Hey guys,

Soooo my friend from the Ocean Conservancy sent me an article, which describes the assumptions I made in my last post re: plastic ocean debris remaining constant since the early 1990s, regardless of increased production, consumption, and disposal in the subsequent decades.

Real quick I think it is important to be transparent with my biases: I represent a plastics manufacture, so of course I am going to be looking at the tragedy of ocean debris from a different perspective; that is, one that looks to highlight the complexities involved and not scapegoat the problem onto an inanimate object, like plastic bags. That being said, I am a human, and one who is very emotionally tied to the state of the environment: Like you I hate seeing photos of decaying Albatrosses with plastic bits in their bodies; I hate the idea that the chemicals used in some plastics, like flexible PVC, may leach into our bodies and environment and have human health ecological consequences over time; and, I hate that plastics represent both our mastery over nature AND our materialistic, disposable culture. That being said, plastics exist in such prevalence in society because of their versatility and economics; the feedstocks of which are synthesized from “waste” products resulting from the oil refinery process. But before I get all hot to trot on my plastics crusade, I do want to emphasize that the TRUTH will always trump my predisposition to highlight plastics’ positives. If I genuinely felt that plastics, as this blog would have it, are “…cheap, nasty and toxic,” I would find another job. My degree in Ethics and Social Justice has provided me with the tools to analyze all arguments, arriving at a conclusion supported by verifiable facts; consequently, I approach all the plastics hot-button topics, be it material health, ocean debris, it’s non-renewable feedstock, etc., with the same due diligence and attention to detail I would approach any academic inquiry.

Sorry for getting on my intellectual soapbox. I have just been bombarded as of recent with more of the same; that is, sensationalist blogs and press describing all humanity’s fate as contingent on the eradication of single-use, disposal plastic products.

SO let us turn our attention to one such sensationalist press, referenced in my last post. In this Plastics News article the reporter postulates that the study in question, (which I have yet to read), demonstrates substantially increasing concentration of plastics in the ocean due to the increase of plastic pieces discovered in seabirds. While the idea of sea-life ingesting plastic ocean debris is super depressing, what I find fault with is the statement that “The new data indicates a substantial increase in plastic pollution over the past few decades, according to the report.” And here is why:

As per the report Plastic Accumulation in the North
Atlantic Subtropical Gyre
(www.sciencemag.org, Science Vol. 329, Sept. 3rd 2010), “Despite a rapid increase in plastic production and disposal during this time period [1986-2008], no trend in plastic concentration was observed in the region of highest accumulation” (Moret-Ferguson et al., p. 1185).

But let me back up a bit. Here are the parameters of the study:

• Study motivation: “Plastic marine pollution is a major environmental concern, yet a quantitative description of the scope of the problem in the ocean is lacking.”
• This study looks to “present a time series of plastic content at the surface of the western North Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea from 1986-2008.”
• “More than 60% of 6136 surface plankton net tows collected buoyant plastic pieces, typically millimeters in size.”
• “The highest concentration of plastic debris was observed in subtropical latitudes and associated with the observed large-scale convergence of surface currents predicted by Ekman dynamics.”

And here is the Report’s main take-aways:

• “In the open ocean, the abundance, distribution, and temporal and spacial variability of plastic debris are poorly known, despite an increasing awareness of the problem.”
• “While the convergence acts to concentrate floating debris, the geographical origin of the debris cannot be easily determined from current patterns or from the recovered plastic samples themselves.”
• “Although the average concentration in this region did show a statistically increase from the 1990s to 2000s, this increase disappeared when concentrations greater than 200,000 pieces were removed.”
o “To address a potential sampling bias, the analysis was also performed with data from the most spatially consistent, annually repeatable cruise track from Woods Hole, Massachusetts, to St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. In this case, a weak but not statistically significant decreasing trend was observed in the high plastic concentration region.”
• “Although the nonuniform sampling in this data set cannot resolve short spatial or temporal scale variability, no robust trend was observed in the broadest region of plastic accumulation on interannual time scales and longer.”
• “Although no direct estimates of plastic input in the ocean exists, the increase in global production of plastic materials [fivefold increase from 1976 to 2008] together with the increase in discarded plastics in the MSW stream suggest that the land-based source of plastic into the ocean increased during the study period. Ocean-based sources may have decreased in response to international regulations prohibiting dumping of plastic at sea.”
• “Industrial raw pellets, the ‘raw material’ of consumer plastic products, are an additional source of plastic in the ocean. In 1991, in response to an EPA study, the plastics industries voluntarily instituted a program to prevent or recapture spilled pellets. Between 1986 and 2008, we observed a statistically significant decrease in the average concentration of resin pellets in the entire region sampled…This trend suggests that efforts to reduce plastic input at a land-based source may be measurable effective.”
• “The fate of plastic particles that become dense enough to sink below the sea surface is unknown, and we are unaware of any studies of seafloor microplastics offshore of the continental shelf. However, analysis of particular trap data in the center of the high plastic region near Bermuda shows no evidence of plastic as a substantial contributor to sinking material at depths of 500 to 3200 m.”
• “A study of plastic microdebris in waters from the British Isles to Island revealed a statistically significant increase in plastic abundance from the 1960s and 1970s to the 1980s and 1990s. However, similar to this study, no significant increase was observed between the later decades despite a large increase in plastic production and disposal.”

I URGE you to read the article in its entirety; download it here.

