Tag Archives: biodegradable plastics

FMCG’s, please THINK DIFFERENTLY

The latest estimates indicate that 8300 million metric tons (Mt) of plastics have been produced to date. As of 2015, approximately 6300 Mt of plastic waste had been generated. Despite the efforts of the last 40 years, only 9% of this material is getting recycled. The environmental impact of plastic pollution is wreaking havoc and if smarter decisions are not made regarding how this material is being managed the effects will certainly be catastrophic for the entire ecosystem.

We have a plastic pollution problem, not a plastic sourcing problem. It begins in design, not disposal. Whether the resin is petroleum based or bio-based, if that complex molecule that’s been created does not perform in accordance with the common method in which this waste is effectively and customarily managed, especially when the returns contribute to lowering CO2, increasing clean energy recovery and eliminating plastic waste as an environmental pollutant, then the sincerity of the entire sustainability platform should be questioned.

The vast majority of this plastic pollution is coming from FMCG companies that rely on single-use/non-recyclable packaging to deliver goods. The packaging provides unparalleled performance and value in achieving this purpose. However, the post-consumer repercussions are disastrous. Consumers are being used as scapegoats, blamed for low recycling rates and even buying the product in the first place, but most consumers are dutifully ensuring this material is in fact being sent to a managed waste environment. But sustainability professionals within FMCG companies fail to recognize and capitalize on this asset that sits under their proverbial noses.

This problem must be viewed through a different lens and nothing is more critical in accomplishing this then getting a handle on how today’s waste is actually managed and the intrinsic value propositions that exist in complying with these infrastructures.

The “New Plastics Economy” neglects Energy Recovery

When the Circular Economy model was introduced, it was built on finding ways to recoup value, especially as it pertains to the end-of-life. It was about finding ways to derive growth and increase value from existing infrastructures. Better value propositions with predictable results. It was an ‘all options on the table’ approach to looking at our resources through a different lens to ensure materials are “cycling” at the highest level possible, at all levels. Then, the “New Plastics Economy” emerged and something’s not adding up.

I know this is going to be confusing to some, but we absolutely cannot and will not be able to recycle our way out of the negative environmental impact plastics are causing. At their end of use, plastic can be captured, sorted, and it can be processed, all of which takes immense amounts of resources. But in the end, if the commodity is worth less than the processing costs, it’s an exercise in futility. It doesn’t make sense, if it doesn’t make cents.  Besides, recycling only extends the life of plastics (limited in cycles); it is not an end-of-life solution.

Companies like Waste Management (the largest residential recycler) have openly admitted this challenge and fully disclose that, if you want it to be “recycled” it’s fine by them, but both the processing costs and the profits will be baked into the contract… This does not mean that those non-recyclable plastics will get recycled into new products, just simply collected and processed over into the landfill.

And what’s the single largest recycler on the planet telling those in sustainability circles? If they really want the “biggest bang for the buck environmentally,” they should be focusing on the innovations within their “large-scale mixed-waste anaerobic digesters.” Actually, they say “today’s modern landfills,” but the word “landfill” can be a trigger word for some people.

Nevertheless, this industry has harnessed economies of scale and science, improving landfills and making “garbage dumps” a thing of the past. Today’s highly engineered modern landfills operate under strict federal and state regulations to ensure the protection of health and the environment. Today, 85% of U.S. municipal solid waste (including the vast majority of plastics) ends-up in landfills that trap gases which generate power for industries, provides heat for homes and clean burning fuel for vehicles. The industry is also advancing carbon sequestration in landfills, preventing carbon from re-entering the atmosphere.

Ironically, the New Plastics Economy paints itself as the group that’s all about exploring and driving innovation to solve the issues we face, even going as far as offering a $2 million dollar award.   While at the same time, blatantly dismissing the innovations that are available today.

Being unwilling to recognize and utilize the advances that are available to elevate the actual end-of-life value seems to be extremely shortsighted for any economic platform, especially when that value-add is ENERGY. By simply ensuring materials are designed for the ENERGY value that today’s modern landfills provide, not only could we begin to eliminate plastic waste from our environment, but those 64 billion lbs. of plastic going into a landfill each year has a value of over $15.5 billion in base load clean renewable ENERGY – predictable and measurable.

