Category Archives: Plastic news

The New Plastics Economy’s “Global Commitment” defies commonsense

The “root cause” solution to plastic pollution is in making sure plastics work in today’s managed-waste systems. It seems too simplistic an answer considering the enormity of this problem. But when it’s all said and done, plastics (petroleum or plant based) must work in our managed systems, especially the one that primarily collects plastic waste – period. This is the only path to a full life-cycle and systems approach for profoundly better economic and environmental outcomes.

Plastics are created from energy and, through our managed systems, plastics should ultimately be recovered as clean energy, closing the loop and ensuring plastics never become “waste”. Energy growth is directly linked to well-being and prosperity across the globe. For developing nations, this need is fundamental to improving and even saving lives. Energy is the building block for creating plastics and ensuring Energy’s recovery at the end-of-life is essential in eliminating pollution and achieving Circularity.

Which brings me to the New Plastics Economy’s “Global Commitment” pledge which states, “The Foundation believes the use of anaerobic digestion is currently limited for plastic packaging as at the date of publication,” to justify the focus on Compostability as the only acceptable end-of-life solution, but only for “specific” and “targeted” applications. Otherwise, it’s Recycle or die! The myopic pledge even doubled-down declaring that plastics-to-energy is not part of the circular economy target state! A stance that is radically shortsighted and naïve considering the scope of this crisis and the current state of Recycling.

But what strikes me as incredibly odd is that out of the dozens of experts, the broad stakeholder review process involving 100 organizations and experts across businesses, governments, NGO’s, academics and standard-setting organizations, you’re telling me that nobody noticed that this statement is completely ass-backwards?!?

The vast majority of plastic packaging is commonly and customarily discarded in facilities that are large-scale Anaerobic digestors (a.k.a. modern landfills) Limited? Not true, nearly 90% of U.S. Municipal Solid Waste (especially plastic packaging, because that’s what it is – not organic waste) is sent to anaerobic waste systems (practice and scale) – BTW, 0% to Industrial Composting facilities! These anaerobically managed MSW facilities are actively collecting and turning waste into fuel for vehicles, heat for homes and providing power to industries. They are highly regulated and strictly managed, and no other waste-management system collects more discarded plastics – none!

We have a pollution crisis and to get any tangible grip on this problem plastics must work in the systems that are available to us today. Strategies and pledges based on contingencies and “further innovation” only stagnate our abilities to act now. Recycling will never be a solution to pollution. We have systems in place and technologies available to make meaningful strides today, based on data, science and certainty that eliminate pollution with return value, not just continuing to “fight against” it with sentiment and no substance.

Energy recovery must be included in strategy and design, it is the alpha and omega. From where it comes, it must return. Negating this principle in the management of plastics is blasphemous to the fundamental principles of “Circularity” and only serves to continue down a linear path that solves nothing.

The Stupidity in Sustainability

In a recent article by Laura Parker, “You Can Help Turn the Tide on Plastic. Here’s How,” 6 feeble recommendations are provided for consumers, none of which will turn any tide on the plastic pollution problem.  I understand Laura Parker may not be an expert in this field, but when it comes to the sustainable management of plastics, can we stop the stupidity?

For example, Laura Parker begins with the blanket statement, “The industry is debating on what biodegradable means.”  Really, what industry?  If Sustainable Packaging is your expertise and you do not understand the difference between [Anaerobic] Biodegradation, Compostable, Degradable and how today’s waste is being Managed, you might be out of your depth and in need of a career change.  For those of us in the field of sustainability there is no debate on what biodegradability means as this is a scientific process with industry testing standards structured to test and validate biodegradation in these types of environments.

Or this drivel, “Biodegradables don’t live up to their promise, for example, in the dark, oxygen-free environment of a commercial landfill…”  The general term means little, but when backed by scientific data to support the claim, like internationally recognized ASTM D5526 testing standards, guess what?  It does biodegrade in landfills (ANAEROBICALLY MANAGED).

