Circular Economy: Past, Present and Future

For a society accustomed to the achievements of a linear economy, the transition to a circular economic system is a hard task even to contemplate. Although the changes needed may seem daunting, it is important to remember that we have already come a long way. However, the history of the waste hierarchy has taught that political perseverance and unity of approach are essential to achieving long term visions in supply chain management.

Looking back, it is helpful to view the significance of the Lansink’s Ladder in the light of the sustainability gains it has already instigated. From the outset, the Ladder encountered criticism, in part because the intuitive preference order it expresses is not (and has never been put forward as) scientifically rigorous. Opposition came from those who feared the hierarchy would impede economic growth and clash with an increasingly consumerist society. The business community expressed concerns about regulatory burdens and the cost of implementing change.

Circular-Economy

However, such criticism was not able to shake political support, either in Holland where the Ladder was adopted in the Dutch Environmental Protection Act of 1979, or subsequently across Europe, as the Waste Hierarchy was transposed into national legislation as a result of the revised Waste Framework Directive.

Prevention, reuse and recycling have become widely used words as awareness has increased that our industrial societies will eventually suffer a shortage of raw materials and energy. So, should we see the waste hierarchy as laying the first slabs of the long road to a circular economy? Or is the circular economy a radical new departure?

Positive and negative thinking

There have been two major transitionary periods in waste management: public health was the primary driver for the first, from roughly 1900 to 1960, in which waste removal was formalised as a means to avoid disease. The second gained momentum in the 1980s, when prevention, reuse and recovery came on the agenda. However, consolidation of the second transition has in turn revealed new drivers for a third. Although analysing drivers is always tricky – requiring a thorough study of causes and effects – a general indication is helpful for further discussion. Positive (+) and negative (-) drivers for a third transition may be:

(+) The development of material supply chain management through the combination of waste hierarchy thinking with cradle to cradle eco design;

(+) The need for sustainable energy solutions;

(+) Scarcity of raw materials necessary for technological innovation; and

(+) Progressive development of circular economy models, with increasing awareness of social, financial and economic barriers.

(-) Growth of the global economy, especially in China and India, and later in Africa;

(-) Continued growth in global travel;

(-) Rising energy demand, exceeding what can be produced from renewable energy sources and threatening further global warming;

(-) Biodiversity loss, causing a further ecological impoverishment; and

(-) Conservation of the principle of ownership, which hinders the development of the so-called ‘lease society’. 

A clear steer

As the direction, scale and weight of these drivers are difficult to assess, it’s necessary to steer developments at all levels to a sustainable solution. The second transition taught that governmental control appears indispensable, and that regulation stimulates innovation so long as adequate space is left for industry and producers to develop their own means of satisfying their legislated responsibilities.

The European Waste Framework Directive has been one such stimulatory piece of legislation. Unfortunately, the EC has decided to withdraw its Circular Economy package, which would otherwise now be on track to deliver the additional innovation needed to achieve its goals – including higher recycling targets. Messrs. Juncker and Timmermans must now either bring forward the more ambitious legislation they have hinted at, or explain why they have abandoned the serious proposals of their predecessors.

Perhaps the major differences between Member States and other countries may require a preliminary two-speed policy, but any differences in timetable between Western Europe and other countries should not stand in the way of innovation, and differences of opinion between the European Parliament and the Commission must be removed for Europe to remain credible.

Governmental control requires clear rules and definitions, and for legislative terminology to be commensurate with policy objectives. One failing in this area is the use of the generic term ‘recovery’ to cover product reuse, recycling and incineration with energy recovery, which confuses the hierarchy’s preference order. The granting of R1 status to waste incineration plants, although understandable in terms of energy diversification, turns waste processors into energy producers benefiting from full ovens. Feeding these plants reduces the scope for recycling (e.g. plastics) and increases COemissions. When relatively inefficient incinerators still appear to qualify for R1 status, it offers confusing policy signals for governments, investors and waste services providers alike.

The key role for government also is to set clear targets and create the space for producers and consumers to generate workable solutions. The waste hierarchy’s preference order is best served by transparent minimum standards, grouped around product reuse, material recycling or disposal by combustion. For designated product or material categories, multiple minimum standards are possible following preparation of the initial waste streams, which can be tightened as technological developments allow.

Where the rubber meets the road

As waste markets increase in scale, are liberalised, and come under international regulation, individual governmental control is diminished. These factors are currently playing out in the erratic prices of secondary commodities and the development of excess incinerator capacity in some nations that has brought about a rise in RDF exports from the UK and Italy. Governments, however, may make a virtue of the necessity of avoiding the minutiae: ecological policy is by definition long-term and requires a stable line; day to day control is an impossible and undesirable task.

The road to the third transition – towards a circular economy – requires a new mind-set from government that acknowledges and empowers individuals. Not only must we approach the issue from the bottom-up, but also from the side and above. Consumer behaviour must be steered by both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ controls: through information and communication, because of the importance of psychological factors; but also through financial instruments, because both consumers and industry are clearly responsive to such stimuli.

Where we see opposition to deposit return schemes, it comes not from consumers but from industry, which fears the administrative and logistical burden. The business community must be convinced of the economic opportunities of innovation. Material supply chain management is a challenge for designers and producers, who nevertheless appreciate the benefits of product lifetime extensions and reuse. When attention to environmental risks seems to lapse – for example due to financial pressures or market failures – then politics must intervene.

