Plastic waste: The Flintshire takeaways switching to reusable containers

Over months of lockdown, takeaway food became a treat like no other for many.Much of it, however delicious, comes with an inconvenient side order – heaps of single-use plastic containers.Tackling this waste is what is driving a new trial called Naked Takeaway, in Flintshire.Several businesses in Mold and Caerwys are now asking customers if they would like their meals delivered in reusable tins – which do not require a deposit but will need to be returned later.”Everyone has loved them. One hundred per cent, I’d say, have said ‘we’d like these tins back’ – they keep the food hotter, they’re better for the environment,” said Chris Ansloos, who runs the Spoons and Forks cafe in Mold.”We do get a few comments about the washing up, but people don’t seem to mind that.”The cafes and restaurants are trusting their clients to bring back the durable containers or have them ready to be picked up the next time they order.”I think there isn’t enough trust nowadays,” said Ms Ansloos, whose customers tend to be regulars, ordering meals such as Sunday dinners and curries week after week. The scheme is backed by local group Mold Plastic Reduction, alongside Mold, Caerwys and Llangollen town councils, and the tins were purchased with a grant from the Welsh government.At the Asia Sensation restaurant, also in Mold, Carmen Lim said she would like to see differently shaped containers available in the future. But introducing the tins made business sense, she said. “The first thing is we save a lot of money on the plastic containers. And the second – it’s more clean. You can recycle it back so it’s more suitable for the restaurant as well.”‘Eyewatering’ litter problemTown councillor Andrea Mearns is a co-founder of the group and said the project had grown from the community wanting action on the “eyewatering” problem of plastic waste.”Mold Town Council organises an annual litter pick and the amount of takeaway containers that was in the litter that volunteers were collecting brought it up as a problem,” she said.With the project up and running at six businesses in the area, she said she hoped lessons learned during this trial would inform other projects, and that the scheme would be adopted by other towns.Takeaways told ‘use less plastic’Over 900 million tonnes of food wasted each yearA key factor, she said, was that the reusable tins were grant-funded, and cost nothing to the businesses.”The biggest barrier, according to the UK restaurant association, is the cost of using environmentally-friendly containers for businesses,” she said.”So it’s massively important that we’re giving these businesses the opportunity to use something that is reusable and fully sustainable.”Related Internet LinksMold Plastic ReductionMold Town CouncilThe BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.

Los Alamos lab aids efforts to reduce plastic pollution

Plastic is everywhere, and hardly anyone can get through a day without using it.Mass-produced and mass-consumed, plastics generate mountains of trash in landfills, littering public areas and fouling the ocean — partly because much of it isn’t practical to recycle.Los Alamos National Laboratory is part of a consortium developing a technology to rapidly break down discarded plastic at the molecular level into components that can be used to create other materials, such as nylon.The year-old research and development effort has been dubbed BOTTLE. The program was launched in November.Early research has led to identifying enzymes that can biodegrade plastic noticeably within several days, versus the several hundred years it normally would take for the material to decompose.Now the teams want to accelerate the decomposition, because breaking down the plastic in days is not nearly fast enough, lab scientist Taraka Dale said.“So what we’re shooting for is really observable changes and degradation in a matter of, ideally, hours,” said Dale, who leads the lab’s BOTTLE program. “So that you can, in theory, put this in an industrial process eventually.”

Chris Francisco, superintendent at the Buckman Road Recycling and Transfer Station, points out tin and plastic in the bales of mixed recyclables being transported to a different facility to be broken down.