Most importantly, if the idea is to build a sustainable and thriving economy based on plastics, opposing the ability to include the fundamental aspect of recovering ENERGY at the final stage is an enormous lapse in judgement. ENERGY is one of the single-most important factors in economic growth. By its very nature, our economy is predicated on exponential growth. It is under constant pressure by many factors such as debt and population growth to continually and infinitely expand. What many policy makers and, by extension, people, don’t understand is that continued economic growth in our current system is completely reliant on a continuing increase in the availability of ENERGY to perform work. One cannot collect materials for recycling, process recyclate, nor make new products from recycled material without ENERGY.

The last two hundred years of accelerated growth in mankind’s numbers and achievements were only made possible by cheap, easily available fossil fuels.  It’s been reported that in the next 20 years we will need to harness 50% more ENERGY to support our economy. Everything, including the lifecycle of plastics, should be tied to utilizing the resources we have today to produce clean renewable ENERGY in the most cost effective manner as we possibly can.

The New Plastics Economy states that the reinforcing of recycling is economically more attractive than ENERGY recovery.  Systematically, this is not true and flies in the face of the Circular Economy model which is meant to replicate the nutrient cycles in nature. Most all carbon materials in nature are converted into energy during their natural nutrient cycle.  Plastics should be no different. Prosperity and the conservation of our planet will not be reached with platitudes about theoretical innovations in this theoretically-flawed New Plastics Economy.

Recovery Cannot be Ignored in a Circular Economy :

Hierarchy

There’s about 78 million tons of plastic waste produced each year that is non-recyclable, non-reusable, already light-weighted and unavoidable. The next feasible option we have to “cycle” this material at its highest level possible is in energy recovery.  Fortunately, the vast majority of this material is already entering a waste-to-energy facility and there’s no need for infrastructure or behavioral changes. For this to happen, these applications simply need to be designed conducive for anaerobic environments.

The recovery of Landfill Gas-to-Energy provides predictable results and a better value proposition for single-cycle applications than any other disposal method we have available today.   As we embark on creating a “Circular Economy” we need to harness the resources available to us.  The idea is to recoup, or recover, the greatest value possible within a products life-cycle, including disposal.  Plastics cannot be recycled perpetually, it is not an end-of-life solution.  In order to get plastics out of the environment and into the grid, it falls on producers, the brands and manufactures, to ensure its applications are designed to comply with this disposal method.

A collaborative approach is vital, yet there are still some companies, even ones who’ve pledged their commitment to creating a circular economy, that scoff at the idea. Unwilling to design for disposal and dismissing the returns of alternative energy, they stay committed to a recurrent single strategy for nearly half a century.  Is it because consumers won’t understand?  I doubt that, but using consumer comprehension as a litmus test in harnessing innovation may not be the best idea.  Besides, as a consumer myself, I’d prefer an honest approach that provides intrinsic benefits, and less of my own involvement, to being misled that anything’s really being done at all.

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Circularity with Single Cycle Packaging

Let’s look at the issue of plastic waste and how we can use the circular economic model to resolve some of the problems that we face, that’s ultimately spilling into our environment.   Some 300 million tons of plastic is manufactured globally each year and “plastic packaging” accounts for about 78 million tons of it. That’s 172 billion pounds of non-reusable, non-recyclable and unequivocally unaccounted for plastic waste. This includes items such as flexible packaging, films, foamed material, small items, contaminated material, complex/multi-layer applications and anything colored, where recycling and reusability are practically non-existent.  These are single use, single cycle, applications.  Also, there’s unanimous agreement that the vast majority of all these applications are destined for a landfill. And these are not the demonized landfills from days gone by; I’m talking about today’s modern landfills that are now energy generating power plants.

