A new, more stringent review of the environmental impacts of a massive proposed plastics plant along the Mississippi River in St. James Parish will likely take more than two years.Environmental groups are cheering that scrutiny, arguing it could provide a more realistic assessment of the environmental damage the plant would do to an area they say already bears a heavy burden of pollution. But some local government and business leaders are trying to rally support for a project that could create about 1,200 permanent jobs and pour millions of dollars into the local economy.The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had already approved permits for the Sunshine Project, a $9.4 billion plastics plant that Formosa has been trying to build for three years, but it rescinded them a year ago. Environmental groups filed a lawsuit claiming the environmental study was inadequate, and the Corps acknowledged errors.Now the Corps of Engineers is conducting a more thorough review called an “environmental impact statement.” It’s only the fourth such review the New Orleans district of the Corps has conducted since 2008.Martin Mayer, the Corps of Engineers’ regulatory chief in New Orleans, said the EIS process has “an average goal” of rendering a decision in two years. It will involve multiple opportunities for public input so that no “stone goes unturned,” he said.”I mean really the goal of the EIS is to get everybody’s input,” Mayer said.The review means construction on the project won’t be starting anytime soon. The clock on that two-year estimate isn’t likely to start until the spring when a public notice is expected to be published.The Corps still needs to reach an agreement with FG LA LLC, the Formosa affiliate behind the project, on the scope of the work. FG also needs to hire a contractor to do the analysis under the Corps’ direction.’On the wrong side of history’Dubbed the “Sunshine Project” and located just downriver of the Sunshine Bridge, the plant would make pellets and other raw materials that are used to make everyday plastic products. Many state and local leaders have praised its potential economic benefits: It is expected to create 1,200 permanent jobs, thousands more temporary construction jobs and generate tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue.But the plant has triggered lawsuits and regular protests from a dedicated group of local residents and environmentalists. It has also drawn attention from out-of-state political leaders and the United Nations.Critics have claimed that Formosa’s toxic emissions would land on already overburdened Black communities, like Welcome and Romeville, in the Mississippi River corridor. They also argue it would create a massive new source of greenhouse gases at a time when much of the world is trying to fight climate change.The plant would also be built near a graveyard suspected of holding former slaves and become a major new source of the kind of disposable plastics already fouling the Mississippi, the Gulf of Mexico and the world’s oceans, these critics add.
As part of a series highlighting the work of young people in addressing the climate crisis, writer Patricia Lane interviews Laska Paré who creates beautiful and useful items from recycled plastic.Laska ParéLaska Paré turns coffee cup lids into soap dishes. No — she’s not a magician. This 33-year-old entrepreneur started Flipside Plastics as a circular economic enterprise, recycling plastics on Vancouver Island. Get top stories in your inbox.Our award-winning journalists bring you the news that impacts you, Canada, and the world. Don’t miss out.Tell us about your project.About $8 billion a year worth of plastic is thrown into landfills and will remain there for millennia. Flipside Plastics is a pilot project to see if we can interrupt plastic’s common life cycle of use-waste-pollute with a model of endless reuse, so it is never wasted and, therefore, never pollutes. We started very small in the spring collecting the lids of disposable coffee cups, shredding and washing them, and turning them into well-designed soap dishes. We have more orders for the soap dishes than we can fill and are now looking to scale up. What people are reading Before Laska Paré found a suitable workspace, she was teaching herself injection moulding in her condo. Photo by Jasper ParéWhat inspired you in this direction?I was distressed by the daily garbage buckets full of disposable coffee cups and lids at my previous workplace. I started a campaign, which I called “Mugshot,” encouraging my colleagues to “kill plastics” by taking a “mugshot” of themselves with their own cup. When I started my own business, I wanted to contribute to a healthier planet. Then COVID-19 hit, and we could no longer use our own cups for take-out. The waste really bothered me. Paper coffee cups can be recycled. I wondered if we could recycle lids.I needed something small to test the idea that we could remove plastic already in our economy from the waste stream. Coffee cup lids are easily washed, lightweight, and small, making the reuse process easier. With the help of a grant from the British Columbia government, I hired a small team and arranged for a volunteer to use his cargo bicycle to collect coffee cup lids from four local Victoria coffee shops. We shred and wash them and when market research revealed interest in well-designed, premium-priced soap dishes, we started to make them from recycled plastic. We are now at the sales end of the first year of our business and have a shortage of source plastic to meet the demand. Coffee shops really like these products because they are able to reassure customers concerned about plastic waste. Coffee consumers using disposable cups find them reassuring, too. Laska Paré turns coffee cup lids into soap dishes. No, she’s not a magician. This 33-year-old started Flipside Plastics as a circular economic enterprise, #recycling #plastics on Vancouver Island. Taking a break in one of the buckets on the bike trailer used to collect the plastic coffee lids from Victoria cafes. Photo by Braedan DrouillardWhat is next?Scaling up might mean more specialization. I might outsource the collection and use recycled reusable plastic pellets. I don’t know the final products yet, as market research is underway, but there seems to be potential in things people see every day, such as coasters, high-end bath kit sets, or small pieces of multi-use furniture that would let them see a sustainable future is possible with their help.What makes your work hard?I cannot sign a standard