Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. According to The National Museum of American History, this popular slogan, with its iconic three arrows forming a triangle, embodied a national call to action to save the environment in the 1970s. In that same decade, the first Earth Day happened, the EPA was formed and Congress passed the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, encouraging recycling and conservation of resources, Enviro Inc. reported.
According to Forbes, the Three R's sustainability catch-phrase, and the recycling cause it bolstered, remain synonymous with the U.S. environmental movement itself. There's only one problem: despite being touted as one of the most important personal actions that individuals can take to help the planet, "recycling" – as currently carried out in the U.S. – doesn't work and doesn't help.
Turns out, there is a vast divide between the misleading, popular notion of recycling as a "solution" to the American overconsumption problem and the darker reality of recycling as a failing business model.
The Myth: Recycling Began as a Plastics' Industry Marketing Tactic
A recycling dumpster in Los Angeles. Citizen of the Planet / Education Images / Universal Images Group / Getty Images
When it was first introduced, recycling likely had altruistic motivations, Forbes reported. However, the system that emerged was never equipped to handle high volumes. Unfortunately, as consumption increased, so too did promotion of recycling as a solution. The system "[gave] manufacturers of disposable items a way to essentially market overconsumption as environmentalism," Forbes reported. Then and now, "American consumers assuage any guilt they might feel about consuming mass quantities of unnecessary, disposable goods by dutifully tossing those items into their recycling bins and hauling them out to the curb each week."
Little has changed since that Forbes article, titled "Can Recycling Be Bad For The Environment?," was published almost a decade ago; increases in recycling have been eclipsed by much higher consumption rates. In fact, consumerism was at an all-time high in January 2020 before the pandemic hit, Trading Economics reported.
But, if the system doesn't work, why does it continue? Turns out, consumers were misled – by the oil and gas industry. News reports from September 2020 revealed how the plastic industry-funded ads in the 1980s that heralded recycling as a panacea to our growing waste problem. These makers of virgin plastics were the biggest proponents and financial sponsors of plastic recycling programs because they created the illusion of a sustainable, closed-cycle while actually promoting the continued use of raw materials for new single-use plastics.
To the masses, these programs justified overconsumption and eased concerns over trash that could be thrown into recycling bins, Forbes reported. Generations of well-meaning Americans since the 1970's and '80's – believing these communications masterminds – have dutifully used-then-recycled plastics and other materials. They trusted that their discards would be reborn as new goods instead of ending up in oceans and landfills.
The plastics industry went even further, lobbying 40 states to put the recycling triangle symbol on all plastic – even if it wasn't recyclable, Houston Public Media reported. This bolstered the public image of plastic as a renewable resource, but the cost was clarity about what actually can be recycled. As recent as 2020, a Greenpeace report found that many U.S. products labeled as recyclable could not actually be processed by most domestic material recovery facilities.
The Reality: Most Recyclables Aren't Being Recycled
An initial pre-sort removes contaminates, items that can't be recycled, at Republic Services in Anaheim, California on Thursday, April 15, 2021. Paul Bersebach / MediaNews Group / Orange County Register / Getty Images
The U.S. relies on single-stream recycling systems, in which recyclables of all sorts are placed into the same bin to be sorted and cleaned at recycling facilities. Well-meaning consumers are often over-inclusive, hoping to divert trash from landfills. Unfortunately, the trash often ends up there anyways – with the additional cost of someone at a recycling plant sorting through it.
The single-stream system is easier on consumers, but results in a mixed stream of materials that is easy to contaminate, hard to sort and more expensive to process. There are a variety of items – including dirty pizza boxes, old clothing, hangers, plastic bags, aerosols, batteries and electronics – that, if added to a residential recycling bin, will contaminate the entire batch of recyclables, a Miami recycling center representative told EcoWatch. At that point, it can be too costly and too dangerous for employees to hand-pick out erroneous items. Because these items cannot be processed in the same way as recyclable materials, their inclusion often means the whole batch will fetch a lower price from buyers or must be thrown away.
"Most people have the attitude that if they just put it in the blue bin, it will get taken away and somebody will figure out what to do with it, but putting something in the blue bin and actually recycling it are two very different things," said David Biderman, CEO and executive director of the Solid Waste Association of North America.
Misunderstandings, misinformation and mislabeling aside, the harsh reality was and remains that most plastic can't and won't be recycled, reported NPR. For example, the EPA reported that plastic generation in 2018 was 35.7 million tons, accounting for 12.2 percent of municipal solid waste (MSW) that year. Of this total, only three million tons were recycled (an 8.7 percent recycling rate). The vast majority – 27 million tons – ended up in landfills, and the rest was combusted. The environmental agency also estimated that less than 10 percent of plastic thrown in bins in the last 40 years has actually been recycled.
The situation is slightly better for other recyclables, though they make up a smaller percentage of MSW. For example, glass products totaled 12.3 million tons in 2018, or 4.2 percent of the annual MSW generation. Almost 25 percent of glass was recycled, 61.6 percent ended up in landfills and 13.4 percent was combusted.