Jim Weber/The New Mexican

The process would be fairly straightforward for users, she said.A vendor would grind up plastic trash and load it with the enzymes into a tank partially filled with water.The enzymes would break down and dissolve the plastic into the liquid. They would then transform the molecules into polymers for higher-grade products, such as carpets and clothing.Dale likened it to dismantling a brick house, and instead of simply reusing the bricks, you turn them into boards for a different purpose.The company could sell the raw material to a manufacturer, Dale said.This conversion of throwaway items and scraps into higher-quality goods, such as fabrics, would be “upcycling,” she said.That’s in contrast to downcycling, when plastics are mechanically processed and put into lower-grade products, such as trash bags.It might take a decade before this technology can be applied in the real world, Dale said.“I’d love to say we think it could be sooner, but there’s a lot of science still to do,” she said.With the growing plastic waste problem, scientists working on the project feel driven to make headway as soon as possible, she added.Plastic production has skyrocketed since the end of World War II, creating vast amounts of cast-off materials that are extremely slow to decompose.A plastic beverage bottle takes an estimated 450 years to biodegrade. A solid plastic object such as a toothbrush needs 500 years. A straw won’t break down for 200 years.A study published last year by Science Advances estimated that in 2016 the U.S. generated the most plastic waste in the world at 42 million metric tons and also put the most plastic pollution into the ocean — an estimated 1.1 million to 2.2 million metric tons.Plastic trash in the ocean can add to the floating, sprawling patches of garbage that resemble islands. The more detrimental effect is below the surface, with the plastic killing fish and marine mammals that ingest or become ensnared in it.In New Mexico, plastic waste contributes to litter strewn along roadsides and in parks, forests and arroyos. State health and transportation managers have described the state’s litter problem as chronic.And of the plastic trash that is disposed of properly, only a portion can be recycled.

Gabriel Pena, left, and Jose Majano sort through the flow of mixed recyclables to pull out things like batteries and pressurized cans last week at the Buckman Road Recycling and Transfer Station. 

Jim Weber/The New Mexican

Two of the seven basic types of plastic are marketable enough to recycle, and the others are either too low-grade or are mixed with toxic chemicals that render them difficult to reuse, said Randall Kippenbrock, executive director of the Santa Fe Solid Waste Management Agency.One of the desirable types is PET, the clear plastic used in beverage bottles, and the other is high-density polyethylene, used for milk jugs, shampoo bottles and other household containers, Kippenbrock said.Those plastics are sold to mills and vendors in the Southeast, he said.But plastic wrappers, shopping bags, cups, squeezable bottles, Styrofoam, loose scraps and anything that’s soiled are weeded out and sent to the landfill.“There’s really not a market for those,” Kippenbrock said.The discarded plastic waste makes up only 0.5 percent of the 11,000 tons of trash, including cardboard, metal and paper, that the Buckman Recycling Center receives in a year, he said.Still, that adds up to 550 tons of plastic that gets passed to the landfill. And that’s just the recycling center’s rejected materials and not the plastic trash going directly from households to the dumpsite.Kippenbrock said someone from the lab talked to his regional recycling group about the volume of their waste a couple of years ago. He believes it probably was related to this research project.“The regional group that I’m part of is very much in favor of supporting LANL and what they’re trying to accomplish,” Kippenbrock said.Kippenbrock said he hopes the new technology would be applied to the lower-quality, less desirable plastics because those aren’t being reused.The consortium’s BOTTLE webpage shows the technology could be used on a wide array of plastic products, including items now deemed nonrecyclable.The list also includes textiles, fibers, foams and various food and beverage packaging.Conservationists contend recycling has had limited success in reducing trash flow because it’s cheaper to make fresh plastic, made of oil and hydrocarbons, than repurpose discarded plastic.Dale said that’s why increasing the plastic’s grade is important — it makes recycling more profitable.The consortium is made up of five national labs and five universities. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is the lead entity.Each plays a unique role.For instance, Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee looks for new micro-organisms. Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago employs computer modeling to identify new building blocks for polymers.Los Alamos’ key contribution is its “smart microbial cell technology,” Dale said.It can test an enzyme’s effectiveness in breaking down a plastic by fluorescent color-tagging the molecules the plastic is shedding, she said. The more molecules it throws off, the faster it’s degrading and the better the enzymes are working.The system can screen as many as 100,000 variants in one experiment, versus the one to 100 that other labs were testing at a time, she said.“It really gives us a chance to do things truly orders of magnitude faster,” Dale said.Dale said she thinks the consortium’s research will coincide with the work of other scientific teams, and that the widespread public interest in reducing plastic waste will provide an impetus to tackle the problem.“It may have the potential for really big impact,” Dale said of the larger effort. “And I expect BOTTLE to be a part of it.”

UNDP World Oceans Day celebration calls for innovation in achieving a sustainable ocean economy

New York – The ocean or ‘blue’ economy represents some $2.3 trillion in market goods and services, from fisheries to tourism to shipping; if the ocean were an economy, it would be the world’s fifth largest.  But our ocean faces unprecedented threats from pollution, overfishing, habitat loss, invasive species and climate change. Collectively, these ocean threats represent nearly $1 trillion in annual socioeconomic losses and threaten the livelihoods and food security of millions of people. The global agenda for moving towards sustainable ocean use is captured in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, Life Below Water, and its ten targets.  Four of the SDG 14 targets came due in 2020, another in 2025, making SDG 14 among the most ambitious of all the SDGs.