five-year lease when I have not yet proved my concept and I must locate my machines in areas zoned for light industry. There is very little space available for small manufacturers and it is fiercely expensive. Politicians, bureaucrats, customers, and suppliers are supportive. But when the rubber hits the road, the changes are alarmingly slow. What gives you hope?My volunteers are senior business people who really believe in this concept. My staff is so passionate and driven and we are all so determined to succeed. Their tenacity is infectious. I am participating in a business accelerator program run by the federal government and that is encouraging. We will figure it out.What drew you into this work?I grew up in a small town — Strathroy, Ont. The community had a shared ethic of borrowing rather than buying, and as one of four kids in a single-earner household, we mended and made do. My mom was a genius at repurposing garage sale finds and making art out of junk. Avoiding a high-waste consumer lifestyle is part of who I am. When she is not working, Laska can be found outside adventuring … and picking up plastic waste. Photo by Jasper ParéWhat worries you?The usual uncertainties of starting a small business have been magnified by COVID lockdowns and the cost of everything skyrocketed with the breakdowns in supply chains. But these concerns are all the more reason for us to learn to stop wasting. Think of the good we could do with that $8 billion if it did not go into the landfill and pollute. Do you have any advice for young people?Trust your ideas, especially if you can’t shake them. There were lots of logical reasons for me to not do what I am doing. I kept thinking, “Someone else can do that.” But the concept just stuck to me. Here I am. I have learned so much and every day I make mistakes and learn more. My skill set is so much richer than it would have been. I am very happy.What would you like to say to older readers?Recycled products often carry a premium price, and it is tempting just to go for the cheaper option. But not paying the true cost of our stuff is one of the main ways we got into this mess. You can begin to change that now. We can either pay now or future generations will pay much more dearly.
The global consumer goods industry’s plans for dealing with the vast plastic waste it generates can be seen here in a landfill on the outskirts of Indonesia’s capital, where a swarm of excavators tears into stinking mountains of garbage.
These machines are unearthing rubbish to provide fuel to power a nearby cement plant. Discarded bubble wrap, take-out containers and single-use shopping bags have become one of the fastest-growing sources of energy for the world’s cement industry.
The Indonesian project, funded in part by Unilever PLC , maker of Dove soap and Hellmann’s mayonnaise, is part of a worldwide effort by big multinationals to burn more plastic waste in cement kilns, Reuters has detailed for the first time.
This “fuel” is not only cheap and abundant. It’s the centerpiece of a partnership between consumer products giants and cement companies aimed at burnishing their environmental credentials. They’re promoting this approach as a win-win for a planet choking on plastic waste. Converting plastic to energy, these companies contend, keeps it out of landfills and oceans while allowing cement plants to move away from burning coal, a major contributor to global warming.
Reuters has identified nine collaborations launched over the last two years between various combinations of consumer goods giants and major cement makers. Four leading sources of plastic packaging are involved: The Coca-Cola Company, Unilever, Nestle S.A. and Colgate-Palmolive Company. On the cement side of the deals are four top producers: Switzerland’s Holcim Group, Mexico’s Cemex SAB de CV , PT Solusi Bangun Indonesia Tbk (SBI) and Republic Cement & Building Material Inc, a company in the Philippines.
These projects span the world, from Costa Rica to the Philippines, El Salvador to India. In Indonesia, for instance, Unilever is partnering with SBI, one of that country’s largest cement makers.
The alliances come as the cement industry – the source of 7% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions – faces rising pressure to reduce these greenhouse gases. Consumer brands, meanwhile, are feeling the heat from lawmakers who are banning or taxing single-use plastic packaging and pushing so-called polluter-pays legislation to make producers bear the costs of its clean up.
Critics say there’s little green about burning plastic, which is derived from oil, to make cement. A dozen sources with direct knowledge of the practice, among them scientists, academics and environmentalists, told Reuters that plastic burned in cement kilns emits harmful air emissions and amounts to swapping one dirty fuel for another. More importantly, environmental groups say, it’s a strategy that could potentially undercut efforts spreading globally to boost recycling rates and dramatically slash the production of single-use plastic.
Such thinking is naive, said Axel Pieters, chief executive of Geocycle, the waste-management arm of Holcim Group, one of the world’s largest cement makers and partner with Nestle, Unilever and Coca-Cola in plastic-fuel ventures. Pieters told Reuters that burning plastic in cement kilns is a safe, inexpensive and practical solution that can dispose of huge volumes of this trash quickly. Less than 10% of all the plastic ever made has been recycled, in large part because it’s too costly to collect and sort. Plastic production, meanwhile, is projected to double within 20 years.
“Thinking that we recycle waste only, and that we should avoid plastic waste, then you can quote me on this: People believe in fairy tales,” Pieters said.
Unilever would not comment specifically on the Indonesia project. It said in an email that in situations where recycling isn’t feasible, it would explore “energy recovery initiatives.” That’s industry parlance for burning plastic as fuel.
Coca-Cola, Unilever, Colgate and Nestle did not respond to questions about the environmental and health impacts of burning plastic in cement kilns. The companies said they invest in various initiatives to reduce waste, including boosting recycled content in their packaging and making refillable containers.
Cemex, SBI, Republic Cement and Holcim’s Geocycle unit told Reuters their partnerships with consumer goods firms were aimed at addressing the global waste crisis and reducing their dependence on traditional fossil fuels.