Government and industry should therefore get a better grip on the under-developed positive drivers of the third transition, such as eco design, secondary materials policy, sustainable energy policy, and research and development in the areas of bio, info, and nanotechnologies. 

Third time’s the charm

Good supply chain management stands or falls with the way in which producers and consumers contribute to the policies supported by government and society. In order that producers and consumers make good on this responsibility, government must first support their environmental awareness.

The interpretation of municipal duty of care determines options for waste collection, disposal and processing. Also essential is the way in which producer responsibility takes shape, and the government must provide a clear separation of private and public duties. Businesses may be liable for the negative aspects of unbridled growth and irresponsible actions. It is also important for optimal interaction with the European legislators: a worthy entry in Brussels is valuable because of the international aspects of the third transition. Finally, supply chain management involves the use of various policy tools, including:

  • Rewarding good behaviour
  • Sharpening minimum standards
  • Development and certification of CO2 tools
  • Formulation and implementation of end-of-waste criteria
  • Remediation of waste incineration with low energy efficiency
  • Restoration or maintenance of a fair landfill tax
  • Application of the combustion load set at zero

‘Seeing is believing’ is the motto of followers of the Apostle Thomas, who is chiefly remembered for his propensity for doubt. The call for visible examples is heard ever louder as more questions are raised around the feasibility of product renewal and the possibilities of a circular economy.

Ultimately, the third transition is inevitable as we face a future of scarcity of raw materials and energy. However, while the direction is clear, the tools to be employed and the speed of change remain uncertain. Disasters are unnecessary to allow the realisation of vital changes; huge leaps forward are possible so long as government – both national and international – and society rigorously follow the preference order of the waste hierarchy. Climbing Lansink’s Ladder remains vital to attaining a perspective from which we might judge the ways in which to make a circle of our linear economy.

Note: The article is being republished with the permission of our collaborative partner Isonomia. The original article can be found at this link.

Why it is Important to Recycle Used Filters and Oil

Illegally or inappropriately disposed of used motor oil can have a grievous impact on the environment. Studies conducted by MBP Solutions indicate that a single gallon of used oil can pollute up to a million gallons of water. Used oil filters are made of steel which means they can be recycled. In some developed countries, they are the most recycled materials and dumping them in landfills is illegal in other countries, while some have stringent laws that define how they should be disposed of.

Regulatory organizations such as the environmental protection agency reiterate that used oil filters should only be recycled or disposed of once all the free flowing oil has been drained. Presently, oil filters manufactured in the United States are not subject to dangerous waste regulation provided the filter is:

  • Hot drained then crushed
  • Broken through the anti drain valve or the dome and hot drained
  • Hot drained then dismantled

Hot draining is the process of draining the oil filter near or at engine operating temperature above 60ºF. Basically, the filter is either crushed or punctured while still warm in order to clear any surplus oil. The environmental protection agency recommends hot draining for up to 12 hours.

While lubricating oil hardly wears out, it gets dirty. Foreign bodies such as chemicals, water, dirt or even metal scrapings can mix with it and lower its performance capability. Contaminated oil should be replaced either with re-refined or virgin oil in order to execute its job appropriately.

The contaminated oil can be taken through used oil recycling procedures with studies indicating that approximately 380 million gallons of contaminated oil are recycled annually. Recycled oil is often taken through immense re-refining to eliminate all the impurities in order to produce pure oil.

The end product referred to as re-refined oil should fit similar rigorous compounding, refining, and performance principles as pure motor oil. Re-refining is an environmentally and energy valuable method of managing used motor oil. Producing a gallon or re-refined base stock requires less energy that producing crude oil base stock.

Advantages of Recycling Used Filters and Oil

Oil re-refining helps reduce heavy metal emissions and greenhouse gases as opposed to combusting it as fuel. Re-refining is an ideal way of managing used motor oil, it is environmentally friendly, and converts used oil into a renewable resource. Re-refining used motor oil reduces a nation’s reliance on foreign crude oil.

Used motor oil filters contain oil at the time of disposal. Having the ideal recycling company recover them ensures that the oil is recovered and re-refined. This also helps safeguard landfill space.

Collection of Materials

The manufacturers of oil tanks and filters are responsible for the materials. Many times, they provide big containers for disposing of the used filters especially in large volume shops. Recycling companies however can provide bins or drums for used filters while the shops provide waste oil storage facilities.

While used oil tanks will not be replaced when service providers are changed, shop managers must analyze the state of their used oil storage facilities to rule out spillage or loss when oil is transferred to an oil truck.

If need be, many recycling companies can also provide storage facilities. Used oil filters do not necessarily have to be crushed or drained before being recycled provided they are kept in a bin or drum.

What Next?

Oil filters are broken down into small fragments while the metals are removed and sold as scrap. Eventually, they are used to manufacture various products such as manhole covers and rebar. The contaminated oil is sold recycling companies. A huge percentage of the used oil is refined, drained, and used as an energy alternative to natural gas while the remaining percent is processed into hydraulic oil.

Finally

Used oil can be detrimental to water bodies and the environment in general. Companies should incorporate stringent recycling strategies for both used oil and filters to protect the environment and conserve space in landfills.

