9. All states shall adopt norms and procedures for the production, recovery, and recycling of materials

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Liz Couture, Rapporteur

Industrial companies around the world are not using the most efficient product design procedures, nor the most eco-friendly materials, nor the best “cradle to cradle” recycling opportunities possible and available. Every bit of wasted material translates to excess energy that was used to produce it, which in turn translates to excess carbon emissions if the energy source did not come from renewables.

The solutions to carbon emissions reductions in producing a product should be applied at any point in the life cycle of the product. Organizations such as Rocky Mountain Institute(1) and books like Natural Capitalism(2) have been working on them for decades. In the book DRAWDOWN: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming(3) the most promising solutions are researched and documented. Each solution states how many tons of carbon dioxide emissions will be avoided cumulatively until the year 2050, how much the implementation of the solution would cost, and how much the net savings or benefit would be to the world. Then, all the solutions are ranked considering several criteria, including the ease with which the solution can be implemented, the lesser of the estimated costs to scale it up, or perhaps the greater the savings and benefits achieved—but always with the most important consideration, which is the amount of carbon emissions reduced if the solution is implemented.

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I have heard a number of reports of microorganisms or microorganism-derived compounds which have been discovered to have potential to decompose plastic. Most of the time it appears as if these are studied, though subsequently have limited applications outside of laboratories and test sites. Has anyone heard of large-scale applications of these microorganisms that eat plastic?

Regardless, I would like to share this interesting article with readers of Plank 9 – as it bears relevance to the subject. This article specifically discusses an enzyme – discovered in a compost pile – which breaks the plastic down to building blocks that facilitate recycling of the material into high quality (and food quality) products. Notably, the enzyme can be derived from specific types of fungi.

Title: Scientists Create Mutant Enzyme That Recycles Plastic Bottles In Hours
Author: Carrington, Damian
Publication(s): The Guardian
Date: 8 April 2020
Link: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/08/scientists-create-mutant-enzyme-that-recycles-plastic-bottles-in-hours

Article Excerpt(s):

“A mutant bacterial enzyme that breaks down plastic bottles for recycling in hours has been created by scientists.

The enzyme, originally discovered in a compost heap of leaves, reduced the bottles to chemical building blocks that were then used to make high-quality new bottles. Existing recycling technologies usually produce plastic only good enough for clothing and carpets.

The company behind the breakthrough, Carbios, said it was aiming for industrial-scale recycling within five years. It has partnered with major companies including Pepsi and L’Oréal to accelerate development. Independent experts called the new enzyme a major advance.

Billions of tonnes of plastic waste have polluted the planet, from the Arctic to the deepest ocean trench, and pose a particular risk to sea life. Campaigners say reducing the use of plastic is key, but the company said the strong, lightweight material was very useful and that true recycling was part of the solution.

The new enzyme was revealed in research published on Wednesday in the journal Nature. The work began with the screening of 100,000 micro-organisms for promising candidates, including the leaf compost bug, which was first discovered in 2012.

“It had been completely forgotten, but it turned out to be the best,” said Prof Alain Marty at the Université de Toulouse, France, the chief science officer at Carbios.

The scientists analysed the enzyme and introduced mutations to improve its ability to break down the PET plastic from which drinks bottles are made. They also made it stable at 72C, close to the perfect temperature for fast degradation.

The team used the optimised enzyme to break down a tonne of waste plastic bottles, which were 90% degraded within 10 hours. The scientists then used the material to create new food-grade plastic bottles.

Carbios has a deal with the biotechnology company Novozymes to produce the new enzyme at scale using fungi. It said the cost of the enzyme was just 4% of the cost of virgin plastic made from oil.

Waste bottles also have to be ground up and heated before the enzyme is added, so the recycled PET will be more expensive than virgin plastic. But Martin Stephan, the deputy chief executive at Carbios, said existing lower-quality recycled plastic sells at a premium due to a shortage of supply.

“We are the first company to bring this technology on the market,” said Stephan. “Our goal is to be up and running by 2024, 2025, at large industrial scale.”

He said a reduction in plastic use was one part of solving the waste problem. “But we all know that plastic brings a lot of value to society, in food, medical care, transportation. The problem is plastic waste.” Increasing the collection of plastic waste was key, Stephan said, with about half of all plastic ending up in the environment or in landfill.

