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Thread: Against the Virginity of Plastic?

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    Against the Virginity of Plastic? 
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    Earth

    Whether it's used for take-out food, bottled water or household products, plastic is an ideal material; it's light, durable and cheap. Yet, the same qualities that have increased global demand for single-use plastic twentyfold since the 1960s are also taking a toll on the environment and our health.

    Nearly 13 million tons of plastic is dumped into the ocean each year, and at the current pace there could be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050. Meanwhile, the complexity of plastic and low margins for recycling it means that most single-use plastic waste gets buried in a landfill or incinerated.

    Now, several trends are converging that could help wean the world off plastic. ?Consumers are starting to voice concerns, companies are taking steps to curb their use of virgin plastic, and there is growing momentum from some regulators,? says Jessica Alsford, head of Global Sustainability Research at Morgan Stanley. Still, it will take massive efforts from many fronts to keep pace with use.

    In a recent report from Morgan Stanley Research, Alsford and her colleagues look at whether these and other efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle will lessen dependency on single-use plastic. They also outline the investment implications for key players, including consumer staples, petrochemicals and waste management.

    How Did We Get Here?

    To understand how plastic has become so pervasive, consider the daily habits of most people in developed markets. Even conscientious consumers are hard-pressed to avoid drinks bottled in plastic, produce packed in clear clamshells and consumer products secured in impenetrable armors of plastic.

    All told, packaging is the number one use for plastic. Global production of plastic is on pace to double in the next 20 years, with China and India alone expected to account for half of the expected demand for PET and HDPE.




    Further compounding the issue, as of late 2017, China is no longer accepting low-grade plastic waste for recycling. This is likely to further boost demand for so-called virgin plastic in the near-term?though it could ultimately help catalyze companies to seek better alternatives, change consumer behavior and give rise to more effective recycling.

    Singling Out Single-Use Plastic

    While consumer perception coupled with public outreach (think water bottle refill stations) has helped raise consumer awareness, a wave of government regulations and incentives?such as bans, surcharges and deposit refunds, as well as subsidies for recycling?are taking aim at plastic. In late 2017, nearly 200 countries signed a United Nations resolution to eliminate plastic in the sea. In January, the European Commission announced its first strategy on plastics, calling for all plastic packaging to be reusable or recyclable by 2030.

    Change is also coming from the corporate level. Late last year, CEOs for 11 global brands wrote an open letter calling for alternatives to plastic packaging. Some companies have already started. Starbucks has invested $10 million into developing a fully recyclable cup and lid within three years. McDonald's plans to make all its customer packaging renewable, recycled or from certified sources by 2025. Unilever aims to reduce its packaging by a third by 2020, with 100% recyclable by 2025.

    Short-Term Setbacks

    While the world is tackling the plastic predicament from many angles, production of so-called virgin plastic is likely to pick up before it slows down. ?Short-term, the major petrochemical companies are benefitting from a reduction in plastic recycling in China with the polyester upcycle getting stronger and firmer,? says Alsford.

    Even as European regulators are taking aim at plastic, he adds, such efforts will need to be adopted globally to have a material impact on the global petrochemical industry. Relatively low oil prices are also a factor. Oil needs to sit at or above $65 a barrel for recycled product to be more economically viable than virgin plastic.

    Meanwhile, the possibility of peak plastic is a mixed bag for waste management companies. On the one hand, an uptick in recycling will boost volumes and potentially benefit businesses. On the other, as it stands today, recycling plastic garners far lower margins than burning it or burying it.

    Although better innovation could improve the economics of recycling, consumers could do more to make recycling more feasible. However, according to Richard Taylor, who leads Morgan Stanley's European consumer equity research team, ?in this area, incentives and targets are the key.? He points out that long term incentives for consumer companies on plastic are ?largely absent? and the packaging on consumer products ?is rarely 100% recyclable and rarely with a clear motivation for the consumer and producer to recycle the product such as a returnable deposit.?



    Finally, better alternatives are needed. The current crop of material?glass, tin, aluminum and paper?is more widely recycled, but they don?t always guarantee a positive environmental benefit when taking the whole life cycle into account. ?For now the answer may be more sustainable plastic as the solution,? adds Taylor. ?We see it as a short-term solution but what's needed most are new sustainable materials that can substitute plastic in the long term.?
    Source: https://www.morganstanley.com/ideas/...4128:106413151
    Last edited by cduggles; 05-11-2018 at 07:32. Reason: bolding
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    Do you recycle?
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    You can reuse plastics in condoms one day I bet. No one will care at that point.
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    I recycle. it is pretty disheartening to find out that a lot of what you try to recycle ends up in landfills anyway, but I do it because it's better than not doing it. My town also does a pretty good job with recycling. I also use reusable grocery bags usually, I forget once in a while but my girlfriend is really intense about it and now that we live together I forget a lot less often. I reuse my durable plastic containers and basically use them as tupperware.
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    My impression is that a lot of the developed world want to help out (the personal feel good at NOT throwing something in the trash). Unfortunately, it is hard to tell if that is the desire of the majority, or if the majority continues to not care The other issue, IMO, is we have a bin to throw things in for recycling but lack transparency on what happens from there - how much DOESN'T go into recycling and what does go towards recycling, how much makes it back to market as another product? What real impact are we making beyond the initial warm fuzzy for those who participate? I believe greater visibility and transparency can drive a greater change. It will hold the value stream of recycling to be more honest, and to drive maximum benefit out of the materials they get; and for the public they can be made more accountable for what they trash and understand the impact they make with their decision to recycle or not.
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    Interesting article, cdugz. Troubling but I also think that we might find some sort of really cheap totally biodegradable alternative soon enough. All of this stuff seems pointless if its not economically appealing. God help us.

