Over the years we’ve worked on many different types of plastic circular economy programs for clients. We’ve helped retailers create their own internal “Demand” for their plastic waste by closing their own loops into products they use in operations. We’ve helped Plastic Manufacturers achieve zero plastic waste in their operations and create strategies to increase usage of “sustainable” plastic raw materials in their products to gain competitive & market advantages. We’ve “Connected” Eco Supply Chains for clients creating their own circular economies. We’ve helped Consumer Brands connect socially sustainable missions to raise awareness and connect stronger with consumers. We’ve helped distribution channels implement zero plastic waste initiatives to reduce cost and landfill impact and Packaging producers implement redesign, raw material & single use packaging recycling solutions to reduce their environmental footprint.
Each client brings exciting new opportunities to improve sustainability! One thing we’ve learned is there is No Cookie Cutter Approach to plastic sustainability and circular economies. Each client has their own unique goals, logistics, products, brand, supply chain and so on.
Creating successful circular economies is as much about Listening & Learning as it is about understanding Plastics-Polymers-Recycling-Technology, as it is about Innovation & Efficiency, as it is about Environment & Resources, and Passion & Persistence.
That said, we do have (5) Key Elements we integrate into every GearedforGreen plastic circular economy program for our clients. They are our Guiding Principles we integrate into everything we do.
MIMIC is the Circular Economy Ecosystem we help create for our clients, following the natural ecosystem we live in today. We believe that plastic circular economies must focus equally on environmental, economic, and social sustainability in order to be effective long term. So we created MIMIC to ensure that all our efforts keep these principles in mind with everything we do. MIMIC stands for Materials, Innovation, Money, Improvement, Connection.
MATERIALS: Have a deep understanding of plastics, polymers and their physical properties, how plastics are recycled, technologies to recycle challenging materials, the supply chain of local regional recyclable collectors and processors, what recycled plastic materials can be turned into, and what materials can be reused instead of recycled. Maintain extensive expertise in sustainable raw material selection, including additives, engineering and tooling to enhance access and reuse of sustainable raw materials in manufacturing. Utilize science, measurement and certification to ensure the work we do positively impacts sustainability.
INNOVATION: Use our creativity & imagination to look beyond “business as usual “ to help create strategies that truly improve economic, environmental, social brand value over and above “price per pound”. Be forward thinking when constructing circular economies to improve performance, increase efficiency and speed to market. Utilize innovation to enhance and connect internal & external sustainability. Access consumer market data to create competitive differentiation.
MONEY: Circular economy sustainability is as much about “money and value creation” as it is about environment. If sustainability doesn’t cause economic benefit, its not sustainable long term. Focus equally on economic, environmental and social value creation, including bottom line, top line, brand, stakeholder value, and shared-leveraged-stabilized supply chain value.
IMPROVEMENT: Even before we’re done implementing plastic circular economy solutions, “Continual Improvement” strategy is required. Change is the only constant, so we balance the use of today’s newest technologies, materials, resources & circular economy methodologies while staying flexible, relevant and proactive to utilize newest & future shared practices, resources and technologies.
CONNECTION: Circular Economies are all about connecting, collaboration, teamwork & transparency to help our clients and their supply chains improve sustainability “together”. Connecting the supply chain facilitates shared resources & best practices along with communication to educate, raise awareness, and increase sustainability with supply chain partners, stakeholders, customers and consumers.
To learn more about plastics sustainability, recycling, zero plastic waste solutions, raw materials, packaging solutions, circular economies, social partnerships, eco apparel and uniforms, and MIMIC our five elements to create successful plastics circular economies, contact GearedforGreen – Daniel Schrager, President, GearedforGreen 888-398 (GEAR)4327, email to email@example.com, or visit www.gearedforgreen.com
Most Plastic Films & Bags including grocery bags, shopping bags, retail bags, Stretch Wraps, and Shrink Wraps are primarily made using #polyethylene based plastic resins, generally #lowdensitypolyethylene, #highdensitypolyethylene, #linearlowdensitypolyethylene, or blended #polyethylenes.
