Living on Earth: Beyond the Headlines

Air Date: Week of July 1, 2022


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Researchers at Sichuan University have developed a fishbot that could help clean up microplastics in the ocean. (Photo: Naja Bertold Jensen on Unsplash)

Environmental Health News Editor Peter Dykstra joins Host Steve Curwood to discuss the statistic that less than 50% of our world’s annual grain production is eaten by humans. They then review the innovative microplastic-removing “fishbots” coming out of a research group at Sichuan University and finish up with an anniversary for the Hoover Dam, a massive source of water and hydropower approved for development 93 years ago.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Well, it’s that time in the broadcast when we turn to Peter Dykstra. For a look Beyond the Headlines, Peter is an editor with Environmental Health News. That’s ehn.org and dailyclimate.org. He’s on the line now from Atlanta, Georgia. Hey, Peter, it’s been pretty hot here. What about down south with you?

DYKSTRA: Last week, we hit 100º a couple of times; this week, it’s a little bit lower than that. But it’s still summertime hot in Georgia.

CURWOOD: Ouch.

DYKSTRA: Well, Steve, let me tell you a couple of things that I found interesting this week. According to the World Food Program, most of the world’s grain is not eaten by humans. We produce just under 3 billion metric tons of grain a year. And more than half of that goes to feed animals or is used as biofuels like ethanol.

CURWOOD: So even in this time of grain shortage, because we’ve got this war going on with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and of course, the recurrent hunger problems, we’re not eating half of what we produce, and it’s going to animals?

DYKSTRA: Yeah, we’re talking about all of the common staple grains: corn, wheat, millet, rye, oats. And the world is desperate to feed itself. Ukraine and Russia have more than complicated the situation. But all of that grain that goes to feed animals, in turn, those animals are used to feed us, which creates health problems, climate problems, and more.

According to the World Food Program, humans eat less than 50% of the grain we produce. The majority of grain goes to animal feed and biofuel. (Photo: Kees Streefkerk on Unsplash)

CURWOOD: Peter, since most of the grain isn’t eaten directly by humans, but goes to livestock, if we cut down on our eating of meat as a species, we will not only help the climate – because there’s a lot of climate related gas emissions associated with all that meat – we also help lessen the shortage for other people on the planet who need to eat.

DYKSTRA: That’s right. And if I can say this in the politest way possible, we could use a little bit less meat eating here, where of course other parts of the world don’t get enough food and don’t get enough nutrition.

CURWOOD: So, there’s plenty of grain to go around for people to eat directly as long as we make the right choices. Heya, what else do you have for us today?

DYKSTRA: The word for today is: fishbots. There was a study published last week in the journal Nano Letters. Researchers in China at Sichuan University created a fishbot made out of composite material that can draw microplastics to itself as it swims. The Sichuan University team thinks that the new bot could be used to transport microplastics to another location where they can be collected and properly disposed of.

CURWOOD: Hey, Peter, just give me a little tech lesson. How exactly does this fish bot attract microplastics to it?

DYKSTRA: These fishbots react to a near-infrared light laser. Blinking the laser on and off causes the fishbot tail to flap back and forth acting like a fish. And as it moves along, plastic material sticks to the body of the fishbot.

CURWOOD: This would be an amazing solution to a huge problem. I mean, we’re literally choking the oceans with microplastics. But it sounds like this isn’t exactly an inexpensive device.

DYKSTRA: Not necessarily inexpensive, not necessarily efficient, and certainly not necessarily something that’s going to rid the world of the microplastics problem. But it’s an innovation. And if we have 1000 innovations, we might be able to put a dent in the huge problem of plastic pollution.

On June 25th, 1929, President Herbert Hoover authorized construction of the Hoover Dam (originally Boulder Dam). Today, overuse and drought threaten the American Southwest’s water supply. (Photo: Ryan Thorpe on Unsplash)

CURWOOD: Okay, well, I like that, a sign of hope to deal with the plastic problem. Hey, what do you have from the annals of history for us today?

DYKSTRA: On June 25th, 1929, President Herbert Hoover authorized the construction of a huge dam at the Boulder Canyon near the very small town of Las Vegas, Nevada. The Boulder Dam was eventually renamed the Hoover Dam, and it supplies water and electricity to farms and homes in Nevada, Southern California, and Arizona.

CURWOOD: There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of water in the Colorado River system now to keep operating the Hoover Dam the way it once operated.

DYKSTRA: The Colorado River and the Southwestern US is in crisis over water. LA, San Diego, Orange County, Las Vegas, Phoenix. And even before you get to watering the populations in the cities or providing hydropower for them, about 70% of what comes down to the Hoover Dam is used for agriculture. So, the Hoover Dam is going to have to work overtime. And they’re going to have to find more new ways to conserve water and to find water to keep the American Southwest powered and watered.

CURWOOD: I think you’re right, Peter. I mean, we’re facing a real crunch there, thanks to the climate and thanks to the development that we’ve brought to the desert southwest. Thanks, Peter for all these stories. Peter is an editor with Environmental Health News, that’s ehn.org and dailyclimate.org, we’ll talk to you again real soon.

DYKSTRA: Okay Steve, thanks a lot, talk to you soon.

CURWOOD: And there’s more on these stories on the Living on Earth webpage, that’s loe.org.

 

Links

The Economist | “Most of The World’s Grain Is Not Eaten by Humans”

The Daily Beast | “Can a Future Fleet of Robotic Fish Clean Up the Ocean?”

PBS | “Building the Hoover Dam”

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India imposes ban on single-use plastics. But will it be enforced?

NEW DELHI — India on Friday became the latest country to impose a ban on most single-use plastics, part of a growing but patchy global effort to tackle a leading source of pollution. The challenges of enforcement are enormous, experts say, but so are the potential gains.

Only a small fraction of the plastic produced globally is recycled. Most is single-use, or disposable. It often winds up in landfills, rivers and oceans, or is burned, a significant contributor to air pollution in developing nations. Though these plastics are used only briefly, they can take hundreds of years to decompose. By 2050, there will be about 12 billion tons of plastic waste in the world, the United Nations estimates.

Plastic debris is ubiquitous in India: stacked along roadsides, floating in waterways and choking drainage systems. The country is the world’s third-largest producer of plastic waste, trailing only the United States and China, according to a recent report from Australia’s Minderoo Foundation.

