The world is having to confront the toxic results of our love affair with plastic. Could nature offer some alternatives?
Article by: Adrienne Bernhard January 28th 2019
Drinking straws and polythene bags may be bearing the brunt of the backlash, but the true scourge of single-use plastics is our sheer overreliance on them. From transport to manufacturing to food services, plastic is everywhere, and combatting this “white pollution” will require a sea change in the material itself.
Fortunately, scientists, engineers and designers are shifting their focus to ecologically friendly alternatives that create circular, low-waste ecosystems – liquid wood, algae insulation, and polymer substitutes made from fermented plant starch such as corn or potatoes, for example.
These alternatives do more than stem the growing tide of plastics: they also address issues such as safely housing a growing population, offsetting carbon emissions, and returning nutrients to the earth.
To transform one of the world’s most abundant resources into something with utility and sustainability takes a special kind of alchemy. Stone wool comes from natural igneous rock—the kind that forms after lava cools – and a steelmaking byproduct called slag; these substances are melted together and spun into fibres, a little like candyfloss.
Unlike fibreglass insulation (made with recycled glass), or foamed plastic (the conductive materials often used to block heat transfer in attics, roofs and crawlspaces), stone wool can be engineered to boast unique properties, including fire resilience, acoustic and thermal capabilities, water repellancy and durability in extreme weather conditions.
Over the past few years, stone wool has gained traction with eco-conscious architects and designers as they search for more sustainable building materials that are still cost-effective and aesthetic. The Rockwool Group is a leading manufacturer of stone wool insulation, running production facilities in Europe, North America and Asia. The company has installed stone wool in commercial and industrial buildings across the globe, including London’s O2 Arena and the Hong Kong Airport.
As wildfires and floods increase in frequency and severity, Stone Wool may also give homeowners an extra measure of safety in natural disasters.
Mushrooms aren’t just a flavour-packed addition to ravioli or ragu (or a sparkplug to the occasional psychedelic adventure); soon, tree-hugging fungi and forest-floor toadstools may replace materials like polystyrene, protective packaging, insulation, acoustic insulation, furniture, aquatic materials and even leather goods.
MycoWorks, a team of creative engineers, designers and scientists, is working to extract the vegetative tissues of mushrooms and solidify them into new structures, curating fungi as one might other organic materials like rubber or cork. Another company, New York-based Evocative Design, uses mycelium as a bonding agent to hold together wood paneling, as well as for flame-retardant packaging.
Mushrooms consist of a network of filaments called hyphae. When growth conditions are suitable, fruiting bodies – the structures specialised for the production of spores – make an often sudden appearance; so-called mycelial products are thus easy to culture and germinate.
Mycelium can be grown in almost any kind of agricultural waste (think sawdust or pistachio shells); mushrooms grow together within the material, which can be configured into any shape, forming natural polymers that adhere like the strongest glue. By baking the fungi at precise temperatures, they are rendered inert, thereby ensuring that the mushroom doesn’t suddenly sprout again in a rainstorm. While chanterelles, shiitaki and portobello may go better with pizza than mushroomy plaster, one thing is clear: the future is fungi.
Cement, concrete’s primary ingredient, accounts for about 5% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Researchers and engineers are working to develop less energy-intensive alternatives, including bricks made with leftover brewery grains, concrete modelled after ancient Roman breakwaters (Romans made concrete by mixing lime and volcanic rock to form mortar, a highly stable material), and bricks made of, well, urine.
As part of his thesis project, Edinburgh College of Art student Peter Trimble was working on an exhibit that was supposed to feature a module on sustainability. Almost by accident, he created “Biostone”: a mixture of sand (incidentally, one of Earth’s most abundant resources), nutrients, and urea – a chemical found in human urine.
Pumping bacterial solution into a sand-filled mould, Trimble devised hundreds of experiments over the course of a year until he tweaked the recipe. The microbes eventually metabolised the mixture of sand, urea, and calcium chloride, creating a glue that strongly bound the sand molecules together.
Trimble’s design offers an alternative to the energy-intensive methods with a low energy biological process of microbial manufacturing. Biostone produces no greenhouse gases and uses a widely available raw material. While Trimble's material would require reinforcement to be as strong as concrete, it could become a low-cost way of building temporary structures or street furniture.