In all cases, polyethylene films & bags are 100% recyclable. Polyethylene is a “Thermoplastic” material and nearly all thermoplastic materials can be recycled because their polymer chains have been specifically designed to weaken rapidly during the recycling melting process, turning into a viscous liquid that can be reshaped into all kinds of new products, including new films, bags and even rigid plastic materials too.
When it comes to plastic film & bag waste,
their are typically three (3) primary categories of plastic waste…
1. Industrial waste – that is waste generated in the manufacturing process which is generally cleaner and easier to recycle.
2. Commercial waste – that is waste generated after use but in tighter supply chains such as between manufacturing & distribution which is often still contaminated.
3. Consumer waste – that is waste generated after use by consumers which is generally more contaminated with both (plastic and non plastic contaminates) and more challenging to recycle.
The challenges in recycling Industrial Plastic Waste is that in many cases, the plastic waste contains heavy inks and possibly coatings which limit how much of this waste can be recycled back by the manufacturers. Also, these plastic typically are printed with “branded” content making certified destruction a requirement. GearedforGreen helps solve these challenge by using specialized technologies and by ensuring the plastic waste is recycled at facilities that track the certified destruction process.
Commercial & Consumer film and bag recycling comes with many additional recycling challenges, including much heavier degrees of (plastic & non plastic) contamination that must be removed prior to recycling. GearedforGreen helps solve these challenge by using sophisticated eco-supply chain film and bag recycling technologies including proprietary washing, screening, re-pelletization systems that remove a much greater % of contamination, producing a far more “pure” grade of recycled plastic resin that can be reused back into a wider more broad array of applications that can absorb the greater volume.
Another significant challenge in managing Commercial and Consumer plastic film and bag sustainability initiatives is managing the supply-demand dynamics as well as long term pricing dynamics. This is because the quantity and volume of commercial and consumer plastic film-bag waste is enormous, and in order to solve this issue longer term, we must utilize indexed pricing that links the value of scrap with the value of resin so that they both rise and fall together over time along with normal market conditions, to maintain a longer term value proposition for both waste generators and resin buyers in the supply chain.
Whether you generate plastic film and bag waste or would like to use recycled resins in you products, Gearedforgreen can help GUIDE you implement a successful long term plastic film and bag recycling initiative. In 2019 Let’s get Sustainable Together.
BLOCK SUSTAINABLE RAW MATERIAL PURCHASING CAN LEVERAGE-DOWN PRICING & SECURE FEED STOCK THROUGHOUT YOUR SUPPLY CHAINby gearedforgreen December 1, 2018
Big Brands and Big Retailers can do more to lead their Circular Supply Chains & enhance Circular Economies by leveraging their “Buying Power” to Purchase Large Blocks of sustainable recycled plastic raw materials. We call it “Block Sustainable Raw Material Purchasing”.
What is Block Sustainable Purchasing?
Creating a strong circular economy starts from the Top Down. That’s because the Top represents the Demand.
Big Brands & Big Retail already consume billions of pounds of virgin plastic resins, in the form of plastic products & plastic packaging they make and sell, much of which is virgin polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, and polyester plastics.
Today the purchasing of these billions of pounds of virgin plastic resin is fragmented across many different manufacturers across the supply chain, who aren’t buying in big enough blocks to leverage-down pricing, (or) secure long term sustainable feedstock, (or) gain efficiencies.
However in a Connected Collaborative Transparent Circular Economy we change that dynamic!
As many of us are aware, the circular economy encompasses many levels of the supply chain, from product and packaging design, sustainable raw material selection, recycling and waste management, technology, equipment, operations, brand communication, awareness, education, social purpose, and most importantly & essentially … strong consumer demand for the products we make. It is the Demand that Drives the Circular Economy.
For those involved in circular economy sustainability, they recognize it’s as much about doing good for people and planet 🌏 as it is about connecting processes, resources, technology, and information to reduce cost, improve revenue, and grow stronger more “valuable” brands.
Big Brands like Proctor and Gamble, Unilever, Nike, etc. and Big Retail like Walmart, Kroger, Walgreens, etc. recognize that circular supply chain & circular economies equally impact economic and environmental performance, and those Big companies gain competitive market & economic advantages as result. It’s why BB & BR are spending “B” Billions on sustainability.
