Tag Archives: clean energy

By 2050, it’s estimated there will be more plastic waste in the ocean [by weight] than fish. Perhaps, we should start listening to Mr. Fish.

At the 2017 Waste Management Executive Sustainability Forum a message was delivered by Mr. Jim Fish, CEO of Waste Management (WM), echoing his predecessor, Mr. David Steiner.   “The goal is to maximize resource value while minimizing and even eliminating environmental impact, so both our economy and our environment can thrive.”  In 2016 Mr. Steiner told the National Recycling Conference in New Orleans that coupling landfill gas-to-energy with recycling would provide the “biggest bang for the buck environmentally.”   Mr. Fish concurs, specifically points out that WM’s day-to-day operational technology continues to evolve and it will play an even larger role moving forward, both on the collection and disposal sides of WM’s business.   And as Mr. Steiner indicated last year, what’s most exciting to Mr. Fish continues to be what’s happening with the materials that cannot be recycled or composted.   “Today, environmentally safe landfills play an important role for materials that don’t have viable end markets.” Why is this?   Because today’s modern landfills continue to clear all the hurdles, they work, they’re scalable, they’re economical and there are policies and regulations in place to support and encourage the developments of next generation alternatives in this space.   In short, these facilities are pumping-out clean, inexpensive, renewable energy like no other option!

This is where achieving true Circularity comes into play and it’s what most technologies are striving for when it comes to last/best option in handling waste – Energy Recovery. WM spends a great deal of time and expense exploring best possible options. However, one of the major pillars of WM’s strategy is adhering to the price discipline that is Mr. Steiner’s legacy. “In a business where there is no price elasticity in demand, we must stay dedicated to that discipline” and with the current low energy prices, “nothing can compete with the low landfill pricing.” According to Mr. Fish, other options have cost-structures that are at least 3-10 times the cost of landfill air space.

WM remains dedicated to a “sustainable” recycling business. As they should, not only are they the biggest landfill company in North America, they’re also North America’s biggest recycler – by an even wider margin.   In fact, it’s one of WM highest returns on invested capital, a business they want to ensure survives and thrives in the future. But Mr. Fish points out that we are in unchartered waters, the changes in products and packaging that are coming into our homes are significantly different and so are the recyclables going out, considerably increasing contamination rates and reducing value. This has led WM to take a hard look at what recycling means in term of environmental benefits.

When it comes to packaging, Mr. Fish wants us to realize that we’re an “on-the-go” society. This is translating into copious amounts of plastic packaging, much of which simply cannot be recycled.   This “convenience rules” trend is going to continue, causing tension between the desire to ‘recycle it all’ and the limitations of equipment, human behavior and the customer’s tolerance for cost.   With a 6-7% growth in non-recyclable flexible packaging, a 15% growth in E-Commerce and a recycling stream that’s 30% lighter than it used to be, Mr. Fish recommends evaluating the objectives to make sure we’re targeting that which achieves the greatest return value.   He explains, “Environmental benefits of recycling look very different when approached from a greenhouse gas emission reduction perspective versus simply looking at how many pounds or kilograms of material are averted from landfills.” So this got Mr. Fish and the rest of WM thinking, “What‘s the right goal? Is it to keep chasing that last ton to recycle or is it to achieve the highest possible environmental benefit? For years, recycle tons has been the goal and in response to high recycling goals, we’ve seen some creative efforts to achieve these goals. Even when the environmental impacts might be questionable and the economics just made no sense. We now believe that recycling should not be the goal in and of itself, we need to be a lot more specific to ensure that we are achieving the environmental benefits we want to and think we can.”

Mr. Fish goes on to explain that when it comes to the management of organic waste (including packaging) the first priority is in trying to reduce the amount of material from making it this far down the value chain – of course.  However, when this waste is collected for recovery (including non-recycled plastics, even the ones that say “recycla-bull”) it becomes feedstock for a process and a new product, either compost or an energy product.   Anything not designed to comply with either option reduces the quality of this feedstock driving-up cost and threatening the entire process.

To achieve real success, Mr. Fish emphasizes the need to be actively engaged in the entire value chain of material and suggests that we make-up our minds about packaging when talking about organic waste. “Do we love it for preserving food or do we loath it for making waste? Should we ban it, tax it, recycle it, compost it, burn it or landfill it? What are the comparative environmental benefits and the costs?”