Exactly how much plastic waste is being burned in cement kilns globally isn’t known. That’s because industry statistics typically lump it into a wider category called “alternative fuel” that comprises other garbage, such as scrap wood, old vehicle tires and clothing.
The use of alternative fuel has risen steadily in recent decades and already is the dominant energy source for the cement industry in some European countries. There’s no question the amount of plastic within that category has increased and will keep climbing given a worldwide explosion of plastic waste, according to 20 cement industry players interviewed for this report, including company executives, engineers and analysts. Reuters also reviewed data from cement associations, individual countries and analysts that confirmed this trend.
For example, Geocycle currently uses 2 million tonnes of plastic waste a year as alternative fuel at Holcim plants worldwide, according to Geocycle CEO Pieters, who said the company intends to increase this to 11 million tonnes by 2040, including through more partnerships with consumer goods companies.
Fumes and dust are seen at Indonesian cement manufacturer PT Solusi Bangun Indonesia Tbk (SBI) in Bogor, West Java province, Indonesia, Sept. 21, 2021.
Pieters said the cement industry has the capacity to burn all the plastic waste the world currently produces. The United Nations Environment Program estimates that figure to be 300 million tonnes annually. That dwarfs the world’s plastic recycling capacity, estimated to be 46 million tonnes a year, according to a 2018 estimate by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a global policy forum.
Plastic pollution, meanwhile, is bedeviling communities whose landfills are reaching capacity and despoiling the Earth’s wild places. Plastic garbage flowing into the oceans is due to triple to 29 million tonnes a year by 2040, according to a study published last year by the Pew Charitable Trusts. This detritus is endangering wildlife and contaminating the seafood humans consume.
“The cement industry is definitely a solution,” Geocycle’s Pieters said.
Consumer goods giants are turning to cement firms for help in reducing plastic litter as other initiatives stumble. Reuters reported in July that a set of new “advanced” plastic recycling technologies promoted by big brands and the plastic industry had suffered major setbacks across the world.
Cement-making is one of the world’s most energy-intensive businesses. Fuel – mainly coal – is its single-biggest expense, industry executives said. In the 1970s, producers looking to reduce costs began stoking kilns with rubbish such as tires, biomass, sewage sludge – and plastic. Those materials aren’t as efficient as coal, but are virtually free. Some local governments even pay cement makers to take this waste.
In Europe, refuse now makes up roughly half the fuel used by the cement industry. In Germany, the bloc’s biggest producer, the ratio is 70%, according to 2019 data from the Global Cement & Concrete Association (GCCA), a London-based trade organization. The United States uses 15% alternative fuel in its kilns, according to the Portland Cement Association, a U.S. industry group. Spokesperson Mike Zande said its members have the capacity to catch up with Europe.
While cost-cutting remains the primary driver, the industry in recent years has begun touting its garbage fuel as a way to reduce the “societal problem” of plastic waste, said Ian Riley, CEO of the London-based World Cement Association (WCA), which represents producers in developing countries.
So it was logical that cement makers would team up with consumer goods companies, the largest source of single-use plastic packaging, in the recent partnerships to burn discarded plastic in their kilns.
In emerging markets, big brands sell a slew of food and hygiene products packaged in plastic sachets, typically single-serving portions tailored to the budgets of poor households. Billions of these flexible pouches are sold each year. Sachets are nearly impossible to recycle because they’re made of layers of different materials laminated together, usually plastic and aluminum, that are difficult to separate.
Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 270 million people, is the second-largest contributor to ocean plastic pollution behind China, partly due to its widespread use of sachets, according to a 2015 study published in the journal Science. Plastic garbage can be seen everywhere around Jakarta, the sprawling capital of more than 10 million people. It clogs storm drains, litters its teaming slums and mars its shoreline.
Developing countries have generally welcomed assistance with waste management. Thus Indonesia was a natural location for Unilever’s waste-fuel venture with cement maker SBI and the local Jakarta government. At last year’s launch, Andono Warih, head of Jakarta’s environment service, praised the initiative and expressed hope that it would spark other such collaborations.
The project uses plastic that’s already been buried in the region’s Bantar Gebang landfill, one of the largest dumps in Asia. Waste excavated by earth-moving equipment is transported to a warehouse at the landfill site. There, it is shredded, sieved and dried into a brown mix resembling manure. That material, known as Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF), is then fed into the kiln at an SBI cement plant in Narogong, just outside Jakarta.
SBI currently uses 20% RDF at that plant, a figure that could increase to 35%, according to Ita Sadono, SBI’s business development manager. The operation still relies primarily on coal, she said, but she contends RDF is “significantly helping to reduce plastic waste.”
Unilever is helping to fund a second RDF project in Cilacap, an industrial region in Central Java, according to SBI and a 2020 sustainability report by Unilever’s local Indonesian unit. The two facilities could send 30,000 tonnes of plastic waste per year to SBI’s cement plants, according to a Reuters analysis of data provided by SBI.
Unilever did not respond to detailed questions about these projects. Sadono said in a text message that Reuters’ calculations were “OK,” without giving further details.
About two kilometers from SBI’s cement plant near Jakarta, Dadan bin Anton, 63, runs a roadside stall selling plastic sachets of soap, washing powder and instant coffee, including brands owned by Unilever. He said he often has trouble breathing and blames the cement plant.
“People here are breathing dust every day,” he said.