THE GREAT SUSTAINABLE DIVIDE
Big Brands and Big Retail at the Top of the supply chain have deep wells of financial & people resources to invest heavily in circular supply chain sustainability. Our GearedforGreen team is actively involved helping support many of these BB – BR circular economy initiatives in multiple areas throughout their supply chains, so we see this GREAT DIVIDE with firsthand knowledge. Big Brands and Big Retail have Big Advantages.
On the other side of the Great Divide resides the bottom-up Supply Chain, where the rubber meets the green road! That’s where the bulk of the manufacturers live. That’s where all the great innovative mom and pop supply chain and services providers live. And that’s where tough decisions are made every day, between (1) paying up to add sustainability expertise or playing it conservative ensuring you make payroll, (2) investing in sustainable technology or preserving cash for tomorrow, (3) using sustainable recycled ♻ plastic raw materials or keeping it simple using prime grade virgin plastic resins.
Here is Why Block Sustainable Purchasing Benefits “Everyone” in the supply chain
Unlike the Big Guys, the bottom up Supply Chain juggles these challenges that impact Investment, Risk, Credit, Leverage, etc., all of which must be managed skillfully to survive. More challenges + more risk = less sustainability.
By participating in Block Sustainable Raw Material Purchases, BB & BR help smooth out the sustainable raw material landscape from bottom up, making it easier and more cost effective to widely access sustainable plastic raw materials. That access to leveraged pricing and supply efficiency has widely positive effects on the entire supply chain, creating advantages up & down.
Here’s (3) Key Benefits to everyone in the supply chain
as a result of Block Raw Material Sustainable Purchasing
1. Leveraging purchasing power shares cost savings top to bottom for manufacturers.
2. De-Risking raw material suppliers makes it easier for them to invest in improvements.
3. Connecting the supply chain top to bottom creates collaboration & innovation which strengthens the entire supply chain together and shares value.
Here’s (3) Key Strategies to make Block Sustainable
Raw Material Purchasing Successful
- Locking in large volume annual commitments via block purchases can be accomplished without locking in price or even paying for materials until deliveries are complete.
- Buying large volume annual blocks of sustainable raw material can be done without establishing specific raw material grades or material specifications.
- Implementing Block Supply Finance Arrangements between BB/BR, participating Supply Chain Manufacturers, and Raw Material Suppliers enables the entire supply chain to share savings.
To learn more about GearedforGreen Block Sustainable Raw Material Purchasing for your Company or your Supply Chain, contact GearedforGreen – Daniel Schrager, President, GearedforGreen 888-398 (GEAR) 4327 firstname.lastname@example.org, www.gearedforgreen.com
WHEN IT COMES TO CORPORATE PLASTICS SUSTAINABILITY, YOUR IMPULSE TO FOCUS ON LINEAR ECONOMIC VALUE MAY BE WRONG.by gearedforgreen November 23, 2018 cardboard box reuse circular supply chain decoating technology Dow eco apparel eco supply chain gearedforgreen packaging plastic raw materials plastic recycling plastic resins Proctor & Gamble social partnerships sustainable packaging sustainableshopping
When it comes to corporate plastics sustainability, especially as it relates to single use plastic packaging and consumer plastic products, your impulse may be to focus on “linear economic value” meaning the cost of your packaging materials, raw materials, landfill & disposal, and the price per pound economic value you achieve buying & selling plastic. Each individually are considered “linear one way” transactions that provide either one way economic savings or revenue.
“It is worth self- examining your product, packaging, your customer, your competitor, your industry, our environment, the consumer market, and ask.. Why still today do we discard nearly 90% of all plastics worldwide and how will this impact your business.
Impulsively we tend to think traditionally as we have for many years prior, treating “value” simply in terms of economic value, treating plastic raw materials simply as “commodities” and treating waste simply as scrap and not as “future resources”. We overlook so much more “value” that can benefit our businesses.
