Facebook hit the headlines recently for all the wrong reasons. The over-riding conclusion of the so-called data scandal was that your privacy can’t be trusted with Facebook.
But Facebook’s reputation was already nose-diving prior to the Cambridge Analytic scandal. With revelations of algorithm manipulation and other technical wizardry, not to mention political interference, it had become clear to many that Facebook was best avoided rather than risk loyalty on a platform that lacked any respect or consideration for its members.
It’s for this reason that Dear Green Planet will be saying ‘bye bye Facebook’ on the 21 June. On that date we will be shifting completely over to the Facebook ‘alternative’ MeWe.
MeWe does everything that Facebook doesn’t. Founded by a guy called Mark Weinstein, it has the distinction of having one of the key founders of the internet on its advisory board, Sir Tim Berners-Lee. According to Lee:
“The original idea of the Web was that it should be a collaborative space where you can communicate through sharing information. The power to abuse the open Internet has become so tempting both for government and big companies. MeWe gives the power of the Internet back to the people with a platform built for connection, collaboration and privacy.”
Time to move over
More and more people are now shifting away from Facebook. But depending on the media platform of choice, that may not mean actually leaving Facebook.
Instagram has become highly popular, particularly amongst younger users. The problem here is that Instagram is owned by Facebook. As such, users may end up with the same issues they had with Facebook.
The popular phone messaging app WhatsApp is also owned by Facebook. The app was recently implicated in a major hacking scandal.
But it’s not just Facebook. The internet is a complex web of tracking technology and intrusive processes that are almost impossible to evade. Its like someone following you around all day making a note of everything you do. This article from Privacy International sheds some light into what’s going on.
As an ethical business, DGP is very particular about the company it keeps. Facebook completely fails in that regard. That’s why it would contravene our basic ethos to remain with Facebook. We therefore advise our customers that you remain with Facebook at your own risk.
We will continue our Twitter account (see bottom of page) as well as regular postings on MeWe.
Packaged Fresh Food? Perhaps Not
The general narrative touted by the food industry is that wrapped food cuts down on food waste. However in April 2018, FOEE released the reportUnwrapped: How Throwaway Plastic Is Failing To Solve Europe’s Food Waste Problem (And What We Need To Do Instead).
Food waste is an endemic problem in developed countries, with at least a third of food produced going to waste. In countries such as the UK, less than 10% of income is spent on food. In poor regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, its around half of a typical income.
In the EU, food production exceeds demand. Instead of reducing food waste, packaging has increased waste as it has led to a convenience orientated fast food ‘on-the-go’ takeaway culture. The average person is responsible for about 30kg plastic packaging waste per annum. The following graph illustrates how household food and packaging waste has risen over the past 20 years.
There is an economic cost related to single use packaging:
with 95% of its value lost to the economy after this first use, a loss with an estimated value of EUR 100 billion globally. Compared to other plastic applications, packaging tends to have a significantly shorter product lifetime. Most products become waste in the same year in which they were produced.
The Ellen McArthur report highlighted the practise of reducing plastic bulk in products. But:
Efforts by governments and industry to limit the impact of plastic packaging or curtail over-packaging have had limited or unforeseen consequences. For example, packaging designers often focus on light-weighting, in order to reduce emissions and economic contributions to EPR [Extended Producer Responsibility] schemes. While some evidence suggests that the average weight of plastic packaging has fallen since 2004, this, together with trends towards multi-material, flexible packaging and a growing demand for convenience goods, has resulted in packaging which is increasingly complex and difficult to recycle and has not led to a decrease in absolute quantities of plastic packaging by weight.
One of the problems of today’s food markets is complicated supply chains, which often involve transporting food over long distances. This can lead to standardised food packaging that may not always accommodate the actual produce, causing food waste. In addition there is the demand of retailers for produce to meet certain cosmetic criteria, causing the waste of perfectly edible produce:
Packaging has been shown to play a role in determining the grading standards for food, thus contributing to food waste. Changing retail and packaging practices offers opportunities to recognise the value of agricultural produce and simultaneously reduce food and packaging waste. In addition, shortening supply chains can bring consumers closer to farmers and facilitate sustainable approaches to packaging.
Local production and simpler supply chains e.g. farmers markets, can markedly improve and reduce wasteful practises:
Policies to support a dietary shift towards more seasonal and locally produced food have the potential to bring about significant resource savings. One industry group estimated that 95% of supermarket products currently comes from processors rather than directly from farmers, while just 15% of farmers sell more than half of their produce directly to consumers. In 2013, Europe had net imports of around 27 million tonnes of soybeans and soybean products for oil production and animal feed. And while many everyday products, such as bananas, coffee and cocoa cannot be produced in Europe, efforts should be made to reduce the number of intermediaries and ensure a fair deal for local producers.
Food processing generates a significant amount of food waste (around 20%). Pre-prepared and convenience foods are the main drivers of packaging waste:
Products such as pre-cut fruit and vegetables, pre-packaged sandwiches, sushi and wraps are one of the fastest growing segments in the food industry, reflecting urban lifestyles which favour food on-the-go and reduced time for preparing meals. Even seemingly fresh foods such as bagged salads are highly processed, e.g. chlorine may be added to keep cut lettuce fresh for longer.