Science Magazine, Vol 3, Sept 3rd, 2010

So what does all this mean? It means there is no floating plastic island the size of Texas; it means we have limited insight into the amount of plastics in the ocean, how it got there, and where it goes, aside from marine ingestion and the buoyant pieces observed in the studies above. It means that plastics in the ocean could be in large part the result of plastic dumping at sea, which became illegal in the early 1990s. It means that the plastics industry has been proactive with this issue, implementing a program that dramatically reduced the amount of plastic pellets observed in the ocean. And, it means that CONSUMERS continue to scapegoat their irresponsible behavior i.e. littering, on the mythical plastic beast, without which, most of the conveniences we have come to depend on, wouldn’t exist.

And scene.

Check out this Real Clear Science article, which was published a couple days after this post; it is in dialogue with all the same themes discussed above.

WOW! As per my last post I was hoping my friend from Algix would get back to me with a more technical discussion of the company’s technology synthesizing bio plastics from algae and BOY HOWDY did I! Check out the awesome responses below.

QUESTION:

Please describe the relationship between textile manufacturers/dairy producers and algae. In other words, how does algae become a waste product of these industries’ process and how is it ideal for manipulation into bio-based plastics?

ANSWER:

Many types of algae and aquatic plants have been used for cleaning waters rich in inorganic nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus compounds. The high nutrient content accelerates the growth rates and increases the protein content of a variety of “nuisance” algae and aquatic plants or “aquatic macrophytes”. The enormous “algal blooms” are seen as not only a nuisance but an environmental hazard due to the oxygen demand the algal cells require during night time respiration which can suffocate fish and other animals if the excess nutrients run off or leach into nearby water bodies. Many industries produce large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus-rich waste-water, such as the agricultural livestock farms, i.e. dairies and swineries, fisheries, etc; as well as industrial sources such as processing plants for textiles, municipalities, distilleries, biorefineries, etc.

ALGIX, LLC is located in Georgia, hence we are focusing our efforts on industries in the southeast where we have longer growing seasons, a warmer climate and an abundance of water compared to north or southwest. The “Carpet Capital of the World” is located in Dalton, Georgia, which has over 150 carpet plants which produce millions of gallons of nutrient rich waste water. Research conducted at the University of Georgia, has demonstrated high growth rates from various strains of algae and isolated top performing microalgae strains for further development. ALGIX is in discussions with companies there to scale up biomass production and use cultivated algae as a bio-additive in their polymer containing flooring products. Likewise, we are also talking to a variety of compounders that can co-process and blend the aquatic biomass with other base resins, such as PE, PP EVA, PLA, PHA, etc. As product development progresses, various end use applications for algae-blended thermoplastics and bioplastics will arise, which will increase the demand for the raw aquatic feedstocks. The advantage is that industries can effectively capture their lowest-value waste product, i.e. nitrates and phosphates, through bioremediation using algae and aquatic macrophytes. Photosynthesis captures solar energy and converts the waste water nutrients into biomass which can then be used as a raw material for composite formulations to make resins and bioplastics.

As the demand for algal biomass increases, there will be an incentive for other industrial plants to build out algae based water treatment systems and sell the biomass. Livestock operations such as Dairies, Fisheries, etc located in the southeast and southwest can use algae to treat their manure effluents and provide additional biomass to the market. We are in discussions with large dairies companies for building out algal ponds for water treatment and biomass recovery. Over time the aquatic biomass will become a commodity product traded like other traditional agricultural crops. Currently, large amounts of corn are being diverted from food production and enter biofuel or bioplastic production. Thereby, introducing a new, low-Eco footprint biofeedstock will help alleviate the demand on food based crops for plastics and liquid fuel conversion.

QUESTION:

How is post-industrial algae synthesized into bio-based plastics? In other words, how is the protein in algae bound to the plastic components to allow for application to injection molding? What additives are required to allow for the synthesis OR used to increase the properties of the material? I remember discussions of protein-based materials (cellulous) vs. carbon-based (bio-PET) and how the former “connects” to the plastic molecule similar to how the calcium carbonate connects to the PP polymer, for example.

ANSWER:

Algae produced from wastewater treatment has been grown under nitrogen rich conditions, providing an abundance of nitrogen to make protein. During exponential growth phases in algae and aquatic plants, the composition of the biomass is dominated by protein, in the range of 30-60% depending on species. The higher protein content algae or post processed meals may have 50% or more protein which is similar to soy protein meal. Although some companies have announced efforts to refine the algal oils or ferment into ethanol, these approaches require additional refining for synthesizing into “bio-based” monomers and polymers identical to their petroleum counterpart, such as Bio-PET, or bio-polyethylene, etc.

The protein in the biomass is what our process uses as the “polymeric” material in the blends. Proteins, by definition, are polymer chains of amino acids, which offer a variety of hydrophobic and hydrophillic interactions based upon the amino acid profile. Through thermomechanical processing, such as twin screw extrusion, the heat and shear forces exerted on the native protein complexes force them to denature and unfold providing a network of elongated polymer-like threads when blended with a base resin. The proteins have hydroxl groups available that can hydrogen bond and covalently bond in the presence of polar side groups on polymer chains as well as maleated chemical interactions. By adding conventional coupling agents, tensile strength and moisture absorption can be significantly improved.

The remaining portion of the non-protein biomass is usually composed of carbohydrates such as cellulose, hemicellulose, polysaccharides, but have little to no lignin. The crude fiber portion of the biomass has been shown to act like a reinforcing agent, increasing stiffness and tensile strength, but reduces elongation. The Ash fractions can range from 10-30% depending on cultivation method, however we believe the ash or minerals, will behave like a mineral filler, similar to calcium carbonate as it will be homogeneously blended throughout the matrix along with the biomass. Algae grown for bioremediation generally have a low lipid content, around 10% or less, and in cases where algae is being grown for biofuels, with high oil contents, the oil will be extracted leaving a protein-rich post extracted meal which will be well suited for compounding. Other value added compounds, such as high value pigments and antioxidants may also be extracted which will help in being able to modify the plastic color from dark green or brown to a lighter color which is easier to mask with color additives. Biomass particle size is also an important variable and needs to be optimized depending on conversion technology and application.