Post-consumer paper and cardboard for 2018 totaled 67.4 million tons, or 23.1 percent of total MSW generation for the year. The material also had the highest recycling rate of any other material in MSW – 68.2 percent. 25.6 percent of paper ended up in landfills and 6.23 percent was combusted.
According to this EPA data, recyclable plastics, glass and paper accounted for 18.5 percent, 5.2 percent and 11.8 percent of MSW landfilled in 2018, respectively. Those three materials alone comprised 35.5 percent of the total landfilled trash in the U.S. for the year; had they been properly collected, processed and purchased, they theoretically could have been diverted and recycled.
The Reason: Recycling Is Bad Business Around the World
Recyclable waste must be sorted, cleaned and processed before it can be sold as a commodity on the open market. Nareeta Martin / Unsplash
Unfortunately, the EPA data also shows that 2018 was not an anomaly but rather another data point showing how the single-stream system in the U.S. has never been economically viable or feasible on a large scale. To further understand why recycling in America is failing, we need to think of recycled goods as commodities – because that's what they are.
According to the recycling center representative, municipalities and counties pay for residential and commercial recyclables to be trucked to local and regional recycling plants for processing. Clean batches are sorted and/or compressed into bales of similar plastics, paper, aluminum or glass. The centers sell the cleaned recyclables on the open market to buyers who will process them into recycled materials like plastic pellets or post-consumer paper; these can be turned into new products.
This entire process – the processing and creation of saleable recycled goods – costs money. As with any good, profitability requires selling for a higher price than it costs to make. Contaminated batches are harder to process into new products and therefore fetch a lower price on the market, if they can be sold at all. Currently, U.S. recyclables are no longer profitable, and no one wants to buy them.
China used to buy the majority of the world's plastics and paper for recycling, The New York Times reported. The U.S. has been the #1 generator of plastic waste in the world for years and used to ship more than half of its total plastic production to China, a November 2020 study found. The research also noted that up to one-fourth of American plastics sent abroad were contaminated or of poor quality, which would make it extremely difficult to recycle anyways.
Starting Jan. 1, 2018, China banned imports of most scrap materials because shipments were too contaminated, The Times reported; the country no longer wanted to be the "world's garbage dump."
As a result, the U.S. and other Western nations who had relied on China to offload their recyclables saw a "mounting crisis" of paper and plastic waste building up in ports and recycling facilities, The Times reported.
The Western nations began sending recyclable waste to other Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, India and Malaysia. These countries often lacked the infrastructure to handle recyclables, so a lot of the waste ended up incinerated or landfilled
In response, in 2019, the United Nations passed an amendment to the Basel Convention hoping to protect the poor and developing countries who'd taken up China's vacated role in the global recycling trade. The amendment ambitiously aimed to clean up the global trade in plastic waste, making it more transparent and better regulated and allowing developing countries to reject contaminated shipments. The U.S. did not ratify the amendment, and new evidence suggests it continues to send illegal and/or contaminated shipments to developing countries.
Domestically, the closing of the Chinese market to U.S. recyclables bankrupted many domestic recycling programs because there was too much supply and no real demand. The smaller Asian countries could not accept nearly as much as China had. Prices of recyclables dropped, and bales of scrap materials were sent to landfills and incinerators when they couldn't be sold, another Times article reported.
This left waste-management companies around the country with no market for recyclabes, The Atlantic reported. They've been forced to go back to cities and municipalities with two choices: pay a lot more to get rid of their recycling or throw it away. The news report noted that most are choosing the latter.
"The economics are challenging," agreed Nilda Mesa, director of the Urban Sustainability and Equity Planning Program at the Earth Institute's Center for Sustainable Urban Development. "If there is not a market for the recycled material, then the numbers do not work for these facilities as well as cities, as they need to sell the materials to recoup their costs of collection and transportation, and even then it's typically only a portion of the costs," Columbia's State of the Planet reported.
Tiffany Duong is an avid ocean advocate. She holds degrees from UCLA and the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School and is an Al Gore Climate Reality Leader and student member of The Explorer's Club.
She spent years as a renewable energy lawyer in L.A. before moving to the Amazon to conduct conservation fieldwork (and revamp her life). She eventually landed in the Florida Keys as a scientific scuba diver and field reporter and writes about the oceans, climate, and the environment from her slice of paradise. Follow her on Twitter/Instagram @lilicedt.
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After a local 2nd grade student successfully petitioned the Portland City Council in 2018 to mitigate plastic straw use in city-owned buildings, the Maine Chapter took it to the next level with Council interest to pass a citywide ordinance becoming the first municipality in Maine to ban single-use plastic straws, stirrers and splash sticks.
The proposed ordinance was strong, seeking to ban the sale and distribution of single-use plastic straws and institute an ask-first policy for straws composed of natural fibers (bamboo, hay, cardboard, etc). Through deliberations, however, the initial exemption for schools was removed and a phase-in approach added to allow for a transition period.
Surfrider attended all Council subcommittee meetings throughout the year to help guide the policy, answering questions regarding why compostable straws are not a good ask-first option, why a ban is so critical versus a non-binding approach, and policy policy mechanisms for accommodating persons identifying as living with disability.