One of the lessons I’ve learned over time at GearedforGreen from working with industry leading brands, retailers, and business advisory circular economy specialist is.. change doesn’t come easy nor without risk, BUT, regardless of our size, without it, our failure is 100% inevitable.
There is something to say about change, about innovation, about seeing the forest 🌳 through the trees, the end goal. Today we see new companies embracing new innovations and change, wasting less resources, using resources and supply chains more strategically, partnering in circular economies and finding new ways to set themselves apart from competitors by differentiating themselves in the market. These companies tend to thrive! Yet we also see decade’s old companies failing to change, failing to embrace sustainability, not understanding lost value, just maintaining status quo and ultimately stagnating and falling by the waste-side.
The fact is, when it comes to plastics sustainability we need to look beyond linear one-way relationships, beyond the initial one-way economic value, and consider “overall economic-environmental-social-reputational value” that can be achieved via sustainability, connecting circularly and transparently with Supply Chain partners and with Consumers.
Irrespective of your actions leading up to today and regardless of the size of your company, plastics sustainability and circular economies really matter to your Bottom Line, Top Line, and Brand and to the relationships you create with your customers.
To learn how we can help provide circular economy and plastics sustainability solutions for your company, contact Daniel Schrager, President, GearedforGreen 888-398 (GEAR) 4327 email@example.com, www.gearedforgreen.com
In a highly resource-constrained world, where export demand is dwindling, and domestic markets are getting saturated, there’s little room for waste or wasted opportunity! For all us in the plastics manufacturing world making, using, selling plastic products, getting creative and innovative with the way we obtain, use, and dispose of plastic materials and how we buy and use sustainable raw materials will be KEY for a long term healthy and sustainable plastics industry.
We all should understand that unless we change what we do and how we do it, we cannot expect different results. If not now… WHEN?
Businesses, organizations, and governments are making the shift to “go circular,” implementing smarter processes for sustainable inputs, improved product design, more efficient delivery methods, and close loop – open loop initiatives for materials in manufacturing and after end use. For us in the plastics world… this is the basis of our circular economy and it’s one of the biggest growth opportunities for plastics businesses and brands!
The circular economy is a $4.5 trillion opportunity according to Accenture. Who in our plastics industry wouldn’t want to get circular? For companies making, using, distributing, and selling plastic products, it’s important to understand the distinction between your linear supply chain versus a circular supply chain and how that can improve your businesses and brand.
Here are two steps you can take towards getting circular
1st establish an initial sustainability plan that outlines your goals and time lines to grow circularly. Share your plan internally and get your internal team rowing in the same direction. Plans need to include how you make, package, deliver, sell plastic products more sustainably and how you communicate and educate your sustainability and end-of-use recycling options to your customers and consumers.
2nd begin connecting your sustainability goals with your supply chain partners to form solutions together. Connecting the dots and building connected transparent teamwork within your supply chain is absolutely imperative. Connecting a circular supply chain will ultimately lead you to increased innovation and efficiency. Initiatives should connect multiple areas of your the supply chain including plastic resin, packaging, mold and tooling, recycling, solid waste management, sustainability and market insight and brand communications.
Many companies seeking to connect in circular economy supply chains utilize the services of Circular Supply Chain Advisory firms to assist in connecting the dots. To learn how you can connect in the circular economy, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.gearedforgreen.com
Big Brands and Big Retailers can do more to lead their Circular Supply Chains and enhance Circular Economies by Leveraging “Buying Power” to Purchase Large Blocks of sustainable recycled plastic raw materials. We call it “Block Sustainable Raw Material Purchasing”.
What is Block Sustainable Purchasing?
Creating a strong circular economy generally starts top down. That’s because the Top represents Demand. Big Brands and Big Retail already consume billions of pounds of virgin plastic resins, in the form of plastic products and packaging they make and sell, much of which is polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, and polyester grades.
Today the purchasing of these billions of pounds of virgin plastic resin is widely fragmented across many different manufacturers, most of whom aren’t buying in big enough blocks to leverage-down pricing or gain efficiencies. However, in a connected circular eco supply chain we change that dynamic! Remember… reducing cost and gaining efficiencies and value creation is precisely what circular sustainability is all about.