U.S. is top contributor to plastic waste, report shows

India announced its ambitious initiative last year. Now, the manufacture, sale or import of widely used items such as plastic cutlery, ice cream sticks, and film on cigarette packs and candy boxes are banned. Plastic bags, another major pollutant, are not on the list for now, but the government has mandated an increase in thickness to make them easier to reuse. Some plastic packaging used for consumer food products will be excluded from the ban, but manufacturers are tasked with ensuring that it is recycled.

Experts say bans are only a first step and must be followed by stringent, long-term enforcement.

“Plastic is cheap and a poor man’s commodity,” said Anoop Kumar Srivastava, founder of the Foundation for Campaign Against Plastic Pollution. “Such campaigns take years of sustained efforts. The gains are going to be enormous over a period of time.”

Legal manufacturers of single-use plastic are likely to shut down as the ban takes effect, he said, but unlicensed ones may spring up to meet demand, making vigilant monitoring imperative. Pollution- control bodies at the state and local levels are primarily tasked with enforcing the ban. Violators will be fined and can face jail time, the Economic Times reported.

“The large users of plastic packaging need to work with the supply chain on how they can shift to alternatives without affecting their financial bottom line,” said Suneel Pandey, director of environment and waste management at the Energy and Resources Institute in Delhi.

But consumers have a role to play as well. “Awareness is a big issue,” Pandey said. “If [consumers] get alternatives, they would switch. Otherwise, they will use what is convenient.”

Plastic manufacturers are already up in arms. They say that the government did not give them enough time to make the transition and that thousands of jobs are at stake.

“For so many units to change their product, their machinery, their manpower and adapt to newer technologies is a very big task that cannot happen in a year,” said Kishore Sampat, president of the All India Plastic Manufacturers’ Association. The ban will impact more than 80,000 companies making single-use plastic items and lead to billions of dollars in losses, he estimated.

India takes its place in a slow but building global movement away from plastics. China announced in 2020 that it would phase out plastic bags nationwide by the end of this year. A ban on single-use plastics in Canada will go into effect in December. There is no national ban in the United States, but California, New York and Oregon have limited the use of plastic items.

Canada banning single-use plastics to combat pollution, climate change

More than half a dozen state governments in India have passed similar regulations in the past, with mixed results. But there are small success stories that could serve as a model for the rest of the nation.

Twenty years ago, Supriya Sahu, a young government official charged with oversight of Nilgiris district, a popular destination in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, saw a seemingly impossible problem. Tourists left behind mounds of plastic that would find its way into streams and forests and be eaten by animals. She joined forces with civil society groups, municipal bodies and village representatives to work toward a solution.

Before seeking a broad ban, she persuaded local councils to pass resolutions against plastic use. Her team distributed cloth bags to tourists at the district borders. To raise awareness, images of animals with plastic stuck to their intestines were displayed widely. Finally, authorities began to fine consumers and close shops using plastic bags.

“It worked like magic,” Sahu said. “There was absolutely no way that we could handle all the plastic” that was being generated.

Tamil Nadu later adopted many of these practices and banned most single-use plastic items in 2019. The state has seized 1,768 tons of plastic in the years since and collected $1.28 million in fines.

“It is not an easy decision for any government to take,” Sahu said. “But somewhere we have to start.”

India imposes ban on single-use plastics. But will it be enforced?

NEW DELHI — India on Friday became the latest country to impose a ban on most single-use plastics, part of a growing but patchy global effort to tackle a leading source of pollution. The challenges of enforcement are enormous, experts say, but so are the potential gains.

Only a small fraction of the plastic produced globally is recycled. Most is single-use, or disposable. It often winds up in landfills, rivers and oceans, or is burned, a significant contributor to air pollution in developing nations. Though these plastics are used only briefly, they can take hundreds of years to decompose. By 2050, there will be about 12 billion tons of plastic waste in the world, the United Nations estimates.

Plastic debris is ubiquitous in India: stacked along roadsides, floating in waterways and choking drainage systems. The country is the world’s third-largest producer of plastic waste, trailing only the United States and China, according to a recent report from Australia’s Minderoo Foundation.

U.S. is top contributor to plastic waste, report shows

India announced its ambitious initiative last year. Now, the manufacture, sale or import of widely used items such as plastic cutlery, ice cream sticks, and film on cigarette packs and candy boxes are banned. Plastic bags, another major pollutant, are not on the list for now, but the government has mandated an increase in thickness to make them easier to reuse. Some plastic packaging used for consumer food products will be excluded from the ban, but manufacturers are tasked with ensuring that it is recycled.

Experts say bans are only a first step and must be followed by stringent, long-term enforcement.

“Plastic is cheap and a poor man’s commodity,” said Anoop Kumar Srivastava, founder of the Foundation for Campaign Against Plastic Pollution. “Such campaigns take years of sustained efforts. The gains are going to be enormous over a period of time.”

Legal manufacturers of single-use plastic are likely to shut down as the ban takes effect, he said, but unlicensed ones may spring up to meet demand, making vigilant monitoring imperative. Pollution- control bodies at the state and local levels are primarily tasked with enforcing the ban. Violators will be fined and can face jail time, the Economic Times reported.

“The large users of plastic packaging need to work with the supply chain on how they can shift to alternatives without affecting their financial bottom line,” said Suneel Pandey, director of environment and waste management at the Energy and Resources Institute in Delhi.

But consumers have a role to play as well. “Awareness is a big issue,” Pandey said. “If [consumers] get alternatives, they would switch. Otherwise, they will use what is convenient.”

Plastic manufacturers are already up in arms. They say that the government did not give them enough time to make the transition and that thousands of jobs are at stake.

“For so many units to change their product, their machinery, their manpower and adapt to newer technologies is a very big task that cannot happen in a year,” said Kishore Sampat, president of the All India Plastic Manufacturers’ Association. The ban will impact more than 80,000 companies making single-use plastic items and lead to billions of dollars in losses, he estimated.

India takes its place in a slow but building global movement away from plastics. China announced in 2020 that it would phase out plastic bags nationwide by the end of this year. A ban on single-use plastics in Canada will go into effect in December. There is no national ban in the United States, but California, New York and Oregon have limited the use of plastic items.

Canada banning single-use plastics to combat pollution, climate change

More than half a dozen state governments in India have passed similar regulations in the past, with mixed results. But there are small success stories that could serve as a model for the rest of the nation.

Twenty years ago, Supriya Sahu, a young government official charged with oversight of Nilgiris district, a popular destination in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, saw a seemingly impossible problem. Tourists left behind mounds of plastic that would find its way into streams and forests and be eaten by animals. She joined forces with civil society groups, municipal bodies and village representatives to work toward a solution.

