Most people don’t see what happens to their trash. They throw it in a black plastic bag, toss the bag into a dumpster and the trash man collects it once a week and makes it disappear. Magic, right?
Most of our trash ends up in a landfill where it is buried and mixed in with decades-worth of junk. Certain items will break down over time while others are essentially just stored there, in a graveyard of forgotten items and a mountain of garbage.
In the year since China banned the import of other countries’ plastic recyclables, the global recycling industry has been in flux, resulting in plastics ending up in landfills, incinerators and littering the environment. This is causing countries and citizens across the globe to reexamine their recycling systems and highlights the need for zero waste practices.
Zero waste is the concept of eliminating the amount of trash thrown away by only purchasing reusable items. That’s a significant shift from the 4.4 pounds of trash that the average American tosses every day. But certain trends are helping make the idea of zero waste a reality in the United States. Let us have a look:
Replace Single-Use Packaging With Reusable Materials
Way too many plastic items that we use every day are meant to be used only once. And the amount of packaging that goes into shipping one box, that will simply get tossed in the garbage after the parcel is unwrapped, is astounding. In fact, 40 percent of plastic produced is packaging, which is thrown away after it arrives at your doorstep.
Plastic bag and straw bans are on the rise across the globe. Consumers are becoming more conscious of how their use of these items contributes to the trash crisis. Recent data shows that customers are more likely to buy products from brands that promote sustainable business practices.
Reduce Energy Waste By Choosing Renewable Options
Many industries are opting to reduce energy waste by pursuing renewable energy sources. U.S. manufacturers account for 30 percent of the nation’s energy consumption, which means manufacturers must take the lead in reducing fossil fuel consumption and energy waste.
Air compressors are vital to the upkeep of a successful farm, and many producers in the agricultural sector are also reducing waste by switching to high-powered air compressors that, when properly maintained, can reduce energy usage and cut costs.
Eliminate Food Waste
About 94 percent of food waste ends up in landfills, which contribute to methane gas emissions. Reducing food waste not only helps the environment, but it also decreases the amount you have to spend at the grocery store. It also helps to conserve energy, as less power is needed to grow and produce food if less is wasted.
Individual consumers can help eliminate food waste by freezing leftovers to preserve them and composting uneaten food, as opposed to tossing in the trash.
Restaurants can use these tactics and others to cut down on food waste, such as donating leftovers and properly training staff to get on board with waste reduction. They can also hire auditors to help them identify ways to reduce waste and streamline business practices.
Never Too Late to Make a Change
Though the statistics may seem disheartening, the reality is that it’s never too late to make a change in your individual or business habits to help cut down on waste and work toward the goal of accomplishing zero waste. Following these trends and implementing others is just one way to do your part to eliminate waste and protect the environment.
New 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.
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.
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.
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.
The waste management hierarchy suggests that reduce, reuse and recycling should always be given preference in a typical waste management system. However, these options cannot be applied uniformly for all kinds of wastes. For examples, food waste is quite difficult to deal with using the conventional 3R strategy.
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.
There are numerous places which are the sources of large amounts of food waste and hence a proper food waste management strategy needs to be devised for them to make sure that either they are disposed off in a safe manner or utilized efficiently. These places include hotels, restaurants, malls, residential societies, college/school/office canteens, religious mass cooking places, communal kitchens, airline caterers, food and meat processing industries and vegetable markets which generate food residuals of considerable quantum on a daily basis.
The anaerobic digestion technology is highly apt in dealing with the chronic problem of food waste management in urban societies. Although the technology is commercially viable in the longer run, the high initial capital cost is a major hurdle towards its proliferation.
The onus is on the governments to create awareness and promote such technologies in a sustainable manner. At the same time, entrepreneurs, non-governmental organizations and environmental agencies should also take inspiration from successful food waste-to-energy projects in Western countries and try to set up such facilities in cities and towns.
Used cooking oil can be easily recycled. All that is required the availability of a recycling plant and the used cooking oil to recycle. It is not a difficult process and anyone who would want to venture into the industry can quickly learn how to do it. They can then source for the used cooking oil and they are in the business of recycling.
Here are some advantages of used cooking oil recycling.
For your business
If you own a business, used cooking oil recycling is here to help you. Used cooking oil can be recycled to become fuel. If you are in the transportation business, you now have cheaper fuel for your trucks.
Further, in the agriculture industry, used oil recycling can be used to develop high quality organic fertilizer. This is fertilizer that you can trust to not only help produce healthy and nutritious crops but to also help balance and improve your soil in the long run. Organic fertilizer is much cheaper, and you can therefore make significant savings as you farm.