As many of us are aware, the circular economy entails many levels of the supply chain, from product and packaging design, sustainable raw material selection, recycling and waste management, technology, equipment, operational modification, brand communication and education, commitment to social purpose, and most importantly & essentially- strong consumer demand for the products we make.
For everyone involved in circular economy sustainability, we recognize it’s as much about doing good for people and planet 🌏 as it is about connecting processes, resources, technology, and information to help reduce cost, improve top line revenue, and grow stronger more “valuable” brands.
Big Brands like Proctor and Gamble, Unilever, Nike, etc. and Big Retail like Walmart, Kroger, Walgreens, etc. recognize that circular supply chain & circular economies equally impact economic and environmental performance .. and those Big companies gain competitive market & economic advantages as result. It’s why BB & BR are spending “B” Billions on sustainability.
THE GREAT DIVIDE
Big Brands and Big Retail at the Top of the supply chain have deep wells of financial and people resources to invest heavily in circular supply chain sustainability. Our GearedforGreen team is actively involved helping support many of these BB – BR circular economy initiatives in multiple areas throughout their supply chains, so we see this GREAT DIVIDE with first hand knowledge. Big Brands and Big Retail have Big Advantages.
On the other side of the Great Divide resides the bottom-up Supply Chain, where the rubber meets the green road! That’s where the bulk of the manufacturers live. That’s where all the great innovative mom and pop supply chain and services providers live. And that’s where tough decisions are made everyday, decisions between (1) staffing up or paying up to add sustainability expertise or playing it more conservative ensuring you make payroll, (2) investing in sustainable technology or preserving cash for tomorrow, (3) investing in resources to measure consumer trends and carbon footprints 👣 or keeping status quo and not rocking the boat, or (4) paying more $$$ for sustainable recycle ♻️ grade raw materials versus paying less for prime grade virgin plastic resins.
Here’s Why Block Sustainable Purchasing Benefits “Everyone” in the supply chain
Unlike the Big Guys, the bottom up Supply Chain juggles these many challenges that impact Investment, Risk, Credit, Leverage, etc., all of which must be managed incredibly skillfully to survive.
More challenges + more risk = less sustainability.
By participating in Block Sustainable Raw Material Purchases, BB & BR help smooth out the sustainable raw material landscape from bottom up, making it easier and more cost effective to widely access sustainable raw materials. That access to leveraged pricing and supply efficiency has widely positive effects on the entire supply chain, creating advantages up & down.
Here’s (3) Key Benefits to everyone in the supply chain as a result of
Block Raw Material Sustainable Purchasing
- Leveraging purchasing power shares cost savings top to bottom
- De-Risking raw material suppliers makes it easier for them to invest in improvements
- Connecting the supply chain top to bottom creates even more block buying, collaboration & innovation which strengthens the entire supply chain.
> We can show you many additional circular supply chain benefits to Block Sustainable Purchasing – learn about them by contacting email@example.com.
Here’s (3) Key Strategies to make Block Sustainable Raw Material
Big Brands and Big Retail are the biggest consumers and distributors of plastic products and plastic packaging. BB & BR Drive Demand. Strategic raw material purchasing not only benefits manufacturing, BB & BR, it also benefits raw material suppliers too.
- Locking in large volume annual commitments via block purchases can be accomplished without locking in price or even paying for materials until deliveries are complete
- Buying large volume annual blocks of sustainable raw material can be done without establishing specific grades or material specifications.
- Implementing Block Supply Finance Arrangements between BB/BR, participating Supply Chain Manufacturers, and Raw Material Suppliers enables the entire supply chain to share savings.