We have been successful compounding algae blends with some base resins up to 70% bio, however the majority of our formulations used in injection molding are set at a 50/50 blend which provides stronger performance characteristics. However, pure 100% algae dogbones have been made under compression molding, but do not have the performance properties compared to the injection molded blends.

QUESTION:

What is the preferred end-of-life treatment of this unique bio-based plastic? Is it similar to the approach taken by PLA supplier NatureWorks, which looks to generate the quantity necessary to sustain the creation of a new closed-loop recycling process in which PLA would be recycled in its own post-consumer stream?

ANSWER:

In the case that Algae is compounded with biodegradable base resins such as PLA, PHA, PHB, TPS, PBAT, and others, the final bioplastic will have the same or higher degree of biodegradability. Since we are dealing with biomass, the algae component is consumable by microbes, and the slight hydrophillic nature of the resin allows water to penetrate and accelerate the biodegradation process under the proper composting conditions. ALGIX still is testing the biodegradability rate and cannot not comment on degradation curves yet, as most of our research has been on formulation, co-processing, and performance related milestones.

When biomass from any source is compounded with a base resin, the resulting formulation becomes distinct from the recyclable pure resin. This is even the case with different polymer composites that may have two or more resin constituents. Although the biomass will be able to sustain some level of recycling, due to the more fragile nature of the resins bio building blocks, the performance will likely decrease, as with most other conventional recycled resins. We do not necessarily see a unique algal-blended stream of plastics, just due to the numerous variables in the formulations. A recent study by the American Chemical Council found that the US has a dismally low recycling rate below 10% but the state of New Hampshire has an exceptionally high recovery rate of over 40%. Instead of recycling these materials, which requires sophisticated sorting equipment or lots of manual labor, an easier approach was to convert the non-recyclable plastic waste steam into energy using boilers for steam and electricity production. I believe they still recycled some of the more easily sorted materials, like plastic water/soda bottles, just used any non-spec plastic for waste-2-energy…This not only reduced the cost associated with handling and processing the numerous recycling streams, it provided a substantial amount of alternative energy. If algae blended with synthetic non-biodegradable polymers increases in usage, the biomass fraction essentially acts as a bioenergy source at the end of its lifecycle. The conclusion that the ACC drew was that there is a dramatic shift in the amount of states shifting their focusing from complex sorting/recycling to a more direct and streamlined waste-to-energy approach. As Waste-2-energy increases, the concern about having closed loop recycling, although a wonderful concept, will be alleviated because the “other” non-recyclable plastics now can be converted to energy instead of being landfilled. The algae fraction of the plastics represents a carbon neutral component of the resin and energy feedstock.

ALGIX is initially focusing on product streams of plastic that have a low or absent recycling rate due to various factors; these include paint cans, pesticides, fertilizers, mulch films, and carpet products. There exists active programs for recycling carpets by shaving the fibers and grinding the backings for use in new carpets (at some minor percentage) as well as pure post-consumer-grade base resins, usually PP based. New product lines can be generated using post consumer grade resins with post-industrial grade algae biomass to provide a bioresin with a very low eco-footprint. We have a research proposal pending on conducting an LCA based on the algae biorefinery approach for bioplastics to further quantify these environmental and economic benefits.

That should be enough for yall to chew on for a bit…

Let’s all give a big digital THANK YOU to Algix for being so informative and transparent with their exciting new technology!

BPA is back!

August 22, 2011

Hey!

I don’t have much time to chat BUT I wanted to include links to a couple news items I found about BPA while perusing industry publications today. Like the excerpts from the unpublished Truth about BPA & PVC posted August 16th, these articles paint a rather confusing picture about the human health implications of BPA. By including them here I do not intend to support the arguments made therein; I simply wish to share because they add to the already pervasive cannon about BPA and phthalates. As I am still in the information gathering phase and because I found the timing of these articles a bit ironic insofar as I spent the better part of July researching the effects of BPA and phthalates on the endocrine system, I thought I would share them with you! I like the blogging format because the conversation never really ends and you can pick up and leave off with different threads, which is exactly what I am doing now!

“Good Science, Bad Politics,” Plastics News

“Hardwired to Doubt Science?” Packaging World

Hello and happy Friday!

Guess what! My article titled “Assessing Sustainable Packaging through Life Cycle Analysis” was featured in the summer edition of Plastics Business Magazine as the industry insight!!! Check it out here. This is the most words I have ever been allowed to submit to a print publication, AWESOME! Love the fancy formatting, too.

As an aside, I am in the process of updating The Facts, released in 2009 via our website, to reflect new US EPA data on recycling. Therefore, The Facts is no longer available for download on our website. Once we polish off the new and improved version, you will be the first to know, my packaging and sustainability friends! Exciting stuff!

In my last post I included excerpts from the not-published Truth about BPA & PVC. Ironically, in the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s August Newsletter, received yesterday, BPA is discussed as it pertains to thermal paper. Check it out here. Weird bears!

Next week’s post will include new pictures of our organic garden! The tomatoes and peppers are looking good!

AND, click here for a SNEAK PEEK of Dordan’s Bio Resin Show ‘N Tell to be unveiled at Pack Expo as advertised in Packaging World’s August New Issue Alert!

Have a grand weekend!