Chapter activists leveraged our Ocean Friendly Restaurants program to visit food service establishments covering each Portland city district. Asking questions about current straw use and distribution policies in the City, as well as impressions of the proposed ordinance, Maine Chapter volunteers gathered important data that they then shared in public hearing to support the ban. Many restaurat and bar owners were stoked to learn about the big natural-made straw discounts provided to participants in our OFR program, and were happy to learn of the Council's movement to green the City.
The first reading of the ban ordinance was held on October 7, 2019, with the 2nd reading, public hearing and vote held on October 21, 2019. Six Chapter volunteers attended the hearing, with four representatives speaking. We addressed an amendment proposed by Councilor Cook, which while well intentioned to make better accommodations for persons identifying as living with disability, would have rendered the ordinance an ask-first policy instead of a ban, which would have been a good step in the right direction but not be nearly as effective at curbing pollution as a ban.
Council debate ensued on the issue of accommodation for people requiring plastic type straws to drink and the desire not to retreat to an ask-first policy. A creative compromise was struck that both maintained the ban while also removing the need presented in the initial ordinance for people requiring plastic type straws to self-identify as someone living with "disability or other impairment." The agreement achieved this solution by amending the exceptions section of the ordinance to clarify that anyone requiring a plastic straw to drink hot or cold liquids could ask for one, and that such a straw would then be provided with no additional questions asked- a true win-win.
The following language was also added to the preamble to help qualify the nature of the exception and the intents of the council:
The City Council recognizes the need to ensure that plastic beverage straws remain available to those who require them for consumption of hot and cold liquids and seeks to protect the privacy and dignity of those requesting a plastic beverage straw.
The council carried the amended ordinance unanimously to passage, banning all types of single-use plastic straws, stirrers and splash sticks.
The ordinance has a phase-in process, which takes effect on April 1, 2020, whereby all types of single-use straws, stirrers and splash sticks will be available on request by the customer only. The ban on plastics kicks in on January 1, 2021, coinciding with the statewide foam food packaging and plastic stirrer ban's effective date. After January 2021, only naturally made single-use straws, stirrers and splash sticks will be available on request of the customer, except for those customers expressing an explicit need for a plastic straw to drink hot or cold beverages, which will then be available as a secondary default upon such request without further question.
Straws are one small piece of the larger plastic pollution crisis, and the Surfrider volunteer network is taking bold action across the nation to address this piece along with myriad others and concurrent with paradigm shifting change to usher forth extended producer responsibility. Together, we will gain strides toward a truly circular economy.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Surfrider.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Paul Brown
A sustainable food policy which ends red meat meals has improved student diets and boosted a university catering service's profits.
The University of Cambridge in England, one of the richest and most famous universities in the world, has ended red meat meals in its outlets.
Beef and lamb are off the menu in its cafes and canteens, to educate staff and students about how to change their diets so as to help avoid dangerous climate change.
At the same time, the university says the decision will go a long way to reducing the carbon footprint of the University Catering Service (UCS) and cutting the amount of land needed to feed the students and administrators.
In a report on its decision to cut out red meat, known also as ruminant meat, the university says it has also greatly improved the variety of meals in its restaurants, particularly of vegetarian and vegan alternatives.
This has lowered the amount of land the UCS needs to grow food by over a quarter and its carbon footprint by over a third, while at the same time increasing profits.
The change of policy by catering managers has also meant that, over the last 12 months, the catering staff have lowered food waste from the university's canteens and eliminated unsustainably harvested fish from their menus.
Andrew Balmford, Cambridge's professor of conservation science, said: "It is hard to imagine any other interventions that could yield such dramatic benefits in so short a span of time."
UCS, which provides food for 1,500 events a year and runs 14 cafes and canteens, has also introduced other environmental improvements; cutting plastic waste by using Vegware compostable packaging and disposables; providing discounts for customers to keep their cups for re-use; and recycling cooking oil.
The changes, introduced in October 2016, required considerable re-education of the university's chefs and help from its experts in the Department of Environment and Energy to create a sustainable food policy.
Nick White, head of operations at UCS, said: "I knew that we should be doing more to actively promote the consumption of more sustainable food to reduce our damage to the environment and to help encourage positive lifestyle changes, which would lead to a positive impact on the health and well-being of our students and staff.
"For us it was about making the right choice easy for our customers. I felt a big responsibility to do something about it."
Catering staff, many of whom had been trained principally to cook meat as the centerpiece of a meal, had to be inspired to change menus and think of new dishes. They were told for example that switching diets to non-ruminant meats results in emitting 85 percent less greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide and methane) and using 60 percent less water and 85 percent less farmland.
Chefs were provided with vegan cooking classes and went to Borough Market in London, a centre of international cuisine where in some specialist outlets vegetarian and vegan dishes from all over the world are cooked for tourists and the cosmopolitan community.
The result of the changes is that the catering service has the same number of customers as before but has increased profitability by 2 percent, despite increased food costs.