For your home
At home, used cooking oil recycling has numerous benefits. You will never again have your kitchen sink and drainage clogged by used cooking oil. Many people drain their used cooking oil down the sink which leads to clogging.
When you accept to be part of the people who want to have used cooking oil recycled, your recycling team will give you a container in which to pour your used cooking oil. Then you will agree on a day and time that they will come to collect it and leave you with another empty container.
For the environment
Another advantage of recycling used cooking oil is felt in the environment.
In many cities and municipalities, you will find numerous drainage systems full and overflowing.
A major cause for this pollution is used cooking oil. When it is drained in the sink at home and in restaurants, it gets into the sewage system, where it causes blockages that lead to overflow of sewage onto the city roads.
In addition to sinks, many landfills have lots of poorly disposed of used cooking oil. Recycling helps develop better methods of disposal, ensuring that none of the oil finds its way to landfills.
Recycled used cooking oil is also used as an alternative to biodiesel. It is much cheaper and easier to produce and does not affect the price and supply of food in a country or region.
For the economy
Recycling used cooking oil is also a boon to the economy.
With an improvement to the environment, it is likely that the country gets cleaner. This means that it can attract people from other countries to live, work and invest in your clean country.
Used cooking oil recycling also creates jobs for hundreds of people. It creates new jobs for the teams of people collecting the used oil from homes and restaurants. It creates high level jobs for the scientists who understand the chemistry of turning used cooking oil into soap or fertilizer.
With the creation of new jobs, the economy will have more people engaged and more money circulating in it. As a result, there will be significant economic growth in the country driven by used oil recycling.
For your pets
Used oil recycling also has significant advantages to your pets and animals. Used cooking oil can be recycled and turned into healthy, nutritious, organic animal and pet feeds.
Recycled used cooking oil creates high quality fish feeds and dog food. It also creates high quality pig and cattle feed.
Recycling used cooking oil is full of advantages. It can be converted into many things that are useful at home and in industry. It helps bring about a cleaner environment with fewer overflowing drainage systems clogged by used cooking oil that was drained down the sink. It also contributes significantly in developing organic farming affordably.
Used cooking oil is one of the major sources of biofuel. As the push for alternative sources of energy is enhanced, biofuel production has also gone into high gear. As such, it has moved from the unsustainable food sources to more sustainable sources such as used cooking oil.
With the adoption of used cooking oil as a source of biofuel, producers have gained numerous benefits. Here are a few.
Cheap to procure
One of the major benefits of used cooking oil as a source of biofuels is that it is cheap to procure. Sources of used cooking oil abound, and they are happy to have it offloaded off their homes and their premises.
Most times, you will find that those that have the used cooking oil will pay to have it taken away from them. As such, hotels and restaurants and even households pay biofuel companies to collect it from their premises.
This makes the process of collecting used cooking oil efficient and affordable. This is a huge first step in the recycling of used cooking oil into biofuel.
Easy to process
Once the used cooking oil arrives at the processing center, it passes through a chemical process that converts the used cooking oil to biofuel.
The process is easy and uses easily available reagents. This process eliminates all the impurities within the used cooking oil. It is a five-stage chemical process that culminates in the conversion of used cooking oil into a useful biofuel.
Another benefit derived from used cooking oil as a biofuel, is the fact that it is environmentally friendly. Biofuels produced from used cooking oil can replace fossil fuel diesel in a world ravaged by global warming. It burns efficiently and thus has almost zero emissions that can be harmful to the environment.
Biofuel from used cooking oil can easily replace diesel in vehicles and plant machinery. After processing, the resulting biofuel can easily replace diesel in numerous existing machines and vehicles. Many of these machines will not need any re calibration for them to use this fuel.
The use of used cooking oil biofuel will thus save money for the users and also help them reduce their impact on the environment. Company trucks and plant machinery that use diesel can easily switch to biofuels and companies will see a significant savings in their fuel expense as well.
Can be used to manufacture diverse products
Used cooking oil when recycled is not limited only to the production of biofuels. Rather, it can be used to produce a range of other products and materials that could be a significant business unit.
Used cooking oil can be processed into raw materials for animal and pet feeds. Used cooking oil contains high amounts of protein that will beneficial in animal feed.
Further, used cooking oil can be used to make soap, lubricants and many other useful products.
With these other products, companies that process used cooking oil have a range of products to get to the market to ensure that they remain afloat profitably.
Alternative source of energy for small businesses
Many small businesses have adopted the use of biofuel that is produced from recycled used cooking oil. This helps them save on high energy costs by using it to power some of the processes that use electricity and other expensive sources of energy.
There are many biofuel producing companies that use used cooking oil as part of their raw materials. I have outlined why it is beneficial not only to biofuel producers, but also to the end users of the biofuel that comes from it.
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