Remember All The Disposable Stuff You Used When COVID-19 Hit? It Made

Plastic filled our lives during the pandemic, littering our world with N95 masks, take-out containers, and single-use grocery bags. While the world was fixated on the global health crisis, the plastic crisis only got worse. Plastic products like PPE and disposable packaging were marketed as tools in the fight against COVID-19.

In a new book, Plastic Unlimited, researcher Alice Mah says it didn’t have to be this way. (We published an excerpt of her book here.) She argues that plastic corporations knowingly pushed false claims about the benefits of plastic during the pandemic in order to increase sales. And as life returns to normal, she says it’s crucial for companies and consumers to dramatically cut down on plastic production.

In the years before the pandemic, consumers became increasingly worried about plastic, Mah says. In 2017 and 2018, stories about sea creatures dying from plastic pollution went viral, including a harrowing image of a turtle with a straw lodged up its nose. There was growing awareness about microplastics, tiny particles of plastic that end up in the food chain, harming our bodies. And given that the majority of disposable plastic ends up being incinerated, it also contributes to climate change. All of this led to a wave of activism that resulted in companies like Starbucks vowing to eliminate plastic straws and states like California and New York banning plastic bags.

This anti-plastic sentiment was so powerful that corporations took notice. “I noticed in my research with these petrochemical companies—these plastics companies—that there was a panic about how bad the public perception of plastics was and how they really needed to turn the narrative around,” Mah says. “I saw how they very rapidly organized to embrace a narrative around the circular economy and recyclability.”

But then, Mah says, the pandemic struck, which turned out to be a gift for the plastic industry. Companies were able to make the case that plastic was hygienic and could help keep the virus at bay, and lobbied to reverse plastic bag bans. But these claims weren’t true. There were peer reviewed studies that COVID-19 could survive on plastic surfaces for up to three days, longer than most other materials, including cardboard.

In 2020, Greenpeace published a research brief saying that the plastics industry had manipulated the media with misleading claims that disposable plastic goods were more sanitary than reusable ones, exploiting anxiety about the pandemic to churn out more products. But by then, consumers already felt confident that plastic could keep them safer. “At the time of the pandemic, you saw a resurgence of single-use plastics,” Mah says. “There was amnesia about the turtles with the straws up their nose.”

It wasn’t just PPE that flooded the market. It was also changes in our consumption during lockdown. As restaurants shut down, consumers turned to take-out, which comes in plastic containers, and e-commerce, which requires everything from bubble wrap to poly bags that wrap individual products. The nonprofit Oceana estimates that Amazon was responsible for 485 million pounds of packaging waste in 2019, a volume that would have increased by 38% in 2020 along with its increased sales.

Mah says that even she felt guilty about the volume of plastic that entered her home in the U.K. during the pandemic. And while it’s true that people in the U.K. and U.S. generate between 218 and 240 pounds of plastic a year, which is double the global average, it’s also true that consumers are trapped in a society where plastic is ubiquitous. It’s very hard to go to the grocery store and ask for your meat, cereal, or vegetables not to be packaged in plastic, for instance. “People are locked into supply chains and infrastructures, unable to simply opt out of plastic consumption,” she says.

So what’s the solution?  Consumers can—and should— work to reduce their personal plastic consumption, but Mah argues that we need global, systemic solutions to get plastic out of our lives. The answer isn’t recycling, which comes with its own environmental costs; instead, we need to eliminate plastic as much as possible.

In some ways, it’s worth thinking about plastic along the same lines as climate change, she says. One possible answer is for the United Nations to create an agreement similar to the Paris Climate Accord, but for plastic. A version of such a treaty is currently being discussed by the UN Environment Assembly, but it would take years to negotiate the complex details.

Governments must also play a role, because plastic corporations are unlikely to voluntarily reduce their own production. Legislators can pass outright bans on single-use plastics, which India did this month, forbidding the use of 19 plastic items like cups, straws, and ice-cream sticks. Governments can also hold companies accountable for the full lifecycle of their products, forcing them to pay for any pollution created when the item is thrown out. The European Union and Canada require plastic producers to pay for waste collection and management.

Ultimately, however, curbing plastic will mean redesigning almost every aspect of our lives. We will need to rethink the systems of food, shopping, transportation, logistics, public health, construction, and many other industries in order to fully excise plastic. This will mean moving away from our addiction to disposable products, and shifting toward durable, reusable goods.

“Plastic has been seen as a miracle material that can be transformed into almost anything,” May says. “It is cheap, but if you calculate all the costs—the people who die of toxic exposure, the loss of clean water, the impact on our ecosystems—it’s not really that cheap. I don’t think the solution is to come up with some other magical material, but to learn how to live without it.”