Some evidence suggests that this level of processing and packaging reduces
the nutritional content of salads. In the UK, 37,000 tonnes (178 million bags) of prepared salad are thrown away each year. A combination of short shelf-lives, high packaging to product ratios, and dependence on refrigeration make ready-to-eat foods vulnerable to waste and inefficiency.
Small sachets and pouches for condiments such as coffee, milk etc. are major contributors to leakage and waste. As such, ‘A report for the plastics industry estimated these plastics to have zero recycling potential.’
The retail sector is a source of food and plastic waste. It has become dominated by a small number of large supermarket chains. The amount of overall waste generated is hard to gauge due to a lack of transparency within the sector. But the way the industry operates is a driver of waste. Given the interface between households and retailers, a significant amount of household waste can be attributed to retail practices. Marketing plays an important role in this process:
For retailers, packaging serves as an important marketing tool to create competitive advantage and increase sales. In self-service supermarkets, in particular, packaging plays a central role in product sales and marketing considerations. While effective marketing can increase retail sales, it can also lead to over-purchasing by consumers, an important driver of food waste.
Practises such as selling multi-packs, ‘3 for 2’ deals, fruit and vegetables in plastic nets and bags all contribute to the problem. In many cases selling loose produce would be more effective at reducing waste, because pre-packed food can encourage consumers to buy more than they need.
However there does appear to be a trend of emerging retailers that are moving away from extensive packaging and orienting more towards the zero waste circular economy model. This includes farmers markets and retailers linking up with local food production.
Given the fact that at least half of the food waste generated come from households, this trend is an important step forward.
Another important factor relating to food waste is its relative low cost to income. This facilitates a culture of socially acceptable food waste.
From an industry perspective, there is the narrative that shrink wrapping produce can extend shelf-life. But this ‘says nothing about consumer behaviour or, indeed, the implications for nutrition and taste. One study estimated that over one-quarter of avoidable food waste every year is thrown away in its packaging, either opened or unopened.’ FoEE offers some tips on plastic-free storage:
Use reusable bags, mason jars and containers when food shopping and storing food at home.
Store bread in a cloth bag inside a wooden bread bin, as it absorbs moisture (unlike a plastic bag) and prevents bread from moulding quickly.
Choose retailers which use minimal packaging and allow food to be bought in bulk.
Store the stems of leafy vegetables and herbs (e.g. lettuce, celery, parsley, coriander) in water to keep them fresh.
Understand which fruit and vegetables should be stored at room temperature (e.g. tomatoes and lemons).
Understand which foods spoil more quickly when wrapped in plastic (e.g. mushrooms, soft cheeses).
Store apples with potatoes but separate from other fruits: apples emit ethylene gas which speeds up the ripening process of fruits and vegetables but has the opposite effect on potatoes, preventing them from sprouting.
And, as the report points out, sustainable practices already exist and indeed was once the norm:
There is a risk of losing oral traditions and food knowledge when our food system becomes dependent on convenience food and single-use packaging, e.g. crop varieties and origin (country and ecosystem), food preparation and associated cultural heritage. Likewise, while there is a temptation to look to innovation to ‘solve’ sustainability issues, much of the knowledge needed to reduce waste already exists.
Not surprisingly, the food services sector is rather wasteful. Just how much is difficult to estimate. Drivers include:
Storage losses, as a result of damaged or out-of-date products.
Preparation losses, due to fruit and vegetable peels, spoiled or dropped food.
Serving losses, food that did not end up on the customer’s plate because it remained in the kitchen or in the buffet.
Plate waste, food that remained on the customer’s plate.
Small format packaging, such as condiment sachets and single-serve containers (e.g. for butter, milk and spreads), are common items in the food services sector. These items generate packaging waste because they cannot be recycled, and generate food waste as they are often left unfinished by customers or disposed of unopened by businesses.
Then of course there is the problems of takeaway food:
Takeaway and delivery services offer convenience but also have the potential to be highly wasteful. The on-the-go nature of takeaway food increases the risk of littering, with the majority of the items most commonly found in beach clean-ups being linked to food services.
One of the best platforms for tackling waste is at local authority level. Schemes for redistributing food waste and reducing packaging are already happening. Urban agriculture is another way of localising food production, eliminating complex supply chains.
The general conclusion of the report is that rising food waste and increasing packaging waste go hand and hand. The shift to a convenience orientated takeaway, preprepared ready meal culture lies at the root of the problem.
Commenting on EU strategy, the report states:
The dual challenge of reducing food waste and plastic packaging waste, as well as their impacts on the environment, society and the economy, require urgent attention. Both are elements in the EU’s Circular Economy Package and there is potential for their integration into the recently-published EU Strategy on Plastics in a Circular Economy and the forthcoming 2018 food package initiative, which is expected to include a legislative proposal on the EU food supply chain.
