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Sunday, January 19, 2020

Beyond recycling plastics: elimination of single-use plastics

With the intention of reducing litter, waste, and the use of environmentally harmful products, the City of Berkeley, California enacted the phased-in Berkeley Single-Use Foodware and Litter-Reduction Ordinance. Emphasizing a shift from single-use foodservice products to reusable cups, plates, bowls, and flatware, the ordinance impacts the gamut of foodservice operators.

Ordinance provisions
The ordinance is enforced one year after the effective date with potential exemptions for proven hardships.

Phase I (effective March 27, 2019) is a first-step in waste-reduction and contamination prevention. Accessory disposable foodware items must be provided upon request only, rather than openly available at stations. Examples of accessory disposable foodware items include straws, stirrers, napkins, utensils, condiment cups/packets, cup sleeves, tops, lids, spill plugs, and other ancillary products.

Compost sign available
for download
Additionally, prepared food vendors that allow self-bussing must provide color-coded receptacles for customers to separate their recyclables, compostables, and landfill waste. The ordinance is specific on color-coding to create consistent bussing stations; recommended signage is available for download.

In Phase 2 (effective January 1, 2020) all single-use, disposable food and beverage (f&b) products must be certified compostable and be free of intentionally added fluorinated chemicals. In addition, prepared food vendors must charge customers $.25 for disposable cups; the charge must be clearly identified on menus and listed separately on receipts.

Within food-safety standards, the operator may refuse to fill unsuitable or unsanitary cups provided by customers

With Phase 3 (effective July 1, 2020), all in-house dining f&b must be served on reusable (durable/washable) foodware. Exceptions include certified compostable paper tray/plate liners, paper wrappers, napkins, and straws and recyclable aluminum foil for wrapping items such as burritos. The ordinance requires operators to maintain on-site cleaning and sanitation facilities or contract with off-site cleaning services.

Consumer support for the ordinance is showcased in the January 5, 2020 The Guardian article, The California city that wants to eliminate disposable coffee cups.

The Berkeley ordinance is a solid, strong step in addressing the prolific single-use plastic pollution wreaking havoc on the planet.

A plastic-trashed planet
1955 Life Magazine cover
The October 2019 RiA Magazine article, Plastics: a double-edged sword, articulates plastics history | development and how in a mere 70 years humans infiltrated every nook & cranny of the Earth with micro and nanoplastics. The article opens with how the August 1955 Life magazine article Throwaway Living essentially announced the inauguration of single-use plastic for common household use.

While early plastic usage related to the manufacturing of durable goods, in the 1950's single-use plastic packaging and products were introduced; thus, the onset of plastic pollution.

Humans essentially trashed the planet with prolific plastic pollution that now inhabits every nook and cranny of the Earth. As discovered in prominent research, macro and nanoplastic pollution is prevalent from the arctic snow caps to the depths of the oceans and everywhere in between. Scientists are merely beginning to study the health ramifications of humans, animals, plants and microbial life literally breathing, eating and drinking plastics in its macro, micro and nano forms.

In empowering leadership roles, global non-profit organizations are working to bring the Earth back to a healthy, balanced state. The non-profits are educating on the current scenario, working to stop plastic pollution, creating new manufacturing paradigms, and much more. Below are several examples:
Plastic pollution on a remote beach
  • 5 Gyres continues to educate on the magnitude of plastic pollution in our oceans and beyond. 
  • The Plastic Pollution Coalition works diligently to stop the deluge of plastic pollution with campaigns to eradicate single-use-plastic consumption.
  • The Ellen MacArthur Foundation's New Plastic Economy intends to transform manufacturing design and protocol via two new industry standards: 1> products are made of 100% post-consumer recycled materials and 2> products are designed for reuse with company-sponsored programs making reuse simple, easy, and convenient for the consumer.
A shift in the current disposable culture is necessary to prevent the continual deluge of plastic pollution within our soils, atmosphere, oceans, waterways, and the human-food chain.

Elimination of single-use plastic
GreenBuild purified
water station
While documenting the zero-waste practices at the 2019 GreenBuild International Conference and Expo (GreenBuild) hosted at the Gold LEED-Certified Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA), the largest LEED-Certified conference center in the world. it was inspiring to witness solid zero-waste practices executed at the event. Beyond the Three R's - reduce, reuse, recycle, GreenBuild focused on reuse, reduction, and elimination of waste.

Via clear communication in contracts and registration documents, exhibitors and attendees were expected to bring reusable beverage containers; no single-use beverage containers were permitted on the showroom floor. Bartenders were instructed to not give attendees empty, compostable wine cups for use at the water stations. At the USGBC booth, complimentary steel cups were handed out with the slogan "Better buildings are our legacy."

Throughout the the exhibit hall, the GWCCA provided purified water stations with five-gallon water bottles on easy-to-use dispensers.

There was nary a single-use plastic water or beverage bottle in sight within the show.

The RiA Magazine article, GreenBuild walks the zero-waste talk, showcases the stellar reduce, reuse, and elimination practices at the event.

KSU Dining Services
reusable to-go containers
While touring their operations, it was inspiring to learn of Kennesaw State University (KSU) Dining Services' reusable plastic-container system for take-out orders. With incentives to return the reusable containers, there are minimal "lost" containers in the successful program that eliminates single-use to-go containers.

In the previously mentioned The Guardian article, The California city that wants to eliminate disposable coffee cups, author Erin McCormick features several for-profit programs designed to assist foodservice operators to adhere to the new ordinance provisions.

With the Vessel reusable cup program, customers "borrow" chic stainless steel cups for up to five days free-of-charge. Vessel signage includes the copy: GET IN ON: THE REUSABLE REVOLUTION.

While working on Sustainable Food Court Initiative pilots during the Era of Recycling Refinement, Elemental Impact (Ei), along with Ei Strategic Ally Institute for Local-Self Reliance, always recommended the use of reusable f&b packaging where practical.

Compostable packaging concerns
With their ground-breaking ordinance, Berkeley opened the door for main-stream media coverage on the evolution from recycling to elimination of single-use products.

Originally published on Civil Eats, the Eater January 15, 2020 article, The Dark Side of ‘Compostable’ Take-Out Containers, Plastic to-go containers are bad, but are the alternatives any better?, announces the Berkeley ordinance and addresses concerns related to the shift to compostable f&b packaging.

The below concerns are summarized from the article:

1> compostable f&b are single-use and often create unnecessary waste.

2> there are limited food-waste composting sites that accept compostable packaging. More facilities are refusing to accept compostable packaging due to rampant contaminants in many post-consumer food-waste streams. Contaminants include simple trash as well as petroleum-based plastics.

An unlabeled exhibitor-provided cup
rash at a zero-waste event
3> unless clearly labeled, compostable plastic cups & other products resemble petroleum-based plastic items. It is difficult to impossible for compost-facility workers to sort out petroleum-based plastic from the food-waste stream. Cedar Grove, a major Seattle composting company, spends over $5 million a year removing plastic bags, forks, and spoons from its compost.

4> compostable products on their own do not make compost; often, the post-consumer food-waste stream is composed almost entirely of single-use compostable products with minimal nitrogen-based food. Thus, the necessary carbon | nitrogen-ratio for compost is unbalanced.