Another team of scientists revealed in 2018 that they had accidentally created an enzyme that breaks down plastic drinks bottles. One of the team behind this advance, Prof John McGeehan, the director of the Centre for Enzyme Innovation at the University of Portsmouth, said Carbios was the leading company engineering enzymes to break down PET at large scale and that the new work was a major advance.

“It makes the possibility of true industrial-scale biological recycling of PET a possibility. This is a very large advance in terms of speed, efficiency and heat tolerance,” McGeehan said. “It represents a significant step forward for true circular recycling of PET and has the potential to reduce our reliance on oil, cut carbon emissions and energy use, and incentivise the collection and recycling of waste plastic.”

Scientists are also making progress in finding biological ways to break down other major types of plastic. In March, German researchers revealed a bug that feasts on toxic polyurethane, while earlier work has shown that wax moth larvae – usually bred as fish bait – can eat up polythene bags.”

Check out this interesting initiative in Rothesay, New Brunswick to re-use plastic bags.

Title: Rothesay woman crochets plastic bags together to make sleeping mats for homeless
Author: Semerad, Elke
Date: 10 February 2020
News Agency: CBC New Brunswick
Link: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/plastic-mats-bags-homelessness-1.5457934

Article Excerpt:

“”Renee Outhouse is crocheting plastic sleeping mats for people who are homeless, just as Fundy Region Solid Waste plans to stop accepting plastic bags for recycling beginning in March.”

[…]

“The mats will be about a metre wide and two metres long.

Because the mats are made of plastic, fleas or bedbugs won’t nest in them, Outhouse said. The mats would melt if exposed to fire, however.””

Wgat a nutty form of charity! Wouldnt you do better spending your time working on a campaign to ensure that everyone has a place to live?

This recycling morality may be running its course. People feel virtuous doing it, but from everything I read about its effectiveness, it may not be worth the effort. Anyway there seems to be no way to make it a profitable business. A lot of stuff goes to landfill sites in the end, and some countries were even shipping their debris over to other countries, until finally China, and maybe other recipient countries, refused to accept it. So what is left to do with our materialistic residue? I don’t know. Stop buying things? But we won’t. (Tell the truth: Will you?)

Okay, so my question is naive, but I still want to know. Whatever I read about recycling says it is not very helpful. It takes a lot of labor to process it, and a lot of the stuff gets sent to the landfill anyway. And there are other arguments that I haven’t followed closely. But then why not just burn it? Isn’t a big incinerator better than a landfill? Especially if we use the heat for some useful purpose– either to heat something that needs it, or as a source of energy.

There must be a good, reasonable answer or else we would be burning our trash. But I haven’t heard it. Can anyone explain? Thanks.

It’s quite safe to assume that, had the (central B.C., August 4, 2014) Mount Polley copper and gold mine massive tailings pond release of a slurry of years’ worth of waste into Polley Lake—yet for which there were no B.C.-environmental-law charges laid against Imperial Metals regardless of its clear recklessness—been located in plain sight just off of, say, Vancouver’s scenic attraction Stanley Park instead of in a region of natural wilderness, it would not have received the relatively minute mainstream news-media coverage it has to date.
According to an unsigned editorial printed in The Surrey Now-Leader just before Earth Day 2017, “some people would argue that [the day of environmental action] … is an anachronism”, that it should instead be a day of recognizing what we’ve societally accomplished. “And while it [has] served us well, in 2017, do we really need Earth Day anymore?” (Varied lengths of the same editorial, titled “Earth Day in need of a facelift”, were also printed in sister-papers The Langley Times, Chilliwack Progress and Peace Arch News, though it was also run by other B.C. community newspapers, under the ownership of aspiring oil-refiner David Black.) Though in my lifetime I’ve never heard anyone suggest we’re doing so well as to render Earth Day an unneeded “anachronism”, considering the sorry state of the planet’s natural environment, it was the most irresponsible form of editorial journalism I’ve yet seen in my 32 years of newspaper consumption. For, although some readers may dismiss it as just another opinion, there are many readers (as I once was) who may take such unsigned editorials as a seriously considered and balanced argument.