Joined-up thinking is needed in the development of these two legislative initiatives and associated follow-up actions, including the need to identify and realise the multiple benefits of simultaneously addressing food and plastic waste.
Is the prospect of a zero waste circular economy likely to become a reality any time soon? Using the situation in Scotland as an example could offer a pointer as to a possible direction.
The Scottish Zero Waste initiative
In 2010, the Scottish Government (SG) introduced its Zero Waste Plan. This set out the Governments policy on how to tackle waste in Scotland, with these key measures:
Development of a Waste Prevention Programme for all wastes, ensuring the prevention and reuse of waste is central to all our actions and policies
Landfill bans for specific waste types therefore reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and capturing the value from these resources
Separate collections of specific waste types, including food, to avoid contaminating other materials, increasing reuse and recycling opportunities and contributing to our renewable energy targets
Two new targets that will apply to all waste: 70 per cent target recycled, and maximum 5 per cent sent to landfill, both by 2025
Restrictions on the input to all energy from waste facilities, in the past only applicable to municipal waste, therefore encouraging greater waste prevention, reuse and recycling.
Encouraging local authorities and the resource management sector to establish good practice commitments and work together to create consistent waste management services, benefiting businesses and the public.
Improved information on different waste sources, types and management highlighting further economic and environmental opportunities
Measure the carbon impacts of waste to prioritise the recycling of resources which offer the greatest environmental and climate change outcomes.
The reportDeveloping the Evidence Base for Plastics Recycling in Scotland from Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS) was published in 2012. It offers ‘A detailed review of the current position of plastic recycling in Scotland, based on analysis of tonnage arisings, the established infrastructure for managing waste plastics and estimating current and future plastics recycling by type and source.’ It provides a projection of the direction that recycling should take in Scotland. It also notes that Scotland is linked into a wider UK based system, with low grade waste exported to the far East. However that has now changed, with countries such as china now blocking imports of waste. The main conclusions of the report are:
It is necessary for collection, management and reprocessing activities to all be developed to increase plastic recycling levels in Scotland
These must be developed in parallel. It is not economically practical to expect one stage of the supply chain to be developed in advance of others
There is significant value in optimising the integration of each part of the supply chain, to optimise the quantity and quality of materials available for reprocessing
Scotland must be considered as an integral part of the UK plastic recycling infrastructure. New initiatives that complement existing UK recycling capability will offer maximum benefit to Scotland
Increasing the quality (in terms of materials specificity, cleanliness and contamination) of materials collected will increase the potential for local (UK) recycling of materials. Underpinning the SG strategy is the The Waste (Scotland) Regulations 2012, which in itself is based on the equivalent EU legislation.
To improve our household waste and recycling services to maximise the capture of, and improve the quality of, resources from the waste stream, recognising the variations in household types and geography to endeavour that our services meet the needs of all our citizens.
To encourage our citizens to participate in our recycling and reuse services to ensure that they are fully utilised.
To operate our services so that our staff are safe, competent and treated fairly with the skills required to deliver effective and efficient resource management on behalf of our communities.
To develop, agree, implement and review a Code of Practice that enshrines the current best practice to deliver cost effective and high-performing recycling services and tell all of our citizens and community partners about both this charter and the code of practice.
The aim will be to engage citizens as well as Business and industry, who will also be expected to engage with the Charter.
In addition, the Scottish Materials Brokerage Service was established. This aims to tackle the fragmentation of waste processing and to improve the overall effectiveness of the system:
The brokerage service will address these issues by matching up the supply and demand for high value recycling, which will provide certainty of supply for those who wish to invest in Scottish reprocessing plants, and certainty of demand for local authorities. Creating the right conditions to grow the reprocessing sector will allow valuable materials to be retained in Scotland and provide the opportunity to create jobs.
Accompanying this process is the Scottish Government’s Code of Practice on Sampling and Reporting at Materials Recovery Facilities. The outline of this process has been produced by SEPA:
This guidance document has been jointly developed by Zero Waste Scotland and Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), to assist licence or permit holders of material recovery facilities (MRFs) in Scotland with the introduction of sampling and testing regimes that are consistent with the requirements of the Code of Practice on Sampling and Reporting at Materials Recovery Facilities issued by the Scottish Ministers.
This document summarises the key elements of the sampling and reporting requirements set out in the Code of Practice (hereinafter referred to as “the Code”), and by following this guidance you are more likely to satisfy SEPA (the Regulator) that you are fulfilling your requirements of the Code.
This guidance was derived from WRAPs “Sampling and Testing Guidance for Material Facilities” to ensure a consistent approach to material quality sampling is applied across the UK.
Waste is a major problem, particualry plastic waste. It has become a major pollution problem that requires urgent action.
Food waste is also a major issue. Modern food prodution has bacome one of the largest emitters of greeenhouse gases. Food is overproduced in developed countries whist almost a billion people in developing countries face food poverty.
Dear Green Planet is committed to zero waste and to the implementation of a mangeable and practical circular economy.
