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

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.

Food Waste Management and Anaerobic Digestion

Food waste is one of the single largest constituent of municipal solid waste stream. In a typical landfill, food waste is one of the largest incoming waste streams and responsible for the generation of high amounts of methane. Diversion of food waste from landfills can provide significant contribution towards climate change mitigation, apart from generating revenues and creating employment opportunities.

food-waste-biogas

Of the different types of organic wastes available, food waste holds the highest potential in terms of economic exploitation as it contains high amount of carbon and can be efficiently converted into biogas and organic fertilizer. Food waste can either be utilized as a single substrate in a biogas plant, or can be co-digested with organic wastes like cow manure, poultry litter, sewage, crop residues, abattoir wastes etc or can be disposed in dedicated food waste disposers (FWDs). Rising energy prices and increasing environmental concerns makes it more important to harness clean energy from food wastes.

Anaerobic Digestion of Food Wastes

Anaerobic digestion is the most important method for the treatment of food waste because of its techno-economic viability and environmental sustainability. The use of anaerobic digestion technology generates biogas and preserves the nutrients which are recycled back to the agricultural land in the form of slurry or solid fertilizer. The relevance of biogas technology lies in the fact that it makes the best possible utilization of food wastes as a renewable source of clean energy.

A biogas plant is a decentralized energy system, which can lead to self-sufficiency in heat and power needs, and at the same time reduces environmental pollution. Thus, the benefits of anaerobic digestion of food waste includes climate change mitigation, economic benefits and landfill diversion opportunities.

Anaerobic digestion has been successfully used in several European and Asian countries to stabilize food wastes, and to provide beneficial end-products. Sweden, Austria, Denmark, Germany and England have led the way in developing new advanced biogas technologies and setting up new projects for conversion of food waste into energy.

Codigestion at Wastewater Treatment Facilities

Anaerobic digestion of sewage sludge is wastewater treatment facilities is a common practice worldwide. Food waste can be codigested with sewage sludge if there is excess capacity in the anaerobic digesters. An excess capacity at a wastewater treatment facility can occur when urban development is overestimated or when large industries leave the area.

anaerobic_digestion_plant

By incorporating food waste, wastewater treatment facilities can have significant cost savings due to tipping fee for accepting the food waste and increasing energy production. Wastewater treatment plants are usually located in urban areas which make it cost-effective to transport food waste to the facility. This trend is catching up fast and such plants are already in operation in several Western countries.

The main wastewater treatment plant in East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), Oakland (California) was the first sewage treatment facility in the USA to convert post-consumer food scraps to energy via anaerobic digestion. EBMUD’s wastewater treatment plant has an excess capacity because canneries that previously resided in the Bay Area relocated resulting in the facility receiving less wastewater than estimated when it was constructed. Waste haulers collect post-consumer food waste from local restaurants and markets and take it to EBMUD where the captured methane is used as a renewable source of energy to power the treatment plant. After the digestion process, the leftover material is be composted and used as a natural fertilizer.

The first food waste anaerobic digestion plant in Britain to be built at a sewage treatment plant is the city of Bristol. The plant, located at a Wessex Water sewage works in Avonmouth, process 40,000 tonnes of food waste a year from homes, supermarkets and business across the southwest and generate enough energy to power around 3,000 homes.

5 Interesting Facts About Waste-to-Energy Projects

Waste-to-energy (also known as energy-from-waste) is a complicated technology in the realm of renewable energy. There are a lot of hidden truths and myths about this technology that people need to be aware of. Renewable energy technologies, like solar and wind, have much more simple processes and gain most of the attention from media outlets.

On the converse, renewable energy sources that are highly complex like nuclear energy have a bunch of media attention as well.

So, why don’t we discuss a bit more about this relatively unknown technology and asset class? Here I’ll discuss a number of the most important facts about waste-to-energy (abbreviated as WTE).

Interesting Facts About Waste-to-Energy

Let’s get into our facts about waste-to-energy that you need to know.

