Author Archives: del.andrus

About del.andrus

Del Andrus is the VP of Strategic Partnerships 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.

Plastics Recycling-Where Did We Go Wrong Mentally?

 

Ok before the recycling folks and their allies come Para Trooping into my office and try to seize my computer, I need to get out right away that recycling IS good and should be pursued to every extent possible.  This rant is about how best to accomplish this without essentially putting our heads in the proverbial sand!!!

I came across an interesting article in Waste & Recycling, “Coffee makers wrestle with recyclability of single-serve pods” where it speaks to the challenges with recycling single serve coffee pods made by Keurig which was acquired by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc.  Apparently since 2009, the company Terra Cycle has been able to capture 25 million of similar discarded single-use cups, and has been attempting to make good use of them, but it sounds like it is very difficult to nearly impossible to recycle them.  Also, the article says that, “approximately 13% of the U.S. adult population drinks coffee using these single-use cups.”

So let me get this straight:  Approximately 40 million (13% U.S. Population) of these containers are discarded EACH DAY, and the recycling efforts over a 2 year period to recover these cups has amassed a whopping 25 million?  Of which there has not been any useful value found for these lucky cups?  Am I the only one that sees a problem here?  In 2 years it has taken a noble attempt by Terra Cycle (I have much respect for this organization, awesome innovators!) to get nearly half of ONE days worth of consumption of cups, to then turn around and make a useless pile of cups, all in the name of recycling!!!???  Is there no other way to approach this end of life issue?  Is this the best thing we can do with this issue right now –today?  Why does recycling feel so good for the marketplace?  I repeat; 1/2 days’ worth of material collected over the span of 2 years, with no outlet in sight, yet we turn a blind eye to this complete failure because it is labeled “recycling”…so many questions and comments.

So at this point, I should proclaim the easy answer -after all it is easy to be a critic and to point at what is not happening -or flat out failing.  But I do not propose to have an easy answer or “silver bullet” to cure all, but I do have sense enough to see that we need to quit being so brainwashed into thinking recycling is the silver bullet as well.  It is clearly not working alone in that only 7-9% of all plastics are being recycled.  And lets not forget that a vast % of our recycled plastic WAS going to China, and now may not find a home as China’s “Green Fence” is clearly revealing.  We need to incorporate a multifaceted approach to our waste issues and material resources.

What if these cups were made to biodegrade in a landfill where they most likely belong?  75.8% of all Municipal Solid Waste goes into landfills that capture the biogas created by biodegradation.  There has been unprecedented growth in utilizing Landfill Gas to Energy (LGE) in the U.S. recently as the experts now understand that it is better to promote and capture this alternative source of energy, rather than try and stop nature taking its course and entomb or dry landfill our waste.  The “no smoking” signs on an old landfill turned golf course has to make one nervous and draw some obvious conclusions-we cannot stop nature from taking its course. (:

Lastly, the Utopian Societyists say we need to move to 0% landfills.  I say that this is wrong and absolutely impractical.  We should rather be saying we need to achieve 0% waste.  If composting is considered Organic Recycling (which by the way creates 0% energy and captures LITTLE to no emmissions) then similarly, LGE is a valuable alternative to creating useful end of life values towards 0% waste.  Picture that huge pile of unusable “lucky because they were recycled” coffee cups and tell me I’m wrong.  Can we PLEASE do more than bury our heads in the sand and actually address today and tomorrow and not let “best” practices get in the way of the good we could do NOW?  If the total recycling rate of all plastics is 7-9%, that means roughtly 91-93% of our plastics is going to a landfill where it has no further value.  If they were biodegradable plastics like the kind ENSO Plastics assists brands and manufacturing to create, they would slowly biodegrade and be an excellent feedstock to LGE.  If you are one that thinks that recycling is the only answer, I ask you to shift your mentality and question status quo, question what is popular as “best practices” with our waste and push for a multi-pronged approach to our sustainability.  People are smart if they open their eyes and minds to innovations and bury their head in a more progressive endeavor like answering the question, “What more can we do?  Today?”   

-Del Andrus

 

Plastic Bag Bans

Bag Bans – Is That Really The Big Issue?

