Failure to introduce single-use plastics ban is ‘dereliction of Brexit promise’

The government has failed to uphold its promise of ensuring the UK’s environmental standards do not drop following its departure from the European Union, campaigners say.EU member states are currently legislating to ban most single-use plastics, including cutlery, plates and polystyrene food containers.But despite regularly stating that the country would uphold high post-Brexit environmental standards, UK ministers have yet to legislate to ban these polluting plastics.More than 20 environmental groups, including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, City to Sea and Keep Britain Tidy are due to challenge the government on its commitments, according to PA news agency.In a letter on Tuesday to environment minister Rebecca Pow, they will warn that a failure to keep up with EU anti-plastic regulations would be an “awful dereliction of promises to lead on environmental issues post-Brexit”.Single-use plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds have been legislated against but plastic cutlery, plates, sticks attached to balloons as well as tough-to-breakdown plastic food containers and packaging are still allowed in England.The letter accuses the government of “not only failing to take the lead on tackling plastics but is falling behind our European neighbours and devolved nations within the UK” if it does not ban the polluting items listed in Article 5 of the EU single-use directive, which came into force on 3 July.The coronavirus pandemic has led to fresh fears over the increase of single-use plastics ending up on Britain’s beaches and waterways, following the sharp rise in demand for disposable face coverings and other personal protective equipment (PPE).Steve Hynd, policy manager at the not-for-profit plastic pollution campaign group City to Sea said: “It’s frankly embarrassing that while other governments are pushing ahead ours is still lagging behind.“If the Government fails to meet these minimum standards it would be an awful dereliction of their promises to lead on environmental issues post Brexit.”Nina Schrank, senior campaigner at Greenpeace, said: “The Government claims to be a leader in tackling plastic pollution, yet is falling behind in the most basic of measures.“They need to match EU legislation in banning some of the most harmful single-use plastics, at the very least.”A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “The UK is a global leader in tackling plastic pollution.“We have banned both microbeads in rinse-off personal care products and the supply of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds, and our carrier bag charge has cut sales by 95% in the main supermarkets.“Our landmark Environment Bill will give ministers the power to introduce deposit return schemes for plastic drinks containers and make companies more responsible for the packaging they produce, who will be incentivised to use more recyclable materials and to meet higher recycling targets.“The Bill will also make it easier for ministers to place charges on single-use plastic items that threaten our ecosystems, and we are currently exploring options for which items to target next.”Additional reporting by PA

