BioCycle October 2018
“Infatuation With Single-Use Convenience”
California Governor Jerry Brown signed three bills on September 20 to address the public health and environmental threat posed by plastic pollution and waste. “Plastic has helped advance innovation in our society, but our infatuation with single-use convenience has led to disastrous consequences,” said Gov. Brown. “Plastics in all forms — straws, bottles, packaging, bags, etc. — are choking our planet.” AB 1884 requires restaurants to offer straws only upon request. SB 1263 directs the California Ocean Protection Council to develop a Statewide Microplastics Strategy.
SB 1335 phases out takeout food packaging that is not widely recycled or composted, has toxic ingredients, makes up a significant portion of pollution in public spaces, or substantial negative impacts on wildlife from being used at state facilities, including state parks, beaches, colleges, office buildings, and fairgrounds. It requires reusable, recyclable, or compostable takeout food packaging at these state facilities. “California will set a positive example by showing the world that it’s possible to switch from environmentally damaging food packaging to sustainable alternatives,” said Senator Ben Allen. “Our new policy will help lead the way to widespread availability and acceptance of to-go food containers that are affordable, recyclable, compostable and non-toxic.”
Food Crop Wastes Into Fiber
Circular Systems S.P.C. (Social Purpose Corporation) is a materials science company focusing on converting agricultural, industrial and postconsumer wastes such as banana trunks, pineapple leaves, sugarcane bark, and stems of oilseed hemp and flax plants into high value textile fibers for the fashion industry. The company has spent the past 20 years creating a low impact production process — the Agraloop Bio-Refinery — that generates food-crop fiber out of these plant wastes remaining after harvesting. Circular Systems S.P.C. was the first place winner of the 2018 Global Change Award, which recognizes the most exciting sustainable fashion developments, at a ceremony in Stockholm. It received a $350,000 grant from the H&M Foundation, after being selected from among 2,600 applicants.
Food Loss And Waste Issue Paper
“Food Loss and Waste,” a paper in the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) series on The Need for Agricultural Innovation to Sustainably Feed the World by 2050, was released in late September. Led by Task Force Chair Zhengxia Dou of the University of Pennsylvania, the authors of this issue paper (including BioCycle Editor Nora Goldstein) provide a critical overview of the United States’ food loss and waste (FLW) through an objective, balanced, and data-proven approach. Research on this specific topic presented a few challenges as no single comprehensive estimate of FLW data exists in the United States; however, work completed in this area provides important information and insights helpful to understanding the problems, challenges, and directions for significant solutions.
“Food Loss And Waste” addresses the subject by examining these key topics: Describes the magnitude of the problem; Discusses the three fundamental resources for primary food production; Draws attention to why FLW occurs based on the interacting influence of psychological, social, cultural, and economic factors; Describes major actions that are being taken across the nation to decrease FLW; Observes existing data on the quantity of food waste prevention, recovery, and recycling; Presents an interpretative and critical analysis concerning the United States’ reduction goal, possible technological innovations, and the influence of consumer food behaviors.
Looking ahead, notes the paper, feeding 9 billion people cannot be addressed by pushing for greater production alone; sustainable consumption and decreasing food waste must be incorporated into the food security and sustainability agenda. Wasting less to feed more offers multifaceted benefits of combating hunger, enhancing food availability, improving resilience of food systems, and strengthening resource and environmental performance.
The authors conclude the following: “Substantially decreasing food waste is attainable. Opportunities exist throughout the supply chain. Meaningful progress can be made household to household, business to business, and step by step, as long as people are willing to take actions to change wasteful lifestyles and society enables such change with necessary support in terms of policy, research, innovation, and technology development.”
3-D Printing From Food Scraps
Graduates from Canada’s University of Toronto Scarborough have developed a process to make 3-D printing materials from food scraps. They launched Genecis, a start-up, which “uses biology to convert organic waste into higher value materials,” Luna Yu, founder and CEO of Genecis, told Digital Trends. “The first product line is PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoates) biopolymers, which is used in combination with PLA to make 3D printing filaments. It is also used to make high-end flexible packaging and containers.” The end product is 100 percent biodegradable, and can be mixed with a variety of colors. The core of Genecis’ technology involves what Yu describes as “special recipes of bacteria.”