Best laid plans…

August 16, 2011

Goodness gracious how I have missed you, my packaging and sustainability friends! The last couple weeks have been absolutely CRAZY, which is why I have failed to post recently. Let’s see where did we leave off…that’s right, The Truth about Plastic Packaging Report! As narrated in my last several posts, I wanted to use Dordan’s sponsorship of Packaging World’s New Issue Alert as the platform to release our newest research report, titled The Truth about Plastic Packaging in reference to our first research report, The Truth about Recycling©. The motivation for this project stemmed from several happenings, the most prominent, reading Susan Freinkel’s recently published Plastic: A Toxic Love Story. This book is an in-depth look at “plastic” as it exists in the social imaginations of the Western world and is in dialogue with the various social and environmental issues pertaining thereto. Having no ties to special interests groups (to my knowledge), Freinkel presents a fair, well-researched treatment of plastics as they have come to proliferate the modern world. Her objective, academic approach provided me—as a representative of the plastics industry—with tons of food for thought; so much so I decided it would best be analyzed and applied in a research report of my own. Thereafter, I set upon a new research venture that looked to expose the realities of plastics as they pertain to us and our environment in hopes that in painting a contextualized portrait of plastics, the industry would better understand both the obstacles that exist, and opportunities ahead, for plastics.

And behold the genesis of The Truth about Plastic Packaging Report! While in the thick of it, however, I quickly discovered that this was a massive undertaking: there was no way I could discuss and contextualize PVC and BPA, ocean debris, end of life management issues, AND “green” plastics in one research report. Sooooo I decided to break it into a series, as discussed in a previous post, the first of which, titled The Truth about BPA & PVC. Upon completion of this task, however, something just didn’t sit right with me. Why was I talking about how the additive in flexible PVC (DEHP) may or may not be contributing to the contemporary discourse on “endocrine disruptors”? What does this do for the thermoforming, and larger plastics, industry?

Perhaps my real hesitation with publishing The Truth about BPA & PVC was the feedback I got from my friend and colleague from CalRecycle, formally of the California Board of Integrated Waste Management, who provided a great deal of insight into my first report, The Truth about Recycling. After reading The Truth about BPA & PVC he became concerned that the argument I took was outdated and reflective of my bias as a representative of the plastics industry. He explained that the way I critiqued the studies investigating the effects of phthalates like DEHP on the endocrine system (the complex network of glands that produces hormones that govern growth, development, metabolism and reproduction) was similar to that of the ACC, which reasons: the test sample size is too small, rats are poor models of human health hazards, the dose administered in animal studies are much higher than those experienced in humans, and, the demonstrative health qualities are not necessarily adverse*. I explained to my colleague that I was not making an argument akin to the ACC; I was just describing the contemporary studies on the matter and the discourse resulting therefrom as articulated in Freinkel’s Plastic: A Toxic Love Story. Regardless of my intentions to present a fair treatment of plastics as contributing to discussions of “endocrine disruptors,” I concluded that I did not know enough about the matter to speak about it in The Truth about BPA & PVC. And in the vein of attempting to appear as though this decision was based on a deep-rooted philosophy of ethics as opposed to uncertainty over ones understanding of a complicated issue, let me quote Socrates: “As for me, all I know is that I know nothing” (The Republic). Did it work; am I just dripping with depth?!?

To make a long story short, we are reverting back to our original plan to discuss The Truth about Plastic Packaging as one, mega-report. I will use the information I garnered for The Truth about BPA & PVC to inform my holistic discussion of plastics and the environment from the perspective of the Sustainability Coordinator at a family-owned plastics packaging manufacturer. While I will use Freinkel’s book as the backbone for the analysis, I will consult other sources in order to develop a multi-dimensional assessment of the current climate of plastics and the environment. SO, STAY TUNED!

If you are interested in a summary of the discussion on plastics and endocrine disruptors, check out the excerpts from my report below. As described at length above, take this information with a grain of salt as more research is needed to be performed on my end until I can understand and therefore discuss this complicated topic!

AND, I have my first conference call with the SPC/AMERIPEN today on financing end of life management for packaging materials! Wish me luck!

To check out the content that we DID use for our sponsorship of Pack World’s NIA, click here! Do you like the photo?!? It’s ME!

Excerpt from the unpublished Truth about BPA & PVC

Please note: WordPress format does not allow me to include footnotes; please email me at cslavin@dordan.com for a list of references.

Nowhere has plastic become more omnipresent then in modern healthcare. Dutch physician Willem Kolff, motivated by assurance that “what God can grow, Man can make,” scrounged sheets of cellophane and other materials in Nazi occupied Holland to perfect his kidney-dialysis machine. Today,

Plastic pacemakers keep faulty hearts pumping, and synthetic veins and arteries keep blood flowing. We replace our worn-out hips and knees with plastic ones; and, plastic scaffolding is used to grow new skin and tissues. Plastics supply the essential everyday equipment of medicine, from bedpans to bandages to single use gloves and syringes. With plastics, hospitals could shift from equipment that had to be sterilized to blister-packed disposables, which improved in-house safety, significant lowered costs, and made it possible for more patients to be cared for at home.

While medicine is a small market when compared with plastics’ other applications, it has been revered as the industry’s golden child, showcasing the benefits of polymers. Such association between plastics and healthcare was done so, however, on the presumption that plastics were safe and chemically inert. As Modern Plastics pointed out in a 1951 article titled Why Doctors are Using More Plastics, “Any substance that comes into contact with human tissue…must be chemically inert and non-toxic, as well as compatible with human tissue and not absorbable.” But in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a sequence of findings began challenging this assumption of chemical stability.