Covid has made us use even more plastic – but we can reset

OpinionPlasticsCovid has made us use even more plastic – but we can resetChristian DunnLockdown has highlighted the versatility of this everyday material, while creating a mountain of waste Mon 19 Jul 2021 04.00 EDTLast modified on Tue 20 Jul 2021 04.51 EDTEvery time you do a lateral flow coronavirus test, you throw away around 10g of plastic. If every adult and secondary school student in the UK did the recommended two tests a week, it would produce more than 1,000 tonnes of rubbish every seven days. In less than a month this would fill an Olympic-size swimming pool.Those of us who before the pandemic were involved in campaigns to cut our dependence on plastic, encouraging our communities to become “plastic free”, may feel like criticising such consumption. Should we stop these tests, knowing what we do about the plastic pollution crisis?Absolutely not. They are at the forefront of our ability to control the virus and help our country return to a form of normality. So too are the countless tonnes of plastic used in the development, production, transportation and delivery of the vaccine, not to mention all the single-use medical consumables essential to help those unfortunate enough to end up in hospital.Plastic has shown yet again what a wonderful, versatile and lifesaving product it can be. Without it, the pandemic would be going very differently. However, it is all too easy to forget this when stepping over the Covid cast-offs littering our streets. Single-use face masks, surgical gloves, tiny bottles of hand sanitiser and antiseptic wipes have become as common as cigarettes butts were a few years ago.An interesting aspect of all this is a recently identified phenomenon called “hygiene theatre”. That is, individuals and businesses that make sure they look like they’re fighting the pandemic, but perhaps not doing very much of real effect. From repeatedly incorrectly changing single-use face masks to the use of disposable laminated menus in restaurants and metre-high plastic dividers between tables in rowdy pubs, there has arguably been an abundance of this behaviour throughout the various stages of the pandemic. And as we now approach the great unlocking on 19 July, some measures and behavioural changes are likely to remain – not least our desire to be personally protected, and our increased dependence on takeaway food and online shopping, both great generators of plastic. But the question is, how can we achieve safety and convenience in our post-lockdown world in a more balanced way?The most visible symbol of the pandemic also presents us with an excellent case study for how necessary this rethinking is: face masks. A single-use disposable face mask can be 10 times more damaging to the climate than a reusable cotton one. Most of us, most of the time, when we’re nipping into shops do not need to use a disposable surgical-type face mask. Yet still 53m are being sent to landfill every day in the UK, which doesn’t cover all those that make up the bulk of Covid cast-offs on our streets.A significant proportion of people are using them because of our accepted cultural insistence on convenience, or perceived convenience. We think it’s easier to pick up a throwaway mask when we’re entering a shop than it is to remember our own, in the way it was once more convenient to use free plastic bags in a supermarket than remember our own. But shifting our reliance away from single-use plastic doesn’t have to mean the end of convenience – far from it. Instead it just means we need to move towards “considerate convenience”: giving a little more consideration to our actions, and being a bit more considerate towards each other and the planet.There have been reports of takeaway sales surging by up to 600% during lockdown. This, in turn, brings a mountain of single-use plastic to landfill. A great example of considerate convenience in this sector is the Shrewsbury Cup scheme, whereby the town’s cafes all using the same type of reusable take-out cup. Customers pay a deposit for the cup which can be returned to any of the businesses serving drinks. It’s then washed and reused. Yes, it may require a tiny bit more effort than just throwing a used cup in the bin, but it’s far better for the environment. The Shrewsbury Cup scheme is part of a wider move among increasingly environmentally conscious takeaway providers to find plastic-free ways of delivering food, including, for example, making deliveries in sturdy packaging customers can take away with them again.Little known too is that Amazon will reduce the plastic packaging used in your deliveries – but you have to contact customer services to ask for the option to be applied to your account. Hope is also provided by a growing amount of biodegradable plastic coming on to the market.The UK won’t meet its ambitious climate goals by making spending cuts | Larry ElliottRead moreImproving plastic recycling is another area that needs investment to ensure it’s both efficient and viable. Less than 10% of plastic is currently recycled and this is usually downgraded to poorer quality plastic. Alternatives to plastic need to be considered wherever possible. Moves are being made to make the polluter pay, which could see companies such as Coca Cola take responsibility for the plastic rubbish they produce. It’s also clear that the traditional take-make-waste model for our plastic use must be replaced with a more circular system – designing products and consumer processes differently.The pandemic has highlighted the good and the bad of plastic use, showing more clearly than ever that plastic consumption is all about balance. Wasteful use of virgin plastic turns our oceans into plastic soups. This was part of the message many of us were trying to get out before the pandemic hit. Now that we’re being urged to “build back better” as we come out of lockdown, let’s seize the opportunity to change our thinking about plastic. Let’s appreciate what a wonderful resource it can be – and crucially let’s realise that, like all resources, it must be used wisely and not wasted.
Dr Christian Dunn is a senior lecturer in zoology at Bangor University and an environmental campaigner
TopicsPlasticsOpinionCoronavirusFood & drink industrycommentReuse this content

LISTEN: Terra Verde: Let's get plastics out of schools

Jacqueline Omania’s Zero Waste classroom in Berkeley has managed to generate only a jar of waste during the entire school year. Photo by Jacqueline OmaniaEarth Island Journal editor and Terra Verde host Maureen Nandini Mitra talks about plastic waste and classroom solutions with Jacqueline Omania, the inspirational educator behind Berkeley’s Oxford Elementary School’s Zero Waste Classroom Project and winner of the 2019 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators, and Dianna Cohen, founder and CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition, a global alliance of individuals, organizations, businesses, and policymakers working toward a world free of plastic.

Make profit, not pollution: How businesses turn trash into cash

MANILA, Philippines — Did you know that a single plastic bottle could take up to 450 years to fully decompose?

