Think Tank Wants 5-Cent Fee On Carryout Paper Bags In NYC

Posted On: April 17, 2019

The Citizens Budget Commission, a New York City think tank, has come out and voiced their support for legislation that would impose a 5-cent fee on most paper carryout bags. This according to a recent article published by Crain's New York Business. They passed on a written testimony to the City Council Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management that stated a ban on plastic bags, along with a fee on paper bags, would be a more effective method for combating single-use bags than a simple ban. Here is a quote from the Commission: "Absent the fee, which provides the economic incentive to bring reusable bags to the store, simple bans tend to shift consumers from one type of bag to another rather than reducing the use of single-use bags,"

This sort of logic makes sense. The commission, to help back up their claim, brought up other notable cities. In Washington D.C., the hybrid single-use ban and fee law has been implemented for a while now and is credited with increasing the use of reusable bags. And in Los Angeles, a similar proposition has led to a 94% reduction in single-use bags. 

Single-use plastic bags are a great threat to the environment and need to be addressed as soon as possible. In 2017, New York City passed a bill that would impose a 5-cent fee on any paper or plastic bag, but this bill was blocked from going into effect. However, the fiscal 2020 state budget included legislation to ban single-use plastic bags statewide, giving counties the option to opt in and impose a 5-cent fee on paper bags. According to the legislation presented, 40% of the revenue that is collected in New York City would go back to the city in order to buy and distribute reusable bags. And the remaining 60% of revenue would go towards the state's Environmental Protection Fund. 

Hopefully this budget passes, because eradicating single-use plastic bags would do wonders for the environment as a whole. The build-up of plastic in our wastes has become a huge issue that needs to be dealt with properly. New York City needs to follow the steps of other big cities and lead the way into a greener future.


Is This The End of Recycling?

Posted On: March 06, 2019

Why Some Papers and Plastics Are Ending Up In The Trash

For a long time, Americans have been stigmatized for their lack of recycling habits. However, over the years, many have come around and are recycling at acceptable levels. And this extends further to just home. Airports, malls, schools and office buildings across the country have placed extra bins for plastic bottles, aluminum cans and newspapers. Some cities even have inspectors for these commercial buildings who can lay down fines for failing to recycle properly. 

Unfortunately, much of this carefully sorted recycling is now ending up in the trash anyway. For decades, America sent over the bulk of their recycling to China. These materials were re-purposed into goods and resold as shoes, bags and other new plastic plastic products. But last year China imposed a ban on shipping these materials over anymore. They restricted imports of certain recyclables, which included mixed paper (magazines, office paper, junk mail, etc.) and most plastics.

This measure has had great effect on the recycling procedures in the US. Waste management companies across the country have told towns, cities and counties that there is no longer a market for their recycling. Thus, two choices are available for these places: payer higher rates to get rid of the recycling or simply throw it all away. Sadly, many are choosing the latter option. This means that much more plastic is being burned and releasing toxins into the environment. 

And this end to recycling comes at a time when the United States is creating more waste than ever before. The environmental cost to this trend could be terrible. When any organic waste sits in a landfill, it decomposes, which emits methane. A toxin that is bad for the climate. And burning plastic produces carbon emissions, another harmful impact to the environment.

This is an issue that needs to be monitored over time. Without an external avenue to recycle, perhaps companies should look inward. But many companies have trepidation when it comes to this route, because, despite the number growing, Americans are still generally terrible at recycling. By that I mean they mix and match improperly, leading to issues with recycling plants. Why shipping it to China worked so well is that the cost to ship it over was low. But this was because China employed low-waged workers to pick through it. So for recycling to work in America, people need to learn how to properly recycle and/or simply pay for the costs of people to sift through the recycling properly.


Avoid Soap Contamination By Switching To Sealed Systems

Posted On: January 23, 2019

Experts often cite hand washing as the single most important practice in controlling the spread of germs. But what if washing hands left them more bacteria-ridden than they were before a person washed them? 

These were the findings of several studies, led by Dr. Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, on the effects of using hand soap from contaminated refillable dispensers. These dispensers get refilled by pouring in new soap from bulk containers. Samples were taken from soap dispensers in a variety of public restrooms, including those found in shopping malls, office buildings and restaurants.

“Certain types of bacteria will grow well in refillable type dispensers,” says Dr. Gerba. “From what we’ve seen in several studies, 20 to 25 percent [of bulk dispensers] will have large numbers of bacteria at one time or another.”

Bacteria from the “bulk” or refillable soap dispenser will remain on the users’ hands even after using the soap, says Dr. Gerba. These include fecal bacteria, which are very tolerant to soap, as well as pseudomonas arogenosa, which causes skins and eye infections.

“You get more fecal bacteria on your hands than if you stuck your hands in the toilet,” says Dr. Gerba.

