Thursday, 29 July 2010

Exciting possibilities!

I really would recommend to anyone interested in the mechanics of waste, and especially plastic waste, to watch the film, Addicted to Plastic for an eye popping view of the effects our disposal lifestyles are having on the worlds eco systems, especially the oceans. Whilst most of the film, paints a very grim picture of the effects these synthetic materials are having on the planet, there are some positive rays of hope emanating from the film too. The film makers visited several firms around the world, who are either recycling all sorts of plastics together to make reusable items, or are by passing oil, the source of most plastics and turning to the old methods of using plants to make plastics. I say old methods, for plant material was used long before oil, as a source of plastic production, it was only when oil became a far cheaper option that the big producers began using it. Although I have many doubts as to the real potential of these bio plastics to be able to live up to what is claimed for them (See the previous article The Future of Plastic), nonetheless, it's a start and anything must be better.

WasteAway, based in America have a fascinating technique that takes unsorted household waste and converts it into a product called Fluff, which can then be  used in a variety of other ways. Fluff is similar in consistency to wood pulp, and can be processed for use as a growing medium for plants and turf, can be gasified to generate steam, can be converted to synthetic fuels such as ethanol, diesel, and gasoline, or can be compressed and extruded to make products such as construction materials. Their aim is to have zero landfill waste. Whilst I agree with the film makers, that using plastic waste as a base for my tomato plants seems a bit far fetched, I feel this process is one of the more exciting schemes I've come across so far, for dealing with such a toxic product.

Another company featured in the film, was the Australian based Plantic Technologies who are using a unique technology based on the corn-starch derived amylose molecule, whose special chemical properties allow for a wide range of applications, including rigid and flexible packaging. The company boast that the end result is a bioplastic that is a completely biodegradable and organic alternative to conventional plastics, based on corn, which is not genetically modified, and which contains approximately 40% renewable content and uses 25% less energy compared to conventional polymers. These plastics biodegrade down easily and when immersed in water, the plastic degrades.


The company's website paints a very convincing picture for the use of such processes. Conventional plastics are derived from oil and gas feedstocks. The problem is that once their useful life has finished, they can take many years to break down. When and if they do decompose, they leave an oil-based residue which can be extremely harmful to water or soil, wildlife and humans. The waste they have created has produced an environmental crisis of global proportions. One of the most successful and promising solutions to this crisis are what is known as 'bioplastics'. These are polymer products made from organic materials, which decompose easily and safely.

Monday, 26 July 2010

An Enlightened Council: Take a bow East Lindsey DC

The last blog by Mrs green of tells of G H S Recycling, the company who will collect the plastics that local councils cannot accept. However, today, I decided to phone my local council, East Lindsey District Council, to find out their exact policy on plastic collection. To my surprise and delight, it seems that they will now accept ALL types of plastic bottles, as well as yogurt pots and margarine tubs! Terri Gibson, the council's, very helpful and informative Recycling Marketing Officer, told me that many people had become confused by having to sort out different plastics by codes, so ELDC have simplified matters and now accept all plastic bottles. Whilst there are a lot of other plastic materials they still cannot accept, I think this council deserves a lot of credit for their enlightened waste disposal policy. If only all councils were as positive as ours is!

Terri also sent the photos displayed with this piece, showing how the waste is collected, as it arrives from the bins and is put into bails, ready to be sent off to the recycling company.

So all of this means, that we can now happy put the majority of our plastics in the recycling bin, and only send the few odds and ends down to GHS.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Three Ways To Recycle Your Plastic.

Here is a great article written by the ever inspiring Mrs Green, of 'My Zero Waste.' Do look at her site for many more ideas, tips and inspirations to reduce our waste.

What is polythene used for?

Soft (low density) polythene is a type of plastic used to wrap toilet rolls, kitchen towel, magazines, bread and fruit and vegetables in the supermarket. You use it to wrap your sandwiches and rings made from low density polythene hold your four pack of beer together.

How do I know if I have low density polythene?
You'll rarely find a code or description on soft plastic packaging to know what it is. But if there is a code, you're looking for a 2 or 4. If you have no code, the way to test whether or not you have polythene is to stretch it.
If it’s soft and stretchy without splitting or snapping, then you've got yourself a whole heaping pile of glorious polythene to send to the lovely people at  in Norwich for recycling.