This discussion is not for the consumer, this is for the difference makers, the sustainability managers, the leaders that can make a difference. They’re the companies that, according to Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), are to be held accountable for the post-consumer aspect of its products and packaging. I’m talking about companies like Kraft, Coca-Cola, Nestle, PepsiCo, P&G, General Mills, Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg, Mars, Unilever and all the brands under them.

companies

We all know, or the data tells us, that this is the single most common disposal method of all this material. It should also be known that waste-to-energy has proven to be one of our greatest resources for alternative energy.   Whether it’s an anaerobic digester, a bioreactor or today’s modern landfills, most plastic packaging is ultimately ending-up in a unique anaerobic environment that is controlling and converting biogas into clean energy. Some of these companies utilize the energy from landfills, yet they haven’t put the pieces together to figure out that the very trash that their products produce could be the feedstock for the alternative energy resource they’re already harnessing. Too often, the end-of-life aspect is ignored or swept under the rug with theoretical contemplations about disposal methods that simply don’t exist and senseless confusion.

Yet, nearly all 50 states include landfill gas-to-energy as part of their green energy portfolios. It’s recognized by the United Nations, the EPA, as well as dozens of Fortune 500 companies and government organizations that all utilize energy from landfills.  However, the dots just aren’t being connected.   I recently asked the Director of Sustainability for one of these 10 companies about this topic and they honestly said that they’ve never heard of such a thing and can’t imagine that we’ll ever get our energy from slowly decomposing waste. Yet, three years ago this same company won top honors by the EPA as one of the largest on-site green power generators because of its use of Landfill Gas-to-Energy (LGE) to power its manufacturing facilities! Seriously, why the disconnect between what companies are doing and what companies should and could be doing to think more circular? Imagine if you will, this same company implementing landfill biodegradable packaging and then using the energy from landfill gas.  This is true circular economy thinking, especially when energy needs will increase 50% in the next couple decades.  Without requiring any change to the infrastructures in place today and without modifying consumer behavior, these single use applications can be designed to cycle at a higher level.

I’ve heard the idea that plastics should be made NOT to biodegrade in a landfill because one day we might want to mine for this material. This is completely asinine and assumes that we’ll have a need to mine for this material within the next couple hundred years.  The reason being, plastic will eventually biodegrade, we just won’t be able to capture the gases produced if we wait too long. Instead, if these applications were designed to biodegrade within the managed timeframe of these anaerobic environments, for every million pounds of plastic waste that enters a LGE facility, it offers the equivalence of over 422,000 pounds of coal, 52,000 gallons of gasoline and more than 1100 barrels of oil, which is used to power homes and factories, as well as fueling vehicles!

The technology is readily available to make most any polymer application anaerobically biodegradable, or commonly referred to as Landfill Biodegradable.   The technology does not change any processing parameters, there’s no change in any performance characteristics, and it’s not expensive. In fact, for about the price of a Tall Cappuccino, tens of thousands of Starbucks Coffee cups can be designed to biodegrade in a landfill.   These multi-layer applications are not being reused or recycled, but they are going to a landfill. So what gives, is it because of the misguided concept that landfills are bad? Perhaps it’s time to reevaluate the integral role of this disposal method that rely so heavily on; a lot has changed since the 80’s. In fact, you could say that we’re now diverting 75% of all MSW away from landfills, because the type of landfills that are being vilified are becoming obsolete – quickly.

A single loop system for handling our plastic waste is impractical, circularity does not mean singularity, there’s too much at stake, too much potential, and the infrastructure is already in place so there’s no need to implement Cass Sunstein’s “nudging” tactics to change consumer behavior. Besides, the fact that none of this material can/will be recycled is not because of consumer behavior, its feasibility and market demand, and it’s just not there. A company wanting to take accountability for its packaging needs to answer one candid question: What is the common disposal method of the application? Then, do what can be done to take advantage of this fact and understand the value in having our waste integrate into our waste infrastructures instead of working against it. The facts, the science and all the data, prove that there’s an enormous opportunity being overlooked.  I believe the circular economic model can work for plastics, but not if it’s simply a rebranding of the last 40+ years of rhetoric.