At the very least, Biostone has spawned a discussion on ways in which industrial manufacturing can be made more sustainable, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and other developing countries where sand is readily available.
These bio-bricks do have an environmental downside, however: the same bacterial metabolism that solidifies them work also turns the urea into ammonia, which can pollute groundwater if it escapes into the environment.
A greener particleboard
Despite what it sounds like, particleboard – those rigid panels made of compressed and veneered wood chips and resin used in furniture and kitchen cabinetry throughout the world – hasn’t actually a place in the green-building pantheon. That’s because the glue that binds particleboard’s wood fibres traditionally contain formaldehyde, a colourless, flammable, strong-smelling chemical and known respiratory irritant and carcinogen. That means your faux-wood Ikea shelf is quietly “off-gassing” toxins into the air.
One company, NU Green, created a material made from 100% pre-consumer recycled or recovered wood fibre called “Uniboard”. Uniboard saves trees and avoids landfill, while also generating far fewer greenhouse gases than traditional particleboard, and contains no toxins. That’s because Uniboard has pioneered the use of renewable fibers like corn stalks and hops, as well as no added formaldehyde (NAF) resin instead of glue.
It’s no secret that petroleum extraction, which is required to produce plastic, has devastating environmental consequences. Worse still is disposing of the plastic itself: the toxic chemicals contained in plastic often leach into foods, beverages and groundwater.
Shockingly, recycling merely slows down the journey of plastics to landfills or oceans, where the material simply fragments into smaller and smaller bits that never completely biodegrade. Some reports predict that, by 2030, 111 million metric tons of plastic will wind up in landfills and oceans . Recycling is a step in the right direction, but to truly reverse course, we need to look toward plastic alternatives and renewable resources for a sustainable future.
Burt's Bees Donates $150K to the National Geographic Society to reduce individual plastic consumption
The motivation to go green has not only increasingly become part of many company’s corporate social responsibility but also as an aspect of remaining relevant in the future business environment. Besides, there are more and more environmental concerns that can only be addressed through green initiatives in terms of production, servicing and manufacturing.
Companies are therefore seeking more innovative methods of promoting eco-friendly environments by integrating green practices in their business functions. The following are the top companies that are taking the lead in incorporating eco-friendly practices by going green.
McDonald’s as one of the world’s largest food stores is taking the lead in going green by incorporating the outcomes of fast foods on people’s health while reducing their overall energy consumption. Particularly, the company uses energy-efficient appliances thereby cutting energy wastage by 25% during in their business activities. McDonald’s have also set up green parking lots by preserving them for only hybrid vehicles. The parking lots equally have permeable concrete with the capability of recharging the vehicles and cleaning ground water. Furthermore, McDonald’s use considerate means to obtain their animal products so as to limit their impacts on destroying animal habitats.
Dell is a leading manufacturer of computer equipment. With an aim of limiting environmental impacts, Dell has promoted the safe disposal of their products by coming up with an effective and efficient recycling program. Dell allows customers to give back any Dell-branded equipment to the company for free which encourages safe disposal and reduces the overall e-waste count. The company even accepts computers, printers and monitors from other brands for safe disposal.
Google has also made some tremendous efforts in going green by slashing their energy usage and supporting green energy projects. For instance, Google has constructed the world’s most energy efficient data centers and continuously campaigns for the need for energy conservation and the use of renewable energy sources as well as clean energy products. Google has supported and funded green energy projects by buying and installing numerous windmills and solar panels.
Bank of America
The Bank of America went green when it realized the need for promoting a sustainable environment. Within a period of five years, the bank was able to cut its paper requirements by 32%. The bank also started an internal recycling program and it has achieved success by recycling about 30,000 tons of paper every year. This translates into conserving about 200,000 trees. What’s more, the company offers 3000 dollars cash-back reward to workers who shift to the use of hybrid cars.
Telsa Motors is a business involved in the manufacturing of cars that are eco-friendly. The amazing aspect about it is that it does so without forfeiting the power and speed of the cars. The electric powered cars made by Tesla Motors are very efficient and can go from 0 to 60 in just 3.9, with a tantamount of 256MPG from its electric output. The cars are sleek and their overall maintenance costs are also cost-effective.