Study results further demonstrated that bacteria from contaminated hands can be transferred to secondary surfaces — leading to the conclusion that washing with contaminated soap not only defeats the purpose of hand washing but may contribute to the transmission of potentially harmful bacteria.

So how does bulk soap become contaminated? According soap manufacturers, germs are typically introduced to the dispensers when they are refilled with soap.  

“Any bulk dispenser can come into contact with germs through the environment,” says Dan Renner, director of marketing for Kutol Products Company, Sharonville, Ohio. “It can be via dirty hands, dirty rags, water or particles in the air during the refill process.”

Just as opening the dispenser can introduce germs into the system, opening the bulk soap container can lead to contaminated contents, which are then transferred from the bottle to the dispenser. Dr. Gerba visited two sites where soap was contaminated during the mixing process prior to filling the dispenser. 

“We looked at some barrels that had a slime layer at the bottom,” he says. “So sometimes when they’re mixing and diluting the soap, and then re-containerizing it at their facility, they get a continuous culture of bacteria.”

In some cases, the introduction of contaminants could even be intentional. Refillable soap dispensers are easy targets for vandals, says Thom Wojtkun, market development director for GOJO Industries in Akron, Ohio.

“Open systems are prone to being vandalized,” he says. “Someone with malicious intent can open them and put something into the dispenser. So there’s definitely an unnecessary public health risk [with open systems] due to these contamination sources.” 

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A Giant Net Has Been Deployed to Clean Up Plastics in the Pacific Ocean

Posted On: October 17, 2018

A 23-year-old Dutch inventor named Boyan Slat has figured out a way to clean up the Earth's oceans: by deploying the world's first ocean plastic cleanup system. It is a 2,000 foot floating barrier, that Slat has named System 001 and it will make its way from San Francisco into the Pacific Ocean, collecting plastic on its journey. The Dutch environmental start-up, Ocean Cleanup Foundation, launched this device last month. The system's ultimate destination is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is a swirling collection of plastic waste that has ballooned to a size that is two times larger than the state of Texas. This barrier is held in position by ocean currents between California and Hawaii.

Slat projects that an array of 60 different plastic pickup systems can reduce the amount of plastic in the area by half by the year 2025. This new system is solid and not a net, which is great because that way the sea life will not get entangled. It is a U-shaped pipe that is connected to a 3 meter deep net that helps to trap litter. The system will collect the plastic and make it ready to be collected by boats and subsequently taken for recycling by using GPS-enabled buoys and satellite receptors. Every few months, a garbage hauling boat will make trips to remove the collected plastic. 

The U.N. says over 8 million tons of plastic still enter the oceans each year. The goal of this new system is to turn the collected plastic into something that can be reused, like a helmet, coat hanger or even a tooth brush, and is not just for a single use. By doing so, this tactic will reduce the chances of the plastic then ending right back in the ocean. Slat will be monitoring the progress of this system and hopes that the results of the barrier prove worthwhile. The plastic in the ocean has been an epidemic for some time and this new invention seems like a promising step into cleaner waters.


How Plastic Kills the Ocean and Impacts Our Food Chain

Posted On: September 05, 2018

Fish and other ocean animals are often found with pieces of plastic in their stomachs, giving the cliché "you are what you eat" a much scarier meaning to people whose dinners include those animals. This Vice News video explores the plastic conditions near the southern tip of Hawaii's Big Island, which has become a magnet for the ocean's plastic. Plastic from Asia, mainland America, and a lot from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch make its way to this presumably tropical paradise.

A lot of the plastic you see in the video at Kamilo Beach has been circulating in the ocean for a very long time that it actually is broken down into tiny particles or micro-plastics and litters the shoreline. This makes the beach nearly impossible to clean up. The caretakers of the beach come down just about once a week to clean it up. And no matter how good of a job they do, when they come the next time it can be just as bad or even worse.

It is estimated that nearly 700 marine species have encountered man-made debris on the earth. Oceanographer Dr. Anela Choy studies the plastics impact on the entire ocean food chain and spoke to Vice News about her findings. She talks about Lancetfish and how they make for good research subjects when it comes to ocean pollution. This is due to the fact that the fish samples the ocean and can be used to monitor what is happening in the ocean. You can see what they are feeding on due to pieces of plastic they digest.

When asked how out of hand this plastic pollution situation is getting, Choy says, "animals at almost every single trophic level of the food web in the open ocean are ingesting plastics." When pieces of plastic are in the water column, they act as little sponges as they accumulate toxins and then get ingested by animals. And the ocean is the biggest habitat on the planet, so if there's plastic throughout that habitat, it's gonna have some really serious impacts.

Many of the fish species we eat prey on lancetfish, which means the plastic they ingest are moving up the food chains and onto our tables. This is evident from fish distributors who notice these signs, but it is very difficult to do anything at that point. The plastic pollution problem is one of the biggest facing this planet and more needs to be done to change this situation.