In the coming weeks we will be developing workshops and working with stakeholders, working towards a more sustainable system. We will follow up with subbsequent articles on this issue.
Informing the EU strategy was a major report from the The Ellen Macarthur Foundation, The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics. This is a detailed report that highlights the problems associated with plastics, particularly single use plastics used in packaging that is the main focus of the report and offering potential solutions to the problem.
Over the past 40 years plastics production has doubled and is ‘expected to double again in 20 years and almost quadruple by 2050.’ About 25% production is used for packaging and this is where the main increase will take place. The following figures below show the increase and the categories of plastic used in packaging.
The report points out that waste recovery is poor with only 14% of plastic packaging actually recycled:
When additional value losses in sorting and reprocessing are factored in, only 5% of material value is retained for a subsequent use. Plastics that do get recycled are mostly recycled into lower-value applications that are not again recyclable after use.
In addition a further 14% is incinerated. There is a prevailing argument that incineration can incorporate energy recovery. But as the report points out:
While recovering energy is a good thing in itself, this process still loses the embedded effort and labour that went into creating the material. For energy recovery in mixed solid waste incinerators, in particular, there are also concerns that over-deployment of such incineration infrastructure can create a ‘lock-in’ effect that, because of the large capital investments but relatively low operating costs involved in building up and running such infrastructure, can effectively push higher-value mechanisms such as recycling out of the market. Many organisations have also raised concerns about the pollutants that are generated during energy recovery processes, which can have direct negative health effects if adequate pollution controls are not in place, as is often the case in the developing world.
Also, even if appropriate pollution controls are in place, the resulting by-products need to be disposed of.
About 6% of global oil production is used for plastics manufacture. If business as usual persists, this will increase. This figure doesn’t include a shift to shale gas feedstocks from fracking:
If the current strong growth of plastics usage continues as expected, the consumption of oil by the entire plastics sector will account for 20% of the total consumption by 2050. The use of oil by the plastics industry is expected to increase in line with plastics production (growing by 3.5–3.8% annually); this is much faster than the growth in overall demand for oil, which is expected to increase by only 0.5% annually.
Its possible that these figures may change with an increased reliance on shale gas.
The report highlights the degradation of natural ecosystems from plastic waste leakage, with ocean pollution generating a lot of attention. Even if efforts were made to tackle the problem ‘the volume of plastic waste going into the ocean would stabilise rather than decline, implying a continued increase in total ocean plastics volumes’. Put simply, controlling waste without a closed loop circular system won’t work effectively on its own.
There are of course financial costs to environmental degradation:
…the annual damage of plastics to marine ecosystems is at least USD 13 billion per year and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) estimates that the cost of ocean plastics to the tourism, fishing and shipping industries was USD 1.3 billion in that region alone. Even in Europe, where leakage is relatively limited, potential costs for coastal and beach cleaning could reach EUR 630 million (USD 695 million) per year.
Leaked plastics can also degrade other natural systems, such as forests and waterways, and induce direct economic costs by clogging sewers and other urban infrastructure. The economic costs of these impacts need further assessment.
Greenhouse gas emissions are another problem. Although the picture is complex, plastic manufacture could contribute to 15% of the global carbon budget. And with a shift to shale gas feedstock, the overall carbon footprint could increase. Another problem is additives:
The 150 million tonnes of plastics currently in the ocean include roughly 23 million tonnes of additives, of which some raise concern. While the speed at which these additives leach out of the plastic into the environment is still subject to debate, estimates suggest that about 225,000 tonnes of such additives could be released into the ocean annually. This number could increase to 1.2 million tonnes per year by 2050.
Clearly a lot of work needs to be done to improve the system. The report makes it clear that current efforts are inadequate:
Today’s plastics economy is highly fragmented. The lack of standards and coordination across the value chain has allowed the proliferation of materials, formats, labelling, collection schemes, and sorting and reprocessing systems, which collectively hamper the development of effective markets. Innovation is also fragmented. The development and introduction of new packaging materials and formats across global supply and distribution chains is happening far faster than and is largely disconnected from the development and deployment of corresponding after-use systems and infrastructure.
The main thrust of the report is the creation of a New Plastics Economy. This will be realised through the principles of a circular economy. The report outlines 3 main principles:
1. Preserve and enhance natural capital by controlling finite stocks and balancing renewable resource flows ReSOLVE* levers: regenerate, virtualise, exchange
2. Optimise resource yields by circulating products, components and materials in use at the highest utility at all times in both technical and biological cycles ReSOLVE levers: regenerate, share, optimise, loop
3. Foster system effectiveness by revealing and designing out negative externalities All ReSOLVE levers.
The report recommends global coordination in realising the aims of a New Plastics Economy. It proposes the ‘development of a Global Plastics Protocol to set direction on the redesign and convergence of materials, formats, and after-use systems to substantially improve collection, sorting and reprocessing yields, quality and economics, while allowing for regional differences and continued innovation.’