Before seeking a broad ban, she persuaded local councils to pass resolutions against plastic use. Her team distributed cloth bags to tourists at the district borders. To raise awareness, images of animals with plastic stuck to their intestines were displayed widely. Finally, authorities began to fine consumers and close shops using plastic bags.

“It worked like magic,” Sahu said. “There was absolutely no way that we could handle all the plastic” that was being generated.

Tamil Nadu later adopted many of these practices and banned most single-use plastic items in 2019. The state has seized 1,768 tons of plastic in the years since and collected $1.28 million in fines.

“It is not an easy decision for any government to take,” Sahu said. “But somewhere we have to start.”

Queensland plastics ban: balloon releases and disposable coffee cups targeted

Queensland plastics ban: balloon releases and disposable coffee cups targeted

Takeaway coffee cups, polystyrene packing ‘peanuts’ and plastic-stemmed cotton buds being phased out

Helium balloons in the sky

The mass release of balloons will be a thing of the past in Queensland and the days could be numbered for takeaway coffee cups as the state moves ahead with a ban on plastics.

Polystyrene packing “peanuts”, plastic-stemmed cotton buds and microbeads will all be banished from September 2023 under a new five-year plan.

The balloon ban will target the mass release of lighter-than-air varieties – such as helium – from next year, while new minimum standards will be introduced for heavy plastic bags.

They’ll soon have to be tested for reusability and how they can ultimately be recycled, the state’s environment minister, Meaghan Scanlon, said.

Government survey results show more than 90% of Queenslanders back tightening restrictions on single-use plastics.

The state began phasing out lightweight plastic shopping bags in 2018. Last year it outlawed a range of plastic products including straws, stirrers and expanded polystyrene.

“It’s great to see so many businesses already taking voluntary measures and going beyond our bans, and it is time to support those voluntary commitments and strengthen our actions in the fight against plastic pollution,” Scanlon said.

The roadmap would phase out other single-use plastics, including disposable coffee cups.

An innovation challenge will investigate potential replacements and the state hoped to work with other jurisdictions on a national approach in coming years.

“We understand these changes can have an impact on businesses and we will work with them to ensure they are ready,” Scanlon said.

Potential bans on bait bags, bread-bag tags, takeaway containers and sauce sachets will also be investigated.

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Friday’s announcement saw the sunshine state edge ahead of South Australia to claim second spot on WWF Australia’s ranking of efforts to minimise single-use plastics.

“This plan will stop some of the most damaging single-use plastics from entering Queensland’s beaches and waterways,” said No Plastics in Nature Policy manager at WWF Australia, Kate Noble.

“It will also create a real opportunity for Queensland to not just transition away from single-use plastics, but move towards a more sustainable approach where reuse is normal and our use of disposables is massively reduced.”

Western Australia maintained top spot on the WWF list after banning single-use plastic bowls, plates, cutlery, straws and polystyrene food containers last year.

South Australia is in third place with further commitments expected this year, while the ACT, New South Wales and Victoria are tied for fourth.

Tasmania and the Northern Territory continue to lag behind in fifth and sixth place respectively.

California passes first sweeping US law to reduce single-use plastic

California passes first sweeping US law to reduce single-use plastic

The bill states that 30% of plastic items sold or bought be recyclable by 2028 and economic responsibility falls to producers

Tons of garbage in a trash pit at a waste management company in California.

California has passed an ambitious law to significantly reduce single-use plastics, becoming the first state in the US to approve such sweeping restrictions.

Under the new law, which California governor Gavin Newsom signed Thursday afternoon, the state will have to ensure a 25% drop in single-use plastic by 2032. It also requires that at least 30% of plastic items sold or bought in California are recyclable by 2028, and establishes a plastic pollution mitigation fund.

“It’s time for California to lead the nation and world in curbing the plastic crisis. Our planet cannot wait,” said Ben Allen, the state senator who introduced the legislation.

The passage of the bill came just before a deadline to remove an initiative aimed at reducing single-use plastics from the November ballot.

Negotiations on the bill have been under way for six months with a team working to craft a proposal that ensured the economic responsibility fell to plastic producers and used language that satisfied the demands of all involved from those in the industry to environmentalists, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The law will establish a producer responsibility organization, comprised of industry representatives, to run a recycling program overseen by the state. The organization will also be responsible for $500m a year in support for a new plastic pollution mitigation fund to look at the environmental and health impacts of plastics.

The state will also be required to reduce expanded polystyrene, which is commonly used in food containers, 25% by 2023, a goal experts say will be all but impossible to reach as so little of the material is currently recycled.

“It’s a de facto ban,” Jay Ziegler with the Nature Conservancy told the Times.

The material will be banned entirely if producers are unable to meet the required recycling rates, which grow every few years until the state requires that 65% of polystyrene be recycled by 2032.

Further, by 2032, 65% of all plastic items sold or distributed in California must be recyclable.

Any entity that fails to comply with the new law could face fines of up to $50,000 a day.

California has led the nation in single-use plastic restrictions, banning plastic bags, discouraging the use of plastic straws and utensils, and working to crack down on microplastics.

The pandemic increased the demand for single-use plastic and for a time stalled the fight against plastic waste. Amid concerns about the spread of Covid-19, California briefly suspended its ban on plastic bags and some local governments prevented shoppers from bringing reusable bags in stores.

Still, the state has been a leader in efforts to tackle the scourge of plastic waste. In October, Newsom signed a package of legislation aimed to tackling plastic pollution, saying the state was working to “reduce the waste filling our landfills and generating harmful pollutants driving the climate crisis”. Earlier this year, the state’s attorney general subpoenaed ExxonMobil as part of an inquiry into fossil fuel companies examining their role in the global plastic pollution crisis.

The US is the world’s biggest plastic polluter. Less than 10% of all plastic sold in the US each year is recycled. Instead, a significant portion ends up in landfills and millions of tons of plastic ends up in the ocean. California spends $500m each year to remove plastic pollution from its waterways and beaches.

Australia news live: Sydney train strike delays; warning of ‘third Covid wave’; Queensland plastic ban

Sydney commuters are in for a “very messy day” as the NSW rail union pushes ahead with industrial action that will take out 70% of the train fleet, AAP reports.

The Rail, Tram and Bus Union has been locked in long-running stoush with the Perrottet government over a new Korean-made Intercity fleet, which it says is unsafe.