PVC is one polymer used in healthcare for its presumed chemical stability. PVC has chlorine as one of its main components, a greenish gas that is derived from sodium chloride. To make PVC, the chlorine is mixed with hydrocarbons to form the monomer vinyl chloride, which is then polymerized, resulting in a fine white powder. “This unusual chemistry is PVC’s great strength, but also its greatest problem—the reason that industry sings its praises and that environmentalists call it Satan’s resin”: The chlorine base makes PVC chemically stable, fire resistant, waterproof and cheap (since less oil or gas is needed to produce the molecule); it also makes PVC dangerous to manufacture and hazardous to dispose of, because when incinerated it releases dioxins and furans, two carcinogenic compounds. PVC is also unusually “poly-amorous,” which means it tends to hook up with a variety of other chemicals, allowing it to be converted for an array of applications; without additives, PVC is so brittle it is basically useless. This versatility has made PVC one of the top-selling plastics in the world and a frequent choice for manufacturers of medical devices. Due to its dependence on additives, however, it has come under scrutiny.

Plasticized PVC is when the plastic is made soft and pliable through the addition of a clear, oily liquid called di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, or DEHP, a member of the phthalate family. Phthalates have become so ever-present in consumer and industrial products that manufacturers make nearly half a billion pounds of them each year; they’re used as plasticizers, lubricants, and solvents. While you’ll find phthalates in anything made of soft vinyl, they also exist in other types of materials, too. Examples include: food packaging and food processing equipment, construction materials, clothing, household furnishings, wallpaper, toys, personal-care products like cosmetics, shampoos and perfumes, adhesives, insecticides, waxes and inks, varnishes, lacquers, coatings, and paints. But our primary exposure to DEHP is through fatty foods such as cheese and oils, which are particularly likely to absorb the chemical, though it is unclear whether that is happening via plastic packaging, the inks used in food wrapping, or during commercial preparation and processing. There are about 25 different types of phthalates, but only about a half a dozen are widely used; of those, DEHP is one of the most popular, especially for medical devices.

In a 1969 experiment Johns Hopkins University toxicologists Robert Rubin and Rudolph Jaeger accidently discovered that DEHP was leaching out of PVC blood bags because DEHP is not atomically bonded to the molecular PVC daisy chain; therefore, can migrate out, especially in the presence of blood or fatty substances. Follow up studies found traces of DEHP in stored blood as well as in the tissues of people who had undergone blood transfusions. Thereafter, a chemist at the National Hearth and Lung Institute reported that he found residues of DEHP and other phthalates in blood samples taken from a sample population of one hundred people. Unlike the former findings, however, this population had not undergone extensive medical treatment; these people were simply the consumers of synthetic goods, those who may have been exposed to phthalates from any of thousands of everyday products, from cars to toys, wallpaper to writing. Today, at least 80% of Americans—of all ages, races and demographics—now carry measurable traces of DEHP and other phthalates in their bodies, according to biomonitoring studies by the Centers for Disease Control. Yet as the CDC has articulated, “the mere presence of DEHP in someone’s body does not mean it is a health hazard. The difficult question is whether the small amounts to which we are all exposed are significant to affect some people’s health.” Plastics manufacturers had long known that additives could and would leach out of polymers but maintained that people weren’t exposed to high enough levels to suffer any harm. After taking a hard look at DEHP and other phthalates, independent toxicologists came to the conclusion that only at very high doses could DEHP/phthalates cause birth defects in rodents and induce liver cancer in rats and mice, but only through a mechanism that rarely affects humans. Hence, it was concluded that there was no cause for concern, based on the fundamental principle of modern toxicology that the dose makes the poison.

This assumption that the dose makes the poison was challenged, however, by mom- turned-zoologist Theo Colborn, who began developing a different theory of toxic effects based on her work in the late 1980s at the Conservation Foundation in Washington. Enlisted to research the effects of pesticides and synthetic chemicals on the Great Lakes wildlife, Colborn found “weird, eerie accounts of chicks wasting away, cormorants born with missing eyes and crossed bills, male gulls with female cells in their testes, and female gulls nesting together.” Sensing something lurking beneath the surface, Colborn created an electrical spreadsheet sorting the information by species and health effect and found that most symptoms could be traced to a dysfunction of the endocrine system—the network of glands that produces hormones and govern growth, development, metabolism and reproduction. Colborn discovered that adult animals exposed to chemical toxins were fine; the main health problems were found in their offspring. Colborn wrote, “Unlike typical toxins, these seemed to be acting as hand-me-down poisons.” Colborn’s findings suggested the possibility that wildlife and people were being exposed to a new kind of risk from widely used chemicals—this changed the assumption that the dose makes the poison—insofar as the poison wasn’t solely in the dose; it could also be in the timing of exposure. In July 1991 at the Wingspread Conference Center in Racine, Wisconsin, a group of members from a range of disciplines dubbed these trends “endocrine disruption,” which included three important findings often overlooked by traditional toxicological research: the effects could be transgenerational; they depend on the timing of the exposure; and they might come apparent only as the offspring developed. A discussion of endocrine-disrupting suspect bisphenol A will make clear the ambiguous effects of these compounds on the human body.

BPA is the primary component of polycarbonate, a hard, clear plastic that’s used in baby bottles, compact discs, eyeglass lenses, and water bottles; BPA is also a basic ingredient of epoxy resins used to line canned foods and drinks. Unfortunately, the bonds holding these long molecules together can be weakened fairly easily, allowing BPA to migrate out of the polymer daisy chain. Scientists have known since the 1930s that BPA acts as a weak estrogen, binding with estrogen receptors on cells and blocking natural stronger estrogens from communicating with cells. By now hundreds of studies have suggested BPA does just that in animals and humans, reporting the compound causes health effects in cells and animals that are similar to diseases becoming more common in people, such as: breast cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and neurobehavioral problems such as hyper activity. BPA research has been highly controversial because the alleged effects seen at very low doses don’t show up at higher doses; yet, it makes sense if you view the chemical as hormone rather than poison in which toxic effects increase with the amount of exposure.