When it comes to the management of our waste, the “open environment” should never be an acceptable option or target for discard – do not litter, remember?  Also, aiming and designing for Industrial Composting is irrational, sacrifice the entire supply chain and product performance, for what?  Plastics don’t end-up there and they do not make compost, where’s the value?

Then there’s the “Circular Economy” theory, which makes sense, but let’s be clear, the “New Plastics Economy” does not – at all!  Nearly 50 years of a massive effort to propagate and encourage the recycling of plastics and today the industry is in complete collapse.  Yet, with no shame, companies double-down on this nonsense, telling consumers that its plastic packaging will be “100% recyclable/reusable” in 7 years!  The 2 biggest “BS”-ables in Sustainable Packaging and the root cause of why the recycling industry has been destroyed – but Nero keeps fiddling!  Why do we insist on science and data to back up biodegradation, but use no science and data to back up plastic recycling?

What needs to be achieved is a Sustainable Plastics Economy.  Every plastic application cannot be recycled into another plastic application and plastics cannot be recycled indefinitely. However, if “Zero-Waste” is the goal, value must be derived from the entire lifecycle of the application, not just material recycling, but end-of-life and chemical recycling as well, ensuring conversion into useful Energy.  This happens by taking the contamination factor out of the primary method in which plastic waste is discarded and can be managed.

Sustainable Packaging 101: Stop blaming consumers and take accountability.  Companies need to define the primary MANAGED-WASTE method for its products and packaging and make sure (using science and data) that it works in that system.

The missing link between the Circular Economy and Sustainability

For those of us in the field of sustainability, the Circular Economy is not a new concept. However, when it comes to the Circular Economy and plastics too often there is a misunderstanding of how the two relate. The Circular Economy is used as simply a re-branding of recycling. The idea that recycling will solve the plastics dilemma is a misguided direction that has been pushed for decades. To achieve a sustainable plastics economy, we must understand the Circular Economy and refocus the vision.

The Sustainable Plastics Economy is a guide, written for those wanting to implement the Circular Economy within the plastics industry, providing a deeper understanding of the Circular Economy, and a vision beyond simply recycling. It is a method to replicate the efficiency of nature as intended in the Circular Economy.

The Sustainable Plastics Economy integrates a complete Circular Economy approach with the unique challenges of plastic. It includes the concepts of Sustainable Materials Management by addressing the full life cycle impact of various plastic options such as, what types of materials to select, where to source raw ingredients, waste infrastructures, and customary discard scenarios. The Sustainable Plastics Economy creates a dynamic, data driven approach to create a system designed to replicate and ultimately integrate into nature, as intended in the Circular Economy precept.

The link below allows for a complimentary download of the Sustainable Plastics Economy guidebook. This guide provides an overview of the Circular Economy concepts and introduces the Sustainable Plastics Economy. Also included is a five-step process for organizations to implement the Sustainable Plastics Economy in a practical and pragmatic method.

Download a complimentary copy of the The Sustainable Plastics Economy here:

The Sustainable Plastics Economy Guidebook

 

 

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.

Orange County is packing power in Landfill Gas-to-Energy

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Do it for the OC! Can you imagine the concentration of plastic packaging that’s accumulated in Orange County alone?   Beyond standard recycling, did you know that Orange County has installed four Landfill Gas-to-Energy facilities? The most recent $60 million dollar investment will power 18,500 homes. Altogether, the four facilities will produce 400,000 megawatts of electricity per year, enough to power more than 50,000 homes. These projects are turning our waste into clean energy all over the country and right now they’re the single-most common disposal environment of plastic waste. Ensuring energy recovery in packaging design offers the greatest value in full-scale recycling. Get it out of the environment and into the grid, make today’s waste, tomorrow’s energy!  Design for disposal.

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?