By:  Elizabeth Segran

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Source: Remember all the disposable stuff you used when COVID-19 hit? It made

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Opinion: If We Want To Solve Climate Change, Businesses Need To Invest In Our Planet 

Kathleen Rogers is President of EARTHDAY.ORG, a global year-round policy and activist organization with programs around the world. She has been at the vanguard of developing campaigns focused on expanding and diversifying the environmental movement. The views expressed in this commentary are her own.

(CNN)Environmentalists’ traditional role is to hold governments and corporations accountable and to inform, motivate and engage the broader public of the dangers posed by government inaction or corporate malfeasance. And our relationships with both government and business have often been uneasy.

On the government side, pro-environment leaders come and go. Some have passed forward leaning environmental laws and regulations, others have reversed this progress. Environmentalists have brought innumerable lawsuits against governments for their failure to uphold their own laws yet often we work cooperatively with governments and legislatures to pass critical legislation and regulatory action.

On the other hand, environmentalists and corporations have often been adversaries. In the five-plus decades since the first Earth Day, the global environmental community has filed tens of thousands of lawsuits against corporations and corporations have sued back to block environmental regulations.

And if they aren’t actively blocking environmental laws and regulations, corporations are lobbying to prevent those laws from being passed in the first place. In the United States alone, more than $2 billion was spent on lobbying climate change legislation between 2000 to 2016, according to one analysis, outspending environmentalists by 10 to 1.

Yet compromises have often been possible, and environmentalists also work collaboratively with both corporations and governments to transform industries where there are mutual environmental and economic benefits such as the transformation of the lighting industry to LEDs, supporting renewable energy incentives, and forest certification standards.

Overall, that ebb and flow of the “wins” by governments, environmentalists, and corporations has led to a two steps forward, one step back process for decades, and overall progress on solving or reducing environmental damage and risk has been glacial.

In the meantime, over 1 million species are at risk of extinction, plastics are in our bloodstream, oceans, and food, and chemical toxins still plague the planet. Now climate change has dramatically altered this back and forth and solving the world’s largest environmental disaster has become an imperative, requiring a radical new strategy.

Simply put, it is going to take a lot more than governments, environmentalists, and individuals can provide to solve the climate problem. After decades of treating business leaders as the enemy (and often rightly so), many environmentalists have come to the realization that if we want to save the planet, we cannot do it without them.

“The largest market in the history of the world”

The notion that businesses, innovators, and investors might play a larger role than governments was on full display at the recent Glasgow COP climate summit. Instead of stepped-up ambition to solve climate, most countries did nothing, even stepping backwards.

Environmentalists lobbied vigorously to no avail and if we had all been honest, a sense of despair was growing. On the corporate side, however, there was palpable enthusiasm around deal making, new technologies, and opportunities to make money.

Recently, more than 450 companies with more than $130 trillion in assets, more than the global GDP, pledged deep investments in a net zero transition. US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry described it “the creation of the largest market in the history of the world,” bigger than the industrial revolution. And bankers and investors are saying the same thing.

How do we invest in our planet?

First, governments have long taken the lead in research and development and every economic revolution since the 1800s witnessed massive government investment in technology. Unfortunately, government investments in environmental and climate research, subsidies, and incentives have ebbed and flowed depending on who’s in charge.

Governments must invest, build infrastructure for the transition to renewables and the green economy in general, and regulators must provide some certainty in the marketplace, along with carrots (subsidies and incentives) and sticks (ending fossil fuel subsidies and requiring disclosures from all businesses).

Second, with this extraordinary funding, businesses could create extraordinary chaos and damage. They must agree to complete transparency on their environmental and climate impacts and without the phony net-zero claims.

Many major global companies have chosen to obfuscate and overstate the reality of their net zero promises, undercutting their credibility with both governments and environmentalists. And while we are waiting for national and international bodies to finalize climate risks and impacts’ requirements, more companies must choose to follow a net positive for climate and nature even if profits are impacted.

Environmentalists must acknowledge that as the frenzy of green investment accelerates, we must be better financed to expand our watchdog role, while also keeping accountable those who hide behind greenwashed smokescreens. We must partner with governments and business to build a reliable green consumer movement.

And lastly, given there is ample opportunity to produce future environmental disasters as we redesign the planet — and more likely than not at the expense of the Global South and its very valuable green tech resources — equity and justice have to become a central part of the mission for all three players.