What type of polythene can I send for recycling?
The lady I spoke to at Polyprint told me that it doesn't matter if the polythene is plain or printed but it must NOT have degradable or biodegradable written on it. The biodegradable polythene contaminates the new batch and starts to break it down. In addition, Polyprint will not recycle plastic bottles (high density) they only recycle the soft plastic polythene used for wrapping and packaging.
For details of your nearest recycling facility for plastic bottles, check the Recycle Now site.

Can anyone send their plastic polythene for recycling?
I learned that Polyprint have been in business for over 10 years and people from all over the UK, including Jersey, send their polythene to them for recycling. Whether you have a business or are a regular householder, you can mail your clean polythene packaging to them. Cut out any sticky labels with your address or similar on before sending to them, as this clogs up their machines.

In addition she asked that people include their contact details with each batch of polythene you send to them. Sometimes people send them materials that are not suitable and they have no way of contacting the sender to inform them. If they know who you are, they can tell you what you have done wrong and why, so that you don't do it again!

There is another company who will recycle polythene called GHS. I send them my yogurt pots as they also reprocess code number 5 - PP :

And do remember that many large supermarkets who recycle carrier bags, will also take polythene - it's worth checking your local facilities.

Posted with the very kind permission of Mrs Green, from My Zero Waste:

Thursday, 22 July 2010

The Future of Plastic

As manufacturers gradually switch from making plastics from petroleum to using plants as the source, the future may not be a green as we imagined.

Henry Ford dreamed of making plastic cars out of soy. Now Dow, DuPont and other chemical giants are also dreaming of a ‘green’ future. But, as Jim Thomas argues, bioplastic is not the eco-solution it’s cracked up to be.

The future of plastic was always gleaming white. Monsanto’s plastic ‘house of the future’ that once stood at the heart of Disneyworld’s Epcot Center and the futuristic Space Hilton hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey both featured shiny white doors, walls, ceilings and furniture. To designers of the mid-1960s hard, white, unbreakable plastic, like the white heat of the technology revolution, must have represented a pristine future moulded in the name of modernism. As Mr McGuire memorably whispered to Dustin Hoffman in the 1967 film, The Graduate: ‘There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it.’

Forty years later, its reputation tarnished and its ‘house of the future’ dismantled, the plastics industry is struggling to resurrect the image of plastic as the noble ‘material of the future’. This time we are told that plastics will be soft, degradable and blend in with nature. They’re called bioplastics and the industry has a new colour in mind: green.

Search the web and you could be forgiven for thinking that today’s plastics industry has become a gardening enterprise. There’s Mirel, for example, a bioplastic made from corn sugar, cane sugar or vegetable oils whose website looks like an advert for grass seed. Or Sphere Inc, Europe’s leading biofilm producer whose homepage is adorned with tulips even though their plastics are made from potatoes. DuPont promotes its latest bioplastic with images of grassy hillsides while the NatureWorks website (a joint venture between Cargill and Japan’s Teijin corporation) displays a montage of tree leaves. Both companies make their bioplastics mainly from genetically modified corn drenched in pesticides – no tree leaves or grass in sight.

Strictly speaking a bioplastic is a polymer that has been produced from a plant instead of from petroleum. That is neither a new breakthrough nor a guarantee of ecological soundness. The earliest plastics such as celluloid were made from tree cellulose before petroleum proved itself a cheaper source. Today, with oil prices skyrocketing, it’s cheaper feedstock not green principles that is driving chemical companies back to bio-based plastics.

Indeed green, for the plastic industry, mostly means money – a big new pot of it. Bioplastics already account for 10 to 15 per cent of the global market and are expected to grow to almost a third of total production in just over a decade. They currently bring in over a billion dollars a year – a figure that is set to swell to more than $10 billion by 2012. Despite attempts to market bioplastics as ‘close to nature’ the producers are the same agribusiness and chemical corporations that continue to produce toxic poisons and promote industrial monoculture. ADM and Cargill – who between them sew up most of the world’s grain trade – are two of the biggest players, controlling the NatureWorks and Mirel lines. DuPont, BASF and Dow – three of the world’s largest chemical companies – are also key players.

