Plastic waste in the Great Lakes

This month Professor Sherri Mason of the Chemistry Department of the State University of New York at Fredonia will be leading a team of students on an Environmental Sciences Field Study course which she describes as the first ever survey of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes.

The survey is being undertaken through a partnership with the 5 Gyres Institute.

There is no GallonDaily prize for guessing what this survey will find but we will bring you survey results as soon as they are brought to our attention.

Details of the project, which will be undertaken from the deck of the tallship Flagship Niagara, based in Erie, Pennsylvania, can be found at http://ww2.fredonia.edu/news/BrowseallNews/tabid/1101/ctl/ArticleView/mid/1878/articleId/3619/language/en-US/Dr_Sherri_Mason_to_lead_first-ever_Great_Lakes_plastic_pollution_survey.aspx

Biodegradable packaging update

A Wisconsin-based company has introduced a fully compostable multilayer packaging pouch for consumer and pet food packaging. The pouch consists of paper, a PLA bioplastic film layer, and water-based adhesive. No information is provided about the adhesive but both paper and PLA are reputable materials which are certainly compostable. The package is certified as compostable by the Biodegradable Products Institute, a reputable testing organization for compostability, so we assume that the adhesive is also properly biodegradable.

Before brandowners rush into compostable packaging, GallonDaily suggests a few aspects that need to be considered:

  • these products likely require commercial composting and will probably not degrade particularly rapidly in a home compost system.
  • federal rules in Canada prohibit the labeling of a material as compostable unless  a “reasonable proportion of consumers” (defined as 50% or more) in the communities where the product is sold have access to a compost collection system that will accept the specific material. Compostable multilayer pouches are not currently collected in any municipal compost collection program in Canada, so it is contrary to federal rules to label the package as compostable.
  • claims of “compostable where facilities exist” are not permitted by federal rules. Any claim about compostability of a material has to be more specific about where and how consumers can have the package composted at the end of its life. At the present time, in Canada, consumers cannot get the package composted at the end of its life.
  • the idea of degradable packaging has emerged because so much of our environmental focus has been on reduction of waste going to landfill. However, just because a package is compostable does not mean that it is the best for the environment. In many cases a recyclable package, where the material of the package is reused into another package or other valuable item, is often environmentally preferred over a compostable package, where some of the material escapes into the air as a greenhouse gas during the composting process and subsequently. The only way to determine whether a compostable package or a recyclable package is environmentally preferred is to conduct a Life Cycle Analysis. Sometimes LCA results will be dependent on local conditions such as the availability of  recycling or composting facilities.

Despite these caveats, GallonDaily expects there will be a role for compostable packaging in the future, especially for products which contaminate the packaging so much that recycling is not environmentally worthwhile because it would use, for example, large volumes of water. However, for such products as dry petfood or dry pasta, we are inclined to think that a simple polybag or, even better, a reusable container filled from a in-store bulk container, is likely an environmentally better option than any kind of compostable pouch. After all, the first tenet of the 3R’s is to reduce the amount of stuff we acquire.

The new multilayer compostable pouch pack can be viewed at http://www.precisioncolor.com/ecoterah/

Paper industry environmental war is a foolish move

A non-profit organization in the United States has vowed to correct the use by business of “unsubstantiated environmental claims to encourage consumers to switch to lower-cost electronic billing and services”. The organization, Two Sides U.S., Inc. , was founded “to promote the responsible production and use of print and paper, improve sustainability standards and practices, share experiences and maximize customer confidence in our products”. However, its real purpose appears to be to fight such notices as “save paper by switching to electronic billing”.  Two Sides has already pressured Toshiba into cancelling its National No-Print Day, which most environmentally oriented consumers would place on the same level as Car-Free day.

The problem is that Two Sides is not a neutral commentator and many of its claims are as environmentally irrelevant as some of the claims that it criticizes. Two Sides is supported by the forestry, pulp, paper, inks and chemicals, pre-press, press, finishing, publishing and printing industries and it has a website containing information much of which is either unfounded or irrelevant to the environmental debate over reducing use of paper products. Two Sides seems to justify its claims as much  on “why print on paper is an attractive, practical and sustainable communications medium” as on whether global demand for forest products is or is not outstripping supply, something that in GallonDaily’s opinion is undeniable and in the environmentally wrong direction.

