Tag Archives: technology

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.

landfill biodegradation

Manufacturers Beware!

Have you ever thought about where your plastic garbage goes?

Shopping for items packaged in plastic may end up costing you more in the long run; that is, if you discard the packaging incorrectly. The same could be true for plastic manufacturers if California passes their latest bill (Assembly Bill 521) on “extended producer responsibility”.

Right now; in San Francisco, California it is against the law to not recycle your trash.  That’s right…you; as a law abiding citizen must separate all of your garbage, recyclables, and compostable items.  To ensure that all citizens are complying with this law, trash auditors check garbage bins the night before it is scheduled for pickup. If you do not comply after several warnings, the non-complying residents will receive fines and/or have to take educational classes on recycling.

Taking this a step further, California is now working towards making plastic manufacturers responsible for the end of life of their product; ultimately, charging hefty fines for material that is not disposed of properly.  (This, after recently making the word biodegradable illegal on labeling)

So who is responsible for all of this plastic pollution that is littering our oceans and filling our landfills? Is it the consumer?  Is it the plastic manufacturer? Is it the recycling industry? (Who happens to discard more plastic than it recycles.) California may think they are doing the right thing by penalizing those who are in the path of plastic – from beginning to end – but they’re not supporting or encouraging better solutions…so who’s fault is it, really?

Despite whose responsibility this may be; it leads to a very important question…”Why are we not producing plastic that is biodegradable or even marine degradable? And, (ok, two questions) if there is a solution, why, as consumers and manufacturers, are we not jumping on that solution?”

I think that if there is a solution to this plastic pollution problem and a plastic manufacturer is using a product that is proven to be biodegradable and/or marine degradable, they are showing their end-of-life responsibility and it should be encouraged and rewarded amongst those companies; as well as, consumers who use such a product.

Does such a product exist?

Yes!

ENSO Plastics has created an additive, that when added to the plastic manufacturing process will cause the plastic to become biodegradable; as well as, marine degradable. There are two customizable blends that offer many options to manufacturers – ENSO RESTORE and ENSO RENEW.

This is the solution California needs to recognize, before they start penalizing all of their citizens and plastic manufacturers. California may want to make the people responsible, but I think the state needs to be responsible by allowing new technology and better options for their residents and local commerce.

Wake up California! The solution is staring you in the face!

 

Are We Our Own Worst Enemy in Fighting Plastic Waste?

The “Green” plastics industry can be very puzzling.  When I first came to this industry, I felt great that I could be involved in something that’s good for the world.  Save the world!

But then, one starts to question if the world even wants to be saved – bizarre.  This industry includes bioplastics, composting, recyclers, oxo-degradables, PLA, Biodegradables, brand owners, manufacturers and of course our wonderful legislative leaders – each with differing perspectives and objectives.  I’m fortunate to be involved with a company that provides multiple options, so I don’t have a single horse in this race.  But I’m certainly happy not to be betting on a few of these ponies.

Nevertheless, there is no single technology available that can address all the problems or appease everyone, but there are solutions that do take a very responsible approach to the problem of plastic waste, depending on realistic methods of disposal.  And this is where we run into a problem.

The recyclers do not want anything to contaminate the recycling stream.  Understandable, it’s a viable industry, but the infrastructure is not capable of handling a significant enough percentage of the plastic output.  I strongly support increasing our capacity to recycle. Yet, we have just as much, if not more, ability to harness landfill methane capturing (LFG) for clean, cheap energy. And due to the fact that the majority of this plastic is heading that way (landfill), we need to focus resources on supporting this effort.   We can’t dismiss the greater value for the sake of a fledgling industry, it doesn’t make sense.

California (legislatures), you’re the mother ship for the quagmire that prevents innovation.  California, for some very curious reason, supports solutions that are absolutely incapable of being a viable option for plastic waste.  There are more practical options that address “plastic pollution” without compromising efforts to reuse.  Limiting manufactures to one technology that supports only compost-ability, especially when this is such an inferior option in the big scheme of plastic usage and waste, is mind-boggling and counterproductive.

We have a raging river of plastic being produced every year, over 30 MILLLION TONS, the very large majority of this material is heading to a landfill – it needs to be managed.  Many companies don’t want to get in the game, too much fluid legislation and regulation – shocker.  Many adopt solutions that placate the cause of the day, despite their full knowledge that it is fundamentally flawed.

We need to get our heads out of our proverbial asses and start addressing the bigger problem, the larger percentages.  There are amazing technologies out there, but there is no doubt that we are getting in our own way of making incredible progress.   This is a young and rapidly evolving industry; the progress being made to address the fundamental problem we face is phenomenal.  Instead of hindering ourselves with knee-jerk legislation and bans; perhaps we allow our ingrained ability to rise to the occasion with innovation.  Technologies that have misrepresented their performance should not stand as the be-all to end-all to what we can achieve, it’s premature and shortsighted.