It is widely understood that achieving the SDG 14 agenda requires moving away from business as usual towards transformational change in the responsible sectors. Such transformations need to include the introduction and scaling up of innovative approaches – technological but also policy, regulatory, economic and financial. Towards this end, in 2020 UNDP with support from Sweden and Norway, launched the Ocean Innovation Challenge (OIC), seeking to identify, finance and mentor innovations that are replicable, scalable, sustainable and potentially transformational.

On Tuesday, June 8, World Oceans Day, the United Nations Development Programme hosted “A Conversation with the 2020 UNDP Ocean Innovators” which highlighted a suite of inspirational ocean protection and restoration projects UNDP is supporting through the Ocean Innovation Challenge.  These innovations were selected through the OIC’s 2020 global call for proposals on SDG 14.1, reduce marine pollution, that received over 600 submissions from a wide range of public, private and civil society stakeholders.

Featured speakers included Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, His Royal Highness Crown Prince Haakon of Norway, Deputy Prime Minister Per Bolund of Sweden, the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy on the Ocean Ambassador Peter Thomson, UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner, and Norad Director General Bård Vegar Solhjell. His Royal Highness Crown Prince Haakon of Norway moderated a conversation with the first cohort of Ocean Innovators on marine pollution.

Crown Princess Victoria emphasized the interconnectedness of the ocean SDG with all the other SDGs: “For a very long time the seas have given us humans what we need to survive. But now, with climate change, pollution, and overfishing we are at a point where the ocean depends on us. It is time for us to give back before it is too late.”  Ambassador Thomson commended the OIC for supporting innovations “that are inspired by nature and act for nature’s well-being”. Deputy Prime Minister Bolund underscored the importance of the OIC approach to “ocean and coastal restoration and protection (that) sustain livelihoods and the blue economy”.  UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner, noted that “the Ocean Innovation Challenge is precisely the kind of initiative which understands that it is in human ingenuity that the greatest hope for the 21st century lies.”

The discussion moderated by Crown Prince Haakon explored the inspiration and ambition behind each of the Innovators.  Three OIC projects, in Comoros, Costa Rica and the Maldives, seek to introduce national level Extended Producer Responsibility schemes to close the loop on ocean plastics pollution by shifting the burden from consumers and municipalities to the plastics producing companies.  A project in Southeast Asia will work with the textiles sector to reduce microfibre shedding from textiles manufacturing.  A partnership with Duke University will create a globally accessible database of best practice in plastics pollution reduction policy approaches.  In the Philippines, Fortuna Coolers is introducing cooling boxes manufactured from waste coconut husks as a substitute for highly polluting polystyrene coolers.  Lastly, two projects are combating ocean nutrient pollution, one through the application of digital tools to optimize wastewater treatment in Cape Verde, the other through the sustainable culture of kelp seaweed as an organic substitute for highly polluting and carbon intensive industrial fertilizer.

In his closing remarks, Norad Director General Solhjell expressed his optimism for humanity’s capacity for transformational change. He underscored Norway’s significant commitment to innovation for ocean sustainability: “To make transformational change, innovation is key and that kind of transformational change is what we need to deal with the great challenges that we are facing with the ocean. To have transformational change you need innovation. And that is the key reason we have partnered with Sida and with UNDP to create this challenge.”

In March 2021, the OIC launched its second call for proposals on sustainable fisheries (SDGs 14.4, 14.7, 14.b); at the end of the call in early May, close to 300 proposals had been received.  Following a detailed and rigorous vetting process, UNDP’s 2021 Ocean Innovators will be announced in late 2021; interested parties can find out more at the OIC website and on social media:

www.oceaninnovationchallenge.org

@UNDPOceanInnov

#UNDPOceanInnovators

https://www.facebook.com/OceanActionHub

https://www.linkedin.com/in/ocean-innovation-challenge-371782199/

https://trello.com/b/QCeFFqIo/undp-oic-2020-ocean-innovators-and-2nd-call-for-innovations

Asia supermarkets:banana leaves for packaging instead of plastics

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June 10th 2021

By Norvisi Mawunyegah

Supermarkets in Vietnam have implemented an initiative of banana leaves instead of plastic as a packaging means. Rimping Supermarket in Chiangmai, Thailand earned praise on Facebook for coming up with the eco-friendly packaging after a local firm featured it on their page last week.