It doesn’t surprise me, as general human mentality collectively allows us to, amongst other forms of blatant pollution, throw non-biodegradables down a dark chute like we’re safely dispensing it into a black-hole singularity to disappear into nothing.
And then there’s the astonishing short-sighted selfishness. I observed this last year when a Global TV news reporter randomly asked a young Vancouver man wearing sunglasses what he thought of government restrictions on disposable plastic straws. “It’s like we’re living in a nanny state, always telling me what I can’t do,” he recklessly retorted.
Astonished by his shortsighted little-boy selfishness, I wondered whether he’d be the same sort of individual who’d likely have a sufficiently grand sense of entitlement—i.e. ‘Like, don’t tell me what I can’t waste or do, dude!’—to permit himself to now, say, deliberately dump a whole box of unused straws into the Georgia Strait, just to stick it to the authorities who’d dare tell him that enough is enough with our gratuitous massive dumps of plastics into our oceans (which are of course unable to defend themselves against such guys seemingly asserting self-granted sovereignty over the natural environment), so he could figuratively middle-finger any new government rules with a closing, ‘There! How d’ya like that, pal!’
No wonder so much gratuitous plastic waste eventually finds its way into our life-filled oceans, where there are few, if any, caring souls to see it.

There have been several alarming articles in Canadian media over the past week or so around the exportation of Canadian waste products to other countries due to a limited capacity and limited industry here in Canada. Several alarms were raised previously – in early 2019 – around this trend – though it is being re-examined in September 2019.

Of note are the following articles:

“We don’t want to be the next cancer village” CBC news 27 September 2019: Link: https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/plastics-recycling-waste-overseas-marketplace-1.5292512

and this Marketplace CBC Examination: https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/marketplace-recycling-trackers-b-c-blue-box-1.5299176

I am curious if the Swedish model of trash incineration could be used in Canada. “Sweden imports around 1.3 million tonnes of rubbish each year, most of it from Norway and the UK, and has long been hailed for its efficiency in handling waste. Only one percent of waste produced in Sweden ever reaches landfill, with the remaining 99 percent recycled, reused, or converted into energy.” However – from my understanding – the ash produced from incinerating these products is incredibly toxic and requires special containment measures and programs to handle it.

Link: https://www.thelocal.se/20181026/sweden-waste-management-importing-waste-incineration

Australia recently banned the exportation of waste products – could Canada undertake a similar initiative?

Did you know garbage bags are a Canadian invention circa. 1950s? Perhaps there is increased research and development potential here. For many years – they were manufactured in my hometown – among other locations – though the City of Kawartha Lakes recently banned black garbage bags in hopes of reducing trash output and promote increased recycling rates (clear bags = ease of identifying recycling materials in garbage; etc.). Residents are allowed one small opaque bag per trash collection cycle.

https://www.cbc.ca/2017/canadians-invented-the-garbage-bag-can-we-solve-the-mess-they-made-1.4024908

“A pilot project in Whitby, Ont., is using technology to give plastic waste a second life by turning it into diesel fuel and gasoline.

The technology, dubbed the Phoenix, can convert single-use items like plastic bags and Styrofoam — items that would otherwise end up in landfill.

John O’Bireck, president of energy investment company Sparta Group, says he sees plastic “as a resource, not a scourge.”

He says the fuel produced by Phoenix is already being used in his company’s fleet of trucks that transport industrial waste. “Five tonnes of plastic can be converted into about 4,000 litres. And 4,000 litres can drive our whole fleet of 10 vehicles back and forth every day running 16 hours a day.”

O’Bireck says Phoenix uses a process involving pyrolysis — using heat to bring about decomposition — to upcycle plastics that can’t go into the recycling stream.”

Currently, about 45% of the world’s steel production comes from recycled metal, along with about one third of the world’s aluminum and over 40% of the world’s copper. In 2014, approximately 135 million metric tons of scrap metal was recycled in the United States alone.

Everyone is focused on plastic recycling now. I saw a clear plastic bottle the other day that is 45% made from plant material. It looked like any other water bottle. A bit flexible.
The really interesting invention is that place in Arizona or some nearby SW state where they have built a set of buildings out in the desert made largely from old tires. They pile the tires up, put something in them (dirt or is it concrete?) and that is their wall. Terrific insulation. Very thick. I bet the acoustics are good too.

A triumphant recycler!