The Sustainable Packaging Coalition – Not so sustainable

The Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) claims to take a material neutral, lifecycle oriented approach to packaging sustainability with a goal of enabling and encouraging a more sustainable economy for all materials. However, their recent opinion publication against enhancing the biodegradability of plastics is detrimental to the sustainable management of plastics after use. They also claim to have evaluated the use of additives that accelerate the biodegradation of plastics. However, their conclusions and information make it apparent that the only “evaluation” that was conducted was input from organizations that have a competitive interest to these technologies and will directly benefit from the falsities presented. The study was elementary at best and does not include the critical information to accurately evaluate the impact of a material or technology. The position of the SPC lacks credibility, accuracy and directly promotes misinformation to an industry already confused by green-washing and clever marketing.

Sustainability will only be achieved by evaluating the facts, educating the industry and making changes that are effective in real world situations. Unfortunately, many of the “trendy” ideas regarding sustainability are more environmentally damaging than our current methods and materials. This is exacerbated by organizations that promote themselves as sustainability experts and spread misinformation to promote a specific agenda. Often these ideas have a “feel good” aspect, so it is simple to sway opinion. Sustainability however is not achieved by following emotional response or by doing what seems to be right. Sustainability decisions must be based on facts, results and the current infrastructure.

Here is a factual look at the opinions presented by the SPC: Get the Facts

ENSO aims to manage rubber waste with Restore RL

By Mike McNulty

FAIRLAWN, Ohio—Some might call it a pipe dream. Teresa Clark scoffs at the naysayers.

The vice president of product development at Enso Plastics L.L.C. continues to preach about the benefits of technologies that accelerate the natural bio-remediation of materials, including rubber, in the waste environment.

Speaking at the International Latex Conference, held in Fairlawn, she stressed that “rubber items are a critical part of modern society, and a focus on the waste management of rubber is becoming more critical.”

In a paper she presented at the conference, titled “Enhancing the Biodegradation of Waste Rubber,” Clark said advancements have been made in recycling rubber goods, “but a vast majority of rubber products are discarded into landfills and in the environment.”

Two years ago she gave a presentation at the latex conference and unveiled Enso’s new technology, Enso Restore RL, which she said is a unique material designed to attract specific naturally occurring microorganisms and “induce rapid microbial acclimatization to synthetic rubbers and resulting biodegradation.”

Enso primarily served the plastics industry until it came up with Restore RL, which was in the development stage when she initially discussed it at the 2013 conference.

That’s changed, she said. Restore RL is being commercialized and advances have been made. “We expanded from just synthetics, such as nitrile, to rubber-based adhesives, natural rubber, gloves of all kinds and numerous other applications.”

Clark also said Enso is researching the use of the firm’s material on tires.

Basically, Restore RL is an additive used during the manufacturing of rubber products. It’s dispersed throughout the matrix of the rubber.

“A novel aspect of this material,” she said, “is its inertness to the host rubber resin; it does not contribute to any degradation of the rubber, thus leaving the shelf life of the rubber article intact.”

Clark noted that the material increases the biodegradation of rubber within natural microbial and municipal landfill environments.

A prime difference in the paper she presented at the conference this year and her presentation in 2013 is that this time around she stressed why it is important. Two years ago, she primarily discussed the technical aspects of Restore RL.

She maintained in her most recent presentation that “there is significant benefit to adjusting our waste management strategy for rubber to include biodegradation within landfills.

“By utilizing technologies such as Enso Restore to achieve controlled biodegradation, it is possible to implement biomimicry and achieve zero waste through full biodegradation.

“This complete biodegradation integrates in the natural carbon cycle while also creating clean energy to offset fossil fuel use.”

Clark said that because landfill gas is generated continuously, it provides a reliable fuel for a range of energy applications, including power generation and direct use. “Landfill gas is one of the few renewable energy resources that, when used, actually removes pollution from the air.”

Using the gas is cost-effective, she said, and generates economic opportunities.