A lifetime of indiscriminate disposal of plastics can be detrimental to the ocean, marine life and landfills that could leak toxic pollutants to food and water systems.

Sustainable living might be costly, for now, but it pays to pay it forward. There are ways to mitigate the irreversible effects of plastic pollution, and several organizations have partnered to make it easier for the public to contribute to proper plastic disposal.

From waste to life-savers

Beauty brand Garnier, retail chain Watsons and The Plastic Flamingo launched its first ever Plastics Collection Program. The program accepts plastic donations that will be turned into eco-planks and will be used to build emergency shelters for the less fortunate.

The Plastic Flamingo is a social company based in Manila that collect and recycles plastic waste. 

“We are one in pursuing our shared vision of responsible stewardship of our planet and clean beauty accessible to all. It starts with us, and it takes a global brand like Garnier and a retail giant like Watsons to get things started and take the leap towards sustainability. By partnering with The Plastic Flamingo, we are able to leverage their expertise on innovative and relevant ways of reusing plastics – like building infrastructure for emergency shelters. There’s a lot more to be done and the sustainability journey is far from over, but with these steps, we are paving the way to a brighter future” said Josteen Vega, Garnier Marketing Manager.

The brand partnered with e-commerce site Shopee with the Green Parcel partnership. The beauty brand also got its global accreditation from Cruelty Free International under the Leaping Bunny Program. The program is a globally-recognized standard for cruelty-free products in terms of cosmetics, personal care and household care.

Step into 100% recycled sole mates

Ipanema and Rider, two of the most sought-after Brazilian casual footwear brands, recently launch new products that allow you to revel in the experience of wearing everyday-appropriate footwear.

Nowadays, flip-flops and slip-ons have become the most convenient footwear choice: comfortable enough for essential outdoor runs and stylish enough for most outfits, not only are these pairs the easiest kind of footwear to disinfect, but they are also just as good to wear while staying at home.

This month, the duo releases respective collections that help the environment and allow you to be your most authentic self. Aptly named Confetti, Ipanema is overjoyed to release its first pair of flipflops 100% made of recycled materials. The Brazilian brand has always been at the forefront of promoting sustainable manufacturing in the fashion industry, creating footwear with no components of animal origin, 100% recyclable, and contains up to 30% pre-consumer recyclable materials for years—but it’s the first time they have been able to develop a product that is not only 100% recyclable, but made of 100% recyclable materials as well. 

The Confetti is a thong-style flat sandal with a rounded toe, textured sole and adjustable ankle straps. A pair that comes in a gorgeous sand color with contrasting black straps, it proudly bears the brand’s signature at the bottom, with a mark that says “100% recycled.”

The company believes that fashion brands have the ability to create beautiful, wearable and durable products that are produced ethically, with a reduced impact on the environment and a lasting contribution to the welfare of their employees and the communities within which they belong. 

Now available in the brand’s stores as well as online and in Bambu, The SM Store, Sports Central and Robinsons Department Stores, Confetti is just the beginning of a groundbreaking movement within the brand to create more 100% recycled and recyclable footwear jn the years to come.

‘May pera sa basura’: The circular economy of plastics 

The phrase “May pera sa basura” has long been heard in the Philippines. Newspaper drives and glass bottle collection initiatives are common measures to recycle. The same process can apply to plastic packaging. The concept of the “circular economy of plastics” means that plastic is viewed as a material that can be reused, to avoid depleting natural resources. This is a concept and economic model that Mondelez Philippines supports, in line with its goals towards zero waste to nature by 2030. 

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the “circular economy of plastics” means “A system in which materials are designed to be used, not used up.” The foundation works at promoting and developing this economic model. Think about it, our economy today continuously churns packaging material using irreplaceable natural resources like fuel, with the intent of making them single use. But they don’t have to be used just once. Plastic packaging can and should be recycled to avoid them becoming waste or polluting marine life. In fact, using plastic as a resource that can be recycled continuously is giving rise to industries that make a profit while preventing waste.

One such organization is Plastics by Manila Automat, a collaborative design and production studio aimed at renewing the value of recycled plastic waste by encouraging people to become modern-day recyclers. The group collects plastic waste – from bottles to sachets, and turns them into practical, usable, and creative materials for consumers to purchase. Theirs is a business that literally runs on waste. 