5> compost made with compostable products in the feedstock cannot be sold to organic farms. The National Organic Board classifies compostable packaging as synthetic material, which are not permitted on certified organic farms.

6> according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), “the fact that something is compostable is a useless predictor of environmental impact.” A DEQ life-cycle study found the production and use of compostable materials (and composting them) was found to result in higher environmental impacts than that of either non-compostable materials, or compostable materials treated via recycling, landfilling, or incineration.

It is important to evaluate the use of compostable f&b packaging from a holistic perspective, including its end-of-life and complete life-cycle impact.

Though the new Berkeley ordinance is groundbreaking in the public realm, environmental non-profits and crusaders are long-time reusable f&b packaging proponents. Back in November 2010, environmental crusader Aaron Williams produced The New Green Order video. The short video educates corporations on how reusable coffee-cup programs in the office are environmentally and economically sound.

Counterpoint: compostable packaging | reusables
Though the above concerns regarding compostable packaging are overall valid, there are other important perspectives to consider before making purchasing decisions or creating city ordinances.

The DEQ life-cycle on compostables did not seem to address the impact of plastic pollution when disposable packaging is improperly disposed of and/or simply trashed as litter. As well documented in the previously mentioned Plastics: a double-edged sword article, plastics fragment and disintegrate into micro and nanoplastics. It is well proven that microplastics often kill wildlife when consumed and nanoplastics may segue through cell walls into animal flesh or plant fiber.

Reusable glass cup with a
hay straw at a botanical garden
Compostable packaging will eventually decompose, versus fragment, into harmless chemical compounds without the potentially toxic compounds inherent within some plastics.

Though large establishments may benefit economically by shifting from single-use to reusable serviceware, smaller operations may experience a financial and space drain. Additional financial burdens include the reusable serviceware investment, storage area required for the inventory, and the labor, supplies, and equipment necessary for cleaning and sanitizing the items.

Within the cleaning and sanitizing systems, there are also environmental costs related to the incremental water and energy used to maintain food-safety standards.

Bottom line: the time is NOW to eliminate the prolific single-use plastics integrated within our daily lives. In addition to f&b packaging, single-use plastics are common place in household items (laundry detergent, shampoo etc.), vehicle maintenance (motor oil, antifreeze etc.) and beyond.

As an evolving industry, zero-waste best practices are a work-in-progress. National leaders like the City of Berkeley with their bold ordinance are necessary to vet viable solutions for eliminating daily consumption of single-use plastic. Solutions must benefit businesses, the community, and the environment.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

GreenBuild walks the zero-waste talk

In late November 2019, a global entourage of prominent industry professionals converged on Atlanta for the annual GreenBuild International Conference and Expo (GreenBuild) hosted at the Gold LEED-Certified Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA), the largest LEED-Certified conference center in the world.

GreenBuild is the biggest annual event for green-building professionals worldwide to learn and source cutting-edge solutions to improve resilience, sustainability, and quality of life in our buildings, cities, and communities. A U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) event, GreenBuild aligns with the USGBC mission of market transformation through its LEED green-building program.

Beginning with the first conference in 2002, GreenBuild strives to set the highest sustainability-industry standards for hosting a prominent national conference with a global reach.

On September 7, 2017, the USGBC unveiled TRUE (Total Resource Use and Efficiency), the new brand identity for its zero-waste rating system. TRUE helps businesses and facilities define, pursue and achieve their zero-waste goals through project certification and professional credentialing. The RiA Magazine article, TRUE: setting standards for a zero-waste economy, introduces TRUE and validates the importance of third-party certifications.

The 2017 GreenBuild conference hosted in Boston achieved the TRUE Zero-Waste-Event Certification as well as the 2018 GreenBuild hosted in Chicago. One of the GreenBuild RFP (request for proposal) parameters is the hosting event facility works in tandem with the GreenBuild staff and contractors on achieving TRUE Zero-Waste-Event Certification.

In response to industry requests for zero-waste standardization and third-party validation, the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council (USZWBC) launched the Zero Waste Facility Certification (ZWFC) in March 2013. As the first zero-waste certification program in the nation, the ZWFC established protocol and defined parameters for zero-waste claims.

Tim Trefzer (GWCCA) reunites
with Stephanie Barger (USGBC)
In October 2016 the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) acquired the USZWBC to integrate the ZWFC into the global Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) community that drives sustainability across all sectors.

The ZWFC joined a family of prominent certifications administered by the GBCI: the PEER standard for power systems, the WELL building standard, the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), Parksmart, EDGE (Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiency) and the GRESB benchmark, which is used by institutional investors to improve the sustainability performance of the global property sector.

As the home to LEED - Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - Certification, the USGBC is a recognized global standard for sustainable building design, construction, operations and maintenance.

The ZWA Blog article, USGBC Empowers Zero-Waste Industry: USGBC & USZWBC join forces, details the monumental industry announcement.

From its January 2012 inception through the October 2016 acquisition, the USZWBC was integral to the Elemental Impact (Ei) Era of Recycling Refinement important work, accomplishments, and successes. During the organization's tenure, Ei served as the USZWBC and its annual National Zero Waste Business Conference (NZWBC) media partner.

GWCCA Tim Trefzer reunites with
 CleanRiverRecycling Solutions
CEO Bruce Buchan
Ei was instrumental to Atlanta hosting the 2014 NZWBC and orchestrated the local-flavor portion of the excellent program. The Ei 2014 NZWBC page gives an overview of the conference plenary panels as well as the break-out sessions. Related Zero Waste in ACTION Blog article links are listed.

Thus, the 2019 GreenBuild Conference was a reunion with Ei Partners and good friends from the Ei Era of Refinement. Ei Founder Holly Elmore and USGBC Global Director, Zero Waste Stephanie Barger, who was the USZWBC Founder & Executive Director, were thrilled to reunite and spend a lovely lunch catching up. Long-time Ei Partner CleanRiver Recycling Solutions hosted an expo booth filled with their impressive recycling bins.

Zero-Waste Practices
In 2009, the Zero Wastes Zones launched at the GWCCA in an acclaimed press conference led by the Environmental Protection Agency Region 4 Acting Regional Director. As an industry pioneer, the GWCCA is a pro at implementing zero-waste practices and eager to work on conference-driven practices focused on reuse, reduction, and elimination of waste.

According to Ei Regeneration in ACTION Chair, Tim Trefzer, GWCCA Director Sustainability:
Event managers now look to venues for guidance in sustainability-best practices. GWCCA, with relationships throughout the community, is well-positioned to support whichever causes are important to clients. While this is encouraging, it’s equally important to involve all stakeholders involved in executing events to make it truly work and be successful.
For events focused on achieving zero waste, GWCCA draws on its decade-long expertise as an industry pioneer in the zero-waste arena.
Zero Waste is a Team Sport
For zero-waste success, teamwork is required among the event managers | owners, event-support contractors, the event facility, exhibitors, and attendees. The USGBC was diligent with exhibitor-contract and attendee-registration provisions where zero-waste protocol and expectations were clearly communicated.

Exhibitors and attendees were expected to bring reusable beverage containers; no single-use beverage containers were permitted on the showroom floor. Bartenders were instructed to not give attendees empty, compostable wine cups for use at the water stations. At the USGBC booth, complimentary steel cups were handed out with the slogan "Better buildings are our legacy."