Landfill Liners and Alternative Daily Cover

The old garbage dumps of days gone by are no more. Today’s waste disposal solutions are increasingly sophisticated. Environmental regulation, recycling, and the development of plastics – of all things – have contributed to far more tightly managed landfills, with goals inching towards zero waste.

Garbage dumps used to be large holes, usually on the edge of town, where garbage could be buried. While this was an improvement on how people have historically dealt with their trash – by throwing it out the window, into rivers and fields, or alongside the road – it was still a health hazard, an increasingly offensive thing as populations grew, and an environmental burden.

 

In the United States, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, passed by the US Congress in 1976, changed how garbage is processed, managed and stored. The garbage dumps of the past were simply places where garbage was buried. Today’s landfills are much more complexly engineered sites.

They are extensively planned locations that are constantly monitored. This move toward increasingly more environmentally sound methods has also increased the efficiency of these sites. Before selecting a site for a landfill, city planners must work with engineers to determine what the effects a landfill will have in the long term.

An additional safety measure came when the EPA examined using alternative materials for landfill “daily cover”. Landfills are required to be covered at the end of each working day, and the original method was to use a layer of soil. This was obviously wasteful of resources, and used up the landfill quickly.

Since the EPA report in 1993, landfills and state regulations have increasingly adopted alternative daily cover (ADC), typically turning to geosynthetic materials such as polyethylene and PVC, which work well both to contain and to filter, and can be manufactured in very large and custom-fitting sheets.

Geomembranes and geotextiles (the “geo” part simply means working with the land) had already been used as part of the liner underneath the landfill. It now became possible to use them as the top cover also.

Landfill Bottom Liners and Top Covers

One of the biggest issues surrounding landfills is their impact on the environment, particularly the potential of contaminants reaching the groundwater supply. To prevent this, a bottom liner is used. While it is well known that placing large qualities of garbage in one location can have long lasting consequence, scientists and engineers continue to work toward better solutions that are more environmentally friendly.

The EPA constantly works to regulate how landfills are designed and managed so that any new discoveries of more environmentally friendly methods can be incorporated quickly. Currently for landfill liners, it requires multiple layers of materials be used for landfills.

The underlying liner of new landfill sites will often consist of a soil or clay layer combined with a geotextile – a synthetic permeable membrane that screens solids out from the ever-present liquid descending from the trash, the “leachate”. This liquid is a severe pollutant and is contained and directed to a treatment process by yet another geosynthetic layer, this one impermeable. And underneath this layer will often be another impermeable layer of dense clay.

Landfill daily cover used to be almost as elaborate, taking 6 inches of soil or clay for each day’s landfill cap. With the continued improvement of geosynthetic materials, these over-engineered solutions can be replaced by a more plastic material. Landfill covers made of a synthetic reinforced polyethylene can create greater safety for the environment, combined with being easier to use, and less costly than other alternative daily covers. They can also be re-used.

Daily cover must contain gasses generated by the garbage, control odor and dust, minimize windblown litter, discourage birds, and prevent pests and the sp[read of disease. Geomembranes do all these things very well, as well as reducing fire risk, improving community tolerance of the landfill, and most importantly, shedding surface water efficiently – thus avoiding adding to the leachate.

The light yet tear-resistant qualities of geosynthetic materials make them easy for operators to install. To further reduce the risk of tears or holes, manufacturers can create the liner in very large or even one piece to fit the landfill size.

The benefit of using this type of cover is that it reusable. This saves cities a lot of money. Also, because operators don’t have to add additional materials to landfill, the lifespan of the site is extended. The combination of a good landfill liner and an alternative daily cover significantly decreases the long term impact the landfill has on the environment.

The federal government provides oversight of landfill operations to ensure that improvements are made Landfilthat make them more environmentally friendly. This involves tracking recycling and composting efforts. Both government and operators are also exploring ways of generating energy from waste processes.

The United States generates 262.4 metric tons of solid waste each year. That number has grown each year – but efforts in recycling and composting have caused it to plateau, and since 2005, the growth has been minimal.

Bottom Line

Landfills are becoming better about preserving the environment. Their efforts, coupled with increased recycling efforts, are improving how waste is managed in the United States. The development of synthetic materials for landfill liners and alternative daily cover has significantly advanced the design and management of landfills.

Recycling Hacks To Get Familiar With

According to research, there are around 100,000 pounds of garbage that your community can create. This can have a great impact on the environment like diminishing resources, pollution, and landfills. Meanwhile, recycling is an activity which you can implement every day. It can help in maintaining a green home. This can aid in the reduction of negative effects on the environment. Thus, here are some recycling hacks to get started today:

 

Start with Small Steps

When you have decided to recycle, do not feel as if you have to start big. Passion for the environment is a great thing. But when you place too much pressure on yourself to get green, this can lead to frustration and stress throughout the process.

Thus, it is best to allow yourself to start small. Learn one part of the process and begin with it. Then, make it a habit for you and your family to begin easy before proceeding to the next part. As you take these baby steps, you will be more likely to include recycling on your life permanently. This is an effective Solutions on Waste, Recycling and Processing Recyclable Materials.

Reduce and Reuse

Part of recycling is reducing the things you use. Reusing the items you use every day instead of throwing them in the bin can aid you in your recycling efforts. Limiting the things that you have to dump will help you control the situation.