Fortunately Two Sides has not yet entered the Canadian market. Hopefully, Canadian industry has more sense than to invite in an organization which will only contribute to more polarization between an industry sector and its critics, a polarization which industry almost never wins.

The Two Sides announcement of its US market entry can be found at http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/going-paperless-may-not-be-better-for-the-environment-according-to-two-sides-1678099.htm

The Two Sides web page is at http://www.twosides.us

Palm oil companies blamed for loss of orangutan habitat

The pressure on palm oil, used as an ingredient in food and personal care products including cosmetics, is likely to increase as Indonesian forests are cleared through burning for illegal expansion of palm oil plantations. Recent reports from Banda Aceh, circulated globally by the End of the Icons coalition, are giving the Indonesian government a black eye and supporting the growing call for an international boycott of palm oil products.

Palm oil is an interesting target for environmental activists. Not only are forests reportedly being burned illegally to expand palm oil plantations but the illegal activities are reportedly being ignored by government enforcement authorities because of corruption. The forest areas being cleared are known as the home of orangutans, animals Red Listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as endangered. Unless the Indonesian government or an industry coalition act quickly to assure a certified sustainable supply of palm oil, GallonDaily predicts that it will only be a matter of time before young people are standing outside Canadian supermarkets handing out pictures of orangutans in support of a call for a palm oil boycott.

The End of the Icons coalition reporting service, providing mostly translations of Indonesian media articles, can be found at http://endoftheicons.wordpress.com/

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil hosts a web page at http://www.rspo.org/ – so far approximately 12% of world production of palm oil is certified sustainable but adoption of the “Green Palm” logo is extremely limited and virtually unknown amongst major palm-oil containing brands in Canada.

An interesting argument against a palm oil boycott can be found at http://realizebeauty.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/lets-not-boycott-palm-oil/

Maine: Haz substances in children’s products

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has published a list of substances used in consumer products and considered to be of high concern for their impact on children. Under Maine law, inclusion on this list is a first step for possible regulatory action, including a possible prohibition of use of the substance in products intended for use by children. A ban will be considered only if satisfactory alternatives are found to exist.

The list is similar to, but not exactly the same as, one already adopted in Washington State. The Maine legislation defines a children’s product as “a consumer product intended for, made for or marketed for use by children under 12 years of age, such as baby products, toys, car seats, personal care products and clothing, and any consumer product containing a chemical of high concern that when used or disposed of will likely result in a child under 12 years of age or a fetus being exposed to that chemical. The list of chemicals of high concern includes

  • Formaldehyde
  • Benzene
  • Vinyl chloride
  • Tetrabromobisphenol A
  • Dicyclohexyl phthalate; DCHP
  • Diethyl phthalate
  • Dibutyl phthalate, DBP
  • Di-n-Hexyl Phthalate
  • Benzyl Butyl phthalate; BBP
  • Hexachlorobutadiene
  • 2-Naphthylamine
  • 4-Hydroxybiphenyl
  • Benzidine and its salts
  • Propyl paraben
  • Butyl paraben
  • 2-Aminotoluene
  • Methyl paraben
  • p-Hydroxybenzoic acid
  • Styrene
  • 4,4´-Methylenebis(2-Chloroaniline)
  • Epichlorohydrin
  • 1,2-Dibromoethane
  • 1,3-Butadiene
  • Toluene
  • Tris(2-chloroethyl) phosphate
  • Di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, DEHP
  • Hexachlorobenzene
  • Ethyl paraben
  • 2,2′,4,4′-tetrahydroxybenzophenone, BP-2
  • 2,4-Dihydroxybenzophenon
  • Mono-n-butylphthalate
  • 1,1,3,3-Tetramethyl-4-butylphenol
  • Octamethylcyclotetrasiloxane
  • Benzene, pentachloro-
  • 2,2′,3,3′,4,4′,5,5′,6,6′-Decabromodiphenyl ether; BDE-209
  • Methyl tert-butyl ether; MTBE
  • perfluorooctanyl sulphonic acid and its salts; PFOS
  • Phenol, 4-octyl-
  • 2-Naphthalenol, 1-[(4-methyl-2-nitrophenyl)azo]-
  • 2-ethyl-hexyl-4-methoxycinnamate
  • Mercury & mercury compounds
  • Nickel & nickel compounds
  • Arsenic & Arsenic compounds
  • Beryllium & Beryllium compounds
  • Cadmium
  • Quartz
  • Butylated hydroxyanisole
  • Hexabromocyclododecane
  • (1,1,3,3-tetramethylbutyl)-phenol