The question we need to ask ourselves is not who will win the race, but what race are we trying to win?

The plastics race is a close one, but PLA shows a clear advantage and recycling continues to drag behind.

The plastics race is a close one, but PLA shows a clear advantage and recycling continues to drag behind.

Bacteria Strain

Bacteria Strain that Biodegrades Polyethylene

Most people understand standard plastics to be resistant to the biodegradation process, but did you know that research from back in 2005 isolated a microbial strain called Brevibacillus borstelensis that is capable of utilizing polyethylene as the sole carbon and energy source?

So what does all that mean and how did they do this?

Soil taken from a polyolefin waste disposal site was used to isolate the bacteria strain that had adapted to its environment and energy source to be able to secrete the enzymes needed to utilize the carbon within the polyethylene chemical chain.  From the research there were a few BIG discoveries with one being that Brevibacillus borstelensis was able to use the carbon found in polyethylene as the sole source of energy.  This is important because we typically find that microbes will develop where there are easily accessible sources of energy.  This is the reason traditional plastics take so long to biodegrade, the carbon is too difficult to utilize by microbes resulting in plastics lasting for hundreds of years in the environment.  We now know of a microbe that is indifferent in using the carbon from polyethylene plastic or from other sources.

This research has opened the door to better understanding the adaptive nature of those microscopic creatures we share the planet with.  Although we can’t see them, they outnumber the human inhabitants by a factor of many trillions of them to each one of us.  They have also had millions of years more time on the earth than us humans have, and are instrumental in the cleaning process of creating a healthy viable planet.  There is a lot we can and will continue to learn about the tiniest creatures we call microbes.

To read the full paper: Biodegradation of polyethylene by the thermophilic bacterium Brevibacillus borstelensis

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2672.2005.02553.x/full

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toyota Using Sugar Cane Bio-Plastics To Replace Oil-based Plastics

http://www.themotorreport.com.au/52711/toyota-using-sugar-cane-bio-plastics-to-replace-oil-based-plastics

Toyota, who has long been experimenting with the use of bio-plastics in vehicle production, is now using a newly developed bio-plastic derived from sugar cane in its Japanese-market Sai Hybrid Sedan.

Originally released with 60 percent of its exposed interior surfaces made from bio-plastics, the new model, to be released on November 1, will have no less than 80 percent of its interior exposed surfaces – including seats – made from the new sugar-based bio-material.

The new bio-plastic is employed in high-use areas such as the seat trim and carpets. Toyota testing confirms that it matches petroleum-derived plastics for durability and cost, while outperforming other bio-plastics for heat-resistance, durability and shrink-resistance.

Toyota developed its bio-polyethylene terephthalate (bio-PET) by replacing monoethylene glycol (commonly used in PET manufacture) with a biological raw material derived from sugar cane.

It may not be commonly known, but the manufacture of the Lexus CT200h achieved a world-first when bio-PET ecological plastic (derived from plants) was employed in its boot lining.

USF Student visits ENSO!

Here at the ENSO corporate office, we currently have a special guest visiting with us for 2 weeks. Heidi Grace Paintner, a student at the University of South Florida and is currently working on a project for her MA in Global Sustainability. The Patel School of Global Sustainability at the University of South Florida was the nation’s first school of its kind and is seen as an educational leader in this growing field. This program aims to train students to be leaders in the area environmental stewardship and prepares them for work in “green collar” occupations.

The title of Heidi’s thesis/project is PET Plastics: Biodegradability & Sustainable Packaging in the Bottled Beverage Industry. She found ENSO when researching solutions to the current landfill crisis the bottled beverage industry is struggling to resolve. We are very excited to be working with her and helping her to further develop her research in the area of sustainable beverage packaging.

Today was Heidi’s first day at the office. After meeting everyone and showing her what we do here at ENSO, I helped her to develop a bottled beverage consumer survey. If you all could please take a moment to participate in this survey, Heidi and I would greatly appreciate it. The survey is now closed.

The survey pertains to PET plant based plastics and the perception consumers have on their biodegradability. She will be using the results of this survey in her research project. Tomorrow she will meet with Del, the VP over our Environmental and Technology group and begin learning about the legislative issues that surround biodegradable plastics. ENSO is very excited to have Heidi with us for the next few weeks!

The Influence of Packaging on your Purchase

Recently I have become extremely aware of the packaging of different products. Water bottles, flavored water, protein powder, gum, candy, food, soda, gum, shampoo, lotions, feminine products, toothpaste etc. all wrapped up in packaging to be sold and quickly thrown away never to be seen by the consumer again.

