Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Which type of Grocery Bag is the most Environmentally Friendly?

Which type of Grocery Bag (shopping bag) is the most Environmentally Friendly? 

This is not a simple choice. Each of the below grocery or shopping bag options has its own problems. The choice will boil down to whether you want to prevent global warming or prevent plastic pollution. Plastic pollution despite being a very visual problem, is a small problem compared to global warming. 

Conclusion: The most important factor with a shopping bag / grocery bag is that is is reusable. You should look for a bag that will last a long time, and is easy to make. This is unlikely to be a paper bag, they do not last very long. There is no problem with plastic bag provided it is re-used multiple times, and recycled at the end of use.

Plastic or paper? 

Paper is better right? No not really. A life cycle comparison conducted by NASA (you know rocket scientists), have shown that  really there is little to pick between paper or plastic in terms of environmental credibility. Below image courtesy of NASA. 

Bag for Life?

A very simple "bag for life" option for a super market may well be a very good option, a 20c / 10p heavy duty plastic carrier bags will last for perhaps 100 uses and is very easy to make and recycle. 

But even with reusable bag you have to be careful with you choice.  Some heavily made reusable bags such as cotton totes bags have to be used 1000's of times before they are better than a normal plastic grocery bag. Why is this? . . .

It is because normal plastic grocery or shopping bag is very quick and easy to make. A complicated fancy looking bag for life is complicated to make, you need to grow cotton, wash the cotton, feed the workers, spin the cotton, weave the cloth, stitch the bag together, transport the bags in trucks. Each of these stages produces CO2 and a complicated bag will produce a lot more CO2 than a simple one. 

The best option might be to reuse a bog standard carrier bag. Just make sure you dispose of it properly. 


A compostable plastic carrier bag is an excellent choice if you actually intend to compost it at home in you well managed compost heap. But is is not a good choice if it ends up in the normal rubbish bin, or mixed with normal bags for recycling. 

No Bag

Perhaps the best option is no bag at all. But this only works for just a few items. But if you are wearing a coat, why not put the stuff in your pockets. 

Card Board Box

Many stores provide a used cardboard box, in which to put groceries. Provided this is recycled or composted after use, this might also be a good option.

In Depth 

The below table comes from a report published by the Environment Agency of UK. It shows the number of times you have to reuse a carrier bag, for it to become comparable with a certain alternative.

A conventional HDPE bag is very easy to make, and creates little environmental impact. Re-use for best option. A paper bag would have to be used 3 times to be comparable. But I doubt you would be able to re-use a paer bag 3 times. An LDPE bag need only be used 4 times to be comparable, it is entirely feasible that an LDPE bag could be reused 4 times, and as such this is the best option.

Below is a table showing the types of bag, so as to avoid confusion regarding types.

Based on the CO2 footprint of manufacture the below graph is derived. This is just one part of the life cycle analysis that was carried out.

Monday, 28 January 2019

Why can't single-use plastic items be recycled?

Why can't single-use plastic items be recycled?

Some single use plastic items can be recycled, but not all of them. It depends on the type of plastic, and whether facilities exist to recycle it the plastic if it is indeed a variety which can be recycled.

Types of Single Use Plastics

There are 6 types of plastic, all of them can be recycled but not all are. There is a 7th type of plastic but it is really a group of plastics, which nobody can be bothered to name individually.

From the above list types 1 and 2 are likely the most commonly recycled. And as such you should always try to use single use plastics that are PET or HDPE, as generally there are option for getting these recycled.

Facilities to Recycle Single Use Plastics

In the UK PET and HDPE are recycled by 92% of councils. So if for example you have just finished some bottled water (PET), take the bottle home and put it in your recycling bin, and it will get recycled. 

As for nearly all other packaging it can be taken back to the shop where you bought it. When shopping at Tesco for example, if you find that your microwave meal tray is not recyclable, then take it back to the store . . . if everybody did this the problem would disappear over night. 

Keep it Simple

As a final point do not buy single use plastic packaging that is "stuck together" with multiple types of other material. The below image shows some shampoo, image is from 666 Alert.

In this packaging there is at least 2 type of material that are not needed. The box, and the film "window" both will require seperation, before you even get the the bottles in side, which you can not even see to check they are recyclable!

