Titanium – An Environmental Vanguard Among Metals

When titanium was first brought into widespread usage, it was lauded for its strong and weathering-resistant properties. Due to energy costs, production declined over the past 10 years; however, a new process established by the UK’s Dstl has reduced titanium processing time by 50%. The result –  Cheap, low-energy titanium production.

Titanium is used in a startlingly diverse array of applications, too. From paint, to bikes, to eco friendly party glitter, you will likely encounter titanium in your day-to-day life more frequently than you’d notice. It’s good news, then, that titanium is being used to support positive environmental change in numerous ways.

Titanium taking over plastic

One of the foremost ways in which titanium is helping to improve our natural environment is through offering alternatives to polluting items. A great example of this is plastic replacement.

According to clean ocean advocates The Ocean Cleanup, there’s over 80m tonnes of plastic in the oceans. A large contributor to this is the plastic straw, which features at 11th in the list of Get Green’s most commonly littered plastics. Many manufacturers, by utilizing the non-rusting and sturdy quality of titanium tubes, have opted to replace drinking straws with titanium. Given the possibility of cheap, low energy tubes, this means ocean cleanliness can be improved and carbon emissions mitigated.

Taking titanium to the next level

The material properties of titanium are being taken to the next level by modern science. Another huge cause of carbon emissions and pollution is the plastic bottle. A key target for environmental plans, the reusable bottle industry grew to $7.6bn last year, according to Nielson.

Titanium has entered the market through a  clever flexible bottle, with titanium a key component. The metal has again been chosen due to its resistant quality and the improving environmental impact of producing it.

Tackling the oxides

Oxides have been the main use of titanium for a while. Paint, ink, sunscreen, medicines, paper – there are countless products that use titanium oxide. Historically, the process for oxide extraction has been environmentally damaging, as has the product itself; for example, the USA’s National Park Service states that various sunscreens with Ti oxide will damage coral.

Many manufacturers are replacing plastic drinking straws with titanium.

Now, Titanium Oxide is likely to be brought into the green sphere, too. A novel new study published in the Journal for Pharmaceutical Sciences found that titanium oxide can be synthesized using bacteria, and that this could spell a much brighter future for the historically damaging extraction.

Conclusion

Titanium is a versatile and well renowned metal used in a huge range of applications. As such it’s not an easy proposition to remove it from the market on the grounds of environmentalism. However, through determined scientific study and consumer action, it’s becoming a figurehead in helping the public to use its quality and simultaneously protect the planet.

Foam Packaging: Take the Bull by the Horns

foam-packaging-wasteNew York City and Oxford are two prominent examples of local authorities that have tried to restrict the use of foam packaging for takeaway food and drink, arguing that doing so would reduce the environmental impact of waste in a way that alternative approaches could not. In both cases, the intervention of packaging manufacturers has lifted or watered down the rules. Other administrations might well be put off the idea of similar measures – but the argument for cracking down on foam packaging that almost unavoidably gives rise to regional waste management problems, as well as wider environmental degradation through its contribution to litter, remains hard to ignore. Bans, however, may not be the only option.

Menace of Foam Packaging

A particular target for action has been expanded polystyrene (EPS). It’s rigid and a good insulator, and yet a great deal of it is air, making it very lightweight: it’s little wonder that EPS trays, cups and ‘clamshells’ are staples of the industry. It’s also widely used in pre-moulded form in the packaging of electronics, and as loose fill packaging in the form of ‘peanuts’.

While no-one would deny its convenience, for waste managers, EPS is a challenge, for many of the same reasons that it is popular. It’s light and difficult to compact, so it fills up bins and collection vehicles quickly; and takes up a great deal of space if you try to bulk and haul it for recycling.

It’s easy to see, then, why in 2013 New York City’s council voted unanimously to prohibit the use of EPS by all restaurants, food carts, and stores. Yet from the outset, the ban proposal faced stiff opposition from retailers and manufacturers, with packaging giant Dart Container Corp. and the American Chemistry Council reportedly organising a million dollars’ worth of lobbying against the legislation. Once it took effect, the industry quickly managed to overturn it in the courts last month.

Ban on the Run

The city had found that the recycling of EPS was not, in fact, environmentally effective, economically feasible and safe, and NYC was declared EPS-free in July 2015. But in a widely reported ruling, Justice Margaret Chan deemed the decision “arbitrary and capricious”: the complex case turned on the question of whether there was a recycling market for EPS, and the judge decided that Commissioner Kathryn Garcia of the city’s Department of Sanitation had failed to take account of evidence supplied by the industry that such a market did exist.

