Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category
On Sunday, April 22 we will celebrate Earth Day. Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970 in the United States. The idea for Earth day was the brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson, who was trying to find a way to “put the environment into the political ‘limelight’ once and for all”. This year, more people than ever will celebrate Earth Day all around the world. But the question remains, how will I celebrate Earth Day?
Here are a few ideas what you can do to celebrate Earth Day:
Learn more about the environment!
Earth Day is the perfect time to make a commitment to learn more about the environment and how to protect it. More importantly, take the time to talk to your children about the meaning of Earth Day and the environment. Educating our children is one of the best chances for a greener future!
Make your lifestyle greener!
Try changing your lifestyle to a greener way! Change your shopping habits: Try to avoid items that come in unnecessary packaging; Support local growers and producers in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport; Use reusable water bottles and also buy your children reusable water bottles (drinking at least 2 liters of water every day is good for your health – having a water bottle by your side makes it easier); Recycle as many things as possible; Don’t waste food – store it in reusable container; Use a reusable shopping bag, like our Envirosax bags, in order to reduce unnecessary plastic waste.
Cook a special Earth Day meal!
Cook a delicious Earth Day meal using local products only. Keep in mind our 10 Steps to Waste Less Food! If you still have to buy products from the supermarket buy organic products only. Also, create recycled decoration yourself. It is fun and an activity for the whole family.
Clean up your neighborhood!
Another very good way to celebrate Earth Day is to gather friends and family and clean up a local space everyone can enjoy such as a park, a street, or a beach …. This is a very good way to create awareness and understand the impact of waste on our planet. Useful information on clean up days –> HERE
Remember: Earth Day is EVERY DAY!
Think of the environment throughout the year and discuss your personal impact on the environment. Make sure you recycle and reduce waste every day. Don’t restrict yourself to just one day a year. Learn about how you can make a difference.
These are just a few ideas on how to celebrate Earth Day. There are a hundred different ways. Let us know how you celebrate Earth Day and contribute to a brighter future for us and for our children. If you already know what you are doing also consider joining the official Earth Day campaign A BILLION ACTS OF GREEN to show your support.
Happy Earth Day!
Your Envirosax Team
Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve are just a few of many holidays were we cook and usually eat way too much! Too much food usually means more food and packaging waste.
The Worldwatch Institute brainstormed 10 Easy Steps To Waste Less Food:
- Be realistic: Due to the fear that we might not have enough food, we always cook unrealistic amounts of food no one can really eat. In order to be realistic, have a look at the Food Hate Waste organization’s “Perfect portions” planner to calculate the perfect meal size.
- Plan ahead: Create a shopping list before heading to the shops. It will help to not buy unnecessary products. Grocery Gadgets for your Smartphone are very useful little helper.
- Go small: You can always have a second (or third) serving. Therefore, start off with smaller portions in order to reduce the amount left on the plate (which usually becomes waste).
- Encourage self-serve: Let your guests self-serve and therefore decide how much they would like to have on their plate and can eat. This reduces the amount of food left on plates.
- Store leftovers safely: Store your leftovers in secure and reusable containers. Also separate your leftovers and store them in small individual containers. This reduces the risk of stored food being passed over and eventually wasted.
- Compost food scraps: Compost vegetable peels, egg shells and other food scraps from meal preparation. Composting systems can be relatively easy and inexpensive, and provide quality input for gardens.
- Create new meals: Have a look at Love Food Hate Waste’s creative recipes to see if your food scraps can be used for new meals.
- Donate excess: Donate canned and dried foods you didn’t need for your holiday meal to food banks and shelters. Have a look at the Feeding America’s Food Bank Locator or search for it on the web for your country.
- Support food-recovery programs: In some cases, food-recovery systems will come to you to collect your excess. For instance, in New York City the world’s first food-rescue organization, collects approximately 28 million pounds of food each year.
- Give gifts with thought: When giving food as a gift, avoid highly perishable items and make an effort to select foods that you know the recipient will enjoy rather than waste.
If you have any other tips on how to reduce food waste let us know!
Enjoy your holiday season!