Waste Recycling Permits London

A Political Response to Climate Change

A Political Response to Climate Change

Below set out is a political response to climate change. Often climate change is sold by politicians as a problem, when really it is an opportunity. Change can bring around opportunity. However, at present politicians are using a sticking plaster approach; we are placing restrictions on a system that was developed in era of carbon intensive growth, and the below considerations should be made, listed in order of importance.

1 – Swap GDP for Citizen Satisfaction Metric

The first requirement is to change the way a nation’s success is measured. At present this is represented by % GDP over a typical year. This metric would be adequate is we lived in a limitless environment, where resources and space will never run out, but we do not. We live on a spec of rock, drifting in an indifferent vacuum. We can rely on a metric that relies on constant growth.
The metric that needs to be considered in any political response to climate change is "satisfaction" of the populace. This after all is the metric used by most other entities to gauge there performance. It will also reduce our reliance on growth as a form of self-validation.
This switch from a growth based metric, to a condition based metric will free up politicians to make hundreds of choices that would damage the current growth based system:

2 - Reduce Birth Rates 

 Humans are the root cause of accelerated climate change. Yet world population is growing rapidly. This is policy will be the most unpleasant and difficult policy to implement. A birth control policy was implemented in China for many years, however China is not a democracy and this decision could be made without public consent. How can for example a two child policy be presented as acceptable?
It is very likely that a family with more then 2 children will be experienced to greater stresses, whether this be in terms of time allocation of financial. This need to be researched. Research should look in to negative outcomes arising from higher number of children:
•    Likelihood of Parental
•    DivorceLikelihood of Bankruptcy
•    Likelihood of Mental Illness
There have been great strides made in stopping people from smoking by advertising its negative effects. The same principals should be adopted with an aim to forming a policy for reduced birth rates.
After data has been collected for 2 years on the above “carrot” approach a “stick” approach may be warranted where financial penalties are introduced. This will need careful research.

3 – Worker Owned Entities

There will be vast numbers of capital enterprises that will need to be undertaken in order to action required polices. The current system whereby all projects are carefully gauged on the basis of financial risk, will not be appropriate.
Works will be undertaken by worker owned cooperatives. Individuals with experience of project management should be appointed as managing members of such entities and they will undertake all normal resource management based on the current. A small group of founding individuals will face an interview and aptitude process in order to bid for government funding. Works will be undertaken between these founding individuals and the government on the basis of a standard contract template, where by pay grades are set out in advance, and all employees and directors of companies receive an equal performance based bonus.
Funding will be made available via quantitative easing. Negative impacts currently associated with this technique will be lessened owing to new metrics as explained in section 1.
These working groups could be allocated to any number of projects ranging from delivery of energy infrastructure to support roles for regulatory enforcers, to deal with additional burdens.

4 – 100% Renewables over 10 Year Period

It is imperative that we move quickly to establish a 100% renewable energy infrastructure. With full policy support this could be implemented in less than 10 years. This is massive undertaking and the opportunities for employment are also massive. Countries should move to undertake manufacture of PV panels and Turbines (Sea or Wind) domestically so as to provide employment from these new industries. Regulatory hurdles which may prevent renewables projects from coming to fruition, should be lessened but not removed as these serve as a valuable scoping tool.
Renewable Energy projects should be chosen on the basis of the carbon pay back. Shortest should proceed first, or a pass mark could be introduced such as “any project under 10 year carbon payback time”.

5 – Adequate Energy Storage over 10 Years

Owing to fluctuations in output from solar and wind renewables. It will be required that energy storage infrastructure is increased.

6 – CO2 Removal  

With a 100% renewable energy infrastructure, there will be a myriad of opportunity for geo engineering. For example at present we would not consider capturing carbon from the atmosphere using mechanical means as it would not result in a carbon saving, but with 100% renewables the carbon intensity of this operation would be zero, and as such a feasible solution. This could provide long term employment.

7 – Transport

Whilst there are many options for road based transport in terms of battery powering. The largest hurdle to overcome is air travel. It may not be possible to power an aeroplane with anything other than liquid fuels. However, pending the delivery of 100% renewable, it should be possible to manufacture hydrogen fuels, which have a negligible carbon footprint.

Environmental Policy Consultants London