The bottom line, she said, is to eliminate toxic waste.

Read the original article here: http://www.rubbernews.com/article/20150930/NEWS/309219980/enso-aims-to-manage-rubber-waste-with-restore-rl

Compostable Plastics Banned from Composting Facilities

Portland has announced a major change to their community compost system – as of March 1, 2015 they will no longer be accepting compostable plastics such as forks, spoons and cups. In fact, any food scrap loads with more than trivial amounts of compostable plastics will be diverted to the landfill. This also means that compostable plastics should not be marketed as compostable in Portland because they are not allowed in the system.

This decision comes as a surprise to many restaurants who have diligently converted to compostable plastics trying to “go green”. Unfortunately, what they were not told when they were sold on the “compostable plastic” was there is many different plastics that will compost, some provide value while others do not.  There are natural plastics such as starch and ENSO RENEW that are virtually identical to food waste. There are other synthetic plastics that will compost, such as PLA, that are not similar to food waste (and will not biodegrade in your back yard either). These second types of compostable plastics add absolutely no value to the compost system. Current ASTM D6400 requirements for compostable plastics require that the plastic convert 90% to CO2 within 120 days. These requirements are also built for commercial compost systems that operate at extremely high temperatures – much higher than most compost piles ever reach (why? because PLA requires the high heat to break down). The result? You end up with plastics that turn into greenhouse gas or don’t break down at all in the compost system. Either way, there is no value or benefit left in the soil.

Contrary to popular belief, these synthetic compostable plastics are not the same as plant matter in the compost. Plant matter degrades slowly over time and results in carbon retention in the soil as well as minerals and nutrients (together all of this known as humus). The value of composting is to create nutrient rich top soil – not to convert everything into air or to leave plastic fragments in our soil.

As we move toward more natural compostable materials such as ENSO RENEW, perhaps it will help Portland to reconsider accepting plastics in the compost system.

Read the full article

Court Rules On Landfill Biodegradable Claims

The judgment was a huge win for companies looking to address the plastics they produce that will end up in a landfill, including the support of marketing such biodegradable materials. The judge stood by the science of the matter and recognized legitimate testing. He also recognized the variations that are inherent in any natural process. The complete report is very interesting, so if you need some evening reading take a look at the entire 300 pages. Complete Report

In the meantime, here is a synopsis of the court findings:

  1. Biodegradability is an inherent feature of a material, much like color or IV, the environmental conditions will affect the rate of biodegradation – but it does not change whether the material is biodegradable. Basically, it either is or it isn’t.
  2. Biodegradation is the degradation of a material through the action of naturally occurring living organisms – there is no time frame limitation as the biodegradation time frame is dependent of the environment. This would imply that any material requiring an initial mechanical degradation prior to biodegradation would not be inherently biodegradable.
  3. The only testing valid for landfill biodegradable is anaerobic testing that uses gas production as the measurement for biodegradation (ASTM D5511, ASTM D5526 and Biochemical Methane Potential Testing would all apply). Weight loss is not valid for biodegradation testing. Aerobic testing is not valid for landfill biodegradation validation.
  4. The FTC surveys that concluded consumers believe biodegradable material will go away in less than a year was thrown out as invalid. Instead it was shown that a majority of consumers understand that the rate of biodegradation is dependent on the material and the environment. Hence the one year restriction the FTC has placed would not be scientifically or socially sound.
  5. Biodegradation of additive containing plastics can and does produce biodegradable materials.
  6. It is not appropriate to place a time frame for complete biodegradation as it is dependent upon conditions.
  7. A material need not be tested to complete biodegradation to be considered biodegradable, however the percent of biodegradation validated in the test must be statistically significant and well beyond any additive percentage. (also the background gas production from the inoculum must be accounted for and subtracted from the results).

It is wonderful to see a judge astute enough to recognize the facts and stick with the science regardless of industry pressures and misconceptions!