“We started our Company based on a belief that plastic should be reused and is a valuable material,” shared Mica Agregado, Head of Designs. “Since 2019 we have sold 436 pieces of our home and fashion pieces and in the process, recycled 327 kg of plastic packaging.” 

Another organization that uses waste as a resource is Green Antz Builders, an innovative product and technology development company that creates Eco-bricks and construction materials made with recycled plastic. A pioneer in the Philippines on circular economy, Green Antz has carved a niche as a green construction materials company but at the same time, are strong advocates on the use of green materials and technologies.

The company builds and runs Green Antz Eco-Hubs which are like modern Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) in communities. These Eco-Hubs function as plastic collection points, recycling facilities, and manufacturing hubs with a socially-inclusive model. Green Antz collaborates with surrounding communities and partner organizations in collecting plastic and running educational workshops or seminars in the communities on proper waste segregation at source. The Eco-Bricks, Eco-Casts, and Eco-Pavers produced in these facilities, coming from the plastic waste collected, are tangible outputs that the circular economy works and creates shared value across its stakeholders. 

“Our Eco Products not only divert tons of plastic waste away from oceans and landfills, and repurposing them into green materials used in the construction industry, they are also uniquely designed and engineered stronger than regular hollow blocks and use less water to build into structures,” shared Rommel Benig, Founder and CEO.

“Green Antz has created a trailblazing platform for Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) initiatives. We have built our entire business on the idea that plastic waste is a resource as valuable as paper or glass, and can be reused.” In 2020 alone, Green Antz collected and diverted close to 100,000 kgs of plastics away from landfills or oceans. 

Plastics by Manila Automat and Green Antz are two of the organizations snacks company Mondelez Philippines is working with to help promote and strengthen the plastics recycling industry in the Philippines. As a member of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, the Company globally supports the New Plastics Economy Initiative. 

“We want to contribute to a circular economy where packaging material is recycled or reused, while minimizing food waste and the overall environmental impact of packaging, including on climate change,” explains Atty. Joseph Fabul, Country Manager for Corporate and Government Affairs of Mondelez Philippines. “To help achieve this, we are working to find solutions to the shared problem of packaging waste – fixing broken processes, policies and perception. These include making all our packaging recycle-ready and labelled with recycling information for consumers by 2025. We also committed to invest in waste management projects where we are present and ensure that by 2025, 5% of our plastic packaging is from recycled content.” “The next time you hear the phrase “May pera sa basura,” think of the circular economy of plastics and how recycling can indeed change a problem into an opportunity,” ended Atty. Fabul. 

Offseting plastic footprints by going cashless

Plastic Credit Exchange (PCX), the first global non-profit plastic offset program, recently partnered with Microsoft to develop a blockchain-protected credit registry. The revamped credit registry will ensure the public and relevant stakeholders that all transactions within the Exchange are secure, transparent and reliable. 

Established in 2019, PCX partners with sustainably conscious businesses worldwide to responsibly offset their plastic footprints. PCX has built a wide ecosystem of partners to facilitate the recovery, transport, and processing of post-consumer plastic waste, seeking out the most environmentally sound solutions. Company pledges undergo verification via a third-party audit and are made transparent through the PCX public registry. 

Founder and Chairwoman Nanette Medved-Po shared, “It is important that the credit registry is trustworthy and available to the public. By using blockchain technology to not only protect the ledger, but provide transparency around additionality and protect against double counting, stakeholders will know where and how they positively impact the environment.” 

Blockchain technology has the potential to extend digital transformation beyond any organization’s boundaries and into the processes it shares with suppliers, customers and partners. At its core it is a shared, distributed, secured, immutable ledger which is connected in a peer-to-peer network.

PCX sought Microsoft as a global technology partner for a Microsoft Azure-based blockchain solution. Microsoft prototyped a blockchain-protected ledger through its Microsoft Technology Center (MTC) to provide confidence, traceability and transparency within the PCX ecosystem. 