  1. Waste-to-Energy Can Provide Baseload Power

The most familiar renewable energy resources such as wind and solar can only provide power if the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. WTE projects can actually provide baseload power that is used to serve consumers and the grid no matter the time of day or if the sun is shining or not.

Baseload power is essentially when intermittent resources like solar and wind become more prevalent.

  1. Not All WTE Projects are Clean and Green

While waste-to-energy projects would seem to be green and clean because they turn trash into power or gas. However, some projects require long hauling of trash to bring to the actual incineration facility. This actually ends up require much more emissions from the trash haulers than alternatives.

One solution to this would be to help promote the use of electric vehicles and electric vehicle technology to be installed in trucking, like waste hauling.

  1. WTE Projects Are Crucial to Help Reduce Landfills

Landfills have increased at an exponential pace the in last 100 years. Waste-to-energy projects are an awesome alternative to landfills as the trash is used to provide electricity or fuel.

WTE projects reduce waste volumes by approximately 90%, which results in fewer landfills that are needed to process ash. This ends up protecting our natural resources and land in a dramatic fashion.

  1. Most WTE Projects have Multiple Revenue Streams

Waste-to-energy projects are extremely complicated and expensive to build. Most of the investor economic interest is driven by financial incentives, renewable identification numbers, tax credits, etc. to help these projects get financed.

Beyond these other financial incentives, some of the waste-to-energy projects produce a byproduct, named biochar, which has multiple applications and fetches good prices. The biochar can usually end up providing the most value in the revenue stream or investability of the project itself.

In addition to other economic streams, waste-to-energy projects usually require high tipping fees. A tipping fee is what the trash hauler has to pay in order to dump the trash at the facility. With WTE projects, the tipping fee can end up being 50-60% of the overall revenue stack.

  1. WTE Facilities are Net Greenhouse Gas Reducers

Methane has more than 20 times the potency of carbon dioxide and is ranked as a very dangerous contributor to climate change and warming of our planet. WTE facilities avoid the productions of methane and end up producing up to 10 times more the electricity than landfill gas projects. If you didn’t know, landfills can actually end up producing electricity by capture the methane gas and compressing it into a consumable natural gas for power.

Sysav–WTE-plant-Sweden

Sweden is one of the best proponents of waste-to-energy in the world

WTE projects will usually have much more capacity than any landfill gas projects.

Conclusions

You can’t use waste-to-energy projects at your home similar to solar or even wind to get free electricity. However, knowing about projects in your area and the relevant suppliers will help you understand whether or not the technology is a perfect fit for your community. If you see a project coming online in your surrounding area, you should know how to ask the right questions.

At the end of the day, WTE projects are green and clean. They just need to have the right systems in place to make them more efficient and less risky to appeal new investor appetite. What fact was your favorite about waste-to-energy?

Do you know much about waste-to-energy projects? Let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you.

Plastic Packaging Waste in the Philippines: An Analysis

I recently took a 5-month break from my work as an environmental consultant to volunteer with Marine Conservation Philippines (MCP) on the issue of marine litter. During the first few months of my stint there, we undertook an intense programme of beach cleans across sections of a small sample of local beaches. The idea was to find out what kinds of material were most prevalent, to inform the types of local initiative we could set up to try and tackle the issues. Consistently, the vast majority of the debris we found strewn across the beaches was plastic; a significant amount of that was soft plastics which can’t be recycled – plastic bags, sweet and crisp packets, and single use soap and detergent sachets. There were some variations, though: at one beach, we kept picking up a staggering amount of styrofoam.

During our beach clean work and engagement with local communities, it became increasingly apparent that part of the problem was the variability of waste management across the municipality of Zamboanguita, in the Negros Oriental province of the Philippines. Despite national legislation, some areas received no formal waste collections at all. With the help of the local Coastal Resources Manager, Tony Yocor, we began to engage with the local municipality’s Solid Waste Manager with the view to supporting appropriate an affordable waste management practices.