GreenBuild purified
water station
Throughout the the exhibit hall, the GWCCA provided purified water stations with five-gallon water bottles on easy-to-use dispensers.

There was nary a single-use plastic water or beverage bottle in sight within the show.

Greenbuild provided reusable three-bin-recycling centers including recycling, compostables, and landfill bins; the bins were used at consecutive events. Volunteers traveled from across the nation to attend the conference and aid attendees at the centers with proper material separation.

As an estimated 25 - 30% of single-stream recycling is landfill-destined due to overall stream contamination, material-source separation is a tenet of zero-waste best practices. Great care was taken by back-of-the-house-event staff to further separate and clean the material before eventual sales in the commodity markets.

Attention to detail is a necessity for successful zero-waste events. At Greenbuild's request, the event-services company's signage was printed on recyclable corrugated cardboard, instead of other landfill-bound options. In the foodservices area, the GWCCA served condiments via pump stations, loose items, and pitchers, preventing trash and saving dollars.

Learning Experiences
Even with the best intentions, zero-waste events always present learning experiences where trash is accidentally generated for various reasons.

Exhibitor-provided cup generated
trash at a zero-waste event
While photographing a GreenBuild recycling center, Holly along with Tim noted an exhibitor coated paper-beverage cup lacked a BPI Certified Compostable label; thus, the cup contributed to trash at a zero-waste event.

One of the principles for creating clean recycling streams is "when in doubt, throw it out."

UL Environment & Sustainability's cup snafu showcases the importance of recycling and compostable labeling. It is possible the cup was lined with compostable PLA plastic, rather than non-compostable petroleum-based plastic. Yet without a compostable label the cup was landfill-bound.

Another learning experience related to inconsistent and inaccurate labels on the reusable recycling bins. The larger label in front indicated plastic bottles #1 - 6 and yogurt cups were permissible in the bin. Below are the related concerns:
1> Plastic bottles (#1-6) instead of only #1&2:
  • In general MRFs (material recovery facilities) are set-up to only separate #1 & 2 plastics via optical-sorting mechanisms. Thus, the remaining plastic bottles are landfill-bound, with an expensive stop at the MRF
  • #6 plastic = polystyrene (PS.) Bottles are PS vs. EPS (expanded polystyrene i.e. Styrofoam.) Though many grocery stores offer EPS-recycling bins for consumer use, in general, PS is not recycled at this juncture. Thus, #6 bottles are a contaminant in recycling-feed stocks.
2> Yogurt cups – most yogurt cups are #5 plastic (polypropylene - PP)
Inaccurate & inconsistent
recycling-bin labels
  • As stated above, most MRFs only separate for #1 & 2 plastics. Thus, the highly recyclable #5 cups are a contaminant and landfill-bound.
  • Often, yogurt cups contain ample food residuals in them. Thus, there is a high probability of food-residual contamination on the entire stock collected in a bin with yogurt cups.
  • Preserve's Gimme 5 program accepts PP cups yet HIGHLY encourages only clean cups are placed in their bins at Whole Foods and beyond.
In addition to the inaccuracies on the larger label, the bins included two labels with conflicting instructions. The smaller Recycle Across America (RAA) label aligned with the above concerns and indicated only #1 & 2 plastics were permitted in the bin.

TRASH: a gum wrapper brought to
a zero-waste event creates trash
Upon learning about the recycling-bin inconsistencies and inaccuracies, GreenBuild took immediate action to remedy the scenario. For the next conference, the event-services company was instructed to only use RAA labels on the GreenBuild bins and remove or cover-up the inaccurate labels.

On a smaller scale, Holly and Tim found gum wrappers and other attendee-generated trash on the floor as they walked the exhibit hall.

It is important for event participants, whether attendees or exhibitors, to understand their individual impact on events committed to zero waste.

The Ei FB album, 2020 GreenBuild Conference, gives a pictorial recap of Holly's GreenBuild visit hosted Tim.

Since the 2009 Zero Waste Zones launch, the industry made tremendous strides in creating event-zero-waste standards and protocol. Yet zero waste is a maturing industry filled with many opportunities to fine tune event practices. Industry leaders like GreenBuild, who walks the zero-waste talk, are instrumental to creating standards based on integrity and success.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

When students are first, healthy food naturally follows

When students truly come first, a commitment to health and wellness naturally follows.

SCSD6 Farm @ Cragmoor
Spartanburg County Schools District 6 (SCSD6) Superintendent Dr. Darryl Owings takes the students-first commitment seriously and leads the district's impressive healthy-food school program. With strong support of the nine-member School Board, SCSD6 ended their third-party foodservice-operator contract in January 2014 and established internal culinary operations.

Bringing foodservice operations in-house was a significant step in serving students healthy, freshly prepared food. Another strong step was entering into a long-term lease for the Farm @ Cragmoor, a sixteen-acre farm on land owned by the Spartanburg County Foundation and administered by Upstate Forever. SCSD6 took possession of the farm in 2016.

The RiA Magazine article, Spartanburg County School District Six: a culture of EXCELLENCE!, is a comprehensive overview of the school district, the Farm @ Cragmoor, and the creation of the Farm 2 School program.

Elemental Impact Visits Spartanburg
In October 2018 Elemental Impact (Ei) along with Ei Strategic Ally Feed & Seed hosted the Ei Exploration of Fungi, Soil Health and World Hunger. During the final exploration session at the Clemson organic-student farm, Feed & Seed Chair Mary Hipp discussed the amazing healthy-food school programs at SCSD6 as well as down the road 20+ miles at Greenville County Schools.

Inspired, Ei Founder Holly Elmore traveled to Greenville | Spartanburg in May 2019 to meet the masterminds behind the healthy-food school programs and tour their respective operations. Mary was generous with her time, connections, and spirit as she hosted Holly for two-consecutive days of meetings and tours.

The May tour group
from left to right: Greg, Mary & Darryl
On May 14 Darryl, along with SCSD6 Deputy Superintendent Dr. Greg Cantrell, hosted Mary and Holly for an introductory meeting in the district's offices. Afterwards, Darryl and Greg took Mary and Holly on tours of the campus greenhouse followed by the SCSD6 Farm @ Cragmoor where healthy, organic food is grown for the school cafeterias. The locally grown, healthy-food commitment at SCSD6 was evident and impressive.

Mary and Holly returned to the Farm @ Cragmoor in August to witness the farm's segue from preparation to fully operational in time for the 2019 - 2020 school year.

A Significant Investment
For the first year, farm staff tested the land to determine what could be grown crop-wise for the official launch as an operating farm in 2017. The SCSD6 Farm @ Cragmoor is the foundation for creating a hyper-local food system for SCSD6.

Lush crop of small, colorful peppers
From inception, the SCSD6 Farm @ Cragmoor was U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Good Agricultural Practices certified. With the land in possession for three-consecutive years, SCSD6 is in the midst of obtaining USDA Organic certification. In accordance with the USDA National Organic Program standards, organic crops must be grown on land that is free from prohibited pesticides, herbicides, and synthetic fertilizers for three years preceding growth.

With the farm research complete, SCSD6 invested in the farm staff and equipment necessary to fully embark on the Farm 2 School initiative. In 2018, SCSD6 invested in an impressive packing house including a wash line for root crops, an ice machine for packing broccoli & other vegetables, and a dual walk-in cooler system.