As well as reuse and recycling, compostable and biodegradable materials are seen as another solution. However there are issues that the report notes:
Efforts to avoid leakage into the ocean would require complementary innovation efforts to make plastic packaging ‘bio-benign’ when it does (unintentionally) leak into the environment. Today’s biodegradable plastics do not measure up against such an ambition, as they are typically compostable only under controlled conditions, as in industrial composters.
The cost of fossil fuel based feedstock is also noted in the report. Prices tend to fluctuate. A circular economy would be less vulnerable to price volatility. But as noted above, the shift to cheap highly subsidised shale gas could push the industry away from sustainable pathways.
Elaborating on the global plastics protocol, the report outlines that this could be an important vehicle for harmonising the fragmentation and lack of standardisation that exists within the system:
A global plastics protocol would be needed to provide a core set of standards as the basis on which to innovate. It could provide guidance on design, labelling, marking, infrastructure and secondary markets, allowing for regional differences and innovation, in order to overcome the existing fragmentation and to fundamentally shift after-use collection and reprocessing economics and market effectiveness.
It would set in motion the factors needed to establish the conditions for a closed loop economy and would monitor the development of systems to fulfil such aims. It would stimulate innovations to tackle many of the problems that plague the current system.
The report identifies 3 main methods of recycling (in order of preference):
1. Mechanical recycling in closed loops. This is the most value-preserving loop. Mechanical recycling keeps polymers intact and hence preserves more value than chemical recycling, where polymers are broken down. Closed-loop mechanical recycling keeps the quality of the materials at a similar level by cycling materials into the same application (e.g. from PET bottle to PET bottle) or into applications requiring materials of similar quality. As such, mechanical closed-loop recycling not only preserves the value of the material, it also maintains the range of possible applications in future, additional loops.
2. Mechanical recycling in open loops (‘cascading’). Given the inherent quality loss during mechanical recycling, closed-loop mechanical recycling cannot continue indefinitely. Open-loop recycling plays an important role as well. In open-loop mechanical recycling, polymers are also kept intact, but the degraded quality and/or material properties require applications with lower demands. Cascading to the highest-value applications each cycle could help maximise value preservation and the number of possible loops.
3. Chemical recycling. Chemical recycling breaks down polymers into individual monomers or other hydrocarbon products that can then serve as building blocks or feedstock to produce polymers again. As such, it is less value preserving than mechanical recycling. Chemical recycling technologies are not yet widespread and/or not yet economically viable for most common packaging plastics. However, as they could enable after-use plastics to be upcycled into virgin-quality polymers again, they could become an option for materials for which mechanical recycling is not possible (e.g. most multi-material packaging or plastics that cannot be cascaded any further).
One of the problems facing recycling is separating multicomponent products (e.g. multi-layered coffee cups). Its difficult to do. As such it affects recycling rates. It may be possible in the future to apply some form of chemical process to such products. But a change in product design would be more effective.
What is required is a degree of coordination across the board to address the fragmented nature of recycling and product design. A plastics protocol could provide the basis for action. Two key elements are identified:
develop and facilitate adoption of global plastic packaging guidelines
develop and facilitate adoption of collection and sorting guidelines.
Separation, cleaning and sorting waste is something that needs to be harmonised to make the process more effective and efficient if a real closed loop zero waste economy is to be realised.
Technological innovations can also help to improve the current system. The role of policy makers in developing a ‘New Plastics Economy’ will be vital in this process.
An important component in creating a circular economy is re-usability. Containers and packaging should be designed to be reused first before being recycled. Encouraging consumers to use reusable containers and retailers to supply bulk stock in one method of closing the loop.
Deposit return schemes are an obvious example of closing the loop by reusing containers. This would be most effective when conducted at a local level, reducing the need for transportation over long distances thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Compostable and biodegradable packaging is another alternative. However the definitions of how each type of packaging works needs to be clarified. Biodegradable packaging can be broken down by microorganisms.
There are two types of compostable packaging, industrial and home compostable. The report lists the following general criteria for industrial composting (depending on location):
Chemical characteristics: it contains at least 50% organic matter (based on dry weight) and does not exceed a given concentration for some heavy metals.
Biodegradation: it biodegrades by at least 90% (by weight) within six months under controlled composting conditions (temperature of 58 +/-2°C).
Disintegration: it fragments into pieces smaller than 2 mm under controlled composting conditions within 12 weeks.
Ecotoxicity: the compost obtained at the end of the process does not cause any negative effects (which could be measured, for example, by the effect on germination and growth of plants).
Home compostable packaging can be industrially compostable. However:
in contrast to industrially compostable materials, home compostable materials can be treated at ambient temperatures and the timeframes for biodegradation and disintegration can be longer.
Its important that these criteria are clearly differentiated. One of the inherent problems though with biodegradable plastics is that they may not be sufficiently biodegradable to provide a solution to the initial problem of pollution due mainly to the time frame involved in the breakdown process. This is an area of current research.