Wal-Mart has made significant advances in positioning itself to further green courses in their supply chain operations. As one of the world’s biggest retailers, the company startled many and its competitors when it placed a strict policy to cut off suppliers whose manufacturing, processing and distribution methods contributed to vast carbon emissions. The Wal-Mart retail stores also utilize 100% renewable energy sources and their transportation systems maintain on fuel-efficiency.
Honda has taken various steps to be 100% at par with their environmental protection duty as an auto company. The company has invested a lot of resources in producing fuel-efficient vehicles and is constantly seeking ways to develop a hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicle. As such, Honda is ranked as one of the most fuel-efficient auto producers in the US. At the same time, the company promises to cut down its carbon dioxide emissions. The company is also carrying out research with an aim of foreseeing a day when most cars will depend on hydrogen fuel as opposed to gasoline.
United (Continental Airlines before the merger)
The continental Airline (now United after the merger with united airlines) is another company that joined the worthy course of going green. It spent more than 16 billion US dollars to replace all their airplanes with those that are more fuel-efficient. This aimed at reducing emission by 5%. Further, since the year 2000, the airline has managed to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 75%. The airline has also employed about a dozen environmentalist staff members who work hand in hand with engine manufacturers to ensure more efficient processes and greener designs. The company also sorts its trash for recycling.
Tesco, a British grocery supply chain company, is not left behind in integrating green elements in its processes. Specifically, it offers shoppers who return shopping bags savings. Besides that, the energy powering its stores is from wind power. It has also heavily invested on recycling, the use of biodiesel truck for making deliveries, and estimating its carbon footprint on each item sold to have a better approach towards environmental sustainability.
Brooks has impressively joined the band wagon of green-oriented companies introducing a completely biodegradable running shoe. The shoe is as durable as the conventional ones that exist in the market. The technique used ensures the shoe only begin to biodegrade when it is in an active enclosed landfill. The biodegrading period takes 20 years as opposed to the conventional ones that take about 1,000 years. In other words, this approach can save up to 30 million pounds of landfill dumping within the same 20 year period.
S.C. Johnson, a company dealing with the manufacture of household products, has also joined the league of green companies. Its mission is to lessen the implications its products have on the environment. On this account, the company has managed to reduce 1.8 million pounds of volatile organic compounds from its Windex artifacts and another 1.4 million pounds of polyvinylidene chloride from Saran Wrap. The company has minimized the use of coal to generate power by replacing most of it with natural gas.
Coca-cola has made substantial strides in narrowing down to three most-important environmental goals. These include water preservation, energy and climate protection, and sustainable packaging. These initiatives imply a determination to be environmentally conscious. Accordingly, Coca-cola is actively involved in community recycling programs, use of efficient energies in production and supplies, and green packaging designs.
Starbucks is known worldwide as a top-ranking coffee shop. Besides that, it’s among the list of top companies that are going green. It has managed to do this by enforcing measures such as the bean-to-cup approach and the ingenious use of recycled coffee grounds in the making of their coffee tables. Starbucks is also in partnership with numerous environmental organizations, one of them being Earthwatch Institute, and continues to execute various environmental initiatives.
Toyota, the world’s largest car manufacturing company, has also come up with innovative cars that reduce the overall carbon footprint. One of the most outstanding cars is the Prius model which is also celebrated as the world’s first mass-market hybrid vehicle. The car has been sold to more than 38 countries worldwide and even EPA has acknowledged its efficiency in terms of fuel consumption. In the UK, it is categorized as the third least carbon-emitting vehicle.
Pratt & Whitney
Going green takes many aspects. One of them is scaling back on the use of raw materials. This is particularly how Pratt & Whitney company has made it to the list of top companies that are going green. Pratt & Whitney has cut back 90% of its ingots in the jet engine blades manufacturing process. With the use of this creative method, Pratt & Whitney has managed to lower the amount of wasted ingots while at the same time significantly reducing factory emissions.