What You Need To Do To Ban Plastic From Your Life

Posted On: August 06, 2018

Becoming more green is all the trend now. As many people are becoming more and more aware of their carbon footprint, they are thinking about the impact their actions in terms of recycling has on the environment. This idea has dawned on many different companies too, as plastic bans are all the rage. It is important that these steps are being taken, but is it enough? The New York post recently wrote an article that outlines what you can do to ban plastic from your life. Here are the main points laid out in the piece.

  • BYOS (Bring Your Own Straw): If you are one of those people who enjoy using a straw for your drink, then you can bring your own straw when heading out. Amazon, Walmart and Target all sell metal straws in stainless steel or copper, as well as glass straws from from "ultra-durable beaker glass."

  • Use reusable cups for coffee: Many people routinely go out and get coffee on their way or while at work. However, many do not bring their own reusable mug. Forgo using single-use cups and invest in a mug or tumbler. Some outlets even provide a small discount for using your own cup.

  • Bring your own bento box when eating out: Americans through out too much food. When going out, simply bring your own food storage container and limit the restaurant's need to use whatever type of product they have. On top of that, bring your lunch to work in these types of packages. That cuts down on food waste in general. You can even wrap your sandwich in eco-friendly sandwich bags, such as cloth and seared silicone bags.

  • Stop buying plastic bottled water: Americans are drinking an absorbent amount of bottled water, that is wholly unnecessary. Stop buying plastic bottled water and invest in a reusable water bottle that you can refill each day. And even in the home, there is no need to drink bottled water, when convenient and affordable water filters are available.

  • Buy a tote bag: Few things are worse for the environment that a single-use plastic bag. It is beyond wasteful to use a plastic bag of that nature for only one time. Many places have a minor plastic bag tax, but still that's not enough. Make a concerted effort to buy and use reusable tote bags. This can go beyond simply the grocery store. Avoid bringing home any extra bags by investing in multiple eco-friendly tote bags that can be used for years.

These steps can be used to help set a trend and limit plastic waste. There is only so much one person can do, but doing it nonetheless is important. Perhaps others will slowly take notice and change some habits themselves. 


San Francisco Plastic Straw Ban

Posted On: July 26, 2018

San Francisco supervisors have unanimously approved a ban on the use of plastic straws and takeout containers treated with fluorinated chemicals. This follows an earlier decision this month, where in Seattle they voted to ban the use of plastic straws and stirrers. That news made headlines and is now impacting other cities, with San Francisco following suit to make their city more eco-friendly and green. This vote is San Francisco will need a second vote, which will occur next week, but it is expected to pass.

In conjunction with this legislation, napkins and utensils with takeout or delivery are only available on request unless there is a self-serve station. This is a way to implement a greener lifestyle for patrons. 

Starting on January 1, 2020, food and drink vendors in San Francisco must use carryout containers and food wrappers that are free of fluorinated chemicals. These chemicals are currently used to stop grease and water, however the chemicals used do not break down in compost, making them harmful to the environment. Seattle and San Francisco are some of the more liberal thinking cities in America, so it makes sense that they are the pioneers in this endeavor for a greener earth, but I would expect more cities in the near future to follow these similar types of bans.


More Recycling Won't Solve Plastic Pollution

Posted On: July 18, 2018

Matt Wilkins of Scientific American recently wrote an article that presented the idea that it is not the individual habits of each person that is leading to the pollution problems, but rather it is the wasteful technology being implemented. He posits, "the lie is that blame for the plastic problem is wasteful consumers and that changing our individual habits will fix it." It is true that we all could do a little more when it comes to recycling and our plastic footprint, but it is difficult to overcome the overuse of plastic bags.

The very idea of manufacturing plastic items on a wide-scale level is a "reckless abuse of technology," according to Wilkens. Take grocery bags for example, which are used on average for about 12 minutes. However, these bags can linger in the environment for half a millennium. So, no matter how many people recycle, those bags will still exist. To really solve the plastic pollution problem, these single-use plastics should be avoided in the first place.

And aside from the difficulties recycling different plastics, there are also other dangerous factors to consider. They pose multiple threats to wildlife through entanglement and consumption and some more recent developments indicate an absorption of toxic chemicals in the water. And some plastic odors even mimic some species' natural food. It is also likely that we are ingesting plastic ourselves when consuming seafood. It is undeniably dangerous for plastics to exist in our ecosystems.

To combat the use of plastics, Wilkens presents a few reasons. The first is to simply reject the lie. Understand that it is more a systemic issue than a people issue. It is far too easy to use plastic than it is to generally recycle. That is a problem and leads to his second reason "talk about our plastic problem loudly and often." Start conversations and get people aware of the issues at hand. Once people are aware of the issue, then real changes can occur through their actions, such as protesting. The third and final aspect is to simply think bigger. Instead of just reducing waste by a small fraction, think about a shifting lifestyle to help ensure that nearly everything is reused, recycled or composted. That would be the truest way to combat the plastic pollution problem.