Author Archives: Marie Look

Plastic Disclosure Project Will Make Companies’ Progress Public

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In September 2010, the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) announced the launch of the Plastic Disclosure Project to publicly track and report businesses’ plastic use.

The concept is very familiar to the already implemented Carbon Disclosure Project, an online database where thousands of international organizations annually disclose their greenhouse gas emissions and climate change strategies.

The Plastic Disclosure Project would survey companies on the types and quantities of plastic used in their operations and distribution processes as well as their overarching goals and management plans when it comes to their use of plastic. CGI’s goal is that the results of these surveys be used not only by the companies themselves, but also managers and investors at other firms and businesses when considering how to save money, whether efficiency could be improved with new packaging designs, and if material restrictions are necessary.

When enough of this information reliably gathered and made public, the hope is that it will be utilized in all the major financial and policy-making decisions at companies, leading to reduced negative environmental, waste and health impacts around the world.

CGI has already secured $5 trillion in investments for the Plastic Disclosure Project, with the survey managed by Project Kaisei and Kaisei’s partners, The Association for Sustainable and Responsible Investment in Asia, and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Doug Woodring, co-founder and director of Project Kaisei, points out that the severity of the harm plastic has done to us and our environment we are only now coming to understand. “Global consumption of plastic has outstripped our infrastructure in waste management,” Woodring says.

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The first survey is scheduled for the first half of 2011, and Credit Suisse, a financial services company that advises businesses around the world, has already agreed to include plastic-related strategies and issues in their analysis of the environmental and social impacts of portfolio companies. Additionally, questionnaires will be circulated on behalf of the investors to a global list of corporates, especially in sectors which are identified as having significant plastic footprints.

It’s crucial that businesses take major steps toward more responsible manufacturing and management of plastics, since their actions and decisions so often drive those of consumers. Traditional plastics are hazardous to the environment and humans’ health because they have such a long lifespan; they break down into ever smaller pieces but never fully return to natural elements. The organization Rise Above Plastics says, “With the exception of a small amount that has been incinerated, virtually every piece of plastic that has even been produced still exists in some shape or form.”

The solution to the plastic pollution issue involves effectively using and reusing no more than we absolutely need and reducing the amount of non-biodegradable plastic that ends up in the environment. Companies who commit to the Plastic Disclosure Project will be leading an example to other companies and the public that simple actions like supporting biodegradable packaging, for example, ENSO Bottles, can add up to make a huge, positive change.

For more information on CGI, visit the organization online here.

Putting Biodegradable Plastics and Methane to Work for Us

When organic material and ENSO Bottles are broken down by microbes in landfills, the decomposition process results in the creation of many gases, including methane, which can be very harmful to humans, animals and the environment if not handled properly. But methane also has the potential to be very beneficial to society if a nationwide system could be put in place to give it a practical use, such as supplying our homes with electricity.

Maybe you’ve heard the term “landfill gas.” Methane and landfill gas are not one and the same, although methane does account for roughly 40 to 60 percent of landfill gas on average; the remaining percentage is a mix of carbon dioxide and small amounts of various other elements.

Methane has its pros and cons. At room temperature and standard pressure, it’s non-toxic and odorless; however, it can be highly flammable as well as an asphyxiant, meaning it displaces all the oxygen in an enclosed space and could cause a person in the room to suffocate. Methane is also known to accelerate the breakdown of the ozone layer and contribute to global warming. And according to the Environmental Protection Agency, it can remain in the atmosphere for nine to 15 years.

But municipalities that have the means to safely harness the gases coming off landfills can put methane to work for them in a positive way. When you compare methane to the other hydrocarbon fuels, also known as fossil fuels (for example, coal and petroleum), methane produces less carbon dioxide when burned, leading many to argue it’s a greener alternative when it comes to heating homes, powering stoves or running our cars. Methane can also be converted to electricity right on-site at a landfill, providing cities with a relatively convenient and cost-effective way to add power to its electrical grid.

This is how it works: Garbage arrives at a landfill, where it’s compounded and left to decompose (1). As the microbes eat away at organic matter and other biodegradable objects, ENSO Bottles included, the process creates landfill gases (2) that enter underground pipes (3). The pipes transport these gases (4) to a facility where any and all harmful contaminants, such as mercury or sulfur, can be filtered out and neutralized. After the methane is isolated, it can be pumped into an engine (5), which powers a generator, which creates electricity (6). Cities that employ this method can add the power generated by their landfills right into their power supply grid. What city wouldn’t want such an efficient system in place?

According to the EPA, of the approximately 2,300 currently operating (or recently closed) municipal solid waste landfills in the U.S., more than 490 have wised up and utilize landfill gas energy projects — that’s up from the 395 programs that were in place at the end of 2005. And, the EPA has identified at least 515 additional landfills that would be good candidates, which would be capable of producing enough electricity to power more than 665,000 additional homes in the U.S.

Ideally, we would live in a culture of zero waste, where every product manufactured is reused, recycled or reclaimed, but the reality is, landfills are very much a part of our society and won’t be going away any time soon. So one thing we can focus on right now is supporting biodegradable products, such as the plastic bottles ENSO makes, as well as projects that reclaim energy from landfill methane in order to ensure that what we toss out as garbage will live on to heat our homes, power our vehicles and make our waste management system just that much greener.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch and Ocean Plastic Pollution

Marine life can mistake pieces of plastic for food.

Imagine you’re sailing the waters between Hawaii and California. The sun is at your back, the wind is in your hair, and there’s a giant pool of plastic garbage larger than the state of Texas in front of you.

Meet the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — an enormous mess of plastic and other litter swirling around in a system of rotating ocean currents called the North Pacific Gyre. Not only is the Patch incredibly damaging to the environment, but it could also be permanent unless we reform plastic production around the globe.