Global Waste To Grow By 70 Percent By 2050
Without urgent action, global waste will increase by 70 percent above current levels by 2050, according to a new report from the World Bank, “What a Waste 2.0: A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050.” Global annual waste generation is expected to jump to 3.4 billion metric tons over the next 30 years, up from 2.01 billion metric tons in 2016. Although they only account for 16 percent of the world’s population, high-income countries combined are generating more 34 percent of the world’s waste. The East Asia and Pacific region is responsible for generating 23 percent. And by 2050, waste generation in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to more than triple from current levels, while South Asia will more than double its waste stream. Plastics are especially problematic. In 2016, the world generated 242 million metric tons of plastic waste, or 12 percent of all solid waste, according to the report.
What a Waste 2.0 stresses that solid waste management is critical for sustainable, healthy, and inclusive cities and communities, yet it is often overlooked, particularly in low-income countries. While more than one-third of waste in high-income countries is recovered through recycling and composting, only 4 percent of waste in low-income countries is recycled. Based on the volume of waste generated, its composition, and how the waste is being managed, it is estimated that 1.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent were generated from the treatment and disposal of waste in 2016 — representing about 5 percent of global emissions.
International zero waste (ZW) organizations, including Zero Waste Europe and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), emphasize the importance of deploying zero waste strategies to address the situation. “Solving the waste problem starts with the shift away from business-as-usual waste treatment systems,” states Joan Marc Simon, Executive Director of Zero Waste Europe. “By doing this, and adopting ZW resource management systems, our members have led the way to meaningful waste reduction in their communities and cities through policy advocacy, citizen engagement, corporate accountability and design innovation.” One example is the city of Roubaix in France where 25 percent of households participating in the ZW pilot were able to reduce their waste generation by over 80 percent; 70 percent reduced their waste by 50 percent.
“Zero waste systems that are decentralized, regionally appropriate, and community-led are proven solutions that are working successfully to reduce waste volumes not only in Europe but also in Asia, ” says Froilan Grate, Executive Director of GAIA Philippines, noting that a city’s transition to ZW costs considerably less than industrial waste management approaches and can take as little as two years to set up. For example, one ZW project in the Philippines averages at $2.30/person/year. GAIA has estimated that an initial influx of $30 million could provide ZW programs for the entire Metro Manila area over two years, after which the capital would be paid back using the dramatic savings over current waste management expenditures, paving the way for further investment in ZW systems.
Cities Pledge To Advance Zero Waste
The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group announced that 23 cities and regions in its network signed C40’s Advancing Towards Zero Waste Declaration, pledging to cut the amount of waste generated by their citizens 15 percent by 2030, reduce the amount sent to landfills and incinerators by 50 percent, and increase the diversion rate to 70 percent by 2030. The 150 million citizens that live in the 23 cities and regions are accelerating the transition to a zero-waste future and will avoid the disposal of at least 87 million tons of waste by 2030. “Waste management is one of the primary services that city governments provide and is a sector over which mayors exercise significant authority,” states C40, adding that global waste generation is increasing faster than any other environmental pollutant. “The International Solid Waste Association estimates that when all waste management actions, including disposal, recycling, composting and treatment, are considered, the waste sector could cut 10 to 15 percent of GHG emissions globally. When actions to reduce waste generation are also taken into account, the sector could reduce up to 20 percent of the global emissions.”
To achieve the targets, the 23 cities commit to implementing actions such as: Reduce food losses and wasting of food at the retail and consumer levels by decreasing losses along production and supply chains, minimizing production of surplus food, and facilitating safe food donation and by-products for feed production; Implement source separated collection for food scraps and other organics and treatment infrastructure that recovers nutrients, energy and contributes to the restoration of carbon storage capacity in soils; and Support the implementation of local and regional policies, such as extended producer responsibility and sustainable procurement, to reduce or ban single-use and nonrecyclable plastics and other materials, while also improving goods reparability and recyclability. Cities also committed to publicly report every two years on their progress towards achieving the waste reduction goals.
Stand With Forests
A new report released in September by the Dogwood Alliance and authored by Sam L. Davis, explains the science behind why forests are crucial to mitigating the worst impacts of climate change, and how it may be impossible to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement without new protections in place. Seeing the Forest: Nature’s Solution to Climate Change, demonstrates that trees are not only essential in preventing carbon from being released into the atmosphere, but that burning wood for electricity actually releases up to 50 percent more carbon dioxide than burning coal per unit of electricity — a fact often overlooked in the conversations about solutions to climate change, which focus primarily on reducing emissions from fossil fuels, notes Davis.