HP (Hewlett Packard)
Hewlett Packard is another computing company that has consistently undertaken sustainable manufacturing and processes to reduce the harm its products pose on the environment. Particularly, it has taken impressive steps in ensuring the current HP branded materials are 100% recyclable. It has also revamped its computer disposal strategy by opening various operational e-waste recycling plants across the globe. Further, HP takes back computer equipments of all brands, and is committed to the use of renewable energy sources.
Target has realized the positive outcome of keeping an eye on eco-friendly sound business practices. Target has devised an innovative way of going green by introducing an eco-clothing line. The eco-clothing line is fashioned and designed by environmentally sound and dynamic fabric which limits the over-reliance of raw products. The retail operations also prioritize on lighting conservation at its shopping centers. Furthermore, Target funds and supports various environmental sustainability programs in the areas of education and environmental conservation.
ALDI becomes first grocery store to promise to switch to all compostable or recyclable packaging on all products
Every single item in ALDI grocery stores will soon come in 100% compostable, recyclable or reusable packaging, the supermarket chain announced this week.
That means all of the plastic bags that currently contain chips, snacks, cereal, frozen items, produce, and pretty much every packaged grocery you can think of, will have to be redesigned.
ALDI is in a unique position to accomplish this goal, as 90% of the stores’ products are made exclusively for ALDI.
“As the sole customer, the chain has incredible power to dictate how manufacturers package, ship and present their items,” the release says.
The manufacturers of the other 10% of popular products will have to redesign their packaging as well, if they want to keep selling them in ALDI stores.
ALDI is a major grocery chain with 1,800 stores and more than 40 million customers across 35 states.
The company says it will also include a How2Recycle labeling system, to empower its customers to actually recycle.
ALDI says it has never offered single-use plastic shopping bags, which the company estimates has kept billions of plastic bags out of landfills and oceans.
“The commitments we’re making to reduce plastic packaging waste are an investment in our collective future that we are proud to make,” said CEO Jason Hart
Warehouses are busy places. Goods are constantly on the move; inbound and outbound deliveries have to be dealt with as well as the movements of items from location to location. Many businesses now incorporate packing and assembly operations within the warehouse, creating an even more complex environment.
Businesses are trying to maximize their return on each dollar spent on warehouse operations. As well as incorporating value-added processes in the warehouse companies are looking to use environmentally focused procedures to reduce costs while increasing their social responsibility efforts.
When businesses look at making their warehouse processes more environmentally focused, they generally look at three main areas; reduce, reuse and recycle.
ReduceWhen we look at a warehouse there are many areas where businesses can reduce consumption, whether this is consumption of energy or resources. In turn, both of these concepts can help reduce spending. As energy costs continue to rise, any reduction in consumption will help the environment and a company’s bottom line.
Many businesses have been working to reduce the amount of packaging they use in shipping products. Advances in packaging materials allow a reduction in weight while maintaining efficiency. The reduction in packaging weight not only reduces shipping costs but saves energy by moving packing material and packed items around the warehouse. Biodegradable packaging materials are also an important part of this scenario, so customers are not liable for disposing of environmentally harmful packaging.
In the warehouse, businesses are reducing energy costs in a number of simple ways such as using motion sensors to only illuminate areas in use and charging forklift trucks in off-peak hours when energy costs are lower. Some companies are looking at introducing solar panels on the warehouse roof and intelligent electrical systems to take advantage of off-peak power.
ReuseWarehouses have been one area in a business that traditionally reuses materials. Items such as wood pallets and plastic totes are constantly reused in the warehouse. Some businesses are examining their warehouse processes to identify where reuse is appropriate.
One area that is of interest is in the adoption of returnable packaging for products. Some packaging can be extremely expensive to manufacture and is lost each time a product is sold. By increasing the life of the packaging and making it easy for customers to return, the packaging can be reused a number of times, reducing waste and saving money.
Other companies are trying to reuse the packaging material that they receive from their suppliers. Some packaging cardboard or packing can be reused and can reduce the amount of packing material that needs to be purchased.
RecycleRecycling of materials in the warehouse can significantly reduce waste. Sending used packaging and packing material to recycling facilities rather than waste facilities is the environmentally correct decision to make. However, there are many instances in a warehouse where recycling is also appropriate such as the recycling or environmentally correct disposal of batteries, oil, and chemicals. Many businesses have performed audits of their locations to identify areas and processes where they can be more environmentally focused.