We focused on solutions that have been successful elsewhere in the Philippines and in other emerging markets, such as the local collection and waste sorting approach developed by Mother Earth Foundation. Unfortunately, as with most places in the world, influencing the authorities to act takes time, and whilst we started to make some progress, Tony and the staff at MCP are still working on trying to get the full range of local solutions we identified implemented.

Materials and markets

We did, however, build our own ‘MRF’ (more of a community recycling centre in UK terms) at MCP’s base to improve the management of the waste we collected. The main aim of the site is to allow as many recyclable materials as possible to be segregated so that they can be sold to the local junk shops. We also hope that this can act as a demonstration site for the types of simple solutions that can be set up locally to improve waste management.

But ultimately, if we are serious about tackling this issue of marine debris, we have to reduce the amount of litter we produce, and many countries are making progress on tackling commonly littered items. Restrictions on single use carrier bags are amongst the most prominent and widespread anti-littering measures around the world.

England’s 5p carrier bag levy was introduced in 2015 and, despite its limitations, is reducing bag usage and (it would seem) marine litter. Last year Kenya hit the headlines when it joined the growing list of countries adopting a rather stricter line: it banned plastic carrier bags entirely, with offenders risking heavy fines or even imprisonment.

Although bans and restrictions are becoming increasingly widespread, they have not yet reached the Philippines at a national level and it seems no coincidence that a large proportion of the items we found littered on our sample beaches around Zamboanguita were plastic bags. One beach, close to where the largest ‘ghetto’ market is held weekly, had a particularly high incidence of plastic bag litter, and the quantity increased noticeably on, and just after, market day.

Without national instruments in place, we explored what could be done with the policy powers available to the local government. Working with the local Markets Officer and Coastal Resources Manager we put the wheels in motion to propose and implement a local ordinance to introduce a charge on plastic bags, initially at the market as a trial, with the potential for a wider roll-out if successful. It’s a model that could be reapplied elsewhere in the Philippines if national legislation isn’t forthcoming.

Sachet and sea?

Plastic bags are a challenge, but because they’re distributed locally it’s relatively easy to change practices. Other forms of single use packaging contribute just as much to the litter problem afflicting many South East Asian counties, but are harder to tackle because their source is more remote.

The Philippines, like many developing and emerging economies, is a ‘sachet economy’, with a huge range of products sold in one-portion, single-use sachets. You see them everywhere, from small ‘sari sari’ stalls to large shopping centres. The producers’ perspective is that this form of packaging represents a form of social responsibility, allowing them to provide safe, long-lasting, affordable products that meet people’s needs. However, they have a wider cost.

Sachet society: one of the most common forms of litter in the Philippines. Photo courtesy of Amy Slack.

I was involved in Break Free from Plastic Negros Oriental’s December beach clean and audit, and these sachets were the most common item we found. They accounted for a massive 25% of the items picked up from Dumaguete beach, beating plastic bags into second place (13%). The waste management system in the Philippines simply isn’t geared up to dealing with this increasingly popular type of packaging – the composite materials of which they are made are impractical to recycle and so lack the economic value that engages the interest of the informal sector. So, what could be done to help?

The Best Foot Forward

There is no ‘silver bullet’ to instantly lay marine litter to rest. Even if there was a global ban on single use plastics today, it would take time for already littered material to blow or wash its way through the system. However, introducing a compulsory extended producer responsibility (EPR) mechanism into policy could help end the blame game that currently impedes action: producers blame the general public for littering, the general public blame the government for inadequate waste systems, and government blames produces for manufacturing plastic packaging.

An EPR scheme would see government giving clear responsibilities to business, and ensuring that producers fund collection and reprocessing schemes to properly manage the waste from the products they sell in the Philippines. That would in turn incentivise producers to use more easily recyclable packaging, as the costs of managing this material would be lower. The goal need not be to try to ape the waste management systems of the West, which may not be suitable in the circumstances. And in the Philippines, where labour is cheap and informal waste management thrives, it may take little more than giving a small value to packaging products to greatly reduce the amount of material that escapes into the environment.