Even if all these steps are taken, proofing the planet against climate change and other environmental woes will be a long and expensive journey that will require investments and new ways of thinking from all sides. Unless all the planet’s stakeholders change their behavior, the causes of climate change will further entrench themselves into the world economy, increasing scarcity, draining profits, and cutting job prospects. That is a recipe for all of us to end up in the red.

By:

Source: Opinion: If we want to solve climate change, businesses need to invest in our planet  – CNN

.

United Nations Environment Programme 2021Weart

“The Public and Climate Change: The Summer of 19882020).

“Heat stored in the Earth system: where does the energy goNASA.

“The Causes of Climate ChangeACS.

“What Is the Greenhouse Effect?

Is the Sun causing global warming?

The study of Earth as an integrated system

Hurricanes and Climate Change”.

Poleward expansion of tropical cyclone latitudes in warming climates

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Eco-friendly Plastics Made From Sugars Boast “Unprecedented” Properties

The search for sustainable alternatives to common plastics has researchers investigating how their building blocks can be sourced from places other than petroleum, and for scientists behind a promising new study, this has led them straight to the sweet stuff.

The team has produced a new form of plastic with “unprecedented” mechanical properties that are maintained throughout standard recycling processes, and managed to do so using sugar-derived materials as the starting point.

The breakthrough comes from scientists at the University of Birmingham in the UK and Duke University in the US, who in their pursuit of more sustainable plastics turned to sugar alcohols. These organic compounds carry a similar chemical structure to the sugars they’re derived from, which the scientists found can bring some unique benefits to the production of plastic.

The two compounds in question are isoidide and isomannide, which both feature rigid rings of atoms that the scientists were able to use as building blocks for a new family of polymers. The polymer based on isoidide featured a stiffness and malleability like that of typical plastics, and strength comparable to high-grade engineering plastics.

The polymer made from isomannide, meanwhile, had similar strength and toughness, but with a high degree of elasticity that allowed it to recover its shape after deformation. The characteristics of both were maintained after being subjected to the common recycling methods of pulverization and thermal processing.

The team used computer modeling to study how the unique spatial arrangement of atoms within the compounds afford them these different properties, a discipline known as stereochemistry. As a next step, the scientists created plastics using both building blocks, which enabled them to tune the mechanical properties and degradation rates, independently of one another.

This raises the prospect of creating sustainable plastics with desired degradation rates, without impacting on their mechanical performance. Our findings really demonstrate how stereochemistry can be used as a central theme to design sustainable materials with what truly are unprecedented mechanical properties,” said Duke University professor Dr Matthew Becker.

The team has filed a patent application for the technology and is on the hunt for industrial partners to help commercialize it. The hope is that the sugar-based plastics can offer a more sustainable option not just in terms of production, but also their disposal, with petroleum-based plastics sometimes taking centuries to break down.

By: Nick Lavars

Nick has been writing and editing at New Atlas for over six years, where he has covered everything from distant space probes to self-driving cars to oddball animal science. He previously spent time at The Conversation, Mashable and The Santiago Times, earning a Masters degree in communications from Melbourne’s RMIT University along the way.

Source: Eco-friendly plastics made from sugars boast “unprecedented” properties

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The Race To Develop Plastic-Eating Bacteria

In March 2016, scientists in Japan published an extraordinary finding. After scooping up some sludge from outside a bottle recycling facility in Osaka, they discovered bacteria which had developed the ability to decompose, or “eat,” plastic.

The bacteria, Ideonella sakaiensis, was only able to eat a particular kind of plastic called PET, from which bottles are commonly made, and it could not do so nearly fast enough to mitigate the tens of millions of tons of plastic waste that enter the environment every year.

Still, this and a series of other breakthroughs in recent years mean it could one day be possible to build industrial-scale facilities where enzymes chomp on piles of landfill-bound plastic, or even to spray them on the mountains of plastic that accumulate in the ocean or in rivers.

These advances are timely. By vastly increasing our use of single-use plastics such as masks and takeaway boxes, the Covid-19 pandemic has focused attention on the world’s plastic waste crisis. Earth is on track to have as much plastic in the ocean as fish by weight by 2050, according to one estimate.

However, experts caution that large-scale commercial use of plastic-eating microorganisms is still years away, while their potential release in the environment, even if practical, could create more issues than it solves.

Overcoming an evolutionary barrier

The scientists working to find and develop plastic-eating organisms must contend with a basic reality: evolution. Microbes have had millions of years to learn how to biodegrade organic matter such as fruits and tree bark. They have had barely any time at all to learn to decompose plastics, which did not exist on Earth at any scale before roughly 1950.