SBI has invested in mitigation measures to cut dust at its plants, Sadono said. And it isn’t clear whether the cement facility has anything to do with Dadan’s burning chest. Jakarta boasts some of the dirtiest air in Asia. Pollutants from industry smokestacks, agricultural fires and auto exhaust routinely blanket the city.
But some scientists say incinerated plastic is a dangerous new ingredient to add to the mix, particularly in developing nations where air-quality rules often are weak and enforcement spotty.
Heavy vehicles are seen at the Bantar Gebang landfill in Bekasi, West Java province, Indonesia, Aug. 12, 2021.
Plastic releases harmful substances like dioxins and furans when burned, said Paul Connett, a retired professor of environmental chemistry and toxicology at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, who has studied the poisonous byproducts of burning waste. If enough of those pollutants escape from a cement kiln, they can be hazardous for humans and animals in the surrounding area, Connett said.
Such fears are overblown, said Claude Lorea, cement director at GCCA, the industry group representing big cement firms including Holcim and Cemex. She said super-heated kilns destroy all toxins resulting from burning any alternative fuel, including plastic and hazardous waste.
But things can go wrong.
In 2014, a cement plant in Austria released hexachlorobenzene (HCB), a highly toxic substance and suspected human carcinogen, after the facility burned industrial waste contaminated with the pollutant. Cheese and milk sourced from cattle raised near that plant in southern Carinthia state were tainted, Austria’s health and food safety agency found. And blood samples drawn from area residents also contained HCB, which can damage the nervous system, liver and thyroid.
An investigation commissioned by the state government found multiple failures by local regulators and the cement plant, including that the kiln was not running hot enough to destroy contaminants like HCB.
The Austrian cement maker which operates the plant, w&p Zement GmbH, told Reuters that it had worked to eliminate all the environmental pollution from the incident and that it had provided help to the community such as replacing contaminated animal feed.
Carinthia province spokesperson Gerd Kurath said in an email that the government’s continued monitoring of air, soil and water samples in the area shows that contamination levels have declined.
The cement industry, meanwhile, is heralding waste-to-fuel as a way to fight global warming. That’s because burning refuse, including plastic, emits fewer greenhouse gases than coal, the GCCA trade group said.
Burning garbage “reduces our fossil fuel reliance,” spokesperson Lorea said. “It’s climate neutral.”
The European Commission, which sets emission rules in Europe, told Reuters that plastic does emit fewer carbon dioxide emissions than coal but more than natural gas, another fuel used by the cement industry.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates environmental policy in the world’s largest economy, reached a different conclusion. It said in a statement there is no significant climate benefit to be gained from substituting plastic for coal, and that burning this waste in cement kilns can create harmful air pollution that must be monitored.
Measuring plastic’s CO2 emissions against those of coal, the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel, is not the benchmark to use if the cement industry is serious about fighting global warming, said Lee Bell, advisor to the International Pollutants Elimination Network, a global coalition working to eliminate toxic pollutants. Reducing the industry’s massive carbon emissions, he said, requires a switch to fuels such as green hydrogen, a more expensive but low-polluting fuel produced from water and renewable energy.
“The cement industry should leap-frog the whole burning-waste paradigm and move to clean fuel,” Bell said.
The GCCA told Reuters the industry is improving energy efficiency and is considering the use of green hydrogen.
Ever more plastic
While cement plants in industrialized countries are gearing up to burn more plastic, explosive growth is anticipated in the developing world.
China and India together account for 60% of the world’s cement production in facilities whose primary fuel is coal. Over the next decade, these countries have set targets of using alternative fuel to stoke 20% to 30% of their output. If they reached just a 10% threshold, that would equate to burning 63 million tonnes of plastic annually, up from 6 million tonnes now, according to SINTEF, a Norwegian scientific research group. That’s more plastic waste than the United States generates each year.
In 2019, 170 countries agreed to “significantly reduce” their use of plastic by 2030 as part of a United Nations resolution. But that measure is non-binding, and a proposed ban on single-use plastic by 2025 was opposed by several member states, including the United States.
Thus the waste-to-fuel option may well become an unstoppable juggernaut, said Matthias Mersmann, chief technology officer at KHD Humboldt Wedag International AG, a German engineering firm that supplies equipment to cement plants worldwide. Plastic waste is quickly outstripping countries’ capacity to bury or recycle it. Burning it eliminates large amounts of this material quickly, with little special handling or new facilities required. There are an estimated 3,000 or more cement plants worldwide. All are hungry for fuel.
“There’s only one thing that can hold up and break this trend, and that would be a very strong cut in the production of plastics,” Mersmann said. “Otherwise, there is nothing that can stop this.”
That momentum has some environmentalists worried, including Sander Defruyt, who heads a plastics initiative at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a United Kingdom-based nonprofit focused on sustainability. The foundation in 2018 worked out waste-reduction and recycling targets with Coca-Cola, Nestle, Unilever, Colgate-Palmolive and hundreds of other consumer brands.
Defruyt said the foundation does not support its partner companies’ pivot towards incineration. Burning plastic for cement fuel, he said, is a “quick fix” that risks giving consumer goods companies the green light to continue cranking out single-use plastic and could reduce the urgency to redesign packaging.
“If you can dump everything in a cement kiln, then why would you still care about the problem?” Defruyt said.