Mr. Fish went on to highlight the importance of managing food waste. The main objective here is to reduce food waste and fortunately plastic packaging plays a critical role in preserving our food. Plastic packaging is not food and it should not be expected to perform like food, which would defeat the purpose. Nor should this material be comingled with food waste disposal, elevating the risk of more waste-stream contamination. Besides, industrial composting standards (ASTM D6400) require 90% conversion to gas in 180 days, leaving no nutrient value and losing any ability to capture the gas. In my opinion, compostable standards for packaging, although well-intentioned, simply overshoot any return value.   To jeopardize the entire supply chain with inadequate product performance and stability for the least common means of disposal doesn’t make much sense to me. Instead, more focus should be on the primary means of disposal (anaerobic) and the proven asset that this environment offers, the recovery of clean renewable energy.

Nonetheless, Mr. Fish emphasized that we can attack both sides of this problem. “We are in the midst of rapid change, changing demographics, changing consumer behavior, change in purchasing habits and packaging innovations, all of which are having huge impacts on recycling and the waste industry. Our response needs to be sophisticated and strategic… And as we tackle sometimes competing needs, all of us, producers, retailers, regulators and others, must use data to make the right environmental and economic decisions… We have the data, let’s put it to use!”

The data provides a clear pathway to achieving our environmental goals. Packaging should have the highest value and minimize environmental impacts in its most common discard method– without compromising the package quality. For the vast majority of packaging this does not equate to recycling, instead the environmental and economical winner is conversion to energy in modern, environmentally safe landfills. This shift in creating science and data driven solutions, rather than basing actions on perception or environmental folklore, is vital in reaching WM’s goal to process this material to its highest worth, maximizing the resource value and eliminate the environmental impacts of packaging in a way that’s both good for the economy and our planet.  Although this message seemed to completely elude the panel of experts that followed, discussing the conundrums of complex packaging, I hope others will begin to take Mr. Fish’s advice before we’re all swimming in it.

Power Packed Plastic Packaging

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ENSO’s technology provides a value investment in sustainable packaging. Our material is added to standard resins (including biopolymers) at a 1% load rate during the manufacturing process, just like a colorant. There are no changes in processing parameters or any performance characteristics. However, it ensures proper performance compliance within our anaerobic waste environments. Anaerobic digesters, bioreactors and today’s modern landfills continue to be the single-most common disposal method of plastic packaging and all contribute to the energy revolution that is upon us.  Within these active infrastructures we have an opportunity to reduce environmental plastic waste and recoup end-of-life value.

Waste-to-Energy (WtE) is an active and growing resource, available throughout the developing world. In the U.S. alone, ENSO’s technology provides an immediate 85% capture rate to reduce greenhouse gases and over 75% conversion of biogas into clean alternative energy. The returns are significant, measurable and applicable to greenhouse gas initiatives, energy recovery efforts and the environmental waste problem.  Plus, it provides intrinsic value for consumers as well. With both world and U.S. energy demand expected to increase in the future, America’s energy resources will only grow in importance. Ensuring today’s plastics will be tomorrow’s energy is inseparable from America’s larger prospects for improved economic growth, job creation, security and quality of life.

For less than the average price fluctuation of raw material, pennies on the dollar, ENSO can put real power in your packaging. It is the most efficient way, both economically and environmentally, to elevate the end-of-life value through energy recovery.  Get it out of the environment and into the grid, join the energy revolution!

To learn more, please contact ENSO Plastics.

The Top 10 and Not a 1?

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This diagram represents the top ten producers of plastic packaging. The vast majority of the plastic applications that are produced by these brands become waste. All the film packaging, pouches, diapers, detergents, hygiene products, wrappers, coffee bags, food containers and much more, that’s produced by these 10 companies accounts for an astonishing amount of the plastic waste that is certainly not being reused or recycled in any meaningful way.

We hear a lot that environmental pollution is a consumer problem. We get told how to prepare our waste for recycling. “Put this here and put that there. No! Not that, this. Well, sometimes that, but probably not. Maybe, use water and wash it out. No wait – water..? Take it here or actually take it someplace over there.  Otherwise, it may need to be shipped somewhere..?”  And when you stop to take a look at the results of all this effort, you’re left wondering, are you kidding me, is all this even environmental? Enough already!

News Flash: In the last 50 years, we’ve invested heavily in how we manage waste and the infrastructures we utilize. They’re very impressive works of innovation and they’re regulated for environmental efficiency at the highest level. In fact, today 85% of all U.S. municipal solid waste ends-up in an environment that converts biogas into clean energy, generating a valuable alternative resource for our growing energy needs. Some of these companies are actually using the same means to power their own manufacturing facilities! Yet, accountability for this aspect in packaging design is scarce. How is this being overlooked?