Long Road to Change
As well as changing diets, the UCS has stopped selling single use plastic bottles and has replaced them with glass bottles, cans or biodegradable plastic bottles, saving 30,000 plastic bottles from going to the landfill annually.
"This report demonstrates how achievable, environmentally effective, and professionally rewarding these bold actions can be," Professor Balmford said.
But the battle to change the feeding habits of the 21,000 students and almost equal number of academic staff and administrators in Cambridge has a long way to go.
Most of the Cambridge colleges which make up the university and are spread across the city have their own dining halls and restaurants and provide meals for students and staff independently of the catering service. They are the next to be targeted for change.
Paul Brown, a founding editor of Climate News Network, is a former environment correspondent of The Guardian newspaper, and still writes columns for the paper.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
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The government of India is set to impose a nationwide ban on plastic bags, cups and straws on October 2, officials announced, in its most sweeping measure yet to eradicate single-use plastics from cities and villages that have ranked among the world's most polluted.
The ban will be comprehensive and will cover manufacturing, usage, and import.
India is set to ban 6 single-use plastic items nationwide, including plastic bags, cups, plates, small bottles, str… https://t.co/LnqBkNmfR3— Shivya Nath (@Shivya Nath)1566999009.0
India's Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who is leading efforts to scrap such plastics by 2022, is set to launch the campaign with a ban on as many as six items on October 2, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, officials said.
These include plastic bags, cups, plates, small bottles, straws and certain types of sachets, said the officials, who asked not to be identified, in line with government policy.
"The ban will be comprehensive and will cover manufacturing, usage and import of such items," an official said.
In an Independence Day speech on August 15, Prime Minister Modi had urged people and government agencies to "take the first big step" on October 2 towards freeing the country of single-use plastic.
The ban will shave 5-10 percent from India's annual consumption of about 14 million tonnes of plastic.
#India to ban single-use plastic products from October 2. @PMOIndia @narendramodi Ji who is leading efforts to scr… https://t.co/EPjdFngaYz— Anshul Dave (@Anshul Dave)1567153254.0
The ban on the first six items of single-use plastics is expected to shave 5 to 10 percent from India's annual consumption of about 14 million tonnes of plastic, the official said.
He added, penalties for violations of the ban will probably take effect after an initial six-month period to allow people time to adopt alternatives. Some states have already outlawed polythene bags, according to Reuters.
The government also plans tougher environmental standards for plastic products and will insist on the use of recyclable plastic only, the official said.
It will also ask e-commerce companies to cut back on plastic packaging that makes up nearly 40 percent of the country's annual plastic consumption, the officials said.
Cheap smartphones and a surge in the number of internet users have boosted orders for e-commerce companies, such as Amazon.com Inc and Walmart Inc's Flipkart, which wrap their wares — from books and medicines to cigarettes and cosmetics — in plastic, pushing up consumption.
The world is waking up to the plastic mess we are creating.
And elsewhere in Asia, China's commercial hub of Shanghai is gradually reining in use of single-use plastics in catering, and its island province of Hainan has already vowed to completely eliminate single-use plastic by 2025.
Reposted with permission from our media associate BrightVibes.
Governors in Vermont and Maine signed bills on Monday that will ban plastic bags in their states next year, The Hill reported.
The Maine ban will go into effect next Earth Day, April 22, 2020. The Vermont ban, which extends beyond plastic bags and is the most comprehensive plastics ban so far, will go into effect in July 2020. The wait time is designed to give businesses time to adjust to the ban.
Gov. Janet Mills signed the Maine bill early Monday morning, making Maine the fourth state to ban single-use plastic bags after California, Hawaii and New York.
Maine will allow stores to charge at least 5 cents for paper bags or reusable plastic bags that are able to withstand 75 repeated uses. Those bags are made from heavier plastic than single-use bags, the AP reported.
The measure does provide exceptions for certain types of bags, including bags for produce, prescription drugs, newspapers, laundry and live animals, according to the Portland Press Herald.
"Today, we took an important step towards protecting the wildlife and landscapes that support Maine's economy," said Rep. Holly Stover, one of the bill's chief sponsors, in a statement, as the Portland Press Herald reported. "With the governor's signature on this bill, we will be limiting the plastic bags that enter our coastal waters and protecting the health of our marine life."
Plastic bag manufacturers argue that this ban will only lead to thicker bags in landfills, according to the AP.
Vermont's bill took that plastic bag manufacturers argument into account in creating its bill that Gov. Phil Scott signed into law on Monday. The Vermont law stops manufacturers from a workaround by banning plastic bags that do not have stitched handles. The stitched handle requirement makes it cost prohibitive for manufacturers, effectively ensuring that carryout bags will be made from cloth or reusable polypropylene, according to National Geographic.
While the Vermont bill has similar exemptions to the Maine bill, it goes further in several ways, making it the nation's most comprehensive ban on disposable plastics and food packaging. The Vermont law not only prohibits retailers and restaurants from providing customers with single-use carryout bags, but also from providing customers with plastic stirrers and straws, though straws may be provided on request and for people with medical conditions. The law also bans cups, takeout, or other foam food containers made from expanded polystyrene, according to National Geographic.