Coca-Cola, Nestle, Unilever and Colgate-Palmolive said their cement partnerships are just one of several strategies they’re pursuing to address the waste crisis.
In the central England village of Cauldon, residents have complained in recent years to the local council and Britain’s environmental regulator about noise, dust and smoke coming from a nearby cement plant owned by Holcim. Those efforts have failed to derail the expansion of that facility to burn more plastic.
When completed next year, alternative fuel, including “non-recyclable” plastics such as potato chip bags, will account for up to 85% of the facility’s fuel, according to planning documents filed with local authorities on behalf of Geocycle, which will manage the project.
The move will recover energy from plastic waste otherwise destined for landfills, the documents said.
Cauldon resident Lucy Ford, 42, said the cement maker’s plans have only added to some villagers’ fears about emissions. “They say they are the answer to all of our plastic prayers,” she said. “I don’t like the idea of it.”
Geocycle’s Pieters said he understood the community’s concerns. He said the company complies with all local regulations and that it carefully monitors the plant’s emissions, which would be lowered by the upgrades.
Britain’s Environment Agency said in an email that it took all complaints about the plant seriously. It said the Cauldon facility has a permit to burn waste and that the plant has to comply with its regulations.
Back in Indonesia, Unilever and SBI told Reuters that using plastic for energy was preferable to leaving it in a landfill.
Local environmentalists say they are alarmed that cement kilns could be shaping up as the fix for a nation flooded with plastic waste.
It would allow consumer brands to continue business as usual, while adding to Indonesia’s air-quality woes, said Yobel Novian Putra, an advocate with the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, a coalition of groups working to eliminate waste.
“It’s like moving the landfill from the ground to the sky,” Putra said.
If there’s one thing every fitness enthusiast, athlete, and lover of the outdoors has an overabundance of, it’s synthetic apparel. After all, materials like polyester, nylon, and acrylics simply excel at wicking moisture, dry out quickly, and can really take a beating.
But all those synthetics are made of plastics. And when these fibers break or pill, they shed tiny threads that often end up in our soil and water supply, causing health and environmental problems. As careful as you may be, the No. 1 culprit behind all those loose particles is right inside your home: your washing machine.
Fortunately, there are easy ways to keep microplastics from polluting the planet every time you run a load.
Why should I care about microplastics?
As the name suggests, microplastics are small pieces of plastic or plastic fibers that are frequently invisible to the naked eye. As such, fighting to prevent their release is less sexy than advocating against plastic straws or bags—endeavours that are commonly accompanied by heart-wrenching images of turtles choked by trash. But microplastics are still an urgent threat to our environment, says marine biologist Alexis Jackson. And she would know: she has a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology and has extensively studied the plastics in our oceans as the ocean policy lead for the California chapter of the Nature Conservancy.
But unlike buying metal straws or collecting reusable shopping bags, the solution to this microscopic problem isn’t clear. For starters, microplastics are so, well, micro, that wastewater treatment plants usually can’t filter them out.
[Related: Reusable grocery bags aren’t as environmentally friendly as you might think]
When they slip through, they end up pretty much everywhere. They’ve even been detected in the arctic. And they’re more than just a nuisance: any animal that eats these minuscule plastic threads may end up with blocked digestive tracts, decreased energy, and less of an appetite, all of which can result in stunted growth and reduced reproductive abilities. Plus, microplastics have been shown to absorb harmful chemicals like heavy metals and pesticides, carrying those toxins into the bodies of plankton, fish, sea birds, and other wildlife.
From there, the dangerous chemicals can work their way up the food chain and show up in your seafood dinner, not to mention your tap water.
Unfortunately, we don’t yet have data on the potential long-term effects of microplastics on human health. But since we know they are harmful to animals (and plastic isn’t a recommended part of a healthy, balanced diet), Jackson points out that it’s safe to say we should probably avoid putting them in our bodies.
Tips for laundry day
When it’s time to wash your leggings, basketball shorts, or moisture-wicking tanks, there are a few things you can do to keep microplastics out of the environment.
Start by separating your clothing items—not by color, but by material. Wash rough or coarse clothes like jeans separately from softer items like polyester T-shirts and fuzzy fleece sweaters. This way, you reduce the friction caused by rougher materials crashing into more delicate ones for 40 minutes. Less friction means your clothes won’t wear out as fast and the fibers will be less prone to premature breakage.
Then, make sure you’re using cold water instead of hot. Heat weakens fibers and makes them more likely to break; cold water will help them last longer. Next, run a short cycle instead of a normal or long one, which will limit the opportunity for fiber breakdown. While you’re at it, reduce the speed of the spin cycle if you can—this will reduce friction even further. One study showed that together, these methods reduced microfiber shedding by 30 percent.
While we’re on the subject of washer settings, avoid the delicate cycle. That may run contrary to your beliefs, but it uses more water than other washing modes to prevent friction—and a higher ratio of water to fabric actually increases fiber shedding.
[Related: Here’s why gym clothes smell so rank—and how to freshen them up]
Finally, skip the dryer altogether. We can’t emphasize this enough: heat can shorten the life of materials and make them more likely to break in the next load of laundry. Fortunately, synthetic clothing dries fast, so hang it outside or over your shower rod instead—you might even save money by not running your dryer so frequently.