See, the world produces around 300 billion pounds of plastic every year, and the Clean Air Council reports that Americans throw away 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour. Only a fraction of all this plastic is recycled, with the majority ending up in landfills. Sadly, some is also dumped illegally into our oceans by various civilian, military, cruise and merchant ships, and by other means.

The problem with traditional plastics in oceans is the same problem with traditional plastics in landfills — they could last there for hundreds or thousands of years. The sun, saltwater, currents and other elements aren’t enough to break down objects like PET plastic water bottles; the plastic will only disintegrate into smaller and smaller pieces that never fully decompose into biomass and bio-gases. Marine life can mistake these small pieces of plastic for food, eat them and become poisoned. And even if the plastic isn’t ingested, it still leaches toxic chemicals that, once released, are very harmful and impossible to collect and remove.

A traditional PET plastic bottle could last for hundreds or thousands of years in the ocean.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is 90 percent plastic, making it the ultimate example of the negative impact plastic has on our oceans. And it and other areas like it (yes, there are more) will continue to endanger plant and animal life unless manufacturers begin producing plastics that can biodegrade into safer components.

One thing that could prove crucial to this battle is the presence of oceanic microbes like bacteria and fungi. Bottle developer ENSO Bottles has designed a form of PET plastic with organic compounds in its molecular structure — nutrients that the microbes find irresistible. These microorganisms eat away at the plastic, breaking it down into non-harmful matter in a process that typically lasts between one and five years. A traditional PET plastic bottle, on the other hand, could potentially take hundreds or thousands of years.

Where our oceans are concerned, this new biodegradable PET plastic could mean the difference between a giant floating patch of plastic the size of Texas … and cleaner oceans for generations yet to come. Which version of the future will you choose to support?

For more information about the technology ENSO Bottles uses, visit

To learn more about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the effort to eradicate it, visit

Are Bioplastics Really as Biodegradable as You Think?

Starch from corn is used to create PLA plastic.

When you hear the word “bioplastics,” you might imagine a bottle or container that easily breaks down into soil and other natural matter soon after it’s tossed — but that’s not necessarily the case.

Bioplastics are made with ingredients from renewable sources, such as potatoes and corn starch (also called PLA plastics), rather than petroleum or natural gas, and therefore, you would expect them to be biodegradable. Surprisingly, this is not always true, and there are many drawbacks to bioplastics you may not be aware of.

First, bioplastics can’t be recycled with traditional polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastics because they contaminate the PET plastic stream. Wouldn’t it be terrible if all the plastic you’ve so diligently placed in your recycle bin for the past month winds up in a landfill because some “bioplastic” got mixed up in it? And sorting the different plastics is an option, but that takes time, accuracy and a hefty financial commitment. Second, landfill environments rarely provide a sufficient amount of heat, light and oxygen necessary for bioplastic breakdown, so bioplastics that end up there don’t decompose and instead last for hundreds, or possibly thousands, of years.

Bioplastics that are marketed as being “biodegradable” can cause a lot of confusion. The misunderstanding lies in the area between what the material is capable of (the extent and rate at which it biodegrades) and what specific conditions must be present in order for it to do so. For example, a corn starch-based plastic certainly has elements that will break down, but it needs the application of extremely high heat for this to occur, something that likely won’t be present in a landfill, nor in your compost heap in the backyard. These plastics will have to be accepted by one of the few commercial composting facilities, where all the decomposition conditions can be controlled, in order for them to successfully biodegrade.

Traditional PET and PLA bottles could last for thousands of years in a landfill.

Other drawbacks to bioplastics include abnormalities from a manufacturing and distributing standpoint. PLA plastics just don’t “behave” quite the same way that traditional plastics do. For example, bottles, utensils and other objects made of PLA plastic can only resist heat up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit (with certain resins, possibly up to 200 degrees) before their strength is compromised and they begin to melt. Additionally, bioplastics generally have weaker oxygen barriers and decreased impact resistance. All these factors can negatively impact shelf life, ease of distribution and contact with hot foods and liquids.

It would seem as though consumers have to choose either PLA plastics, which will melt, reduce product shelf life, contaminate recycling and last for centuries in a landfill, or traditional PET plastics, which work great but will last for just as long. So what do you do?

An effective solution to this problem must take the needs of manufacturers and distributors, as well as realistic landfill conditions and the processes of recycling facilities, into consideration. ENSO Bottles manufactures plastic bottles that have been specifically designed to meet those challenges. During the plastic’s creation, an additive is included which inserts organic compounds into the polymer. The result is a plastic with the same properties as traditional PET plastic (with regards to strength, heat resistance and the oxygen barrier) that can be recycled right along with PET plastic, but can also decompose in a typical anaerobic landfill environment. What’s the key? Microbes.

Check with the recycling facility to see what it does and does not accept.

With those organic compounds added into the molecular structure of the plastic, ENSO Bottles become very attractive food sources to the microbes present in landfills, and the plastic is “eaten away,” in a sense. As the microbes seek out the nutrients provided in the ENSO additive, they break down all parts of the polymer chain, including the plastic, into non-harmful bio-gases and bio-mass in a process that typically lasts between one and five years — a far shorter timeframe than the potentially hundreds or thousands of years it takes a traditional PET bottle to decompose.

So the next time you start to toss a bioplastic water bottle or packaging into a trash bin, consider where it’s probably headed: a landfill, where it will likely never experience the ideal conditions it requires to biodegrade. Contact your local collection facility instead to learn whether or not it accepts that category of plastic (referred to as #7), and better yet, consider your alternatives, such as the biodegradable ENSO Bottles.