While the government has signalled it could be prepared to spend $264m to modify the fleet, the union says it has refused to sign an agreement confirming it will fix the safety issues raised by train drivers. The union said on Friday:

.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}This will be the fourth time the government has offered to make the changes, announced the changes, and then backtracked as a result of internal politics.

Rail, Tram and Bus Union NSW secretary Alex Claassens said during a meeting with the government yesterday, elements of the modification offer had been taken off the table:

.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}I’m just not sure where we go from here but our members are resolute. We are going to continue fighting to get these trains made safe, and we’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen.

Protected industrial action planned for today is going ahead, which will see train drivers refuse to operate foreign or privately made trains. This means only 30% of Sydney Trains and NSW TrainLink services will be operating.

Claassens:

.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}It’s going to be a very messy day. It’ll be a weekend timetable with other trains taken out of it.

Transport minister David Elliott said yesterday that the government had offered railway workers $3,000 bonuses:

.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}The families of the railway workers right now could be having $3,000 deposited in their account, instead of having that money spent on modifying perfectly good trains.

But Claassens described the payments offered to railway workers, to get the fleet on the tracks without modifications, as “bribes”.

Sydney commuters have been advised to expect significant train delays and cancellations. A flow-on effect is likely to impact people travelling to Sydney airport and on buses.

On the cuts to telehealth subsidies, our reporter Caitlin Cassidy is looking for people to speak to who might be affected by this. If this is you, please do reach out to her.

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The government has confirmed more than 70 telehealth consultations will be cut, including 33 initial complex specialist items, 40 specialist inpatient items &amp; GP consultations &lt;20 minutes. If this effects you, dm me Caitlin.cassidy@theguardian.com https://t.co/IrED8VouVx

&mdash; Caitlin Cassidy (@caitecassidy) July 1, 2022

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The government has confirmed more than 70 telehealth consultations will be cut, including 33 initial complex specialist items, 40 specialist inpatient items & GP consultations <20 minutes. If this effects you, dm me Caitlin.cassidy@theguardian.com https://t.co/IrED8VouVx

— Caitlin Cassidy (@caitecassidy) July 1, 2022

Cross-party statement on 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China

Today marks a quarter-century since Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule as a Special Administrative Region of China, and the halfway mark of the promised 50 years of autonomy under the “One Country, Two Systems” framework.

The co-chairs of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, Labor MP Peter Khalil and Liberal senator James Paterson, have released a statement decrying, in their words, the “direct undermining” of One Country, Two Systems by Beijing.

.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}Australia has long maintained close ties with the people of Hong Kong. Hong Kong became a world-leading international business hub because of its openness, its rights and freedoms, its independent judiciary and rule of law. Australians and Australian businesses have contributed significantly to, and benefited from, Hong Kong’s success.

Hong Kong’s success was underpinned by the commitments made by the Chinese government in the 1997 UN-registered Sino-British Declaration which guaranteed the region’s autonomy, through the One Country, Two Systems arrangement.

As we mark this anniversary, we note with deep concern the rapid erosion of Hong Kong’s unique autonomous status since the passage of the national security law two years ago.

During this period there has been a direct undermining of the One Country, Two Systems arrangement including the diminishment of the rule of law, democratic rights and freedoms, including the right to freedom of expression and the independence of the judiciary.

We have seen an alarming pattern of suppression; arrests of pro-democracy figures, and their prosecutions under the national security law, as well as the curtailing of Hong Kong’s independent legislative authority.

Hong Kong has held a special place for many Australians as a city of vibrant culture, commerce and civic freedoms.

The people of Hong Kong have shown immense courage in striving to protect and uphold the freedoms that have enabled their prosperity and stability over generations.

We once again urge the Chinese government to uphold and protect human rights and freedoms and fulfil their commitments made before handover.

The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has issued a statement along similar lines, excoriating China’s leadership for the hastening erosion of democratic freedoms:

.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}It is now evident that Hong Kong and Beijing authorities no longer view democratic participation, fundamental freedoms and an independent media as part of this vision.

In 2019, millions of Hong Kongers joined public protests to oppose controversial extradition legislation. Beijing’s response – the National Security Law – set the stage for an erosion of autonomy and dismantling of the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents over the last two years. Authorities have jailed the opposition, with many imprisoned for more than a year.

Hong Kong’s leaders have raided independent media organisations, shuttered museums and removed public works of art, weakened democratic institutions, delayed elections, prevented vigils, disqualified sitting lawmakers, and instituted loyalty oaths. Government officials have spread disinformation that grassroots protests were the work of foreign actors. They have done all of this in an effort to deprive Hong Kongers of what they have been promised.

Vexit?

There’s a little penguin on Twitter pushing a big idea: Victoria should secede from the rest of Australia.

While Western Australia has always harboured the fantasy of breaking away from federation, going as far as holding a successful but invalid referendum in 1933, the idea of a Victorian secession – “Vexit” to its proponents – recently emerged among a group of friends during the state’s second extended Covid lockdown in 2021.

Together they created the Victorian Independence Movement and its respective Twitter account, which has a modest, albeit engaged, 1,500 followers at the time of writing.

With a straight face, it proposes “breaking free of the failed Australian federation”. It diagnoses “Sydney brane” – a so-called affliction among the political and media class that makes them believe nothing happens in the country until it happens in the New South Wales state capital – and pokes fun at the “treasurer for NSW”, a phrase coined by the now member for Kooyong, Monique Ryan, to describe Josh Frydenberg.

Among its members is Douglas Holgate, the illustrator of the New York Times bestselling children’s series, The Last Kids on Earth, who designed the movement’s penguin mascot.

Read more here about the little penguin that could:

There were 8,057 new cases recorded in the past 24 hours, and 23 people were in intensive care.

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We thank everyone who got vaccinated and tested yesterday.

Our thoughts are with those in hospital, and the families of people who have lost their lives.

More data soon: https://t.co/OCCFTAcOZP#COVID19Vic #COVID19VicData pic.twitter.com/Kie16ijBvH

&mdash; VicGovDH (@VicGovDH) June 30, 2022

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We thank everyone who got vaccinated and tested yesterday.

Our thoughts are with those in hospital, and the families of people who have lost their lives.

More data soon: https://t.co/OCCFTAcOZP#COVID19Vic #COVID19VicData pic.twitter.com/Kie16ijBvH

— VicGovDH (@VicGovDH) June 30, 2022

There were 10,930 new Covid cases recorded over the past reporting period, and 41 people are in intensive care.