As noted already, plastics contain a variety of additives that can have serious health implications. These are listed as ‘substances of concern (SoC) as they may have serious and often irreversible effects on human health or the environment.’ The relevant regulations overseeing SoC’s are listed:
Similar SoC concepts have been defined by regulations such as the European Commission’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemical Substances (REACH), or the US Environmental Protection Agency-administered Toxic Substances Control Act. The European Chemicals Agency, for example, uses REACH’s definition of Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs), i.e. substances with the following properties:
Substances meeting the criteria for classification as carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction
category 1A or 1B in accordance with Commission Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 (CMR substances).
Substances which are persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic (PBT) or very persistent and very bioaccumulative (vPvB) according to REACH (Annex XIII).
Substances identified on a case-by-case basis, for which there is scientific evidence of probable serious effects that cause an equivalent level of concern as with CMR or PBT/vPvB substances.
An underlying issue here is cross contamination from SoC’s in waste streams involved in recycling and even in reusable packaging. Concern over Brominated flame retardants (BFRs) is one example cited:
Researchers, investigating the presence of a recycled polymer waste stream from waste electric and electronic equipment, have found these substances of concern in black plastics used in kitchen utensils. According to a publication of the Cancer Prevention and Education Society, ‘These BFRs have presumably been introduced via the plastic recycling process, as there would be no need for them in virgin monomers intended for this purpose, and they would be forbidden for use in articles intended for use in food preparation.’
There is also a risk of contamination of compostable products. This could lead to agricultural contamination:
The cultivation of food crops in contaminated soil could potentially allow SoCs to enter the food chain and pose a potential risk to human health. ‘Among the possible negative effects of compost utilisation, the potential release of toxic heavy metals into the environment and the transfer of these elements from the soil into the food chain generally are claimed as the most relevant.’
Reducing or eliminating additives needs to be considered. Using less packaging altogether is another obvious solution. The report calls this
‘dematerialisation’. There are various ways to do this that are described.
Lightweight packaging uses less bulk in say a container of bottled water. Less packaging in multi-packaged items. And replacing packaging with other alternatives. For Example, Dell computing has replaced polystyrene with a mushroom based material:
Ecovative’s mushroom-based solution provides an alternative to polystyrene. Its Mushroom® packaging is literally grown to size using a crop waste feedstock. The process uses low levels of energy, produces no residue or waste (it is ‘additive’ in that sense), and the end product is shock-absorbing, fire resistant, and 100% home compostable.
Its deployment in some of DELL’s bulky protective packaging is one of the success stories in the computer technology giant’s quest for substitute packaging materials.
Another example is ‘virtualisation’. This is eliminating packaging altogether. For example, accessing digital music online instead of buying a hard CD copy.
All in this is a robust and well researched report. Many of the recommendations outlined within it should be considered by the industry. However it should be noted here that this is an industry friendly report. Whether or not a ‘New Plastics Economy’ can be realised will depend on market forces.
One important area not covered by the report is over consumption, which is essentially the underlying problem. It covers the Reuse and Recycle elements of the so-called ‘3R’s’, but leaves out the ‘Reduce’ element, even if the report does touch on ‘dematerialisation’. The first step in any closed loop zero waste economy is to reduce consumption. The emphasis should then be on reusing resources. What’s left can be recycled.
With a glut of cheap feedstock being produced by highly subsidised shale gas it would appear that in the US at least, thing’s are moving in reverse with the prospect of cheap disposable plastic flooding the market, with much of this supplying the food industry.
‘A circular economy is an alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life.’
The key elements of the CE is reducing consumption, reduce waste through recycling and reuse and increase awareness of shortcomings of the current linear economy.
The current linear model is irrational and unsustainable and will ultimately lead to a dearth in available resources. The circular economy by contrast mimicks natural systems by introducing a closed loop system that avoids generating unnecessary waste and utilises all available resources.
Back in 2009, The Story of Stuff launched a video that blew the lid off the current system. You can watch it here.
However it seems that the industry isn’t keen in finding immediate solutions. It disagrees with the imposition of deposit schemes as an article from the BPF Plastics and Flexible Packaging Group (a subsidiary of the British Plastics Federation) notes. It points out the decision of AG Barr to discontinue its deposit scheme and claims that deposit schemes could have a negative impact on existing recycling systems. It concludes that:
1. Deposit systems are costly to introduce where existing effective collection infrastructure like that in the UK already exists. 2. Deposit systems will not materially increase recycling of beverage containers in the UK. 3. The only deposit system operated in the UK was abandoned in 2015 due to the fact that the recycling level for that scheme despite a 30p deposit was below that being achieved by UK kerbside systems. 4. Introducing a deposit scheme in the UK would seriously undermine the viability of existing kerbside schemes for the remaining packaging materials. 5. Deposit schemes will not reduce overall littering and can have unintended consequences. 6. The amount of litter associated with beverage containers and especially plastic bottles is very small and policy on littering needs to address all littering not just a small part of it.
Much of the argument is pinned on the apparent failure of deposit schemes elsewhere (including the Barr scheme). It works on the assumption that they failed to take off because of the increase in use of disposable single use bottles. There is also the concern that poor people will be worse off having to pay extra for a deposit, then having to ‘go out of their way to take their recycling to deposit points instead of conveniently recycling from their kerbside.’
