getting people to pay for a product essentially available for free—just might be the biggest advertising coup ever perpetrated. From afar, you have to admire the sheer audacity of it. The more you think about it with your brain, the sillier it sounds. Go back fifty years and pitch the idea to the chain-smoking Mad Men boys, and they'd laugh you right out of the office. Yet today, advertisement and marketing has convinced the public at large that bottled water is safe, while in contrast, tap water is a cesspool of disease and filth. In actuality, the opposite is true; the beverage industry is not government regulated in terms of safety, while municipal sources (tap water) go through rigorous and strenuous testing. By bottling at a municipal source and selling only within the same state, the beverage industry circumvents FDA requirements, allowing self-regulation.

The facts and figures brought up during the course of this film are shocking. Tapped argues that our consumer shift towards consuming water in plastic bottles has created a serious paradigm shift, putting control of a key resource into the hands of private corporations which only have financial interests at heart. And then there's the plastic. The staggering waste of plastic bottles in landfills and oceans is terrifying to behold. With over half of the world lacking access to kerbside recycling services and industry lobbyists fighting to prevent plastic water bottles from being included in container deposit legislation, most plastic bottles end up as waste. The environmental impact is incalculable.



What plastic bottles are made of.
All plastic bottles are made from Bisphenol A,(commonly abbreviated as BPA), is the building block molecule, that all hard and clear plastics are made of . Products containing bisphenol A-based plastics have been in commerce for more than 50 years. Bisphenol A, is an organic compound with two phenol functional groups used to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins, along with other applications.
Known to be estrogenic since the mid 1930s, concerns about the use of bisphenol A in consumer products were regularly reported in the news media in 2008 after several governments issued reports questioning its safety, thus prompting some retailers to remove products containing it from their shelves. A 2010 report from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) raised further concerns regarding exposure of fetuses, infants, and young children

A front page story in the Independent, carried a report of a group of 60 scientists who have called for BPA’s withdrawal from commercial use. Whist a new study from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers, found that participants who drank for a week from polycarbonate bottles -- the popular, hard-plastic drinking bottles and baby bottles -- showed a two-thirds increase in their urine of the chemical bisphenol A (BPA). Exposure to BPA, used in the manufacture of polycarbonate and other plastics, has been shown to interfere with reproductive development in animals and has been linked with cardiovascular disease and diabetes in humans.

For anyone concerned about the implications of what is a finite resourse, Tapped is a must see film.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Zero Waste Week


Mr and Mrs Green at My Zero Waste have been busy as usual organising National Zero Waste Week. This couple work harder than anyone I know in campaigning to get us all to cut out as much waste as we can (including plastic). So the least we can all do is to support their efforts.


National Zero Waste Week takes place week beginning 6th September 2010.


This year’s theme is ‘Cooking for Victory’ in response to WRAPS “household Food and Drink Waste in the UK” report. The report shows we throw away 8.3 million tonnes of food and drink every year. Most of this is avoidable and could have been eaten if we had planned, stored and managed it better. This amount of food waste costs the average family in Britain £50 per month.


How can I join in?
Leave a comment on the site, telling them what you pledge to do to reduce your food waste. Then go back during National Zero Waste Week and let them know how you are getting on.


Be sure to bookmark this page! If you have a blog or webpage, please help spread the word by selecting one of our banners or badges and adding it to your site.


You could win!
There are two great prizes up for grabs - a £50 LUSH voucher and £50 Natural Collection voucher!


What can I pledge to do?
As long as you end up reducing your food waste in some way, you can choose anything you like. Here are some ideas:


Identify a particular food that gets thrown away every week and plan a great recipe to use it up


View your leftovers as ingredients


Say no to prepacked food and buy only the amount you need


Get your scales out for measuring rice and pasta rather than guessing and ending up with waste


Start a compost heap, wormery or bokashi bin.


How can I win?
The two people who, in the opinion of Zero Waste, have made the best effort, create innovative sounding recipes, support and encourage other participants, share great tips or simply inspire us with their creative endevours will win. Even if you already have zero food waste each week, you can still win by sharing tips, recipes and supporting others.