“Seaweed has been around for hundreds of millions of years, so there is a variety of microbes and organisms that can break it down,” said Pierre-Yves Paslier, the co-founder of a British company, Notpla, that is using seaweed and other plants to make films and coatings that could replace some types of plastic packaging. By contrast plastic is very new, he said.

Still, recent discoveries of plastic-eating microorganisms show that evolution is already getting to work. A year after the 2016 discovery of Ideonella sakaiensis in Osaka, scientists reported a fungus able to degrade plastic at a waste disposal site in Islamabad, Pakistan. In 2017 a biology student at Reed College in Oregon analyzed samples from an oil site near her home in Houston, Texas, and found they contained plastic-eating bacteria. In March 2020, German scientists discovered strains of bacteria capable of degrading polyurethane plastic after collecting soil from a brittle plastic waste site in Leipzig.

In order to make any of these naturally-occurring bacteria useful, they must be bioengineered to degrade plastic hundreds or thousands of times faster. Scientists have enjoyed some breakthroughs here, too. In 2018 scientists in the U.K. and U.S. modified bacteria so that they could begin breaking down plastic in a matter of days. In October 2020 the process was improved further by combining the two different plastic-eating enzymes that the bacteria produced into one “super enzyme.”

The first large-scale commercial applications are still years away, but within sight. Carbios, a French firm, could break ground in coming months on a demonstration plant that will be able to enzymatically biodegrade PET plastic.

This could help companies such as PepsiCo and Nestle, with whom Carbios is partnering, achieve longstanding goals of incorporating large amounts of recycled material back into their products. They’ve so far failed to succeed because there has never been a way to sufficiently break down plastic back into more fundamental materials. (Because of this, most plastic that is recycled is only ever used to make lower-quality items, such as carpets, and likely won’t ever be recycled again.)

“Without new technologies, it’s impossible for them to meet their goals. It’s just impossible,” said Martin Stephan, deputy CEO of Carbios.

Besides plastic-eating bacteria, some scientists have speculated that it may be possible to use nanomaterials to decompose plastic into water and carbon dioxide. One 2019 study in the journal Matter demonstrated the use of “magnetic spring-like carbon nanotubes” to biodegrade microplastics into carbon dioxide and water.

The challenges ahead

Even if these new technologies are one day deployed at scale, they would still face major limitations and could even be dangerous, experts caution.

Of the seven major commercial types of plastic, the plastic-eating enzyme at the heart of several of the recent breakthroughs has only been shown to digest one, PET. Other plastics, such as HDPE, used to make harder materials such as shampoo bottles or pipes, could prove more difficult to biodegrade using bacteria.

Even if one day it becomes possible to mass produce bacteria that can be sprayed onto piles of plastic waste, such an approach could be dangerous. Biodegrading the polymers that comprise plastic risks releasing chemical additives that are normally stored up safely inside the un-degraded plastic.

Others point out that there are potential unknown side-effects of releasing genetically engineered microorganisms into nature. “Since most likely genetically engineered microorganisms would be needed, they cannot be released uncontrolled into the environment,” said Wolfgang Zimmerman, a scientist at the University of Leipzig who studies biocatalysis.

Similar issues constrain the potential use of nanomaterials. Nicole Grobert, a nanomaterials scientist at Oxford University, said that the tiny scales involved in nanotechnology mean that widespread use of new materials would “add to the problem in ways that could result in yet greater challenges.”

The best way to beat the plastic waste crisis, experts say, is by switching to reusable alternatives, such as Notpla’s seaweed-derived materials, ensuring that non-recyclable plastic waste ends up in a landfill rather than in the environment, and using biodegradable materials where possible.

Judith Enck, a former regional Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator in the Obama administration and the president of Beyond Plastics, a non-profit based in Vermont, pointed to the gradual spread of bans on single-use plastics around the world, from India to China to the EU, U.K. and a number of U.S. states from New York to California.

These are signs of progress, she said, although more and tougher policies are needed. “We can’t wait for a big breakthrough.”

Update: This story has been updated to clarify the timing of a discovery of plastic-eating bacteria by a Reed College student.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

I cover the energy industry, focusing on climate and green tech. Formerly I covered oil markets for commodities publication Argus Media. My writing has appeared in The Economist, among other publications.

Source: The Race To Develop Plastic-Eating Bacteria

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Related Contents:

Arthur, Courtney; Baker, Joel; Bamford, Holly (2009). “Proceedings of the International Research Workshop on the Occurrence, Effects and Fate of Microplastic Marine Debris” (PDF). NOAA Technical Memorandum.