Once your clothes are washed and dried, don’t go back to the washer for a while. Many items don’t need to be washed after every use, so put those shorts or that shirt back in the dresser for another wear or two if it doesn’t smell like wet dog after one use. If there’s just one dirty spot, wash it out by hand instead of starting a load.
There are also several tools you can use to reduce microfiber shedding. Guppyfriend makes a laundry bag specifically designed to capture broken fibers and microplastic waste, but also to prevent fiber breakdown in the first place by protecting clothing. Just place your synthetics inside, zip it shut, toss it in the washer, and pick out any and dispose of any microplastic lint that gets caught in the corners of the bag. Even standard laundry bags help reduce friction, so those are an option as well.
A separate lint filter that attaches to your washing machine’s discharge hose is another effective and endlessly reusable option, shown to reduce microplastics by up to 80 percent. But don’t spring for those laundry balls that are supposedly meant to catch microfibers in the wash: the beneficial results are comparatively minimal.
As for detergent, many popular brands contain plastic, including those handy pods, which break down into microplastic particles in the washing machine. But finding out which detergents are the culprits requires some digging. Learn how to find out if your detergent is really environmentally friendly before you restock, or consider making your own. Then take care of your synthetics, starting on laundry day.
Single-use plastics are a major environmental problem, polluting everything from the Mariana Trench to Mount Everest.Because only 14 percent of plastics are actually recycled, many experts and advocates argue that the solution to the problem is to create a circular system whereby plastics are reused instead of discarded. Towards this end, a Tokyo-based research team has developed a way to convert bio-based plastics into fertilizer. But they say their findings have even broader implications for plastic reuse. “We are convinced that our work represents a milestone toward developing sustainable and recyclable polymer materials in the near future,” study co-author and Tokyo Institute of Technology assistant professor Daisuke Aoki said in a press release. “The era of ‘bread from plastics’ is just around the corner.”The research, published in Green Chemistry Thursday, focused on the bio-based plastic poly(isosorbide carbonate) (PIC). Bio-based plastics are plastics made from biomass that have been proposed as a more sustainable alternative to petroleum-based plastics. PIC in particular is made from a monomer called isosorbide (ISB), a non-toxic glucose byproduct. ISB can be turned into fertilizer through a process called ammonolysis: Ammonia is used to separate the carbon connecting the ISB monomers. This creates urea, which is a nitrogen-rich substance that makes a popular fertilizer. While scientists have long been aware of ammonolysis, the researchers sought to complete the reaction using as little energy and as few organic solvents as possible. First, they tried the reaction in 30-degree-Celsius water at atmospheric pressure. They were able to create urea, but the reaction was not complete within 24 hours and the PIC had not fully degraded. However, they found that increasing the water temperature to 90 degrees Celsius led to a complete reaction within six hours. “The reaction occurs without any catalyst, demonstrating that the ammonolysis of PIC can be easily performed using aqueous ammonia and heating,” Aoki said in the press release. “Thus, this procedure is operationally simple and environmentally friendly from the viewpoint of chemical recycling.”
Tokyo Institute of Technology The Tokyo-based team is not the first to transform plastics into fertilizer. Startup Neptune Plastic developed a plastic from food-grade material that could be composted in a home garden, as Forbes reported at the time. However, there is some debate as to whether or not bio-based plastics are really an environmentally friendly solution to the plastic pollution crisis. For one thing, they do not always biodegrade as quickly as advertised. A UN report concluded that they broke down too slowly in the ocean to be a meaningful alternative.Circular solutions like the one proposed by Aoki’s team would resolve this problem, of course. However, there is still a concern that growing biomass for bio-based plastics could contribute to the climate and biodiversity crises by taking up valuable land area that could be used for carbon storage or habitat.”To satisfy the land requirement to replace plastics used for packaging globally, 61 million ha [hectares] would be needed for planting bio-based plastic feedstock, an area larger than France,” the authors of a recent study on climate change and plastic pollution wrote.From Your Site Articles
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Microplastics could be harming unborn babies, concerning new research has found. Large polystyrene particles – around the size of a cloud or fog droplet at 10 micrometres – can make their way into the placenta, according to scientists at Utrecht University.Presenting her research at the Plastic Health Summit in Amsterdam last week, lead scientist Hanna Dusza said more work is urgently needed to determine what effect the tiny pieces of plastic are having on foetal health.Microplastics are tiny plastic particles less than 5 millimetres in size. They are found in numerous products – including toothpaste, shampoo and drug capsules – and created when bigger plastic objects break down.The research also found that plastic particles can become a vector for other chemicals, effectively carrying them into the womb.This could expose the foetus to a raft of dangerous pollutants, including PCBs: a group of manmade chemicals once widely used in industrial processes, and still contaminating the environment even after they were banned in Europe in the 1980s.PCBs have been shown to cause cancer in animals.Could microplastics have a similar impact to air pollution?The placenta is a temporary organ that develops in the uterus during pregnancy, and enables oxygen and nutrients to pass from the mother’s blood to the baby through the umbilical cord.Scientists have already found that air pollution particles breathed in by the mother can penetrate the placenta during these vital exchanges, leading to premature births, low birth weights and lifelong health conditions for newborns in some cases.As Dusza, an environmental toxicologist explains, “Recent studies have shown that microplastics are also detected in the placenta, though their effects are unclear.