Whether a brand chooses to use earth friendly packaging materials (ex. ENSO plastics) standard plastic, or other materials, the way the product is packaged is carefully engineered in a way to grab potential customers attention.

lemon and raspberries juicy fruits

Does Deceiving packaging really work?

Have you ever experienced a moment in a store where the packaging of a product looks so good that you purchase it and the product well, just ends up being disappointing? I know that I have. One time I purchased a flavored water that had juicy fruits, water splashes, and a vibrant name on the packaging. When I opened the drink and took a sip, I was so disappointed. There was no fruity flavor, vibrancy, or juiciness…it wasn’t even as quenching as plain water. Since then I have not purchased the drink again.

If the product does not live up to its packaging chances are people will eventually switch to a different product or brand. But if brands can convince customers to make that one purchase, is that successful to them? If two competing brands are exactly the same but one has better packaging, does that brand win?

Another thought, can packaging ever be so good that it gains loyal customers just because of its packaging?


These are just some things to think about. Next time you’re in a store try to be aware of what you’re thinking when choosing a product(s). Let me know how much you let packaging influence your decision! I am interested to hear everyone’s thoughts on this topic.

 

Bio degradable Vs. Recycling

capitoll hill enso plastics

 

 

Capitol Hill


I recently had the pleasure of going back east to DC involving meetings on Capitol Hill where the discussion of biodegradable materials in the recycling stream was the main focus. After the representative from a recycling organization gave his presentation, I then gave mine. We were perceived to be in opposite corners, so we were asked to speak in the same meetings so as to address any clarifying questions that might have come up after our presentations. It dawned on me that this perception brought on by the recycling organizations (APR and NAPCOR) are in actuality NOT TRUE!


Truth


ENSO and the recycling community are very much in alignment with the goal of saving our natural resources as long as possible. When ENSO embarked on the overwhelming mission to eliminate plastic pollution from our planet, we had recyclers and their processes as the #1 consideration-everything we came up with had to pass the scrutiny of the question, “does this material have any adverse effect on the recycling stream.” Many years and engineering feats later, we did it!!! We have had dozens of recyclers (or reprocessors) test and actually run the ENSO material through their process to see if there are any issues with the ENSO plastic. With no exception, 100% of them have indicated that they would never know it was an ENSO bottle if we have not told them. Scientifically, that has to be true because our mix does not even chemically bond with the plastic it is being mixed with.


Recycling & Pollution


ENSO and the recycling community are very much in alignment, so much that we feel we are at stake with their success -the recyclers are in a tough market currently, as it seems they are being diminished on every turn. They are not allowed to participate in decisions regarding innovations to help the environment, but rather are left to deal with the new materials as they show up in their processing. Some of the reprocessors are worried about staying in business because of the issues arising from trying to sort out extremely incompatible materials like PLA (corn based plastic) from their PET bottle stream. They have indicated to us that they literally cheered because an environmental plastic was made that did not affect their bottom line by contaminating their recyclate material. Daily, companies using plastic are getting increased pressure to “stop polluting the environment”. For instance, almost daily I see news about plastic bags being banned around the world. And although the blame should not rest solely on manufacturing, something HAS to be done. We need to demand a new attitude towards the use of plastic. ENSO is a real and tangible solution to not only keep recycling intact, but also do much, much more. Globally, the human race is only recycling 5% of all plastics…think about that for a minute. Since when did you ever accept a 5% success rate as a viable solution under any circumstance? Could you imagine an oil spill clean-up effort saying, “Welp, we’ve cleaned up 5% of the spill, the rest well act as if there is no issue.” Yet it is happening right before our eyes when it comes to addressing the end of life issue of plastics. Why not make plastics biodegradable so when they are thrown into a landfill, they can contribute to the growing practice of creating clean energy from landfill natural gas? Renewable, green, clean, smart…intelligent -all describe this value proposition! Companies using it, and handling it will also add the description, “profitable” –but that’s their little secret.

 

ENSO

 

Our message is clear, “recycle ENSO plastic wherever, and whenever you can. But if you fail, (and there is a 95% chance of that happening), know that you are still in harmony with our planet because this plastic will biodegrade naturally utilizing the earths microorganisms (microbes).” The environmental issues surrounding plastic use are rising, not decreasing. People that recycle, will always recycle-they will not change their values to all of a sudden become “litter bugs”, because something is recyclable and biodegradable. A national poll done on our behalf supports this, and also says that 61% of America believes it is more important to have plastic biodegradable than recyclable. Also, recycling will not rid the planet of plastic pollution, just delay the fact that inevitably everything plastic will end up in a landfill. ENSO says that we can have both, and if you are a consumer, you should demand both, and if you are a manufacture, you would do well offering both. What more can manufactures do? (They have already reduced our plastics down to where the next step for a bottle is a zip lock bag!) The answer? Companies and brands can get smart and innovative. Doing this now creates opportunity for growth in market share because they are seen as smart and innovative, and consumers like both to have that coveted loyalty. We can have recycling and ENSO’s solution to long term plastic pollution a complimentary package to bridge the battle between pro-environment vs. plastic use. My mom called that, “having your cake, and eating it too.” We each might be required to pay a penny or two extra per bottle for this added environmental value, but with the way things are going right now with all of the plastic building up on our lands and seas -“do the math” is another momism that is very appropriate. – Del Andrus

Single Use Plastic Bags: Ban or Become Biodegradable?