Source: Worldwatch Institute
Envirosax believes that education and creating awareness in environmental sustainability is an integral part of ensuring a sustainable future. Therefore, we are also passionate to write about environmental topics such as World Water Day.
The international World Water Day is held annually on the 22nd of March as a means of focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and the sustainable management of water resources. The origins of World Water Day go back to the year 1992 when the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development recommended a day to celebrate freshwater. The United Nations General Assembly responded to this recommendation by designating the 22nd of March 1993 as the first World Water Day.
Each year, World Water Day highlights a specific aspect of freshwater. This year the focus is on “Water & Food Security”. Have a look at this short video to get an idea about how close water and food are related.
Do you want to know more about Water & Food Security or World Water Day in general? Just click on the World Water Day logo to get more information on this years campaign.
Envirosax is passionate to share the idea of the World Water Day. Therefore, we encourage you to take March 22nd as an opportunity to think about your personal water usage and how important water is. Talk to your friends, family and especially children and spread the idea of sustainable water consumption.
Enjoy World Water Day 2012 and don’t forget to share the message.
Your Envirosax Team
We had the pleasure of interviewing Tim Silverwood, a passionate surfer and advocate of the environment. This July he will journey across the Pacific Ocean from Honolulu to Vancouver, visiting the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has been compared to a ‘floating island of trash’, and is spread over an area twice the size of France in the North Pacific Ocean. Four oceanic currents converge there, causing floating plastic debris from Asia, North America and the South Pacific to accumulate in a swirling vortex that’s rumoured to be doubling in size every 10 years. The islands of Hawaii lie in the centre of the Gyre and suffer from massive levels of plastic pollution.
The voyage is being coordinated by the premier organisation researching the impact of plastics on the oceans, the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. Their team plans to do research that will shed light on the global distribution and biological consequences of marine debris. Tim will also be taking photos and filming it for an upcoming documentary.
We took some time out to ask Tim some questions:
1. Tell us when your passion for the environment started. What struck you in your life experiences to become an advocate?
I have grown up with the ocean in my life like most Australians. I started with the sport of surfing and have been doing it now for over 20 years. However, surfing isn’t only a sport for me but much more. When you’re out in the ocean, you’re out in this incredible raw state of the environment. When you start to see things impacting on the health of the arena, you want to do something about it. So I started young and was focused on plastic pollution. I would pick up floating plastic while I was surfing and put them in my wetsuit.
I also traveled around India and Asia for 10 months and that’s when you really start to see the problems and I was just shocked. It was at that point I really started to think pro-actively and advocating the message for people to be the difference.
2. There are many people who don’t live near an ocean such as the middle of the United States and may not perceive this being too much of a problem. What would you say to them?
It’s really easy to say it doesn’t affect me because I am thousands of miles inland. However, once plastic gets into a drain or a stream it will eventually be dragged out to sea. Then sea life may mistake it for plastic and the fish you eat could contain toxins because of it. A lot of people out there, like and eat fish, so this something that is happening now that could affect everyone.
3. What’s the most surprising memory of your travels around India and Asia?
It’s not so much as a striking memory rather than just being shocked by what I’ve learned with the statistics. I’ve learned that…
- We only reuse 5% of what we have.
- Every molecule of plastic that’s ever been created is still in existence. This use of plastic paints a bit of an alarming statistic for our future.
- From 2000-2010 our planet created and consumed more plastic than in the entire history of plastic before that.
- Plastic particles in our oceans kill approximately 100,000 marine mammals each year.
- 80% of marine debris is initially discarded on land and is blown, rolled, or washed out to sea via our beaches, rivers, streams and storm water drains.
4. What inspired you to embark on a voyage like this and what do you hope to achieve?
I have a natural passion for the environment and I hope to take this to a wider audience. It’s a unique opportunity to visit the Pacific Garbage Patch and by seeing it and making a documentary, my hope is that it will bring a higher level of understanding to this real issue that we have and encourage people to take small steps that lead to big changes.
I also hope to further develop ‘Take 3’, which is a nonprofit that I cofounded, that encourages anyone visiting the beach or going into the ocean to pick up three items of trash to help save the life of our marine animals.