Unlike most suspected endocrine disruptors like BPA that mimic estrogen, DEHP—the chemical found in PVC IV bags and tubing, not to mention a host of other vinyl items like shower curtains—is an antiandrogen, meaning it interferes with testosterone and other masculinizing hormones of both men and women. As observed in rat studies, once the chemical enters the body, it travels to the pituitary where it stops the production of a hormone that directs the testicles to make testosterone. It is believed that when this occurs during sensitive periods of development, testosterone levels can plummet and growth and development may be influenced. Epidemiologists have charted rising rates of male infertility, testicular cancer, and decreased testosterone levels and diminished sperm quality in many western countries, though the connection to DEHP is unknown. Such findings led an expert panel convened by the National Toxicology Program in 2006 to conclude that there were “grounds for concern that DEHP exposure can affect the reproductive development of baby boys under the age of one.”

While DEHP is thought to affect cells in the testes that secrete testosterone, such findings have not been observed in recent primary studies involving young marmosets, our closest relatives. Moreover, epidemiological findings on sperm quality have been inconsistent: some studies show correlations with phthalate levels, some don’t. These contradictions in DEHP/phthalate studies have led the American Chemistry Council to make the following critiques thereof: the sample size is too small; rats are poor models of human health hazards; the dose administered in animal studies are much higher than those experienced in humans; the demonstrative health qualities are not necessarily adverse. The continuing uncertainties are one reason why expert panels that have looked at these compound all come to the same conclusion: more and better studies are needed.

A few of the chemicals used in plastics—the phthalates found in IV bags, triclosan, an antibacterial found in kitchenware and toys, and the brominated fire retardants widely used in furniture—have already caught the attention of researchers and regulators. However, we have no coherent body of law for managing the chemicals we experience in daily life, which makes the regulation of suspected endocrine disruptors difficult. The EPA recently announced it would take steps to limit use of phthalates, including DEHP. The FDA, on the other hand, judges that the chemical offers more benefit than risk and therefore has ignored calls to limit its use in medical devices; its only action to date has been a 2002 advisory recommending that hospitals not use devices containing DEHP in women pregnant with boys, in young male infants, and in young teenage boys. This inconsistent approach to chemicals management is part and parcel of The Toxic Substance and Control Act (1976), which presents the following Catch-22: The EPA needs evidence of harm or exposure before they can require a chemical manufacturer to provide more information about a chemical, but without that information, how do they establish evidence of harm? In the absence of evidence, regulators cannot act. In Europe, law makers abide by the precautionary principle in which “the burden of proof is on safety rather than danger.” This allowed the EU to prohibit the use of DEHP in children’s toys in 1999, nine years before the US Congress pass similar legislation. A new directive known as REACH (Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemicals), adopted in 2007, requires testing of both newly introduced chemicals and those already in use, with the responsibility on manufacturers to demonstrate that they can be used safely.

SO, what do you think? Confusing, eh?

It’s CRUNCH TIME

July 18, 2011

Hey!

Sooooo I am about to go retreat to the deep, dark depths of my condo for a week so I can write Dordan’s next white paper, “The Truth about Plastic Packaging,” which is based on Susan Freinkel’s Plastic: A Toxic Love Story. The book is awesome and Susan is a really great writer. I have learned so much about plastic and I hope to present a concise, easy-to-read summary of sorts of her extensive work, which focuses on all the hot button issues surrounding plastic packaging like PVC, BPA, plastics in the ocean, etc. I apologize for my absence the next week, but it’s CRUNCH TIME.

And for your viewing pleasure, some Dordan news IN the news, neat! Thanks Greener Package and PlasticsToday.com!!!

Pack Expo: Dordan to offer Walmart Packaging Modeling 3.0 Tutorials
Pack Expo: Dordan to perform COMPASS LCA demonstrations
Thermoformer Dordan expands range of sustainable packaging
Pack Expo: Dordan adds new resins to its Bio Resin Show N Tell

YUM!

June 13, 2011

Hi!

Sooo my long-winded rebuttal to the NYT’s article generated 150+ hits in two hours, a recyclablepackaging.org record! Hurra my packaging and sustainability friends; let the truth rein free! I plan to submit a more concise and possibly sassy letter to the editor, though I am not sure how much more time I want to devote to this silliness. Stay tuned!

Anywhosie, our organic Victory Garden is coming along swimmingly!

We now have several different types of lettuce, arugula, leeks, beans, radishes, bell peppers, tomatoes, basil, and much much more growing as we speak! YUM!

OH, and I totally forgot to tell you guys—remember how last summer we started composting Dordan’s food and yard waste in our journey toward zero waste; and, remember how we threw some “Vincotte OK to Home Compost” certified resins into the composter to see if the plastic disappeared over the winter (check out October 21st post)? Well guess what: it did! The farmers emptied the contents of the compost early this summer to spread on the plot as fertilizer and did not detect any plastic bits in it. CRAZY!

Check out the phresh off the press photos below!

AND, coming soon to recyclablepackaging.org:

The truth about ocean debris as per the SPC’s panel discussion thereof

Dordan’s updated Bio Resin Show N Tell for Pack Expo 2011 featuring two NEW non-traditional resins

More paper vs. plastic goodness, yippee

AND, my article contribution to Plastics Business, a quarterly publication for injection molders, blow molders, and thermoformers; in other words, my people!

GO BLACK HAWKSSSSSS

June 14, 2010

Happy Monday Funday!!!

I have returned from my travels. GO BLACK HAWKSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!