“Our research shows that plastic particles of different sizes are efficiently taken up by placenta cells, where they may exert subtle effects on endocrine function.” This function of the placenta is to produce hormones which control the foetus’s growth.Dusza has developed a new method for the detection of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the human amniotic fluid.The dangerous effects of plasticising chemicals on reproductionThe Summit, organised by NGO Plastic Soup Foundation, also heard from Professor Patricia Hunt of Washington State University in the US.When Prof. Hunt accidentally exposed her laboratory mice to BPA, an industrial chemical, in the late nineties, her focus was drawn to the effects of common environmental contaminants on reproduction.On Thursday she revealed that endocrine-disrupting chemicals in microplastics have the potential to harm the foetuses of pregnant mice.“Chemicals used in plastics not only have the potential to harm our fertility, but also to affect future generations,” she said.“Linking maternal and foetal exposure to birth outcomes, development, and adult disease would convince even persistent doubters of the harmful effects of plasticising chemicals.“But we don’t have the luxury of time. We must put faith in experimental evidence and ensure that our estimates of human exposure are accurate.”How to avoid ingesting microplasticsMicroplastics are everywhere – from the bottom of the ocean to the shellfish we eat, and Arctic snow to the beers we drink – so it’s impossible to avoid them altogether.But there are things you can do to limit your exposure while at home, such as wearing more clothes made of natural fibres. That’s because synthetic garments shed microfibres – which you can also tackle with a washing machine filter.Naturally, many of the recommended tips for filtering out microplastics from your life also involve cutting down on single-use plastics like water bottles, tea bags lined with plastics, take-away cups and plastic-packaged ready meals.A non-plastic kettle may be worth investing in too – especially for cleaning baby bottles, researchers at Trinity College Dublin have suggested.
Microplastics are tiny fragments of degraded plastic, no greater than 5 mm in diameter. They are oceanic pollutants that can drift thousands of miles in the surface layers of the open sea and can also find their way down the water column to various depths.
While studies to measure and monitor the presence of microplastics in regions of the world’s oceans have been conducted for the past 50 years, they have made use of disparate methods of collection and analysis, meaning that the data could not be combined or compared easily. Large data sets to help follow the trends in microplastic pollution have thus not been available to researchers in general.
This is what prompted a global team of oceanographers, led by researchers from Kyushu University, to review the data from previous published and unpublished expeditions to sample microplastics in the oceans. They calibrated and processed these data in order to build a publicly available dataset for assessing trends in the abundance of microplastics more accurately.
“Although the observation of microplastics dates back to the 1970s, standardized data spanning the globe is still limited,” explained Atsuhiko Isobe, professor at Kyushu University’s Research Institute for Applied Mechanics.
To create the new dataset, a total of 8,218 pelagic microplastic samples, collected from oceans around the world, were synthesized and standardized. The data set contains raw, calibrated, processed, and gridded data that is now comparable. Samples were adjusted for different types of collection, as well as for conditions of ocean turbulence and wind, as these factors affect estimates of abundance.
“We collected published and unpublished data on microplastic distribution from around the world and calibrated to account for differences such as in collection method and wave height to create standardized, state-of-the-art 2D maps of microplastic abundance,” explained Professor Isobe.
The researchers estimated that there were 24.4 trillion pieces of microplastics in the world’s upper ocean layer, which equates with somewhere between 82,000 and 578,000 tons of plastic, or roughly 30 billion 500 ml plastic water bottles.
“Our dataset provides realistic amounts of microplastics in the wild to help researchers trying to assess the true impact they are having on aquatic organisms and the environment,” said Professor Isobe.
“While this work improves our grasp of the actual situation, the total amount of microplastics is still likely to be much greater since this is just what we can estimate on the surface. For us to get a clearer picture, we must develop 3D maps probing the depths of the oceans and continue to fill the gaps within our dataset.”
“Though we are making progress, we still have much to learn to get a complete picture of the fate of plastic debris and the effect it is having on the environment.”
The research is published in the journal Microplastics and Nanoplastics.
By Alison Bosman, Earth.com Staff Writer
Is anyone really, truly surprised that President Biden’s relatively ambitious plan to address climate change is being axed so quickly from his infrastructure package?A poll this month by Cambridge University found less than fifty percent of citizens in seven Western European nations were willing to accept major changes like outlawing gasoline or diesel vehicles or restrictions on meat-eating diets.And that’s Europe.
Climate change polls
Daiga Ellaby / Unsplash
In the U.S., several polls earlier this year found a huge partisan gap in whether or not climate change was a serious problem at all: Among Democrats, 75 percent found the problem urgent enough to require immediate action; 21 percent of Republicans thought so. In a Gallup Poll last year, 23 percent of Americans reported eating less meat than the year before, but the predominant reason was health of their innards, not the health of their environment. McDonalds can cite billions and billions of reasons why cattlemen can sleep safely for many nights to come.
Republican climate denial
Sen. Lisa Murkowski
Office-holding Republicans who took climate change seriously did so at their own peril. Florida’s Carlos Curbelo, tapped to chair the bipartisan Congressional Climate Caucus, lost his seat in 2018. Others were “primaried” – beaten by more conservative Republicans in the preliminaries – or retired to avoid a primary loss. Even the GOP’s two conspicuous Trump dissenters, Wyoming’s Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger of southern Illinois, serve where Coal is King, and they tend to vote that way. Cheney sports a 2 percent lifetime rating on the League of Conservation scorecard; Kinzinger a whopping 8 percent.Republican senators from climate-vulnerable states, like Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski or John Kennedy of Louisiana, also represent oil-and-gas-dependent states and will reliably vote their carbon consciences.So throw in coal-state Dem Joe Manchin, and the major clean energy boost in Biden’s platform is toast.