We’re now dealing with decades of plastic waste that’s been left in our environment; we see the devastating repercussions and the projected damage it will cause. Plastic production has surged to 311 million tons and is expected to double in 20 years. Currently, plastic packaging accounts for nearly a third of the total volume of plastics used, and unlikely to be recycled. By ignoring the single most common disposal method of this material, valuable energy is being wasted and continues to compound the environmental problem.

If these 10 companies took one simple step to ensure packaging design for disposal compliance, the impact would provide tremendous and measurable value, for company and community. Getting plastics out of our environment and into the grid falls on the shoulders of producers not consumers.

Ensuring energy recovery should be paramount in packaging design, it’s the only opportunity to recoup value and it should be the top consideration in packaging sustainability initiatives. It’s the missing link to creating circularity; it’s recycling at its highest peak. With an immediate 85% capture rate at the fingertips of corporate sustainability leaders, what are you waiting for?

Sustainable Packaging: Are we wasting valuable energy vilifying landfills?

Biogas is a renewable energy source that exerts a very small carbon footprint and has proven to be an extremely viable resource. The cause is indisputable and the effect holds the key to significantly advancing sustainability in plastic packaging. The cause is a process in which living organisms, microbes, breakdown organic matter in the absence of oxygen (anaerobically). The effect is an immensely valuable alternative energy resource. Although the term for what causes this process cannot be labeled on any plastic packaging or product in the State of California, our ability to design plastic applications to biodegrade in anaerobic environments is the catalyst for advancing our efforts in how we handle plastic waste. To achieve circularity, recouping end-of-life value is imperative and our energy needs are paramount. Today, our most inexpensive disposal method returns one of our greatest needs and it’s already the single most common waste stream for plastics. With our ever growing energy requirements, is it wise to continue to overlook this valuable resource?

Speaking of California, did you know that Orange County just added another landfill gas-to-energy (LFGTE) project, making it the third LFGTE facility in this immediate region? At a tune of $60 million, this highly efficient and strictly regulated facility is not only estimated to reduce CO2 emissions by approximately 53,000 tons annually, but it will also generate roughly 160,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity. Collectively, the three LFGTE operations in this one region alone produce approximately 380,000 MWh of electricity annually, enough to power some 56,000 Southern California homes.

Apple, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, BMW, General Motors, Kimberly-Clark, Mars, UPS, Pepsi and many others have harnessed this valuable resource as an important part of their competitive strategy. The US EPA and the Departments of Agriculture and Energy recognized directed biogas as an emerging technology in a December 2015 report, touting that it “offers the nation a cost-effective and profitable solution to reducing emissions, diverting waste streams, and producing renewable energy.”

Today in the United States over 85% of all municipal solid waste is disposed of into landfills that are already converting landfill gas to green energy! This energy is used to power homes, manufacturing, businesses, schools, and government facilities. These are also the same landfills that are being used to dispose of the vast majority (over 90%) of all plastics used. Think about this; what if all of the plastics being disposed of into landfills were waste-to-energy compliant and would be converted into green/clean energy? We would instantly solve the vast majority of our plastic waste problem and help solve some of our energy shortage problem, all without the need to subsidize billions of dollars.

It is irrefutable that we have the ability/technology to accelerate the biodegradation process of plastics. The question now becomes, where should this process take place? In the New Plastics Economy, the objective is to harness innovations that can scale across the system, to re-define what’s possible and create conditions for a new economy. It’s about deriving greater “end-of-life” value through the infrastructures we already have in place. Today, one of our highest priorities is alternative energy. With the vast majority of plastic waste entering anaerobic environments that control and convert biogas into clean energy, we should probably stop ignoring the elephant in the room.

For more information, please contact ENSO Plastics.

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.

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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.

350, 365 Days A Year

Photo courtesy of 350.org

On Sunday, 10-10-10, people in all corners of the world joined together for a Global Work Party to support the grassroots movement known as 350. Thousands of participants in 188 countries worked on more than 7,347 projects to raise awareness about, and take steps toward solving, climate change. By building community gardens to fortify local food systems and planting trees to offset CO2 emissions, to installing solar panels in the Namibian desert, project organizers hoped to send a clear message to world political leaders: “If we can get to work, so can you.”

Why 350?

Scientists and climate experts say that 350 parts per million is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in our atmosphere; the number currently hovers around 392 ppm, so it’s become a matter of both reducing emissions to keep the number from creeping upward, and changing behaviors to reduce the amount.

It’s a tall order, no doubt, that requires an overhaul of not only our lifestyles, but our political policies, business practices, and everything in between.