But a video from The Story of Stuff (see transcript) sums up the issue:
‘For its part, the plastics industry has publicly promoted recycling as the optimal solution, but has resisted taking financial responsibility for the associated costs. Privately, these companies have increasingly advocated for incineration to combat the leakage of plastics into the ocean,particularly in Asia. It is not hard to see why.
Lax environmental standards and the availability of cheap labor have put the developing world, particularly the nations of South East Asia, on the receiving end of global plastic waste exports, with China importing nearly 80% of the world’s plastic waste. As with climate change and many other environmental threats, the plastic consumption of rich nations is having an adverse and asymmetrical affect on poorer nations. But ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is no more a solution today than it has ever been.’
Working with Groups around the world a Global initiative ‘Break Free From Plastic’ has been established. With increasing attention focusing on zero waste and a circular economy, the EU has proposed a framework towards this. This is laid out in the EU publication, Towards a circular economy: A zero waste programme for Europe.
The paper states:
‘Existing infrastructure, business models and technology, together with established behaviour keep economies ‘locked-in’ to the linear model. Companies may lack the information, confidence and capacity to move to circular economy solutions. The financial system often fails to provide for investment in efficiency improvements or innovative business models, which are perceived as more risky and complex, deterring many traditional investors. Conventional consumer habits can also hinder new products and services development. Such barriers tend to persist in a context where prices do not reflect the real costs of resource use to society, and where policy fails to provide strong and consistent signals for the transition to a circular economy.’
The aim within the EU is to eliminate waste, ultimately creating a zero waste scenario. The report states that this can be done using ‘Market mechanisms’ in order to bring such a scenario to fruition.
The paper makes a reference to investments in order to facilitate progress towards a circular economy. These include pension funds, which will be discussed below.
The key objectives of attaining a circular economy are:
‘Landfilling of all recyclable waste shall be prevented by 2025. Member States should endeavour to virtually eliminate landfill by 2030. Energy recovery, including waste-to-energy recovery and use of bio-fuels, will have a role to play with respect to non-reusable and non-recyclable waste. This will require more efficient use of the unevenly spread energy recovery capacity currently available in the EU, together with measures to avoid overcapacity.
Successful implementation can create more than 180 000 direct jobs in the EU by 2030, in addition to the estimated 400 000 jobs that will be created by the implementation of the waste legislation in force. It will lead to satisfying between 10 and 40% of the raw material demand in the EU, while contributing to achieving the 2030 EU target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% — 62 Mt of CO2eq per year would be avoided in 2030.’
The EU already has a zero waste framework, which is laid out in the EU Waste Framework Directive (2008/98). But a specific focus on plastics has only taken place since the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy was adopted by the EU in January 2018 69 . This stems from the 2015 Circular Economy Action Plan:
‘In December 2014, the Commission decided to withdraw its legislative proposal on waste, but the Commission committed at the same time to use its new horizontal working methods to present a new package by the end of 2015 which would cover the full economic cycle, not just waste reduction targets, drawing on the expertise of all the Commission’s services.’
The EU’s strategy lays out an optimistic vision of the future by applying crystal ball thinking. The key focus is the recycling of plastics by 2030. It mentions deposit schemes, but without much detail, stating that ‘deposits systems can contribute to achieving very high levels of recycling’ and that they can also ‘help reduce littering and boost recycling’.
The paper does however cite some key facts concerning the problem, noting that within the EU ‘Reuse and recycling of end-of-life plastics is very low’. As such:
‘Around 25.8 million tonnes of plastic waste are generated in Europe every year. Less than 30% of such waste is collected for recycling. Of this amount, a significant share leaves the EU to be treated in third countries, where different environmental standards may apply.’
At the same time, landfilling and incineration rates of plastic waste remain high 31% and 39%, respectively and while landfill has decreased over the past decade, incineration has grown. This is the EU’s vision for a future circular economy:
‘A smart, innovative and sustainable plastics industry, where design and production fully respects the needs of reuse, repair, and recycling, brings growth and jobs to Europe and helps cut EU’s greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on imported fossil fuels.’
The paper goes on to elaborate on the proposals on how this can be done, with the specific measures outlined in an annexes paper that for some reason is separate from the main document!
The optimism continues as relevant stakeholders are ‘encouraged’ to engage with the process. The paper sums up:
The European Commission calls on stakeholders to come forward with voluntary pledges to boost the uptake of recycled plastics. The objective is to ensure that by 2025 ten million tonnes of recycled plastics find their way into new products on the EU market.
Interested companies and/or industry associations have until 30 June 2018 to submit their pledges to the following email address: GROW-ENV-PLASTICS-PLEDGE@ec.europa.eu.
When sending in their pledges, stakeholders are asked to provide the European Commission with data illustrating how their pledge contributes to achieving the quantitative objective set in paragraph 1. Such data will be treated confidentially and will be used exclusively for the purpose of monitoring overall progress towards the quantitative objective. Pledges will be put under quality check, and assessed against their reliability and ability to meet declared deadlines.