I recently read a short, but insightful, article surrounding the issues of bag bans.  The bag industry claims that banning bags will result in job loss, negative effects to local economies, hidden taxes, and lower environmental impact compared to paper, etc.  These are important issues to consider, but they really don’t address the real issue of lightweight plastic bags – litter.  The crux of the bag bans are associated with littering of bags whether intentional or not.  I think we have all seen these bags floating in the streets, in bushes and trees, and worse, marine environments. The bag littler looks ugly and in worse case scenarios it kills wildlife!

I think the real issue with bag bans is that we are not identifying the main problem, litter.

Yes, it is true that plastic bags are more environmentally friendly when comparing the carbon footprint, but in the whole scheme of things, should we really be pushing lightweight plastic bags over alternative bag solutions like reusable bags or heavy gauge plastics bags?  When is the last time you’ve seen a cotton reusable bag hanging in a tree?  You don’t!  They are much too heavy and they would end up going to the landfill, just like most of the other plastic packaging that comes with products we purchase.

Who is to blame for this problem? Can we change human behavior?  What can be done to improve processes so that bags are not the problem?  If there was a value to bags, like aluminum cans, would this result in a different outcome?  A recent study titled: “Plastic Film and Bag Recycling Collection: National Reach Study” found that over 91% of U.S. residents have access to bag recycling facilities, but consumers are not utilizing them.  Is bag recycling just too inconvenient?  Not profitable enough for the recyclers?   These are all questions we have asked to try to solve this problem, but perhaps there is a bigger question that we should be asking ourselves:  Are there applications that we should not utilize plastic in?

If we zoom out of the minutia and look at the overall problem, human behavior is at the cause of all of these issues.  But, maybe we can’t change human behavior. Maybe there are some plastic applications, such as bags, that we as humans should say, “let’s just get rid of them, because we aren’t able to solve the problem -other than to ban them”?

This blog is not going to solve the problem or answer the question “to ban or not to ban”, but to bring up the questions that we should be asking ourselves. Maybe we should be ok with banning certain applications of plastics, if they are resulting in damage to our environment.  But, that doesn’t mean that we need to get rid of all plastics!  After all, plastics do have a lower carbon footprint than the alternatives -and it is the material that 25 years ago the environmentalists wanted choose instead of paper.  Who knows the absolute right answer?  If we do now walk away from plastic bags, it would not be the first time our US society has come full circle in their overall opinion…

See what people are saying about plastic bag bans.

 

Regulation: Friend or Foe? Is it coming soon to your town?

We have heard regulatory agencies wanting to do more to protect the consumer and the environment alike.  And while regulation is a necessity for a properly functioning society, what does the current trends of regulation do for your business?  What does it do for our economy?  What does it do for innovation and ultimately the environment?

Unfortunately, there is also an additional qualifying question anyone familiar with the way the world spins around will ask themselves… “it depends on which private business is lobbying for, and what agenda…”  Todays environmental issues have an opportunity to be treated with innovation and forward thinking.  Perhaps never before in our history have we been more prepared and evolved to address the real problems relating to the environmental issues we face.  Words like; Life Cycle Analysis, Carbon Footprint, Sustainability, green movement…the list goes on-all in the name of greening up business and consumer habits.  But at the end of the day, what has been the net result?  Because in the end, what is paramount is results-positive results.

How is regulating this “green movement” helping?  Today, innovations have to answer questions of legitimacy and solid science.  Federal agencies like EPA, FTC, FDA are all both educating and becoming more educated on what the market trends are doing, and what materials are available to help green up materials and processes.  They demand companies to sufficiently demonstrate the validity of their claims, and help to curb “green washing” for the irresponsible opportunists looking to only capitalize on our consumer base sincerely wanting to do the right thing.

We at ENSO take this demonstration of legitimacy and solid science behind our innovative material VERY seriously.  We have engaged top-of-their-field scientific minds to aid in the quest to help our innovation receive the understanding and market reception it warrants.  Sometimes innovation outpaces conventional understanding, and what helps bridge the gap between innovation and acceptance is education and credibility.  Some of these processes take more time than desired, but in the end, things that are worthwhile and lasting often endure hurtles.  Many of our past innovations were looked at as a “pipe dream” only to turn into life changing propositions for markets-cars, electricity, a round earth etc. all took time for conventional wisdom to catch up to these innovations.