Know the Things That Can Be Recycled

It is easy to overlook the items and get confused about where to put your trash. Thus, you should check with your service provider on the specific garbage in your program. But here are the basic principles in recycling:

Cardboard and Paper

All kinds of paper are acceptable which includes flyers, books, colored paper, and junk mail. Do not include waxy papers. You can recycle cardboard so long as it is not filled with grease and food like pizza boxes. For other food boxes like cereals, make sure that you remove first the liners.

Plastic

Recyclable plastics have indicated numbers on them and you can see it at the bottom. Numbers one to seven can be recycled. Take note that you cannot recycle the majority of the utensils because of the low-quality plastic used. If you can crumple easily the plastic bag, then you don’t have to include it in the recycle bin. The curbside will not accept the plastic bags but your local store can collect and reuse them.

Aluminum

As a general rule, you can recycle all aluminum cans. Just clean and rinse it to remove juices and sodas. This can prevent the onslaught of the insect in the area.

Glass

You can recycle glass containers. Before you put them in the recycle bin, rinse them. Make sure that you don’t break these glass containers. When the glass shatters, it can’t be recycled anymore. This is because mixing various colors can contaminate the batches. Indeed, this is an easy and effective Solutions on Waste, Recycling and Processing Recyclable Materials.

Put a Bin in Each Room

Place a recycle bin at the bathroom, office, and bedroom. With this, you can collect all kinds of recyclable materials inside your house.

How to Deal with Old Electrical Items

We all cherish our electronic devices, from our laptops and mobile phones to our beloved household appliances such as our refrigerators and washing machines. But when these electric appliances become outdated or reach the end of their useful life, they become electronic waste and that’s a big problem.

Whether they’re complete junk or still in good shape, no matter what, you should never just throw an old electronic device in the trash. So how should you deal with old electrical items? Read on to discover some ideas on how you can deal with them.

electrical-waste-uk

Repair

Millions of tons of e-waste are discarded every year and a very small percentage of them are disposed of properly, all this isn’t good for our environment. Many of the devices we throw away haven’t reached the end of their useful life so before you get rid of them, make sure they are really unusable.

Whether your phone has stopped working or your washing machine is making funny sounds, the first step to take would be to consult an expert. A specialized electrician will accurately diagnose the state of your device and help you determine the best way to deal with it. Sometimes all you need is for an electrician to simply replace one of the device’s parts and it’s almost as good as new.

You can also try to repair some of your old appliances and devices yourself, some items just need a bit of fixing and connecting loose wires. When fixing an item yourself, check the product’s user manual or look for online resources to find the best and safest way to go about it.

Replace your throwaway habits with repairing ones and reduce your e-waste footprint while saving money. Whether you do it yourself or hire a professional, this will help you reduce any expensive repair costs later on and can greatly extend the lifetime of your devices.

Reuse

There are many ways you can pass on your unwanted items for reuse. If you decide that you want to dispose of an electrical item, consider selling or donating it. Alternatively, some old devices can be traded-in for new ones for a discounted price.

If your items are old but in good quality why not turn them into money? Second-hand electrics are much cheaper to buy. You can easily sell your old electronics online nowadays. The value of a used electrical item varies greatly depending on the condition, age, and current market price, consider all these elements before posting your item for sale to get the maximum value.

The best time to sell old phones and laptops is before new models are announced, so if you’re seeing headlines about an upcoming phone, it might be the right time to list your old unwanted one.

While you may make more money by selling your old devices, nothing beats the convenience of trading in your old gadget for an upgraded one. Some electronics manufacturers and retailers offer trade-in programs that give you cash or gift cards in exchange for your old electrics if they’re in good shape, others let you trade your unwanted device for a reduced price on a new one. Check the company website of your brand or retailer for details on its program.

Donating to charity is a great way to pass on your unwanted items while helping those in need. Check your local non-profit organization or look for reuse programs that will donate your old devices to people who need them or restore and resell them in support of a variety of good causes.

Before donating your old electrical items, make sure that they still function reliably and that they don’t require major repairs or parts replacement.

You don’t want personal or sensitive information to fall into a stranger’s hand. Before selling or donating your old phone or laptop, retrieve some important stuff that you want to keep like photos, passwords, contacts, and music. Once you’ve backed them up, wipe the device completely clean.

Every time new items are made, resources and raw materials are used. The process of extracting and using these materials creates substantial air and water pollution. We can help reduce these environmental effects and save energy by reusing items whenever possible.

Recycle

Recycling old household electrical appliances and electronic devices is usually an easy process thanks to the variety of options available.

Some electronics manufacturers and retailers offer recycling programs for their products, call ahead or visit their official websites to make sure the branch near you is accepting your items. You can also find recycling kiosks in many stores where you can drop off old batteries, wires, cords, and cables.

Plenty of nonprofit organizations, local communities, and official organizations also offer services to help you recycle old electronics. Moreover, several cities and towns around the world now have a local e-recycling center. Look for the nearest trusted recycling service or certified facility in your area to safely get rid of your unwanted electrical items.

To check if an old electrical item is recyclable, simply ask the following questions and if the answer is yes, it’s recyclable:

  • Does it have a plug?
  • Does it use batteries?
  • Does it need charging?
  • Does it have a picture of a crossed-out bin on it?