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COVID-19 update – Friday 1 July 2022

In the 24-hour reporting period to 4pm yesterday:

– 96.6% of people aged 16+ have had one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine
– 95.1% of people aged 16+ have had two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine pic.twitter.com/pxFtxAOwHZ

&mdash; NSW Health (@NSWHealth) June 30, 2022

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COVID-19 update – Friday 1 July 2022

In the 24-hour reporting period to 4pm yesterday:

– 96.6% of people aged 16+ have had one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine
– 95.1% of people aged 16+ have had two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine pic.twitter.com/pxFtxAOwHZ

— NSW Health (@NSWHealth) June 30, 2022

Shipbuilder Austal working to fix problems in patrol boats supplied to Pacific nations

The company that builds the Guardian-class patrol boats supplied to Pacific island countries has promised to work with Defence to fix problems with the exhaust systems.

In a statement issued this morning, a spokesperson for Austal said:

.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}Austal is working with the Australian Department of Defence to develop both temporary rectification measures and a long-term solution to an emerging issue with the exhaust systems on the Guardian-class patrol boats constructed by Austal. The supplier of the vessels’ exhaust systems is also providing technical advice to both parties.

In addition, Austal is working with its supplier to prevent the issue from occurring on Guardian-class vessels under construction.

Australia has so far given 15 Guardian-class patrol vessels to regional neighbours, starting with the delivery of one to Papua New Guinea in November 2018.

Seven further boats are in the pipeline: one each for PNG, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Marshall Islands and Samoa, and two for Timor-Leste. For more on this issue, see our story from this morning:

Australia’s bushfire season now lasts for 130 days a year

New research has found the bushfire season has lengthened by almost a month in the past four decades.

In the south-east of the country, where forests and communities are still recovering from the unprecedented Black Summer bushfires of 2019 and 2020, there are now 11 extra days where the risk of fire is at its most extreme, compared with the late 1970s.

Even if global heating can be kept to 1.5C – the most ambitious temperature goal under international climate agreements – Australia’s fire season will continue to lengthen, the study published in the Reviews of Geophysics found.

Dr Pep Canadell, a climate scientist at CSIRO and a co-author of the study, said:

.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}These numbers are confronting. We no longer have a stable fire regime.

Read the full story here:

Mark Butler on end of pandemic leave payments

Here’s a little more from health minister Mark Butler’s interview on ABC radio this morning, captured by AAP.

Pandemic leave payments have ended as of today but infected people must still follow directions to isolate at home for a week.

Butler said the federal government does not have the financial capacity to continue funding what were intended as emergency payments. He told ABC radio:

.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}We’re going to have to start to moving towards more normal programs that support the Australian community and people have been on notice about that for some time.

Asked if people without sick leave would go to work with Covid if they didn’t have access to the government support measure, Butler said he “hoped not”.

.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}We can’t continue forever to fund from the budget the gaps in the labour market that exist.

Our intrepid economics correspondent Peter Hannam flagged this week that house prices were going to take a tumble, and so they have.

CoreLogic released its home value index this morning, showing a second consecutive month of value declines in June, down 0.6%, to be 0.2% lower over the June quarter.

That’s been driven partly by Sydney house prices dropping by 1.6% last month (and 2.8% over the quarter) and dropping in Melbourne by 1.1% over the month.

Housing values were also down in Hobart and regional Victoria.

This edition of the index has captured the Reserve Bank’s 50 basis points increase in the cash rate, its second hike in as many months.

Commonwealth Bank’s head of Australian economics Gareth Aird told AAP:

.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}Home prices have begun their descent.

He expects a further 0.9% decline in national home prices for June.

The home value index posted its first fall since September 2020 in May, led by declines in Sydney, Melbourne and Australia’s second most expensive property market Canberra.

Still, over the past year, national house prices were up 14.1%.

CoreLogic’s research director Tim Lawless argues it is not just interest rates that are making their mark. Since prices peaked in May 2021, consumer sentiment has soured, hitting its lowest level since April 2020 and the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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We're taking stock for #VicWeather #EOFY. Today we have:
-High in the Bight
-Chance of drizzle in the S; mostly sunny in the N 🌦️
-13C for #Melbourne

We'll get back to you on how the weather performed this financial year- Climate Summaries out next week!https://t.co/gbufkYEh16 pic.twitter.com/SxuH2eegcr

&mdash; Bureau of Meteorology, Victoria (@BOM_Vic) June 30, 2022

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We’re taking stock for #VicWeather #EOFY. Today we have:
-High in the Bight
-Chance of drizzle in the S; mostly sunny in the N 🌦️
-13C for #Melbourne

We’ll get back to you on how the weather performed this financial year- Climate Summaries out next week!https://t.co/gbufkYEh16 pic.twitter.com/SxuH2eegcr

— Bureau of Meteorology, Victoria (@BOM_Vic) June 30, 2022

The mass release of balloons will be a thing of the past in Queensland and days could be numbered for takeaway coffee cups as the state moves ahead with a ban on plastics, AAP reports.

Polystyrene packing for peanuts, plastic-stemmed cotton buds and microbeads will all be banished from September 2023 under a new five-year plan.

The balloon ban will target the mass release of lighter-than-air varieties from next year, while new minimum standards will be introduced for heavy plastic bags.

They’ll soon have to be tested for reusability and how they can ultimately be recycled, environment minister Meaghan Scanlon said.

More than 90% of Queenslanders back tightening restrictions on single-use plastics, government survey results show.

The state began phasing out lightweight plastic shopping bags in 2018 and last year outlawed a range of products including straws, stirrers and expanded polystyrene.

Scanlon:

.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}It’s great to see so many businesses already taking voluntary measures and going beyond our bans, and it is time to support those voluntary commitments and strengthen our actions in the fight against plastic pollution.

We understand these changes can have an impact on businesses and we will work with them to ensure they are ready.

The roadmap also aims to phase out other single-use plastics, including disposable coffee cups.

An innovation challenge will get under way soon to investigate potential replacements and the state hopes to work with other jurisdictions with an eye to a national approach in coming years.

Potential bans on bait bags, bread bag tags, takeaway containers and sauce sachets will also be investigated.

Climate activist group Blockade Australia has called off its organised protests in NSW, AAP reports.

The group spent Monday and Tuesday protesting in Sydney’s CBD, blocking traffic, which resulted in multiple arrests. On Wednesday a picnic held in Tempe by the activists as a “rest and recharge” event was also targeted by police.