"Vermont has now established a national precedent of tackling three of the worst examples of plastic packaging in one sweeping state law," said Judith Enck, a former EPA regional administrator who heads a plastics pollution initiative at Bennington College, in a statement, as National Geographic reported.
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By Wesley Rahn
Thin plastic produce bags are often used only once to carry fruits and vegetables home from the supermarket, and are then thrown away without a second thought.
Supermarket chain Aldi on Tuesday said that it would begin charging 1 cent for single-use plastic produce bags, starting this summer. It didn't offer an exact date. The company said it wanted its customers to "rethink" using smaller plastic bags.
The produce bags on offer will now be composed of biodegradable natural plastic made with raw material leftover from sugar production. Aldi supermarkets will also start offering a reusable alternative, nets to hold fresh fruit and vegetables, later in the year.
According to the German Environment Ministry, more than 3 billion of the thin plastic produce bags were used in 2018. That equates to roughly 40 per person, per year.
German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze told Germany's dpa press agency that the move by Aldi was a positive sign that her policy to get German retailers to use less plastic was working.
"I have asked retailers to present me with concrete ideas by autumn on how supermarkets could clearly reduce the amount of plastic packaging in an ecologically sensible manner," said Schulze.
Symbolic Cents Against Plastic
Around three years ago, Aldi — like many other German supermarkets — decided to charge customers for larger plastic grocery bags at the register. According to the company, the use of the plastic bags in Germany has dropped since by two-thirds. Aldi cited this as evidence for the payment system bearing fruit.
"We are following a similar principle with the symbolic cent for our disposable plastic fruit and vegetable bags," said Kristina Bell, an Aldi corporate responsibility director, in a press release.
German environmental activists, however, said Aldi's initiative didn't go far enough.
Environmental Action Germany (DUH), a German environmental activism group, said in a statement released Tuesday, that Aldi's move was "purely a symbolic policy" and would not be effective in getting consumers to stop using the bags.
"If Aldi is serious about protecting the environment, then the single-use produce bags should cost at least 22 cents," said DUH's acting director, Barbara Metz, in a press release. "This amount would actually mean the end for this particularly short-lived product."
DUH cited Ireland as an example, where a fee of 22 cents for larger shopping bags drastically reduced their usage. The group argued that if a fee of more than 20 cents worked with normal-sized bags, it would be especially effective with the smaller produce bags.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Deutsche Welle.
By 2018 Ocean Heroes: Claire MacQueen (13 years old), Sabine Thomas (13) and Ava Inskeep (14)
We despise single-use plastics. We want to keep our oceans and our beaches clean. Early last year I (Claire) lived in India for several months and became curious about plastic waste, as it was much more visible in India than back home in the U.S. Seeing all the plastic waste while I was visiting helped me to understand that much of the trash produced by the U.S. actually ends up in developing countries, like India, which does not have a proper waste management system like we do at home, which causes a ton of trash to end up in waterways and the ocean.
While I was in India, an activist that I got to know nominated me for the 2018 Ocean Heroes Bootcamp, a global youth summit co-founded by Lonely Whale, Captain Planet Foundation and Point Break Foundation. The Bootcamp equips participants with tools to develop campaigns to fight plastic pollution.
I recruited my friend Sabine to join me at Ocean Heroes Bootcamp, and we both learned how we could help our community rely less on single-use plastic.
Once Sabine and I returned from the Bootcamp, our friend Ava also got involved, and we started the Instagram account, Straw Free D.C.
Sabine, Claire and Ava spoke with the Washington Post last month at the Washington International School.Theresa Vargas / The Washington Post
As eighth-grade students, we didn't know how much influence we would have across our nation's capital to eliminate single-use plastics in Washington DC but understanding that big results sometimes come from small steps, we decided to first focus on eliminating single-use plastics in our school.
We noticed a lot of unnecessary single-use plastics at school, like the cafeteria's plastic cutlery dispensers that dispense multiple single-use plastics at a time, causing many unused utensils to fall on the floor and land in the waste. When we raised this concern to the Washington International school, leadership invited us to help select our school's next food service provider, which will be decided by the end of the 2019 school year. Within this new role, we will get to weigh-in on each company's sustainability practices, including their use of single-use plastic.
While we were working to reduce plastics in our school, we were also developing our citywide campaign focused on single-use plastic straws. The timing of our campaign launch was very fortunate. To support the ban on plastic straws, our first step was to email the council-people who represent Wards 1, 2 and 4, because two are the representatives of the wards in which we live and the third is an at-large member who represents all DC residents. When we got in touch with Brianne Nadeau, representative of Ward 1, she told us about a proposed city wide ban on straws which they were already working on. After learning about the ban, and that it only included plastic straws and stirrers, we wanted to take things a step further and support legislation that would eliminate single-use plastic straws and utensils. So, we went back to our school and met with our principal to discuss plastic use in the cafeteria. Our school will soon be choosing a new food provider, and we will be able to advocate for the company that we think will be the most environmentally friendly.