The idea, which was an instant hit among netizens, soon caught the attention of Vietnamese supermarkets.

Big supermarket chains in Vietnam, such as Lotte Mart, Saigon Co-op, and Big C, have all started to follow in the Thai store’s footsteps by experimenting with banana leaves as a packaging alternative in their stores as well.

A representative from the Lotte Mart chain shared that they are still in the testing phase but are planning to replace plastic with leaves nationwide very soon. Aside from wrapping vegetables and fruits, the grocery chain intends to also use the leaves for fresh meat products.

Customers have since been applauding the effort.

“When I see vegetables wrapped in these beautiful banana leaves I’m more willing to buy in larger quantities,” a local customer named Hoa was quoted as saying, “I think this initiative will help locals be more aware of protecting the environment.”

According to VN Express, the use of the leaves as packaging is a welcome addition to the numerous other efforts establishments in Vietnam are experimenting with to reduce plastic waste. Big C, for instance, already offers biodegradable bags made with corn powder in its stores. With Vietnam ranking number four in the world for the most amount of plastic waste dumped into the ocean, such efforts are of the utmost importance.

A recent report highlighted the incredible amount of plastic waste by Vietnamese people, disposing of about 2,500 tons of plastic waste per day. As a Vice report noted, banning or reducing single-use plastic bags in supermarkets is a growing trend in Asia. Just recently, South Korea banned the use of disposable plastic bags, requiring supermarkets and other commercial establishments to provide recyclable containers to customers. Singapore supermarkets have also been launching campaigns informing the public on the need to reduce plastic bag use. Meanwhile, Taiwanese shops have started charging for single-use plastic bags to discourage customers from using them.

Meanwhile, China has seen a 66% drop in plastic bag use in over a decade since banning the use of ultra-thin plastic bags in 2008.

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Ocean largely littered with takeaway food and drink items, study finds

Almost half of the litter found in the world’s oceans is plastic made by takeaway food and drinks, new research has shown. In the first comprehensive study of its kind, researchers from 15 institutions in 10 countries analysed 12m data points from 36 global data sets on litter pollution, discovering that plastic accounts for 80 …

Marine Conservation Society

Every year, as part of Plastic Free July, we help our supporters to look closely at their buying habits and help them to make informed choices to cut out single-use plastic. We give you great tips, fantastic facts and easy guides so you, your colleagues and classmates can start to think more about what you …