It’s NOT Magic; It’s Science!

Some of the fondest memories that I have of my childhood include the magic of the holidays. As a child believing that a mystical being would surprisingly arrive at your home to leave gifts and candy was amazing. I mean really, what could be better than finding an Easter basket filled with candy, or waking up to find money left under your pillow in exchange for a lost tooth, or the mother of them all, waking up on Christmas morning to find a room filled with toys and candy.

As an adult thinking back on those days I find it simply amazing that so many people were in on keeping that magic alive. Friends, family members, teachers, neighbors, stores, media and complete strangers were all part of building that magical, mystical time of our lives and we believed it no matter how inconsistent the stories were. We wanted to believe it because it was magical and simply awesome. But unfortunately we grow up and are eventually let in on the big secret of what happens behind the magical curtain. Oh sure, it’s devastating as a child to be told about the big lie, the big secret.

As a father myself, I have become all too familiar with what it takes to keep the holiday magic alive for my children and someday for my grandchildren. As an adult I have learned the difference between believing in magic and believing in scientific facts and data. This is probably one thing that led me to starting a company that is passionate and dedicated to providing fact based real environmental solutions for plastics and rubber.

In heading up such a company I have been amazed to learn that some adults have hung onto the belief that magic still exists! Being part of environmental company focused on solving the global plastic pollution problem I have seen and heard quite a lot of amazing, bizarre and flat out crazy ideas and beliefs. Over those past seven years. I have seen firsthand just how cutthroat so called “environmentalists” can be to others. There are a lot of opinions out there as to what the best approach is to solving our environmental problems, and there are still people out there that believe in magical solutions to our environmental problems. I have actually heard grown adults call the process of biodegradation; magical, make believe, and mystical. And although the microscopic world is magical to describe – it is not magic at all – its science.

This leads me to the point of this article, it is not magical thinking, voodoo, or other types of mystical conjuring or hopeful thinking that is going to solve our global environmental (specifically plastics) pollution problems. Its downright solid science! Science based on the realities of having shelf-stable products, our consuming habits, and factual assessments of the conditions and infrastructures currently handling our plastic waste. All that scientific data is then used to develop solid solutions for addressing plastic pollution and waste “TODAY”, not tomorrow, or sometime in the distant future!

Too many times we read articles or press releases by companies announcing some future plan to address the plastic waste that their products and product packaging are producing. They usually say some absurd comment that by 2020 or some very far out there timeline, that they will have a solution to address the waste that their products produce, or even worse they do nothing tangible and announce that they support the recycling of their product and packaging and yet the realities are that their product/packaging isn’t recycled. There are even others who promote personal opinions as fact or they make up magical, unrealistic and flat out ridiculous solutions that are not based on any scientific facts, and are hopeful at the very least.

What we need to solve plastic pollution is to stay focused on the realities and facts of where plastic waste is being disposed of; which are landfill environments. The facts are that over 90% of all plastics are disposed of in landfills. You may not like hearing that, but none the less, it is a fact and one that cannot be ignored (although some try really hard). Once we come to the realization of where plastics are being disposed of we can develop solutions that best fit these existing infrastructures. For example; here in the United States, plastics will end up predominately in landfill environments with a seriously distant second being that of a recycling environment and lastly some plastic are incinerated or becomes litter. There are no (zero, none, zippo, nada) industrial composting infrastructures that readily accepts and processes industrial compostable plastics. And, when you look at the science behind many compostable plastics they do not scientifically show to be a solution to plastic pollution.

Knowing this fact about where our plastic waste is being disposed of in it leaves us with our two existing infrastructures of landfills and recycling. Again, you may not like this reality but to ignore this fact would be ignorant and would prevent real solutions from being implemented that would actually make a difference.

Recycling basically takes care of itself, if the plastic material is recyclable and that item is placed in a recycle facility it will most likely get recycled. Keep in mind that placing plastics into the recycle bin does not make that plastic become recycled. Only specific types of plastics are recycled, these are based on the economics of recycling that specific type of plastic.