Breakdown and baloney
Bioplastics may bring in the greenbacks for investors but are they actually green for the planet? The evidence is not convincing. For a start bioplastics may or may not be degradable or biodegradable – two terms that mean very different things. Many bio-based plastics – like DuPont’s Sorona – make no claims to break down in the environment.

Even those that do claim to break down may have only a slight impact on reducing plastic pollution. So-called ‘degradable’ plastics, such as the bags given out at many supermarkets, are mostly petroleum-based. In theory, they are broken down by sunlight and oxygen over several years. In practice, according to a recent Australian Government report: ‘There are insufficient data to say with any certainty how long many degradable polymers take to fully biodegrade.’ The same report points out that they may only break into smaller pieces of plastic rather than be broken down entirely. Such small pieces are more likely to be ingested by ‘smaller animals such as sea turtle hatchlings’. Consequently there is widespread scepticism as to the environmental value or efficacy of degradable plastics.

Biodegradable plastics get slightly better press. These plant-based plastics will break down to basic elements and minerals, usually in an industrial composter through the activity of heat, micro-organisms and enzymes. This decomposition has to be measured by standardized tests and must take place within a specified period of time – which varies according to the ‘disposal’ method. Unfortunately, the industrial composting facilities required are so rare that only a sliver of the biodegradable plastic produced actually makes it to them. Ingeo – a polylactic acid (PLA) bioplastic developed by NatureWorks – is one so-called ‘compostable’ plastic that will not break down in home composters. NatureWorks also admits that PLA will not break down if left as litter in the countryside, in soils, seawater or even in landfill. Over a much longer period of time of course it will break down, probably faster than petrol-based plastics. But there are likely PLA fragments happily bobbing around in the world’s oceans already. NatureWorks insists that PLA can be recycled, but no system is yet set up to capture and re-use PLA resin. In appearance PLA can be confused with PET (polyethylene terephthalate) used for plastic bottles and so can actually hamper recycling efforts by contaminating existing recycling streams. In October 2004, a group of recycling advocates called on NatureWorks to stop selling PLA for plastic bottles until key questions were addressed. In January 2005 the company did stop selling ‘additional’ PLA for bottle production but broke that moratorium this past April. NatureWorks has yet to test recyclability of any post-consumer PLA.

Bags of food
So much for disposal. But replacing fossil fuels with plants has to be a good idea, right? This is the premise on which the green claims of bioplastics mostly rest. Unfortunately, as advocates of biofuels have learned, switching from oil to biomass as the feedstock of our industrial economy carries its own set of problems. Like hunger.

Last spring food riots in Africa, South America and Southeast Asia, woke up the world’s media to how surging food costs are tipping an extra 100 million people into hunger. While the causes are complex, the use of food land to grow crops for biofuels is undoubtedly a factor in the shockingly low food stocks. That switch is only the first rumbling of a much larger shift. As 30 per cent of plastics production migrates to bio-based feedstocks both food sugars and land that might otherwise have grown food are being moved from feeding people to feeding the profits of the plastics industry. If it is unacceptable to turn food into fuel at a time of extreme hunger, it should be doubly unacceptable to turn it into plastic bags.

Consider, for example, DuPont’s Sorona bioplastic – a spandex-like fibre used for carpets, clothing and car parts. Last year DuPont built an industrial biorefinery in Tennessee that turns 6.4 million bushels of corn (maize) annually into 100 million pounds of plastic. Growing the corn for just that one biorefinery requires 40,000 acres. DuPont intends to turn 25 per cent of its global chemicals and plastics production to bio-based feedstocks and ultimately hopes to move away entirely from oil.

According to analysts at Bio-Era Consulting this is an industry-wide trend. A fifth of the $1.8 trillion chemicals and plastics market may be derived from plants by 2015, mostly food sugars. When heaped on top of the corn and other crops already being diverted into fuel production, that stacks up to a towering mountain of what could have been food for people.

