Author Archives: Teresa Clark

About Teresa Clark

Teresa Clark is the VP of Product Development at ENSO Plastics, you can find contact information for ENSO Plastics by visiting our Contact page here on this site or by visiting www.ensoplastics.com.

Is commercial compost killing your plants?

Commercial compost in California has caused the loss of a hand-full of crops including; tomatoes, peas, sunflowers, vegetables and daisies. The culprit? Herbicides in the compost. But the herbicides may be the least of your worries. With the continual push to divert materials from landfills and instead utilize commercial composting, your compost is now likely to contain pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, prescription drugs, as well as a slew of other toxins and pathogens – all of which could put you at risk.

Read the full article here:
http://www.planetnatural.com/commercial-compost/

I personally have noticed a drastic change in the look and quality of “compost” and “potting soil” that I buy compared to 30 years ago. It used to be that the compost was a rich dark color soil, slightly moist and no recognizable fragments. Now what they sell is a light colored, dry material full of wood particles. It looks more like slightly processed mulch than soil. The material does not retain water and my potted plants have a very limited life cycle. This article points out some of the reasons why….

However, with all the contamination issues – Why does the industry continue to try and move more materials into the “compostable” zone? (i.e. plastics, paper, etc)

Sweden recycles 99% of Waste?

Today I ran across an article claiming that Sweden now recycles 99% of all it’s waste. Interested to learn how the Swede’s had figured out the recycling conundrum the rest of the world faces, I delved into the article. To my dismay, this was clever redirecting and marketing. Somehow it is now considered recycling to burn trash??
http://truththeory.com/2014/09/17/sweden-is-now-recycling-99-percent-of-its-trash-heres-how-they-do-it/

Sweden does have high recycling rates (in the traditional definition of recycling), here are the 2013 figures:

Material Percentage
Glass 89.00 %
Cardboard 77.20 %
Metal 73.10 %
Plastic 36.70 %
Drinking containers 88%
Biodegradable food waste 13.5 %
Office paper 66%
Batteries 65%

More sources of statistics can be found here (summary in swedish): http://www.sopor.nu/Rena-fakta/Avfallsmaengder/Statistik

However, when did we redefine recycling to include incineration? There is no environmental benefit to redefining verbiage to skew the data and make ourselves feel better. Let’s just stick with the actual facts and forget the clever re-directions: Sweden recycles about 49% of their trash, they incinerate about 50% and the remaining is landfilled. No sugar coating needed.

Paid to Recycle

Rethink Recycling

It never fails that at least once a week I see articles and reports regarding problems with our recycling system. Across the world we constantly see recyclers going out of business, china refusing to import recycled materials, governments and companies having to constantly funnel more money into recycling programs and an incredible media push to try and increase recycle rates. And yet, with all these problems I have yet to see an article that proposes a paradigm shift – instead it seems the thought is; “we will make up our losses with volume”.

Interestingly, you will never see recycling the way we attempt it today occurring in nature. I have yet to see a natural process that takes a wilted flower, chops it up and recreates a new flower; or feathers that have fallen off a bird reattached to another bird. Even if this is were theoretically possible, the resources required to do such a thing would make it too inefficient. This is similar to the problem we see in our current method of recycling – the resources required to complete the process are not equal to the value of the recycled material. This results in the unsustainable system we have today.

Perhaps it would make more sense to follow the example of what has worked for millions of years. In nature, waste materials are broken down into basic building blocks (soil, air, water) in a process that instead of requiring resources, provides value into the overall system (bio-degradation). These building blocks in turn are used to rebuild almost anything. This is a sustainable and resourceful process – true recycling. This is also a process that we can replicate today. Isn’t it about time we replicate the genius of nature and quit propping up unsustainable systems?

There is no arguing the serious growing environmental problem with the waste that is being produced and that recycling the way it is structured today will NOT solve that problem.  If we are to get serious about sustainability and solving the global plastic pollution issue we need to stop sticking our heads in the sand and incorporate various solutions, with recycling being one of them.  BUT, and that is a very big “but”, we have to stop pushing bad and misguided ideologies. All plastics are technically recyclable (meaning reusable as a polymer) and if society is going to financially prop up recycling businesses – we should be requiring them to take all plastics.  Additionally, for the long term objectives, all plastics should be biodegradable to ensure the polymer itself does not linger after it’s useful life.

To achieve success, we must all work together, recyclers should be accountable to embrace new technologies and join the group of us trying to solve the global pollution issue rather than simply cherry picking ideal applications, holding a facade of environmental motivation and ultimately simply looking to return a profit.