Maine tries to shift the cost of recycling onto companies instead of taxpayers

TRENTON, Maine — At the height of tourist season, the recycling bins in this coastal town used to swell with glass and plastic, office paper and piles of cardboard from the local boatyard. But the bins are gone, and their contents now join the trash, destined either for an incinerator to generate electricity or a landfill.Trenton is one of many Maine towns that had to cut back or close their recycling operations after events both global and local. In 2018, China, which used to take much of America’s plastic waste, banned most of those imports. Last year, a plant in Hampden, Maine, that promised to provide state-of-the-art recycling for more than 100 municipalities shut down.With mountains of boxes and bubble wrap from online pandemic shopping now going in the trash, lawmakers are trying to make Maine the first state to shift some of the costs of its recycling onto companies — not taxpayers. If the bipartisan bill passes, Maine will join several Canadian provinces, including neighboring Quebec, and all European countries, which have for decades relied on so-called extended producer responsibility programs, or EPR, for packaging.“It’s good that the bottom fell out,” said state Rep. Nicole Grohoski (D-Ellsworth), the bill’s Democratic sponsor, whose district includes Trenton. She doesn’t think the old system of shipping products halfway around the world to China makes sense as countries try to reduce their carbon footprints.“We have to face this problem and use our own ingenuity to solve it,” Grohoski said.The proposed legislation, which is vehemently opposed by representatives for Maine’s retail and food producing industries, would charge large packaging producers for collecting and recycling materials as well as for disposing of non-recyclable packaging. The income generated would be reimbursed to communities like Trenton to support their recycling efforts. EPR programs already exist in many states for a variety of toxic and bulky products including pharmaceuticals, batteries, paint, carpet and mattresses. At least a dozen states, from New York to California and Hawaii, have been working on similar bills for packaging.“Ten years ago, this would have been unthinkable,” said Dylan de Thomas, vice president of external affairs at the Recycling Partnership, who said he is seeing far more openness to EPR bills from such corporate giants as Coca-Cola and Unilever than in the past.“It’s a reflection of the pressure they are seeing from corporate investors,” said de Thomas, who anticipates there may be similar shifts in national policies.“That’s the big enchilada,” he said.EPR programs for packaging, which accounts for about 40 percent of the municipal waste stream, have worked well in other countries, said Scott Cassel, CEO of the Product Stewardship Institute, who said benefits include new jobs as well as reinforcing the circular economy — or continual reuse of resources.“These are tried-and-true strategies,” he said. “None of these first bills will be perfect. But this is a path that we need to start down in the U.S.”In Maine, the bill’s opponents raise concerns about the logistics retailers might face policing the new policies and the potential for food costs to rise for consumers who are just emerging from the pandemic. They cite a study from Toronto’s York University, which analyzed New York’s EPR bill and estimated an additional $36 to $57 per month in grocery costs for the average family of four. EPR advocates contest those findings, saying there is little evidence of significant costs ending up with consumers in other countries.For many rural Mainers who don’t enjoy the benefits of free curbside waste collection, the debate over recycling seems irrelevant. They haul their own trash to transfer stations to avoid the $6 weekly charge for having it collected.“I’ve never been one to recycle,” said Penny Lyons, a Trenton resident, although her family has a stash of bottles and other beverage containers on a flatbed trailer that can be turned in for cash. Her husband, who works in car sales, is able to dispose of their solid waste at work, she said.Chocolate maker Kate McAleer, who owns Bixby & Co., said that to follow federal food safety guidelines her company uses metalized film that is a challenge to recycle but protects against pests, air, sunlight and tampering. Changing that would affect her products’ shelf life.She said legislators don’t understand the complexity of food safety. “I think they think there are solutions that there aren’t,” Bixby said.Christine Cummings, executive director of the Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association, said her primary concern is “the unknowns” for businesses in a state that sits at the end of distribution routes and relies heavily on incoming goods.“What is this going to do on our supply chain?” she asked.Grohoski dismisses such concerns.“We won’t be out on a limb for long,” she said, anticipating that if her bill passes, other states will soon follow suit.In the meantime, some communities are paying a premium to continue recycling programs by shipping materials south to Portland, the state’s biggest city. Others are devising ways to process and sell recyclable materials.In Unity, about 90 miles north of Portland, Steve Wright and Jeff Reynolds are running an eight-town sorting operation, feeding paper and plastics into giant green balers and glass into a machine that grinds bottles into a glistening powder that can be used for insulating boxes around lithium batteries or with aggregate to make driveways.Each of the surrounding towns pays according to its population — Unity has 2,000 residents — and individuals from further away can join for an annual fee of $30.The pandemic has increased the piles of cardboard, particularly from pet owners leery of going inside stores, Wright sad..“We’ve seen a lot more Chewy boxes,” said Wright.The operation is powered by 40 solar panels and has room to expand — particularly if the EPR goes through.“We have to move now,” said state Rep. Stanley Paige Ziegler (D-Montville), whose district includes Unity and who has worked alongside Grohoski to advance the EPR bill.Sarah Nichols, Sustainable Maine director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, sees the bill as the logical next step for a state that has led the way in environmental policies. Maine passed one of the first bottle bills in the 1970s and in 2004 the first laws requiring manufacturers to pay the entire cost of recycling computers and televisions. In 2019, the legislature passed the nation’s first statewide ban on Styrofoam food containers that will soon go into effect.“Maine is seen as a national leader in environmental policy,” Nichols said. “That’s why people move here and visit. It’s part of our state’s personality.”Nichols points out that Department of Environmental Protection estimates show it can cost 67 percent more to recycle than dispose of packaging. Taxpayers pay at least $16 million annually to manage packaging material through recycling or disposal — costs they have no control over.Nichols argues that the EPR bill would give manufacturers an incentive to reduce packaging and design it so it is more easily recycled.Old recycling habits die hard at the transfer station in Southwest Harbor, which takes Trenton’s trash. The facility, with its stunning views over the forested slopes of Acadia National Park, goes by the name EMR, or Eastern Maine Recycling — an echo of what used to happen here.Residents drive up to pitch their waste into bays still bearing green signs reminding them of the old days when they sorted their waste: Glass, tin, aluminum and plastic in one; magazines, catalogues and other paper goods in another.The baler that used to package up paper hasn’t been used for a couple of years, said the site’s owner, Mark Worcester. Instead, Worcester is sending out a 25-30 ton container of trash — sometimes two — every day, usually to be incinerated for electricity.“We get tons and tons of cardboard,” Worcester said.On a busy Saturday morning, car after car pulled up loaded with packaging materials, folded ready for the recycling that would not happen.“It’s a reflex,” said Jon Zeitler, as he broke down a box and chucked it into the bay that used to be for paper goods.”Mentally, I have to,” said Jonathan Quebben as he, in turn, pitched his cardboard in.Susan Raven, a third-grade teacher, said she has made a point of telling her students how to be responsible custodians of the earth. But it’s hard for them to put that into practice, she said, as she pulled out of her car’s trunk the plastic boxes her family of four always used to sort their recycling and then pitched it all into the trash.“We can’t break the habit,” she said.