Although it lacked the courtroom drama of the New York City case, a similar story played out in Oxford last year. The city council proposed to use its licensing powers to require street traders to use only “biodegradable and recyclable” packaging and utensils. The move was stymied by semantics: the Foodservice Packaging Association lobbied for the phrasing of the proposed licensing rule to be amended to ‘biodegradable or recyclable’. That tiny change allowed continued use of expanded polystyrene, as it is technically recyclable (though certainly not biodegradable).

Oxford’s traders are also required to arrange for the correct disposal of EPS takeaway packaging from their premises. This is an odd requirement given that take-away food is usually – well – taken away, and then disposed of in street bins, household bins, or in no bin at all. Unfortunately, Oxford City Council – like almost every other council in the country – isn’t currently able to send EPS for recycling, so the EPS it collects will in practice end up in the residual stream. The EPS litter that escapes will linger in the environment for centuries to come.

Foam Suit

It seems that both courts and councillors have been impressed by the manufacturers’ argument: ‘Why ban a highly efficient product when you can invest in recycling it instead?’ However, there are three important points that count against this contention.

The first is that, whilst EPS can technically be recycled, the economics of doing so remain tenuous. Zero Waste Scotland’s report on Plastic Recycling Business Opportunities found that polystyrene waste compacting and collection was the only one of five options considered that did not represent a viable business opportunity in Scotland.

In order to make the finances of collecting EPS for recycling stack up in New York, Dart Corporation and Plastics Recycling Inc. had to offer to provide the city with $500,000 of sorting technology; pay for four staff; and guarantee to buy the material at $160 per tonne for five years. Without this (time limited) largesse, New York’s ban would likely have stood.

They also provided a list of 21 buyers, who they claimed would purchase dirty EPS – although when the city did a market test, it could find no realistic market for the material. It’s hard to know whose view of the US market is correct; however, in the UK, the market is definitely weak.

Of the 34 EPS recyclers listed by the BPF Expanded Polystyrene Group, 12 only accept clean EPS – ruling out post-consumer fast food waste. Another dozen will only accept compacted EPS, creating an extra processing cost for anyone attempting to separate EPS for recycling. That leaves a maximum of ten UK outlets: not enough to handle the potential supply, and leaving large tracts of the country out of economic haulage range for such a bulky, lightweight material.

Foam fatale

The second is that it’s difficult to get a high percentage of takeaway food containers into the recycling stream. Food eaten on the go is likely, at best, to go into a litter bin. And if it’s littered, because it’s light, EPS can also easily be blown around the streets, contributing to urban, riverine and ultimately marine litter. It’s also very slow to break down in the natural environment. Polystyrene has been found to make up 8% of marine litter washed up on North East Atlantic beaches; in all, plastics account for three quarters of this litter. The cost, particularly for coastal and island nations, is only beginning to be recognised.

That leads on to the third argument: while EPS undoubtedly works, less damaging alternatives are clearly available. Vegware, for example, allows takeaway boxes to be moved up the waste hierarchy – from disposal to composting. Reducing impacts was clearly a consideration in Oxford: in the words of Councillor Colin Cooke:

“It is about making the waste that we do have to get rid of more user-friendly and sustainable.”

The economic and technical difficulty in recycling EPS, combined with the long-term impacts of its littering and disposal, led Michelle Rose Rubio to conclude, in an Isonomia article last year, that environmentally minded people – and perhaps governments – should perhaps avoid it altogether.

Silver Lining

Despite the discouraging events in New York and Oxford, there’s better news from elsewhere. Bans remain in place in Toronto and Paris (both dating from 2007), while Muntinlupa in the Philippines, and the coastal state of Malaka in Malaysia have imposed charges, fines, and biodegradable replacements for EPS food packaging, eventually leading to bans.

Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead has indicated that the Scottish Government is: “considering a number of options in line with the commitment in the national litter strategy to influence product design of frequently littered items to reduce their environmental impact… [W]e note a number of US cities have introduced bans on Styrofoam products, most recently New York City. We are keen to learn from these cities’ experience of introducing and implementing such bans.”

In Wales, a polystyrene ban petition lodged last year by Friends of Barry Beaches has been picking up support. The Foodservice Packaging Association’s pre-emptive opposition to the notion certainly suggests we haven’t heard the last of EPS food packaging bans in the UK.