The coolers are maintained at different temperatures to maximize optimal shelf life and produce quality. In addition, it is important to store certain fruits and vegetables separately. For example, onions and potatoes excrete incompatible gasses that lead to faster spoilage for nearby produce.

Brand-new refrigerated truck
Only root vegetables are cleaned in the wash line as rinsing fruits and vegetables may lead to earlier spoilage. Thus, field crops such a zucchini, squash, watermelon, tomatoes, lettuces, and herbs are field-packed and washed in the cafeterias prior to kitchen prep. Lettuces and herbs from the greenhouse are transported to the packing house where they are aggregated with the farm crops for delivery to the district cafeterias via a refrigerated truck.

Upon arrival for the August 14 photo shoot, the brand-new refrigerated truck was awaiting its portrait. So new, the truck was sparkling white with no blemishes from general wear and tear. Once loaded with fresh produce cleaned and packaged in the packing house, the truck will deliver the organic food to the SCSD6 fourteen school cafeterias.

In August the foundation was laid and electrical boxes installed for a new greenhouse. While the original greenhouse contains the Farm 2 School program hydroponics system for lettuce production, the second greenhouse is intended for tomato crops. The SCSD6 impressive hydroponics greenhouse was featured in the RiA Magazine article, A Hydroponic-Agriculture Renaissance.

Lisa capturing an okra bloom
Beyond farm equipment, technology plays a critical role on the modern-day farm, especially when maintaining U.S. Department of Agriculture Good Agricultural Practices Certification documentation, planning crop-harvest timing, and maintaining inventory stats. In addition to his field and packing-house responsibilities, Ethan Jarrett administers crop planning, seed sourcing, and production distribution via a high-tech program .

Another investment was hiring Farm 2 School Director Lisa Stansell. Mere weeks in the position at the August-photo shoot, Lisa brings her expertise from her prior role as a Greenville County agriculture teacher to the Farm 2 School program.

In the Field
August was a busy time on the farm as the staff prepared for the 2019 - 2020 school year starting late in the month. With the significant investments made, the Farm @ Cragmoor segued from preparation to fully operational in time for the new school year.

Cover crop on a resting field
The crops planted during the May visit were harvested and the fields ready for a second planting. In August, peppers, tomatoes, okra and lettuces was in full production and the packing-house staff were busy sorting and packaging the clean vegetables.

In the field, workers planted fall crops while mature cover crops rejuvenated the soils within crop-rotation best practices. Over the summer, zinnias were planted as a cover crop and doubled as a cash crop at the summer farmer's market. Lesson learned: plant zinnias in rows so the entire crop may be harvested for market bouquets.

To maintain the farm's high food-safety standards administered by Director of Food Safety and Sustainability Patricia Tripp, a wash station was installed in the field for workers.

The second section of the Ei FB album, Spartanburg County School District 6, are images from the August-photo shoot while the first section is a pictorial recap of the May visit.

SCSC6 is an exemplary model for the magical outcomes when students truly come first.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

The Legacy of the AMAZING Cindy Jackson

On October 31, 2019 Zero-Waste Icon Cindy Jackson retired from the Georgia Institute of Technology (Ga Tech) as the Director of Waste & Recycling. Under Cindy's 22-year leadership, Ga Tech never succumbed to single-stream systems and the award-wining recycling program operated as a profit center. 

In industry circles, Cindy is known as "The AMAZING Cindy Jackson." Elemental Impact (Ei) Founder Holly Elmore coined the term at Cindy's first Ei Partner Meeting. Accurate, the name became a common way to address Cindy with her industry colleagues.

Award-Winning Recycling
When Cindy arrived at Ga Tech in 1997, there was no formal recycling program in-place. By 2008, the Ga Tech recycling program was nationally recognized as an industry leader with two prominent awards: 
  • American Forest & Paper Association 2008 University Recycling Award.
  • National Recycling Coalition 2008 Best Overall Recycling, Outstanding College or University Program Award.
Cindy showcasing source-separated
material recycling bins on campus
In 2009 Ga Tech joined the Zero Waste Zones (ZWZ,) the nation's forerunner in the commercial collection of food waste for compost, and Cindy implemented back-of-the-house food-waste collection at campus-dining facilities. Along with then Ga Tech First Lady Val Peterson, Cindy attended the ZWZ Two-Year Anniversary Press Conference.

Expanding beyond dining services, Ga Tech embarked on Game-Day Recycling for tailgating and in the stadium, including organic-waste collection. In 2013 Ga Tech earned 1st place in the ACC for Waste Minimization in the Game Day Recycling Challenge; in 2014 Ga Tech earned 1st place in the ACC for Organics Reduction in the Challenge.

Preparing for the 2019 opening of the Kendeda Building, Ga Tech's Living Building, in October 2017 Cindy launched a composting pilot in the Engineered Biosystems Building (EBB). Though the successful pilot is complete, organics collection for compost continues in the EBB.

Although glass recycling is a challenge in single-stream systems, at Ga Tech source-separated, clean glass is hauled and sold to a local glass processor. When treated respectfully, glass is a valuable material.

Cindy operates within a philosophy of "Lighten-Up, Be Heard, Be Effective." Recycling centers in the Klaus Advance Computing Building are complete with themes, including the The Lorax by Dr. Seuss and Ecosystem ∞ Ecodangers rooms. 

Cindy & Stephanie on the
Ga Tech recycling tour
When the AWARE Program (Actively Working to Achieve Resource Efficiency) launched in 2009, then President Bud Peterson endorsed the program. In an AWARE building, each workstation is provided a clever three-bin system: Tom (large blue, for paper), Tim (medium blue, for cans & bottles), and Tiny (small black, for trash). Rather than custodial staff, employees empty their bins at building-recycling centers.

Nationally respected for operating a recycling program based on integrity, Cindy presented on Ga Tech's program at the 2014 National Zero Waste Business Conference (NZWBC) hosted in Atlanta and the 2016 NZWBC hosted in Austin, TX. In preparation for the 2014 NZWBC, Cindy welcomed U.S. Zero Waste Business Council Executive Director Stephanie Barger for a recycling-program tour. Stephanie was most impressed.

Earth Day
Upon joining the Ga Tech staff, Cindy launched the Earth Day Festival within her first year. Thanks to her ingenuity and perseverance, Georgia Tech is home to a nationally recognized Earth Day celebration. In 2009, Ga Tech received a Gold Tower Awards - Recognition of Excellence, Annual Events: Earth Day Celebration.

With over 70 exhibitors and eco-friendly giveaways, recycling opportunities, a clothing swap, an office-supply exchange, live music, organic popcorn, and more, the Ga Tech Earth Day Festival is one of the largest celebrations in the southeast. The annual Earth Day Festival is free and open to the public. 

A Team Player
Over the past decade, whenever  Ei requested a tour of Ga Tech's recycling program, Cindy always answered: YES, of course! In February 2012, Ei introduced Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA) Director of Sustainability Tim Trefzer to Cindy via a recycling-program tour. Subsequently, Cindy and Tim developed a close bond.

Ga Tech recycling tour for GWCCA
Along with EPA R4 and the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, Cindy and Tim founded the Collegiate Sports Sustainability Summit in 2012. Ga Tech hosted the second-annual summit.