About National Zero Waste Week 2010
National Zero Waste Week 2010 is sponsored by Tetra Pak; the world’s leading food processing and packaging solutions company. According to WRAP around 20% of the UK´s greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food production, distribution and storage. Using packaging like long life cartons keeps products fresh until we need them, minimising food waste plus they are fully recyclable with over 86% of Local Authorities collecting cartons for recycling.


The campaign also have the support of celebrity chef, Brian Turner CBE who said, “I’m a great supporter of National Zero Waste Week. I think it’s a wonderful idea and everyone should give join in. Once you’ve done a week, then it’s only another 51 to go!”


During Zero Waste Week you’ll discover how Brian views food as an asset, promotes a ‘compost while you cook’ approach and encourages us to use our fridges and freezer as tools for minimising food waste.


natural cosmetic company, LUSH have offered one lucky winner a £50 voucher. LUSH make fresh handmade cosmetics from natural ingredients. Many of their products are available with no packaging at all, they use recycled packaging where possible and encourage consumers to recycle, reuse or compost packaging after use.


Plus, Natural Collection have offered one lucky winner a £50 voucher. Natural Collection are one of the longest-standing green online companies where every item they sell are independently vetted by an environmental expert for eco friendliness.



Two of a kind!



Apart from the excellent Fake Plastic Fish site, there are couple of other organisations across the ocean, who are trying their utmost to stem the plastic tide, Both 5 Gyres and the Plastic Pollution Coalition, are dedicated to taking whatever action is needed in a peaceful manner to bring the problems of plastic to the attention of the public.


Plastic Pollution Coalition

“The mission of Plastic Pollution Coalition is to stop plastic pollution and its toxic impacts on humans, the environment, and wildlife worldwide.


Plastic Pollution Coalition provides a platform for strategic planning and coherent communications; increases awareness and understanding of the problem and sustainable solutions; and empowers action to eliminate the negative impacts of plastics on the environment, wildlife, marine life, and human health.


Our Goals
Build Awareness
To bring the issue of plastic pollution to the forefront of the social, scientific, economic, and political debate worldwide.

Build a Global Community
To provide a platform for individuals and institutions to share resources and coordinate efforts, explore synergies and strategise together to reduce plastic pollution, with an emphasis on single-use disposables.

Empower Action
To empower citizens to shift our societies away from the disposable habits that poison our oceans and land, eliminate our consumption of throwaway plastics, and begin embracing a culture of sustainability

Support Legislation
To demand that businesses and governments take responsibility for new ways to design, recover and dispose of plastics.

Educate
To educate citizens about the threats posed by plastic to their own health and the well-being of the planet and its inhabitants.


Support Scientific Advancement
To promote the study of plastic pollution and possible solutions.”



5 Gyres

5 Gyres are another organisation that are committed to doing what they can to turn back the tide of plastic, by organising public events and meetings. At present some of the team are sailing into the South Atlantic Gyre, from Rio to Ascension Island and back. This will be the first of 3 expeditions through the South Atlantic Gyre, studying plastic pollution, the 4th in their global 5 Gyres study.


"Take a look around you- most of what we eat, drink, or use in any way comes packaged in petroleum plastic- a material designed to last forever, yet used for products that we then throw away. This throwaway mentality is a relatively recent phenomenon. Just a generation ago, we packaged our products in reusable or recyclable materials – glass, metals, and paper, and designed products that would last. Today, our landfills and beaches are awash in plastic packaging, and expendable products that have no value at the end of their short lifecycle.”

Look at both of these web sites, become followers and give them your support please







Friday, 27 August 2010

Plastic City!

Following in the footsteps of the esteemed Mr and Mrs Green over at My Zero Waste, who have written a blog about their recent holidays from a waste conscious perspective. I've just spent a few days in Leicestershire, staying with relatives. My mothers house comes under the jurisdiction of Blaby District Council, who seem to take an enlightened approach to waste, although they provide two large wheelie bins and two smaller ones (for glass and recyclables). Which can cause problems if you lack space outside of the house.