5. Any other final thoughts?
The support I have received thus far is really humbling such as companies like Envirosax. It represents simple changes like start eliminating one-use plastic bags from your lifestyle. Just these small changes can make such a huge difference when we all start doing it. There’s power in numbers and it’s incredible what you can achieve.
Tim is seeking donations to help cover his voyage. Please visit http://www.indiegogo.com/Great-Pacific-Shame to learn more and to donate. Alternatively, Australian residents can attend one of the many fundraising movie premieres of the movie, Bag It, which Tim is hosting. Please visit www.timsilverwood.com to learn more.
*Note: Envirosax has donated reusable bags to Tim’s Australian fundraising movie premieres of Bag It. Please help spread the word and help Tim raise the funds he needs for his voyage!
If you were asked how long it takes the average plastic water bottle to biodegrade, what would be your guess? Would you have thought maybe 100 or 200 years? Recent research from the Container Recycling Institute of America suggests that plastic bottles take some 700 years to breakdown into their toxic elements. Oh, is that all? Today, 80% of all general public solid waste ends up in landfill, while 10% is incinerated and only the last 10% is recycled. Because less than a single percent of plastics are recycled, almost all plastics end up in landfill sites. Or do they?
It shouldn’t only be alarming that landfill stations worldwide are amassing billions of throwaway plastics, but that the oceans and river systems are too. Early last month, British adventurer and environmentalist David de Rothschild embarked on a spectacular voyage into the Pacific aboard a vessel engineered entirely of plastic products – the heralded ‘Plastiki’.
Traveling from San Francisco to Sydney, his crew’s mission is to heighten awareness of the tragic “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”. Located north-west of Hawaii, the patch was exposed in 1999 by researchers who found that the plastic, most from coastal cities in Asia and California, is “trapped indefinitely” by a vortex of currents that circulate clockwise around the North Pacific. The scientists approximate that the patch contains tens of thousands of plastic pieces per square mile, and its very existence is an ecological disaster.
In an interview with the Guardian UK, de Rothschild said, “The plastic water bottle epitomises everything about this throwaway, disposable society […] though I want the Plastiki to make a statement that it’s our lack of reuse, uses and disposal that it is at fault, and not the material itself”. Check out Tweets, facts and photos from de Rothschild’s journey by visiting: http://www.theplastiki.com/.
The long lives of plastic bottle pose a serious threat to the environment, but after 20 years the sales of bottled water might have finally reached a pinnacle. Non-profit organisation Food & Water Watch recently released a report labeled Bluewashing. In the document, research states, “The bottled water industry is a prime example of a corporate sector that is using these misleading marketing tactics to sell its products. In 2008, bottled water sales declined for the first time in years, partially due to the economy, but also largely due to growing awareness about the social and environmental impacts of the product”.
A growing social and environmental awareness has echoed through recent articles posted by the Washington Post, America’s National Public Radio and the Beverage Marketing Company. But also in 2008, Australians spent a record $500 million on bottled water. In response to the alarming figures, former New South Wales Premier Nathan Rees decided to take action. “We’re asking government departments to phase it out […] The reality is that the majority of people (surveyed) prefer tap water over spring or purified water in a blind taste test,” said Rees in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald. “These plastic bottles are everywhere,” he said. And still there remain billions of discarded plastic bottles adrift in the ocean currents and buried beneath once fertile land. Why is bottled water so popular?
The agencies and regulations
In Australia, new tap water drinking guidelines are being drafted and discussed. The Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/publications/synopses/eh19syn.htm) is undergoing a rolling revision that aims to encompass the latest scientific evidence on good quality drinking water. On the other hand, the Australasian Bottled Water Institute (ABWI) is the responsible industry association for water bottlers and suppliers in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. The ABWI work closely with their government regulators and affiliates to ensure their consumers “enjoy safe, high quality, good tasting bottled water”. Nevertheless, to ensure these standards are met, the bottled water industry demands petroleum and energy to produce its billions of plastic packaging:
“In a recent report, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) quoted waste industry experts who claimed that for the purpose of landfill management, the bottled would never decompose. A significant amount of energy is further used in the transportation of bottled water products. This too can cause more pollution and contribute to global warming,” (Bluewashing, 2010).