Organising activists said on their Telegram channel yesterday:

.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}We have made the hard choice to end the mobilisation and wait until next time when we are bigger and stronger.

We call on people to continue to take disruptive climate action in any way they can.

The group thanked those who had taken part in the disruptions on Monday and Tuesday, saying:

.css-knbk2a{height:1em;width:1.5em;margin-right:3px;vertical-align:baseline;fill:#C70000;}We have endured extreme state repression. It has challenged our plans and further exposed what Australia will do to protect its own interest. We are tired but not broken, and moved by all the solidarity and support.

NSW premier Dominic Perrottet has called the activists “bloody idiots”, saying their actions did not aid their cause.

Protesters who disrupt major roadways, ports and railways can be charged with newly legislated penalties of up to two years in prison and a fine of $22,000.

A total of 32 people have been arrested since NSW police set up Strike Force Guard in March to prevent, investigate and disrupt protests.

Clock is ticking on California's landmark plastics reduction legislation

The legislative path to reducing plastic waste in California became significantly clearer on Tuesday when the Assembly Natural Resources Committee voted 9-0 to approve a bill that targets the production of single-use plastic packaging and foodware in the state over the next decade.

No plastic manufacturers spoke out against Senate Bill 54 at a hearing before the vote, and all three Republicans on the committee voted for its passage. Supporters of the bill said privately that the vote could indicate a similarly lopsided outcome when the measure goes to the full Assembly on Thursday. The bill has already passed the state Senate, but it would have to go back to the upper house for concurrence on amendments that have since been written into the legislation.
 


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A plastic-reduction ballot initiative has already qualified for the November election. Some of the state’s major business groups as well as two of the largest plastic producers in the country oppose the California Recycling and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act and are raising millions of dollars to defeat it, assuming it goes forward. Dow Inc., the parent company of Dow Chemical, contributed $10 million to the opposition campaign on June 21. The next day, Dart Container Corp. gave $1 million. If the Legislature does not approve SB 54 by a Thursday deadline, the initiative would proceed to the ballot.

Under the terms of SB 54, plastic manufacturers would create their own “producer responsibility organization” to achieve reductions in single-use plastic of 25% by 2032. Producers would also put $500 million a year for 10 years beginning in 2027 into a plastic waste mitigation fund. The organization would operate under an advisory board made up of environmentalists and representatives from California cities, waste management companies, recycling advocates, disadvantaged communities and rural associations. The California Department of Recycling would regulate and monitor the producer group.

The bill also bans polystyrene foodware by January 2025 unless manufacturers demonstrate that they can recycle 25% of it.

“When the Senate voted to move SB 54 out to this house earlier this year, I committed to only bringing forth a bill that was flexible enough to address the concerns raised by industry but also strong enough to win the support of environmental and business groups backing a statewide ballot initiative,” SB 54 author Sen. Ben Allen of Santa Monica testified at Tuesday’s committee hearing. “I truly believe that we did that and more.”

Allen said the bill “will put California at the front of the pack in addressing the critical issue of plastic pollution, and doing it in a way that offers the certainty and specificity needed for industry to succeed.”

According to the bill analysis, California disposes of 42.2 million tons of plastic waste a year, only 9% of which is recycled. Worldwide, some 8 million metric tons of plastic winds up in the ocean. Most of the nonrecyclable waste breaks down into microplastics that can then enter the human body and create assorted health problems, according to the analysis.

In recent weeks, environmental groups split over revisions of SB 54 that emerged in months-long negotiations in Sen. Allen’s office. Much of the disagreement centered on the authority of the producer responsibility organization. Some groups said in letters to Allen that the revisions took away too much of CalRecycle’s power to oversee the reduction provisions. More recent amendments seem to have mollified those concerns, and at least one environmental group, Californians Against Waste, switched its position to support the bill.

“The amendments that were taken late Friday allayed most of our concerns,” said Nick Lapis, director of advocacy for Californians Against Waste. “With the various guardrails and backstops added to the bill, it will really be a game changer for California.”

The final decision on whether to go ahead with the initiative in November lies with three people who circulated the petitions to qualify the measure for the ballot. They are Michael Sangiacomo, the former CEO of the San Francisco waste management firm Recology; Caryl Hart, an attorney, environmental activist and member of the California Coastal Commission; and Linda Escalante, another Coastal Commission member who is the Southern California legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

On Tuesday, the NRDC, which also had opposed SB 54, declared in a letter that it would now support the measure, pending further amendments to clarify the bill’s protections against potentially hazardous forms of recycling and narrow the list of materials exempted from the bill’s provisions.

A spokesman for the committee that is raising money to defeat the initiative if it goes to a vote declined to comment on where the opponents stand on the revised SB 54.


 
Copyright 2022 Capital & Main

Clock is ticking on California's landmark plastics reduction legislation

The legislative path to reducing plastic waste in California became significantly clearer on Tuesday when the Assembly Natural Resources Committee voted 9-0 to approve a bill that targets the production of single-use plastic packaging and foodware in the state over the next decade.

No plastic manufacturers spoke out against Senate Bill 54 at a hearing before the vote, and all three Republicans on the committee voted for its passage. Supporters of the bill said privately that the vote could indicate a similarly lopsided outcome when the measure goes to the full Assembly on Thursday. The bill has already passed the state Senate, but it would have to go back to the upper house for concurrence on amendments that have since been written into the legislation.
 


Join our email list to get the stories that mainstream news is overlooking.
Sign up for Capital & Main’s newsletter.

 
A plastic-reduction ballot initiative has already qualified for the November election. Some of the state’s major business groups as well as two of the largest plastic producers in the country oppose the California Recycling and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act and are raising millions of dollars to defeat it, assuming it goes forward. Dow Inc., the parent company of Dow Chemical, contributed $10 million to the opposition campaign on June 21. The next day, Dart Container Corp. gave $1 million. If the Legislature does not approve SB 54 by a Thursday deadline, the initiative would proceed to the ballot.

Under the terms of SB 54, plastic manufacturers would create their own “producer responsibility organization” to achieve reductions in single-use plastic of 25% by 2032. Producers would also put $500 million a year for 10 years beginning in 2027 into a plastic waste mitigation fund. The organization would operate under an advisory board made up of environmentalists and representatives from California cities, waste management companies, recycling advocates, disadvantaged communities and rural associations. The California Department of Recycling would regulate and monitor the producer group.