Petrochemical giants exploit recycling to ramp up plastics production

Since the early 1950s, the world has created 8.3 billion tonnes of plastics, with most of it now languishing in landfill or the environment. The weight alone is equivalent to one billion elephants, according to a 2017 study published in the journal Science Advances.Despite this, the petrochemical industry, home to the world’s favourite fossil fuel giants such as ExxonMobil, Dow Chemical, Chevron and Shell, plans to double plastics production over the next 20 years, and according to a 2020 report from Carbon Tracker, will be investing $400 billion in the next five years alone.
Carbon Tracker estimates that as a result, “the carbon footprint of plastics [will] double by the middle of the century to around 3.5 gigatonnes”. This is completely at odds with the Paris Agreement, which requires global CO2 emissions to halve by 2030.This infographic from the Carbon Tracker report illustrates the costs to society of virgin plastics production:

Recycling or greenwashing?
Even though less than 10% of all the plastic produced since the 1950s has been recycled, still the government and industry focus on recycling as the solution to tackling the mountain of waste. 
Jane Bremmer, the secretary of Zero Waste Australia and campaign director for the National Toxics Network told MWM that this was simply greenwashing. 
“Industry is selling plastic recycling to the world as the solution … but they know full well this is greenwashing designed to maintain business as usual as they drip feed relatively small quantities of recycled plastic into the virgin feedstocks.” 
Take PET (primarily plastic drink bottles) plastic, which is the easiest of all plastics to recycle. Even so it cannot compete with virgin plastic because it is between 83% and 93% more expensive to recycle into a new bottle than to produce a new one from raw materials. A 2019 Greenpeace report notes that “half of the PET sold is never collected for recycling, and only 7% of those bottles collected for recycling are turned into new bottles”.     
Plastic waste in Australia
As outlined in Australia’s 2020 National Waste Report, the price of virgin plastic has fallen substantially, which has flow-on effects for the commercial viability of recycling plants.
For most recycling companies, “the money they can make from kerbside recycling will now be less than the cost of providing the service”. According to the most recent ‘Australian Plastics Recycling Survey’, in 2018-19, Australia recovered just 11.5% of the 3.5 million tonnes of plastics it consumed that year. Consumption of plastics was also the highest it has been in the last five years:

The recycling survey report issues four key findings:

A total of 3.5 million tonnes of plastics were consumed in Australia; 
Some 393,800 tonnes of plastics were recovered, including 72,000 tonnes sent to energy recovery; 
the national plastics recovery rate was 11.5%; and
of the 393,800 tonnes of plastics collected for reprocessing, 203,100 tonnes (52%) was reprocessed in Australia and 190,700 tonnes (48%) was exported for reprocessing.

The chart below breaks down the consumption rates and recovery rates of plastics in 2018-19 into the main industry sectors.
Consumer packaging was the largest user of plastics, and although recycling rates in this sector were the second-highest, they were still just a paltry 27%.
The automotive industry recycled a tiny 1.9 per cent, while the electrical and electronics recycling rate was only marginally higher at 4.5%.