To lay the foundation for the solution, MTC configured PCX’s existing credit registry and infrastructure with Quorum Blockchain deployment on Azure by setting up permissions and providing identified user access to ledger through secure API. Improving upon PCX’s existing workflow, MTC iterated blockchain-based solution scenarios. This prototype incorporates PCX’s current processes via web application enabling the blockchain to integrate into their operations. Because the app is API-enabled, PCX can seamlessly extend their credit registry to more partners in the future.

“Our decision to partner with Microsoft went beyond finding a technology partner. We found a business partner whose sustainability goals aligned with ours and whose priorities are on finding innovative ways to tackle the plastic pollution crisis today,” said Medved-Po.

MTCs are designed to help drive business transformation by providing customers with a personalized and hands-on approach to innovation. Through MTC, customers, like PCX, are empowered to co-develop and envision solutions through proof-of-concept workshops, architectural design sessions, and exclusive access to partner technologies, among others.  

“The PCX engagement with the Microsoft Technology Center (MTC) is a great example of how MTC can conduct a joint rapid prototype that helps accelerate the PCX vision to reality in a matter of weeks. This collaboration ensures the right architecture and technology are put in place to provide a solid foundation for the system,” said David Chandra, Senior Director at APAC Microsoft Technology Center. 

Microsoft Philippines Country Manager Andres Ortola said, “Sustainability and humanity’s response to it is one of the greatest challenges of our lifetime — a planet-sized challenge that requires a planet-sized response. Technology can — and must — accelerate that response. Wherever it can apply our strengths as an innovation company, we are committed to bringing the full weight of our platform and technology forward. At Microsoft, we exist to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more — including the planet itself.”

To date, PCX has enabled the removal of more than 18 million kilograms of plastic waste from the environment. Companies such as PepsiCo Snacks, Wyeth Nutrition, Century Pacific Food, Colgate-Palmolive and NutriAsia have pursued Plastic Neutrality in the Philippines, while Nestle Philippines, PepsiCo Vietnam, Unilever Philippines, and Mayora Vuono Trade and Marketing Services Corporation have purchased plastic offsets from PCX. In addition to addressing the environmental goals of programs, PCX also focuses on socio economic benefits of interventions on communities. Livelihood development, infrastructure support, behavioral change and empowering women help to support a global movement away from waste and into a more circular economy. 

The plastic problem isn't your fault, but you can be part of the solution

Credit: Becky Harlan/NPR One of the most overwhelming aspects of modern life, in my (Rebecca) opinion, is knowing about major global-impact issues like climate change and plastic waste pollution and feeling like there isn’t much that I can do to really change things. Take all that plastic we go through day in and day out. …

Plastic pollution is nearing irreversible tipping point, experts warn

The world may be approaching an irreversible tipping point for plastic pollution, a group of scientists is warning, with impacts for both the environment and wider society. In an article published inScience, scientists from Sweden, Norway and Germany wrote that there were “enormous” consequences for continuing to throw away plastics, which continue to be “poorly” recycled.Figures for plastic waste entering the environment by 2025 are in the region of 9 and 23 metric tonnes per year, with warnings that by 2050, the world’s oceans and seas will be filled with more plastic than fish.Most plastics that are thrown away eventually break down into tiny nano-particles through a process known as weathering, but according to the study, that will be impossible at future rates of waste.Matthew MacLeod, the lead author of the study, said in an interview with SciTechDaily that while many countries were recycling, “plastic is deeply ingrained in our society, and it leaks out into the environment everywhere”. Should rates of pollution reach a so-called tipping point, the scientists warn, there will be a collapse of habitats and species loss, and changes to the way in which the ocean removes carbon — which would increase temperatures globally. ”So far, we don’t see widespread evidence of bad consequences, but if weathering plastic triggers a really bad effect we are not likely to be able to reverse it”, said Mr MacLeod of a tipping point. “The cost of ignoring the accumulation of persistent plastic pollution in the environment could be enormous.“The study argued a reduction in plastic is “the rational policy response” for governments.“The rational thing to do is to act as quickly as we can to reduce emissions of plastic to the environment,” Mr MacLeod added.