Perils of forgeting the rubber…

Photo Courtesy of Malaysian Rubber Board

Photo Courtesy of Malaysian Rubber Board

For hundreds of years we have relied on rubber to produce superior products and materials, and the importance of using rubbers in our daily lives has increased significantly. In fact, more rubbers are used today than have ever been used in history. Yet somehow we forget about the waste of rubber products when we discard them.

Plastic has received the brunt of the attention, but rubbers have historically flown under the radar when it comes to waste management. Interestingly enough, municipal waste is comprised of 13% plastic (which we hear about every day) but Rubbers make up over 8%  and no-one says a word.

Additionally, rubber is very seldom recycled meaning that almost all of it goes straight into the landfill where it remains for hundreds of years. That equates to over 40 billion pounds of rubber waste every year going to US landfills.

Are we OK with this?

When will we begin to hold the rubber industry accountable as we have the plastics industry?

There is no reason today to have rubber waste sitting stagnant in the landfill. Technologies such as ENSO RESTORE RL allow rubber materials to biodegrade within the landfill and produce methane that we can capture for clean energy. This means that rather than hundreds of years, the rubber waste I throw into the landfill can be gone during my lifetime.

The solution is available, all we need to do is quit ignoring the problem.

How do you propose we hold the rubber industry accountable?

 

Plastic Recycling: Green or “GREEN”?

 

Recycling is all about the environment, conserving our resources and greening our planet.

Isn’t it?

With the recent onslaught of laws angled at restricting the types of materials allowed to be recycled, one could start to wonder. After all, technically all these materials can be recycled. Are they implying that we should not encourage recyclers to find outlets for new materials? As companies are pushing for new materials that are more sensitive to our fragile environment, recyclers are pushing for laws that prevent recycling these materials, because they want to “protect” their profits and use of traditional plastics?

Are you kidding me?

Sounds a bit more like the green they are pursuing is the money in someones pocket. Even NC Representative Brawley’s site positions “These companies are developing new and innovative technologies to recycle plastic, including the development of new types of degradable and biodegradable plastic materials designed to decompose in landfills or when they are exposed to soil, water, and other natural elements over time. This has great benefits for our environment.” and then at the same time, acknowledges that despite the environmental benefits, we should protect petroleum based plastic recycling. I hear dollar signs  $$$..

I may be out in left field, but wouldn’t it make sense to send all materials that have the potential to be recycled to the recyclers and encourage them to find new and innovative ways to recycle those materials? Why are we OK with only recycling a few select materials?

With the latest reports on recycling rates in the US, it definitely seems our recycling infrastructure has a terminal illness; traditional medicines are not working to solve this illness. PET bottle collection rates are stagnant, HDPE recycling rates have dropped and there is no plan in sight to fix this. Even NAPCOR recognized this in their recent statement “without additional collection efforts or NEW STREAMS OF MATERIALS, the increased capacity will only serve to drive prices to unsustainable levels” and from Scott Saunders of KW Plastics Recycling “unfortunately, the recycling rate is going to stay where it is unless some NEW IDEA pushes recyclers forward.”

How about this NEW IDEA to provide NEW STREAMS OF MATERIAL:

Let’s place all clean materials (paper, plastic, metal, wood) in our blue bin and use the subsidies paid to recyclers to find out how to effectively recycle. and if that seems too radical check out this new idea that is already 5 times more effective than recycling: 35% success rate for waste management

I find myself placing plastics and other recyclable material that are not “on the recyclable list” in my blue bin in hopes that my little bit of rebellion will encourage recyclers to find ways to utilize these materials.   I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this subject.

Innovative Approach has 5 Times the Success of Recycling

The other day I was throwing out the trash and it caught my attention how much plastic waste is not accepted in my recycle bin. Wrappers, blister packs, bags, saran wrap, plastic containers and more all destined for the landfill. Comparing that to my recycle where all I have is beverage bottles, aluminum cans and a cardboard box, the magnitude of the waste problem hit me over the head. With overall plastics recycling in the US averaging near 7%, it is clear that something must be done to address the remaining 93%. And although reports show some increase in recycle rates, these increases are not keeping up with the massive increase in global plastic consumption. Perhaps it is time to focus on the reality of plastic waste – over 30 million tons of it that went into US landfills in 2009. To paint the picture for you, by the time you read this paragraph, the room you are sitting in would have filled up several times over with landfilled plastic. Every year we landfill over 96 million cubic yards of plastic!!

There is a silver lining to this, with today’s landfill management we are converting our landfilled waste to inexpensive clean energy.  In fact, today 35% of all waste is placed in landfills that utilize this methane to energy (methane is produced during biodegradation in a landfill). If this plastic waste had  been biodegradable, it would have converted about 10 million tons to clean energy and freed up 70 million cubic yards of landfill space!!