We hope that our efforts can be a model for other DC schools to follow in the future. We also hope to continue growing our social media campaign to raise awareness across our community and the region.
We credit Ocean Heroes Bootcamp with the inspiration that helped us learn to work with each other and how to reach out to other activists fighting to eliminate single-use plastics in our community.
It's important that everyone is doing their part to make a difference for our environment—including the youth!
Kids have longer to live on this planet, so it's in our best interest to take care of it. If nothing changes, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050 (we'll only be in our early 40's by then!)
Collaborating with friends and other activists is not only more fun, but also allows us to combine our different skill sets, and ultimately accomplish a lot more than we could on our own.
We're so excited for the 2019 Ocean Heroes Bootcamp and we're looking forward to learning new effective ways to beat plastic pollution and make a difference in our community.
Local governments in England and Wales have said that only about a third of the plastic food containers recycled by their constituents are actually able to be processed in recycling facilities, BBC News reported Saturday.
The Local Government Association (LGA) found that 525,000 metric tons (approximately 578,713 U.S. tons) of plastic pots, trays and tubs are used by English and Welsh households, but only 169,000 metric tons (approximately 186,291 U.S. tons) can actually be recycled. The rest end up in landfills.
The rejected plastics are usually low-grade mashups of polymers or black plastics that cannot be scanned by recycling machines because of their color.
"It's time for manufacturers to stop letting a smorgasboard of unrecyclable and damaging plastic flow into our environment. We've been calling for producers of unrecyclable material to develop a plan to stop this from entering the environment for years," LGA environment spokesperson Judith Blake told The Guardian.
The LGA proposed five fixes that would reduce the number of unrecyclable plastic food containers, according to The Guardian.
1. Make yogurt containers with the same material as plastic water bottles, instead of a hard-to-recycle mix of polypropylene and polystyrene.
2. Also make margarine and ice cream tubs from the same plastic as water bottles, instead of polypropylene.
3. Make fruit and vegetable baskets from fewer, more easily recyclable materials instead of a mix of polymers.
4. Make bakery trays from more easily recyclable materials, instead of a mix of polymers.
5. Change the color of black plastic packaging for microwave goods so that it can be scanned and recycled more easily.
The use of black plastic is especially ridiculous because it is only used for aesthetic reasons, LGA councillor Peter Fleming told BBC News.
"It's almost criminal to think that some of the plastics being used are difficult to recycle, and black plastic is almost impossible to recycle," Fleming said.
Blake also suggested that the government consider banning single-use, low grade plastics.
The UK grocery industry is in the process of trying to make a change. More than 40 companies signed the "UK Plastics Pact" in April, promising, among other things, to make sure all packaging was reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.
The plastics industry says that a much as 80 percent of existing packaging could be made more recyclable, BBC News reported.
Globally, a 2017 study found that only 9 percent of all plastic waste has been recycled, with 79 percent ending up in landfills or the environment, National Geographic reported.
The same study found that 8.3 billion metric tons (approximately 9.2 billion U.S. tons) of plastic have been generated in just six decades."This kind of increase would 'break' any system that was not prepared for it, and this is why we have seen leakage from global waste systems into the oceans," University of Georgia environmental engineer Jenna Jambeck told National Geographic.
London's busy financial capital has made a significant announcement to stop plastic waste.
Canary Wharf Group (CWG), which owns about 16.5 million square feet of real estate, committed to becoming a plastic-free commercial center as part of Surfers Against Sewage's Plastic Free Community initiative.
The UK-based marine conservation charity has a goal of creating 125 plastic-free communities by 2020. CWG is the world's first commercial center to make this pledge.
CWG said in a press release that their efforts to eliminate plastics will focus on five areas: local business support, community engagement, community events and the creation of a steering panel.
The group said it will also work with retailers on the estate to remove at least three single-use plastics products, replace them with sustainable variants or, in some cases, eliminate all uses of single-use plastics.
News: Canary Wharf Group set to become World’s First Plastic Free Commercial Centre as it joins forces with Surfers… https://t.co/HQhioN2I2F— Canary Wharf Group (@Canary Wharf Group)1532507245.0
Roughly 105,000 people are employed at Canary Wharf's high rises, retail and other office spaces, with the number workers expected to double over the next decade, according to Galliard Homes. Large banks and financial institutions such as HSBC, Barclays and Citigroup operate in the estate.
CWG has already set ambitious sustainability goals, including its ongoing Breaking The Plastic Habit campaign. It has previously pledged to create zero-carbon buildings by 2030, reduce water consumption and increase use of renewable energy, as Climate Action noted.
"Going for 'Plastic Free Community' accreditation with Surfers Against Sewage is our next step in the #BreakingThePlasticHabit campaign, our framework to continue this long-term strategy, something we truly hope will become a part of Canary Wharf's legacy," CWG's co-managing director, Steve Greig, said in the press release. "It is our dream that this project will change our incredible community, and its environment, in a credible and positive way."
Surfers Against Sewage's chief executive Hugo Tagholm applauded CWG's announcement.