Conclusion

Although countries like the Philippines currently struggle most to cope with the consequences of plastic packaging waste, with the right set of policies and determined volunteers to help organise local action, there is scope for them to catch up and overhaul the West in developing solutions that really do reduce litter.

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

Plastic Wastes and Role of EPR

In just a few decades plastics have become omnipresent in our society. But, unfortunately, the consequences of their use last far beyond their useful lifetime. Everyone is aware of their overwhelming dispersion in our landscapes. The situation in the oceans is not better [1]. As a reaction, a few thoughts spring to my mind.

First of all, it is clear that the industry is assuming very little responsibility, and that Public Administrations are complicit with this. Extended producer responsibility (abbreviated as EPR) only affects –and only partially– those plastics used as light packaging, in vehicles, in tyres or as part of electric and electronic equipment, not any of the others. Also, recycling levels are not sufficiently high, as a result of poor separate collection systems and inefficient treatment facilities. As a consequence, society has to face not only the problems created by those materials which are not recycled, but also has to assume a high share of the costs of managing them as waste.

Secondly, it illustrates the importance of the quality of the materials that we aim to recycle, and thus the importance of separate waste collection; for all materials, but particularly for biowaste. Although most composting and anaerobic digestion facilities have the capacity to separate some of the impurities (of which around 40% can be plastics), this separation is far from perfect. Two recent studies confirm that the quality of compost is influenced by the presence of impurities in biowaste [2] and that, in turn, the presence of impurities is influenced by several factors [3], among which particularly the type of separate collection scheme, door to door separate collection models being those presenting better results.

Thirdly, it makes clear the urgency to adopt measures that address the root of the problem. High quality separate collection and sound waste treatment are necessary, and allow enormous room for improvement, but they are end-of-pipe solutions. It is also important to promote greener consumption patterns through environmental awareness campaigns, but this is not enough either. We have to address the problem where it is created. And this requires measures of higher impact, such as taxes on certain products (e.g. disposable ones) or on certain materials, compulsory consideration of eco-design criteria, generalisation of the extended producer responsibility or prohibition of certain plastics (e.g. oxo-degradable ones) or of certain uses (e.g. microplastic beads in cosmetics). One can think that these measures are a bit too hard, but honestly, after wandering around beaches and mountains, and finding plastics absolutely everywhere, I am bit disappointed with the outcome of soft solutions.

On 16th January 2018 the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy was adopted [4]. A number of measures will need to be applied by the European Union (listed in Annex I of the Strategy), by Member States and by the industry (Annex II), but also by Regional Governments and Local Authorities. No doubt that implementing the Strategy will bring about significant advances, but only time will say if it is sufficient to address the huge challenge we face.

The European Union has also recently adopted the much-awaited Directive 2019/904 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 June 2019 on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment [5], which introduces several bans and restrictions on different uses and materials. This is indeed a huge step, which needs to be followed by others, both in Europe, but also elsewhere, as this is truly a global challenge.

Note: An earlier version of this article was published in February 2018: https://mailchi.mp/db1fd794d528/sent-11-april-2018

References

[1] See for example: https://tinyurl.com/yxra3cod

[2] Campos Rodrigues, L., Puig Ventosa, I., López, M., Martínez, X. (2016) Anàlisi de la incidència dels impropis de la FORM sobre la qualitat del compost de les plantes de compostatge de Catalunya https://tinyurl.com/y37ncton

[3] Puig-Ventosa, I., Freire-González, J., Jofra-Sora, M. (2013) Determining factors for the presence of impurities in selectively collected biowaste, Waste Management and Research, 31: 510-517.

[4] The strategy and several accompanying documents can be found in this portal: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/plastic_waste.htm

[5] Directive 2019/904 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 June 2019 on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment.

Why Going Green is the Best Thing You Can Do for Your Community

As we go about our daily lives, it’s always a good idea to think about how we can contribute to the community we belong to in tangible and appreciable ways. Improving our communities from the inside not only allows us to make things easier and more convenient for ourselves, but also for the people we meet and rely upon in our day-to-day. Besides this, it also helps us think of other people’s needs rather than just our own—an essential need if we’re to live happy and productive lives. One of the best ways of improving our communities is, of course, going green: the act of adopting an environmentally-friendly lifestyle. This means taking active steps to minimize our carbon footprint and reducing waste.