With today’s biodegradable technology, we have the ability to convert 35% of all our plastic waste to an environmental value, with no need for additional infrastructure or legislative programs. That is 5 times the success of recycling!!

After 30 years of recycling and only reaching a 7% recycle rate, I wonder how long it will take to reach the same or higher 35% rate of landfills collecting and converting landfill gasses into clean energy?  Maybe its time we look at technologies that focus on solving the bigger part of the problem while also supporting the smaller aspect?

So as I finish, I can’t help but wonder, if in the future the power used to run my laptop will come from biodegradable plastics in the landfill…..

Click here to download our informational PDF on Landfills.

BioPlastics Dirty Little Secret

So you know all about bioplastics, Right? You know they are difficult to process, often cause more detriment to the environment than traditional plastics, have limited shelf stability and can be very expensive. But what you may not have known is…..

Nearly every plastic on the market today is a bioplastic! In todays market, when one uses the term “bioplastic” they typically beleive they are refering to a plastic that is sourced from plant materials. What most don’t realize (and many try to avoid admitting) is that most all plastics are made from plant materials!

When I was in elementary school, I had an amazing 4th grade teacher. Of the many things she taught me, one was that fossil fuels were the remains of dinasour bones. Little did my teacher realize the error of her ways. Fossil fuel is primarily comprised of ancient algae (YEP, PLANTS!). So any product made from fossil fuels, is made of……

Plants.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I am not advocating the use of fossil fuels. Quite to the contrary, it is imperitive that we get away from the use of the ancient plants as quickly as possible. These plants have sequestered carbon for millions of years. Carbon that if released into our atmosphere could cause irrepairable damage.

What I am advocating is to educate properly, get rid of the fluff and marketing and call things as they are. The source is not the issue, it is the environmental impact of the source that is the issue. Perhaps we need to identify plastics as “sustainable” or “not sustainable” and leave it at that. Because you either are or your not, it’s that simple.

Secrets of the Amazon – A solution for the Pacific Garbage Patch?

For decades we have known that the Amazon is home to more species than almost anywhere else on Earth. Amazon Rainforest constitutes the world’s largest “pharmacy” yielding thousands of previously unknown substances found no where else.  Compounds from tropical flora relieve headaches, help treat glaucoma and provide muscle relaxants used during surgery.  The Amazon Rainforest has also yielded guanine for the treatment of malaria and periwinkle for the treatment of leukemia.  Given the rainforest’s teeming biological diversity, its value to humanity as a laboratory of natural phenomena and as a medical storehouse is priceless.

Recently, the “pharmeceutical” benefits of the Amazon have been expanded to the potential of healing the Earth from the plague of plastic waste. A group of Yale students discovered, quite by accident,  a fungus that  appears to be quite happy eating plastic in airless landfills. This fungus shows a voracious appetite for a very common group of plastics: polyurethane.

Human beings have only begun to catalog and name the creatures that live here.  Home to thousands of varieties of flowering plants, the rainforest supports endless varieties of hummingbirds, butterflies and insects such a the rhinoceros beetle and the army ant.  It is also home to the spider monkey, pink and gray dolphins, Amazon river otter, piranha, anaconda, jaguar, blue and yellow macaw, toucan, harpy eagle, fishing bat, tapir sloth, tarantula, Cayman crocodile, manatee, etc.

The Amazon Rainforest, the largest rainforest and richest ecosystem on earth, has stood inviolate for thousands if not millions of years since its creation.  The profusion and variety of life forms present in the rainforest and its critical role in supplying the world with air has resulted in its being called the “Heart and Lungs” of the Planet. Indeed, the majority of the world’s oxygen is supplied by its dense foliage and teeming plant life which upon first inspection, seems boundless and indestructible.

A recent study by the Smithsonian Institution indicates that about 90% of all of the plant and animal species extant in the world today reside in the Amazon Rainforest and depend upon its complex ecology.  As the greatest repository of nature’s treasures and most significant source of air, the Amazon Rainforest is crucial to the survival of all life on the planet and to human beings’ understanding of their place in the web of life.  In the words of Guatama Buddha, “The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence that makes no demands for its sustenance and extends generously, the products of its life and activity.  It affords protection to all living beings.”

Before the arrival of Europeans and up to the third decade of this century, the Amazon Rainforest covered nearly 45 million acres in what is today Brazil, parts of Venezuela, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador.  Brazil has the greatest amount of tropical forest in the world.  It is also experiencing the worse losses:  between twelve million and twenty two million acres a year, according to the World Resources Institute.