Under Cindy's leadership, Ga Tech hosted the first-annual Facilities Sustainability Forum in October 2017 to an enthusiastic audience from the university and beyond. The Forum was an opportunity to educate and share Ga Tech's impressive facilities-maintenance programs: award-winning landscape services, Green Seal-certified cleaning program, and the recycling program.

Within his welcoming remarks, Ga Tech Vice-President Facilities Management Chuck Rhodes educated on Ga Tech's strong sustainability commitment and impressive accomplishments. Most importantly, Chuck expressed his support for Ga Tech's continued sustainability leadership by building on existing programs and introducing new endeavors.

Via Cindy's invitation, Holly presented at the inaugural forum as the featured presenter. Within her opening remarks, Holly shared the long-term, powerful Ga Tech | Ei relationship dating back to the 2009 ZWZ launch. 

The RiA Blog article, Collaboration + Culture = Sustainability Success, is a forum overview featuring Holly’s presentation as well as the Building Services, Solid Waste & Recycling, and Landscape Service department sessions. The overall forum PPT presentation as well as Holly’s PPT presentation are available for download on the Ei Speaking Engagements page.

Cindy @ Ei Conscious Cleaning Demo
In 2018 Cindy orchestrated an Ei Regenerative Landscaping meeting with Director Landscape Services & Vehicle Management Hyacinth Ide and Ei Strategic Ally Finian Makepeace of Kiss the Ground. Finian was in Atlanta for the 2018 U.S. Composting Council Conference, which Cindy attended.

Working closely with Director of Building Services Tommy Little and his team, Cindy was integral to the Ei Conscious Cleaning Demo hosted at Ga Tech in March 2018. The RiA article, The Evolution of Standard Cleaning Practices, showcases Ga Tech's stellar conscious cleaning program as well as gives a demo overview.

Always Learning, Always Growing
Always eager to expand her professional horizons, Cindy attended Annual Ei Partner Meetings and participated in other Ei Atlanta-based activities, such as the 2015 Atlanta Ei Partner Tours. Quick to ask many questions, Cindy was most appreciated at the partner meetings and tours.

Cindy & Ei Partners ready for the
 Novelis aluminum recycling plant tour
In June 2015 Ei Partners converged on Atlanta from across the nation for an invigorating two days of tours, education and camaraderie. Cindy joined the partners for tours of the Pratt paper-recycling plant as well as the Novelis aluminum-recycling plant, which was quite an experience. The IMPACT Magazine article, Atlanta Ei Partner Tours, is an overview of the two-powerful days. For a pictorial recap visit the Ei FB Album, Atlanta Ei Partner Tours.

At Cindy's request, Ei orchestrated an introduction of the Ga Tech sustainability team to to Kennesaw State University (KSU) Hickory Grove Farm and KSU Dining Services in June 2019. Synergies abounded during the farm tour and dining-services meeting between Georgia Tech and KSU.

While Ga Tech excels in its waste & recycling program as well as commercial-cleaning and grounds-maintenance practices, KSU is an industry hero in sustainable dining. Within weeks, Cindy hosted the KSU facilities team for a Ga Tech recycling-program tour.

The RiA Magazine article, Success is not static: evolution is required to create and sustain regeneration, gives an overview of the empowering tour and meeting. An Ei FB album, Ei Connects, section is a pictorial recap of the meeting and tour from an Ei-Connects perspective.

A Celebration
On October 25, 2019 family, friends and industry colleagues attended Cindy Jackson's retirement celebration hosted at the Ga Tech Alumni House. In addition to Ga Tech VP Facilities Maintenance Chuck Rhode, Holly formally presented at the celebration.

Ga Tech Dynamic Facilities Trio:
Hyacinth, Cindy & Tommy
Holly's presentation showcased why Cindy is indeed "The AMAZING Cindy Jackson!" The presentation is available for download on the Ei Speaking Engagement page.

The love and respect for Cindy was evident via the planned and impromptu remarks. Tommy enjoyed telling a decades-old story about Cindy from their days at Auburn together. The Ga Tech waste & recycling staff made Cindy a Harry Potter-parody book for her to treasure.

Additionally, Cindy's sister and brother gave touching remarks on how proud they are of Cindy; the strong family bond was profound.

The Ei FB album, Cindy Jackson Retires, gives a pictorial recap of Cindy's Ei interactions as well as images from the retirement celebration.

Holly's closing PPT slide is perfect closure for her dear friend's retirement celebration:

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Plastics: a double-edged sword

Depending on the definition used, plastics were discovered in 1284 with the first recorded use of horn and tortoiseshell as the predominant early natural plastic or as late as 1907 when Leo Baekeland invented Bakelite, the first fully synthetic plastic.

1955 Life Magazine cover
WWII served as a catalyst for the burst of modern-day plastic-product development and manufacturing. Per the Science History Institute (SHI) article, The History and Future of Plastics, during World War II plastic production in the United States increased by 300%. The August 1955 Life magazine article Throwaway Living essentially announced the inauguration of single-use plastic for common household use.

Thus, in less than seventy years, humans managed to infiltrate the Earth with microplastics and nanoplastics from discarded single-use and durable products in literally every nook and cranny. Recent research documented microplastics and nanoplastics in sites ranging from the arctic-snow caps to the depths of the oceans and everywhere in between.

Plastic: what is it?
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word plastic comes from Latin plasticus, from Greek plastikos "able to be molded, pertaining to molding, fit for molding" or simply pliable and easily shaped. It seems plastic as an adjective was first defined in the 1630's.

Over the centuries, the word plastic evolved into many meanings including slang terms such as a fake and/or arrogant person. For purposes of this article, plastic is defined as a material category of natural and synthetic polymers, a substance consisting of a large number of similar linked monomers (small molecules). Common natural polymers include polypeptide-protein molecules made from various amino-acid monomer units and cellulose, the material responsible for plant-cell walls.

Bakelite molecular structure
photo: Quora, What is the structure of bakelite
Per the PlasticsEurope How Plastics are Made page, plastics are derived from natural, organic materials such as cellulose, coal, natural gas, salt and, of course, crude oil. A complex mixture of thousands of compounds, crude oil needs to be processed before it can be used. Synthetic plastic polymers may be classified into two broad categories:
  • Thermoplastics (which soften on heating and then harden again on cooling).
  • Thermosets (which never soften once they have been moulded).
Generally, plastics allow for cost-effective manufacturing of products that are durable and strong for their weight. In addition, plastic materials are electrically and thermally insulative, and resistant to shock, corrosion, chemicals, and water.

Some of the same properties that make plastic a valuable construction and packaging material contribute to its environmental devastation. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Marine Debris Program:
Plastics will degrade into small pieces until you can’t see them anymore (so small you’d need a microscope or better!). But, do plastics fully go away? Full degradation into carbon dioxide, water, and inorganic molecules is called mineralization (Andrady 2003). Most commonly used plastics do not mineralize (or go away) in the ocean and instead break down into smaller and smaller pieces. We call these pieces “microplastics” if they are less than 5mm long. The rate of degradation depends on chemical composition, molecular weight, additives, environmental conditions, and other factors (Singh and Sharma 2008).
Plastic: history(1)
When using an original definition of plastic, simply pliable and easily shaped, tree saps provide natural plastic material such as amber, rubber and gutta-percha, the coagulated latex of certain Malaysian trees. According to the SHI article, Celluloid: The Eternal Substitute, even glass, moldable at high temperatures, is a natural plastic.