Some of the most common recyclable electric items include

  • Printer cartridges
  • Refrigerators
  • TVs
  • Mobile phones
  • Electric toothbrushes and shavers
  • Laptops
  • Watches
  • Cameras
  • Treadmills

Correctly disposing of e-waste ensures that the hazardous materials such as lead and mercury can be treated appropriately and the recyclable components including plastics, glass, and metal can be recovered for reuse. If your electrical item is deemed unfixable or unusable, responsibly dispose of it through recycling.

Approximately 25% of the electrical items thrown away can still function and most of the rest can be fixed. Always remember the three Rs; repair, reuse, and recycle when dealing with your old electrical items. You’ve got the resources at your fingertips to repair or reuse so many things, consider those first and if all else fails, look for the nearest certified recycling center.

The Technology Revolutionizing Commercial Waste Management

Every single one of us can do something to improve our impact on the planet, but it is a given that businesses of all sizes have a bigger footprint than families – commercial accounts for 12% of total greenhouse gas emissions. A big factor of that is waste management. From the physical process of picking up garbage, to the methane-released process of decomposition, there are numerous factors that add up to create a large carbon footprint.

Between hiring green focused waste management solutions and recycling in a diligent fashion, there are a few technologies that are helping to break down the barrier between commercial waste management and an environmentally positive working environment.

Cleaning up commercial kitchens

A key form of commercial waste is food waste. Between the home and restaurant, it is estimated by the US Department of Agriculture that 133 billion pounds of food is wasted every year. Much will end up in the landfill. How is technology helping to tackle this huge source of environmental waste? Restaurants themselves are benefiting from lower priced and higher quality commercial kitchen cooking equipment, that helps to raise standards and reduce wastage.

Culinary appliances for varied cuisines also benefit from a new process being developed at the Netherland’s Wageningen University. A major driver of food waste is rejected wholesale delivery, much of which will be disposed of in landfill. The technology being developed in Holland aims to reduce wastage by analyzing food at the source, closer to where recycling will be achievable.

Route optimization

Have you ever received a parcel from an online retailer only to find the box greatly outsizes the contents? On the face of it, this is damaging to the environment. However, many retailers use complex box sorting algorithms. The result is that the best route is chosen on balance, considering the gas needed to make the journey, the amount of stock that can be delivered and the shortest route for the driver. This is an area of intense technological innovation.

The National Waste & Recycling Association reported in 2017 on how 2018 would see further advances, particularly with the integration of artificial intelligence and augmented reality into the route-finding process.

Balancing the landfill carbon footprint

It is well established that landfills are now being used to power wind turbines, geothermal style electricity and so on. They are being improved to minimize the leachate into groundwater systems and to prevent methane escaping into the atmosphere. However, further investigation is being pushed into the possibility of using landfill as a carbon sequester.

AI-based waste management systems can help in route optimization and waste disposal

Penn State University, Lawrence Berkeley and Texas University recently joined together to secure a $2.5m grant into looking into the function of carbon, post-sequestration. This will help to shed light on the carbon footprint and create a solid foundation on which future technology can thrive.

Businesses of all sizes have an impact on the carbon footprint of the world. The various processes that go into making a business profitable and have a positive impact on their local and wider communities need to be addressed. As with many walks of life, technology is helping to bridge the gap.

Bioplastics: Making an Informed Decision

bioplasticsPlastics are regarded by some as one of the greatest human inventions and continue to benefit society in more ways than one. However these benefits come at a high environmental cost as research has shown that “over 300 million metric tons of plastics are produced in the world annually and about 50% of this volume is for disposable applications, products that are discarded within a year of their purchase”.

About 50 percent of all plastics produced worldwide are disposed of within one year of being manufactured; now that is a critically important statistic when plastics have been known to have life spans over 500 years.  Infact, this is the main reason behind massive waste accumulation of plastics in landfills, drainage systems, water bodies etc. Moreover, plastic’s destruction is evident when in 2009, it was reported that an estimated 150 million tons of fossil fuels were consumed for the production of plastics worldwide.  Given all of these facts, it is no surprise that the pervasive use of non-biodegradable plastics has provoked many environmental and health concerns, especially in developing countries where plastic is often disposed of in unauthorized dumping sites or burned uncontrollably.

One result of this broadening awareness of the global plastic waste problem and its impact on the environment is the development of bioplastics.  Bioplastics are based on biomass derived from renewable resources and are in many cases more environmentally friendly than traditional petroleum based plastics. Currently, numerous types of bioplastics are under development, the most popular being “Polylactides, Polyglycolic acids, Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), aliphatic polyesters, polysaccharides”.

Basic Concepts and Misconceptions

Overall, in the Plastics Industry Trade Association’s 2012 Bioplastics Industry Overview Guide, it is stated that bioplastics that are both bio-based and biodegradable play an important role in further advancing the plastic industry as a whole.  Incredibly essential to note, is that within the above statement, it states, the importance of bioplastics that are both bio-based and biodegradable.  This statement implys that not all bioplastics are biodegradable and/or bio-based.  In fact, according to a 2011 industry report, there are many characteristics such as degradable, biodegradable, bio-based and compostable that are used to describe bioplastics. However, not every bioplastic is comprised of all of these features.  According to the report, this remains a common misconception as the public at large still lacks a clear understanding of the various bioplastic related terms.  For instance, it is commonly thought of that the terms bio-based and biodegradable are interchangeable. However not all bio-based plastics will degrade naturally. In fact, “many bio-based products are designed to behave like traditional petroleum-based plastic, and remain structurally intact for hundreds of years”.