Levies on plastics producers
The Minderoo Foundation, established by Australian businessman Andrew Forrest and wife Nicola, released a report in May which found that in 2019 just 20 companies “accounted for more than half of all single-use plastic waste generated globally – and the top 100 accounted for 90 per cent”. ExxonMobil generated the most waste, followed by Dow Chemical, Sinopec, Indorama Ventures and Saudi Aramco. 
The report recommends a levy on the production of virgin plastics and the establishment of a global treaty to “address the problem at its source, with targets for the phasing out of fossil-fuel-based plastics”.
In its 2019 National Waste Policy Action Plan, the Federal Government announced plans to “stimulate demands for recycled materials relative to virgin materials” but did not provide any specific policies. Its 2021 National Plastics Plan pushed a similar line, prioritising recycling ahead of reducing production. 
And while the Greens policy focuses on phasing out single-use plastics and encouraging consumers to buy less plastic, they too champion recycling ahead of levies on companies producing virgin plastic.
Saved by a Kit Kat
A spokesman for federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley told Michael West Media: “The Morrison Government is taking unprecedented action to manage plastic packaging waste so we can reduce its impact on the environment.”
This included targets to achieve 20 per cent average recycled content in plastic packaging by 2025.
The spokesman pointed to Nestle producing a Kit Kat wrapper from soft plastics collected through kerbside recycling.
In response, Jane Bremmer noted,

“It is simply disingenuous of the federal Environment Minister to suggest that Nestle’s new recycled Kit Kat wrapper is a game changer. Nestle is perpetuating a single use plastic packaging model through recycling soft plastics.

This tokenistic action by one of the biggest plastic polluters on the planet won’t be enough to address [the problem], for which they have played a major role in creating.”

The 2020 Break Free From Plastics report found Nestle was in the top three highest global plastic polluters for consumer brands for the third year in a row, alongside Coca-Cola and Pepsico.
Peak body sings Government’s praises
Unsurprisingly, industry peak body Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) welcomed the Federal Government’s 2021 National Plastics Plan.
Asked whether levies should be introduced ACOR president Peter Tamblyn said this wouldn’t increase recovery rates.
“It’s more appropriate to [promote] the production of recyclable materials, to put a positive spin on things.
Tamblyn said ACOR had invested “$2 billion in new technologies [for recovery facilities] and more recycling infrastructure”. When asked how that would improve recycling rates, he said, “I haven’t got an answer for that … I don’t think there’s one thing that’s better than anything else.”
Tamblyn described an app ACOR will be releasing later this year that “helps people understand what [recycled waste] goes where” in regard to local council areas. However, these databases already exist.
He rejected the idea that there was little demand for recyclable goods compared with virgin plastics. “There’s a huge demand for recycled PET … we can’t get enough of it.”

Gov. Edwards gets bill that doubles maximum punishment for flying drones over critical infrastructure

The Louisiana Legislature has sent Gov. John Bel Edwards a bill that could double the punishment for people who fly drones over petrochemical facilities, pipelines or grain elevators. (“Drone and Moon” by Don McCullough is licensed under CC BY 2.0)
A bill that would increase penalties for flying drones above petrochemical facilities, pipelines and grain elevators is headed to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk  for his signature. 
HB265, by Rep. Ken Brass (D-Vacherie), increases the maximum fine for the second offense of flying a drone above critical infrastructure from $2,000 to $4,000 and increases the possible prison sentence from one year to two years. Jeff Hirsch, a lieutenant detective for the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office, said that the threat from drones became evident in 2017.
That year, drones were seen flying over Dow Chemical and Occidental Chemical in St. Charles Parish, Hirsch said. The Sheriff’s Office researched equipment that could be used to detect the drones. Four antennas were installed in the parish last October to spot drones and identify pilots.
Since then, the Sheriff’s Office has detected 58,000 drones and has had conversations with 32 drone operators to inform them that they cannot fly over industrial facilities. “Everybody is surprised when we knock on their door, because they don’t think they can be found,” Hirsch said at a House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee meeting last month. 
Many of the drone operators identified by officers have been young kids. “To date, we’ve only had one second offense, and the father sold the son’s drone,” he said. St. James Parish has also installed a drone detection system. “Essentially our goal is to have a net of protection that follows critical infrastructure along the Mississippi River,” Hirsch said. 
There have been two arrests in St. James Parish that involved drone operators who continued to fly the unmanned aircraft over facilities after being told not to do so, Hirsch said. A first offense will remain a misdemeanor under HB 265. “We’re still defaulting more times than not to (believing) it was accidental,” he said. 
In 2018, legislators passed a law adding pipelines to the list of infrastructure considered critical. Doing so increased the legal penalties for those who trespass, or protest near pipelines. At least 15 people have been booked with breaking the law: a journalist and 14 protesters. Some of them filed a lawsuit in 2019 challenging the law, arguing that it inhibits free speech. Last month, a federal judge allowed the challenge to move forward.
Bill Quigley, a professor at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, is one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs. “Felony prosecutions for sending a drone over grain elevators is ridiculous,” he said of HB 265.
The Louisiana Chemical Association, Louisiana Airport Managers and Associates, Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, BASF and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry supported the bill.
The Louisiana House passed the bill 98-0, and the Senate passed it 36-0.