But what about the +90% of plastics being disposed of in a landfill environment? Did you know that landfills today are designed significantly different than they were 20 years ago? Modern landfills are designed to manage the gases that are created as a result of biodegradation. When carbon material (food, plastics, yard waste, plant debris, etc.) is disposed of in modern landfills the biodegradation process from microbes creates methane gas. Methane gas is also called natural gas and is flammable. Modern landfills collect and convert landfill gases to energy. Today, over 74% of municipal solid waste is disposed of in landfills that capture and convert landfill gas to green energy – and to top that off, it is the least expensive form of green energy available, cheaper than hydro, solar and wind.

This process of converting landfill gas to energy is already happening today, there is nothing you or I need to do to make this happen, except to just change the way we think about plastics. What if plastics could be designed to be recycled (when and where possible) and also biodegrade when disposed of in a landfill, where the gases generated from the biodegradation process would be collected and burned to create green energy? Did you know that nearly all of the states that make up the United States have landfill gas to energy included in their green energy portfolios? This is all happening today and all we have to do is be smarter about our plastics!

Some might call this magic, magical or even voodoo; but here at ENSO Plastics we call it Science – a fact of life or reality! Come check it out for yourselves. Let’s move away from believing in the magical or hopeful yet- to- be- created solutions for plastic pollution and focus on science, facts and data to start making a difference today.

California Energy Commission Recognizes the Value in Landfill Gas to Energy

Its no argument that California is home to the largest population in the United States. With over 37,000,000 California residents, Californians no doubt produce A LOT of waste. In fact the state produces over 42 million tons of waste per year. The majority, I mean the vast majority of this waste being disposed of into landfill environments. When organic material (not the Whole Foods organic, the carbon based organic) is disposed of into landfill environments the biodegradation process of organics in these type of environments (low oxygen) produces a tremendous amount of methane gas. This gas, (methane) is a very potent greenhouse gas and if not handled properly would be very bad to release into the atmosphere. Luckily we have solutions for handling the methane produced from landfills. The California Energy Commission recognizes that a good solution to handling the methane gas that is generated from landfill sites it to collect the gases and convert it to green energy.

As of July 2013, California has 78 operational landfill gas recovery projects with 32 additional landfill candidates. In 1995, the 42 landfill gas to energy sites produced a total electricity production of about 246 megawatts. Today with over 36 additional sites the production of electricity is much higher.

Landfill gas to energy has been commercially utilized in California now for several decades with the state including landfill gas to energy as part of its green energy portfolio.

If California and nearly all other states within the United States recognize the value in converting landfill gas into energy, wouldn’t it make since that we take measures to ensure that the waste that goes into landfills would biodegrade within the managed time-frame of that landfill? If you answered yes, you would be thinking the same way we do and this is why our ENSO RESTORE landfill biodegradable additive is such a value added technology. Plastics enhanced with ENSO RESTORE allow brands, manufacturers and consumers to know that regardless of it that plastic item will end up disposed of in a recycle stream or landfill it will provide a value outlet and will no longer be looked at as just waste or garbage.

You can view the California Energy Commissions website on landfill gas to energy here: http://www.energy.ca.gov/biomass/landfill_gas.html

Just the Facts! Landfill Gas Renewable Energy

What is landfill gas?
Landfill gas is the product of the anaerobic decomposition of organic materials in a landfill. Methane comprises approximately half of this gas and can be converted into a renewable energy product. The EPA established the Landfill Methane Outreach Program to promote landfill gas beneficial use projects by partnering with states, local governments and the private sector. This program is a cornerstone of federal renewable energy initiatives.

What kind of energy can landfill gas produce?
Electricity generation is the most common energy recovery use, with two-thirds of existing projects producing this form of renewable energy. One third of the projects directly use landfill gas in boilers, dryers, kilns, etc.

Companies using landfill gas include BMW, SC Johnson, Tropicana, Ford, Dupont, Honeywell, Sunoco, General Motors, Fujifilm, Dart, Stouffers, Anheuser Busch, Frito-Lay, and many more.