Whether you are well versed in the single use plastic bag debacle or if you are just hearing about it, action needs to be taken to prevent these breed of bags from causing any more damage. Many countries and cities have either banned single use plastic bags completely or have placed a tax on the plastic bag. Getting rid of these plastic bags entirely makes sense for environmental issues but whats happening in response is cross contamination, and the waste of reusable bags as well. What if we had biodegradable single use plastic bags that were also recyclable, a new start for the single use earth friendly plastic bag. ENSO has the technology to create single use biodegradable & recyclable plastic bags, Why not take advantage of this?- Megan Bentley

 

This is an interesting article that inspired this blog, Make sure to give it a read there is a lot of great information!

Countries That Have Banned Plastic Bags

We all know how terrible plastic bags are for the environment—they choke wildlife, they don’t break down in landfills (or in oceans), they add to our demand for oil, and they aren’t easy to recycle, which is the biggest reason why 90 percent of plastic bags in the U.S. are not recycled.

Yet an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year—380 billion of those in the U.S.—and governments have been slow-moving at best to do anything about them.

Starting January 1, 2011, single-use non-biodegradable plastic bags will be outlawed in Italy. And while plenty of questions remain about the ban’s rules and efficacy, it’s a considerable leap, seeing as how Italy uses 25% of all the plastic bags in Europe — around 25 billion a year.

Neighboring Bulgaria‘s move to impose a tax on plastic bags as of July 1, 2011, as reported in the Sophia Echo is only the latest attempt across Eastern Europe and the Middle East to discourage the use of disposable bags.

The nascent Environment Ministry in Syria – where an estimated 15 million bags are consumed each day just Damascus and the area around in the capital — has distributed fabric and paper bags to markets as part of a campaign to get people to just say “no” to plastic bags. While paper bags are not particularly environmentally friendly in their manufacture, they pose less of a danger to animals.

In the United Arab Emirates, dead camels have been found with lumps of plastic in their stomach weighing up to 30 kilograms — the equivalent of 4,000 plastic bags. According to the UAE’s Ministry of Environment and Water, which plans to ban plastic bags in the UAE by 2012, 85 percent of emirate residents “say they have heard or read about the detrimental effects of plastic bags, but fewer than half do anything about it.”

Turkey is also taking slow steps toward breaking the plastic-bag habit, though they have not been without some implementation troubles. The Kadıköy district of Istanbul was praised last year for being the first municipality in Turkey to ban plastic bags.

In California, the ban started in San Francisco in select stores; if pending legislation goes through, it could soon expand to all stores not only in the city, but in the entire state. A similar ban exists in coastal North Carolina and was recently passed in Portland.

 

In 2007, Modbury became the first town to ban the plastic bag in Britain, where 13 billion plastic bags are given away every year. If customers forget to bring their own, reports the Times Online, “a range of bags made of recycled cotton with organic and fairtrade certification will be available from £1.50 to £3.95 and cheaper paper and biodegradeable cornstarch bags will cost 5p and 10p.” Other cities have followed suit, some just a few months ago, and there are efforts to make London plastic bag-free by the time the Olympics come around in 2010. According to the Daily Mail, “Londoners use 1.6billion plastic bags a year – for an average of just 20 minutes per bag.”

Mexico City adopted a ban last summer—the second major city in the western hemisphere to do so.

India seems to be taking the lead in bans on plastic bags, although enforcement is sometimes questionable. Cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Karwar, Tirumala, Vasco, Rajasthan all have a ban on the bag.

A ban went into effect (with little notice) in Rangoon, Burma, late last year.

In neighboring China, the use of plastic bags is restricted.

Plastic bags have been banned in Bangladesh since 2002, after being found to be responsible for the 1988 and 1998 floods that submerged most of the country.

Rwanda is the country, which has had a ban on plastic bags for years, has a reputation for being one of the cleanest nations not only on the continent, but in the world.

Sydney’s Oyster Bay was the first Australian suburb to ban plastic bags. Twelve towns in Australia are now said to be plastic bag-free—an effort to cut down on the estimated 6.7 billion plastic bags used in Australia every year.