In recent years, Gigi Kellett and the Corporate Accountability International group (CAI) in the United States – renowned for their unyielding campaigns against tobacco companies in the 90s – have been quashing common water and bottled water misconceptions. In an interview with AlterNet, Kellett said not only does tap water often taste the same as bottled water, but it is also often safer to drink as well. “They are spending tens of millions of dollars every year to undermine our confidence in tap water even though water systems here in the United States are better regulated than bottled water,” she said. In the US tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which imposes strict limits on chemicals and bacteria, constant testing by government agencies, and mandatory notification to the public in the event of contamination.
As opposed to water from the tap, bottled water in the US is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which by federal law is bound to the same standards as the EPA. According the report from Alternet, “The devil is in the details, since FDA regulations only apply to water that is bottled and transported between states, it excludes the two-thirds of water that is solely transported within states. What’s more, FDA regulations rely on companies to do their own testing, and perform voluntary recalls if products are found to be in violation of standards”(http://www.alternet.org/story/43480/). A 1999 study of more than 1,000 bottles of water by the National Resources Defense Council found that while most bottled water was safe, some brands violated strict state standards on bacterial contamination, while others were found to contain harmful chemicals such as arsenic. The report concluded that bottled water was no safer than water taken from the tap.
Today, almost two thirds of the non-carbonated, non-alcoholic beverages are packaged in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles. Especially prone to littering, these bottles have a lower recycling rate than any of the most common packaging materials. PET plastic is a petroleum product. Because it is currently recycled at a low rate, tens of billions of new plastic bottles must be manufactured each year from virgin materials — fossil fuels — to replace those that were not recycled. In 2005, The Container Recycling Institute estimated that approximately 18 million barrels of crude oil were used to replace the two million tons of PET bottles that were dumped in landfill stations. When PET plastics are constructed using virgin materials (rather than used bottle resin), greenhouse gases are produced. In the making of 50 billion PET bottles, an estimated 800 thousand metric tonnes of carbon equivalent (MTCE) were released into the earth’s atmosphere. Regardless of the bottle’s weight or what the plastic is made of, a plastic bottle still needs to be disposed of. The problem still remains – three out of every four bottles still end up thrown out in the trash (US GAO, 2009).
Alternatives, solutions and conclusions
It has been shown that there are a litany of environmental and ecological consequences pertaining to the processing, production and disposal of plastic bottles. There are many, many case studies and scientific reports that relate the impact of the bottle to the endangerment of wildlife and marine life, air and water pollution associated with raw material extraction; as well as land filling and incineration.
However, all hope is not lost. Recycling a single plastic bottle can conserve enough energy to light a 60-watt light bulb for up to six hours. Recycled plastic bottles can be remade into products like clothing, carpeting, detergent bottles and lumber for outdoor decking. Furthermore, producing new plastic products from recycled materials uses two-thirds less energy than is required to make products from raw (virgin) materials. This in turn also reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Realistically, the production of plastics for bottles and other packaged goods seem unlikely to grind to a screaming halt anytime soon. Though in decline, the demand for bottled water is high; the convenience is apparent and their popularity is still prevalent.
With knowledge of the dangers plastic bottles can have on the environment and on one’s self, as well as their inflated cost and, indeed, the fact tap water tastes fine and is highly regulated, should be reason enough to take up the challenge and promote healthy and environmentally safe water habits. The buck stops with you!
Bottled Water Facts
- Australians spend more than half a billion dollars a year on bottled water. Last year, the sale of bottled water increased by 10 percent.
- Producing and delivering a litre of bottled water can emit hundreds of times more greenhouse gases than a litre of tap water.
- According to British research, drinking one bottle of water has the same environmental impact as driving a car for a kilometre.
- In many cases, a litre of bottled water is more expensive than a litre of petrol. Department of Environment and Climate Change estimates that 200ml of oil is used to produce, package, transport and refrigerate each litre bottle of bottled water. As a result, at least 50 million litres of oil are used in the manufacture and distribution of bottled water in Australia every year.