Plastic pollution could pose another danger to our planet

Plastic pollution could be a bigger problem than we realise (Getty)Plastic pollution is now found everywhere on our planet, from the furthest reaches of Antarctica to the depths of the sea. But could plastic pose another danger to Earth – by adding more carbon into natural systems around the planet?Plastic is largely made up of carbon, which is released into the environment when it breaks down – which could have important effects on ecosystems around the world.It could even have an impact on the climate, researchers have warned. Aron Stubbins, a professor of marine and environmental sciences, chemistry and chemical biology, and civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern University, investigated – and says he found “surprising” results. Stubbins said: “It was clear that there were some environments in which plastics are now a significant amount of the carbon. There’s as much plastic-carbon as there is natural carbon in some ecosystems.”Read more: Why economists worry that reversing climate change is hopelessStubbins worked with colleagues to put together a sketch of the global plastic-carbon cycle, and further calculated the amount of carbon that plastics add to the environments that they pollute. Stubbins said: “We’ve added a new material plastic carbon cycle alongside the natural carbon cycle.”So much carbon introduced by plastic pollution into the natural environment could have a ripple effect across life forms, ecosystems, and even the planet’s climate.Read more: A 1988 warning about climate change was mostly rightPlastic production and use began in earnest around 1950. By 1962, Stubbins found, the amount of carbon in plastics that had been created surpassed the total amount in all humans on the planet. By 1994, plastic-sourced carbon topped the amount of the chemical element in all animals. “The plastics are just building up,” he said.Some of the most significant accumulation occurs in the surface waters of subtropical ocean gyres, where currents cycle in just such a way that floating materials accumulate in a sort of patch.Story continuesRead more: Melting snow in Himalayas drives growth of green sea slime visible from spaceIf plastics release carbon into ocean ecosystems, it might alter the climate, Stubbins says. That’s because a thin layer on the surface of the world’s oceans plays an important role in the exchange of material between the ocean and the atmosphere. The aerosols and trace gases involved in that exchange can “change atmospheric chemistry, which can change climate”, he said. “So if there’s this high concentration of plastics in that particular layer at the very surface of the sea, then that could have ramifications for the lower atmosphere.”Watch; Amazing art sculptures created with ocean rubbish