Today, I believe the market is ripe to receive an increase in both innovation and education, with responsible regulatory agencies sifting through relevant information to help environmental and economic impacts in our market.  Although the budgets in many agencies have been drastically reduced, they are hard at work to create a viable market which will include an earth friendly future marketplace.  Hopefully this work combined with everyone’s convictions and individual effort will drastically reduce the length of time processes can take, so we can more efficiently make innovative materials a positive conversion in our market.  So all can answer, regulation is a friend, not a foe.  One thing is for sure, we need regulation, as long as it helps an ever evolving marketplace.  Indeed nothing these days seem to remain static, questions and answers will always evolve, and so will regulatory process.

 

Biodegradable Packaging-Nature Does it, We Should Too!

It dawned on me the other day when I was peeling a banana that nature uses its own “packaging” to protect food based material.  Yes I am talking about the banana peel as the example.   It seems as though a Banana will spoil within almost an hour when unpeeled, but if left in its peel (packaging) it will be protected for weeks being off the tree.

We peel oranges, bananas, corn etc. all paralleling the value ENSO plastics brings to the market.  The phrase, “nature does not produce anything that it cannot then break back down into its basic components” is so perfectly illustrated in this banana peel example.  Anyone will tell you, that when a banana peel is discarded in nature, they feel it will biodegrade (and I would also bet most would additionally picture someone slipping and landing on their backside because of a discarded Banana peel).

Nature accomplishes this miraculous process through the relentless activity of microorganisms designed to eat anything that has carbon available to “eat”.  Fruit, vegetables, leaves, meat etc. are just a few examples of the millions of items that are produced by nature, which will break back down into its basic microscopic components through the process nature provides.  These microbes are found everywhere, in fact there are more microbes found in a tablespoon of soil than inhabitants on the Earth.  Microbes are commonly known in high colony activity known as mold or fungus.

This nature produced packaging is a perfect parallel to what ENSO packaging is doing.  We see that we can initiate microbes to start the eating process of our treated plastic because they detect highly attractive food substances in our additive.  Once they begin to consume the additive, their digestive process, or enzymatic response, expands to consume the whole of the plastic and the additive.

This feature of our plastic working in harmony with nature is at the heart of our message to the world.  We can do things differently than we have in the past, and break out of “status quo”.  We can embrace innovation to foster change, and work with nature as opposed to working against nature.  The rewards overpower the downside when evaluated.  The upside to utilizing ENSO is growing in its understanding and impact.  Weather it is for a business wanting growth for doing the right thing, or the environmental impact of plastic on our planet, ENSO is here to help be a part of creating lasting, positive change.

During this New Year, we want to acknowledge those who are active in this change by utilizing ENSO material as part of their environmental mission.  In some instances, change has required courage and passion.  Anything worth-while has had to pass through the “growing pains” of society; hopefully those who have converted to ENSO has had more “growing” than they have had “pains”.  But in any event, the issue is too great, and the opportunity too real for anyone to not stand up and demand more.  So we want to invite others to create change for this New Year; to create a distinct legacy-whatever your position is at your company.  We invite those making key decisions for materials at their company to stand up and create change. We invite those who need to learn more about ENSO to make the decision to open their minds and get educated-misunderstanding or ignorance is part of the problem we face as a society, education can open up so many possibilities.  We invite all to hold ENSO to higher standard as well, and develop more information and answers to new questions and applications.  I hope everyone has a New Year’s resolution to be actively engaged in positive change to our environment, and elevate the status quo at your company/position to a new level of reality; even a higher standard.  We live in exciting times where someday I hope all of us can look back and say, “I was part of that great change in the market.”

 

Making green claims without ‘greenwashing’