- Australia recycles only 36% of PET plastic drink bottles.
- In South Australia, which has Container Deposit Legislation, the plastic bottle recycling rate is 74%. A 2007 national Newspoll commissioned by Clean Up Australia found that those polled 82% support a CDL scheme of 10c on bottles.
- Australia’s annual use of bottled water generates more than 60,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions – the same amount that 13,000 cars generate over the course of a year.
- (Bottled Water Alliance – www.bottledwateralliance.com.au)
- Americans throw away 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour.
- The average American consumes 167 bottles of water a year.
- The federal standards for tap water are higher than those for bottled water.
- Americans will buy an estimated 25 billion single-serving, plastic water bottles this year. Eight out of 10 (22 billion) will end up in a landfill.
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not regulate 60-70 percent of bottled water.
- For the 30-40 percent it does regulate, the FDA only requires companies to test a sample of water once per week.
- The EPA requires testing of municipal water systems between 300-480 times per month
- The shipment of bottled water burns massive quantities of fossil fuel, a weekly convoy of 37,000 18- wheelers.
- The incineration of the plastic bottles releases toxic byproducts such as chlorine gas and ash laden with heavy metals into the air.
- According to the Beverage Marketing Corp, the average American consumed 1.6 gallons of bottled water in 1976. In 2006, that number jumped to 28.3 gallons.
- Today, 80 percent of Americans have access to a plastics recycling program.
- More than 2.4 billion pounds of plastic bottles were recycled in 2008. Although the amount of plastic bottles recycled in the U.S. has grown every year since 1990, the actual recycling rate remains steady at around 27%.
- In 2007, more than 325 million pounds of wide-mouth plastic containers were recovered for recycling. (This included deli containers, yogurt cups, etc.)
- In recent years, the number of U.S. plastics recycling business has nearly tripled. More than 1,600 businesses are involved in recycling post-consumer plastics.
- Plastics in the U.S. are made primarily (70%) from domestic natural gas.
- Plastic bags and product wraps (known collectively as “plastic film”) are commonly recycled at the many collection programs offered through major grocery stores.
- Recycling just one tonne of plastic saves 7.4 cubic yards of landfill space.
- During Keep America Beautiful’s 2008 Great American Cleanup, volunteers recovered and recycled 189,000,000 PET (plastic) bottles that littered highways, waterways and parks.
- (http://www.container-recycling.org/, http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org, http://www.nrdc.org/, http://www.recyclenow.org/, http://www.epa.gov/)
With the growth of the green economy in the past decade, some companies have cottoned-on to the “feel good” factor that goes with saying their bags are made from recycled materials.
While marketing teams slap high-fives and revel in another highly-profitable, customer-friendly initiative, the consumers and bag-buyers are left with an important question: who do we believe?
Should more care be taken when buying reusable bags from companies who claim they use 100% recycled materials, or bags made from 100% RPET or recycled bottles?
First, the facts: PET is the chemical substance Polyethylene terephthalate, commonly known as Polyester. Prefixing with an R means the polyester contains recycled content. The content can contain either pre-consumer (e.g. factory off cuts) or post-consumer (e.g. plastic bottles) waste.
Upon request, Dr John Schiers of Polymer Analysis in Melbourne conducted testing for Envirosax regarding the true contents of various polyester yarns made from supposedly “recycled content”. Please consider that it’s very difficult to perform a test to tell the difference between genuine RPET and cheap virgin polyester. His conclusions to the tests are as follows:
“It is not possible to determine by testing the actual recycled content of a particular item due to the additives in the fibres (e.g. dyes, lustrants and spin finishes) as they interfere with the results. This testing, along with other research we have conducted, highlights the following: It cannot be claimed that polyester items are made from a specific number of bottles unless evidence is provided on how this was calculated.”
Due to the massive demand for RPET, supply of the material from certified sources is no longer sufficient. There are now many companies in China that produce bottles for the sole purpose of recycling them immediately into so-called RPET. This is green-washing at its worst and amounts to consumer fraud.