How many landfills convert gas to energy?
According to EPA’s Landfill Methane Outreach program, as of July 2013, 621 landfill gas energy recovery programs are operating in the United States and approximately 450 other landfills are good candidates for these projects.

What are the energy benefits of using landfill gas as a renewable energy source?
As of October, 2012, existing recovery projects produced annual amounts of 14.8 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity and 102 billion cubic feet of landfill gas for direct use.

EPA estimates these products provide annual energy benefits of powering 1 million homes — a little fewer than in the state of Nevada and heating 736,000 homes — about the number of homes in Maine.

What are the environmental benefits of using landfill gas as a renewable energy?
In addition to the energy conservation benefits provided by converting landfill gas into a renewable energy product, reduces greenhouse gases produced by fossil fuels such as natural gas, coal, diesel or other fuel oil. EPA estimated for 2012 that landfill gas recovery projects had an annual environmental benefit of carbon sequestered annually by more than 21 million acres of pine or fir forests OR carbon-dioxide equivalent emissions from 238 million barrels of oil consumed OR annual greenhouse gas emissions from 20 million passenger vehicles.

Landfill gas recovery is recognized by EPA’s Green Power Partnership and 37 states as a source of green, renewable energy.

Landfill gas is generated 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Its generation is not dependent on environmental factors such as the amount of sunlight or wind. In fact, landfill gas supplies more renewable energy in the United States than solar power. Landfill gas recovery has an on-line reliability of more than 90 percent.

Find the original National Waste and Recycling Association document and Landfill Gas Renewable Energy Fact Sheet here: http://beginwiththebin.org/images/documents/landfill/Landfill-Gas-Renewable-Energy-Fact-Sheet.pdf

Paper beats plastic? How to rethink environmental folklore

Most of us want to do the right thing when it comes to the environment. But things aren’t as simple as opting for the paper bag, says sustainability strategist Leyla Acaroglu. A bold call for us to let go of tightly-held green myths and think bigger in order to create systems and products that ease strain on the planet.

Plastic-eating worms may offer solution to mounting waste, Stanford researchers discover

An ongoing study by Stanford engineers, in collaboration with researchers in China, shows that common mealworms can safely biodegrade various types of plastic.

By Rob Jordan
Mealworms munch on Styrofoam, a hopeful sign that solutions to plastics pollution exist. Wei-Min Wu, a senior research engineer in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, discovered the larvae can live on polystyrene. (Photo: Yu Yang)

Consider the plastic foam cup. Every year, Americans throw away 2.5 billion of them. And yet, that waste is just a fraction of the 33 million tons of plastic Americans discard every year. Less than 10 percent of that total gets recycled, and the remainder presents challenges ranging from water contamination to animal poisoning.

Enter the mighty mealworm. The tiny worm, which is the larvae form of the darkling beetle, can subsist on a diet of Styrofoam and other forms of polystyrene, according to two companion studies co-authored by Wei-Min Wu, a senior research engineer in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford. Microorganisms in the worms’ guts biodegrade the plastic in the process – a surprising and hopeful finding.

“Our findings have opened a new door to solve the global plastic pollution problem,” Wu said.

The papers, published in Environmental Science and Technology, are the first to provide detailed evidence of bacterial degradation of plastic in an animal’s gut. Understanding how bacteria within mealworms carry out this feat could potentially enable new options for safe management of plastic waste.

“There’s a possibility of really important research coming out of bizarre places,” said Craig Criddle, a professor of civil and environmental engineering who supervises plastics research by Wu and others at Stanford. “Sometimes, science surprises us. This is a shock.”
Plastic for dinner

In the lab, 100 mealworms ate between 34 and 39 milligrams of Styrofoam – about the weight of a small pill – per day. The worms converted about half of the Styrofoam into carbon dioxide, as they would with any food source.

Within 24 hours, they excreted the bulk of the remaining plastic as biodegraded fragments that look similar to tiny rabbit droppings. Mealworms fed a steady diet of Styrofoam were as healthy as those eating a normal diet, Wu said, and their waste appeared to be safe to use as soil for crops.

