Thursday, May 28, 2015

Plastic... in your toothpaste?

I have never heard of such a thing, but I suppose it only makes sense to the companies selling the products.  Face scrubs, lip balm, toothpaste, what do these all have in common?  Well they can all make us feel better and healthier, but many products are often made with little bits of plastic.  Shocking, I know.  Some of the products that offer scrubbing beads or exfoliants are really just mixing microbeads of plastic in them.  Why do this?  Well for one thing these pieces of plastic, mainly Polyethylene, are cheaper than the more natural exfoliants like apricot seeds and coconut husks.  One tube of face wash can have as much as 350,000 microbeads.  So what’s the big deal?  For one thing, a majority of these beads are so small they aren’t caught in the water treatment plants and thus are flushed out into lakes, rivers, and seas.  Studies show that New York alone dumps 19 tons of microbeads into waterways each year.  As for health risks, dentists have found tiny bits of plastic in their patient’s gums which can trap bacteria and lead to gingivitis, the very thing these toothpastes are trying to prevent. Have you ever noticed tiny blue balls (scrubbers) in your toothpaste?  Well that's what those are, and they don't go away. Crest is a brand that often uses microbeads in their Pro-Health and 3D Whitening products.  So if you use these now, STOP IMMEDIATELY! That is, until Crest becomes proactive about their consumers’ health.  It isn’t all smoke and mirrors with these companies though.  In fact, just reading the ingredients will disclose whether or not there is plastic within (most cases it will be Polyethylene, but there can also be hydrated silica).  

The image below, borrowed from, is just a few of the products on the market today that still carry these little buggers.  

Crest has announced as of the end of 2014 that they would be removing these microbeads from their products although they state that they are perfectly safe and "FDA approved".  By 2016 all of their products should no longer come with plastic that can get stuck in your gums.

Japan Putting Plastic to Good Use

An inventor in Japan, Ito Akinori has developed new technology to take ordinary plastic bags and turn them into fuel! His inspiration for this device? The idea that plastic bags actually are created from oil, and so, why not return them to their original form? The machine does not create pollution, and for every 2 lbs. of plastic it converts, it only uses a single kilowatt of power.

So what could this mean for the potential recycling world? A drastic decrease in the amount of plastic bag waste would be one of the most profound changes, especially considering that according to Jessica Dailey, the author of the article below, America uses about 380 million plastic bags every year, and only recycles 7% of that. This number only includes plastic bags. Image how much plastic overall Americans use. There is so much potential to create recycled fuel.

This also could eliminate some need for the hunt for oil in the world. In its early stages the machine may not have the potential to eliminate the oil business entirely, but it could definitely make a difference. Unfortunately, the price of the machine is fairly high for now, but if it did drop, there would be an excellent market for it.

This article only shows one example of how plastic can become helpful to us if used correctly.
The world has the opportunity to make a change if we take the time to consider the options and look at the potential of plastic as well.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Know Your Terms

With so much concern about sustainability and life cycles, many companies are actively seeking ways to mitigate the ecological footprint of their products. This gets carried out in many ways, whether it be rethinking the design at its root and replacing key elements with more sustainable materials. Or simply finding ways to reducing the use and consumption of these harmful products. This search for more sustainable products has created a situation where many companies will do just about anything to appear sustainable to the publics eye. 

The general public knows that large plastic consumption and use of plastics have negative effects of the environment. Thus seek products that have been made in such a way that reduces these harmful effects. It is not uncommon to see plastic products that have labels such as “biodegradable”, “bioplastics”, or “compostable”. With so many terms being tossed around how does the average consumer know which one is best for the environment and their use and recycling habits. 

A recent study, went looking for these answers. In short they found that many products, labeled as “biodegradable” where enhanced with other chemicals and products so that the microbes within he plastic decompose at a faster rate, however when compared with other plastics that had no “green” enhancements, did not natural degrade faster. These claims, can quickly tart to get confusing and misleading. Just because a product is labeled as a “bio plastic” doest not necessarily mean it decomposes naturally. These terms to many can appear interchangeable. So it is important to understand just what the product is claiming to be. 

Bioplastic - Plastics made from plant base starches, sugars, and wood cellulose. Refers not to the time or method of decomposition. 

Biodegradable - referring to plastics that break down in a reasonable amount of time in certain environments. Refers not to the method or main material in use. 

Compostable - Products that decompose at a quick rate, and contribute positively to soil.

These definitions can have overlapping instances in many cases, and naturally leads to companies and markets to take this opportunity to shed their product in a new light. Unfortunately there is little regulation at the moment on the use and labeling of these terms, as the exactly definition of what is considering to be a reasonable time and reasonable environment for bio degradation and compostablilty have not been defined by the Federal Trade Commission.

Dutch College Student Plans the Biggest Ocean Clean Up in History.

Boyan Slat, a 21-year-old Dutch college student, is planning the biggest ocean clean up in history. He came up with the idea when he was 16 years old, for a high school science project, and has been working on the idea ever since. 

Rather than using boats and a net to go after the plastic, his idea is to use the ocean currents. There are 5 main gyres in the ocean where plastic concentrates, and he plans to use floating barriers attached to the sea bed to trap plastic which will then float along the barrier to a platform where the plastic is extracted, the collected ocean plastic will then be recycled back into oil. This method is inexpensive, uses virtually no extra energy, does not give off emissions, it is safe for sea life because they do not use nets and sea life is able to swim under the barriers, and it will take an estimated 10 years to clean the entire ocean, rather than the thousands of years estimated if we tried to go after all of the plastic using a boat and nets. Here is an animation of Boyan’s idea. 

When Boyan came up with the idea in high school, it was just an idea. He struggled to find sponsors. In 2013 he gave a TED talk about his idea, and his video went viral, and he was able to raise $80,000 in 15 days through crowd-source funding. He then set up a foundation called, The Ocean Cleanup. He got a lot of bad press, saying his idea was impossible and he didn’t have the proper research, so he found 100 oceanographers, scientists, and engineers who would volunteer to help him conduct the proper research. In 2014 The Ocean Cleanup published it’s Feasibility study, proving Boyan’s idea works, and they are scheduled to deploy a pilot version of the barrier for 2016, and then start the actual ocean clean up by 2020. 

It’s amazing what Boyan has been able to accomplish, his idea was really only an idea in the beginning. He didn’t know all the steps he would have to make, but he was able to rally support and get professionals interested and invested in the project to make this a reality. I think most importantly he gave people hope that there is a solution to such a huge, and seemingly impossible problem. Way to go Boyan! To learn more about The Ocean Cleanup visit their website.