However, bans are not the only way to deter the use of problem products. England has just joined the ranks of countries to impose a charge for single use plastic bags. Belgium has a tax on disposable cutlery, and Malta taxes numerous products on environmental grounds, including chewing gum and EPS clamshells. Whilst beyond the powers of local authorities, fiscal measures could drive change while being a bit less of a blunt instrument than a ban.

While EPS manufacturers may have scored some recent successes, they haven’t won the overarching argument. As we push towards a more circular economy, the pressure to reduce our reliance on materials that are inherently hard to recycle, which tend to escape into the environment, and which don’t decompose naturally, will grow. For EPS fast food packaging, the chips could soon be well and truly down.

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

Waste Management in Iraq

Iraq is one of the most populous Arab countries with population exceeding 32 million. Rapid economic growth, high population growth, increasing individual income and sectarian conflicts have led to worsening problem of solid waste management problem in Iraq. The country is estimated to produce 31,000 tons of solid waste every day with per capita waste generation exceeding 1.4 kg per day. Baghdad alone produces more than 1.5 million tons of solid wastes each year.

Rapid increase in waste generation is putting tremendous strain on Iraqi waste handling infrastructure which have heavily damaged after decades of conflict and mismanagement. In the absence of modern and efficient waste handling and waste disposal infrastructure most of the wastes are disposed in unregulated landfills across Iraq, with little or no concern for both human health and environment. Spontaneous fires, groundwater contamination, surface water pollution and large-scale greenhouse gas emissions have been the hallmarks of Iraqi landfills.

The National Solid Waste Management Plan (NSWMP) for Iraq was developed in 2007 by collaboration of international waste management specialist. The plan contains the recommendations for development and which explains the background for decisions.

The plan states that Iraq will build 33 engineered landfills with the capacity of 600 million m3 in all of the 18 governorates in Iraq by 2027. In addition to constructing landfills the plan also focuses on the collection and transportation, disposable, recycling and reuses systems. Environment education was also taken into consideration to ensure provision of educational system which supports the participation of both communities and individuals in waste management in Iraq.

Besides Iraqi national waste management plan, the Iraqi ministry of environment started in 2008 its own comprehensive development program which is part of the ministry of environment efforts to improve environmental situation in Iraq. Ministry of Municipalities and Public Work, in collaboration with international agencies like UN Habitat, USAID, UNICEF and EU, are developing and implementing solid waste management master plans in several Iraqi governorates including Kirkuk, Anbar, Basra, Dohuk, Erbil, Sulaimaniya and Thi Qar.

Recent Progress

Kirkuk was the first city in Iraq to benefit from solid waste management program when foreign forces initiated a solid-waste management program for the city in 2005 to find an environmentally safe solution to the city’s garbage collection and disposal dilemma. As a result the first environmentally engineered and constructed landfill in Iraq was introduced in Kirkuk In February 2007. The 48-acre site is located 10 miles south of Kirkuk, with an expected lifespan of 10–12 years and meets both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and European Union Landfill Directive standards.

The Iraqi city of Basra also benefited from international aid with the completion of the first landfill that is compliant with international environmental standards has been completed. Basra solid waste management program developed by UNICEF will not only restore efficient waste collection systems in the city but will also create informal “recycling schools” that will help in spreading environmental awareness in in the city’s society by launching a campaign to educate the public about effective waste disposal practices.

In addition, Basra city program plans to establish a regional treatment and disposal facility and initiate street sweeping crews. Basrah city waste management program is part of the UNICEF program supported by the European Union to develop Iraq’s water and sanitation sector.

Erbil’s solid waste management master plan has also been developed by UNICEF with funding from the European Union. Recently a contract was signed by the Kurdistan Region’s Ministry of Municipalities and Tourism and a Canadian company to recycle the city’s garbage which will involve the construction of two recycling plants in the eastern and western outskirts of Erbil.

UNICEF has also developed a master plan to improve the management of solid waste in Dohuk Governorate which has been finalized in June 2011. Solid waste management master plans for Anbar, Sulaimaniya and Thi Qar governorates are also a part of UNICEF and EU efforts to attaining Iraq’s Millennium Development Goal targets of ensuring environmental sustainability by 2015.

Even though all of the effort by the international organizations are at local level and still not enough to solve solid waste management problem in Iraq, however these initiatives have been able to provide a much needed information regarding the size of the issue and valuable lessened learned used later by the Iraqi government to develop the Iraqi national waste management plan with the support of organizations such as UN Habitat, UNDG Iraq Trust Fund and USAID. The Iraqi national waste management plan is expected to ease the solid waste management problem in Iraq in the near future.