Researchers, including Wu, have shown in earlier research that waxworms, the larvae of Indian mealmoths, have microorganisms in their guts that can biodegrade polyethylene, a plastic used in filmy products such as trash bags. The new research on mealworms is significant, however, because Styrofoam was thought to have been non-biodegradable and more problematic for the environment.

Researchers led by Criddle, a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, are collaborating on ongoing studies with the project leader and papers’ lead author, Jun Yang of Beihang University in China, and other Chinese researchers. Together, they plan to study whether microorganisms within mealworms and other insects can biodegrade plastics such as polypropylene (used in products ranging from textiles to automotive components), microbeads (tiny bits used as exfoliants) and bioplastics (derived from renewable biomass sources such as corn or biogas methane).

As part of a “cradle-to-cradle” approach, the researchers will explore the fate of these materials when consumed by small animals, which are, in turn, consumed by other animals.
Marine diners sought

Another area of research could involve searching for a marine equivalent of the mealworm to digest plastics, Criddle said. Plastic waste is a particular concern in the ocean, where it fouls habitat and kills countless seabirds, fish, turtles and other marine life.

More research is needed, however, to understand conditions favorable to plastic degradation and the enzymes that break down polymers. This, in turn, could help scientists engineer more powerful enzymes for plastic degradation, and guide manufacturers in the design of polymers that do not accumulate in the environment or in food chains.

Criddle’s plastics research was originally inspired by a 2004 project to evaluate the feasibility of biodegradable building materials. That investigation was funded by the Stanford Woods Institute’s Environmental Venture Projects seed grant program. It led to the launch of a company that is developing economically competitive, nontoxic bioplastics.

Co-authors of the papers, “Biodegradation and Mineralization of Polystyrene by Plastic-Eating Mealworms. 1. Chemical and Physical Characterization and Isotopic Tests” and “Biodegradation and Mineralization of Polystyrene by Plastic-Eating Mealworms. 2. Role of Gut Microorganisms,” include Yu Yang, Jun Yang, Lei Jian, Yiling Song and Longcheng Gao of Beihang University, and Jiao Zhao and Ruifu Yang of BGI-Shenzhen.

Click here to read the original article: https://news.stanford.edu/pr/2015/pr-worms-digest-plastics-092915.html

This paper is really fascinating as it moves us forward in helping the mainstream understand the importance of microbes in dealing with waste. The earth has been around for billions of years, with microbes having been here for the past millions. These microscopic organisms are very adaptable and I believe will continue to show their importance with helping humans deal with the pollution that we generate. All animals create waste of some kind and these little guys are here to help break down that waste into the building blocks of nature. Its the same concept that ENSO has pursued since our beginnings; use nature as an example of how to manage waste.

Ithaca College bans disposable utensils from compost

Ithaca College bans disposable utensils from compost

By Faith Meckley — Staff Writer
Published: January 28, 2015

Ithaca College can no longer accept disposable forks, spoons and knives that are labeled as “compostable” into the compost collection bins, and all utensils must now be thrown into the trash.

Mark Darling, sustainability programs coordinator, said Cayuga Compost, the company that accepts and processes the college’s compostable waste, notified the college of the new ban and set a compliance date of Jan. 1.

The Ithacan reported April 9, 2014, that the utensils were not breaking down at Cayuga Compost, according to an interview with co-owner Mary Proctor. At the time, Proctor said Cayuga Compost had plans to test the utensils.

Bobby Seymour, compost operations and marketing manager at Cayuga Compost, said the ban at the operation currently encompasses all disposable plastics advertised to be compostable.

To address the problem, Cayuga Compost first confirmed that compost was being processed correctly at the facility, Seymour said, and then moved forward with obtaining samples from manufacturers and testing the cutlery.

“We’re putting them into our compost windows at different places, bringing them out at different dates and times, recording what the amount of degradation is, if any, and then putting them back in for well over the standard period,” he said.

The standard period Seymour refers to is 30–45 days, which he said is based on U.S. Composting Council definitions.