Massive Georgia plant to turn plastic into fuels, chemicals

“We are building an industry that requires us to continue feeding it,” said Jennette Gayer with the group Environment Georgia.The good, the bad and the uglyPlastic has been a blessing and a curse on modern life.It’s light and endlessly malleable. It can be puffed into Styrofoam packing peanuts or formed into a medical device that remains in a body for years. It’s tough enough to store harsh chemicals for decades without breaking down.But the durability that makes it so useful also makes it nearly indestructible without intervention.It takes about 10 grams — less than the weight of two quarters — of polyethylene terephthalate, commonly called PET, to make a half-liter drink bottle. That tiny amount will take anywhere from 70 to 450 years to break down naturally, depending on exposure to sunlight and other factors, according to estimates from a variety of environmental, industrial and scientific groupsCaptionPlastic pollution is a global concern, but there are examples right here in Georgia. Here, trash and plastic pollution cover the banks of the tributary of Proctor Creek in Atlanta. Georgians throw away 1 million tons of plastic each year. Only 9% of total plastic waste in the U.S. gets recycled. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COMRecycling could be the answer to the problem, but it’s complicated for a number of reasons. There are seven categories of plastics that are different on molecular levels. They often can’t be mixed when recycling. And mechanical recycling processes degrade plastic’s composition, limiting its uses.Of the seven categories, only two types of plastics are easily recycled and have ready buyers. There is little market for the rest. So, despite the best intentions of environmentally conscious families, most of the plastics packed into recycling bins are sent to landfills.Another deterrent to recycling is that it has been cheaper to make new plastic.That results in a massive problem. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the U.S. produced 35.7 million tons of plastic in 2018 — the amount increases each year — but only 9% got recycled. About 5.6 million tons were burned to create energy, releasing greenhouse and toxic gases. And 27 million tons were buried in landfills or ended up in gutters, rivers and oceans.It’s an issue that affects big cities, small towns and the companies whose brands are emblazoned on bottles, Styrofoam beer chests and food wrappers that end up floating from the coves of Lake Lanier to the beaches of Tybee Island. Public pressure and fear of regulation have spurred big users like the Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Company to pledge to find alternatives and to invest in recycling, which so far hasn’t yielded much success.Coke invested $60 million in a South Carolina plant that aimed to recycle one type of plastic, polyethylene terephthalate, into new bottles in 2009. But Coke eventually divested itself of the troubled operation in 2011. Other national and international companies have made similar efforts, most of which produced little or poor results.Good intentions and high tech dreamsBob Powell, a Georgia Tech engineering and MBA graduate, founded Brightmark in 2016 with the idea of doing good and doing well by solving environmental problems for profits.The company and its partners started by designing and operating nine industrial-sized processing facilities from Florida to Washington state that collect cow and chicken farm wastes and turn it into natural gas. The gas is sold into local or regional pipelines, and the processed wastes become fertilizer or compost.The company moved into plastics and built its first processing plant last year in Indiana. It is one-quarter the size of the planned Georgia facility and will take in about 100,000 tons of plastic yearly. The Macon plant, which will be situated on industrial land near Middle Georgia Regional Airport and will employ more than 100 people, will haul in 400,000 tons of plastic from the region and surrounding states annually.Brightmark uses chemical processes to break down plastic. It is one of a growing number of new companies moving into that trail-blazing, high-tech niche. Others are Loop Industries in Canada, Agilyx in the U.S. and Nexus Fuels, a smaller Cobb County firm that is financed in part by Cox Enterprises, the parent company of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.Brightmark uses a process called pyrolysis — heating plastic wastes in a closed container with no oxygen to vaporize it. It can mix in all types of plastics, solving one of the problems with recycling.“It’s like a fancy distillery,” said Powell.CaptionPlastic items are conveyed to Brightmark machinery that shreds them into thumb-sized pellets, which will be vaporized with high heat then distilled into an oil that can be used to make diesel fuel, naptha and waxes. Brightmark plans to build a massive plastic processing facility outside of Macon.Credit: Courtesy of BrightmarkCredit: Courtesy of BrightmarkThe plastic vapor is condensed into an oil. The oil will be further refined on site into 20 million gallons of wax and 64 million gallons of low-sulfur diesel fuel and naptha, which can be used to make gasoline, solvents or plastic.“I think we are on a journey … and we keep getting better and better,” Powell said. Brightmark’s $460 million Georgia plant will keep millions of tons of plastic from going to landfills while making useful products, he said.While it’s not recycling in the true sense, “that is better than where we are right now,” he said.The oil it makes can be processed into new plastics, but that industry is in its early stages of development in the U.S., and Brightmark does not have a buyer with plans to make plastic. Some European companies are beginning to try that. Mondelez International, the food firm, says it will put Philadelphia brand cream cheese in tubs made of recycled plastic by 2022.Powell said, “When we have a customer, we would like to tell the world publicly that we are going to make plastic out of plastic.”Stephen Adams, executive director of the Macon/Bibb County Industrial Authority, said construction on the plant should begin next year. Powell said it could take two to three years to complete.Brightmark has applied for a permit from the state Environmental Protection Division that will allow it to release emissions — including carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, volatile organic compounds and other pollutants — that fall within state and federal guidelines.Emissions in Indiana are roughly equal to what a large hospital would release, according to a study Brightmark paid for.Not solving the problemThe California-based environmental group Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives criticized the new processes, including pyrolysis in a June 2020 analysis.The processes release toxic chemicals into the air and contribute to greenhouse gases by creating fuels. “Rather than limiting production or contributing to circularity, chemical recycling provides an excuse to increase the production and disposal of plastic,” the report says.In the last decade, companies have failed technologically and economically when they’ve tried to use processes like pyrolysis to make new plastics, it says. Those problems continue into the present.Coke made another attempt to find bottles made from recycled plastic and had a contract with Loop Industries, which planned to make them using a similar method. But Coke walked away from the deal last October.“Loop did not satisfy the production milestone within the agreement, and the decision was made to terminate the framework agreement in 2020,” Coke spokesman Scott Leith told the AJC.Late last year, Loop was hit with class-action lawsuits from investors who allege the company made false or misleading statements about its work and misrepresented the results of Loop’s proprietary process. The Securities and Exchange Commission also launched an investigation into the company.A Loop spokesman told the AJC the company had no comment about the allegations or investigation.Powell said Brightmark already sells all the oil it can produce, though he declined to disclose whether the private company is profitable. It has partners such as oil industry giant BP.Gayer, from Environment Georgia, said, “This chemical recycling is not really a solution to the plastic pollution crisis we are facing, and might be seen as a distraction.”She expressed concerns about the $82 million in incentives that Georgia has promised Brightmark to build here, given the newness of the technology and unproven market.Pat Wilson, the head of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, said Brightmark already has a plant up and running. The department used experts from Georgia universities to vet the industry. Members from the Macon/Bibb County Industrial Authority visited the Indiana plant.“We have really done our due diligence,” he said.“This is a technology that can be transformational in how we deal with this massive problem of plastics in society,” he said.Producing fuels from plastic is marginally better for the environment than simply burying it, said David Shonnard, a Michigan Technological University professor who is researching pyrolysis of plastics.He said it is feasible but optimistic that maybe half of the plastics the U.S. produces could be processed into fuels or new plastics in five years. Big companies are just beginning to scale up, like the $250 million Eastman Chemical plant in Tennessee, which will chemically break down polyethylene terephthalate into building blocks for new plastic. If plants like that are successful, it could spur more plastic recycling.But the final solution is not just a matter of chemistry. The plastics crisis is a “wicked problem,” Shonnard said — a science term used to describe highly complex problems that involve incalculable risks. And addressing it will require examining social policy, the economics and industrial solutions.Time will tell whether Brightmark and similar ventures will fulfill their promises and the fledgling industry takes wing.“Probably the market is waiting to see whether those are successful or not,” Shonnard said.CaptionJulian Gindi, perched on a fallen tree, empties out a plastic bottle before bagging it up with other trash he and his buddies collected along the banks of the Chattahoochee River.Credit: Joey Ivansco/AJCCredit: Joey Ivansco/AJC