It doesn’t have to start out big—we can start with the smaller things, and work our way up from there. Instead of buying new printer ink cartridges, for example, we can try using compatible ink cartridges instead. These are ink cartridges that are made the same way as new printer ink cartridges, but cost way less to make than branded ones. Instead of throwing away our old or obsolete electronics and electrical goods, we can look into getting them repaired. Another example of that is to refurbish old drones instead of buying new.

By taking up these eco-friendly practices, our communities will become cleaner, more energy-efficient, and much healthier places to live in, alongside other very practical and tangible benefits that everyone will appreciate.

Not convinced? Well, hopefully listing out those benefits in full below will convince you. Read on as we go through all the biggest reasons why going green is the best thing you can do for your community.

A healthier community

Enacting green and eco-friendly practices in your community will have the immediate effect of making it healthier for the individuals who live in it, enabling them to live longer, happier, and more productive lives. This can be considered as the most important benefit, seeing as we can tie so many health conditions and diseases to having an environmentally-negligent lifestyle. By going green, you can avoid these potential risks from taking hold in your community.

For example, recycling and minimizing trash or garbage helps makes your immediate surroundings cleaner and more attractive to look at. This causes disease-carrying pests such as insects and rodents to be driven away from your community, which then results in less people catching those diseases.

Another example is having the vehicles in your community switch to more eco-friendly fuel types will result in cleaner and healthier air, as well as reduce the chances of children and the elderly from getting respiratory diseases. Many companies like popgear use recycled material in their clothing. These and a whole lot more are attainable by going green.

Savings on utility bills and other expenses

One of the main tenets of going green is to be conservative when it comes to the usage of utilities, such as electricity, gas, water, and so on. It goes without saying that using too much of these obviously strains the environment.

For example, the excessive and unnecessary use of electricity when it’s clearly not needed increases the power demand from power plants, which in turn increases the amount of fuel being used to supply that energy. This uses up our remaining fossil fuels at an alarming rate, while also depositing more pollutants into the atmosphere and environment. The same goes for gas and other utilities.

By being smarter and more conscious about using these precious resources in our homes, we can reduce the impact we have on the environment by quite a large degree. It will help ease the strain our environment is currently experiencing in providing us these resources and ensure that they don’t run out as quickly as they would have if we continued being unnecessarily wasteful with our usage.

Besides this, conserving energy and resources also helps us save on our utility bills. Obviously, the less power, water, and gas we use in our day-to-day, the less we’ll be charged when our monthly bills come in. Up to 20% of expanses per household, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, are saved, especially if we adopt changes such as using solar panels rather than relying on our electrical grid. This is a huge chunk of money no matter how you slice it!

Durable and stronger homes and and structures

Let’s not mince words about it: eco-friendly and environmentally-conscious “green” products are more expensive than the brands that have an easier time fitting into our budget. However, we must consider that the former is also much more durable than the latter, which will inevitably result in a lot of savings in the long run.

This can be seen the most in construction building materials, especially those involved in the building and repair of homes. For example, recycled decking, which is made from recycled plastic and wooden fibers, have been tested to last five times longer than traditional decking.

Bamboo, a self-sustaining perennial grass that can grow up to three feet in 24 hours, is lighter than most building materials and yet has greater compressive strength than brick and concrete. The best part about it is that it grows faster than it can be harvested, meaning that there’s no danger of running out of it anytime soon, no matter how extensively it’s used.

By creating your community’s homes and structures using these eco-friendly materials, you can help save the environment while also ensuring that the homes and shelters will last for as long as they’re needed.

A self-sufficient community

It’s a fact of life that we have to rely on big companies to get us the modern conveniences and essentials we need to get through the day. However, by going green, we can help reduce our reliance on them and become more independent in our lives.