The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) defines biodegradable plastics as a plastic in which all the organic carbon can be converted into biomass, water, carbon dioxide, and/or methane via the action of naturally occurring microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi, in timeframes consistent with the ambient conditions of the disposal method (Compostable Plastics 101). This definition implies that there is a specific timeframe for the biodegradation to take place and merely fragmenting into smaller pieces, even if microscopic, does not make a material biodegradable.  This definition is commonly confused with the term degradable which is a broader term given to polymers or plastics that simply break down by a number or means, such as physical disintegration, chemical disintegration and biodegradation by natural mechanisms. After degradation, a degradable plastic can still remain in a smaller or fragmented form unlike that of a biodegradable plastic, which needs to completely biodegrade into water, carbon dioxide and/or methane. This distinction between terms results in polymers that are degradable but not biodegradable.

Another term that is commonly found to describe bioplastics is ‘compostable’. Compostable is defined by ASTM as “a plastic that undergoes biological degradation during composting to yield carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds, and biomass at a rate consistent with other known compostable materials and leaves no visually distinguishable or toxic residues”. While the ASTM has specific standards for a plastic to be compostable such as biodegradation, eco-toxicity, and disintegration, the main difference between a plastic being compostable versus biodegradable is the rapid rate at which biodegradation, eco-toxicity, and disintegration occur. Therefore, in theory, all compostable plastics are biodegradable however, not all biodegradable plastics are compostable.

Finally, probably the most often confused term regarding bioplastics is the label, “bio-based”.  As defined by the US Department of Agriculture, the term “bio-based” refers to solely the raw materials of the plastic. According to the Department of Agriculture, bio-based materials that are those that are “composed in whole, or in significant part, of biological products or renewable domestic agricultural materials or forestry materials”. Since the majority, not all, of the materials have to be renewable, many bio-based plastics combine both petroleum-based materials with naturally based ones. For this reason, some researchers have suggested that a bio-based material may not technically be a sustainable product. Therefore, while the two terms are somewhat related, whether or not a product is bio-based is not an independent indicator of whether it is biodegradable.

Making an Informed Decision

This lack of understanding between the terms is a large issue that does not get much recognition.  Consumers are increasingly buying more and more bioplastics but are not fully being educated on the differences between the various different types of bioplastics on the markets. While as a whole, bioplastics may have many notable attributes making them excellent alternatives to traditional plastics, they are not considered flawless solutions. Some bioplastics encompass all of the above qualities while others may only hold one or two of these characteristics; meaning that there is a vast disparity between how environment-friendly different bioplastics might actually be.

Consumers often see the term bioplastic or a bio-based plastic and automatically assume that it will breakdown into the soil like leaves or grass once it is disposed of, when as discussed, this is often not the case. All in all, given the significant differences between the terms, it is very important for consumers to know that “bio-based,” “biodegradable” and “compostable” are individual attributes and be educated on what these characteristics actually mean. It is equally important for manufacturers to be educated on these differences and make proper labeling of their bioplastic products.

References

Biobased and degradable plastics in California. Retrieved from  this link

California Organics Recycling Council. (2011). Compostable plastics 101. Retrieved from this link

Confused by the terms biodegradable & biobased. (n.d.). Retrieved from this link

Divya, G., Archana, T., & Manzano, R. A. (2013). Polyhydroxy alkanoates – A sustainable alternative to petro-based plastics. Petroleum & Environmental Biotechnology, 4(3), 1-8. http://dx.doi.org/10.4172/2157-7463.1000143

Liu, H-Y. (2009). Bioplastics poly(hydroxyalkanoate) production during industrial wastewater treatment. Retrieved from ProQuest Digital Dissertations. (AAT 3362495)

Niaounakis, M. (2013). Biopolymers: Reuse, recycling, and disposal. Waltham, MA: William Andrew Publishing.

North, E. J., & Halden, R. U. (2013). Plastics and environmental health: the road ahead. Reviews on Environmental Health, 28(1), 1-8. doi: 10.1515/reveh-2012-0030

The Society of the Plastics Industry, Inc. (2012, April). Bioplastics Industry Overview Guide.

United States Department of Agriculture. (2006). Federal biobased products preferred procurement program. Retrieved from this link

Circular Economy: Viewpoint of Plastic

Pieces of plastic have been trying to get our attention. The first scientific reports of plastic pollution in oceans were in the early 1970s. This waste plastic soaks up other pollutants at up to a million times the concentration in water, harming and killing sea life worldwide. From the point of view of the plastic, we have convincingly failed with solutions. Over the past 40 years the problem has grown around 100 times, with now over 8 million tonnes of plastic waste added to oceans per year.

plastic-bottle

Everyone is aware about ways for plastic to not become waste. We can set up redesign, sharing, refill, recycling and even composting. When it comes to creating practical possibilities for not making waste, people are super smart. But when it comes to making policy to install this practice throughout the economy, which has been the aim of circular economy for the past four decades, we’re consistently collectively stupid. I call this mob thinking.

We have intelligent activists, business people, experts and officials unintentionally thinking like a mob? always bringing forward the same decades old policy weapons. When these weapons don’t work there is a discussion about strategy but not any actual new strategy, just talk about how forcefully to use the same old policy weapons. This is how it’s been possible for waste management, waste regulation and the unsolved waste problem to all grow in tandem for so long.