Big Oil’s ‘Big Lie’
Nick Fewings / Unsplash
Big Oil is dropping millions on airing its own Big Lie in ads during news and talk shows. The American Petroleum Institute’s breezy spots cast Big Oil as “the leader” in reducing American emissions, even as it lavishes its Congressional apologists with campaign cash.And while the petrochemical industry still loves cars, trucks, planes and ships, it’s actively dating other polluting suitors. Immense plastics plants are planned for Louisiana, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, negating many of the gains achieved in cutting greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere. EHN.org had that story, about the growth of this new market for oil, earlier this week.
Pogo’s famous line
Douglas Fischer / EHS
We go back to Pogo J. Possum’s famous line – “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”The McCarthy-era comic strip offered the quip as commentary on Americans’ talent for acting in their own worst interest.Next week, the world’s nations will gather in Glasgow, Scotland, to weigh the next steps in cutting greenhouse gases and limiting the climate catastrophe awaiting us all.President Biden’s chief climate emissary, John Kerry, called Glasgow “the last best hope” for climate action. He added that failure by the U.S. Congress to deliver something on climate will send the worst possible signal to the world.And the world’s other colossal greenhouse emitters, China and India, are talking the talk but showing little actual progress. Glasgow will open with raised urgency, raised ambitions – and raised doubts.
Peter Dykstra is our weekend editor and columnist and can be reached at email@example.com or @pdykstra.His views do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate, or publisher Environmental Health Sciences.Image of 1971 “World of Pogo Earth Day Booklet” via eBay. From Your Site Articles
Climate crisis US plastics to outstrip coal’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, study finds American plastics industry, described by experts as ‘the new coal’, releasing at least 232m tons of gas annually Maya Yang Thu 21 Oct 2021 17.47 EDT Last modified on Thu 21 Oct 2021 17.56 EDT The plastics industry in the United …
With dozens of new plastics manufacturing and recycling facilities in the works, the U.S. plastics industry will release more greenhouse gas emissions than coal-fired power plants by 2030, say the authors of a new report.
Emissions from the plastics sector equaled that of 116 coal-fired power plants last year, according to the report out Thursday from Bennington College’s Beyond Plastics project. Meanwhile, 42 plastics manufacturing and recycling facilities have opened, or are in the process of being built or permitted, since 2019.
“As the world transitions away from fossil fuels for electricity generation and for transportation, the petrochemical industry has found a new market for fossil fuels: plastics,” Judith Enck, president of Beyond Plastics, told reporters on Thursday.
With the U.S. coal industry in decline, the report authors say policymakers at home and at the upcoming COP26 climate summit, a conference happening at the end of month where world leaders will hash out the details of climate pledges, need to factor the climate toll of plastics into emissions reductions efforts.
“Leaving out plastics is leaving out a giant piece of the problem,” Enck said. “We would like the national leaders that are gathering in Glasgow, Scotland, to take the plastics issue just as seriously as they are taking transportation and electricity generation.”
Climate costs of U.S. plastics
The report authors calculated emissions from 10 stages of plastics production, from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for the raw material—ethane in natural gas—all the way up to burning waste in incinerators.Cracker plants, where natural gas is heated at such high temperatures that it fractures into plastic building blocks like ethylene, have the heaviest emissions toll, producing around 70 million tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent pollutants, which is equal to the emissions of 35 coal-fired power plants. Because the report looks at emissions from a range of greenhouse gases, the authors converted the warming potential of all the pollutants into an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas. The authors say that emissions reports from the plastics industry are incomplete as they don’t adequately account for leaks of methane—a greenhouse gas that’s 84 times more climate-warming than carbon dioxide in the short-term—and other gases from the transport and production of plastics feedstocks. Related: The US falls behind most of the world in plastic pollution legislationThey note that while so-called “chemical recycling,” which uses large amounts of energy to melt used plastics into building blocks for fuel and other products, is uncommon now, new plants could add up to 18 million tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent pollutants by 2025. Enck referred to chemical recycling as plastics’ “new deception” now that Americans are aware that less than 9% of plastics are recycled.Shipping resins and other plastics building blocks overseas accounts for a significant amount of emissions as well, said Jim Vallette, president of Material Research, the firm that Beyond Plastics hired to do the report analysis. “Plastic is very much like the new coal because the coal industry also is counting on exports to stay alive,” he added.
Harmful plastics pollution
Plastics facilities don’t just create planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. They also release benzene, formaldehyde, and the carcinogen ethylene oxide, among other harmful pollutants. The plastics industry has come under fire in recent years for building its polluting plants in poorer parts of the country: 90% of the climate pollution from U.S. plastics plants occurs in just 18 communities that are mostly in Texas and Louisiana, according to the report.”The health impacts of the emissions are disproportionately borne by low-income communities and communities of color, making this a major environmental justice issue,” Enck said.Banner photo credit: Bob Doran/flickr