To learn more about Block Sustainable Raw Material Purchasing and how you can get involved – as a Buyer or Supplier – contact GearedforGreen – Daniel Schrager, President, GearedforGreen 888-398 (GEAR) 4327 firstname.lastname@example.org, www.gearedforgreen.com
We hear this year’s Sustainable Brands Conference was super successful. There’s no doubt lots of great progress being made by corporate America!by gearedforgreen June 17, 2018 cardboard box reuse circular supply chain decoating technology Dow eco apparel eco brand marketing eco supply chain gearedforgreen plastic raw materials plastic recycling social partnerships sustainability sustainable packaging sustainableshopping
According to industry leading brands.. here are (3) takeaways you should consider if you want to build a more sustainable business and brand
1. Start adding social purpose to your brand sustainability initiatives
Kirti Singh, VP of Analytics and Insights at P&G spoke passionately about this. We’ve all pondered about what our brands “do for people” and how they “make people feel”. The notion of how our brands make society better is an increasingly important conversation in consumer product industries.
We highly encourage all of our brand clients to integrate “social sustainable purposeful practices” as integral components of their business models, considering a brand’s physical, personal and societal benefit.
Social sustainability surrounds your brand with passion and purpose, creates your story, creates conversations around the table, and creates stronger connections with consumers and your employees.
As part of our inside-out sustainability approach, we help clients develop and implement their socially sustainable partnerships including using ocean 🌊 collected plastics back into products, developing sustainable collaborations around shared causes like “Lives Per Pound” using plastic waste to make products like water filtration systems that to save lives in developing countries.
When social purpose connects with functionality and consumer value, that’s the real grand slam! As example, Cold Water Tide uses less electricity (which results in lower carbon impact with every load of laundry), and actually goes easier on clothes ensuring they last longer. This multi benefits us consumers, our clothes get clean, they last longer and we lower our impact on the planet. Functional + Societal + Emotional benefits. Yeah! Let’s buy Tide!
2. Sustainable brands advocate with other brands
David Grayson, Chris Coulter and Mark Lee have created a framework and a book called All In: The Future of Business Leadership. The framework is this: Purpose, Plan, Culture, Collaboration, Advocacy. It’s a fantastic read.
We’ve been preaching for a long time that brands with a strong social and sustainable purpose are the ones that will thrive in the future. There’s plenty of research to substantiate this, which is why leading Brands including Proctor and Gamble and Nestle have been changing their culture as socially sustainable companies that care about our environment and us consumers.
3. Sustainability and consumer communities have embraced the false narrative that “plastic is bad” when in fact “plastic is vital”
We have been deeply-passionately involved in plastics, recycling, sustainable raw material, packaging optimization, sustainable technology, and circular eco supply chain collaboration for 20+ years..
We are proud to have helped many clients and supply chain partners to achieve significant sustainability enhancements including zero plastic waste.
For all us involved in the supply chain of Plastics and Sustainability.. it’s more vital than ever that we get active, get diligent, get involved in circular sustainability, collaborate, and change the conversation from “plastic is bad” to “plastic waste is bad.”
Plastic is vital! As example, transportation industries from trains, planes, and automobiles (great movie 😀) use plastic to get lighter and more fuel efficient. Food lasts longer with less waste in distribution, on retail shelves, and at home using plastics. There are literally thousands of applications where plastics make sustainability possible. Even single use plastics play a vital role in our lives and towards sustainability.
That said … we MUST all work together to solve the plastic disposal and ocean debris crisis!!! It’s real. Plastic and micro plastic waste is a catastrophic problem we as a plastics, recycling, and sustainability community must help STOP.
Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately, as the “ocean plastics” issue gets talked about – and its talked about often.. attitudes perpetuate the notion that all plastics are bad. WE as sustainability service providers and sustainability brand marketers MUST CHANGE THE NARRATIVE from Plastic = Bad to Plastic Waste = Bad.
To learn more about strategies and steps you can take over time to become a sustainable company and brand, contact GearedforGreen – Daniel Schrager, President, GearedforGreen 888-398 (GEAR) 4327 email@example.com, www.gearedforgreen.com
Solutions? Bio Plastics, Plastic Recycling, Circular Supply Chains, Using Less … great article by #LaurieParkerby gearedforgreen June 10, 2018 cardboard boxes circular supply chain decoating technology eco apparel eco brand marketing eco supply chain Exxon gearedforgreen packaging plastic plastic raw materials plastic recycling plastic resins Proctor & Gamble recycling social partnerships sustainable packaging sustainableshopping
IN A WORLD THAT CAN SEEM overwhelmed by potentially eternal plastic waste, are biodegradables the ultimate solution? Probably not. But it’s complicated. The industry is still debating what “biodegradable” actually means. And some plastics made of fossil fuels will biodegrade, while some plant-based “bioplastics” won’t.