If the piece of plastic had a voice in the circular economy debate what might it say? It would remind us to beware mob thinking. Today’s problems are solvable only by trying new thinking and new policy weapons. Precycling is an example. The piece of plastic doesn’t mind whether it’s part of a product that’s longlife or refilled or shared or refurbished or recycled or even composted (so long as it’s fully biodegradable). It doesn’t even mind being called ‘waste’ so long as it’s on its way to a new use. Action that ensures any of these is precycling.

Our piece of plastic does mind about ending up as ecosystem waste. It does not wish to join 5 trillion other pieces of plastic abandoned in the world’s oceans. It would be horrified to poison a fish or starve a sea bird. Equally it does not want to be perpetually entombed in a landfill dump or transformed into climate destabilising greenhouse gases by incineration.

The two possible outcomes for a piece of plastic, remaining as a resource or being dumped as ecological waste, are the same fates awaiting every product. Our economies and our futures depend on our ambition in arranging the right outcome. The old policy weapons of prescriptive targets and taxes, trying to force more of one waste management outcome or less of another, are largely obsolete. Circular economy can be fully and quickly implemented by policy to make markets financially responsible for the risk of products becoming ecological waste. Some ever hopeful pieces of plastic would be grateful if we would get on with doing this.

Reference: Governments Going Circular best practice case study of precycling premiums

Hiring a Waste Management Company Can Take the Guesswork out of Recycling

Whether talking about recycling for a home or business, this type of service is extremely important for the environment. Waste has a negative impact on the environment and can cause pollution of many kinds. Most companies that offer both garbage and recycling services are very organized, and consumers are expected to be equally organized in sorting their waste and separating it from recyclable items.

Because the process of figuring out what can be recycled, many individuals and business owners find it is much easier to simply hire a waste management company.

Below are some questions to consider when looking for recycling services and reasons why hiring a waste management company can take the guesswork out of recycling.

What Kind of Recycling Service is Required?

This can mean anything from home to office to hazardous waste to syringe collection services.  Some companies offer all types of recycling and provide the different bins necessary to mitigate these needs. It is important to contact the company and find out as much information that is needed to make an informed decision on how recycling is handled.

However, most companies will only offer a general list of items that can be recycled, including plastics, cardboards, glass, etc. This list will not be exhaustive, leaving many consumers to wonder what to do with items such as plastic bottle caps, milk cartons and the like. A waste management company will know the specific regulations for what can and cannot be recycled, eliminating the hassle for you.

What Can Be Recycled?

Bricks, wood, paper, metals, cardboard, plastics, concrete, and green waste can all be recycled.

  • Bricks – These are broken down and crushed in order to be made into new bricks.
  • Wood – Wood can be used again as building materials or can be processed into pulp or mulch. Recycling wood can limit the number of trees that are being cut down.
  • Paper – The process for this material mixes old paper with chemicals and water to break it down. It is then chopped, heated and broken down further into strands of cellulose.  This substance is then called slurry or pulp and is further recycled into new paper.
  • Metals – Recycling metals will not alter its properties, the most common metals recycled are steel and aluminum.
  • Cardboard – This uses a process that reuses thick sheets of multilayered papers (cardboard) that have been discarded.
  • Plastics – The recycling process for plastics recovers waste or scraps of plastic and reprocesses them into useful products.
  • Concrete – This type of recycling is becoming more common and uses a process of reuse of the rubble for new construction endeavors.
  • Green Waste – This can be anything from leaves to grass trimmings to flower cuttings that can be decomposed and then recycled. This will in turn produce what is called green waste.

There are a number of items that can be recycled, but it is important to note that not all recycling pickup services will be able to process all the items mentioned above. Certain materials, such as concrete or wood, must be disposed of at specific facilities.

plastic-wastes

Recycling has unending benefits

For the average homeowner, this can mean having to locate the specific facility and transport the recyclable materials to them. A waste management company will have the contacts in the industry to know where to take any type of recyclable item and can take care of the transportation for you.

What Recycling Techniques Are Used, and Are They Legal and Ethical?

  • Concretes and Aggregates – This process would involve using a crushing machine and combining the concrete with bricks, asphalt, dirt and rocks. The smaller pieces will be used as gravel, crushed concrete can all be used as dry aggregate, which in turn can be used to make new concrete that will be free of contaminates.
  • Batteries – This type of recycling can be very difficult; all batteries must be sorted into groups of similar kinds and require. Older batteries contain cadmium and mercury, which are very harmful and must be handled very carefully.
  • Biodegradable Waste – This type of waste can be made into reusable material via the process of biological decomposition. The two mechanisms that help this to occur are composting or converting it into soil improver and biogas. The latter uses anaerobic digestion where organic wastes are broken down by microorganisms in a biogas plant.

Again, a waste management company will be able to guarantee that your recycling ends up in the right processing facilities and to ensure that it does get processed according to government regulations and ethical means. When the wrong items end up in recycling, this can lead to an entire batch being thrown out. A waste management company will make sure that the recyclable items are properly sorted, helping to ensure that your efforts to recycle do not go to waste.

What Are the Benefits of Recycling?