Closing the loop
Indeed, as if to close the loop, the newest feedstock for bioplastics appears actually to be biofuels. In late 2009 Brazil’s largest petrochemical firm, Braskem, will open a $150 million factory designed to produce an annual 200,000 tons of polyethylene (used for shopping bags) from sugarcane-based ethanol. Sugarcane plantations for ethanol production in Brazil now occupy some six million hectares and have attracted fierce opposition for their incursion into forest lands and use of slave labour. The World Rainforest Movement points out that sugarcane plantations are rapidly destroying Brazil’s Cerrado, a sprawling 3.1 million square kilometre woodland savannah, home to tremendous biodiversity. According to Brazilian activist and lawyer Camila Moreno of the NGO Terra de Direitos, the expansion of sugar monocultures under powerful corporate oligopolies ‘is at the root of nearly all socio-environmental conflicts in Brazil, as throughout the rest of Latin America’.

There is nothing sustainable or organic about most industrial agriculture feedstocks. At present genetically modified corn grown using pesticides is probably the leading source of starch for bioplastics. Meanwhile, plastics made from potatoes – such as Stanelco’s ‘Bioplast’ – raise similar concerns. The US-based watchdog, Environmental Working Group, says potatoes have one of the highest pesticide contamination levels of any food – the links between genetic modification and future bioplastics are everywhere. Besides GM corn, there are already four genetically modified (GM) potatoes approved for growing in North America and BASF have now produced a high-starch GM potato aimed squarely at the bioplastics market – soon due to be approved for growing in Europe. In fact, only two major bioplastic producers, Italy’s Novamont and EarthCycle of Canada, tout their products as non-GM. Cargill’s NatureWorks offers a bizarre scheme where purchasers can ‘offset’ the use of GM crops for a price. Genetic modification may soon lead to plastic produced directly in the plant. If such ‘plastic crops’ were to contaminate or mingle with the food supply, this would raise serious environmental and health problems.

Synthetic life
Then there is ‘synthetic biology’. Unlike standard genetic engineering, which involves moving gene sequences between species, synthetic biologists attempt to build life-forms from scratch. Artificial DNA molecules built by a machine are strung together to make entirely novel genetic ‘programs’ hijacking bacteria, yeast and other microbes to transform sugars into plastic. DuPont’s Sorona bioplastic, for example, is produced by yeast containing entirely synthetic DNA designed by Genencor. ADM’s Mirel bioplastic is made from a synthetic microbe designed by Metabolix. All of the concerns that have dogged genetically modified organisms (genetic contamination, lack of safety tests and corporate ownership claims) are intensified in the case of synthetic biology which is as yet unregulated, unlabelled and not subject to any safety assessments.

Genetic modification may lead to plastic produced directly in the plant. If such ‘plastic crops’ were to contaminate the food supply, this would raise serious environmental and health problems

Corporate-owned, non-biodegradable, bolstering industrial agriculture and leading us deeper into genetic modification: it’s hard to be excited about the green future the plastic industry envisions. However, there are attempts to put bioplastics back on course.

‘I am not so universally sceptical of bioplastics,’ explains Annie Leonard, a long-time toxics activist whose film, The Story of Stuff, examines the materials economy. ‘Transforming from oil-based to bio-based materials has got to be part of our future vision. If that transition just substitutes one material feedstock for another within a deeply flawed system, then I’m concerned. However, if the transition is accompanied by a commitment to reducing waste at source, eliminating toxics in agriculture and production, clean energy sources, fair labour practices and other shifts towards sustainability and equity, then bioplastics can be a powerful step in the right direction.’

One such step is the Sustainable Biomaterials Collaborative (SBC) – a network of 16 civil society groups and ethical businesses working to define a truly sustainable bioplastic. One of its founders, Tom Lent, explains that the SBC started because ‘the promise of bioplastics was not being realized’.

The SBC has issued a lengthy ‘Sustainable Bioplastic Guidelines’ which is based around 12 sound principles ranging from avoiding GM crops and pesticides to supporting farmer livelihoods. It’s a challenging and refreshing document, very different from the bioplastic industry’s empty greenwash. There may not be many ‘sustainable bioplastics’ to point to but at least it’s an honest start – no pictures of tulips or grass this time.