Op-Ed: Any reform of Federal oil and gas leasing must include environmental justice

A family leaves church in October, 1998, in Lions, Louisiana. Credit: Andrew Lichtenstein Getty ImagesAdvertisement
After four years of an agenda that favored polluters, a new day is dawning at the Department of the Interior. In March, communities across the country rejoiced in Secretary Deb Haaland’s historic confirmation to lead the biggest and most powerful land management agency in the country. Now, she’s taking the opportunity to pursue real reforms of the broken oil and gas leasing system that has prioritized fossil fuel CEOs for too long. The possibilities for a cleaner, more equitable future are before us.

This will not be easy, but it is possible. Already, the Biden administration has turned its attention to the broken federal oil and gas leasing program by pausing all new leases on public lands. While this pause is in effect, I implore Secretary Haaland and the Department of the Interior to undertake an environmental justice review of the leasing program in order to address the racial discrimination within oil and gas operations. 

This review is an important first step in recognizing the injustices in the system, listening to the people who are impacted by them and hearing what their ideas are for reform. As the executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice (DSCEJ), I work with communities along the lower Mississippi River, between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, that are harmed by environmental racism and face serious health threats from the more than 100 polluting facilities that release a deadly cocktail of poison each day. Throughout my nearly 30 years in this work, I have witnessed how the oil and gas industry has dominated the Gulf Coast region at the expense of Black communities, engulfing our neighborhoods with massive amounts of toxic pollution from oil refining and manufacturing.

This pollution flows through our backyards, school grounds and recreation centers, threatening our access to clean air and water and jeopardizing our health.  But all too often, the communities hit hardest by these dangers are ignored and left out of the conversation. We deserve better, and this leasing pause is the opportunity to give Secretary Haaland the chance to hear from us and to center justice and equity in reforms of the oil and gas program.

The environmental injustices our communities face are numerous. In 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency published a report that found the petroleum sector released over 11 million pounds of pollution in 25 Louisiana parishes, with many of these facilities operating in close proximity to Black residents. Within this pollution were chemicals widely known to cause cancer and damage heart and lung functions, making it difficult to breathe and often leading to premature death. And now, as studies show that air pollution exacerbates the impacts of the COVID-19 virus, the threat that oil and gas facilities pose to our communities is only being magnified. 

Unfortunately, air pollution is not the only concern. In coastal communities, redlining, oil spills and offshore drilling add to racial inequality. Following the BP oil drilling disaster, massive amounts of oil waste were disposed of in landfills next to Black communities, jeopardizing our water supplies. And as offshore drilling continues, our coastlines are deteriorating, leaving many areas without natural defenses to extreme weather events. To make matters worse, greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas industry are massive contributors to the climate crisis, which disproportionately affects our communities where floods, heat waves and other climate-induced disasters have become the norm. 

Communities in the Gulf Coast region are advocating for equitable energy solutions that create new, good-paying jobs, keep our air and water clean and our climate safe—but we need the support of the federal government. The existential threat of climate change and the troubling health disparities in Black communities are among the egregious impacts of reckless oil and gas development. 

President Biden has made it clear that reforming the leasing system is a top priority for his administration. Now, with the leasing pause presenting an opportunity to complete a comprehensive review, it is imperative that the administration and Secretary Haaland join forces with us to prioritize an environmentally and economically just transition from fossil fuel development. We are counting on it.

This is an opinion and analysis article.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)Beverly L. Wright, PhD., is the founder and executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice. She is also an environmental justice scholar, author and professor of sociology.