But it was a piece in the local paper, the Leicester Mercury that caught my eye, it appears that recycling rates in the city of Leicester, have actually fallen over recent years, which is in stark contract to the overall national picture where recycling has risen. Leicester City Council in conjunction with Biffa, the company who collect waste in the city, have decided to test trail a new method of collecting waste for recycling. Their plan is to get rid of the green wheelie bin and provide plastic bags instead! In its favour the new scheme will allow Biffa to collect a greater range of waste including mixed plastics. Whilst Leicester council is renowned for its innovative approach to waste, I just can't help but wonder if this isn't retrograde step?


In its favour this city council has also recently opened a state of the art recycling plant called the 'Ball Mill' a fully mechanised waste processing and recycling facility, designed to treat all household waste.


The Ball Mill is the only one of its kind in the UK and can divert up to 70% of household waste from landfill. The process extracts all metal, cardboard, plastic and organic material and sends these for recycling, composting or energy recovery.

I took a trip into Leicester itself whilst I was there too, little sign of any revolt against plastic in evidence around the city though. In fact the ubiquitous carrier bag, with the names of various companies, embedded across the front, appeared to be very much in vogue. Whilst almost every store seemed to me to be a plastic lovers heaven!

Sunday, 15 August 2010

The Story of Bottled Water.


The creator of The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard, has now added another short documentary to her growing CV of impressive waste critiques, that inform and explain the facts about our obsession with consumerism, and the results of this obsession,  in a precise and succinct way. The Story of bottled Water is an 8 minute masterpiece that is a must watch film. If you watch only one film about waste, its causes and results, this is the one to view.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Every Little helps!


I've just ordered a wooden toothbrush and tooth paste soap from the lovely site, Cebra. I heard about these toothbrushes on My Zero Waste, one of the better sites around for helping us all to learn how we can live a life producing little waste for landfill.



And this really is the point, of choosing to make a stand for the good of the planet, it is the little things we do, the tiny choices we make that, in the long run will clean up the mess we've all contributed to, for so long.

There must never be any sense of cohersion, or of lecturing others, for what we may perceive as their wrong actions. We are all one together on this planet, we're 'all in it together,' Thus, developing a sense of compassion and understanding, is important too, as we progress on our chosen paths. We all have to deal with personal problems and worries in our daily life's. And we're all doing what we can, given our individual circumstances, energies and resources.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Women lead the anti plasitc revolution!


There are many people out there who are concerned about the effects that plastic is having on the environment, people are saying. 'enough is enough.' Oh yes, plastic is an integral part of all of ours lives, and its withdrawal will be a long and slow process, but at least we can see a chink of light at the end of this very long tunnel!


I've been blogging about plastic for about a month or so, but, the more I research this subject, the more I am amazed and dumbfounded that we have used and discarded this material so lightly. The same was true of asbestos in the 50's and 60's, before its real dangers were revealed.

What I am finding is that most of the blogs and a lot of the campaigns around plastic, are being instigated by females. I imagine that this is down to the fact that on the whole, women have a more thoughtful and compassionate outlook on life. There are two women in particular, I must mention, who are doing amazing work by bringing to the attention of the public, the toxic effects of plastic, as well as waste in general. Rae with her husband, in Gloucestershire, runs the My Zero Waste site and blog. This is a place full of wonderful articles and practical tips that we can all follow to reduce our waste. On the other side of the Atlantic, Beth runs the Fake Plastic Fish blog and site. This woman seems to run on adrenalin! She's very active and is well known over there. Beth has produced a plastic free living guide. Its good and lists 70 ways we can live without plastics.

I salute both Rae and Beth, and females everywhere for their devotion and compassion to life and securing the continued health of our planet

Friday, 6 August 2010

Take your pick, plastic bags or live seabird chicks?

If there is one single person in Britain who has done more to highlight the harm that plastic can cause when it finds its way into the oceans, rivers and soil, that person must be Rebecca Hoskins. Many of you will have heard of Rebecca, she is the woman who, after witnessing the devastation plastic was causing to the wildlife in and around the waters of the pacific ocean, resolved to bring to the attention of the public, just where the plastic we all use and throw away, ends up. She had been in the pacific, filming a wildlife documentary for the BBC and saw at first hand, what this plastic was doing to the wildlife there. “It really affected me," she said. "I have never cried behind a camera before. I'm not a blubby person. But it broke my heart to see animals entangled in plastic, albatrosses dying in plastic, dolphins trailing plastic and seals with their noses trapped in parcel tape roll. The sea is now like a trash can and the plastic is there for ever. It doesn't go away for hundreds of years. What I witnessed was just so unnecessary. All this damage is simply caused by our throwaway living."