There are many benefits to using a recycling service. For instance, recycling conserves energy, reduces greenhouse gases, reduces water and air pollution, and conserves natural resources by reusing recycled materials. Protecting the environment is one of the most important things a home or business can do. When an individual or business chooses to recycle all different kinds of waste, it makes the world a better, less toxic place to live.

Not only does recycling help protect the world, it also reduces the need for extraction such as mining, logging and quarrying. It also reduces the need for processing and refining of raw materials. All these processes can contain harmful, substantial amounts of water and air pollution. Recycling will save this energy while reducing the amount of greenhouse gas, which in turn helps to attack climate change.

SWM in India – Role of Policies and Planning

Out of all the measures that are necessary in addressing India’s impending waste management crisis, the most efficient will be changes at the national policy and planning level. It is well known among the small but growing waste management sector that urban India will hit rock bottom due to improper waste management.

Solid-Wastes-Management-India

Unfortunately, they think such a crisis is required to bring about policy changes, as they generally tend to happen only after the damage has been done. This attitude is unfortunate because it indicates a lack of or failed effort from the sector to change policy, and also the level of India’s planning and preparedness.

Important Statistics

An average of 32,000 people will be added to urban India every day, continuously, until 2021. This number is a warning, considering how India’s waste management infrastructure went berserk trying to deal with just 25,000 new urban Indians during the last decade. The scale of urbanization in India and around the world is unprecedented with planetary consequences to Earth’s limited material and energy resources, and its natural balance.

Rate of increase in access to sanitation infrastructure generally lags behind the rate of urbanization by 33% around the world; however, the lack of planning and impromptu piecemeal responses to waste management issues observed in India might indicate a much wider gap. This means urban Indians will have to wait longer than an average urban citizen of our world for access to proper waste management infrastructure.

The clear trend in the outbreak of epidemic and public protests around India is that they are happening in the biggest cities in their respective regions. Kolkata, Bengaluru, Thiruvananthapuram, and Srinagar are capitals of their respective states, and Coimbatore is the second largest city in Tamil Nadu. However, long term national level plans to improve waste management in India do not exist and guidance offered to urban local bodies is meager.

Apart from the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM), there has been no national level effort required to address the problem. Even though JnNURM was phenomenal in stimulating the industry and local governments, it was not enough to address the scale and extent of the problem. This is because of JnNURM is not a long term financing program, sorts of which are required to tackle issues like solid waste management.

Role of Municipal Corporations

In the short term, municipal corporations have their hands tied and will not be able to deliver solutions immediately. They face the task of realizing waste management facilities inside or near cities while none of their citizens want them near their residences. Officials of Hyderabad’s municipal corporation have been conducting interviews with locals for about eight years now for a new landfill site, to no avail.

In spite of the mounting pressure, most corporations will not be able to close the dumpsites that they are currently using. This might not be the good news for which local residents could be waiting, but, it is important that bureaucrats, municipal officials and politicians be clear about it. Residents near Vellalore dump protested and blocked roads leading to the site because Coimbatore municipal officials repeatedly failed to fulfill their promises after every landfill fire incident.

Due to lack of existing alternatives, other than diverting waste fractionally by increasing informal recycling sector’s role, closing existing landfills would mean finding new sites. Finding new landfills in and around cities is nearly impossible because of the track record of dumpsite operations and maintenance in India and the Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) phenomenon.

However, the corporations can and should take measures to reduce landfill fires and open burning, and control pollution due to leachate and odor and vector nuisance. This will provide much needed relief to adjacent communities and give the corporations time to plan better. While navigating through an issue as sensitive this, it is of the utmost importance that they work closely with the community by increasing clarity and transparency.

Municipal officials at the meeting repeatedly stressed the issue of scarcity of land for waste disposal, which led to overflowing dumpsites and waste treatment facilities receiving more waste than what they were designed for. Most municipal officials are of the sense that a magic solution is right around the corner which will turn all of their city’s waste into fuel oil or gas, or into recycled products.

While such conversion is technologically possible with infinite energy and financial sources, that is not the reality. Despite their inability to properly manage wastes, the majority of municipal officials consider waste as “wealth” when approached by private partners. Therefore, a significant portion of officials expect royalty from private investments without sharing business risk.

Good News on the Horizon

While the situation across India is grim and official action has to be demanded through courts or public protests, there are a handful of local governments which are planning ahead and leading the way. The steps taken to solve New Delhi’s waste management problem is laudable. If it was not for the kind of leadership and determination showcased in Delhi, India would not have had its only operating WTE plant. This plant was built in 2011, at a time when the need for waste-to-energy plants was being felt all over India. 1300 tons of Delhi’s waste goes into this facility every day to generate electricity. The successful operation of this facility reinvigorated dormant projects across the nation.

After living with heaps of garbage for months, Thiruvananthapuram Municipal Corporation started penalizing institutions which dump their waste openly. It has also increased the subsidy on the cost of small scale biogas units to 75% and aerobic composting units to 90% to encourage decentralized waste management. The corporation is optimistic with the increase in number of applications for the subsidy from 10 in an entire year to 18 in just a few months after the announcement.

In Bengaluru, improper waste management led to the change of the city’s municipal commissioner. The new commissioner was handed over the job to particularly improve waste management in the city. As a response to the dengue outbreak in Kolkata, the state’s Chief Minister went door to door to create awareness about waste management, and also included the topic in her public speeches. For good or bad, many cities in India have started or initiated steps for banning plastics without performing life cycle analyses.