A Little Less Talk, A Lot More Action

It’s not just about 350. Reducing carbon emissions and fighting climate change are at the forefront of a worldwide dialogue, and it’s a long conversation. Add to the docket the related problems of the energy crisis, waste management, petro-laden conventional farming methods, the dwindling supply of fresh water, and the discussion could go on forever.

While having a clear understanding of the issues at hand is important, there is more than a lot of work to do to affect change on the large scale. Let’s hope the Global Work Party and similar events will inspire people and governments across the globe to get moving, and make these activities a part of everyday life. But where do we even begin, and how can the average person make a difference?

Getting to 350

Image courtesy of ENSO Bottles

The most sweeping changes must be mandated at the federal and international levels; policy and environmental impact go hand in hand, so a logical first step is to keep up with the issue and be vocal about it. Tell local and state representatives, congressmen and women, and the President how critical the issue is, then get to work at home, at work, and in your community.

Many of us are already working to reduce our impacts, and efforts like bringing reusable shopping bags to the grocery store, opting for the to-go mug instead of a paper cup, and even driving a hybrid car are a great start. But there are other overlooked steps we can take to further minimize our impacts, and make an even bigger difference.

Reduce environmental impacts at home and in the workplace by:

  • Examining daily habits, including consumption, energy, and waste. Track patterns for one month.We often don’t realize how much we are consuming, and how much goes to waste in a typical month-long period of day-to-day living.
  • Consuming less. Buy only what you need, share when you have extra, and use less water and electricity. You’ll save money, and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide your household contributes to the atmosphere.
  • Investing in alternative, clean energy to power your home. The upfront cost of technologies like solar panels is coming down, and many states offer tax credits and rebates to help offset the initial investment.
  • Understanding that all labels are not created equally. Currently, the onus is on the consumer to know what they’re buying. Just because a product claims to be eco-friendly that it really is; research, and substantiate green claims.
  • Changing the way we look at waste. Whether we recycle or not, all waste eventually ends up in the landfill, and can take thousands of years to degrade–if ever. It’s important to look at the inevitable last phase of the cycle, and factor it in to consumer decision-making. For example, biodegradable packaging, like ENSO Bottles, is a good option because it can be recycled along with other plastics, and completely breaks down in the landfill, often in less than a year’s time.
Paying it Forward

Photo courtesy of 350.org

Get involved with grassroots efforts already underway, like 350.org and other local causes. Once we’ve taken steps in our own lives, raising awareness and educating others is the only way to affect change on a large scale. For our kids, families, neighbors and our friends, set the example, and inspire others to take steps toward healthier living, and a healthier planet.

Algae Fuels vs. Corn Based Biofuels

In 2007, due to the Ethanol mandate there was a 400% price increase on corn food products in the world. As a results countries began growing crops by clearing out rainforests. Clear cutting and burning rain forests to make land available for new crops created more greenhouse gases than the total exhaust from EVERY vehicle in the WORLD. When we fill up our vehicles with Ethanol or use corn based plastics (such as PLA) we are contributing to the burning rainforests.

 

BIODEGRADABLE PLASTIC BOTTLES CAN CREATE CLEAN ENERGY

By Del Andrus

With the domestic and world markets looking into alternative energy, it is not surprising that the use of biogas created by our landfills are emerging as an easy answer to clean energy (see bioreactor landfill). What is surprising is that this seemingly untapped resource has been available for decades, and is only now being taken serious as a mainstream source for clean energy.

With countries like England adopting a massive effort to capture and utilize methane from waste off gassing from landfills, it is another exciting development towards a green and responsible stewardship of our planet for future generations to come. Here in the US, we are looking to forge ahead in the ambitious challenge to change the way we are consuming our products and resources, and in turn how we dispose of them. There are the “old school” influences that are entrenched in “status quo”, but do not be fooled, change is here, and the scale is tipping towards a healthier way we treat our planet. We are changing mainstream things that could set a new course our children will look back and thank us for. Look at the city of San Jose, CA were this city’s vision has a goal of using 100% of the city’s electrical power from clean renewable sources.

These are exciting times where innovations like our biodegradable bottles are springing up, and alternative sources for clean power are emerging. We are excited about our involvement in this transformational process that is taking place because we can help rid a pollution problem both from a litter perspective, as well as an emission perspective. Our biodegradable plastic bottles will biodegrade to reduce plastic trash in the environment, and in the process create clean energy from the methane off gassing produced by the degrading process in a landfill. We are first and foremost an advocate of recycling; recycling should and must be the goals of everyone within the voice of our message-please choose to recycle! But with the rates of recycling as low as they have historically been in the US, we take solace in that we can still achieve a positive effect by providing clean power through our plastic PET bottle technology.