Reduce and Reuse are the first two angles of the familar triangle. But most people don't really think about the these two options, they just toss their item into the nearest recycle bin. However, there are some very good reasons as to why Reduce and Reuse are the first two steps in resource use and conservation.
For June, some of these reasons to reduce and reuse common items are being highlighted as they relate to plastics and the ocean.
Why June and why focus on plastics? First, June 5 is Internation Environment Day and June 8 is International Ocean Day. Second, California has an intimate relationship with the ocean having 840 milescoastline and 3427 miles of tidal shoreline including small bays and inlets. Third, Californians produce over 3.8 million tons of plastic waste per year, yet less than 5% of that plastic is recycled (CalRecycle web page http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/Plastics/).
Where does the plastic go? Unfortunately, the plastic on land finds its way to the ocean where about 50% of ocean plastics then finds beaches world wide. The photo at the right demonstrates this pathway. The beach is Santa Monica, California, April 2010.
Potential Benefits of Bioplastics, Problems with Petro-Plastics
|Benefits of Biopolymers||Petro-Plastic Woes|
|Can replace many harmful conventional plastics||Non-renewable (geological timeframes to produce but 1 to 10 years to consume)|
|Can be fully biodegradable (capable of being utilized by living matter)||Health impacts (polymers differ)|
|Can be made from a variety of renewable resources||Generally nonbiodegradable with devastating affects on ocean life|
|Can be composted locally into a soil amendment||Demand and production skyrocketing|
|Can contribute to healthier rural economies||Plastics industry supports more drilling|
|Recycling and reuse low|
Nothing is Simple! Further Challenges Lie Ahead-
7 minutes 23 second video first uploaded on TED Talks Feb 25, 2009 http://www.ted.com.
Capt. Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation first discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch -- an endless floating waste of plastic trash. Now he's drawing attention to the growing, choking problem of plastic debris in our seas.
6 minute video first published on YouTube Jun 25, 2012.
Tyler and Alex Water, two brothers, relate their journey on a 5 Gyres Research Expedition into the North Pacific Gyre for season II of their documentary series. The remote area is commonly known as the horse latitudes and the onboard team gathered samples there over several days to test for the level of concentration of plastic debris in the ocean accumulation zone. The Royal Ontario Museum's Dave Ireland is also interviewed and explains the impact of the ocean plastic problem on the marine life food chain and how our ingesting of sea food-infused microscopic plastics, can lead to serious health effects in humans.
What is a certified compostable product?
Ever since the introduction of "biodegradable plastics" in the late 1980s, confusion and skepticism about claims and product performance have prevailed. Although touted as "environmentally friendly," several so-called biodegradable plastic products did not biodegrade as expected. And yet manufacturers of these products were able to make claims of biodegradable because no scientifically based test methods and standards existed.
Now that has changed. Beginning in 2002, specifications and tests exist that scientifically prove a material will biodegrade, leaving no persistent synthetic residues. These standards are ASTM D6400 and ASTM D6868 which uses biodegradable coatings.
More importantly, technology has advanced to the point where there are plastics that have the functionality of existing products, yet will biodegrade completely and safely when composted in a large facility, leaving no residues. There facilities may not exist in your community, so check with your local officials.
The Biodegradable Products Institute has created the Compostable Logo, which is designed to address the confusion that had existed for decades.
The Compostable logo builds credibility and recognition for products that meet the ASTM D6400 and/or D6868 standards so consumers, composters, regulators and others can be assured that the product will biodegrade as expected.
The logo is designed to be easily recognizable and able to be placed on the actual product as well as packaging materials and sales literature.
Bioplastics are plastics in which all carbon is derived from renewable feedstocks. They may or may not be biodegradable!
Products on the market are made from a variety of natural feedstocks including corn, potatoes, rice, tapioca, palm fiber, wood cellulose, wheat fiber and bagasse. Products are available for a wide range of applications such as cups, bottles, cutlery, plates, bags, bedding, furnishings, carpets, film, textiles and packaging materials. In the US, the percentage of biobased ingredients required for a product to be referred to as biobased, is defined by the USDA on a product-by-product basis. ILSR has recommended that the USDA set a minimum threshold of 50 percent biobased content for products to be considered biobased.
Sampling of compostable Food Service Ware Products
A biodegradable material is, according to the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI), "where under the right conditions the microbes in the environment can break down the material and use it as a food source".
In other words, a biodegradable plastic is completely mineralized by microorganisms. Biodegradable plastics are not necessarily biobased. Biobased and biodegradability are not the same. Some biobased products can biodegrade in municipal or commercial composting facilities, home composting, and aquatic and roadside environments, others will only biodegrade in very specific environments and some will not biodegrade at all.
In North America the BPI is the third-party certifier for products that are compostable in commercial composting facilities. To receive the BPI Compostable Logo, products must meet the ASTM Standards D6400 (for Compostable Plastics) or ASTM D6868 (for Compostable Packaging). (See article on left.)
Despite the rather dismal conclusion reached by Captain Moore in his video, there is a lot that can be done to reduce the amount of plastic in our oceans.
- One of the things that we can do to be more sustainable is to make better choices. Making better choices is possible when we have better information. Now that we know that only 5% to 7% of all plastics are recycled, we can choose to:
Reduce our use of plastic. Just say no to plastic whenever possible. (See video "My Plastic Free Life")
Reuse plastic items rather than disposing of them.
Substitute biodegradable and compostable plastics for regular plastics. Compostable plastic straws, silverware, dishes, and take-out packaging are now available.
Dispose of it properly on land. 80% of all plastic in the ocean comes from land sources. ALL plastic, because it does not biodegrade, will eventually end up in waterways and most of it will find the ocean.
Require the processing of non recycled plastic into fuel. The amount of energy embodied in non recycled plastics is impressive and nearly all non recycled plastic can be turned into fuel. Currently, this is one of the only ways to reduce plastic back to a carbon form that can be used in biological processes. (See portal libary for report on plastics for fuel "ENERGY AND ECONOMIC VALUE OF NONRECYCLED PLASTICS (NRP) AND MUNICIPAL SOLID WASTES (MSW) THAT ARE CURRENTLY LANDFILLED IN THE FIFTY STATES" Columbia University, Earth Engineering Center)
Require more responsible biodegrable plastic design and disposal in all commerical and industrial uses.