Celluloid (2)
In 1869 renowned American inventor John Wesley Hyatt discovered that cellulose derived from cotton fiber treated with camphor created a plastic that could imitate natural substances like tortoiseshell, horn, linen, and ivory; camphor is a crystalline compound usually derived from the wood and bark of the Asian camphor laurel Thus, Hyatt is credited with discovering celluloid, the first synthetic plastic polymer.

Celluloid doll
Photo from Wikipedia
Hyatt was inspired by an 1863 advertisement via a New York firm offering $10,000 for the discovery of a replacement material for ivory. Due to billiards growing popularity, the limited supply of quality ivory to make the billiard balls was a concern. Ivory was obtained through the slaughter of wild African elephants.

Along with his brother, Hyatt formed the Celluloid Manufacturing Company that produced celluloid dental plates for false teeth. Hyatt developed blow molding, a process for making hollow items from celluloid tubes, that lead to the mass production of inexpensive toys and ornaments. Around the same time, artisans used celluloid to craft hair combs and eyeglass frames that resembled ivory, tortoiseshell, coral and semi-precious stones.

CHALLENGE: celluloid is highly flammable! Though there are urban legends of exploding combs and buttons, factory fires were the prime hazard of celluloid manufacturing and use. 

Celluloid's primary traits - cheapness, flexibility, and transparency - transformed photography in still and motion-picture realms. Together with chemist Henry Reichenbach, George Eastman filed patents in 1889 for their nitrocellulose film (simply called “nitrate film”) that allowed photographers to develop and print their own film. Additionally, nitrate film made motion pictures possible.

Nitrate film
photo  Preservation Self-Assessment Program
By 1928 the cinema industry was thriving and transformed popular entertainment. Until 1950, movies were shot on nitrate film while hand-painted sheets brought Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny to life when filmed in sequence.

Nitrate film was highly flammable and could ignite by the heat generated while passing through a projector's film gate. There were incidents of audience deaths by flames, smoke, or resulting stampedes.

Additionally, nitrate film was unstable and subject to decomposition. Thus, a good portion of the early movies on nitrate film are lost forever due to studio fires, auto-ignited fires in storage, and decomposition.

Beyond antique-collector items such as combs, ornaments, and toys, celluloid retains one practical use in current times as ping pong balls, which are hollow celluloid balls.

Modern Plastic Development
The first fully synthetic plastic, Bakelite, was invented in 1907 by Leo Baekeland. Fully synthetic plastic has no molecules that exist in nature. Bakelite was created to replace shellac, a natural electrical insulator, during the "electrifying" of  the Western world. 

Beyond an excellent insulator, Bakelite is durable, non-flammable, heat resistant, and, unlike celluloid, ideally suited for mechanical mass production. Living up to plastic's definition, Bakelite may be shaped and molded into almost anything. Thus, the entry into modern-day plastic unfolded.

WWII nylon parachute
Photo: Army Logistics University
Plastic played a significant role in WWII-military success and victory. The multitude of uses were extensive. Nylon, invented by Wallace Carothers in 1935 as a synthetic silk, played a valuable role in parachutes, ropes, body armor, helmet liners, and more. Light weight and shatter-resistant, Poly(methyl methacrylate), commonly called Plexiglas, replaced glass in aircraft windows. The wide array of plastic use flourished during WWII and, as previously mentioned, plastic production in the U.S. increased 300%.

Greenhouse and hydroponic-farming were industry segments that benefited by the development of inexpensive, durable and lightweight plastics. The RiA Magazine article, A Hydroponic-Agriculture Renaissance, documents how the ancient agriculture practice was reinvented via plastic-material availability.

According to author Susan Freinkel in her 2011 Plastics: A Toxic Love Story, “In product after product, market after market, plastics challenged traditional materials and won, taking the place of steel in cars, paper and glass in packaging, and wood in furniture.

While early plastic usage related to the manufacturing of durable goods, in the 1950's single-use plastic packaging and products were introduced; thus, the onset of plastic pollution.

Consumer-Product Development and Environmental Impact
HDPE (High Density Polyethylene, also known as #2 plastic) was invented in 1953 by Karl Ziegler and Erhard Holzkamp and two years later the first HDPE pipe was produced. A decade later in 1963 Ziegler won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Later HDPE became the common packaging material for milk jugs, bleach, detergents, shampoo, motor oil and many other household items.

First patented in Sweden in 1962 and later in the United States in 1965, the T-shirt plastic bag (formally "bag with handle of weldable plastic material") was invented by Sten Gustaf Thulin with patents obtained by Cellopast, a Sweden-based packing company. 

Plastic T-shirt bags in use
Photo source: Politico
In the late 1970's, the T-shirt plastic bag was introduced to the grocery industry as a way to reduce trees cut down for paper bags. By 1985, 75% of the grocery stores offered plastic bags yet they only held a 25% market share. A decade later plastic bags captured 80% of the market. Plastic-grocery bags are made from HDPE or LDPE (LowDensity Polyethylene, also known as #4 plastic).

Beverage containers as well as food and other single-use packaging are often made from PET (Polyethylene terephthalate, also known as #1 plastic), a form of polyester. In 1973, the now common PET-beverage container was patented with the first bottles recycled in 1977.

According to Statista, by 2016 approximately 485 billion PET bottles were produced annually, increasing to an estimated 583.3 billion produced in 2021. The Resource Recycling November 2018 article PET bottle recycling rate rises states PET recycling rates increased to 29.2% in the past year. Thus, in theory, 70.8% of the 2016 PET bottles manufactured, or 343 billion bottles, from the highly recyclable, valuable material were landfill-destined or simply disposed of in the environment. Since the recycling rate increased in 2018, the 343-billion bottles in 2016 is a conservative estimate.

In the 1960's manufacturing infrastructure was established to mass produce plastic-drinking straws to replace the paper straws commonly used. According to One More Generation's One Less Straw Pledge Campaign the U.S. currently uses 500,000,000 plastic straws daily, enough straws to wrap around the earth's circumference 2.5 times a day.

Plastic-fishing debris pollution
found on a remote Cozumel beach
Plastic-fishing nets are commonly made from highly recyclable polyethylene and nylon. A 2018 Scientific Reports-published research project substantiates 46% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch consists of plastic-fishing nets, known as ghost nets; CEO of The Ocean Cleanup Boyon Slat and his team of scientists submitted the project report to Scientific Reports. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the globe's largest conglomeration of floating trash first discovered by Oceanographic Research Vessel Alguita Captain Charles Moore in 1997.

In its many forms plastics proceeded to seep into almost every aspect of modern society. The high-tech revolution brought personal computers, cell phones, digital cameras, and other electronic equipment to the average consumer: plastics were integral to developing user-friendly, cost-effective devices. A plastic-free life is nearly impossible within modern society.

Plastics: from macro to micro to nano plastics
At the 2016 National Zero Waste Conference, Elemental Impact (Ei) hosted a popular panel, The Macro Cost of Micro Contamination, where Lia Colabella of 5 Gyres and Ei Partner Rick Lombardo with NaturTec co-presented to a standing-room-only crowd.