by Sharmel Ali  sharmel.ali@csr-asia.com, csr-asia.com
As environmental awareness is increasing in Asia, so is the rise of “Greenwashing” – i.e. making misleading claims or statements on the environmental credentials of products or processes.
Whilst consumers in this part of the world might not yet be as cynical as their Western counterparts, smart companies should look ahead and ensure that they get it right, to avoid future loss of consumer trust and confidence. However, not all ‘greenwash’ is deliberate, but is based on companies misunderstanding of terminologies or good practice. And consumers are still interested in bona-fide green credentials, so how can companies get it right:
  1. Do the homework –Ensure that the green claims of the business, product or service are true and consistent with wider business activities. Example: A large cosmetics company were promoting their fund-raising for breast cancer research, but were attacked by activists for including carcinogenic substances in its products
  2. Be honest and humble – Nothing is perfect and honesty goes a long way. If the business or company is not 100%, don’t pretend it is. By acknowledging the areas of products or business that are not yet green and show commitment towards addressing some of the concerns, there is a better chance that stakeholders will trust the claims that are made. A small modifying word can often do the trick. Example: Carlsberg’s longstanding “Probably the best beer in the world” – is almost impossible to dispute
  3. Provide documentation – The information and further/relevant details should be made accessible to the public. Are green claims certified based on established eco-labels, methods or experts? Companies should make it easier for customers to be able to understand and check on green claims being made. Example: M&S have an extensive website documenting and explaining all in-store claims
  4. Consult stakeholders – Engaging with stakeholders, both internal and external, in a dialogue on green marketing – is invaluable. It shows the company’s good intent, willingness to want to improve and its concern for the views of their stakeholders. This in itself is not only good practice but inherently a good branding opportunity. Companies can take the opportunity to find out if their green claims are acceptable to their staff, suppliers, customers, NGOs and the community and check on whether they are on the right track or seen to be greenwashing. Example: Several alcohol producers now have stakeholder panels who comment on whether their advertisement is ethical
An honest green story starts from inside the company, not from a marketing idea that a company tries to spin. Starting from an honest place does not mean that companies have to think small. Greenwash isn’t worth it – the longer term repercussions of dishonesty in ‘false’ claims without actual substance are more negative than positive at a time where consumers are becoming more aware, and where information is easily accessible. If a company seeks to jump on the green bandwagon and ultimately improve their green standing, branding and reputation – it is far better and more rewarding to take an honest, transparent and realistic approach in alignment with an actual proactive interest in understanding the real issues and in addressing them.

ENSO Plastics Brings Legitimacy to a Young Market

We all know that the biodegradable plastics industry is just in its infancy.  What many might not be aware of is all of the “back end” work that ENSO has been doing for the market.  ENSO Plastics is doing many things to provide value to the plastics industry as it applies to the environment.  Offering solutions for plastic to serve its useful life, and once disposed of be valuable both as recycled material and within landfill environments, is part of the big picture.  ENSO also provides market value and legitimacy in ways unlike typical corporate organizations and much more as a not for profit, or NGO.

ENSO has an environmental mission that remains pure throughout our business activity.  Part of the mission requires us to honestly look at the REAL impacts of our activity and integrate REAL solutions.  We realize the need to foster legitimacy in our industry that will be of benefit to not only our customers; but to the market as a whole, and even our competitors.  We believe that just “slinging” product for the sake of profit is not being a responsible steward of our environment, and is culturally at odds with the way we feel here at ENSO.  We are in this to change the way the plastics industry and consumers alike view and treat plastic.

In creating this monumental change in such a vast industry, like plastic, there is a massive amount of education and legitimate data that needs to be presented.  Unfortunately, there is the fact that traditional business is done with the idea that competition does not want anyone else to succeed.  Because of this dynamic new industry and its complexities, ENSO is doing things non-traditionally and has seen the needs of the market and responded appropriately.

We have brought together the world’s top experts in different fields of science to bring the most compelling and comprehensive data collecting to help foster the growth of this particular industry, and to bring value to brands and manufacturing all the way to the end consumer.  All in an effort to further the knowledge and acceptance of what we consider to be a “turn in the traditional plastics market”.  Bringing together top polymer and engineering scientists like Georgia Tech’s Research Institute (GRTI) Materials Center; as well as the University of North Carolina State, and the Department of Civil, Construction, & Environmental Engineering is only part of the effort ENSO has undergone to develop the understanding and education of our marketplace and its regulating bodies.  Much of this effort is ongoing as this technology is new, and more applications will bring new questions specific to its market.

The important precept ENSO Plastics takes very seriously is that in order to go to market with a product, credible and repeatable scientific data needs to be the foundation of all innovation.  Second to that precept is the need for the innovation itself to be a major positive for the environment.  Without these two keys, a product is only interested in one thing – taking advantage of environmental marketing opportunities with no positive impact on the environment; in other words, GREEN WASHING.

Having the support and “backing” of world class institutions and experts in their fields eliminates these basic concerns; as these entities will not stand for anything other than scientific truth.  The market is full of political and personal manipulation, seeking only to bring certain products to market, while attempting to discredit or eliminate others from the market.  ENSO is set apart from this kind of business model by only seeking credible, non-biased individuals and institutions to work with.  This is a higher standard that state and federal regulators have to appreciate because the industry does not get more knowledgeable, independent and credible than the world’s leading experts.  -Del Andrus