The bill also bans polystyrene foodware by January 2025 unless manufacturers demonstrate that they can recycle 25% of it.

“When the Senate voted to move SB 54 out to this house earlier this year, I committed to only bringing forth a bill that was flexible enough to address the concerns raised by industry but also strong enough to win the support of environmental and business groups backing a statewide ballot initiative,” SB 54 author Sen. Ben Allen of Santa Monica testified at Tuesday’s committee hearing. “I truly believe that we did that and more.”

Allen said the bill “will put California at the front of the pack in addressing the critical issue of plastic pollution, and doing it in a way that offers the certainty and specificity needed for industry to succeed.”

According to the bill analysis, California disposes of 42.2 million tons of plastic waste a year, only 9% of which is recycled. Worldwide, some 8 million metric tons of plastic winds up in the ocean. Most of the nonrecyclable waste breaks down into microplastics that can then enter the human body and create assorted health problems, according to the analysis.

In recent weeks, environmental groups split over revisions of SB 54 that emerged in months-long negotiations in Sen. Allen’s office. Much of the disagreement centered on the authority of the producer responsibility organization. Some groups said in letters to Allen that the revisions took away too much of CalRecycle’s power to oversee the reduction provisions. More recent amendments seem to have mollified those concerns, and at least one environmental group, Californians Against Waste, switched its position to support the bill.

“The amendments that were taken late Friday allayed most of our concerns,” said Nick Lapis, director of advocacy for Californians Against Waste. “With the various guardrails and backstops added to the bill, it will really be a game changer for California.”

The final decision on whether to go ahead with the initiative in November lies with three people who circulated the petitions to qualify the measure for the ballot. They are Michael Sangiacomo, the former CEO of the San Francisco waste management firm Recology; Caryl Hart, an attorney, environmental activist and member of the California Coastal Commission; and Linda Escalante, another Coastal Commission member who is the Southern California legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

On Tuesday, the NRDC, which also had opposed SB 54, declared in a letter that it would now support the measure, pending further amendments to clarify the bill’s protections against potentially hazardous forms of recycling and narrow the list of materials exempted from the bill’s provisions.

A spokesman for the committee that is raising money to defeat the initiative if it goes to a vote declined to comment on where the opponents stand on the revised SB 54.


 
Copyright 2022 Capital & Main

When it comes to sustainable packaging, there’s no “one size fits all” option

Think about the last time you went to the grocery store. Maybe you bought a gallon of milk, a carton of strawberries, a box of granola bars, a jar of peanut butter. Each of these food or beverage products likely came in plastic or glass packaging. Humans have become heavily reliant on packaging for two key reasons: convenience and safety. Doing so has had huge implications for the environment — from the carbon-emitting fossil fuels used to make packaging to the habitat-harming trash it becomes when we’re done.

Which is why many consumers and producers are looking for “sustainable alternatives” to lessen the harmful impact on our planet. Between 2016 and 2020, Google searches for sustainable goods increased by 71%. But can packaging really be sustainable? Well, it’s more nuanced than you might think.

Glass vs. Plastic

The Oxford English Dictionary’s definitions of “sustainable” include “capable of being maintained or continued at a certain rate or level” and “designating forms of human activity (esp. of an economic nature) in which environmental degradation is minimized.” The question of what constitutes sustainable packaging often focuses on two common materials: glass and plastic. Plastic has been demonized in recent years due to its origins in fossil fuels and its finite life in a recycling plant. Images of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch often depict piles of single-use water bottles and other plastic debris floating in the ocean.

Photo of plastic trash

Many consumers consider plastic an unsustainable option, in part because of how much of it ends up in landfills or in nature. Photo courtesy of United Nations Development Programme in Europe and CIS from Flickr licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Given these myriad issues associated with plastic and plastic waste, many consumers think of glass as a safer, more sustainable alternative. Glass can be recycled indefinitely without degrading. Surely it is better for the environment, right?

Unsustainable Glass?

Despite the common assumption that glass outweighs plastic in environmental benefits, some recent life-cycle assessments (LCAs) show a more complicated story.

In 2020, researchers at the University of Southampton looked at the relative environmental impacts — from raw material extraction through use and final disposal — of glass and plastic used in beverage packaging. The LCA assessed 1-liter (1.06-quart) beverage containers into three categories: fizzy drinks, fruit juice and milk. It examined glass bottles, aluminum cans, milk cartons, Tetra Pak, and two types of plastic bottles, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE).

Photo of clear glass bottles in yellow bin

Although glass can be recycled indefinitely without degrading, it has its own environmental issues. Photo by jasper benning on Unsplash

The assessment focused on 11 “impact categories” within the three beverage groupings, ranging from eutrophication to global warming potential to toxicity for humans. The glass bottle had a higher negative impact than the typical packaging alternatives for each beverage across nearly all impact and beverage categories.

An older LCA, published in 2014 in The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment by researchers from GE and LCA consultant EarthShift, compared glass and plastic bottles for holding contrast media used in X-ray procedures. The LCA suggested that the plastic bottle had lower environmental impacts across all designated impact categories, including greenhouse gas emissions, impact on ecosystems and impact on resources. Adding in the impacts of the packaging containing the bottles yielded less clear results, however.

Also in 2020, researchers in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Politecnico di Milano in Italy published an LCA comparing reusable glass bottles to single-use glass bottles. The LCA concluded that the refillable glass bottle is “by far preferable” to the single-use glass bottle. However, as the study notes, the distance a refillable bottle travels affects how well (and, at large distances, whether) it has a lower overall environmental impact than the single-use option.

According to Packaging Sustainability author Wendy Jedlička, the weight of glass has a heavy impact on its carbon footprint. In the United States, the manufacturing of glass and glass products was responsible for 15 million metric tons (16.5 million tons) of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gases in 2018.

Is Plastic Any Better?

While these LCAs may have surprising conclusions about glass for some readers, writing previously in Ensia, freelance writer Karine Vann noted, “[LCAs] tend to privilege the impacts of production (which, for example, materials like plastic score well on because they are lightweight and low-carbon to produce) over the impacts of disposal (a measure for which, being difficult or impossible to recycle, plastics score poorly).” One study found that 79% of plastic ends up in a landfill or in nature, potentially harming wildlife. And according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in 2018 just 2 million tons (1.8 million metric tons) of plastic containers and packaging were recycled — 13.6% of the amount generated that same year.