These processes can significantly reduce costs as well as producing a more environmentally sound company.
However, despite the investment a company makes in order to improve its social responsibility, the employees need to change their work habits and follow new procedures that combined will help the environment and in turn, help the company’s bottom line.
Posted by: Brad Gething, PhD
The National Wooden Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA) Technical and PDS Manager, Dr. Brad Gething, co-hosted a sold-out two and half day educational short course with Dr. Laszlo Horvath, Assistant Professor at Virginia Tech and Director of the Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design (CPULD). The course, titled “Wood Pallet Design and Performance: Pallet Design in the 21st Century,” focused on developing techniques to design efficient and safe wood pallets using the industry standard software program, The Pallet Design System™ (PDS).
The course covered the major aspects of pallet design that affect performance: the location and dimensions of pallet components, the materials used, and the loading and handling conditions the pallet experiences. When these considerations are accounted for and simulated in PDS, pallet strength, stiffness and durability can be accurately predicted, leading to safer and more efficient pallet usage.
Amazon, DuPont, and 19 companies representing a broad cross-section of pallet manufacturers and recyclers, pallet brokers and end-users of pallets participated. Dr. Horvath noted, “We were very pleased to collaborate with NWPCA for the second year in a row. This partnership provides these packaging specialists a range of industry and academic experiences on safe pallet design techniques.” Added Dr. Gething, “CPULD at Virginia Tech is an outstanding facility to host a course on pallet design. The attendees were able to observe actual load tests in a lab setting while learning how to simulate loading a pallet using PDS.”
Planning for the spring of 2016 is already taking place, and will be held in Washington, DC. More information will be provided on both organization’s websites: PalletCentral.com and the Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design.
The National Wooden Pallet & Container Association (NWPCA) is the largest international organization of wood packaging professionals in the world with 640 member companies located throughout the United States and in 28 countries. The Pallet Design System™ (PDS) is the most used pallet design system in the world with 400 corporations in 24 countries using the software.
The Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design housed in the Department of Natural Resources is the leading pallet and unit load research and testing laboratories. The laboratory was established in 1976 and since then it focuses on the education of Virginia Tech students, developing state-of-the-art research knowledge related to unit load interactions, and serving the needs of the pallet and packaging industries.
Dr. Brad Gething, NWPCA Technical and PDS Manager
703-519-6104 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Laszlo Horvath, Director of CPULD, Assistant Professor at Virginia Tech
540-231-7673 / email@example.com
CHICAGO (CBS) — The days of taking your purchases home in a plastic bag may be numbered in the city of Chicago. A plastic bag ends up as litter in this Chicago street scene. (CBS)
A push is under way to make it illegal for city stores to pack up your goods in those bags, CBS 2’s Mike Parker reports.
Chicagoans use and throw away an estimated 3 billion plastic bags each year. And they’re not hard to spot being carried by shoppers all over town. Unfortunately, they’re also easy to spot everywhere, after they’ve been used and tossed. There seems to be a bumper crop this fall.
“India has banned them to the point where if you’re caught using them, you go to jail. Now, I’m not proposing that,” 1st Ward Ald. Proco Joe Moreno says
Moreno wants a new ordinance prohibiting big retailers from providing plastic bags to customers. Stores would be fined from $150 to $250 if they did not obey the law.
The billions of bags used in Chicago are not merely eyesores, Moreno argues. To make them takes 12 million barrels of oil each year, and they’re difficult to recycle. Plus, they can clog up the sewer system.
“I went out and talked to the guys that actually do it,” Moreno says. “They pull out hundreds of plastic bags out of our sewers. So, it’s costing the city money.”
The Illinois Retail Merchants Association is promising to battle the proposed bag ban.
“Certainly consumers are using them. They obviously want to continue to use them, so we continue to provide them,” spokeswoman Tanya Triche says.
Moreno says if the outright ban doesn’t fly in the Council, he’ll go to Plan B: charging a tax of 10 cents on retailers for every plastic bag they buy. He figures that could bring millions of dollars in revenue to the city and put pressure on stores to stop using the bags.
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