Jim Thomas is a researcher and writer with the ETC group ( in Ottawa.

This aricle first appeard in New Internationalist Magazine.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Sone Unavoidable Facts About Plastic

We all use plastics, in some form or another, in our life. It is everywhere, in our homes, and gardens, as well as most places when out and about.

Plastic takes thousands of years to break down, and it causes untold suffering in the environment, especially when it gets into the soil, rivers and seas, where it is ingested by fish and other sea creatures. Eventually finding it’s way though the food chain to us! But are you aware that plastic does not biodegrade, but photo degrades, breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic pieces, contaminating soil, waterways, oceans and entering the food web when ingested by animals.

Scientists estimate each plastic item could last in the environment anywhere between 400 to 1000 years. (New Scientist) (UNEP)

Since the 1950's almost every piece of plastic that we have ever made, used and thrown away is still here on this planet in one form or another, whether its in our homes, in landfill or in the environment; and it will be here for centuries to come.

Plasticisers are a group of chemicals that are added to plastic resins during the manufacturing process. As a general rule plasticisers soften the final plastic product increasing its flexibility.

However because these plasticisers are an additive and not actually part of the plastics molecular structure its been established that traces of these chemicals can leach out when they come into contact with a product - for example food or drink.

Nearly 90% of floating marine litter is plastic.

Since the dawn of the plastic era it is estimate that 5% of all the world's post production plastic has entered the world's oceans. That is just over 100 million tons of plastic

Worldwide, at least 143 marine species are known to have become entangled in marine debris (including almost all of the world's species of sea turtles) and at least 177 marine species (including 95% of all the worlds sea birds) have eaten plastic litter. ( 2004) (seabirds ref, Alterra/Save the North Sea/North Pacific University of Victoria BC,Canada)

Some Alternatives
Plastic carrier bags – these have to be the worst example of an unnecessary disposable plastic product. Luckily they are also perhaps the easiest one to avoid – TAKE YOUR OWN BAG TO THE SHOP!

Plastic water bottles – now a sadly common site in our rivers and oceans. What to do? DRINK TAPWATER – it’s clean and safe and you're already paying for it! What's more it can be conveniently carried in stainless steel water bottles and flasks.


Packing on vegetables in supermarkets - ALWAYS TRY AND BUY LOOSE VEG AND FRUIT. Till operators are now used to people just putting vegetables loose into their basket.

Over packaging on meat and fish items - if your supermarket has one, use the MEAT COUNTER, it usually saves the use of a polystyrene base. Even better – buy you meat from a butcher!

If you are feeling really brave RIP ALL EXCESS PACKAGING OFF your produce and bought items, once you get to the checkout. This campaign has actually worked in other European countries with many supermarkets reducing their packaging as a result.

The more people who express their dislike of disposable plastic products and packaging with their wallets the easier it will get to find alternatives.

A World of Plastic!

I felt that I had to set up this blog. For a while now, I've watched in dismay at the relentless rise of plastic use in every conceivable way; it is used by the food industry to cover every type of sold foodstuff, it's prevalent in many of the gadgets we use in our homes and gardens, we drive cars manufactured from it, and on and on. I've greatly admired the successful campaign by Rebecca Hoskins to make her home town of Modbury, in Dorset, Britain's first plastic bag free town. And have watched and read many reports of the result where plastic gets into the environment. I've seen the massive floating dumps of plastic in every ocean in the world and watched in horror, film of birds guts being cut open to reveal insides full of all sorts of plastic junk

I don't use plastic for shopping ever now, I try to leave most of the plastic goods are packed in, at the counter of the shop, I've bought it from and I try to limit our use of it in objects we have about the home. I know too, that at the present moment in time, with very little alternatives available, we will still need to use this awful, synthetic material for some time to come too.

But, if only all of us could go that little extra yard or too, in limiting our addition to it, then little by little, will begin to seek out alternatives to the stuff.

To start off this campaign. Please try to watch this short, 5 minute clip, of the effects our use of the stuff is having on our environment.
Please send all of you thoughts, ideas, links and articles and together we may just become a PLASTIC FREE WORLD.