In her MORE OCEAN, Less Plastic presentation, Colabella included the following chilling facts:

The amount of plastic that enters the ocean each year.

The estimated number of pieces of plastic floating on the ocean surface.

Once in our waterways, plastics act as sponges, soaking up all the chemicals – like PCB, DDT – that don’t mix with salt water.

Toxic-laden plastics look super tasty to fish. And we all know fish look tasty to us.

Plastic fragments in fish
Photo courtesy of 5 Gyres
Lombardo's powerful Compostable Plastics vs. Traditional Plastics session educated on a similar dilemma building within our soils. To help understand the origins of microplastic contamination, Rick educated on fragmentation, biodegradability and compostability as follows:

Fragmentation – first step in the biodegradation process, in which organic matter is broken down into microscopic fragments.

Biodegradability – complete microbial assimilation of the fragmented product as a food source by the soil microorganisms.

Compostability – complete assimilation within 180 days in an industrial compost environment.

Note the difference between biodegradability and compostibility is TIME. By definition, compostable material decomposes within 180 days while bio-degradation may take as long as millions of years.

Due to the fragmentation process, ocean-plastic pollution is now referred to as plastic smog. Clean-up is challenging to impossible due to the microscopic size of the plastic. Aquatic life consumes the fragmented plastic; larger pieces remain within the digestive tract and smaller ones may integrate within the flesh. Thus, plastic enters the human-food system!

Plastic smog in ocean
Photo: Kobaken, Creative Commons
Microplastics are defined as plastic fragments or particles smaller than 5.0 mm in size. According to ScienceDirect's abstract,
Current opinion: What is a nanoplastic?, recently discovered nanoplastics are defined as particles unintentionally produced (i.e. from the degradation and the manufacturing of the plastic objects) and presenting a colloidal(4) behavior, within the size range from 1 to 1000 nm.

Microplastic and nanoplastic research is a new frontier as scientists grapple to understand their implications and impact of ecosystems, animal organs and flesh, and plant roots, cell walls and fiber. For animals, current hypotheses are microplastics generally remain trapped in the gastrointestinal tract while nanoplastics may enter flesh, the bloodstream and even cell walls.

Dr Anne Marie Mahon at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, expresses her concerns, “I would be more concerned about nanoplastics (less than 0.001 mm) when it comes to human health. Microplastics will not enter a cell, but nanoplastics are small enough to cross into cells and permeate the body.”

Plastics: in the ocean
The BBC NEWS article, Early ocean plastic litter traced to the 1960's, confirms single-use plastic made its way to the oceans soon after its introduction as a commonly used item.

Additional findings from a continuous plankton recorders (CPRs) study found a plastic-fishing line from 1957; the study confirmed ocean-plastic pollution increased steadily and significantly since the 1990's. In the study, a plastic bag found off the coast of Ireland was dated to a 1965 origin, only three years after the T-shirt bag was patented in Sweden.

Five ocean gyres
Photo courtesy of NOAA
Since Captain Moore's discovery of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 1997, according to NOAA, scientists identified five major gyres: the North and South Pacific Subtropical Gyres, the North and South Atlantic Subtropical Gyres, and the Indian Ocean Subtropical Gyre. Though its traditional meaning refers simply to large, rotating ocean currents, gyre evolved to commonly mean collections of plastic waste and other debris found in higher concentrations in certain parts of the ocean.

Due to plastic fragmentation into microplastic and further into nanoplastics, the depths of the ocean are now infiltrated with plastics ingested by marine organisms. The February 2019 Microplastics and synthetic particles ingested by deep-sea amphipods in six of the deepest marine ecosystems on Earth research article published by The Royal Society Publishing documents research in six deep ocean trenches from around the Pacific Rim (Japan, Izu-Bonin, Mariana, Kermadec, New Hebrides and the Peru-Chile trenches), at depths ranging from 7,000 m to 10,890 m.

In conclusion, the article provides the following summary:
The results of this study demonstrate that man-made fibres including microplastics are ingested by lysianassoid amphipods at the deepest location of all the Earth's oceans. Microplastic ingestion occurred in all trenches, indicating they are bioavailable within hadal environments.(3)
Three species of deep-sea amphipods (6)
We hypothesize that the physical impacts known in shallower ecosystems as a result of microplastic ingestion are likely to occur within hadal populations. Plastics are being ingested, culminating in bioavailability in an ecosystem inhabited by species we poorly understand, cannot observe experimentally and have failed to obtain baseline data for prior to contamination.
This study reports the deepest record of microplastic ingestion, indicating it is highly likely there are no marine ecosystems left that are not impacted by plastic pollution.
Plastic pollution is prevalent beyond oceans and in the Earth's waterways. The December 2015 Science Daily article, Microplastics: Rhine one of the most polluted rivers worldwide, documents the prolific plastic pollution in the German river from Basel and Rotterdam. As reported in the February 2019 Knox News article, Microplastics hit home: Tennessee River among the most plastic polluted in the world, the Tennessee River joins the Rhine River as a top-ranked most polluted river:
Dr. Andreas Fath, who spent 34 days last summer swimming the 652 miles of the Tennessee River from Knoxville to Paducah, Kentucky, and his team analyzed three samples of the 12 they collected and found close to 18,000 microplastic particles per cubic meter of water in the Tennessee River.
Research on the quantity, type, and impact of microplastics and nanoplastics in the oceans and waterways is well underway with chilling results.

Plastics: in drinking water
According to a 2017, ten-month, six-continent investigative report by Orb Media, INVISIBLES: The Plastics Inside Us, worldwide 83% of the tap-water samples contained plastic fibers; the United States was at 94% and every other country tested was above 70%.

Though not scientifically proven, the Orb Media report listed the following daily activities that are likely sources of microplastics and nanoplastics in drinking water worldwide:
Clothing fibers are the major source
of microplastic pollution in the
San Francisco Bay.
Article: Microfibers: How the Tiny Threads
in Our Clothes Are Polluting the Ba

Photo: Sherri Mason/SUNY Fredonia
  • Washing synthetic fabrics - polyester, nylon, acrylic, and especially fleece fabrics release microfibers in washing machine cycles; in a study by Patagonia, a fleece garment sheds 250,000 microplastic fibers in one washing cycle. 
  • Tire dust - styrene butadiene rubber-tire dust from normal travel along roads flows into sewer systems, water-treatment plants and eventually into drinking water. Per the Orb Media study, 20 grams of tire dust is generated for 100 kilometers driven. Thus, in Norway, a kilogram of tire dust is produced each year for every member of their population.
  • Paints - dust from road markings, ship paint, and house paint contribute to 10% of the microplastics in the ocean. Studies show that paint dust covers the ocean surface. 
  • Secondary Plastics - essentially plastic trash discarded into the environment, which fragments into microplastics and nanoplastics.
  • Airborne synthetic fibers - similar to a cat shedding, human movement releases micro fibers from synthetic clothing into the atmosphere. A 2015 study in Paris estimated that between three and ten tons of airborne micro fibers fall onto the city's surface each year.
  • Microbeads - though now banned in the U.S. and Canada, it is estimated that more than 8 trillion microbeads polluted U.S. waterways in 2015 alone.
With astounding findings from reports such as INVISIBLES: The Plastics Inside Us, organizations like the World Health Organization are addressing Microplastics in drinking water.