As a result of the huge demand, manufacturer prices on certified RPET are considerably higher than that of virgin polyester. If a company claims a bag is made from 100% RPET without certification, but it’s not much more expensive than a virgin polyester bag, then common-sense suggests that the bag probably isn’t made from RPET.
The terminology regarding material composition in some so-called RPET bags is cleverly phrased so that a quick-read indicates the bags are 100% RPET. A careful reading reveals that this is not the case. Phrases such as, “Produced from 100% recycled bottles” actually means the bottles used in the material were recycled, but doesn’t actually equate to a bag composed of entirely recycled bottles.
Without certification, companies may be deceptive in what they declare to be the content of recycled polyester in their product. Currently, and to the best of our knowledge, SCS Scientific Certification Systems is the only company in the world able to accurately test recycled content in material. Without this proper certification other issues may transpire.
While Envirosax were researching companies who make RPET from 100% recycled content, they were quite often presented with fake SCS certificates and fake documentation. Certification ensures that the amount of recycled content in the product has been verified. As testing has shown, it’s not possible to differentiate between a composition of material that may be only 10% RPET and the rest virgin polyester. The significantly higher cost of producing goods made of 100% RPET compels pricing of products upwards. With this in mind, take heed when buying goods that do not display their certification – you may be paying the price of a marketing ploy rather than a greener, more environmentally friendly product.
THE ALL-NEW ENVIROSAX SCS CERTIFIED RPET FABRIC
After four years of researching RPET manufacturers, Envirosax Pty Ltd has gone into a partnership with Unifi Inc of the USA to create its own SCS certified Envirosax RPET. Envirosax RPET is a mix of 55% flat filament polyester and 45% Repreve® polyester (Unifi Inc).
The 45% Repreve® in the Envirosax RPET is made up of 100% recycled content, 65% pre-consumer and 35% post-consumer recycled polyester content (predominantly plastic bottles).
Repreve® is third party certified by Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) and Oeka-Tex, and also meets FTC guidelines for recycled products.
The Repreve® process involves converting the pre and post-consumer waste into RPET pellets rather than producing virgin PET pellets. The pellets are the core material used in creating polyester fabric. Essentially, the pellets are heated and stretched to create the filaments that are rolled into yarn and then weaved to make polyester.
The process is so unique the Discovery Channel featured it on an episode of How It’s Made.
Apart from the obvious environmental benefits of using recycled content in the material, the process of creating the fabric as compared to virgin polyester also has many ecological advantages. The method of manufacturing the polyester yarn conserves 3.34 litres of gasoline to every kilo of polyester yarn made. With approximately 25 million tonnes of polyester produced globally per annum, this figure becomes a significant amount. (NOTE: Conservation calculations are specific only to the SCS certified Repreve yarn product which Envirosax uses.)
RPET is a fantastic idea and if manufactured properly can reduce our carbon footprint significantly. However, the industry must be kept honest and companies must be held accountable for claims they make when marketing their goods.
This season enjoy your holidays while remembering to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
Household waste increases by an average 25% over the holiday period with the majority of the refuse being food waste, Christmas trees, cards and gift wrapping.
In the US alone over 2.65 billion Christmas cards are sold each year, 28 billion pounds (12.7 billion kgs) of food is wasted and shockingly half of the paper the US consumes annually is used to wrap gifts. This results in a hefty 4 million tons of gift wrap and bags thrown in the waste.
These figures are made even more astounding when only a very small percentage is ever recycled.
Wrapping gifts in paper was created by Hallmark in early Victorian times. It was a process of the wealthy as the poor could not afford thelavish decorated paper. It originated wh en a prominant store ran out of the usual tissue paper and patterned paper was put out on the shelf in replacement. Before this time gifts were wrapped much more sustainably in material, and even perfected to an art form by the japanese.
So here are the Envirosax tips to reduce unnecessary waste this holiday season:
- Consider sending an electronic greeting card
- Put leftovers in recyclable containers, share them with family and friends or donate whole, untouched leftovers to homeless shelters. Where possible, compost leftover food scraps.
- Create beautiful, reusable wrapping for your gift with an Envirosax bag, as in our video below.
From New York to Sydney and everywhere in between, people are carrying reusable bags.