"This is fantastic news for London, the UK and the rest of the world. It's a world first and sets a very high standard," Tagholm said in the press release. "Given the scale of threats to our coasts and marine habitats, there could not be a more important time to take action on plastic pollution. We congratulate Canary Wharf Group and call on other London boroughs and districts to take similar action on avoidable single-use plastics, with the aim of stopping plastic pollution."
By Emy Kane
The introduction of bill No. 936 by New York City Councilman Rafael Espinal, Jr. marks a veritable tipping point in the spread of single-use plastic straw bans across the globe. From Taiwan to Portland, the city-wide takeover our team began with our Strawless in Seattle campaign has certainly taken off and created a global movement not only of citizens but also elected officials taking action to protect their waterways and their environments.
The plastic pollution crisis is tremendous and difficult to understand. I am often posed with questions such as, "How did we get here?" and "What can one person do to make a difference?" When my team and I at Lonely Whale considered the best way to reduce plastic pollution and protect marine life—and human health—eliminating single-use plastic straws was a natural starting point. After all, the single-use plastic straw is the one thing that connects each of us together every single day, and which for many of us there is a readily available and easily implemented solution—just stop using them.
This bill, introduced by Councilman Espinal Jr., is a critical next step in the global movement for an ocean free from plastic. Imagine this—one metric tonne of plastic enters our ocean every four seconds. One metric tonne every four seconds. That's a lot of plastic. I can guarantee 0% of it belongs in the ocean. And, the volume of waste and subsequent damage is not on the decline—it continues to rise every day.
If we don't change our habits now, most of us—and certainly our children—will live to see the day when there is more plastic in the ocean than fish.
At Lonely Whale, we recognize that we can't solve this single-use plastic pollution problem alone. It cannot be overstated that this movement must be both diverse and inclusive. In particular, it is critical that we recognize and lift up the voices of our friends, neighbors and loved ones in the disability community and those that are underserved and underrepresented in the environmental discussion to date. As demonstrated with Bill No. 936, ensuring access to single-use plastic straw alternatives that meet the needs of those who require a straw to drink something even as simple as water must be a part of all plastic straw legislation.
It's critical that we include ALL voices, ALL industries and ALL communities as we come together in support of this important first step to protect our environment and, ultimately, ourselves.
While saving our ocean will take much more than a ban on plastic straws, we must start somewhere. Making the transition away from single-use plastic straws is an easy first step, as demonstrated by the citizens and businesses who have already embraced this movement, opting for marine friendly alternatives.
We have already seen leadership from corporations such as McDonalds in the UK, Tom Colicchio's Crafted Hospitality, Alaska Airlines, Live Nation Entertainment, IKEA, Dell and, most recently, Brooklyn's very own BSE Global (including Barclay's Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets). These global brands have each opted to pre-empt policy with bold announcements to transition their single-use plastic straws to marine friendly alternatives (or going "strawless!") and, perhaps more importantly, to empower their customers and their fans.
However, our work is only just beginning. We must continue to expand policy along with increased attention and support of the corporate social responsibility actions taken worldwide. With the passing of proposed bill No. 936, we would eliminate an approximately 16 million plastic straws (2 per person) from the city every single day. Market-ready marine friendly plastic straw alternatives exist as do viable options that ensure accessibility for our allies in the disability community. This is our fight to #StopSucking, start saving our planet and ensure a future with clean seas.
Emy Kane is the Digital Strategist at Lonely Whale where she leads all online content and strategy, including spearheading Lonely Whale's #StopSucking social media challenge.
By Katie Day and Trent Hodges
When we think of plastic pollution, we think of images of plastic bags on the beach, suffering marine life and the almost invisible smog of microplastics in our ocean. What often gets overlooked is the fact that conventional plastic is made from fossil fuels, and is a product of the oil and gas industry.
Traditionally made from petroleum byproducts, plastic in the U.S. is now most commonly sourced from the nation's production of "abundant and affordable" natural gas. Natural gas liquids (NGLs) ethane and propane get extracted and sent to a "cracking facility" where ethane is made into ethylene (the foundation of polyethylene—the most common plastic in the world, frequently used for packaging, bottles and synthetic clothing), and at a dehydrogenation plant, propane is made into propylene (the foundation of polypropylene—a plastic commonly found in food packaging and vehicle manufacturing).
"The reason is simple: because of shale gas, it is more cost effective to produce ethylene in U.S. than just about anywhere else in the world."
— Excerpt from American Chemistry Council
The U.S. natural gas boom has made plastic feedstocks really cheap and readily available. An estimated $50 billion will be invested into new and expanded U.S. plastic production facilities, increasing production by roughly 50 percent in the next 10 years, and tripling the amount of plastic exports by 2030! That includes 400 new plastic processing facilities, in addition to plastic manufacturing facilities and plastic additive processing facilities, which can produce some significantly harmful chemicals including pthalates and brominated flame retardants.