Brazil’s rainforest is being decimated by a vast army of homesteaders, farmers, ranchers and corporate interests that include large scale mining and intensive farming. Drilling and mining leave scars, and farmers find that raising crops quickly exhausts the thin soil of cleared forest land.  Many farmers merely abandon their plots and clear new ones.  The cultivation of crop production leaves rivers polluted with chemicals.  The extraction of gold and other metals fouls waterways with mercury and other toxins used in processing.

Today, scarcely twenty years since the intensification of the development of the rainforest, it has shrunk to 88% of its original size.  It is estimated that each second, an area the size of a football field is destroyed, adding to the daily toll of approximately fifty thousand acres.  In one year, an area the size of Italy is decimated and made uninhabitable to nearly all forms of life.  Already thousands of plant and animal species about whom little was known have been irrevocably lost to the bulldozer, the chain saw and to the slash and burn methods employed by regional farmers, ranchers and miners.

Although its arboreal canopy reaches hundreds of feet into the air, the rainforest and its groves of giant trees are in fact rooted in very shallow soil and exist in a fragile balance.  The rainforest experiences an abbreviated life cycle in which the creation of top soil is bypassed through the efficient decomposing activities of tropical bacteria and fungi.  Rather than collecting in the soil, the nutrients are absorbed by the trees.  A layer of nutrient-poor soil in the rainforest is generally less than four inches deep.  Unlike other forests around the world, the rainforest once disturbed, cannot renew itself, remaining instead a barren sandy wasteland subject to erosion.

At the current rate of destruction, parts of the Amazon promise to turn into great stretches of desert within our lifetime.  The repercussions of this activity are global.  As the rainforest gets smaller, it is less able to supply the world with much needed oxygen or to absorb as much carbon dioxide contributing to global warming and the greenhouse effect.  The burning forest adds even more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere jeopardizing the stability of ecosystems worldwide.

Given the immense size of the Amazon Rainforest and it’s unimaginable bio-diversity, we have just begun to scratch the surface of the solutions residing within. If we can find cures for cancer, malaria, polyurethane waste and more; perhaps it holds the ability to cure the incomprehensible problem we face today of plastic fragments choking our oceans? What other mysteries lie hidden within the green foliage and moist soil?

Did you reuse your cotton bag 327 times?

As crazy as it may sound, plastic shopping bags have risen to the top of the environmental scene – not as a villain but as the winner!

A report released by the Environmental Agency in England has shown though life cycle analysis that plastic shopping bags are most often the best environmental solution, especially if you reuse them once as a can liner (or to clean up after your dog).

The actual report can be downloaded here: Plastic Bag Environmental Comparison

So, unless you reuse your paper bag 6-7 times, or your cotton bag over 327 times, when the cashier asks “Paper or Plastic?” stick with the plastic!

Who is on your front line?

I am an avid recycler, I diligently sort my trash; separate out the paper, glass, aluminum and plastic bottles from the rest of the waste. I even take the recycling home from my office because our complex does not offer recycling. But just last week, my recycle loving world was turned upside down…

After the holidays, I had 3 large cardboard boxes ready for my curbside recycling pickup. I was able to fit one in the can and the other two I sat carefully next to the can on the roadside (check out the photo with this blog). When the recycle truck came by, I watched in awe as the driver first crushed my can; had to get out of his truck to pick up the can and pull the box out of it; then hop back in his truck and drive off. He never even touched the other two boxes! Why, I thought, could he take a box out of the can, but not pick up the same size box from next to the can?  Does it make sense to send another truck out to get the remaining boxes? What about the extra fuel consumption? How does this impact the environmental picture?

My entire mood for the day was dampened by this frustration and I even began to wonder why I should go through the effort of recycling when the collection crew obviously did not care to take it.

Earlier this week I had another experience, while boarding the city metro I was greeted by a cheerful smile and a driver asking how my day was going! This driver was amazing! A kind word to every passenger as they boarded; she made sure to know every stop each passenger needed; and even chased down another bus through several stops to make sure one of her passengers made their connection! The ride was so utterly enjoyable, that I began to search for additional routes that I may be able to take on future occasions. I began to calculate how much time and fuel I could possibly save by using the metro as opposed to driving; how much more productive my time could be; and the extra environmental impact I could make by doing so.

As I stepped off the metro, I reflected on these two events and realized the immense impact that such simple gestures could have. One causing me to question my desire to recycle and the other igniting a desire to find creative ways to add more public transportation in my life. Each of these people impacted my life, my views and my actions without even knowing it. These people are the ones on the front line in every company, interacting with your customers and leaving a message with them. They are often not the highest paid, or even the most recognized – but in many ways, they may be the most important and they are the front line of your company. Giving them inspiration, or desperation; loyalty to you or to your competition; saying we want your business, you are a valued customer and we appreciate you.

Or are they saying something different?