    Quote Originally Posted by cduggles View Post
    Do you recycle?
    We recycle as much of what we use as possible, plus composting organic matter (nothing to do with the resulting compost though! ). I don't know how waste is disposed in the US; here we have weekly collection of landfill-destined flatout rubbish, with fortnightly collection of recyclables alternating with collection of green waste. I actually think it should be reversed, with weekly collection of recyclables and fortnightly rubbish, but of course people get very upset at having to make any real effort on this front.

    I never thought I would ask, but how is rubbish disposed of in the US? I should refer to it as "trash" I suppose. But, I am curious about this.

    Single use plastic bags seem to have partially vanished in Victoria at least- which is a good thing, except now people are just using really thick, 'multi-use' bags once. I think we could fix most of our problems if we weren't so fucking lazy tbh.

    Quote Originally Posted by TLB
    The other issue, IMO, is we have a bin to throw things in for recycling but lack transparency on what happens from there - how much DOESN'T go into recycling and what does go towards recycling, how much makes it back to market as another product? What real impact are we making beyond the initial warm fuzzy for those who participate?
    Very true. I wonder if this sort of stuff has actually been quantified somewhere. Certainly, warm and fuzzy might be a whole lot warmer if there isn't some cold pragmatism in this matter.

    Ultimately, because you cannot really know what happens to your 'recyclables', and I am not inclined to implictly trust those who are telling us, my advice is to recycle 'in-home'. Reuse the motherfucking hell out of everything you can- if you can avoid throwing stuff in either bin, do it- and consider before you purchase what you will do with the packaging.
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    Shadowmeister, TLB, and swilow: It depresses me to no end to see the latest revelation or news story (I can't put an accent on the 'e' in expose ) about recycling being dumped or hazardous waste being inappropriately disposed of by companies that are supposed to process it.

    There is so little that we can do to "help save the planet" and yet even this effort can be stymied by forces we (again) feel powerless to control. Extra helping of disheartening.

    swilow: What is 'green waste'?

    I can only describe my experience with garbage collection, recycling, and composting.

    Garbage collection in places I have lived in the US:

    1a) in a house: once a week for garbage in a garbage can to be left on curb for pickup by garbage truck; for recycling, I have experienced pickup once every two weeks in special colored bins for newspapers, and another bin certain types of cans/bottles/etc. by a different truck.

    I once had a roommate who composted. I know not what she did with it except that no one picked it up.

    1b) in condo: take personal trash to big trash cans in hall on your floor; recycling program was people pick through trash for rebate bottles and cans, which I thoughtfully bagged separately. I never saw a recycling bin in the area; you had to take your stuff to some rebate center in the middle of nowhere (they didn't want gross people walking there, I was told.

    The remaining trash got combined and thrown into a dumpster every other day or so. Then it magically disappeared once a week.

    Everyone: When I read articles like this one that discussing the collective future needs that India and China have for plastic (A LOT, up to 50% of certains plastics worldwide), I feel helpless too.

    A positive point: In France, they have a program to take back any excess packaging from customers in grocery stores and the company has to take it back and dispose of it. So if you buy a tube of toothpaste in a cardboard box then you can give the grocery store the box, then the manufacturer has to dispose of it.

    I thought that was an effective idea.
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    #8
    to answer the OP's question. i reduce, reuse and recycle.

    i'm not sure i would want to eat it until more tests and time verify it but here's a lil something that brings a silver lining. reducing and reusing still is optimal in conjunction.


    Researchers have long been on the hunt for ways to break down non-biodegradable plastic—and they’ve come up with some pretty creative concepts, like letting hordes of mealworms chow down on it. But what if you could take broken-down plastic and turn it into food? Modern Farmer’s Anna Roth reports on an Austrian designer who is doing just that with the help of a plastic-eating mushroom.

    The secret is in a rare fungus called Pestalotiopsis microspora. A few years ago, researchers discovered the fungus—which can consume a type of plastic called polyurethane—in the Amazonian rainforests of Ecuador. Designer Katharina Unger, who has previously done things like turn fly eggs into human-friendly food, harnessed the power of plastic-eating fungus in collaboration with scientists at Utrecht University and Julia Kaisinger of LIVIN design studio, Roth reports.



    https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart...gus-180958127/
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