Seymour said the estimated cost of manually removing the cutlery contamination from Cayuga Compost’s windows was $21,000 for the year 2014.

“We came to the conclusion that unless and until manufacturers change or we can find truly compostable products that we had to make the decision to stop taking them,” Seymour said.

Both Darling and Seymour said this is an issue happening across the country, and Darling said he believes it is rooted in the lack of state legislation making a clear definition of “compostable.” Green Wave International Inc. manufactures the utensils used at retail locations on campus, like IC Square.

“They’re calling their product compostable because there isn’t a state law that says you can’t use the word compostable,” Darling said. “[Green Wave] misrepresented their product. A portion of their reason is it is compostable … and they’re saying that the whole product is therefore compostable, when in fact, it is not.”

John Calarese, executive director at Green Wave, said the product should break down in approximately 90 days. Green Wave’s website indicates that products will break down into finished compost in 120 days.

“Our product is probably the heaviest product out in the marketplace from all competitors involved,” Calarese said. “Our heavy, full-sized piece of cutlery will take more time to decompose because of the weight of the product, not the composition of the product.”

In response to Darling, Calarese said the product contains no plastic and is wholly compostable.

A study conducted in 2009 in Vermont by Green Mountain Compost tested nine brands of cutlery, eight of which were certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute. The noncertified product was from Green Wave, and it was the only product in the study that remained whole at the end of the testing.

Calarese said this test was old, and Green Wave has since earned BPI certification, which can be seen on the company’s website.

While Green Wave does have the BPI seal on its website, at the bottom of the product page in small print there is a specification that only their bagasse products, made from bamboo and sugar cane, are BPI certified. This does not include the cutlery.

Currently there are printed signs hung over waste receptacles reminding students and faculty to place the cutlery into the trash. Darling said his goal is to find a more permanent solution for the college by April 1, when event season on campus begins in full.

The ideal solution, he said, would be to offer reusable options to students.

“Whether it goes to the compost or to trash, you’re still throwing it away — that one piece that all that effort went through so you can use it once and throw it out,” Darling said.

For students who are motivated to find sustainable options, Darling suggested finding a personal reusable cutlery set to carry along. Such sets can be wooden, bamboo or metal. Offering personal cutlery sets for sale at the Bookstore, installing washing stations at places like IC Square for personal utensils and incentivizing students — similar to the discount received for using a mug instead of a paper cup for coffee — are all ideas Darling said he is considering with the help of students in the Resource and Environmental Management Program.

Junior Rebecca Newman, an Eco-Leader in REMP, said she thinks installing reusable utensils in retail locations will be cheaper for the college over time. She said properly marketing personal cutlery sets to students will be important.

“I think people need to think it’s cool to have this,” Newman said. “With the compostables, people feel slightly better when they use them … compost is great, but the even better alternative is to have reusables.”

Newman said educating students on the disposable cutlery ban and marketing reusable cutlery sets to students will be on REMP’s to-do list this semester.

Read original article here: http://theithacan.org/news/ithaca-college-bans-disposable-utensils-from-compost/

This is a good example of the need for more education in the area of sustainable plastics. It is important that products reflex the certifications that they get. Many times companies will get a product certified when the product that will go out into the market is different than what was submitted for certification. This is especially true in the compostable plastics products where the materials need to be rapidly broken down to meet the certification. This becomes a problem for the real world product because it means it does not have the physical properties needed to be effective.

The other side of this conversation is that many people inherently believe compost = good. For most of composting this would be an accurate belief as food and organic green and brown materials are broken down to create a rich soil. However, when using many compostable plastics (especially PLA) the end result is not nutrient rich soil and in fact what remains after a product meeting the ASTM D 6400 is of no value to the soil and can become toxic in high concentrations.

When it comes to the sustainability of our waste it will be required for all of us to increase our knowledge levels to understand the details of what materials are being used with packaging and what type of environment it will be disposed of in, and to make sure that the environmental claims of the performance of the product will in fact perform in the environment that the item will be disposed of in.