When sending in their pledges on recycled content, stakeholders are welcome to make pledges covering other aspects which are relevant to the strategy, such as design for recyclability.
The pledges received will be made public through a dedicated webpage.
By 31 October 2018, the Commission will present an assessment of the pledges received and their overall contribution to the quantitative objective set in paragraph 1. Should the contribution be deemed insufficient, the Commission will start work on possible next steps, including regulatory action.
Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth Europe (FoEE) has been monitoring the EU’s progress on these issues closely. Along with a wider Group of NGO’s they formed the Rethink Plastic Alliance, part of the wider global Break Free From Plastic movement:
‘Rethink Plastic is part of the global Break Free From Plastic movement, which consists of over 800 NGOs and millions of citizens worldwide. Collectively, this growing global movement systematically addresses the environmental, economic and social impacts of plastic pollution. Based in Brussels, Rethink Plastic brings together seven leading European NGOs, with hundreds of thousands of active groups, supporters and citizens in every EU Member State. Whilst each of the alliance’s members has policy and technical expertise from a variety of relevant fields, we have one common aim: a future that is free from plastic pollution.’
“Today’s Strategy recognises that we need to rethink the way we produce plastic and deal with the waste. Europe can no longer keep exporting its plastic products, plastic waste and false management solutions to the Global South. The Commission now needs to show it’s serious about tackling these injustices by making sure we reduce the quantity of plastics produced in the first place — anything else will be a failure.”
Welecomes the intention behind the objective that all plastics packaging on the EU market can be reused or recycled by 2030. However the absence of a clear target and the inclusion that recycling must be “cost-effective”, lessens the impact of the aim. This needs to be seen as a real opportunity to make all plastic packaging toxic free and environmentally sound.
Underlines that voluntary agreements and pledges expected to be developed by industry should in no way replace political action.
Welcomes measures to prevent the loss of pre-production plastic pellets, the second largest source of microplastic pollution, and notably the potential development of a certification scheme along the plastics supply chain to prevent pellet loss.
Welcomes the development of new measures to reduce the loss of fishing gear at sea, including possible recycling targets or deposit schemes to disincentivise dumping.
The Rethink Plastic alliance expects the European Commission to deliver, within its term, on the above commitments, and show true global leadership towards a future free from plastic pollution.
In the next part, the work of The Ellen Macarthur Foundation will be considered.
January will mark the six month point for Dear Green Planet. Suffice to say the past six months have been most interesting. I like to take this opportunity to thank all our customers for supporting the shop. In particular I’d like to thank the Space for their enduring support and for giving me the opportunity to get this project off the ground.
One key aim for 2009 will be to focus more on zero waste. This will involve the phasing out of some product lines due to their dependency on plastic resource streams. The current Faith in Nature products lines will be phased out over the year. Shampoo/shower gels for example, will be substituted with shampoo bars.
Funding initiatives will be investigated that could assist Dear Green Planet in pursuing a comprehensive zero waste strategy. This is could involve educational initiatives that engage other people with the strategy and helping to provide advice on related issues such as food waste and approaching households enabling them to become more cost effective at managing their affairs.
Expanding The Shop
At the moment, the shop occupies a fairly limited space within the premises. The plan is to expand the existing shop and move the community shop to another location within The Space. DGP will continue to run the community shop on behalf of the Space. In order to accommodate the expansion, additional volunteers will be brought in to assist with the running of the project.
It is anticipated that once DGP reaches a certain level of turnover, the business will become an employer. There may be funding initiatives available that will allow DGP to engage in projects that compliment the business. As such, this might allow DGP to take on staff.
Social media has become a vital tool for business and organisations. However there has been increasing concern over the dominance of big internet corporations such as Google and Facebook and the apparent monopolisation of online resources related to these companies.
With the subsequent exposure of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook’s reputation and profile has taken a nosedive. But this scandal only served to add to revelations that were already in the public domain concerning Facebook’s treatment of private data and the corporation’s general disregard towards Facebook users.
As thing’s stand, there is unlikely to be any change, despite public assurances from Facebook. As a result, users have been moving away from Facebook in large numbers.
As an ethical company, Dear Green Planet cannot endorse remaining with Facebook. As such, there will be a transition away from the platform during 2019.
Three months ago, DGP joined MeWe – touted as an alternative to Facebook. The platform has a lot going for it. Tim Berners-Lee, sometimes known as the ‘Father of the internet‘ became a key advocate for the platform during its inception, as part of an ongoing policy due to his increasing disillusionment of the way the internet has evolved since its creation.
Happy New Year
Join us as we continue our journey into the new year. DGP will continue to offer top quality products that has sustainability at the heart of its ethos. We will not sell any products linked to animal cruelty or human rights abuses, or links to any other dubious activities.
As always we will be fully transparent and open and we encourage all our customers to engage with us. In so doing, Dear Green Planet will strive to lead by example.