For example, taking the initiative to install solar panels in every home in your community will allow it to become less dependent on the power that companies provide you with electricity. With enough time, your community will be generating enough excess power that the same company will be paying you for that excess. There’s also the fact that if something goes wrong with the power plant, your community won’t be subjected to the same annoying and disruptive blackout that other surrounding neighborhoods will be, as you’ll have enough solar power to last you the entire time.

college-green

Let’s say you’re not quite at that level yet, in terms of going green. How about supporting your local markets rather than your nearby supermarket? By doing so, you ensure that the food-growing sector of your community continues to earn a living while also retaining the ability to keep growing natural and organic produce. Doing so also cuts down on harmful emissions, as you won’t have to travel by car just to get the fresh food you need. Your community retains its independence while helping the environment.

Conclusion

There are many ways to improve one’s community from the inside, with one of the major and more effective ones being able to adopt eco-friendly and environmentally-conscious practices. By doing so, not only does the community benefit hugely in the end in terms of health, sustainability, and independence from big companies, but the environment as well.

Dealing with Household Hazardous Wastes

Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) are leftover household products that contain corrosive, toxic, ignitable, or reactive ingredients such as paints, cleaners, oils, batteries, pesticides etc. HHW contain potentially hazardous ingredients and require special care and safe disposal. 

household-hazardous-wastes

A typical home can contain a vast array of household hazardous wastes used for cleaning, painting, beautifying, lubricating and disinfecting the house, yard, workshop and garage. The chemical-based household products from a single home may seem insignificant; but, when millions of homes use similar products, handling, storing and disposing them improperly may have the combined impact and becomes a major problem.

The health and safety of our families, neighborhoods and environment is threatened when HHW is stored or disposed of improperly. These products should not be put in the garbage bins or disposed in the storm drains or burned, as they pose a threat to human health and the environment. Thousands of consumer products are hazardous. The general categories are:

  • Automotive products: Gasoline, motor oil, antifreeze, windshield wiper fluid, car wax and cleaners, lead-acid batteries, brake fluid, transmission fluid etc.
  • Home improvement products: Paint, varnish, stain, paint thinner, paint stripper, caulk, adhesives etc.
  • Pesticides: Insecticide and insect repellent, weed killer, rat and mouse poison, pet spray and dip, wood preservative etc.
  • Household cleaners: Furniture polish and wax, drain opener, oven cleaner, tub and tile cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner, spot remover, bleach, ammonia etc.
  • Other: Household batteries, cosmetics, pool chemicals, shoe polish, lighter fluid, prescription medicines etc.

Each year, thousands of people are injured by exposure or accident involving hazardous household products.  Because of the dangers they pose. These products require special awareness, handling, and disposal.  In order to protect health and environment, every consumer should know how to properly use, store, and dispose of hazardous household products. 

Many common household products contain hazardous chemicals.  Once released into the environment, these substances may pose a serious threat to living organisms.  Small quantities of hazardous substances can accumulate over time to reach dangerous levels and contaminate the air, water, and soil. 

Here are some basic guidelines for managing household hazardous wastes:

  • Select the least toxic item and buying only the minimum quantity as required.
  • Read the entire label carefully for health warnings and use good judgment when choosing any product.
  • Store the product at a safe place and away from the children reach.
  • Avoid aerosol products.
  • Always use hazardous products in a well-ventilated area.
  • Never leave containers open.  Many products are volatile, evaporating quickly into the air. 
  • Always seal containers tightly after use.
  • Never mix chemicals and hazardous products. 
  • Do not use spent chemical containers for other purposes.
  • Wear protective clothing such as gloves and a mask when dealing with any hazardous material. 
  • Wash clothing exposed to hazardous materials separately from other clothes.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke while using hazardous products.
  • Clean up the place after using hazardous products. Carefully seal products and properly refasten all caps.
  • Never put hazardous products in food or beverage containers.
  • Keep products away from sources of heat, spark, flame or ignition.
  • Know where flammable materials are located in your home and how to extinguish them.
  • Keep a multi-purpose dry chemical fire extinguisher in your home.