The cost of plastic packaging

Read the full story in Chemical & Engineering News.

Plastic packaging is taking over the supermarket, enveloping almost every food product we buy. Environmental activists say the material is causing the planet huge environmental damage and that the chemical industry should do more to make packaging easier to recycle. Industry acknowledges a need to improve but says it is combating an even bigger environmental challenge, food waste. C&EN’s cover story this week looks at this contentious debate, including ways in which the two sides are edging closer together.

IJC seeks input on binational approach to address microplastic pollution entering the Great Lakes

The International Joint Commission (IJC) invites public comment on its Preliminary Recommendations on Microplastics in the Great Lakes for binational, science, policy, and education solutions to microplastic pollution. Members of the public are invited to provide comments either online or by email at or until November 10, 2016.

Microplastics can enter the Great Lakes in multiple forms and through multiple pathways, including wastewater, manufacturing processes and runoff. They may enter the lakes as already-small debris such as plastic microbeads from cosmetics, pre-production pellets and waste from manufacturing processes, and microfibers shed from plastic-based textiles, or through larger plastic pollution like straws or bags that break down into smaller plastic particles. When microplastics enter the lakes they can be ingested by fish and other aquatic animals. These particles can harm aquatic species and can potentially be passed on to the humans who consume them.

The IJC acknowledges microplastics as a potentially significant threat to the Great Lakes ecosystem and human health, and the proposed recommendations reflect the significant knowledge gaps and need for further information to address causes and impacts of microplastics. The IJC’s four recommendations:

  • encourage a binational pollution prevention plan utilizing multiple approaches and tools,
  • propose developing science-based, standardized, binational monitoring and research into product lifecycles, human and ecological health impacts, and best prevention practices,
  • advise governments to examine, promote, and support pollution reduction and prevention programs that are existing and effective, and
  • advocate funding support for local education and outreach programs and organizations focused on pollution reduction and prevention.

“Microplastic pollution in the Great Lakes can no longer be an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ issue. The good news is that microplastic pollution is wholly preventable, and the recommendations developed here are reasonably attainable,” said Gordon Walker, chair of the IJC’s Canadian Section.

“For once Canada and the US have the opportunity to take preventive action rather than responding after an issue has caused major ecosystem damage. The Commission is seeking feedback from the public and private sector to put forward sound, preventive recommendations,” said Lana Pollack, chair of the IJC’s US Section.

These four preliminary recommendations are based on the Commission’s consideration of findings and recommendations developed during a workshop of experts representing a broad range of sectors. The expert workshop was convened by the Commission in April 2016 and the final workshop report can be accessed online at Microplastics in the Great Lakes Workshop Report.

The Commission is interested in public comments on the recommendations generally and that respond to the following questions:

  1. Are the recommendations sound?
  2. Are any important considerations overlooked?
  3. Are there relevant examples from your community or business to consider?

The public’s input will be used in developing final recommendations to the Canadian and US governments.


Michael Toope

Frank Bevacqua

Sally Cole-Misch

Not all bioplastics are created equal

Read the full story from the University of Minnesota.

Conventional plastics are seen as environmentally unfriendly because they’re made from fossil fuels. As plastic production grows — it’s expected to double over the next 20 years — plant-derived polyethylene terephthalate (BioPET) has been touted as a more environmentally friendly alternative to PET, a plastic primarily used in beverage bottles. But a University of Minnesota study published in July in the Journal of Cleaner Production suggests that’s not always the case.

Trash-devouring ‘sharks’ patrol the Port of Rotterdam

Read the full story from Mother Nature Network.

Rotterdam, the innovation-minded Dutch city that relies on the unexpected and the unorthodox to tackle issues such as aging infrastructure and air pollution, is at it once again.

This city’s newest left-field problem-solving scheme involves the deployment of four particularly ravenous sharks to clean up the waters surrounding the city’s sprawling seaport — the largest and busiest in Europe. True to their given status as one of ocean’s most opportunistic feeders, the sharks in question have been “trained” to gobble up marine litter and debris — plastic refuse, in particular — before it drifts out of the port and into the North Sea.

90 NGOs Asking the World to #BreakFreeFromPlastic

Read the full story at Sustainable Brands.

A network of 90 NGOs from around the world including big names such as Greenpeace, Oceana, the Story of Stuff Project, GAIA, 5Gyres and Clean Water Action have come together to launch a massive global movement to achieve a “future free from plastic pollution.” Under the banner Break Free From Plastic, the group aims to change society’s perception and use of plastics, as well as identify and pursue solutions that reduce and prevent plastic pollution.

A car made from tequila? Ford Motor Co says it’s good for the planet

Read the full story in The Guardian.

When you put tequila and cars side-by-side, the story doesn’t usually end well. But Ford is trying to change the narrative.

The car manufacturer has plans to introduce a new kind of plastic for some of its automobile parts using waste material generated by Jose Cuervo, the tequila manufacturer. Tequila is made by juicing the heart of an agave plant, a spiky desert succulent with a core composed of very strong fibers. These fibers are left over during the juicing process, and are usually thrown away or burned.

Now, Ford hopes to use these agave fibers to create a so-called bioplastic to replace synthetic materials, such as fiberglass, which are used to strengthen plastic components in cars – things such as storage bins, air-conditioning ducts and fuse boxes.