While I will fill you in on what I learned in tomorrow’s post (busy day!), I thought I would include a response to my greenerpackage.com post. Check it out (notice the “anonymous”…)

June 9, 2010, Anonymous (not verified) wrote:

Chandler – One point that can’t be argued. Packaging from trees is a sustainable option. Packaging from oil (like plastic films) is not – once its pumped out and converted into film products, there will be no more. It would be ideal to compare apples to apples and determine which causes less harm to the planet, however, the opportunity to replant trees and convert paper back into usable pulp is an obvious advantage. And the article makes a solid point that regardless of what might be possible for recycling films, consumers or municipalities rarely have the facilities for taking advantages of the possiblities of recycled film products.

June 11, 2010, Chandler Slavin wrote:

Thank you for your comments and I understand your perspective; however, I am a little confused by this statement: “Packaging from oil (like plastic films) is not [sustainable] – once it’s pumped out and converted into film products, there will be no more.” Are you simply making the argument that paper is sustainable because it comes from a renewable resource while plastic is not because it comes from fossil fuel, which is ever depleting, as dramatically illustrated by the tragic Gluf Coast Spill? If so, that argument is acceptable, but very one dimensional, in my opinion. The reason I feel that this argument is sub par is because it only highlights the different feedstocks used in the production of fiber-based packaging materials or fossil-fuel ones; what about the energy required to convert this feestock into its end-product, that is, paper or plastic? What about the resources consumed in this converstion process; the GHG equivalents emitted therefrom, the inks, laminates, or chemicals added, etc.? I guess the whole point of my post was that to view “sustainability” from one metric, be it renewable versus unrenewable feedstock, is unacceptable in trying to quantify the overall burden a specific packaging material has on the environment.

As an aside, the point about the complexities of recycling plastic packaging is appropriate; with the exception of PET bottles, the rates of recycling plastic packaging in the States is very low. However, Japan, the UK, Belguim, Germany, and many others have very high diversion rates for plastic packaging post-consumer, usually with the aid of waste-to-energy technologies. Because we live in a global market, I am sure that the products of a large CPG company, like Kodak, end up on many international shelves; therefore, the probability that the packaging will or will not end up in a landfill is constituent on the region in which it is distributed. Consequentially, it is difficult to speculate on how much packaging material a company diverts from the landfill by switching from one material to another without specifying what geographical region said packaging material resides in.

In addition, there is a lot of interest in diverting PET thermoforms from the waste stream, as there is an every growing demand for this recyclate. Many companies are now investing in the sorting and cleaning technologies necessary to reprocess these packages with PET bottles to remanufacture into new packages or products. Hence, it is only a matter of time until plastic packaging begings to be recovered post-consumer because of the inherent value of the recyclate.

Thank you for your comments; it is always good to move the dialogue forward!

Mahahahahahahhahaha. See you tomorrow!

Happy Monday Funday!

May 24, 2010

Happy Monday Funday!

The company that I made the “Sustainability and Packaging” presentation for, which I posted to my blog on Friday, sent me the following email after receiving said powerpoint (I sent it early for confirmation of its content):

“180 slides is way too long, even for a medical convention…”

Ha!

How do you provide an “overview of sustainability” in 60 slides, which is what this company suggested? I guess I am just as dilligent a powerpointer as I was a student; I was one of the special few who had to speak with my professors about exceeding the page limits for term papers—old habits die hard…

Anyway, tomorrow’s the day: My big presentation for a giant company on all things “Sustainable.” I am going to wear my new power business suit and fab heels AND I took my face piercing out several weeks ago so I look totally business-like.

For today’s post I thought I would reflect on a recent happening in our industry, which was convered on greenerpackage.com, PlasticsNews, and other misc. packaging publications. Because the company in question is a competitor, my superior was hesitant about me articulating my questions in a public forum i.e. on greenerpackage.com. Therefore, I decided to address this tid bit in my blog as it is not an in-your-face forum because I totally respect this company and the work they are doing in sustainability.

Consequentially, all reference to this company has been removed so as not to ruffle anyone’s tail feathers.

Here is the article:

Company X  has announced that it will construct a closed-loop recycling facility in Somewhere America to grind and wash post-consumer bottles and thermoforms for processing into its namebrand sheet products. The company says it is reducing the total carbon footprint of its product by bringing the material supply chain closer to production and offering its customers more choices of materials, including up to 100% post-consumer content PET.

 “We’re excited to bring bottle cleaning and sheet production together in a continuous process loop,” says company CEO. “Our factory design will streamline operations while delivering the recycled sheet products the market requires.”

Company X notes that it is among the first thermoforming companies in the food and consumer packaging industry to implement its own in-house recycling. With the new facility, the company will receive curbside-collected bottles to clean, grind, and extrude into sheet. Reducing the number of bottles going to landfills while providing high-quality material for customers has long been a goal for the company. Company X has been using recycled content in its packaging for more than 15 years, and over the last seven, it has diverted more than 1 billion discarded bottles from landfills.

While Company X has extruded sheet for internal use for 20 years, this marks the first time it will sell its namebrand sheet on the open market.

In addition to namebrand post-consumer rPET, the facility will produce LNO (letter of non-object) flake, allowing food contact with recycled material. Company X  has also commercialized an RF-sealable rPET grade of material to address customers’ bar sealing requirements for PET. Company X says that with only minor process adjustments, this material is a direct replacement for PVC sealing applications.

The recycling facility will be completed in two phases. In phase one, Company X will be adding an additional extruder for its namebrand rollstock. This will be completed in the third quarter of 2010. Phase two will be the addition of the bottle washing equipment, which is scheduled to be operational in the first quarter of 2011, with plans for additional extruders to follow.