The Chemicals of High Concern list, as well as links to the Chemicals of Concern list (a list of almost 1400 substances of somewhat lower concern to the State of Maine than the Chemicals of High Concern list), the relevant Maine legislation, and indications of the product categories in which the listed substances may be found, are available at http://www.maine.gov/dep/safechem/index.html

Lessons from Japan for environmentally regulated industries everywhere

The report of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission appointed by the Diet (Parliament) of Japan was published yesterday. Among the findings which may be of broad relevance to environmentally regulated industries:

  • The TEPCO Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant accident was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and TEPCO, and the lack of governance by said parties.
  • The root causes were the organizational and regulatory systems that supported faulty rationales for decisions and actions.
  • The operator (TEPCO), the regulatory bodies (NISA and NSC) and the government body promoting the nuclear power industry (METI), all failed to correctly develop the most basic safety requirements—such as assessing the probability of damage, preparing for containing collateral damage from such a disaster, and developing evacuation plans for the public in the case of a serious radiation release.
  • The regulatory agencies would explicitly ask about the operators’ intentions whenever a new regulation was to be implemented. For example, NSC [the regulator] informed the operators that they did not need to consider a possible station blackout (SBO) because the probability was small and other measures were in place. It then asked the operators to write a report that would give the appropriate rationale for why this consideration was unnecessary.
  • The regulators also had a negative attitude toward the importation of new advances in knowledge and technology from overseas.
  • There were many opportunities for taking preventive measures prior to March 11. The accident occurred because TEPCO did not take these measures, and NISA and the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) went along. They either intentionally postponed putting safety measures in place, or made decisions based on their organization’s self interest, and not in the interest of public safety.
  • From TEPCO’s perspective, new regulations would have interfered with plant operations and weakened their stance in potential lawsuits. That was enough motivation for TEPCO to aggressively oppose new safety regulations and draw out negotiations with regulators via the Federation of Electric Power Companies (FEPC).
  • The regulators should have taken a strong position on behalf of the public, but failed to do so. As they had firmly committed themselves to the idea that nuclear power plants were safe, they were reluctant to actively create new regulations.
  • Further exacerbating the problem was the fact that NISA [another regulator] was created as part of the Ministry of Economy, Trade & Industry (METI), an organization that has been actively promoting nuclear power.
  • TEPCO was quick to assign the accident cause to the tsunami, and state that the earthquake was not responsible for damage to equipment necessary for safety (although it did add, “to the extent that has been confirmed,” a phrase that also appears in TEPCO reports to the government and to the IAEA). However, it is impossible to limit the direct cause of the accident to the tsunami without substantive evidence. The Commission believes that this is an attempt to avoid responsibility by putting all the blame on the unexpected (the tsunami), as they wrote in their midterm report, and not on the more foreseeable earthquake.
  • The Commission concludes that there were organizational problems within TEPCO. Had there been a higher level of knowledge, training, and equipment inspection related to severe accidents, and had there been specific instructions given to the on-site workers concerning the state of emergency within the necessary time frame, a more effective accident response would have been possible.
  • The Commission concludes that the situation continued to deteriorate because the crisis management system of the Kantei, the regulators and other responsible agencies did not function correctly. The boundaries defining the roles and responsibilities of the parties involved were problematic, due to their ambiguity.
  • The Commission concludes that the residents’ confusion over the evacuation stemmed from the regulators’ negligence and failure over the years to implement adequate measures against a nuclear disaster, as well as a lack of action by previous governments and regulators focused on crisis management.
  • TEPCO did not fulfil its responsibilities as a private corporation, instead obeying and relying upon the government bureaucracy of METI, the government agency driving nuclear policy. At the same time, through the auspices of the FEPC, it manipulated the cozy relationship with the regulators to take the teeth out of regulations.
  • Replacing people or changing the names of institutions will not solve the problems. Unless these root causes are resolved, preventive measures against future similar accidents will never be complete.

The Commission concludes its report with a set of recommendations that may well be worthy of review by regulators and operators in other sectors that have potentially large environmental and public health impacts.

A summary report is available in English at http://naiic.go.jp/en/. The Commission indicates that an English version of the full report will follow.