Reusable Plastic Shopping Bags Are Actually Making the Problem Worse, Not Better

woman at checkout stand paying for groceries that are packed in a reusable plastic bag

Over the past few years, reusable plastic shopping bags began showing up in grocery stores in many parts of the world. They are sturdier than the flimsy plastic bags that have become a symbol of the global movement against disposable plastics, and so can be used many times, lending to their marketing as the ethical choice for the environmentally conscious shopper.

But of course, these thicker bags require more plastic to make. That means they could only improve the overall situation if they led to stores handing out overall less plastic, by volume, than they would without them—by, say, replacing thousands of single-use plastic bags a shopper might otherwise use over the years. Because no matter the style of plastic bag, it will still contribute to the global problem of forever-trash entering the environment, and the greenhouse gases associated with manufacturing the bag from fossil fuels in the first place.

But it seems they haven’t. A 2019 report from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Greenpeace looking at grocery stores in the UK suggests that the plastic “bags for life” utterly failed to do the one thing they were ostensibly meant to. As of the time of this writing in 2019, the top 10 UK grocery stores reported selling 1.5 billion of these bags, which represents approximately 54 “bags for life” per household in the UK.

For comparison, the top eight UK grocery retailers—representing over 75% of the market—sold 959 million such bags in 2018. Some supermarket chains have seen particularly big spikes in sales. The frozen-food store Iceland sold 10 times more plastic “bags for life” this year, 34 million, than last.

The UK introduced a 5-pence charge for plastic bags in 2015, and the government urged shoppers to instead bring their own reusable “bags for life,” which led to a surge in purchasing of the reusable plastic bags from markets.

“Our survey reveals a huge rise in the sale of plastic ‘bags for life,’ demonstrating the inadequacy of the current policy which is clearly not providing a strong enough incentive for people to stop using ‘bags for life’ as a single-use option,” the report reads.

Food safety

Most reusable bag shoppers do not wash their bags once they return home, and the bags may be leading to food poisoning, according to Dr. Richard Summerbell, research director at Toronto-based Sporometrics and former chief of medical mycology for the Ontario Ministry of Health.[17] Because of their repeated exposure to raw meats and vegetables, there is an increased risk of foodborne illness. A 2008 study of bags, sponsored by the Environmental and Plastics Industry Council of Canada, found mold and bacterial levels in one reusable bag to be 300% greater than the levels that would be considered safe in drinking water.[18][19] The study does not differentiate between non-hemp bags and hemp bags, which have natural antimildew and antimicrobial properties.[20]

A 2010 joint University of Arizona and Limo Loma University study (sponsored by the American Chemistry Council, a trade group that advocates on behalf of disposable plastic bag manufacturers) they found that “Reusable grocery bags can be a breeding ground for dangerous foodborne bacteria and pose a serious risk to public health”.[21] The study found that 97% of users did not wash them and that greater than 50% of the 84 bags contained coliform (a bacterium found in fecal material), while E. coli was found in 12% of the bags.

Overall, those same supermarkets increased the volume of plastic packaging they put out—including the “bags for life”—by 18,739 tons (17,000 metric tons) from 2017 to 2018. “It’s shocking to see that despite unprecedented awareness of the pollution crisis, the amount of single-use plastic used by the UK’s biggest supermarkets has actually increased,” the EIA’s Juliet Phillips told the Guardian. The grocery stores’ plastic-footprint increase was caused in part by the reusable plastic bags.

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“We have replaced one problem with another,” Fiona Nicholls, a Greenpeace UK campaigner who is one of the report’s authors, told the New York Times. “Bags for life have become bags for a week.” The bags, the report says, should be banned. Instead, customers could bring their own bags to the market. “When we go shopping, we should remember our bags like we remember our phones.”

Zoë Schlanger

By Zoë Schlanger / Environment reporter

Source: https://qz.com

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References

“CTV Toronto – Reusable bags contain bacteria, mould: study – CTV News, Shows and Sports – Canadian Television”. Toronto.ctv.ca. 2008-11-27. Retrieved 2010-03-19.

#Grocerybagcrochet #PLARN #recyclingpolythene A bit of my effort in reducing the use of plastic bags. In this video I tried to show how to Crochet with Grocery Poly bags and how we can re-use poly bags to make a bag for life and can avoid buying poly bags from grocery stores. We can convert poly bags in PLARN (Plastic Yarn) and can make a stylish, beautiful looking and sturdy bag for life using these Polythenes. With a little effort and no extra cost we can make this beautiful looking (& ever lasting) bag and can pay our part in saving mother earth. 🙂
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