In fact, in the U.S. alone, producers of polyethylene are expecting to increase production capacity by as much as 75 percent by 2022. Industry explains that this increase of production is fueled by expected increases in demand for disposable plastics, such as soft drinks and packaging, by millennials in developed countries, and growing consumer markets in developing countries. This means that much of the U.S. manufactured plastics are planning to be exported to developing countries, where waste management services may not be properly equipped to handle current, let alone a surge in non-biodegradable solid waste.
This is disheartening news, but just as the proposal for offshore oil drilling off the U.S. ignores the fact that the world is moving towards renewable energy, the plastics industry fails to recognize the proliferation of social and political changes such as bag bans, foam bans and society's refusal to accept an inundation of single-use plastic.
The movement to reduce single-use plastic pollution has gone global. At the local level, cities across the U.S. have banned and restricted the unregulated use of wasteful single-use plastics, fueled by campaigns that Surfrider chapters and passionate communities have fought for. On the international side, in January 2018, the European Commission announced a Europe-wide strategy to reduce plastic pollution and ensure that all plastic in Europe is recyclable by 2030.
Even the UN Environment Program has taken a strong stance against plastic pollution, and started a global campaign to reduce marine debris from microplastics and single use plastics by 2022. Though none of these actions alone signal an end to single-use plastics, they do show the increased resistance among cities, nations and the international community to reject products that are used once and thrown away to the detriment of our waters, land and wildlife.
Plastic pollution is an issue that demands worldwide cooperation, similar to climate change, as they are two sides of the same coin. As a product of extracting and refining fossil fuels for energy, the amount of plastic produced is influenced by the demand for and production of oil and gas. Industry analyses find that the production of plastics from fossil fuel is only cost effective when the components not used for plastics are used for energy production, treating plastic more as a byproduct of the industry. Therefore, if we transition away from fossil fuels, and towards renewable energy and a healthy climate, we also encourage industry to transition away from producing wasteful single-use plastics.
"Plastics manufacturers assume demand for disposable plastics will continue to rise, despite evidence that global awareness of plastic pollution is growing and cultural attitudes are changing. Industry investments reflect a further underlying assumption that supplies of cheap hydrocarbons will remain the norm for decades to come, even as the global community has begun to phase out the very fossil fuels upon which plastics producers depend."
— Excerpt from Center for International and Environmental Law
This makes the fight against single-use plastic pollution more compelling and holistic, realizing that good choices in renewable energy and climate friendly decisions may also help reduce single-use plastic production and pollution, and vice versa.
We need your help to reduce the consumption of single use plastics and fossil fuels!
- Support bans on harmful single-use products through local campaigns.
- Support Ocean Friendly Restaurants and local businesses that avoid plastic waste while spreading awareness of the issue.
- Reduce your reliance on greenhouse gas emissions by driving less, investing in high-efficiency lighting and appliances, and buying locally.
- Adopt a single-use plastic free lifestyle by investing in reusable cups and cutlery, purchasing loose produce instead of packaged produce, and saying no to plastic straws, bags, bottles, and takeaway containers.
- 7 Things You Can Do to Create a Plastic-Free Future ›
- Microplastics Pollute Rivers and Lakes, Too ›
- Do Fuels Made From Plastic Make Eco Sense? ›
And while reusable straws made of bamboo or metal already exist on the market, the Santa Fe-based team at FinalStraw have invented the world's first collapsible, reusable straw you can conveniently attach to your keychain so you won't forget to bring your own when you're on the go.
The FinalStraw consists of a foldable stainless steel straw, a tiny squeegee to keep the straw clean and a recycled plastic case that's no bigger than a smartphone.
To help reduce plastic straw use, every FinalStraw also includes five information cards for you to leave with your bill at restaurants that still serve plastic straws. According to the campaign, "we hope to make the public more aware of the devastating effects of plastic pollution and use that awareness to pressure restaurants to stop serving straws."
A lot of buzz has already generated around the project. A feature on BuzzFeed Video has generated 9.4 million views and counting. A successful Kickstarter, now with more than 11,000 backers, easily blew past the team's initial $12,500 goal. More than $500,000 has been raised so far with more than 20 days to go.
"The success of our Kickstarter just goes to show that people want reusables, they just need to be convenient and make sense," FinalStraw co-founder Emma Cohen told EcoWatch in an email.
The start-up recently partnered with the Plastic Pollution Coalition's The Last Plastic Straw Movement for a limited edition Earth Day straw, where part of the proceeds were donated to the organization.
Now that they've hit their fundraising goal, Cohen said the team is looking forward to teaming up with more organizations to give back to the community and to continue making more sleek, convenient reusable to-go ware.
"Our mission is to make sure we provide people with the highest quality, socially responsible and coolest reusables possible," she said.
FinalStraw costs $20 on Kickstarter and comes with a lifetime warranty. The estimated delivery is November 2018.
*Note: The 500 million straws a day statistic stated in this article comes from the nonprofit Eco-Cycle. The statistic has been widely used in other media outlets including The New York Times, Reuters, CNN, as well as by the National Park Service. The statistic has received criticism, and in July 2018, the New York Times published a story about the debate, stating that "market research firms put the figure between 170 million and 390 million per day."