New beverage carton recycling plant for UK

The Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE) UK, in association with  Sonoco Alcore, has announced plans to build a new beverage carton recycling plant in the UK.  The plant is expected to be operational in 2013. ACE is an industry group representing beverage carton manufacturers such as Tetra Pak. The new mill will have a capacity of 25,000 tonnes per year, sufficient to process about 40% of the volume of beverage cartons used in the UK. Currently, beverage cartons collected in recycling programs in the UK are shipped to Italy for recycling.

GallonDaily sees the new plant as significant in several ways:

  • Industry is taking the lead on building a more local recycling plant for its used packaging.
  • Construction of the plant recognizes the significant role that recycling industries can have in development of the green economy.
  • Availability of recycling opportunities is a major incentive, as well as a necessity, for increased recycling rates.

Announcement of the new plant can be found at http://www.ace-uk.co.uk/news/article/uk_reprocessing_plant_to_boost_beverage_carton_recycling_rates

 

Toxic substances found in imported PVC packaging in the USA

The Toxics in Packaging Clearinghouse conducted an assessment of toxic substances in discount retail store packaging and found that 40 percent of imported PVC packaging of products tested, sold by discount retail chains, violated state laws for the presence of cadmium or lead.

A spokesperson for the  Iowa Department of Natural Resources is quoted by the Clearinghouse as stating that “Packaging in violation of state laws is likely not one-time sourcing or production mistakes, but rather appears pervasive in imported PVC packaging.”

Nineteen U.S. states have laws that prohibit the sale or distribution of packaging containing intentionally added cadmium, lead, mercury, and hexavalent chromium, and set limits on the incidental concentration of these materials in packaging. Most of the packaging samples that failed to meet state requirements came from China, with one from Pakistan and one of unknown origin. Products packaged in PVC with excessive concentrations of toxic substances were in the categories of personal care/cosmetics; toys and games; hardware; household; home furnishings; art supplies/crafts; pet supplies; and apparel. TPCH does not identify the stores involved but does state that they are not small independent stores: “The selected retailers operated stores in multiple states. The smallest retail chain had over 100 locations in seven states, while the largest retailers had stores across the United States. Six of the eight retail chains had at least 1,000 locations in 35 or more U.S. states.”

The Toxics in Packaging Clearinghouse is located at the Northeast Recycling Council Inc. and is supported by a number of states and a few industry associations including the American Chemistry Council – Northeast Region. The ACC is an industry association representing companies in the business of chemistry.

The TPCH and a link to the full report can be found at http://www.toxicsinpackaging.org/docs/tpch_press_release_discount_store_screening.pdf

Recyclable, done well, adds cachet in today’s market

Who would have thought that there would be great interest in recyclable sneakers at $65 or more per pair? A smart marketer, that’s who!

A new fully recyclable sneaker is set to hit stores later this year and some lucky people have already been able to buy one. REMYXX™ claim to be “Sneakers with a Purpose”, “the world’s first and only Landfill-Free Sneakers™”, and “Innovation meets Fashion meets Recycling”. They are said to be manufactured using a unique mix of materials that look and feel like canvas and rubber but are made entirely from a special blend of lab certified recyclable materials.  Upon recycling the sneaker materials can be used for a number of purposes and can be incorporated into new REMYXX™ sneakers. With the recycling symbol prominently displayed on the uppers and the bottom sole, users tell the world that they have chosen “to walk the green-way, supporting eco-friendly behaviors for a sustainable future”.

As there are currently no municipal recycling collection programs for REMYXX™ sneakers, the company is asking users to return their end-of-life REMYXX™ sneakers by mail for recycling, in return for which they will receive a $5 coupon off their next pair.

The product developer, a management consultant in Charlotte, North Carolina, seems to have hit on a winner with this product. He claims success because “an estimated 300 million shoes [were] thrown away last year in the U.S. alone” but GallonDaily believes the success is because the product fits the “Blue Box model”, a model in which people can show, in a discrete but still obvious manner, their support for environmental initiatives. GallonDaily predicts great success for this product in the Canadian marketplace.

More details about REMYXX™ sneakers at http://www.remyxxsneakers.com . Unfortunately the sneakers will not be available at retail until the Fall but some lucky folks were able to pre-order a pair at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/691761471/remyxx-cool-sneakers-100-recyclable , an opportunity which has now closed.

From time to time GallonDaily reminds readers that articles in Gallondaily are taken from press releases and other sources of information over which GallonDaily has no control. Products mentioned in GallonDaily articles may make claims that have not been verified either by GallonDaily or its parent company CIAL Group.