WHO's Push to Ban Trans Fats Could Pave Way for Palm Oil
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday announced an initiative to ban artificial trans fats from the global food supply by 2023. This goal is a worthy endeavor, as the intake of trans fats has led to the deaths of 500,000 people from cardiovascular disease per year, according to WHO estimates.
However, if governments adopt this measure, it could inadvertently ramp up the use of an environmentally destructive replacement—unsustainable palm oil.
Artificial trans fats are usually made by "hydrogenating" vegetable oils, which turns them solid at room temperature and increases shelf life. Palm oil has many similar qualities that food manufacturers like, including low costs, shelf-stability and a creamy texture.
Palm oil is now one of the most widely consumed vegetable oils on Earth, and lurks in everyday foods where trans fats used to be.
"Companies often use palm oil as a replacement for partially hydrogenated vegetable fats," Laure d'Astorg, secretary general of the French Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil said, as quoted by Mongabay.
D'Astorg added that it is a "much healthier substitute."
The decreasing use of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils has already been linked to a boom in palm oil imports to the U.S. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, in 2012, U.S. imported around seven times as much palm oil as it had in 1999, the year the FDA first proposed mandatory labeling. The U.S. palm oil market is set to increase 20 percent per year, Mongabay reported.
Unfortunately, palm oil is also one of the world's leading drivers of deforestation, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia. Production has destroyed habitats of endangered species, displaced indigenous communities, and caused destruction of peatlands that emit climate-warming carbon dioxide.
The New York Times editorial board on Monday welcomed the WHO's push to eliminate trans fats as a measure that will save countless lives.
However, the board also suggested that regulators reduce the use of palm oil by encouraging the use of saturated fats like butter or with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, like olive oil.
"Governments will have to take care in phasing out trans fats, because some alternatives could cause other problems," the board wrote.
We asked major consumer brands like @PepsiCo and @Nestle to confirm they were making good on their commitments to s… https://t.co/a7TRn2Yyo2— Greenpeace USA (@Greenpeace USA)1524856777.0
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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