Hawaii's plastic epidemic continues with the pandemic

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Plastic trash continues to litter our beaches and ocean. Local environmental groups say they’re concerned the pandemic is making plastic pollution more of a problem, despite City efforts to reduce single-use plastics.

According to the Kokua Hawaii Foundation, 70% of ocean plastic waste comes from land.

“Just by virtue of how they’re designed they only get used for 10 minutes and then they’re disposed of,” Kokua Hawaii Foundation’s Jennifer Milholen said. “The way that our waste collection systems are set up and our behaviors a lot of those materials end up in the marine environment, they end up in the land.”

The first phase of Honolulu’s ban on single-use plastic utensils and bags went into effect on April 1, but early fears about surface contamination during COVID-19 led to an increase in single-use plastics for foods, condiments and bento boxes.

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“There’s been definitely a huge increase in the dependence of single-use plastics and the perception that is the most effective way to be safe and healthy, but I think what the science continues to show over time and what the CDC has recently confirmed is that surface transmission has not and is not a real danger for transmission,” Milholen continued.

More people have also been ordering take-out from their favorite restaurants.

“A lot of them are seeing a five or six-fold increase in what they were spending in food service takeout and disposable containers,” he said.

According to the CDC, generally, the chances of someone contracting COVID after touching an infected surface is 1 in 10,000.

Experts say if you want to make a positive impact on the environment while protecting yourself from getting sick, remember to bring your reusables with you.

“Always remember to bring your reusable bag. I have a reusable straw that I have inside of a utensil set and that utensil allows me to refuse any form of reusable utensils,” Shin said.

On a grander scale, both Milholen and Shin are operating a pilot program as Hawaii’s first full cycle reusable takeout program, funded by a NOAA marine grant. They provide washing stations along with containers that customer can bring back to participating Haleiwa restaurants.

The restaurants are Haleiwa Joes, Cosmic Kitchen, Rajanee Thai and Cholo’s.

“Our big goal is to make it scalable. We want to show that our pilot is something that can be scaled up across Hawaii’s 4,000 restaurants, and eventually statewide,” Milholen said.