Graph of cumulative plastic waste generation and disposal from 1950 to 2015

Cumulative plastic waste generation and disposal (in million metric tons). Solid lines show historical data from 1950 to 2015; dashed lines show projections of historical trends to 2050. Copyright © 2017 The Authors, “Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made,” some rights reserved; exclusive licensee American Association for the Advancement of Science. No claim to original U.S. Government Works. Distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial License 4.0 (CC BY-NC). Click image to expand.

Beyond that, the chemicals that make up plastics can pose their own health risks to humans. Nearly two decades ago, Scott Belcher, a research professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at NC State University, and colleagues found that bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical that serves as a building block for certain plastics, can disrupt the function of hormones, interacting with estrogen receptors. BPA also has been associated with alterations of cells of the nervous system during development and with heart arrythmias.

Although many plastic products for sale today are marketed as “BPA free,” that doesn’t mean they are free of harmful chemicals. “The question that consumers need answering is, ‘What’s being used instead of bisphenol-A?’ And this gets to this idea of regrettable substitution,” Belchers says. “A lot of these substances look chemically a lot like BPA. There’s BPS [bisphenol-S], BPAF [bisphenol-AF] — all of these other bisphenols can have similar or even more activity than BPA. And because the specifics of their use are often hidden as confidential business information, we don’t know how — or how widely — substituted chemicals are used.”

And BPA and its substitutes aren’t the only chemicals found in plastic packaging. Belcher also expresses concerns regarding PFAS chemicals, which are commonly used in takeout boxes, microwave popcorn bags and other food packaging materials that repel grease. And flame retardants, colorings and other materials go into plastics as well.

Jane Muncke, environmental toxicologist and managing director of the Food Packaging Forum, a nonprofit organization focused on chemicals in food packaging, has found that potentially harmful chemicals can move from plastic packaging to food due to four main factors: temperature, storage time, type of food and materials used in the packaging.

Through years of study, researchers have been able to determine that various chemicals found in plastics are associated with adverse health effects, such as cancer, infertility, diabetes, obesity, neurodevelopmental issues, immune system problems and asthma. “Exposure to hazardous chemicals contributes to premature mortality and to increased chronic disease,” says Muncke.

“[The] ideal that we’re shooting for is to get rid of the chemicals that impact your body,” Belcher says.

Beyond Packaging

All that said, Muncke suggests the big sustainability issue with food might not be the packaging at all, but the products themselves. She points to providing nonseasonal food products in the winter. “There’s always the example of organic cucumbers grown in December in southern Spain, where they’re pumping out fossil aquifers, nonrenewable groundwater aquifers, to produce organic cucumbers that then get flown to central Europe so that we have fresh cucumbers in December. And then, the argument is always ‘Yeah, well we don’t want to have food waste,’ so we shrink wrap it in plastic,” Muncke says. “Then people say it’s sustainable packaging. The point is that it is a product that is not sustainable. It doesn’t matter if you wrap it in ‘sustainable packaging’ or not, it’s a product that shouldn’t exist. People shouldn’t be making and buying that product.”

Bunch of cucumber wrapped in plastic films, isolated on white background

Some experts point to the products themselves, not necessarily the packaging, as an issue that should be dealt with. One such example is nonseasonal food. Photo © iStockphoto.com | Esben_H

Muncke calls for examining why we need certain products in the first place. “It’s kind of a straw man argument, it’s like shifting the discussion away from where it needs to be,” she says. “How do we produce, how do we consume foods, and then, once we’ve clarified how that should be happening we can talk about how to package them.”

Still, Muncke says we can’t change the entire economy and stop shipping fresh vegetables across the globe without a transition. So, as a tool for those in the food business who deal with packaging decisions, Muncke and industry, nonprofit and technical partners developed the Understanding Packaging (UP) Scorecard, which helps businesses reduce the adverse health and environmental impacts of food packaging and containers. The scorecard compares packaging across six categories: climate impact, water use, plastic pollution, chemicals of concern, recoverability and sustainability of sourcing — with the goal of transitioning to more sustainable systems.

Culture Is Key

Sustainability in packaging requires not only systems thinking but also a consideration of culture, says Packaging Sustainability author Jedlička. Systems thinking takes a holistic approach that brings together different elements of society, such as people, the economy and the environment. In packaging design, systems thinking looks at addressing human needs while also considering impacts to the planet.

Including culture into a systems thinking methodology makes for a more useful tool, Jedlička says. For example, she notes that for years train passengers in India would drink chai tea out of unfired clay cups, then toss the cups out the window to the side of the tracks, where they would degrade. When plastic cups were introduced the habit continued, littering the landscape.

“I can look at a list of [materials] and go, ‘Yeah, that’ll work.’ But is that appropriate? Does it fit the community?… How does it fit into the bigger scheme of things?” —Wendy Jedlička

“Culture is really key,” says Jedlička. “That’s one of the things that the systems thinking methodologies don’t directly address. They look at profitability, which is great; they look at people, fair trade, and the environment, which is super important. But that culture aspect, that’s what makes everything else sink or swim.”

In other words, sustainability is based on the context. “I can look at a list of [materials] and go, ‘Yeah, that’ll work,’” Jedlička says. “But is that appropriate? Does it fit the community?… How does it fit into the bigger scheme of things?”

She offers The Beer Store in Ontario, Canada, as an example. In 2021 they collected 98% of the refillable glass bottles sold in their home province, reusing each 15 times on average. This system works because it has become part of the culture.

The Beer Store is one of many companies across the world that follows the “milkman” model, where packaging is reused. Loop is a global reuse platform that works with companies to help build a circular economy. It partners with retailers like McDonalds, brands like Coca Cola, and operational partners like FedEx to enhance adoption of multiuse packaging.

Whole System Thinking

The scope of sustainable packaging ranges far beyond the debate over glass versus plastic — a conversation that is ongoing — and there isn’t a universal sustainable packaging material. “There’s not one answer, and there’s not one optimal packaging type. I mean, glass is great, but paper is also great, and so are many other materials,” says Jedlička, “in the right context, and preferably as part of a closed-loop system.”

In the perspectives of Muncke and Jedlička, as important as the stuff our stuff comes in, is considering why we need a product in the first place and the culture in which it functions. Taking these additional aspects into consideration allows decision makers — both producers and consumers — to think more holistically about packaging and products, which is more likely to change the systems in which this all occurs, and, in doing so, contribute to finding packaging that is truly sustainable.

Editor’s note: Elise Bernstein wrote this story as a participant in the Ensia Mentor Program. The mentor for the project was Mary Hoff.