Coinciding with release of Seeing The Forest, over 200 organizations, scientists and elected officials issued a new “Stand4Forests Platform,” urging decision-makers to “put forest protection in the U.S. on the forefront of the national climate agenda by taking the following steps: “Change the way we calculate greenhouse gas emissions to include logging; Stop clearcutting our most important natural facilitators of carbon storage; and Invest in communities most impacted by climate change and the logging industry.”
According to Seeing The Forest, “if we stop deforestation, protect and restore degraded forests, and expand forests, we could reduce annual emissions by 75 percent in the next 50 years. If we also phase out fossil fuels, we could easily meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and avoid catastrophic climate change. … Forests are one of the best ways we have to keep carbon out of the atmosphere, especially older trees, because each year they absorb carbon and store it in their roots, leaves, and wood. We need to improve, restore, and protect our forests across the planet.
“The climate crisis is not insurmountable. We already have an accounting system that tells us how much extra carbon is entering the atmosphere. By current calculations, we are releasing about 9 billion metric tons (MT) of carbon into the atmosphere each year, and our oceans and forests store about 5 billion MT of that carbon each year. We have 4 billion MT more in the atmosphere than the earth can currently store.”
Stopping forest degradation and deforestation can result in 1 billion MT of excess carbon; restoring and reforesting degraded natural areas can achieve 2 billion MT reduction. “By this, of course, we mean natural reforestation — not planting industrial pine plantations or non-native species such as eucalyptus. Any reforestation that occurs needs to be permanent and focused on replenishing natural, old-growth forests,” explains Davis. The final 1 billion MT of carbon would come from a reduction in fossil fuel emissions “by at least 13 percent.”
Way More Waste Disposed
A study published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology (March 30, 2018) calculated that the amount of municipal solid waste disposed in landfills in the U.S. is significantly greater than computed by U.S. government estimates. The researchers, Jon T. Powell and Marian R. Chertow at Yale University, utilized a detailed model characterizing landfilled MSW in the U.S. across the dimensions of material quantity, quality, location, and time. Their paper, “Quantity, Components, and Value Of Waste Materials Landfilled in the United States,” explains that the model “triangulates measurements spanning 1,161 landfills (representing up to 95% of landfilled MSW) and 15,169 solid waste samples collected and analyzed at 222 sites across the United States. We confirm that landfilled quantities of paper (63 million megagrams [Mg]), food waste (35 million Mg), plastic (32 million Mg, textiles (10 million Mg), and electronic waste (3.5 million Mg) are far larger than computed by previous top-down U.S. government estimates. We estimate the cost of MSW landfill disposal in 2015 (10.7 billion U.S. dollars [USD]) and gross lost commodity value of recyclable material (1.4 billion USD). Further, we estimate landfill methane emissions to be up to 14% greater (mass basis) than the 2015 U.S. inventory.
“By principally relying on measurements of waste quantity and type that are recorded annually, the model can inform more effective, targeted interventions to divert waste materials from landfill disposal, improve local, regional, and national emission estimates, enhance dissipative loss estimates in material flow analyses, and illuminate the dynamics linking material, energy, and economic dimensions to production, consumption, and disposal cycles.”
Austin Restaurants Can’t Throw Away Food
Starting October 1, restaurants in the City of Austin are required to donate or compost all organic material, which includes everything from dirty paper towels to leftover meals. This is part of Austin’s Universal Recycling Ordinance, which aims is to reach “zero waste” by 2020. The ordinance also requires grocery stores, bars, and farmer’s markets to comply with the same no-landfill policy. The city has gradually phased in these “organic diversion requirements,” but Oct. 1, 2018, was the day by which all businesses had to comply. Businesses that don’t comply face up to a $2,000 fine each day, according to thetakeout.com. The ordinance requires signs, employee training, as well as annual reporting from each food service business that states they are in compliance. The city explains using excess food to feed hungry people is the preferred option for “organics diversion,” and lists resources for restaurants that want to donate their excess food to soup kitchens or pantries. It also provides online resources so donors can receive tax deductions.