Not surprisingly, large corporations and retailers have jumped on the bandwagon, offering cheap or free reusable shopping bags as a badge of being green.
Unfortunately, these cheap reusable shopping bags are often more of a marketing ploy than a great choice for the environment. To be effective in reducing waste, reusable bags must be able to be reused time and again, and therefore must be extremely durable. Polypropylene bags will decompose after exposure to UV light – below is an example of the affect UV light has on the tensile strength of a polypropylene bag when left in sunlight for 6 months.
Do not be fooled into thinking that polypropylene is an environmentally sound alternative. You may even find the term “biodegradable” on some of these bags (see below), but the standards for use of this term is that the bag must be biodegradable in a ‘commercially managed compost environment’. This unfortunately has little to do with the reality of biodegradability; in real world disposal scenarios, without the controlled conditions specified in these standards, the bags will not break down and biodegrade in a reasonable amount of time and will not decompose to organic material that can be put to use by other micro-organisms, as the term ‘biodegradable’ suggests.
Vincent Cobb (founder of reusablebags.com) recently discussed the futility of reusable bags that aren’t made to last (here). When asked if the solution is becoming a part of the problem, he didn’t hesitate a moment – “Absolutely,” he said, explaining that some are made so cheaply they fall apart after a few uses. “They are becoming more of the junk.”
A cheap non-woven polypropylene bag must be made inexpensively. The construction and material of the bag are of poor quality and they have a tendency to give way after loading them with groceries only a handful of times. Ironically, the ‘reusable’ bags themselves end up in the garbage can.
As a consumer, an additional concern is where and by whom are these bags being made? For the retail price of a “reusable bag” to be $1, the labour and distribution costs must be extremely low. At this price is it possible to ensure all employees and suppliers are treated fairly and in adherence to Fair Trade guidelines?
Using an alternative material such as polyester (which has far better tensile strength properties than polypropylene), printed with the process of sublimation, will yield a more durable bag in which the color will not fade.
Digging a little deeper reveals that many reusable bags are nothing more than another example of green-washing.
For those of you interested in economics, you might like to know that ‘one use’ plastic bags are called a ‘market failure’. This is due to the fact that their pricing does not account for external factors such as the impact of litter on wildlife, or the monetary cost to the community to clean up plastic bag pollution.
In Australia alone, 30-35 million plastic bags end up as litter rather than in landfill every year, according to 2007 figures from a report on ‘the investigation of options to reduce the impacts of plastic bags‘.
Degradable and biodegradable plastic bags have been touted as the solution to this problem by a number of prominent supermarkets. However, there is limited evidence that they make a positive difference and more evidence to the contrary! The amount of time plastic bags remain in the environment as litter is unclear but the following facts give you some idea of their possible effects.
The most common degradable bags, oxo-degradable bags, have a ‘pro-degradent’ which causes fast break down into fragments. These then remain in the environment and may take a very long time to completely degrade. The impact of these bags as litter may thus be greater than for a normal plastic bag, which generally remains as one product, not fragments.
Biodegradable plastic bags are made from a mixture of polyethene and starch products and in the right conditions, will break down into elements like carbon dioxide, water and methane. To be considered degradable, these must compost within 12 weeks and fully biodegrade within 6 months. This means they survive long enough to pose a threat to animals if littered, as they may be mistaken for food.
If biodegradable bags are littered and caught in trees, like the plastic bags in the image below, they are unlikely to be exposed to soil microorganisms which assist breakdown and so pose the same problems as regular ‘one-use’ plastic bags.
There are also questions raised about whether there is any benefit of degradable plastic bags even if they are properly disposed and end up in landfill. The Australian government published a report ‘The impact of degradable plastic bags in Australia’, which found that biodegradable plastics are unlikely to degrade in landfill as the microorganisms needed to help the break down, are not found in the dry anaerobic (oxygen deprived) conditions normally found in landfill.
The same report concluded that reusable bags have a lower environmental impact and gave better overall performance than either conventional or degradable ‘one-use’ bags, regardless of the degradability.
So the message is clear – reuse is the better option for the environment.