Visiting the bird's breeding grounds on Midway Island, site of the world's largest marine national park opened by none other than President George Bush, should, therefore, have been a highlight of the year she spent filming. But what Rebecca witnessed on the shores of that white sand atoll 1,000 miles from Honolulu was a nightmarish vision. "It was impossible to walk in a straight line without standing on them - the dead chicks were everywhere," she recalls, "I felt cross, angry and sad all at the same time," she said.




Two-fifths of the 500,000 Laysan chicks born on Midway each year die. Though not exclusively the cause of this devastating mortality rate, one of the prime reasons, she believed, was the vast and growing slicks of plastic that pollute the world's oceans.


After a couple of days in the hot sun, the bodies of the chicks start to rot and the cause of their death becomes all too apparent amid the stench. Children's toys, plastic bags, even asthma inhalers, spill from the putrefying carcasses of the birds. In the course of an hour spent combing the body-strewn beach, she and a colleague gathered 400 cigarette lighters and 800 toothbrushes.


The chicks' mothers have often flown 2,000 miles to forage for this deadly meal, bringing it back to the nest."By instinct, they believe that anything colourful on the surface of the water is squid, so they pick it up, swallow it and fly the long journey back to regurgitate it into the mouths of their offspring. Their stomachs fill up with plastic and they die of dehydration and starvation," she says. It was enough to move her to tears - and action.


Back home in Modbury, a small rural town in Devon, she decided she something had to be done, so she organised a public showing of the firm she had made and invited the towns traders to a screening. The traders were so moved by what they saw, they immediately voted afterwards to source alternatives to the plastic bags they had long been giving to their customers, even the towns supermarket came on board. Thus in 2007, Modbury became Europe's first plastic bag free town. All thanks to the efforts of one determined woman.




Mankind's appetite for the plastic bag is deeply daunting. It is estimated that one million are used every minute - their average working life just 12 minutes before they are discarded. Every year, each person on the planet will consume 300 of them - nearly one each every day. In terms of their environmental cost, the figures are equally stark, As Rebecca painted out "Plastic stays in the environment for between 500 and 1,000 years. Every plastic item that was ever made is still in existence. Some of it starts to break down - maybe into tiny pieces but it is still there."


The townspeople of Modbury have woken up to the harm plastic can do. And are looking for even more ways to reduce their reliance on it. For example, the butcher, now packs meat in biodegradable corn-starch bags, the florist wraps bouquets in corn-starch cellophane and has replaced ribbon with paper and raffia, and the local delicatessen, owner puts sandwiches in brown paper bags rather than plastic boxes. "Previously, I used plastic pots for clotted cream and olives, and I used plastic boxes for salad boxes, but now I've moved over to these," he says, holding out one of his new cartons. "They look like plastic, but are made out of corn starch. They are 100% biodegradable, so break down to nothing on your compost heap. We've also moved away from using plastic packaging for sandwiches so now I just present them on a paper plate in a brown paper bag. Initially, we switched to white paper bags, then I realised bleach was used to make them so I moved over to the plain brown ones, which are better for the environment," he said.


Of course there has been a backlash, with some environmentalists calling the focus on plastic bags a diversion from the real threats posed to the planet, such as greenhouse gases and over population, but such criticism comes, I feel from lack of awareness of what is at stake here. And, all of us can only do what we do! The same line of criticism is used too, whenever it is suggested that we all need to cut back on our CO2 emissions, ‘no matter what I do, emissions from the rest of the word will continue to increase,’ someone will say.


The good news is that it seems that the message spread by people like Rebecca Hoskins is being listened to. A report last year showed that we in this country have cut the number of plastic bags we use by half, in the past four years. And if that means that even a few less sea creatures die from plastic stagulation and choking, it wouldn’t have been a waste of time.