Biodegradable plastics have been around since the late 1980s. They initially were marketed with the implied promise that they’d somehow disappear once they were disposed of, just as leaves on the forest floor are decomposed by fungi and soil microbes. It hasn’t quite worked out that way.
Biodegradables don’t live up to their promise, for example, in the dark, oxygen-free environment of a commercial landfill or in the cool waters of the ocean, if they should end up there. You can’t throw them in your backyard compost either. To break down, they require the 130-degree heat of an industrial composter. Many industrial composters accept only plastics that meet certain standards, ensuring they will leave no fragments behind that can harm the environment or human health. And if you throw some biodegradables in with recyclables, you might ruin the latter, creating a mix that can no longer be relied on to make durable new plastic. In 2015 the United Nations Environment Program wrote off biodegradables as an unrealistic solution that will neither reduce the amount of plastic flowing into the oceans nor prevent potential chemical or physical harm to marine life. It concluded that the label “biodegradable” may actually encourage littering.
Some engineers are looking for ways around these obstacles. Jenna Jambeck and her colleagues at the University of Georgia’s New Materials Institute are using polymers synthesized by microbes to make packaging they hope will compost readily and biodegrade in the ocean. Corn chip bags are their first target.
It’s a tall order. Even the best biodegradable product won’t magically disappear. A plastic container robust enough to carry a gallon of milk can’t decompose like paper. A flowerpot, one of Polymateria’s experimental products, could take up to two years to dissolve if tossed in a ditch, Dunne concedes. Biodegradables, some critics say, don’t address the fundamental problem: our throwaway culture.
“What is it that we are promoting?” asks Ramani Narayan, a Michigan State University chemical engineering professor. “Throw it away, and eventually it will go away?” The more responsible approach, he says, is a “circular economy” model, in which everything is reused or recycled and “any ‘leakage’ into the environment, whether biodegradable or not, is not acceptable.”
China is providing motivation. For nearly three decades it has bought about half the world’s recyclable plastic. But this year it called a halt to most scrap imports. Recyclables are now piling up in the countries that generated them. “We hope it will push towards more circular management.”
To learn more about this National Geographic article by #LaurieParker and GearedforGreen sustainability, recycling, raw material, circular supply chain services, please contact us at:
IN A LABORATORY AT Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, in Palisades, New York, Debra Lee Magadini positions a slide under a microscope and flicks on an ultraviolet light. Scrutinizing the liquefied digestive tract of a shrimp she bought at a fish market, she makes a tsk-ing sound. After examining every millimeter of the slide, she blurts, “This shrimp is fiber city!” Inside its gut, seven squiggles of plastic, dyed with Nile red stain, fluoresce.
All over the world, researchers like Magadini are staring through microscopes at tiny pieces of plastic—fibers, fragments, or microbeads—that have made their way into marine and freshwater species, both wild caught and farmed. Scientists have found microplastics in 114 aquatic species, and more than half of those end up on our dinner plates. Now they are trying to determine what that means for human health.
So far science lacks evidence that microplastics—pieces smaller than one-fifth of an inch—are affecting fish at the population level. Our food supply doesn’t seem to be under threat—at least as far as we know. But enough research has been done now to show that the fish and shellfish we enjoy are suffering from the omnipresence of this plastic. Every year five million to 14 million tons flow into our oceans from coastal areas. Sunlight, wind, waves, and heat break down that material into smaller bits that look—to plankton, bivalves, fish, and even whales—a lot like food.
Experiments show that microplastics damage aquatic creatures, as well as turtles and birds: They block digestive tracts, diminish the urge to eat, and alter feeding behavior, all of which reduce growth and reproductive output. Their stomachs stuffed with plastic, some species starve and die.
In addition to mechanical effects, microplastics have chemical impacts, because free-floating pollutants that wash off the land and into our seas—such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and heavy metals—tend to adhere to their surfaces.