Company X’s CEO said that integrating the bottle washing and grinding makes sense, given the amount of post-consumer material the company uses. With the completion of the in-house recycling facility, the firm will be able to streamline the recycling process to ensure that raw material meets Company X’s high standards.

Seeing as how I have been trying to figure out a way to integrate our RPET thermoforms into the existing PET bottle recycling infrastructure, I have A TON of questions for Company X. 

If any of you fine packaging and sustainability friends have any insight, please don’t hesitate to share!!! Sharing is caring!

  • What are the specs of the bales of thermoforms Company X is buying from the MRF?
  • Are they only PET thermoforms or are they mixed material thermoform bales?
  • If only PET thermoforms, is there enough QUANTITY of these types of packages available for the recovery of PET thermoforms to be economically sustainable?
  • How do they collect ONLY PET thermoforms without collecting “look a likes” like PVC, which will completely compromise the integrity of the PET bale, or PETG, which has a lower melting temperature and therefore adds inconsistencies to the recovery process?
  • Are you planning on integrating the PET thermoform scrap with the PET bottle scrap and extruding together? If so, how will you handle the different IVs between sheet grade PET and bottle grade PET?
  • If buying mixed material thermoform bales from the MRF i.e. PET, PETG, PP, etc., how are the different resins sorted for recovery? Are they blended together to create a low-grade, mixed resin flake for down-cycling applications? If so, who is buying this low-grade, mixed resin flake?
  • What kind of sorting technology is utilized to be able to generate a clean, quality stream of PET thermoforms for Company X to grind, clean, and extrude for direct food-contact packaging?
  • How are you competing with Asia for PCR PET?

While I am tickled pink that Company X is recovering thermoforms post-consumer in a closed-loop system, I don’t know how they are doing it! Perhaps the point, no?

That’s all for now; wish me luck tomorrow on my presentation!

Day 25: Nov. 20th, 2009

March 9, 2010

Goooooood day! I finally finished my report on Extended Producer Responsibility/Product Stewardship. Look out for it at www.dordan.com under the sustainability tab!

Let us resume our clamshell recycling initiative narrative:

The next day I arrived to the office feeling much better having received Robert’s insightful email. I felt as though my journey of discovering an end-of-life market for thermoformed packaging was slowly making progress. I had established that if our RPET packages are “read” like PET bottles via the MRF’s optical sorting technology, we could integrate our RPET packages into this recycling infrastructure. I also learned that we could develop a new market for mixed rigid plastic packaging post-consumer (that is, non-bottle grade plastic material), as is often the case in CA. I wonder which would be more cumbersome…Ha!

To my surprise, I received an email from the Environmental Director at Starbucks, responding to the email I sent yesterday.

Chandler,

Thanks for the email.

I am traveling in Los Angeles this afternoon and won’t return until Friday evening. I will be in the office next week, so please feel free to give me a call at your convenience. The best time to catch me is between 7:30 and 8:00 on weekdays, before meetings start up.

Cheers!

GROOOOOVVVVVVYYYYYYY. It looks like I may get my interview after all! My father, who is also coincidently the owner of Dordan, told me “not to hold my breath” about actually getting to speak with the Environmental Director of Starbucks. Not to be a jerk, but I love proving him wrong, at least for the better.

And another beneficial development: I had several responses to the discussion I started on greenerpackage.com about trying to recycling non-bottle PET thermoforms. The most insightful was from the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, who I discussed briefly in an earlier post.

Check it out:

The Plastic Recyclers Viewpoint…

Posted on behalf of the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR):

Back when the world was younger and more uniform, there was one fairly simply defined PET resin used for 2 liter soft drink bottles. PET makes an excellent 2 liter soft drink bottle. Then more packagers wanted to use PET bottles for other products with other needs. The result today is that the PET used for bottles encompasses a range of molecular weights and potential additives.

Thermoformed packaging made from PET may use similar resin as is used for bottles or may use even lower molecular weight (lower IV) plastic. The technical needs for thermoformed packaging are not necessarily the same as for bottle packaging. There is an overlap in IV ranges used for bottles and for thermoformed sheet. Does the potential for IV difference preclude recycling the two forms together? No. End use markets dictate how significant are the differences for recycled plastics from different first uses. Are there additive conflicts? Unlikely, but not assuredly.

So why the reluctance to include thermoforms with PET bottles? There are at least two current reasons. First, the risk of serious contamination is great. A thermoform of non-PET can visually look like PET and be a huge problem. Think inclusion of PVC with the PET. This problem has been a showstopper in North America. In China, hand sorting can overcome the problem if the resin code is accurate. The second problem is a materials handling problem. Crushed thermoforms do not behave like crushed bottles. They do not “fly” the same in autosorting equipment and they do not bale the same. If bales are made too dense, the material does not process as efficiently as it should. Adjusting to the differences takes time and effort.

Does this mean PET thermoforms cannot be recycled? No. Thermoforms are recyclable, once we get through the growing pains of special needs and critical mass. Would sustainability be better served by switching all thermoforms to a different material? Probably not as non-PET, non-polyolefin resins are even more problematic in being accommodated in existing collection and sorting systems.

So why are multiple resins used? In some cases that decision is for aesthetic or performance reasons. Usually, economics dominate. And sometimes tradition keeps on happening. As has been the case for bottles, there does seem to be a gravitating by decision makers to a few resins. The challenge is to develop the infrastructure that allows for efficient handling and sorting to useful resin categories and then to develop markets for those categories.

This response was written by Dave Cornell, Technical Director for APR. For more info on the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, including published Design for Recyclability Guidelines, www.plasticsrecycling.org

Posted November 19, 2009

Radical! Design for Recyclability Guidelines, eh? Sounds right up my alley. Time to do some more research!

Tune in tomorrow to learn more about recycling in America!