Plastics: in the atmosphere
In an August 2019 Science Advances research article, White and wonderful? Microplastics prevail in snow from the Alps to the Arctic, Dr. Melanie Bergmann and her team of German and Swiss research scientists discovered that microplastics prevail in the snow sampled from one of the last pristine environments in the world. The researchers collected snow samples from the Svalbard islands, located in the Arctic Ocean, halfway between Norway and the North Pole

Arctic-snow samples
Photo courtesy of the referenced
research project
Shocked, the scientists found more than 10,000 plastic particles per liter in the "pristine" snow. In addition to plastics, rubber, varnish, paint and possibly synthetic fibres particles were found in the snow.

As quoted in the BBC News article, Plastic particles falling out of sky with snow in Arctic, Dr. Bergmann explains, "We expected to find some contamination but to find this many microplastics was a real shock. It's readily apparent that the majority of the microplastic in the snow comes from the air."

In a May 2019 research project published in Nature GeoScience, Atmospheric transport and deposition of microplastics in a remote mountain catchment, a British-French research team found microplastics in the remote French Pyrenees.

Microplastics and other micro debris from populated areas are carried by atmospheric currents and deposited in the thought-to-be pristine environment via snow fall. It is likely particle pollution is in the air humans and wildlife breath on a minute-by-minute basis.

Additional research on the ramifications of microplastics in the atmosphere is most certainly forthcoming.

Plastics: in the soils
With research validating microplastics in our waterways, oceans, drinking water, and atmosphere, it is reasonable to assume microplastics, and most likely nanoplastics, are prevalent in the Earth's soils. Yet to date there is minimal discussion let alone research on the impact of plastics to the soil ecosystem and plant roots and fiber.

TSSI introduction meeting at the
Jimmy Carter Center
Photo credit: Jim Ries, OMG President
Author Jon Daly substantiates how plastics find their way into agricultural soils through recycled wastewater and rubbish in the January 2019 ABC News article, Scientists say microplastics are all over farmlands, but we're ignoring the problem. Within the rubbish is a significant amount of single-use food and beverage packaging; the vast majority of the packaging is either plastic-coated or 100% plastic. Plastic straws are a prevalent contributor to microplastics in the waterways, oceans, and soils.

In March 2019 Ei took first “easy win” steps to addressing microplastics and nanoplastics in our waterways, oceans, soils, and the human-food chain with the Three-Step Straw Initiative (TSSI) announcement. TSSI Partner Green Planet Straws is the financial catalyst for Ei's important work. The RiA Magazine article, Three Steps to Straw Integrity announces the TSSI.

The TSSI is in partnership with One More Generation's (OMG) well established One Less Straw pledge program. The “kids” who started OMG are amazing – they presented at the United Nations and were keynote speakers during the #G7 Ocean Summit session in Halifax. In early 2019 OMG received the Energy Globe Award for the Youth category from over 6000-project entries from more than 178 countries.

Tradd Cotter with Laura Turner Seydel
at the Ei Exploration 
Over the summer Ei Founder Holly Elmore met with soil-research scientists at several prominent university departments of agriculture. At the meetings Holly garnered interest in exploring research projects on the impact of microplastics and nanoplastics in the soil ecosystem. Holly suggested two potential areas of research:
  1. Nanoplastic impact on the soil ecosystem including the various microbial communities, the plethora of soil life, and the potential segue into plant fiber.
  2. Potential use of fungus that feeds off of plastic to "clean-up" the plastic pollution in the soils. (5)
Concern: plastics often contain additives; when plastic is consumed (broken down into its elements) by the fungus, additives are in a "freed" state and may prove poisonous to soil life. Remember a fully synthetic polymer contains no molecules found in nature. Thus, there is concern plastics broken down to their elemental state may actually be more harmful due to additives.

Ei maintains a close relationship with renowned fungi scientist Tradd Cotter, Mushroom Mountain owner, and intends to bring Cotter into the research loop at the appropriate time. In October 2018, Ei hosted the empowering Ei Exploration of Fungi, Soil Health, and World Hunger, where Cotter welcomed the impressive group to Mushroom Mountain for a fascinating education session and facility tour.

Seeds for research related to plastic in the soils were planted during the Ei Exploration.

Plastics: a double-edged sword
Plastics in its myriad of forms propelled humanity beyond the Industrial Age and into the Information Age (also known as the Computer Age, Digital Age, or New Media Age) where the economy is based on information technology. Along with silicon, plastics are integral to the high-tech equipment and devices at the foundation of the Information Age.

Within the Information Age, durable as well as single-use plastic products are integrated within modern day culture. The gamut of industries supporting humanity rely upon plastics for their manufacturing, administrative functions, product packaging and transportation, and ultimate consumer use.

Yet humans essentially trashed the planet with prolific plastic pollution that now inhabits every nook and cranny of the Earth. As previously explained, plastic pollution is predominant from the arctic snow caps to the depths of the oceans and everywhere in between. Scientists are merely beginning to study the health ramifications of humans, animals, plants and microbial life literally breathing, eating and drinking plastics in its macro, micro and nano forms.

In empowering leadership roles, global non-profit organizations are working to bring the Earth back to a healthy, balanced state. The non-profits are educating on the current scenario, working to stop plastic pollution, creating new manufacturing paradigms, and much more. Below are several examples:

  • 5 Gyres continues to educate on the magnitude of plastic pollution in our oceans and beyond. 
  • The Plastic Pollution Coalition works diligently to stop the deluge of plastic pollution with campaigns to eradicate single-use plastic consumption.
  • The Ellen MacArthur Foundation's New Plastic Economy intends to transform manufacturing design and protocol via two new industry standards: 1> products are made of 100% post-consumer recycled materials and 2> products are designed for reuse with company-sponsored programs making reuse simple, easy, and convenient for the consumer.
Plastics gifted humanity with an evolution of manufacturing, farming and information technology. Life on planet Earth is much more comfortable and abundant from the benefit of these innovations. 

Yet plastic pollution and its devastating ramifications threaten humanity's ability to continue as the Earth's dominant species. The seemingly magical gift of plastic came with a double-edged sword filled with the potential to destroy life as it is currently known on Earth. Negligent human action is responsible for a majority of the plastic pollution choking the Earth's life force.

It is time to shift perspectives from human-focused to life-focused and let the Earth show us how to heal the damage inflicted. Answers will come to those who live and take action from the heart.

Resources | Definitions:
(1) The Science History Institute article, The History and Future of Plastics, served as a primary resource for the Plastic: history section.
(2) The Science History Institute article, Celluloid: The Eternal Substitute, served as the primary resource for the Celluloid subsection.
(3) Hadal environments refer to the deepest depths of the oceans within oceanic trenches. The name is derived from Greek mythology where Hades is the Underworld.
(4) Colloidal refers to items of a small size that are floating in a medium of one of three substances: a solid, a liquid, or a gas. Colloidal particles can be suspended in a substance just like their own make-up or a different substance with the exception of gases. Source:
(5) The June 2017 Science Direct research paper Biodegradation of polyester polyurethane by Aspergillus tubingensis documents laboratory experiments with the plastic-feeding fungus.
(6) The amphipod image is courtesy of the Microplastics and synthetic particles ingested by deep-sea amphipods in six of the deepest marine ecosystems on Earth research article published by The Royal Society Publishing.