Chelsea Rochman, a professor of ecology at the University of Toronto, soaked ground-up polyethylene, which is used to make some types of plastic bags, in San Diego Bay for three months. She then offered this contaminated plastic, along with a laboratory diet, to Japanese medakas, small fish commonly used for research, for two months. The fish that had ingested the treated plastic suffered more liver damage than those that had consumed virgin plastic. (Fish with compromised livers are less able to metabolize drugs, pesticides, and other pollutants.) Another experiment demonstrated that oysters exposed to tiny pieces of polystyrene—the stuff of take-out food containers—produce fewer eggs and less motile sperm.
The list of freshwater and marine organisms that are harmed by plastics stretches to hundreds of species.
IT’S DIFFICULT TO PARSE whether microplastics affect us as individual consumers of seafood, because we’re steeped in this material—from the air we breathe to both the tap and bottled water we drink, the food we eat, and the clothing we wear. Moreover, plastic isn’t one thing. It comes in many forms and contains a wide range of additives—pigments, ultraviolet stabilizers, water repellents, flame retardants, stiffeners such as bisphenol A (BPA), and softeners called phthalates—that can leach into their surroundings.
Some of these chemicals are considered endocrine disruptors—chemicals that interfere with normal hormone function, even contributing to weight gain. Flame retardants may interfere with brain development in fetuses and children; other compounds that cling to plastics can cause cancer or birth defects. A basic tenet of toxicology holds that the dose makes the poison, but many of these chemicals—BPA and its close relatives, for example—appear to impair lab animals at levels some governments consider safe for humans.
Studying the impacts of marine microplastics on human health is challenging because people can’t be asked to eat plastics for experiments, because plastics and their additives act differently depending on physical and chemical contexts, and because their characteristics may change as creatures along the food chain consume, metabolize, or excrete them. We know virtually nothing about how food processing or cooking affects the toxicity of plastics in aquatic organisms or what level of contamination might hurt us.
The good news is that most microplastics studied by scientists seem to remain in the guts of fish and do not move into muscle tissue, which is what we eat. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, in a thick report on this subject, concludes that people likely consume only negligible amounts of microplastics—even those who eat a lot of mussels and oysters, which are eaten whole. The agency reminds us, also, that eating fish is good for us: It reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, and fish contain high levels of nutrients uncommon in other foods.
That said, scientists remain concerned about the human-health impacts of marine plastics because, again, they are ubiquitous and they eventually will degrade and fragment into nanoplastics, which measure less than 100 billionths of a meter—in other words, they are invisible. Alarmingly these tiny plastics can penetrate cells and move into tissues and organs. But because researchers lack analytical methods to identify nanoplastics in food, they don’t have any data on their occurrence or absorption by humans.
And so the work continues. “We know that there are effects from plastics on animals at nearly all levels of biological organization,” Rochman says. “We know enough to act to reduce plastic pollution from entering the oceans, lakes, and rivers.” Nations can enact bans on certain types of plastic, focusing on those that are the most abundant and problematic. Chemical engineers can formulate polymers that biodegrade. Consumers can eschew single-use plastics. And industry and government can invest in infrastructure to capture and recycle these materials before they reach the water.
IN A DUSTY BASEMENT a short distance from the lab where Magadini works, metal shelves hold jars containing roughly 10,000 preserved mummichogs and banded killifish, trapped over seven years in nearby marshes. Examining each fish for the presence of microplastics is a daunting task, but Magadini and her colleagues are keen to see how levels of exposure have changed over time. Others will painstakingly untangle how microbeads, fibers, and fragments affect these forage fish, the larger fish that consume them, and—ultimately—us.
“I think we’ll know the answers in five to 10 years’ time,” Magadini says.
By then at least another 25 million tons of plastic will have flowed into our seas.
To learn more about this National Geographic article and related plastics sustainability issues, or to get involved in LIVES PER POUND and Ocean/Beach Clean Ups – please contact us at: GearedforGreen – Daniel Schrager, President, GearedforGreen 888-398 (GEAR) 4327 firstname.lastname@example.org, www.gearedforgreen.com